Stiles isn’t what Derek really wants. Derek wants a life and a family, and Stiles is just a filler until the right one comes along. But Stiles doesn’t really care, because when he’s with Derek it’s like the world freezes and they’re the only two people that matter. When Derek’s hands are gripping bruises into Stiles’s hips and his mouth is roaming Stiles’s chest, Stiles is in heaven.
He doesn’t really care that they never go out, he doesn’t really care that he’s never met Derek’s family, because just having Derek for a moment is all Stiles needs. Derek will eventually settle down with some girl, but for now Stiles has him and that’s all that matters.
Derek’s lingering kisses in the mornings and his lazy smile and his strong hands all give Stiles something real to cling to. It’s something solid between the haze of smoke and lies that cloud his vision, and it’s wrong, it’s all wrong, but it feels so right and Stiles can’t manage to deprive himself of it.
Derek is like no drug Stiles has ever tried. He’s not marijuana when he was fifteen, he’s not ecstasy when he was eighteen, he’s not heroin at nineteen, he’s not crack at twenty. He’s something new and heavy and thick at twenty-one and Stiles thinks that of all the illegal things he’s done, this is the worst, because he knows he’ll be addicted the rest of his life.
Stiles knows Derek doesn’t really love him, even though he says he does. He knows that Derek hates him a little, and hates himself a lot. It’s not his fault, and he can’t change it, but it’s true. Stiles knows this won’t last because Derek can’t be happy with someone he resents. Stiles doesn’t blame him, though. He’s no different from Danny when he was sixteen, too scared of his family to say what he was. Stiles can almost count himself lucky. He has no family left to be scared of.
Stiles loves Derek for the way he makes him forget. When he’s with Derek, he can forget that his mother died in a hospital bed and his father had a heart attack in his car. He can forget that he was helpless to stop them, that he’s nothing without them. He can cling to tan skin and kiss rough stubble and let it all flood out of his mind in a way alcohol has never done for him.
Stiles doesn’t bother having a drawer at Derek’s. He doesn’t want to clean it out when Derek meets the girl. He’d rather go home with a stretched henley and stains on his jeans than let this all be real.
Once, Derek cooked him breakfast. It was the best thing Stiles had ever tasted, crepes and fresh blueberries and hot coffee after a long night. Stiles had run out the door, leaving both his phone and his dignity behind.
They never talk about it, Stiles’s family. Derek knew they were gone, and that was good enough. Instead, Stiles learns about all the people he’d never get to meet. There was Cora, Derek’s younger sister, and Grayson and Laura, Derek’s older siblings, not to mention Talia and Jeremy, his parents, and Peter, his uncle. He learns that Talia’s favorite flowers are tulips, and that Laura likes art, and that Grayson is a personal trainer, and that Cora just got accepted to Harvard. He learns that Peter is more like a brother than an uncle to Derek, and that Jeremy works on a nature preserve. Stiles doesn’t want to remember it all, but he does anyway.
Stiles doesn’t cry. He hasn’t since he was eleven and his mom said her last words to the ceiling in a too-white hospital room. But he feels like he should. He feels like he should cry when Derek kisses him goodbye when he leaves for work, because he knows that one of these days, it’ll be the last goodbye they have.
Stiles has had his heart broken once before, back when he was seventeen and riding high on life. His name had been Justin and he’d taken Stiles’s heart out of his chest with his easy smiles and his bright laughter, then he’d crushed it beneath his boot four months later with an apologetic shrug while he was banging someone else. That time it was ruthless and quick and intentional, while this time it’s slow and accidental, like the universe almost forgot that Stiles needed something ruined for him.
Stiles sometimes wonders what his life would have been like if he’d made different choices. What if he’d never met his best friend, the one who took him to the party that let him meet Derek. What if he’d said no when Derek asked him to dance in his honey-smooth voice? What if he’d never let himself love Derek in the first place? Would his heart still be as broken as it is now?
Stiles will never forget the day Derek almost invited Stiles to meet his family. They were in Derek’s kitchen and Stiles was reading an article on his phone when Derek had broken the silence to say that his family was all coming over for Thanksgiving. There was a pause, and Stiles could almost hear Derek asking him to stay, but in the end all he heard was the wind chimes from Derek’s balcony and the soft crackle of the fireplace.
Stiles knows it’s the last time before it even begins. He knows it’ll be the last time he ever gets to feel Derek’s hands on his waist and his arms around his neck and his heart beating in time to his. He knows, and he doesn’t do a thing about it. All he does is kiss lightly over Derek’s heart, just so that he knows Derek won’t forget him, and pull away when they’re done. He doesn’t let himself cry, doesn’t let himself feel. Instead, he picks up his discarded clothes from the floor, writes a note with a heart at the end, and walks out of the apartment with his lips still tingling from their last kiss and his chest littered with marks that prove that Derek knew it was the end too. He lets himself walk away from the best thing he’s ever had on a cold night in October while people all around him are wearing costumes and eating candy. He lets himself wear a mask of bravery because he knows that if this was any other night, he’d run back in there and rip up his note. But instead, he walks alone through the streets of manhattan with a shield around his heart the wind whipping at his clothes, because the universe is trying to tell him to go back, but he powers on through the night to live out the rest of his life with a longing for something he’ll never have again.