'How’d it get to this?' he thought.
Derek ambled into the diner and slumped into an empty booth, hooking his feet into the handles of the dufflebag almost out of habit. He ran a hand through his buzz cut, and sighed.
A lithe boy of no more than eighteen bounced up to him, wearing a batman shirt with a plaid flannel over it.
Pinned to the front was a black ribbon that Derek easily recognized, the ribbons that almost everyone was wearing in this small town.
Representing support for the veterans, but nothing but hatred for the US’s latest war, the biggest one since the last World War.
“Hey there, soldier boy,” he said. “What can I get you?”
“Anything.” Derek murmured, “I-” His voice broke and he ducked his head.
“Hey this diner’s got the best burgers and curly fries. How ‘bout I start you off with that and is coke good for your drink?” Derek nodded silently.
He nodded and walked away. Derek sat completely motionless, staring at the table without really seeing it. He jumped in alarm when the waiter slid the plate of food in front of him with a small smile.
“I get off in an hour. We can talk, or I can talk, or I can leave you alone if that’s what you want.” He nodded, “An hour,” he said softly.
He smiled, “My name’s Stiles, by the way.” He smiled at the strange name, thinking it a nickname of some sort, but for some reason thought it was a perfect fit for him.
He watched Stiles as he ate, and figured something. He never stopped moving, tapping his fingers, tapping his foot, swaying his hips, he never stopped moving.
He would’ve made an awful soldier if he was drafted.
The hour flew by swiftly, and soon Stiles was leading Derek away from the diner and towards the dock. The pair sat next to each other and Stiles looked at Derek.
“You’re Derek Hale aren’t you?” Derek nodded rigidly.
“I’m not gonna say sorry for your family. Not ‘cuz I don’t feel sorry, I do, but because I lost my mother and you just get sick of it after a while.”
Derek looked at him with un-shed tears in his eyes.
“Did you get drafted?” he asked. He shook his head. “Volunteered.” He whispered, like he was revealing a huge secret.
“A while ago.”
“I have nothing left.” Derek said quietly, voice cracking but he shouldered on, “My entire family’s gone and I have no one left. There’s no reason for me not to join up,” he momentary looked at the ribbon on Stiles' shirt and sighed, “I’m just another traitor in people’s eyes.”
Stiles shook his head and put his hand on top of Derek’s, squeezing his hand.
“I can’t ever imagine sacrificing so much to join. Even if I could, I couldn’t anyway because of my ADHD.” He said it like a blessing and a curse,
“I don’t support this war. I think it’s stupid and a waste of resources. But I think what you’re doing is really brave. You volunteered for a war you know that there won’t be any parades or celebrations when you come back, and you will come back. There’ll be normal life and we’ll carry on like we always do, but you won’t be the same you.”
Derek stared shocked at how much this boy knew and Stiles chuckled at his obvious shock.
“My dad’s the sheriff, I’ve seen soldiers come and go.” Derek nodded his head, but he seemed like he didn’t want to say anything else. Stiles did though and he spoke of all the shenanigans he and his best friend Scott did.
He told him of how his father tried to sneak fatty foods behind his back but he knew because he had all the deputies wrapped around his finger. Derek looked him right in the eye and asked, “Will you write to me?”
Stiles stopped short and looked at him, shocked.
“I told you, I don’t have anyone, and they said if you have letters to look forward to it’s not so bad.” Stiles looked at him for a moment before smiling, “Definitely, but promise me one thing.”
"Promise me you’ll come home, promise me,” he said with tears in his eyes.
“I will. I promise.” He said, eyes watering a little.
“Good then, you’ll have my letters to look forward to.”
He smiled. “I can’t wait.”
'God, it got worse though,' he remembers.
The letters started coming in a few days after Derek left to a garrison six hours away from the town. Stiles wrote about anything and everything, how his best friend was in his last year of lacrosse and how he cheers him on at every game.
He wrote about how even though his father thought he was clever, he still had all the deputies in his pocket. He wrote that he wanted to own the diner he worked at and when he’ll finally get the money, he'll buy it.
He told him about the training his father gave him, teaching him how to shoot a gun, and basic defense moves.
Even though Derek couldn’t tell much of his training, he wrote about his younger and older siblings teasing him and getting him into trouble.
He wrote about things he hadn’t told anyone in years and when Derek sent his last letter before shipping out, Stiles knew better than to mention the tear marks on the paper.
The letters receded and were shorter than before, but Stiles wrote with a practiced flourish, not caring how short they were, always ending it with ‘Remember your promise, soldier boy.’
Derek wrote about the people he sees on his patrols. He talks about the people he helps, the people who hate him, sometimes just the performers on the street.
He tells Stiles of everything he hears, sees tastes, all the new food he tried, how he feels like a nomad traveling.
He can’t tell Stiles of his mission, but he does tell him that it’s rough, seeing the war, but whenever things get to rough he just thinks about the scrawny boy who knew so much and sat on the dock with him, with a smile on his face.
That memory always makes him smile, every time. When Derek ends a letter, he finishes with an ‘I’m coming home. I won’t break my promise.’
Seven months into Derek’s tour, Stiles got the shortest message yet.
He wasn’t concerned about the length though since it was only a few days after the other one, he only cared about the content. Derek was heading into the warzone and he wouldn’t be able to write for a while.
Stiles didn’t care though, he still wrote letters to him, refusing to believe the soldier he began to care about was in danger.
The soldier he grew to love if he was being honest with himself.
He didn’t send them though, just stuck them in a drawer ready to send when Derek sent a letter saying he was alright.
The letter never came, and soon he knew why.
Stiles goes to every game Scott plays to cheer him on, but he sometimes wishes he didn’t go to that one.
Or that he gotten to that one late, because before the game the National Anthem played, and a man stepped on the field with a microphone and a sheet of paper, “Please stand and bow your head for a moment of silence for our local dead. Privates Jonathan Diggle, Roy Harper, Erica Reyes, Allison Argent, Vernon Boyd, and Sergeants Oliver Queen and Derek Hale”
Stiles’ world froze, Sergeant Derek Hale. Sergeant Derek Hale. No, not Derek. No, he promised.
Stiles was gasping for air, all he could hear was Derek’s name, repeated over and over in his head.
Dead, dead, dead. He felt like his head was inundated with the words, dead, dead, dead.
“He promised,” Stiles choked out as he sat down. “He promised he’d come home.”
“Stiles, breathe! Who promised? Was it Derek?” His father asked, he knew he was writing letters to a soldier overseas named Derek, but he didn’t know his full name or rank.
“I need to go.” He stumbled off the bleachers; he could hear the cries of people calling his name, but he didn’t look back.
He staggered his way to the dock and his knees fell to where they first talked.
Tears streamed down his face, he didn’t believe it. He didn’t want to believe it. Couldn’t believe it, Derek promised. He promised he’d come home. He let out an anguished scream as tears streamed down his face.
Four years passed after the war ended, and Stiles still worked at the diner where he and Derek met. He finally had enough money to buy the tiny place from the diner’s owner.
Everyone knew the story, but it was still a secret, they knew better than to bring it up anywhere, only talked about in hush tones and hands holding lips.
After that one lacrosse game, Stiles changed, and after countless sleepless nights, he stopped smiling and rarely laughed.
As it turns out though, Derek told his fellow soldiers about the small diner with the best burgers and curly fries in the small town.
Soldiers come and go, regaling of all the stories about Derek. Telling him of all the stories that he did, and people he saved. Now he had people who knew Derek that fought with him and as he stood there, listening to someone talk about the brave man who Stiles loved and would always love, only then would he smile.
A small smile, nothing like the giant grins he used to wear, and no one, no matter what, thanked the soldiers for putting a smile on the lonely man’s face. He still wrote letters to him, Derek that is, and he was never sweet on anyone else.
No one could placate the feelings he still held for him. He had a hoard of envelopes for him locked away in his drawer; he was the principal person of his life even before his father and best friend.
He never stopped writing.
The bell on the door rang, he frowned from where he was wiping the table, and it was an half an hour after closing ‘Who would be here?’
“The diner’s closed, come back tomorrow at seven in the morning.”
It couldn’t be he, he died. It had to be a figment of his imagination. The voice was quiet, broken in ways he thought it wouldn’t be.
He slowly turned around, it was the same person, thinner, his hair shaggier and longer, and his face was gaunt, but even after nearly four years he remembered the face and voice of the man he loved.
“How? You-you were on the list of dead, Derek. How is this possible?”
“Presumed, POW.” His eyes grew wide, and he raised a hand to his mouth to stifle the gasp. He nodded in understanding, Derek had been a Prisoner Of War, and judging by his twitching and the way his voice broke as he said it; it hadn’t been a good war camp.
“You came back, you actually came back.”
"I made a promise to a scrawny boy that I would, didn't I?" He laughed, and he surged forward to hug him, but lingered back knowing it might startle him.
Derek leaned forward and closed the distance, hugging him tightly.
“Derek, I’m pretty sure the town knows what I’m going to say, I love you. I loved you for nearly four years now, I kept writing to you, and I refused to court anyone because I knew it was pointless to do so.”
Derek looked shocked, “You kept writing to me? Even when you thought I was dead?”
He nodded, “I’ve written one at least once a week for nearly five years now, I love you. I never sent them, and I didn’t want to get rid of them either.”
“I’m glad, I want to read them all.”
“Can I kiss you now?”
Derek nodded. Stiles slowly leaned forward to close the distance, not wanting to spook the recently returned war soldier.
Derek wasn’t having it slow though, and claimed his mouth. They kissed passionately, releasing nearly five years of tension. “Derek, I’m glad you’re back,” he said when they broke for breath.
Derek smiled, “I’m glad too.”
‘It just had to get worse, didn’t it?' he thought ruefully.
Five months after Derek got back, their lives were getting slowly pieced each other back.
He held him close whenever he had another ruthless nightmare. He calmed him down whenever he got a panic attack, helping him get his breath back. Stiles knew that he couldn’t change him, and he didn’t try to.
He didn’t get upset when he didn’t have a miraculous recovery.
It was a grievous responsibility to bear, but he shouldered on, holding him close whispering sweet nothings in his ear until he fell into an easier sleep.
He knew that his love couldn’t fix everything. He didn’t know what was going to ensue later on though.
After a day at work, he got home. Unlocking the door, he called out, “Derek?”
He frowned; he knew his boyfriend wanted to stay home from work today, claiming he was sick, and that he shouldn’t worry.
He should’ve stayed home with him.
He looked around, the house was clean, nothing was out of place, and nothing was broken.
He knew he shouldn’t have left him alone. “Derek?” He called again, hoping that his worst nightmare hadn’t come true.
Stiles walked with a tremble towards the bedroom, opening the door, he noticed nothing was out of place, and everything was meticulously clean.
With shaky legs, he walked towards the last place he thought he’d be: the bathroom.
With a scream, he covered his mouth and sobbed, there he was, laid down in the bathtub in all his clothing with two deep cuts, more like gashes, in both his wrists, blood flowing out steadily, him getting paler and paler each minute.
He looked at the sink and found a note, written on it,
‘I’m sorry, love. I’m so sorry, I couldn’t do it any longer. I couldn’t live knowing that my smiles were a lie, that my life got worse and worse each day.
I love you, I love you so much. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be your Superman.
It’s not your fault, it was never your fault, just know that I love you so, so much.
I knew I couldn’t handle it, but I shouldered on for you. I tried so hard, but I just couldn’t.
I wish I got better, I wish I could wake up tomorrow with a real smile on my face and kiss you good morning for the rest of my life, I wish so many things, but I couldn’t.
I wasn’t as invincible as you thought. I love you, never ever forget that.
Love, your soldier boy.’
His scrawny body was wracked with sobs, he didn’t remember calling the police, but the next thing he knew was his dad wrapping his strong arms around his body.
He burrowed his head into his crook of his neck and sobbed, he sobbed until the next morning.
A week after he found the body, the funeral was held.
He had a small headstone near his family’s monument.
Engraved on the headstone was, Forever gone in the world, but forever remembered in our hearts, Sergeant Derek Hale.'
He stood there impassively, dried tear marks on his face.
He was quiet through the whole ceremony, before the casket was laid in the ground, he walked up to it and placed a kiss to the head.
When the ceremony was over, he stayed even when everyone else had left.
In his hand were red, white, and yellow tulips, meaning declaration of love, forgiveness, and faithfulness.
“I love you, soldier boy,” he whispered as if he could hear him.
‘I tried so hard, I tried, love, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t live without you,’ he thought.
He looked around the small bathroom, the same place he died.
‘God I can’t even say his name, I’m pathetic,’ he realized.
The bathroom was a mess, all the letters Stiles'd written him were littered around him.
Candles were lit around the room and dried tear tracks were on his face. He tried to move on for a month, he tried for a month, but he couldn’t, he couldn’t do it.
Everywhere Stiles looked, he was there. When he fell asleep, he was there mouthing the words, 'I love you.' He was everywhere Stiles was, and he missed him so, so much.
Stiles looked around the small room for the last time, briefly glancing at the bathtub in which he died inside.
‘I’m coming home to you, soldier boy,’ he thought, before he grabbed the gun beside him, cocked the gun, and put it to his head.