Derek was really proud of his garden okay? Cora could tease him all she wanted about him being a loner that was better friends with a bunch of plants than any actual humans but he would still continue tending to it. Not that she would remember, but it was something he started with their mother way back almost two decades ago when he was six years old. Talia’s garden was never big or extravagant or even very beautiful but she loved it almost as much as her family. And Derek felt the same about his own.
He’d moved into his small house on the edge of a large rural neighborhood about three years ago. Being back in Beacon Hills after many years hiding in New York City, he felt more at home than he’d been in a long time. It was finally the right time for him to settle down. He and Cora demolished the burnt remains of their childhood home and officially took ownership of the lands it had sat on within the Beacon Hills Preserve. Even though they technically didn’t actually live there anymore, they couldn’t bear the thought of the city erasing what they had left of their childhood.
His new place was a lot smaller than their old family mansion, though. Derek liked it that way. Designed with just the one bedroom, a bathroom, a living room, and a kitchen—it was everything he could need. The one neighbor he had, a little ways down the road to his left, was nice and respectful enough of his obvious desire for privacy not to come knocking at his door for any sort of neighborly bonding. Derek appreciated that.
It took a few weeks for him to get completely acclimated to the new home amongst such familiar surroundings. But after that, he got tired of the walls of his home—being an author wasn’t all it had cracked up to be. He ventured outside, toward the trees near the edge of his backyard, and sometimes to the park a few blocks over for a jog. That was how he discovered just how much space he had around the outer walls of his small house.
With the view of all that empty, flat grass in his yard came the memories of his mother’s garden. And with the memories of the garden, came the idea for Derek to cultivate his own. He started small, just a row of purple and maroon pansies across his front walk. It didn’t take long for those to flourish and the sight of them their first day blooming had made a smile spread so wide across Derek’s face, he’d surprised himself not to mention Cora who’d been over for dinner.
From there, his passion grew. He branched out to some vegetables and spices in a nice square plot of dirt in the backyard. He was pleasantly surprised by the money that the vegetable garden saved him on groceries (not that he needed it). Out front, with the original pansies, he planted tulips and daisies, lining the narrow walkway leading to his front door. And his most recent additions were the rose bushes along the side of the house. Derek had chosen to grow non-traditional roses, the kind that grew in multiple values of orange and yellow and white instead of solid red. They were his mother’s favorites.
Even Cora couldn’t keep from complimenting him on his flowers and took it upon herself to pick a few every time she came over and create a small bouquet to take home with her where she placed them in a simple vase on her breakfast counter. Derek always pretended to be irritated but it wasn’t hard for her to see completely through him and know he was secretly pleased.
He’d gotten a few comments from people in the neighborhood who suggested he sell his flowers—start a shop. That his garden was beautiful and he seemed to have quite the green thumb. Every time he politely refuted their proposals. The flowers were for him. For Cora. For the Hales.
So when he noticed a bald spot in one of his rose bushes one morning, he was understandably a little confused and a lot angry. Those bushes were his pride and joy. He spent days meticulously watering and primping them to ensure they were full and healthy and bright. The idea that someone would have the nerve to just walk up onto his private property and take some flowers for themselves without asking or even introducing themselves at all was just so completely baffling to him. Who could be so rude?
Derek managed to trim and adjust the bush in order to somewhat cover the spot of plain green leaves and brown stems but his annoyance over the entire issue didn’t waver until days after. He worked on his book at the desk he’d set up in his bedroom window. He’d occasional glance out to the rose bushes just below and scowl. Eventually, as the bush continued to grow and he continued to trim and care for it, the thief left his mind.
Until almost three weeks after the first incident.
Derek stepped outside for his daily watering of the garden to find yet another bald spot on the other rose bush, though this time strategically plucked from a section near the bottom in an attempt to hide it. He glared at the offending image, growling under his breath as he went about trying to fix it once more.
“Why don’t you just put, like, a sign up or something?” Cora asked him that night at dinner, noticing him glowering at the wall in the direction of his rose bush. “In bright red letters: ‘This is private property. Get off my fucking lawn.’ Like a grumpy old man.”
Derek turned his expression to her but she simply grinned at him and took a large bite out of her spaghetti. “Charming,” he muttered.
“Seriously, though,” she continued. “A sign might work. At least to let them know that you’ve found them out, right?”
Derek pondered that a moment and then shrugged thoughtfully at her.
“Just saying,” she added matter-of-factly.
It was a decent idea and Derek thought about it for a few days but he couldn’t help but linger on the ‘grumpy old man’ comment his sister had tacked onto the end. He was already a quiet reserved person on the edges of the neighborhood who barely left his home and regularly obsessed over flowers. Did he really want to make his image any worse?
He figured he would give it some time and hope that the person would give it up out of fear of getting caught if nothing else.
Of course that’s not what happened.
Another three weeks and yet another bald spot later and Derek was ready to say to hell with his image and start posting flyers all around the neighborhood, calling out the thief publicly no matter if it embarrassed him as well. He held back though, went about fixing and tending to his rose bush once more, and vented his anger with a long vigorous jog through the preserve. It helped—at least a little.
There really was no way to fix the problem though. It would be overkill to talk to the police as well as to perform a personal stakeout to wait for the thief. But Derek felt like he needed to do something. Why was this person stealing flowers of all things anyways? Did they walk around the neighborhood and collect them from multiple gardens? Did someone have a personal vendetta against him?
It was easy for Derek to get lost in his irritation and forget to write over the next week. That is until his publisher sent him an angry e-mail about missing a deadline for his next few chapters. With profuse apologies, he tried to sit down and write but his mind was wandering all over the place. And then his nightmares flared up again as they tended to when he was stressed.
Almost every night, he was plagued by images of fire and smoke, the sounds of people crying for help. He’d wake up sweating, gasping for breath as the memories of his family slipped away. But he wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep. Instead he was left pacing his bedroom, glaring at his laptop and the open word document on the screen.
It was one such night, when it finally happened. His nightmares had woken him again at around 2 in the morning and he’d been restlessly wandering around the house for the two hours since then. Just as he was passing his bedroom window, he heard a rustling and paused.
Derek stepped over closer, catching sight of a moving shadow against the window frame and when he glanced outside, he gaped at the figure crouched by his rose bush, plucking at the flowers there. With an angry huff, he was striding to the front door as quickly as possible.
The figure, with a hood pulled over their head, was already leaving the yard, a small punch of flowers clenched in the hand at their side as they walked purposely down the street. Derek didn’t think twice before chasing after them.
Maybe he shouldn’t have been yelling outside at 4 am but he was tired and frustrated and angry. The figure jumped at the sound of his voice, stopping in their tracks, so there was that at least.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Derek demanded when he reached them.
Their shoulders were hunched now, arms pulled up to cross over their stomach as they turned toward him. The hood obscured most of Derek’s view of their face, despite the streetlamp they were standing under but he could see they were tall and gangly, a little awkward if their tense stance was anything to go by.
“What are you doing?” he asked again.
“I—uh…I’m sorry man—I just—” the person stammered, in a deeper voice than Derek had been expecting.
“You realize this is theft, right?” Derek said. “You stole from my private property.”
The guy winced at that, slumping where he stood. With the movement, his hood slipped just enough for Derek to catch sight of a wide, upturned nose and pink, bowed lips.
“What’s your name?”
There was a long pause before he said quietly, “Stiles.”
Derek frowned at the name but chose not to comment.
“So are you going to show me?” Derek asked.
Stiles pulled a face at that, lifting his small little bouquet of roses up hesitantly until Derek rolled his eyes, crossing his arms in what he hoped to be an intimidating manor.
“No. Are you doing to show me the girl that’s pretty enough to warrant flower theft?”
This seemed to stump the teen. He was frowning deeply up at Derek now, with the flowers hanging loosely by his side. His eyes, large and a striking golden brown color, skidded from side to side, as if searching for an answer in one of the houses on Derek’s street.
“Let’s go then,” Derek muttered, grabbing the kid by his hood and stalking down the street.
“Where are we going?” Stiles asked once he’d gotten himself back on his feet. “You’re not taking me to the cops are you?”
Derek hated that he sounded so amused by the idea. He was tempted to do just that—just to teach him a lesson. Instead, he said, “You’re taking me to see this girl.”
“Dude, there’s no girl,” Stiles argued with a scowl.
He was trying to pull away from Derek’s grip but no matter how hard he tried, his hoodie stayed firmly grasped between Derek’s fingers.
“So then you were just stealing flowers for fun?” Derek asked mockingly with a glare in Stiles’ direction.
The teen huffed loudly, grinding his teeth at Derek until he finally slumped in defeat.
“Fine. I’ll take you.”
Objectively he knew it was 4 in the morning and even if this Stiles kid did take him to his girlfriend, there was no way of him actually being able to see her. But he was tired and cranky and emotionally wrung out and he wanted somebody to take it out on. The rose thief seemed like the best person for the job.
It wasn’t until the tall iron gates came into view that Derek realized just where Stiles was taking him. He pretended he didn’t know, even as he saw Stiles shooting periodic glances at him while they walked, edging closer and closer.
“She’s in there,” Stiles said quietly once they’d reached the sign spelling out ‘Beacon Hills Cemetery’.
Stiles didn’t wait for Derek as he pushed inside the gate (unlocked Derek noticed), and walked with purpose down the rows of tombstones. Despite himself, Derek followed. He was too curious and far too sleepy to have any tact right now. By the time he’d caught up to Stiles, the teen had already propped the roses up against a headstone, picking up the dead stems that already lay there.
The words were whispered but Derek heard them anyways and he inhaled sharply. Stiles stayed kneeling in front of the grave, reaching a hand out to brush along the engraving on the headstone that read ‘Claudia Stilinski’. Derek felt his stomach drop with recognition.
Stiles didn’t say anything though he remained in position for a long few minutes while Derek stood by, frozen in shock. When he finally stood, Stiles turned toward Derek sheepishly, broad shoulders all hunched with one hand stuffed in the pocket of his hoodie and the other still holding the dead roses at his hip.
“They were her favorite flowers,” he explained quietly. Derek felt a twinge of something in his chest. “I saw them when I was walking here one day and…well I can’t afford the ones at the shop and these are better than five dollar daisies, so…”
Stiles shrugged, licking his lips nervously. Derek was at a loss for words, still completely frozen and feeling more and more awful as the seconds ticked by.
“You could have asked,” Derek finally blurted.
Stiles winced at that and he mentally berated himself for saying something so insensitive.
“Sorry, man. Guess I wasn’t really thinking,” Stiles sighed. “I’ll stop.”
“You—you don’t—” Derek took a breath to steady himself. “You don’t have to stop.”
There was a long pause were Stiles furrowed his brows and Derek stared at him, maybe a little too intently as Stiles eyes were widening, his mouth curling into an equally as weirded out frown.
“So…you’re cool with me stealing your flowers?” Stiles asked slowly.
“It’s not stealing if I give you permission,” Derek countered.
A slow smile crept its way across Stiles’ face until his eyes were squinted and his cheeks were stretched. He reached up and lightly punched Derek in the shoulder.
“You’re actually a big softie aren’t you?” he said with clear amusement. Just as Derek was beginning to rethink his offer Stiles piped up again. “Hey, dude. What’s your name?”
Stiles froze for a minute, eyes flicking across the cemetery grounds before quickly finding their way back to Derek. Being used to this sort of treatment, Derek braced himself for some kind of comment. But it never came.
“Uh, okay, um,” Stiles stuttered instead. “Nice to meet you.”
“Sure,” Derek grunted.
Stiles jerked his head as if affronted. Then he lifted a hand, jabbing his finger too close to Derek’s nose for comfort.
“I’m going to get on your good side. It’s going to happen,” he declared.
Derek couldn’t help himself—he snorted. Stiles’ expression turned even more offended, if that was possible and Derek found himself having to hold in an all-around laugh. It’d been a long time since anyone but Cora had been able to do that. Maybe Stiles was right.
Besides, the teen was already halfway to being on his good side.
He didn’t need to tell Stiles that though.