“Sheriff?” Derek asked walking up behind the older man. “back then, when I said- When you-“ he cuts himself to stare at the ground. ”I didn’t mean to sound like I was questioning your parenting or like I knew better than you. He’s not my kid and I shouldn’t be-“
“No, he’s not your kid.” John cuts him off. Derek looks up at his face to find a hard look in his eyes.
“I know.” He replies dejected, “and I shouldn’t have-“
“He’s not your kid” John repeats, looking sternly at Derek. Derek opens his mouth to apologize but John cuts him off before he can get a word out. “But he is your Stiles.” Derek’s face twists into a confused scowl, his eyebrows knitting tightly together.
“He’s your Stiles, just like she was my Claudia” John continues. At the mention of Claudia’s name Derek’s face softens. “I don’t think you know this because, hell, Stiles probably doesn’t even know this, but Claudia’s parents weren’t my biggest fans in the beginning either.” John looks down at his feet with a wistful smirk. He wanders over to the porch steps and sits down with a sigh. He looks over at Derek expectantly. Derek raises an eyebrow but when he doesn’t make a move John pats the spot next to him on the stairs. Derek takes hesitant steps towards the man and looks down at the empty step for a moment before deciding to sit.
“When Claudia and I first started dating her parents didn’t approve. Her father was this old school authoritative type. He didn’t like that I was older, though a one-year age difference is hardly the same as five. ” Derek sees John's pointed look out of the corner of his eyes but refuses to look up from the ground. “It doesn’t really matter why, but her father and I, we had our differences… It took me until after she was gone to figure out why.” John flinched like the thought of her death could still physically hurt him, but continued. “But I get it now.”
“She was my everything for so long. Not just a part of me, she was me. After a while together the line between the two of us became blurry until I couldn’t tell where she ended, and I began. Not my other half or my missing piece or any of those cheesy lines people say in movies. It was something totally different, something that I’d never experienced before her… Don’t know that I ever will again. But then that kid came around,” John smiled wistfully, gesturing towards the house. “And I grew. We were three parts to a whole. It wasn’t the same anymore between her and me, but somehow it was more.” He looked up again smiling but steeled himself before he continued. “And then she was gone. It wasn’t like the air was sucked from my lungs but more like I didn’t have them anymore to even try to breathe with. She left and she took me with her. But he was still there. And I had no idea what to do about it because I wasn’t. I wasn’t the same anymore, I’m still not, but we’ve come a long way, me and him.” John paused and the two men sat in silence for a few moments.
Derek knew the pain of losing everyone in his world. He knew the hurt that went along with such loss. The anger, betrayal, and fear that followed him for years and still crept up on him in his worst moments. But he also knew that wasn’t the thing John was talking about. He knew pain and loss and suffering but not the way John was talking about. Derek was still here, maybe not the same as he used to be, maybe a little worse for wear but he was still intact. Some days he even thought that he might be more whole than he ever had been before. The thought surprised him, but before he could get lost in thinking about what, or who, contributed to his newfound feelings of right or good or whole, John continued on.
“I could never say any of this to Stiles because it always hurt him too much. In the beginning, he would just cry. I didn’t know how to comfort him, so I’d just sit outside his bedroom door and listen to him sob. There is no pain quite like that, son. To sit there knowing that you can’t do anything to help the one person in the world you care about most. I’ve gone through it twice, and let me tell you…” he drifts off into sad silence. Coming out of his reprieve he continues, “I didn’t know what to do with him, hell I didn’t know what to do with myself most days… So, we never talked about her and then things got better. That kid in there made me better. I know he talks too much and doesn’t have his head on straight half the time but waking up in the mornings knowing that he still needed me, that all of me wasn’t gone because part of me was right in there, that’s what kept me going for the longest time. He’s got a way about him, son. I couldn’t begin to tell you what it is, but he makes me better. He makes me want to be better. I know you know what I’m talking about here.” He said giving Derek a meaningful look.
“The point of what I’m saying here, kid,” John rests a gentle hand on his shoulder and Derek finally looks up to meet his eyes. No one had called him kid in a long time. It had been even longer since anyone, let alone an adult he respected, had tried to reassure him like this, “is that I had my Claudia. And after knowing what that’s like, I’m not going to get in the way of anyone else with that kind of love.” Derek startled at the mention of the word.
John walked up to the front door and held it open expectantly, “Well, you coming in?” Derek stood up and followed after him but paused once he was through the threshold. He glanced over at John as if to give the man a minute to change his mind. John simply closed the front door and walked into the kitchen saying, “I’m sure you know which one is his room by now,” over his shoulder to Derek who was still frozen at the bottom of the stairs.
Slowly Derek pulled himself up the flight and paused in front of Stiles’ door. As he knocked, it struck him how strange the action was. He’d been in Stiles’ house countless times, in his room countless more, but he’d never been invited in the way John had invited him today.
Stiles pulled open the door with a confused look that only deepened when he saw who his visitor was. “Dude, are you ok? Why are you knocking? You never knock. Better yet why are you using my door at all? Was the window suddenly too much of a feat for your rock-solid wolfy body to handle?” Stiles paused when he saw the look on Derek’s face and became quiet. He pushed the door open all the way, an invitation, and walked further into his room. Derek took a few steps to follow him but hesitated when he saw Stiles climb up onto his bed and settle back against the pillows. It wasn’t an uncommon occurrence, the two of them on Stiles’ bed, but it seemed different after his conversation with John. Stiles patted the space next to him, unknowingly mimicking the actions of his father just minutes before. Derek complied and sat cross-legged on the bed facing Stiles.
It only took a few moments of silence before Stiles spoke up. “I know you’re never much for words but it kind of seemed like you might have something to say to me considering your use of the door rather than the window.” He paused to let Derek speak but he couldn’t figure out what to say. “Maybe something important?” Stiles prodded further. Derek wracked his brain for the right words and how to string them together so that they didn’t get lost in the shuffle of thoughts racing through his mind. Stiles continued on for him, shifting upright and crossing his legs to mirror Derek. He settled with their knees touching. Derek looked down at his jeans against Stiles’ khakis.
“I know you talked to my dad.” Stiles words cut him out of his reverie, and he looked up. “My window was open.” He doesn’t need to mention why for Derek to know it was for him, “I could hear you guys talking. Not like I heard every word you said but I know your voice- despite your frequent refusal to use it.” He paused, ”especially when you need to.” He paused again, “Especially right now.” Another pause. “C’mon Derek, it can’t have been that bad, the man willingly let you into the house after all. Just tell me what he said. I’m not going to freak out. Unless he tried to ban you from the house again, which I don’t think he would considering how well that went last time… Oh my god did he actually go through with the restraining order he’s been threatening?” Derek’s face twisted in offense. “I know it was mostly a joke but the man has done more dramatic things in the past so I wouldn’t be shocked if he printed one out to try and-“
“He said that you were my Claudia,” Derek broke into his ramblings before he could work himself up anymore.
“I was- who- what now?” Stiles said, shocked at the mention of his mother’s name.
“He said you were my Claudia,” Derek repeated himself.
Stiles looked dumbstruck, mouth hanging open, staring at Derek. He got himself together enough to say, “I heard you the first time, but I still fail to understand what in the world you’re talking about, even after hearing it the second time. He said I was your Claudia… Claudia who? He can’t be talking about my mother because he never talks about my mother. Not even on her birthday when I go to the cemetery and replace the flowers on her gravestone even though they’re somehow never dead…” He pauses putting his thoughts together ”… because he has already been there to put… flowers… on her gravestone.” He finishes the sentence slowly, understanding leaking into his eyes.
He sits for another moment, pulling anxiously at a thread in his bedspread. Derek reaches over and covers Stiles’ fingers with his own to calm them. Stiles looks up at him and threads their fingers together more surely, dragging their hands up to sit atop the space where their knees meet. Derek looked down at their hands and then back up to Stiles’ eyes. “He said you were my Claudia.” He stated again looking into the boy’s eyes and squeezing his hand.
Stiles squeezed back and smiled softly. “I sense that you’re feeling something in this moment, and it should be special and all because I think you’re really trying to tell me something but you’re going to have to stop repeating the same sentence over and over if you want me to get it. He said I was your Claudia, but I have no idea what that means. I’m guessing you do because you’re saying it to me like you’re saying I lo-“ he cuts himself off, thinking better of his word choice, and continues “Like you’re saying something really important, but I don’t know what it is.”
Derek disentangles their fingers. Stiles looks upset at the loss for a moment before Derek’s hand comes up to rest at his jaw. He traces his fingers down and around to the other side of Stiles' jaw before slowly pulling them down his neck. Stiles trembles slightly at the touch. Derek's hand continues its path downward until it stops in the center of Stiles’ chest, just above his heart. Stiles sits silently as Derek closes his eyes and listens.
Derek can hear his heartbeat from across the room on a normal day, a quick rabbiting pace that jumps and starts in time with his wild hand movements. But here, in the silence of his room, he places his palm on the center of his chest and feels. He counts the beats, for once strong and steady, as he centers himself. After a few moments, he lets his hand slide down and settle on Stile’s thigh.
“He said I was your Claudia.” Stiles opens his mouth as if to mention once again that he needs to use real words, but Derek simply squeezes his thigh. Stiles’ mouth snaps shut at that, sensing that this is big for Derek. Stiles brings his hand up to cover Derek’s on his leg and looks into his eyes in silence.
“He said that he wasn’t whole. That he hadn’t been whole since your mom died.” Derek could feel the slight twitch in Stiles’ hand at the last word and brought his free hand up to Stiles’ other thigh and squeezed once more. “He told me that he didn’t mention her because it hurt, not only you but him too. He couldn’t really put it into words, but I know it’s a different kind of pain than I’ve ever felt. I may have lost my entire family, but I know I’ve never felt a loss like he did. I was left alone but he was left shattered. Your mom took him with her when she died.”
Derek trails off for a moment before continuing. “But you brought him back, Stiles. Just like you're been doing for me for months.” Stiles’ eyes come alive at that, but Derek continues, determined to finish now that he’d started. “I never knew that I was capable of being an Alpha. I was never supposed to be. But I’m here now and I’m stumbling my way through it because you’re there with me. You’re always there, whether I want you to be or not,“ Stiles lets out an indignant snort at that, but Derek continues, “You’re right by my side letting me know all the ways I’m failing.” Stiles looks like he wants to protest that, but Derek pushes on before he can, “And for once, it’s not because you want to tear me down or because you think that I’m incapable. You’re the one person that knows that I am, capable that is. You know me like I don’t even know myself half the time. You know what I’m capable of, you know my next move, half the time I think you can read my mind.”
Stiles laughs out loud at the admission, “I no Professor X but you’re also not as hard to read as you think, big guy. I just took the time to figure you out. It’s not that hard.”
“Even though half the time I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the X-men reference obviously lost on Derek, “You’re the one who is always right there ready to help me find the answers. You’re right by my side when I go running into a fight, despite how many times I’ve told you to stay out of harm’s way.” Stiles looks like he wants to protest again but Derek simply turns the hand not currently covered by stiles’ own and offers up his palm. Stiles looks down before reaching out his other hand and threading his fingers through Derek’s.
“Your dad told me you were my Claudia, but you aren’t.” He looks up to see the hurt rush across Stiles’ face and feels his fingers start to pull out of Derek’s. Derek simply laces them tighter together and continues on. “I see why he said that. Obviously, we’re not as discrete as we think we are, even around your father. But despite how obvious we must be, he doesn’t know who you truly are to me. Yes, you make me feel like I could be a real alpha, but you also make me want to throw you into a wall some days. You get under my skin in ways I never thought anyone could after my sisters were gone. But you also get under my skin in the best way. You know what I’m thinking and what I’m feeling before I do half the time. You talk for me when I can’t and yet you somehow say the things I was thinking better than I ever could.
“You protect me. I’ve been told my whole life that humans were breakable. I wasn’t allowed to roughhouse with my human cousins when I was little because they couldn’t do the things I could. But you’ve proven me wrong. You’re stronger than me in ways I could never fathom before. You lost your entire world when you were much younger than me, but you came out smart and strong and kind on the other side of it. You made me see what I could be and pushed me to be it, even if it was in the most annoying way only you could manage.
“Your dad was trying to get me to understand the feeling that comes with another person being so truly part of you that it hurts. It hurts you when they hurt. It hurts you when they’re apart and it hurts you more than you could ever imagine when they’re’ gone… and he was right. I know the pain of losing people I love but I don’t know the pain of losing the person I love. Because you’re right here. And I’m not going to lose you. No matter how many times I push you away to keep you safe, you always come back. No matter how many times you’ve thrown yourself into danger you’ve always made it out. And I never want you to stop because I know what your dad was trying to say, no matter how hard it is for him to put into words. He loved your mother in a way that I never thought possible… until I met you. And I’m not going to lose that. I see the hurt in your father's eyes every day, underneath everything else. And I couldn’t live like that. I’m not going to lose you because I can’t lose myself again Stiles. I’ve only now begun figuring out who I really lost in the fire and trying to find myself again. And it’s because of you.
“So no, you’re not my Claudia and you never could be. But you’re so much more than that, so much better. You’re my Stiles.” As the last words rolled off his tongue he looked up to fully meet Stiles’ eyes. Stiles stared back at him shocked before quickly, in a flail of arms and legs, throwing himself up onto his knees until he was hovering over Derek with his hand bracketing the older man’s face. Stiles looked down at him with a sort of awe before saying, “And you’re my Derek. Though I’m not going to compare you to my dad right before I kiss you,” he finished before pulling Derek’s lips up to meet his. The kiss was a perfect mixture of tongues and teeth and Stiles.
Stiles pulled away from him laughing after a few moments. “You know that’s more words than you’ve ever said to me in one sitting? No, probably in my whole life.”
“Well you don’t normally give me a lot of room to get a word in edgewise,” Derek retorted.
“I happen to recall a long speech you just gave in which you told me you liked how much I talked.” Stiles pushed back, pulling away from Derek to settle back down on the bed across from him, his thigh pressed into Derek’s knees. “I also recall you saying a certain word that started with L in reference to me.” He battled his eyes bashfully.
“Lazy?” Derek threw back at him while stretching out next to him against the headboard, so their sides were pressed together. “Lame? Loathsome?”
“Wow, the big man can use big words. Who knew?” Stiles shot back. He playfully shoved Derek in the side but gave up halfway through in favor of leaning his weight into him and wrapping an arm loosely around Derek’s middle. “I think it was something more along the lines of L-O-“ He trials off, laying his head on Derek’s shoulder.
“I remember. It was two minutes ago. You don’t have to spell it out for me. “ Derek responds, pulling his arms around Stiles and nuzzling his head into Stiles’ hair. They sit in peaceful silence, letting the feel of each other’s bodies lull them. “And I meant it,” Derek says, breaking the silence.
Stiles lifts his head to look the other man in the eyes. “Good, because I was getting tired of throwing myself into danger for a guy that wasn’t going to reciprocate.” Derek shoves him gently with his shoulder but squeezes tighter around his middle.
“Obviously I reciprocate. Even your dad noticed that I reciprocate, and he only ever saw me when I was climbing out your window or when he was threatening me for putting you in danger again.” Derek said into Stiles’ hair.
“I told you, you’re not as hard to figure out as you think.” He paused and sat up to look Derek in the eyes again, his face becoming serious. “You know that I was serious right? I do L-O-“
Derek cut him off with a kiss before he could finish spelling.