Actions

Work Header

While You Were(n't Quite) Sleeping

Chapter Text

Stiles sauntered down the hall, humming under his breath. It was the fifth time he'd ventured over to the long-term care wing of the hospital, and he no longer worried about getting caught. Most of the nurses knew him on sight, either from the times he'd visited his mom, or more recently, from the times he'd come in holding Scott's hand through another asthma attack. Regardless, they tended to cut him some slack.

Now he visited the hospital for a different reason.

Stiles knocked on the door frame for room 347 and poked his head in. "Hey, how's my favorite Batman villain today?"

As usual, the room's only occupant, Derek Hale, didn't move, didn't give the slightest indication that he'd heard what Stiles had said. Ah well, Stiles was used to it by now. Besides, it wasn't like he needed any help carrying on a conversation.

Scott's mom, Melissa, had given Stiles the basics on Derek's condition when he'd first come here a month ago. Derek had been here six years, the only survivor of a horrific house fire that had killed the rest of his family. It had left him burned, half his face puckered with scars, and he'd been in a catatonic state ever since. Stiles couldn't even begin to imagine how awful that would be, being trapped in your own body for years on end, all alone.

He had an inkling of how much being alone sucked, anyway.

He strode into the room and pulled up his usual chair opposite Derek's wheelchair. "So what should we do today? Another game of chess, even though you stomped me last time? Maybe checkers instead? Oh, I've also got Lord of the Rings Trivial Pursuit, and I will warn you, I am the trivia master. The only difficulty is remembering what happened in the movies versus the books. Hey, have you ever read the Lord of the Rings? If not, I should bring them. Hell, even if you have, I should bring them. You'll get a laugh out of listening to me stumble through Elvish poetry for five pages. Oh, or Harry Potter!"

Stiles paused, attempting to gauge Derek's reaction, only to see something red on his lips. That was weird. "Did you have cherry Jell-O or something for lunch, dude? Because whoever fed you did a crap job of cleaning it off."

He walked over to the sink and wet a couple of paper towels, then came back over to Derek. "I'm just going to wipe it off, okay? Having sticky stuff on my lips drives me crazy, so I can't even imagine how bad it would be if I couldn't do anything about it." 

Stiles bent over Derek's face and wiped at the red stuff. Huh. It didn't come off as easily as it should've. He frowned. "Weird. This shit's really sticking on there." 

He rubbed at it as hard as he dared, trying to get the red stuff off. "Damn, it's like freaking waterproof lipstick or something..."

Dude. Stiles paused. What if it was lipstick? Had somebody come in here and kissed Derek on the lips? That...okay, that was really fucking creepy.

"You got a girlfriend you aren't telling me about, big guy?" Stiles asked quietly, even though he knew that couldn't be the case. Derek had been here six years, and Melissa had said he'd never had a non-staff visitor before Stiles. 

Yeah. "Really fucking creepy" didn't even begin to cover it.

He wiped at Derek's lips until they were clean, and there wasn't a spot of red anywhere that he could see. Stiles brushed his thumb over Derek's mouth, making sure he hadn't missed a spot. His lips were a little pinker now, after Stiles's ministrations, but thankfully it looked like he'd gotten rid of all the lipstick.

Stiles suppressed a shudder, and straightened up to toss the paper towels away. "Well. That takes care of that. Don't suppose you can tell me who did that to you?"

He turned his gaze back to Derek, but of course Derek didn't respond. His pale eyes, some combination of yellow and green and brown that Stiles had never been able to describe, stared unblinkingly into the corner of the room, his quiet breaths as even as they ever were. There was so much he wanted to know, so much he wanted to ask, but he wasn't sure if Derek even understood him. And after six years, he wasn't sure if Derek ever would.

Stiles sighed and pulled out the chess board, started setting up the pieces. "Come on, man. Let's have a rematch. I bet I can kick your ass, this time." 

***

Stiles played through a game and a half of chess before he remembered to check the time. Shit. He was going to be late getting home.

He gave Derek an apologetic smile and folded up the board. “Sorry, man. I’ve got to head out. My dad’s going to be home soon and I need to make sure he eats something that isn’t a cheeseburger for dinner. Also I’ve got a chem test on Monday that’s going to destroy me if I don’t put in at least a little study time.”

It was probably just his imagination, but he thought the corner of Derek’s lip twitched up a little. Stiles smiled back. “Seriously, next time I’m bringing the Harry Potter books. You probably missed the last two, so we should definitely make sure you’re up-to-date on them. They’re awesome.”

He stashed the chessboard on Derek’s bookshelf, next to the other games, and then tapped the desk. “See you next week, dude. Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.”

Stiles headed back out of Derek’s room and caught the first nurse he met, a tall blonde woman he’d only seen a couple of times. “Hey, um, nurse? Can I talk to you a second?”

She stopped and folded up the clipboard she’d been looking at. “What is it, sweetie?”

Something about the way she said “sweetie” felt off to him, but Stiles shrugged it away. “Um, I’ve been coming to visit my friend over in room 347, and I noticed he had lipstick on his face today. He’s kind of catatonic and doesn’t have any other friends or family in the area, so that’s just really—” creepy, unsettling “—weird. Would you all make sure to keep a closer eye on his room, so nobody’s going in there who shouldn’t be?”

The nurse reached out and squeezed his shoulder. “Of course. I’ll make sure to let everyone know, and I’ll keep an extra-close eye on him myself. Promise.”

“Cool. Thanks a lot,” Stiles checked the nurse’s name badge, “Kate. I appreciate it.”

She smiled wider. “No thanks necessary. After all, it’s my job.”

Chapter Text

Stiles burst into the hospital, feet slapping against the hard floor. His mind beat with the sound of the phone call he'd gotten at school.

"There's been an accident. The sheriff—"

Not Dad, he thought. Not Dad, not Dad, please, God, not my dad...

He skidded to a stop in front of the nurse's station. "Where's Sheriff Stilinski?"

The nurse, a white-haired woman he didn't recognize, pursed her lips in distaste. "Shouldn't you be in school?"

Stiles wanted to scream. He just managed to keep from jumping over the desk. "The sheriff. My dad. Where is he?"

"Stiles!" someone called from down the hall.

He jerked up at the sound of Melissa's voice, could have cried with the relief that finally, here was someone who could tell him, someone—

She stopped in front of him and rested her hand on his shoulder. "Stiles, what are you doing here?"

He struggled to keep his voice even. "They called me. They said—Dad—"

Melissa closed her eyes and muttered fuck so softly under her breath, Stiles almost doubted he'd heard it. "Come with me."

"Is he okay?" Stiles heard how high-pitched his voice went.

"He's fine, I promise, but I also know you won't believe me until you see him for yourself," she said. "So, come on." 

***

His dad was sitting in a small waiting area, bruised and scratched up and with his arm in a sling, but otherwise he was fine, as promised.

Stiles didn't know whether to be relieved it was only a broken arm, angry that his dad had been hurt, or furious that they had called him at school and nearly given him a fucking panic attack on the way over.

"Stiles?" Dad frowned. "What are you doing here?"

"Well, you know, apparently when my dad gets hit by a freaking car, the hospital calls his emergency contact," Stiles snapped. "Who knew?"

"Oh, for God's sake." Dad pressed the fingers of his free hand to the bridge of his nose. "I'm fine. I was barely brushed."

Stiles flailed. "Your arm is broken!

"Which means six weeks of getting rides to work and showers with a plastic bag over my hand."

"This isn't funny!"

Dad grimaced. "Stiles. It's just a broken arm. It's not even a bad break."

"But it could have been!" Stiles shouted.

Dad looked taken aback at that, like he hadn't been expecting Stiles to yell. "Look, they've still got to keep me a little while longer," he said gently. "Why don't you go grab some burgers or something and I'll text you when they're ready to let me go? And we'll talk at home. Sound good?"

No, it didn't sound good. What sounded good was wrapping his dad in bubble wrap never letting him leave the house again. That was what sounded good, but it was also not possible. "Yeah. That's fine. I'll just..."

Stiles left before the lump in his throat got worse, and he actually started crying in the middle of the damn hospital. He kept his eyes focused at the ground in front of him, trying so hard not to think about what could have been that he didn't even notice where he was going.

It wasn't until he looked up that he realized he was standing in front of Derek's room. Stiles hesitated only a fraction of a second before going inside.

Derek's lack of reaction to him was comfortingly familiar at this point, and Stiles waved jerkily. "Hi. Hey. Sorry for just barging in—well, I know I always barge in, but I also try to bring stuff, and I didn't bring anything today because I didn't plan on coming. I mean, I planned on coming to see you tomorrow, but not today. Today I got called out of fifth hour because my dad—he's the sheriff, did I tell you that?" Stiles raked a shaky hand through his hair. "Is it stuffy in here? It seems like it's stuffy in here."

He walked to the window and yanked it open, briefly resting his head against the screen, wrinkling his nose against the dusty metal scent. It grounded him in a way he really hadn't been from the moment he'd gotten the phone call.

Stiles walked back to Derek and collapsed in his usual seat, but he couldn't bring himself to look Derek in the eyes. "My dad got hit by a car," he said, quickly, like ripping off a bandage. "He was giving someone a ticket and he got hit by a car. Broke his arm. And it's not bad, I know that, but...it's just a reminder, you know? That I could lose him, too. And I just." He swallowed hard. "I don't think I can handle that, you know? I can't lose both of them."

Finally, Stiles let his gaze meet Derek's for the first time, even though he knew Derek wouldn't be looking at him. But maybe that helped, a little. There wasn't any pity, wasn't any judgment in his face. It was just Derek, listening to Stiles talk.

Hell, he'd probably understand how it felt better than anyone, understand how much it hurt to lose your family and how terrified you'd be of losing anyone else. Stiles tried to think about how it would have felt to lose his mom and his dad at the same time and he just...couldn't.  Sometimes he wondered if that was why Derek was this way, because waking up fully would be too painful.

Stiles clenched his fists in an effort to stop fidgeting, but it didn't work. He felt less like having a panic attack now, more solid, but he was still jittery, keyed up with all the energy of wanting to do something but not being able to do anything but wait.

He stood abruptly. "You want to take a walk? I'm going to take a walk."

***

Unsurprisingly, while the long-term care nurses were more than happy to let Stiles visit Derek in his room, they drew the line at him taking Derek and his wheelchair outside of the hospital. Stiles pouted, but he absolutely couldn't stand to sit still for however long it would take the doctors to finish with his dad, so he apologized to Derek and promised to be back as soon as he'd walked off his excess energy.

The hospital had a courtyard. It wasn't a fancy courtyard by any stretch of the imagination, but the maintenance crew did a good job of keeping it clean and well-maintained. There were a couple of trees, some nice bushes, scattered flower beds that bloomed throughout the spring and summer, and a smooth concrete path with benches in a few shady places.

Right now, everything was just starting to bud, a promise of colors in the months to come. Several of the windows facing the courtyard were open, probably other hospital patients taking advantage of the warm weather.

Stiles had spent a lot of time in this courtyard when his mother had been in the hospital, sometimes alone, sometimes playing hide-and-seek with Scott. It didn't feel as large now as it had back then, but it still felt weirdly peaceful.

He'd been walking the circuit of the courtyard for about fifteen minutes when he smelled cigarette smoke. Stiles wrinkled his nose at the acrid scent. The only designated smoking areas were out the back door or up on the roof, not in the courtyard, so where was the smell coming from?

He frowned at the nearest open window. Surely no one was actually smoking in the hospital. That was ridiculous.

But still, it was where the smell was strongest, so he walked closer. He heard a woman's voice drifting through the window, but it wasn't quite loud enough for him to make out what she was saying.

Well, Stiles had always been too curious for his own good. He crept closer to the window, keeping to the wall on one side so whoever was in the room couldn't see him. He didn't want to get busted for eavesdropping.

"—isn't that right, Derek?" the woman's voice said, syrupy sweet.

Stiles froze where he was. Derek?

"I have to say, it is the highlight of my day, coming in here and seeing you trapped like this. Big bad wolf, stuck in your own mind and your own body. You can't even stop me from doing this."

Holy shit. Stiles inched out from where he was plastered to the wall, just enough to get a glimpse inside the room.

It was the blonde nurse, the one he'd talked to a few weeks ago, and she was jabbing a fucking burning cigarette butt into Derek's hand.

Stiles crammed one hand into his mouth to keep from shouting out, and ducked under the sill so she couldn't see him. Fuck. Fuck. Had she been doing this all along? Was she the one who'd left the lipstick on Derek in the first place?

The thought made Stiles blind with rage.

He fumbled in his pocket, got out his phone, and turned on the video. She wasn't facing the window, so she probably wouldn't see it if he just held the camera part over the sill.

"Tell me, does this remind you of the fire? The smell of your own flesh burning, the smell of your family burning to death? Does this take you back to that night?" she said. "It does for me. Oh, it takes me back."

Stiles swore he could hear the satisfaction in her voice, and it made him want to vomit.

"I know I've told you this a million times, but there's nothing quite like watching an entire pack of werewolves burn alive. All that super-special healing, and you can't escape a simple house fire."

Holy fuck, this woman was out of her goddamn mind.

"And don't think I haven't noticed that boy coming around to visit you. Pretty sure he's just human, though. So don't worry. I won't go after him...yet."

Heart pounding, Stiles punched the stop button on his phone and crept away from the window as fast and quietly as he could. He'd bet his entire college savings plan that blonde nurse had something to do with the fire that had killed Derek's family, and this recording could probably give his dad enough evidence to reopen the case. And while it wasn't a confession, it was enough to get her fired and get her the fuck away from Derek. Seriously, werewolves. How fucking crazy was she to think Derek was a werewolf?

First things first. He had to get to Dad.

Chapter Text

The only downside to police work, Stiles thought, was that it could move so slowly. As he'd expected, the video was enough to get Kate fired, and the cigarette burns on Derek's hand got her arrested for assault. But even though his dad had reopened the investigation into the Hale fire, they didn't have any more solid evidence linking Kate to it.

Stiles did his best to keep Derek updated on the case, but it was hard to tell if Derek even knew what he was saying. Regardless, he made sure to bring a decent movie on the days he had case updates. It couldn't be easy to hear that stuff, and Stiles always wanted to leave Derek's room on a lighter note than when he arrived.

He couldn't be sure, but he thought Derek's eyes had a bit more of a spark to them after the visits than before.

It might have been better if Melissa was the one taking care of Derek, but she worked in the wrong area of the hospital. However, she personally vouched for the two nurses who now traded shifts watching him. It wasn't perfect, but Stiles would take it. At least they weren't Kate, and Stiles didn't find any more scars or burns or bruises on him. He might have been a little paranoid about checking. He spent a lot of time wondering how much he'd missed, how long Kate had been hurting Derek right under everyone's nose.

Just over a month after Stiles took the video, he got a call from his dad right after school.

"We've found the evidence," his dad said without preamble.

Stiles's heart pounded harder. "To convict Kate?"

"Well, that's up to the prosecutor," Dad said. "But we have enough evidence to bring charges against her for the death of the Hale family. I just wanted to let you know before you go into visit Derek."

"Thanks, Dad." Stiles scrambled to get his keys out. "I'll tell him the second I get there."

***

This time, it didn't take long for Stiles to convince the nurses to let him take Derek out into the courtyard. He probably failed at not smirking over that little victory.

The trees and bushes that had just been starting to bud the last time he'd been out here were now a riot of color, white and yellow and pink and pale green. The whole courtyard smelled like fresh grass and growing things, just like his mom's garden when he was a kid, and the memory of it kept Stiles quiet for at least three whole minutes as he wheeled Derek along the path.

"So yeah, Dad and the deputies are bringing charges against Kate Argent today," Stiles said. "I'm sure she'll lawyer up—well, of course she will—but the way Dad was talking, they've got enough that she'll go away for a long, long time." He crouched on the ground in front of Derek so he could look him in the eyes. "I know it won't do anything to bring your family back, but she'll pay for what she did, okay? And she'll never be able to hurt you again."

Derek only continued staring vacantly across the courtyard. Stiles smiled a little and wheeled him over to the nearest bench so he could sit down next to him.

"I wish I knew more about you, dude." Stiles kicked out his legs, stretching them as far across the path as he could. "I mean, don't get me wrong, you're awesome and I have a lot of fun with a captive audience who can't tell me to be quiet, but I wish I could ask you, like, your birthday or whether you like the movies I bring you or if you'd like to play a different game or what books you want me to bring next time, you know?"

He slid his gaze sideways, just to see if Derek had made any sort of motion or noise—a blink, a snort, a particularly loud inhale—but still nada. Oh well.

"I'm glad they added tulips here," he said, pointing to where a group of them grew near the opposite side of the path. "They were my mom's favorite. She used to plant them by our sidewalk every year, and when she started spending more time at the hospital, she asked if they would put them in. On her good days, we'd come out here so she could look at them. She used to know the names of all the flowers, but...she started to forget."

Stiles shrugged, as if that could somehow get rid of the dull pain he felt every time he talked about his mom. "So she started making up names for them. I thought it was hilarious, and I'd help her. We'd call the tulips bucket-flowers and stuff like that. It was great, you know...until we were out here one day and she forgot my name."

He bit his lips at the sudden lump in his throat. He'd never told anyone, not Scott or his dad or Melissa, and she'd remembered right after, but that didn't erase how it felt to see the look on her face—first confused, then horrified—and how much it had hurt. She'd forgotten a lot of stuff, but up until that moment, she'd never forgotten him or his dad.

Stiles cleared his throat. "Well, I'm just a bundle of laughs today." He reached over and patted Derek's hand. "Sorry. You don't need to hear my shit. You've got enough of your own."

He let his hand rest on top of Derek's scarred one, absently rubbing his thumb along Derek's. He tried not to touch Derek too much, because he wasn't sure of his personal bubble preferences, but it just felt okay right now.

Something squeezed his hand.

Stiles whipped his head around to see Derek squeezing his hand. Derek "I've been in a comatose state for six years" Hale was squeezing his hand like it was a lifeline.

"Holy shit," Stiles said, and looked to meet Derek's eyes.

For the first time in the months since they'd met, Derek wasn't staring vacantly into space. He was staring at Stiles. His pale green-yellow eyes were fixed on Stiles.

"Holy shit," Stiles said again. "Holy shit, dude, you squeezed my hand!"

The pressure on his hand lifted, and then Derek squeezed it again.

Stiles jumped up and danced around as best he could, with one hand in the air and the other in Derek's grip. "This is awesome! They said you wouldn't come out of it but you're totally coming out of it. I fucking knew you would!" Stiles swung around behind Derek's wheelchair and started to maneuver him back onto the path with one hand. "Come on, we've got to go back inside and tell the nurses. I've got an 'I told you so' dance prepared and everything. Can you let go of my hand so I can wheel you without tipping you over?"

Derek didn't let go. In fact, he squeezed Stiles's hand harder. Damn, he had a pretty crazy grip for someone who'd been in the hospital for six years. Stiles tried to wiggle his fingers. "Um, Derek?"

No change in pressure. It didn't look like Derek had any intention of letting go anytime soon.

"Okay. Um." Stiles considered. "Can you squeeze my hand once for yes and twice for no?"

The pressure on his hand lifted, and then Derek squeezed it again, briefly. Yes.

"Do you want to go inside?" Stiles asked.

Two squeezes. No.

"So you want to stay out here?"

Yes.

Stiles swallowed. "You want me to go get a nurse?"

No.

Okay then. "So you just want to stay out here with me?"

Yes.

Stiles couldn't hold back the smile that he felt stretching across his face. "Aw. I feel special, man. Okay, since this is officially the first thing you've ever asked me for, we'll stay out here until they make me bring you back in or I have to leave." He settled back on the bench, and flexed his fingers until he could thread them through Derek's. "Whichever comes first."

Derek squeezed his hand again. Yes.

Chapter Text

Now that Derek could actually communicate, it made their visits even better. Stiles started going to the hospital more often, bursting with questions every time. He found out Derek preferred Superman to Batman, the X-men to the Avengers, and Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter. His birthday was December 25, and Stiles brought him six red and green cupcakes to celebrate all the birthdays since he'd been in the hospital.

He couldn't be sure if Derek enjoyed the cupcakes (although he said he did—well, he squeezed once when Stiles asked), but he thought Derek appreciated the sentiment, at least.

Stiles brought Scott with him occasionally, partly because Scott had access to a bunch of video games that Derek absolutely needed to see and partly because Derek needed to interact with someone who wasn't Stiles or a nurse for once. Derek still refused to "talk" to anyone who wasn't Stiles, but his glare seemed to soften whenever Scott and Stiles were elbowing each other over Halo. In fact, Stiles might even have called the look "fond."

But other days, when it was just him, Stiles would sit next to Derek's chair, watching whatever movie or TV show he'd brought that day, their fingers loosely linked in the space between them. And Stiles wasn't mature about a lot of things, but he was mature enough to admit to himself that he was happy Derek communicated via hand-squeezes instead of something like blinking because this way, he got to hold Derek's hand all the time.

And Stiles liked holding Derek's hand.

He didn't examine the why too closely—probably because he was a touchy-feely person with the people he cared about, and at some point in the past few months Derek had turned into someone he cared about. The nurses were amazed at Derek's progress, and at least one doctor had made mutterings about how it shouldn't have been possible, which just made Stiles want to stick out his tongue at the jerk. Derek probably just needed someone to treat him like a damn human being for once, that was all.

So Stiles visited him five days a week, and rambled to Derek and watched movies with him, and only shut up when Derek squeezed his hand. It was a good routine.

Of course, that was when everything went to shit.

***

Stiles was up early in the morning because his dad had been called out in the middle of the night and he typically didn't sleep too well when that happened. If it was just an overnight shift, Stiles was fine, but getting called out? Too many "what ifs" floated through his mind for sleep to be an option.

He'd just poured his cereal when his phone rang. The caller ID said "Beacon Hills Memorial Hospital" and his stomach dropped through the floor. His fingers trembled, and it took him two tries to answer the phone.

"Is it my dad?" were the first words out of his mouth.

"What? No, Stiles, your dad's fine." It was Melissa's voice on the other end. "It's Derek."

Stiles froze. "Derek? What happened?"

"He's missing."

***

Stiles broke a startling number of traffic laws getting to the hospital, his heart thudding so hard he worried he might throw himself into a panic attack. Melissa's words bounced around inside his head, along with the question of how how how how Derek's in a fucking coma how is he missing?!?

The sheriff's cars were already at the hospital by the time Stiles screeched into the parking lot, which made him feel only moderately better. He ran all the way to the long-term care ward, where his dad and two deputies were talking with nurses.

"What happened?" Stiles asked breathlessly. "Did someone take him? Did they catch anything on camera? Did—"

Dad clapped a hand on Stiles's shoulder that meant both I understand and please be quiet. "Parrish and Graeme are looking at the security footage right now, but so far they haven't found anything. The nurses swear no one unauthorized went in Derek's room all night, and he was still there when they checked on him around one."

One in the damn morning. God. It was nearly seven-thirty now, six-and-a-half hours that Derek could have been missing. "So someone waltzed in at three a.m. and just wheeled him out?"

From the look on his dad's face, Stiles guessed that wasn't what had happened. "The window's broken," Dad said. "From the inside."

"From the...what?" Stiles tried to make sense of it. "But if they're already in the room, why wouldn't they just open it?"

"I don't know, son." Dad hesitated. "And...it looks like there may have been a struggle."

Stiles's mind wheeled through the possibilities and came up with only one explanation. "Do you think...Kate?"

By the grim set of Dad's mouth, it was a thought that had occurred to him as well. "She's still in jail, but if she has accomplices..."

Yeah, Stiles really didn't need to hear that sentence finished. "I'm helping you look."

His dad rubbed a thumb between his eyes. "Stiles—"

"Dad, I'm gonna lose my freaking mind if I have to sit at home waiting. I have to do something," Stiles pleaded.

Dad sighed, but it was the one that meant Stiles had won the argument. "Okay. But the only reason I'm relenting on this is because I know you're going to do it anyway. But if you find anything, you do not approach. You call me immediately. If I don't answer, you call the station. Am I clear?"

Stiles was already backing down the hall toward the door. "Yes, sir. Crystal."

***

Stiles turned his Jeep toward the Preserve, figuring that was as good a place as any to start looking. The old Hale house was out there, an abandoned husk, far away from the center of town and a frighteningly good place to hide a kidnapping victim. Not to mention he hadn't forgotten Kate's words in that video. She'd been at that hospital a long time, torturing Derek, forcing him to relive the fire with her words. If she'd taken him, Stiles would bet his college savings that she'd set up camp out there.

And on the off chance Derek had somehow regain full consciousness and broken himself out of the hospital, well...Stiles knew that, were their positions switched, the first place he would go would be home.

He wove his way down the road—part dirt, part pockmarked pavement—until he reached the skeleton of the Hale house.

Stiles stopped a little ways back and surveyed the area. He didn't see any other cars, or any other indication that people had come this way, so maybe the Hale house was a dead end. He'd still check it out, just to be sure.

He stepped out of the car and made his way toward the house, keeping his hand on his phone just in case he had to make a quick 911 call. But there was nothing beyond the wind in the trees. He couldn't hear even the faintest sign of human life beyond his own stumbling footsteps.

Stiles sighed. He'd make a quick circuit around the house, see if he spotted anything, and then he'd head back into town. Maybe the other deputies had found something. Maybe Derek was already back at the hospital. Maybe—

He was only a few yards from the huge front porch when he heard the growl.

Or he didn't hear the growl, so much as he sensed it, in whatever part of his mind was responsible for fear and fight-or-flight reflexes, because it made all the hair on the back of his neck stand on end.

Stiles froze and looked very, very slowly up at the front door.

Where a massive fucking black wolf looked back at him.

There aren't wolves in California, Stiles thought, and immediately wanted to kick his brain for that unhelpful bit of information, because clearly this wolf hadn't gotten the memo.

The wolf stepped out of the shadows, teeth bared, rumbling a growl that sent chills down Stiles's spine. Running would probably be a terrible idea; even as fast as he was, Stiles couldn't outrun a wolf.

Then the growling just...stopped. The wolf continued to look at him, staring at him with its pale eyes, but the growling was no more.

That was good. That probably meant the wolf didn't see him as a threat; that meant Stiles could slowly back away and get the fuck back to his Jeep because he had been prepared to find scary people with guns out here, not fucking wolves.

Stiles took two cautious steps back toward his Jeep when the wolf jumped off the front porch and trotted toward him. He froze again, hardly daring to breathe. Good God, this wolf was huge.

It walked right up to him and bumped against his hand.

What.

The wolf blinked up and then nosed at his hand again, giving Stiles a look that could only be interpreted as Why the hell aren't you petting me yet?

Stiles...was not entirely sure what to do with that. Except, you know, pet the wolf. And hopefully not lose his hand in the process.

He carefully petted the wolf's head and scratched behind its ear.

The wolf shuddered, made a pleased rumble, and then flopped on the ground and turned into Derek.

Stiles could only gape at the very naked Derek Hale now sprawled on the ground. He was seeing this, but he sure as hell wasn't processing it, because how in the hell had Derek been a wolf?

"Holy shit," he finally said. "Holy shit, you're a werewolf."

***

It didn't take long for Stiles to ascertain a few things. One, Derek still couldn't speak, and now that he was human again, he was having trouble moving his body. Two, the burn scars on his face were still there, so clearly this whole “shifting into a wolf for the night” thing hadn’t done much to heal him. Three, he looked just as confused and probably more frightened than Stiles was.

Okay. Stiles could deal with this. He would deal with this, and he would deal with it in such a way that it wouldn't end up with Derek getting stuck in the hospital even longer, or worse, Eichen House.

He ran to his Jeep and found some mostly clean sweats in the back, and helped Derek get dressed. "I am really, really sorry about this, dude," Stiles said. "Like, so sorry, you have no idea, but we need to get you into some clothes."

Derek said nothing and stared off into the forest over Stiles's shoulder.

Fine. That was fine. Stiles totally hadn't gotten used to Derek's eyes on him over the past few weeks, not at all. "Okay. You haven't minded my rambling so far, so I'm just going to keep doing it. So werewolves are a thing, huh? Gotta say, I did not see that coming. Like, at all. Oh shit, is that why Kate—" Stiles cut himself off. "You know, I'm going to guess I shouldn't finish that sentence. So your whole family was werewolves, huh? That's cool. I'm gonna have, like, a million and three questions when you can talk again, just so you know. It's not every day that my entire perception of reality shifts. Are vampires real, too? God, I hope not. I mean, I love garlic so I eat enough that I'd probably taste horrible, but still."

He finished maneuvering Derek into his sweatshirt, and sat back and heaved out a sigh. "Wow, dude, I think this is the first time I've seen you in a color that isn't hospital white. Maroon's a good color on you. Maybe I should try and bring you, like, scarves or something. Give you a little color in your wardrobe."

Stop rambling, Stiles scolded himself, but right now it was all he could do to keep himself focused on the task at hand, instead of having a very serious freakout over fucking werewolves.

He took Derek's hand and linked their fingers. "Can you still squeeze me, once for yes and twice for no?"

Derek looked at him then, and Stiles saw the flat judgement in his eyes. He squeezed once. Yes.

"Okay." Stiles scrubbed his free hand through his hair. "Okay, I'm going to get you into the Jeep and take you back to the hospital, is that okay?"

Yes.

Stiles hesitated. "Nobody was...hurting you, right? Like, that's not why you ran away?"

No.

Stiles let out a breath of relief he hadn't known he'd been holding. "Good. That's good. I want to ask you why, but there's not really a way to do it like this...wait." Something clicked in his head. "Did you run away because you turned into a wolf?"

Yes.

"And I'm guessing that's something we need to keep secret, right?"

Yes.

"Okay." Stiles worked one arm under both of Derek's and hauled him to his feet. Holy shit, he was heavy. "Your secret's safe with me. Now let's get you back to the hospital so everyone knows you're safe."

Derek exhaled a little louder, different from what Stiles had heard before, so he decided to take that as agreement.

Getting Derek into the Jeep was easier said than done, but Stiles managed to get him into the passenger seat and safely buckled in. He was about to walk back around to the driver's side when Derek grabbed his wrist.

Stiles gaped. Derek had never actually grabbed him before. He'd barely been able to move enough to squeeze his hand. Now, Derek was gripping his wrist not quite hard enough for it to hurt, and breathing harshly, his brow creased in concentration.

"Derek?" Stiles peered at him, searching those multicolored eyes for some indication of what was happening. "You okay? What's wrong?"

He wanted to slap himself, because it wasn't like Derek could articulate full sentences right now.

"St," Derek said. "Sti...sti..."

Stiles's jaw dropped, and his heart started beating harder. "Derek...are you trying to talk?"

Derek squeezed his wrist once, and then said, "Stiles."

Until that moment, Stiles hadn't quite understood the phrase "knock me over with a feather." But right then, hearing his name as Derek's first word in six years, he was so shocked a light breeze could have sent him to the ground. It was a little rough, a little garbled, but it was clear enough.

"Stiles," Derek said again. "Tha...thanks."

Stiles exhaled slowly. "Dude, I'm going to hug you now, if that's okay."

Derek squeezed his wrist again, and then let go.

Stiles scrambled half into the Jeep and threw his arms around Derek, hugging him tight. The angle was awkward, but dammit, he didn't give a shit. Derek was getting better. Derek was going to get better and get out of the hospital and...and...

And then what?

Slowly, Stiles let go of him and dropped out of the Jeep, turning away to wipe his eyes. "Okay," he said, and his voice only shook a little bit. "Okay, dude, let's get you back."

He firmly shut Derek's door and went around to his own side. He wanted Derek to get better, he did, but what was waiting for him outside the hospital? Did he have somewhere he could go? Extended family members who hadn't realized he'd survived?

A new thought dawned on him. If Derek's whole family had been werewolves, what if they hadn't all perished in the fire? Clearly they were difficult to kill. What if a few had made it out, or hadn't been home when it had happened? What if they hadn't come back because they were afraid of getting caught by Kate again?

Stiles slid his gaze to Derek, sitting silently in his passenger seat.

Looked like he had some detective work to do.

Chapter Text

"Did any of the other Hales survive the fire?" Stiles asked his dad over breakfast a few days after he'd taken Derek back to the hospital.

His dad looked up from his plate of eggs and frowned. "You know they didn't. Why are you asking?"

Because Derek's really a werewolf and I think it's more than likely some of his family survived was not a reason he could give to his dad. Stiles fidgeted and poked at his breakfast. "Maybe there were some who weren't at home. Or maybe they got out and ran because Kate was still around."

"Then why didn't they ever come back for him?" Dad took a sip of coffee. "I know you want Derek to have some family, kid, but—"

"Just let me look," Stiles begged. "Please?"

Dad sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose with his knuckle. "I just don't want you to be disappointed if you don't find anyone."

Stiles nodded. He understood, he did, but he still had to try.

***

Later that day, after visiting Derek at the hospital, Stiles came home to a box of files sitting unattended on the kitchen table. He didn't recognize the case number, but a quick glance at one of the files showed the name "Hale."

"Thanks, Dad," Stiles said to the empty kitchen.

***

He spent the next two days poring over all the files from the Hale fire. He put away the more recent ones, related to Kate's arrest and trial, and started digging through the early files from right after the fire. He was perversely fascinated by the pictures of the house and the charred bodies, until he remembered this was Derek, and Derek's entire family, dead simply because of who they were. And the person who'd done it had spent years tormenting Derek after the fact, when he was trapped inside his own body.

He had to take a break and walk around the backyard for a bit after that.

Stiles finally found the coroner's report listing all the bodies that had been identified by dental records. Only two were missing: Laura Hale and Cora Hale, Derek's sisters. They had no dental records, only the note "missing, presumed dead" next to their names.

"Bingo," Stiles whispered.

***

Naturally, finding Laura's and Cora's names was the easy part of the process. After that, it looked like they'd vanished off the face of the planet.

Stiles's first stop was Google and social media in general, but either they'd changed their names or something, because he couldn't find any evidence of them on Facebook or Twitter or anywhere. He asked the hospital if they had anyone on file to make decisions for Derek's care, but apparently the family lawyer was the one who'd set it up, and any payments were written from the law firm.

Stiles tried calling them, but no one at the firm had either seen or heard from Laura or Cora in the past six years, and they were all skeptical about whether the Hales were even still alive.

He debated whether or not to tell Derek what he suspected, but he didn't want to get his hopes up. Derek was steadily getting better—he still didn't talk much, but it was clear he was more aware of everything. He still communicated mostly by hand squeezes and grunts, but that was fine. It was more than Stiles was used to from him.

Guilt ate at him after every visit—that he hadn't been able to find Laura and Cora, that he was keeping this from Derek—but Stiles shoved it away and redoubled his efforts. Derek had family somewhere, and by God he was going to find it.

After a frustrating few weeks, he bit the bullet and texted Danny Mahealani. They weren't friends by any stretch of the imagination, but Danny was generally a decent guy and more importantly, he was the only person Stiles knew who was an actual hacker. (Granted, Stiles wasn't supposed to know that, but details.)

To his surprise, Danny called him five minutes later. Actually called.

And started the conversation with "You want me to what?"

"Good afternoon to you too," Stiles said.

"You want me to track down someone who dropped off the grid. I think we're past pleasantries," Danny said. "How do you even know I can do that?"

Stiles flailed and sat up in his chair. "Not important! What is important is that I will give you fifty bucks to track down this person."

"A hundred."

Stiles choked. "Dude, I'm not made of money!"

"This isn't exactly legal," Danny pointed out. "I want to be compensated properly."

"I thought you were nice, Danny," Stiles said accusingly.

"I'm perfectly nice."

Stiles groaned and mentally tallied his bank account. "I can do sixty?"

Danny hmmed on the other end. "Sixty, and a fake ID."

Stiles dropped his voice instinctively, even though he knew no one was home. "How do you know I do those?"

"Not important," Danny mimicked him.

"Ugh, fine." Stiles thunked his head against his desk. "Sixty bucks and an ID, and I swear to God if you let it get out that I do them I will do something creative and violent with your intestines."

"We have a deal. Text me the name. And Stiles?"

"Yeah?"

"Tell anyone I do this, and what I do to you might not be creative but it will be painful. Clear?"

Stiles saluted his phone, even though he knew Danny couldn't see it. "As freshly cleaned glass."

***

Four days later, Danny met him at a park and handed him a sheet of paper with Laura's name, phone number, place of work, and address in New York. For the longest moment, Stiles couldn't believe he was holding it, thought it would vanish into thin air.

He dug into his pocket and produced the money and the ID. "Thanks, man."

Danny counted the money and checked the ID before slipping them into his own pocket. "I'd say any time, but..."

Stiles folded up the paper. "No, I get it. One-time thing. Won't happen again."

Danny nodded once and stood up to leave, and then hesitated. "Out of curiosity...why are you looking for her?"

Stiles stood up and fisted the paper in his hands. "It's for a friend. Thanks again."

He jogged back to the Jeep before Danny could ask him any more questions.

***

Stiles sat on the paper for almost twenty-four hours, debating whether or not to contact Laura himself. In the end, he decided it would be a better idea to ask Derek first. It wasn't like he thought Derek would say no, but at the same time, Derek hadn't been able to have a say in any decisions until recently. Stiles wanted him to have a say in this one.

The next time he walked into the hospital room, Stiles pulled the paper out and set it on the tray in front of Derek's chair before he even sat down.

"I went looking for your family," he said without any preamble. "I didn't want to say anything in case I didn't find anything, but then I found out both Laura and Cora were listed as 'missing, presumed dead,' which means they didn't find a body for either of them and—" Stiles cut himself off. "Sorry. Tangent. Anyway, I had a friend look into it and this is Laura's contact information. She's in New York."

Derek stared at the paper, expression utterly unreadable. He rested one hand on it, thumb trailing lightly over the words.

"Do you want me to call her?" Stiles asked. "I don't want to get your hopes up. It might not be her, but my friend's really good at what he does, so I think it probably is."

Derek's eyes flicked back and forth from the paper to Stiles, and he grunted, wiggling his fingers.

"Oh!" Stiles took Derek's free hand in his. "Do you want—"

Derek's grip tightened on his hand, not quite to the point of pain, but close. His yellow-green eyes flickered to blue, just briefly, and his gaze bored into Stiles with an intensity that should have been frightening.

Wow, he had a hell of a grip. Had to be a werewolf thing. "I'm guessing that's a yes," Stiles said quietly.

Derek relaxed his hand minutely and squeezed Stiles again. Yes.

"Okay." Stiles rubbed his thumb over Derek's hand. "I'll call her later tonight. Or tomorrow. I'll let you know what I hear, okay? You want to be left alone?"

No.

"Want me to stay and watch movies with you?"

Yes.

"Okay, big guy. Squeeze once for Clue or twice for Get Smart." Stiles grinned. "I think we should have a comedy night."

They ended up watching both, and Derek didn't let go of Stiles's hand the entire time.

***

It was late when he got home, so Stiles waited until the next morning to call. It was nine a.m. in Beacon Hills, which meant it would be noon in New York. Hopefully Laura would be on a lunch break or something.

He couldn't stop bouncing his knee and drumming on the table as the phone rang. What if it was the wrong Laura? What if she'd known about Derek but didn't want to see him? What if—

"Hello?" a woman's voice said.

"Hey! Um, I need to speak to Laura Hale?" Stiles winced. He sounded so young.

"Who's this?" the woman said warily.

"My name's Stiles Stilinski. I'm from Beacon Hills, and I—"

"Beacon Hills?" the woman repeated, tone gone cold. "What the hell do you want?"

Stiles took a deep breath. "I have a message for Laura. It's about her brother, Derek."

Silence on the other end of the line. When the woman spoke again, her voice trembled. "You're a fucking liar. Derek's dead."

"No, he's not." Stiles shook his head, even though he knew damn well she couldn't see him. "He's been in a coma for six years, but he's not dead. Call the long-term care unit at Beacon Hills Memorial."

The only reason Stiles knew she hadn't hung up was because he could hear her harsh breathing. "Stilinski." She cleared her throat. "Related to Sheriff Stilinski?"

A tiny sliver of hope sprang in his chest. "Yeah. My dad."

"Nobody ever called us." Her voice caught on the words. "Nobody...they never told us..."

"Dude, they didn't think anyone survived the fire," Stiles said. "They thought Derek was the only one. Any bodies they didn't find were listed as 'missing, presumed dead.'"

Once again, the woman didn't respond, but this time, Stiles could hear stifled sobs for about five seconds before his phone beeped with a disconnected call.

"Well, that went well," Stiles said to the empty kitchen.

***

He told Derek that he hadn't been able to talk to Laura, that he'd just left a message. It wasn't even a lie. Stiles wasn't a hundred percent sure he'd spoken to Laura—it could've been Cora, just as easily—and he had left a message. It had just been to a sobbing woman instead of a voicemail.

Derek didn't really react, and somehow that hurt more. He just wanted something to go right, dammit. Derek deserved that, at the very least.

A week later, Stiles sauntered into the hospital for his daily visit and saw two unfamiliar dark-haired women standing at the desk, arguing with the nurse there.

"I don't have you on the list," the nurse was saying, arms crossed and eyes narrowed.

"We're his sisters, for God's sake," the older dark-haired woman said. "Do you want to do a blood test? Because we can do that. Why do you even have a list?"

Stiles ran up to them, his heart pounding. "Who are you? What do you want?"

Both women and the nurse turned to glare at him. One woman was probably in her mid-twenties, but the other was closer Stiles's age. They both had dark, straight hair that the older one wore loose and the other wore in a ponytail, and their glares were so similar they couldn't be anything but sisters.

Stiles held his ground, trying to keep himself from getting too excited. "Well?" he said.

"None of your business," the younger girl snapped. "Who the hell are you, anyway?"

"They're trying to get in to see Derek." The nurse looked supremely skeptical and more than a little angry. "I've told them they're not allowed."

The older woman actually growled, and for the briefest moment, Stiles thought her eyes flashed red.

Holy shit.

He took her arm. "Are you Laura Hale?"

She yanked her arm away. "It's none of your..." She paused and peered at him, frowning. "Are you Stiles?"

He nodded. "Yeah, I'm—"

Her face crumpled, and the next thing he knew, Stiles had his arms full of a sobbing woman.

He clamped down on the part of his mind whose first instinct was to panic, and smiled at the nurse. "It's okay! Everything's fine! They're definitely his sisters. I called them a week or so ago."

It didn't do much to change the nurse's skepticism, but at least she let him take Laura and Cora—he presumed—in to see Derek.

If Stiles had any doubt that he'd done the right thing, it vanished the moment Derek's eyes landed on them and widened. Someone let out a shriek—Stiles wasn't sure if it was Laura or Cora—and then they both piled onto Derek, burying their faces on either side of his neck. He squeezed his eyes shut, but not before Stiles caught the way they glimmered with tears.

Stiles shuffled his feet awkwardly. The feeling that he was intruding on a private family moment intensified, and he crept out the door. Derek would be busy catching up with his sisters today. He didn't need Stiles to hang out and keep him company. He had family again.

He was halfway down the hall when he heard footsteps pounding on the linoleum after him.

"Stiles!"

He turned and saw Laura, eyes rimmed red from crying, chasing to catch up with him.

"I didn't get a chance to say thank you," she said once she was closer. "You...you can't know what it means—"

He shook his head, cutting her off. "No. I...I get it. It's like he's back from the dead, right?"

She smiled and wiped her eyes. "Yeah. Yeah, a little bit. Look, you don't have to leave."

"Nah, I don't want to intrude." Stiles held up his hands. "You three need family time. Oh, he's still getting the hang of talking again, though, so sometimes it's hard. The 'squeeze my hand once for yes, twice for no' thing seems to work pretty well."

Laura nodded. "I'll keep that in mind." She grabbed his hand and clasped it in both of hers. "Seriously. Thank you, for taking care of him."

His throat tightened with a painful lump. "You're welcome. I'm just glad you guys are all together again."

Laura's smile was blinding. "Me, too."

***

"Son, did you apply for something called the Alpha Hale Memorial Scholarship?" his dad asked two days later while he was paging through the mail.

Stiles frowned and looked over from the couch, where he was binge-watching Netflix and studiously not thinking of Derek. "No? I haven't applied for any scholarships yet."

His dad stuck an envelope in front of him. "Well, if this is legitimate, you won't have to."

Stiles took it from him and opened it. Inside was an official-looking note on fancy letterhead and a check for...

He jumped off the couch. "ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS?!"

"Are you sure you didn't apply for anything?" Dad asked.

"No, I swear—"

A smaller piece of paper fluttered out of the envelope and landed on the coffee table, and Stiles cut himself off and grabbed it.

Stiles-

It's not nearly enough.

Yours,
Laura Hale
Cora Hale

"Oh," Stiles said quietly, his throat tight.

His dad clapped him on the shoulder and gave him a one-armed hug. "You did good, son."

Stiles wanted to say thanks, but for once in his life, he couldn't make his voice work.

"Come on." Dad steered him toward the door. "Let's go get pizza."

***

Stiles had known this day was coming, had known it from the moment he realized Laura and Cora were actually there. But still, it felt like too soon when Melissa called to let him know that Derek was being transferred to a facility in New York as soon as they got the doctors to clear it.

He hadn't been going to visit Derek quite as much, since his sisters were there and Stiles didn't want to detract from Derek's time with them. But Laura and Cora were always welcoming, and Derek's eyes always shone when he walked in the door.

Derek had been talking more, mostly simple words and short sentences. Sometimes it was a little garbled and he got frustrated, clapping his jaw shut and glaring, and Stiles did his best to pick up the slack. He'd gotten pretty good at reading Derek through hand squeezes and eyebrows, and the thought of not using those talents anymore made his heart ache.

He went to see Derek for the last time the day before he was due to be transferred. Surprisingly, Laura and Cora weren't there yet.

Stiles tossed his backpack on the bed and flopped beside it. "Hey, where are your sisters?"

"Hotel." Derek's mouth twitched, like he was trying to smile. "Last day."

Stiles sat up and took Derek's hand. "You excited about going back with them?"

Yes. There was a pause. No.

"Aw." Stiles looked down at their joined hands. "You gonna miss me?"

He tried to keep his voice light, but he failed miserably. He was going to miss Derek a lot.

Derek squeezed his hand in single, steady pulses. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Stiles quickly wiped his eyes. "Yeah. Me too, man. It's been crazy but it's been a lot of fun. You're really awesome, you know that?"

Derek shook his head jerkily.

"You are," Stiles insisted. "Seriously. I am always right, and one of these days, you'll realize that."

Derek snorted, but Stiles caught the slight grin.

Hell yeah. He was still good at making Derek smile.

He cleared his throat and sat back. "Okay. Last day of hangouts. What do you want to do? Movie? TV show? Beat me in chess again?"

"Movie," Derek said, voice a little rougher than usual.

"Awesome." Stiles hauled up his backpack and dug out his DVDs. "Take your pick."

They ended up watching Fellowship of the Ring until Laura and Cora arrived to get Derek ready to go. Stiles packed his stuff up, and then impulsively threw his arms around Derek in one last hug.

"Don't forget about me," he whispered.

Derek rested his hand on Stiles's head and squeezed. "Can't."

Chapter Text

Dear Stiles,

I'm sending this to the sheriff's department in Beacon Hills in hopes that it will get to you. I can find a thousand things on the Internet, but I can't find your home address.

That is a terrible first paragraph.

Words are still hard for me. My therapist suggested I write to express myself when talking is too hard. And I wanted to write to you first.

Thank you.

Those words feel so inadequate. But those are the only ones that exist in our language to express gratitude, and so I will use them.

Thank you for coming to see me, even though you didn't know me.
Thank you for listening when I couldn't speak.
Thank you for coming to find me and for keeping my secrets.
Thank you for bringing Kate to justice.
Thank you for finding Laura and Cora.
Thank you for being the brightest spot in my life after six years of hell.

You asked me not to forget you. I can't. I can't forget about the first person to show me real kindness in six years, the first person to treat me like I was a human and not a vegetable.

I might just be the guy in the hospital to you, but for me, you will always be the person who brought me back to life. And I can never, ever forget that.

Thank you.

- Derek

***

Derek-

HOLY SHIT A LETTER! That's awesome! Yes, it made it to me (obviously) although Dad was REALLY CONFUSED why something for me showed up at the station. I think he genuinely believed it was some kind of summons, although what kind of trouble I could get into when I'VE NEVER EVEN BEEN TO NEW YORK still escapes me. You can use my home address on the front of this envelope, or I've got it on the back of this paper.

So how are you? How's New York? How are your sisters? Any dashingly handsome gentlemen swinging by to play chess with you in your new digs?

School's officially back in session, and words cannot express how happy I am to FINALLY be in senior year. But also kind of terrified? Like, college is looming on the horizon and everything I've known for my ENTIRE LIFE will change. I think about never having to deal with Jackson Whittemore or Mr. Harris again and I want to jump for joy, but then I think about not seeing Scott every day or leaving my dad by himself and I just never want high school to end. It's weird. And I still have no idea where I want to go to college and no idea what I want to DO with my life and people keep fucking asking and...

Sorry. It's not a big deal, really.

OH. I've enclosed a list of the movies and shows you missed in the past six years that we didn't get a chance to watch. Start with Iron Man. Seriously. Amazing.

Okay, I've got to get dinner started. Dad'll be home soon. It was awesome to hear from you, dude. Have a great week!

- Stiles

P.S. You were never just "that guy in the hospital" to me.
P.P.S. That means you're my friend.
P.P.P.S. Seriously, you don't have to thank me. I'm just glad you're okay.
P.P.P.P.S. I really hope you can read my handwriting.

***

Dear Stiles,

I have to confess, I'm surprised you wrote back. Not that I'm complaining; I'm very happy to hear from you. Letters just aren't something most people tend to respond to.

New York is okay. It's been hot and humid, which makes me stick to my chair. It's a horrible feeling. I can't wait for it to be fall.

The staff here is very good. I work every day with a physical therapist and a speech therapist, and they tell me I'm getting better. It doesn't feel like it. It's still hard to talk. I miss being able to tell you everything just by squeezing your hand.

Laura and Cora are good. Cora's finishing up high school and she's auditing classes at NYU. She does her homework here usually. It's nice.

Laura works at a sports bar. She only comes and visits me after she's had a shower. If she comes right after work, she still smells like cigarettes. I didn't react well the one time she came in without showering. But we spent the full moon together, the three of us, and it felt...I don't really have words for how it felt. Like being home again, but also not. Like seeing your childhood house with all the furniture rearranged and all the walls moved an inch to the left. Everything looks the same, but you know it's not.

It's weird. I'm happy to be with them again, happy that they're still alive, but it's been six years. We're all strangers now. The boy they knew as their brother is long gone, and I'm not sure who's in his place.

My physical therapist has me doing art. Mostly sketching and painting. She says it's to help my fine motor skills. It's soothing and doesn't require me to try and talk to anyone, so I like it.

Please, don't apologize for ranting. I like to hear about it. And it's okay to be excited and terrified of new things. From my understanding, that's how most people react to new things.

And Cora says no one knows what they're doing with their lives, and anyone who says otherwise is lying. So there you have it.

I hope school is going well for you.

- Derek

P.S. Enclosed is my most recent sketch. I hope you enjoy it.
P.P.S. No dashingly handsome gentlemen come to play chess with me. Which is probably good, because I learned to play chess with a stubbornly smart teenager. I'm afraid I'd beat them too badly.
P.P.P.S. You're my friend, too.

***

Derek –

Holy shit, that sketch is AWESOME. How do you even art? Is this something you just started doing because of therapy, or were you drawing before everything? I took like three art classes in middle school. By the end of the last one, I'm pretty sure my teacher was begging my dad to find me another elective. That's part of why I started playing lacrosse. Well, that, and Scott wanted to try out and I'm not going to let my bro go it alone.

Okay, you asked for it. You want the rants, you'll get the rants. I'm really worried that you're going to regret giving me carte blanche to talk about that kind of stuff.

I like all my teachers except for Harris, per usual, and it drives me up the freaking wall that I have to have him for AP Chemistry. Lydia Martin and I—do you remember her? I told you about her—are neck and neck for valedictorian, but let's be honest, Lydia's going to get it. Although she did threaten me with dismemberment if I DIDN'T give her a run for her money, so, you know.

It's weird. I spent eight years of my life in love with her, or at least thinking I was in love with her, and now...I don't know. I like her, but it's not the same as it was. I'm not sure what's changed. Maybe I just realized she's actually in love with Jackson. Or...something else, who knows.

And I know the feeling you mean, about being home but also not. That's how it felt at our house for the first couple of years after my mom died. Outwardly everything was the same, but it just felt different. Like something was missing. Or someone, in this case. I think it took about that long to feel like I got to know my dad again. It was like losing her changed us both, and it took a long time to figure it out again.

Wow, that got depressing. Okay, um, happy thing. Happy thing.

Scott has a girlfriend! Her name is Allison. She's new to school and she's really nice. They're like the most adorable sunshiny puppies together. It would be sickening if I didn't love them so much. (Who am I kidding? It's still sickening.)

All right, these essays aren't going to write themselves. Have a great week, and enjoy the cooler weather!

- Stiles

P.S. You may already know this, but Kate's trial's about to start. I'll keep you updated, if you want. Or not. Just let me know.
P.P.S. I wish you were here. Scott's terrible at chess and Allison gets jealous if I hold his hand.

***

Dear Stiles,

It's been snowing for a week here, and it feels like all my bones ache. It makes me grumpy, and Laura and Cora alternate between teasing me and being frustrated with me. I've started writing letters to them as well, leaving the envelopes on their beds when they're at school or work. It's getting easier to talk, but it's still easiest to put pen to paper and let the words come there. They don't get stuck in my head or tangled on my tongue.

We're not back to where we were, but it's starting to get better. Surprisingly, it's Cora who it's easiest with. I thought it would be Laura, since we were closest before the fire, but right now it feels almost like she's trying to be our mother more than she is our sister. I know she's under a lot of pressure as Alpha, but it's still strange, trying to figure out this new relationship. We fight a lot, but at least she's fighting with me now, instead of treating me like I'm breakable.

I'd rather not hear about the trial. Just let me know if she's convicted. From what you've said, there's enough evidence that she's going away for good, but I wake up sometimes smelling smoke and thinking I can hear her laugh. I can never go back to sleep then.

There's something you should know, or rather, something I need to tell someone, and you're the only person I trust with it right now.

I knew Kate before the fire. We were together. I told her things, thoughtless things, things I never thought in a million years would come back to bite me in the ass.

She used what I told her to murder my family.

It's my fault they're dead. If I hadn't...if I'd been smarter, if I'd hadn't let myself be swayed by a pretty face...if if if if if...

- Derek

P.S. I wish you were here too.

***

Dear Derek,

Holy shit dude. I mean...just...holy SHIT.

What the fuck kind of sick person SEDUCES a TEENAGER in order to KILL HIS FAMILY? What the actual fuck. That's inhuman.

It's not your fault. Okay? You aren't responsible for what Kate chose to do. I don't care if you have to carry this letter around in your pocket or if you have to tattoo "Stiles says it's not my fault" on your forehead or WHATEVER, but do it. Because it's NOT your fault.

And I know you probably aren't going to believe me right now, but hopefully you'll read this again in a few months and you will.

It wasn't your fault, Derek.

Your friend,
Stiles

***

Dear Stiles,

I'm sorry it's been so long since I've written. You were the first person I told about Kate, but since that letter, I've told my therapist and my sisters. It's been...hard. There are other words, probably, but "hard" covers most of it. I've carried your letter with me since I received it. I can't seem to make myself put it with the others. Maybe because I'm afraid it will vanish if I do.

Over the past few weeks, my scars have started to fade. They should have sooner, with the healing, but after six years I didn't think they would. Cora helps me put them back on with makeup so that my therapists won't notice. It's weird, to see them going away after so long on my face, so long as having them a part of my body. I almost don't recognize myself in the mirror. This is who I would have been if the fire hadn't happened. It feels like a lie.

Thank you for the birthday gift, by the way. It arrived while I was struggling to write this letter, and...well, maybe that's why I feel better about trying to finish it.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Stiles. I hope it will be a happy one. You deserve it.

Your friend,
Derek

P.S. Thank you again.

***

Dear Derek,

You've probably already heard this, but Kate's trial ended last week. She was found guilty on all charges, which means she's going to be in prison for somewhere between 25 and a million years. I might have cheered a little when Dad told me. Or a lot. Okay, it was definitely a lot. Seriously, I hope she never fucking sees the light of day again.

I can't believe I'm eighteen, and I can't believe I've only got a few months left of school. Thanks to your sisters, I'll start this fall at UC Irvine. I'm nervous, but excited. Right now my major is criminology, but I'll probably change it like 10 times before I settle on one. But I'd really like to go into law enforcement, like my dad. I could really really see myself enjoying that.

I've included my graduation announcement with this letter, with the dates and everything. I don't know if you're up for traveling, but if you are, I'd love to see you. Maybe we can have one more game of chess for old time's sake. Or hang out and argue about movies. Or something.

I miss you, is what I'm trying to say.

Yours,
Stiles

Chapter Text

The final bell rang, and Stiles was on his feet and grabbing his books as quick as he could move. He and Scott practically sprinted into the main hallway.

Scott held up his fist with a goofy, crooked grin on his face. "One week till freedom."

Stiles bumped it twice, ignoring the way his heart twisted in excitement and nervousness. "One week."

"Hey." Scott grabbed his arm, pulling them both to a stop in the middle of the hallway. "You know it won't change anything, right? This summer's going to be epic. And we'll both still be in California for college."

Leave it to Scott to just know. Stiles bumped their shoulders together. "I get it, dude. Berkeley's just a long way from Irvine."

"I know." Scott's eternal grin faltered. "I'm gonna miss you a lot."

"For fuck's sake, get a room," Jackson groused, shoving past Stiles with one arm around Lydia. "The rest of us don't need to see that shit."

Scott blinked, face twisted up in adorable confusion. "But I have a girlfriend?"

Stiles looped his arm around Scott's neck. "I know, and she's just as amazing as you, dude. Nobody else understands our friendship."

"Allison gets it," Scott said, eyes glazing over a bit.

Stiles hurried them both out the door before Scott could start rhapsodizing about the perfection that was Allison. Which, Stiles got it, he really did. He'd been worried he'd lose his best bro to a relationship, but Allison was a total sweetheart who had been just as appalled as Stiles that Scott hadn't seen Star Wars. Which, you know, put her right at the top of Stiles's awesome list. Or at least close.

They ran right into a pack of people clustered at the top of the steps. Before Stiles could ask what the hell was going on, he realized this group wasn't the only one. People were scattered throughout the parking lot, ostensibly walking toward their cars, but every single one of them was staring at the same spot.

Stiles elbowed his way through the crowd, dragging Scott with him, and pulled up short. Sitting in the middle of the parking lot was a jet black Camaro, far and away the sexiest car in the lot (even more so than Jackson's fucking Porsche). And leaning on the Camaro was a tall man with tight jeans, a leather jacket, and dark hair and a beard and holy God above that was Derek.

Stiles's heart tripped and thudded, and all he could do was gape.

Derek was here.

Derek was here and he was standing up and he apparently had a fucking Camaro what the fuck—

"Stiles?" Scott tugged at his arm. "You okay?"

"Derek," Stiles said, unable to quite make himself say any more.

"Derek?" Scott sounded confused, and then, "Wait, Derek Hale?"

Stiles pulled away and shoved forward, heart thudding faster as he did. Derek wasn't really here, it was a trick of his imagination, Derek was going to vanish

He finally stumbled free of the crowd and walked toward Derek, legs shaking. It still felt like a dream, that Derek was here, that he was actually standing next to a car and fucking smiling like he was waiting for Stiles to get the joke.

You're here, Stiles wanted to say, but his mouth wouldn't work. You're actually here and you're okay and you're smiling.

Derek shuffled forward, hands in his pockets and ducking his head a little like he was fucking shy. "Hey, Stiles."

"What are you—" Stiles cleared his throat. "How are you—when did you—they gave you a Camaro?"

Derek threw back his head and laughed, and it was the most beautiful sound Stiles had ever heard. "Laura called it a 'congratulations on finishing therapy and getting your driver's license' present."

"That's awesome. That's...awesome." Stiles wanted to smack himself with how stupid he sounded. "I can't believe you came."

"Well, yeah." Derek smiled. "You asked me to. And I wanted to see you."

Something in Stiles's chest constricted, or maybe it was his heart expanding to three times its size. He took another step toward Derek. "I missed you."

Derek's smile softened. "I missed you, too."

And that made something in him loosen. Stiles bounced a little on his toes. "You know, graduation's not for another week. You're early."

"I'm aware." Derek took another step forward, closing the distance between them even further. "But I...wanted to spend time with you. Like," he gestured a hand over himself, "this."

"Dude, you realize we'll probably be doing the same stuff we would have been otherwise?" Stiles said. "Only you'll actually be able to play the video games, now."

Derek's smile went devious, and Stiles went a little weak in the knees. "Play the video games, comment on the movies, tell you to shut up when you go on that rant about how Harry Potter is so much better than Lord of the Rings—"

"Hey! I resent that. I want my captive audience back."

"I am," Derek said softly. "I always have been."

And oh.

Oh.

Stiles's brain broke apart and realigned, all the pieces clicking back together because apparently he was living in a world where Derek Hale was into him. And Stiles was so totally reciprocating that, it wasn't even funny.

"I, um." God, when had his mouth gotten so dry? "Well, maybe we could do other things. You know. Like go get coffee. Or maybe kiss a little. Or both, I'm open."

"Maybe kiss a little," Derek said dryly. "Wow, how romantic."

Stiles flailed. "Hey, I suggested coffee first!"

"Or you could put your backpack in my car and we could go get milkshakes at the diner on First," Derek said. "Granted, I haven't had their milkshakes in seven years, but they used to be awesome."

"They still are," Stiles said. "And oh my God, did you just ask me to go get milkshakes? Are you going to ask me to go steady next, Hale?"

Derek toed at the ground. "I figured I'd see how milkshakes went first."

Stiles nodded so hard he thought his neck would break. "That works for me. That totally works for me."

Derek grinned and stepped back, opening the passenger door of the Camaro.

"GO STILES, GET IT!" Scott yelled, and Stiles gave him a thumbs-up before he slid into the seat.

"Was that Scott?" Derek asked when he got into the driver's side.

"Yeah. He's had to deal with hearing me lament you not being here," Stiles said. "He's super concerned about my virtue, as you can tell."

Derek ducked his head and laughed, and God, it was so beautiful. Stiles wanted to make him do that again and again. Maybe for the rest of the week. Possibly even for the rest of his life.

Stiles reached out and rested his hand over Derek's, on top of the gearshift. Derek turned his hand over and linked their fingers, their hands slotting together so familiarly it felt a bit like coming home.

"I'm glad you're back," Stiles whispered.

Derek squeezed his hand once.

Yes.