Derek moves into Stiles’ old house on a Monday. Stiles hovers in the doorway of what used to be his bedroom and watches Derek struggle with boxes of books and weights and what looks like some sort of dog cage, and he follows him through the house towards the kitchen, and he watches him grab a beer from the fridge (unsurprisingly, the first thing Derek unpacked when he came through the door of the old, charred mansion) and he watches him take a swig, and then he watches him sit down on the floor with his back flush against the wall and bury his face in his hands, and Stiles forgets to not say anything, so he says, “Do you even have a dog, or are you just into kinky sex?”
And Derek jumps off the floor, his beer toppling and spilling all over the chipped linoleum, and he crouches into some sort of fighter’s stance and looks straight into Stiles’ eyes, and this is when Stiles realizes that Derek can see him.
“Holy shit,” Stiles says for what must be the hundredth time, and Derek still looks uneasy by the wall, having picked up the spilt beer after the seventeenth “holy shit” and opened another one somewhere around the fortieth. “Holy shit,” Stiles says again, and Derek just looks pissed off now.
“Who are you?” Derek asks, and his voice is nothing short of a growl. Stiles watches his eyes start to freeze, the color of water in the wintertime. “What are you?”
“I could ask the same question,” Stiles says. He disappears for a moment and then re-appears with the gun Derek had left on his bedside table. He holds the gun like his father used to, when his father was still alive and still sheriff, his fingers spread out on the barrel. “Who moves into a house with practically nothing more than a dog cage and a gun?”
Derek growls, and Stiles jumps at the noise, and the gun drops through his hand and lands on the floor with a heavy thud.
Stiles looks back up at Derek and says, his voice wavering, “You can’t kill me because I’m already dead. So either act like a normal adult about this, or you can leave.” He points somewhere near the front door, and it’s stupid how much power he thinks he has, and his hand goes from almost solid to almost completely see-through.
Derek looks at him for a minute and then laughs, his eyes shuttering back to their normal color, his voice rising in pitch. “You’re a ghost.”
Stiles narrows his eyes, angry, and he feels himself solidifying again, becoming more corporeal against the doorframe. “You don’t have to laugh.”
Sometimes, in just the right moments, Stiles can feel parts of him work like they used to, before they didn’t anymore, before he died, and he feels his cheeks start to burn almost like he’s embarrassed or annoyed or something equally as undesirable, and he wants to ask Derek if he can see the color on Stiles’ face change, but Derek starts laughing again and Stiles makes a noise like a sulking teenage girl and evaporates.
From upstairs, Stiles can hear Derek call out, “Oh, come on, that’s nothing to be ashamed about.”
“How did you die?” Derek asks the next morning when Stiles goes down into the kitchen to hover around the warmth of the coffee pot. The smell had drawn him out from the attic (where he mostly keeps to himself or scuttles back and forth making noise when perspective buyers or neighborhood kids come around to look at the famous haunted house) and he could feel himself growing warmer just by being near it, and he could swear his hands were starting to turn a little more pink.
Stiles turns around at the sound of Derek’s voice, narrowing his eyes and cursing himself for being snuck up on, because he had made a point to always be aware of Derek’s position in the house just so he could avoid him. “That’s an extremely personal question, man I just met yesterday afternoon.”
“Derek,” Derek says, and doesn’t smile, but moves closer to Stiles, almost hesitant.
“I know,” Stiles says, and Derek raises an eyebrow. “I read your mail,” Stiles says, pointing to the heap of opened envelopes on the kitchen counter.
“That’s a federal offense,” Derek says, and grabs the papers, sorting through them with a grimace.
“So sue me,” Stiles mutters into the steam rising above Derek’s coffee mug.
“Hey,” Derek says, and grabs his mug out from under Stiles’ warm face.
Stiles narrows his eyes at Derek again and disappears, leaving Derek alone, shirtless and barefoot in the kitchen.
“I know how to perform an exorcism,” Derek shouts through the floorboards.
Derek, in fact, doesn’t know how to perform an exorcism, which is why when Stiles checks the history on Derek’s laptop, he finds pages about occult practices and Catholic priests who will claim to believe in the supernatural for a low, low price of $9.95. Stiles rolls his eyes and surfs around, checking up on a few of the remaining friends he used to have, back when he still had friends, back when he still had a pulse, and, expectedly, most of them are waiting to die in nice, neat little retirement homes with pictures of smiling elderly folks on the brochures, playing pinochle in pressed, pastel clothing and wrapping their arms around young children.
Stiles opens up fourteen tabs of hardcore gay porn and closes Derek’s laptop.
He can feel Derek’s anger radiate through two floors when he finds out.
“You know,” Stiles says when Derek makes a point to clean his gun on the living room couch, running a clean rag over every little part, wiping the sweat from his face with a greasy thumb. “I found fresh garlic in the fridge, I could make some bread. Would you like that?”
“I’m not a vampire,” Derek says, without looking up.
Stiles has been asking pointed questions for the past four days, working his way from witch to demon to Time Lord, and the most he’s been able to get out of Derek is a vague grunt. He makes a face at the top of Derek’s head, but at least that was an improvement. “Well,” Stiles says, “The full moon is in three days. Should I go haunt another place for a night?”
Derek stops, his hands flexing once and then twice on the gun, and then he looks up. “Why don’t you think I’m human?”
Stiles watches Derek’s eyes get bright and brighter and almost blinding. That, for one, he doesn’t say. He feels himself get less solid, feels himself becoming air. “You can see me,” he says, and shrugs, lifting half of his mouth. “It’s been a long time since anybody could do that.”
“Oh,” Derek says, and Stiles disappears.
Derek starts painting the dining room a dark shade of purple and Stiles comes in mostly to cluck his tongue at Derek’s bad taste, but also to watch Derek move around without a shirt on, his skin coiled tight around his biceps, his tattoo gleaming with sweat. Stiles sits on top of an unopened paint bucket and watches Derek roll the paint up and down and up and down, and Derek knows he’s there and Stiles knows that Derek knows he’s there, but neither of them say anything.
Stiles leaves and comes back with an old radio someone had left in the attic, five or six tenants prior to Derek, and he flicks through the stations until he comes to something old and smooth, something he hasn’t heard in a really long time. Derek stops and looks over, and Stiles can feel himself harden and grow warm and his hand on the radio starts to thrum with electricity and Derek tilts his head to the side like he’s not sure what he should do, but Stiles smiles and says, “I used to love this song.”
Stiles can see Derek doing the mental calculations in his head, and looks down and then looks back up and for just a moment, just a really, really small moment, it’s his dad standing there with a smile on his face, holding a roll of wallpaper in his hands, the smoke from his pipe curling up and up and up. Stiles closes his eyes and when he opens them again, his father is gone.
Derek says, “How old are you?”
And Stiles says, “Sixteen.”
And Derek says, “How long have you been sixteen?”
And Stiles says, “A long, long time.”
Derek orders pizza and sets out two plates, and Stiles smiles dumbly, sitting down at the new kitchen table, hovering his hands over the warm food. “Are you always cold?” Derek asks, taking a sip of his beer. It’s the night of the full moon, and if he thinks Stiles hasn’t noticed the nervous, strange energy that’s been coming off of him, he might be just as dumb as he looks.
“Maybe,” Stiles says. He doesn’t tell Derek about the times he sneaks into his old bedroom, Derek’s bedroom, and gently hovers right next to him, trying to get close enough that he can feel Derek’s warmth, but far enough away that he doesn’t actually touch him. Derek puts off more heat than anyone else Stiles has ever known, which Stiles counts as another check in the werewolf column of his imaginary Bingo board.
“Is that what being dead is like,” Derek asks, taking a bite of his pizza. “Being cold all the time?”
Stiles shrugs. “I’ve never been dead before this, so I have nothing to compare it to.”
“What was it like before?” Derek pauses, setting his beer bottle down on the table with a clunk. “Before you died, I mean.”
“What was what like?” Stiles concentrates on consuming the heat from the slice in front of him, watching the cheese slowly start to congeal, watching the crust slowly start to harden.
“What was it like here?” Derek makes a sweeping gesture around the house.
Stiles looks up, and Derek is watching him, watching his hands and the way he starts to solidify. “It was nice,” Stiles says, smiling. “We lived here before the war broke out, before I…left.” He looks down at the table again. “It was beautiful.”
“Which war?” Derek asks.
Stiles laughs and shakes his head. “The second one,” he says. “Scott and I used to pretend we were soldiers. We would borrow my father’s hunting rifle and take turns shooting cans off of the railroad tracks. I got pretty good at it, actually.”
“Scott?” Derek asks, and there’s this look he gives Stiles, this look like he’s sorry that everyone Stiles ever knew is either rotting in the ground or rotting in a nursing home, that everyone Stiles ever loved has figured out that one big thing that Stiles never did. That everyone Stiles has ever loved figured out how to fucking move on.
“He was my friend,” Stiles says. “My best friend.”
Derek doesn’t say he’s sorry, and Stiles is thankful for that, if nothing else.
Stiles watches, wide-eyed, as Derek locks himself in the dog cage that night, putting the key on the bedside table, something he could only reach with hands, not paws. Derek makes quiet huffing noises and Stiles looks out the window just as the sun starts to slope behind the mountains. “This is just in case,” Derek says, halfway between a bark and a growl.
“Just in case of what?” Stiles asks, and he looks back at Derek and, for the first time in his dead life, he feels scared of something much, much bigger than him, scared for someone else.
“Just in case I can’t control it,” Derek says.
Stiles feels himself flicker between solidity and something else, feels himself becoming lighter and lighter, and he watches Derek arch against the pain of the moon, watches the sun dip lower and lower. “Do you want me to stay?” Stiles asks.
“No,” Derek says, but it’s more of a howl than anything else.
The morning after, Stiles ventures out from the attic and finds Derek asleep, but still in the cage. Stiles unlocks the door and hovers a minute, unsteady, unsure of what to do, but the heat from Derek’s body draws him in, and he places a hand on Derek’s shoulder, and it’s the warmest Stiles has ever been. He makes a noise in the back of his throat and he feels his hand burning like it’s on fire, and he watches his skin turn pink, and he feels amazing and he feels alive, but Derek moans loud, hurt, and Stiles jumps back.
“Hey,” Derek says, and Stiles swallows.
“Hey,” he says.
Derek moves slowly from the crouched position he’s lying in, and he shakes his head, and his voice sounds like he’s been chewing on broken glass, whiskey-rough. “I pretty much let you sleep with me every night, I thought the unspoken rule was that you didn’t touch me.”
Stiles moves back again, and he’s not careful and he knocks over a suitcase, watches it spill out clothes onto the floor. “You knew about that?” Stiles doesn’t know where to look so he looks everywhere, everywhere except for Derek’s eyes, which are almost back to their human shade of blue.
“I’m a werewolf,” Derek says. “You’re a ghost. For some reason, supernatural beings can see and hear and touch each other. I can feel your presence, especially when my senses are heightened near the full moon. Yes, I knew.”
Stiles wants to say he’s sorry, but doesn’t. He watches Derek crawl out of the cage and stretch, his joints popping violently. Stiles feels himself flicker, and he doesn’t want to leave, but, even after all these years, he still hasn’t gotten this ghost thing down.
“Do you want some breakfast,” Derek asks, and he goes over to his dresser to pull on a shirt, something with faded lettering across the chest. “I’m starving.”
Stiles feels himself flicker again, but he closes his eyes and concentrates on Derek’s heat, concentrates on staying solid. When he opens his eyes again, Derek is watching him, sliding his sleeves up to his elbows. Stiles makes himself relax, makes himself stay steady on feet, steady on the ground. “Sure,” he says.
And Derek smiles.
“Where’s your pack,” Stiles says around the steam of freshly made oatmeal. Derek hadn’t felt the need to grab a bowl, so he was sitting on the floor, scraping the food lazily out of the pot, letting his blunt, human teeth scour the top of the wooden spoon. “I thought all werewolves were supposed to have packs. At least, that’s what it says on Wikipedia.”
“Don’t have one,” Derek says, his mouth full. Besides Stiles, Derek hasn’t talked to anyone since he moved into the house, and, sometimes, Stiles doesn’t think he even really counts. “That’s why I moved here.”
“Are you,” Stiles pauses and furrows his brow, unsure of how to say this. “Are you looking to make one?”
Derek shrugs. “I had one, once,” he says, letting the spoon drop back into the pot. “Sometimes I’m not so sure if I want one again.”
Stiles hums low under his breath and wonders if all werewolves are this open and vulnerable the morning after the full moon, Derek’s bare skin with old scars, Derek’s pale face and pink, pink mouth, Derek’s body huddling close to Stiles’ on the kitchen floor. “What were they like?”
Derek looks down, away from Stiles’ open, curious gaze. “They were my family,” he says, and his voice is slow and rough, and Stiles can feel his heat like a hand gripping him around his middle, pulling him closer and closer and even closer still, and Stiles will do anything to just stay right here, just stay with Derek in this house that used to be his, when he was still alive, when he was still sixteen. Derek places the pot on the floor and spreads his fingers out, slow, still, pressing them against Stiles’ wrist.
Stiles looks up at Derek, and Derek looks up at Stiles, and there’s something there that Stiles doesn’t ever remember feeling, even when he was alive, something that courses through him like blood, like warmth. He wants to make a noise, wants to say something like I thought I wasn’t supposed to touch you, but Derek covers Stiles’ hand and then their fingers are interlocking and Stiles can feel Derek’s heat traveling all the way up his arm.
“Oh,” he says, and the warmth hits his face like a flush.
Derek presses Stiles into his bed, his mouth on Stiles’ neck, and Stiles arches up into Derek’s touch, and he feels like he’s on fire, burning, burning, burning, and Derek makes a sound somewhere in the vicinity of a growl, and Stiles whimpers and moves closer, presses harder, and Derek bites down, soft, on the place where Stiles’ neck meets his shoulder, and Stiles has never felt anymore solid, anymore real, than right now, with Derek’s hands slipping between Stiles’ shirt and Stiles’ pants.
Derek growls out Stiles’ name and Stiles presses kisses along Derek’s face, and Derek slips out of his clothes and Stiles’ slips out of his, and he can feel the warmth of his body burning brighter and brighter and almost blinding, and Stiles says, “Please,” and Derek moves in a way that shuts him up.
“Please,” Stiles says again, and his voice is worn and hoarse and he’s moving and his skin is solid against Derek’s skin, and Derek grips Stiles and flips him over, and Stiles lets out something embarrassing like a moan, and Derek smiles against the back of Stiles’ neck, and his hands are rough on Stiles’ skin, and Stiles feels hotter than the those humid August days he used to spend outside in the sun with Scott and his father’s hunting rifle, and Stiles feels hotter than the fever that took him when he was seven, his father’s dry, cool kiss on Stiles’ burning forehead, and Stiles feels hotter than when he was sixteen and alive and someone set fire to his house in the middle of the night and he watched his father burn to death and he felt the smoke fill up his lungs and he felt the heat ripple across his skin, and the next time he woke up, he found himself living in a house where nobody could see him.
Stiles feels the tears like pinpricks on his skin, and suddenly he’s almost gone and then he is gone, and the attic floor is cold underneath his touch.
“Fuck,” he hears Derek yell through the floor.
Stiles’ father had built the house in 1926, with his own rough, calloused hands, Stiles tells Derek one night when he knows Derek isn’t asleep, still and solid on his bed, while Stiles sits completely out of reach against the doorframe, wavering between solidity and whatever else. They haven’t touched since the night Stiles had burned and then disappeared, they haven’t even spoken, and every day Stiles hides in the attic, where he knows Derek would never venture, until Derek leaves for work at a small, unsteady construction job on the other side of town.
“He was so proud,” Stiles says, and watches Derek breathe on the bed, his chest moving up, his chest moving down. “He came to my aunt’s house the summer he was finished and he showed us the splinters on his hands, the painted patches on his clothes, and his smile was so big. And my mom kissed him for a long, long time, and I remember how swollen she had looked, how the baby inside of her had kicked and how she had laughed, and how the sun had caught on her hair, how beautiful she had looked.”
Stiles can feel the tears in his eyes again, can feel the slow crawl down his ghostly cheeks, and he watches Derek shift, just a little bit, just slightly, his hand moving to cover his face. “She died that winter, though,” he says, and his voice isn’t sad or angry, and maybe that’s only partly because it happened such a long time ago. “The baby died, too,” he says, and the light beside Derek turns on by itself, and Derek sits up in bed.
“Stiles,” Derek says in this warning tone, and maybe it’s to get him to stop, or maybe it’s because he wants Stiles to come closer, maybe to comfort him or something equally as embarrassing, but Stiles doesn’t stop, doesn’t move any closer.
“My father died in 1931,” Stiles says. “In the fire.” Stiles gestures to the house, to the charred remains of the north wing, where, even after almost a hundred years, the wood still sits broken and black. The shutters on the windows start to roll up, slow and then fast and then snapping up, making sharp sounds against the pane.
“Stiles,” Derek says, again, and his voice is lower now, almost a growl.
“The fire I died in,” Stiles says, and moves his hand as if to say, and there you go, there’s your answer. The bulbs in the lamp beside Derek and the bulbs in the overhead light all burst, and Derek moves away, scrabbling across the bed. He grabs Stiles and pushes him out of the room just as the window panes shatter, just as the glass doorknob explodes, and Stiles turns to pull him through, but the door slams shut before he can even say anything.
Stiles calls Derek’s name, but can’t hear anything through the door except for the sound of breaking glass, and he calls again, and the sound gets louder, and Stiles feels colder than he’s ever felt before, colder than the first time he woke up from the fire.
“Stiles,” Derek yells through the door, and Stiles presses his hand to it, but he can’t feel anything. “You have to calm down. You’re doing this.”
“What?” Stiles says, and he can hear Derek growl on the other side, and it’s so insane that he feels stupid, like all of this is something he can’t really control, like he’s never really been able to control anything since before the fire.
“Calm the fuck down,” Derek says, slower this time, and Stiles can hear the pain and anger radiating in his voice, and he closes his eyes and starts breathing, in and out and in and out and slow and slower and slower still.
The sound on the other side of the door stops, and Derek pushes on the wood until it moves, the hinges creaking with effort, and he’s bloody, but already starting to heal, and there are bits of glass peppering the left side of his face, trailing all the way down his arm, his back, and Stiles’ heart moves in a way he’s not sure it’s moved in a very long time and Stiles says, “I’m sorry,” and then he can’t stop saying it, and he can feel himself flutter and flicker and almost disappear, but Derek palms the place where Stiles’ wrist shines translucent, and then he’s back, warm and warm and getting warmer.
“Don’t go,” Derek says, and Stiles looks at him and stays.
He picks the glass out of Derek’s back with a pair of old tweezers he finds in the bathroom. It’s not even remotely sanitary, but Derek doesn’t care, lying on his stomach on the bed, rolling the cold bottle of vodka he found in the freezer between his lips, grimacing at every pull of his skin. “Stop being such a baby,” Stiles says when Derek growls. “I said I was sorry.”
“How did you not know you could do that?” Derek asks, resting his forehead on his arms.
“I always thought poltergeists were, like, made up,” Stiles says. He picks out a piece of glass and watches the cut heal itself, like a zipper winding its way back up. “That’s what Allison told me, anyway.”
“Who’s Allison?” Derek says, lifting his head up and craning it back towards Stiles. Stiles rolls his eyes and pushes Derek’s head back down, making sure to pick out a pretty embedded piece of doorknob.
“She used to live in town during the 60s. She came from a long line of psychics, although I think she was the only one who actually had any sort of talent. The rest of her family pretty much just took people’s money and ran with it.” Stiles runs his thumb down the back of Derek’s neck and doesn’t miss the way Derek shivers. He feels heavy, all of a sudden, straddling Derek’s back, his palms lighting up on Derek’s skin.
“And this psychic Allison told you that poltergeists weren’t real?” Derek doesn’t look at Stiles, but Stiles can feel him move forward to take another swig of the vodka, can feel the cold run through Derek.
“Pretty much,” Stiles sighs and sits back. “She also told me that a lot of people would come through my life, but that only a few would stay. I figured she was talking about the people who came to live here.” Stiles presses his palms against Derek’s back and soaks up the heat. “The one before you was really nice.”
“Oh, yeah?” Derek asks, and he feels solid under Stiles, his voice low and still. He takes another sip of the bottle, and another, and another.
“Yeah,” Stiles says, quiet. “She bought the house for her dad in Missouri, but he died before he could move in. She only stayed a few months. I never bothered her.”
Derek laughs, low and warm, and Stiles leans down so his nose just brushes Derek’s spine. “What,” he mumbles against Derek’s skin.
“I’m sure you bothered others, though, right?” Derek asks, his smile stretching against the bedspread.
Stiles bumps Derek’s skin with his nose. “Maybe,” he says. “Maybe I moved a few things when somebody did something I didn’t like.”
“Like paint the dining room purple?” Derek flips over suddenly, and grips Stiles around the waist. Stiles places his hands flat on Derek’s chest, watches as patches of skin heal themselves slowly, watches as Derek smears blood with his movements.
“Like paint the dining room purple,” Stiles says, and leans down to kiss him.
Stiles doesn’t disappear this time.