As any pantheon does, they all have their own particular strengths and skill sets, and Laura has been groomed for supreme goddess since the humans were crawling on their bellies out of the mud. Peter is the embodiment of the trickster and takes particular glee in shimmying the line between good and evil. Cora, like Derek, is young and still coming into her own, but it’s clear from how regal and terrifying she is that war and conflict is where her strength lie, and though she revels in bloodshed, she simultaneously embraces peace and the context it gives times of struggle.
It’s well known that Derek is his mother’s greatest source of heartbreak. He feels uncomfortable with the expectations laid on him, and has yet to find a niche on which to make his focus. He embodies beauty and lust and sacrifice, and is the cause of many a dreamy sigh and crude fantasy around the court, but shies away from it - he’s aware that he’s aesthetically pleasing and physically strong; that his face and his physique is the source of many of the attentions towards him, but he feels lonely and excluded and hollow each time he engages with someone long enough to take them to bed and try to fill the void he feels.
He has so much at his disposal that sometimes he likes to slip off into the Hall of Mirrors, where his mother’s advisor - known only as Deaton - resides. It’s the only place he feels truly intrigued and excited and enraptured anymore. He likes losing himself in the reflections - all of time and existence is laid out for him and just watch the fragile creatures go about their lives, oblivious to the manipulation of Derek’s kind behind the veil of reality. He feels an affection for them that he knows is unique in his court - a respect and concern for them that he’d probably be ridiculed for if he shared.
And maybe one day, as he’s looking, he sees this boy - no, not a boy, he’s definitely a man. He’s residing in early 21st century California, and he’s got this - this aura about him. He doesn’t have any of the classic strengths that Derek was taught were the only ones that mattered growing up. He’s smart and incisive and he has such fierce love in his entire being that Derek aches with it.
Derek watches and watches - this person who, in the grand scheme of things shouldn’t matter, but he toils daily and does his best and is resilient and sharp and bold in a way Derek has only ever seen humans display. In short, he’s everything Derek has realised he adores about the race. It’s like picking up in the middle of a story, though - one he really wants to know more about, so he finds himself searching for the beginning of the tale, for the boy’s birth, how he was anticipated and loved and cherished, how his parents watched him grow, taught him about the world, how his mother grew sick and frail, and how the boy came back from such heartache. Derek couldn’t imagine losing one of his family - their existence has no real end, they are infallible - but humans deal with this reality every day and still they find strength and hope despite knowing their time is limited. He comes back every day to just watch. He sees a life unfold before him. He sees the years spanning out, marked by the passage of holidays and birthdays and academic achievements, sees Stiles doubt himself and forge on regardless. He knows he’s proabaly becoming too involved - that some nights when the boy is asleep it’s like Derek is in the room with him. Derek thinks he might love him, this perfect, ordinary person - love his laughter and his tears and all the in-between and how he shares so much of himself with his best friend and his father and all the loves and friendships that come and go from his life.
Derek gets utterly engrossed in the saga that is the life of ‘Stiles’ until one day, just before the man was due to celebrate his twenty-first year, the window goes dark and blurred. Derek tries to reach into the mirror, investigate, but he finds he can’t. It’s like a thick, black oil devoid of the light and colour that Stiles seems to bring to everything he does, and it feels so empty and cold that Derek fears the worst. He tears himself away and questions Deaton about it, terrified, but all he gets is an enigmatic answer about the mirrors only showing fixed points in time, how they can only reflect that which must happen, that they cannot account for the fates and the change in direction a choice makes. It only assuages his fears slightly.
Derek is bereft. Without being able to escape into Stiles’ story each day, life in the court becomes unbearable. His mother watches him with worry, Laura tries giving him guidance, and Cora tries to goad him into fighting for his own happiness. It’s Peter, of course, who offers a solution.
"What do you mean, meet him?" Derek asks, cracking one weary eye open. He’d taken to his bed two days previous, unable to summon the courage to leave it since. Peter runs a finger along the drapes framing the window, looking out into a vast sea of stars and wonder.
"Our kind have been doing it for years. We show up in their old stories, on the fringes of their existence, never one of them - but closeby. If you truly fear for him, like your over-dramatic gestures suggest, why not cross to his world and make sure?" He still doesn’t turn. "If nothing else, it would ease your mind."
Derek thinks about it, thinks about meeting Stiles in person, telling him how he’s seen his life play out before him, seen his highs and lows and laughed and cried right alongside him. He knows Peter can’t be trusted, but the alternative is staying here, feeling completely alone, for as far as he can see ahead.
He’s stepping out of bed before he can think twice.
Because Peter is Peter, Derek awakes in the middle of a road with a baby blue Jeep blasting a song that says If you’re lost you can look - and you will find me, time after time / If you fall I will catch you - I’ll be waiting, time after time - and it’s barreling right towards him.
He’s in full ceremonial armor, because the moment he was to meet the love of his existence, Derek wanted to look good, impressive, perhaps inspire some of the longing looks he’s grown accustomed to from everyone else, from Stiles.
But because Stiles has never been predictable, the first thing he does upon laying eyes on Derek is gush out, “Dude, was the LARP meet so bad you wanted to off yourself?” before helping him to his feet.
And Derek is speechless. The mirror though which he’d watched Stiles for all those years did his beauty no justice. He’s strong and handsome and has the kind of mouth that the bards should write sonnets about. He’s staring, but it can’t be helped - Stiles is standing not a foot away with his palms on Derek’s upper arms and eyes darting between his in attractive confusion, and Derek is leaning in to kiss him without uttering a word. Stiles is blushing when he pulls away, blinking rapidly and babbling about probably needing to be checked for concussion, and his voice is such a delight to Derek’s ears he can do nothing but beam back contentedly.
And Derek has decided he must court him. He drops to one knee, announcing himself by his full title and, addressing Stiles by name - his given name - asks for the permission. Stiles is still just looking at him, jaw slack, telling him he needs to take him somewhere. And that’s how Derek meets Melissa, such a permanent fixture in Stiles life that he can’t help take her hand as she examines him with a tiny torch and takes his pulse. She pauses, then, smiling kindly, asking questions which he answers to the best of his ability, until,
"And how do you know Stiles?"
"I have known him his entire life," Derek replies honestly, to which Stiles gestures towards him, aghast, from the corner.
"See? he keeps saying shit like that. I’ve never even seen him before!"
And Melissa holds up a hand, frowning. “What do you mean by that? How do you know his name?”
"I was given privileges to take leave and observe the span of existence from the Hall of Mirrors in my court - I found him on a day I needed the reminder of love and hope more than any other. I watched from his day of birth to his name day, and beyond - living with him, hurting with him when he lost his mother, loving with him and through him, admiring him." He looks upon Stiles adoringly at that, relieved to finally have the words out - only to see a perturbed look thrown back at him.
Stiles and Melissa share a look, and excuse themselves to talk. It’s no matter - Derek finds his abilities amplified in this realm, but what he hears has his heart stuttering painfully in his chest.
"He’s nuts. Completely crazy," Stiles is saying, and Melissa urges him to calm down. "I mean, how can he possibly know all this stuff about me?"
"Are you sure you’ve never met him before?" Melissa asks, thoughtfully. "I feel like he’s familiar, somehow."
And with that she returns to the room. “Tell us about you, Derek,” she begins, brushing a long lock of hair out of Derek’s eyes.
(The men wear their hair shorter here, though Derek has been told that the soft, thick wave of his hair is most desirable. It’s not as if his hair is the source of his strength, and cutting it wouldn’t be much of a sacrifice - perhaps Stiles would prefer it that way?)
She continues asking questions about Derek’s life, his family, his title. It’s only after a thorough examination that she crouches to the bag Stiles had been carrying to retrieve a book - a book of myths and fairytales intended for study that’s been crumpled with use, and flips through it before finding the correct page.
"Does this guy look familiar?" she asks Stiles, who squints at the page, looks up at Derek, and back again. "Holy shit," he breathes, and slumps unsteadily into the nearest chair.
"He’s a god," Stiles is saying into the phone.
Derek knows about his loneliness at his companion, Scott’s departure, how moving away for study had caused a distance between them, Stiles remaining close to his father’s house out of that same, beautiful loyalty Derek loved about him, and he plays with the scabbard bearing Derek’s emblem laying across his knees with absent abandon.
It’s been a couple of days since they met, and each moment only cements the affection Derek feels when he looks at Stiles or hears his voice or finds out something he hadn’t known. Stiles is intelligent - a scholar, had he been born in any other time. He uses any resources he has to research into the legends surrounding Derek’s family and court, and the names the humans gave them. Most of it is correct, some of it distorted, but vague where Derek’s concerned. He feels bashful - perhaps Mother was right, if he’d chosen a vocation, then there would be more for Stiles to learn. Maybe then he wouldn’t feel as if he was failing, here.
Derek takes the opportunity to move around the apartment. It’s filled with curiosities from the realm - tiny plastic effigies poised for battle, images of fictional heroes and musicians framed on the wall in monochrome, a blanket that is so worn and bald from use that it couldn’t offer much comfort save for the sentimental kind.
"No, I don’t know how he got here, he was just in the middle of the road in full armor. It’s fucked." He turns slightly away then, adding an illusion of privacy to the moment, for himself more than anything, "And he knows stuff - stuff only you would know."
Derek studies him from the corner of his eye. This wasn’t - he’d expected this to play out differently. His dalliances in the court had always been one-sided, at best, and he never really had to worry about anyone rejecting his affections. but Stiles lives in a different world than the one Derek is accustomed to, and each conversation they’ve had seems to end with him curling even more in on himself. He vows to help Stiles understand the depths of his feelings - to help him see himself the day Derek does and one day, hopefully return his love.
His mother is furious when he returns, but not with Derek.
"How can you encourage this, Peter? He has duties here, responsibilities that demand his attention. He hasn’t even chosen a calling yet."
Peter is anything but apologetic. “I was simply trying to cheer him up.”
"By allowing him a taste of what he can never have?"
Derek looks up at that, because this is news to him. He’d never been told that he couldn’t be with Stiles. Given, many of his predecessors had had engagements with humans before, and they had more often than not ended badly - but that didn’t make it the rule.
"What do you mean, never have?" he asks, lump forming in his throat.
His mother’s expression softens. “Oh, Derek. You have to understand, this human is mortal. It’s ill-advised to get involved—”
"But I don’t care that he’s mortal," Derek protests, "He’s kind and good and humble and everything admirable about their world. They’re better than us, in many ways."
There’s silence in the room at that.
"You are too involved, Derek," his mother says, letting the blasphemy slide. Derek’s passion has always been a source of friction between him and others; each emotion running so deep he’s never sure he’s expressing it properly. "I urge you not to pursue this. It won’t end well."
Derek meets her eyes. She doesn’t know what she’s taking about - none of them do. If they’d met Stiles, met those like him and gave them a chance, they’d understand.
"Is that an order?" he asks, trying to sound firm, not defiant.
His mother shakes her head. “I can’t force you - but I’ll hope you’ll respect my advice enough to heed it.”
Derek gives a curt bow, shoulders his cloak, and makes passage back to Earth.
Stiles is a little older each time Derek visits him. He’s started bringing trinkets - little parts of his world to share with Stiles, enjoying how his eyes light up with curiosity at each new gift, but he still doesn’t feel like it’s really getting anywhere. Of course, he’s correct.
This latest night, he’s unprepared for the pain when it’s his own, rather than vicarious.
Stiles is on a date.
Derek is aware he hasn’t laid claim to him, that sometimes it’s months between the times they see each other for Stiles, but the reality that Stiles’ life carries on without Derek there to experience it has never been more raw than now.
Derek keeps to the shadows, trying not to disturb the ritual, but his bulk and dress makes it difficult not to be seen. Stiles makes an excuse and slips away before long.
"Derek," he says, looking guilty. "It’s.. been a while."
Derek nods, not taking his eyes away from the man still sitting at the table. He doesn’t look cruel or unfeeling, and his physical appearance could be considered pleasing. Derek is disappointed in himself for being disappointed.
"I see you’re busy," Derek acknowledges. "I apologise. Let me return when it’s more convenient for you." He makes to leave, heart soaring when he feels a cool hand on his shoulder - the first time Stiles has instigated touch since the day they met.
"Derek, wait," Stiles says, eyes downcast. "Maybe—"
Derek holds his breath - perhaps this is the moment Stiles will get there, will finally return his feelings. The moment his entire life has been leading up to.
"Maybe that’s not such a good idea."
Derek feels cold.
"I mean— you’re…" Stiles seems to be searching for the words. "And I’m—"
"You are incomparable," Derek breathes, meaning it all the way down to his toes.
"See?" Stiles says, like it’s an example, but Derek is lost. "There’s an imbalance here. You.. you know me, you’ve been watching me my entire life and you decided you - I don’t know - want me? But Derek,” his eyes are sympathetic. “That’s not how love works.”
Derek looks back to the table, to the man who has stolen Stiles’ affections away from him.
"Are you in love?" he asks, the words burning a hole in his throat. Stiles follows his gaze, and it’s a moment before he shakes his head.
"No. Maybe? I don’t know yet, because me and him? We’re still getting to know each other. It could happen, it probably won’t, but the point is, we’re on the same page." He looks at Derek meaningfully. "The same plane of existence."
It burns, oh how it stings, but Derek begins to understand, then - though it doesn’t make the feeling any easier. He’d arrived in Stiles’ life unannounced and declaring his love for him without once allowing Stiles - a mortal with mortal perception and values - to decide anything, decide if Derek was someone he could see himself loving.
It’s so clear now, looking at the very human act of ‘dating’.
Derek was so blinded by his own joy that he’d failed to account for Stiles’, or account for turning his world on its head. Someone so remarkable deserved to make the decision for himself, without being forced into it. It’s sobering, and Derek at once feels ashamed.
"I understand," he says, voice like ash.
Stiles looks torn.
"I’m sorry," he says, hands clasped at his sides. "I know you think you— maybe you do love me, but I don’t— I never…"
"It’s alright," Derek reaffirms, raising his chin. "I feel fortunate for the opportunity to have known you." He takes Stiles’ hand in his own, laying a reverent kiss on the back. "Truly. Be well, Stiles. Find someone who doesn’t need the span of existence to learn how fortunate they would be to belong to you."
He takes his leave then, heart sinking into his stomach, leaving Stiles standing alone and looking like he’s committed some crime; leaving the world to turn as it has.
The mirror is still dark when he goes back to visit, like it’s some addiction, sitting cross-legged on the floor. The depths of the looking-glass haven’t had life since before he met Stiles. Before he crashed into his world and proclaimed himself as destiny.
Peter finds him again, sitting alone in silence.
"I’d rather you didn’t, Peter," Derek warns, voice void of real threat. Peter leans against the ornate frame, looking thoughtfully to himself.
"Word has spread of your heartache," he muses, examining the gaudy ring on his index finger. "Your mother’s warning wasn’t unfounded. Still, it could have been worse."
Derek isn’t sure how, but he shrugs anyway. “I’ll learn to live with it.”
"But how can you?" Peter asks, eyes alight with something that puts Derek on edge."We’re not like the humans, nephew - when something changes us so fundamentally, we can’t just get over it."
"What would you have me do?" Derek bites back, irritated. It was listening to Peter that showed him what he could have had before it was ripped away.
"You could try again…"
Derek narrows his eyes. “What are you talking about?” He shakes his head. “No, I’m sick of you toying with me.”
Peter simply looks innocent. “If you had the chance to do it again, be the sort of person your human could be open to getting to know, would you?”
Derek stares into the mirror, and it looks back with nothing but empty, dark space. He knows his answer before he even says it - and so does Peter.
He’s aching and it feels like he’s been trampled by wild horses, but it’s only a fleeting moment of Derek wondering why he’s in a leather jacket, why he feels a breeze around his ears and why it’s such a foreign feeling, before it slips away like a dream.
Cyndi Lauper? He thinks dazedly, hearing music before there’s a screech of tires.
"Holy shit, dude," a voice is saying, and Derek blinks up into the sunlight. "This is no place for a nap."
Derek’s breath is taken from him. The guy is young - early twenties, smattering of moles over one cheek, with unruly hair and bright, inquisitive eyes.
"You okay, man?" the guy is asking, helping him to his feet. "I almost hit you. What’s your name?"
"Derek," he says, distracted by the feeling of the guy’s hands on him; gentle, careful, sweet. Everything is hazy, and he’s bleeding from his temple, if the blood on his cheek is anything to go by. "Derek…Hale."
It feels strange on his tongue - like the first time pronouncing a foreign language.
"Alright, Derek Hale," comes the reply, and the guy is helping him to the passenger side of a beat-up blue Jeep. "My name’s Stiles, and you’re going to the hospital."
Something jolts in Derek at the mention of the name, but it’s just out of grasp, like a fading deja-vu. In fact, the whole situation feels that way. Oddly, he isn’t afraid or panicked or anything that feeling so out-of it should give him. Instead, he smiles brightly, compliantly.
The guy blinks back at him, pausing where he’s fastened his seatbelt, eyes dazed and blown. "Happy birthday to me," he mutters, closing the door.
"You still awake?"
"Sorry if the light’s keeping you up - I need to cram before class tomorrow."
Derek rolls onto his side, burying his nose into the space between Stiles’ elbow and his stomach until he lifts a hand to scritch through the short hairs at his nape.
“‘s okay,” Derek murmurs, content, relaxed. “Y’can read me a story if you want.”
Sties snorts. “I love how after a year, you still refer to my major as ‘bedtime stories’.”
Derek shrugs. “‘s how they started out, right?”
"Pretty reductive way of putting it, dude." Derek nudges his ribs with his nose. "Aright, how about one with your namesake? The god of Love and Sacrifice who walked away from omnipotent power for a chance at a mortal life with a human?"
"What a dumbass," Derek taunts, shuffling in for the tale. Stiles’ voice never fails to make something in him settle, for the first time since he remembers losing his family in the fire.
"Don’t pretend you’re not a complete romantic," Stiles goads, pushing his glasses back up on his nose.
"S’pose for the right human, maybe. I could see it."
Stiles leans away, aiming for a better look at Derek’s face. “Oh yeah?”
Derek meets his eye, gives him a tiny shrug, and smiles. “Yeah.”