Actions

Work Header

Rumour Has It

Work Text:

 It was a surprise to everyone. Least of all Lydia.

With everything that happened in the last eighteen-or-so months (she could never be completely sure how long it had been; having lived so long in the dark about it all) Stiles Stilinski had gone from a name she'd heard a little more often in the hallways of school, coupled with speculation and rumour, to someone she'd actively begun to notice – though, she was told, he'd noticed her a long time ago – to the only entry in the countless reams of useless contacts she could actually call when she didn't know what else to do.

He protected her; throwing his body before hers, scooping her up in his deceptively strong arms when the fight went out of her, taking hits more times than could be counted on one hand - and Lydia let him. She let herself be protected because, though she was a genius, in this, Stiles had the knowledge. Stiles had the strength. Stiles had just the right amount of darkness.

It was an unsettling feeling; Lydia always knew what to do, how to act - the point in a problem which was its unravelling. It was part of what made her who she was. Grace under fire. A perfect veneer on a cracked core, and never, ever the victim.

Stiles said it was part of what he loved about her.

But this wasn't a Stiles-and-Lydia story. It never would be. It was just time he realised that, too, the idiot.

Stiles' eighteenth birthday, it was time for it all to come to a head. Scott was settling into his role, at last, having stood proudly up to threats that, in comparison to the mess that was the kanima and Ms Blake and the reports of how Deucalion looked when he was done pretending, seemed like a walk in the park during a tacky Halloween festival.

Allison and Stiles and Scott had made their sacrifice, and it made Lydia feel selfish and rotten to her bones when she caught her own relief that she wasn't among them.

But Stiles – Stiles wasn't quite as good at pretending as the others. His grip on normalcy was just that little bit too tight, too forced, or something. He white-knuckled his way through the end of junior year and clung desperately to who he thought he had once been. Since their ill-advised kiss, the guy had only seemed to redouble his efforts to be someone she could see herself with. It was trying too hard – he shouldn't have to make himself stay in love with her, for god's sake – and Lydia had had enough.

She'd barely known that guy, anyway. Why was Stiles so desperate to retain him?

Stiles' birthday ends up being a party that, once upon a time, would have been the centre of her world. The double-celebration of the team winning a championship game the same night means her house is heaving with half-drunk bodies and the kind of music everyone listens to purely so they can recognise it at parties. Parties like Lydia's, and parties celebrating a winning lacrosse team and one of its star players. Now it was nothing more than a podium for what she needed Stiles to realise.

Scott had indulged himself with scoring the winning goal at the big game, with an assist from Stiles, his perpetual wing-man, and it's the first time in over a year that she finds herself thinking of Jackson. With everything that's happened with Aiden, and the casual on-off thing they're still indulging in, it's a little odd to be reminded of him now; noting how she can be openly proud of her friends for the simple fact of being happy for them, not pushing to see how far her boyfriend would go before he snapped.

That's how things were, with them. Though she loved Jackson, and knew how right they were for each other, there was that perfect degree of wrong, too.

It was time Stiles found his own right kind of wrong.

Scott holds court by the makeshift bar, sweet-smiling his way through the latest of his flirtations. He's taken it well, Isaac and Allison being together, and it's probably something that earned Lydia's respect more than anything else, but for all the non-serious dates he'd been on; the girls throwing themselves at his easy demeanour, laughable bad-boy reputation, and soulful brown eyes, anyone who knew him at all could tell he wasn't over her yet. But he's trying.

She flashes him a smile on her way by, and he waves, wide-eyed, like he still hasn't learned that he's supposed to be cool. It's horribly endearing.

Danny and Ethan emerge from the house looking rumpled and over-heated, and she tries for an admonishing look at Danny's sheepish grin, but it fails, because she's just too damn happy to see something working out, at least for a while. They migrate to join the group Allison and Isaac are hovering on the fringes of; his tall frame flanking her like a guard, but all-too aware she doesn't need it. It's nice to see Isaac in a position to take care of someone else, at last.

She finds him dancing amongst a group of girls, that irresistible combination of sexy and cute that means he's unthreatening enough to be openly flirted with. But there isn't any real flirting going on – never is. She's wondered about that, more than once. Why Stiles remains single as his friends pair up around him. She thinks Heather is a part of it; the last girl to get anywhere with him at all falling victim to the clusterfuck that is their lives. Right now, she thinks, Stiles probably just wants to dance.

The girls part around her, clearing her path to him, and it's a feeling of power she thought she'd never have again, but being seniors will do that for you, she surmises. Stiles frowns at the disturbance in his little dance-party, before his face cracks into a beaming grin at the sight of her. It's kind of heady, to be loved that much – but it's not in the way he's so adamant it is.

The song changes to a mid-tempo number, and she slips her arms over his shoulders.

“Lydia Martin, light of my being,” he starts, and she rolls her eyes, because his declarations have gotten so ridiculous that even he can't possibly be buying them anymore. He smells of breath-mints and the cologne she'd left in his locker earlier, and there's only a little alcohol clouding the brightness of his eyes. “You know you look devastating, as usual.”

She raises a brow. “Being a supernatural creature will do wonders for your skin.”

He presses his lips together, rueful. “Yeah, we should market that, or something. Banshee Beauty.” He glances around. “Enjoying my party?”

She rears her head back. “Yours, hmm?”

“Well, yeah,” he goads back. “See all these people? Two hundred of my closest friends, I'll have you know.”

She rolls her eyes at his jibe. It's become painfully clear to Lydia – to all of them - how many people she can place in that category, and one of them is delicately resting his hands on her waist.

“I'll remember that it's your party when I'm shampooing regurgitated vodka and tortilla chips out of my mom's rug tomorrow.”

Stiles squints, sucking in a breath through his teeth. “Huh, see, I'd help clean up, except it's birthday-boy privilege to enjoy my hangover in peace.” They sway to the music, not quite paying attention to any real rhythm, though she's seen how graceful he can be when he does. “Well, after I kick all the half-naked girls out of my room, thus breaking their hearts and cementing my lovable-rogue reputation.”

“Wow, drunken orgies. How Charlie Sheen of you.”

He shrugs. “I'm legally an adult now, so I have to assume these things will inevitably happen.” His eyes are mischievous, and she can predict what's coming next. His voice is innocent, matter-of-fact. He's become so great at pretending. “Like, if you, say, felt like spiriting me away and doing very adult things to me in some closet, it would all be perfectly legal.”

She sees her opening, weaving a hand into the soft hair at the back of his head. “So I wouldn't have to worry about being arrested for defiling the sheriff's only son?” she says, mock thoughtful, and she feels his grin against her temple as she leans in. She shrugs. “Alright then.”

Stiles freezes.

“But no closets, though.” She narrows her eyes, smirking. “What kind of girl do you think I am?”

She pulls back to see the blank look on his face, like there's an inner crash happening in that beautifully over-active brain of his, and she takes his hand.

“Buh,” he says intelligently. “What?”

She raises a brow, looking him up and down. “Coming, Stilinski? Or are you all mouth and no pants?”

He seems to shake himself, pasting on a wide-eyed smile, but she can feel his hand trembling as they weave through the mass of bodies adjusting their rhythm to a livelier song. Several eyes follow them as they breeze through the kitchen towards the staircase, Allison's forehead creasing in confusion as they go by her, and there's a wolf-whistle or two as they pass the mid-point.

There are two sophomores making out on her bed, and they scurry like roaches when she switches on the light and commands them to leave.

Stiles chuckles as he watches them go, but the noise dies into a gulp as Lydia turns the lock behind him. He reaches up to scratch at his jaw, eyes training everywhere but hers.

She steps to him, pulling off her heels, and she feels like grinning when she realises how tall he actually is.

Stiles looks down at her at last, wetting his lips. “You, uh, you sure about this? I mean, I'm not gonna get pummelled by a jealous werewolf tomorrow, right?”

She shakes her head, “Aiden's out of town, he got a lead on their birth-parents, and anyway, I'm pretty sure we'd have to be exclusive for him to have that right.” She reaches up to touch his cheek, his eyes closing as she does, and his breath catches shakily in his throat. “Unless you're not sure about this.”

His eyes snap open, defiant. “Oh, I'm sure. Never more sure of anything. Have you met me? I mean, I'm me, and you're you, and I--”

“Stiles, you're babbling.”

He nods his head. “Yeah.”

“And you still haven't touched me.”

He places his hand above her hip, chaste, like it's a father-daughter dance, and swallows.

“Not what I meant,” she smirks. As a response, he snakes his hand lower, reaching the curve of her ass, before retreating it back to her waist. She gives him a fond smile. “Relax, okay?”

With a final, searching look, she leans in, ghosting her lips over his, and she feels a sharp intake of breath before he surges forward, kissing her with an intensity he'd been lacking the last time they did this. His hand fists in the fabric of her dress, but his muscles are stiff beneath her palms, and she thinks obliquely about how this time, she might end up causing a panic-attack, rather than ending one.

He breaks the kiss, head thunking back against the door, and he curses silently under his breath.

“Still with me?” she asks, giving him space. He nods without opening his eyes, and when he finally looks at her, there's confusion in them. “Still want this?”

He frowns. “Why do you keep asking me that?”

She doesn't answer, instead reaching out to curl her fingers in his tie, leading him towards the bed. He sits dutifully on the end once she pushes his shoulders down, keeping her palms resting on the plaid of his shirt. “Why do you want this?” she asks, stepping between his knees.

His eyes flit over her form before resting on her face. “Because you're Lydia Martin,” he says, like that's reason enough. “You're beautiful, and smart, and terrifying, even without the whole harbinger-of-death thing, and brave, and I decided when I was eight that you were it.”

“So, this is what you've been waiting for.”

He licks his lips, and nods, hesitantly.

She gives him a sad smile, tugging on the soft, unruly mess that is his hair. He sounds like he's at a job interview, for Christ's sake. She kisses him again, because, hey, she likes it. Stiles is a great kisser.

He makes a tiny noise of surprise in his throat, and she knows without looking that his brows have reached his hairline.

God, he's adorable, she thinks, before breaking away to murmur against his lips, “So why aren't you taking off my dress?”

His eyes are still shut when she lowers the delicate straps, and the hand she guides back to her zipper is shaking in time with his breath. She's been here too many times before to know that this isn't just virginal nerves.

Stiles has seen her naked. He's ripped open her clothes to apply pressure to wounds and he's been through her panty-drawer to pack an overnight bag as many times as Allison has.

He doesn't move to undo her dress.

She raises her brows, kind of wishing he'd open his eyes again. Everything he's feeling is always so clear in them. The last thing she wants to do is force something he's still convincing himself he wants.

“Stiles?”

“Be--” he stops, face crumpling, and she can see his jaw hardening in determination. He shakes his head.

The zipper lowers mid-way under his hand, and the dress falls down enough to expose the front of her bustier. He opens his eyes, looks, bugs-out, and pulls his hands back as if she's on fire; gaze resolutely trained away and over her shoulder.

“Because I feel like I'm kissing my sister,” he blurts, shocked, and Lydia presses her lips together in a loving smirk. He buries his hands in his hair, head hanging between broad shoulders. “Oh my god. I'm sorry. I'm so--”

“--Stiles, it's okay.”

“No it's not, you're fucking beautiful and this was finally happening except there is nothing happening,” he iterates, gesturing to his crotch. She can't help the snort that makes it's way out of her nose, and he looks up at her again, frowning, like he's hurt.

“It's okay. I know.

“You--” he gapes. “What?”

She pulls up her dress and re-fastens it, before straightening his tie. “Let me ask you something.”

He just looks at her in puzzlement.

“I asked you why you want this.” She tilts her head. “If I'd asked you that a year ago, would your answer have been the same?”

He holds a palm up, open and searching. “I, yeah, I guess, but--”

“Stiles,” she says, delicately, “You aren't the same. We aren't the same. Why are you pretending like we are?”

He thinks about it for a moment, shoulders slumping. She migrates to the mirror, touching up her make-up, and can see the realisation hit him in his reflection.

“You planned this.”

She stills. “Would you have believed me if I'd just told you?”

“You're diabolical.” He sounds almost reverent.

“So I've been told.”

The room goes silent between them, and Lydia adjusts her hair over one shoulder. When he finally speaks again, his voice comes out quiet; reflective.

“I'm not in love with you anymore.”

Were you ever? She turns. “No, you're not.”

He stares at his knees. “I think... I already knew that.”

She walks back to him, thumbs his cheek, and places a kiss to his forehead. God, she loves him. “It doesn't mean you aren't you anymore.”

He meets her eyes, and she can hear a commotion beginning downstairs as Scott's voice comes over the PA, announcing cake-time.

“I still love you, though,” he says, voice melancholy, like it's all he has to offer. Her heart swells even more because he's fucking apologising for it.

Though it's bittersweet, she finds herself smiling. “I know,” she says, “now come on, Birthday Boy. You're being summoned.”

She manoeuvres him up and off the bed, herding him towards the door, and unlocks it. He exits to the hallway, straightening his hair and shirt, glancing around, before moving, zombie-like towards the stairs.

She hangs back, replacing her heels, and as she closes the door behind her, she finds a familiar face, waiting for the bathroom two doors way. Jackie, she thinks.

The girl shoots her a look, knowing, and Lydia shrugs. “He shot me down,” she says simply, a wistful sigh in her voice. Let the rumour mill do the rest.

As the chorus of Happy Birthday winds down, she hovers in the kitchen doorway. Stiles is grinning, wide and bright as their friends flank him and Scott claps him on the shoulder, urging him to make a wish. His eyes find hers, then, and he stills, staring at his cake thoughtfully, before he shakes his head, and blows out his candles.

Happy Birthday Stiles, she thinks, raising a glass.

It starts almost immediately. Well, the following Monday at school, anyway.

Stiles, is, of course, completely oblivious to the lingering looks and whispers about him. It's not until a particularly brave junior sidles up to him, as he pores over a translated grimoire that's older than Beacon Hills itself – just for fun, because he's kind of ridiculous like that – to make thinly-veiled hints about hanging out this Friday, maybe, if he wants to, ohmygod she never does this she swears, that his jaw goes slack and he squints dumbly at her until she flees with an apology.

After that, there's Adam Myers on the way out of the guys' locker room, newly-outed and looking at Stiles like his freshly-showered hair and the cling of his t-shirt to his wet skin is a specially wrapped gift with his name on it. Whatever was said was a little too quiet for Lydia to pick up on before she reached them, but she got there just in time to see the blush and hear Stiles tell him some form of it's not 'cause you're a guy, I am pretty much on-board with that one hundred percent, it's just I barely know you and how do you even know my name?

She'd fought a smile and changed the subject after the guy had walked off, Stiles watching him go with a thoughtful, suspicious look on his face.

The rest of the week isn't much different. Especially after Stiles had inadvertently confirmed his interest in both sexes, and suddenly anyone with a gay brother or cousin is sending him SnapChats of seemingly every eligible, male-inclined bachelor in Greater Beacon County. If nothing else, it cements things for Lydia that she should have done something sooner.

By Thursday, Stiles has reached his limit.

“Alright. Someone's put a curse on me,” he announces, watching Denise Mathers sashay her way past their lunch table, giving him a finger-wave.

Scott pauses mid chew, raising a brow. “What, because suddenly a quarter of the school wants to jump your bones?”

“Like I'm the sixth member of One Direction? Oh, you noticed, huh?”

“Seems like a pretty sweet curse,” Isaac inputs, placing a Diet Coke in front of Allison. She shoots him a look, to which he simply shrugs.

Stiles glares at him. “It's terrible. Agnes at the grocery store tried to set me up with her granddaughter yesterday. I stopped by for nachos, not to be betrothed to someone I haven't seen since I was nine.” The table snickers, and Allison rests her hand sympathetically over his. “It's not funny. There was a Buffy episode about this.”

Ethan turns from where he'd been not-so-discreetly groping Danny under the table.

“It's not a curse, man,” he says like it's completely obvious. “Word's just got out that you're no longer pledging celibacy until Lydia makes a man out of you.” Everyone turns to him, not exactly surprised, but still highly entertained.

Stiles' brows jerk, and he turns back to stare at her. “You?”

Lydia shrugs. “Hey, I just wanted you to realise you were over me. I didn't realise so many people were waiting for me to liberate your boy-parts, Xander.”

“But--”

“Seriously, like two girls in my home room squealed when they heard,” Ethan clarifies, and Stiles stares at the table like his world is tilting on it's axis.

“You mean I could have been getting laid all this time if I wanted?”

Scott shrugs. “Always said you're your own brand of sexy.” He gives him an encouraging smile, and Stiles holds his hands out to him.

He frowns. “Yeah, but that's like when your grandma calls you handsome or your dad tells you you'll meet someone who appreciates your weirdness in college. I didn't actually believe it.

It's almost time to go back to class, and they start gathering their things, just as Jenna Fink approaches with a So hey, um, Stiles, can I talk to you a sec?

Scott gives him a smug grin, standing up to make room. “Believe it.”

The interesting thing is, though, that the explanation still doesn't result in Stiles going on any dates.

There's an incident with the magnetic forces around the Nemeton in between times, which warrants a night shivering in the woods and Lydia's nail technician is probably putting her son through college purely on her tips, but once they've established that the energy is just responding to the moon phase and the electrical storm the week before, the subject of Stiles' relationship status is once again broached on the over-crowded ride home.

They are still teenagers, after all.

It's all in good-natured teasing, but she doesn't miss how Stiles' shoulders are that little bit more hunched over the wheel when he says I don't know, I just haven't met anyone interesting enough to date yet, and that's that.

Or so she would have thought, until two dateless weeks later when Lydia gets a text from Allison that simply says: Derek's back. Scott's house, 7.30.

She drives there on her way home from tutoring at the youth shelter downtown (transcripts are everything, after all) and pulls in to the only available space on the cul-de-sac. It doesn't exactly escape her notice that the Jeep isn't there yet, but it's not like Stiles is ever that punctual.

Derek looks good. As in, I've-spent-fourteen-months-of-personal-growth-also-getting-a-tan good, and he flashes her a nod and a kind, half-smile when she clears the entryway. It's a little surprising, but she returns it – she hasn't forgotten how he'd come running back into danger simply because she screamed loud enough.

Everyone else is already here, and his eyes flit over her shoulder for a second, noting that she's unaccompanied.

He's been travelling alone, apparently; Cora having joined up with some old friends in Argentina and planning to stay there for the time-being, and Derek evidently found inner peace somewhere between surfing in the waves of Honolulu and drinking espresso at a street café in Paris.

(He doesn't exactly say as much; he doesn't say that much at all, really, but they're all kind of used to it.)

She's happy for him – they all are. Even Allison, once it's established that she's there as an extension of Isaac and not as her family's ambassador, and it's just as Scott suggests ordering in, seeing the unseasonal downpour that's started outside, that there's a hammering of feet up the front path. The door slams open like the person doing it has the hounds of hell on their heels.

It's just Stiles, though, drenched head-to-toe with a panicked look on his face.

“My Jeep got towed to the shop because it crapped out again and I guess--” he gulps, catching his breath, “I left my phone under the driver's seat.” He looks around, panting. “Is he really--”

The words die in his throat as his eyes land on Derek, coming to a stop in the kitchen doorway, holding a mug of coffee.

It's like the air is sucked out of the room, as their eyes meet, and suddenly, it - all of it - makes so much sense. As Derek's eyes drink in each inch of Stiles' frame; cataloging the fresh scar on his temple, how he favours his left leg over his right after a sprain at Thanksgiving and the simmering heat in his returning stare, Lydia wonders why she'd never seen it before.

There's a moment of just nothing, when she half-expects some kind of slow-motion leap-into-arms, but instead, a thunderous look takes over Stiles' face.

“Hey, so you're alive. Nice to have that information,” he spits, and Derek's face fights an actual smile.

“Good to see you too, Stiles. How've you been?” It's nothing but pure, complete, snark, and Lydia meets the entertained look in Danny's eye before Stiles is off again.

“Oh, you know, keeping the local hell-magnet at bay and not at all wondering where the ever-loving crap you and Cora managed to end up.”

Derek looks down at the mention of his sister, face closing off. “Cora's fine. She's with friends. You don't have to worry.”

Stiles licks his lips, holding his hands up. “Well great, now we've established that your mangled corpses aren't being feasted on by cannibals, I guess we can all sleep a little better.”

“I sent a text,” Derek points out.

“Before you changed your number.” He's dripping all over the carpet.

“We needed a clean break,” Derek grits, voice rising.

“No shit,” Stiles mutters, seeming to realise, for the first time since he saw Derek, that they're not alone.

Isaac raises a hand. “Anyone else feel like they're in a Nicholas Sparks novel?”

“Shut up,” they both say in unison.

..

After Stiles has dried off, and Indian food has been ordered with minimum disagreement, they break off into different conversations.

Lydia curls into Aiden's chest on the couch while Allison, lounging on one of the only other chairs and forcing the look of relaxation on her face, grumbles at them over her dad's far-too-cautious training regime. Scott's giving Derek a pretty animated run-down of the events of his absence, and Isaac, Ethan and Danny have commandeered the flatscreen for the highlights of some game Derek didn't have the decency to allow for when announcing his prodigal return.

The TV was some kind of gift-slash-bribe from Agent McCall to buy a little of Scott's time and attention. Lydia isn't sure it worked, but it hasn't been returned, anyway.

Stiles sits on the floor, back to the couch, half-listening to Allison and offering sarcastic suggestions for father-daughter bonding (Nothing says 'I love you' like a nice, home-skinned bear pelt, Allison”), with one eye on the game.

He seems blurred around the edges, like he can't quite keep himself still, and Lydia soaks in the quiet, guarded looks Derek sends his way each time he dissolves into laughter at his own joke, or yells encouragement at the screen.

After the food has been demolished – Stiles eating samosas and licking his fingers while Derek's face is that of someone who's had rusty nails put in his Rogan Josh - and cleared away, everyone has something to get back to. Lydia offers Stiles a ride home.

“Yeah, let me just grab my sweatshirt,” he says, migrating back towards where Melissa's dryer is located.

She waits in the hallway once she's helped Scott load the dishes, and her attention is pulled back to Derek, stood in the living room, glancing over Stiles' cliffnotes of the grimoire. It's complete with witty comments in the margins and highlighted passages that he'd put together for Scott. She takes a step towards him, about to comment on their little display earlier, when he drops the notes as if burned.

Lydia frowns, but she sees the reason once Stiles re-enters the living-room, pulling his hoodie over his head.

“Hnnngh. Dryer-fresh,” he sighs, finally getting his head through the neck-hole, and stills once he sees that Derek is the only one left. He clears his throat. “Well, I'm just gonna, uh-”

He hooks a thumb back over his shoulder, catching sight of Lydia waiting for him, and jerks his chin at her.

“See you 'round, Stiles,” Derek says, eyes trained away, and feigning distraction with an issue of Good Housekeeping.

Stiles stops, hand on the door-frame. He frowns. “Why now?” he asks, turning back. Derek just looks up at him for a beat, and then raises a shoulder in a shrug.

“Seemed like it was time.”

“So, you... didn't come back for any particular reason? Why didn't you stay with Cora?”

Derek appears to mull it over, his eyes flicking past Stiles' shoulder to Lydia for a moment, before he shakes his head. “Why does it matter?”

Stiles traces a knot on the wood, brow pinched. “Cora's my friend. I care about her, and once I've saved someone's life I kind of feel responsible for it.”

Derek lets out a breath, voice going quiet. “I just wanted to come back, Stiles. She didn't.”

The other presses his lips together, like it's not the answer he'd wanted, and gives an accepting nod. “Well, uh, welcome home, then.”

They're already pulling the door closed when they hear the muttered, “Thanks”.

Stiles is conspicuously silent on the way home, and Lydia knows better than to interrupt him when he's in the process of a massive internal deliberation.

“Who is Stiles talking to?”

She looks up from composing the strongly-worded email to Topshop about her online-shopping experience to follow Allison's gaze across the quad.

“Hmm, Jess –Something,” she comments, setting the phone aside. The girl is cute, in a dark-haired, Felicia-Day-kind-of-way in that she's girly-geek while still maintaining some semblance of fashion sense. Pretty much perfect for Stiles, actually. On paper.

“You think there's something there?” Allison asks, watching them. She's giggling at something he's said behind a House Targaryn binder, and his jawline is splotched pink with nerves.

“Maybe.”

Scott sets his bag down on the bench beside Lydia and throws a leg over it. “What are we talking about?”

“We think Stiles may have a date,” Allison supplies, lips quirked, just as Stiles approaches them. “Well?”

“Stiles definitely has a date,” he announces, looking accomplished, and takes a victory sip of Dr Pepper before flopping down to join.

Lydia raises a brow at him. “Interesting development.”

He shrugs, meeting her eyes briefly. “There's only a couple months left of high school. No sense wasting all this new-found sexual magnetism.”

Scott looks at him like he's just graduated college. With honours. “Awesome, dude. Jess is really nice.”

Stiles nods, smiling with tight lips. “Yeah, she is. We're going to the all-night Battlestar screening this Saturday.”

There's a frown, before Scott says, “But you hate Battlestar. You called me at four-am when you finished it to complain about plot-holes and Jimi Hendrix and loose-fitting internet theories.”

Stiles shrugs, opening up a notebook. “Jess likes it.” He looks up again. “Jess is nice.”

Lydia goes back to her email, absently contemplating how nobody has ever described her as 'nice' – and she's never heard anyone call Derek Hale that, either.

Derek's been back three weeks by the time they harass him into having a house-warming. Scott claims that it had been the lack of one that brought such terrible luck to the loft. Isaac and Danny are pretty much on-board with the word “beer” and Lydia and Allison are in agreement that, though an Argent won't be making Tuesday afternoon coffee dates with a Hale any time soon, a night spent letting off steam and not having to watch what they say in ignorant company would make a nice change. Everyone else is just at a loose-end.

Apart from Stiles, it seems.

“Oh, he's out with Jess, but he said he'd try swing by later,” the sheriff informs, as Derek closes the door behind him. He proffers a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue which the host takes distractedly. “You might not be able to get drunk off that stuff, but life is too short for crappy whiskey.”

“Jess?” Derek croaks, like it cost him something to do it. “Uh, thank you.”

“Stiles' girlfriend,” Isaac puts in, poking at a bowl of pretzels that nobody else will want to touch when he's done.

“Oh,” is the thoughtful response, and there's an oddly tight smile on his face afterwards.

It's a really fun night, in all. Derek's apartment is a little more home-y than the last one, and most of his unpacking has revealed a large collection of books, and some framed monochrome photographs of New York scenes that are signed and dated Laura Hale. Melissa brings too much food and makes pointed comments about bachelors feeding themselves and all that space in Derek's new freezer, and the sheriff grins smugly at Isaac, Ethan and Aiden's laments about not being able to feel any effects from the beer Derek stocked. Danny and the girls still get unsubtly monitored from a distance, though.

Lydia finds him on the fire escape a few hours in, absorbing some solitude while still being able to enjoy the sounds of life and family in his home.

“Didn't peg you for a smoker,” she quips, pulling her sweater tighter around her body. He scoots over to make room, holding out his empty hands.

“Not a fan of the smell, actually,” he says, and she internally berates herself for the slip. Before she can apologise, he cuts in, “Aren't you cold?”

“The thing about being in a room half-full of werewolves,” she says, rueful, “Is that the heat of bodies alone is enough to make it tropical.”

He smirks. “My mom used to say we were the only family in Beacon Hills who never had to worry about home insulation”

It goes quiet between them for a spell, traffic sounds in the distance and laughter in the background, but she can tell there's something on his mind.

“You're thinking really loudly. Not a trait I'd have associated with you, funnily enough.”

He sighs, though it's supposed to be a laugh. “Just wondering if I made the right choice, coming back here.”

“Does it feel like you did?”

His eyes reflect a line of traffic in the middle-distance, unseeing. “Right now? Guess it does.”

“But not always.”

He gives a part-shrug. “You all seem to be doing well enough.”

She sucks in a breath, finding herself huddling closer. It really is kind of cold out here. “Depends on what day of the week you ask us, but yeah, I guess so,” she says. “It doesn't mean you don't have a place here. I know this town isn't exactly full of happy memories, but it's still your home.”

“That's part of why I came back,” he nods, into the broad forearms resting on his knees. She doesn't ask what the other part was – they're not really familiar enough for that yet – but she can guess.

“There've been a lot of changes. Ethan and Aiden are exclusively on our side. Scott's finding his groove; Danny knows everything; Allison and Isaac are, well.” She smiles, eyebrows rising. “...Stiles is dating, and I've managed not to stumble over a corpse in like almost a year.”

He fights a smirk before raising his head. “Yeah, lots of change.” There's a thoughtful pause, and then he says, “This 'Jess'... you like her?”

There it is.

She hums thoughtfully. “Still undecided.”

The girl had flushed pink when Stiles introduced her to the rest of the group, and they're so sickeningly-cute that they've made hand-holding an artform. Their dates are usually some variation of video games, comic books or sci-fi movies, and Stiles is kind to her, and she to him.

“But she seems sweet enough, and Stiles is getting out there, so who's it hurting?”

Derek shakes his head, pensive, and says “No-one. That's-- that's great.”

She gets up to escape the cold, but can't resist turning once more, just before she opens the door, evaporating their privacy. “You still could have called, you know.”

Derek dips his chin, not turning. “Would've been too hard to pretend some things weren't happening.”

The night's winding down when there's a buzz at the door, and the sheriff rises stiffly from the chair he'd been camped out on. “That'll be our ride home,” he tells Melissa, “Thanks for your hospitality, Derek.” The door is opened to reveal a guilty-looking Stiles.

He jerks his chin at Derek in greeting. “Hey, sorry, couldn't make it sooner. My dad need to be carried home?”

“Funny how he gets all smart-mouthed,” the sheriff says, eyes bright, “when I seem to remember someone claiming they lost the power of their legs after seeing X-Men for the first time.”

Melissa snorts. “Wasn't that the plastic red wheelbarrow phase?” she asks.

Derek directs a smirk at the ground, and Stiles glares half-heartedly at his father. “You could still walk home, you know. You're not quite decrepit yet.”

“I'll just get my coat,” Stiles' dad grumbles, Melissa issuing warnings to both Isaac and Scott about a kept promise to clean the gutters tomorrow, and Derek hovers awkwardly, propping the door open.

“You're not coming in?” he asks quietly, and Stiles thinks about it for a moment, before he pulls a face.

“Nah, I'm kinda beat.”

Derek nods. Lydia tunes out the discussion of what werewolves could drink without being mortally poisoned as he shifts his feet. “Date go well?”

There's a curious look, before Stiles says, “Yeah, was nice.”

“That's-- Good.”

The sheriff appears back then, Melissa not far behind him.

“Alright, I expect breakfast to be on the table by the time I get up tomorrow, and no disturbance before eleven,” he announces, as Stiles rolls his eyes.

“He says this like he's cooked a breakfast since 2009.” He leans past Derek to throw a wave to the others. “Bye guys!”

There's a chorus of goodbyes in response, and Derek is grinning freely as he pulls the door shut, his expression turning thoughtful before he turns. “Okay,” he says, “what's the polite way of forcing you all to clean this place up?”

She sees the prodigal werewolf at the gas station not long after that, shoulders hunched like he's expecting an attack as he glances around. She pulls up parallel to him and waves, but Derek barely seems to notice her in favour of looking over her shoulder like there’s a car crash happening in slow motion.

She hears the laugh before she turns around, the bright, whole-body thing that sounds more free than it’s been in a while.

“I’m serious!”

“No, I know you are,” Stiles replies, still chuckling fondly, and Lydia turns in time to see him sling a casual arm around Jess’ shoulder as they exit the store. “It’s just funny to me, is all. You’re funny.”

“Look, I’m just saying my grandma totally had some magical ju-ju happening. She just knew stuff, like foresight. It’s not that implausible that regular people can have certain powers. Look at the number of reports...”

Lydia tunes them out again, turning back to where Derek is standing, and her brows rise as she notices he’s frozen to the spot, hand poised at the door handle. He finally looks at her then, mouth tightening a little as he comes back to the moment, and gives her an awkward jerk of his jaw.

“Hey Derek,” she says pointedly, squinting.

“Lydia.” His eyes dart towards the sound of the Jeep. “That’s...her?” he says, voice barely a croak.

Lydia holds a palm turned upwards, and Derek looks like someone’s gouging out a vital part of his anatomy, lost, and devastated, before his gaze trains to the ground. He nods distractedly, and doesn’t say another word before he yanks the door open and sits in, hands clutching at the wheel as he stares blankly ahead.

She lets out a weary sigh, locking her car and walks towards the store entrance, only glancing back once as the Jeep pulls out. Stiles double-takes out the driver-side window, eyes fixed on Derek’s unseeing form as Jess chatters happily in his ear.

...

Stiles and Jess call it quits about a month after Derek’s return, and he's cagey as to the reason, but Scott makes an off-hand comment about Stiles 'not feeling it', and Isaac announces less-delicately that Stiles got his ass dumped.

Lydia instinctively knows not to ask.

He waits the appropriate amount of time to be respectful to Jess (about two-and-a-half weeks in High School Years) before the word gets out that he's dating once more. For almost a month, there's a new face mooning after him every week.

Watching Stiles flirt is one-part endearing and three-parts excruciating, but every person he inflicts his little lopsided grin and terrible jokes on just falls hook, line and sinker. Every time.

None of them are quite suitable enough, Lydia thinks, not for Stiles; not for the person he is, or the man he's growing into, just hovering in the dark amber of his eyes and in the latently strong breadth of his shoulders. She can see the cold detachedness of him, staring out at her sometimes – just the right amount of analytical, realistic empathy that she predicts will be the ideal contrast to Scott's earnest, free-loving leadership.

The perfect, perpetual wingman.

But she contemplates how she'd react if he tried to give his opinion on her love life, and keeps her lips sealed. It seems like he's just getting something out of his system, anyway. Or someone.

Scott is, strangely, less patient, and more than once expresses his disapproval for one of his best friend's interests. Stiles eventually retorts with an extensive, chronological list of everyone Scott's been with since Allison, and the subject is dropped. Lydia doesn't point out that the difference between their approaches is that Scott loves each and every one of his conquests, in some way or another. Stiles, hopeless romantic that he is, just wants to.

And he hasn't even let himself contemplate going after what might be holding him back.

She almost says something after Stiles only makes it one date with Jenna Fink, and she hears the girl telling a friend in the school bathroom that “I made this joke about wanting Reed Willis to go die in a fire, and he just, like, clammed up. It was totally weird. It’s just a joke, right?”

Oh Stiles, Lydia thinks, you’re so deep in denial you’re in Egypt.

It's another birthday party, funnily enough, that's the next turning point – Danny's this time – and it makes Stiles' look like a kindergarten field trip.

After stepping in her first puddle of vomit and the second argument with Aiden that night, Lydia has had enough. Except, well, her designated drivers are nowhere to be found; Isaac seemingly having skulked off with a tipsy Allison around a half-hour ago, Scott MIA, and she's no longer self-centred enough to pull the birthday-boy's boyfriend away from the celebration.

It's when she's just happened upon Stiles, way-too-drunk and flirting with Adam Myers in a dark corner, that she realises her choices are: call a cab - risking unwanted attention to the house and to Danny - or call Derek.

He picks up on the second ring.

“Lydia?”

She bites her lip. “Alright, so, this is a little embarrassing, and believe me, I wouldn't be bothering you if there was anyone else, but--”

“What's wrong?” he asks, concern lacing his tone. “Where are you?”

“I'm at Danny's. He's having this party, and it's a little too Last Days of Rome for my tastes, and you never can find a sober werewolf when you need one, so...”

“I'll be there in twenty minutes.”

She smiles relievedly. “Thanks.”

Right on time, he texts as she makes it out of the bathroom following her fifteen-minute wait. She hesitates on firing one off to let him know she's on her way out, when she finds Stiles again, being pawed by Adam in a way that's about four hundred times more skeezy with the level of drunk that Stiles is.

“Stiles? I have to go, are you coming with me?”

He squints dumbly at her for a moment, before smiling. “Lyds! Sit down, have a shot! Whoa, buddy,” he stills, turning to Adam.

His voice lowers, and her eyes catch on the hand that's clamped on the other guy's wrist, thumb hooked over the other and about ten seconds from an incapacitating move.

Stiles shakes his head slowly. “That is seriously bad-touch. No bueno.”

Adam swallows as he talks, a flare of arousal sparked in his eyes at the veiled threat. He has no freaking idea who he's dealing with.

“Stiles come on,” she says, losing her patience. She can't leave him here in good conscience, even if he is acting like an idiot. “I have a car waiting outside.”

“You sound like a mob boss,” he says, snorting in a whiplash of mood change, and pulls his hand away. “'I have a car waiting...' Doesn't she sound like she's in a Mafia movie?”

“She sounds like a jealous girlfriend to me,” Adam supplies with a self-satisfied look, just as Lydia feels a heat at her shoulder.

“And you sound like an asshole,” Derek says. Stiles seems to sober up minutely at the sight of him. “Stiles, are you coming?”

He genuinely seems lost in thought for a moment, just blinking owlishly at Derek before his forehead creases. “What are you doing here?”

“Hopefully diverting you from bad decisions,” Derek supplies, casting a glance at Adam. He seems to have curved in on himself, intimidated at last, but he's still got a possessive hand on Stiles' knee. The werewolf's eyes practically bore holes in it.

“You always have such great timing for giving a shit,” Stiles spits, and Lydia rolls her eyes, because she always forgets how impossible he is when he's really drunk.

“Listen, Stilinski,” she asserts, pointing a finger at his nose. He goes cross-eyed looking at it. “Derek's here because I called him. I've already walked in on a three-way and narrowly missed being thrown up on. Twice. And our friends are either drunk or otherwise engaged, and I'd like to go home, and sleep, knowing you're not being roofied, or something... worse, alright?”

She is so not in the mood to help Stiles explain his way out of an Aggravated Battery charge to his own father, when this turns south. Which it inevitably will.

Adam opens his mouth to retort, but whatever he sees in Derek's expression, rather than the smooth, coiled danger in Stiles demeanour, has him lifting his hand and standing up.

“Fuck this. I'm out,” he says, disappearing into the crowd.

“Thanks a lot, Lyds,” Stiles grunts, eyes trained away from Derek. “Despite appearances, I'm not a helpless dumbass..”

“Hey, she's just trying to help,” Derek cuts in; shoulders tense, and voice coming out harsher than probably intended - which, of course, just serves to raise Stiles' hackles more.

“It's none of your business,” he retorts, lifting his solo cup to his mouth before throwing it away, realising it's empty. “Either of you.”

“Cut the crap, Stiles,” Lydia says, patience lost. “We care about you. Now come on, you're about a drink and a half away from breaking someone's fingers or throwing up in Danny's grandmother's urn.”

His gaze narrows, affronted. “I would never do that to Mrs Mahealani. She made kindergarten awesome.”

Derek presses his mouth shut, throat betraying a laugh now, as Lydia rolls her eyes.

“Stiles, up.

“No! I can take care of myself, in case you haven't noticed.”

There's a nod from over Lydia's shoulder. “Yeah, we know you can, but unfortunately you can't shank humans in the throat or Molotov your way out of it when he pisses you off,” Derek says, unapologetically fond, before he crouches down to meet his eye.

“Let me take you home, Stiles,” he asks, voice soft, even over the party noise. “Please?”

There's nothing but doe-eyed, Disney-calibre blink, and Stiles wets his lips before he nods, nervous and jerky. Surprisingly, he manages to pull himself to his feet.

The compliance lasts until they've secured him into the back seat of the Toyota, where he proceeds to complain loudly about how they both suck; how Derek unfairly used 'the eyes' on him; the key ingredients and production process of Jagermeister, and express his disapproval over the current choice of car brand.

Lydia sighs. “Stiles. Can it. If that's the kind of party you want to do that at,” she enunciates meaningfully, “with Date Rape Ken Doll back there, then be my guest. I don't get to dictate what you do with your body. But that guy has future sex-offender, walk-of-shame and life-long regret written all over him, and you are too pretty and smart to go to prison for manslaughter.” She folds her arms, and raises her eyebrows at the windshield. “Believe me.”

There's a span of silence, before Stiles slurs, “Yeah, well, I still preferred the Camaro,” and promptly passes out.

Lydia chuckles, turning back to check he's not choking on his own puke, or something, but he's fine. Slack-jawed and snoring, but fine.

“He looks so sweet and innocent when he's asleep,” she says, lovingly. “Then he wakes up and talks.”

It's when she's turning back that she notices Derek's knuckles pulled tight around the wheel.

“I thought he was with Jess...something,” he says evenly, glancing in the rear-view mirror. He's checking too, though she's sure all he has to do is turn a trained ear on Stiles' heartbeat.

Lydia shakes her head. “That was over almost as soon as it started. Since then it's been, well, a long line of others. Adam's just the latest.”

“And... him, with, uh, with guys. That's new?”

Lydia purses her lips. God, he's so obvious.

“Newly explored,” she hums, smirking. “Pretty sure he was born that way, though.”

A pause.

“I don't think I've ever come so close to snapping someone – someone human's – neck, in my life,” he confesses quietly, to the sound of Stiles' breaths. It's a heavy revelation, considering some of the humans Derek has known in his lifetime.

“If Stiles hadn't beat you to it,” she points out. “The way that jerk was forcing it? There is no way that would have ended well.”

The sheriff's on the night shift – thankfully – when they reach the Stilinski house, and Stiles is out; only rousing when Derek puts him over one shoulder.

“Had a dream like this once,” he drawls, grinning lecherously at Lydia as she follows them up the stairs. He bats at her for a second, trying to grab her attention, before his head drops so he's in line with the small of Derek's back, cradled tenderly over one broad shoulder. “View in real life's much better though,” he says, voice muffled.

Derek deposits him gently – so gently – on his bed, and steps back. Stiles is dopily looking up at him, arranged over the covers, and he starts pawing at his belt.

“Off?” he croaks petulantly, hands fumbling, and Derek's whole body just stills.

Stiles lets out a grunt of frustration before Lydia sighs, and approaches, pulling off Stiles' sneakers one by one before migrating to the button on his jeans.

Derek stares at her, face uncomfortable.

“You're not gonna let him wake up in beer-soaked pants, are you?” she says, tugging the denim down at the cuffs. Derek raises a scandalised brow, eyes flitting between her face and what she's doing. She scoffs, “Please, it's nothing I haven't seen before.”

The guy's forehead creases unhappily, but he's trying to hide it, so she smiles, enjoying the silent freak-out happening in his head. It's a full two minutes or so before she gives in and explains.

“Last year he made a zip-line into one of the crevices in the preserve with his favourite pair of Levi's.”

Derek's face softens, but he doesn't return the smile.

Once Stiles has been relieved of his pants and appropriately swaddled, and assured that no, it's not some elaborate dream sequence and actually, they are leaving now and there will not be hot oil massages or cheesy porn lines, he falls asleep again before they've shut the door.

Back in the car, There's a thoughtful silence before Derek says, “Isaac mentioned something about you giving Stiles a special birthday present.” His eyes flicker to hers, sidelong with a carefully blank expression, and she smiles at the memory.

“Sure did.”

The wheel creaks under Derek’s hands.

“Funny thing about Stiles is, he's a great liar, but no more so than to himself.” She looks over at him. “Nothing happened between us. He just needed to realise what he was missing out on by clinging to who he used to be. The guy who thought he fell for me is gone, that much is obvious. He needs the right nudge to make the proper decisions, is all.”

Derek's jaw clenches as he makes a turn, eyes thoughtful. “So I've noticed. He'll probably still find reason to hate us tomorrow.”

Lydia's lips curl, street lights passing as they drive. “Maybe,” she says lightly, “But he still left that party just because you said 'please'.”

He's still thinking about it, ten minutes later, when she plants a grateful kiss on his cheek.

She wakes up to a slew of panicked text messages.

Stiles: Please tell me Derek fireman-carrying me to bed was just a weirdly uneventful dream

Stiles: Ohmg

Stiles : Who the fuck took my pants off?!?!

Stiles: Why was he even there last night

Stiles: LYDIA

She lets herself laugh until she’s struggling for breath, and dials his number.

Nnngh?”

“Good morning, sunshine,” she chirps.

If you weren’t so beautiful I’d threaten to brain you with the wok I’m holding.”

“Why are you holding a wok?”

Because I threw our frying pan in the trash to prove a dramatic point.”

“Of course you did.”

There’s a concurring grunt, and then, “Why was Derek Hale in my room last night?”

“Valiantly rescuing you from poor life decisions,” she says. “Also, I wouldn’t have been able to carry you upstairs on my own.”

I was not that drunk.”

“You told Derek his eyes were ‘mystical weapons of pretty’ and then passed out in your underwear.”

There’s a groan down the line, and then a random combination of beeping, like he’s mashing the keypad.

“Stiles, what are you doing?”

Trying to dial yesterday so I can pre-emptively call myself a dumbass.”

She smirks. “I think you need to hang up for that to work.”

I hate that you’re a morning person. You and I are actually hugely incompatible. I don’t know what I was ever thinking.”

“I bet Derek isn’t a morning person. I bet you two are perfectly suited for sleepy wake-up sex.”

She hears a strangled squeak down the line, and then he clears his throat. “I refuse to discuss this when my brain is still stewing in alcohol.”

“So it’s something you’ve thought about.”

He doesn’t answer right away, and then the earpiece crackles with his sigh. “Lydia, I’m sure blind nuns have thought about Derek Hale in that capacity.”

“I don’t think blind nuns are quite his type.”

No, horribly manipulative yet beautiful women are. I think you have a shot.”

She narrows her eyes at the wall in front of her. “I’ll pretend you didn’t just compare me to Ms Blake and Allison’s crazy aunt because you’re clearly having some kind of life-crisis. It’s the only plausible reason for this level of denial.”

There’s a thoughtful pause. “Is this another one of your roundabout life-lessons? Because I am way too hungover to acquire fundamental self-knowledge.

She pulls back the covers on her bed to step out. “No, it’s just getting a little old watching two people who deserve to be happy dance around the huge elephant in the room.”

And that elephant being...”

“The choking, unresolved sexual tension between you and our favourite former-alpha.”

Stiles goes completely silent, so much that she pulls the phone away from her ear to check that the call hasn’t dropped - but the seconds tick away.

I-- there has to be attraction on both sides for that to be true.”

She blows out a breath. Honestly. “Stiles, you’ve been asked out more in the past month than I have in my entire high school career. Is it so hard to accept that Derek sees what they all do?”

Yes?”

“Why?”

Because it’s Derek? He’s-- it’s just not like that. For him.”

“But it is for you?”

Lydia, drop it, okay? Please?”

She clenches her jaw and then sighs. “Alright, but only because I think you’ve suffered enough.”

Thanks,” he says sarcastically.

“But I still think you’re wrong.”

Noted.”

“And Derek wants to have your Bambi-eyed, smart-mouthed babies.”

There's an even louder groan then, before the call drops and the line goes dead.

...

A week later, Stiles is still single. It's not that she'd really think much of it, except she happens upon him, leaning against his locker with both thumbs hooked into his backpack straps, giving some girl she vaguely recognises from AP Econ an apologetic smile.

"Sorry, Shannon, but I actually... already... have a date to prom?" he says, looking like he genuinely means it.

The girl presses her lips shut in disappointment, but gives him a grin, "That's okay. She's a very lucky girl." Her eyes widen. "Or guy! Whatever. Have fun, Stiles."

He chuckles softly as she practically darts off. "Thanks."

Lydia plants herself beside him by the shoulders and squints threateningly. "So you already have a date to prom, hm?"

Stiles flails as if he's been shot. "Holy shit!" he says, clutching his chest. "Is there a special creep-up-on-Stiles meeting you all attend when I'm not around? I mean fuck!"

"You just lied to that girl, Stiles. Explain."

He deflates, still catching his breath. "I-- technically not. I do have a date to prom."

Lydia leans her head back against the steel. "Hmm, well Derek hasn't been spotted in the park dancing to Hall & Oates, so it can’t be him.."

Stiles gives her a flat look before pushing to stand up. "Yeah, cause I'm gonna as Derek Hale to prom. Jesus, who am I, Freddie Prinze Jr?" He starts to walk off and she falls into step beside him.

"So who's the mystery dream-date?"

"It's..." The name is cut off in a mumble.

"I'm sorry, who?"

He sighs. "It's Scott. Scott is my prom date. We're going stag. Together."

Lydia's brows crinkle and she stops, dragging him to a standstill by the strap of his bag.

"You're taking Scott to prom."

He holds out his hands, brow creasing. "Yeah."

Unbelievable.

"No you aren't."

"Uh, pretty sure I am."

"No, you're not."

"How come?"

"Because I'm taking Scott to prom."

His eyes bug out. "Wh-- he never said--"

"That's because I just decided. Aiden's too unreliable and Scott really fills out a tux. I'm going with him."

Stiles looks offended. "You can't just steal my prom date, Lydia!"

"I just did. Now are you gonna man-up and ask the one person you actually feel something for? Or are you going stag, alone, which is loser-speak for I'm-too-chicken-shit-to-get-my-own-date?"

He glares at her, a long, silent moment, before tearing his eyes away, and storming off.

"Stag it is, then," he spits over his shoulder.

...

It’s the day of prom. Lydia’s driving around with rollers in, sipping on a chai iced frappe and trying not to ruin her manicure, when she spots him. He doesn’t even look around when she slows the car down to a crawl.

“Any reason why you’re loitering around outside a florists?” she asks, rolling down the window. “You know you should have ordered your corsage weeks ago.”

Derek’s shoulders square for a split second before he turns. His mouth is a thin line and his eyes dart around sketchily. Honestly.

“Thought I saw someone I knew,” he mutters, and then raises a brow once he takes in her appearance.

“You think I just roll out of bed looking the way I do? Men are ridiculous.”

“I grew up with sisters. I know what it takes,” he retorts, “I just didn’t think you’d be seen in public looking any less than...you.”

Lydia cocks her head, humming. “Standards change once half the sheriff’s department has seen you naked with twigs in your hair.” She opens the door. “Get in.”

His chin rears back. “Why?”

“Because you’re standing there mooning over the peonies so hard they’re going to wilt,” she explains, and his eyes drop down to the flowers as if just noticing them. “And I’m pretty sure it’s because you’re wondering if Stiles has already been in to pick up his date’s corsage.”

Derek hesitates at the car door. “I was passing,” he says defensively.

“Of course you were.”

He gives her a glare as he slides into the seat. “Where are you taking me?” he asks, just realising for the first time that he’s stepped into the car simply on her command.

“It’s like I have to do everything myself,” she grumbles to nobody in particular. Derek’s just furrowed-browing her from the passenger seat, and keeps staring even as she pulls the car to a stop, right outside After Hours. “Give me your wallet.”

“So I’m being mugged.”

She rolls her eyes. “I don’t have time for snark, Hale. Come on.”

He looks around, just realising where they are, and his eyes fall on the shop front. “What-- No. No.

“You know how I knew Stiles hadn’t been by to pick up a corsage?” she asks, distracting him. “It’s because he doesn’t have a date.”

Derek’s mouth snaps shut, and his eyes narrow at her. “But he--”

“He’s been spreading himself ‘round like Colin Farrell circa 2009, I know. It’s his prerogative - but ever since that night you tucked him into bed like he was some delicate baby chipmunk, he’s lost his flow. He was taking Scott to prom.”

Derek’s mouth turns down at the corners. “There are worse dates.”

She rolls her eyes. “I know, that’s why I called Scott and invited him. He’s surprisingly easily bought when you put a limo ride and his best friend’s happiness on the table.”

“You stole Stiles’ prom date,” he says flatly, not sounding entirely surprised.

“I did what needed to be done - which is more than I can say for either of you.”

Derek holds his palms up. “What’s this got to do with me?”

She exhales wearily, because there is no way someone can be this dense - never mind two people. “Stiles didn’t ask anyone else because he’s - pathetically - a die-hard romantic, and I know he thinks he should only go with someone he really wants.”

She gives him a pointed look, and he still looks suspicious until the second he gets her meaning.

“He never said anything.”

“Did you?” she asks confrontationally. “Look, these past few months everyone’s been on him like he’s the second coming of Gosling, but it’s Stiles. There’s still some fundamental part of him that believes me not wanting him back is because he’s not good enough.”

“And what was the reason?” He genuinely looks curious.

“The opposite,” she says, muted and raw and she presses her head back into the rest. His face melts into a look of quiet surprise at the admission, but he doesn’t respond.

“The things we’ve seen, Derek... what we’ve done - even I can’t give him what he needs, because there’s still a part of me that can compartmentalise it, forge on. I think deep down he knew that. That I didn’t make the same sacrifices he did.” She tilts her head to look up at him through her lashes. “Do you really think some normal high school senior can possibly understand Stiles like any of us can? Like you can?”

“That’s--” His shoulders slump. “He’s still just a kid--”

“Is he?” she cuts in, straightening up. “When you look into his eyes, do you see someone eighteen and stupid and naive about the world?” She looks out the windshield, shaking her head. “I don’t - even before the Nemeton he wasn’t a regular teenager anymore. Stiles aged ten years in two, and he deserves more than someone who’ll make him feel like he’s broken all the time.”

Derek is silent beside her, thinking. He pulls at a thread on his jeans as there’s a long breath let out through his nose, and then, “I still don’t get why me.”

“Because he waited for you.”

He pivots around to her, confusion in his expression.

“You think it’s a coincidence that he got a girlfriend barely a week after you came back?” she asks, face rueful. “He turned down everyone that asked him out, and I didn’t know why, at first - and then I realised: he was clinging to the hope that something would happen if you showed up again.” She glares at him. “And then you had to be all ‘I just came back because I felt like it’, and he stopped hoping.”

She turns the engine off, and places a hand on the door handle. “Now are we going to go rent you a tux, or are you going to keep lying about what you really want?”

She steps out of the car, and walks into the store without looking back, because she knows he’ll follow.

And he does.

...

Derek lets out a breath through gritted teeth and looks down at himself. He looks ridiculous. He feels ridiculous.

And he’s late.

The sounds of some god-awful dubstep song permeates the walls of the Beacon Hills High Gymnasium, and not for the first time tonight, he feels old. But Lydia. Fucking Lydia.

He really had just been passing the florists, taking a second to look - because Derek never went to prom, and he never asked out a date, and the rituals he knew only from what he’d seen on TV and when Laura got picked up by some prick called Chad, but he’d be lying if he said Lydia wasn’t right about where his thoughts were.

His thoughts always seem to veer back around to the same place, these days.

Getting out of town had been good - great, even - and the first few months aimlessly driving with Cora, stopping in small towns and taking day trips to larger cities had done more for their relationship than living together in the loft under a constant feeling of threat ever did. But she’d travelled enough - Cora needed roots, and she’d only find that with a strong pack that was established enough to be her protection. Something Derek knew he wouldn’t be able to offer yet. He knew from experience.

He wasn’t letting his baby sister end up like Erica.

After that, it had been freeing to choose his own direction. He went to Europe, visited the capitals and major cities, detoured through villages, ate local food and tried to forget about Beacon Hills.

It even worked, for a while, until the day he was sitting in greasy spoon cafe in Manchester England, skimming through the headlines on his phone and heard raised voices behind him. He turned at the sound, such an intense exchange of words that half the patrons were pivoted in their seats to stare. A young couple stood behind the counter - the owners, probably - shoulders tense, glaring at each other like looks alone could melt skin.

Visions of Stiles, so close he could feel the hot breath of his angry words on his face sprung uninvited to Derek’s mind.

It was some nonsense argument, probably to do with the business and it burned hot and quick before the girl pulled the apron from around her waist and threw it at her spouse. She flipped him the bird, eyes blazing with anger before storming out. The awkward silence broke soon after that, other customers going back to their fried eggs and crispy bacon, but Derek couldn’t help but keep looking. The guy caught Derek’s eye then, face cracking into a grin, and he shrugged.

“Call me a dickhead, but she isn’t half gorgeous when she’s pissed off,” he said, and Derek could only meet it with his own surprised smile. It was even more surprising that he felt like he knew the feeling.

“I think you’re in trouble,” Derek replied, still getting used to the easy manner in which he found himself talking to strangers.

The guy started wiping the counter top, a mischievous glint in his eye. “Yeah, but even arguing with her beats arguing with anyone else.” He looked up, raising a brow. “And making up’s even better.”

The incident followed Derek around for the rest of the day - the crackling intensity between the couple, the passionate way in which the guy talked about the woman he loved, and the feeling of loss Derek couldn’t seem to shake when he wasn’t able to identify with making things up after a fight.

He decided it was time to go back to Beacon Hills the next day.

He rationalised it in his head. Told himself that Scott should have some support and the only Hale in his family’s former territory shouldn’t be a once-dead psychopath (that nobody had even heard from in a year)... but Lydia had seen though it all in a single meeting. Stiles was different. Heavier, somehow, but no less devastating in his attractiveness, and Derek pushed away the urge to ask after him. To offer him comfort, because he knew from experience that words offer little respite when your world’s been cast in shadow.

He knew she’d seen him looking, like she could practically hear his inner thoughts reminding him that coming back for Stiles was wrong in more ways than the fact that Stiles was barely eighteen and seemingly enthralled by everyone but Derek.

Stiles even appeared more concerned with Cora’s well-being than his own. Derek hated himself a little for resenting his only surviving sibling.

And then came the girlfriend, and Derek hated himself entirely for feeling like his insides were collapsing at the thought of Stiles kissing someone else. That was before he had to see the immature, jockish scumbag with his hands all over him, as if he was fucking worthy. As if he had a right.

Derek had run eleven miles just to forget the guy’s scent, because he couldn’t trust himself not to track it down.

His stupid bow tie feels too tight and he tugs it off again, still taking no steps towards the gym. He can’t yet believe he’s doing this, and in fact took the damn thing off twice before he even got in the car. He’s over two hours late because telling his reflection what a ridiculous idea this all was still didn’t make him not want to do it.

The bloom of cautious hope in his chest at Lydia’s words was much more compelling than anything else.

He balls the tie up in one fist and contemplates turning around.

Until he hears the heavy steps and pounding of a heart he wishes he couldn’t identify on sound alone approaching from the side of the building.

Stiles skids to a stop upon seeing him, eyes wide and so ridiculously attractive that Derek questions his sanity once more for how they always manage to make him feel. The guy licks his lips, brow creasing, and breathes out.

“Derek,” he says. “What are you--”

“Did you really wait for me?” he asks, because apparently his mouth has taken on a mind of its own, and Stiles’ jaw snaps shut.

“I don’t--”

“Lydia said... she seems to think that you were hoping... for something.”

Stiles’ face goes impossibly serious, and he looks to the ground, one hand migrating to the coiffed mass of his hair. He’s in a grey, fitted button-down vest and black pants, and Derek falls into the old habit of reminding himself of Stiles’ age.

“Whatever she said to you, it’s not-- I mean, I didn’t ask her to say anything.”

There’s a long pause, tension settling heavily around them, and it feels like Stiles is too close and too far all at once.

“Where were you going just now?” Derek says, instead of expressing the disappointment of being led on. It’s ridiculous anyway, that Stiles would do that.

“I...” he says, looking caught. “I guess you’re not the only one on the receiving end of one of her life lectures. I got sick of her glaring at me and I just-- it’s stupid.”

Derek feels his stomach do something funny as he realises. “Were-- You were coming to look for me,” he says, not a question. He steps into the floodlight of the parking lot as he talks, and Stiles eyes are cast to the ground, cheeks ruddy.

“Like I said, stupid,” he mumbles, and his gaze darts up briefly to Derek before he stills. His brows jerk. “Is that-- you’re wearing a tux.”

Derek looks down at himself, lips quirking on one corner. “Speaking of stupid, huh?”

Stiles head shakes from side to side, dazed. “No, you look... whoa.” He meets Derek’s eyes, partially confused. “Why are you wearing a tux?”

“I’ve heard that’s the custom for prom,” Derek deadpans, and Stiles forehead creases. “Lydia’s extremely persuasive.”

“You rented a tux... for me? Wha--”

“You kind of ruined my grand gesture by coming outside.”

“Yeah, well you ruined mine by being in the parking lot,” he spits, reacting hotly to the challenge in Derek’s voice. God, he’s beautiful. “What were you doing, standing here in a suit angsting over whether you should go inside?” Derek’s eyes flick down and away, and Stiles gapes. “Holy shit, you totally were!”

“I was working up to it,” Derek grits out.

“It’s over in like an hour, how much time did you need?”

Derek’s shoulders slump. “More than this, evidently,” he mutters. His eyes find Stiles again, and he takes another step forward. He can scent him now; sweat and cologne and adrenaline and nerves. It’s perfect, and addictive. “DId you really wait for me? To come back?”

Stiles looks lost for a moment, and a little unsure, but he nods anyway. “I didn’t realise it at the time, but yeah.” His eyes dart between Derek’s. “I think I’m still waiting for you.”

And Derek doesn’t want him to wait another second.

He slides his hands up, touching the skin of those flushed cheeks, feeling warmth, and there’s so much of what Lydia said that’s true - the wisdom in the eyes drinking him in, the edge of danger in them, and the feeling like he’s looking into a mirror; like the person looking back at him is the only one who’s really seen who he is.

He cautiously presses his mouth to Stiles’, because they’ve waited too long already - because they found each other years ago and it’s only now that they can acknowledge they were ever looking.

A bright burst explodes in Derek’s chest when he gets kissed back - like there’s something healing. Like two negatives can make a positive and just the right amount of darkness, joined together like this, can create light. Stiles’ sure fingers weave into his hair, breath too tight in their lungs. He feels like Stiles is taking the ugliness out of him, like he’s merging it with his own and they’re making something beautiful, just by deciding to try.

It’s a kiss Derek never knew could be real. And it just seems so right that it’s with the person he’s holding in his arms.

Slowly, so slowly, he breaks the kiss, pulling away, and Stiles’ eyes stay shut, a soft breath whooshing out from his parted lips.

“Holy shit,” he breathes, quiet. “I think I’ve been kissing wrong.”

Derek chuckles, tamping down on the feeling of possessiveness that anyone else got even close, and presses their foreheads together. “Me too,” he says.

“I think we should do it again, you know, just make sure it wasn’t a fluke?” He pulls back to look at Derek hopefully, and the buzzing, heady feeling of being wanted - truly wanted - bubbles forth in a laugh from Derek’s lips. He nods, leaning in again, and kisses Stiles’ breath away - because he wants to, because he can.

It’s a long minute before they part, the sensation not dissipating with the repeat performance but the sounds of revelry inside diverting his attention.

“Don’t you have a senior prom that you’re missing?” he asks, feeling Stiles’ head fall to his shoulder. There’s a shrug under his palms, and the guy makes an uncaring noise.

“Kind of okay with hanging out here.”

Derek shakes his head, smirking. “You only get one of these, and you’re not spending yours in the parking lot.”

He pulls back, raising a challenging brow. “What, you gonna dance with me?”

The corners of Derek’s mouth turn down, casual. “If you want.” Stiles glares.

“Alright, who the hell are you and what have you done with Derek?”

“Slow-dancing’s my limit. Lets not go nuts here.”

Stiles smirks. “I can live with that.”

 

Inside, they stick to the edges, shadows affording them a privacy they’re not yet ready to give up. Derek sees her though, red hair expertly pinned back and green dress flowing - preternaturally beautiful, even to him. She’s dancing with Scott, head laid comfortably on his shoulder, and he plants a brotherly kiss to her temple as they sway. Lydia smiles, then - for Scott, and for Derek and Stiles, and Derek returns it - because he knows, without her influence, and without what she did in letting Stiles go, they wouldn’t have found their way to each other. And he’s got a feeling that that would’ve been the biggest loss of all.

 

~~~~~~