“Damn it.” Stiles scowls in the mirror when he sees blood on his jaw from where he’s just sliced his skin. He tosses the razor in the sink, cursing under his breath as he gets a few sheets of toilet paper off the roll. Dabbing at the blood gathered on the cut, he wipes it clean. A few pieces of the paper stick to the cut, but he doesn’t bother cleaning his face yet. Instead, he tosses the bloody toilet paper into the trash can by the toilet. Then he gets the razor and rinses it with hot water before shaving the rest of his face.
Once all the shaving cream is off, he gets a washcloth and cleans his face. He has to pick off one of the scraps of toilet paper that’s stuck to the cut, but he manages to get it off without reopening the wound. The bottle of aftershave on the shelf smells a bit weird, like it’s out of date. Can aftershave get old? Now that he’s thinking about it, it’s been nearly two years since he’s even used it. Not since the dinner with Kyle all those months ago when his fiancé gave him the ring back and admitted he’d fallen in love with someone he met on a business trip to Boston. No aftershave tonight, he decides as he leaves the bathroom.
Thinking about Kyle no longer hurts so badly, but there’s still a sore spot in his chest that’s likely to never completely go away. Not after spending nine years together, planning a future together, thinking maybe this was ‘the one’ like the storybooks talked about. In retrospect, he knows he shouldn’t have been that surprised because things hadn’t been very solid between them for a couple of years prior to their break-up. He hadn’t noticed during the time, but who really does? It’s always ‘I should have seen’ or ‘how did I miss that’ in these situations, and Stiles fits that cliché perfectly. He’d foolishly believed Kyle loved him, and there hadn’t really been any reason to question it, even when things happened that he should have paid more attention to at the time.
The engagement happened during a happier period, celebrating the whole buying a house together after years of sharing an apartment, but it seems to have been the beginning of the end. After they moved into their new house, Kyle started going on more business trips, away for weeks at a time under the guise of a work promotion. When he was home, they rarely had sex and eventually stopped being physical altogether. Kyle never could attend any family functions and never had time to hang out with their friends, always busy with work and conference calls. There were also phone calls that Kyle always took in his office or outside, and, looking back, that’s the biggest clue Stiles missed because it’s such an easy sign of someone having an affair. By the end, they weren’t even really that friendly anymore. More like roommates sharing a house instead of lovers of nearly a decade.
The worst part now is the humiliation Stiles still feels about not seeing what was happening with his own fiancé. What kind of successful cop is he when he fails to realize he’s being cheated on? There had been so many signs, things he’d noticed but dismissed, possibly because a part of him hadn’t wanted to find out for sure. They’d got together senior year of college, after all, and Stiles had been thirty-one, so he hadn’t wanted to deal with losing the person who had been part of his life for nearly a decade. He thought maybe it was just typical growing pains that couples go through, so he’d refrained from mentioning it because Kyle always did hate when Stiles talked too much.
Not that ignoring it did him any good when it was all over. He lost Kyle anyway, got a broken heart and a ruined engagement, and he’d been left all alone. He’s thirty-three, hasn’t been on a date since college, and has no idea how to even get in the dating game anymore, not that he’s entirely sure he’s ready yet. Kyle’s already married to the man in Boston, not wasting any time once he finally broke it off with Stiles. He later found out through a mutual friend that Kyle had been with the guy for over a year and had actually been engaged to him when he gave Stiles the ring back. Stiles hadn’t been what he wanted, hadn’t been enough for him, hadn’t been right for him. The story of his life, really.
The phone ringing pulls him out of his increasingly morose thoughts. Looking at his phone, he sees that it’s Lydia. Rolling his eyes, he answers it. “I’m getting ready. Promise.”
“My Stiles-sense is telling me that you’re probably brooding and thinking about that cheat again,” Lydia says matter-of-factly. Stiles stares at his phone and wonders if she’s psychic because she can be crazy scary sometimes. “So stop it. Wear your black trousers, the red shirt, and that black sweater I bought you for Christmas.”
“That’s an awful lot of black,” he mutters, putting the phone between his ear and shoulder as he goes to his closet and pulls out the clothes she’s just mentioned. “I guess that’s fitting, though, since I’m in mourning for my social life and how I used to be able to go out without being a sad sack bitter asshole.”
“You’ve always been a cynical asshole,” Lydia reminds him. “And, anyway, you’ve been dealing with a lying cheat who didn’t have the decency to be honest with you from the start.”
“I know.” Stiles sighs. “I just think I’d rather stay home and watch CSI reruns, Lyds. Do I really have to go?”
“Stiles, I love you. You’re the best friend and stepbrother a girl could ever have. But if you don’t get that cute ass of yours dressed and be waiting when Scott and I get there at nine, I’m going to tell Mom and Dad that you’re wallowing,” she threatens. “There will be parental interventions then.”
“You’re evil,” he mutters, scowling at the mirror. His hair is a mess. “If Scott had called, he’d let me get out of this stupid dinner.”
“Scott has let you get out of it for far too long.” Lydia’s voice gentles. “Stiles, you’ve wasted eleven years on Kyle. It’s time to let him go and close the door on the past so you can move forward. You’re much too amazing to end up the crazy old cat lady.”
“I’m not a lady and I prefer dogs,” he points out. “And all of those eleven years wasn’t wasted. The first four were really great, in fact. We just grew up and changed and neither of us were honest with each other about anything after a while.” He drags his hand over his face. “I know he’s the one who cheated and lied, but I have to accept some responsibility for refusing to fight when I started to realize we were drifting apart.”
“You’re too nice. None of it’s your fault.” Lydia groans. “Scott’s having trouble tying his tie, so I need to go help him. We’ll be there at nine, alright?”
“Okay. I’ll be ready,” he promises, deciding he’s going to at least try to get through this because there really is only so long he can avoid going out with his friends before it becomes pathetic. “How should I do my hair? It so needs cut.”
“Just don’t use too much product, and it’ll be fine.” Lydia makes a kissing noise over the phone. “Nine o’clock. Don’t forget. Oh, and Scott might bring a friend.”
“A friend? What?” Before he can ask anything else, she hangs up, leaving him standing there in his underwear with a dial tone in his ear. “Well, fuck.”
Does she mean a friend like an arranged date? Because, if so, he’s going to kill her and Scott. He doesn’t care if it’s been nearly two years since Kyle moved out. He’s not sure he’s ready to date again, to make himself vulnerable and try trusting someone else. Kyle’s farewell speech to him hadn’t been cruel or mean, Kyle wasn’t that kind of guy even if he was a lying cheat, but Stiles had still felt like the words were stabbing him when Kyle talked about how different they’d become, how they wanted different things, how he was unhappy and Boston Guy gave him what Stiles couldn’t or didn’t.
This evening’s plans just got worse. He really hopes it’s not a date. Maybe Scott just has another pathetic friend who needs forced to socialize. That could be it because Scott’s always picking up strays and adopting them into their friends group. Still, Stiles wishes he’d just convinced Lydia to let him invite their friends over for food and games night instead of having to go out around crowds, some of whom totally know him as the guy that charming Kyle Danvers dumped because Beacon Hills is a small enough town for everyone to know the bad gossip.
After standing there thinking for far too long, he finally gets dressed. The red shirt is a little tight, but the sweater makes him feel more comfortable. He looks in the mirror to brush his hair, making faces as he brushes it into something that doesn’t look too horrible. Then he starts practicing his smiles because Lydia and Scott will totally know he’s faking it if he doesn’t perfect the right smile. He even laughs, cringing because it sounds hollow and ridiculous. “You can do this, Stiles,” he tells himself, smiling wryly because he isn’t sure he believes that.
The doorbell rings right at nine, and he’s still not wearing shoes. He quickly gets some shiny leather ones Lydia insisted he buy and puts them on before grabbing a coat. On second thought, he doesn’t need a coat because the sweater is warm enough for the slight chill in the air tonight. It won’t get that cold, after all. He throws the coat on his bed, putting his wallet in his back pocket on his way to the door. Scott’s standing on the porch, dressed up nice, and he gives Stiles a supportive smile when he opens the door.
“Hey man. You look really good,” Scott says, squeezing his shoulder supportively. “Lydia and I were thinking we’d go to this new café that opened a few months ago. They make great burgers and fries, but there’s also other stuff, too. Maybe we’ll go listen to some music after?”
“Sure.” Stiles smiles his best smile, which Scott seems to buy, so it must look pretty decent. “Not so sure about the music, but burgers and fries might change my mind.” He turns to lock his door and asks, “So, what’s this about you bringing you a friend?”
Scott clears his throat and totally looks guilty when Stiles glances at him. Fucking great. That means it is a set-up. This is the first time he’s really even dressed up and gone out with his friends in two years, and Lydia has to ruin it by insisting on having some available person around for a possible blind date. He knows it’s his stepsister’s doing, even if it’s Scott’s friend.
Scott shrugs a shoulder. “Yeah, Derek Hale. He moved to town a couple of months ago and works nearby my clinic. Nice guy, but quiet. Doesn’t get out much. He, uh, there was a divorce last year, and he pretty much sold his practice and house before moving here to be closer to his family. His sister’s Laura, the one who owns the bakery with those cupcakes you love?”
“Practice?” Stiles asks, quickly cataloging everything Scott’s just said. If this Derek guy is getting over a divorce, it might not actually be a date, after all. It could very well be Scott’s attempt at forcing heartbroken friends into socializing.
“He’s a pediatrician,” Scott explains. “Dr. Hale. I actually met him when I took Emma in for that sinus infection, and we got to talking. I think you’ll like him.”
“Like him as a new potential friend?” Stiles studies Scott intently. They’ve been best friends since they were eight, so he’s totally going to know if there are ulterior motives at work here or not.
“You could always use more friends, Stiles.” Scott grins before glancing at the car. “We should probably go before Lydia starts getting impatient.”
There are definitely ulterior motives because Scott’s not looking him straight in the eye. Damn it all. “Does this Derek guy realize you’re trying to pimp him out to your lonely pathetic best friend?”
“No one is pimping anyone out,” Scott mutters, giving him a look. “And you aren’t pathetic. You’re just sort of caught up in this whole heartbroken thing, and I get that you’re scared to try to move on, but I really hate seeing Kyle affect you like this because you’ve got so much to offer the right person. I always said he wasn’t the right one for you.”
“Please, no ‘I told you so’, or I’ll go right back inside,” he says tightly. He knows Scott hadn’t liked Kyle all that much, but Scott had always just accepted him because Stiles did like him. Now, though, Stiles wishes he’d maybe listened from the start. “And I suppose this Derek guy is the right one for me?”
“I don’t know,” Scott tells him honestly. “I think he’s smart and people interested in men think he’s hot and he cares about his family, and I don’t think he’d ever cheat on his fiancé and lie about it for years, so he’s already a step up from Kyle.”
“Sassy Scott is too much right now,” Stiles grumbles, earning him a grin from Scott, which just makes him roll his eyes. “Was this your idea or Lydia’s?”
“Actually, it was mine. Lydia thinks it might be too soon, but I know you’re likely to keep being insecure and scared unless I force you out of the funk, so.” Scott shrugs. “Here I am forcing you to go out with us. Regardless of whether you and Derek hit it off romantically, I do think you’d get along, and you could both use a friend.”
“The funk?” Stiles snorts, shaking his head as they reach the car. “Just remember, I’ll be getting some retribution for this, Scotty boy. I think I’ll teach Emma, Isobel, and Lance how to play drums this summer.”
“You do it, and I’ll let Lydia loose on you,” Scott warns, shaking his head as he gets into the car.
Well damn. That’s a valid threat, so Stiles will have to think of some other revenge. Stiles open the car door and slides inside, immediately noticing the other person sitting in the back seat. He blinks as he looks into eyes that are a color that can’t be real. Green and blue and just really pretty. He looks away to force the fake smile at Lydia, who merely arches a brow because she doesn’t believe it at all.
“You look beautiful as always, Sis,” he says, kissing her cheek before looking back at the man sitting beside him. “You must be Derek. I’m Stiles.” He offers his hand to shake, and Derek looks from his face to his hand and back again before shaking it. He’s got a firm handshake, his hand warm and large, and Stiles is momentarily distracted by the hair on his wrist that disappears beneath the sleeves of his dark grey suit coat.
“Nice to meet you.” Derek’s voice is higher than Stiles expects from someone so masculine and broad-shouldered. He’s completely opposite to Kyle, who had been a couple of inches shorter than Stiles and fair-haired, slender and almost pretty. It’s a relief that Derek is nothing like Kyle because it’ll hopefully make it easier for Stiles to stop dwelling in the past.
“So, Derek, how are you enjoying Beacon Hills?” Lydia asks as Scott drives away from Stiles’ small house. It’s not the same place where he lived with Kyle, obviously, since he sold the house after they broke up because it was too big for one person. Plus the memories were a bit overwhelming.
“I’m settling in,” Derek says, shifting on the car seat. His leg brushes against Stiles’ leg because the car is a little too small for two grown men in the back seat when one is really muscular and built. Stiles notices Lydia watching him stare at Derek and resists sticking his tongue out. Just because he’s heartbroken doesn’t mean he’s dead. He can still admire a good-looking man without feeling any less insecure and distrustful of relationships, in general. Derek smiles slightly. “It’s a change from Manhattan, that’s for sure.”
“Manhattan?” Stiles looks at him curiously. “That’s definitely different from Beacon Hills. Are you bored to tears yet?”
“It’s not a bad change,” Derek admits quietly, looking at Stiles. “I’m not bored yet. I like the quiet, and the preserve has some really good hiking trails. Both of my sisters live here, my eldest brother is in Seattle, the other one lives in Portland, and my parents are just down in San Francisco, so that’s nice, too. I, uh, I’ve needed my family lately. I’m glad to be back on the same coast as them.”
“Divorced, right?” Stiles watches Derek flinch and curses his inability to be delicate instead of socially awkward. “Sorry. None of my business.”
“Really, Stiles,” Lydia mutters, giving him a disappointed look. Stiles knows he’s not the only one in the car going through heartbreak, and, if anything, his is older than Derek’s, which means he probably just picked at a reasonably fresh wound.
“I said sorry,” he grumbles, looking back at Derek and biting his lip when he sees Derek staring out the window at the passing scenery instead of looking at him.
Fortunately, they arrive at Rita’s Café very soon after, so the awkwardness gets broken up by going inside and getting seated at a table for four. Stiles sits across from Derek, sneaking looks at him in between reading the menu. In the light of the café, he has to admit that Derek’s even better looking than he originally thought. Pale light from the car doesn’t do his eyes, cheekbones, jaw, or scruffy stubble justice. Stiles bets he doesn’t cut himself shaving the way Stiles does, probably because he doesn’t bother shaving.
The menu has some good options, but Stiles still decides on the bacon cheeseburger and curly fries because he could use the comfort food tonight. Lydia and Scott keep the conversation going, and Derek talks some, but Stiles is trying to keep his foot out of his mouth so he doesn’t really add much to it. When someone addresses him directly, he answers, and there’s plenty of fake laughs and smiles so he doesn’t seem like he’s totally not part of the meal, but it’s still a little frustrating.
He’s curious about Derek, if he’s totally honest with himself, and he’s not sure it’s just a ‘possible new friend’ curiosity at all. If he’d met Derek before Kyle came into his life, Stiles would probably have wanted to climb him like a tree. Now, he’s just not sure if he’s ready to trust anyone that way again. Not even a hot doctor with beautiful eyes and a gentle smile. As they eat dinner, he catches Derek looking at him, too. It’s not a ‘you made me think of my ex-spouse and I hate you for it’ type of look, either. It’s a slightly interested yet hesitant look that Stiles thinks he might see on his own face if he looked in the mirror right now.
After they finish eating, Lydia suggests going to a music venue down the street. There’s a local band playing tonight with an old high school friend, so it gives her the perfect excuse to bring it up. Stiles just shrugs, not really caring either way. He’s not in that big a hurry to get home now that they’re out, but he’s good either way. Derek looks at him before ducking his head and shrugging, too. Scott and Lydia do that freaky silent communication thing that they’ve been able to do since high school before it’s decided they’ll go see Greenberg’s band play.
“You’re doing fine,” Lydia whispers against his ear as they walk down the street to Jen’s Roadhouse. It’s only half a block, so driving seemed pointless. Derek’s walking beside Scott just ahead of them, and Lydia’s got her arm wrapped around Stiles’. “But you can talk, you know?”
“He seems like a nice guy,” Stiles murmurs. “I don’t want to make him uncomfortable again. It’s probably better if I don’t say that much. You know my inability to keep myself from saying what I’m thinking. Kyle used to hate it.”
“Don’t say the K word,” Lydia tells him. “Derek isn’t that lying cheat. Sure, bringing up his divorce wasn’t the best idea, but dinner was pleasant. Other than your fake laugh. I’m so glad you never took drama lessons. You might be able to lie pretty well, but you can’t fake your emotions at all.”
“It wasn’t a fake laugh,” Stiles grumbles. “I was trying to relax and do the socializing thing. It just doesn’t come as easy as it used to, you know?”
“I know,” she murmurs, squeezing his arm. “You really are doing well. I’m proud of you.”
“Thanks.” He leans down to kiss the top of her head, looking up to see Derek watching them over his shoulder. He smiles wryly, not faking the smile this time, and Derek blinks before smiling slightly and looking away.
Soon enough, they’re at the roadhouse. It’s not really a roadhouse, but the woman who owns the place like that name, so no one really questions it. It’s mostly a bar with a nice stage and dance area. There are also good drink specials, not that Stiles plans to indulge tonight. He might have drank a little much in the weeks after Kyle left him, so he generally just avoids anything more than a beer these days. That’s what he tells Scott to order him as he and Derek are left to find them a table in the crowded bar.
“I really am sorry about earlier,” he tells Derek when they’re sitting down. “I have a problem with saying what I’m thinking without actually thinking sometimes.”
Derek’s lips quirk just a little. “It’s fine. You shouldn’t apologize for being blunt and honest,” he says in that soft voice. “Anyway, my divorce isn’t really a touchy subject. I mean, we were together for nearly five years, and I realized near the end that she was only with me for my money. When we separated, she set my car on fire and went a little crazy. It was, uh, rather overwhelming, so I decided to start fresh somewhere else.”
“Wow.” Stiles stares at him. “Mine just cheated on me for who knows how long and lied to me for years. No arson attempts or stalking, though. Just a ‘here’s your ring back because I love someone else’ and he moved out that night like nine years together meant nothing. I guess maybe I had it better than I realized.”
“I don’t think it’s a contest, Stiles.” Derek snorts. “I think I’d rather have wasted five years on a lying con artist who was trying to steal from me than invest emotionally in someone for twice that long only to have them cheat and lie. No one deserves to go through either heartbreak. I’m lucky, in a way, because I hadn’t really been in love with Kate by the time my uncle investigated her at my request. She never seemed sincere, and I guess I kept myself from falling too hard because I knew that somehow.”
“We’re quite the pair,” Stiles says, unable to say anything else because Lydia and Scott with the drinks. He takes a sip of his beer, listening to their conversation and watching the stage because the band is getting set up. Greenberg was annoying in high school, but he’s got a great band, doing covers of a lot of different classics plus a few original songs, too.
They’re halfway through the first set when Derek slides into the seat Lydia vacated to go dance with Scott. “Would you like to dance, Stiles?”
Turning to look at him, he slowly smiles and nods. “Yeah, I think I would.”
When Derek stands up and offers Stiles his hand, he takes it. Derek pulls him to his feet before leading Stiles to the dance floor. Derek’s a little taller than him, but they fit together well as they begin dancing. It’s a slow dance, and Stiles wonders if he should be more anxious than he feels right now. They begin moving their feet, shuffling slowly as Derek puts his hand on the small of Stiles’ back and entwines his fingers with Stiles’ as he holds his hand. They don’t talk as they dance, just moving slightly closer together as one dance becomes a second. Stiles has a hand on Derek’s hip, his fingers brushing over Derek’s knuckles, just a light touch that shouldn’t make his stomach feel like butterflies are taking over, but it does.
By the time the music ends, Stiles has his face against Derek’s shoulder, his arms around his waist, and Derek’s holding him close. It isn’t until they separate that Stiles realizes he hasn’t thought of Kyle since they started dancing. No comparisons, no memories, nothing. Just Derek’s warmth and the slight stirring of initial attraction that scares him, just a little. Derek is staring at him, the tops of his ears red and his lips parted. Scott comes over grinning but doesn’t gloat or even act like he’s noticed them staring at each other in a potentially non-platonic way. The chemistry between them is practically palpable, though, so Stiles knows Scott’s aware. There’ll likely be ‘I told you so’ later, but, for now, Scott earns some best friend points by not saying a word.
Scott drives Derek home first. When they pull up at the curb of a beautiful restored house definitely out of Stiles’ deputy pay range, Derek looks at him then at Scott and Lydia. “Thank you for inviting me out tonight,” he says before getting out.
“Stiles, seriously?” Lydia gives him a look as he watches Derek walk around the car towards his house. “At least walk him to the door.”
“Right.” Stiles opens his door and steps out. “Derek, wait.”
“What?” Derek turns to look at him, a hopeful look on his face that he quickly schools into an impassive expression.
“I, uh, I had a great time tonight,” he stammers, walking up to Derek. “I didn’t think I would, didn’t even want to go out in the first place, but it was nice.”
“Me too,” Derek admits, smiling wryly. “I didn’t realize it was a set-up because Scott doesn’t seem the type. I’m glad I didn’t know, though, because I enjoyed meeting you.”
“Awkward foot-in-mouth and all?” Stiles asks, lips twitching slightly as they walk to Derek’s porch.
“Your honesty is refreshing,” Derek tells him. “After everything I’ve been through, I like that you’re blunt and don’t play games.”
When they step onto the porch, Stiles looks at the door then back at Derek. He reaches up to caress Derek’s jaw, rubbing his thumb over rough stubble before he leans in and brushes his lips against Derek’s cheek. The butterflies are worse, and he feels almost breathless after this chaste kiss, like a teenager standing in front of their first crush. For the first time in years, he feels like taking a chance. “Can I see you again?”
Derek looks at him and smiles, a real smile that makes his eyes crinkle. “We’ll see,” he says coyly before he leans down to press his lips against Stiles’ jaw, right above the cut he made while shaving earlier. When he straightens up, he licks his lips, eyes dropping to Stiles’ mouth before he takes a step back. “Get my number from Scott and text me. We can make plans.”
“A date,” Stiles murmurs. “I’d like for us to go out on a date. I haven’t been on a date since college, so I’ll probably fuck up, but I’d like to try.”
“That’s okay. I’m pretty patient,” Derek whispers, reaching up to brush Stiles’ hair back from his forehead. “I’d like to try, too.”
“You’ll need to be patient because I’m quite a handful.” Stiles laughs, a real laugh, before he reaches up to grip Derek’s wrist. He drags his hand down, kissing his palm as he looks into those pretty eyes.
“Oh really?” Derek’s eyebrows talk for a moment and Stiles blushes when he realizes that could be taken in a suggestive way. Derek laughs and kisses his cheek again, lingering for a moment before reluctantly stepping away. “I look forward to finding out, Stiles.”
“Goodnight, Derek,” he murmurs, not moving until Derek’s closed the door after him. He goes back to the car, rolling his eyes when he sees the happy looks on Lydia and Scott’s faces. They’re going to be fucking insufferable now. Damn it. He gets into the car and holds up his hand. “Don’t gloat or I’ll just walk home.”
“No gloating,” Lydia promises. “However, I do think we should go get milkshakes at the diner. It’s been far too long since we’ve had a midnight milkshake.”
“And you can pay for them,” Scott tells him with a big grin. “As a thank you for forcing you into dinner tonight.”
“Yeah yeah.” Stiles looks back at Derek’s house and smiles. It’s a real smile, one that’s hopeful, happy, and looking forward to what the future holds. “It's my treat.”