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Pretty Melody

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The bar is loud, an ear-deafening mixture of people’s voices and really bad music. Stiles grimaces as the guy at the microphone’s voice goes way off-key, and he shakes his head as the crowd cheers.

“Fucking idiots,” Stiles mutters as he grabs three beers from the refrigerated case. Sure, he’s not exactly the indie hipster-wanna be he used to be in college, following the blogs and downloading every random band he hears about. He’s lost a lot of his music cred, likes top 40 when he goes over the bridge to run in Central Park a few times a week, listens to a lot more classic stuff than he used to, but he still enjoys spending hours discovering new music. Too bad the acts that grace this stage when he works don’t help him with that. Thankfully, he’s saved from too much torture by a rush of people at the bar, and his mind only concentrates on drink orders and the perfect mixers for the next three hours.

It’s after midnight when the crowd dies down, and the stage is thankfully empty, the jukebox playing a variety of rock tunes through the speakers.

Stiles wipes his forehead with a rag and gulps down a glass of water. The other bartender working with him tonight, Amy, is leaning on the bar, her ample cleavage shoved in some guy’s face. He’s bitter that she gets more tips and does half the work he does. Maybe if he had boobs he could make the kind of money she does. Maybe if he worked out more and had muscles and wore tight shirts he’d make more money. Maybe if he –

His internal ramblings are cut short when someone drops onto the stool across from him. “Whaddya have?” Stiles asks as he turns his attention to the customer.

It’s like time stops and someone has kicked him in the chest, knocking all the air from his lungs. He’s staring into a pair of hazel eyes that his memory has done no justice, because it forgot the intricacies of the color, the splash of gold, the crinkles at the corner (no, those are new, Stiles tells himself).

“Derek?” Stiles manages, his voice thin, mouth dry.

“Hey, Stiles.” Derek smiles, an easy gesture that looks so foreign on him that Stiles feels like he’s looking at someone else, at a ghost.

“What are you doing here?” Stiles asks, fingers curling around the edge of the bar for support. His heart is pounding in his chest, and he knows that Derek will hear it, will feel it even over the din of the bar.

Stiles hasn’t seen Derek in six years.

Not long after Scott was bitten, after the Alphas and Darach, after…Erica and Boyd died (there, see? He can say it now. Sometimes. Sometimes he can say the words. Sometimes it still hurts so bad that he pushes it down with other things Stiles would rather forget), Derek left Beacon Hills with Cora, and Stiles never saw him again. Sure, they’d heard things from Peter, who’d stuck around until they’d killed him, but then all traces of Derek vanished. Maybe Stiles had been upset when he’d first left, but it’s not like they were friends, not like Derek was anything more than jerk off fantasy material when Stiles had first been exploring his sexuality. (A voice in the back of Stiles’ head says, you weren’t exactly friends, but you were something, he’d known it in the loft after Boyd died, felt it in the hospital. But Derek had left, and Stiles never figured out what exactly they were, and it didn’t matter anymore.) So, there’s no reason for Stiles to feel like his whole world has suddenly been tilted on its axis.

“Beer, please,” Derek says instead of answering. “You choose.”

Stiles nods. He finds that he’s trembling when he reaches for the glass, the tumbler shaking as beer fills it from the tap closest to him. He’s not even sure which one he’s chosen, finds that he doesn’t care.

Stiles sets the glass on the dark wood in front of Derek, and Derek takes a long sip before he speaks again. “I had a gig, at the venue upstairs.”

“Huh?” Stiles responds oh-so-eloquently. The bar is in the basement of a warehouse in Brooklyn, with local, shitty talent gracing the basement stage, while up and coming indie acts perform upstairs. The fact that Derek Hale just uttered the words I had a gig makes no sense. “What are you talking about?”

Derek laughs, a low rumble that catches Stiles off-guard. It’s short-lived, Derek’s laugh, but Stiles still feels it long after Derek stops.

“I, uh, I’m a musician?” Derek looks at Stiles, slightly embarrassed.

“Are you asking me or telling me?” Stiles asks, because the way Derek says it, Stiles isn’t sure.

“Telling. I’m a musician.”

“You’re fucking pulling my leg.” Stiles shakes his head. He glances around, looking for camera crews or like Cora, Scott, or even Peter Hale to jump out from the shadows and yell, GOTCHA!

“I swear.” Derek gets up and walks over to the bulletin board by the bathrooms that’s thickly covered by fliers advertising concerts, art shows, rooms for rent, and even sexual partners. Stiles never glances at it; some of the fliers tacked up there are from before he even moved to New York. Derek pulls one off the board and hands it to Stiles when he sits back down.

Stiles reads it. Derek Hale, The Loft, September 18th, 9 pm.

“Fuck me,” Stiles mutters, glancing up at Derek in shock. “How the…what the…?”

Derek laughs again, and Stiles hates how the sound shoots straight to his cock. Obviously, it’s been way too long since he’s been laid. Or maybe it’s the rich, slightly high pitched sound of Derek’s laugh. Or the thick stubble Stiles wants to rub his fingers through. Or the fact that Derek is still the hottest thing to ever walk this earth, if not hotter than he used to be. (Or maybe Derek was more than a passing hot body all those years ago.)

“It’s a long story,” Derek says, sobering slightly as he levels a gaze at Stiles. “I could say I’d tell you about it later, maybe over coffee.” Derek quirks an eyebrow in a way that is so familiar Stiles feels something he hasn’t felt in a long time. “But that’d be bullshit. I really just want to get out of here and fuck you senseless.”

Stiles blinks. Did Derek just…yes, yes he did. Derek Hale just asked him to have sex.

Stiles turns to Amy and yells, “I’m heading out!” He walks around the edge of the bar, and Amy straightens, looking put out.

“Your shift isn’t over for another hour and a half, and you are not leaving me here to close alone.”

Stiles shrugs as Derek gets off the barstool, smirk playing around his lips. “This is just you settling up for all those times I’ve let you skip out on the end of your shifts. You owe me, Amy.” Stiles turns his back on her and walks towards the exit, throwing his hand up in a wave. “See you Monday!”

Derek silently follows Stiles out of the bar, and when they turn the corner onto the next street, he pushes Stiles against the brick wall. Derek’s face immediately goes to Stiles’ neck, and then he’s licking and nipping and sucking at the flesh. Stiles moans, his arms coming up to grab Derek’s biceps through the leather jacket. Even with a thick layer of clothing between them, Stiles can feel the heat coming off him in waves.

“Fuck,” Stiles gasps as Derek licks behind his ear and then pulls the lobe between his teeth.

“You smell so fucking good,” Derek growls against him, and the sound sends a shiver down his spine as it reverberates through his body.

“Yeah, like stale beer and bad music,” Stiles jokes awkwardly as Derek’s hands slip underneath his t-shirt. And wow, yeah, that’s Derek Hale’s hands on his skin. “As much as I love your mouth and hands on me, and trust me, I totally do, we are on the street corner.”

Derek lifts his head, and Stiles feels a touch of pride that his eyes look a bit dazed as he glances around them. A few people are passing by, and give them the side-eye. One couple whistles and grins. “My hotel is not far from here.”

“My apartment’s only a few blocks away,” Stiles says, and Derek nods. Stiles’ mind reels as he leads the way through the streets. They don’t talk – what would they talk about? This is a stranger standing beside him, someone he knew for a couple of months a lifetime ago. It’s just like any other guy Stiles would bring home from the bar. Sex, maybe a little small talk afterwards, breakfast if Stiles is feeling generous. Nothing different.

Inside the apartment, Stiles turns to close the door, and Derek presses against him from behind, his nose dragging along Stiles’ hairline, his hot breath ghosting across Stiles’ skin as Stiles flips the lock.

“You’re all grown up now,” Derek murmurs against his neck as he drops light kisses against his skin. Stiles shudders and reaches behind him automatically, his fingers sliding into Derek’s hair. “Last time I saw you, you were a skinny seventeen year old.”

“Still skinny,” Stiles jokes. He feels Derek smile against the bare skin of his shoulder, where’s he’s pulled the collar of his shirt aside to kiss and lick.

“But hot,” Derek breathes against his ear. “I can’t wait to fuck you, to feel you beneath me.”

Stiles spins around and plants his palms on Derek’s chest, pushing him backwards through the apartment. Derek’s hands are underneath Stiles’ shirt, skimming across his chest, teasing his nipples as they brush past.

“How are you still this hot?” Stiles asks, fingers flexing against the defined muscles of Derek’s chest. He guides Derek down the hall and through his bedroom door. “It’s not fair.” Derek’s legs hit the back of the bed and he lets Stiles push him down. Derek bounces slightly, and then reaches out to hook his fingers in Stiles’ belt loops and tug him forward between his parted legs.

Stiles feels like he’s dreaming. Not only does he have a guy hotter than any other guy he’s ever slept with in his bed, looking at him like he could eat him alive, but it’s Derek.

“What are we doing?” Stiles finds himself saying, and that is not what he wants to say. He doesn’t want his brain to over think this, just wants to fuck Derek and have it as a story he tells his grandchildren one day.

Derek’s eyebrows scrunch in confusion, slightly taken aback. “I thought we were about the have sex.” Derek tightens his fingers around Stiles’ belt loops, his thumbs running over the skin just above the waist of Stiles’ jeans.

“I mean, you just show up at the bar and ask me to have sex and we haven’t seen each other in years and – “

“Stiles,” Derek cuts in firmly. “Don’t over analyze this. You’re just someone I used to know that I ran into by chance, and I’m glad to see you in addition to being super horny. It’s not that complicated.” Stiles nods, trying not to feel awkward and let his mind get carried away, because that is a rabbit hole he definitely doesn’t want to go down. “Get down here, Stiles,” Derek says, and god he loves the sound of his name coming from Derek’s lips, “and let me kiss you.”

“Yes, sir, I am a-okay with that,” Stiles says, flopping down onto Derek unceremoniously. Derek doesn’t seem to mind. His mouth is immediately on Stiles, and Stiles moans into his mouth as Derek kisses him. His lips are soft, softer than Stiles expected, and his stubble scrapes against Stiles’ mouth and cheeks. Stiles scratches his nails through Derek’s stubble, feels the rough, course hair beneath his fingertips. He drags his thumb along Derek’s jaw as Derek opens his mouth and slides his tongue into Stiles’ mouth. His tongue is soft and warm, probing as Derek tries to trace every inch of his mouth.

Stiles is rutting shamelessly against Derek. His cock is so hard, straining against the front of his jeans. He can feels Derek’s erection against his thigh, and as much as he loves the kissing – because ohmigod he does - he needs Derek to touch him.

“Less, clothes,” Stiles breathes against Derek’s mouth. “Want you to fuck me,” he says as he cups Derek’s hard-on and rubs him through his jeans. Derek lets his head fall back to the mattress as he pushes up into Stiles’ hand, and Stiles watches in awe as Derek writhes beneath him, his eyes squeezed shut and mouth open as he pants. “This is just a preview, buddy,” Stiles says, giving Derek’s cock a final squeeze before rolling over on the bed. He pulls his shirt over his head and tosses it across the room. “I am so gonna rock your fucking world.”

Derek’s grin is fucking feral as he lunges towards Stiles, and they’re a flurry of clothes and hands until Stiles ends up on his back, pillow beneath his hips, with Derek fingering him open.

“Oh fuck, Derek, yes,” Stiles moans, hands in Derek’s hair as he slides two fingers in and out of Stiles quickly. Derek nips at the inside of Stiles’ thigh, hard enough that Stiles is pretty sure he’s going to have a bruise. Then Derek is dropping kisses along his legs, licking the crease of his thigh and his balls. Stiles lifts his hips up, trying to get to more of the friction of Derek’s tongue and push his fingers deeper inside him.

And then Derek’s tongue and fingers are gone, and he’s lining his cock up against Stiles’ opening. “You sure about the condom?” Derek asks, the tip nudging at his hole tantalizingly.

“Yes!” Stiles opens his eyes and looks at Derek in irritation. “Scott and I had the werewolf sex talk forever ago. Just fuck me, okay?” He digs into Derek’s ass with his heels, and then Derek is pushing forward, past the tight ring of muscle, and Stiles comes completely undone.

“You’re so tight,” Derek growls against his ear when he’s fully seated, his hips rocking slowly. Stiles’ nails are clawing at Derek’s back, searching for purchase as Derek slides out and thrusts back in. Stiles emits a soft moan with every thrust, Derek filling him in ways that he hasn’t felt in a long time. Stiles turns his face and catches Derek’s mouth in a kiss, kissing him as he runs his hands through Derek’s damp hair.

Stiles’ entire body is alive with sensation, each thrust of Derek’s cock inside him sending jolts through his limbs. Derek’s mouth against his lips, his cheek, his neck is like tiny explosions across his skin, leaving his skin tingling in its wake. Derek’s body is solid and strong over his, and when Stiles opens his eyes and sees Derek staring down at him, hair flat and sweaty against his forehead, mouth parted as he pants with each smooth stroke, Stiles can’t believe this is real.

“I can’t believe,” Stiles starts breathily as Derek sucks a bruise into his neck, “that I’m fucking you.” Derek responds by biting down hard against his neck. “I mean, I used to jerk off thinking about you,” Stiles admits, unable to control his mouth as his brain swirls uncontrollably. “Couldn’t even be in the same room with you without thinking about you fucking me.”

“I know,” Derek says before licking the sweat pooling in the hollow of Stiles’ throat.

“That’s kind of embarrassing,” Stiles says, tightening his legs around Derek’s waist. “I’m not gonna lie.”

“Stiles,” Derek says with fond exasperation against his throat. “Still can’t shut up.”

“Sorry,” Stiles replies as Derek sucks on his Adam’s apple.

Derek kisses up the column of Stiles’ neck, dragging his teeth against Stiles’ chin. “Don’t apologize,” he says as he looks down at Stiles. “I don’t mind.” Derek reaches his hands out to grab the headboard, and starts pounding into Stiles harder. It’s hard and rough, the headboard clacking against the wall in a loud, fast rhythm, and Stiles can almost feel Derek’s cock in his throat with every thrust. Stiles stretches his neck, his head dropping to the side as he moans and babbles, white hot desire curling through him with every hard movement of Derek’s hips. “Fuck, Stiles. Do you even – “ Derek doesn’t finish, just sinks his teeth into the side of Stiles’ neck, rough and painful.

Stiles cries out and comes messily between them, the only friction on his cock the sweat-slick glide of their torsos pressed against it. Stiles glances up at Derek, bleary-eyed and spent, and is shocked to find bright-blue eyes staring down at him, Derek’s smooth forehead wrinkled and his cheeks covered in fur. “Oh fuck,” Stiles moans loudly, lifting his hands to trace the contours of Derek’s shifted face. If he could come again, he would. Stiles traces the outline of Derek’s lips, and Derek parts his lips enough for Stiles to touch the tip of his canine.

Derek drops his head and nuzzles into Stiles’ neck, emitting a sound somewhere between a growl and a whine as he thrusts a few more times and comes deep inside Stiles. Stiles moans at the feeling of Derek filling him, the sensation strange and new and fucking hot. Derek thrusts a few more times before pulling out and rolling onto his back, breathing heavily.

“Fuck, Stiles,” Derek says after a few moments. Stiles looks over at him as Derek rolls onto his side and pulls Stiles into a kiss. Stiles easily relents, opening his mouth and relishing the feel of Derek’s soft tongue inside his mouth. Derek’s hand skims over Stiles’ damp body, then slides across his hip and between his cheeks. He slides two fingers into Stiles’ loose, wet hole, and Stiles moans into his mouth. “You like that?” Derek asks, kissing across his jaw to his ear.

“Your fingers in my ass? Yes,” Stiles chuckles as Derek lazily fingerfucks him. They kiss for awhile, and Stiles thinks he could probably be ready again pretty soon with the way Derek’s fingers are sliding inside him and Derek doesn’t seem to be letting up any time soon. His cock is already starting to stir again, and the way Derek is twisting and curling his fingers inside Stiles, he knows it’s not gonna stay down for long.
“God, aren’t you tired?” Stiles asks, rocking against Derek’s thigh between his legs. Derek’s fingers suddenly stop and then they’re gone. Stiles opens his eyes, Derek’s face unreadable. “Hey, why did you stop?”

“I thought,” Derek starts, and Stiles grabs his wrist and shoves it back towards his ass.

“You thought wrong.” Derek smiles as he slides three fingers inside Stiles, and Stiles hums contently. “I just thought you’d be tired, because you know, you had a gig.” Stiles snorts, doesn’t keep the teasing out of his voice.

“Gigs always get me riled up,” Derek says.

“You mean they make you horny.”

“Yeah,” Derek laughs as he leans in for a kiss. “But just in general. I can’t sleep well after them. Too much energy thrumming in my veins.”

“Do you always hang out at the bars afterwards and take home extremely handsome men?” Stiles grins rakishly.

“Not always,” Derek jokes. “But a lot of times.”

“Derek Hale, indie rocker and groupie slut.”

“You don’t seem to mind,” Derek says, capturing Stiles’ mouth into a kiss.

“I’m not a groupie,” Stiles mumbles against Derek’s tongue. He pulls away, and Derek starts kissing his neck and speeding up his fingers. “I didn’t even know you were in a band.”

“Stiles, shut up.” The phrase is so familiar that is disorients Stiles, and he’s clutching Derek to ground him.

“I shouldn’t be getting off again,” Stiles says, pointedly ignoring Derek’s command. Derek’s hard again, too, and Stiles reaches between them and wraps his hands around both their cocks. Derek is hot and sticky, and Stiles spreads the mixture of lube and come over them both as he squeezes their cocks together and pumps his joined hands. Derek’s still fingering him, and sucking against the tender spot on his neck he bit earlier. “I feel like a teenager.”

Derek huffs against his neck, his breath warm and hot. “Werewolf stamina.”

“So Scott wasn’t making that up,” Stiles says in wonder.

“Are you always this chatty during sex?”

“I like to be, but no one really seems that interested.”

“Shut up and kiss me.” Stiles obeys, and he kisses Derek as he edges closer, and then Derek angles his free hand between their bodies and helps Stiles jerk them off, and Derek moans into his mouth as he comes over their hands, Stiles following right behind him.

While Stiles is trying to recover, Derek crawls out of bed and pads into the bathroom, and Stiles lays back to fully enjoy Derek’s naked body as he walks across the room. Derek looks almost embarrassed when he catches Stiles looking. He bends down and tenderly wipes the sticky mess from Stiles’ stomach with the damp rag, then cleans gently between his cheeks.

When Derek gets back into bed, Stiles curls against him sleepily and yawns. Derek runs his hands through his hair. “I’ve never had sex with a werewolf before,” Stiles says, already getting drowsy.

“Really?” Derek sounds surprised.

“Never really had the chance.”

“It was nice to not have to hold back.”

“Mmmthat was nice,” Stiles murmurs. He feels Derek turn his head and drop a kiss to his temple, and he falls asleep to the feeling of Derek’s fingers in his hair.

*

Stiles opens his eyes, the sun bright outside the window as Derek stands over him dressed and ready to go. “Don’t get up,” he says, cupping Stiles’ face. “I have an appointment this morning.”

“K.” Stiles closes his eyes. Derek leans down and kisses his forehead, and Stiles hears the front door shut before he falls back asleep.

*

There are a lot of things Stiles can’t believe. He can’t believe that he had sex with Derek Hale last night. He can’t believe that Derek left a huge bruise on his neck that there is no way he can cover up (along with matching bruises on his chest and inner thigh). He can’t believe that Derek Hale is an indie musician, and he can’t believe that he had an honest-to-god proper gig.

So naturally, Stiles spends all morning scouring the internet for information about Derek Hale, indie musician. He purchases Derek’s EP – Derek had a fucking EP! What kind of fucked up alternate universe had he fallen into?? - and listens to it while reading reviews on various indie blogs.

The blogs throw out phrases like “unchecked self-expression” while talking about Derek’s “morose subject matter and melodic simplicity.” They state that Derek interacts with the world at large in a way few musicians have, “calling society on their pretentious bullshit while refusing to follow the rules.” One blog says that Derek’s style is “precious and sometimes jaunty” and heavily influenced by 1970s rock. Most critics claim that Derek is at his best when he keeps the songs simple, his lyrics plainspoken and literal.

Stiles also finds the blogs that have dug up information on Derek’s past. They detail the fire, Laura’s murder, Derek’s arrest; they focus on Derek’s propensity for leather jackets, his taciturn nature, and his gruff exterior. The critics claim his music is “autobiographical and introspective,” his subject matter gloomy as he “translates his uniquely fucked-up life experiences of dysfunction and devastation.” Some even claim that Derek is trying to connect with humanity by detailing the human experience. (That one makes Stiles laugh.)

Stiles sits on his bed after he reads through dozens of write ups on Derek, listening to the five songs of his EP on repeat.

It’s weird. It’s weird to think of the guy singing these songs as Derek, the guy who used to slam him up against walls and bash his face into steering wheels, who Stiles held up in a pool of water for hours, who bit teenagers because he was lonely and wanted a Pack. Stiles didn’t even know werewolves could be famous (or kinda famous, it’s not like Derek had reached Coldplay heights of fame or anything).

The other weird thing is that the songs are good. Experimental guitar-driven indie rock with raw and honest lyrics. Nothing too personal, Stiles notes, because even though he barely knows Derek, barely knew him back then, he is pretty sure he hasn’t suddenly become Mister Overshare. Two of the songs are mostly instrumental anyway, which is such a Derek thing to do. Stiles can’t quite get over how much he loves the sound of Derek’s singing voice, so different from his real voice, something gravelly and slightly nasal, a voice he wouldn’t have recognized if he hadn’t known who it belonged to.

After Stiles has listened to the songs an absurd amount of times, he calls Scott.

“Hey man,” Scott says when he picks up the phone. “What’s up?” Stiles and Scott chat for awhile about their lives, getting caught up because they don’t talk on the phone as much as they should, text more than anything, and Stiles knows you can’t know much about a person’s life through text.

“So, I have something to tell you,” Stiles says when they reach a lull in the conversation. “I saw Derek last night.”

“Derek Hale? In New York?” Scott’s voice sounds shocked.

“Yep. And guess what? He’s an indie musician, and a decently popular one. He played a gig in the venue above the bar,” Stiles explains.

“Get the fuck out.”

“And I had sex with him.” Scott is silent. Stiles wonders if he broke Scott’s brain with the information; maybe he should have lead up to it, eased Scott into this new knowledge. “Scotty? You still with me?”

“You fucked Derek Hale last night?” Scott asks.

“Yep, that is correct.”

“None of this makes any sense,” Scott finally says. “Derek’s some rock star and you had sex with him.”

“It was pretty fucking awesome, too, I gotta admit,” Stiles says as he absently fingers the bruise on his neck.

“Ew, gross,” Scott says, “I did not need to hear that.”

“Shut up, it’s not like I haven’t told you about the guys I’ve fucked before.”

“Yeah, but those guys were never Derek fucking Hale.”

“You should check out his EP, it’s really good,” Stiles says. He hesitates, then adds, “Tell Isaac that Derek’s doing well. He looks great; he looks almost happy.”

After he gets off the phone with Scott, Stiles lazes around the apartment. As he’s sitting in bed, watching TV and snacking, he admits that he is slightly disappointed that Derek had to leave early this morning. Even though Stiles knew last night that he’d never see Derek again, he was hoping they’d maybe wake up, have breakfast, and catch up a bit. Stiles was curious about what Derek had been doing for the past six years, where he ended up after leaving Beacon Hills, how Cora was doing.

Maybe Derek didn’t have an appointment; maybe he wanted to avoid all the awkward “how-have-you-been-what-have-you-been-up-to” talk.

Stiles figures he can live with that. It’s just nice to know that Derek is still alive, and more importantly, he seems happy.

*

Stiles goes into the art studio, a large warehouse space he shares with three other artists he knows. One woman does sculpture, one guy creates found objects, and another does photography. It works out well because their art never overlaps.

Stiles goes over to the canvas he’s been working on, a large twelve foot by six foot rectangle partly covered on the right side.

“Hey, Stiles,” Ted, the found objects artist, says from his corner, where he is attaching a tire to something. Stiles thinks it’s a little too derivative of Rauschenberg, but hey. Not like he hasn’t been channeling some heavy Rothko and de Kooning lately. “I got into the Fall Group Show at the Lehmann Maupin Gallery.”

“They sent out the decisions?” Stiles runs across the studio to the pile of collected mail on a table by the door. He thumbs through the envelopes quickly, finding his letter from the gallery. Inelegantly he tears it open, his eyes scanning the words quickly.

Stiles Stilinski,

Thank you for allowing us the chance to review your work. Unfortunately, the pieces you submitted did not quite fit in with the rest of the show.

We wish you the best of luck…

Stiles stops reading and crunches the letter into his hand. He throws it against the wall and watches as it bounces and then rolls across the floor. He lets the burn of rejection overcome him, his limbs tingling with disappointment. His face is red when he crosses back to his canvas.

“Tough luck, man,” Ted says.

Stiles shrugs. “It happens.”

“Next time.” Ted smiles and Stiles wants to shove that tire over his head, Ted and his stupid derivative bullshit art.

It’s the third rejection Stiles has gotten in the last few months, which means he still hasn’t placed anything in New York, except in that one show his friend put on out of their coffee shop, which absolutely did not count.

Having one of his pieces hanging in the women’s bathroom at the bar also does not count.

*

Stiles spends all day in the studio, painting large swipes of color onto a blank canvas. He starts off with a vague idea of an abstract scene, but it soon disintegrates into angry strokes and rips in the canvas.

He paints the colors of his rejection.

He paints the strokes of Derek’s hands upon his skin.

He paints the red of Lydia’s hair as it falls from her ponytail, and uses a different shade to stain the red of her blood across the other colors, a poor imitation of the way her blood had spilled on the floor that night, more black than red in the dark room.

He stabs the end of his paintbrush into the canvas where Lydia’s abstract head is, the sound of the ripping satisfying as he watches the canvas tear apart.

Stiles slings black onto everything.

*

Stiles wakes up in a cold sweat, in the middle of a panic attack. He doesn’t fight it, lets it run its course as he concentrates on his breathing, concentrates on where he is now. In New York. Safe.

As the panic ebbs, Stiles reaches out and grabs his cell phone, doesn’t even have to look down to dial the number. It’s an all-too-familiar routine.

“Stiles?” Allison’s voice answers, sleepy and quiet. “What’s wrong?”

“I dreamed about her again.” He hears movement on the other end and says, “I’m sorry I woke you up.”

“No, it’s okay,” she says. “Jake’s sleeping, and I didn’t want to wake him.” Stiles rubs his eyes and looks at the clock. It’s after two a.m. “What was it about this time?”

“She was on the floor in the store, just like it happened.” Stiles squeezes his eyes shut, tries to erase the image of Lydia’s dead and broken body from his mind. Three years and it still hasn’t gotten any easier.

“Oh, Stiles,” Allison says. “You haven’t had any dreams in a long time. Why all of a sudden?”

Stiles swallows, breathes in and out, in and out. “I painted her today. I haven’t painted her in ages.”

“That’s good though, right?” she asks. “You should paint her.”

“I ended up ripping the canvas to shreds.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

Allison is quiet for a few minutes before she starts telling Stiles about her life in Washington, about the Pack her boyfriend Jake is an emissary for, about the problems she’s been having with the local hunters because of her position with the Pack. Stiles knows she’s trying to get his mind off Lydia, and he’s grateful. It’s why he always calls Allison.

That, and well, she understands. Sometimes it’s Allison with the nightmares in the middle of the night. But mostly it’s Stiles.

Stiles is the one that will never forget.

*

Stiles is in the middle of a rush of drunk college kids when Derek shows up at the bar again. It’s been a month since their one night stand, and Stiles did not expect to see Derek again. Ever. But there he was, in all his leather jacket glory, smirking at Stiles. And Stiles, of course, is covered in beer, various mixers, sweat, and maybe vomit from that frat boy who had puked behind the bar earlier.

This is not his most attractive. Good thing they’ve already fucked.

“What are you doing here?” Stiles shouts above the music, right as some drunk douche in a popped collar comes up and demands a beer. Stiles sighs and gives the guy his drink, even though he was in the middle of talking to Derek. And the asshole didn’t even leave a tip.

“Came to listen to some music,” Derek explains.

“Then you came to the wrong place.”

Stiles gives Derek a beer, and he disappears somewhere in the crowd as Stiles is accosted at the bar again. Amy, who he’s of course working with, is moving half as fast as he is. He really hates everyone right now.

Sometime later, Derek approaches the bar again. “Give me one of those.” He points to a local brew written on the chalkboard above them, and Stiles grabs it from the refrigerated case and pops off the top before handing Derek the bottle.

Derek buys two more beers before the crowd thins, and after he settles his tab, he leaves Stiles a generous tip. And the room number of his hotel.

After his shift, Stiles debates not going to Derek’s hotel. Who had multiple one night stands with the same person? And didn’t multiple one night stands negate the concept of a one night stand? And it was with Derek.

He walks to his apartment (because he wasn’t going to Derek’s, nope no way, or maybe he was going to take a shower), and calls Scott.

“Hey, man, what’s up?” There is a lot of noise on Scott’s end, and then lots of shouting and applause.

“What are you doing?”

“Isaac and I are at a sports bar, watching a football game. What’s going on?”

“Derek came back by the bar,” he states. “He left me his hotel room number. I think he wants to have sex again.”

“Maybe he just wants to talk,” Scott suggests.

“Really, Scott? We’re two grown men, and it’s after midnight.”

“That doesn’t automatically mean sex.”

“Yes it does.”

“Then why did you call me?” Scott asks.

“Should I go?” Stiles asks as he walks up the stairs to his apartment.

“You’re seriously asking me if you should have sex with Derek again?”

“Obviously.”

“Fuck, Stiles, I don’t know.” Stiles hears someone talking in the background, and then Scott says, “Isaac says to have sex with him. And not to feel weird about it. And to tell Derek he said hi.”

Stiles showers and then takes the subway to the stop nearest Derek’s hotel. He feels a little shady walking into a hotel in the middle of the night for a booty call; he can most definitely say that he has never done this before.

Derek opens the door before he could knock. “I was listening for you,” he offers as explanation as he steps aside to let Stiles in. He’s wearing a grey wife beater and a pair of green cotton pants, and Stiles tries not to stare. He’s doing a really bad job at it.

“What would you have done if I wouldn’t have shown up?” Stiles asks, looking around the hotel room. It’s small, but nice. Not one of the pricey hotels, but decent enough. There’s a guitar propped against the wall, two shirts draped over the radiator, and a computer with mixing equipment set up on a table.

“I knew you would,” Derek smirks as he closes the door and crosses the room.

“I almost didn’t come,” Stiles protests as he follows Derek further into the room, and Derek shoots him a look over his shoulder, eyebrow raised.

“Sure.”

“I didn’t. You don’t know!”

Derek drops onto the bed and leans back against the headboard, fingers laced behind his head. He watches as Stiles just kind of stands there, awkward and unsure of what to do. “Are you uncomfortable?” Derek asks.

Stiles laughs nervously. “Ugh, yeah. This is weird, right? I mean, one time, it’s a fluke. Like, me and you meet cosmically because the stars align and after years we just end up in the same space, and why wouldn’t we fuck one another? But this is different. A second time isn’t just some random occurrence.”

“Stop worrying, take off your shoes, and sit down.” Derek even pats the bed beside him. Stiles sighs as he toes off his shoes and crawls onto the bed.

“Why did you even come back to the bar? Why are you even still in New York? I thought you lived in LA?”

Derek gives him a suspicious expression, and Stiles rolls his eyes. “Did you google me?”

“Ugh, yeah,” Stiles replies like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “I looked you up the day after I saw you. When someone I used to know tells me they are some mini-celebrity, you bet your ass I’m gonna google that shit.”

Derek chuckles, deep in his chest. “Most of those write ups are bullshit.”

“I know. They got all sorts of things wrong,” Stiles agrees. “But I thought the LA thing might have been true.”

Derek nods. “I do live in LA. After my last gig here, a studio contacted me and wanted to sign me to their label to record a full-length album.”

Stiles slaps Derek’s arm. “Dude, that’s so great! What label?”

“Some small, independent outfit that’s only signed a few acts. But it’s studio time.” Derek shrugs. “It’s fine, I guess.”

“Fine, you guess? What are you talking about? You’re about to record an actual album!”

“I think you’re more excited than I am,” Derek says with a smile.

“That’s because you’re stupid,” Stiles says. “So, are we gonna like, have sex? Or did you just want to talk?”

“Do you just want to talk?”

“Not really.”

“Good, me either.”

*

Stiles found that having sex with Derek was more enjoyable than he’d have thought. Sure, he’d thought about having sex with Derek a lot back when he’d been in Beacon Hills, and the sex was as hot as he always thought it would be, but…there was something else. Derek was playful in bed, attentive, extremely tactile.

Derek’s hands were all over him, touching every part of skin that he could. If he wasn’t kissing Stiles (and he couldn’t even begin to describe how fantastic that was), he was nuzzling his neck, or licking at his neck, or nipping at his shoulder, or biting his nipple. Derek’s mouth was always somewhere.

When they were finished, Stiles lay back against the pillow, panting and staring at the ceiling. “Fucking A,” Stiles says, his heart beating in his throat. “I just…is sex with a werewolf always like this? Or is it just you?”

“My pride wants to say it’s just me,” Derek teases, hand reaching out and skimming along Stiles’ damp chest. “But I honestly don’t know.”

“Is sex this good with other werewolves?” Stiles asks. “Or wait, maybe you don’t think sex with humans is as good, which I could totally see, and – “

“Stiles, you have nothing to worry about.” Derek leans over and kisses his mouth gently. Stiles sighs into it, his lips parting as Derek’s tongue dips inside softly. “I don’t tend to have sex more than once with people I don’t find absolutely worth it.” Derek smiles against his mouth, his stubble tickling Stiles’ mouth.

“Good to know.” Derek pulls Stiles against him, and settles under the covers with his arms around Stiles. “So,” Stiles asks, drawing abstract shapes in the drying sweat on Derek’s chest.

“You don’t have to make awkward small talk,” Derek says.

“Dude, it’s me. Of course I do.” He feels Derek chuckle quietly under him. “Where did you go after you left Beacon Hills?”

Derek doesn’t respond for so long that Stiles had given up on Derek responding, but then he says, “A lot of places. We spent some time in Montana right afterwards. My mother had some family there, so they let us stay with their Pack.”

“How’s Cora?”

“She’s great. She lives in LA and is a makeup artist.” Derek runs his hands through Stiles’ messy hair. “Music was her idea. She told me she was tired of me sitting around the house, doing nothing.”

“Did you just learn to play the guitar a few years ago?”

“Nope. Started playing in middle school, before the fire. I sometimes played when I lived here with Laura. But Cora told me to find a hobby, so I started playing again. The whole actually becoming a singer thing was the result of a series of weird circumstances.”

Stiles smiles and turns his head to kiss Derek’s arm. “You seem to be happy,” he says.

Derek doesn’t answer, and Stiles wonders if maybe he was wrong.

Maybe Derek isn’t so happy after all.

*

This time, it’s Stiles who leaves in the morning. He doesn’t even have a reason, other than waking up beside Derek is something he doesn’t want to do.

He’s not sure why; he just knows that he can’t.

So, he leaves Derek a note on the pad of paper next to the recording equipment, thanking him for the spectacular sex and wishing him good luck on his album.

*

Autumn in New York is always beautiful. Stiles walks through Central Park, hands stuffed in his hoodie, kicking leaves up with his feet as he walks.

He wants to paint the colors, capture the vividness of the golds and reds and oranges, wants to translate the way the crisp air and crunching beneath his feet makes him feel. He wishes his art was good enough to make people feel the way he feels.

He wishes his canvases could say the things he can’t say.

*

Stiles spends a day going from gallery to gallery, trying to find someone to back his art. Most of the galleries politely declined, and one owner told him, “Your art feels fake. I don’t know who the painter is, what you are saying. They feel like workshop pieces you did for class in imitation of the great masters.”

Stiles stops by the liquor store on the way to the studio, and drinks a fifth of whiskey while destroying his derivative bullshit art. He’d been a fool to even think he could be an artist, make it in New York.

He pulls out a new canvas, starts painting everything he’s feeling inside. Fuck derivative; if they want Stiles, he will give them Stiles.

He covers most of the canvas in greens and browns, like the woods of Beacon Hills, and adds scribbled wolves among the leaves, their distorted faces watching from the shadows, their eyes wide and ever knowing, their maws gaping and grotesque. He draws Scott and Isaac in shades of grey, while other wolves, predators, evil incarnate in black, the brush falling hard and faster over the canvas.

Then Stiles draws a red flower, Lydia’s favorite, in the corner with all the leaves missing, the bloom lying on the ground away from the stem. He finishes by chugging the rest of the fifth and then slicing claw marks into the canvas, like the ones she’d had on her back, like the ones that tore out her throat.

Stiles shows up at Derek’s hotel room door, drunk and shaking.

“Stiles, what’s wrong?” Derek asks, his eyes flashing blue as they scan the hallway. Stiles pushes Derek back, palms flat against his chest as he kicks the door shut behind him with his foot. “Stiles, I think you need a cup of coffee.”

Stiles pushes Derek up against the wall, scratches his nails through his stubble. “I want you to fuck me.”

“I think you should tell me what’s wrong.”

Stiles shakes his head, which is swimming with alcohol. “No talking. Just fuck me, Derek. Fuck me until I can’t breathe.”

Derek lifts Stiles and shoves him against the wall, biting into his neck. Stiles cries out.

*

When Stiles wakes up, hungover and feeling like shit, he takes in his surroundings. He has no clue where he is. But then he catches sight of Derek’s mixing equipment on the table, and suddenly, he’s not sure how in the hell he even got there. But since he’s hungover, and his ass is sore, he’s got a pretty good idea of what happened.

He finds a bottle of aspirin beside a bottle of water waiting for him on the nightstand. Beside it lay a note.

Let me know if you need anything. Derek

Stiles smiles despite himself.

*

“You’re a fucking genius,” Ted says when Stiles walks into the studio two days later. Stiles glances at him like he’s crazy, and then Fiona is coming up to him.

“I have never seen anything like it,” she says. “How did you come up with the idea?”

“Huh?” he asks as he walks over to his work space. Sitting up against the wall was a painting. His painting. Suddenly, flashes of the other night come to him. Getting drunk, painting, Derek fucking him against the wall almost painfully. Stiles still has the bruises on his shoulders.

“Oh.”

“It’s so vivid,” Fiona continues. “And raw. The color just reflects your pain. Is it autobiographical?”

“No,” Stiles says too fast, eyes glued to the broken flower at the bottom of the canvas. “It was just an idea I had.”

“Well, it’s fucking fantastic,” Ted says. “You should submit it to the Agora Gallery’s upcoming show.”

“You really think so?”

“Definitely,” Fiona says.

Stiles stares at the painting for a long time, trying to stop the hollow ache inside him. He didn’t want it there, had run from it for so long, trying to keep it from overwhelming him. But he’d let it out, he’d done the thing he’d never wanted to do. He started painting Beacon Hills.

He takes a snapshot of the canvas and sends it to Allison.

I finally painted her.

*

Stiles meets a guy at work one night, and goes back to his apartment with him. They fuck, and then Stiles leaves, doesn’t even pretend he wants to fall asleep with the man. The sex is fine, more than fine actually, but he has no interest in small talk, no interest in falling asleep to the measured sounds of the man’s breathing, his strong arms wrapped around him.

The next day, he spends all day in the studio, covering the whole canvas in ice blue, then trying to figure out how to put out the flames, heal fifteen year old wounds, and reconnect to lost roots and severed limbs.

Stiles isn’t sure about what he’s painted, not sure that he captured Derek’s existence until Minuet looks up from her pottery and says, “The person you painted, you must really love them if you understand them so well.”

Stiles thinks about throwing away the canvas, but instead he adds in dark stubble, strong hands gripping his hips, lips that leave a trail of electricity in their wake.

He doesn’t know why he spent fourteen hours painting Derek Hale, and he’s pretty sure he never wants to find out.

*

Stiles gets an e-mail advertising Derek’s new song from the same place he purchased his EP. He downloads it and listens.

The music is slow, with off-beats and minor chords. It’s heavily influenced by electro-rock, which is something new for Derek. But the lyrics are what stand out.

They’re about running from your past, and the macabre nature of death.

The bloggers say Derek writes the song of everyone’s loss, the loss of the love of your life, and some say he’s writing about his family.

Stiles can see everything perfectly in what Derek sings. Erica, Boyd, Paige, Peter, Laura, the Hales.

Derek’s singing his ghosts.

*

Stiles gets his latest two pieces accepted into a large art show. It’s one of the biggest art shows for the up and coming New York talent.

Stiles is so happy he goes home with the cute drummer from the band that played that night. He even stays the night this time.

*

The art show is huge, like huge. There are hundreds of pieces in it, by some of the most prominent new talent to hit the art scene in the last few years in addition to a lot of unknown artists. The opening gala features some of New York’s art elite, both artists and critics, and Stiles feels like he’s going to throw up.

His dad texts him and calls him three times, leaving various voice messages about how proud he is of Stiles and how he wishes he could be there. He gets texts from Scott, Isaac, and Allison, all varying degrees of Wish we were there! Good luck! Let us know how it goes! He wishes they were here; he’s sweating buckets, his hands shaking so bad he can’t hold a champagne glass. Ted and Minuet are both here, also with pieces in the show, but they have their own friends.

Stiles is alone.

Instead of awkwardly mingling, Stiles walks through the exhibition. He pauses at each piece, giving it his full attention. There are pieces that are so beautiful they make him ache inside, because he could never make art that beautifully. There are other pieces that he finds tacky or kitsch, in a bad way, not an Andy Warhol way.

When he sees his own pieces hanging on the wall – in a proper exhibition! – he admits it, he tears up. The first one, simply titled Beacon Hills, hangs on its own wall it’s so large. He stands in front of it for a long time, staring at the different parts, the colors, the shreds cutting into it. He thinks of Lydia, wonders if she would have liked it, can hear her critiquing it like she was standing beside him.

The color theory is a nice homage to Rothko, though honestly Stiles, I think you could have been a bit more creative. Red to represent my hair? Red to represent the blood? The obvious choice, but it works. I like the abstract representation of the Preserve the best, because that’s how it always looked, I know that sounds crazy. The slashes are a nice way of breaking the two-dimensional plane, adding a layer of tension and fear to the piece.

He feels himself tearing up again, and this time, it’s for a completely different reason.

Stiles listens to a few people discuss his work as he looks at a nearby lithograph, and he preens at their praise for his originality and use of color and symbolism.

He eventually grows the balls to view his second work, which he entitled Sour. Not his most original title, but every other title just seemed wrong. He feels awkward standing there looking at it, even though he knows no one knows exactly what it is. Sure, a few of the people he’s spoken to have figured out, like Minuet, that he has deep feelings for the subject - which he’s still effectively ignoring, of course - but no one here knows it’s Derek, or even if the person is real. But whenever Stiles looks at it, he feels like his whole soul is bared for the entire world to see.

It makes him feel uncomfortable in his own skin, the constricting ache in his chest making the night bittersweet. He wishes he could celebrate his success without the threat of losing his mind.

Stiles is near the end of the exhibition when he hears a familiar voice. He turns and sees Derek laughing with another man. Derek’s wearing a suit, which clings to his body in all the right places. The two of them are standing in each other’s space, the other man’s hand on Derek’s lower back as Derek leans close and says something into his ear.

Stiles knows it shouldn’t bother him, but it does. Maybe because Derek is at his exhibition. With a date. Stiles knew they were nothing but a three-night stand, and he’d had sex with people since Derek, but still. He didn’t want to see Derek with other people. Especially not when his confusingly complex feelings are on display in the exhibition for everyone to see.

Stiles hurries around the wall, trying to get away from Derek before he notices him. He hopes there were too many people around for Derek to smell him. Stiles is talking to Minuet and some of her friends when he feels a hand on his arm. Sure enough, it’s Derek.

“Stiles!” Derek says, surprised. “I didn’t expect to see you here!”

“Same,” Stiles says, smiling, but it doesn’t reach his eyes.

“Hi, I’m Josh,” Derek’s date says, offering his hand. Stiles shakes it. Firm grip, a bit too firm. Apparently, Josh was trying to claim his territory. Stiles isn’t in the mood for a pissing contest. He could have Derek.

“Stiles.”

“How do you two know one another?” Josh asks.

Stiles glances at Derek, and Derek says, “We’re from the same hometown.”

“Small world,” Josh says.

“Yeah.”

“What are you doing here?” Derek asks.

“My friends have pieces in the show,” Stiles explains, wanting to keep Derek as far away from his pieces as possible.

“Don’t be modest,” Ted comes up behind him, clapping Stiles on the shoulder. “Stiles’ pieces are the hit of the whole exhibition. No one can stop talking about them.”

“You’re an artist? Why didn’t you tell me?” Derek asks.

Stiles feels himself blushing at all the attention, three sets of eyes trained on him. He shrugs. “I guess it just never came up.”

“You should see them,” Ted says, “they’re worth checking out.”

“We’ll try,” Josh says, “Though we need to get going if we’re going to make our dinner reservations.”

“Oh yes, please,” Stiles says. “Don’t miss dinner on account of me. You’re not missing much anyway.”

After Derek leaves, Stiles mingles with the other artists, and actually finds himself relaxing and having a good time. Ted wasn’t lying; everyone is talking about his two pieces, claiming all sorts of things about them that Stiles keeps texting to Scott. It makes him laugh that they miss the point of both of them, that they think the wolves are a metaphor or that the slashes are symbolic. They don’t realize that the colors are real representations of his nightmares, of things he’s tried to forget for a long time.

When he entered college, he planned to be a computer science major. Or go into forensics. He wasn’t sure which. But he took an art class spring semester of his freshman year, an easy, throwaway class. The whole class was a joke, the idea of painting so absurd that he spent the entire first month screwing around with a few of the other guys in class.

But then Lydia died, and he failed two classes, and barely scraped by in two others. But his painting professor, she had told him, “Take what happened to you and turn it into art. That’ll be your assignment for the semester.” So, he did. He painted, or maybe a more accurate description would be that he threw paint onto a canvas, angry streaks splattering against blank space, painful strokes stained with tears, every emotion he had as he went out of his mind with panic and grief channeled into a collection of paintings.

He’d gotten an A in the class.

Painting was his therapy throughout college, and then he found he liked the different techniques: digital art, pottery, sketch, photography, film. But after that first collection, he never opened himself up like that again. His painting professor tried to get him to tap into that same genius that he’d demonstrated that first semester. But that part of Stiles was closed. He kept it pushed deep down, even as he went back to Beacon Hills to fight alongside Scott and Isaac, he never let himself think about it too much.

Because if he did, like the darkness, it would consume him.

Stiles rounds the corner to take one last look at his paintings hanging properly in an exhibition before he leaves. Much to his surprise, he finds Derek standing before Beacon Hills. Derek’s arms are crossed, his head tilted to the side as he studies the painting. As soon as he catches scent of Stiles, he turns to him.

“I thought you’d left,” Stiles says.

“I did,” Derek says. “I came back.”

“Where’s Josh?”

Derek shrugs. “Dunno. Left him after dinner.”

“Why? Surely, your date couldn’t be over.”

“I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see your work hanging in a museum, could I?” Derek smiles, small and simple, and Stiles feels a shiver run down his spine.

“It’s not exactly a museum,” Stiles says. “It’s just an exhibition.”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“It does, actually.”

Derek ignores him, and points to the canvas. “This is incredible.”

“I didn’t know you knew art,” Stiles says, coming to stand beside Derek. They are so close their arms are touching. Derek feels warm, even through Stiles’ long sleeve shirt and Derek’s blazer.

“I don’t,” Derek says, “But I know Beacon Hills.” Derek’s hand points to the greens and browns. “It’s perfect. I haven’t visualized the Preserve in so long.” He points to the different wolves, then to the flower. “What’s this?”

“Nothing.” Stiles knows that Derek hears the lie, but he doesn’t care. And Derek doesn’t press.

Derek moves on to Sour, and Stiles knows it’s pointless to try and keep his heartbeat steady. Derek stares at it for a long time, and Stiles waits for him to say something, anything. Critique him, make fun of him, but Derek remains silent.

After long moments, he reaches out and grabs Stiles’ hand and laces their fingers.

*

Stiles wakes up, sweating and screaming. He’s in Derek’s hotel room and Derek’s right there, hands on his shoulders, warm chest pressed against his back. His hands slide soothingly down Stiles’ arms as Stiles tries to blink the nightmare away.

Derek nuzzles Stiles’ neck, drops kisses along his skin. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, his heartbeat slowing to something resembling normal.

“Wanna talk about it?” Derek asks, mouth right beside Stiles’ ear.

“No.”

“Okay.” Derek lies back down, pulling Stiles down into his arms. Stiles clings to Derek, a warm body to help chase the images away. He’s never woken up with someone beside him, and he finds the solid weight comforting. “What happened after I left?” Derek whispers. “That painting…”

“Things weren’t good,” Stiles says, voice hoarse and thin. “The Nemeton drew…everything to us. We barely made it through high school, barely graduated.”

Derek holds him tighter, strong hands rubbing along his back. “I’m sorry,” Derek murmurs. “I’m sorry I left.”

“It’s not your fault.”

“Everything was my fault.”

Stiles shakes his head. “No, that’s where you are wrong. Things would have happened regardless. And no one person could cause all of that.”

“Thank you,” Derek says after awhile. “What happened to Peter?” Stiles shivers, and Derek’s arms pull him closer. “You don’t have to tell me.”

“We killed him,” Stiles says bluntly. He feels Derek tense beneath him.

Then Derek nods and says, “Okay.”

*

When Stiles wakes up, Derek is still asleep beside him, the sun shining through the blinds casting stripes of bright light across his chest. Derek’s face is nuzzled into the pillow, his mouth open as he sleeps. His hair is flat, the sheet halfway up his back, his legs tangled with Stiles.

Stiles contemplates leaving, of just getting out of bed and disappearing like all of the times before. Uphold the illusion that this is something casual, that they are still just repeated one-night stands. But he knows that isn’t true. Stiles isn’t sure what is going on between them, whether or not it’s an honest-to-god attraction developing, or if they are clinging to one another through some nostalgic link to their shared past in Beacon Hills.

Stiles knows that Derek still carries his ghosts as close to his chest as Stiles does. He knew it last night when Derek still blamed himself, he knew it when Derek had been looking at his painting, he knew it when he’d listened to the new song.

Derek still had as much baggage from Beacon Hills as Stiles did.

And as Stiles lay there, he couldn’t decide if that meant that they needed each other or that they would fall apart together.

*

Stiles wakes up and the bed is empty. He reaches out and rubs his hand along the wrinkled sheets as he tamps down his disappointment. Just because he had feelings that might be more than casual for Derek doesn’t mean Derek feels the same. They were just friends having fun. Friends with benefits. Which means Derek is completely within his right to not be there when Stiles wakes up; it’s just, Stiles kinda wanted him there.

But the last thing Stiles needed to do was go fuck things up by making everything more complicated.

He decides to take a shower to wash away the sweat and come – and all the traces of Derek – before he goes home. He washes his hair with Derek’s shampoo, cleans himself with Derek’s body wash and uses it to soap his cock as he jerks off. He still feels the sting of Derek inside him, pleasant and satisfying, and he fingers the bruises on his collarbone and neck, the imprints of fingers on his hips.

Stiles is shoving his feet into his sneakers when Derek walks through the door, bearing coffee and a brown paper bag.

“Gonna disappear again?” Derek asks as he crosses to the bed and hands Stiles the cup.

Stiles hides his blush in his coffee cup. “Thought you had disappeared first,” he admits.

“I didn’t expect you up for awhile.” Derek unlaces his boots and pulls them off before stretching out on the bed. He watches as Stiles takes off his shoes and sits beside him tentatively, legs crossed. Derek sits his coffee on the bedside table and grabs the back of Stiles’ head. He pulls him close and drags his nose along Stiles’ neck. He moans softly. “You smell like me.”

“I took a shower; I hope that’s okay,” Stiles says, realizing belatedly that maybe he should have asked, or not assumed that it was okay to use Derek’s shower. “I felt gross.”

“It’s fine.” Derek drags his cheek down the side of Stiles’ neck, the stubble scraping against his skin and sending shivers through him. Then, Derek kisses his pulse point. “You can use my shower any time.”

Stiles laughs, and Derek angles his head up to kiss him. Derek tastes like hazelnut coffee. “I bought you a bagel,” Derek announces as he lifts the bag. “I hope you like blueberry.”

“It’s the best,” Stiles smiles.

They turn the television on and watch a bad made-for-tv movie as they eat breakfast and drink their coffee. After half an hour, Stiles finds himself yelling at the television, making fun of the special effects and ripping apart the plot.

“It’s not that serious,” Derek laughs as he watches Stiles.

“This movie is the worst, are you kidding me?” He shakes his head. “I love it. Scott, Isaac, and I spent most of college watching bad movies. I need to text Scott; he’ll fucking love this shit.”

“How is Isaac?” Derek asks. He’s picking at the remaining bits of his bagel, and Stiles finds it odd that he looks so vulnerable, so unsure.

“He’s doing well,” Stiles replies. “He’s happy, has a girlfriend, still lives in Beacon Hills. Scott’s Pack is small, but he’s included a handful of Omegas over the years who are pretty cool. It’s good that he has wolves around, especially since Allison’s in Washington, I’m here, and Ly- everyone else…” Stiles doesn’t finish, hopes Derek doesn’t notice the way his voice breaks slightly, the way his heart starts pounding.

“That’s good,” Derek says, nodding his head, and Stiles silently thanks him for moving on. “I’m glad there’s a solid Pack there to protect the territory. I’m glad that it’s Scott. I always knew he’d make a good Alpha.”

“It was up in the air for awhile,” Stiles says, thinking back to that first year after Derek left. “The twins died, people around Beacon Hills died, hell, Chris Argent became one of our greatest allies, so go fucking figure, huh?” Stiles laughs, but it’s forced. Derek reaches out and curls his fingers around the nape of Stiles’ neck, combs his fingers through the messy strands of his hair.

“I should have been there.”

“You had to do what was best for you and Cora,” Stiles says. “I get it. I wish I could have left, gotten away.”

“Beacon Hills is home, but…” Derek trails off, a faraway look in his eyes. “There was nothing there for me but death.”

“I understand that,” Stiles replies too easily. Derek squeezes his neck.

After the movie is over, Derek mutes the TV and looks over at Stiles. “Do you have anything planned for today?”

Stiles shrugs. “Not really. Have to be at work at seven.” He rolls onto his side, props himself up on his elbow. “Why? Got any suggestions?”

Derek grins and leans forward to kiss him. Stiles melts into the kiss, hates the fact that he knows he could kiss Derek forever and be okay with it. Kissing someone has never been this perfect.

“I was thinking,” Derek says when he finally pulls away, his cheeks flushed and eyes bright, “that I could play some of my new songs for you, get your opinion.”

Stiles grins. “Ooh, a special private concert?” He waggles his eyebrows and Derek rolls his eyes.

“Nevermind.”

“Oh, Derek, come on!” Stiles laughs and grabs Derek’s hand as he starts off the bed. “Don’t pout.” Derek tries to look mad, but the tick in his cheek tells Stiles that he’s trying not to laugh. “I’d actually love for you to play for me. I’m still not convinced that it’s real. I think it’s a conspiracy, a huge ruse created by you and Cora to like take over the world or something.”

Stiles lets go of Derek’s hand as Derek rolls his eyes and gets off the bed. “Yeah, such a great plan to infiltrate by being a musician that maybe five people listen to.” He grabs his guitar from where it’s propped against the wall.

“Dude, you played the Loft. And Paste wrote a review of your EP. That’s kind of a big deal.”

Derek snorts, but he looks pleased at the praise. He pulls the chair over beside the bed and sits down in front of Stiles. He tunes his guitar for a few moments before positioning himself. He looks at Stiles and says, “Tell me your honest opinion, okay? If you hate it, tell me. Don’t sugarcoat it.”

“I won’t hate it,” Stiles says.

“Don’t say that. You might.”

“Shut up and play, Hale. And don’t hold back. I expect to be wowed with my free, private concert.” Derek gives him an exasperated smile, but he looks happy.

The moment Derek strums the first chord, Stiles is mesmerized. He watches the way Derek’s fingers nimbly slide along the frets, his fingertips pressing into the strings as he plays. His voice is soft and earnest, evoking more feeling than Stiles has ever seen from Derek. Stiles lets his eyes take in the way Derek’s muscles shift as he changes chords, the flex of his forearm, the veins in his hands and arms making Stiles want to drag his tongue along them.

Derek plays the songs he already has written from his upcoming album, then switches to songs from his EP, even throws in a few covers here and there, singing and playing for hours. Stiles feels like he’s in a trance as the melodies cascade over him, seeping into his skin, into his soul. He can’t believe this is Derek Hale sitting in front of him, producing these haunting tracks, that Derek is singing in the flesh. It doesn’t quite seem real.

When he’s finished, Derek sets the guitar aside and looks nervous before he asks, “Well, what did you think?”

Stiles can’t respond. So instead, he crawls into Derek’s lap and tries to tell him how amazing he thinks he is with his mouth, with his hands.

*

Stiles feels kind of lame buying tickets to see Derek’s concert.

The whole concept of Derek being an actual musician still hasn’t quite sunk in. Every time Stiles listens to Derek’s EP – and yeah, he’s listened to it way too many times, but he’d never admit that to Derek – it’s like it’s a different person singing.

The concert is in the Loft again, and Stiles goes alone. He has a few friends he usually sees shows with, but bringing them just feels wrong. Like they would be interfering in something, something Stiles doesn’t want to share with anyone else. He speaks briefly with the doorman, a guy who works downstairs sometimes at their shows, and then he finds a spot against the wall in the back and watches as the crowd grows. By the time the opening band has finished, the place is packed – Stiles is pretty sure it’s a sold out show.

When Derek comes out on stage, the crowd starts yelling and screaming. He’s got a guitar strapped across his body, and he’s holding it behind him as he walks towards the microphone. He’s wearing a white wife beater and tight, low-riding jeans. Stiles just rolls his eyes. Of course, he looks smokin’ hot and like walking sex up there, and the bastard knows it. Stiles can tell by the way he’s standing.

“Hey New York, nice to be back,” Derek greets the crowd, and Stiles snorts. The words sound so awkward coming from Derek’s lips, but the crowd just eats it up. They’re screaming even louder as he slides the guitar around his body and scans the crowd. His eyes land on Stiles after a few moments, and his mouth curls into a grin. Stiles just huffs a laugh and shakes his head.

 

As soon as Derek starts playing his guitar, Stiles is rock hard. Derek looks so good on stage, up under the stage lights, the sweat on his bare shoulders and biceps glistening as the lights flick from blue to green. Stiles wants to lick it from his skin, can still taste the salt on his tongue, can still feel the contours of Derek’s flesh.

The longer Stiles watches Derek, the more he begins to understand just how talented Derek really is. His stage presence isn’t the best that Stiles has seen, but that doesn’t matter. Derek sings with a passion he never lets loose in a regular setting, and he looks completely made for the stage. He’s absolutely gorgeous.

Stiles gets lost somewhere in the middle of his set. He’s lost in the lilt of Derek’s voice, the sweat that’s rolling down his neck, the shift in his hips, the bit of flesh visible above the waist of his jeans when he switches guitars. Stiles has a hard time believing that’s Derek and that he’s had sex with him more than once.

After the show, Stiles hangs around the bar. He knows the bartender because they’ve been working together for awhile, so they chat for a few minutes while Stiles waits for Derek. He doesn’t know what people usually do after a show, but there is a group of fans waiting by the door, so he guesses Derek will make an appearance soon.

Twenty minutes later, Derek comes out, sweaty and tired, a towel hung around his neck. He signs autographs and takes pictures with fans, and Stiles just shakes his head in disbelief as he watches.

“Big Derek Hale fan?” the bartender asks.

Stiles laughs. “Not really. He’s a friend of mine.”

“That’s cool,” the bartender says. “He’s really popular around here. This is his third show at the club, and they’ve all been sold out. And the ladies love him.”

Stiles watches as a busty brunette and her three friends crowd around Derek for a photo. Then, the girls start flirting with him, and the brunette pushes herself up against him shamelessly. And Derek doesn’t push her away.

The flare of jealousy Stiles feels surprises him, and then just makes him irritated. He settles his tab, says goodnight to the bartender, and then leaves.

As he steps into the cold night air, he realizes just how stupid he was, hanging around after Derek’s show like some groupie. And, of course, Derek knew he was there. Even if he hadn’t have seen him, Derek would have recognized Stiles’ scent. He’s embarrassed and feels like an idiot.

He doesn’t know what he expected anyway. Sure, they’ve been fucking, and shared more than just sex – Stiles painted him into his art, for fuck’s sake – but Stiles had been stupid to think he was anything more than the fun nostalgic fuck from Beacon Hills.

Stiles is halfway to his apartment when he hears the pounding of footsteps on the pavement behind him.

“Stiles!” Stiles spins around to see Derek running towards him, still wearing the same clothes from the show, but he’s added his leather jacket. “Why’d you leave?”

Stiles shrugs and continues walking down the street. “Bar was closing, it was late.”

“I thought you were waiting around for me,” Derek says as he easily falls into step beside Stiles.

“Whoa, does the indie rock persona come with a big head? Cause dude, I totally wasn’t waiting around for you,” Stiles replies. He can tell by the way Derek is suppressing a smile that he knows he’s lying. “Besides,” Stiles continues in irritation, “you had your hands quite full with those fans. And that one woman, she was definitely more than a hand full.”

“That girl?” Derek asks. “You can’t be serious.”

Stiles turns to look at Derek. “Why? She was glued to you good, buddy. I’m surprised she didn’t jump on your cock right then and there.”

“Oh, she wanted to,” Derek said.

“Then why didn’t you?”

Derek reaches out and trails his fingers along the back of Stiles’ hand. “I had someone better waiting.”

Stiles doesn’t respond, just keeps on walking. But he smiles, a blush spreading across his cheeks.

*

Stiles is seated across from Derek at an all night diner. He’s got a huge plate of hashbrowns in front of him, along with an omelet. Derek’s eating French toast.

“What did you think of the show?” Derek asks as he swirls the bread around in syrup.

“I can’t quite get over the fact that the guy I saw up on stage is the same guy sitting across from me.” Stiles shakes his head. “It’s still so weird, dude. I mean, Derek, you’re a rock star.”

“I’m not a rock star,” Derek mutters in embarrassment.

“You’re pretty fucking close,” Stiles says.

“What about you, Picasso,” Derek jokes. “Some big artist now with your art in a museum.”

“It was one show,” Stiles says. “Nothing since.”

“Not for long. You’re too good,” Derek says with sincerity.

“You really believe that, don’t you?” Stiles asks.

Derek nods. “I do.”

Stiles turns to his hashbrowns to hide his smile.

*

Later, they’re lying tangled together in Stiles’ bed. Derek’s got his head resting on Stiles’ stomach, and Stiles is lazily running his hands through Derek’s hair.

“She killed Peter,” Stiles says into the darkness. “We all thought it was fitting. She brought him back, she killed him again. He’d been trying to kill the new Omegas, actually killed one of them, and tried to kill Scott.”

Derek doesn’t say anything, and Stiles just waits.

“He wasn’t always like that,” Derek says quietly after a few moments. “He used to be my best friend. You would have liked him. The fire…it changed us all. He had it worse than Laura and I did. I can’t say that I wouldn’t have gone just as crazy if I had been trapped inside my body for years. I had Laura and I still almost went crazy.”

“You didn’t almost go crazy,” Stiles says. “You were always so strong.”

“I ran,” Derek says. “I left, and I stayed away. After Boyd and Erica…the year after that was really bad.”

“Guess the Nemeton wasn’t the only thing for us to fight,” Stiles says, craning his neck to look down at Derek. “You had your own battles to fight.”

“I know he had to die, hell I killed him once, but it’s still not easy. He was still my family.” Even in the dark room, Stiles can see the sadness weighing on Derek’s face.

After a few moments, Stiles decides they need a change of subject and says, “Back before, did you ever…” He trails off, suddenly embarrassed.

“What?” Derek laughs, curious.

“I always thought there was something between us. I wonder…think we would have ever gotten together?”

Derek laughs again, and Stiles feels even more embarrassed. “No, it’s not that!” Derek says. “I had so much going on then. And you were so young. It’s hard to say.”

“So, you didn’t think there was anything between us then?” Stiles asks, feeling a bit stupid.

Derek stares at him across the darkness for a few moments before reaching out and cupping his face. Stiles turns his head and kisses the center of Derek’s palm.

*

Over the next few days, Stiles and Derek go to a movie, go to eat a few times, and go to a concert. “That band wasn’t so bad,” Derek says as they’re walking out of the venue. He’s got his arm draped across Stiles’ shoulder, and Stiles is leaning into Derek’s body heat.

“Are you deaf?” Stiles asks. “That was the worst bullshit ever. It was noise. Glorified noise. Like they were just hitting their instruments and wailing into the microphone.”

“It wasn’t that bad.” They’re walking down the sidewalk aimlessly, and Stiles can’t believe they’re one of those couples who are cuddling together as they walk.

“And you call yourself a musician.” Stiles shakes his head. “They should take away your record deal.” Derek whacks him on the back of the head and then kisses him.

It almost feels like dating.

*

Stiles spends three nights with Derek, the first at his apartment, and the next two at Derek’s hotel room. The nightmares are worse when he sleeps with Derek, maybe because Derek is part of Beacon Hills, because Derek reminds him of things he doesn’t let himself think of.

The nightmare he has on the third night is so bad he has a panic attack, and Derek talks him down and gets him to breathe with him. It’s hard to gain control though, because he feels like the darkness is surrounding him, like that cloud over him will never be lifted. He feels it clamping around his heart, sees tints of it around his vision.

“I’m so tired, Derek,” Stiles finds himself saying over and over again. “I just don’t want to feel like this anymore.”

“I know, Stiles,” Derek says when he pulls Stiles into his arms. “I know exactly how you feel.”

Stiles clutches on to Derek and doesn’t care if Derek thinks he needs him. Stiles realizes sometime around the second time his panic flares up that he needs Derek. That scares him as much as anything else.

*

Stiles wakes up and rolls over and bumps into a large, warm body. His face melts into a smile as he lets the knowledge that he is waking up in bed with Derek sink in. He knows he can get used to this, just lets himself want it after the night before. Derek hadn’t gone running, hadn’t done anything but let Stiles freak out and whisper quiet comforts in his ear.

“Morning,” Derek says sleepily. Stiles cracks an eye open and looks over at him. His face is half-pressed into the pillow, his hair flat and messy across his forehead. His eyes are narrowed with sleep, and a soft smile plays across his features.

Stiles feels his heart lurch in his chest, and he tries to cover it up with a stretch. There was no way Derek missed that, though.

“You okay?” Derek asks, reaching a hand out and scratching his nails across Stiles’ bare stomach. Stiles giggles in an embarrassing way, and Derek starts tickling him lightly.

“I’m fine!” Stiles exclaims, pushing at Derek’s hands. “If you’d stop fucking tickling me.” He’s laughing as he rolls onto his side and tries and curl into a ball. Derek presses up along his back, his morning wood pressing against his back. “Seems like you’re fine, too.”

Derek nips at his ear. “That’s not what I meant, and you know it,” Derek says lowly. “Last night was kind of rough.”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Stiles says, pulling away from Derek and getting out of bed. He scratches his side as he walks to the bathroom. When he comes back into the room, he finds Derek still in the bed, watching him thoughtfully. The weight of Derek’s gaze makes him uncomfortable, so he reaches down for his underwear and slips them on. “I probably should get going.”

“Stiles, you don’t have to go,” Derek says.

Stiles doesn’t respond. He grabs his jeans and slides them up his legs without looking at Derek. As he thumbs the button through the hole, Derek gets off the bed and comes over to him.

“Stiles.” Derek grabs Stiles’ hand and Stiles pulls away. He takes a step back, takes a deep breath.

“What are we doing, Derek?” Stiles asks. He looks up at Derek’s face, finds those eyes more intense and expressive than he was ready for.

“I don’t understand,” Derek responds, face slipping into something familiar and neutral. It reminds Stiles so much of the way things used to be, of the way Derek’s face would get whenever anything happened. That old wall, the defenses being built up against the outside world.

“This was supposed to be a one time thing,” Stiles starts as he picks his t-shirt from the floor. He grips it in his fist as he looks at Derek. “We passed that quite awhile ago.”

“Can’t we just be friends and have fun?” Derek asks. “Enjoy being with one another?”

“Derek, fuck,” Stiles huffs as he pulls the t-shirt over his head. “You left. Ly- She died. We almost destroyed Beacon Hills like a thousand times. And now, we’re fucking like I don’t know what.” He pauses, and Derek’s face is still maddeningly passive, except the clench of his jaw. “And you haven’t even mentioned the painting.”

“What do you want me to say?” Derek leans back and crosses his arms over his bare chest. He’s still completely nude, the light warming his skin from the sun filtering in through the windows.

“I don’t know!” Stiles exclaims. “Anything! You had a date the night of the opening, but I’m the one you ended up fucking. That’s…that’s fucked up.”

“I’d rather have fucked you,” Derek says lowly, dropping his arms and taking a step forward. He crowds into Stiles’ space, taking the air from it as he settles his hands on Stiles’ hips. “Is that a problem?”

“I don’t know,” Stiles admits, not sure if it pained him or not. He closes his eyes as Derek leans close, his breath warm against his lips. He finds he doesn’t even notice the morning breath, doesn’t care about anything except the crackle of tension between their mouths, just hovering out of reach from each other.

“Do you want me to kiss you?” Derek says, voice low and gravelly. “Do you want to do this?” Derek’s fingers tighten and then ease on Stiles’ hips, and Stiles feels his skin on fire, his chest tightening in a way that frightens him.

“Yes,” Stiles breathes. Derek kisses him softly and deeply, his tongue filthy as he licks into his mouth. Stiles moans, feels Derek all the way to his toes, arches into his hands when Derek presses his fingers under his t-shirt against his lower back.

Derek picks him up and carries him over to the bed. Stiles immediately discards the shirt he just put back on and tosses it aside as Derek nuzzles his lower belly while unbuttoning his jeans. Stiles lies back on the bed as Derek peels off his jeans and underwear, just staring at the ceiling and thinking about what they’re doing.

“Stop overanalyzing it,” Derek murmurs against his inner thigh. He licks the sensitive skin there and nips at it gently, and Stiles moans.

“I can’t help it.”

“Why does it have to be anything?” Derek asks as he crawls up his body. He hovers just above Stiles, holding himself up on hands and knees. “Unless you want it to be something.”

“Maybe.”

Derek arches an eyebrow before lowering himself. He scrapes his teeth along the shell of his ear. “Good,” he whispers, breath damp and warm. “Me, too.”

Stiles wraps his arms and legs around Derek’s body. Derek flips them so he’s sitting, and he leans up to kiss Stiles as he holds his hips and guides him down onto his cock. Stiles moans when he feels his entrance breach the crown of Derek’s cock. He’s still open and loose from the night before, and Derek slides into his body with no resistance. Stiles grips the headboard behind Derek’s head, back arched as he looks down at Derek.

He doesn’t know what this is, what they’re doing. It’s no longer casual, and Stiles wonders if it was ever casual at all. Could it have ever been just a passing fuck? (Were they just passing acquaintances back then, passing biting words that meant nothing?) Stiles stares down into Derek’s open face as he rides him, his hips rolling in a slow rhythm as Derek fucks lazily up into him. Derek hasn’t even touched him, yet Stiles is so hard it hurts, and his cock is leaking precome over the tip and smearing it on his stomach.

“I loved your painting,” Derek says suddenly, his voice deep and husky. “Both of them.”

Even though Derek has his cock buried deep inside him, he still flushes at the praise. Derek raises his fingers and brushes them against his cheek.

Derek grabs Stiles’ hips and starts fucking into him with more force, and Stiles moves slightly, adjusting himself until Derek hits him just the right way. “Fuck,” he moans as he raises himself up and down over and over on Derek’s cock, faster and faster as he just impales himself on Derek. He can feel Derek so deep inside him, all the way into his throat. He squeezes his eyes shut and holds onto the headboard with both hands to steady himself. Derek’s holding on to him, fingers digging into the soft flesh of his hips; it’s edging near too painful, and Stiles knows he’ll have deep purple bruises. For some reason, the thought curls through him pleasantly.

“Derek,” Stiles keens as Derek holds his hips still and fucks up into him. He leans up and kisses Stiles, full lips and wet tongue, and Stiles comes between them, his cock untouched. His body is still throbbing and pulsing when Derek comes with a low grunt of pleasure.

Stiles doesn’t move from Derek’s lap, but stays where he is with Derek’s softening cock buried deep inside him. He holds Derek’s face between his palms, the stubble coarse against his skin as he runs his thumbs over Derek’s cheekbones.

Stiles breathes against Derek’s mouth, his pounding heart slowing inside his chest. Derek’s hands slide up and down his back.

“I need to go,” Stiles reluctantly says after a few moments.

Derek pulls back and drags his fingers across his forehead, through his hair. “This doesn’t have to turn into something,” he says. “I wasn’t trying – “

“I know.”

Derek tilts his head and inhales, then seems satisfied with Stiles’ answer.

“When do you go back to LA?” Stiles asks, prolonging leaving. He’s still seated on Derek’s cock, now soft and sticky inside him, but he just doesn’t want to separate. He unconsciously rolls his hips, and Derek’s eyes briefly flutter shut.

“Still working on the album.”

Stiles finally pulls away from Derek and gets off the bed. He’s sore, but he feels relaxed as he walks into the bathroom and grabs a washrag to clean himself with. Derek enters the bathroom a few moments later, looking as content and fucked out as Stiles feels.

Stiles can’t quite get over the feel of Derek’s hands on his skin as he tries to get dressed, Derek’s insistent lips as they stand in front of the door of Derek’s hotel room.

As Stiles walks down the sidewalk in the cold October air, he wonders just what in the hell he’s doing.

*

Stiles doesn’t call Derek, and Derek doesn’t call Stiles.

The phone just sits there silent, and Stiles covers his canvas in blacks, grays, and greens.

*

When Stiles checks his e-mail early one morning at the studio, he’s got an automatic e-mail from Derek’s mailing list, announcing his new single just released this morning. It’s the closest thing he’s had to hearing from Derek in a week.

Stiles has painted and destroyed multiple canvases in the last seven days.

The front page of Derek’s website advertises the free download of the new song from his upcoming album. After Stiles downloads it, his hand is shaking when he hits play.

The first notes are hollow acoustic chords, stripped down yet edgy and highly stylized, something Derek hasn’t done before. When Derek starts singing, Stiles feels a rush of pride mixed with a deep ache and longing. He doesn’t pay attention to the words, just lets his voice and the chords wash over him.

But then the words catch his ear and he stares at the screen as he listens.

I can’t drink this coffee
Till I put you in my closet
Let him shoot me down
And let him call me off
Take it from his whisper
You’re not that tough

It’s the blaze across your nightgown
It’s the phone’s ring

I think last night, you were driving circles around me…

Stiles just stares at the screen when it’s over. It’s like Derek crawled inside his head, read his mind, set to music the things that Stiles has been unable to say.

He puts the song on repeat as he picks his paintbrush up from the floor, listens to it over and over again as he spreads paint across the canvas, trying to sort through his feelings through paint and brushstrokes, trying to understand his feelings for Derek in a language he can understand.

*

He’s had a shit night at the bar, with more alcohol spilled on him than he thought possible, and a tiny amount of tips to show for it. He knows he’s not paid enough for this shit.

When he gets home just after 2 a.m., he makes himself a Poptart and stretches out on the couch. He’s shocked when his phone rings and it’s his dad.

“Dad, what’s wrong?” Stiles asks when he answers in a half-panic.

“Nothing. Can’t I call my son?”

“It’s like, 11 there.”

“Late shift. Lots of vandalisms.”

“Does Scott know?” Stiles sits up, already reaching for his laptop to start researching. “What are the characteristics? Do you have a suspect?”

“It’s not a Scott kind of case,” the sheriff says, “and not something you need to be worrying about either.”

Stiles takes a deep breath, his heart racing in his chest as he sets his laptop back on the coffee table.

They talk for awhile, and then his father asks, “So, are you coming home for Thanksgiving?”

“Dad,” Stiles starts.

“Don’t give me any excuses,” the sheriff says seriously. “Are you coming home or not?”

Stiles thinks it over, thinks about going home, to Beacon Hills, stepping onto ground that they had fought on, that she had died on.

“No.”

The sheriff sighs. “Fine, I’ll buy my plane ticket tomorrow.”

*

The club is loud, drowning out all the thoughts inside Stiles’ head. Thoughts of Lydia, thoughts of Derek, thoughts of how although he’s had two people interested in his art, he still has nothing but that one exhibition to show for it. It’s been over a month; Minuet has already sold three pieces, and Ted’s derivative bullshit has found another exhibition.

Stiles wants to get drunk and get laid. Anything to calm the incessant buzzing underneath his skin.

“Hey stranger,” the bartender, Adam, grins when Stiles leans against the bar. He didn’t even try dressing up, just skinny jeans and a close-fitting t-shirt. He’s found with the right smile, that’s enough to get him laid on a good night. He’s decided to focus just on Adam tonight.

“Hey.” Stiles gives Adam his flirtatious smile, complete with the eye thing that seems to make guys even more interested. “What are you doing after your shift?”

Adam leans onto the bar, closer to Stiles and in his space. “I don’t know. Why? Are you offering something?” His eyes rake over Stiles’ face, from his eyes and lingering on his lips before sweeping over his shoulders.

“Yep,” Stiles replies.

Adam grins. “I’ll be off at one.”

Stiles goes and dances, lets himself go to the heavy beats and flashing lights. Guys dance up behind him, grab him by the hips and pull him close, kiss him briefly while they dance before moving on. It’s a distraction, a way to focus his mind on things away from things he’d rather not think about. He only pauses to buy drinks, and soon the alcohol has seeped into his limbs, making him feel loose and free as he just dances.

When he’s thirsty, he makes his way through the crowd to the bar, squeezing in so he can flirt with Adam.

“You look good out there,” Adam says with a grin. He’s already mixing Stiles’ favorite drink.

“I dance like an idiot,” Stiles laughs. “But thanks anyway.”

Adam lowers his voice and says, “I don’t mind watching those hips move,” as he slides the drink across the counter. “Can’t wait to watch them move under me tonight.”

Stiles flushes as he takes a long sip of his drink, holding Adam’s eyes deliberately. He’s just set the cup on the counter when he feels something drag against the back of his neck. He jerks in surprise, tumbles into the guy beside him and knocks his drink onto him as he trips. A hand shoots out and grabs his bicep to steady him.

Stiles looks up at Derek, who is smirking at him.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Stiles asks as he rights himself. Adam’s glaring in Derek’s direction, and Derek’s looking smug. Stiles kinda just wants to disappear.

“Came with some people from the studio,” Derek explains with his thumb pointed over his shoulder.

Stiles nods uninterested and turns back to Adam and his drink. Adam’s not looking at him now, but instead at Derek still hovering behind him. Stiles awkwardly brings the glass to his lips and takes a sip.

“Stiles, I was wondering if maybe you’d like to grab something to eat at that diner around the corner before we go back to my place,” Adam says, like a challenge. He wouldn’t have heard Derek growl if Derek hadn’t been right at his ear. The next moment, Derek’s hands are around his waist, his lips dragging along the shell of Stiles’ ear.

“Dance with me,” Derek breathes in his ear before leaning down to kiss behind Stiles’ ear and along his neck. Adam looks a bit disappointed, so Stiles pushes himself from the bar and storms away.

He’s halfway across the dance floor before Derek grabs his hand, and Stiles spins around to glare at him. At least Derek has the decency to look halfway sorry.

“Did you just scent mark me in front of the bartender?” Stiles asks. It’s too dark to tell for certain, but Stiles thinks he sees the tips of Derek’s ears burning. “Ohmigod, you totally did!” Stiles wrenches his hand from Derek’s grip and crosses his arms in front of him. “What the fuck is your problem?

Derek glances uncomfortably at the small audience Stiles’ yelling has attracted even over the loud music. He reaches out and pulls Stiles to him, and Stiles rolls his eyes but allows Derek to start dancing with him.

“I didn’t like the way that guy was looking at you,” Derek says in his ear.

“How was he looking at me, Derek?” Stiles asks, annoyed.

“Like he wanted to fuck you until you couldn’t sit down.”

“Well, that was the plan!”

Derek pulls back and looks at Stiles, face annoyingly blank. “That guy, really?” He glances over his shoulder at the bar, where Adam is busy serving drinks. He turns back to Stiles in disbelief. “You can do better than him.”

“Oh? With who?” Stiles asks. He’s pissed, because Derek was stupid and they hadn’t spoken in a month, and now here he was, dancing with Stiles and fucking scent marking him like he was in some weird werewolf pissing contest. “With you?”

Derek leans forward, lips hovering just above Stiles’. “Maybe.”

“No!” Stiles exclaims, trying to push Derek away, but Derek’s too strong for him and won’t let go. “Don’t werewolf strength me, it’s not fair.” Derek, the bastard, laughs. “Fuck you, Derek.”

“Why are you so angry?” Derek asks, loosening his arms, but not enough for Stiles to get away.

“Why? W-why?” Stiles scoffs. “Well, let’s see. I named a painting after you, and then we hung out for days and had amazing sex, and then I didn’t hear from you again.”

“It’s not like you were calling me,” Derek responds.

Stiles, well, Stiles doesn’t have a reply to that. So he huffs, frowning as he wraps his arms around Derek’s neck. Derek leans close to brush his lips against Stiles’ lightly. He pulls back and smirks.

“Don’t look so smug, asshole,” Stiles says.

“Well, I’m the one taking you home tonight,” Derek breathes against his ear, his stubble tickling Stiles’ cheek. A shiver runs through Stiles’ body.

“So sure about that?” Stiles asks, though it comes out like a moan. Derek pulls away with an eyebrow arched, and Stiles rolls his eyes. “Fine, like either of us thought the night was ending any differently.” Derek laughs, and Stiles pops Derek on the back of the head. “Stop gloating or I’ll think of something better to do with that mouth.”

“Promise?” Derek grins, and Stiles groans.

“I’ll do it now if it’ll stop you from saying cheesy come ons.”

Derek kisses him then. And Stiles forgets all about talking. He’s focused purely on Derek’s lips, his tongue in his mouth. The music is loud and pounding against them, so strong Stiles can feel the heavy drop beats in the soles of his feet. Derek’s hands are flat against his back, holding him close as they grind together to the music. Neither one of them are very good dancers; they dance off-tempo to the songs playing, no finesse or sexiness in the way their bodies move, but Stiles doesn’t care. Everything in his mind is erased with Derek there in front of him, with Derek in his arms.

When they’ve been dancing and making out for awhile, Stiles pulls his mouth away. His lips are raw and sore, his tongue tired from spending the better part of the last hour in Derek’s mouth. Derek doesn’t seem to need a break though; his mouth goes directly to Stiles’ neck, sucking marks into the skin.

Stiles moans as Derek bites him softly, teasingly. The club is dark save the blue and green lasers of light cutting across the dance floor, the music a sexy background to Derek’s breath on his skin. Stiles’ fingers slide into Derek’s sweaty hair, scratch over his neck. As Stiles slides his hands down Derek’s biceps, Stiles feels the muscle ripple beneath his hands, then feels Derek’s half-hard cock pressing into his hip.

The noise he makes is lost in the music, but Derek hears it. He bites harder on the mark he’s just made on Stiles’ neck, and Stiles moves his hands between them. He cups Derek through his impossibly tight jeans, and Derek grinds into his hand.

“Fuck,” Stiles whispers as he kneads Derek’s erection through the material. Derek kisses his way to Stiles’ mouth, attacking it with unrepressed heat as Stiles moves from his cock to slide his hands underneath Derek’s shirt and along his hot skin. He scratches his nails down Derek’s sides as Derek palms him.

Derek thumbs open the fly of Stiles’ jeans and shoves his hand inside. When his hand closes around Stiles’ cock, he glances around frantically to see if anyone realizes what they’re doing.

“Relax,” Derek says against his ear. “No one’s paying us any attention.” Derek’s right about that; everyone around him is interested in their own partners, not in what Derek and Stiles are doing. So, Stiles closes his eyes and holds on as Derek starts jerking him off.

It’s one of the craziest things he’s ever done, having sex on a dance floor surrounded by people. The thrill of someone noticing, of getting caught, curls through him, leaving him flush and panting as much as Derek’s hand. “You like this,” Derek says against his mouth. “Exhibitionist.”

Stiles replies, “I like any situation where your body is in contact with my cock.” Derek emits a pleased growl at that. Derek’s hand is a little too dry to be completely comfortable, just a bit of sweat and precome providing lubrication. It’s enough to keep him from coming, but he’s not going to last forever. He only has so much resolve.

“I’m going to come soon,” Stiles says after a few more minutes.

“Good.”

“I’d like not to spend the rest of the night in jizz-soaked pants, thanks,” Stiles says. Derek pulls away from where he’d been licking his neck again, his eyes unfocused and tinted blue.

“Bathroom,” he says suddenly, removing his hand. Stiles doesn’t even have time to button his jeans before Derek is tugging him through the crowd towards the bathroom.

The bathroom is public, with three urinals and four stalls. It’s thankfully empty at the moment, but Stiles is pretty sure Derek wouldn’t have cared either way. He pulls Stiles into the last stall, and Stiles barely has time to slide the lock into place before he’s being manhandled.

His back hits the wall with an unpleasant thud, but that’s immediately forgotten when Derek crouches down and pulls Stiles’ cock out of his pants. Stiles braces himself against the wall as Derek takes him into his mouth.

“Fuck,” he moans, glad they’re alone in the bathroom. Derek’s mouth is making loud, slurping sounds and Stiles is moaning and whining wantonly. Maybe it’s the excitement of being in a public bathroom, or maybe it’s the fact that he has Derek’s mouth on him again after not seeing him for a month, or maybe it’s neither of those things, but Stiles feels like he’s about to explode.

Derek pauses the second before the door opens and the sound of two guys laughing filters into the bathroom. Stiles takes a deep breath, collecting himself before Derek goes back to sucking, quiet while the guys piss and ramble drunkenly.

Stiles bites his lip to keep from crying out. Derek’s tongue is sliding along the underside of his cock, his cheeks hollow and eyes closed when Stiles glances down. Derek’s lashes are dark against his skin as he concentrates completely on Stiles, and that, that image almost undoes him.

The guys leave, but others come in immediately, and suddenly, there are multiple men in the bathroom. And Stiles is so close, his fingers grappling at the wall before he tightens his fingers in Derek’s hair and comes as quietly as possible. He doesn’t even notice anything around him as Derek sucks him through his orgasm and then keeps licking him dry as he comes down and goes soft.

“Someone just got lucky,” Stiles hears accompanied by chuckles as a group leaves the bathroom. The bathroom is still occupied, so Stiles just glares at Derek as he stands up and places his hands low on Stiles’ waist. He kisses Stiles, and Stiles sucks the taste of himself from Derek’s tongue.

“Let’s get out of here,” Derek murmurs against his mouth.

“What about you?” Stiles asks, too loud, but he doesn’t care at this point. A whole bathroom just heard him get off; not much left to be embarrassed about.

“I want to fuck you into the mattress,” Derek whispers, and Stiles nods.

The two guys standing at the urinals openly stare as they both come out of the stall. Derek gives them a shit-eating grin, and Stiles buries his head into Derek’s shoulder and laughs.

*

“So, what’s the deal with you and that bartender,” Derek asks much later, when they’re both sprawled out on Derek’s hotel bed.

“Huh?” Stiles raises his head, his brain fuzzy from too many orgasms and Derek.

“You were going to go home with him,” Derek says.

“Are you jealous?” Stiles asks, loose goofy grin on his face. He revels in the idea of Derek’s jealousy.

“Fuck you.”

“Been there, done that,” Stiles replies, squeezing Derek’s soft cock for emphasis. “Twice.”

“Now who’s being cheesy?”

Stiles climbs on top of Derek, legs on either side of his hips as he kisses him. “You shouldn’t be jealous of Adam,” Stiles says. “He’s got nothing on you.”

“But you fuck him,” Derek says. “You have partners other than me.”

“Not a lot,” Stiles argues. “It’s not like I’m getting lucky every night or anything.”

“But you and this bartender have a thing.”

“Well, yeah.” Stiles shrugs. “I met him at the bar one night, and we just get together sometimes. It’s nothing serious.” He traces an invisible pattern on Derek’s chest, realizing he could say the same thing about them. They’re nothing serious, nothing but glorified fuck buddies with a past.

Sensing the shift in Stiles’ mood, Derek cups Stiles’ face, drags his thumb along Stiles’ cheek and kisses him again.

*

Stiles leaves before the sun comes up.

As he steps into the New York cold, he tries not to feel guilty about leaving Derek. If it’s one thing Stiles has gotten good at, it’s shoving down his feelings.

*

Stiles goes straight to the studio, doesn’t go home or even shower. He still feels Derek’s hands on him, still has sticky remnants of come and sweat on his body. He’s exhausted, but his mind is going a thousand miles a minute, his entire body thrumming with unspent energy.

The studio is quiet in the early morning. The sun hasn’t even risen over the skyscrapers, so the sky outside the windows is a purplish grey. Stiles stands at the windows for awhile, thinking about Derek, about Derek’s stubble scraping across his skin, about the weight of his body over him as he thrusts inside.

This is bad, very bad. He shouldn’t be obsessing about Derek, thinking about him at all.

Distracted by the memory of Derek’s breath in his ear, he goes over to the discarded canvases, starts cutting them apart, taking pieces of them and leaving them in a pile on the floor.

Stiles feels shredded. He tacks pieces of old paintings about Derek onto the canvas, trying to piece together a coherent representation of what he feels. It’s so complicated, full of so many things that don’t even have to do with Derek. Because it’s not just about him and Derek; it’s about Scott being a werewolf, about friends dying, about constantly being in danger, about the fact that he’s been letting a werewolf fuck him for the past few months.

His best friend is a werewolf, so it shouldn’t really faze him, but it’s still something that Stiles has to process. He processes by gluing a patch in the top corner of the canvas and covering the canvas with brushstrokes. He sits cross-legged on the floor and picks up a thin tipped brush to actually draw Derek for the first time.

No more abstract; a bodily representation of the man that has swept back into Stiles’ life and turned it upside down.

Stiles has never been a portrait painter, and the form looks more like something from German Expressionism than reality, but he finds freedom in the sharp, exaggerated lines, the severe features. The way he draws the points of Derek’s mouth as dangerous as his fangs, the eyes as mocking and cold as he knew they could be, his fingers tapering into claws while the rigid muscles on his body are jagged enough to cut.

Because Stiles feels like something’s been open and bleeding in him since the first time he touched Derek.

Above that, Stiles draws Derek’s wolf form, a three-part image covering the whole expanse of the canvas. On the left, Derek’s crouched, fangs bared, tufts of fur around his face and eyes deep red. On the far right of the canvas, Stiles draws his back. He draws Derek leaving Beacon Hills, face in profile with one bright blue eye looking off the picture plane. In the middle is a black wolf in two halves, and a burning house which he decorates with bright yellow and orange flames. As he looks at it, he can almost smell the smoke.

Along the top, Stiles changes his strokes to something rounded. He paints the softness in Derek’s touch, the tenderness on his face as he looked at Stiles the night before, the slow sensual way he fucked into him. A different side to Derek, one Stiles never would have believed was there until recently. A Derek that could touch and not bruise, that could care and not hurt. A Derek that could love and not hide.

Stiles is filling in color fields when he hears his name. He snaps out of his focused daze and turns around.

Derek is standing in the middle of the studio, wearing his leather jacket, his hands stuffed into the pockets of his jeans.

“How did you get in?” Stiles asks. He’s not sure that’s the appropriate first question, but it’s the first that pops from his mouth.

“The door was open.” Derek takes a step closer. “I called your phone multiple times, but you didn’t answer. So, I tracked you here.”

“Oh.” Stiles rolls the paintbrush nervously between his fingers.

“Have you been painting all day?”

For the first time, Stiles turns to look out the windows. The sky is dark. “What time is it?”

“Eight.”

“Fuck.” Stiles scrubs his hands through his hair, smears paint on his face and hair. “I lost track of time.”

“Have you slept at all?” Derek asks, coming to stand right in front of Stiles. “Or eaten?”

“No.” Stiles glances back at the canvas, realizes there’s no way to hide any of it. He’s so exhausted by this point that he doesn’t even care anymore.

Derek steps around Stiles to get a better look at the canvas. Stiles doesn’t watch as Derek studies his work, sees all of Stiles’ feelings bared for him. He leans against the wall and slides all the way down, finally lets the brush drop from his fingertips.

“Is this how you see me?” Derek asks. Stiles’ heart does a flip in his chest. He wasn’t prepared to hear Derek speak about the painting directly, and he suddenly feels raw and exposed. He feels like sobbing right there, slumped against the wall.

“Yes.” His voice sounds hollow, and Derek looks at him sharply.

Derek takes one last look at the canvas before crossing over to Stiles and sitting down in front of him on the floor. “It’s…” Derek looks at the floor, and Stiles feels the stifling sting of rejection.

“It’s shit, I know,” Stiles says. “It was just the first thing that popped into my head. It’s nothing, just – “

“No,” Derek says, shaking his head. “It’s phenomenal.”

Stiles’ mouth drops open. He just kinda stares at Derek. “Seriously?”

“No one since Laura died has ever seemed to see through me like that, not even Cora.” Derek’s eyes are intense, and Stiles feels them crackle against his skin. “I thought…” Derek laughs deprecatingly as he shakes his head.

“You thought what?”

“When I woke up and you were gone…why did you leave?”

Stiles sighs. “I’m shit at this.”

“At what?”

“Everything.”

Derek nods, picks at a loose thread of the hem of his jeans. “I’m going back to LA tomorrow.”

“Oh.”

“The record’s done. There’s some stuff I have to do before they release it, but it should be out in the next couple weeks.”

“That’s really awesome, Derek.”

Derek lifts his eyes, and Stiles feels like Derek’s tearing him open even more. As Derek closes the distance between them, his hands hot and eager on Stiles’ skin, his mouth demanding as he lays Stiles back onto the floor, Stiles wonders that even if Derek tears him apartm maybe, just maybe, Derek could be the one to piece him back together.

*

“You’re going to miss your flight,” Stiles says against Derek’s chest. They’re naked on Derek’s hotel bed, everything packed and waiting by the door, but Derek hasn’t made a move to get out of the bed. His hands are threading idly through Stiles’ messy hair, and he’s staring at the ceiling. He makes a noncommittal sound.

“I know the sex is great, but I’m not sure missing your flight or not checking out of your hotel room on time is worth it, you know?” Stiles kisses the base of Derek’s sternum, then rubs his cheek against his chest.

The truth is, Stiles doesn’t really mind that Derek is still lying there with him. He doesn’t want Derek to go back to LA. Because LA is on the other side of the country, three thousand miles away from Stiles and his bed. But it’s not just the sex he’s going to miss (though that is definitely something he’s going to miss, he’s not going to lie), he’s going to miss Derek. His stupid jokes and the sound of his voice and the way he makes Stiles feel whenever he’s near.

“Come on, get dressed,” Derek finally says as he rolls out from under Stiles. Stiles tries not to feel disappointed, like this is the last time he was ever going to be with Derek.

They dress silently, and Stiles barely looks over at Derek. It’s stupid; he knows that regardless of whatever had been happening between them, nothing could go any further. They live too far apart, and Stiles has never done relationships, and he wasn’t sure starting with Derek Hale was the right way to go.

But maybe Stiles had thought about it, had imagined a future where they woke up together and made breakfast, and he painted while Derek wrote music, and they took walks in Central Park and had a favorite local coffee shop where the owners knew their orders and their names.

It had been stupid, Stiles knows. That’s not the way his life was supposed to go, and he knows Derek would agree.

“I want to show you something before I go,” Derek says as they walk down the street towards the train station. Stiles is rolling Derek’s suitcase behind him, and Derek’s carrying the bulky mixing equipment and his guitar case slung on his back.

They deposit Derek’s things at the baggage holding area at the train station, and then Derek takes Stiles’ hand as they get on the subway. They take it into Manhattan, onto the Lower East side. Stiles isn’t familiar with this part of New York, doesn’t know much outside of Brooklyn. But as soon as Derek emerges from underground and steps onto the sidewalk, he doesn’t hesitate before walking down the street.

“This is where I used to live with Laura,” Derek explains as they walk around. “I haven’t been back here since...”

Derek shows him the apartment building they lived in, takes him to the gym where he used to work out, by the boutique where Laura worked. “I used to run along these streets at night,” Derek tells him as they slowly walk. “Some nights, I’d run for hours just trying to get the smell of smoke out of my nose. I thought that if I’d keep running, I’d somehow erase the smell of their bodies on the air or make the ache stop.”

“Did it help?”

Derek glances over at him, old grief fresh on his face. “No.”

Stiles steps closer, hugs Derek’s arm to him as he lays his head on his shoulder.

Derek takes him by the coffee shop they used to frequent – “Laura used to sit in that chair right there; god, it looks exactly the same, it’s like I can still see here right there.” Derek stops walking, and Stiles watches his face as he stares into the window. There’s something in his expression that Stiles has never seen before, and Stiles knows that in that moment, Derek is watching Laura drink coffee at that table like she was still alive.

He wants to tell Derek he understands, and there’s something in his eyes that makes him open his mouth and start speaking.

“I sometimes see Lydia, too,” Stiles says, the sound of her name rolling off his tongue foreign and painful. But there’s something freeing about saying the name, so he says it again. “Lydia…” Derek tears his eyes away from the window and looks at Stiles, brows furrowed. “I sometimes hear her voice in my head, like she’s talking to me. But most of the time I try to ignore it and not think about her.”

Derek kisses the side of Stiles’ head. “You should think about her,” he says quietly. “You shouldn’t forget her. Would you want her to forget you?”

Stiles had never thought about it that way before.

*

They eat lunch at Derek’s old favorite pizza joint. Stiles lets him order, watches from a table in the corner as Derek chats with the owner who still remembers him after all these years.

Derek looks happy when he walks to the table.

“What’s the next step now that you’ve finished the album?” Stiles asks as they wait on their food.

“More shows, promoting the album, giving interviews.” At that, Stiles snorts. Derek scowls.

“I’m sorry, it’s just the thought of you giving interviews, answering questions without ripping someone’s throat out, it’s hilarious.” Stiles laughs and Derek just glares at him.

“I can sit through an interview without giving into some werewolf aggression,” Derek says, his chin jutting out defiantly. Stiles wonders what’s wrong with him that he finds it cute.

“I know, it’s just funny.” Stiles nudges him under the table. “I can’t wait to read all of the interviews.”

Derek rolls his eyes. “What about you? Your art?”

Stiles’ good mood is suddenly replaced by something sour. “I don’t know. I’m thinking of just giving up and trying to find a real job.”

“Why?” Derek asks. “You’re really good. Everyone at that show thought so.”

“That show was over a month ago,” Stiles points out. “And I’ve heard nothing, booked nothing since then.”

“That doesn’t mean you should stop.”

“You can only be told no so many times before you start to realize that no one is interested, that maybe it’s time to just accept that you aren’t good or meant to do what you want to do.”

“That’s bullshit,” Derek exclaims. Stiles glances up at him, and his face is pinched and unhappy. “You shouldn’t give up, not if it’s your dream.”

“You sound like some fucking inspirational poster,” Stiles says, sitting back and crossing his arms over his chest. “Who’d have thought Derek Hale would be encouraging me to follow my dreams.”

“Why wouldn’t I?” Derek asks, and suddenly something in his face shifts. “You don’t know anything about what I would or wouldn’t do.”

The pizza comes then, and Stiles watches Derek closely until after the waitress leaves. As he grabs a slice, he says, “Yeah, I guess I don’t, do I?”

He realizes that regardless of whatever he’s convinced himself over the last few weeks, he’s sitting there eating pizza with a stranger.

*

Derek and Stiles stand awkwardly in the subway station. Stiles doesn’t know what to say, because lunch had been a quiet affair after that exchange, and now here they were, facing a goodbye. Stiles wants to cling to Derek and tell him not to leave, to tell him that he wanted to get to know him, and not just in bed. He wants to know what Derek would and wouldn’t do, wants to be able to read him like a book, like a painting.

“I’m actually going to miss you,” Derek says with a small smile, and Stiles can’t decide if he wants to smile or cry.

“Me, too, big guy.” Stiles finally gives him a smile, and Derek grabs him and pulls him into his arms and kisses him. It’s so cheesy and cliché, kissing at a train station before Derek gets on a plane to fly across the country, but Stiles doesn’t care. He finds himself gripping Derek desperately, unable to let go.

When they finally part, Derek looks as unsure as Stiles. “You really are going to miss your flight if you don’t leave,” Stiles says gently, even though his hands are still fisted in Derek’s shirt.

“I’ll send you a copy of my album when it’s released,” Derek promises. “And keep me updated about your art. Please?”

Stiles nods. “I will.”

“Don’t stop painting, or I’ll come back and kick your ass, okay?”

Stiles laughs. “Fine. Whatever. Go!” Stiles finally lets go and pushes Derek away, though it’s the last thing he wants to do. “I’m not going to be responsible for you having to hang around JFK while they find another spot for your late ass on another flight.”

Derek smiles and kisses Stiles again before adjusting the guitar case on his back, his mixing equipment in one hand and his suitcase in the other. After Derek goes through the turnstile, he glances back over his shoulder and gives Stiles one last smile before disappearing among the crowd deeper into the subway station.

*

Stiles spends all night painting trains. He doesn’t care that the symbols are cliché or trite. He wants to fucking paint trains.

He thinks about different directions his life could have gone, different directions Derek’s life could have gone.

No Hale fire. Laura never dying. Erica and Boyd never dying, or Paige. No Kate Argent, no Jennifer Blake. Never leaving Beacon Hills.

He thinks of his own life.

His mom never getting cancer. Scott never being bitten. The Nemeton never being awoken. Derek never leaving Beacon Hills. Never moving to New York. Lydia never dying.

Trains cover the canvas, taking him to Beacon Hills, to New York, to different people and different outcomes. He covers three canvases before he’s satisfied enough to stop.

He drops to the floor and leans against the wall as he digs his cell phone out of his pocket. He calls Allison.

“Hey,” she says brightly. He smiles at the sound of her voice.

“I think I’m in some kind of weird relationship with Derek Hale,” he tells her. He doesn’t know why he opens with that, but the words just fall from his lips.

“Okay,” she says. “Congratulations?”

“It’s not that serious.”

“Oh. I’m sorry?”

Stiles laughs, and Allison laughs, too. “It’s confusing, and I don’t know what is going on. It doesn’t even matter. He went back to California, so it’s not like there’s a future.”

“That’s too bad.”

“I told him about…Lydia.” He says the name again, forces it from his lips. He hears Allison’s intake of breath on the other end of the line.

“Stiles, you said her name,” she says in awe. Three years and it’s the first time he’s said it to her.

“I talked to him about her,” Stiles says. “Not a lot, but I mentioned her, talked about her more than I have since…since she died.” He’s forcing the words out, and he feels his heartbeat quicken, his breath pick up.

“Stiles, you okay? You still with me?” Allison asks when he starts breathing heavily enough to she can hear it through the phone.

“I’m fine,” he says. “I’m fine. I should talk about her. Derek said I shouldn’t forget about her.”

“He’s right,” Allison says. “I think we’ve all been guilty about that.” She hesitates, then says, “Scott called me a few weeks ago. Something happened in the forest, and he thought about her. He had a bad night.”

“Why didn’t he call me?” Stiles asks, feeling hurt and left out.

“You know why.” It’s not an accusation; Allison’s voice is full of understanding. Scott and Stiles couldn’t talk to each other about Lydia because they’d both just fall apart. Allison was the strong one. Somehow, she’d learned how to deal with it, accept it, not fall apart.

After he gets off the phone with Allison, he stays on the floor and texts Scott.

Talked to Allison. She told me about the other week. Sorry, man. You know you can call me about it. I think I can handle it now.

Scott replies, Next time, I’ll call you.

Stiles smiles, and then on a whim, he texts Derek. I’ve been painting all day. Thought you’d be pleased. He takes a snapshot of one and forwards it along.

*

Stiles gets his train canvases accepted into a small show, but he’s over the moon. Two shows…maybe Derek was right.

He keeps painting.

*

The sheriff flies into New York on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Stiles is positively vibrating at baggage claim, anxious to see his dad. It’d been way too long.

He finally spots him coming around the corner, and he grins. Then his grin gets even wider when he sees the sheriff being trailed by Scott.

Stiles runs to both of them, throwing his arms around his dad before pulling Scott into a bear hug. They make a scene, yelling and laughing and hugging, but Stiles doesn’t care. It’s been even longer since he’s seen Scott.

Stiles takes Scott and his dad to his favorite restaurant for dinner, and then apologizes for the tiny apartment. They don’t care, and they spend the next twenty four hours cooking a huge Thanksgiving feast in Stiles’ tiny kitchen for just the three of them.

On Friday, Stiles takes them both to his studio. His dad looks at the empty bottles of Jack with disapproval, but Stiles tries to remember he’s an adult now. Still doesn’t make him feel any less guilty.

“Stiles, it’s wonderful,” the sheriff says as he stares at the canvas. Stiles snorts; the canvas is lying on its side, so he goes and rights it.

“Dad, now you’re looking at it the right way.”

“I’ll be honest, kiddo, I don’t have a damn clue what I’m supposed to be looking at.” He claps Stiles on the shoulder. “But I’m proud of you anyway.”

Stiles warms at the blind approval.

Scott says, “Yeah, no, I get it, I think. Like, that’s a road, and that’s a tree, and so like, it’s the forest? Beacon Hills?” He smiles hopefully, and Stiles laughs.

“That’s just a line, and that tree is where my paintbrush dripped onto the canvas.” Stiles dissolves into a fresh wave of laughter as Scott frowns at the canvas. After they visit the studio, Stiles takes them to the show his train pieces are in.

“Wow,” Scott says when they approach the alcove where Stiles’ canvases hang on three separate walls, juxtaposed to one another. “Stiles, these are incredible.”

“I have to agree with Scott,” the sheriff says. “The movement of the trains is exquisite.”

“You can get that from these?” Stiles asks, impressed.

“Stiles, I’m not a complete idiot,” the sheriff retorts.

Scott stands in front of them for a long time, longer than his dad, spending an especially long time in front of the one dealing with Scott getting bitten. Stiles finally steps up beside him while his dad is browsing the other pieces.

“I don’t know how you did this,” Scott says in awe. “But I can see everything so perfectly. I get it.”

“It’s because you lived it,” Stiles says.

“No, it’s because you’re talented. The way you’ve represented everything…” He reaches out to touch the canvas, but thinks better of it before he does. He turns to Stiles and smiles. “I always knew you were good, but I never realized just how good.”

Stiles preens.

“Is it because of Derek?” Scott asks later, when they’re back in the apartment. “That you started painting Beacon Hills and Lydia?”

“Partly,” Stiles admits. “It was time. Derek was just the small nudge in the right direction.”

“I miss you, man,” Scott says. “You should think about coming home some time. Isaac and I miss you, but your dad really misses you.”

Stiles glances into the living room where his dad is dozing in the recliner. Maybe one day, but he’s not ready just yet.

*

Stiles gets a call that his train paintings have been sold. It’s not enough money to quit his job at the bar, but someone cared enough to buy his paintings.

Two days later, the woman who runs the show said that the same buyer bought the two paintings from his first exhibition and wants to get in touch with Stiles. So, that’s how Stiles finds himself in an upscale restaurant in Manhattan, feeling severely underdressed and underfunded. It’ll take half his paycheck to buy a meal here.

A short, bald man with glasses is already sitting at the table the hostess leads Stiles to. He stands and shakes Stiles’ hand before Stiles takes his seat.

“Stiles, it is an honor to meet you,” the man says. “I’m Philip Grether, a private art collector.”

“Nice to meet you,” Stiles responds. He orders water, and grimaces when it’s brought to him in a bottle. He doesn’t want to know just how much that will cost.

“I’m sure you’re wondering why I asked to meet,” Philip says. “Your art, Stiles, is just phenomenal. The emotion, the color, the creativity. I just can’t get enough of it. I was sorely disappointed to find out that the five pieces I bought are the only five you have exhibited.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says awkwardly. “I’m just getting my feet under me.”

“I have a proposition for you,” Philip says. “I’m fascinated by your connection to Beacon Hills. The way you capture it on canvas reveals so much complexity, so much pain and anger and love. I want more Beacon Hills paintings.”

“Okay,” Stiles says. “I can probably do that.”

“I’ve decided to invest in your art, Stiles, and I am willing to give you a grant to go to Beacon Hills and paint in your home. I want five pieces, and the option to purchase any more if you create more than that. If you can come up with these pieces from memory while in a clinical New York studio, then I can only imagine what you will create in Beacon Hills.”

“No,” Stiles responds adamantly. He shakes his head, the threat of panic overwhelming him.

“No?” Philip looks at him in confusion, and Stiles is pretty sure he’s not used to hearing the word. “What if I make it worth your while?”

Stiles narrows his eyes. “What do you mean?”

“I will pay travel expenses, and then I will give you two thousand dollars for every painting you bring back.”

Stiles’ mouth falls open. If he paints just a few pieces, that will be more money than he made over the last few months combined at the bar. But, that means going back to Beacon Hills. And he hasn’t been back since…

Philip tilts his head. “You have a very complex relationship to this Beacon Hills,” he says. “I can see the battle on your face. It’s why you make such great art.” Philip reaches into his jacket and pulls out a business card and pushes it across the table to Stiles. “I see that you need to think it over. Let me know in the next couple of days.” Stiles just stares at the business card lying on the white tablecloth. “Oh, and Stiles?” Stiles tears his eyes from the business card. “I’ll give you an extra thousand per piece if you accept my offer, plus a bonus when you have finished.”

“Why?” Stiles asks dumbly.

Philip assesses him for a moment, then says, “You have a great talent, Stiles, one that is yet to be discovered. I want to be there when you explode on the art scene and start making money, so it’s not totally selfless. For example, I invested in KAWS early in his career, and look at him now.” Stiles’ mouth falls open. “I’m rarely wrong.” He stands, then says, “Plus, I’m sure that the art you make in Beacon Hills will not even compare to what you’ve made here.”

“What if you’re wrong?” Stiles asks.

“I’m willing to take that gamble.” Philip nods his head once before leaving Stiles alone, staring at the card.

*

As soon as Stiles gets home, he calls Scott.

“He offered you three thousand dollars to paint a fucking picture?” Scott yells.

“Don’t make it sound so stupid,” Stiles grumbles.

“Fuck, Stiles. Why are you even hesitating?”

Stiles slumps back into the couch and runs a hand over his face. He sighs. “I haven’t been back home since…Lydia’s funeral.”

“I know. Believe me, I’ve felt your absence,” Scott says.

“I’m sorry, dude.”

“Don’t apologize. I get it. You had to get out. Wasn’t an option for me.” Not for the first time, Stiles realizes how unfair it was that Scott got bitten. There were so many things out of his control now. Everyone got out – Stiles, Derek, Allison, Jackson, even Danny. Only Scott and Isaac remained. “Look,” Scott says. “Come home. Your dad will be fucking over the moon, and I’m not going to lie and say I don’t want you home.” Scott chuckles, and Stiles smiles. “Besides, you get paid for painting, which you love, and paid well, might I add. And it’s Christmas.”

Stiles sighs and stares at the ceiling. “Maybe.”

“Let me know what you decide, yeah?” Scott says. “I want you to be happy, but I also want you to come home. It might be therapeutic.”

“Yeah.”

After he hangs up with Scott, Stiles just holds the couch cushion in his arms and stares at the far wall. Finally, he picks up his cell again and dials Derek.

“Stiles?” Derek answers.

“Is this a bad time?” Stiles asks.

“Not at all.” There’s music in the background, and the sound of loud voices. “Give me a second.” Stiles waits, his heart pounding in his chest as he waits for Derek to do whatever he’s doing. He hasn’t talked to Derek except the errant text in the last few weeks. Maybe he shouldn’t have called him.

The background white noise thins and then Derek says, “Okay. What’s up?”

“What are you doing?”

“I’m at a party with the label releasing my record.”

“You didn’t have to answer the phone,” Stiles says. “You should be partying, celebrating your success!”

“Don’t be absurd. I will always answer my phone when you call. I was glad to see your name. I’ve missed your voice.”

Stiles blushes and grins like a lunatic. He’s glad that Derek’s not there to see how excited he is. “I’ve missed you, too.”

“So, what do I owe this great honor?” Derek asks.

“Um, I found a backer for my art.”

“Stiles, that’s…that’s fucking fantastic!” Derek exclaims. “I’m so proud! See, I told you not to quit.”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “Yeah, yeah, inspirational Derek Hale, I remember,” he grouses, but his voice is fond. He’s still smiling. “There’s a catch though.”

“He wants you to sleep with him?” Derek jokes.

“What? No, ew. What the fuck, Derek. He’s like short and bald and ugly.” Stiles shivers and Derek chuckles.

“Then what is it?”

“He wants me to go back to Beacon Hills and find my inspiration. He thinks my art will be better if I go to the source of my art.”

Derek is quiet for awhile, but then he says, “It might be a good idea.”

“Really?” Stiles picks at the edge of the pillow. “I thought you of all people…”

“What? Would tell you to throw away an opportunity of a lifetime because bad shit happened that you can’t face?” Derek says, voice hard.

“Fuck you. It’s not like you’ve been back to Beacon Hills.”

“Stiles, don’t,” Derek snaps. Then he sighs in exasperation on the other end of the line, and Stiles feels something uncomfortable in his chest. “Do you know how hard it was for me to come back to Beacon Hills when Laura went missing? And then how fucking hard it was to stay after I found her dead?” Stiles bites his lip, can’t stand the pain in Derek’s voice. “Everyone I ever loved died within a five mile radius of each other.”

“And you stayed in the Hale house. Fuck, Derek. What the fuck was wrong with you?”

“We all have different ways of dealing with things.”

“We need to find healthier outlets.”

“Like what?”

“Sex comes to mind. Copious amounts of sex.”

“Come to LA.”

“Come to New York.” Stiles pauses and mulls a thought over in his mind. “How about a compromise?”

“Hmm?” Derek asks with interest.

“I’ll go back to Beacon Hills if you go back to Beacon Hills.”

Derek’s so silent on the other end that Stiles glances at the screen on his phone to make sure they haven’t been disconnected.

Finally, Derek says. “Okay. I’ll come back home if you go back home.”

“Dammit, you weren’t supposed to say yes,” Stiles says.

“Too bad. Better pack your bags.”

“I hate you.”

Derek chuckles. “I fully expect you to show me just how much you hate me when we see each other again.”

“Oh, I’ll show you, Derek, don’t you worry.”

*

The sheriff grips Stiles hard when he arrives at the San Francisco airport. And the sheriff just doesn’t let go. He just keeps holding on to Stiles, clutching him until it’s uncomfortable and people start giving them weird looks.

“Dad,” Stiles says. “Seriously, Dad, let go. You just saw me a few weeks ago, and people are starting to stare.” Finally, the sheriff lets go. When he pulls back, his eyes are wet. “Aww, Dad, really?”

“Shut up,” the sheriff says as he takes Stiles’ carry on and walks over to the baggage claim. “I’m allowed a show of emotion when my son comes home for the first time in three years.”

“It’s not like I haven’t seen you in three years.” But Stiles is grinning despite himself, just as happy to see his dad as his dad is to see him. He doesn’t say anything when the sheriff grabs his suitcase from the luggage carousel and throws his arm around Stiles’ shoulders.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” the sheriff says as they walk out of the airport. “We’re going to have a real Christmas again. We’re going to put up a tree and drink cider and listen to cheesy Christmas music for the next two weeks. I’m even going to wear a Santa hat.”

Stiles smiles at the thought.

*

Between visiting Mrs. McCall, cooking for his dad, hanging out with Scott and Isaac, and attending Pack meetings, it’s three days before Stiles has a chance to even think about starting to paint.

There’s not a good space inside the house, because even though his dad offers him the spare bedroom, he doesn’t want to get paint all over the carpet. So, he decides to use the garage. Which just gives him a reason to crank up his Jeep.

“Hey baby,” Stiles coos as he listens to the engine idle. He runs his hands affectionately over the dashboard and smiles. “I’ve missed you.”

He backs her out of the garage and parks her in the driveway. Then, he spreads out the canvases he purchased at the art supply store a town over when he drove there with Scott. He takes out a new paintbrush, mixes some paint on an easel, and then just stares at the blank canvas.

Stiles doesn’t know what to paint. He feels numb on the inside.

A few hours later, his dad comes into the garage with a sandwich and a soda for him. Stiles is sitting in a chair, elbows on his knees, just staring at the blank surfaces. “Hey kiddo. How’s work going?”

Stiles points. “Nothing. I’ve got painting block or something.”

“Maybe you just need some motivation,” his dad suggests. “Take the Jeep out, drive around Beacon Hills by yourself, think about what to paint.” He claps Stiles on the shoulder and squeezes. “This art guy wants Beacon Hills. So, go study Beacon Hills.”

“That’s actually not a bad idea, Dad,” Stiles says as he chews his sandwich thoughtfully.

The sheriff cuffs Stiles on the back of the head. “Don’t sound so surprised! I come up with good ideas sometimes.”

Stiles drives around Beacon Hills. He goes down familiar streets that haven’t changed in three years, sees ghosts everywhere he looks. A dull ache settles in his chest as he drives around and thinks about so many people who aren’t around anymore, either dead or alive but moved on. Loss, just in different ways. Doesn’t make the holes any less painful.

He goes by the high school, and it looks exactly the same. He pulls into a parking place in the student parking lot, and he sits there so long that he can hear Scott’s voice calling for him, see Jackson’s Porsche pulling into his spot, see Allison and Lydia talking by their cars as Scott and Isaac drive in on Scott’s bike.

After that, he drives around to the lacrosse field. It’s empty, the season doesn’t start until after the first of the year, so Stiles gets out of the Jeep and crosses the field. The sound of the brown grass crunching beneath his feet transports almost him immediately. He remembers warming the bench for the first couple of seasons, then remembers playing first line his senior year. He can still hear the crowd cheering.

In his mind, he’s starting to think of things to paint. It might not be what Philip Grether wants, but he isn’t paying Stiles to paint what he wants of Beacon Hills; he wants Stiles to paint the Beacon Hills he sees.

Back in the Jeep, Stiles idly drives through town, past the animal clinic, the sheriff’s station, and then thinks maybe it’s time. Maybe he can finally go to Lydia’s grave.

He makes it to the end of the road the cemetery is on before he has to pull over and give into the panic attack. His vision blurs as he stares out of the windshield, and he thinks of that night in startling detail.

Two rogue werewolves prowling around Beacon Hills, making Scott, Isaac, and the other members of the Pack chase after them. They were smart, cunning, and the Pack had underestimated them.

Stiles underestimated them.

He met Lydia and Allison at the abandoned store, and they were going to wait for Scott and Isaac, but one of the werewolves attacked them from behind. Allison was quick with her crossbow, though, and she shot enough arrows into it to slow it down. But by that time, they had run inside the building to get away.

Stiles is pretty sure Lydia didn’t feel a thing. The werewolf jumped out from the shadows, and without any pretense, ripped out her throat. Stiles didn’t scream. Part of him died as he watched Lydia fall to the floor, her eyes staring straight ahead, vacant and lifeless.

He stayed rooted to the spot as Allison went into hunter mode and attacked the werewolves, and then Scott and Isaac showed up, and Stiles was still standing in the same place when the fight was over, watching the blood seep across the cold, gray concrete.

Stiles is hyperventilating and crying by the time he gets his phone out of his pocket. He dials Allison’s number, and when she answers, he just cries.

“What triggered it?” Allison asks when he calms down. She didn’t talk to him during it, just let him cry and panic. She stopped trying to talk him down from panic attacks years ago.

“I’m in Beacon Hills,” he explains. “I’m at the end of the road with the cemetery. I was going to her grave.”

“You got that far,” Allison says encouragingly. “That’s farther than you’ve gotten in three years.”

“You’re right,” Stiles says, wiping his eyes and nose with the sleeve of his shirt. He takes a deep breath. “You’re right. Progress.”

“Progress,” she agrees.

When he hangs up, he drives to the other county cemetery and visits his mom’s grave. He realizes belatedly that he should have brought some flowers, but his dad’s been there recently and placed fresh flowers next to her tombstone.

He sits on the grass and just stares at the words on the headstone. He feels guilty that he hasn’t been here in so long, has left this all for his dad. Stiles feels responsible for everything right now.

He pulls his phone from his pocket and calls Derek.

“Hey,” Derek says warmly when he answers. “How’s Beacon Hills?”

“I had a panic attack in the middle of the street and I’m sitting on my mother’s grave.”

“Oh.”

“I was going to Lydia’s grave. Didn’t quite make it.” Derek doesn’t offer any words at that, just remains on the line while Stiles absently pulls up grass with his fingers. “That werewolf could have as easily killed me, or Allison,” Stiles whispers after a few minutes. “Lydia was just the first one through the door, the first one in the room. It just attacked her first.” Stiles sniffs, doesn’t care if Derek hears it.

“You can’t think like that.”

“Why not?”

“What good will it do, Stiles?” Something rustles on the other end of the line as Derek moves. “Do you know how many times I thought about dying in the fire with my family, about it being me cut in half instead of Laura?” Stiles remains silent. “I wished I would have died with them so many times. But I didn’t. And now I have Cora, and things are better.”

“I miss her, Derek,” Stiles says. It’s the first time he’s uttered the words.

“I know. You’ll never stop.” A few errant tears roll down his face, and he doesn’t bother to wipe them away, and they drip off his chin and soak into the leg of his jeans. “How’s the painting going?”

“It’s not,” Stiles says, thankful for the change of subject. “I’m in the garage, and it’s not going well.”

“I don’t know if you’d be interested, but there’s a small cabin on the Hale property that would make perfect studio space.”

“Really?” Stiles asks. “You wouldn’t mind?”

Derek chuckles. “Stiles, no one has probably even been in it in a decade. The key should be in the bottom of a pot next to the porch. If it’s not there, just break a window.”

“Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” Derek adds, “Hey, my album’s coming out next week.”

“Really?” Stiles smiles.

“Just in time for Christmas.” He laughs at that.

Stiles drives back to the house and loads everything into the back of the Jeep. On his way to the Preserve, he stops by the liquor store and buys a few bottles of Jack Daniels. He figures he’s going to need it.

The directions Derek texted him leads him to an overgrown driveway that winds deep into the forest. It’s only moderately creepy, but Stiles is confident in Scott’s ability to patrol the territory. Beacon Hills hasn’t had any huge problems in a long time.

Stiles finds the key right where Derek said it would be, and he lets himself into the small cabin. The air is stale, all the surfaces covered in dust. It’s an open-roomed design, one room with a small kitchen area in the corner, and a separate bathroom along the other wall.

It’s the perfect space.

Stiles sets his canvases up around the room, starts with something simple. He paints the high school, his friends’ cars in the parking lot, the lacrosse field. The strokes come easily, and it’s not that painful, just bittersweet.

But the longer he covers the canvases in long brushstrokes, the more upset he gets. High school was supposed to be the best time of his life. They were supposed to go to dances, have fun, date, have sex, play sports. He thinks of the dances ruined by people getting mauled, lacrosse games that ended with him locked in a basement being tortured.

He paints it all. He holds nothing back.

Before long, he’s drunk half the bottle and is releasing everything onto the canvases. He’s painting the darkness when he finally passes out.

*

Stiles does nothing but paint and drink whiskey for three days straight.

Time becomes irrelevant. It’s just him and his paint, in desperate attempts to free himself from things he’s been holding on to for way too long. He sees this now.

Sometime during the second day, he listens to the last voicemail Lydia ever left him over and over again. He paints her voice, the clipped way she spoke, the irritated tone she always seemed to have when she was around him. It makes him laugh as he imagines what she would say now.

He paints the click of her heels across the wooden floor.

On the third day, he scrolls through his contacts and finds her name. He’s so drunk he doesn’t know what’s going on, has been talking to Lydia for over twelve hours straight. He presses call, but gets nothing but a two-toned beep followed by an automated, I’m sorry, the cellular customer you are trying to reach is no longer available.

Stiles throws his phone across the room.

No longer available.

*

Stiles blinks into the brightness. Derek’s face is leaning over him, and Stiles thinks he’s dreaming. He reaches out and rubs his palm down Derek’s cheek, then sits up quickly to try and kiss him.

“Whoa,” Derek says, jerking away. “I’m not kissing you. You smell fucking horrible.”

Stiles barely registers what Derek says because the motion makes the whole world spin, and he leans over to dry heave. Not dreaming, then.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Derek asks as Stiles lays his head in Derek’s lap.

“Please stop yelling,” Stiles begs, the sound of Derek’s voice causing his head to pound. Derek sighs and rubs his hand through Stiles’ hair. “What are you doing here?”

“Scott called me, because your dad called him. Scott tracked you here, and he thought I might be better equipped to deal with this situation.”

“Good old Scott,” Stiles says. “He’s the best.”

“Are you trying to kill yourself?” Derek asks. “Because when I suggested you come to Beacon Hills, I thought it would help you heal, not destroy you.”

Stiles turns his face into Derek’s leg and groans. “You’re talking too much,” Stiles says. “I can’t process it.”

“I’m going to take you back to my hotel,” Derek says, “because your dad will flip out if he sees you in this condition.”

“As long as you stop talking.”

*

When Stiles comes to again, he’s lying on a soft bed, surrounded by fluffy blankets. He’s starving, and his head hurts, but he feels better than he did before.

He sits up, and Derek’s sitting beside him, writing music. “What time is it?”

“Nine a.m. You’ve been on like a four day bender.”

“Ugh,” Stiles groans as he reaches for the glass of water next to the bed. “Thank you for whatever you did. I barely remember.”

“You’re lucky you didn’t get alcohol poisoning,” Derek says in disapproval. Stiles looks at him sheepishly, feeling contrite. “Are you hungry?”

“Fucking starving.”

Stiles showers while Derek goes to the diner a few blocks away for breakfast. Stiles wants grease, tons and tons of grease. His legs feel wobbly as he stands beneath the spray, and he tries to piece together everything over the last few days. Maybe coming back was a bad idea. Or maybe it was the best idea he ever had. Yeah, he’d had a panic attack near the cemetery, and he’d been drunk for the last few days, but he was still there. He was okay.

He was okay.

*

“So,” Derek says after Stiles has consumed more food than he’d thought possible and then napped again. “Want to tell me what the fuck that was?”

“Me, dealing.” Stiles shrugs, although it doesn’t look like much from where he’s curled inside a cocoon of blankets. Derek’s lying facing him, head resting on his hand. Derek’s mouth is a hard line. “Look, don’t judge, okay? You dealt with shit by being all broody and wearing black and pushing everyone away and then ultimately leaving. I deal with things in extremes – too much liquor and then slinging paint on every surface possible.”

Derek inhales deeply, his nostrils flaring. “Fine.”

“Can you drive me back to the cabin? I want to see the mess I made of my art.”

“Sure.”

In the car later, they near the cemetery where Lydia is buried, and Stiles shifts in his seat. “Turn here.” Derek glances at him with a raised eyebrow. “I need to do this, Derek. Please.”

Derek doesn’t respond, but does as Stiles wishes. Derek parks at the edge of the cemetery and follows Stiles as he makes his way through the lines of neatly spaced graves. He’d only been here once, but he remembers exactly where the grave is.

His heartbeat speeds up as he nears, and then he feels Derek put a comforting hand on the small of his back.

When Stiles finally catches sight of the headstone, he stops, unsure of whether he could go any further. Derek stands beside him, doesn’t push or try to sway him one way or another, just lets Stiles work it out for himself. Finally, Stiles grabs Derek’s hand and laces their fingers together as he steps up to the grave.

Stiles doesn’t fight the tears that spring to his eyes when he reads Lydia’s name engraved on the tombstone, along with the years beneath it. There are multiple bouquets of flowers on her grave, and he smiles because she would have loved them.

Derek doesn’t move or speak the entire time they’re there; he just stands beside Stiles until Stiles feels like he can leave her buried beneath the hard earth instead of deep inside his soul.

*

In the cabin, Stiles just sits against the wall and stares at the paintings.

“They’re fantastic,” Derek says from beside him. His arm is around Stiles’ shoulders, and Stiles is leaning into him. Derek is warm and firm beneath him, his arm comforting.

“Yeah, they are,” Stiles admits. “I hope I’m not going to have some Pollack thing going on, where I can only create beautiful art when I’m drunk. I’d prefer not to be an alcoholic.”

“I prefer you sober, too.”

“I’m sorry,” Stiles says. “I haven’t really thanked you for everything you’ve done for me.”

“You don’t have to thank me.”

Stiles twists to look up at Derek. “Yes, I do.” He kisses Derek for the first time since he’s shown up in Beacon Hills, and he’s so fucking glad Derek is there. He missed him way too much.

When Stiles pulls away, he pushes himself off the floor and walks over to the corner of the room to find where he threw his phone a few nights before. He finds it underneath a chair, still in one piece. Thank the stars for those indestructible phone cases. He learned his lesson years ago.

Derek’s watching him with raised eyebrows when Stiles sits back down. “One more thing I have to do,” Stiles says as he opens his contacts and scrolls down. “Don’t judge, okay?”

Stiles stops on Lydia. He flips the phone around to face Derek. Derek’s face melts into sad understanding. Then, Stiles watches curiously as Derek reaches into the pocket of his leather jacket and produces his cell phone. When Derek turns it around, he sees the word Laura.

Stiles lifts his eyes and looks at Derek, really looks at him. He wonders if anyone else on the entire planet would understand him like Derek does in this moment.

“I used to call Lydia’s number after she died just to hear her voice on her voicemail,” Stiles says.

“I have five old messages from Laura saved on my phone,” Derek admits. “I never listen to them. I just want to keep them.”

“I have one of Lydia’s.” He stares at the contact in his phone. “I was never able to delete her from my phone. It just felt so final, though obviously I don’t have to explain that to you.” He sighs and looks at Derek. “I think it’s time I let her go. I just…”

“Can’t do it yourself?”

Stiles nods.

Derek takes the phone from Stiles’ hands and gives his over. “On three?” he asks, and Stiles can see the same reluctance on Derek’s face that he feels himself. But he knows he can’t keep holding on like this, knows Lydia wouldn’t want it. He nods.

“One…two…three.”

Stiles swallows thickly as he hits “erase contact.” It asks him “are you sure?” Stiles glances up at Derek and finds Derek looking at him. Stiles smiles, and Derek nods once. Stiles hits “yes”, and then Laura is erased from Derek’s address book at the same time Lydia’s erased from his.

It cuts deep into him, but at the same time, he feels freer than he has in a long time.

*

Derek comes to dinner with Stiles. The sheriff glances at Stiles with worry when he finally comes through the door, and Stiles rolls his eyes. “Dad, I’m fine. I’ve just been working.” The sheriff studies him for a few moments before he’s satisfied.

“Derek,” the sheriff says with a nod and a handshake.

While Derek is setting the table, the sheriff pulls Stiles into the pantry and whispers, “Why didn’t you tell me you were dating Derek Hale?”

“I’m not.”

The sheriff pins him with a patented Dad look. “I didn’t just fall off a turnip truck. You disappear for four days, and Derek shows up for dinner.”

“It’s not like that, Dad.”

“I don’t care, you know that, right? I’ll support anybody you choose to be with.”

When they emerge from the pantry, Derek is very obviously keeping himself busy at the table, and Stiles knows he heard every word.

Scott and Isaac come bursting through the door as soon as dinner is ready. “Right on time,” the sheriff says with a smile.

“And conveniently missing all the preparation,” Stiles calls over his shoulder as he gets the food ready.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Derek growls.

Stiles leaves the bowl of peas on the counter and rushes into the living. He dissolves into a fit of laughter when he sees them.

Scott and Isaac are both wearing Derek Hale t-shirts, purchased from Derek’s website. Isaac even has the matching wristbands and buttons.

“Take those off, right now,” Derek demands. He’s glaring at them, but they’re just grinning like idiots.

“Can you believe it, Isaac?” Scott says. “A real live rock star. In our house!”

“I’ve got to tweet about this.” Isaac pulls out his phone.

“You do, and I’ll kill you.” Derek’s eyes flash blue, and Isaac’s flash gold as he grins.

“I hate you all,” Derek says. He crosses his arms over his chest.

Stiles comes up behind him and bumps his shoulder. “Don’t be such a spoilsport,” he teases. “They’re just fucking with you. Isaac’s not really going to tweet about it.” Isaac’s head snaps up from where he was typing on his phone. “Are you?”

“Uh…no?” Stiles rolls his eyes. “Hey, I can post pictures with Derek on Instagram because we’re friends. If people happen to see…”

“I think you’ve got yourself a fanboy,” the sheriff says, clapping Derek on the shoulder. Derek grimaces.

“You’d think he hates being famous,” Scott says as they make their way into the dining room.

“I think he does,” Stiles responds.

*

That night, Scott helps Stiles with the dishes while Derek and Isaac go out running together.

“I hope they work things out,” Scott says.

“Me, too.” Stiles absently dries a plate as he stares out the kitchen window. “It’s been a long time, but I think they need each other.”

“Me, too,” Scott agrees. “I think there’s always been a void in him where Derek, Boyd, and Erica belong.” Stiles knows he and Scott can understand that. “So, you didn’t tell me how serious it was between the two of you.”

“It’s not,” Stiles replies quickly.

Scott pulls his hands from the soapy water, getting suds everywhere. “The moment I called him, he dropped everything and immediately drove up here.”

Stiles sighs. “I don’t know what we are.”

“It doesn’t have to be defined,” Scott says.

Stiles wonders if he might be right.

*

The next day, Stiles is painting while Derek works on a song behind him. He loves the sound of Derek trying out new chords while he works. Loves the feeling of Derek nearby.

“You’re having a blue day,” Derek says suddenly.

Stiles pauses, paintbrush hovering just over the canvas. “What?” He looks over his shoulder where Derek is sitting on the floor, guitar in his lap, papers spread out around him.

“It’s stupid,” Derek says, scrubbing a hand through his hair. “I’ve started assigning colors to your moods. This is a blue day. You’re calm, peaceful.”

Stiles smiles. He likes that Derek has thought about him enough to paint him in colors. “Play me a blue song.”

Derek starts playing a soft melody, something understated and easy. He paints to Derek’s melody, to the harmonies of them together.

When Derek finishes the song, Stiles hears him sit the guitar aside and stand up. Seconds later, strong arms are around Stiles’ waist, Derek’s mouth against his neck.

“What color do I smell like now? Red, like passion?” Stiles jokes.

“Red is a bad day,” Derek tells him. “Red is how you used to be. Most of the red has disappeared now.” Stiles breathes easily, is pleased that Derek can see the change. He’s not completely over what happened with Lydia, will never be, and he’s still healing. It’s easier.

“So what color is sex?” Stiles asks. He dips the end of his paintbrush onto the easel and smears a line of paint on Derek’s arm. “Green?” He does the same thing with yellow and blue, leaving stripes of color on Derek’s skin.

“Why don’t you just paint me and find out,” Derek purrs against his ear.

Stiles sets the easel on the nearby table, but not before he dips his fingers into the colors. He twists in Derek’s arms and drags his thumb beneath Derek’s eye, spreading red paint across his cheek.

Derek kisses him. They end up on the floor, their clothes discarded quickly. Stiles knows he got paint on all of it, but he can’t be bothered about that right now. Right now, he’s got Derek on his back and he’s kissing him and sliding his hands down Derek’s bare chest. When he sits up, he sees two distinct palm marks near Derek’s collarbone, then long smears of fingers cutting down his torso.

Stiles reaches over and grabs the easel, drops it onto the floor and wets the tips of his fingers. He presses his fingerprints into Derek’s skin, leaving the indentations of his personal signature on Derek’s biceps, his hips, his neck.

Derek covers his own hand and starts drawing on Stiles’ chest, and then Stiles starts kissing him again. They’re a flurry of hands over skin, smearing paint all over each other. Stiles leaves a sticky imprint on Derek’s ass, and the imprint of Derek’s fist around his cock is bright blue.

When Derek flips Stiles onto his hands and knees, he draws patterns on Stiles’ back in paint, then grips his hips with fresh paint when he slides inside his slick opening. Stiles claws at the wooden floor, sees the streaks of paint from their bodies on the floor, the streaks of paint on their skin.

They paint their feelings for each other, using each other’s bodies as the canvas.

Derek bends close and presses himself to Stiles’ back, thrusting into him slow and deliberately. They’re not in a hurry; they’re focused on each other, painting each other in sensuality and passion. Stiles feels himself coming undone, everything he’s been experiencing with Derek over the last few months culminating in this one moment, in the imprints of paint on his skin. The stretch of Derek’s cock burns slightly, but it feels so good, and Stiles never wants to feel anyone else on him again. Derek has left paint smears over his skin, he’s left marks all over his neck, left marks all over his soul.

When Stiles comes, he moans loudly and feels like Derek has buried himself completely inside of him. And when Derek comes a few moments later, filling him completely, he feels whole.

Derek rolls him over and kisses all over his body, mixes come with paint over Stiles’ torso, and Stiles has never felt so content. He watches as Derek leans over him, his body smeared in streaks of blue, red, and yellow.

Derek is a masterpiece in primary colors.

*

Derek has to fly back to LA for a few days for the CD launch party, but he’s back in time for Christmas. Stiles does Christmas-y things with his Dad and with Scott, Scott’s mom, and Isaac, and even Derek helps them decorate the tree.

His dad dances around the living room in a Santa hat as he puts the lights on the tree, and Stiles leans against Derek where they’re looking through an ornament box, and groans in embarrassment.

“Were your parents this lame?” Stiles muffles against Derek’s arm.

“Worse,” Derek laughs. “But Laura was Ms. Christmas. She wore Christmas sweaters, Christmas earrings, and decorated everything she touched with Christmas cheer.”

Stiles digs into the box and pulls out an ornament his mom made when he was a kid. It’s ugly, hand-painted and faded, the garland coming unglued and missing most of the sequins. “This is my favorite ornament,” Stiles tells Derek. It’s the first one he hangs on the tree.

*

On Christmas Eve, the sheriff has to run down to the station for a few hours, so Stiles and Derek drink peppermint hot chocolate and cuddle on the couch with all the Christmas lights on.

“I got you a present,” Stiles says as he awkwardly goes over to the tree. He hands Derek the thin package wrapped in bright, festive paper with a big bow on the top.

After Derek opens it, his mouth falls open and he looks up at Stiles in surprise. It’s a first run edition LP of his favorite record, the one that Derek had told Stiles months ago caused him to pick up his first guitar.

“This…this cost too much,” Derek says with a shake of his head, but he’s touching it reverently.

Stiles waves his hand dismissively and says, “I’m getting paid three thousand dollars for one painting. A few hundred bucks isn’t that big of a deal.”

Derek blushes in embarrassment when he looks up at Stiles and says, “You’re gift isn’t ready yet.” Stiles smiles, just happy Derek thought to get him something.

“That’s okay. You can just sing to me.” Stiles grabs Derek’s hand and leads him over to the piano in the den. It’s an old, cheap model, nothing special, but they’d had it since before his mom died. Derek sits on the piano bench, and Stiles sits beside him. Derek starts playing an unfamiliar melody and humming along to it, and Stiles lays his head on Derek’s shoulder and closes his eyes as he listens.

When Stiles’ dad comes home a few hours later, he catches them making out on the couch, their freshly poured hot chocolate forgotten and cold.

*

Stiles paints. Eventually, he paints a canvas of Lydia that isn’t about her death. He tries to capture her essence, but isn’t sure he does. He sketches her face, but it looks like something between Munch’s The Scream and de Kooning’s Woman I. He laughs when he imagines her saying, God, Stiles. Derivative much?

One night, Stiles stays up all night talking about Lydia with Scott and Isaac. They even call Allison.

It’s healing for all four of them.

*

Derek plays a show in LA on New Year’s Eve, so Scott, Isaac, and Stiles drive all the way down to LA to see it.

“I still don’t believe it’s real,” Isaac keeps saying. He’s looked happier since he and Derek spent a day running up in the mountains, reconnecting and doing whatever they needed to do to fix what happened in the past. Derek looked happier when he’d returned, even though he wouldn’t tell Stiles what they’d talked about, no matter how much Stiles pestered him about it.

Even though Isaac keeps claiming he doesn’t believe it’s real, Stiles thinks he’s trying to cover up how much of a fan of Derek’s music he is. Stiles caught him one night, reading through blogs and visiting websites that talked about Derek. Stiles thinks it’s cute (and hilarious). Isaac’s also bought everything off Derek’s website that he could.

The show is sold out and packed. People yell for Derek when he’s on stage, and sing along to every song from his album. Derek looks perfect up on stage, his posture relaxed and easy. Stiles can’t stop staring at his forearms, at his biceps peeking out from underneath the sleeves of his black t-shirt. The jeans are skin tight, pulling over his perfectly sculpted thighs, and riding so low on his hips that when he moves around too much, the t-shirt rides up and exposes a bit of skin. At one point, Derek catches Stiles’ eye and grins at him.

“Derek is a fucking rock star!” Isaac exclaims.

“This doesn’t make any fucking sense,” Scott says as he shakes his head, arms crossed over his chest. ”What if he’s possessed by something?”

After the show, they wait for Derek out back. Scott and Isaac are both wearing their Derek Hale t-shirts, and Stiles even bought one from the merch table so he’d match.

Derek signs autographs and takes pictures with the devoted fans who are standing out behind the venue. When Derek finally gets over to them, it’s nearly three a.m., and he looks exhausted. He kisses Stiles before smiling over at Scott and Isaac.

“What did you think?” Derek asks, arm slung over Stiles’ shoulders. He’s using Stiles to lean his weight against, so they’re swaying slightly because Stiles isn’t quite the most stable of bodies.

They start snickering and pointing to their t-shirts. “Can we have your autograph?” Scott jokes.

“You are so hot, Derek. Can I get a picture?” Isaac says in a falsetto.

“Fuck you both,” Derek growls.

Stiles takes a selfie of them with his cell phone and says mockingly, “I’m so putting this on Instagram.”

“Not you, too!” Derek whines, and then he looks down at the t-shirt and shakes his head as he turns to walk towards Isaac’s car. They put on Derek’s CD on the way to iHop, and Derek turns to Stiles and mutters, “Why did I invite any of you again?”

But Stiles can tell that Derek is happy, and that Isaac and Scott are impressed. Isaac even hums one of Derek’s songs under his breath while he eats his omelet.

Stiles is just happy that he’s with his friends again, even if they do spend the entire meal taking the piss out of Derek.

*

New York in January is cold and dreary. Stiles and Derek left each other with no promises or declarations, but Stiles knows they are something now, he just isn’t sure what that was. They’ve texted almost every day, and Skyped a few times. It’s casual, light, fun.

Stiles misses him like crazy.

Philip Grether arranges a meeting at Stiles’ studio a few days after he returns. Stiles chews his nails nervously as Philip goes around to each of the canvases – eight in all – and studies them carefully. He doesn’t show any emotion, doesn’t do anything except pause, stare at the painting, then move on to the next.

By the time he’s finished and come around to Stiles, Stiles is a nervous wreck.

“I’ll take them all,” Philip says.

“Are you for real?” Stiles blurts.

Philip smiles. “They’re phenomenal. I can’t even begin to discuss them. They’re sensational, Stiles.”

Stiles just stares at the check in his hands after Philip leaves. Thirty thousand dollars for eight paintings. He bought every single painting, save one. This one Stiles kept for himself.

He goes over and brings the canvas out from where he was keeping it. After he leans it against the wall, he stares at it and smiles. He knows it’s the best thing he’s ever painted.

This is where he painted the Pack. All of them.

He painted Beacon Hills, various places from home, but it’s the people that are important. Scott, his dad, Mrs. McCall, Derek, Allison, Isaac, Lydia, Jackson, Danny, Boyd, Erica, Chris and Victoria Argent, Deaton, Peter Hale. He even painted Laura near Derek, and his mom in the background behind his father.

It’s the painting Stiles keeps around as proof that he has survived, that he will continue to survive. Proof that he has moved on finally, that he has healed.

It’s the painting where he celebrates his Pack.

*

Near the end of January, Stiles gets a package. When he glances at the return label, he sees it’s from Derek. He grins as he rips the box open.

Inside is a promo copy of a CD single. There’s a photo of Derek on the cover, on the stoop of a building, looking down at his guitar as he plays. Pretty Melody reads the CD cover.

There’s a note inside from Derek.

I’m terrible with words. This is the only way I’ve ever been able to express myself.

Merry Christmas a bit late.
Derek

Curiosity piqued, Stiles puts the CD into his stereo and hits play.

The song starts out with strings, which is something new for Derek, and then drums and pianos. Stiles smiles; he likes that Derek’s evolving and changing. The song sounds pleasant and catchy. The longer he listens, the more he realizes that the base melody is the same song Derek played for him on Christmas Eve. That thought makes him smile even wider.

It’s not until the chorus, though, that he starts to figure out what the song is.

You’re such a pretty melody
I’m just another tattooed tragedy
Oh baby we don’t have to be like the rest of them…

Stiles stares in shock as the words settled in. He glances at the note and rereads it. This is his Christmas present?

I got some words you need to hear
I really wanna make it clear
I don’t do this everywhere

How do I make this not sound cheap?
I wanna show you where I sleep
Keep you there a couple weeks
Make you come again…and again…

I’ll be your waste of time
You’ll be my happy end

You’re such a pretty melody
I’m just another tattooed tragedy
Oh baby we don’t have to be like the rest of them

It’s anything but hard to see
I want all of you all over me
There’s not a single part of me
That would ever let you go…

When the song is over, the sound of Derek’s voice ooh-ing finished, Stiles just sits there and listens again.

This song is for him. This beautiful song is about him, from the time they met again in New York at the bar, through all their nights together…

Derek loves him. Derek recorded a song just to tell him that he loves him.

Stiles picks up the phone and dials Derek’s number.

“Hey,” Derek answers.

“You’re an asshole!” Stiles yells.

“Huh?”

“You write me the most perfect song ever, and you send it to me in the mail, and you’re not even man enough to be in the same fucking state I’m in when you tell me that you love me. Derek Hale, I should come to LA and kick your – “

“Stiles!” Derek interjects. Stiles stops rambling, so full of emotions he doesn’t know what to do. “I’m in New York. I’ve been here for two days.”

“Two-Two days??” Stiles exclaims. “You’re even more of an asshole now!”

Ten minutes later, Stiles yanks the door to his apartment open and Derek is standing on the other side of the door, looking nervous. Stiles rolls his eyes, pulls him inside, and kisses him. “I love you, too,” Stiles says against his mouth. “In case you missed that with the four canvases I painted about you.”

“I wasn’t sure,” Derek admits, arms around Stiles tightly. “You like the song?”

“Are you fucking kidding me? It’s perfect.” Stiles kisses him again. “Though, the whole showing me where you sleep werewolf den reference was kinda over the top,” he teases. Derek blushes and Stiles kisses him again.

“You’re not my waste of time,” Stiles says when he pulls away. “You’re my happy end, too.”

Derek smiles, and Stiles sees nothing but colors. Bright colors that help him eclipse the darkness.

*

Epilogue

Stiles fidgets in the corner of MOMA. He chews on his thumb until it bleeds, and then he starts on the next finger.

“Calm down,” Derek whispers in his ear when he appears behind him. He slips an arm around his waist and pulls his hand away from his mouth. “I can feel your anxiety two rooms away.”

“This is a big deal!” Stiles whispers, hand automatically back at his mouth.

“If you don’t stop, I’m going to shove something else in your mouth,” Derek says.

“Please do, I need a distraction.”

Derek rolls his eyes but takes Stiles’ hand and pulls him from the corner. Scott, Isaac, Allison, and the sheriff are already at the reception, drinking wine and eating finger foods with some of New York’s most elite residents. Stiles almost passes out when he see Jeff Koons and Judy Chicago putting cheese on a plate, and then when he spots Damien Hirst talking to Claes Oldenburg.

“Derek,” he hisses, “do you know who they are???” Derek doesn’t, but Stiles is excited enough for both of them.

Scott and the sheriff have to force Stiles into the exhibit, and Derek just grunts in irritation. Allison slaps his arm softly. “Be supportive,” she says.

“He’s being ridiculous,” Derek replies.

Finally, Stiles takes a deep breath and enters the exhibit. They bypass all the other pieces, because they are only interested in one.

Somewhere in a middle room, hanging in the Museum of Modern Art, as part of a travelling exhibition that will be exhibited at every major art museum in the country, is one of Stiles’ canvases.

Beacon Hills takes up part of a wall. Stiles stares at the title, with the words Stiles Stilinski printed beneath them, followed by, A gift from the Philip Grether collection. He almost has a panic attack, he’s so overwhelmed.

“Stiles, dude, that’s you!” Scott exclaims, grinning so wide his face looks like it might split in two. “My best friend has a painting in MOMA.”

“And our other friend has a Billboard Top 100 single,” Isaac adds. “And Pretty Melody is up for an MTV video music award. I need to start a blog or something.”

“How is this my life?” Stiles asks, eyes still glued to the wall. The others move on, chatting about the art, leaving Stiles alone with his dad.

“I’m really proud of you, son,” the sheriff says. Stiles finally looks away from the canvas to look at his dad. The sheriff’s eyes are damp. “This is…just so awesome.” He smiles, and pulls Stiles into a sideways hug. “Your mom would be so proud. You know how much she loved art.”

Stiles is still looking at his piece when Derek comes up beside him and slips an arm around his waist. “You okay?”

“Just overwhelmed.”

“I know the feeling.” He kisses the side of Stiles’ head. Derek points to the broken flower at the bottom. “Lydia would be proud of you.”

“I know.”

“I’m proud of you,” Derek says. “I told you not to give up.”

Stiles groans. “You’re going to take credit for this until we’re old men, aren’t you?”

“Planning on it.” Derek grins.

“I think I can live with that for the next fifty years.”

“Good.” Derek kisses him and Stiles takes one last look at the shredded canvas, the distorted wolves, and the broken flower before turning away.

His art is going to be hanging in the best museums across the country, and Derek has a hit single. But as he rounds the corner and sees the sheriff and Allison discussing art as Isaac and Scott puzzle out a painting, Stiles realizes it pales in comparison to everything else he’s gained. Derek squeezes his hand, and Stiles turns to look at him.

He decides he’s definitely okay.

-fin