Derek is fifteen when he dies. He's fifteen, and he's in love with Kate who's beautiful and mysterious and older than him and smells like fun and the promise of a good time, and he doesn't know what's happening until he wakes up in the burnt-out husk of the Hale house and realizes he's standing on top of his own shriveled, blackened, stinking corpse.
He smells the stomach-rolling evidence of an entire family burnt away, smells strangers yelling both inside and outside the house—fire men, police officers, humans—and he knows he's dead, he knows, but that doesn't stop him from stumbling out of the room his body is in (the living room, he was watching She's All That with Laura and Aunt Kelsie) to the foyer. He whimpers at the steaming walls, at the patches of roof that are already starting to sag, at the patches of roof that are completely gone. The front door is open, and he tries to step through it, tries to get out, to stop choking on the horrid stench of death and burning, but something stops him.
… And then he smells the mountain ash, sees it, a dark line against the edge of the doorframe outside on the porch. He smells hunters before he looks outside, before he sees the police car marked detective and the humans milling around in the front yard wearing bulky blue jackets with "CFI" emblazoned in bright yellow letters across their backs.
He realizes that he's stuck here, in this house, with his family, all of them dead, all of them corpses, and he howls in fear and anger and desperation and something that's too painful, too all-encompassing, too real to be sadness. He sobs and screams and tries to bang at the wall but his arm and hands keep passing through it. He doesn't stop though, until it gets dark, and he's suddenly so exhausted—so tired.
Eventually, something, he doesn't know what—maybe it's a ghost thing—pulls him up the stairs and down the hall to his room.
Half of his wall is missing, burnt to a crisp and disintegrated. His furniture is all black lumps that are just suggestions of what they once were—a desk, a bookshelf, a large soft chair he had stolen from Laura's room, his bed. Outside there are stars in the sky and if he tries he can hear the sounds of the preserve at night. Animals. The wind whistling through the trees.
Derek crawls onto his bed, curls up as best he can, hiding his nose against his arm even though, technically, neither his nose nor his arm are actually there. He doesn't fall asleep—he can't, he realizes, because he's a ghost—but time passes, and, for the most part, he tries not to be aware of it.
Being dead—being a ghost—is confusing at first, is frustrating. He watches, numb, as workers clear out the bodies of him and his family, as investigators talk in low voices amidst the destruction. There's yellow caution tape across the door and the mountain ash is still there. Burned into the wood so he can never leave; never escape.
He finds out Kate killed him sometime later, after the investigators stop coming. He finds out when she drives up to his tomb in the SUV he lost his virginity in and gets out grinning, coming to stand just in front of the porch, and a man, old, white-haired, who smells like wolfsbane and sickness, comes to stand next to her.
"Kind of sad," she says, "that none of them lived, dad. Anti-climactic this way."
"Meh," the old man says, and Derek watches the look of disgust manifest itself on his face. "They're gone, Kate. You did good."
She did good, Derek thinks. Good.
His death had been a good thing. The pain that he had felt—he can't remember all of it, but he remembers some; he remembers the screams, the panic as he tried to claw his way towards somewhere less scorchingly hot, remembers the split-second of relief just before he lost consciousness—had been good. Right. Something to be proud of.
He howls, shifts even though it doesn't do anything, prowls around the house—the prison—trying to reach out, to touch something, to destroy something, but his hands never make contact, pass through all the solid surfaces, and when he collapses—just inside the front door—he doesn't move for a couple of years.
Derek's a ghost, so time passes differently, and he only realizes that things are changing when he's not surrounded by walls anymore, but by dirt and loud voices, the sound of machinery and a radio set to the oldies station. Bohemian Rhapsody is playing; mom loves—loved—this song.
He has to watch, powerless, as another house is built around him. It's different—no basement, no large entrance foyer, smaller, with three rooms instead of five, nothing that reminds him of the place he had been alive in last—and it makes him angry. He gets angry enough that for the first time, when he punches out at a wall, his fist connects.
And it hurts.
It hurts so good, and he does it again. He scratches at the walls, pulls up the planks on the stairs and on the floor, dents the furniture that has appeared almost overnight, snarls over the sound of the TV that keeps turning on and off.
He screams at the first couple who move in while they try to sleep, stands over their bed and rages. When they leave, he howls at the family of five who move in next. The wife cooks omelets like his dad used to, with too many onions and too little salt, and he throws the pan across the room, upends the kitchen until he can't do anything except disappear in exhaustion. The woman who comes after disappears the first night, after he uses her paint to decorate the walls. It's a coincidence that the paint is red, but he figures it makes for a nice ambiance; blood red paint in a haunted house.
He's alone for a while after that.
Then the other guy comes.
"I knew this place was haunted," Stiles says. "I knew it."
Bad enough that dad bought the stupid house without even consulting him first, changed jobs, changed counties, without so much as a sit-down discussion, but now he's living in a haunted house. That's just great. That's just… fucking peachy. The one place Stiles usually feels normal, and now… now it's not so normal anymore.
The ghost—a guy, maybe a year younger than him, dark-hair, sharp cheekbones, sharp nose, gawky, although he might just look gawky because his eyes right now are comically wide and surprised—is standing over his bed (the mattress, really, because Stiles hasn't actually built his bed yet) looking down at him.
Stiles is fine with ghosts—he's used to them—but he's not fine with the way the ghosts' eyes are suddenly glowing an electric blue, or the way his hands are sprouting claws, or the way his fucking teeth are turning sharp and pointed and…
"You're a fucking werewolf?" Stiles asks. He almost yells it, but then he remembers it's the middle of the night, dad is asleep in the room down the hall, and the last time Stiles had brought up the whole seeing-ghosts thing, he had been seven and dad had said something about him being creative with his imaginary friends, so he wrangles his voice in at the last moment and it comes out as a yelp.
He shouldn't be surprised; ghosts exist, why not werewolves? He doesn't know what to do with a werewolf ghost, though. He's used to human ones. He's used to… the elderly. There are lots of old ones. Angry ones. Sick ones. The ones that just stare at him and never say a fucking word. He's used to them. He has no choice except to be used to them, since he's seen them since before he even realized what he was fucking seeing.
(He didn't see his mom, though, when she died, which makes him… happy, if that's the right word for it. Means she moved on, means she didn't leave anything behind unfinished. Means she—damn it. He was going somewhere with this, he was—right, he's never seen a ghost like this. Has never seen them change form, or snarl.)
"Dude." Stiles sits up in bed, nudges the ghost's ankle with his foot, and watches, fascinated, as he stumbles backward, turns into a wolf—a fucking wolf—and crouches in the corner next to Stiles's half-built bookshelf, growling loud and terrified, making these weird little whines at the back of his throat. "Oh my god," Stiles says. He doesn't need this. He really doesn't. He has school tomorrow, and… and other stuff. So he definitely doesn't need this. "Are you serious right now?"
He flops back down on the mattress, stares up at the ceiling. He wonders how much discipline it would take to just go back to sleep and ignore the wolf—the fucking ghost werewolf, and why do things always escalate so quickly with him? Why?—in the corner of his room.
Probably a lot. Probably too much. Stiles has so little self-discipline it's practically turned into an art-form. He sits back up, almost on auto-pilot, and looks at the wolf.
Ghost are always… luminescent. In the dark, they're brighter, their auras a distinct greenish hue. In the day they fade a bit, into something muted and hazy. When they talk—and god do some ghosts talk—their voices echo slightly, almost mournfully, like there's a feedback loop somewhere in the middle that's not functioning properly.
"Stiles," he says, eventually. "I'm Stiles. Not my real name, but fuck, I don't even think I pronounce my real name correctly." He's doing this more to calm himself down then calm the ghost. The ghost can go fuck itself. He hasn't had a panic attack in five years, not since he saw the ghost on the side of the street that, from the back, had looked almost exactly like his mother. He's not going to have one now. "I see ghosts. I've seen them all my life. You're not that special, bud. You might get furry and snarl, but you're just a ghost. You can't hurt me."
Actually, it can. Hurt him, that is. But maybe it doesn't know that. He's met a couple of ghosts who didn't know what they were capable of; maybe this one is the same.
"I'm going to find out who you are," he says. "I'm going to find out who you are, why you're here, and then I'm going to get ri—I mean I'm going to help you. All-right, wolf-boy? So just…" —he flops back down on his mattress, inhales deep, and closes his eyes— "so just leave me the fuck alone for a couple of days, and I'll get back to you when I can."
And then, eventually, he manages to go to sleep.
Stiles meets Scott the next day—his first at Beacon Hills High (Home of the Cyclones!)—because Scott sits in front of Stiles in English with Miss Heintz and Economics with Mr. Finstock, and next to him in Chemistry with Mr. Harris. It's a beautiful friendship waiting to happen, and by the end of the week, Stiles is sure that they're long-lost brothers.
In addition to his apparent bro-chemistry with Scott, Stiles knows the following:
Nothing about wolf-boy, the dead wonder, because, truthfully, he just… hasn't looked him up. Usually, he's all over this shit, but there's a difference when the ghost is actually in your house, as compared to when they're just... somewhere else. Somewhere that you can get away from. Stiles hasn't seen him in five days, since the initial incident, and a small part of him is hoping that it was all just a nightmare (he gets those; it comes with the territory). The larger part of him is just stubbornly refusing to think about any of it. Ignoring things until they go away; Stiles is a master at it.
(He's aware that this is the opposite of what other people would be doing in his situation, but then again, other people don't have to deal with seeing ghosts on a regular basis.)
There are four ghosts residing on the Beacon Hills High campus, which is low for a school of its size. The first, a janitor next to the Chemistry room, mops at the same spot day in and day out. The second, a girl in a collared top and poodle skirt, hangs out on the front stoop and pops bubble gum whenever Stiles catches her eye. The third, a guy in MC Hammer pants and a gaudy aloha shirt, leans up against the water fountain in the cafeteria and just… stares. The fourth, an as-of-yet unseen creepy fuckface, keeps banging the pipes down in the boiler room and screaming about how it burns. Stiles doesn't want to know what it is.
Outside of campus, the strange lack of ghosts continues. There's a couple at the four-way intersection in the middle of town (there are always ghosts at four-way intersections, and they're always bloody and in the mood to make potholes and fuck with traffic). There's an old ghost outside of the gas station who stands right by the door and hits it against people's elbows when they try to walk past. That's it. That's all the ghosts that Stiles has seen after a week.
The entire population of Beacon Hills High itself exists in some kind of weird grey area in between reality and the netherworld, where lacrosse is the Sport of the Gods and teachers get away with being semi-abusive dickwads (cough, motherfucking Harris, cough). The cafeteria, actually, is arranged so that the lacrosse jocks, their girlfriends, and their girlfriend's friends all sit in the largest table in the middle of the room. From there, popularity decreases with proximity to the walls. It's all very fascinating, from an anthropological perspective.
"—So, guy with the blonde hair and cheekbones is Jackson Whittemore," Scott is saying, then makes a sharp noise when Stiles starts looking behind him at the center table. "No! Don't turn around. Cheekbones is Jackson Whittemore. Guy with the nose next to him is Danny Mahealani. Red-head is Lydia Martin. Then… Greenberg, and—" Scott sighs, looks down at his plate full of what is apparently supposed to be spaghetti, but looks more… biological. "Allison Argent. The pretty girl with the… with the smile is Allison Argent."
Stiles blinks. "Allison Argent who's in English, Chemistry, and Economics with us? The one you're always—" Scott cuts him off with a glare, and Stiles holds his hands up, palms out. "The one you're always not looking at."
"It's that obvious, huh?" Scott asks, and Stiles takes a bite of his apple as he nods.
"What's wrong with asking her out?" Stiles asks. "You're hot."
"I like girls," Scott says, raising his eyebrow at him. Stiles doesn't know what he's supposed to do with that information. "And, I don't know. She's kind of new… it's just weird."
"You should ask her out," Stiles says, and when Scott just sighs, gives him an unimpressed look, he adds, "eventually. You should ask her out eventually, when and if you choose to."
"Are you really this emotionally mature, or are you just bullshitting me?" Scott asks, and ahh this, this is why Stiles is pretty sure they're destined for a bromance og the ages.
"I'm bullshitting you dude, I have no game whatsoever," Stiles says. He turns around then, even as Scott protests, and takes a look at the table. It's crowded, and every single person there looks like they could be in some CW series; even more so than the rest of the student body, who all seem to be ridiculously fucking good looking. Like there's something in the water. Or air. Or whatever.
A movement catches Stiles's eye, and he looks to see that MC Hammer pants ghost has moved from his usual station at the water fountain and is walking towards the popular table. He doesn't look like he has any particular goal in mind—the fucker has his hands in his ghostly pockets and is whistling, for fuck's sake—but it's still weird. Ghosts like… they like routine. And MC Hammer pants never moves during lunch hour.
"Dude," Scott says from behind him. "Stop looking. They're going to see you or something." Stiles starts to turn back, because truthfully, it's not his problem anyway; he hasn't talked to MC Hammer pants yet, and he'd like to wait at least another couple of weeks before he has to start the whole "helping-ghosts-cross over" thing. Get acclimated to Beacon Hills and all of its weirdness.
(Get acclimated to having a ghost in his house.)
Anyway, the ghost… okay, the ghost is stopping now, and staring, and Stiles tries to see what he's staring at, and… and fuck, meets the eyes of one of the people at the popular table. The red-head. The one with shrewd eyes and a calculating tilt to her eyebrows and a face that makes Stiles flush hot and feel like his tongue is tangled all wrong in his mouth. Slowly—carefully—Lydia's eyes (Scott said her name was Lydia, right?) go from Stiles, to the ghost, to Stiles, then back to the ghost, and… and holy fuck.
Stiles is pretty sure that Lydia Martin sees ghosts.
"Stiles!" Scott yelps, and Stiles turns the rest of the way around on autopilot. And then glances back, and yeah, she's looking at him. Fuck. "Stiles."
"Yeah, yeah, sorry dude," Stiles says, taking a large bite of his apple, unsure how to process whatever just happened. He's never met another one before. Not one that wasn't a fraud, at least.
The rest of the school day is essentially a waste, because he's trying to figure out if he should approach Lydia, or if Lydia is going to approach him, or if both of them are going to ignore the other, or… whatever. He can't be bothered to pay attention to Harris waxing fucking eloquent about his superiority and shit, so he just… doesn't.
What makes his day even better is that when Stiles gets home that afternoon—he rushes out of last period as soon as the bell rings, because whatever happens with what he's decided to call the "Lydia Situation," he just doesn't want it to happen today—wolf-boy is snarling at him from the kitchen.
He's standing on top of the kitchen counter, which is just rude, and the entire contents of the kitchen cabinets are stacked in poltergeist-worthy piles on the floor and counter tops. None of it makes sense, which is par for the course when it comes to ghosts, but it doesn't surprise Stiles. Pisses him off, sure, but doesn't surprise him.
"Dude," Stiles says—sighs, really, because he doesn't need this shit, is so far from needing this shit in his life it should be law—and drops his backpack on the floor, kicks the door closed behind him and then kicks his shoes off just because. Good thing Dad's not back for… for a couple of hours. Stiles is safe at least until six, maybe even longer if dad stays late. "Are you throwing a tantrum right now? Is that what this is? Because I've gotta say, you could've at least been a litt—fuck!"
He dodges a bread knife—a fucking bread knife— as it zooms at his head, winces as it clatters against the wall behind him, and then suddenly wolf boy is right in front of him, snarling in his face, his ghostly mouth open wide showing ghostly teeth that are too sharp to have been human when the dude was alive.
"Get out," wolf-boy says, and sure, his voice makes Stiles's heartbeat go up—it's echoing around the room unnaturally, bouncing off the walls and crackling in his ears—but it's… higher than Stiles had been expecting. A normal voice, for a normal guy that, when he was alive, just happened to turn into a wolf once in a while. Right.
He sounds scared, the ghost. Sounds desperate; his voice is frayed, raw, panicked. It's a tone of voice that Stiles has gotten used to, but it's getting to him now, making him think before he speaks.
"I can help you," he says. "I can—"
"I don't what your help," the boy snarls. Stiles is really tired of thinking of him in terms of epithets. "I want you to get out of my house."
"Not your house, dude," Stiles says, keeps his voice level, even though he's kind of terrified, and steps around him—kicks his bag over next to the island in the middle of the kitchen so he doesn't trip over it—and starts cleaning up the stacks of plates, pots, pans, and cutlery from the floor. Mostly so he can calm down.
The ghost just watches, his hands clenched at his sides in fists, vibrating—literally vibrating; he looks like those hologram messages in Star Wars, with the blips and the fade outs and everything—with some intense emotion. Anger, probably. Stiles is going to guess he's an angry ghost. The type that throws shit around first and asks questions later (like bread knives). Stiles tries not to think about what made him angry; the dude is fifteen, sixteen at most, and he shouldn't even be dead, not to mention angrily dead.
"It is—it… it was," wolf-boy snarls, and he's up in Stiles's face again, except this time he's not snarling. He looks… he looks frustrated. His eyes are roving over Stiles's face, his lips pursed, his eyebrows furrowed like he doesn't know what's happening. He's actually kind of cute, in a decidedly-dead way. "Why aren't you afraid? How can you see me? How can you—" he pauses, clears his throat, and Stiles is suddenly fascinated by the way his eyes catch the light. Even transparent, they're this fascinating blend of… of fuck, Stiles doesn't really know what color to call it. "—how can you touch me? Are you a hunter? Are you here to exorcise me?"
"Woah, ease up on the questions there, bud." Stiles takes a step back, concentrates on lifting a stack of plates to the top cabinet—their previous home, before wolf-boy had his little tantrum, or… whatever it was. A plea for attention, maybe. "Shouldn't it be, like, the reverse? You the all-knowing ghost? Me the innocent human that's going to be slashed in the middle of the night? Possessed? Pulled through a wall to live as your slave for eternity? Crap, I didn't even know werewolves existed before I saw you go all wolfy. And the only kind of hunter I know about is on Supernatural."
"I—" Stiles can't see him, but he can practically feel the confusion and frustration emanating off him. "I was killed by hunters," he finally says, and Stiles's stomach drops. Not because of the whole murder thing—Stiles is used to murdered ghosts—but because this is it; the start. This is where Stiles gets sucked in again, where he gets obsessed for no reason other than it just feels right, just feels like something he needs, like some kind of obsession, until the ghost does what it hasn't crossed over yet to do, and moves on.
For fuck's sake, he's only sixteen. He shouldn't have to do this.
Stiles bends down to start shoving pots back in the cabinet next to the stove. "That sucks, dude," he says, completely aware that it more than sucks.
"They burnt down the house," wolf-boy says next, and suddenly his presence here makes a whole lot more sense. "My whole family was inside. We all… died. They killed all of us."
God, talk about a fucking downer.
Stiles sits down on the floor where he's crouching, slides around so that his back is facing the cabinet. The ghost is standing where Stiles left him, glaring down at the stack of plates next to his feet.
"I… fuck," Stiles says, rubs at the back of his head, at a loss, really, at what else to say. Sorry is… sorry would definitely be an understatement. "I… that sucks. Were they… no one else is here?"
"Just me," the ghost says, his voice cracking halfway through. He turns, walks until his ghostly feet—they're bare, and god that twists at something in Stiles's gut, that he was killed when he wasn't wearing shoes, when he was defenseless, at home, with family—are almost touching Stiles's. Their eyes meet, and then the kitchenware stacked on the floor and countertops starts levitating, zooms, too quick for Stiles to follow, back into the kitchen cabinets until everything looks… good. Looks natural. Looks like there isn't a poltergeist—angry wolf dude—in the house.
Stiles grins and stands, holds out his hand in an awkward attempt at… at what he doesn't know. A truce?
"Stiles," he says. The ghost blinks him, looks down at his outstretched hand, then back up. There's a pause—a long one—and Stiles is just starting to wonder if he had misread the atmosphere; if this wasn't them getting to know each other. Maybe the ghost is still in the "leave now or I will kill you" phase.
"Derek," the ghost says, drawing out the word. Slowly, his hand comes up, like he's afraid, like he—oh, like he hasn't touched anyone since he had died. That makes sense.
"Huh?" Stiles asks. The ghost… the ghost smirks, and it's the first sign of humor—of an emotion other than anger or confusion or sadness that he's seen from him—and it's kind of a trip, for some reason.
"My name," the ghost says. "It's Derek. Derek Hale."
Then his fingers are skimming along Stiles's palm, and Stiles doesn't imagine the sharp intake of breath—the involuntary sound of surprise—or the way Derek doesn't shake his hand as much as hold it, turn it over, squeeze like he's trying to remember what touching is.
"You haven't met anyone else," Stiles says. "Haven't met anyone you could touch? Before this?"
Derek looks up at that, from where his eyes have been glued to their hands, and slowly, he shakes his head. "No," he says, "no one."
Stiles's hand is warm. It's firm underneath his. A heavy weight that feels so alive that it makes Derek want to keep touching it and never let go. He realizes, for the first time in… in however long it's been since he died, that he really hates being dead. That the one thing he wants, more than anything, is to be alive again. Is to be able to feel like this again.
It's so cruel that the one thing he wants more than life is life, and it's the one thing he can never have again.
"What are you?" he asks before he can stop himself, because he—Stiles—is a mystery. He makes Derek angry, for some reason. Not the kind of anger he's gotten used to over the years, but something different, something like confusion and frustration and… and curiosity. He doesn't want to scare Stiles—he doesn't want him to go away—he wants... Derek doesn't know what he wants, just knows that it's sudden and intense.
"I'm, uh, human?" Stiles says, and Derek grins, tries to stop when Stiles just stares at him, openly fascinated. It's not because he's a ghost—Derek isn't the first ghost Stiles has seen, apparently—but something else that's making him stare. It's unnerving.
Derek has never really been comfortable with people looking at him. When he was alive, it was more a matter of staying under the radar, of blending in and trying to look as inconspicuously human as possible. And when you're dead… when you're dead even if you do want someone to look at you, they can't.
Until now, that is.
"Humans don't see ghosts," Derek tries again. "Humans can't do this," he says, squeezes Stiles's hand for emphasis. And god, it's so warm, so solid, so real.
"I do," Stiles says. "I'm human, dude… just, I've always been able to see… uh, your kind. Ghosts, I guess. It's a thing."
"A thing," Derek says, feeling twelve, suddenly. He lets go of Stiles's hand, even though everything in him is screaming to just hold on, and takes a couple steps back. "That's stupid. You don't know anything else about it? What you're called? There has to be a name. You're not a witch, or a—"
"A witch?!" Stiles's voice goes squeaky, and his face contorts into an expression of comical horror. "Witches exist?"
"You suck at this," Derek says, after a pause, because it takes him that long to realize that Stiles really is clueless. He flashes his eyes, grows his fangs—it's easier, as a ghost, for some reason, to shift, maybe because he actually doesn't have a body—and snorts when Stiles just looks at him, unimpressed.
He's never met a human who wasn't afraid of monsters. He was only alive for fifteen years, but it had been drilled into him since he could understand words to never do this in front of someone not werewolf. He doesn't understand why Stiles isn't more freaked out; he doesn't understand why he's not scared.
He wonders what else Stiles has seen, to make him react like this.
"I'm awesome at this, dude." Stiles moves, open the fridge, gets out a… a fucking Capri Sun pouch, and damn it, Derek is suddenly reminded of tussles Laura and he had used to get in over the last one. How Laura usually won. "Back at my old school I took care of this asshole who almost… almost—" Stiles cuts himself off with a grimace, and Derek smells the regret and anger coming off of him—it's heady, being able to smell a human, to smell the chemical reactions under his skin, parse them out as emotion—and Derek realizes, even as he takes an instinctual sniff, that it's the first time it's happened since he died.
"What?" Derek asks, curious. He takes a step forward, wants to touch—put a hand on Stiles's shoulder, or… or somewhere—then remembers that this is the first time they've actually talked. Had a conversation. It would be weird.
… Derek has been watching Stiles for the last three days. He hadn't meant to, after that first time, after Stiles had woken up and ruined any plans Derek had of haunting him, but something pulled him out of the daze he usually kept himself in during the day, and he started to just… watch.
He doesn't really know what he thinks about him—them, really, because he's watched the dad too—yet, but he does know that Stiles's reaction to his lone attempt at haunting has made him curious.
And he can touch him. There has to be something to that. Has to be. It's too amazing for there not to be anything.
"The reason we moved." Stiles looks down, narrows his eyes as he punctures the Capri Sun pouch with his straw. "I was caught on the high school campus after hours. Whole big," —he waves his hand around in a vague gesture—" whole big drama there. I sent the ghost away, but I was, um… I had a couple of bruises. Couldn't blame it on the ghost, so…"
"Your dad, he's a deputy," Derek says, trying to work past the sudden anger that comes from the thought of Stiles bruised. He knows it's not his place, knows it's exceedingly fucking dangerous to think like that, but he's attached now. Terrifyingly attached, because suddenly knowing someone who can see him—who can talk to him—is like getting a gift he always wanted.
He might… he might have a friend?
"Yup," Stiles says. He starts walking, picks up the bag he had kicked against the kitchen island after Derek's… fine, after his tantrum. It had been a tantrum, sure.
He has them. He's allowed to. He's dead.
Derek follows, and then they're in Stiles's room. It's more like a room now—less boxes, more furniture, more stuff that reminds him of all the things he had lost in the fire—than what it was before. Makes him feel… out of place. And that makes him angry, because this is his house, and—
"Calm down, wolf-boy—"
"My name is not wolf-boy," Derek snarls, goes to disappear, except then Stiles snorts out a derisive laugh, throws himself down on the chair at his desk and turns his laptop on. It's a nice laptop. Derek wishes he could go on it, wishes he could remember what it was like to have fun. He takes a step closer, then another.
"I'm going to look you up," Stiles says, when Derek is standing next to him. "Is that okay?"
"I—" Derek doesn't know why Stiles is asking him. It wouldn't matter either way, would it? "That's fine. Are you—are you actually… I don't need your help. There's nothing you can do to help."
Stiles looks up at him for a while—the way the light is hitting his eyes make him look supernatural, makes the brown in his eyes turn honey-gold—and then he shrugs, turns to the computer.
"Derek Hale, right?" Stiles asks, types it in to Google, his fingers long and… distracting.
"If you were from here, you wouldn't have to look me up," Derek says, before he can stop himself. "We were, uh…"
"The town loonies?" Stiles grins up at him. "Did people think you were in a cult?"
"No," Derek says. "They liked us. I mean, they liked… my family. We were respected. My dad was thinking of running for mayor."
"Oh," Stiles says, then turns to his screen. "You can sit down, you know. Or, I mean… can you?"
"I can… sit, yes. Why the fuck wouldn't I be able to sit?" Derek goes over to Stiles's bed—smells like Stiles and something else, probably his old house—and sits. He's always thought it was weird that he can do this, and yet to pick something up he has to concentrate until he swears it actually hurts.
There's silence, and when Derek looks over, he sees Stiles looking at his computer, eyebrows furrowed, his mouth open in… something; disgust, surprise, anger. He's reading an article, and Derek can't make himself read the words; doesn't want to. Instead, he lays back down on Stiles's bed, fascinated by the familiarity of the smells that surround him—teenage boy, mostly, and it's kind of amazing that he had missed that—and watches the way his arm almost completely disappears if held up in direct sunlight.
He wonders if Stiles could find a way to help him get outside. There has to be a way, after all this time. The mountain ash has had to have at least lost some of its power.
"Mountain ash," Derek says, and when Stiles makes a noise to show he's listening, Derek continues. "The hunters—" he's not going to mention her yet. He can barely think about her without wanting to destroy something. "—put a line of mountain ash around the house. We can't cross mountain ash, so…"
"So you were trapped insi—wait are you still trapped inside?" Stilees swivels in his chair, and when Derek looks at him, his eyes are wide and disbelieving. Derek nods.
"It was… no one ever really taught me what you need to do to break it. I mean, in theory I know, but…" Derek takes a deep breath. "Maybe you could help me. With that."
"Y—yeah, dude," Stiles says. "Yeah, I could help you with that. Fuck, this is messed up."
"It is," Derek agrees. "Really fucking messed up."
Stiles doesn't know how to help Derek. Okay, no, he knows how, in theory. Derek explained the whole belief thing tied to mountain ash, but there isn't any mountain ash that's actually visible around the house. The—and god, Stiles can't believe he's going to say this—the spell is burnt into the ground, into the soil itself, into the foundation and the ash that's underneath all the modern construction (which is, admittedly, a depressing thought).
Even after that, Stiles doesn't know what else Derek needs so he can move on. Is it a vengeance type of deal? Stiles would kind of like to get vengeance for him, if only because he thinks, if he words it right, he could get Dad to re-open the arson case that no one had been able to solve six years ago.
Except… Derek disappeared when Stiles asked him if he knew the hunters who killed him. His face when Stiles had asked had been closed off and petulant, guilty and sad—so sad—and Stiles isn't looking forward to the big reveal, whenever—if—Derek opens up to tell him exactly what happened.
It's probably going to be horrible.
So, Stiles gets used to hanging around in his room with a ghost fairly quickly—by the next day, when he wakes up and Derek is sitting in his soft chair, looking out the window, the morning sun hitting his transparent face, he's pretty well-adjusted—and tries his hand at researching mountain ash and spells online. It doesn't go well, because as good of an algorithm as Google employs, it doesn't adjust for fake magic versus real magic.
He manages to avoid Lydia Martin for another day before she practically forces him to be her partner in English for an exercise in poem analysis. Everything he reads makes Stiles think about werewolves and moutain ash and vengeance, and he manages to ignore her thinly veiled attempts at broaching the subject of ghosts by concentrating on about a million things other than her. Well, her words, at least. He can't help but notice the way her hair catches the light, or the shiny pinkness of her lips, or… uh, or other assets.
He looks around them forty minutes into the period, sees that both Scott and douchebag Whittemore—it's a recent nickname, ever since the dude attempted to trip him in the hall (didn't work; Stiles has gotten to be a pro at dodging things)—are staring at them, and grimaces.
"Pay attention," Lydia suddenly hisses in his ear, and kicks his shin hard enough that he recoils, rubs at the sore spot. She's wearing heels, and they hurt. What type of sixteen-year-old girl wears heels to high school? It's just… painful, for all parties.
"Ow?" he says. "What the hell?"
"Are you, or are you not," Lydia asks, lips pursed, eyes narrowed, "a Mediator?"
"What the fuck is a Mediator?" Stiles leans forward, does his best to convey his irritation in a whisper. "And no, no I'm not. Could we—"
"We finished ten minutes ago, Stiles." Lydia leans forward as well, eyes him suspiciously. "You are, though. I know you are."
"George, the ghost in the cafeteria, with the, hmm, unfortunate taste in pants?" Lydia says, and his face must give something away, because she leans back, looking disgustingly satisfied. "I knew it."
"It's not like it was hard to figure out," Stiles says, and her face gets pinched. "And what did you call it? A Mediator?"
"You…" she blinks, clears her throat. "You didn't know you were a Mediator?"
"I've seen gho—" Stiles clears his throat, leans in closer and lowers his voice. "I've seen ghosts all my life, I just didn't know what it was called."
"Oh," Lydia says, sounds—and looks—disappointed. "Do you expect me to teach you this or something?"
"I…" Stiles rears back, confused. "I never asked you to—I've got stuff to—"
"How many have you guided?" Lydia interrupts, leaning forward to make up for the space lost. Stiles hears a snort, looks over to see Scott grinning over at Whittemore, who's… who's glaring over at them. "To the After?"
"Is that what it's called?" Stiles asks. She gives him a look, and he shrugs. "Two dozen? Around there. Not all of them wanted to leave."
Lydia snorts. "Why do you think George is still here? He likes it, and I can't exorcise him if he's not harming anyone…"
"What about…" Stiles doesn't really know Lydia; isn't sure he wants to. She's beautiful, smart, but there's something about her that seems dangerous. That makes him think it would be easy to get obsessed (Stiles gets obsessed over things, sometimes. It may or may not be the ADHD). He's not going to tell her about Derek yet. He doesn't even know if this—whatever Lydia wants, for whatever reason she's been sending him pointed looks for the last two days—is going to turn into something that would make it okay for him to talk about Derek.
He doesn't want to talk about Derek. It feels like Stiles would be betraying him if he did.
"What about what?" Lydia asks, tapping her pen against her lip, leaning back and looking around like she just now remembered they're in public.
"The one in the boiler room?"
"Oh." Lydia's face contorts into something hard. "Her."
"So," Stiles says, "I'm guessing we don't go near the boiler room."
"No," Lydia says. "I wouldn't. Not unless you like dodging fire balls."
"… can't say that I do," Stiles says.
Lydia snorts, and Stiles thinks their conversation is over, even looks back down at his notebook and the erroneously highlighted poem handout he has next to it, only then Lydia's phone slides onto his desk and he looks back up.
"Give me your number," Lydia whispers. "You want to learn more, right?"
"I—" Does he? He doesn't know, but he's not going to deny that it would be nice to at least have someone to talk to. About things. Ghostly things. Things that usually he just talks to himself about. Stiles shrugs, eventually, and plugs his number in, ignoring as Whittemore starts hissing Lydia's name from across the room.
"Ignore him," Lydia whispers. "He's just worried we're flirting."
Ouch. When Stiles looks at Lydia's face, she's watching him with an expression that he doesn't know how to parse. Satisfied, victorious, dangerous… it's something along those lines. Something that says 'you don't have a chance.'
"Yeah." Stiles puts his name in, hands the phone back to her, and sighs. It's not like he was flirting with her. It's not like Stiles could flirt with her if he wanted to. He's smart—he knows he's smart, sometimes too smart for his own good—not relationship-savvy (the opposite of relationship-savvy, actually). "No worries there."
"Oh, so you're gay?" Lydia asks, raising an eyebrow, and Stiles blinks.
"No," he says. "I'm—" Stiles doesn't really know what he is, to be honest. He's kind of getting pissed that everyone keeps asking, whether it's in the context of him being human or not or making him find out of he likes girls or guys or both or everything.
He's sixteen, for fuck's sake. If everyone could lay off until he's actually grown into his body to start expecting so much from him, that would be great.
"I mean,"—Lydia clears her throat, fidgets in her seat, changes her posture until she seems… smaller— "it doesn't matter. None of my business. Just… I have a boyfriend, is what I'm saying. That I love."
Stiles opens his mouth, confused as to how this topic came up, but then Miss Heintz tells the class to turn in what they've done so far and go back to their seats, and Stiles, grateful for the opportunity to escape, does just that.
When class ends ten minutes later, Scott grabs his arm and forces him out of the room, somehow managing to pull him as far as the end of the corridor before the bell has even stopped ringing.
"Dude," Scott whispers, low and conspiratorial, "since when have you known Lydia Martin?"
Why, Stiles wonders, is he italicizing the Martin? Is there another Lydia at Beacon Hills? Is—never mind. "Uh, we just have a, uh… we have pre-calc together, so…"
"Oh, right," Scott says, then punches him in the shoulder. "I thought you said you didn't have any game!"
"I…" Stiles sighs; he doesn't, he really doesn't. And really, what would he do if he did? Have game, that is. It would be kind of fucking hard to bring someone back to his room since he's sharing it with one of the dead. Not that… not that Derek is bad company. The past two days have been kind of fun, actually.
He thinks that maybe Derek is a friend. He's aware of how fucking ridiculous that is, to have a ghost—the ghost of a werewolf that was burned alive, trapped in his own house—as a friend. But hey, there you go. It's happening. Stiles shouldn't be surprised; he once held a conversation with a dude that had half of his face torn off by a speeding bus, so…
"You… what?" Scott punches him again, starts pushing him towards the cafeteria, because… oh right, it's lunch.
"No game. I don't have game," Stiles remembers to say. "I am completely gameless. I don't attract romantic prospects, I repel them. My—"
"Did she say anything about Allison?" Scott interrupts, and Stiles silently thanks him.
"Allison?" Stiles pretends to think about it. "No."
MC Hammer pants—George—is watching some girl drink from the water fountain when they walk in the cafeteria.
"Then what were you two whispering about?" Scott asks, after they've braved the lines and are sitting at their usual table. There's a new doodle on Stiles's bench—a dick with angel wings, which… Stiles doesn't get the symbolism behind that—and between that and his intense need to ignore George, he's distracted enough that Scott throws a fry (a suggestion of a fry; calling these things fries is an insult to the fry) at his head to get his attention.
"Calculus," Stiles says. "Very difficult stuff. Very boring."
"Yeah yeah," Scott says, narrows his eyes at him, and Stiles does his best to look innocent, and not like he sees ghosts on a regular basis. It doesn't work, because Scott just keeps glaring at him. "You know, they say Jackson and Lydia are going to break up in, like—"
"It's not that," Stiles interrupts. "Definitely not that."
"Seriously, dude," Stiles says, "it was just calculus."
"You're a shitty liar, but it's cool," Scott says with a shrug. "I'll get it out of you eventually."
The Lacrosse team enters the cafeteria then—Stiles knows because they announce their arrival with raucous laughter and bright red letter jackets—and he hunches down as much as he can, avoids eye contact because… for fuck's sake he's been here less than a week.
He doesn't need, in any particular order; pitiful ghosts sharing his sleeping space, dangerous red-heads, and/or the threat of jock boyfriends.
He really doesn't; this move was supposed to calm things down, not make things… more. Just more.
"You want to come over to my house after school?" Scott asks. "I got the new CoD."
"Y—yeah dude," Stiles says. "That sounds awesome. I can drive."
Deputy Stilinski is as interesting as his son. Not in… not in the same ways, but when he's home and Stiles isn't—like right now, even though Derek knows that school should be over by now; Stiles should be home—he can be an entertaining watch.
He's not—it's different, with him, and not just because Stilinski can't actually see Derek, and Stiles can. It's a… it's an adult thing. Derek doesn't understand why Stilinski does half the things he does; why he looks sad around the eyes, why he's always exhausted, why when he looks at Stiles (Derek has only seen it once, but it's memorable) he looks lost and confused and… and frustrated.
Derek remembers when Laura had looked at him like that. She looked at him like she didn't know what to do with him. Like she didn't understand him. Stilinski looks at Stiles like that though, although… maybe it's less pronounced than it was with Laura and him.
Stilinski is at the kitchen table, and Derek is standing next to him, looking over the files he has spread out over the surface. It's not a case; just paperwork. Derek lost interest in the details thirty minutes ago, but he still watches Stilinski because… because he can.
He's never watched any of the other people who lived in this house. He haunted them, yeah, but he never watched them. The Stilinskis are different, though.
Stiles is different. Stiles can see him. Stiles can touch him.
There has to be something to that, something that will make the weight that Derek didn't even know he felt—the horrible dull ache of loss and guilt and shame that's been all he's lived (hah) with for the past six years go away.
He really hopes there's something to that.
Stilinski has a lot of the same mannerisms as Stiles. Or, well, Stiles has a lot of the same mannerisms as his dad. The way he scratches the back of his head when he's frustrated; the way he squints his eyes when he's concentrating; the way he hunches over a problem, picks at it; the way his hands are always moving, deft fingers—
Derek stops, because he hadn't even realized he was paying that much attention to Stiles's fingers.
Then he remembers that Stiles is the first person he's interacted with—the first person he's talked to, listened to, touched—in six years, and it doesn't surprise him as much.
He wonders if he and Stiles would be friends if they were actually at school together. Derek… Derek didn't have many friends at school. And Stiles... well he smells like other people, so Derek is assuming he does.
There's a buzzing sound, and Derek snarls before he thinks about it, then freezes as Stilinski looks up, straight at him, confused for a second, then picks up his phone from the table.
"Stiles," he says, and Derek slinks back, retreats to the kitchen door so he can still watch, can still hear, but it's just less… dangerous. Feels less dangerous.
"Dad, I'm at Scott's house right now. I'll be back home in a couple of hours, just a heads—"
"I'm home now, it's fine," Stilinski says, leans back in his chair and runs a hand over his hair. "I'll make dinner tonight. Sound good?"
"You're home? Did something happen?" On the other side of the line, Stiles sounds different. There's not, like, a sub-level of sarcasm to his voice, which is what happens whenever he talks to Derek. He sounds genuine. Worried.
"No, no, I'm good, kid. I've got the weekend night shift so the Sheriff gave me the rest of today off."
"Cool, cool," Stiles says. On this side, Stilinski grins.
"Is this the McCall kid you were talking about? Scott?"
"Yeah, yeah, Scott McCall," Stiles says. "We're just hanging out, doing homework—he's got the new CoD."
"Right, good, just no sneaking into the high school tonight, no getting yourself beat up," Stilinski says. "Or any other night, for that matter."
"One time, dad. One time," Stiles says, and there's a story behind that. Stilinski sounds like he's joking, but his expression says otherwise. Maybe it has to do with the ghost Stiles was talking about earlier. His bruises.
"One time is more than enough, Stiles."
Derek is curious. He hasn't been this curious in a while. It's unnerving.
Stilinski hangs up on Stiles after bit, sinking down in his chair and rubbing his hand over his face. He looks around once—looks right through Derek in the process—then rests his elbow on the table and starts working again.
Derek doesn't watch so much as… hang out. He stands there, because it's not like he has anything better to do, until he hears Stiles's jeep pull in the drive-way, and then he goes to Stiles's room to wait for him so it doesn't seem like Derek's been waiting for him, watching his dad for the past however many hours.
Derek is a ghost, yeah, and he hasn't interacted with anyone in five years outside of smearing red paint all over their walls and making loud noises, yeah, but that doesn't meant he doesn't know when something is too much.
He's fifteen—has been fifteen for six years—and he knows shit like that.
(Derek wishes he wasn't fifteen, wishes he was twenty one. Wishes he wasn't here, but at college. Wishes his parents were alive. Wishes he never met Kate. Wishes she never killed his family. Wishes he was alive. Wishes he wasn't dead.)
He hears Stiles coming up the stairs, inhales through his nose and smells school and sweat and chips and… someone else. A friend from school—Scott.
Derek figures it's a ghost-thing to be envious of that.
"Hey dude," Stiles says when he walks in the door, throws his bag on his bed. "So we're room-mates now? This is your domain as much as mine? Should I get bunkb—"
"I'm not allowed to be in here? Technically it was my room first," Derek says. It wasn't his room first; his room was on the other side of the house. This was probably Laura's room.
"You're allowed to be in here!" Stiles says, like it insults him that Derek would think otherwise.
"Good," Derek says, watches as Stiles starts grabbing books out of his bag—chemistry and calculus and history and other shit that Derek never thought he would miss so much—and brings them over to his desk. "Have you found a way to break the… uh, the barrier?"
That's not what he meant to ask, damn it.
"Leaving so soon, Der-Bear?" Stiles asks, then, as Derek blinks, wide-eyed, Stiles seems to realize what he just said. His face goes white, then red, and his arms come out in front of him. "I mean. Sorry, I didn't—"
"No, no," Derek says before he thinks about it. "It's cool. Nicknames are cool. I never had a nickname before."
Not outside of the family. Laura used to call him Der-Der. Mom and dad used to call him Der.
"Oh, well, that sucks," Stiles says, scratching at the back of his head.
"Yeah," Derek says. He watches as Stiles hesitates for a second, then goes over to plop down at his desk. "It's kind of weird," Derek says, after they've been silent for a couple of minutes.
"What's weird? Seeing ghosts? Being a ghost?" Stiles asks, leaning back in his chair and smiling.
"You being older than me," Derek says, and Stiles's face falls.
"Right," he says. "You're supposed to be twenty-one."
"But I'm fifteen," Derek says, not knowing why he suddenly feels like talking about this. Maybe because he can, now.
"So you're both younger and older than me," Stiles says. "Yeah, that's weird."
Derek nods. "It is," he says. He doesn't feel twenty one. He feels fifteen. He wonders, idly, as he mulls over that, what Stiles sees when he looks at him. He lanky, he knows, and his limbs are too long for his body, his face too long for everything, and his stupid ears stick out strangely.
People—girls, mostly—used to talk about him at school, though, used to say he was hot. Hot enough to get the attention of an older woman, hot enough to—Derek sighs, stands up and walks over to the window to distract himself.
Stiles doesn't know yet, about the whole Kate thing. Stiles doesn't know a lot of stuff. Derek has yet to decide if he's ever going to tell him. Maybe if Stiles tells him why he moved here—to Beacon Hills, to this house—in the first place.
"I don't know about the mountain ash," Stiles says, after a while, and Derek pretends he didn't feel Stiles looking at him the whole time neither of them were talking. "All the stuff on the Internet just keeps talking about belief and all that—like you said—but it seems too simple, you know?"
"It does seem too simple," Derek agrees, "but that's all I've got."
"Yeah," Stiles says, shrugging. "I'll try this weekend—tomorrow—does that seem good? Just… not when dad's home."
Derek nods, tries not to think about what it would be like to step outside. Even if it worked, what would he do? He would still be dead, would still be tied to this place.
"I really want it to work," Stiles says. "I want to help you, dude."
"Help me?" Derek asks, goes to stand in front of the pile of books Stiles has on his desk. He tries to open up the one on top—chemistry, and he hated chemistry—but his fingers pass through the pages. "It's not like—"
"You need help," Stiles says, and he's so serious when he says it that Derek has to look up, has to see his face. He's serious—looks serious, smells serious, feels serious—and Derek doesn't really know how he feels about that. Helping him means that he's going to… fuck, what do they call it? Move on or some shit like that.
Derek doesn't know if he fucking wants to move on. He doesn't know if he wants to stay here, though, either.
"Is this what you do?" Derek asks, instead of just saying yes. "Help wayward ghosts find a home?"
"Pretty much," Stiles says, shrugs again. "I mean, it's either that or live with you fuckers breathing down my neck."
"Funny, very funny," Derek says, walks over to collapse on Stiles's bed. It's nice, lying on it. If he concentrates he swears he can feel the softness of the sheets under him. "You can try," he says, a little later, once he's heard Stiles's desk chair creak and the fan in his laptop start to whirr. "To help me, I mean. That would be fine."