At first, Stiles thought the music he could hear was coming from a radio or something like that; then, he'd realised that the guitar sounded too raw, the voice too natural.
Now, as he stands outside the loft, he can hear the distinct timbre of Derek's voice.
He hadn't even known the guy could sing, let alone play the guitar as well. It had never even entered his head, the idea that Derek Hale even would sing, or listen to music at all, not with his reputation as Sourwolf. And even more surprising: he's actually good.
Stiles is a little surprised that Derek hasn't sensed him and stopped playing, that he hasn't stormed out angrily and demanded an explanation for his arrival. But by the sounds of it, he's probably too lost in his own music; the emotion in his voice is raw and gripping like nothing Stiles has ever heard before. It chills him to the bone, makes his heart kick up a notch.
"Trouble is my only friend, and he's back again; makes my body older than it really is. And I think it's high time I went away, no one's got much to say, in this town. Trouble is the only way is down... down, down. As strong as you were, tender you go, I'm watching you breathing, for the last time, a song for your heart, but when it is quiet, I know what it means and I'll carry you home, I'll carry you home,"
And God damn if those aren't the most depressing lyrics Stiles has ever heard. He finds himself wanting to reach out, to stop Derek there and then and give him a hug, let him know he isn't alone at all, comfort him; but he finds himself, just for now, wanting to hear the rest of the song.
"If I had wings I would fly away, and another day God might give me some. Trouble is the only way is down... down, down. As strong as you were, tender you go, I'm watching you breathing, for the last time, a song for your heart, but when it is quiet, I know what it means and I'll carry you home, I'll carry you home. And she looked so pretty in New York city that night, and my older sister was taken from the world by day light, under the Stars and Stripes. As strong as you were, tender you go, I'm watching you breathing, for the last time, a song for your heart, but when it is quiet, I know what it means and I'll carry you home, I'll carry you home."
He chooses that moment to knock on the door, surprised the proximity alarm hasn't already alerted Derek of his presence even if his own senses had been wrapped up in music.
It opens in seconds, and yep, those are some pretty angry eyes flaring bright blue.
"What are you doing here, Stiles?" Derek demands, growling dangerously. Stiles knows by now though that he's not angry at him, just angry that someone more than likely just found him in a moment of weakness.
"I came to hang out," Stiles shrugs, "But now I think I'd rather give you a hug and have a talk or something."
Derek rolls his eyes at that, about to shut the door again, saying, "Not happening."
But Stiles isn't about to let him get away that easily.
He grabs the door before Derek can push it closed again, and they both know full-well that Derek could easily over-power Stiles and close it anyway; but he doesn't, which makes Stiles' chest flutter a bit - and nope, not going down that road, we'll save the analysis for some other time, thank you very much.
He knows Derek must have heard the skip of his heartbeat, werewolf senses and all that, as if the arched eyebrow isn't confirmation enough.
Rather than give Derek any more time to reconsider saving Stiles' fingers and just slamming the door closed anyway, Stiles ducks under his arm and slips into the loft, hearing Derek sigh heavily behind him.
And there's probably an eye roll accompanying it, too.
"So..." Stiles starts, turning around to face the former alpha, who's staring at him like he's wondering just how much laser power it would take to burn holes Stiles' head, and Stiles thinks that's probably something he'd be very eager to do, could it happen, "You can sing. And play the guitar. You kept that one quiet."
Derek actually growls at that, eyes flashing again; he should know by now that that particular type of threat lost its affect on Stiles sometime last year.
Any threat that comes from Derek, in fact.
Mutual life saving tends to dissolve any and all lingering fears about a person, no matter how impressive their eyebrows are or how much their scowl makes them look like a serial killer and has been known to strike fear into the hearts of brave, brave men.
"Dude, I'm not making fun," Stiles insists, raising his hands in a placating gesture, "You're actually really good. It's just that your particular choice of lyrics has me worried about you."
Derek actually scoffs at that, rolling his eyes. He wanders off into his kitchen, sets about clearing away some tins and putting tea bags back into their respective cupboard.
"Well don't be. Go home, Stiles," He says, tone snappish and voice cold. Stiles knows denial when he hears it, knows when a person is hiding beneath anger and insult - especially Derek.
"I'm not going anywhere," He says, defiant, "You don't have to keep things all bottled up, y'know? You're allowed to have feelings, to talk about them. It's not like I'm going to tell anyone, after all. I'm not just gonna go to Scott and laugh and say 'hey, do you know that Derek isn't as tough as he looks' am I? Feeling something doesn't make you weak, and I'd like to think you could actually trust me by now, considering how many times we've saved each other's asses and how many of your secrets I've kept."
Derek doesn't say anything to that, just keeps his back to him. What Stiles does notice, however, is that he's pulled out two mugs now, and there's a tea bag in each one, and the kettle's boiling. It makes him smile, despite the fact that Derek's lack of faith in him actually hurts.
It's not as if he doesn't know that Derek's got more trust issues than Beacon Hills' got people; he just thought that Derek at least trusted him.
"Your song," He says, determined not to give up, "It's about Laura, isn't it?"
There's a moment of silence, except for the sounds of the kettle boiling and sugar being added to the tea, before Derek says anything.
"Laura and my family," He answers quietly. Progress, Stiles thinks, and it makes something inside of him light up warmly.
Derek turns around then, still scowling but not at Stiles anymore, just at the situation in general, and hands Stiles a cup of tea. Stiles gives him a smile rather than saying thank you, and when he takes a sip it's exactly how he likes it.
They stand there, together, leaning against the counter and sipping tea silently, and it's nice, really nice.
"I can't imagine how you must feel," Stiles admits, a huff of sad laughter escaping his lips as he scratches at the back of his neck, "I was depressed for... months, I think. Months and months, when my mom died. I spent all of my time in my room, if I wasn't at school. I didn't even go to school for the first three weeks," He chokes up a little, smiling bitterly down at his cup, "It was so hard, and I was so lucky I had Scott. I remember feeling helpless, and like my hyperactivity made her get sicker, like it was my fault somehow, even though I realised later on that it wasn't at all, that cancer doesn't depend upon people, just spreads on its own accord. I just can't imagine what it must have felt like, losing so many people at once and then losing your last surviving family member as well... y'know, aside from Peter, but I think we both know that he doesn't really count anymore. I don't know how you coped, how you cope."
Derek gives him a significant look, one that he can't quite suss.
"I didn't cope, not at first," Derek admits, voice soft and quiet, and Stiles can tell it's taking all he has to actually talk, to actually express himself, "I was... reckless, for a long time. Tried wolfsbane laced drugs and got high that way, just to feel something else for a while, partied with strangers, fell into bed with some of them. Laura hated it, and it just made me feel all the more guilty. I thought a lot about killing myself, too, but I couldn't because I had Laura and she mattered more than the guilt I felt, that I still feel, no matter how much it crushed me. When we went to New York, six months after the fire, she did her best, but... it was never the same. Sometimes we'd have a great time, and we'd try and forget, just for a few hours, that anything was different. We'd see the sights, visit places of interest and all that, but two weeks in and New York lost all its novelty. I thought that if I was in a different place, I could start over, that this... depression... all of it would go away, that I could live a new life with my sister where my family had never been, where Kate had never been, but you realise, eventually, that no matter how many times you move around a place, it never goes away.
"We stayed with a local pack for some time, and I remember their alpha asked me once, he said: how many miles do you think you'll have to go before you can stand to look in the mirror again?" Derek laughs to himself at that, shaking his head, a vile, empty sound, "I guess Laura wasn't the only one who could recognise the hatred I had for myself. Still have it, even now. It's just that over time, it becomes easier to deal with. Just like death. So yeah, I guess you can say I've never been able to cope, exactly. I'm just really good at pretending I can't actually feel the pain instead. You never really get over the death of a loved one, and no one expects you to. It just gets a little easier to breathe, the more time that passes and the less their absence chokes you."
Stiles doesn't realise he's got tears in his eyes 'til he feels one roll down his cheek. He wipes it away hastily, but he knows Derek's seen it already.
"I get that," Stiles nods, voice thick with emotion, "It makes me feel like shit though, sometimes. Makes me feel like I'm forgetting her, when I realise it's easier to go a day without thinking about her now. And by the way, I know you think it's your fault, but it's not, and I hate that Kate got inside your head so much that you actually believe it is. You weren't to know what she was planning; you were young and you were in love and she used you. It's sick, is what it is. She was sick. You're not to blame."
Derek looks taken aback, a million things reflected in the turbulent storm of his eyes: shock, confusion, pain, maybe a little anger, more guilt.
"How did you..." He lets it trail off, unable to finish the sentence.
"I put together the pieces," Stiles admits, "I mean, you feeling guilty over your family's death is a big give away, even though, like I said, it wasn't your fault at all, not even by association. And then there's the part where she kidnapped you and afterwards, whatever she'd said and done hadn't just left you wounded, it'd ripped something open, like an old wound, y'know? You didn't just look angry, or in pain; you looked upset, hurt, defeated. And I know for a fact that no amount of electrocution and bodily harm could cause someone like you to look as though you'd just had the world ripped from under your feet when you were just starting to feel grounded again. So, yeah, I worked it out. And whether you believe it or not, it doesn't change the fact that it wasn't your fault."
Derek shakes his head, looks so self-depreciating, so full of hatred, that it makes Stiles' insides clench painfully. He doesn't want Derek to feel like everything is his fault all the time, has gotten to know the man behind the claws and fangs, knows that he's a good person deep down, that despite never being an actual human he's just as prone to human emotion as the next guy.
"I told her, Stiles. What they were, what I am. I sneaked her into my house, showed her around. I enabled her to do what she did." His teeth are gritted, voice clipped and tight, and his cup of tea is long since forgotten, hands clenched around the counter so tight that little cracks are appearing on the surface.
Stiles shakes his head vehemently.
"No, Derek, no. She already knew what you and your family were, and you showing her round the house does not make it your fault that she set it on fire. You weren't to know, and it's not like you would've told her if you did know her plans. You wouldn't have gone near her, you would have told your family, your alpha. You were just a teenager, Derek, practically a kid, and she used you. It's called statutory rape. She was a bitch, cold-hearted and evil, a complete psychopath. I don't care what you tell yourself, the fact is that it's not and never has been your fault."
"Then why does it feel like it is?"
There's another long silence, before Stiles speaks up again.
"Because you're fragile. You're innocent," He says. Derek actually scoffs at that, flashing his eyes at Stiles to disprove him. "No, seriously, you are. Paige wasn't your fault either, that little outcome was a result of Peter being a manipulative bastard. Underneath all the violence and the trauma, you're still young and vulnerable. You blame yourself because you can't understand why things had to go so wrong, because you think you must have done something to deserve it. But you didn't."
Derek looks like he doesn't know what to do with himself, like Stiles has opened up doors for him and he doesn't know which one to go through, and Stiles realises it's probably the first time in Derek's life that someone has told him that he's not to be blamed. Or perhaps Laura did too, but Derek was too into destroying himself to take notice. And then she was ripped away from his life as well, and no one after that got close enough to see the real Derek; not like Stiles has.
Inside, there's a part of Derek that's still a broken sixteen year old boy, wishing his family was still around, wishing he still had his alpha, his pack.
Derek meets his eyes then, and Stiles can't let his gaze drop, can't move, too transfixed.
"Why are you so worried about me?" Derek asks, and it's a familiar line; but it means so much more now.
"Believe it or not, I care about you," Stiles answers quietly, cradling his cup to his chest. The tea is losing its warmth now, but it doesn't really matter anymore.
Derek doesn't say anything to that.
Before Stiles can stop himself, he puts down his cup and walks around the counter to Derek, throwing his arms around his shoulders and burying his face into his neck. There's a long, tense moment where Stiles forgets to breathe, Derek completely stiff and unyielding against his body.
Stiles feels the moment that last string of resistance snaps, and Derek sags against him, arms coming up to wrap around his waist, and they're pressed so tightly together, arms wound anything but loosely around the other, and he hasn't felt quite as safe as this in a long time. He wonders, absently, when being so close to Derek made him feel safe, when it was that Derek stopped being a threat and became more of a comfort.
He can't pinpoint the exact moment, but he knows that it was probably a long time ago.
And for the first time since the nogitsune, breathing feels a little easier; and Stiles knows more intimately, now, what Derek was talking about, how the air chokes you a little less; how your lungs feel a little clearer, and your throat a little looser.