Stiles goes quiet one week in early may. Normally Derek would be glad for the cease in rambling, but it’s so unnatural that an uncomfortable feeling settles in at Derek’s shoulder blades, and spreads out through his chest. He can’t name it, not really, but it’s filled with dread, anxiousness, and fear.
Stiles’ silence is accompanied by a dark cloud. Stiles is not the happy-go-lucky, flaily, smartass kid that Derek is used to, that everyone is used to. It shouldn’t bug Derek so much, but he doesn’t like it. He doesn’t like this change in Stiles and some stupid, curious, damaged part of him wants to poke and prod and find out why.
He wonders when this kid managed to get under his skin like that, when Stiles’ moods started to influence his own. Why he cares that Stiles isn’t himself.
Derek is distracted because Stiles is distracted. His pack notice. They give him strange looks at first, and then Erica sniffs the air, tilts her head, and laughs in a bitter, knowing way that makes Derek’s stomach sink. Scott tells Erica to lay off and gets the pack ready for training. It’s been slow going, but Scott is a good second-in-command, and the pack works much better as a cohesive unit.
It’s not until they are alone that Scott grabs Derek’s arm, and Derek looks up, surprised to see the look of concern on Scott’s face.
‘Not that I expect you to tell me,’ Scott says lowly, conscious of the rest of the pack being within werewolf hearing distance. ‘But what is going on with you?’
‘Come on,’ Scott says, letting his hand drop from Derek’s arm. He crosses his arms defensively across his chest instead. ‘Isaac just about ripped your arm off earlier. He never normally gets within two feet of you.’
Derek clenches his jaw, swallows, and frowns at a spot on the floor. When he looks back up at Scott, the other boy is watching him patiently for an answer.
‘What’s wrong with Stiles?’
Scott sucks in a breath at that. His whole body language shifts, and he rocks back on his heels, his shoulders twitching nervously. Curious, Derek thinks.
‘He’ll be fine in a few days,’ Scott says, like that is a good enough explanation, and shrugs his shoulders. ‘He just needs to be alone for a bit.’
Derek studies Scott’s face, trying to see if there are any hidden meanings in his too-wide brown eyes or the slant of his mouth. Scott stuffs his hands in his pockets, and quickly looks away as if he knows Derek is trying to read him. And then it hits Derek. It hits him like a ton of bricks. That familiar sense of loss and dread that had followed the fire sinking low in his gut.
He wonders how he could have been so dense.
‘So,’ Scott says. ‘I’ll train them today, alright?’
‘Yeah,’ Derek says. ‘Right.’
Stiles does not turn up to school on Wednesday. Derek knows because unfortunately having a pack full of teenagers means he needs to keep an eye on them most of the time, particularly when Gerard Argent is still head of the school.
At lunchtime he leaves the pack to Scott, he was much too distracted anyway, and heads over to the Stilinski house.
The jeep is in the driveway but the Sheriff’s patrol car isn’t. The front door is open, and it feels weird to actually use the front door instead of leaping through a window, but scaring Stiles isn’t what he’s here for. He rings the doorbell.
He claps the letterbox three times. Waits a minute, and then rings the doorbell a few more times for good measure.
‘For the love of all that is holy—’ Stiles says darkly. He stops as he swings the door open, his gaze landing on Derek. He gapes, the look on his face uncomprehending. ‘Derek?’
‘I erm,’ Derek sighs, rubbing a hand over his jaw and looking back over his shoulder. He could run and pretend this had never happened. He could leave Stiles here wondering what the hell was going on and never open up and it would be better. It would be better for both of them. He looks back at Stiles.
Stiles is wearing black slacks and a dark purple dress shirt, he has a tie in his hand that is most likely borrowed from his father, and he a look on his face like he is disappointed and annoyed at himself for Derek finding him at his weakest.
‘Do you want a ride?’ Derek asks, because Stiles is alone on a day he most definitely shouldn’t be alone, and driving probably isn’t the best thing for him to be doing either.
Stiles closes his mouth, biting at his bottom lip. He breathes in deep and lets it out long and low, his eyes never leaving Derek’s.
‘Yeah, okay,’ Stiles says. ‘I’ll just get my shoes, I’ll be down in a minute.’
Derek drives without asking where they are headed, and Stiles doesn’t question it or tell him where to go. The cemetery is out in the direction of Derek’s old house, and about fifteen minutes from Stiles’. The drive is silent. It makes Derek’s skin crawl but he won’t be the one to break it.
He doesn’t follow Stiles into the cemetery. He watches as Stiles silently gets out of the car and wanders across the grounds. He watches as Stiles stops at a plot only five along from where his own parents are buried. He’d never noticed that before.
It’s the most heartbreaking thing Derek has laid eyes on for a long time. Stiles is hunched in on himself, hands in his pockets, and shoulders down. When he talks to the grave marker it is quiet and dejected, and he apologizes for the fact his dad couldn’t be there today.
It makes Derek angry. Stiles is a good kid. Yes, his mistakes have consequences just like everyone else, he tries his best and despite how it might look to outwardly eyes, Stiles is always trying to do what he believes is the right thing. It makes Derek angry that Stiles should know what the pain of loss is at his age, has known in for a few years now, and that there’s not a damn thing anyone can do about it.
It’s an hour before Stiles comes back. Most of that hour had been silent but Derek understands why better than most. He also knows not to press and prod however much he wants to. Stiles will open up when he’s ready.
Derek doesn’t say anything when Stiles opens the passenger side door and sinks back into the passenger seat. He watches as Stiles fiddles with his tie, rolling the fabric around his finger then letting it unfurl.
‘My mom always used to make pancakes on my birthday,’ Stiles says. ‘Everyone’s birthday, actually. It was her thing.’
‘With my mom it was French toast,’ Derek says, catching Stiles’ eye when he looks up. He forces a small smile on his face. ‘With strawberries for me, blueberries for Laura.’
Stiles huffs a breath, a tentative smile pulling at the corner of his lip.
‘I miss her,’ Stiles says, the smile falling. Derek’s chest aches with a pain that isn’t wholly his. ‘I miss her so much. That never goes away, does it?’
‘No,’ Derek says quietly, truthfully. ‘You don’t want it to.’
Stiles stares at him for a long moment, eyes searching for something Derek can’t give him. His situation is not the same. Derek turned his grief into anger; he uses that anger to keep him human. It’s all he has left.
‘Yeah, no,’ Stiles says quietly, looking away. ‘We’re not that different, you know.’
‘You and me,’ Stiles says, looking back at him. ‘You keep all that stuff bottled inside, hold onto it…’
‘You could have turned out like Peter, but you didn’t,’ Stiles goes on, cutting right across Derek like he hadn’t spoken at all. ‘You’re good. You have a funny way of showing it sometimes, but you’re good.’
Derek doesn’t know how to answer that. He doesn’t think there is anything he can say to that. He knows that sometimes his methods are questionable, but much like Stiles he always tries to do what he believes is the right thing. Maybe Stiles is right, maybe they aren’t that different at all.
‘You hungry?’ Derek asks. Stiles lips twitch, he looks glad that the conversation has reached its natural end.
‘I haven’t eaten all day, actually,’ Stiles says, and with that his stomach growls like an afterthought.
‘I know this diner out past the house,’ Derek says. ‘They sell pancakes. They won’t be as great as your mom’s, but they are pretty good.’
‘That sounds good,’ Stiles says.
Derek starts the engine, and steers the car away from the cemetery. When he looks across at Stiles, it seems like the dark cloud is lessening, and Derek can feel the uncomfortable feeling in his own chest beginning to lift.
They eat pancakes and French toast in a booth by the window. Stiles starts talking, hands gesticulating wildly, and soon all the silence disappears, the unnatural quietness quenched by Stiles’ spirit as he turns his grief into something that isn’t anger.
Derek likes to think he played a part in that, but he wont kid himself. He knows a mask when he sees one. But when he laughs at something Stiles says and is met with amazed silence and wide, awed, eyes before Stiles smirks, and they both burst out laughing, he starts to think that maybe he has cracked that mask. Maybe he has cracked both their masks.
And that. That isn’t a bad feeling at all.