When Derek got back, it was the dead of night. He pulled the camaro into the loading dock of the loft, and stepped out into the cool darkness. It suited him. In spite of everything that being back brought with it, Derek couldn’t help but feel like he was home. He really didn’t have a reason for it, but for the past six months, he had felt like there was something missing from him, a piece that he didn’t really understand, or didn’t even realize was missing, until he started getting the nagging sensation in the back of his gut that he had forgotten something. For six months, it had gnawed at him. Cora had her suspicions, but Derek wouldn’t listen to them. Not at first anyway.
"Derek, enough. Enough. It’s fine. You need to go.”
"But I told you that I would stay—" Cora cut him off. She wasn’t angry, but she definitely had a certain power behind her words, filled with emotion, but calm. Relaxed. Almost happy.
"You did. And you have. But my mind is made up. You need to go home."
"But you need me…" Derek looked pained. Cora laid strong hands on his shoulders, and looked up into his face with those eyes. Their mom’s eyes.
"I did. You saved me. But like I said, my mind is made up. I’m staying here. You are going home. You need to tell him. Promise me you will, okay?"
"Okay…" Derek felt resigned, like he was doing something wrong.
"Say it." Cora was resolute. She looked so much like their mother it was scary. She punctuated the order with a little shake of his shoulders.
"I promise." Derek rolled his eyes in customary Hale fashion. Suddenly they were twelve years old again, because Cora mirrored the gesture and shook her head.
“Only you would be so dense that you wouldn’t recognize your mate when you saw him.” Derek growled at her. She smiled, knowing that it would take all the edge away from the sound.
Then she pushed him back up to the cottage and turned around to head back out to the waves. Derek gave her one last look, sad to leave her behind now that he was only just starting to get to know her, but happy to see her so… at peace. Finally.
Now Derek thought he would get some rest, finally. The whole drive back had left him with a wash of emotions he didn’t really know how to deal with. Mostly he just kept trying to wrap his head around what Cora had said about Stiles being his mate. He still wasn’t sure how to process that. Regardless, he gave a sigh of relief as he pulled out his duffel, slamming the camaro’s door home, and strode up to the building. It was dark and empty as usual, mostly because it’s only tenant had high-tailed it with his baby sister from the place three months ago. After he slid open the door, which sounded offensively loud to his sensitive ears, Derek set about turning on the breakers, clicking each lever into place and stopping to watch as the lights above him began to hum and flicker to life. The loft was going to be quiet without Cora. Maybe he would see if Isaac was still up for living with him. Probably not. Last time he checked, Isaac was pretty much checking out on Derek. Peter had said his allegiances would probably be changing. Derek felt a sudden pang of sadness at the thought.
He was going to be lonely. But it was something he was used to. So with quiet resignation, he began unpacking his meager belongings from the duffel he had left by the door, and putting the contents back in the places they had once occupied before he left the place behind six months ago.
Stiles was standing in a dark room. He knew it wasn’t endless. No room could be endless. But it felt like nothing. That made his skin prickle. Below him, he heard what he thought was the sound of water, swishing lightly against invisible banks under its own perpetual motion. He looked down, but couldn’t see anything.
So logically, he pulled out his cell phone, using the screen to cast an eerie blue-white glow on his surroundings, turning on the spot as he surveyed them. Just as he suspected, there was nothing. It was just darkness.
But then, as he turned the light back towards himself to kill the screen, something moved on the periphery of it. A dark form silhouetted by the quick brush of the light. Stiles felt his heart tighten as he directed the light towards where it had been.
Again, nothing. The shadows must have been playing tricks on him.
So he turned the phone around again, to look at the screen. It was blank. He heard the movement this time instead of seeing it. It was a quick swish of skin against skin, the way legs might brush each other while running. Next came the disconcerting click of claws, followed by what he thought was warm breath on his neck.
He spun around, looking for the offending thing.
But the darkness, it seemed to encroach around him somehow, like an early-morning fog. Stiles felt its coldness fleck against his skin, even through his shirts, like small, sharp rain-drops.
In the darkness, Stiles saw two red dots. Which then enlarged, to become two unblinking red eyes.
They were strangely familiar.
Next came the snarl. Stiles had definitely heard that before. Stiles furrowed his brow, and began to form the question between his lips, not so much a question, but rather, a name.
The menacing form gave no answer, closer now than before. Stiles could definitely see the features of Derek’s wolf, bathed in shadow, almost completely obscured, but visible enough for him to know the alpha when he saw him. He squinted, and the last thing Stiles remembered was teeth.
He shot awake with a gasp, drenched in a cold sweat, but burning up on the inside. He sat up in bed, a wild, terrified look in his eyes, as he scanned his bedroom, afraid of the areas wreathed in shadow. His heart was slamming against the inside of his ribs like it was trying to break free, and his breaths were threatening to send him into a panic attack. He clutched his chest, willing his heart to calm beneath the skin. He could feel the vibrations of it through his fingers.
It was just a dream. Just a dream. Not real. All in your head.
But they were getting more frequent. It was never the same one, but each night for the last three months, Stiles had been having nightmares. He had really noticed an uptick in them since his ice-bath at Deaton’s, which meant that he had one the night after that had happened, and again a few weeks later. But nightmares weren’t a new thing to Stiles. He was used to them, to falling endlessly through scenes from his past, his stomach flying up into his neck. He was used to being chased by monsters through the waters of his subconscious, to being alone and bleak on a deserted piece of crumbling highway. It was all terribly cliche in his dreams. Everything was shapeless, formless, or cloaked in too much darkness or light for him to see it.
But these dreams, they were clear. High-definition even, complete with people in Stiles’ life, his most intimate, deepest secrets, and everything he saw flawed about himself. Oh, right, and the crushing darkness. The omnipresent force that was lingering around the edge of each dream, the thing that Deaton had talked about surrounding all of their hearts, Stiles could feel it. It was like a vice grip, slowly and surely beginning to tighten until it squeezed the life out of him.
So Stiles willed himself to start breathing normally as he let himself fall back into his pillow.
He was exhausted, and it didn’t take long for him to begin to doze. He shifted once, moving his pillow beneath his head, and did not remember when sleep finally took him.
Derek stood there on the edge of the woods, looking at the familiar Stilinski house from the shadows. He knew full-well that it was probably not a good idea. But aside from the loft, it was where he had spent the most time. Stiles just never knew it, well, mostly. Sure, there were times when he clamored up the side of the house and pulled himself into the room while the human was doing homework, or playing video games, or something, usually drawing a surprised yelp from him in the process. But the majority of the time, Derek would simply slip in through Stiles’ always-unlocked window and slump down onto the floor next to Stiles’ bed in the dead of night to listen to the sounds of the human sleeping. Some nights it was the only thing that would help to quiet his mind or warm it against his seemingly constant feeling of loneliness. Some nights he would sit there and quietly talk into the darkness, things he couldn’t ever bring himself to say out loud any other time, and some nights he would doze off, leaned up against Stiles’ bed, peacefully enjoying the sound of the heartbeat that was serenely thumping away underneath the sheets. Somehow, being near Stiles like that helped keep him sane. It had kept him grounded. It probably even kept him alive at times.
Looking back on it, Derek knew that Cora had been right. Before he had left, he never would have known why he was drawn to Stiles like that. He didn’t even question it. It just felt right. But now he had an answer, a reason. What had once been a nameless pull, a feeling that existed only at the edge of his thought was finally given form. Derek wondered how he hadn’t noticed it before. Only you would be so dense that you wouldn’t recognize your mate when you saw him. He suppressed a small smile before he looked around, satisfied that Cora wasn’t there to give him an I-told-you-so look. He quietly eased out of the shadows of the trees into the pale light of the waning gibbous moon, across the clearing, and found the usual spot he always started from when climbing up to Stiles’ room. He deflty hoisted himself up onto the roof, and gingerly walked across the eave until he reached the familiar window. He tested the bottom of it, and found it to be open, like usual. He quietly lifted it, and slipped inside.
The room was just as he remembered it. Still messy, still covered in the sweet, salty scent of Stiles. He inhaled deeply, subconsciously, as his mind called up the memories of his previous visits. He really loved the smell. He had even taken the ridiculous blue-and-orange shirt Stiles had let him borrow earlier that year when he had left, and found himself burying his nose in the fabric, trying to find the last traces of the human in the fabric. The thought of it eased the itch that had been chewing at his insides since he had left. He swept his gaze around the room, finally settled on Stiles’ sleeping form, which, at the moment, appeared to be peacefully tangled under sheets, arms firmly wrapped around the pillow into which his face as buried. His breathing had a slight snore to it, but the regularity of the sound was just as calming as it had been before. Derek sighed. He wanted nothing more than to slip under the covers next to the human, to feel the warmth of his body pressed up against him, and to fall asleep with his mouth pressed up against the nape of Stiles’ neck. But he didn’t know what he would say to Stiles if he woke up. He didn’t know if Stiles would even want him there. As much as he wanted- no, needed the contact, to touch his mate, he couldn’t live with it if he made Stiles unhappy.
So, instead, he eased down against the side of the bed like he used to, and let his head fall back against the sheets, letting out a breath of relief. He could feel the anxious sensation that had been gnawing at his gut begin to subside as Stiles shifted fitfully on the mattress.
Stiles was standing in Derek’s loft, hands pressed against the smudged glass windows that provided the sparsely-furnished space with most of it’s light. But it was nighttime, and the few lights that Derek had weren’t turned on, so almost the entire space was cloaked in shadow. Outside the windows, the moon cast pale rays, lighting up the floor behind Stiles as he stood there. He couldn’t describe it, but despite the fact that he was standing there alone in the darkness, he couldn’t help but feel like he was being watched. He turned, looking around for any sign of his silent fear. None appeared. No one stepped out of the shadows, nothing reached out and grabbed him, and he saw no eerie, glowing eyes in the darkness. Maybe this wasn’t another nightmare after all.
Hands slid around his waist. Their touch was familiar. The solid arms they were attached to betrayed their owner. Stiles leaned back into Derek’s nuzzle, and felt the werewolf’s warm breath against his neck. He reached a hand back to slide it through Derek’s hair, to make sure it was real, closing his eyes at the sensation his fingers knew they were about to feel. Only the familiar, expected caress of Derek’s thick hair didn’t meet his fingers.
The breath on his neck was gone. The touch of his hands had disappeared from Stiles’ skin, leaving only the ghost of the contact across it.
“Derek?” Stiles tried to turn around, and found his feet cemented to the spot. He heard the steel door slide across its track and close with mundane finality. It’s always the same. One moment Derek is there, touching him, wrapping himself around Stiles, lightly placing lips against his skin, wordlessly in the twilight, and the next he is gone. Disappeared. Left. And Stiles is always helpless. He is always stuck in place. And then he’s falling. Where, he doesn’t know, but the ground opens up, and he falls. The picture of it happening never quite forms in his head. All he knows is the horrible, gut-wrenching feeling of it happening. And then suddenly he feels contact. He begins to feel the briefest touch of something. Something solid. It happens in slow-motion, almost. He feels himself hit the ground piece-by-piece, small points of impact forming across his body. It never hurts at first, until the solid ground he is hitting pushes deeper. Then the slowness becomes torture, and the pain pushes through his very soul. Only when it has touched every part of his body, and Stiles has felt himself break into a thousand little pieces, and it becomes too unbearable to even think, did he wake up.
Derek had been listening to Stiles sleep fitfully on the sheets behind his head. The human had tossed and turned, and murmured something to himself a few times. A small whimper escaped his lips, and Derek opened his eyes and got to his feet. He could hear Stiles’ heartbeat racing, and whatever pain he was feeling was making Derek uneasy.
He leaned over the bed, and pulled back a sleeve. Usually Derek strictly adhered to his own no-touching policy when he quietly visited the Stilinski home at night, but when he looked down and saw Stiles’ muscles tense sharply beneath the sheets, and smelled the perspiration pouring out of his skin, in addition to the discordant sprinting of his heart, he was worried that whatever Stiles was dreaming about might actually kill him. He could literally taste the pain that was radiating off of the human. So he settled a hand down an inch or so above the pale skin on the inside of Stiles’ wrists, and exhaled, preparing to make the final contact, the connection that would draw the pain from Stiles’ body into his own, where it would be summarily and resolutely ripped apart by his wolf. It was now or never.
Then a few things happened simultaneously. Derek made contact, his big palm wrapping surely around Stiles’ wrists, and Stiles shot upward with a gasp, awoken by the touch, or the pain, or something else entirely. And Derek froze. He slammed his eyes shut, willing the human not to notice who had a grip on him. It was a pipedream, really. Because Stiles would have had to be deaf, blind, and quadriplegic in order to not notice that Derek was touching him.
“Derek?” The expectantly groggy voice of Stiles Stilinski asked between bated breaths. Derek could hear his heart still racing behind his sternum, trying to recover from whatever was chasing it in Stiles’ dreams. He wordlessly released his grip on the human, instinctively taking advantage on the first few seconds of sleepy disorientation that he knew Stiles felt to try and make for the window. It wasn’t the first time he was almost caught. He had one leg over the edge of the sill before he stopped, because he heard the sound of a muffled sniffle coming from the direction of the bed.
Against his better judgment, Derek turned turned around to look.
Stiles had his head buried in the pillow he had been wrapped around while he slept, his arms locked tightly around it. And Derek was torn. He knew he should leave, that he had stayed too long, and would probably end up having to fight his way past Stiles and the Sheriff, if he didn’t duck out the window like he was oh-so-close to doing.
“Stiles?” Derek asked. The question had other parts to it, but Derek forgot to include them. “Stiles, what’s wrong?” The through-the-pillow muffled crying was killing him. Derek wanted nothing more than to slide next to his mate and fit their bodies together, holding Stiles close until they fell asleep. He pulled his leg back in through the window, and retreated to the bed, sitting down on the mattress next to the human. The closeness was making his chest tingle. He hadn’t ever been in bed with Stiles before.
“Nothing. Go away.” Stiles lied.
“You’re lying. Tell me.” Derek laid a hand on Stiles’ thigh, and he pulled away.
“Why? You’re just going to leave again. It’s just like before.” Derek sighed.
“I’m sorry, I had to go… I just- I couldn’t stay here anymore.” The realization brought sadness into Derek’s voice. He hadn’t really dealt with everything that had happened so far this year. The alphas and Jennifer Blake had killed a part of him. “With everything that happened, I needed to get away. I just… I needed to.”
Derek heard the rustling of the pillow as Stiles let it slide down away from his face. Even in the dark, Derek could tell that his eyes were red and puffy with tears. His heart threatened to break within his chest. Then Stiles squinted at him, almost suspiciously, like he was trying to figure something out.
“Usually you don’t talk that much…”
“I know, sometimes it just helped me to come and sit next to the bed. I just- I wanted- I needed to be near you sometimes. I’m sorry.” Derek felt the embarrassment wash over his face like a hot wave. He felt stupid and moved to get up, knowing that the next thing that Stiles would say would throw him from the room.
“Wait…” Stiles shifted quickly, to lay a hand on Derek’s arm. Derek watched out of the corner of his eye as his fingers traced the shape of the muscles beneath his shirt, working their way up to his shoulder. The hand slid up his neck into his hair and tugged slightly. He let his eyes slipped closed, enjoying the tension-relieving feeling. “Are you really here?”
Derek opened his eyes, and cocked a semi-incredulous side-glare at the human. “What do you think?” He gestured at Stiles’ fingers in his hair. He heard Stiles’ heartbeat flutter before he heard the motion on the bed. It was a good sound. A happy sound. The opposite of the cacophonous, asymmetrical beating he had heard from the organ while Stiles was sleeping.
Then Stiles was next to him, kneeling on the mattress next to Derek, still with one hand intertwined in his hair. With his other, he turned the werewolf’s head toward his own and slowly, cautiously, brought their lips together. And everything in Derek stopped for a full second. It took him by surprise. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move, couldn’t even see, as Stiles’ lips pressed down on his own. His own heart was the one beating a thousand miles an hour when Stiles parted his lips slightly, dancing his tongue over Derek’s lips, leaving a tingling sensation everywhere it made contact. He felt hands against his jaw, pulling him closer, and for a second, just a quick one, he could feel his own skin through them. Like his mind was flickering back and forth between two places at once. Everything was drowned out as their lips brushed over each other, slotting together in a new position. He wasn’t sure if it was his mouth or Stiles’ that spoke.
“Derek…” The whisper passed between them on mingled breath, warm and wet, coming out in short, jagged puffs. “You’re really still here, aren’t you?”
Stiles had pulled back, and his eyes were flicking back and forth between Derek’s. Even in the dark, he could make out the light, amber-brown of Stiles’ eyes as they gazed at him. Derek furrowed his brow in confusion.
Stiles scooted to sit on the edge of the bed next to Derek. He sighed, and braced himself agains the mattress, staring at the floor. “Before you left, with Jennifer… She had our parents. So Scott, Allison, and me, we… we ‘sacrificed’ ourselves.
Derek’s eyebrows reacted before the rest of him.
“You what?” It was louder than he expected, and Stiles shushed him.
“You gotta keep it down, you’ll wake my dad.”
“You did what?” Derek asked again, whispering at a suitably incredulous level.
“With Deaton. He had us drown ourselves, like what you did to Isaac. We were trying to find the Nemeton. It was the only way. It was supposed to take away Jennif- the Darach’s power, or rather, what she would have gotten if she killed our parents.”
“Stiles- why didn’t you ask- I could have told you…” Stiles quickly cocked his head towards Derek.
“But Peter said you didn’t know. That your mom had taken the memory from you…”
“Peter is untrustworthy. He lies when it suits him. Why didn’t you-”
“Let me finish,” Stiles held up a hand. Derek went quiet. “Deaton warned us. He warned us that because we were essentially dying, that we would have some kind of darkness around our hearts. Some kind of permanent scar that won’t ever go away. Ever since then, I haven’t been able to shake the nightmares.”
Derek had a flash of realization. His mind flashed back to Stiles’ dream, the way his heart was beating out of sync, it made sense. “You were having one just now, weren’t you.” It was a statement, and Stiles nodded, eyes unfocused and staring at the floor a few feet from them.
“They come and go. The worst are the ones with you.”
“Yeah. You are always there, close, right up against me, touching some part of me, but I can never see you. I reach for you, but you’re gone. You disappear. Dissolve, walk away, shift and run, die. And I’m left alone. And then I fall. Or something comes out of the dark and attacks me. Or a fog closes in and starts to choke me. Then, when I know that I am going to die, I wake up.” He sighed raggedly. Derek swallowed. “So when I woke up, and you were trying to slip out the window, I thought I was still dreaming. That it was going to happen again. And- and I couldn’t take it.” Stiles’ voice broke as he uttered the last few syllables, and Derek smelled the tears before they started to drip down Stiles’ cheeks. Derek wanted to do something, anything, to show him that he cared. That Stiles’ pain hurt him too, and if he could, he would take Stiles inside himself to protect him against it. But instead, he extended an arm over the human’s shoulders and pulled him close, until Stiles’ head was pressed into his collar, hair grazing the bottom of Derek’s nose as he sobbed into Derek’s chest.
“I’m here now, though.” Derek tried to hold Stiles tighter to himself, willing some part of him to suck the pain from the human’s body.
“But you weren’t, though…” Stiles said in between sobs, his tears pooling in the dip between Derek’s neck and his collarbone. “That’s what made it worse. I’d wake up, hoping it was all just a dream, and then realize that it wasn’t. That you were gone. And I was alone.” Stiles buried his face in Derek’s neck again, and Derek held him tighter, rubbing his back with an outstretched palm.
“This isn’t a dream, Stiles. I’m here. I’m not going anywhere. Not anymore. I’m not leaving you again. I promise.” He kissed the human again, craning his neck downward to slot their lips together gently.
They parted, and Stiles looked up into Derek’s eyes, seeing only the slightest flicker of gold in the darkness. “Convinced?”
Stiles didn’t answer right away. “Yeah. But… you left Cora. You told her you weren’t going to leave her, either.”
Derek sighed. “I only came back because she let me. I- I forgot something.”
“What did you forget?” Stiles asked. He was calmer now, and Derek could hear his heartbeat returning to its normal, soothing cadence.
A funny feeling overtook Derek then. It welled up from deep inside his chest, pushing to the surface of his face as warmth. If not for the darkness, his skin would have appeared flushed with the heat. He inhaled once deeply and let it out.
Derek didn’t tell Stiles about the whole ‘mates’ thing, at least not right away. It had taken a while for him to realize it, to make the choice to accept it, and he wanted Stiles to decide for himself whether or not they were going to be together forever as well. He did tell Stiles about how he often snuck into his room before he left, how it would help him calm down, anchor him, or help him sleep, if only for a little while. What surprised him most was that Stiles wasn’t surprised. Or angry, even. He understood. He laughed about it, about how Derek had admitted it so quickly the night he got back, afraid that Stiles would run him from his bedroom.
But Stiles got serious, and looked deep into Derek’s eyes. “For as many times you have died, or come close to it,” Stiles said, “I can only imagine what darkness you have to live with around your heart. If I could help that in any way, even if I didn’t know it, I’m glad.” He had put his hand to Derek’s chest then, and as if in response, his heart skipped a small beat and powerful affection for Stiles Stilinski welled up behind it.
So Derek made his visits more often. And each time, he would slide under the covers, and slot himself around Stiles, falling asleep with his face buried in the human’s neck, and a content hum in his throat. And it was enough to keep Stiles’ dreams out of the dark.
After years of this, and them moving in together at the loft, Stiles found that he almost couldn’t feel it anymore. Derek had kept his promise, and somehow. So he decided to make one in return.
When he told the werewolf, he couldn’t help but notice how his features suddenly adopted a worried expression. His eyebrows scrunched together the way they did when he was nervous.
“What’s the look for, Sourwolf?”
Derek paused, in a hushed, deadly-serious voice, he asked, “are you real? I’m afraid that I’m dreaming or something, that I’m going to wake up and you won’t be here.” Stiles smiled as he remembered a conversation they had in his bed all those years ago, the night that Derek had come back, and come to visit him.
He leaned over, slid his long fingers up around Derek’s jaw, and kissed him the way he usually did, warm electricity coursing between their lips as they interlocked one-over-the-other. Ghosts of the contact lingered on Derek’s lips when they separated.
Stiles looked at him with his naturally interrogatory expression augmented by a small smile. He licked the taste of Derek off of his lips. “Convinced?” He asked, as Derek chuckled and brought their bodies together again.