Sleep was dispersing away. He could tell, the voices of his parents seemed far away now, images of his sister fading into nothing, like she was saying goodbye all over again. It was serene, unmoving, for a moment or so before he peeled his eyes opened. He tilted his head to the side, expecting to find something there – someone. Wanting so badly to dream him there too. But the pillow was untouched and that side of the bed was cold, like it had been for the past year and a half. He let out a sigh. Today, he was officially 40 years old.
He pushed himself off the bed, went to take a shower – a long one, because he wasn't quite ready to throw himself into the world yet – before putting on the outfit he'd previously chosen and put out to make sure everything was ironed and clean. Because if Derek was anything, he was a planner. Of course, he never planned on getting a divorce in his 30s, he never even saw it coming, but that was beside the point. A birthday outfit, he could do that, he had that under control.
He put on grey pants, this new white shirt he bought – or was that a blouse? Were blouses for men? What was the difference between a shirt and a blouse? – and a greenish grey vest to match his pants. He went for black shoes because his day could very easily turn messy and he'd hate having visibly dirty shoes by the end of it. He grabbed his glasses, a cup of coffee, his keys and then he was on his way to the park Stiles told him to head to with very little detail beyond that. He drummed his fingers with the Shania Twain song on the radio, pretended they weren't shaking a little, pretended that didn't remind him of Stiles like everything else seemed to.
He parked his car, walked through the park, until he caught glimpses of a happy birthday sign, small tables placed in an oval shape, food and dessert and multiple cakes on a table that was framed by balloons the color of Derek's favorite shirt. Derek's eyes scanned all the familiar faces, Melissa standing with Scott with a hand over Kira's protruding stomach, Chris and the sheriff chatting in the corner, seemingly sneaking sweets that the sheriff was probably not allowed to eat, Lydia and –
" Daddy! Happy birthday!" He felt arms around his legs, a head right between his knees. He looked down, and the head pulled out of its hiding place, big, blue eyes staring up at him like he mattered. Derek leaned down, carrying his son – his son with Stiles – and allowing himself to be held, hugged with all the strength his little arms had. His son – Oliver – planted a wet kiss beneath his ear, tightening his arms around his neck, before pulling slightly away.
" Did you see? Pops and I did everything! I chose where the balloons go and – "
" Hey, kid, are you trying to take all the credit to yourself? Because it isn't going to happen. I planned the whole thing, you just sat there and looked cute." Lydia ruffled Oliver's hair, going in for a hug like she didn't need to think about it. Derek circled his free arm around her, holding Oliver with the other one, whispered his thanks into her hair, right before she pulled away.
" Auntie Lydia, pops said we shouldn't take all the credit to ourselves, he said we should share!"
" Oh and was that what you were doing just then?" Lydia raised a questioning eyebrow, Oliver looked at his dad for help, and when he had nothing to offer, the kid sighed, pouted like it would break Lydia. It didn't.
" Okay, fine, you're right. It was Lydia and I who did everything, pops did nothing at all. Can you put me down now? I want to go play with my friends!" Derek laughed, putting his son to his feet, watching him run away like he couldn't wait to get away from him. Derek knew that wasn't the case, but it still stung a little.
" Little brat, he's lucky he's so adorable." Lydia shifted to stand next to Derek, their shoulders could have brushed against one another if she wasn't this much shorter than him.
" He is pretty damn cute, isn't he?" Derek watched on, as he dived straight into the hide and seek game everyone was playing, jumping past Stiles who seemed to have been yelling out warnings to unhearing ears. And Derek could almost see him and his siblings playing in the same playground, chasing after one another, hiding behind that one tree that was no longer standing, smiling just like his son now was. It all looked so real, he could reach out and touch it, hold onto all the people that left, keep them around somehow, or tell them to take him along.
" I mean, I've seen better, but he's definitely at the top of that list. Top 5 probably. Might even be top 3."
Derek kind of stopped listening, when Stiles' eyes moved away from their son and fell on him like they didn't mean to. Stiles started walking over to them and Derek wanted to meet him halfway, just to prove to him that he still could. He put a hand in the air, waved slightly, before Stiles was pulling him into an embrace, and it was crazy how similar it felt to when Oliver had hugged him. To all the other times they'd hugged and held and felt.
" Happy birthday, Derek. What do you think?" Stiles stood with his shoulders brushing against Derek's, steady and reassuring and present. And Derek thought of so many things and none of them involved the birthday. He thought of how his stomach still did this thing every time he saw Stiles and his palms formed a single layer of unjustifiable sweat. He thought of all the stories their son told him about Stiles' new boyfriend and how much he smiled through it, like he was rubbing it in Derek's face, like he'd found a better father for himself the same way Stiles had found a better partner. He thought of the first birthday they spent together; so incredibly in love, they didn't have time to be anything else. He thought of the last birthday they spent together; how desperate everything about it was, laced with a goodbye that they'd been putting into every movement, every breath, every kiss, for months before ever having the words to actually verbalize it. And then he thought of Stiles. Just Stiles. And he tilted his head to the side and found him looking, patiently waiting for a response, still waiting for approval.
" You didn't have to do all of this."
" I didn't do it alone. Plus, it's your birthday, and you deserve to have a good day with the people you love and who love you." Derek smiled, tried not to think of all the falling out of love that Stiles had done, and that he'd failed to do.
" Thank you, Stiles. It's great, I love it." Their son was squealing, his laughter sounding limitless, endless, and if nothing else, Stiles gave him this little person that he could pour all his love into to keep from still loving Stiles, and Derek swore he'd never known love until he'd laid eyes on him that very first time.
In a moment of reckless gratitude, Derek leaned in for a kiss, allowing it to slip his mind a little, that he couldn't do that anymore. Stiles shifted until they fell into a hug. Derek told himself it would be enough. Andre – Stiles' boyfriend of 6 months now – called for him, chatted with Derek about his birthday even after he'd rolled his eyes and crossed his arms against his chest to keep from throwing another fit every time Andre put his arms around Stiles and pulled him in like he was claiming him. It was odd, how Derek seemed to be going through the 6 stages of loss in that single moment it took Andre to lift his arm, move it achingly slow until it fell right across Stiles' shoulders, the palm of his hand giving him a slight shove that he didn't need to be pulled close, to kind of melt into Andre's side. It felt like he was pulling him away from Derek. Derek hadn't felt close to Stiles in so long, long before Andre ever came into his life. It was still easier to blame him for the distance though, so he did. He blamed him for the way Stiles walked away and didn't think to look back if only to check that Derek followed. He blamed him for the way he didn't follow, and how long it took Stiles to notice that Derek was left behind. 23 minutes. That was how long it took Stiles to start skimming through the crowd, looking for something that Derek convinced himself was him. He blamed him for the way Stiles waved him over and the way he shook his head in refusal, clinging to his petty behavior that he also blamed Andre for. This was his birthday, he was allowed to act in whichever way he wanted, regardless of how childish or uncalled for it was.
Eventually, Derek was pulled into the crowd, and all the laughter around him was enough to make him feel less alone, if only for a little while. Scott was detailing how their last doctor's appointment went and how they expected the delivery to go, and the sheriff was talking about Stiles' birth like it'd only just happened, everything about the story animated and lively. Then, a song started playing. Not just a song, their song, the one Stiles sang along to in the car to keep from having a panic attack, when Derek was almost passed out with wolfsbane poisoning. The one they played, sharing headphones in the waiting room, when their son was being born and they didn't know if he'd make it out alive, or if they'd make it if he didn't. The one they danced to on their wedding and didn't listen to for months after the divorce. And Stiles' eyes immediately found Derek, a sort of haunted smile across his lips, his feet deciding to approach like they were taught to. Derek shook his head to himself, laughing despite himself because it felt like it was all a lifetime ago, like some other Derek met some other Stiles and loved him and lost him, like it almost didn't hurt anymore. Almost.
" Hey, you. Dance with me?"
Yeah. Nothing could hurt quite like this.
Stiles wrapped his arms around Derek, rested his head against his shoulders, started moving before Derek could trip around his legs, doubt his movements, and strain over which way to go. They were held together in an embrace, the motion of their bodies so synced up, it was almost like they'd rehearsed it, like they'd been waiting all their lives for this moment. Maybe they had.
" I still suck at this." Derek whispered, feeling his foot landing on top of Stiles' again. Stiles didn't even flinch.
" I can't believe they played this song, did you have something to do with this?" Stiles questioned, no blame or judgment in his voice, only curiosity, fascination.
" It's a surprise birthday party that you planned yourself, Stiles."
" Not well enough apparently if they pulled something like this behind my back. I bet you it was Scott." Derek opened his eyes – which, when did those close anyway – looked at the crowd behind Stiles' back, chuckling slightly when he found Malia whispering to Cora like she had some kind of secret.
" It was Malia."
" What? How did you – " Stiles lifted his head from Derek's shoulder, took one look at Malia, before putting it back where it was, " Yeah, you're probably right."
" Are you, mad that it happened?" Derek questioned, his voice a whisper laced with uncertainty, like he still couldn't be sure when it came to Stiles.
" Of course I'm not."
" You think Andre would be?" Stiles' movement barely stuttered, as he vibrated with oblivious laughter against Derek's chest.
" I wouldn't worry about Andre if I were you."
The song was almost coming to an end, Derek knew that Stiles would pull away as soon as that happened, and he'd feel the heavy weight of his loss burning into his chest, carving him out, deepening the hole inside him that spelled out Stiles' name. He didn't know how many more goodbyes he'd be able to bear.
" Andre understands that we'll always be in each other's lives, I mean, we have a kid together, if nothing else, we'll always put him first." Derek nodded, breathed in and decided to put some distance between him and Stiles before he could. He made a pathetic effort to smile, before walking away. It took Stiles a few minutes to understand that Derek wasn't coming back.
Derek went home that night, thinking that if they didn't have Oliver, he never would have seen Stiles again. Stiles went home thinking that watching Derek leave should not hurt after this many times.
Stiles drove back to Boston with Oliver and Andre and decided that he probably shouldn't dwell on it, especially since he had Andre now, he was living his life, moving on, doing everything he was supposed to, everything that was.. right for him. Yeah. Things were good. He didn't need Derek to enhance his quality of life. His life wasn't in need of enhancement anyway.
It took Derek 3 days to finally text Stiles his thank you for all you did for me message. His phone started ringing immediately after. It was Stiles.
" Hey, I was just – "
" Derek, listen, I know I should have called you earlier, but things happened so fast and I couldn't think and I'm sorry, okay?"
" Wait, what happened? Are you okay? Did something happen to Oliver?"
" It's not as bad as it's going to sound, but – fuck, okay, we're in the ER because Oliver fell off his bike, and – "
" What the fuck? Is he okay? I want to talk to him."
" He can't.. talk, right now." Derek had to remind himself to take deep breaths and not completely lose his shit. Yet.
" Why not, Stiles?"
" Because, they're prepping him for surgery."
" Surgery? I thought you said – "
" He broke his leg and the doctors said that they're going to have to operate sooner or later, only if we wait, he'll have occasional pain if he worked the leg too much and some nerve issues. Andre agrees that the younger he is when it happens, the better, so – "
Derek had his keys in hand and was rushing out the door before Stiles could even finish the sentence.
" No, no, no. Andre? You're making calls regarding my son with Andre? That's not how it works, Stiles."
" He's my son too, and this isn't a competition." Derek could almost see Stiles' frown deepening between his eyebrows, could hear the patience running out from his tone.
" He's too young, Stiles. Surgeries are painful and the recovery times are long and he – I don't want to fight with you, but he's not getting operated on if we can help it."
" This is a medical decision and we can't make those out of fear. He's going to be in pain either way, but the pain from the surgery will be short-term, so he's having it."
" Stop fucking doing that." Derek groaned, hating how familiar it felt to fight with Stiles.
" Doing what?"
" Cut me off when it comes to decisions concerning our son. We agreed to co-parent, and you making your decisions with your med-student boyfriend is your business, but not when it comes to Oliver. It's not fair. I get as much of a say as you do, and I won't let you exclude me from this." It was uncharacteristically silent, and Derek wondered if Stiles had just hung up on him. It wouldn't have been the first time either. But then there was a tired sigh.
" You're right. I'll tell them to put everything on hold until you get here and we can discuss things together. You, you're coming, right?" That wasn't what Derek had expected. He'd expected a proper cussing out that would lead to both of them saying things they'd regret but never admit to regretting. But things changed, they've changed, and their fire was too dimmed out to fuel them through another fight. Derek didn't know if that was a good thing or not. Couldn't think of the passion they held for each other, fading with the last letter of each of their names that they scribbled onto the divorce papers.
" Yes, of course, I'm already on my way. Just text me the name of the hospital."
" Sure, okay."
" Hey, Stiles?"
" He is going to be okay. Kids break bones all the time, don't worry, it's not that big of a deal." Derek could sense the anxiety knotting around his muscles, tightening his stomach, suffocating the air out of him. He could almost hear all the possibilities and doubts beating against Stiles' head, willing him to succumb to his guilt. Derek didn't need to see him to know that he blamed himself. And he couldn't wait to get there to try and make it go away.
" You don't think I'm a shit parent because this happened on my watch?"
" No, Stiles, you're the best damn parent I've ever seen. He's lucky to have you. And, I'm lucky to be doing this with you."
Of course, Derek would have been even luckier if he'd managed to keep Stiles around, but still. He'd take whatever Stiles could give and it would be enough.
" I wouldn't want to be doing this with anyone else either." Derek wanted to question that statement, to ask about Andre and all the children Stiles had to see in the future with him, but he chose to be selfish about it, take his words for what they were and marvel upon all the meaning they held.
Barely an hour later, Derek was pushing through the ER, finding Stiles in the waiting room, panicked and on the verge of tears. He held him a little – a lot – until the doctor came and re-explained everything about their son's case. They reached the same conclusion they were previously at; that they'd do the surgery now instead of postponing it and prolonging his pain. Andre was nowhere to be found.
Oliver cried when he saw Derek outside the OR, but he toughened it out, as if sensing his father's terror, even after being reassured that it was a simple procedure that wouldn't take too long at all. Derek and Stiles sat in the waiting room, Stiles' head rested against his hands, Derek's leg bouncing, neither of them wanting to be the first to touch, to hold, to need.
" So, where's Andre?" Derek eventually questioned, giving up on trying to remain uncaring.
" His shift ended, I think. I don't know."
" Huh. He didn't stay with you? At least till I got here?"
" Any specific reason why?"
" Not really. I didn't ask him to stay, so he didn't."
" I would assume – "
" We broke up. I broke up with him. Yesterday."
" Oh. I – I'm sorry, Stiles." Stiles tilted his head to the side, his eyes glistening with something that Derek tried not to look too deeply into, his lips barely curving upwards.
" You sure don't seem like you are."
" I don’t? I am shocked. Devastated. Absolutely heartbroken over the news." Stiles threw his head backwards, laughing so loudly, so freely. Derek thought of how things were, how lit up Stiles seemed to be, how radiant he was every time Derek told him he loved him and looked at him like he meant it. He thought of all the times he made him laugh and swore he wanted to do nothing else for the rest of his life. It felt good to be able to do that again.
" Yeah, I can tell. You're such a dick." Derek laughed along, bumping his shoulder into Stiles', and laughing some more.
" I missed this. I missed you." Derek didn't realize he said those words out loud, until Stiles' laugh started fading, a look of… wonder forming around his eyes, his features resting into something like contentment.
" You will never know. You will never know how much, I missed you."
" I missed you too, Derek." And he did, in all the ways he would never dare admit to.
" So, why did you break up?" Derek cleared his throat, had to look away before something else seeped through him.
" Because I wanted to move back to Beacon Hills. And he didn't."
" What? But, I thought you loved it in Boston."
" I did. But Oliver is growing up and he deserves to do that near you. You deserve to not miss anything. And it was time."
" You were coming back? For me?"
" Not just for you. Mostly for Oliver. But, yeah. I was. I am." Derek shook his head, dove in for a hug that barely startled Stiles at all, before he was holding Derek like he was aching for him.
" Let me take you out on a date." Derek said, high on relief and happiness and hope.
" A date, Stiles. Let's give this another try. I know – "
" No, Derek. We did this before, remember? We did this for a long time, and it didn't work. Now, we have Oliver to consider, and we can't put him through this shit because we feel like it. I want to move back to Beacon Hills to make it easier for us to co-parent. I want him to have both his parents with him, but they don't need to be romantically involved to do that." Stiles stood, distancing himself from Derek. He was always so willing to put distance between them. Derek was sick of it.
" What if I don't want to just co-parent with you? Don't I get a say in this?"
" In whether or not I go on a date with you? No, Derek, that's my decision, and I don't want to go through this again."
" Go through what? What did I ever do to you to make the idea of dating me so intolerable?"
" I'm not doing this again with you." Stiles shook his head, started to walk away.
" So you decide that we should get a divorce. You decide to move away and take the kid with you for most of the year. You decide to start dating other people and introduce them into our son's life. You decide to move back so that we can co-parent together. It's always you. Every single fucking decision is either made by you or not made at all. How is this co-anything? Why does it never matter what I want?"
" Of course it matters – "
" Why are you so against us dating again?" Derek's chest trembled so fiercely, aching for more air, it brushed against Stiles' in its rise and cowered away in its fall, and Derek could almost see something in Stiles faltering, like he was almost giving in.
" Because I don't want to lose you again, fuck. I don't – I know how bad things were after the divorce. I know we never would have even looked at each other if it wasn't for Oliver. And I – I want to have you in my life in some way, forever. But if we do this again and it doesn't work, I – I don't think we can make it through another time. I can't do it, Derek." Derek sighed, softened, let his head fall against Stiles' and allowed himself to rest.
" I get it. I'm sorry for pushing you. It's just, really hard to be just friends with you sometimes. Most of the time. Pretty much always, actually." Stiles chuckled, lifted his head and stared up at Derek.
" How about we focus on Oliver for now? And then, maybe, when he's all better, we can revisit this? If you still feel like it, of course."
" Sure, yeah. I can do that." He'd waited this long. He could wait some more.
Oliver was out of surgery in a couple of hours, barely alert, but the doctors said everything went perfectly and he was expected to make a full recovery. And he did. It took him a few weeks of physiotherapy and tears but he started walking again, with a cane first, then without. He didn't go near the damn bike though. Stiles and Oliver moved back to Beacon Hills once Oliver was officially cleared to go back to his day-to-day activities. As soon as they unloaded the last of their objects, Derek had Stiles pinned against the cupboard, but he didn't kiss him until he saw the permission in his eyes, the consent in the way they fell onto Derek's lips, and stayed there. They went on a date, and another, and before they knew it, things were back to how they were. Only, better. Better than anything they could have hoped for. Derek started waking up to Stiles next to him again and everything started smelling more like Stiles than Derek and they each had clothes in the other's apartment and – they couldn't even remember a time when they were separated. But they came back, and they never stopped coming back since.