He thought about Stiles often—about the day they met.
In that moment, it felt as if his whole world had stopped.
He froze as he met the boy’s eyes, watching as the smoky quartz depths shimmered like gold in the streams of daylight that filtered through the foliage. He watched as his eyes widened like a startled deer, his pale, mole-speckled cheeks flushed as he ran his hand over his shaved head and looked down at his feet.
The boy wore a shirt with a three-ring target printed on it, a grey hoodie, and a black suit jacket that looked to be two sizes too big for him—clearly a hand-me-down from his dad.
Derek felt his chest tighten around his fluttering heart as the sound of the boy’s voice reached his ears.
Derek had never believed in love at first sight, but there was something about Stiles that captivated him.
Walk away, he told himself. Don’t be like her.
Derek buried his hands back in the pockets of his jacket, glancing back at the teen and his friend one last time before leaving.
He dragged his feet back through the undergrowth, dry carcases of fallen leaves crunching beneath his boots as he made his way back to the charred ruins of his home. He shoved open the door and stepped into the foyer covered in dust and ash.
I won’t be like her, he told himself.
As time passed, Derek found himself drawn towards Stiles more and more. It was the little things at first: the way the corner of his mouth twitched up in a smirk when he made a sarcastic comment, his selflessness when it comes to saving Derek’s life time and time again, the spark of determination in his eye as he faced off against alphas and kanimas.
Derek soon realised that he felt something for Stiles that he couldn’t explain: his heart sank into his gut at the thought of Stiles putting himself in danger; he felt happy whenever the boy talked about his dad or his lacrosse games; fear and burning rage consumed him whenever he saw Stiles’ hurt.
Derek would face down his uncle, he’d fight off a pack of alphas, and he’d put himself between Stiles and a kanima if it meant that he could keep him safe.
But every time he got close, he felt the sickening guilt creep in. He felt his heart sink as the memories he had repressed years ago broke through his defences.
He refused to prey on a young boy, to toy with him and twist his feelings to make him believe he’s in love with someone when he’s not.
He wouldn’t be like her.
He wouldn’t hurt Stiles.
So, every time he got close, he drew back.
He tried to distract himself by dating Jennifer. But her eyes weren’t the ones he wanted to look at, her smile wasn’t as radiant, her laugh didn’t make his stomach flutter; she wasn’t the person he wanted to wake up to every morning.
It was always Stiles.
Derek felt his heart break when Stiles stood before him, his dark eyes filled with tears and his lips trembling, as he and Scott told Derek about Jennifer being the Durach, about how she had killed people and kidnapped his father.
He felt his stomach twist in disgust as Jennifer came running in, pretending to be the victim.
He felt jagged shards of ice pierce his heart at the sound of the boy’s voice breaking, the quiet rasp as tears trailed down Stiles’ pale cheeks. “Where’s my dad?”
“How should I know?” Jennifer asked. “Derek, don’t tell me you believe this.”
Derek glanced at Jennifer before looking back at the boys; at the look of pure rage and determination on Scott’s face.
But all it took was one look at Stiles, and he knew.
“You know what happened to Stiles’ father?” It wasn’t a question, it was a demand for answers.
After that, it was Braeden. He had fun with her, she was able to keep up with his banter, but it wasn’t the same.
Then everything changed after Mexico.
Derek remembered leaning across the van’s cabin and pushing open the small side door, ducking his head as he stepped over.
He heard a low growl and looked up to see the ivory bone of a skull charging towards them.
The Berserker grabbed him by the front of his shirt and hauled him out of the van.
He hit the ground with a painful thud, the sand and dirt tearing at his skin as he rolled across the dusty courtyard.
“Derek!” Stiles shouted after him.
The Berserker grabbed the man by the front of his jacket, hurling him across the courtyard until his back collided with the broken stone wall in the courtyard.
Derek cried out in pain, tears welling in his eyes as searing pain flooded his body from where the jagged stone dug into his back.
The Berserker loomed over him, back-lit by the headlights of the cars and the swirling mist that rolled through the valley. The Berserker raised their arms high and slammed their fists down on Derek's chest.
He let out a strangled gasp, wheezing as the gut-twisting sound of breaking bones echoed throughout the courtyard.
The world around him fell silent, the only sound he could hear was the muffled voices of the others and the thin wisps of breath that played across his lips.
The jagged stone impaled him, tearing through his flesh. The fabric of his shirt was soaked by the blood that gushed from his wounds.
There was only one thought on his mind. Stiles.
His eyes grew misty, the pale depths darkened and unfocused as he looked up at the Berserker, watching as they raised their arms high above their head and slammed their fists down on Derek's chest again.
He choked on his breath, wheezing as a stream of blood dripping from the corner of his mouth as he watched the creature draw their arm back and clench their fist.
Derek’s eyes were fixed on the ivory dagger-like bone that jutted out from the Berserker's gauntlet. His mind screamed at him to fight, to run away, but he lay still, watching as the creature swung their arm, the bone tearing through his gut.
Derek's lips trembled as he fell weakly against the broken stone wall. He could smell his blood, could hear each drop hit the ground and stir a cloud of dust.
He heard the distant sound of gunfire and someone calling his name but his eyes were focused on Stiles, watching as he stumbled out of the back of the van, his eyes wide with fear. He stared at Derek, the dark depths of his eyes swirling with heartbreak as he stood, frozen in place.
“Just find him,” Derek said, his lips smeared with blood. Get out of here. “I'll be right behind you.”
No one moved.
“Go!” he shouted.
The others turned and ran towards the church, but Stiles hesitated. He took a step but stopped, his dark eyes full of pain as he looked back over his shoulder at Derek.
“Hey,” Derek whispered. “Save him.”
Stiles swallowed hard and nodded. He forced himself to look way, kicking up the dust with his heels as he ran over to the church entrance. He paused in the doorway, glancing over his shoulder at Derek as the man’s body weakened, lying limp against the stone.
Derek heard Braeden call his name but he couldn’t fight the darkness that crept in. He kept his eyes on the door to the church, watching Stiles disappear into the shadows.
His eyes fluttered shut and his chest fell still.
As he lay dying, his last thoughts were of Stiles; it was always Stiles.
There was a knock at the front door, stirring Derek from his thoughts.
Derek let out a heavy sigh as he pushed back his chair and walked across the open space to the door. He flicked back the lock and pulled open the door, his eyes flying open wide as his heart leapt in surprise.
He looked the same; the same tousled mess of chestnut-brown hair, the same dark brown eyes, the same moles that covered his skin like constellations charted across the sky. But he had grown up. His shoulders were broader and he filled out the clothes he wore; a grey and blue sweatshirt and jeans.
“Stiles?” Derek gasped.
“Hey,” the young man replied. “Sorry to drop in on you like this, but Cora said you weren’t answering your phone. She, uh—” He held up the crinkled piece of paper he held in his hand. “She gave me your address and asked me to check in on you.”
“I’m fine,” Derek said.
“Good,” Stiles said, nodding slightly as if he were unsure how genuine Derek’s answer was.
“Come in,” Derek said, shaking himself from his stupor. He stepped back from the door and ushered Stiles inside.
Stiles’ eyes flew open wide as he stepped into the lavish apartment.
The open space was filled with warm daylight that bled through the wide windows, bathing them with warmth. There was a step down into the sunken living room where dark couches sat around a glass coffee table. Stacks of books, scattered candles, and a forgotten mug sat on the table. A flat screen TV was mounted against the exposed redbrick of the feature wall. The hardwood floors stretched over to the kitchen where a dining table was positioned to look out a large window at a section of garden that was full of greenery and a small water feature. Rivulets of shimmering water coursed down the dark grey slate, glinting as they caught the daylight.
“Nice place,” he said, looking around with wonder. “A lot different to the old loft.”
“Thanks,” Derek said. “Do you want a drink or something?”
“That’d be great, thanks,” Stiles replied, following Derek into the kitchen.
Derek dug through the fridge, pulling out a can of soda and handing it to Stiles.
“Thanks,” Stiles said again, sitting down at the table. “This is a big place. Do you live with anyone?”
“Cora visits sometimes,” Derek answered, sitting down again.
“And Peter?” Stiles encouraged.
“God, no,” Derek scoffed. “After what happened in Mexico, I might kill him if I ever saw him again.”
“He’d only come back again.”
Derek couldn’t help but laugh.
“So, no girlfriend?” Stiles prompted.
Derek rolled his eyes, fighting the smirk that toyed with the corners of his mouth.
“No,” he answered. “No girlfriend.”
“No boyfriend either,” Derek said, unable to hold back the smile any longer. He took a sip of his drink, watching as thoughts passed across Stiles’ face.
“You know, I had a crush on you a few years ago,” Stiles reminisced. “Then I started dating Malia and I realised that she wasn’t the one I wanted to be with. There were things I liked about all my lovers; Malia’s attitude, Lydia’s intelligence… but it was like the right pieces were in the wrong puzzle.”
“Don’t do this,” Derek begged softly.
“Don’t do what?”
Derek hesitated. He kept his eyes on his hands.
“I’ve loved you from the day we met,” he confessed.
“But… You were with Ms Blake. And Braeden,” Stiles said, his voice raised at the end of his sentences as if he were trying to form a question.
“The right pieces in the wrong puzzle,” Derek repeated back to him.
Stiles was quiet for a second, letting it all sink in.
“Why didn’t you ever say anything?” Stiles asked, his voice quiet as his dark eyes looked up at Derek.
“Because I didn’t want to be like her,” Derek admitted. “I didn’t want to hurt you like Kate hurt me.”
Derek shifted forward, reaching out to take Derek’s hand in his. “You’re not like Kate.”
Derek bowed his head, hiding the dark shadows that passed behind his eyes.
“Maybe so, but you were a kid, and I… I couldn’t…”
“I’m not a kid anymore,” Stiles said gently.
Derek glanced up, meeting Stiles’ gaze.
A sweet smile lifted the corners of the young man’s lips.
“I swear, I won’t let anyone hurt you ever again,” Stiles promised. “I won’t be like her.”
“I know,” Derek whispered, setting his hand over Stiles’. “You never could be.”
“And neither could you.”
Derek couldn’t help but smile.
“What do you say?” Stiles asked. “Do you want to give this a go?”
Derek felt his heart hammer against his ribs, but there was no hesitation in his voice as he said, “I want nothing more.”