The restaurant is too bright in the early afternoon sun.
Stiles always feels a little strange walking around during the day, considering he spends most his nights in the shadows of The Banshee. Lydia's chosen a window seat, in a private dining room hastily set aside just for them. They're the only ones in this part of the restaurant - empty tables nearby, set for diners that will have to be sat elsewhere now that Lydia and Stiles have walked in. After the maître d' takes her coat and his hat, Stiles gets her seat for her, gently pushes it back in. When she holds a cigarette to her mouth, Stiles takes his lighter from his pocket without being asked.
Lydia graces him with a pretty smile. Genuine, not the one she wears when she's trying to get something from someone. "Thank you, baby." Or, well. As genuine as someone like Lydia Martin can be.
Stiles is a lot of things, but no one can say he's not a gentleman.
Well, maybe Allison Argent can. But Stiles is of the pretty firm opinion that she's not a lady, so it's no skin off his back.
"Of course, doll." Stiles winks, and takes a seat on his side of the table. He lights his own cigarette, listens to the distant hum of conversation in the other dining rooms, the sound of cutlery clinking on china dishes. "You know, if you'd asked me ten years ago if I'd ever get to sit down in a place like this, I'd have called you a liar. Right to your face."
"And then you would have tried to pick my pocket," Lydia replies.
Stiles winks. It would look flirtatious to anyone who didn't know that Lydia and Stiles were just friends. Blood brothers, maybe. Plenty of people like to assume Lydia spends her nights in Stiles' bed, instead of at that fancy lawyer's place downtown. "I would have tried." He drapes his arm over the empty chair next to him, takes a drag and then ashes his cigarette.
"I was young and stupid then," Lydia says, and her smile goes strangely fond. "You might have even succeeded."
"You're a queen, Lydia." She actually kind of is. A mob princess who somehow rose to the very top of her own family. There are rumors that she personally killed her own father, and as an only child, there was no real competition. "I wouldn't have a snowman's chance in hell of pulling a con on you."
The hors d'oeuvres arrive, little finger foods that Stiles just learned the name of a few months ago. He's already forgotten it, doesn't care to remember shit like this when what he needs to think about is alcohol, numbers, and names. Who gets paid and who pays him. The ledger at the false bottom of the cluttered desk in the back office of the bar. It's not food he'd actually get if he were dining alone, or with anyone else for that matter, but Lydia likes the finer things in life.
And strawberry soda.
The waiter politely asks if they need anything else at the moment and leaves as soon as he's topped off Stiles' water glass. It's their usual waiter, the only one besides the maître d' who isn't afraid that they'll end up at the bottom of a river for getting the order wrong. Which is ludicrous, honestly, Stiles used to be one of those waiters. Not at a place as nice as this, of course. No one with a name like his, coming from Polonia, was going to be able to get a job in a place like this. Never mind that Stiles and his mother had emigrated when he was only four.
These days, no one calls him anything other than 'Stiles' or 'Mr. Stilinski.' At least not to his face.
Well. They don't call him anything else and go unmaimed, anyway.
"So the Argent situation has been resolved, I take it?" Lydia asks after they've had a few bites of the food and she's taken a long drink of that soda. Her long hair is styled into waves around her face, most of it swept back into a tight bun at the base of her neck. She certainly makes an impression, even here without her coat and her hat.
"It was," Stiles says. "Victoria and Kate are dead, and we are now the proud hosts of two Argents as houseguests."
Lydia hums, takes another drink. "Our house? Or Peter Hale's?"
"Well, we're still hosting Ally, but Christopher is under the watchful eye of Mr. Hale, yes." Stiles taps a finger on the table, before he offers her a sharp smile. "And Peter is, of course, under our watchful eye."
"Always good to have a back-up plan."
There used to be a day when Stiles would lose his train of thought at that charming smile she points at him. Now, he's got a bullet around his neck that's as good as any ring, in his opinion. Stiles always thought that he'd be the type to stray, given his track record, but he's got no designs on anyone else but Derek Hale.
"And... the other loose end?" she asks, in a gentle voice that sets his teeth on edge in a way it hasn't in years.
Other loose ends? Stiles pauses, thinks for a second. He doesn't remember anything else she mentioned the last time they had lunch or she came by the bar. "Scott and Allison?" he finally asks, albeit a little confused. "I mean, I can put 'em on a ship if you want, no problem. Get 'em out of my hair before I lose my temper."
Sharp green eyes watch him and narrow. "While that's a good plan to have," she says, "it's not the loose end I meant."
There's only one other loose end that Stiles can think of. He drags his arm off the back of the chair, folds it on the table across him and reaches to take his cigarette out of the ash tray. The weight of the bullet is heavy against his chest, like the simple chain can drag him down to hell all on its own.
"The dick needs to disappear." Lydia's voice is soft, like she's trying to break the news to him gently. "He's lived out his usefulness, they're starting to get suspicious of him. It's time to let him go, Stiles."
Stiles isn't hungry anymore. He nods, slow, and lets the cigarette burn in his hand. There's no reason for him to talk anyway, not when Lydia knows he always follows her orders to the letter. Not when they both know where Stiles' loyalties have always lied.
"There's plenty of pretty boys out there." Oh, now she's trying to comfort him. It feels strange, a little awkward - Lydia is usually above such things, unless she's playing a role. Maybe he should feel grateful that she's trying, at least. "Or girls, if that's your flavor this week. I don't now who else you've been fucking besides Hale." She glances away, takes a drag of her cigarette.
The answer is no one. This thing between them blew past "infatuation" a long time ago, got a hell of a lot more serious than Stiles ever intended for it to be. Lydia doesn't know that, though. Stiles has worked hard for her not to know how attached he is to Derek, so that she doesn't see the weakness for what it is. Maybe he should have let her seen a little bit more, but they're always walking a razor-thin wire between friends and possible enemies. In truth, if Lydia were to have seen how much Stiles actually... cares about Derek (and isn't that something, Stiles is capable of caring about someone other than himself or Scott), if she had seen then she wouldn't have warned him.
It would have been a quick shot to the back of Derek's head, with no warning for either of them.
At least this way, Stiles has time to say goodbye.
"Don't be mad, Stiles," Lydia says, still watching him. Her mouth is set in something that could be compassionate, but it doesn't reach her eyes. Emotion never does. "You always knew this was going to happen, dear. We can't let an end like that fray, if you understand my meaning. Besides, if anything were to happen to me - you're the successor. I can't have you... distracted anymore."
Stiles nods again. Finding his voice and steeling himself is harder than it's ever been. "You know how it is to lose a favorite," he replies with more levity than he actually feels, like there's not the taste of bile in his throat.
Ah, there's something real - Lydia nods in understanding. An image of that twin appears in Stiles' mind, the one who's buried out in some field of a farm Lydia owns as a way to have a hiding place if she ever needs one. She'd been making room for Whittemore, Stiles remembers. Tying up all the loose ends before they could hang her.
There's nothing for it, then. Stiles knows where his loyalties lie.
He shoves his chair back, stubs the cigarette out in the ash tray. He'll have another one on his walk over to Derek's. Maybe one more on the stairs. Maybe a drink too. "I'm gonna go ahead and pull plans together," Stiles manages to say in a perfectly calm voice. "Gimme a few days, and I'll have it taken care of." His mind is already working, twisting and turning around the problem. Ideas, hunches, names upon names, numbers upon numbers. There's so much to do when it comes to making people disappear.
He's got a key to Derek's brownstone. Of course he does - Derek doesn't know it, but Stiles owns this brownstone, bought it after the first time he and Derek crossed paths. Something about lust at first sight, that twisted kind that consumes them both.
Stiles isn't so naive as to think it's anything like love, of course. Derek may care about Stiles, and Stiles may give a fuck when it comes to Derek, but they don't... they aren't Erica and Boyd, and Stiles isn't going to beg for Derek's life like Peter Hale did for Christ Argent. There's obsession and there's lust, plain and simple.
Loyalty, maybe. Stiles isn't sure how much, though.
So he lets himself in, walks right up the stoop and fits the key in the lock. He closes the door behind him, flips the lock again, and hangs his coat and hat on the coat rack by the door. Stiles isn't even sure that Derek is home at the moment, but he's hopeful. He wants to get this over and done with as quickly as he can. He doesn't take his gun out of its holster, and he doesn't take his holster off - he wears it on his way upstairs, walks with heavy steps so that the stairs creak and moan under his weight.
He finds Derek in his study, coffee in his hand and files scattered across his desk. He twists in the chair when Stiles stops in the open door, raises an eyebrow when Stiles doesn't come any closer. His gaze lingers on the holster and the gun, then flickers back up to Stiles' face. Stiles usually leaves it downstairs, and Derek is far from stupid.
"Are we at that point already?" Derek asks, and there's something that could be a smile twisting the corner of his mouth. It's accompanied by dark, knowing eyes that don't crinkle at the edges. "At least kiss me first."
The question slips out of Stiles' mouth before he can stop it. "Would you rather you didn't see it coming?" It's an admission of something, but he's not sure what. Well, Stiles knows what he's admitting, but he can't say it aloud.
Derek's eyebrows do that thing, rising like he's got a private little joke they both get.
Stiles gets it, though. What he says with his eyebrows. Derek's not exactly verbose, especially in front of anyone other than Stiles. It's terrifying to have someone like that in Stiles' life again. It used to be Scott, back when they were kids, and then Lydia to a lesser extent. But no one's ever understood him like Derek. Been able to have entire conversations without saying a single word. Moved in tandem with him, anticipated what he would do and worked around him like a well-versed team.
Fuck. It's not love, but it's something.
This is going to be hard.
"I could drug you," Stiles says quietly, watches the dust that catches the afternoon sunlight float across the room between them. "Could slip you something and do it while you were out. It'd be easy. Painless."
"For me, maybe." The eyebrows are back in place now. "No, Stiles. If you're going to kill me, I want you to look me in the eyes." Stiles swallows as Derek talks. "Kiss me first, at least. Fuck me if you want, and do it after. But look me in the eyes."
It's a fair request, Stiles supposes. Derek deserves whatever kind of death he wants - that's the only way there's any dignity here. He's never had this much trouble before, not with any of his other loose ends. The thought makes Stiles' mouth try to contort into something light. Carefree. "I owe you that much," he admits, trying to keep his voice steady.
To his surprise, Derek shakes his head, twisted smile going genuine and so sad. "You don't owe me anything. I just want to see something beautiful when I go." He jerks his head back toward the desk.
It's strange for Stiles to be the silent one, but he can't find words. There are no dark jokes to make here, no flirting. He can't make light of this, can't find the mask he needs to wear to keep himself distanced from this.
The chair creaks when Derek stands. Stiles doesn't know how long he's been silent for, and he doesn't stop as Derek curls his hand in Stiles' shirt. The kiss is soft, softer than any they've really had before. Gentle. Like Derek is trying to comfort him, when Stiles is the one holding the metaphorical gun. Nothing about this feels easy or right. Stiles is off-kilter, has lost his footing for the first time in years.
"Stiles," Derek says, coaxing, and his hand drifts up Stiles' chest in a slow, firm rub. Warm fingers undo the first few buttons, and then wrap around bullet that Stiles wears. It's not love, Stiles thinks again, it's obsession. A reminder. It can't be love, Stiles isn't capable of love. "Let's go to bed."
Same phrasing, like it's any other night that he's shown up at Derek's door. He supposes it's similar, even if he's not tired and prickly, skin is stretching too tight over his bones. Stiles doesn't feel that way now. Instead, he feels like he's drowning, swept up in something that even his quick mind can't understand. Either way it's overwhelming. Either way he wants a little comfort. He is human, after all, contrary to popular belief.
How is he supposed to withstand this?
"How can you just-" Stiles cuts himself off. It feels like he's revealing too much with the question, even though it won't really matter. Derek won't tell anyone that Stiles had an emotion, because Derek will be dead.
The worst part is that he doesn't even need to finish it. Derek's fingers are still wrapped around the bullet, warm on Stiles' chest. "Because if you don't," he says, serious and soft, "then she'll kill you. And if it has to be one of us, if I get the choice... It's always going to be you."
Stiles' breath catches. It's the closest to a confession Derek's ever given him. They don't say the word 'love.' This dark, terrible thing that Stiles has done to Derek can't be love. It's a bullet around Stiles' neck that he'll wear every day for the rest of his life, it's a rose floating on the watery grave that Derek never deserved.
His hand rises, unbidden, curls around Derek's wrist. Derek gave him a confession, a secret to hold close to himself. Stiles can do the same - he owes Derek that much. "I don't want to," he whispers, like somehow the world will overhear. "You should... fuck, Derek, she can't kill me if you do first."
"I'm not worth that. I won't."
"You are. You should." The anger flares sharp and bright. How dare Derek place so much worth on Stiles? How dare Derek choose Stiles over himself? "Kiss me, kill me, and then run far away. Get on a ship for Europe and never look back." As soon as it came, the anger is gone. Stiles grips at Derek's chin, makes sure Derek's looking him in the eye. "You know where all my money is, you could live a real comfortable life where she could never get to you."
Ragged breathing. It's Stiles' own, he realizes, because Derek... Derek is calm, looking at Stiles with soft, sad eyes. This doesn't make any sense; Stiles has so much blood on his hands he's surprised he doesn't leave traces wherever he goes. Is he truly undone by one man among them all? Is Stiles even able to feel this way about someone after locking his heart away in the cold for so long?
Can a monster feel love?
"I can't," Derek finally says, between one breath and the next. "I can't live in a world that you're not in."
Emotions are something Stiles can push aside now. He's not the soft boy growing up in Polish Downtown that he once was. But he can understand what Derek's telling him, can feel it reverberate around the growing void that's taking over his chest. And the thing is, he can live in a world that Derek's not in. He can put a bullet between Derek's ribs and hold him while he bleeds out on the floor of his own home. He can roll Derek's cold body off a pier, and he can continue his life in the shadows. He knows he can.
Or at least, his body can do the motions. He doesn't think he'd consider anything after that "living," though.
"So you expect me to try and live without you." That's it, then. Loyalty shifted, just like that, years thrown away because Stiles had to go and fall in love with a pretty face behind a dirty badge.
Derek's still close enough that Stiles can feel the heat of his breath on his lips. So he can feel the words ghost over him when Derek says, "Ten years from now, I'll be someone you think of every now and then. A nice memory."
Christ. They're in the study, middle of the afternoon, but Stiles might as well be in the back alley behind The Banshee. He feels wild, unanchored, one hand gripping the fabric of Derek's slacks and the other threatening to rip Derek's shirt clean off of him starting from the neckline down. The more Derek talks, words and words about how Stiles will move on, will forget about him, the more the unhinged chain inside him rankles free, like a junkyard dog rattling at the fence.
"Don't die for me -"
Stiles snaps, shoving Derek forward suddenly. The coffee cup shatters on the floor, spilling and staining, and Stiles barely spares a thought for the files before he's shoving Derek back again. He doesn't stop until he's got Derek pinned between himself and the desk, every inch of the front of their bodies pressed together. It's a desperate hold. Off-kilter. Nothing about this is normal.
"You don't tell me what to do." Even Stiles' voice sounds wrong. Dangerous, but pleading. Like this is all he has left. "You think that's all you mean to me? You think you're just some good fuck I'll forget about?"
Love looks a lot like rage when you might lose it, Stiles thinks. Feels a lot like a fight when you're clutching so tightly to yourself because you're afraid it might be ripped from you. Derek's fingers are digging in, one hand wrapped around the bullet Stiles wears, keeping him pulled in so close like he wants Stiles to crawl into his skin and try to help them become one and the same.
"Shut up," Derek whispers. "Stiles, shut up. Don't say anymore. I haven't been... I'm not -"
Stiles can't. He's never been able to. "Derek, you're worth everything."
The bullet on the chain, the metaphorical leash he'd willingly put on, draws tight, and Stiles willingly surges forward for a devastating kiss. The devastating part, though, isn't the ferocity or the need that Stiles feels.
Instead, it's the searing pain in his leg.
The sound of the gunshot.
Derek catches him before he hits the floor, meets Stiles' wide-eyed disbelief with a look that Stiles doesn't recognize.
"Der-" Stiles manages before his breath leaves him in another spike of pain.
"It was Peter," Derek says quickly. "Trust me, Stiles, okay? Trust me, you have to trust me."
In the haze that follows, as Stiles loses both blood and his grip on consciousness, he keeps his eyes on Derek. He did, he thinks, bewildered. He did trust Derek. He does. And then... nothing but the gentle cradle of darkness.