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When You're Gone

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Welcome to the beautiful Hale family, in the town of Beacon hills, where nothing is as it seems.

No one is a criminal.
No one is a monster.
No one is a failure.

The Hales are athletic, tall and handsome. They are old-money Democrats. Their smiles are wide, their chins square. They don’t keep secrets from each other.

It doesn’t matter if raised voices break the silence surrounding that large house in the middle of the woods. It doesn’t matter if their carefully constructed public image doesn’t reflect the way they act in private. It doesn’t matter if there are people who want them gone.

It doesn’t matter if one of them is desperately, desperately in love.

So much in love, that equally desperate measures must be taken.

They are Hales. No one is needy. No one is wrong.

They live in a mansion in the middle of the Beacon Hills preserve.

Perhaps that is all you need to know.

***

His full name is Miroslaw Stilinski, but everyone calls him Stiles. He lives in Beacon Hills, California, with his dad. He has just turned seventeen. He owns a comfortable pillow, a powder blue jeep and a few well-read books.

He used to have thick, beautiful hair, but now it is cut short.
He used to be strong, but now he is weak.
He used to be handsome, but now he looks sick.
It is true he suffers migraines since his accident.
It is true he does not suffer fools.

He likes a twist of meaning. You see? Suffer migraines. Does not suffer fools. The word means almost the same as it did in the previous sentence, but not quite.

Suffer. You could say it means endure, but that’s not exactly right.

***

Stiles’ story begins before the accident. June of the summer he was eight, his mother passed away after years of illness. Stiles was with her in the hospital when she died. His father was not.

When Claudia died, Stiles and his dad were left behind. Their family was small, but their grief was anything but. John Stilinski, the town sheriff, turned to his work to avoid the house his wife had once filled with her bubbly personality and bright laughter. The time he was at home was largely spent with a glass of whiskey in his hand.

Stiles spent a lot of time at his friend Scott McCall’s house. He didn’t speak much, which was a surprising change from the way he had been before his mother passed away. He used to be all over the place, filled to the brim with questions, wanting to understand everything.

Scott tried to be there for his friend, but it wasn’t easy. No matter what he tried, Stiles wouldn’t open up to him.

The only thing Stiles knew was that he wanted to be with his father.

Seeing the life leave his mother’s eyes had felt like being shot in the chest. He was sitting by her side, and then suddenly he fell. The bullet hole opened wide and his heart rolled out of his rib cage and under the bed. Blood gushed rhythmically from his open wound, then from his eyes, his ears, his mouth.

It didn’t take long for everyone involved to notice that their arrangement wasn’t going to work. Melissa, Scott’s mom, worked full-time as a nurse at the Beacon Hills hospital, and while she loved Stiles like he was her own, she couldn’t always be there to take care of him. He needed his father.

***

As time moved on, Stiles started talking again, laughing, running, jumping, asking questions about anything and everything he could think of. Seemingly, he was doing better.

Still, the sheriff found him sometimes, lying on the floor of his and Claudia’s bedroom. He’d open the closet doors and pull out her favorite clothes and spray her perfume everywhere and then just lie down on the carpeted floor.

The smell always hit John like a punch to the face, a harsh reminder of the woman he had lost. However, since it seemed to be helping his son cope, he didn’t say anything. Instead, he took a hold of himself, seeing the road he was headed down. He stopped drinking, cut down on the hours he spent at work, and made an effort to spend more time with his son.

It wasn’t easy, but life slowly went back to something resembling normal. Nothing could ever be the way it had been before Claudia Stilinski left them, but they did the best they could with what they had.

They learned to balance work and school and home time. The sheriff made sure that there was always food in the fridge, that they always had at least one home cooked dinner together every week and that Stiles always had help with his homework.

***

When Stiles was thirteen, he had to do a school project on a wild animal with someone in his class. He got paired up with Cora Hale, and they picked wolves, which Cora seemed to have an absurd amount of knowledge of considering there hadn’t been any wolves in California for over 60 years – Stiles checked.

They agreed that Stiles would come over to Cora’s house after school so they could work on it. Stiles was excited – The Hales’ house was a large mansion in the middle of the preserve, one of Stiles’ favorite places in Beacon Hills.

Later that day there were in Cora’s room, arguing over which picture they should feature on the front page of their report when there was a knock on the door.

“Come in,” Cora said, not looking up from her laptop.

The door to Cora’s bedroom opened and a boy who looked to be a few years older than them poked his head in.

“Mom wants to know if your friend is staying for dinner,” he said, glancing over at Stiles, waiting for an answer. Stiles stared back, taking in the messy hair and the suntanned skin. He hadn’t actually met him before, but he knew this must be Cora’s brother, Derek. He was two years older than them.

“We’re not really friends,” Cora said. Then, looking over at Stiles, “No offence.”

Stiles tore his eyes away from Derek and rolled his eyes. “None taken,” he said. It was true, after all. They weren’t friends, and if Stiles had been able to pick his partner, Cora probably wouldn’t have been his first choice.

“Um,” Stiles continued, looking back at Derek. “I think I’d better head home. My dad will be home from work soon. Thanks for the offer though.”

Derek nodded. “I’ll tell mom to drive you home,” he said and left, closing the door behind him.

Stiles was left staring at the closed door until Cora cleared her throat to get his attention.

“If you’re done drooling over my brother, I’d like to actually get a decision on this before you leave.”

Stiles blushed, feigning a cough into his elbow so he could hide his face for a few seconds. When he managed to meet Cora’s gaze again she looked unimpressed.

“We can use your picture,” Stiles said, desperately willing his face to turn back to a shade that didn’t resemble a ripe tomato.

Cora smiled, pleased.

A few minutes later they were outside, waiting for Cora’s mom to come drive Stiles home.

“He’s a bit old for you,” Cora said suddenly. Stiles tensed, carefully glancing toward the front door to make sure Talia wasn’t there, listening. “But he’s bi, you know?” Cora continued. Stiles didn’t know. He barely knew the guy’s name. “He won’t get mad if you find him attractive. To be honest he’ll probably just take it as an ego boost.”

Cora smiled kindly, no trace of smugness or sarcasm. Stiles smiled back. Seconds later, Talia Hale opened the door, car keys in hand. “Ready to go?” she asked, and Stiles nodded.

When she stopped the car, Stiles thanked her and opened the door.

“Hey, Stiles?” Talia asked, and Stiles turned back. “You’re welcome at our house any time.” She smiled.

“Thank you,” Stiles said again, and turned to enter his house.

***

A few months after his visit to the Hale house, the summer Stiles was thirteen, he found himself wandering around the preserve. His dad had always told him not to go out there alone, but it was the middle of the day. There were a lot of trees, but daylight still shone through them and lit up Stiles’ path.

And besides, it was the middle of summer, and Scott was away at camp. Stiles was bored out of his mind.

He hadn’t been back here since his mother died, but they had walked this path hundreds of times together. It felt familiar, even though he knew he could never truly recreate the feeling he got when walking this way with her.

It wasn’t a long walk, and soon he found himself at a beautiful lake in the middle of the preserve. The water was still, mirroring the forest surrounding it on its dark surface.

He stepped closer, toeing off his shoes and socks. He sat down on a rock at the edge of the lake and slipped his feet into the water, watching the ripples it sent out in waves, breaking the mirrored illusion. It was a warm day, and the cool water felt good.

He closed his eyes and let the sounds and smells of the lake and the surrounding nature bring him back to those times he came here with his mother. They’d come here on warm summer days, like this one, and Stiles would go swimming in the lake and jump off of rocks, trying to make a big splash with his small body.

His mom would laugh at him, moving around the clearing as he swam, making sure he didn’t go too far out. If he concentrated hard enough he could almost hear the way the twigs would bend and break under her feet.  

Except it wasn’t his imagination. Someone cleared their throat behind him and Stiles jumped, shocked out of his fantasy so suddenly that he almost fell in the water.

A strong hand wrapped around his arm, holding him back. Stiles turned around against the grip and stared up at a familiar dark haired boy – Derek Hale.

Stiles quickly got out of the water, going for his shoes. Derek was still holding his arm though, so he didn’t really get far. Derek’s grip on him was strong. Stiles tried pulling away and Derek let him go, as if he hadn’t realized that he was still holding on.

Stiles rubbed his arm and took two long steps away from Derek. “Sorry,” Derek said sheepishly. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“I wasn’t scared,” Stiles lied. His heart was beating harshly in his chest, and from the look Derek was giving him, he could tell.

“Okay,” he said, dropping the topic. “You’re Stiles right? The sheriff’s kid?” he asked instead.

Stiles nodded.

“I’m Derek Hale.”

“I know,” Stiles said. “We met a few months ago. Cora and I were doing a school project on wolves?”

“Oh yeah,” Derek answered, nodding. “What are you doing out here?” he continued, curious.

Stiles looked back out at the water, still once again. “I used to come here with my mom,” he said quietly, not looking at Derek.

“Oh,” Derek answered.

Stiles cleared his throat, eager to get rid of the awkward tension that usually came when he talked about his mother. “So, what are you doing here?”

“Well, this part of the forest is technically a part of our property. So I was just taking a stroll in our garden when I found someone trespassing on private property,” Derek answered, and Stiles turned around to see a teasing smile on his face.

Stiles stared at the older boy, eyes wide. “How much of the preserve do you actually own?” he asked. He knew the Hale family were rich, but he never realized just how far that money could reach. The lake was easily a ten-minute walk from the Hale house, if not more.

Derek looked thoughtful as he figured out his answer. “I know it’s a lot, like, I know this place is part of it, but I don’t actually know how much more we own. I’ve never really thought about it.”

Stiles huffed a laugh. “Wow. That’s the most pretentious rich-guy thing I’ve ever heard anyone say,” he said.

Derek rolled his eyes. “Well, me and my pretentious rich-guy personality were gonna head back home and order a pizza. Do you want to join me? I could give you a ride home after.”

It was a tempting offer. Stiles bit his lip, eyes darting quickly back to the lake behind to them. Derek seemed to sense his hesitation. “Of course, you’re welcome to stay out here as long as you want if you’d rather do that. We’re all used to people walking around out here. No one will mind.”

“Are you even old enough to drive?” Stiles asked.

Derek laughed. “Well, not technically, but I have a feeling the sheriff won’t mind if it means his son doesn’t have to walk home. Of course, you don’t have to.”

Stiles shook his head. “No – I, um, pizza sounds good.”

Derek smiled. “Okay then.”

Stiles sat down on the ground and pulled his socks and shoes on, and then he followed Derek back to the Hale house.

***

Despite their meeting in the woods and the spontaneous pizza party that followed, Stiles and Derek didn’t really start hanging out until the next fall, when Stiles started high school. And even then, it only started out as sitting at the same table in the library, or Stiles hanging back to watch Scott – and Derek – at lacrosse practice.

Derek was the captain, and Scott was one of the few freshmen to make it onto the team, even if he spent most of the time on the bench. Stiles went to all their games, even the away ones – Coach Finstock was kind enough to let him join the team on the bus considering he didn’t have his license yet.

Somehow, Scott always fell asleep in his seat on the way home. And Derek was always nearby, with an empty seat next to him. The trip home quickly became Stiles’ favorite part of away games. 

One day, when Stiles was studying in the library, Derek dropped down in the seat across from him. Stiles looked up from the book he was reading and took in Derek’s conflicted expression.

“What’s up?” Stiles asked as he went back to reading.

“How do you feel about flowers?” Derek asked.

Stiles stopped, eyes still locked on the page but unable to continue reading. “What do you mean?” he asked, still not looking up.

“Like, if someone you liked gave you flowers, how would you feel about it?”

His mom had loved flowers. She had loved planting them in the garden. She had loved it when his dad brought a bouquet home as a surprise. She had loved picking wildflowers with Stiles in the preserve.  

Now their garden hadn’t seen any new flowers in years, and Stiles didn’t know how he felt about them. After his mom’s funeral he swore he never wanted to see another flower arrangement again.

But coming from someone he liked? From Derek? If the flowers were coming from Derek, Stiles is pretty sure he would melt into the ground and become one with the flowers growing there. If Derek gave him flowers he would spontaneously combust and burn himself and the flowers and everything around them to the ground until all that was left was a pile of lovesick ash.

Instead of saying any of those things however, Stiles merely answered: “I don’t know.” He closed his book and looked up at Derek again.

“Who are you giving flowers to?” Stiles asked, heart thumping rapidly in his chest.

Derek blushed and looked away.

“No one,” he said. “I was just asking. What are you reading?”

***

“I’m pretty sure he has a girlfriend, so you can stop looking like a lovesick puppy.”

Stiles jumped, turning around in his seat to find Cora standing a few rows above him on the stands, watching him with a judgmental look on her face.

Stiles blushed and turned back around, purposefully keeping his eyes away from Derek where he was running around on the field. Cora sat down next to him.

“Who is she?” Stiles asked, trying not to feel hurt that Derek hadn’t told him he had a girlfriend. Stiles thought they were friends. At least kind of.

Beside him, Cora shrugged. “I don’t know. He hasn’t said anything. It’s just a feeling. Like, suddenly he’s spending a lot of time at the library, claiming to be studying. I’ve never known him to hang out at the library. And he’ll come home late, or skip dinners. He used to always tell me where he was going, and now he doesn’t anymore. It’s like he’s keeping a secret. Our family doesn’t do secrets.”

Stiles looked over at Cora to find her watching Derek. Following her line of vision Stiles found Derek watching them, an unreadable look on his face. It was almost as if he was listening to their conversation. Stiles lifted his hand in a small wave, and Derek looked away again.

“Anyway, my brother is the most emotionally constipated person I know. You can probably do better.”

***

Stiles started going out to the lake regularly after that first time. Usually, he’d meet Derek, as if he somehow knew when Stiles was going to be there.

They’d spend hours out there sometimes, talking, mostly about unimportant things. Stiles didn’t want to talk about his mother. Derek didn’t want to talk about his girlfriend. Neither of them wanted to talk about how close they were sitting.

One day, Stiles looked at Derek sitting next to him by the lake, and Stiles thought that, well, they belonged together. Like Derek was Stiles’ particular person.

Silently, Stiles sat next to Derek. He didn’t say anything. This wasn’t about fate. It wasn’t about destiny or soulmates or the supernatural. They just understood each other. All the way.

But Stiles was only fourteen. He had never kissed anyone, and Derek had a girlfriend. They were just connected. And somehow, they didn’t label it love.  

***

Derek was the first person Stiles kissed. It was the summer Stiles was fifteen, a few weeks after school ended. They were sitting by the lake again. They had spent the day with Cora and Laura, lounging around outside. Stiles had sat on the tire swing tied to the large tree on the lawn and Derek had pushed him. Cora and Laura had laughed at the way Stiles screamed when Derek pushed too hard. Afterwards, they left to go for a walk, while Laura and Cora stayed behind on the porch, making kissing noises as they disappeared into the trees.  

It was chilly, for summer.

“You’re cold,” Derek said, breaking the silence. “Let me give you my jacket.”

Stiles wasn’t really cold, but he let Derek give him his leather jacket anyway. It was warm with Derek’s body heat. Much too wide across the shoulders. Derek’s arms were bare now.

Stiles let himself look at Derek for a long time. Every curve of his face was familiar, and also, he had never seen him before.

Derek smiled. Shining. Bashful.

“I love you, Stiles. I mean it.”

Stiles leaned in and kissed him.

Derek touched his face. Ran his hand down his neck and along his collarbone. The light filtering through the trees shone down on them. Their kiss was electric and soft. And tentative and certain. Terrifying and exactly right.

Stiles felt the love rush from him to Derek and from Derek to him.

They were warm and shivering, and young and ancient, and alive.

Stiles was thinking, it’s true. We already love each other. We already do.

It wasn’t until Stiles was home that he noticed that he was still wearing Derek’s jacket.

***

About a month after their first kiss, late July of Stiles’ fifteenth summer, he went swimming at the lake. Alone.

Where was Derek?

Stiles doesn’t really know.

They had been spending a lot of time at the Hale house. He was probably there. Or he could have been with his girlfriend, who Stiles still didn’t know who was. Or he was somewhere with Laura or Cora. Stiles didn’t know.

In any case, Stiles went into the water wearing a T-shirt and boxers. Apparently he walked into the woods, to the lake, wearing nothing more. They never found any of his clothes on the ground. No towel either.

Why?

Again, he doesn’t really know.

He must have swum out too far. He must have gotten too tired to get back. He must have hit his head on something. He must have swallowed a lot of water.

Like he said, he doesn’t know.

He remembers only this: he plunged down into the water, down to the rocky bottom, and he could see the trees of the preserve and his arms and legs felt numb but his fingers were cold.

His father found him on the edge of the lake, curled into a ball and half underwater. He was shivering uncontrollably. Adults wrapped him in blankets. They tried to get him warm. They fed him tea and gave him clothes, but when he didn’t talk or stop shivering, they loaded him into an ambulance and brought him to the Beacon Hills hospital, where he stayed for several days as the doctors ran tests.

Hypothermia, respiratory problems, and most likely some kind of head injury, though the brain scans showed nothing.

His dad stayed by his side. He remembers the sad gray faces of Melissa and Scott. He remembers his lungs felt full of something, long after the doctors judged them clear. He remembers he felt like he’d never get warm again, even when they told him his body temperature was normal. His hands hurt. His feet hurt.

His dad brought him home to recuperate. He lay in bed in the dark and felt desperately sorry for himself. Because he was sick, and even more because Derek never called. He didn’t visit either.

Weren’t they in love?

Weren’t they?

Even though he probably had a girlfriend, Derek had said that he loved Stiles.

He wrote to Laura, two or three stupid, lovesick emails asking her to find out about Derek.

She had the good sense to ignore them.

Stiles stopped writing and deleted all the emails from his sent mail folder. They were weak and stupid.

The bottom line is, Derek bailed when he got hurt.

The bottom line is, it was only a meaningless fling.

The bottom line is, he might have loved his girlfriend.

Stiles never got an explanation. He just knows that Derek left him.

***

Welcome to Stiles’ skull.

A truck is rolling over the bones of his neck and head. The vertebrae break, the brains pop and ooze. A thousand flashlights shine in his eyes. The world tilts.

He throws up. He blacks out.

This happens all the time. It’s nothing but an ordinary day.

The pain started six weeks after his accident. Nobody was certain whether the two were related, but there was no denying the vomiting and weight loss and general horror.

His dad took him for MRIs and CT scans. Needles, machines. More needles, more machines. They tested him for brain tumors, meningitis, frontotemporal dementia. Stiles held his breath as the doctor told him they hadn’t found anything.

To relieve the pain, they prescribed this drug and that drug and another drug, because the first one didn’t work and the second one didn’t work, either. They gave him prescription after prescription without even knowing what was wrong. Just trying to quell the pain.

Stiles, said the doctors, don’t take too much.

Stiles, said the doctors, watch for signs of addiction.

And still, Stiles, be sure to take your meds.

There were so many appointments he can’t even remember them. Eventually the doctors came through with a diagnosis. Stiles Stilinski: post-traumatic headaches, also known as PTHA. Migraine headaches caused by traumatic brain injury.

He’ll be fine, they tell him.

He won’t die.

It’ll just hurt a lot.

***

***

Shortly after Stiles got home from the hospital, after all the tests and procedures were done, Stiles found himself alone in the bathroom. He clutched the edge of the sink, staring at himself in the mirror.

The only contrast to his pale skin were his dark eyes and the moles that dotted his face. There were bags under his eyes, from lack of sleep. His hair was long, soft. Beautiful, his mom had called him. Derek had said that too, Stiles thinks. Of course, he can’t really be sure of anything anymore. All he knew was that his mom was dead, and Derek hadn’t called.

Thinking about them made his heart hurt. He didn’t want to think about them. Not now.

He knew his dad was downstairs, probably sitting in the kitchen with a half full bottle of whiskey, or out on the porch, making secret phone calls he thought Stiles didn’t know about.

His hands shook when he reached for the drawer, pulling it open slowly while simultaneously listening for sounds of his dad. When he didn’t hear anything, he reached into the drawer and removed the hair clippers his mom used to keep his hair short with.

He’d let it grow out after she died, and his dad hadn’t said anything, but now it felt like it was time for a change. He plugged it into the wall and turned it on, taking one last look at himself in the mirror before raising the clippers to his hair and letting it fall down into the sink underneath him.

When he went downstairs later, the only reaction he got from his dad was a long sigh before pouring himself another glass of whiskey.

***

Once, Stiles asked his father how they could afford all the appointments and tests and prescriptions.

His dad told him not to worry about it.

***

More than once, Stiles asked his dad about the Hales.

His dad told him they had moved to New York. That they had left Beacon Hills. That they were having their house remodeled. That they might stay away for a long time.

That they might not come back.

Stiles tried not to show how much that hurt him.

Still, Derek didn’t call.

***  

The next summer – the summer Stiles is sixteen, his father insists on taking them away. They drive to Yellowstone and stay there for three weeks. His dad hasn’t had this much time off in years, and Stiles knows he should appreciate it.

The thing is, it’s kind of hard to be grateful when they keep having to stop so Stiles can vomit into rest stop toilets, feeling as if his brains are liquefying, seeping out of his ear.

He could hear his dad calling him, but he never answered until his medicine took effect.

At Yellowstone, he went to see Old Faithful with his dad. He pressed his face into the tiles of their bathroom floor. They went hiking. Stiles threw up behind a tree. He watched as his father tried to catch fish in the Yellowstone River. Migraines left his blood spreading across unfamiliar hotel sheets, dripping onto the floors, oozing into carpets, soaking through leftover sandwiches.

He missed Derek that summer.

But the year after his accident he missed days and even weeks of school. He failed his classes, and the principal informed him he would have to repeat junior year. He stopped going to lacrosse practice. He was too ill to drive. The friends he’d had weakened into acquaintances. All but Scott, of course, but Stiles could tell he often wanted to be elsewhere when they were together.

When his dad took him to Yellowstone, Stiles knew that the Hales – Derek – were off in New York having adventures without him. Stiles had never really fit in with them, he knew that, but it still hurt him that Derek had left without saying goodbye. Without visiting him in the hospital.

That he still hadn’t called.

***

Welcome, once again, to Beacon Hills and the beautiful Hale family, where nothing is as it seems.

The people of Beacon Hills believe in outdoor exercise. They believe that time heals. They believe, although they will not say so explicitly, that there is more going on in the woods than what meets the eye.

They do not discuss these matters in public. They do not believe in displays of distress.

Stiles knows how the people of Beacon Hills see him and his dad. The poor little family. The dead mother. The stressed out town sheriff.

The sickly son who doesn’t talk much. The people who know him at school tend to keep away.

Now he misses school half the time. When he’s there, his pale skin and watery eyes make him look glamorously tragic. Sometimes he falls down at school, crying. He frightens the other students. Even his best friend, Scott McCall, is getting tired of walking him to the nurse’s office.

Still, he has an aura of mystery that stops him from being teased or singled out for typical high school unpleasantness. The details of his accident are few and much talked about. His father is the sheriff. His mother is dead.

Of course, Stiles feels no sense of his own mystery eating a can of chicken soup late at night, or lying in the fluorescent light of the school nurse’s office. It is hardly glamorous; the life he is living now.

It is not glamorous that he can barely drive a car. It is not mysterious to be home on a Saturday night, reading a novel in a pile of blankets. However, he is not immune to the feeling of being viewed as a mystery.

It is a strange feeling; one he has felt ever since his mother died. One he fears he will never get used to or rid of.

The beautiful Hale family no longer live in Beacon Hills, but they haven’t been forgotten.