It doesn’t hit him all at once, the way it should, like in the movies. It goes slowly and gains momentum. He doesn’t even think of it as love. It’s feeling his ears turn pink on the shell. It’s the middle of the night blinks that fade into green eyes. It’s that smell – like a baseball field tracked with fresh mud after it rains. He lets these things and a few others begin their attachment to him after he and Scott are looking for his inhaler in the woods that afternoon.
At first, things crawl. The incline is so steep, Stiles doesn’t think anything of it. The small doses he does get of Derek are the same as studying for a final – he doesn’t want to, but he likes it. That rush of getting something right.
Sometimes, Stiles grits his teeth to listen to Derek talk. He tends to talk over people. Derek doesn’t talk over people or gently to people. His voice will go soft with menace or rasp with annoyance, but never gently. Stiles has never had a hard time thinking about what that would sound like, though. It’s not love; it’s just a day dream of the small hiccup of breath from Derek if somebody were to kiss his shoulder
When Stiles builds things up in his head, the ideas tend to reach sky scraping proportions and then it’s too far gone, off into the galaxy where the good things go – like memories of his mother.
Derek’s a brick house in the beginning, solid and constant in Stiles’ mind. There is nothing warm or soft about it, the way books and movies make it seem. It’s rough. Sandpaper gradient chiseling out a spot for Derek in his head. The near blindness wracks Stiles from time to time. Same with the acute vision after Derek leaves a room.
It’s not love. It’s Stiles’ blood dragging through his veins until his skin it hot. It’s a desperate fit of nightmares soothed by a growl outside of his window.
And then, things speed up. The incline is a smoother ride and Stiles thinks about it more. It isn’t new, just more. He isn’t suddenly nervous around Derek and the pack. He isn’t presenting himself in anyway. It’s just that Derek’s brick house is made of iron now and steel. He is becoming immobile in Stiles’ life. The way Scott is. Or his dad. Or curly fries. He runs with Derek in the rain. Derek allows himself his true form with Stiles while running and it always sounds like thunder when his paws hit the earth. Stiles never keeps up. And neither does his mind. Because Derek is always under construction and the pit of his stomach always aches to watch Derek grow toes and fingers again.
Things don’t change for Stiles. Things happen but he never lets them change. After his mother died, and it happened, everything changed. His mood, his concentration, his feelings, his eating habits, his room, and his nosebleeds got worse. He doesn’t let things change so abruptly anymore. He lets them happen.
He lets Derek happen because there is no use in fighting it. He can’t punch the tingle on his lips when Derek is speaking so close to his ear. He can’t kick away the unrest of his heartbeat when Derek’s eyes glow – whether red, gold or his own fiery green.
It’s not love. It’s the stretch of Derek’s calves when he’s doing yoga. The dry crackle of his hair. The sharp overabundance of hormones and he knows it. It’s not love. Derek is just a lighthouse, vibrant and cascading his light on Stiles when they meet.
He doesn’t tell Derek. By now, it has to be obvious. Outwardly, Stiles isn’t any different. But sometimes he feels as though his insides are on display, and they can all see the tower Derek is to him. It doesn’t even matter. The world doesn’t tend to give Stiles the things he dreams of.
He just watches Derek smile at other people. Protect his pack, including Stiles. Jump rope on the porch. Try to cook after an all night research session with Stiles. But Derek can’t cook and sometimes lets Stiles turn the stovetop on and make stir fry.
Derek smells like mud. Rosemary. Sweat.
Stiles isn’t sure what he smells like to Derek. Hungry, probably. Insecure and sweet, like a fever. Or something that has died. Cold or like coffee. He isn’t sure. He has never been sure. Just going along with it, is all.
Stiles doesn’t want to love Derek. He just wants Derek to not … go anywhere. It frightens Stiles to think of what that empty space would sound like in his mind, if Derek disappeared. Crickets. Or the sound of a Fall wind in the trees, letting the leaves go and crumble in the mud after it rains. The squealing of brakes, determined to go back. Go back to when Derek was.
If anybody knows, Derek does. If anybody knows that Stiles doesn’t love Derek, it’s Derek. He isn’t naïve. He’s intelligent and has seen need before. Has been where Stiles is. Maybe Derek even told himself it wasn’t love to make it hurt a little bit less. Maybe he focused on the scents and sounds and actions of the other person. Or maybe he killed them.
Stiles wonders what he must sound like when he speaks to Derek. When he does, Derek forms a flat line with his mouth, and his brow comes together with a serious effort. His jaw works and the cords in his neck beat a rhythm against his skin and where he hasn’t shaved. His posture is always closed off or in. Stiles would give almost anything for Derek to not pay attention to him while he conjures up a new floor for Derek’s sky scraper in his head. But maybe that’s why he positions himself in such a way; to see the additions as they happen. He doesn’t want Derek to kill him.
He wants Derek to comb the porcelain of his teeth against the pink shell of his ear. To say things to Stiles with the sharp edge of his lips; turn him bloodlust red. Stiles can feel that sense of panic in his gut, wants it forever. It’s borderline desperate, but it’s desperate in the same way his Dad is desperate for more clues in a murder case or Isaac is desperate to cover his bruises. The way a starving predator hunts for days, emaciated but unflinching. Stiles wants Derek to pull his blood to the surface of his skin, paper-thin and purple and not tell him if it’s a bite or a kiss. It wouldn’t matter.
After feeling nothing but static and dark wedges of hair in his thoughts, Stiles can’t catch up with himself. It becomes excruciating. Time consuming. His life becomes similar to dragging a lake for a dead body. He always comes up with Derek. Through waves and ripples and small stones tossed to the center, he always comes up with Derek. Dripping of mud and lake bottom grit, Derek tends to corner Stiles on a rock or between a locked door and a wall. Between the counter and the fridge, edges, doorknobs or his belt constantly breaks the skin at his waist. And Derek can smell that. Like a tug of war between their eyes.
It chokes Stiles. The speed of how it happens. The incredible whiplash he gets along the way. And the instant it takes – and it’s only an instant – for Derek to use his pin and needle eyes to close Stiles in and engulf him in mud, rosemary, and sweat. And it happens all at once.