A Secret No One Knows

(happy almost birthday, Ashe. This one is most definitely for you.)

(Uh, I went ahead and put this on AO3 if you’d prefer to read it there.)

Derek knows the numbers: the insurance money is ample but it won’t actually last forever. Laura managed it while she was alive; she never told him much about where it was or what she did with it. He keeps her arrangements in place, after, tries not to be alarmed at how quickly the checks disappear each month, especially when he starts paying rent. 

So Derek starts paying attention: he clips coupons, he buys store brand, he fills the Camaro up with mid-grade fuel instead of the fanciest stuff. He considers getting rid of the Camaro, which costs a truly insane amount to insure, and can’t quite bear it. He starts shopping at the Goodwill instead. His wardrobe consists of jeans and henleys, so it’s not like anyone is going to notice. 

Goodwill is full of weird shit. Derek finds himself spending hours there by accident, getting lost in the .25 paperbacks and amateurish landscape paintings, framed photographs of people’s cats, fringed lampshades and old tvs and board games with half of the pieces missing. He resists manfully but eventually he starts picking up knickknacks here and there, little things, just to fill up the loft. 

He buys an old record player and then some real speakers, because the tinny crackle of cheap ones make him nuts; he starts listening to music, sometimes, when the pack’s not around, when he’s at loose ends at home, trying not to climb the walls, trying to figure out how he ended up with an apartment, with space and time to spare. There’s no record store in Beacon Hills, not anymore, so he gleans what he can from thrift shops and estate sales and buys a boom box, too, starts a cassette collection, just for variety’s sake. 

The cassette is a truly terrible piece of technology: the sound quality sucks, the tape gets tangled and damaged, there’s no good way to skip from track to track when he only wants to listen to pieces of something. But it reminds him of being a kid— some of the cassettes are ones he owned as a kid— and it feels comforting, to sit and wind tape backwards with one pinkie, to have to sit and wait for something to be ready: to be patient and gentle and still.

-

Stiles doesn’t resent Derek becoming domestic, exactly: the rational part of his brain knows that it means that he’s is settling down and finding a way to be slightly less miserable, and that that’s a good thing, on balance, for Derek anyway. It’s Stiles who can’t help missing the awful mysterious creature of the night thing Derek had going on at first, permanent leather jacket and bad-news scowl, like the promise that life was exactly as fucked as Stiles had always assumed but maybe at least going to be interesting, too.

And then there were no texts that said MANDATORY pack spring clean at the loft this Saturday you fuckers have bled on my floors enough times. You owe me. Which— Stiles has never done any of that bleeding, though that’s mostly because the pack always swarms him to patch up his wounds after, leaving their own to heal up naturally. It’s a smart tactic but murder on the floors, the upholstery in their cars.

Pack discipline is still shaky at best; Stiles shows up an hour late, sleepy and mildly resentful, to find he’s the only one there. Well, besides for Derek, of course, who opens the door wearing khaki shorts and a pair of ancient, beat-up tennis shoes, no shirt, his hair tousled by the breeze blowing in through the loft’s enormous open windows. The scene looks like a cross between an interior decorating magazine and straight-up porn; Stiles can’t decide whether to be curious about the mid-century modern turn Derek’s furnishings have taken or insanely turned on by the irritated flex of his abs as he huffs out a terse greeting.

(He’s an eighteen year old virgin; his dick makes an executive decision on the matter.)

"Fucking figures," Stiles mumbles, and then, remembering, "hey, uhh, I bought you a present." He digs deep into his pockets, produces two cassette tapes and serves them up alongside a shit-eating grin. Derek tries to hide his weird dorky musical proclivities from them but Stiles is pack investigator, which is to say snoop, and he’s seen the Ace of Base tapes still whirring silently in the deck when they show up unannounced. "Thought we might need a soundtrack."

Stiles was actually too young for both of these phenomena, but some quick mental math puts Derek in fourth grade when both of them came out, Hanson’s Middle of Nowhere and the Spice Girls’ Spice World. Stiles’ pop heroes were the second coming of the teen queens, late-stage Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears in nothing more than a nude suit and diamonds; there’s an unmistakeable 90’s optimism about the brightly covered covers of these tapes, a fresh-faced innocent pop cultural moment he missed out on entirely. Derek’s face is turned down towards them but Stiles catches something complicated happening on it before he looks up and smiles, simple and bright and sharp.

"Thanks," Derek says. He pops the Spice World tape in the boom box’s cassette deck and shakes his head as the first song starts to play. "I was thinking we would start in the kitchen."

-

Ever since he was sixteen Derek’s life has been strictly divided into Before and After. Before was when Laura would listen to Spice Up Your Life on repeat in her bedroom, make Derek and their other siblings act as her backup dancers for family shows on the back porch. Before was when he developed a passionate proto-crush on Taylor Hanson and convinced his mom to drive him down to San Francisco during their first tour. 

After, everything he had was shit he’d left in Laura’s car by accident, taken with him to school that day: a plaid overshirt he didn’t wear that often, a swim team hoodie with ketchup on one sleeve from the time they stopped for french fries on the way home from practice, the binders in his backpack and the books he’d left in his locker.

Laura had a hundred sleeve CD wallet that she kept under the front seat, albums organized alphabetically organized by band name; Derek’s weren’t allowed to mix and mingle, which meant they were all in the house when it burned. So they spent their time on the road listening to her late-90’s favorites, Liz Phair and the Indigo Girls, Lillith Fair every goddamn day of the year until they started staying places long enough to work, and Derek started spending his money on anything, anything that wasn’t being sung by an earnest girl with a guitar. He bought Middle of Nowhere again because he remembered Laura hating it, the first time around, and he tortured her with it as often as possible.

He and Stiles work together in relative quiet: Stiles knows how to clean, which is kind of a relief, doesn’t ask dumb questions about where to start or what to use. He scrubs at the grease-slick stovetop while Derek empties the mostly-bare cabinets, sweeps out crumbs, tries to figure out what he can throw away. Too much of something is bad enough, but something’s coming over me to make me wonder, the Spice Girls are singing in the background.

Derek did the fridge before anyone came over— he’s not ready for his pack to know that he subsists almost entirely on Chinese takeout and the subsequent leftovers— so once they’re done with the surfaces he leaves Stiles with a mop and a broom and heads out to deal with the living room. 

It’s methodical work, engaging but not entrancing; Derek loses himself in it, the straightening, piling, sorting. He realizes that he’s singing along at he same time he realizes that Stiles is standing in the doorway watching him, silently cracking up.

"Please, don’t stop on my account," he says between wheezes. "I was feeling really shitty about being the only person dumb enough to actually come help you with this but I was wrong, I am being fully repaid for my selfless generosity."

"Smug’s not a good look on you," Derek grumbles.

"You don’t like any of my looks," Stiles shoots back.

Which—just—ugh. He means it, is the thing: he has no idea that Derek thinks about his face, just sometimes, the full wide split of his mouth and the tendons in his neck, the slim line of his waist and his hands, broad and capable and always restless. If I were in high school, Derek thinks, if things were different. It’s hard not think about sex around Stiles, who always stinks of it, who smells like longing and impatience, like fire just catching, a slow and smoldering burn. “I don’t,” Derek says, maybe too short, turning back to the task at hand.

-

Stiles makes short work of the living room floors and sprints upstairs while Derek is still vacuuming the rug: this is the most prime snooping opportunity he’s ever likely to get. The bedroom slightly less minimal than the downstairs, with a couple of posters tacked to the walls, old paperbacks scattered around under piles of tee shirts and jeans, proof positive that Derek dresses himself entirely in plain cotton, variations on the color gray.

The tape downstairs hisses out, the last song fading into a soft crackling hum; Derek must change it, because a minute later something new comes blasting over the speakers, the beat slow and insistent under a high, clear voice. Haaaave you ever stood outside a picket fence, can’t see through? Can’t get to the inside? Stiles shrugs, starts to sort dirty clothes from the relatively clean ones, lets himself linger over them for longer than is strictly necessary.

It should be gross, dealing with someone else’s laundry, but as always with Derek the simple human fact of him is kind of a revelation: the rings of sweat under tee shirt armpits, the small, flecked stains of his daily life, evidence of meals eaten, coffee splashing and spilling. Stiles blames years of running with wolves for the way he noses at the crotch of a pair of jeans, letting himself imagine for a single, white-hot second what it would be like to unzip these while Derek was wearing them. Maybe with his teeth.

He gets so caught up in it— reading the backs of Derek’s books, trying and failing to find porn— that he doesn’t realize how long it’s been since he’s heard anything from Derek. There wasn’t much left to do downstairs, and anyone would know that leaving Stiles alone among their personal things this long is just obviously a terrible idea. 

Anyone who wasn’t caught up in some truly embarrassing dancing, anyway: Derek is bouncing around the living room with a mop for a guitar, singing along. Where’s the love? It’s not enough! It makes the world go ‘round and around. Stiles has never seen him like this, loose and exuberant, pink-cheeked and laughing. He lets himself watch for a minute or two, until he song changes to something slow and sad and Derek starts making dramatic arm gestures and Stiles decides that he’s seen enough. He tiptoes back into Derek’s room as quietly as he can, determined not to disturb.

It’s a couple of songs later when Derek finally makes his way up, the track that’s playing plaintive and sweet. Stiles makes the split-second decision not to say anything about it; this is the easiest things have ever been between them, the most normal Derek’s ever seemed; no reason to go humiliating him, close him down all over again.

"This the Hanson?" he asks instead, idly putting the last stack of clean tee shirts back in the top dresser drawer. 

"Yeah," Derek says. "I haven’t listened to this in a long, long time."

"But you were a fan, back in the day?" 

Derek laughs, low and rueful, sweeps a hand through the mess of his hair. “You could say that.”

"Did you have posters up in your room? Did you buy Tiger Beat and learn their favorite colors?"

"My pre-adolescent crush on Taylor Hanson was basically my bisexual coming out party," Derek says, totally casual, and Stiles feels his heart stop beating, his mouth suddenly Sahara dry. He’s been nursing a back-burner crush on Derek for the better part of the last year, the kind of hopeless, irrelevant thing that’s mostly just jerk-off material, fantasy so outrageous it doesn’t even merit consideration: everyone who’s ever laid eyes on Derek has probably fantasized about him, at some point, and he’s somewhere between ferociously straight and completely asexual so it didn’t even feel weird, to want him, to know he would never have him, not even once.

Which doesn’t— bisexual doesn’t mean that he wants Stiles in particular, obviously, doesn’t mean he wants Stiles at all. But it edges Derek into a slightly more obtainable category and Stiles is not ready for this, he’s not ready for shirtless Derek singing 90’s pop hits and dancing and taking care of his stupid apartment like a grown up who cares about things, like a person who’s anchored into something, rooted down into real life, past, present, future possible.

"Sorry," Derek says, mild, puzzled. "Didn’t mean to freak you out." Of course he’s mistaking Stiles’ heart-pounding, lust-addled silence for fear or rudeness or disquiet, just— of course. And really it’s better than the alternative.

"No," Stiles scrapes out. "Shit, sorry, just, uh, I didn’t know that. About you. I don’t know if you know that I am. Also. Bisexual. I think."

"Yeah," Derek says, shrugging. And then: "what do you mean, you think?"

"I mean, I’ve never had any—practical experience," Stiles says, gesturing expansively, as if the whole room isn’t enough space to express all the things he’s never done. "But, you know, in theory." He surprises the urge to make an illustrative jerking off motion. It’s the cleaning supply fumes getting to his head, that’s the only excuse he has for the next words coming out of his mouth. "I, uh, I take it you have?"

Derek nods, wanders over to the window and looks out: it’s entirely unfair, given that Stiles’ view is now of Derek’s broad, bare back, the swirls of his tattoo stark on winter-pale skin. “In New York,” he rumbles, voice dropping just slightly, like he’s telling a secret. “We started bartending because of the tips, mostly, and I could make more at gay bars. They hired me because they thought I was straight.” He laughs. “Well, I guess I thought so then, too.”

Which is just— Jesus fucking Christ, the idea of eighteen year old Derek exploring his sexuality, some guy getting his hands on him, Derek wide-eyed with wonder, biting his lip and glancing down shyly, lashes dark on his cheeks, shifting a little bit because he doesn’t even know when he’d gotten hard, had no idea how much he would like it, and he liked it so much— Stiles muffles a noise against his fist. He’s certain Derek hears it anyway.

He must. He must not mind. He must like it, maybe, even, because he keeps talking. “It was intense,” he says, hands sliding into his pockets, the fabric of his shorts drawing tight across his ass. Stiles wonders if he’s getting a little bit hard, remembering, if his fingertips are straining through the pockets, towards his dick. “I was already coming apart at the seams. I would let them— I’d let them do almost anything.” 

-

Derek clenches his fists in his pockets, trying to will himself to stop fucking talking already: the air in the room is getting thick and heavy and heady, Stiles straining forward behind him, trying to catch every word. He didn’t— hadn’t thought about how Stiles would react when he’s mentioned it, at first, but he could feel the effect of his words like a fist to the gut. And now it’s like he can’t stop: he wants to see how far he can string this moment along, how much Stiles wants it, whether it’s just garden variety late-teenage desperation or something— more personal.

He hears Stiles take a few tentative steps forward, shy like he’s waiting for permission; when Derek doesn’t move, he takes a few more. “I always wonder,” Stiles says, sounding breathy, surprised at himself. “Who’s gonna be my first. Who’s gonna— take me apart.”

Hanson is still playing downstairs, Madeline jaunty and lively over the speakers. It’s all completely fucking surreal: Derek used to listen to this stuff when he was a child, when he was on the run with his sister. Now he’s standing in his apartment with Stiles, both of them smelling like Windex and dust and sweat, the sweet spring breeze still coming in through the window. He feels Stiles coming in closer, close enough to touch.

"You’ve—with girls, before, though, right?" Derek asks.

"Yeah," Stiles says, fingertips coming up to brush against the back of Derek’s waist, slipping tentatively around towards his belly. "Something tells me it’s not the same."

"It’s not," Derek agrees, shivering into the contact. "Definitely—definitely not."

The song ends, and it’s in the silence between tracks that Derek turns and Stiles moves forward and they end up kissing, both of them still surprised by it, unsure, at first, gentle and shy. Stiles’ palms are braced against Derek’s stomach, his fingers curling in so that his nails scratch bluntly against the tender skin there; Derek takes his hands out of his pockets and runs them up Stiles’ forearms, touches the firm swell of his biceps, gets his fingers into the tangle of hair at the nape of Stiles’ neck and pulls.

That’s what does it: Stiles makes a little open mouthed yelp and Derek is right there, he can feel the sound vibrating against his skin: he surges forward, the kiss getting messy and desperate. The bed is—also right there, still unmade, sheets sleep-mussed and inviting; it only makes sense, to back Stiles up against it, press him down so that he’s sitting on the edge, looking up at Derek, wide-eyed, mouth open.

“Take off your shirt,” Derek says, feeling a low, tight thrill when Stiles does: some other time he’ll remember to give him shit about unquestioningly obeying a direct order like that. Now he just kneels down and feels Stiles give underneath him, their bodies lining up, Derek’s thigh slotting between Stiles’ legs.

The last song on the album is called With You in Your Dreams; it’s a young, dumb track about dying, and Derek and Laura always turned if off before they had to hear it, the sweet hopeful voices of children who knew fuck-all about loss. He blocks it out, now, fills his ears instead with the panting rhythm of Stiles’ breath, the stutter of his heartbeat and the rough scrape of his jeans sliding stiffly against the front of Derek’s shorts.

After the song ends there’s merciful, blessed silence, nothing for Derek to think about but the line of Stiles’ neck, the suffocating scent of his sex, the fretful thrust of his hips seeking friction. “I don’t,” Stiles says, eventually, “I want you to—show me.”

“Yeah,” Derek says. “Yeah, okay,” getting Stiles’ fly open, mouthing at the sharp corner of his hipbone. Stiles’ hands are up by his head, fingers clutched tight into the pillow. Derek’s firsts were all—messy, were all strangers, happened in unfamiliar places in dark rooms, on narrow beds.

Stiles’ dick is just like the rest of him, straining and insistent, flushing pink: Derek kisses the head, licks at the slit, thinks vaguely that he’s never going to be able to come back from this, that if there’s one thing he knows it’s that things change, when you’ve sucked someone’s dick. The problem is that he doesn’t care.

The sounds Stiles is making might not be entirely human: if he didn’t know better Derek would actually think he was in pain, choked-off whimpers catching in the back of his throat. He waits until Stiles is close before he pulls off, leans up so that he can kiss Stiles on the mouth and jerk him off with slick, steady pressure.

Derek doesn’t know exactly how it happens, but one minute it’s just the two of them, frantic against each other in the sheets, and then suddenly Stiles is coming and there’s music blaring into the apartment again, the novelty bonus track he always forgets about the soundtrack to Stiles coming all over himself, sticky on Derek’s fist. Oh, maybe I’m hallucinating, hyperventilating.

There’s a long, awkward moment when they just look at each other, the reality of the whole thing settling in. “Did you just—” Stiles says, looking shocked and shaky. “This isn’t—a weird Hanson thing, for you, right? Living your adolescent fantasies with— um, I’m not an adolescent, I guess, not really.”

Derek is so surprised he can’t help laughing, burying his face against Stiles’ chest, shaking his head no, no. “I mean, it’s okay if it is,” Stiles says, sounding somewhere between doubtful and bemused. “We can—I have kinks, okay, if you want to we can—or maybe you don’t want to, that’s okay also, if this was just a—”

Stiles,” Derek says, exasperated; he rolls his hips just once, dick pressing firmly against the front of his shorts, the curve of Stiles’ stomach.

“Yeah,” Stiles says, still dazed, “okay, okay,” and he ends up giving Derek the hottest, clumsiest hand job in the history of the world. It takes a few minutes for the track to end, the song to come to its final, crashing chorus: I know they’ll come get me, come get me some day. I know they’ll come get me, and take me away. And if not tomorrow then maybe today! After that there’s the click of the cassette coming to its actual end, and a long stretch of blessed silence. Stiles is the only thing Derek’s listening to, when he comes. 

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