“Back already?” Amelia asked, stepping aside to let him in and Derek ducked his head, moving past her into the narrow hallway. “All right then.”
She led him into the kitchen, the rustle of the beaded curtain familiar and soothing. Up a narrow staircase they went, into a small room in between the first and second floor. A single couch stood below the window, dust dancing lazily in the wintry sunlight that spilled all over it.
“Where will you go this time?” She asked and Derek looked at her over his shoulder with a half smile. Amelia Burton was Beacon Hills’ best kept secret. Probably the most powerful magic user Derek had ever come across, and he’d been places.
“Europe,” he said. “France, maybe. Or Italy.” Anywhere, he didn’t say, anywhere but here.
“This is the last time this year,” she told him gently, indicating the couch for him to lie down on.
“I know,” he murmured, already closing his eyes, easing back into the comfort-worn cushions. This would be addictive for the most content person on earth; for Derek it was a craving, a trap, one he wouldn’t want to get out of, if he allowed himself.
“I see him sometimes,” she said and Derek opened his eyes again sharply.
Amelia shook her head. It wasn’t pity, she wasn’t the kind of woman to feel sorry for anyone, but there was regret around her eyes, sorrow in the set of her mouth. “You say his name,” she said, shaking back the bangles around her wrist and spreading her fingers over Derek’s chest, not touching him, “when you dream.”
Derek closed his eyes again and drifted.
When he opened them, he was in a warm room. French doors let in a breeze, white voile curtains swaying on it, allowing glimpses of rolling hills behind them. Lavender and sage and everything else Derek imagined French vineyards would smell of, filled his nostrils, the scent sitting heavy on the back of his tongue. The loud drone of crickets was soothing, their chirping settling like comfort around his shoulders.
The room was filled with antique furniture shining with beeswax, random paraphernalia strewn around. Books and quills contrasting with a laptop, large wine decanters, a forgotten shawl, a pair of shoes layered with dust, as if the owner had just returned from a walk between the rows upon rows of grapevines and maybe had temporarily stepped into another room.
As soon as he appeared, Derek knew. One moment he was alone, and then just like that he wasn’t.
Older than in reality he stood, broader around the shoulders, a little taller, a little more at ease with himself. Derek imagined there to be callouses on his hands from working the vineyard, imagined he’d smell like summer air, that there’d be tanlines on his biceps and neck, before he remembered he didn’t have to imagine at all.
“Stiles,” he said and the apparition smiled.
“Derek.” He took a step into the room, reaching. “I’m so glad you’re here, I’ve missed you.”
When he woke up, the house was empty. Derek locked the front door behind him, slipping the key into the letterbox. He wouldn’t come back, he told himself. Again.
They were out of eggs and milk, so Derek made a stop at the grocery store, and because such was his luck, the first voice he heard was too familiar.
“Dad.” Derek sucked in a lungful of air and held it, stepping back into the aisle with cereals. “I’m perfectly capable of doing this by myself.”
“Just making sure you’re not getting me tofu again.”
“I come home once a month.” The voices grew louder, then passed his aisle. The sheriff gave Derek a perfunctory nod, Stiles’ eyes passed over him without recognition. “I’m sure you eat unhealthy enough the other three weekends, you could …” The voice drifted off and Derek breathed.
Peter looked at him when he came home, but said nothing. Together they unpacked the groceries, Derek lining up the content of the fridge neatly.
“Have you heard from them?” Peter asked, nodding and retreating to his study when Derek said, “No.” Peter asked him this every day and every day the answer was the same.
Maybe they are waiting for you, Peter had told him once but Derek knew that wasn’t right. He knew Peter missed the closeness of family as much as Derek did, maybe more so because he’d had it for so much longer, but choices were made, as well as mistakes, and it was best to let sleeping dogs lie.
(He didn’t think of how that expression would’ve made Stiles howl with laughter, a year ago. He certainly didn’t think of how Stiles would’ve stepped into the circle of his arms, would’ve pressed his mouth to Derek’s lightly, leaving enough space to say, “Dog proverbs, Derek? Really, you do make it too easy sometimes.”)
Derek still dreamed on his own, but unlike in the magical ones, what he wanted always remained out of reach. It was an improvement, because he could see Stiles these days. He’d be a shape on a beach, walking away through the sand, footprints slowly filling with sea water. Derek used to have fever dreams in which he’d throw open one door after another, always searching, chasing, never knowing what. At least now, Stiles was there, even if it was always with his back turned.
Amelia didn’t open the door when he went back a week later, and then it was two days before Christmas and a package arrived.
“It’s from Scott,” Peter said, before Derek even opened the box. He held it out and Peter took it. Scott was never meant to be Peter’s, but Derek always suspected ever since the bite, Peter was a little bit Scott’s.
The next day there was a Christmas tree in the livingroom. Derek thought he even recognized an ornament here and there, which should be impossible. Underneath it was one present, wrapped in red paper, a wrinkled green bow on top. Derek went out and bought something for everyone.
On the thirty first of December, all the presents were still untouched.
Amelia let him in four days into the new year. This time Derek went to New York, stayed at the Hilton hotel on Times Square, a place he’d always wanted to spend the night ever since he’d lived in the city with Laura. In his dream it was still Christmas, and Derek gave Stiles his present, so they could tumble into the huge bed afterward, licking stray flecks of glitter from the wrapping paper off each other’s skin.
( “I don’t remember you,” Stiles had said when he’d opened his eyes in the hospital bed. His head had been shaved bald, and there had been a long line of stitches along his scalp. You’re lucky, then, Derek had thought.)
“I opened it,” Peter told him, when Derek walked through the door. “It’s pictures of Allison and Scott, and their baby. Look.” Peter held out an album and Derek felt a jolt of amusement, imagining Scott’s stubborn face as he put together this gift against his will. In the first few pictures it was Allison heavily pregnant, a nearly finished house being built in the background. Then, a small baby boy, crying. A small baby boy sleeping. A small baby boy being held tightly by a brightly smiling Scott.
( “I remember you though,” Stiles had said to Scott, “Why are you crying, dude?”)
“You should go to them,” Derek said and Peter’s head jerked up in surprise.
“They don’t want me there.”
“They wouldn’t have sent you this, if they didn’t.”
Derek went out and bought everything he imagined a baby could possibly need. When he was almost home, he went back and returned it all. In the end he settled for a small dog, soft and fluffy, paws filled with heavy beads. Derek liked the feel of them as he squeezed a paw and he bought it because in the back of his mind, he could hear Stiles laugh.
“They said you should come, next time.” Peter smelled of baby and happiness and Derek turned away.
Erica was there, Boyd’s head in her lap. Isaac held Scott’s baby, while Allison and Lydia were decorating a tree. In the sheriff’s kitchen, Scott and Stiles argued over a mulled wine recipe, while Peter pulled a tray of fudge out of the fridge.
“Tell him Derek,” Stiles said, rolling his eyes, “cloves belong in mulled wine.”
“Come on,” Derek murmured into Stiles’ neck, shoving his jacket over his shoulders. There was a pair of mittens in the oversized hood and Derek slid them over Stiles’ hands. “Come outside with me, it’s snowing.”
“Yeah, all right,” Stiles said, face coloring with a pleased flush. His eyes kept darting to Derek’s mouth, and Derek wanted to kiss him so badly.
“He has just forgotten,” Amelia said sadly, when Derek opened his eyes, “that doesn’t mean it never happened.”
Peter started to smell of the others, after that.
“How are they?” He asked one night, because he could no longer help himself.
Peter glanced at the page of his book and then closed it. “None of them blame you, you know,” he said.
“That doesn’t mean it wasn’t my fault.” He stood up to leave.
“They miss you,” came after him quietly, barely audible over the rain outside, pelting the roof and windows, because it only ever snowed in his dreams.
“I don’t remember you,” Stiles had said. But he got better, and he learned about werewolves again, about the new friends he made. About the college he was leaving for. Stiles never sought Derek out, so he probably never learned about them, about their slow, painful road to careful happiness and Derek left it like that. It was for the best. It was, had been, a road to nowhere.
A hundred times, Derek went to Amelia and dreamed about Stiles remembering in every possible way. From relief to anger to indifference, they were all agony because none of them were ever real. Stiles never knew Derek for more than the guy who had been there when he nearly died, who’d been there when he woke up and who had left the hospital room a little more broken.
The minotaur had Derek pierced on one horn when he’d heard the rattle of the Jeep’s engine. He’d meant to shout out, because this thing could bring down houses with one blow, but all that had come out of his mouth, had been a wet gurgle. When he’d heard the crash –– there had been too much blood in his eyes to see it –– he imagined he could tell the moment Stiles’ skull cracked against the steering wheel, but he hadn’t felt the lurch of sickening terror until he heard the Jeep hit the water.
He knew about Stiles’ fear of drowning.
”You’ll be the death of him,” Chris Argent had said, when he’d caught Derek and Stiles kissing after a particularly long night of hunting down Gerard. Deep down, Derek had known he was right, but he’d been too selfish to give up this first piece of himself that had healed after seven years.
Derek wouldn’t be selfish again.
He should’ve known Stiles would give anything to save what he cares about. Just like Derek, he’d already lost too much not to. He’d give up anything, just like Derek would.
When Derek opened his eyes, the world was hushed. It was warm beneath his covers, the chill of his bedroom a pleasant contrast. He’d never dreamed about being in his own home before, but there were ice flowers on his window and the morning sun reflected brightly against the snow on the sill. Derek stretched and wondered where Stiles would appear, if he’d emerge out of the bathroom, if he’d be making too strong coffee in the kitchen. Or maybe Derek would turn around and find him sleepy-sweet beside him in bed.
But no, there was a knock on the front door and Derek smiled to himself, his feet curling against the cold wood as he padded down the stairs.
Stiles’ eyes widened fractionally as he took in Derek’s bare chest. His nose was red and the flush of his cheeks deepened.
“Hi,” he said. “Um, Derek?” and, Oh, Derek thought, This is new.
“Hello,” Derek answered pleasantly, relaxing against the doorframe, curious to how this would play out. He shivered slightly at the realism of the cold.
“So, this is going to sound really weird, and I don’t even know where to start, but––” Stiles’ gaze dropped to their feet, then rose to the swing on the porch, his boots crunching with caked on snow. His fingers were clenched around his cell phone, pink with cold.
“Do you want to come in?” Derek asked, goosebumps rising all over his skin.
“I––” Stiles looked him in the eye. “Scott gave me back my old sim card. There’s all these messages. From you. And they’re––” His cheeks reddened even further and his eyebrows drew together.
Ah, Derek thought. He’ll be angry, in this one.
“Damnit, Derek,” Stiles said, barely louder than a whisper. “Why didn’t you say something? All this time, this entire year while I was at college, I felt incomplete. I ached with this phantom pain and I didn’t know why. Why didn’t you tell me? You should’ve told me.”
The languid sweetness Derek had been feeling dissolved and his breath formed a cloud as he exhaled harshly. “You were better off,” he choked out, “without me.”
“You don’t,” Stiles told him, eyes becoming bloodshot. He leaned into Derek’s space and his scent hit Derek like a punch to the gut. “You don’t get to decide that.”
“Can you pinch me,” Derek whispered, feeling wrecked, “I think I’m dreaming.”
Stiles stared at him for a long moment, then said, “I’d rather kiss you,” very softly.
Derek let him push closer, breathing great gulping lungfuls of air, taking in the one thing his dreams could never recreate. Carefully, like he’d never done it before, Stiles pressed a kiss to the curve of Derek’s mouth.