When Derek first left after Mexico, Stiles never thought it would be permanent. He understood that the werewolf needed to get away from the hell that was Beacon Hills – to finally get a semblance of peace. He understood that Derek had found something comforting with Braeden. He understood when the older man had given him a long, lingering look before turning away and getting into his car, driving further and further away from Stiles.
He understood the need to get away. He just never thought it would be for forever.
The news that Derek Hale was back in Beacon Hills spread like wildfire. Within an hour, the entire town of Beacon Hills was whispering that the elusive Hale was back in his hometown – back to stay after a six-year absence. His Camaro was parked out by his building, overflowing with belongings. News that Derek had hired a contractor to work on the decrepit Hale house was juicy gossip between the townspeople.
Stiles was among the first to know. After all, no one gossiped like bored deputies in a quiet police station.
He had been writing reports that he’d been putting off for a week when Tara, the deputy that usually manned the front desk, sauntered over to his work station and leaned down conspiratorially.
“Did you hear?” she asked in a not-so-quiet hushed whisper.
Stiles hummed conversationally, most of his focus on the reports in front of him. “Hear what?”
Tara gave a gleeful chuckle. “Oh my God you haven’t heard yet. You won’t believe it!”
The pure excitement in her voice finally made him look up at her. Her face was practically radiating with a shit-eating grin. Interest piqued, Stiles leaned back in his seat and quirked an eyebrow.
“What won’t I believe?”
“He’s back in town!”
It could only be the pure, blissful effect of denial and ignorance that gave Stiles a few peaceful moments – the last in his life for a long while – before his world turned upside down.
“Who?” he asked, mind flitting through the possibilities. Jackson Whittemore, back from London? Lydia, one of his best friends, back from getting her second PhD? Or maybe it was Jordan Parrish, back from the vacation the sheriff forced him to take?
Any of those possibilities – including Jackson – would have been preferable to the name that came out of the other deputy’s mouth. Because none of them would have made his heart lurch painfully in his chest before beating rabbit-fast. None of them would have induced a panic attack. None of them would have transported him back to some of the most painful memories of his life.
Yes, anyone else would have been preferable.
Tara’s grin widened. “Derek Hale.”
Stiles called his dad from his Jeep, still parked behind the Sheriff’s station. It took twenty minutes for his breathing to calm down enough that he could speak and another five before his hand stopped shaking enough that he could dial his speed-dial 2.
The Sheriff picked up after five rings.
Immediately, concern leaked into his father’s voice. “Stiles? Are you okay?”
Stiles took in a shaky breath before unsteadily letting it out, gulping back the tears threatening to spill over. It would be humiliating to break down again. He had sworn to himself that he was over this. Over Derek leaving him and staying away. Over anxiously waiting for a reply from the werewolf and never getting one. The last time he had broken down, he had vowed to himself that enough was enough.
He’d just broken his own vow once. He wasn’t about to do it a second time.
“Um, I’m not feeling very well. Is it okay if I go home?” He tried to make his voice as strong as possible.
His father was silent for a long moment. And then, “Go home, Stiles. It’s okay. But I expect you to be back for your next shift on Wednesday.”
The sheriff’s tone was enough to let Stiles know that he had also heard the news of Derek Hale’s return. It was the sheriff who understood most why Stiles took it so hard once he realized that the werewolf was never coming back to Beacon Hills – that he was gone for good. It was the sheriff who got why Stiles took it harder than the rest of the pack, who never once snapped at Stiles to get over it – thank you, Isaac – because he knew more than the others, what Stiles was going through. The feeling of abandonment, of loneliness even within a crowd… It was the sheriff who understood.
Stiles owed his dad a lot. The two years after Derek first left were so rough that thinking back on what he put his dad through still made Stiles cringe in guilt and shame.
But it was because the sheriff knew that he hadn’t contested Stiles’ request to go home – even though he had repeatedly drilled into Stiles when his son had first joined the force after graduating from university that he shouldn’t expect any special treatment just because he was related to the sheriff.
Stiles let out a relieved sigh. “Thank you,” he replied sincerely.
“Let me know if you need anything, kid,” his dad let out gruffly.
“Yeah. Will do.”
Stiles hung up, started his car, then drove home.
He didn’t leave his apartment for two days.
Stiles had just come back home from the grocery store after his shift when he heard the knock on his door. Pausing, he cocked his head to the side, wondering who it could be. Scott was on date night with Kira and Malia was still in Paris. None of the others were due back in Beacon Hills for a while. Unless it was Isaac? But Isaac voluntarily seeking him out raised red flags in the deputy’s mind.
Frowning, Stiles put the carton of milk in his hands down on the counter and began to make his way around the kitchen island, heading towards his front door. He kept one hand on the holster of his gun – thanking God he still hadn’t put it in the safe – and approached the door apprehensively.
Stiles took a deep breath, grabbed the knob, turned it around and pulled his apartment door open.
Standing outside, in a black leather jacket with too-long sleeves and a henley peeking from underneath it, was Derek Hale. His ever-present stubble was groomed and neatly trimmed. He seemed different – something about his stance. It was looser, not the tense posture Stiles was used to seeing. Yet Derek’s eyes were the same multi-colored nirvana that haunted Stiles’ dreams.
All the breath whooshed out of Stiles, heart beating an erratic tattoo against his chest, as if desperate to break free – break free towards the werewolf standing in front of him, six years too late.
Stiles locked eyes with Derek, noted the new laugh lines around his eyes with surprise. This Derek Hale laughed?
“Hi,” the werewolf said quietly. “Can I come in?”
If there was one thing Stiles Stilinski was guilty of, it was his inability to say no to Derek Hale. When Derek asked him to cut his arm off, Stiles was apprehensive but willing to cooperate. When Derek demanded his presence by the pool to discuss the kanima, he reluctantly obliged, even though it meant leaving Lydia Martin – his then love of his life – behind. When Derek snuck into his room and scared the hell out of him, then proceeded to demand that Stiles do some research over the newest supernatural baddie in town, Stiles hunkered down with his laptop and the various books he “borrowed” from Deaton and got down to work.
Stiles always said yes to Derek, no matter how much it ended up hurting him.
Tonight was no different.
Ignoring every instinct screaming at him to slam the door in the werewolf’s face, to lock himself away and never expose himself to that kind of pain again, Stiles opened the door wider, silently inviting Derek Hale back into his life.
He hoped this time would be different. He hoped that whatever Derek ended up asking him, that he would be able to say no.
Hospitality drilled into him since he was a kid prompted Stiles to quietly ask Derek if he wanted anything to drink. When the older man mutely shook his head no, Stiles simply leaned back against the kitchen island, silently surveying the ‘wolf.
Derek was standing awkwardly in his entryway, his eyes drifting to the far corners of Stiles’ apartment – a reflection of his life – taking everything in. Silence reigned over them, one Stiles was determined not to break.
After a couple of minutes, Derek cleared his throat and murmured with a poor attempt at humor, “I seem to remember you unable to go a minute without talking.”
Stiles’ face hardened. “It’s been six years, Derek. A lot has changed.”
The werewolf’s face shuttered as he cleared his throat again. “Right.”
Stiles drummed his fingertips over the countertop, the sound echoing throughout the otherwise silent apartment. Eventually, Stiles sighed and straightened up, the exhaustion of the past week weighing him down. “Look, Derek, if you’re not going to say anything, you might as well just leave. Because I sure as hell won’t –”
“I can’t,” Derek blurted out, interrupting him. He shook his head, a fierce, determined expression on his face. “I won’t. I won’t ever leave you again.”
For a moment, Stiles’ lips remained open, interrupted words still in his mouth. But in the next, they flattened into a straight, angry line. He slashed his hand in the air in a dismissive motion. “What bullshit are you spewing, Derek?”
The ‘wolf shook his head vehemently. “Not bullshit. It’s the truth. For once, for the first fucking time, I’m being honest.”
Stiles barked out a humorless laugh. “It’s been six years, Derek. Six fucking years. Did you expect to come back and find a banner welcoming you home? Did you expect I wouldn’t have questions? Did you expect I’d just say yes?”
Derek took a single, halted step forward, his arm making a jerky aborted movement, as if it was reaching for Stiles. It fell limply back to Derek’s side, motionless. “I just want a chance to talk to you,” he confessed quietly.
A dozen different responses flitted through Stiles’ brain, ranging from letting Derek explain himself to kicking Derek out by punching him in the face. In a millisecond, Stiles saw all the different ways this conversation could go.
All of them ended with him in pain.
Unable to continue to look at the werewolf anymore – too painful, too too painful – Stiles vaulted away, scrubbing a rough hand over his face. He didn’t want to be petty, but damn it he wasn’t going to let Derek off the hook so easily. He had more dignity than that.
“The time to explain yourself has long past, Derek. You could have reached out a while after you first left. A couple of months, six months, hell, even a year or two. Then would have been the time to talk.” Stiles, unable to keep his eyes off the werewolf for long, turned back to gaze at him.
It broke his heart to ignore the beseeching look in Derek’s eyes.
Voice hard, Stiles continued. “I would have listened then. I would have even understood. I might have even forgiven you. But now? Now it’s just too fucking late.”
Stiles ignored his shock at hearing the plea come from Derek’s lips. The Derek he knew didn’t say please. The Derek he knew used threats of bodily harm, expressive eyebrows, and occasionally the inspirational yet somewhat scary pep talk. But never a plea.
That’s what made Stiles heart beat painfully in his chest: the knowledge that he had lost six years of Derek Hale’s life. The fact that, although he has had a Derek in his heart for almost a decade, it wasn’t this Derek Hale. Not anymore.
“Please leave,” he whispered to the other man, voice cracking. He never thought he’d say those words to Derek. In all his fantasies and dreams, he was always begging the older man to stay, stay stay stay.
Wasn’t life ironic?
Stiles turned his back to Derek, unable to see him walk away from him again even though he was the one who asked him to do so. A minute passed by, interrupted only by the tick tick of Stiles’ clock, hanging on the wall next to his door. A minute of agonizing indecision, where warring thoughts were clashing inside Stiles’ head. Stay stay, leave leave leave, please don’t go, I can’t take this anymore…
He didn’t know what was worse: That Derek eventually left, the apartment door shutting quietly after him, or that Stiles regretted his request the second he uttered it.
He wasn’t as strong as he liked to believe. He may wear a uniform and a badge, he may run headfirst into danger with no regard for his personal safety, and he may do morally questionable things to save his friends… But his heart was vulnerable. His bullet-proof vest didn’t extend to protect him from emotional pain. A special, agonizing pain that only Derek Hale could inflict on him.
Stiles held himself utterly still for five minutes. He was silent, breathing steady and hands clenched tightly by his side. Five minutes, just until he was sure that Derek and his werewolf hearing were out of earshot. Five minutes before he let himself fall to the ground, breaking down in a way he hadn’t in over three years.
Damn you, Derek Hale, he thought. Damn you to hell and back for making me love you.
Stiles gets advice from various people, helping him shed some light on his situation with Derek.
Scott was the first one to come over. He brought curly fires, a party packet of Reese’s, and a sympathetic smile. Stiles wordlessly let him through the door before trudging back to his cocoon of blankets on his sofa.
To his credit, Scott wisely didn’t comment on the sad state of Stiles’ apartment, on the dirty dishes piled up in the kitchen sink or the used tissues surrounding the waste basket in the corner of the room. He simply handed the goodies over and plopped down next to his best friend.
Stiles and Scott didn’t talk for a while. They just continued watching episodes from the third season of Game of Thrones in companionable silence. Eventually though, Scott wrangled the remote control from Stiles’ hand and muted the television. Stiles didn’t have enough energy to even let out a squawk of indignation.
Scott twisted on the sofa, angling his body to face his best friend. His face was set in a serious expression. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Stiles groaned and hid his face behind his blanket. “There’s nothing to talk about,” he replied sullenly, voice coming out muffled.
Even from under the blanket, the deputy could feel the alpha’s judging eyes. “Stop that,” he muttered at Scott.
His brother-from-another-mother gently lowered the blanket from Stiles’ face. “Buddy, talk to me.”
Sighing, Stiles dropped the blanket and straightened up. Turning around to face Scott, he pulled his knees up and hugged them to his chest. Resting his chin on his knees, Stiles frowned, deep in thought. “It’s been six years, Scott. Why would he come back now? Why would he… Why would he come to me?”
Scott scratched his jaw and tilted his head. “I can’t answer the second part but as for the first… Derek is a ‘wolf and Beacon Hills has been his family’s territory for centuries. It might have been six years, but that kind of calling… It’s a part of who he is. It’s natural for him to be drawn back here, where his wolf feels like it belongs. Especially since he’s an alpha now.”
Stiles nearly brained himself with his knees as he flailed, jerking forward in shock. “What?!” he exclaimed, eyes wide. “He’s an alpha?”
“Well, yeah,” Scott responded, confusion clouding his features. “I thought you knew.”
Stiles shook his head vehemently, mind racing. Six years ago, Derek left Beacon Hills a beta. Now, he comes back as an alpha? What happened during that time?
“How did you know?” he asked Scott suspiciously.
Scott blinked at him. “I can smell it. His scent is around town and the preserve and… and here,” he trailed off awkwardly.
Stiles huffed and sank back into the cushions. “Whatever,” he mumbled bitterly. “It’s not like I care.”
Scott patted his friend’s knee comfortingly. “Of course not buddy. Of course not.”
Isaac was the next to come. His quiet knock sounded through Stiles’ apartment not thirty minutes after he came back from his shift. The deputy opened the door only to be faced with Isaac’s soulful eyes gazing at him in sympathy.
Stiles rolled his eyes at him. “Dude, what are you doing here?”
The beta tried to shoulder his way in, but Stiles stood his ground. The latter narrowed his eyes.
Isaac’s shoulders slumped as he let himself fall forward, face buried in the front of Stiles’ deputy shirt. “You smell like misery. I don’t like it,” he mumbled, words muffled.
Stiles stilled and his throat burned with unshed tears. His and Isaac’s relationship has always been built on snark, sarcasm, never-ending arguments, but it also survived on care and affection and a rock-solid friendship.
Sighing, Stiles grabbed the werewolf’s hand and steered him inside, leading him to the sofa and ordering him to sit down.
“Let me just get changed. Then I’ll order us some pizza and we can marathon Disney movies. Sound good?” he offered.
Isaac’s answering sunny smile was enough to lift his heart.
Lydia was the next one to contact him. Stiles managed to avoid three video calls, two phone calls, and twelve angry text messages before Lydia changed tactics. He had just come back from a call – an idiot teenager tried to shoplift liquor and then threatened the storeowner with a water gun when caught – when he was immediately accosted by Parrish.
“Stiles!” the hellhound called from his desk, a desperate tinge to his voice. He held his phone up, eyes wide.
“Nope,” Stiles muttered as he tried to escape. He turned back around, intending to leave the station. He did not need a lecture from Lydia Martin right now.
Stiles only managed to take two hurried steps before he felt a warm hand descend on his shoulder, halting him in his tracks. Stiles groaned. Damn that supernatural speed.
Turning around with a resigned sigh, he held out his hand to Parrish. “Lay it on me.”
Parrish rolled his eyes and slapped his phone into Stiles’ hand. “Next time, pick up your damn phone, Stilinski. Lydia is scary.”
Stiles just muttered, “Thanks a lot, Parrish,” before making his way to the empty breakroom.
Lydia’s unamused face greeted him as soon as he resumed the video call, taking it off hold.
“Stiles,” she said, eyebrows furrowed in judgment.
The deputy sighed. “Hey Lyds.”
Lydia scoffed, rolling her eyes. “Hey Lyds,” she mocked in a poor imitation of Stiles’ voice. “After days of trying to contact him, he just says hey Lyds.”
Stiles scrubbed a hand over his face then gave her a weak smile, adjusting his hold on Parrish’s phone so that his face would show properly.
“Sorry,” he replied sincerely. “I’ve just been…” He trailed off, unable to continue.
Lydia’s face softened. “Yeah. I know.”
For a moment, Stiles held himself together, not wanting to break down at work of all places. His dad was a thin wall away, for God’s sake. But then… The stress of trying to hold himself together and put on a brave face just got too much to handle. Stiles’ stoic expression crumpled and he let his vulnerability shine through.
“What do I do, Lydia?” he whispered, desperate for an answer. “Please just… Tell me what to do.”
Lydia sighed, the sound making goosebumps rise on Stiles’ arms. “Stiles, get your head out of your ass and talk to him, for Christ’s sake.”
The deputy was already shaking his head. “I can’t.”
“Of course you can. He’s given you plenty of opportunities to talk. I know for a fact that he came to your apartment, Scott told Kira who told me –”
“Traitors,” Stiles grumbled.
Lydia continued as if he hadn’t spoken. “ – and he practically begged you to let him explain. You were the one who sent him away. You want answers to your questions? He’s got them. You want to know what to do? You’ll know after you give him a chance to say his piece. For years you’ve wanted to know why he never got in contact with us – with you – and now that you’ve got the opportunity to finally find out, you’re turning your head away? That’s just stupid, Stiles,” Lydia’s disdainful tone and arched eyebrow perfectly communicated her displeasure at his behavior. “And I never thought you were a stupid one.”
Stiles slumped forward and rubbed at his eyes, feeling like Atlas, with the weight of the world on his shoulders. “I can’t, Lydia. I just can’t.”
“Why the hell not?”
“You know why,” Stiles whisper-yelled, fury making his shoulders straighten up. “He fucking destroyed me. I was fucking devastated and it took me years to pick up the pieces. I made life hard on you, the pack, my dad. I can’t forget all of that. I can’t forget what him leaving did to me. Not just leaving, but staying away without a single peep to let me know that he was fucking alive.”
Tears were beginning to fall from his eyes, cooling the heated skin of his cheeks. The deputy roughly scrubbed them away, trying to ignore Lydia’s concerned face.
Softening his voice, Stiles continued, not even pretending to mask the raw pain in his voice. “I like to think that I’m better now, but to be honest, just hearing he was back in town induced a panic attack. That’s how badly I’m broken, Lydia. And if I just talk to him… If I just let him explain…” Stiles closed his eyes, pain lancing through him. “I know I’ll forgive him,” he whispered brokenly. “I know I will, Lyds. And I’m just not ready to do that.”
The sheriff was next. Stiles was over at his dad’s house for their weekly dinner when the older man hesitantly brought up Derek’s name.
Stiles’ face immediately shuttered. “No,” he snapped, pushing his chair away from the dining table, ready to get up.
“Stiles, sit down.” His father’s sharp tone was enough for Stiles to freeze. “We are talking about this whether you like it or not. Jesus, kid, you’ve been moping long enough.”
Stiles crossed his arms in front of his chest petulantly. “I’m not moping.”
“Sure,” his dad replied doubtfully.
“Hear me out, Stiles.”
After a few seconds, the deputy nodded.
“How long are you planning on icing Derek out?” his father questioned.
Immediately, Stiles opened his mouth to defend himself, but the sheriff held out his hand. Stiles’ mouth snapped shut.
“Believe me, kid, I get it. Ignoring the problem until it goes away has been your motto for years and it hasn’t failed you. But I don’t think it will work this time. Derek is here to stay. He’s rebuilding the old Hale house, he’s paying taxes, he’s applying for jobs… He’s putting down some real roots back in Beacon Hills. Stiles, he’s not going anywhere. Not again.”
Heart in his throat, Stiles swallowed down painfully, fingers absentmindedly picking at a loose thread on the dining table’s tablecloth. “I don’t know if I can believe that,” he breathed, voice cracking.
Looking up, Stiles saw his dad’s face soften in sympathy. “Listen, Stiles. I’m going to tell you something you probably won’t want to hear, but trust me kid, you need to.”
Stiles frowned at his dad but gestured for him to continue.
“Derek was entitled to leave. He’s had a tough life since his family died. He’s had nothing but tragedy after tragedy, all stemming from this town. He left to find some peace. He took the time he needed. Why are you punishing him for that?”
For once, Stiles was speechless, mind working overdrive. Was that what he was doing? Condemning Derek for leaving and finding a semblance of happiness? Guilt reared its ugly head inside him, making tears spring into his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I’m so sorry.”
The sheriff shook his head, extending his hand to lay it on top of Stiles’ in comfort. “No one is blaming you, Stiles. Derek meant – Derek means a lot to you. You grieved for his loss. That was your right. Just like it was his right to walk away. But now he’s back. Don’t let pettiness or anger get in the way of how you feel for him. You’ve been waiting six years for him to come back, son.”
Stiles looked up at his dad, eyes blurred over with tears. But even through that haze he could see the kindness and pure love radiating from his father’s blue eyes.
“He’s back,” the sheriff continued, nothing but firm gentleness in his voice.
Stiles was silent for a long time, digesting everything his father had said. Noah was right; Stiles had no right to punish Derek for leaving. Hell, he wasn’t punishing him for leaving. He was condemning him for staying away. But that was selfish of him, because it wasn’t just Stiles involved in the situation; Derek had a lot of baggage too. Stiles knew, more than anyone else in the pack, he knew how much pain Derek carried around with him every day, the struggle it was just to get out of bed in the morning and face yet another shitty day. Once Stiles managed to look past his hurt and anger and, if he was being honest with himself, the feelings of disappointment and rejection… Once he pushed all of those aside, he could understand Derek’s position.
With a tiny tendril of hope unfurling in his chest, Stiles echoed his father’s words. “He’s back.”