Jemma was a little bit in love with Stiles. He’d shown up two weeks late to Jemma’s psych 100 class with no explanation and no excuse and sat directly in front of her. From the moment she saw him sitting there, button down shirt pressed smooth and sleek black glasses perched on his nose, she loved him. Something about the faraway look in his eyes and the weariness drawn in every line of his face attracted her. Jemma wanted them to be friends and she was persistent. She offered to let him copy her notes from the classes he’d missed and wouldn't take no for an answer. They arranged a meeting at the local coffee shop, the meetings soon became weekly and then almost daily.
She told him all about her, but he rarely reciprocated. She learned that he was from a small California town, that he had a dad and a best friend who was like a brother, but when she asked deeper questions his eyes would cloud and he would half answer and then change the subject. Even when he told her nothing she fell in love with him. She fell in love with the way he would smile hesitantly when she told him about the antics of her family and she fell in love with the way he would touch her arm softly, carefully, when she told him about Tuesday movie nights on the blue sofa surrounded by family and all the other things she missed about home.
Jemma knew Stiles, but she didn't. Sometimes she would see a flash in Stiles’ brown eyes that told her that he used to be a wild boy, but the Stiles she loved was collected and perfect and ultimately not real. It was like chaos had shattered Stiles and taught him to assert extreme control over every part of his life. He approached the world like it was so fragile. The way he walked, slowly placing a heel on the ground and rolling from the ball of his foot to the toe, was mesmerizing. He moved with a purpose, never letting a step or a strand of his dark hair be out of place. She’d never met a boy who was so deliberate. In the chaos of her life, she loved Stiles for the control of his.
She even loved him when, in a gentle voice, he explained that he wasn't ready to love her back, would never love her back. He told her vaguely of a boy who still had his heart, a boy whose heart beat within Stiles. A boy Stiles would never forget. His eyes filled with tears and his mask cracked a little bit and she saw such grief in him that she had to look away. This boy that Stiles loved, something awful had happened to him.
Only when Jemma really understood Stiles was she able to stop loving him and start really seeing him. A pounding on her door jerked Jemma to consciousness, she sprang out of her bed and grabbed the baseball bat that Stiles had pressed into her hands a couple weeks into their friendship, muttering about a man named Derek and him teaching Stiles self-defense. Stiles had made her promise that she use it if she ever felt unsafe and the sound coming from her front door certainly warranted that feeling. She crept down the hallway, heart pounding so hard in her chest that she felt it in her temples. Approaching the door, she raised the bat and pressed her eye to the peep hole, seeing Stiles standing on the other side of the door, body trembling and hair mussed, she let the bat drop and quickly swung open the door. The Stiles that greeted her was one she had never encountered before. The calm, controlled front that Stiles always exuded was nowhere to be found. In its absences, a broken man stood before her. His hands were shaking violently at his sides and his eyes were bloodshot. His hair stood on end and his plaid shirt and jeans were rumpled. She grabbed Stiles by the wrist and led him into the apartment, closing the door behind her. The moment his butt hit the couch he was sobbing. Jemma sat next to him and wrapped him quivering body in her arms and rubbed circles on his back slowly. As the sobs subsided, Stiles started talking.
He told her about Derek, about his beautiful man with green-blue-brown eyes and spiky hair. He told her about how Derek would wake him every morning with a light shove followed by a kiss to his temple. How Derek said he hated kids, but would immediately melt when he saw his nephew, how Derek hated Froot Loops, but would always keep them in his apartment because Stiles loved them. How Derek was so loving, but so shattered too, how Stiles was the same. Derek blamed himself for everything and never forgave himself; he carried so much weight on his shoulders that it would rest heavy on him at night and not let him sleep. Stiles would sometimes wake to the sound of Derek thrashing himself out of a dream, he would wrap Derek, big spoon style, in his arms and press his palms to Derek’s chest so tightly that it would bring the two of them flush together so that when Derek inhaled Stiles felt it in his chest too, it was like they were one person, facing the night together. On most nights that would be enough to lull Derek back to sleep, but on nights when it wasn't, he would turn Derek in his arms and press Derek’s face to his neck, invite Derek to lazily kiss and mouth at his pulse point, feel Stiles’ heartbeat against his lips and know that Stiles was alive.
After a while Stiles’ words dissolved to sobs again and Jemma felt her heart breaking, Stiles’ words were words of a man missing the person he loved more than anything, missing someone in a way that wasn't temporary, missing someone in a way that only death could bring.
As if reading her thoughts Stiles’ wrecked voice filled the room, “he’s dead, car accident, dead on impact.”