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Take My Hand (take my whole life too)

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The thing is—the thing is that it’s Derek who tells him. Hand on Stiles arm, and he’s never touched him like this before. Never held back before. Never touched Stiles without a threat to follow. But his hand is on Stiles arm, light and too hot, burning through the sleeve of his shirt. Hot like the fever that sometimes keeps Stiles awake at night.

“Are you okay?” Derek asks. Scott is lost into the night with the other wolves and Allison on his mind. The moon hangs overhead, a sliver of light, like a promise.

Stiles skin itches under Derek’s palms and he pulls away, “I’m fine, dude.” And he is fine, but the words feel like a lie on his tongue.

Derek’s brows furrow, “If you’re sure,” he says, and that’s that.

*

There’s a pain in his back that he attributes to werewolves and all of his shirts hang looser. Stiles pretends that everything is fine because that’s what he does. Dr. Deaton had told him to believe, and Stiles does not believe in miracles, has had too many stolen from him. But he tries now. Believes that everything is alright.

He takes too much Adderall and pretends that’s the problem. Pretends that it helps him focus. Pretends that whatever he’s feeling now is how he’s always felt.

*

“You need a doctor,” Derek says one night, in Stile’s room without reason and Stiles is done fighting it. Derek is in his room and in his life and they are tangled up in this mess of a town, for better or for worse.

Stiles scratches absently at his arm and ignores the pain in his lower back. “I’m doing homework. Being responsible isn’t actually an illness, you know.”

Derek frowns, looks uncertain which is not something Derek does, even when he’s wrong. “There’s always Dr. Deaton,” Derek says, a growl in his voice, because he only understands communication as an economy of mutual threats. Doesn’t understand love and stability and loyalty, no matter how much he strives for it.

“You’re raining on my parade, Dr. Gloom,” Stiles informs him, pretends Derek can’t hear the way Stiles heart races, “Please leave.”

To Stiles’s surprise, Derek does.

*

He goes to a real fucking doctor because he is not a dog. Because if it’s bad news, he doesn’t want to have to hear it twice. Stiles does not really expect his life to turn out okay. The doctor’s grimace and too kind words come only with a dull sense of resignation.

His dad holds his hand as the doctor throws around words like radiation therapy and bone marrow biopsy. There are pamphlets and phone numbers and everyone is too kind and his dad moves too stiffly and when the doctor says, “Well, the good news is, son, is that you’re young and, lymphoma aside, you’re healthy. We can beat this.”

Stiles tries to believe.

*

Scott takes the news like he takes everything—with hope in his heart and a fierce determination for the world to rearrange itself to suit his needs. He doesn’t touch Stiles like he’s broken, just says, “We figured out the whole werewolf thing. We’ll figure this out too.”

*

There is something surreal about being told, at seventeen, that you have cancer. That you could die. But Stiles has had PTSD for a while now—shuts his eyes some nights and dreams of dead mechanics and feral wolves—and cancer seems almost laughable in comparison. Stiles lives his life like he’s going to die. Like men will be resurrected on the Worm Moon and old men will seek revenge.

Death is not a stranger to Stiles. He’s just not familiar with having his own life being the only one at stake.

*

Derek does not normally comment on his heightened senses. Not unless he is making a threat. Derek does not normally look at Stiles and say, “You smell like blood and hospitals,” while Isaac stands in the shadows of the room, skin too pale and eyes too bright in the moonlight.

“Well aren’t you the charmer,” Stiles rebuffs, “I bet you say that to all the boys.”

Derek ignores him, “It’s getting worse.”

Stiles shrugs, doesn’t show Derek the scars from the biopsy, doesn’t talk about doctors and tests and his father’s crestfallen face. “A lot of things do.”

*

Stiles shaves his head completely and wears a beanie and goes to school until he can't anymore. Until the chemo makes him sick and some days it's all Stiles can do to stand.

Scott brings over his homework and notes pilfered from Allison, which are better that Scott’s but still no use. No one takes notes like Stiles does, no one takes notes of the right things, the details that belie the truth.

Together they do homework and play Halo and Scott doesn’t even act like Stiles smells like chemicals and vomit and disease.

*

Things with his father are like this: they don’t talk about it. Just like they didn’t talk about mom and didn’t talk about that night with Matt at the sheriff’s office. Together they watch Dirty Jobs and talk about everything else but the things that matter. But his dad buys salads and lean cuisine and flax cereal now so Stiles knows that he is loved. That his dad is there for him and that he is trying, something they had forgotten how to do along the way.

*

For the most part, people act like Stiles expects. They are kind and too helpful and they keep calling him brave when he once threw a Molotov cocktail at a fucking alpha and all that got him was even more trouble and not a single thanks.

Derek, though, surprises him.

*

"Is this a voodoo doll cancer cell?" Stiles asks, out of the house for once because he thought he was going to go crazy. Everything’s too still and he can’t stop remembering how all of the plants died that month his mother was in the hospital, in between the accident and her funeral. In between her being alive and her being dead.

Derek shrugs, oddly bashful, which is a strange look on him. "My Aunt Bernadette died when I was twelve. Breast cancer." He says by way of explanation, "she said beating the crap out of things helped, and when she couldn’t do that anymore, she made a voodoo doll."

"Clearly being mentally unhinged runs in the family," Stiles says reflexively, and then, "She wasn’t a werewolf then?"

"No," Derek tells him, and Gerard hangs heavy between them.

Stiles wonders if Derek would bite him if he asked, but he says, "Thank you for this," instead.

*

Christmas comes and goes and Stiles and his dad watch The Year Without Santa Claus like they do every year, because it was his mother’s favorite. They watch Live Free or Die Hard next because it’s theirs, and they may not talk about their shared loss, but they understand the importance of tradition in keeping the good memories alive.

Stiles thinks that his life has been unfair, but that his Dad’s has been even worse. That Stiles will either get better and live his life or die, either way, he won’t have any pieces to pick up. All his dad will be left with is two graves to visit and a house full of whiskey and memories and regrets.

*

Stiles goes back to school after winter break. The chemo is done, for now, and there’s nothing to do but wait. To see what has died and what has lived and what has changed. For now, there is nothing to do but for Stiles to try and gain back the weight he lost and pretend that he is just a regular kid.

It would be easier, of course, but his teachers have all forgotten that Stiles, at the end of the day, when push comes to shove, is intelligent. Has the periodic table of elements memorized and knows pi to a hundred digits and knows all the causes of WWII. It would be easier if his classmates didn’t look at him like they’re scared he might just drop dead right there, eyes glassy and open on the classroom floor.

The people who matter, though,—his dad and Scott and, Stiles is learning, Allison and Lydia and Jackson and Erica—treat him the same. Stiles has spent his whole life grasping for things he couldn’t have. He’s never been so thankful for what he already has.

*

Derek says, “Stiles, stay out of it,” when he follows Scott to bargain for answers in the face of some new, unknown terror. It’s the first words out of his mouth, Stiles, stay out of it, like Stiles has already been fighting for answers when he’s only just begun.

“Well, if I thought you were capable of sorting this out by yourself, I might,” Stiles responds. He has non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which means that his body is trying to kill him, but he still has his brain and he still has his wits and he still doesn’t want anyone else to die, not when he can stop it.

Isaac and Erica and Boyd hang in the shadows and Stiles knows what they can smell on him. They look ill and they look scared, and Stile pretends that it is because of the three dead girls found in the woods because he is tired of people treating him like he might break.

“Fine,” Derek concedes, sounding aggrieved, after Stiles refuses to turn away, “But you need to stay out of the woods.”

Stiles pretends he can’t hear the unspoken because you smell like prey.

*

They vanquish the latest werewolf threat. Derek’s pack has started acting just like that—a pack. And whatever this hodgepodge of friends between Scott and Stiles and Allison and Lydia and Jackson is, it’s starting to come together.

Stiles sits in his room and he sits in the library and he pours over Archaic Latin with Lydia and he figures out the problem, finds the solutions, is surprised that people listen to him. He’s not sure if it’s because they’re scared for him and this is one thing that they can give him, or if it’s because they’ve finally learned to look before leaping.

Either way, Stiles will take it. Either way, the feeling of victory will keep him going for a little while longer.

*

“Thank you,” Derek tells him, driving Stiles home because Scott had to go pick up his mom and Stiles hands had begun to shake too badly for him to even pick up his car keys.

It’s a strange thing to hear. Derek’s softened somewhat over the past year. He’s more ready to accept help but Stiles doesn’t think Derek will ever be comfortable admitting defeat. Admitting that he has faults. Admitting that he doesn’t have all the answers.

“It’s my town too, you know,” Stiles points out. Unable to let the moment pass by without marking it. Unable to let the car fall back into silence when it feels like they’re on the cusp of something important.

Derek looks at him, brows furrowed, and Stiles fights the urge to say Jesus Christ, the road, look at the road, because he knows he doesn’t have a leg to stand on. “You’re not like other people,” Derek concedes at last.

“Of course not,” Stiles agrees, something fluttering under his breastbone, “My parents always told me I was special.”

*

It’s easy to forget, when his friends are in danger and the blood is pounding in his ears, that he’s dying. It’s easy to forget that his body aches because it’s killing him. It’s easy to forget that the doctors have pulled him in for more tests because the chemo didn’t do what it was supposed to.

Sometimes though, late at night, it’s hard to remember anything else. Panic attacks, at least, remind him of his mother.

*

Stiles is seventeen. He is a junior in high school. He can play a decent game of lacrosse and an even better game of Portal 2. He knows the entire history of the male circumcision and all the ways to repel a werewolf, and the sound his mother made with her last dying breath.

Stiles does not expect things to go well. Expects life to hand him shit. But he does not expect to be told that the cancer has moved into his bone marrow. That it’s in his bones and it’s inoperable and it’s killing him.

*

He doesn’t tell Scott. He doesn’t even tell his father, the doctor does that for him.

Stiles copes through denial and repression, but not matter what, he is not going to go to his grave easily. He readily accepts the next round of chemo, represses the memories of being bent over the toilet for hours on end, feeling like it was all he could do to even breathe, and gets on with it.

*

It hits him harder this time. Stiles spends long days in the bath, water steaming hot, trying to get rid of the chill that has settled into his bones. His father rubs his back in soothing circles when he throws up the little food he managed to get down.

Scott still comes by to drop off homework, and it’s all Stiles can do some days to sit up in his bed and say hi. He blames the chemo, laughs it off and says that he’ll get better soon, the doctor promised.

Stiles thinks he’s lucky that Scott comes from Dr. Deaton’s office most days—the smell of death hanging to his clothes, masking the smell of Stiles own disease. Some days, though, it’s not enough.

*

His dad, for all that he is Sheriff, has a flexible schedule. Works when Stiles is at school or when Scott’s mom can come over and look after him. Stiles likes to make a fuss, tell his dad that he’s fine, just go to work already, but, honestly, Stiles doesn’t try that hard to dissuade him.

Stiles has read books on cancer, of course he has, he has nothing but time some days. They tell him to fight it and they tell him to accept it and they tell him that youth is on his side, but Stiles is familiar enough with death to know that it takes who it wants. He lets his dad stay with him because he’s scared of dying without him around.

*

Sometimes, though, things don’t work out. Sometimes, though, his dad is at work and Scott is a school and Mrs. McCall is not there and Stiles wakes up, too cold, and is too weak to make it to the bathroom, and is sick all over himself.

When that happens, though, Derek is always there, sneaking in through the window as Stiles fights off the will to die. Derek is there, pulling Stiles up, into his bed, away from the mess. Usually, Stiles is too sick to do anything but rest his head on Derek’s arm, warmer than any hot bath. Usually, they sit there together until Stiles’s body stops shaking and he falls back asleep before he can even ask why.

The mess is always cleaned when Stiles wakes up. Derek is always gone.

*

(Sometimes, though, Derek will run gentle fingers across Stiles’s cheekbones, across his scalp, when sleep doesn’t come, and whisper him stories of Laura.)

*

The second round of chemo ends around Spring Break. Stiles spends two solid days sleeping off his exhaustion before waking up. For the first time in months he feels like he might, actually, be able to beat this.

He’s still sick though. He’s reminded of it in the way that he can’t really do more than walk from the couch to the refrigerator. From the way that he wears his beanie and layers of sweaters and Scott comes over, fresh from Lacrosse practice, in shorts and a t-shirt and a windbreaker and nothing else.

Stiles laughs, “Layering’s in, Lydia said so,” to make himself feel better.

Scott smiles, perfunctory. He asks, “Why was Derek here?” nose flaring and eyes glittering gold,

“You try getting answers out of Derek,” Stiles shrugs, a non-answer.

Scott takes it for face value, which is good, because Stiles doesn’t want to go into it. Into the way that Derek puts an arm around his shoulder, and his body aches just a little less. The way that sometimes, in those moments, Stiles thinks that he’s really going to die, and at least, with Derek there, it won’t be his dad who’ll find his body, just another corpse of a loved one to add to the list.

*

Stiles doesn’t put back any of the weight he lost. Starts eating less than before. He goes to school but has to leave early, falling asleep in classes and collapsing in hallways.

It’s so close to the end of the year. So close, and Stiles will be a Senior and then there’s college, but the Principal pulls him and his dad aside and says, “We can send someone over to tutor him, Mr. Stilinski. There are just a few tests he needs to take in order to pass the year. Otherwise, I’m afraid he’s going to have to do work over the summer or maybe even repeat the year.”

His dad yells, “He’s a straight A student,” and, “He’s got cancer and you’re worried about some tests,” but it doesn’t do any good and Stiles isn’t really strong enough to fight it anymore.

*

It’s fortunate that Stile’s tutor used to work with the kids who like to burn things for fun, who finds Stiles sad and tame and teachable. He’s finding it harder to concentrate these days, though. Adderall’s been out ever since the chemo began, and Stiles idly wonders why one brand of poison is better than the other when it’s his own body that’s killing him.

It’s not like before, though, before the Adderall. When the universe felt so huge and Stiles wanted to know everything. Would see a lacrosse ball thrown across a field and wonder about trigonometry and Native Americans and manufacturing and all the possibilities and probabilities of his life.

Stiles is handed Anna Karenina and he doesn’t wonder at snow and history and the Russian word for a book that is way too fucking long. Stiles holds the pages of a classic in his hands and marvels that he still has enough strength to hold it. Wonders how long that will last. Wonders if he’ll ever finish reading it or have the time to read it again.

*

Stiles hasn’t seen Derek for three weeks, which is only remarkable in that Stiles notices. That Stiles has to be reminded to eat and he sleeps at odd hours and he keeps track of the days only to know when the last time he saw Derek Hale was.

*

The first class Stiles ever fails is Economics.

Finstock actually calls. “I like you, Stilinski, but you’re not even on the team anymore. I did what I could.”

The F is transformed into an Incomplete, but it still feels like the first step towards the end.

*

“Have you seen Derek?” Stiles asks and Scott looks at him like he’s grown a second head.

He blames it on a fever dream and Scott pretends he can’t hear Stiles’s heart skip over the lie.

*

It’s April and everything is fresh and new and Stiles used to love the feeling of the sun on his skin, possibility fresh in every blade of grass. Stiles also used to play lacrosse and eat like a teenage boy and was in love with a girl with strawberry blonde hair.

Scott comes over and they sit on the deck and Stiles wears his sweaters and beanie and tries to feel warm again. Scott talks about school and his mom and Allison. He talks about the pack and movies and that time Stiles scored the winning goal at a lacrosse game. There are shadows under Scott’s eyes some days and it’s not Allison and it’s not school and Stiles has this fear that it’s him.

When Stiles looks in the mirror, he’s pale and his lips are cracked. His eyes look impossibly large on his too thin face. He hates to think what Scott can smell on him. Hates to think that his best friend can hear the sound of his body dying. He does his best not to.

*

If Stiles is honest with himself, he misses the feeling of Derek’s hands on his skin. The way the pain seemed to go away at his touch. The way he seemed so impossibly warm and Stiles felt like a lizard basking in the sun. Felt like Derek could burn the cancer right out of his bones.

If there’s one thing Stiles knows too well, it’s that life is short. He tries not to lie to himself too often.

*

The school year ends and Stiles is told that he can move up with his peers. His bones have started to ache more and his gums sometimes bleed. He wonders if he’ll see the other side of summer.

*

Stiles sits in a bath, steam rising and fogging up the mirrors. He knows that his father’s downstairs. That his shirt’s unbuttoned and his sleeves are rolled up. That it’s the first day they really need to turn the AC on, but recently, Stiles has been so cold. So his father sits downstairs and sweats while Stiles tries to warm his tired bones.

His doctor had looked at his pupils and his bleeding gums and swollen glands and had sighed. He had asked in the tones of a man that knows a child is going to die if Stiles wants to keep fighting it.

“Yes,” Stiles had said, because it’s the only thing Stiles knows how to say in the face of danger. He can see his whole life waiting for him, just there on the horizon. He’s not going to give up quite yet.

*

Derek is in his room, and Stiles knows it from the way his window sits a half-inch ajar, the cool summer breeze like a knife to his skin. The doctors tell him that he’s burning up, but Stiles has seen flames consume a body. This is not it.

Derek is in his room and he is on Stile’s bed and he looks like he hasn’t slept in days. Stiles wants to reach out, to touch. He remembers how warm he felt and knows that it is not entirely a werewolf thing. Scott never burnt so hot on his flesh before.

For the first time in his life, Stiles says nothing, because there are too many things to say. Just sits down next to Derek and let the silence grow. Derek doesn’t say anything, just drapes his coat across Stiles too narrow shoulders. Just gets up and closes the window properly and sits down next to Stiles, presses them together, shoulder to thigh, and keeps on looking everywhere but Stiles’s face.

"You haven’t asked me yet," Derek says at last.

And Stiles knows exactly what he means, but has always felt the need to push, "Asked you what, exactly? How you keep breaking into my house. Not cool, by the way."

Derek almost risks looking at him then, "Liar," he challenges, a smirk threatening at the corner of his lips before his face goes stony once more. "For the bite," he clarifies.

Stiles would be lying if he said he’d never thought about it. About how Scott’s inhaler is tucked somewhere in the back of Stiles closet, abandoned when it used to be the one thing needed most. But Stiles also has a voodoo doll Derek gave him, sitting on his bookshelf, a little worse for the wear from the nights where all Stiles can do is feel rage that he is so young and that might be all he'll ever be. The doll feels like a token and it feels like a symbol for something Stiles is only just beginning to understand and it feels like a warning.

Stiles asks, "Would it cure me?"

Derek shrugs, his eyes on the doll, his hand so close to Stiles own, "It could," he admits, "if it doesn’t kill you." Suddenly Stiles knows that it wasn’t just breast cancer that killed Aunt Bernadette. He wonders if Derek has ever loved anyone who wasn’t later ripped from his hands.

“Don’t worry,” Stiles says, lets his hand fall the last half, lets it rest on Derek’s, “If I wanted the bite, I would have asked a long time ago.”

He knows that Derek can hear his heart beat steady as the truth.

*

Across the dinner table, he father says, “It’s up to you, kiddo.” The last time he called Stiles kiddo, he was twelve and his mother was dead.

“Dad, I’m fighting this.” It feels good to tell his father the truth after so many moths of werewolves and lies.

His dad risks something almost like a smile, “I’m here for you, you know that.”

And Stiles does know that, but it feels good to hear it when they still have so many things left unsaid.

*

The days stretch out around Stiles, passing in the sound of cicadas and the feeling of sun on his face. He never used to do this before, lay out and listen to the world go by, but Stiles has tried to stop thinking about before when he might not have a lot of after.

Scott comes around when he can, in between Dr. Deaton and Allison and his actual life. Stiles has never loved Scott’s relentless optimism more. Is glad to be around someone who loves him, who believes he’ll get better, when Stiles spends an increasing amount of time in hospitals with doctors who talk about alternate therapies and grief counseling.

But, and Stiles will keep it his secret for now, his favorite days are the ones where Derek comes around. When Derek lays out beside Stiles in the grass, jacket abandoned around Stiles’s shoulders. Stiles hasn’t asked why he comes around yet; he’s not sure he wants the answer, so he just soaks up the sun and asks about cars and leather and can Derek smell the difference between Coke and Coke Zero?

Derek helps him when he needs to stand and doesn’t mock him for falling asleep and is always there when Stiles wakes up.

*

“I’m going to die,” Stiles says one day, surprising both of them. It’s dusk and the world has turned hazy and purple. Stiles thinks that Beacon Hills is beautiful and that he’s going to miss it.

“Don’t give up,” Derek tells him, which is really the only advice he could give that doesn’t make him a hypocrite.

Stiles sighs. He misses the feeling of hair on his head. He misses the feeling of sun on his skin. He is fucking sick of baths. “I held up your werewolf ass in a pool for two hours,” Stiles points out, “I’m not giving up.”

Derek sits up and makes a sound like a growl and like a whine and Stiles thinks, I know how you feel. “Dammit, Stiles,” Derek grumbles, head in hands, “This isn’t supposed to happen.”

And Stiles laughs and laughs and laughs, because fuck supposed to. And then reaches out and touches Derek’s cheek because he can and life is short, “When have either of our lives gone according to plan?”

Stiles thinks he’s lucky that he’s not going to live long. He doesn’t know how long he can last, knowing what it looks like when Derek Hale is trying not to cry.

*

There’s a summer storm and Stiles watches SyFy movies with Scott and tries not to think about when the last time he went to Scott’s house was. It’s not that he can’t, it’s just that it’s difficult. That Stiles is sick and he is slow and he wants to die at home.

“What do you and Derek talk about?” Scott asks, bowl of popcorn in hand, the opening credits of Arachnoquake playing in the background.

They haven’t talked about this. Not really. Not since Scott had first asked and Stiles had brushed him aside. Stiles loves Scott, he does. Loves him like a brother. But this thing between him and Derek feels too tender, too new. Stiles’s life is made up of fleeting moments, and he wants to hold onto this thing between him and Derek a little while longer.

“Not a lot,” he tells Scott, which is the truth. There is so much that they could share, so many things in their lives intersecting in ways that are unique unto them. But what Derek and Stiles have are quiet moments and cicadas and Stiles doesn’t really want anything else but that.

“Stiles,” Scott returns, and Stiles remembers that this is the boy who poisoned an old man. Who never backed down from a fight, even before the bite, when the asthma made him weak.

Stiles figures that he doesn’t have a lot of time left and that Scott is his friend. “He just comes over sometimes and we sit outside.” Stiles can give Scott that, an outline of the truth.

“And you’re okay with that?”

Stiles finds he has a hard time fighting back his smile, “Yeah, I am.”

*

Stiles eats less and he sleeps more. His clothes hang off him at odd angles and he’s forgotten what it feels like to be healthy. He imagines, at night when he’s awake because the fever refuses to let him sleep, that it feels a lot like flying.

*

Derek sneaks in at night now.

“My bones ache,” Stiles had said one afternoon, and Derek had put one calloused hand on Stiles’s thigh, and he had felt better. Now though, Derek sneaks in at night, and sits at the edge of Stiles bed.

“You’re creepy,” Stiles tells him, “Little Red Riding Hood never had to deal with this shit.”

Derek’s laugh is soft and gravely and Stiles thinks that the only sound more lovely was the sound of his mother’s singing.

“Go to sleep, Stiles,” he says, voice warm and fond. Stiles wonders how he ever held Derek as anything but dear. He falls asleep to the sound of Derek’s breathing, his hand rubbing soothing circles on his back.

*

It’s hard to breathe these days. Stiles tries not to let it worry him too much.

*

“If you asked for it, I’d give it to you,” Derek tells him one night when they both can’t sleep, “I’d bite you if you asked.”

Stiles reaches out in the dark, past their secrets and their fears, and he holds Derek’s hand, “Are you asking for permission?”

Derek doesn’t answer at first, and Stiles thinks about how there used to be glow-in-the-dark stars on Stiles’s ceiling, when he was younger. His mother had put them up, when she was alive and healthy, and sometimes, if Stiles tries, he can remember the sound of her laugh. They came down when she died. When Stiles would look at them and remember her and he couldn’t breathe anymore because he had lost something so huge and wonderful and all he had left were these stars and his memories. Now, though, when Stiles looks at his ceiling, now he knows that he can’t breathe because there are tumors in his lungs and cancer in his bones.

Stiles can hear Derek roll on his side, feels the bed dip and calloused fingers trace the lines of his face. He feels his heart race and knows that he is short of breath for an entirely different reason.

“I’m not asking for anything,” Derek says at last, “I just don’t want to be the reason—”

Stiles can’t let him finish, puts a finger on Derek’s lips, “I’m saying no,” he whispers into the dark. The bite could save him, but it could not, and Stiles wants to die fighting, but he doesn’t want to die in blood. Doesn’t want Derek to live with his blood on his hands. “Just give me this. This is enough.”

Derek nods, sighs into Stiles’s touch. Here, in the dark of his room, Stiles can pretend that he is not dying and Derek can sweep him up in his arms, hold him close, and they can both pretend that everything is okay.

*

Stiles collapses on a Monday.

He feels like he’s drowning. Like all he wants to do is breathe, but he can’t. He can’t. At least, when the darkness comes, there is no pain.

*

(Stiles thanks God for small mercies. He is told later that his father cried. He is relieved that when they let his dad in to see him, there are balloons and there are hugs but there are no tears. He does not want to see his father a broken man.)

*

Scott comes to visit him in the hospital. This is not a surprise. Allison comes too, brings Jackson and Lydia who pretend like they want to be anywhere else. Isaac and Erica and Boyd all make an appearance. They all put on a brave face and tell Stiles he looks sexy in his oxygen mask, and Stiles doesn’t laugh, because he can’t, but his eyes crinkle and he tells them that they’re just jealous.

His dad does not leave his side. Not until Derek comes. Then room is silent, when it had been loud before, and Derek looks angry, which just means he is uncertain, and his dad looks uncomfortable, which means just that.

“I’ll give you a moment,” His father says at last, gets up and leaves. Stiles forgets sometimes, most times, that his dad is the sheriff, that he always knows more than he lets on.

Derek doesn’t say anything, just curls up with Stiles in the too small hospital bed when Stiles’s father leaves. Rests his head on Stiles’s shoulder and his hand on Stiles’s chest and breathes with him until a nurse comes and says visiting time is over. He has to go.

Stiles’s dad returns and nods to Derek on the way out. Derek nods back. The nurse brings a cot for sleeping, and Stiles is eternally grateful that his father stays silent about it. Time is running out. There’s not much to say now.

*

They let him go home because Stiles refuses to die in a hospital. Scott is heading to school today with Allison and the rest. Stiles has the date circled on his calendar, back from when there was hope in his heart. But now Stiles is at home, being tucked into his bed by his father, like he is five and all he needs is his dad and a nightlight to keep the monsters away, under the bed and in the closet where they belong. Not where they are, in the woods and on the streets and in Stiles’s blood.

“I love you, son,” his dad says, kisses him on the forehead. He does that a lot now. Stiles’s doesn’t begrudge him the affection. Takes what he can because he doesn’t know how much more he has left.

“I love you, too, Dad,” Stiles says. He doesn’t want the important things to be left unsaid.

*

Derek is there, at night, and Stiles can’t even greet him at the window like he used to, just weeks ago. There’s so much still uncharted between them, and Stiles doesn’t know what to do. Doesn’t know if there’s enough time to cover the geography of their relationship. To understand why Stiles lets himself fall silent with Derek. Why Derek let Stiles in at all.

“I think,” Stiles says to the room at large, because he is dying but he is still a coward in some ways, “That I might be in love with you.”

“Stiles—” His name sounds like a sob coming from Derek’s lips.

“I just wish we had time,” Stiles has tried not to have any regrets, there’s no point to them anymore, but there is this, and it won’t go away.

“We have now,” Derek tells him, voice cracked open and raw.

Stiles lips are cracked, and there are tears in his eyes, and he thinks that the feeling of Derek’s lips on his, his impossibly large hands cradling Stiles’s face, is the most perfect thing in the entire world. He is happy that he was allowed even this.

*

Stiles doesn’t sleep. He listens to the sound of Derek’s heart beating beside him. Feels the warmth of Derek’s hands on his chest, on his hip. He thinks, this is being alive. Thinks that his life has all boiled down to this moment.

Stiles thinks that his dad is going to find them in the morning, curled up together, and it is going to be awkward and it’s going to be horrible. It’s going to be nothing that Stiles’s personal band of enthusiasm and pancakes can’t solve.

Stiles thinks about his missing stars and wonders if his mother misses him. If she’ll remember him.

Stiles thinks that his life has handed him shit, but he was brave. He was loved and he was lucky in all the ways that really count.

Stiles looks at Derek sleeping peacefully in the moonlight and exhales one last final time. And then he doesn’t think anything anymore.