Actions

Work Header

Human Thing

Chapter Text

Stiles Stilinski stared out onto the waters of the Columbia River while driving south on Interstate 5. He was only about two hours in to his almost twenty-two hour trek back to Beacon Hills, California, and he was already bored out of his mind.

Though if he were to be honest, there really was no perfect company or playlist that could have made this particular trip bearable. Or any trip to Beacon Hills.

Stiles let loose a deep sigh before picking up his mobile phone and quickly tapping on the favorites list, selecting his contact.

"You've reached the voicemail of John Stilinski. Leave a message," the recorded voice of his father said.

"Hey, dad," Stiles said, after waiting what felt like a lifetime for the beep, "It's Stiles. I'm just calling to let you know that I'm on my way. I didn't really figure you'd answer, I think we both said enough over the phone last night… Anyway, I should get there late tonight. Don't bother waiting up for me. I'll… I guess I'll try calling again when I get closer."

Pulling back the phone, Stiles hit the end call button and let the device flop into the passenger seat. For a brief moment, he considered what it might be like to drive his car over the bridge and into the water.

***

Halfway through Oregon, Stiles was pulled out of his own rendition of Kelly Clarkson's "Heartbeat Song" by the notification of an incoming call from his mobile phone. Both his heart and sweat glands went into overdrive as the fear that his father had actually decided to return his call overcame him. However, the feeling was quickly replaced with one of relief once he looked at the screen. A small smile formed on his face as he slid to answer the call.

"Hey, Isaac," Stiles said.

"Hey," Isaac said, voice muffled, "Where rrrgh uhhh?"

"God damn it, Isaac," Stiles said, "I told you to stay out of those fucking cookies. You know those were my attempt to bribe Greenberg out of charging us interest on our late rent last month."

"I only did it because you told me not to," Isaac said, voice becoming more discernible, "That's like a life rule, Stiles. Besides, we both know Greenberg's looking for a different kind of favor."

"Yeah, well," Stiles said, shaking his head, "Unless you're willing to take one for the team, we're paying interest."

"You mean I'm paying interest," Isaac said sourly.

"We don't know that yet, man," Stiles said, "It could all be–"

"Stiles, we already talked about this, and it's okay," Isaac said, voice suddenly becoming serious, "I'm just messing with you, don't worry about the rent. I'm already looking for a new roommate. Seriously, Greenberg is the last thing that should be on your mind right now. You need anything, just call, okay?"

Stiles sighed into the receiver.

"Hey, man," Isaac said, "I know this isn't easy, but you're doing the right thing. And if you see that piece of shit ex-boyfriend of yours, you take him out. I'll fly down for a day just to help you hide the body."

"Isaac, he's a werewolf," Stiles said, shaking his head, "I'm pretty sure my puny human genes prevent me from winning a physical fight there."

"Fine," Isaac said, huffing, "Call me, and I'll fuck him up. Anything for you, babe."

"Thanks, bro," Stiles said, rolling his eyes, "I appreciate that and all, but I think I'm just going to will the universe to prevent me from crossing paths with Ethan Carver ever again."

"Well, when that plan fails," Isaac said, "Call me. I'm sure there are others in town that would help me bash his face in. What about Jackson, he was dating Ethan around the same time you were, right?"

"Uh… Yeah, right before I think," Stiles said, "And your plan to distract me from the reason I'm headed home isn't working, though you are reminding me how much more miserable it could be."

"Hey, do we have any milk right now?" Isaac asked, followed by a chewing sound.

***

Stiles slammed on his brakes and laid on the horn as a silver Chevrolet Camaro cut him off. He lifted his middle finger for extra emphasis.

"Jesus," Stiles said, picking his mobile phone up again and pressing on his contacts list.

"You've reached the voicemail of John Stilinski. Leave a message," the recorded voice of his father said.

"Hey, dad," Stiles said, "It's me again. I just made it through Carlsbad. Making good time, but still going to get in pretty late. Don't wait up."

***

"You've reached the voicemail of John Stilinski. Leave a message," the familiar recorded voice message said.

"Hey, dad," Stiles said, staring at the long stretch of road in front of him, "Just calling to let you know I made it through San Diego, but traffic was worse than expected. Make that really, really late coming in. You're probably already asleep anyways. See you at the breakfast table I guess."

As he ended the call, Stiles glanced through the rearview mirror at the two travel bags in the backseat. He resisted the urge to contemplate how others might be bothered that their entire lives could be packed up so easily. So minimally.

***

Half an hour past twenty-one hours of driving, Stiles pulled onto the long drive leading up to the Stilinski ranch. Ranch was perhaps a more loose interpretation of the house, since it mostly stood now as several acres of garden space – something his late mother had loved.

As he got closer to the house, Stiles noticed that a black Camaro stood between him and the part of the drive reserved for parking.

"Must be Dr. Deaton. Who knew he had wheels," Stiles thought, letting loose a whistle of appreciation for the car.

Stiles pulled off to the side of the drive, trying to get as close to the house as possible without ruining the green space.

He took a moment to just stare up at his large childhood home. He hadn't been back in nearly ten years, when he first left for college. It looked a little older, the exterior showing minor wear from weather, but the lawn looked well kept, and the windows appeared clean. That was probably something Stiles owed to the people of Beacon Hills – mostly Melissa McCall no doubt. Neither were going to simply stand by and watch as the town's former Sheriff collapsed.

Stiles shook his head and released a snort as he briefly entertained thoughts of his former best friend, Scott McCall. Like Ethan, that was another road better left untraveled.

Stiles twisted in his seat to reach for the two bags, awkwardly pulling them into the front of the car before opening the driver's side door.

Immediately, Stiles's first foot out of the car was met with about two inches of wet ground, a squelching sound confirming to him that he was stepping into a soggy mud pile.

"I take back that whistle of appreciation," Stiles said, feeling irritated, "Fucking Camaros."

Stepping over the mud as carefully as possible, Stiles slung his two bags over his shoulder and angled toward the front porch.

Stopping at the welcome mat, Stiles wiped his muddy shoe and reached up for the doorknob, grabbing the latch and pushing.

"Christ," Stiles whispered, realizing the front door was locked.

Stiles pulled out his car keys seeking the key to the door, but found it missing. Slowly, he remembered that he no longer carried a key to the house on him, having removed it shortly after moving into his first dorm.

"Fuck," Stiles said, leaning down to see if a spare key was still under the mat.

Stiles found no key under the mat, nor in or under any of the potted plants on the porch – not even around the swinging bench, or hidden amongst the rock garden bordering the porch.

Throwing his hands up in frustration, Stiles moved toward the living room windows overlooking the porch.

"Fuck yeah!" Stiles yelled, finding that the third window down was unlocked.

Tossing his bags in first, Stiles attempted to angle himself into the dark living room as gracefully as possible. Just when he had set a second foot onto the hardwood floor, he felt something knock against him from behind, and he swerved quickly to catch whatever was about to fall.

Something cold and smooth fell into his hands, experience telling him that the feel, size, and weight was that of a photo frame. His suspicions were confirmed when the lamp next to the sofa turned on, an orange glow dimly illuminating the high ceilinged room.

"Dad," Stiles said, turning to see his father sitting in a wheel chair next to the sofa.

Stiles's heart sank slightly at the sight, throat restricting uncomfortably.

"Stiles," his father said, a smile noticeably absent from the man's tired face.

"Uh… Sorry about this," Stiles said, lifting the photo frame up, "I, uh… I didn't have a key on me, and I couldn't find a spare. Luckily the window was unlocked."

His father released a snort.

"Well, you could have helped," Stiles said, eyebrows scrunching in defiance, "You probably heard me try the door."

"I was hoping you would just turn around," his father said, "I didn't think you were really coming."

"Well, if you had taken any of my calls, you would have known better," Stiles said, "Did you even check my messages?"

"We were out in the gardens today," his father said, eyes closing.

"We?" Stiles asked, stepping closer to his father.

"What?" his father asked, eye opening slowly, "What are you doing here, Stiles?"

"I'm here to see you, dad," Stiles said, "You know that, we spoke on the phone for a long time about this. We decided it was best for me to move back in for a little while."

"You decided," his father said, huffing, "And you're not needed. I'm fine."

"That's bullshit," Stiles said, emotions quickly giving way to anger, "Melissa called me about your stay in the hospital this week, dad. You need help."

"I already get all the help I need," his father said, reaching down to move his wheelchair toward the room's entrance.

"Look," Stiles said, releasing a sigh to refrain from letting anger guide his tongue, "I already discussed your options with you, either you moved into a hospital for 24/7 surveillance, or I moved back in. You chose the latter."

"Stiles," his father said, stopping at the entrance, "I hung up on you. I thought my answer was clear enough."

"Dad," Stiles said, "It's past 2:00AM, and I've had a long day on the road. I don't have it in me to argue with you right now. Let's just put this on pause right now, okay?"

"Fine," his father said, wheeling himself into the hallway, "But stay out of your old room, I'm using it. You can pick any of the guest rooms on the first or second floor."

"You're using my room?" Stiles asked, "For what?"

"Don't worry about that," his father said, "I moved down here when I got the wheelchair, you can either stay down here with me, or you can head up. It's your choice."

Stiles stepped into the hallway and paused as he watched his father make his way down the dark hall.

Releasing another sigh, Stiles hiked his bags back over his shoulder and stepped onto the stairway.

Chapter Text

Stiles blinked wearily into the world, pulled from his sleep by the electric beat of the alarm app on his phone. He took a moment to appreciate the light from the sunrise beginning to fill the room.

That was something he had missed about the house – all the light. Each room was framed with a number of arched or wide windows, almost as if they were trying to fill the space created by the towering ceilings. He remembered his mother used to tell him that the light was what had sold her on the house.

Stumbling out of bed, Stiles briefly stood in front of the travel bag packed with his clothing and questioned whether or not he should get dressed before heading out to the washroom down the hall.

"Not worth it," Stiles thought, shaking his head and grabbing his dopp kit before making his way out into the hallway.

Stiles had noticed the night before that his father hadn't installed a lift on the stairway, so there wasn't really anyone that was going to squawk about him walking around the floor naked.

Passing the door to his old room along the way, Stiles was reminded to question his father about the room's use, especially if the man couldn't actually get to the second floor. Maybe he'd look into the room himself once he finished his shower.

Reaching the washroom, Stiles closed the door and set his phone on the sink. He stopped at the toilet to take a piss, but leaned back toward the sink to turn the phone's volume up. A few moments later he reached into the shower to set the temperature near scalding.

Stiles let the electric rhythm and warm water wash over him as he stepped into the shower, the lull preparing him for the what was undoubtedly going to be a shitty day filled with arguments.

That was one trait he had definitely taken from his father, the ability to take someone else's words and make weapons out of them.

***

Staring into the still completely fogged mirror, Stiles gave up on waiting for the glass to clear. Granted, he had only really waited for the duration of brushing his teeth. He could fix his hair after getting dressed.

Throwing his towel around his shoulder, he opened the washroom door and stepped out with the steam. Or at least, he had intended to step out, what he actually did was walk into a wall of muscle and tanned skin.

"Jesus!" Stiles yelled, jumping back and trying to regain decency by assembling his towel around his waist.

"Whoa," the man standing in front of him said, hands raised in a calming manner, "Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you, I was just waiting for the shower."

Stiles took a moment to assess the man. Standing about Stiles's own height, the man favored dark features with some pretty distinct eyebrows. Stiles decided to skip over the man's more chiseled features, though he did stand shirtless, making it difficult for Stiles to ignore the gleaming trail of sweat leading down to his large running shorts.

As Stiles turned his gaze upward again, he thought he saw the other man offer an appreciative once over of his own.

"You're Stiles, right?" the man said, a wide grin forming on his face as he offered a hand out to shake, "Your dad's told me all about you. It's an honor to meet the son of Claudia Stilinski."

"And you are?" Stiles asked, narrowing his eyes and clutching tightly to the towel around his waist, ignoring the man's offered hand.

"Uh... Derek," the man said, both hand and smile slowly retreating, "I'm kind of the handyman around here."

"And... You live here?" Stiles asked, arching an eyebrow at the man.

"Yeah," Derek said, nodding, smile returning, "Your house is really beautiful."

"Sorry, Derek," Stiles said, stepping out into the hallway, "My father failed to mention you to me, I'll just go correct that now."

"Yeah..." Derek said, turning to watch Stiles walk away from the washroom, "Sorry again for startling you. I just heard you at the sink, and I figured you were almost done."

"You heard me?" Stiles asked, pausing at the door leading into his chosen guest room.

"Yeah," Derek said, nodding and reaching a hand up to his left ear, "Supernatural hearing and all. You know, werewolf."

"Great," Stiles said dryly.

Derek shrugged his shoulders and stepped into the washroom, reaching to shut the door.

"Hey, Derek," Stiles called, pausing both of their retreats, "How long have you... been working for my father?"

"About a year now," Derek said, "I'm really grateful for the opportunity, your father is a great man."

"Yeah, well," Stiles said, snorting, "He wasn't always so great."

Stiles stepped into the guest room and shut the door before Derek could respond.

Stiles leaned against the closed door, dropping his head and releasing a sigh. His ailing father had been living with a stranger for twelve months and Stiles hadn't even known.

That shit was shady, no matter how you tried to spin it. Who in their right mind actually chose to live with a dying person that they didn't even know? Derek had to be taking advantage of his father in some way.

Maybe more disturbing, Derek spoke about his father like the man was some kind of saint. That was a far cry from the man that couldn't even be bothered to have a sober conversation with his son once Claudia had passed away.

Which was another area of concern for Stiles. While it was pretty normal for werewolves around the country to speak highly of his mother, who had played a critical role as a political advocate for welcoming werewolves into society, it was also pretty normal for the family to face its share of crazy stalkers, obsessed with the idea of his mother.

Something about the way Derek had spoke about his mother set him on edge. Alarm bells were sounding for multiple reasons.

"Fucking great," Stiles thought, walking over to his travel bags, "And the list grows. Another reason to argue with dear old dad."

Chapter Text

Stiles glared at the breakfast spread laid out across the dining room table.

"He cooks, too?" Stiles asked, turning a scowl toward his father seated at the head of the table.

"Derek is very handy," his father said, nodding while raising a fork to his mouth.

"Right," Stiles said, "So, are you fucking him or something? Is he like your live-in cabana boy?"

Stiles took a small amount of solace in the way that his father seemed to choke on the forkful of egg.

"No," his father said, glaring back at Stiles, "I leave that kind of behavior in your capable hands, son."

"Fine," Stiles said, raising an eyebrow at his father, "If you're not fucking him, what's he doing here?"

"Do you have to be so crass right now, Stiles?" his father asked, placing a napkin over his breakfast plate, "It's not even 10:00AM."

"I prefer to get the bullshit out of the way so the rest of the day is bearable," Stiles said, shrugging, "And this situation reeks."

"If you must know," his father said, releasing a sigh, "Derek was suggested to me by Melissa. She saw that I was unable to keep up with the house and the grounds, and she thought we could both profit from each other's company. You want to know more? Ask Derek yourself."

Stiles nodded as he brought a piece of toast to his mouth, chewing his fathers words over while eating.

"Fine," Stiles said after a few moments of contemplation, "Let's talk about your hospital visits. Mostly the increase in their frequency."

"I'm old, Stiles," his father said, rolling his eyes, "That's what happens."

"Melissa gave me a summary, dad," Stiles said, "Why didn't you call me when you first needed the wheelchair?"

"Stiles, we haven't spoken in a long time," his father said, "Does this really have to be our reunion conversation?"

"When it's the reason for our reunion, yes," Stiles said, setting his toast down, "Your health took a dive rapidly, dad. Are you drinking again?"

"Am I drinking again?" his father asked, eyes growing in size.

"Yes," Stiles said, nodding, "Are you drinking?"

"No," his father said, face becoming steely, "I quit shortly after you moved out."

"And then you rebounded for several years after," Stiles said, "When did you officially quit?"

"What does it matter, Stiles?" his father asked, raising a hand to his temple, "I quit, okay?"

"When?" Stiles asked, steeling his face against emotions while he waited for his father to deliver a response.

"About the time you stopped taking my calls," his father said, gaze becoming more intent, "So more or less two years ago."

Stiles felt a sense of unease begin to build in his chest. He had clearly already been in Beacon Hills for too long. Feelings meant nothing here. Stiles couldn't afford them. Not here, and not now.

"Okay," Stiles said, nodding, "Good. I would still like to speak with your doctor, is Deaton coming to the house today?"

"Not unless I suddenly start to keel over," his father said dryly, "Which is possible."

"Cute," Stiles said, picking his toast back up, "I'll give him a call then. We'll move forward from there."

"Fine," his father said, wheeling back from the table, "But I'm not doing whatever stupid plan you've got building in your head. I'm staying here in this house, so don't even think about trying to move me up to Seattle with you."

"Why do you have to make this more difficult?" Stiles asked, anger suddenly seeping in, "Science exists for a reason, dad. Doctors and hospitals – they serve a purpose. Why won't you even consider–"

Stiles paused as his father began to cough violently. He cast his eyes down to avoid staring at the man that had once represented everything physically strong to him. What his father may have lacked in emotional strength throughout Stiles's teen years, the man made up for in the appearance of sheer grit.

No one questioned the Sheriff when he spoke. That had been part of the reason Stiles had chosen a college so far from home, putting as much distance between him and home as reasonably possible.

"I'm getting tired," his father said, coughing finally subsiding, "I think I'll just go lie down for a while. Derek's probably still in the kitchen if you want to continue your inquisition."

Stiles watched his father wheel himself out of the room before picking up his plate and walking toward the kitchen.

***

Stiles resisted the sensation of his stomach dropping as he watched a grin form on Derek's face, the man's torso shaking with laughter. He was beautiful, and that was not okay. Stiles needed to retreat quickly.

"It sounds like Isaac is lucky to call you a friend," Derek said, smile almost blinding Stiles.

"It's more like the other way around," Stiles said, shrugging his shoulders as he leaned against the kitchen counter, "We're lucky to find someone we can depend on in this life."

Derek's smile faded as his face set into something more serious.

"Your father told me that you didn't have an easy life growing up," Derek said, "I think that's something that would surprise the rest of the world. Especially werewolves. We treasure your family. To know that you struggled… In the way that you did. It would simply shock so many."

"Unfortunately, werewolves were part of the problem, weren't they?" Stiles asked.

Stiles resisted the sensation of guilt as something akin to regret settled across Derek's face.

"It's in the past," Stiles said, shaking his head, "And it's better left there."

"All right," Derek said, nodding.

Stiles watched as Derek reached for a knife to prepare the vegetables he had brought in from one of the gardens that morning.

"You know, Derek," Stiles said, "The more I look at you, the more I feel like I've seen you somewhere before."

"Oh?" Derek asked, gaze focused on the vegetables in front of him.

"Mhmm," Stiles said, "We haven't met before, have we?"

"Not that I can recall," Derek said, hands moving swiftly, "But who knows, the world is a small place, right?"

Before Stiles could respond that it was rare for a werewolf to not remember his first meeting with a member of Claudia Stilinski's family, he noticed that Derek's body seemed to tense, knife stopping.

"Hello, Scott," Derek said, head turning toward the kitchen's entrance.

This time Stiles really couldn't ignore the feeling of his stomach dropping.

"Derek," Scott said, stepping into the kitchen, "And… Stiles. It's been a long time, man."

"Not long enough," Stiles said, stepping away from the counter and toward the backdoor to exit the kitchen, "Thank you for breakfast, Derek."

"Stiles," Scott called, "Wait up!"

Before the backdoor closed behind him, Stiles heard Scott mutter, "Fuck you, too, Derek," bringing a small smile to Stiles's face. Maybe Derek was an ally after all.

Stiles walked toward the flower gardens, an area he used to spend a lot of time in with his mother. He heard the kitchen backdoor open and close again, followed by the sound of footsteps approaching quickly.

"Come on, Stiles," Scott called, "Can't you just talk to me, man?"

"What's the point, Scott?" Stiles asked, turning to face the beta werewolf, "I haven't had a word for you in over ten years. Haven't you moved on?"

Stiles liked to tell himself he had, but that was clearly untrue given that one look at Scott McCall had his blood boiling all over again.

"Jesus, Stiles," Scott said, face scrunching in the sunlight, "I… There aren't words to… I'm really…"

"Right," Stiles said, nodding as he turned away from Scott, "Good talk."

"Hey, man," Scott said, placing a hand on Stiles's shoulder, "I'm not good on the spot, you know. I didn't even know you were coming into town, if I had I would've prepared – I mean, I figured you were coming soon. I just didn't know if it would be before or at the time of the funeral…"

"Thank you for the reminder, Scott," Stiles said, refusing to give his former best friend an inch.

Scott scowled down at his sneakers, shoving his hands into the back pockets of his jeans. Curiosity more than anything made Stiles stand still, waiting for a response from Scott.

"So, are you sleeping with him?" Scott asked, nodding his head in the direction of the kitchen.

Stiles snorted.

"I'm serious, man," Scott said, face ernest, "You shouldn't get involved with Derek, you don't know him like–"

"Is he going to take everything I say to the nearest newspaper or online blog?" Stiles asked.

Scott reeled back as though he had been physically slapped.

"Stiles, I…" Scott said.

"You can't even apologize ten years later, can you Scott?" Stiles asked, eyes narrowing.

"I'm fucking sorry, Stiles!" Scott yelled, throwing his hands up into the air, "I've said it countless times, it just doesn't seem big enough, man. I was stupid, I know that now. I was just so jealous that you were ditching me for Ethan."

"So you helped him write a detailed editorial about the inner workings of my life to get back at me?" Stiles asked, heat seeping into his voice, "That seemed like a logical decision. Did you decide to join forces with him before or after he told you the only reason he was dating me was to gain an exposé worthy of a college application?"

"It was stupid, Stiles," Scott said, regret written all over his face, "I was just so angry. I felt alone–"

"Yeah, me, too," Stiles said, "But I guess I should thank you – you helped me learn a valuable life lesson, don't fucking trust anyone."

"Stiles," Scott called as Stiles walked away, back toward the gardens.

Chapter Text

Spread out on the green turf, the slight tickle of a hundred grass leaves pressing against him, Stiles stared up into the sky. His eyes squinted from the bright sun.

This had been a mistake. Isaac was wrong, he wasn't strong enough to be there right now. Ten years clearly hadn't been enough to help  distance himself from the pain of the past, though he questioned whether another ten more – even a hundred more – could help him do that.

Stiles turned his head to gaze upon the hydrangeas growing to the left. He remembered spending almost every day right there – in that very spot – with his mother. Hydrangeas were her favorite.

That was where they had been sitting, pruning the flowers, when the Argent family had attacked.

Stiles pushed the memory back as he stood up, patting himself down to remove grass clippings. He walked back toward the house.

***

Stiles paused inside the hallway, overhearing the voices of his father and Derek coming from the open door of his father's bedroom. He rested against the wall as he listened in.

"Why did you tell Melissa to call him?" his father asked, voice wavering between a cough.

"You don't want him here?" Derek asked, sounding surprised.

"Not like this," his father said, "I didn't want him to see me like this."

"He's your son," Derek said, voice turning sure, "That won't matter to him as much as being able to say goodbye."

Stiles heard his father snort.

"I don't think I matter to him at all," his father said, voice sour.

"That's not true," Derek said, "Otherwise he wouldn't have come, now would he?"

"Mm," his father said, noncommittally.

Stiles waited as silence passed between the pair.

"I just wish it weren't so hard," his father finally said, "It's difficult… Apologizing for fights I don't even remember."

"I'm pretty sure it's difficult for a parent to apologize to a child no matter what the circumstances are," Derek said, "That's just a parent thing."

Another pause of silence passed between them.

"Have you told him?" Derek asked.

"What?" his father asked.

"You know what," Derek said, "Does he know that you don't even know how many days you have left?"

Stiles's chest felt like it was concaving. He had guessed his father's treatments had stopped working, that the end was close, but he had still been thinking in terms of weeks, maybe months. Not days.

"Cancer's a bitch," his father said.

"So, no?" Derek asked.

"No," his father said, delving into another coughing bout.

Stiles stepped away from the wall as he heard footsteps approaching the door.

"I'm going to go get you that cup of tea," Derek said, stepping into the hallway.

Derek met Stiles's gaze, offering a small nod before he continued down the hall toward the kitchen. Of course he had known that Stiles had been standing there the whole time. Fucking werewolves.

Stiles pulled his car keys from his pants pocket. He needed to get out of the house for a while. He couldn't breathe there.

Chapter Text

Stiles kept his head down while he waited in the coffee shop connected to the local grocery. The last thing he needed right now was to run into someone he knew – or worse, be recognized by someone that knew him.

Of course, the downtown square was probably the worst place to be to achieve such a goal, but he needed this Earl Grey tea, and unless he wanted to brew it himself (which required actually being at home), the local grocery it was.

"Stiles?" a male voice called from behind him.

Stiles tilted his head further down in an effort to pull into himself, keeping his back turned as he ignored the call. To any reasonably observant person, his body language was clear – do not approach.

"How's that tea coming?" Stiles asked the barista, who, based on her unhappy attitude, was a teenager about high school age. The young blonde's nametag read, "Erica, Your Happy Barista!", which was clearly not the case.

Erica simply offered a raised eyebrow as she dumped the cup of hot water in her hand out into the sink.

"Whoops," Erica said, "That water was scalding, I'll have to start all over."

"It's supposed to be hot," Stiles said, clenching his jaw, "That's kind of the point with tea."

"One searing cup coming right up then, sir," Erica said, a large grin now stretched across her face.

Stiles scowled back at the barista as he heard footsteps approaching from behind him.

"Stiles Stilinski?" the man repeated, a hand settling on his shoulder and turning him around, "I thought that was you! How the hell are you, man?"

Stiles's stomach clenched as he looked upon the face of none other than Jackson Whittemore, just the reminder he needed of Ethan Carver.

"Well," Stiles said, turning back to the barista, "Though I would be better if I had a cup of tea in my hand already!"

Stiles cringed at the sound of a paper cup filled with water falling to the ground, followed by the most phony, "Oops!", Stiles had ever heard.

"I see you've met Erica," Jackson said, chuckling, "You may be waiting for a while, she tends to hassle the customers she finds attractive."

"Oh my, God!" Erica yelled, thrusting a steaming cup toward Stiles, "Here, now go! And don't come back."

"Gladly," Stiles said, cup in hand and frowning as Jackson followed him out of the coffee shop.

"I see the Stilinski charm is still in tact," Jackson said, offering a large grin and pausing Stiles with a hand, "So, listen. I'm hosting a barbecue next week. If you're still in town, I would love to see you–"

"Jackson," Stiles said, lifting the other man's hand off of his shoulder, "The only time you bothered to look at me in high school was when you were trying to make Ethan jealous, and I'm pretty sure you hated all the attention my last name brought me. So, this time without the bullshit, what do you want?"

If possible, Jackson's smile grew brighter, and the man began to laugh.

"Ethan's still in town, and he'll be at the party. He's been sniffing around me a lot lately, and I'd like to fuck with his head a little," Jackson said, "Preferably with one of his ex-lovers, or someone that he's royally screwed over in the past. You happen to be both."

Stiles stared back at Jackson while he thought the proposal over, brow creasing slightly. Ethan was bad news, and his sanity was already being tested just by being home. It was pretty obvious that Jackson's party could only make matters worse.

"Thank you, but no," Stiles said, shaking his head and stepping back.

"Well," Jackson said, reaching forward with his hand again, "At least take my card – just in case you change your mind. Please."

"Sure," Stiles said, keeping the business card in hand so that he could dispose of it once Jackson walked away.

"Oh, and Stiles," Jackson said, voice lowering as he moved even closer, "I definitely noticed you before Ethan. And you're right, I didn't appreciate everyone staring at you. I could have saved us both the pain of Ethan had I just grown a pair and asked you out sooner. So, even if you're not up for the party, you should call me. I'm always down for some fun, no strings attached."

Jackson continued to grin as he stepped away from Stiles.

Stiles's stomach churned again as he let Jackson's admission sink in. It wasn't entirely unappealing, especially given that it had been some time since Stiles had felt open enough to try a relationship.

The no strings clause was equally if not more appealing, since Stiles didn't plan to stick around Beacon Hills any longer than he had to, plus a little time spent with Jackson might help him to stop noticing Derek as much.

He really needed to stop noticing Derek. Especially the way he had that light dusting of chest hair peeking out from his henley shirts. Fucking chest hair.

Stiles shook his head as he walked back out to the parking lot, slipping the card into his pants pocket. Maybe he would call Isaac on the way home, just to see what the beta thought.

Chapter Text

Pulling up to the house just in time to witness Derek hoist several garden hoses into the trunk of that fucking black Camaro – several beads of sweat dripping down the other man's bare and well sculpted back – Stiles dropped his head down onto the wheel.

"Fuck," Stiles whispered, "I'm an idiot. A fucking horny idiot."

Supernatural hearing kicking in, Derek turned around to wave to Stiles. Or at least that's what he originally thought, face flushing with blood at the sudden realization that the ringing in his ears was actually the horn of his car.

***

Stiles stared at the clock above Derek's head, the two men seated on either side of the retired Sheriff at the dining room table for dinner.

The last seven minutes and thirty-two seconds had been filled with awkward small talk, and Stiles felt both his body and mind clench, steeled for whatever wounds might show in the remainder of the meal.

It probably wasn't fair to his father, but it had been so long since he hadn't been on defense around the man that–

"Stiles?" Derek asked, waving a hand in front of his face.

"Do what?" Stiles said, refocusing on the company in front of him, gaze quickly shifting down to his dinner plate.

"I asked, well Derek wanted to know that is," his father said, "What you were working on currently."

Stiles resisted the urge to gape as he turned back up to his father, though he felt his eyes widen as a new unease spread throughout his body.

"We're both dying to know," Derek said, offering a bright smile, "Your last piece was life changing for me, it's actually what led me here."

A light blush spread across Derek's face as Stiles arched an eyebrow at the werewolf.

"Not," Derek said, raising his hands, "Not like that – it just helped me find some perspective. I realized that I was living a life that I didn't want to live. I was on the road looking for something new when I got a flat tire near your house, which turned out to be pretty fortunate actually."

"Stiles's writing has always had an affect on people," his father said, "Claudia and I used to place bets on how many compliments his writing would receive before going in to meet with his school teachers."

"Right," Stiles said, voice turned thick with bitterness, "That's why you were so supportive when I joined the school newspaper, and then later when I told you I wanted to study journalism in college."

"I was supportive," his father said, slightly taken aback.

Stiles felt his stomach clench, but he was unsure whether it was due to his own anger over the past or the look of surprise on his father's face.

"Forget it," Stiles said, shrugging his shoulders and lifting a meatball to his mouth.

"No," his father said, "I've always supported your writing, son. It was important to your mother, and it was important to you, so it was important to me."

"Right," Stiles said, voice bitter again, "Maybe that's how you remember it now that you're sober, but back then, you had a mean streak that grew with each new bottle. You seriously don't remember kicking me out of the car after I first told you that I was joining the school newspaper?"

Stiles felt the heat in his stomach grow as his father's face remained blank.

"Well I fucking do," Stiles said, "I couldn't even talk to you about my writings, it pissed you off too much. You were more supportive of Ethan – which is saying a lot, you weren't that cool with homosexuality either."

"That's unfair," his father said, frown setting into a deep glare.

"Yeah, it was unfair," Stiles said, nodding, "I couldn't talk to you about anything – not what I was writing about, and not about my boyfriend. Told me to keep my mouth shut as soon as I walked in the door, and all I could do was count the beer bottles as I cleaned up the house. Looking back, those seem pretty small and insignificant sometimes, but then again they were my whole life then. You didn't care at all, and you sure as hell didn't ask me any damn questions about how my day was going or what I was working on."

"Well I'm asking now!" his father yelled, hands splayed out on the table's surface, body tense with frustration.

"Fine!" Stiles yelled back, "Ask again, what would you like to fucking know about?"

Stiles took a moment to breathe while his father seemed to refocus. He suddenly remembered that Derek sat in the room, too, and he offered an apologetic face as he took in the other man's uncomfortable body language.

"I'm just going to put these away," Derek said, standing up and reaching for the serving platters on the table.

"How is that one young man?" his father asked, voice suddenly lowered.

Stiles paused to answer, watching Derek leave the room.

"Which young man, dad?" Stiles asked, turning back to his father, "Isaac?"

"No," his father said, shaking his head, "The other one you met at college."

"Boyd," Stile said, filling in the gap, "He's fine."

"Are you…" his father said, gaze set down on the plate in front of him, "Are you still seeing each other?"

"No," Stiles said, shrugging his shoulders, "He proposed a few times, but I couldn't commit."

"Oh," his father said, "I'm sorry to hear that."

"I'm not," Stiles said, shaking his head, "I was using him as a therapist, and he was using me as a case study. We were right for the moment, not the long run."

"Okay," his father said, growing quiet as his brow seemed to crease with contemplation.

"Look, Stiles," his father said, releasing a sigh, "My memory isn't… I don't remember those stories you told about our past. That person you described – me – that seems like a total stranger to me. But it must be true, because when I reach for memories of your younger years, all I can grasp is a strong sense of anger. It seems like we've both been angry for a very long time. Maybe too long."

Stiles remained silent as he waited for his father to continue.

"I believe that I'm a good father," his father said, pausing to release a deep cough, "And maybe I need to apologize for mistakes made in the past to show you that, but it's hard for me to apologize without remembering what I'm sorry for. I think it's time for us to move on, to agree to disagree, or whatever, in order to coexist again."

The unease of the previous argument began to build in Stiles's chest again as he watched his father cough deeper, the fit pausing their conversation.

"I need more time," Stiles said, after several seconds of waiting, "That sounds nice, but it seems too easy right now. It doesn't feel right."

"Stiles," his father said, releasing another cough, "We're running out of time."

***

Stiles thudded quietly up the stairs to the second floor, feet and mind heavy with the weight of the dinner conversation as he headed to bed.

A gentle tug on his shoulder made Stiles pause on the landing. He turned to find Derek waiting in the shadows.

"That was… intense," Derek said, offering a sympathetic smile.

"Yeah, about that," Stiles said, releasing a sigh, "I didn't mean to explode like that in front of you – that was completely inappropriate. Usually I'm better about not letting my anger get the best of me, and I would promise not to let it happen again, but this town tends to bring out the worst in me."

"It's all right," Derek said, taking a step closer to Stiles, "This is a stressful time for any family, I get it. But if you ever needed a supportive ear, I'm right here. Maybe I can help you avoid the explosion next time."

"Uh…" Stiles said, a heat pulling through his entire body as he became aware of just how close Derek stood, "Thanks. I mean, thank you. I'll keep that in mind."

"Good," Derek said, offering a brilliant smile as he stepped even closer, "I would really like that."

Stiles's mind seemed to race in every direction as Derek lifted a hand to clutch the back of his neck, pulling Stiles forward until their mouths met. Stiles regained focus as Derek's tongue met his own.

Chapter Text

Blinking blearily into his surroundings, Stiles slowly took in the familiar shadows of the furniture in his old room. His confusion lasted only a few seconds as the numbness of sleep gave way to the ache of a body well used, and he turned his head to notice that the burning across his chest was actually a large tanned bicep.

He could still feel Derek's surprisingly thick tongue in his mouth, filling him with a uniquely heady flavor.

"Fuck," Stiles whispered, moving to raise a hand to cover his face but releasing a gasp at the sharp pain in his lower back from the movement.

Reaching back to feel the raised skin, he remembered Derek thrusting him up against the room's door, knob digging into his back as the other man licked harshly into his mouth.

Stiles remembered being distracted in the moment, too busy contemplating which was more coarse – Derek's scruff brushing against his face, or the wandering hands that grasped tightly onto his frame and slipped into his pants.

Stiles turned his head to assess the man next to him. His mind rushed with two separate emotions: one rejoicing in the beauty that was Derek's body, and the other overcome with shame.

This situation was completely fucked up – too selfish even for his level of bitterness and victimization. The worst part was that he couldn't even blame it on some bullshit like alcohol. His stomach dropped as guilt won over, and he shifted to move out from under Derek as quietly as possible. If he hurried, he could make it to the washroom before he threw up.

"Don't go," Derek murmured, eyes shut tight as he reached an arm out to clutch Stiles's arm.

Forgoing finesse, Stiles tried and failed to shake Derek's grasp.

"Derek, let go," Stiles said, voice hurried and filled with frustration as his stomach grew more upset with each passing second. His throat tightened as his abdomen heaved.

"No," Derek said, eyes still closed as he shook his head into the pillow supporting his head, "Keeping you forever."

Stiles doubled over, realizing his fate was already sealed. He glanced around the room quickly, seeking a waste basket to aim for, but he came up short in the dark. He released the contents of his stomach onto the floor, fully aware that Derek had finally opened his eyes.

***

"Here," Derek said, offering a glass of water as he stood in front of Stiles sitting on the bed.

"Thanks," Stiles said, lifting the glass and grimacing after the first swallow, tongue still overwhelmed by the unpleasant taste of old mouthwash.

"Thanks for helping me to the washroom to clean up," Stiles said after a few seconds of silence, "And I'm sorry about your jacket."

Derek's face seemed to flash with a brief moment of sadness as the man looked down at the black leather jacket now in the waste bin that Stiles had meant to aim for instead.

"It's okay," Derek said, shrugging his shoulders as he turned back to Stiles, "I'm more concerned about whether this is a review of my performance."

Stiles rolled his eyes but allowed himself a small smile.

"Now that's the sight I was hoping for when I first opened my eyes," Derek said, crouching down in between Stiles's legs.

Any other person would probably be overwhelmed with affection in that moment, but the bedside lamp removing all shadows from Derek's open face left Stiles with the discomfort of déjà vu. He remembered thinking earlier that morning that Derek looked somehow familiar. There was a gnawing sensation that the man had said something at dinner that had raised a red flag, too.

"Hey," Derek said, lightly tapping a finger on Stiles's forehead, "Come back to me. Is that what got you upset? Living up there too much?"

Stiles remained silent as he continued to study Derek's face, trying to decide whether it was best to retreat back to his own room as soon as fucking possible. He took a breath to gain courage before speaking.

"Derek, why are you here?" Stiles asked, hands clenching in his lap.

"I told you already," Derek said, the shadow of a smile forming on his face, "I was looking for something new, and I met your dad by chance. We both seemed to need one another."

"Yeah," Stiles said, nodding, "That's what you said. But my father also told me that Melissa recommended you as a handyman to him. How does a flat tire fit into that story?"

Derek sighed as he stood up, turning away from Stiles as he sat next to his right. Stiles focused on a polaroid photo of a young blonde woman propped up on the nightstand while he waited for Derek to speak.

"My life got a little… complicated last Spring," Derek said, staring at the wall ahead of them, "So I packed a few bags and started reaching out to anyone I knew about handy work that might get me on a better path. The McCalls are an old family acquaintance, so I reached out to Melissa, knowing she's a pretty social person with a lot of connections. I didn't know that she had reached out to your father, but it's good to hear that. It's less good to hear that, for whatever reason, you don't seem to trust me."

Stiles resisted the urge to feel guilt at Derek's comment.

"Derek, I just met you yesterday," Stiles said, "I would be an idiot if I completely trusted you right now. I'm already an idiot for sleeping with you."

"You regret it?" Derek asked, head whipping back around to Stiles quickly, face wounded.

"Less now that I know you're not some Stilinski groupie," Stiles said, shrugging his shoulders, "But you have to admit, this was a shitty thing for me to do right now, while my father's dying downstairs."

"Don't let your anger and guilt over the last few years of your relationship with your father distort what we have here," Derek said, placing a hand over one of Stiles's.

"What do we have here?" Stiles asked, snorting.

"I don't know," Derek said, shaking his head, "But it's something. Something real. Something I haven't felt in a long time."

"You don't even know me," Stiles said, "You sound crazy."

"I've known about you since I was a little boy," Derek said, gaze intent on him, "I might not be the kind of crazy Stilinski stalker that you're used to, but every werewolf today grows up with some sense of admiration and love for your family. Everything your father has told me since arriving here has only added onto that admiration. And then you showed up out of the blue, and you're everything I hoped you were. I'm sorry if I moved too quickly, but I'm not sorry for this."

Stiles shook his head, unsure what to think about Derek's admission. Despite the uncertainty, he couldn't help but feel a small twinge of curiosity about what stories his father had shared with Derek.

"You want to know what he said," Derek said, wide smile returning to his face.

Stiles rolled his eyes at the smugness showing through Derek's expression.

"You two are surprisingly similar, you know that?" Derek asked.

"All right," Stiles said, standing up, "I'm never touching your cock again, just for that. Hope you enjoyed your one and only chance."

"No!" Derek said, placing a hand on Stiles's arm while laughing, "Come on! I just meant that you both care a lot about what the other thinks. That's… rare. A lot of family members aren't like that, even those that get along really well. They just carry on without ever thinking about how they're being perceived by family. Trust me, I know. I have two sisters."

"Is she one of them?" Stiles asked, gesturing toward the polaroid photo.

"Uh…" Derek said, seeming to hesitate before reaching over and picking the photo up to place in the nightstand's drawer, "No. She's not."

The familiarity of discomfort crept back over Stiles, but this time he didn't push back the guilt over the pain his words had caused Derek. The woman was clearly someone important that had been lost.

"All right, doctor," Stiles said, stepping in front of Derek, "You've won me back over for the night. What do you recommend for this patient?"

Stiles resisted the urge to laugh as Derek's expression blurred, running from sadness, to confusion, and then excitement.

"As your current caregiver, I recommend that you return to bed immediately," Derek said, placing two firm hands on Stiles's pelvis.

Stiles released a snort, not quite believing that Derek could still be attracted to him so shortly after witnessing him murder what had clearly been a prized possession. Murdered with bodily fluids. Gross unattractive bodily fluids.

"Ignore him," Derek said, gesturing down to his cock jumping with excitement, "I'm only suggesting sleep. Though I do have some seedy plans to prove my abilities in the morning, with the primary goal to improve your satisfaction rating up from vomit worthy."

Stiles rolled his eyes again, but he allowed himself to be pulled down onto the bed by Derek.

"Just to be clear," Stiles said, pausing as he waited for Derek to turn the light off, "You're really not a crazed Stilinski stalker/fanboy, right?"

"Oh, I'm a fan," Derek said, smirk growing as a hand made its way down to cup Stiles's ass, "A big one."

Stiles knew he was going to hate himself all over again for this in the morning, but that was becoming a norm emotion as it was. He could afford a little indulgence before heading back to the realm of reality. At least he felt safe encircled by Derek's arms. That was something Stiles had been missing for far too long.

Chapter Text

Stiles bit his bottom lip to muffle the moan triggered from the sight of Derek's chest hair slick with sweat, well defined abs contracting in movement above his own as Derek straddled him. Derek really was beautiful – alarmingly beautiful – and the morning light only helped to illuminate that fact. If he hadn't already reached his own orgasm a few minutes ago, he would have burst just looking at this.

Stiles smirked as Derek's entire body began to contract like one large muscle, red creeping up the man's neck and face. He lifted one hand to grasp Derek's hand pumping his own cock, and the other to lightly pull on the man's right nipple.

"You know, Derek," Stiles said, voice low, "If I knew you better – like your last name, or history of sexual partners, you'd be blowing your load down my throat right now."

Stiles's grin widened at Derek's slight gasp, and he pumped his hand with Derek's harder, helping the other man to reach climax.

"It's kind of a shame, but this will do I guess," Stiles said, "You'll just have to get me a little messy."

Derek cried out louder, moving his hand out from under and then on top of Stiles's so that he was the one guiding the pumping action. It wasn't long until a thick white rope began spewing onto Stiles's abdomen.

Stiles grinned up at Derek as he allowed the other man to regain his bearings. He couldn't help but chuckle at the glazed look on Derek's face, a somewhat dopey expression.

"You," Derek finally said, voice hoarse and hands resting against Stiles's stomach, "Have a dirty mouth."

Stiles was aware that he spent an above average amount of time in his head – the result of having to compartmentalize his life at a fairly young age – but to the surprise of a few, his tongue took over in the bedroom.

Setting a blank look on Derek, Stiles's gestured down to Derek's hands, which had begun a circular motion on his stomach, rubbing the sperm into his skin. The message was clear: Stiles wasn't the only one present with kinks.

"Sorry," Derek said, blood rushing to his face as he laid himself down next to Stiles.

Stiles resisted the urge to find the werewolf's blush adorable.

"Does it really bother you?" Derek asked, propping his head on his arm as he turned to face Stiles again.

"What?" Stiles asked, not quite sure they were still talking about sex kinks given Derek's serious gaze.

"That you don't know everything about me," Derek said.

"I wouldn't call your last name a detailed history, Derek," Stiles said, shaking his head.

"No, but you're still bothered by this," Derek said, gesturing between them, "How quickly it's all happened. Why is that?"

"I think it's pretty normal to be weary of strangers," Stiles said, keeping his voice light, "Especially given that my father's a retired Sheriff."

"Yeah, but something tells me it's more than just precaution. Less to do with what's in here," Derek said, tapping a finger against Stiles's head and then moving it above his heart, "And more to do with what's in here."

"Are you asking me for a detailed history now?" Stiles asked.

"Maybe," Derek said, shrugging his shoulders.

"That's a bad idea," Stiles said, turning away to reach for his phone on the nightstand.

It was getting to that time when Stiles needed to stop enjoying his time with Derek and start regretting it. Already his selfish mistake had negatively impacted his reason for being there, given that he had meant to discuss his father's health with Dr. Deaton last night. He gave it up for a couple orgasms. Fucking selfish.

"It's still early," Derek said, grabbing the phone out of Stiles's hands, "He won't be up for another two hours at least. Stop worrying."

Stiles folded his arms over his torso and tried to ignore Derek's determined gaze. Whatever the man wanted to talk about, Stiles was sure he didn't want to. And that was how most of his relationships went – every man after Ethan wanted in, and Stiles wanted out. Immediately.

Actually, Derek made Stiles uncomfortable for a lot of reasons – his proximity to his father, the mystery of who he was, and his werewolf status.

If Stiles was honest, it was the last fact that was the most bothersome. He had adamantly refused to date another werewolf since Ethan. They simply had way too much interest in the ongoings of his family, and it was nice to fuck around without a man asking about his mother afterwards.

"Come back to me," Derek said, tapping a finger on Stiles's forehead, "I'm starting to think I could walk past you in nothing but your own underwear without you even blinking."

"I've just got a lot to do today," Stiles said, shrugging his shoulders.

"You seem to spend a lot of time taking care of other people," Derek said, hand gliding up his abdomen, "It's okay to let someone else take care of you for a little while."

Stiles released a noncommittal huff in response.

"And enjoy it," Derek said, "It's okay to enjoy it, too."

"Yeah, well," Stiles said, brushing Derek's hand off, "Somebody warned me not to enjoy you."

"Who?" Derek asked, brow furrowed in confusion.

"Scott," Stiles said, "You two didn't seem that friendly in the kitchen yesterday."

"Yeah," Derek said, smirk growing as he laid back down on his back, "We've never really gotten along. Goes way back to old summer vacations when I would throw him in the lake against his will, or make fun of his wavy hair, or some other adolescent bullshit."

Stiles frowned as he processed the information. He had been best friends with Scott since they were toddlers, and Scott never brought up a bully named Derek.

"He never mentioned you before," Stiles said, deciding to act on his curiosity, "We've been friends since before we knew how to tie our shoe laces. It's kind of weird I never heard the name Derek."

"Not really," Derek said, closing his eyes as the sunlight began to grow stronger in the room, "That's just our way. I wouldn't be talking about him now if it weren't for you."

Stiles still felt like he was missing something, but he let it pass. He focused on the warmth slowly building in the room. He really did need to get up and shower.

"Now I get to ask you a question about yourself," Derek said, leaning on his arm again.

Unease creeped back over him, though Stiles tried to push the anxiety about whatever question Derek might have back. If anything though, the effort made Stiles more anxious, because if Derek had one question prepared so quickly, he probably had others.

"Are we trading?" Stiles asked, trying to keep the alarm out of his voice.

"If you're willing," Derek said, intent gaze from earlier returning.

"One question," Stiles said, "If it's a good one, maybe more."

"Those are high stakes," Derek said, face twisting in concern, "I've got so many… You want me to choose the best one first, and I'm not even sure which one that is."

Stiles kept his face blank, pushing back the smile that wanted to show through.

"All right," Derek said, "Are you seeing someone right now?"

"Really?" Stiles asked, gesturing a hand between the two of them.

"Someone else then," Derek said, smile almost blinding Stiles, "Are you seeing someone else right now."

"No," Stiles said, shaking his head, "Relationships are complicated, and I like to keep my life simple."

"Got it," Derek said, nodding his head, "You strike me as the type that likes to keep the refrigerator and pantry a certain way. Someone else would just ruin your day by putting the milk on the wrong shelf probably."

Stiles resisted the urge to laugh, reminded of the disagreement with Isaac that led to the first House-Rules agreement. Derek wasn't that far off.

"Organization is important," Stiles said, filling his voice with mock insult.

"Your turn," Derek said, laughing.

Stiles bit his bottom lip as he contemplated what to ask. Derek tracked the movement with interest, the same excitement he had in his eyes when he had dragged Stiles back in to bed the night before – just after he had pushed a polaroid photo into the nightstand's drawer. Stiles realized his question was simple.

"Do you have a boyfriend?" Stiles asked, "Or… a girlfriend?"

"No," Derek said, shaking his head, the movement almost distracting Stiles from the wince crossing Derek's face, "Looks like we're both single right now. Lucky me."

Stiles rolled his eyes.

"Why Seattle?" Derek asked.

"Because it was far," Stiles said without thinking, pausing to collect his thoughts before continuing with more careful words, "I needed space to realize who I was, but I knew I also needed to be able to get home in a day's travel, too."

"I thought you were going to say the rain," Derek said, mouth wrinkling into a pout, "You seem like a gloomy gray day type of man."

"You're getting me all worked up again," Stiles said, joking, "Say gloomy again."

"You're terrible," Derek said, grin replacing the pout, "All right… Heavy hitter this time. You don't seem to talk about her a lot."

"Was that a question?" Stiles said, voice growing heat.

Stiles understood the implied question well enough, but if Derek was really going to ask Stiles to touch the subject, he was going to at least make the man ask it outright.

"You don't seem to talk about your mother a lot, why is that?" Derek asked, seeming to hesitate throughout the question.

"This was a bad idea," Stiles said, getting up from the bed and looking across the floor for his clothes.

Derek didn't attempt to stop him from gathering his clothes and making for the door so suddenly, which Stiles appreciated, leading him to turn back to toward Derek once he reached the threshold.

"Thank you for…" Stiles said, trying to find the words to communicate how much he had appreciated the night, "Thanks."

***

The force of the shower's stream pounding around him felt like a guard protecting him, and the rush of the water eased the buzz in his head. He felt like he could almost breath again since first stepping out of Derek's bed.

Visions of the last day he had seen his mother filled his mind – there at the house, outside in the gardens. Usually when he thought back to that time, he just saw a lot of red. There had been so much blood. But today, all he could think about was how beautiful she had been before everything went so wrong. Sunlight pouring all around her, literally allowing her to glow.

Though he hadn't been much more than a child, he still frequently questioned what he might have done differently to save her. The guilt of that question haunted him every day, and he assumed that was partly why his father had grown so distant from him after her death. They both blamed him.

He allowed himself a few tears, pushing his face into the stream so he wouldn't have to think too hard about how many that might be.

Everything seemed to ache, and all he really wanted to do was cry out – some inhuman sound that would communicate all of the pain built up inside. But he didn't.

Instead, he pictured wrapping each thought up in a small box and pushing it away from him until his mind was empty. He processed nothing but the sound of the water flowing around him.

He didn't even jump when two large tanned arms wrapped around him from behind. Derek's scruff brushed against his shoulder as the man held him.

"I'm sorry," Derek whispered.

Chapter Text

Standing over the kitchen island, Stiles clutched his mobile phone as he caught up on missed text messages from the night before and earlier that morning. Occasionally, he observed Derek maneuvering around his peripheral as the other man prepared breakfast for the rest of the house.

From Isaac at 9:42PM: Everything ok, man? U said ud call w updates 2nite.

From Isaac at 10:38PM: R u ignoring me bc ur 2 bz falling on Jackson Douchemore's dick? Plz say no.

From Isaac at 11:23PM: Assuming u have touched Jackson's penis now.

From Isaac at 11:24PM: Gross.

From Isaac at 7:16AM: Srsly worried, everything ok? Plz call.

Stiles wasn't even sure how to go about explaining Derek to Isaac. He wasn't even sure he wanted to – the beta werewolf had a hard time trusting other people, much less other supernaturals.

"Concentrating pretty hard over there," Derek said, throwing a banana slice at Stiles to break his thoughts, "Someone I should worry about?"

Stiles's stomach twisted with the meaning behind Derek's question. They definitely weren't in a relationship, and Stiles was not down for any illusions Derek might have otherwise. Their sex had been just that, sex – great sex, but just sex between two strangers.

"No," Stiles said, shaking his head, "Derek, about last night–"

"Morning," Stiles's father said, wheeling into the kitchen with a scowl on his face.

"I notice you left out good in that greeting," Derek said, a grin on his face as he angled toward Stiles's father from the oven.

"Because it's not," his father said, "Are we eating in here, or did I waste my energy for no reason?"

Stiles winced internally at the presence of his father's temper, something he hadn't been subjected to in years now. Surprisingly, Derek didn't seem bothered.

"You're going to be a real treat today," Derek said, still grinning at his father, "And you know where we're eating. You can tell us why you're really here, it's okay to say you got lonely out there waiting for us."

To Stiles's greater surprise, his father huffed noncommittally but remained silent otherwise. Derek shot a wink at Stiles, pulling the pan of scrambled eggs up from the stovetop.

The interaction began looping in Stiles's mind as he tried to figure out where the fuck he was. Stiles wasn't even sure he'd ever seen his father allow someone to tease the man about his attitude before.

"Let's eat!" Derek said, layering several items onto a large platter.

***

Stiles savored the last bite of the waffle Derek had prepared, layered with a variety of fruit from the gardens. He couldn't even remember the last time he had tasted blueberry from an actual blueberry.

Not that they weren't offered in Seattle – they were – he just hadn't personally made it a priority himself yet to seek out locally sourced fruits and vegetables. And Isaac would probably eat cardboard if there were enough marshmallows on top of it, so it wasn't like there was any hurry.

"What did you boys do last night?" his father asked, disturbing his thoughts, "Anything fun?"

Stiles choked on the fork in his mouth. He attempted to hurry through the reaction in an effort to answer before Derek could.

"Went straight to bed," Derek said, offering a smug smirk to Stiles.

"Sometimes I wonder who the old man is in this house," his father said, shaking his head.

Stiles noticed that his father seemed to wince slightly at the motion, and he remembered the scowl on his father's face earlier that morning. When he thought about it, his father's movement had seemed stiff throughout breakfast.

"Uh... Dad, I'm going to contact Dr. Deaton today," Stiles said, moving away from the discussion on last night's activities, "You seem a little... Sore today. Would you like me to ask him to stop by the house?"

"The less I see of that man, the better," his father said, scowling back at Stiles, "It's just a little back pain. Nothing I haven't handled on my own before."

"Dad–" Stiles said.

"No!" his father said, slamming a hand down onto the table's surface, "God damn it, Stiles! Let a man die in peace."

Stiles reeled back in his seat, his mind flashing warning signs learned from having lived similar scenes too many times in his younger years.

"Sorry," his father said, taking a shallow breath, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to lose my temper like that."

Stiles pushed back the instinctive response to assure his father that it was okay, because it wasn't okay. Stiles felt something knock against his foot, and he looked up to see Derek offer a look of concern. He shook his head curtly before pushing his chair back from the table and standing up.

"I'm going to go call Dr. Deaton," Stiles said, "When we're done, I want you to walk me through any medicine you're currently on. Maybe you could think about if there's anything you need done outside of the house today, too."

Stiles paused for a response from his father but received nothing more than a head nod. He started to collect the flatware and plates around him, organizing the dishes onto the empty breakfast platter to be cleaned.

"Leave it," Derek said, stretching his hands out to take the plates from Stiles, "I'll cleanup, that's what I'm paid to do. Go on and make your call."

***

Derek watched Stiles make a thin lipped smile of thanks before turning to leave the room.

The second day had barely begun, and already it pained him to watch the interactions between the two Stilinski men. It was evident that all this tension wasn't something either of them wanted, but they also didn't seem to know how to act otherwise.

"I'm not sure I can do this," John said, frowning down at the mostly full plate in front of him.

"It's only the second day, John," Derek said, "You'd be a fool if you thought this would be easy."

"I don't know how to make him love me," John said, "Not without fixing the past, and there's not enough future right now to correct it all at a pace I like. A glacial one, where neither one of us has to lose pride or cry god damn tears about it."

"John, your son already loves you," Derek said, shaking his head, "But he doesn't like you, and that's what you need to focus on. You might have to scrape your pride a little bit, but if you don't... Well, I don't want to imagine the damage it'll do to that man when he loses you. I'm pretty sure it would wreck him."

John released a sigh as he pushed the wheelchair back from the table.

"This would be easier if you had a joint we could smoke," John said.

Derek laughed as he tried to picture what Stiles's face might look like if he ever saw his father smoking marijuana.

***

Stiles pulled his mobile phone out of his pocket as he shut the door to the study on the first floor. A new text message notification prompted before he could search for Dr. Deaton's phone number, and he opened it as he settled into one of the large dark leather chairs next to the window looking out on the greenhouse.

From Unknown Number at 8:47AM: Hey, is this Stiles phone? If so, this is Jackson.

From Unknown Number at 8:49AM: Was hoping I could take u out to lunch 2day.

Stiles hesitated as he stared back at the screen. Originally, he had hoped to use Jackson to ignore Derek, but he was already up the creek without a paddle. He definitely wasn't looking for friendship in Beacon Hills, and Jackson was probably one of the last people he would seek that from even if he were.

Before Stiles could respond, another message notification prompted.

From Unknown Number at 8:51AM: I no ur still mad @ me but we need 2 talk.

From Unknown Number at 8:51AM: It's Scott btw.

Stiles swiped to delete Scott's text messages before returning to Jackson's.

To Jackson at 8:53AM: Okay.

Chapter Text

The steady rhythm of the grandfather clock seemed to echo off of every wall in the study. Stiles focused on the reverberation to reduce the buzz swelling in his mind.

"Stiles?" Dr. Deaton asked, probably not for the first time.

"I'm here," Stiles said, voice forced from the thickness growing in his throat, "Can you... Will you repeat that."

"Stiles..." Dr. Deaton said, voice filled with sympathy, "You may have already noticed that some of his speech and higher level intellect capabilities are becoming unusual, nonsensical even."

The doctor paused for Stiles to respond, but he remained silent.

"There are times when he frequently loses words, or unconsciously repeats himself," Dr. Deaton finally said, "The disease has advanced at a rapid pace, unfortunately resulting in some rather extreme forms of typically less harmful symptoms, such as muscle rigidity, loss of language and memory. Overnight, it seemed that he had lost the ability to handle simple daily tasks."

Stiles thumbed over a wet spot growing on his knee. He looked out the window to see when it had started raining, but saw only bright sunlight. A water drop landed on his arm, and he pushed a hand up to his cheek, realizing several hot tears were responsible.

"There are drugs, of course–" Dr. Deaton said.

"What drugs?" Stiles asked, wiping a hand across his wet cheek.

"Stiles," Dr. Deaton said, releasing a heavy sigh, "Without the chemotherapy your father refused so early on, it is my belief that most drugs will only acutely worsen certain symptoms. At this point it's up to him how he wishes to live his final days."

Stiles pushed his eyes up to the ceiling, an effort to let his eyes dry some. He cleared his throat to push past the thickness there.

"How long?" Stiles asked.

"Weeks," Dr. Deaton said, "Two, four. Could be more, could be less. At some point his unconscious periods will grow more severe, lasting for days until death. Keep that in mind as you prepare to say goodbye."

***

Stiles stood unmoving in front of the open door to his father's bedroom for what seemed like hours. He had meant to interrupt the man's mid-morning nap to go over the pain medications his father was on, but the weight of his conversation with Dr. Deaton still gripped him.

He had never seen his father look quite so... Small. And vulnerable. Even after his mother's death, the man had always appeared strong. The Sheriff may have turned to addiction to survive, but no one else in the community saw that. Even then, the man's aggressive meanness transferred to strength in Stiles's young mind.

The reality that these were his father's last days never seemed so... Well, real. So blunt and unforgiving. Cruel.

His father didn't glow in the sunlight like his mother had, if anything the light highlighted every crack, scar, and wrinkle.

Stiles couldn't shake the feeling that this was how it would end – one day he would walk into this very room, and his father would be laying there just like that, and that would be it.

Every past argument, large and small, seemed extremely small. The pain was still there, but the drive to repay every wound now seemed overly petty in the shadow of death.

Stiles turned to leave the room, hand on the knob to close the door, but he stopped before crossing the threshold.

Moving with new uncertainty, Stiles stepped back into the room and crossed over to the bed. Blanket from the reading chair next to the nightstand in hand, Stiles climbed onto the bed and lay next to his father. He spread the blanket out over the both of them, moving quietly so as not to wake his father, and then rested his head on the pillow behind him.

Chapter Text

Stiles was stuck in a special kind of Hell – that one where he was trapped in a nightmare, but he knew it was all just a dream. He just couldn't wake himself.

His mind was flooded with images of his mother and father. Images filtered with golden rays and bright flowers accompanied his mother, followed by the sight of her smile and sound of her laughter. But these happy images always gave way to so much red, and then Stiles suddenly found himself back in the months long trial, a young child sitting in the court staring back at the biggest monster he had ever met: Gerard Argent.

About the time his mind would make Gerard the judge, Stiles would fly forward to images of coming home from junior high and high school. His memories flickered between endless days spent alone picking up the house, or coming home to his father passed out on the couch, a million beer bottles mentally and physically separating them.

Stiles didn't know which scenes were the worst, since the ones with his father gave way to the Sheriff's current condition – an aged man waiting for death. Stiles found himself on a stairway, trying to get to his father, but with each new step, a new stair was created. He watched his father decompose as he fought to reach him.

And then the images repeated from the beginning.

It was a great relief, then, when he woke with a startle, staring up into Derek's face, as the other man lightly shook his shoulder.

Stiles took a moment to close his eyes and release a deep breath before focusing on Derek again.

"What's wrong?" Stiles asked, taking in Derek's sour face, mouth slightly puckered and brow furrowed.

"You've got a guest," Derek said, stepping back from the bed and crossing his arms, "I left him in the library."

"A guest?" Stiles asked, sitting up and wiping at the sweat built up on his forehead and neck.

"Mhmm," Derek said, nodding his head, "Said to call him Jacks."

Oh, that was right. Jackson. Stiles had lunch plans.

Stiles looked around his father's bedroom for a clock, questioning whether he had really slept away the rest of the morning, but then realized that his father was missing from the bed.

"Where's my father?" Stiles asked, turning back to Derek.

"Also in the library," Derek said, jaw clenched tightly.

Stiles thought he could almost hear the man's teeth grinding. Was Derek upset that he had taken a nap that morning instead of helping around the house?

"Okay," Stiles said, standing up and shaking the wrinkles from his shirt, "I'll go join them, then."

***

As Stiles stepped into the library, he almost felt the need to pinch himself just to be sure he wasn't still sleeping.

His father sat comfortably across from Jackson, the two men seated in the reading chairs facing across from one another next to the large fireplace.

Both men wore bright smiles, and his father seemed to be in the middle of a retelling of Stiles's first youth soccer team.

"We couldn't bribe him to get up!" his father said, laughing, "Stiles just decided it was time for a nap, right there in the middle of the game and the field, and that was pretty much the end of the story as far as he was concerned. Stopped the whole game. Some parents might have been embarrassed by a show like that, but Claudia and I thought it was pretty funny, and it also told us what kind of kid we were dealing with. Once Stiles has his mind set, there is nothing that can get in his way."

Stiles felt an odd sense of numbness at hearing his father recount the event. He hadn't heard that story in ages. It was unlike his father to speak of the past, not since his mother had passed at least.

"Hey!" Jackson said, an almost blinding smile offered his way, "Your dad tells me you've been napping already today. You're really setting the bar low for me to make your stay here more exciting."

"I wouldn't say things haven't been exciting," Derek said, interrupting Stiles's own response as he stepped into the room and took a somewhat hostile stance leaning against the library's wall, "Naps are great after a lot of exertion, right, Stiles?"

"Uh..." Stiles said, unsure what was happening in front of him.

Were Derek and Jackson familiar with one another?

"Well I hope you made it count at least, Stiles," Jackson said, smirking back at Derek slightly, "You won't be getting any naps while I'm around."

Derek's face furrowed into a glare, and Stiles's father began shifting his face back and forth between Derek and Jackson. A quizzical expression growing.

"All right, this has been sufficiently awkward and strange," Stiles said, reaching down to confirm that his wallet was in his back pocket, "Dad, I'm sure he's already told you, but Jackson and I are headed into town. Did you remember anything you needed done while I'm out?"

"No," his father said, shaking his head as he wheeled himself to the library's entrance, "But take your time, boys. I think Derek and I have some things to discuss."

Stiles's stomach churned at the cryptic tone in his father's voice. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, Derek remained unconcerned, simply offering a final glare and slight eye roll to Jackson before following the retired Sheriff out of the room.

"I don't think your boyfriend likes me very much," Jackson said, leading Stiles out of the library and toward the main entrance door.

"He's not my boyfriend," Stiles said, pulling the door open so that Jackson could step out.

"Interesting," Jackson said, turning around after stepping out just so he could lean back into the house, "Later, Lurch!"

The sound of something ceramic or glass crashing to the floor followed Stiles out the door.

***

Seated across from Jackson in the county's least expensive restaurant, an outdoor burger shack positioned along the area's only interstate, serving greasy burgers and greasier fries, Stiles wondered for the first time why the pair had never struck up a friendship in high school.

Stiles could appreciate a place where no one bothered to look twice at anyone else.

Granted, a few patrons actually were staring at Jackson's Porsche.

"So," Jackson said, pausing to take a sizable bite out of the messiest burger Stiles had ever seen, "I'm going to very quickly ask this question – Hey, Stiles, how's your dad doing?"

Jackson placed a finger sticky from barbecue sauce on Stiles's lips before he could even bother to answer.

"Which is only to be polite, so that you don't think I don't understand why you're here, or that I don't care," Jackson said, now pausing to literally lick the sauce dripping from his burger, "And you're going to ignore it, like I know you really want to. Sound good?"

The unease from potentially having to answer that question faded, and Stiles cracked a genuine smile for the first time that day.

"How did you even find a place like this, Jackson?" Stiles asked, picking up his pineapple-jalapeño-stuffed burger for the first time, "It doesn't really seem to fit in with your... Taste for the finer things in life?"

Jackson snorted as he chewed on another massive burger bite.

"Remember how I was dating Ethan just before he moved on to you?" Jackson finally asked.

"Uh... Yeah," Stiles said, discomfort creeping back in.

"Well, after he told me he was moving on, I decided I was, too," Jackson said, pushing his thumb into his mouth to lick clean, "I started fooling around with the guy that worked behind the grill here back then. He was in college, lots of piercings and tattoos – a real 180 from Ethan. One of the biggest dicks I've ever seen, I might add. I was literally and metaphorically getting the best meat of my life."

"That's... Not the answer I was expecting at all," Stiles said, laughing.

"Well," Jackson said, shrugging his shoulders with a smile, "How long have you been banging your butler?"

"What makes you think I am?" Stiles asked, furrowing his brow, "And Derek's not our butler. He helps around the house, but he's..."

Stiles realized he couldn't really find the words to describe what Derek's presence was in the house.

Originally, his father had said handyman, but the man did a lot more around the house than just that. On their first night together, Stiles had learned that Derek wasn't a trained physician or nurse, so he wasn't really a professional caretaker per se. Plus, that seemed weird, it made Stiles picture Derek giving his father sponge baths, and that was not an image he wanted.

"Totally hot," Jackson said, filling in where Stiles left off.

"Well... Yeah," Stiles said, nodding his head as blood rushed to his face.

"You are too, you know," Jackson said, offering Stiles an assessing gaze.

"Not really," Stiles said, shaking his head, blush intensifying.

"Well I think so," Jackson said, shrugging his shoulders again, cleaning up the table around him by stacking his napkin and plastic utensils on his now empty paper plate, "And so does Derek."

"How do you know?" Stiles asked, taking another bite of his burger.

"Because he didn't like me," Jackson said, nodding his head knowingly.

Stiles snorted at the ridiculousness of the statement.

"I'm serious," Jackson said, offering a small glare, "He totally sent me the 'Hands Off' vibes. He did not want me anywhere near you, and that tells me he's attracted to you."

"Maybe he just didn't like your outfit," Stiles said, glancing down at Jackson's tight fitted polo.

"Impossible," Jackson said, shaking his head.

Stiles released another snort as he considered Jackson's words while eating.

As he chewed, Jackson's face contorted into a look of concern, and his body seemed to tense. Stiles turned his head behind him to see what had Jackson bothered so much, but all he saw was an unfamiliar car pulling into the parking lot.

"Jackson?" Stiles asked, turning back to the other man, "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," Jackson said, shaking his head, "But I think it's time we go. You really shouldn't eat that after the grease has had time to cool – really bad for your heart, let's get you something else to eat."

"Jackson–" Stiles said, alarm growing as Jackson reached forward to grab hold of Stiles's paper plate.

"Stiles?" a male voice called from behind him.

Stiles turned to find Scott McCall standing nearby. A young woman with long dark hair stood anxiously behind him. Like Derek, the woman looked somewhat familiar, but Stiles couldn't place exactly how.

"And Jackson," Scott said, voice and chest beginning to swell with anger.

"Be polite, Scott," the woman said, digging an elbow into Scott's stomach and then offering a small wave, "Hey, Jackson."

"Allison," Jackson said, nodding curtly.

Stiles turned a quizzical face to Jackson, but found his hand being grasped suddenly by Allison.

"Mr. Stilinski," Allison said, "It is an honor to finally meet you. Scott has said so much, and of course I've been waiting to meet you face to face for sometime now. Who knew it'd finally happen on the side of a ride  like this?"

Stiles raised an eyebrow as Allison laughed nervously.

"I'm sorry, who are you?" Stiles asked, taking his hand back from the woman.

"Allison," Allison said, mouth thinning slightly, "Allison Argent."

Stiles suddenly understood Jackson's rush to move on, and he wished he had listened as the half burger in his stomach fought to find its way out.

Stiles turned back to the table, away from Allison and Scott, and began to pack up his utensils and plate.

"Mr. Stilinski," Allison said, stepping forward again, "Uh... Stiles? I'm sorry if I've upset you – I'm just so excited, after years of learning about your family and working on editorial pieces–"

"Ms. Argent," Stiles said, voice darkening as he turned back around, "Year after year, I have consistently avoided any contact with your family. I have refused televised interviews, phone interviews, and live reunions. I don't take the letters your family continues to send, and I don't respond to your tweets or other social media posts. I even coded my own browser extension to completely eradicate your last name – and any article that mentions it – from my Internet browser. There is only one thing exciting for me about meeting you today, do you know what that is?"

Allison's smile slowly faded into a tight lip, tears filling her eyes as she shook her head nervously and stepped back closer to Scott, who looked torn between a variety of emotions.

"It's that I can finally say this to one of you in person," Stiles said, standing up, "Please do not contact me again. Do not call me, and do not write me – electronically or otherwise. If you see me in public, act like you don't. And while you're at it, stop parading my mother's death around as an act of redemption – your sorry attempts to shed light on the situation and retell her death in order to resolve your own guilt are the last efforts I could ever wish for. In fact, your network sponsor, Hale Media, has to label them as such, don't they? 'This explorative film or article was not approved by the Stilinski family, but was created against the family's wishes', isn't that right?"

A tear slide down Allison's cheek as she stood silent in front of him.

Stiles turned to Scott, who placed a comforting arm around Allison.

"Right," Stiles said, nodding his head and releasing a huff, "You're right, I'm sure Scott's said a lot."

He turned to throw the plate into the nearby trash bin and nodded to Jackson, who readily stood up as well.

"Please don't reach out to me again," Stiles said stepping away from the table, "And please stop pedalling my family's devastating loss as something newsworthy."

Chapter Text

Seated in the passenger seat of Jackson's vehicle, Stiles silently watched the yellow line dividing the lanes of Interstate 5 roll beneath the car.

Occasionally he would glance out the open window, acres of pine trees and monoculture fields a steady blur surrounding them.

Jackson hadn't bothered to ask whether or not Stiles was okay since leaving the burger shack, and Stiles hadn't asked where they were going, even though they had been driving for several hours now.

Theirs was turning into one of those beautiful and rare friendships built on a no-bullshit foundation. And silence. Stiles appreciated silence.

Kind of like his friendship with Isaac, except Isaac made him talk about–

Isaac. He never called Isaac back.

"Fuck," Stiles said, raising a hand to rest against his temple.

Jackson simply started laughing, pulling off the road and driving toward an empty gravel parking lot overlooking an even emptier strip of shore.

***

Derek studied John's steeled face, deep lines made darker by the slanted rays of the fading sun. He contorted his face into what he hoped was an emotionless slate, attempting to match the other man's.

Internally, he huffed, realize that it was probably a waste of time, since that removed collectedness was clearly a family trait. God damn, infuriating Stilinskis.

"Do you love him?" John asked, blank face slowly giving way to a more tired one.

Derek glanced around the darkening walls of John's bedroom, attempting to put some space between himself and the question, even if it was only mental.

Unfortunately, the attempt was a poor one considering he now sat where Stiles had laid sleeping hours before. An earthy spice rising above the otherwise cloying scent of death in the room.

"Christ," John said, looking down at the empty pill tray between them.

"We've only just met," Derek said, shrugging his shoulders, "It's difficult to say."

"The fact that you've only known one another for two days doesn't seem to have stopped you from taking other liberties," John said, pausing to release a series of deep coughs.

Derek stared down at the pill tray while he waited for the fit to pass.

"Could you love him?" John asked, voice finally found.

Derek remained silent while he considered the new question. He didn't really know what he felt.

Stiles had changed the game in a matter of hours. Minutes probably – the one minute it took for him to set his foot inside the house.

It almost felt like Derek had grown up his whole life believing that the sky was blue, and then Stiles came crashing in to make him see that it was really purple, or green, or some other damn color.

"You need to ask him," John said, eyes closing as he was interrupted by another deep cough, "Ask him about Ethan."

Something buzzed in the back of his mind at the name, like a red flag signifying something important.

He knew that Stiles had bitterly mentioned the name a few times to his father in the last few days, so it was clearly an ex relationship, but Derek didn't know exactly how significant it had been.

Enough for John to want him to know about it.

Derek turned back to the other man only to find his eyes still closed, head fully rested on the pillows stacked behind him.

Derek moved quietly to leave the bed, but paused at John's voice.

"Stiles is a good boy," John said, eyes still shut and voice thinning, "When he gets back from school, I'll tell him so. He doesn't hear that enough."

Derek moved away from the bed, but paused for a few minutes to watch the man fall into sleep, the remaining sunlight fading quickly from the room.

These last few days were not going to be easy. Not for any of them.

***

Stiles let the crash of the waves roll over his back as he clung onto Jackson's bare shoulders.

As the tide broke, Stiles felt himself flung backward by Jackson, the air hurtling and whizzing all around him.

Just before his body met the waves, he heard himself laugh for the first time in a long time. A really long time.

Chapter Text

Creeping up the stairs as quietly as possible, Stiles made for the guest bedroom.

After being dropped off by Jackson, both of them still soaking wet, Stiles had tried to check in with his father but found the man already asleep for the night.

Feeling like the day had taken a pretty big toll on him as well, Stiles decided he agreed with his father's choice to head to bed early.

The floor creaked as Stiles passed his old room, currently Derek's room, and he paused in front of the door as he realized the other man had probably heard him enter the house the moment his wet feet padded onto the hardwood floor.

As he watched the door open slowly, followed by Derek stepping forward to lean against the doorframe, shirtless and silent, Stiles realized that a small part of him had wanted to run into the other man on the way to his room.

Stiles dropped the wet shoes in his hand as Jackson's comments about Derek's jealously ran throughout his mind.

He stepped forward and placed a hand on Derek's chest, warm skin quickly contrasting with his own chilled skin.

Stiles pushed Derek back into the room, moving forward until he could shut the door behind them.

At the sound of the latch, Derek drove Stiles back against the door, and Stiles licked into the other man's mouth.

Driving his body against Derek's, Stiles put every slight from the day into their contact, and Derek countered every bite, dig, growl, and pull.

And just like that, Stiles let it all go. They were just two bodies moving without emotion. At least for the night.

Chapter Text

Stiles watched the overhead ceiling fan propel forward, the shadows of the blades faint in the room's darkness.

He reached for the guilt he should be feeling about using Derek in this way, but it wasn't anywhere within him.

His stomach felt slightly queasy at the idea that Derek might be thinking their relationship was... Well, an actual relationship, but that had more to do with Stiles's commitment issues more so than fucking Derek to dull the realities of life.

He leaned back further, planting himself firmly against Derek's warm chest.

At the feel of Derek's scruffy chin pressing against his shoulder, Stiles reached for Derek's left hand, pulling it up in front of his face.

"When I was little," Stiles said, tracing Derek's fingers and their gaps with his own index finger, "I wanted a werewolf friend so badly. I had so many questions, like where the claws extended from, did the transition hurt or just tingle, and did the palms grow rough or stay soft."

Stiles felt Derek's smile as the man pushed into his neck.

"I didn't think I was ever going to get one though," Stiles said, still staring at Derek's hand, "As much as my mother was loved, no one let their kids near a family knowingly targeted by Gerard Argent. Not until we met Melissa McCall. And then I had Scott. For a while."

Derek snorted into Stiles's neck, prompting Stiles to turn toward the other man.

"What?" Stiles asked, brow raised in confusion.

"I used to think you were imaginary," Derek said, chuckling lightly, "Well... Not you you, I knew all about Claudia Stilinski's son of course. I just didn't believe all of Scott's babble each summer. I thought you had to be an alien to appreciate Scott's quirky personality, that or imaginary. I went with the latter. But in hindsight, I see where I might have went wrong – I gave too much credit to Scott's creativity."

Stiles rolled his eyes and turned back away from Derek, resting against the man as he stared at the opposite wall.

"Why was Scott here the other day?" Stiles asked.

"What?" Derek asked, placing a light kiss against Stiles's shoulder before resting his chin there again.

"My first day here," Stiles said, "Scott walked into the kitchen. I didn't put much thought into it then, I just assumed he was here to visit my father. Except dad hasn't mentioned Scott's name. Not once. If Scott was making regular visits, I would've heard about it by now, or seen him again. So what was he doing here?"

"Probably to ask me to leave, again," Derek said, wrapping his arms tightly around Stiles's torso, "I already told you that we don't exactly see eye to eye."

"Yeah," Stiles said, nodding.

Scott wasn't necessarily one to give up once he had his mind set either. If he thought he was in the right, he would continue to push.

"Do you miss him?" Derek asked, now rubbing his chin in a circular pattern on Stiles's shoulder.

"Not most days," Stiles said, shaking his head, "I would have to be the same person I was back then in order to really miss that friendship. I've changed too much. I value different things now."

"But on other days?" Derek asked.

"I wish I were someone else," Stiles said.

Derek didn't seem to have a response to that, since he remained silent, though he did start moving a hand slowly up and down Stiles's left arm.

"What happened to break up your friendship?" Derek finally asked.

"I almost felt you literally cringe into my back asking that question," Stiles said, a small smile forming on his face.

"Yeah, well," Derek said, nodding against his shoulder, "I was trying to phrase it without suggesting I cared for his feelings. Because I don't. But I do care about yours."

Stiles paused for a moment to push back the unease growing within him from the meaning of Derek's words. There was the guilt.

"Did you know there's a whole website dedicated to the mystery surrounding my family?" Stiles asked, gaze blurring, "They think it's charming – sweet even – that my father and I won't take interviews. Haven't taken interviews, not from the first day. Not even for my own books."

Stiles paused to see if Derek would interrupt, but the man remained silent and still.

"So they write their own stories, and they take leaps of interpretation for really menial tasks, like what my body language said about my childhood while taking out the trash, checking the mail, walking to my car," Stiles said, "And what's funny to me is how much strength they credit us with."

"You don't think you're strong?" Derek asked

"I used to," Stiles said, taking a deep breath before deciding to push through the answer, "Do you remember an editorial by the name of, Stilinski Heir?"

"Seems familiar," Derek said, releasing a slight hum as he thought, "That was... Your first interview. In high school, right?"

"No," Stiles said, voice thickening with bitterness, "It wasn't an interview, at least not to me. The author was my first boyfriend. I found out later that he was just an aspiring journalist, and he figured out a nifty way to get the information I wasn't telling."

Derek stopped moving.

"Scott was his lackey," Stiles said, "A lot of the gaps in information I didn't personally provide Ethan came from him. The only thing I was thankful for out of that whole thing was that Ethan didn't reveal that my father was a struggling alcoholic. Well... Either he didn't put it together – why I never had him or anyone else over – or Scott never told him."

"Oh," Derek said, voice thin.

"I had countless fights with my father about dating Ethan," Stiles said, "He was really resistant to me dating any man, and then it all got thrown back in my face. I felt humiliated, both at home and outside. That was... A really dark time in my life. And that was when I first set my sights on Seattle."

Derek huffed as he turned Stiles so that they were facing one another. He moved his face over Stiles's, seeming to just study Stiles for a while.

It made Stiles nervous, his stomach churning. Until his stomach actually groaned, loud enough to rouse Derek from his thoughts.

"As your primary caretaker," Derek said, offering a small smile, "I recommend a warm sandwich as soon as possible."

Stiles rolled his eyes, only allowing Derek to pull him from the bed because he had been forced to throw his dinner away early.

***

Stiles's stomach groaned again as he watched the prosciutto and basil leaves glint through the melting cheese, layered between two slices of sourdough bread.

He flipped the large sandwich over in the cast iron griddle, nodding his head as he took in the buttery golden crust.

"Now where did a boy like you learn to make a grilled cheese like that?" Derek asked, a little bit of drool escaping his mouth as he hunched over the island opposite Stiles.

"Do you really want to know?" Stiles asked, not meeting Derek's eyes, choosing to focus on the sandwich instead.

"Yes," Derek said, after several seconds of deliberation.

"She was good at a lot of things unrelated to court rooms and rallies," Stiles said, reaching for a the plate and knife set aside when he first started cooking, "She wouldn't let me make it myself, I was too young obviously, but I watched. And I requested this a lot. It was my favorite sandwich. It's also probably the only culinary wonder in my cooking skill set, so don't expect me to take over in here."

"I think I'm more honored to eat this one grilled cheese sandwich than anything else I've ever eaten," Derek said, offering a slanted smile.

"You should be," Stiles said, offering his own small smile, pausing before continuing again, "You asked me before why I don't talk about her a lot."

"Yeah," Derek said nodding, "That was stupid. I'm stupid. I never should have asked something like that."

"No," Stiles said, lifting the sandwich up onto the plate, "It's a normal question. I ask myself that question, too. Sometimes it feels good to mention her out loud."

"But..." Derek said, watching Stiles cut the sandwich in half.

"But most of the time it doesn't feel right," Stiles said, shrugging his shoulders as he moved around the island to sit next to Derek, "That's part of the reason I don't take interviews... Official interviews."

Stiles waited for Derek to pick up his half of the sandwich, but the man seemed content to listen.

"In high school, I spent a lot of time hiding my father's drinking," Stiles said, "Even without her, we were a symbol of strength to the nation. Maybe more so. I always thought that was why he never took interviews either, because somewhere in there, he knew he was fucking up."

Stiles paused to take a bite of his sandwich, savoring the salty but sweet flavors.

"In college, while dating a psychology major, Boyd," Stiles said, setting the sandwich down, "I realized there were other reasons I never spoke to the public – deeper issues I was struggling with. But even he never learned my largest secret."

Derek's eyes widened as he reached down blindly to pick up his sandwich half. Clearly wanting to usher Stiles forward, but hesitant to ask.

Stiles was usually hesitant to share such information himself, but there was just something about Derek that kept driving him forward – had been driving him forward, since that first night.

"What most people aren't aware of," Stiles said, throat thickening as he searched for the right words, "Is that I was with her the afternoon that Gerard attacked."

Derek's face carried several emotions at once – surprise, confusion, anger, sadness – and if it weren't for the seriousness of the conversation, Stiles would have laughed at the man's conflicted eyebrows.

"Stiles..." Derek finally said, putting the sandwich down, "How is that... I mean... The world would know – the court records would show– Oh."

Stiles looked back down at the plate between them, focusing on his half of the sandwich.

"Stiles, I am so sorry for..." Derek said, eyebrows raised, "That's why the files are sealed."

"How do you know they're sealed?" Stiles asked, arching a brow as he looked up.

"Every werewolf knows they're sealed," Derek said, shaking his head, "Most could probably recite the court's ruling on spot. We've all sought the complete files before... Because of the meaning they hold for us – your family's story is our story. As tragic as it might be, it's part of our history. Your mother fought for the humane treatment of supernaturals more so than any other public figure – even in death, she took out our largest enemy."

"Well," Stiles said shrugging his shoulders, "Now you know a little more."

"Stiles," Derek said, shaking his head, "Even so, how have you kept that fact hidden? You would have been called into the courtroom to testify against Gerard... Oh. You were there."

"Unfortunately," Stiles said, nodding, "Most assumed I was there because my father was suddenly a single parent. A hard working man that was forced to bring his son to face the monster that destroyed their family. The reality was worse. Obviously, the judge ordered a closed court room, which is usually rare for such circumstances, but I think the level of emotions involved in the case at the time allowed for it."

"Stiles," Derek said, shaking his head, "I don't know what to say... If every werewolf knew what you just told me – every supernatural, even every human – the nation would bend in sorrow. I am so sorry for what that must have been like. But I'm sure you've heard it a thousand times before, and it doesn't really help you."

"Not quite a thousand," Stiles said, picking at his sandwich half, "My father, the attorney, the judge... I almost told Scott once, but thankfully never did. Isaac knows though. And now you."

After what seemed like several minutes of silence, Derek picked up his sandwich half again, releasing a small moan as he bit in.

As they continued to eat in silence, Stiles wondered if he had made a mistake. It felt too heavy in the room, even more so than usual after sharing his past with someone.

"Thank you for the sandwich," Derek finally said, "And for trusting–"

"Derek," Stiles said, watching Derek tilt his head, face becoming intent as he appeared to listen, "What is it?"

"Your father's calling for you," Derek said, brow lifted in confusion.

***

The unease that was becoming familiar anytime Stiles neared his father's room set in as Stiles touched the door's knob. He wondered if he would hesitate every time like this at the door until the end. Probably.

"Stiles!" his father called, sitting up in the bed and appearing visibly shaken.

Rushing into the room, Stiles looked for visual signs of harm – for the reason his father's face was twisted in pain and tears were running down his face.

"Dad?" Stiles asked, sitting next to his father and clutching the man's arms, "What's wrong? What is it?"

His father wrapped his arms around him and began to rock slightly.

"She's gone, son!" his father whispered, "It's just us now. But I'll take care of you, I promise. It's just us, but we'll be okay. As long as I've got you."

Stiles looked over at Derek standing in the doorway as his father began to repeat the last sentence.

"As long as I've got you," his father whispered, arms tightening around him, "As long as I've got you."

Chapter Text

Stiles woke the next morning to a feather light kiss pressed against his neck, Derek's increasingly familiar scruff brushing against his jawline and then up to his ear.

A slow smile stretched across Stiles's face as the dreams clouding his mind faded away, allowing his brain to process all of the other senses responding to his surroundings.

"I'm going to go start breakfast," Derek whispered, "Your father's morning pills are on the nightstand."

At the mention of his father, Stiles opened his eyes, suddenly realizing that the reason the bed felt unfamiliar was because it was unfamiliar.

He took in the sleeping man in front of him, slightly taken aback that he had spent the night curled up next to his father. He hadn't done that since... Not since he was a young child.

Stiles turned to watch Derek walk toward the door, but he paused taking in the indentation in the mattress next to him.

He turned away quickly, waiting for the usual lurch in his stomach whenever a man showed him affection like that.

When a man spent the night curled behind his fuck buddy while said fuck buddy was busying consoling their father meant only one thing: fuck buddy status had been revoked, upgraded instead for a relationship involving actual emotions and devotion.

Stiles laid his head back down on the pillow and closed his eyes, not sure he was prepared to admit that he hadn't exactly stayed true to the fuck buddy contract himself. Had they even really initiated such a contract?

That would have required thought before encountering Derek, and thoughts seemed to be thrown out the window along with the pants. With Derek, Stiles just sort of... Felt.

Fuck.

***

Stiles woke for a second time that morning to the sensation of a hand stroking through his hair.

He opened his eyes to see his father seated upright, looking down at him.

Before he could understand the knot forming in his chest, Stiles's father opened his mouth.

"There are times," his father said, voice weary and thin but hand still patting Stiles's head, "That I cannot tell if I am really lucid or not. I see or feel things that happened a long time ago."

Stiles remained silent, unsure how to respond.

"At least," his father said, lifting his hand from Stiles's head to touch a finger to his own forehead, "That's what my brain tells me later. Or sometimes during. Those are the worst – when I'm feeling something I know I shouldn't be feeling right then."

Stiles watched as his father paused, seeming to focus his breathing.

"This feels like an illusion, but I can't remember why," his father finally said, looking away from Stiles but placing a hand back on his head, "When I reach back, I just feel anger between us. But you feel real here. This is real."

"Yes," Stiles said, the thickening of his throat preventing him from saying more.

"Was I such a bad father?" his father asked, turning back to Stiles.

Stiles remained silent, sure this time of his answer, but unwilling to provide it.

"I didn't mean to be," his father said, nodding as a frown deepened on his face, "I didn't want to be. I think I just... I got lost."

Stiles bit his bottom lip, resisting the urge to nod.

Lost was a term he was very familiar with – he was feeling it even then. His heart ached, and his vision blurred with tears.

"Whatever our issues were," his father said, gaze becoming more intent, "They weren't you, Stiles. You were never the issue. I wish that I could say that I had been one of those fathers that looked to their children for a reason to continue – to stay grounded and found – but I know that's not true. Even when I'm questioning the world around me, I may not remember how, but I know that I let us both down."

Stiles felt the knot within him expand further, unsure why it hadn't eased upon hearing the words he had longed to hear for so long. Instead of feeling happy like he thought he would, Stiles felt empty – almost like someone had right selected on all of the toxic emotions inside him and hit delete, but nothing else was there to fill the space with. Why wasn't he happy?

***

Derek bit down on his left thumbnail as his right thumb hovered over the contacts list in his phone.

Once again, the weight of everything that Stiles was had hit him like a freight train.

It was almost too much – one look at or from Stiles set his blood on fire and his skin itching. Derek hadn't felt so uncomfortable in his own body since puberty.

He had expected to admire the other man – he had admired Stiles, from a very young age – but he hadn't expected to care for Stiles's... Humanness.

Christ. Was that even a fucking word?

Derek released a sigh as he set the phone down onto the counter, leaning forward until his forehead hit the cool surface.

Stiles made him want to be someone else entirely.

He just hoped that was enough.

***

Stiles turned his head back to the door as Derek reentered his father's bedroom, a large basket in one arm.

"Change of plans," Derek said, pushing his father's wheelchair closer to the bed with his free arm, "We're taking breakfast out to the gardens. I think we could all use some fresh air."

Stiles and his father turned their heads back to one another, almost like an act of confirmation.

"I could use a smoke," his father said, offering a widening grin.

Stiles turned a wide eyed expression toward a sheepish looking Derek.

***

Stiles watched the white clouds above him blur slightly – and then quickly, moving upward until all he could see were the empty plates spread out on the green lawn surrounding him, crumbs already attracting a seemingly perfect line of ants.

"Stiles?" a voice asked near him, followed by a firm hand on his neck, pulling his face upward again.

"Derek," Stiles said, watching the other man's dark eyebrows twitch in reaction.

Stiles's stomach felt light as he continued to stare at Derek's expressive and dark eyebrows. Had they always been like this?

So thick, and loud, and... Just big. Really big. Kind of like two really furry caterpillars.

Stiles heard himself laugh at the idea, and then he felt the laughter a few seconds later as it continued to build. His whole frame started to shake.

Another hand reached out to Stiles, this time a different voice following.

"Is it the eyebrows?" his father asked, leaning forward into Stiles's line of vision.

Stiles's laughter grew heartier, and his heart soared as he watched his father begin to shake with laughter, too.

Stiles turned to look back at Derek, starting to feel conscious that he may have hurt the man's feelings, but he turned too far. Instead of finding Derek's face, Stiles stared up at Isaac's.

"Wrong face," Stiles muttered, turning left – this time successfully finding Derek's face.

Stiles frowned as he realized Derek wasn't looking at him anymore. So he looked for what had captured Derek's attention, turning back to Isaa–

"What the fuck is going on here?" Isaac asked, hands stretched out on his hips.

Chapter Text

Stiles kept his eyes closed as he listened to the sounds surrounding him – or lack of sounds.

The rest of the afternoon following Isaac's arrival was a bit of a blur for Stiles, mostly because he was already trying to push the reality of his situation away from him again.

Stiles didn't feel the usual warmth of sunlight surrounding him, but he definitely felt the main living area's uncomfortable couch cushions beneath him. If he had to guess, it was probably evening already, and Isaac had most likely set him there a few hours ago – waiting for him to sober enough to discuss how things were going.

Stiles resisted the urge to pull his shoulders up in a cringe movement at the sound of approaching footsteps, each step's boom deepening as they grew closer to him.

Stiles had no doubt it was Isaac preparing to serve him his own ass.

The worst part was that Stiles knew he had fucked up – had been fucking up, was fucking up, and probably would continue to fuck up.

In the last four days, Stiles hadn't achieved much of anything more than shirking his responsibilities. He hadn't confirmed any form of funeral proceedings for his father, he for damn sure hadn't confirmed the location of his father's will, and he hadn't even sought out any lingering medical bills.

Instead, he'd been fucking around with a man he barely knew, because fucking was easier than facing his father's death. Fuck, he'd even made time for lunch and a beach visit with Jackson over responding to Isaac's text messages.

Isaac had every right to be pissed off.

At the sound of something meeting sharply with the glass surface of the coffee table near him, Stiles winced.

"I know you're awake, Stiles," Isaac said, voice faltering somewhere between heated and tired.

Stiles opened his eyes to find Isaac standing behind the coffee table, a hand stretched out in gesture toward a glass of water on the table.

Stiles licked his lips upon seeing the water, amazed that he had somehow ignored his dry throat for so long.

As Stiles took the glass into his hand, pulling it up to his mouth, Isaac stepped back to sit down in one of the two chairs facing the couch.

Isaac raised a hand to rest on his temple, but otherwise remained silent as Stiles drank.

Stiles chose to remain silent, too. He was aware that it would probably help to be the first one to speak, but he was mostly at a loss for words.

It was strange to feel at odds with Isaac – beyond whacking the other man's hand out of the cookie jar, their tension usually held little more than comedic value.

"I'm kind of at a loss for words here, Stiles," Isaac said, shaking his head as he met Stiles's gaze.

"I know," Stiles said, nodding his head.

"Do you?" Isaac said, voice growing heat, "Have you even planned the fucking funeral? Do you know where you're going to be in two weeks? What the hell are you going to do with this house?"

Stiles clenched his hands and focused on his breathing as he stared down at his lap. His responses were pretty limited given that Isaac hadn't asked anything that he disagreed with.

"God damn it, Stiles," Isaac said, standing up and pacing in front of the coffee table, "Are you even awake in there?!"

Isaac snorted before Stiles could offer a response.

"You must be, because I can smell him all over you," Isaac said, pausing in front of the table, "I'm guessing that's why you didn't have any fucking time to return one of my god damn text messages or phone calls, huh? Who the hell is he, Stiles?"

"He's..." Stiles said, hesitating to answer, "He's been helping my dad around the house for the last few years."

"Well, given that you never mentioned this extra help," Isaac said, "I'm guessing you just met, and you decided now was the best time to fuck around?"

"No," Stiles said, "It's not the best time. I... I just..."

"Right," Isaac said, releasing a deep sigh and softening his voice, "What's his name even?"

"Derek," Stiles said, silently praying Isaac wouldn't notice the absence of a last name.

"Derek what?" Isaac asked, arching an eyebrow.

Stiles bit his lip as he stared blankly back at Isaac.

"You don't even know?!" Isaac asked, eyes growing in size, voice raising again, "Do you even get why I'm fucking pissed off right now?"

"Yes," Stiles said, nodding his head, "I do, Isaac."

"No," Isaac said, shaking his head as he moved forward to sit next to Stiles, "I don't think you do. This is real, Stiles – this is happening. And your father will be gone soon. Derek will be gone soon. I'm the one that's going to be standing around uselessly watching what it..."

Stiles stomach churned with newfound guilt as Isaac's voice broke, the other man's throat constricting and tears filling his eyes.

"What it does to you, Stiles," Isaac said, blurred gaze set on Stiles's face.

"Isaac..." Stiles said, at a loss for the right words once again, though his chest was filled with emotion for his best friend.

"Look, Stiles," Isaac said, wiping a hand across his cheek, "I get it. This is a really hard time for you – and this fucking town is like a poison. Nobody understands that better than me. But I need to know that you're doing everything you can right now to take care of yourself."

"All right," Stiles said, nodding after several seconds of letting Isaac's words sink in.

"Which means," Isaac said, gaze becoming intent, "Facing your fears with your father, and either dropping your fuck buddy or learning his full name so you can start a relationship – which I don't recommend, you're not even you right now. Christ, you toked up with your elderly retired Sheriff father today!"

Stiles felt a small smile form on his face at Isaac's attempt to provide a blueprint of action for him. It was a trick the pair had picked up during his relationship with Boyd – stating future steps out loud and clearly to avoid fucking up more.

"You're an asshole," Isaac said, pulling Stiles into a tight hug.

Strange as it was, an odd sense of contentment at having Isaac nearby – even if the man was angry – flooded his senses. Isaac's presence gave him clarity. It was time for Stiles to start acting and stop wallowing.

Stiles had known that since he first stepped into the house, he just hadn't been willing to accept it.

"Thank you for coming," Stiles said, wrapping his own arms tightly around Isaac, "And I'm sorry."

"Shut up," Isaac said, swiping the back of Stiles's head while pulling back, "I knew I shouldn't have let you come down here alone. Half of your fuck ups are my fault for making you adult alone."

"I love you, too, man," Stiles said, offering a wide grin, "Where is everyone?"

"Your father's asleep in his room," Isaac said, shaking his head as he stood up, "And I can hear your boyfriend puttering around upstairs. Your choice. I'm going to go finish unpacking."

Stiles watched silently as Isaac walked out of the room. He released a deep sigh before standing up to leave the room himself, headed for the kitchen to refill his now empty glass.

Stepping up to the refrigerator to use the door's water dispenser, Stiles let his shoulders roll down from the hunch induced by all of the thoughts swarming his mind.

With Isaac no longer a pending matter, Stiles wasn't sure which issue to tackle next: 1) his father, or 2) Derek.

Turning around to leave the kitchen, Stiles jumped slightly at the realization that the latter had decided to make that choice for him.

"Shit!" Stiles said, reaching toward the kitchen island for a towel to dry the water dripping down his hand.

"Sorry," Derek said, crossing his arms over his torso as he leaned against the kitchen wall.

Stiles took a sip from the water left in the glass, studying the serious expression consuming Derek's face.

"That was a pretty heavy conversation back there," Derek finally said, face giving no other emotions away.

"Yeah," Stiles said, nodding, unsure how he felt about Derek listening in on his conversation with Isaac.

Well that wasn't true. He felt uncomfortable. Granted, supernatural hearing was probably not the easiest feature to turn off.

"You agree with him?" Derek asked.

"That I've been acting like a selfish idiot?" Stiles asked, furrowing his brow, "Yeah. Yeah, I think that was a fair assessment."

"Stiles," Derek said, shaking his head as he moved closer, "You're not selfish."

Stiles released a snort.

"I think we've already covered that ground a few times," Stiles said, shaking his head, "And even if we hadn't, you don't know anything about me to make that kind of judgement, Derek."

"I've learned a lot about you in the last four days," Derek said, placing a hand on Stiles's arm.

"Maybe," Stiles said, releasing a breath as he took a step back, "But that just complicates our... relationship even more, because I know almost nothing about you, Derek. Is that even your real name? Is it a middle name? Where are you originally from? How are you and Scott related?"

"Do those questions really matter?" Derek asked, crossing his arms again, "If I gave you those answers, would you really feel anything more or less for me?"

"Yes... No," Stiles said, shrugging his shoulders, "But society tells us they should. My brain is telling me that they should. And that's the part I've been ignoring since I arrived."

Stiles paused to collect his thoughts, trying to strategize how best to explain the emotions and thoughts consuming him.

"Derek," Stiles said, "Being with you is... It's great. Wonderful even. You have a way of putting my defenses down at a speed I've never known before. I feel comfortable with you. I feel like I could be loved by you."

"Okay, but," Derek said, confusion and uncertainty twisting across his face.

"But that's what terrifies me," Stiles said, shaking his head again, "Because I shouldn't feel those things with you. I shouldn't be giving you intimate details of my life – I'm just now realizing that I've told you more in four days than I've shared with 99.9% of the world's population in over twenty years. And I don't know if that's because I trust the unconscious safety I feel with you, or because you're intentionally remaining silent about yourself, so that I'll fill the silence."

A strange expression that Stiles's couldn't quite read crossed Derek's face.

"You don't trust me," Derek said, voice quiet.

"I do trust you," Stiles said, shaking his head, "I just don't understand why."

"So that's it?" Derek asked, face flushing red with anger.

Stiles's stomach churned, and he realized he was actually nervous to upset Derek. The realization only added to his mounting confusion.

"I think..." Stiles said, hesitating slightly before continuing, "I think it's best if we stop... Whatever this is between us."

Derek clenched his jaw as he moved his eyes upward, huffing slightly as he took a step back.

"Well that's just great, Stiles," Derek said, voice filled with anger, "You know you came to me for this – I may have kissed you first, but you initiated everything else."

"I know," Stiles said, nodding as he resisted the urge to return Derek's anger with misguided anger of his own, "And I'm sorry for that, Derek. You deserved better than to be used like that."

Derek rushed forward, clutching Stiles's jaw with one hand while setting his eyes on Stiles's.

"You're going to tell me that all this – everything in these last four days – has meant nothing to you?" Derek asked, studying Stiles's face.

Stiles hesitated to respond. Derek's question was a loaded one, and the answer wasn't as easy as a simple yes or no. But the situation was clearly escalating, and Stiles knew the answer he needed to give in that moment.

"Yes," Stiles said, maintaining eye contact with Derek.

Derek jumped back as if he had been physically struck.

"That's a lie," Derek said, shaking his head, "I don't know how you kept your heartbeat steady, but that has to be a lie. Why are you lying to me?"

Stiles raised a stretched hand across his forehead, rubbing at his temple as if he could physically touch the headache forming between his eyes.

"Derek, I feel a lot when I'm with you, that's true," Stiles said, nodding, "But I don't think when I'm with you, and that's my issue right now. This isn't about you or me right now – or at least it shouldn't be. I know that's kind of a shitty response, but I need to focus on my father right now. Can you really argue with me about that?"

"I don't think this is about your father at all, Stiles," Derek said, shaking his head, "This is about you running away from real feelings just like you always have."

Stiles felt paralyzed for a few seconds as a sense of shock stormed over him.

"I think this conversation is over," Stiles said, guarding his face from further emotions, "I've offered you an explanation for how I feel, and I've listened to your own objections. I don't have to accept them, just like you don't have to accept my own. But you do have to accept that this is over. If I'm going to survive these next few weeks, I need to stop feeling. So whether you believe this is about my father or myself, it doesn't really matter. I've made my decision."

Stiles paused for a moment, waiting for Derek's response, but the other man offered little more than a heaving chest as he stared down at his feet.

Stiles stepped away from the island, stepping around Derek back toward the kitchen door.

"What if," Derek said, grabbing hold of Stiles's arm before he left, "What if this is what your father wanted? What if he planned our meeting?"

A tingling feeling that Stiles associated with severe outrage, one he hadn't felt in years, spread throughout his spine. He felt like his whole back was on fire.

Was Derek really trying to use his dying father against him?

A smaller voice in the back of his head asked if he wasn't doing the same thing to Derek, but he shook the thought away.

"Then that's something I may live to regret," Stiles said, lifting his arm out of Derek's grasp, "But it wouldn't be the first – or even the most severe – between us."

***

Standing in the main entrance hall, Isaac peered hesitantly around the hall.

Originally, he had come back downstairs to grab a drink for himself from the kitchen, but when he started picking up a heated conversation between Stiles and Derek about halfway down the hallway, he turned back around.

The argument was probably his fault as it was – a sense of guilt he had been trying to shake since leaving Stiles in the living room.

Not that Isaac regretted his words to Stiles, he stood by every one of them, but his delivery probably could have been softer.

He just wasn't used to being the one doing the reprimanding in their friendship – usually it was Stiles telling Isaac what an idiot he was being in life. Not to mention that Stiles's breakdown in critical thought was no doubt primarily due to the severe stress of the current situation.

Isaac hadn't spent much time with Stiles's father since arriving, but the smell of death permeated every corner of the house.

Even if Stiles lacked a werewolf's supernatural ability to scent such things, Isaac had no doubt the other man's brain was processing the information in different ways. Consciously or not.

The doorbell rang for a second time, stirring Isaac from his thoughts and reminding him why he stood in front of the door in the first place.

Looking around once more to confirm no one else was coming for the door, Isaac reached for the knob.

Isaac released a slight growl as he took in the visitor in front of him, the door's wood creaking under the pressure of his hand, joined shortly after by the sound of scratching as his claws began to extend.

"Isaac," Ethan Carver said, a surprised expression overcoming his face.

Isaac's response was to deepen the growl that had been building since he first opened the door; however, Ethan did not appear to notice, the alpha instead turning his head as another vehicle pulled in front of the house and parked.

"Jackson?" Ethan asked, inflection mounted with surprise.

Isaac watched with equal confusion as Jackson Whittemore's head popped out from behind the silver Porsche, a ridiculously large smile almost glowing white in the dark aimed right at Isaac.

"Hey, babe," Jackson said, slamming the door closed before rushing toward the house, "Or should I say naughty boy! I can't believe you kept your arrival a secret from your two favorite men."

Isaac's eyes grew in size as he attempted to deconstruct the sentences Jackson was throwing at him. What the fuck was happening right now?

Before Isaac could ask just that, Jackson had already climbed the stairs onto the porch, making a swift path straight toward Isaac.

Isaac really felt his confusion mount as Jackson leaned forward in greeting, planting a open mouth against his own.

If it weren't for the shock of Jackson's tongue sweeping through his mouth, Isaac definitely would have interrupted whatever was happening in front of him.

"What's going on here?" Ethan asked, brow lifted in confusion as he crossed his arms against his torso.

"Any idea why this asshole is on our doorstep, honey?" Jackson asked, pulling away but reaching a hand down behind Isaac to grasp firmly onto his right cheek.

"Uh... No," Isaac said, shaking his head, still uncertain what was occurring, but feeling as though he should follow Jackson's lead.

Jackson's smile seemed to grow twice as wide, and excitement overcame his face at Isaac's response.

"You're not here to try and steal Stiles away from us are you, Ethan?" Jackson asked, turning a mock pout onto the alpha, "Because he's got all the men he can handle right now."

Isaac resisted the urge to snort at Jackson's comment and then the urge to laugh at Ethan's disbelieving face.

"You guys are all..." Ethan said, a lifted hand gesturing in a circle as his sentence trailed off.

"Entangled in some of the best sex of our lives?" Jackson asked, the hand clutching Isaac from behind giving a firm grab again, "Yes, yes we are. Isn't that right, Isaac?"

"The best," Isaac said, nodding as he began to understand, subtly reaching back to remove Jackson's hand, "Really hot... Just... So hot. And sweaty. Super sweaty."

"Thanks for stopping by though," Jackson said, stepping into the house with Isaac, hand already grasping the knob as he began to close the door, "If we can even think after the next few impending orgasms, we'll tell Stiles you stopped by."

Jackson released a sigh of content as the door shut, and he turned back to Isaac after a few seconds of smirking to himself.

Had that really just happened? Maybe Isaac had caught a latent high from second hand contact in the gardens that afternoon. That was a thing, right?

"Is that minty flavor I'm tasting your mouthwash, or do you just naturally taste good?" Jackson asked.

Isaac was beginning to understand how Stiles ended up in his current condition. Beacon Hills could fuck you up like no other.

Chapter Text

Stiles woke with a jerk to an electronic beat gaining in familiarity as his senses grappled with the room around him.

Following a few seconds of uncertainty, he turned his head toward the nightstand, finally understanding the sound was a ringtone from his mobile phone. How had he missed the vibrations?

Before he could reach for the phone, the screen lit and the electronic ringtone sounded again.

A very specific ringtone.

Stiles released a sigh, mentally preparing himself as he reached for the phone. His hand shook as he slid to answer, but he squared his shoulders as he lifted the phone to his ear.

"Two calls," Stiles said, voice slightly groggy from sleep, "Must be serious."

"You missed our call last week," Vernon Boyd said, a frustrated sigh hidden somewhere in that first phrase, "I let it go thinking you might be busy having a real life."

"You don't think I have a real life?" Stiles asked, sliding back down onto the bed, resisting the urge to burry his face into all the down feather beneath him.

"You almost sound like a psych student," Boyd said, letting loose a slight chuckle, "But you're deflecting. Though I am glad to find you're actually asleep at 2:00AM."

"I'm a worrier," Stiles said, shaking his head, "It's not insomnia when you're a worrier."

"So you're not worried right now?" Boyd asked.

Stiles clenched his jaw as he considered the most diplomatic response to Boyd's question. He hadn't missed their scheduled phone call, he had been packing to leave for Beacon Hills.

And... Okay, perhaps he had avoided telling Boyd in order to evade immediately confronting the issue head on. He knew that, and Boyd knew that. Boyd's question was just the start of a head game to see how much Stiles was dealing with the reality surrounding him.

"I'm dealing," Stiles said.

"You're always dealing, Stiles," Boyd said, "That's what worries me at night."

"Well," Stiles said, unease building in his stomach, "Let's start with what Isaac's told you, maybe we can both get some sleep sooner than later."

"Why do you assume Isaac is the reason I'm calling?" Boyd asked.

Stiles remained silent.

"All right, Isaac called me," Boyd said, voice leveling somewhere between warmth and calm – his clinical voice.

Boyd hated the coinage, but that's what it was at the end of the day. It was too objective to be personal, but that didn't mean it held no value. Just the opposite actually, if Boyd didn't care, he would have never bothered reaching out to Stiles.

"Something in particular gain your interest?" Stiles asked, turning onto his back to stare up at the dark ceiling.

"Several somethings," Boyd said, "You're back in Beacon Hills to begin with."

"Yes," Stiles said, "But that wasn't a question."

"You didn't tell me," Boyd said, "I can't help but wonder if that was intentional."

Stiles chewed on his bottom lip as he thought back on the last five days since his arrival.

"I'm not sure I can talk about that right now," Stiles said, voice softening, "It's too much."

"Before we say goodnight then," Boyd said, "I also heard you have a... How did Isaac describe him... A live in cabana-wereboy?"

Stiles released a snort as he rolled his eyes, though his heart gained speed at the thought of explaining Derek to Boyd.

Stiles considered their transition from lovers to friends a positive one, but there were still some regrets there on both sides. At least he thought so.

And explaining that he had jumped into bed with a complete stranger at one of his most vulnerable times was not something he exactly wanted to do, so...

"That's absurd," Stiles finally said, "My father has a helping hand around the house. No more, no less."

This time Boyd remained silent, waiting patiently.

"Maybe a little more," Stiles said, "But I'd really rather not discuss it. I fucked up. I fucked it all up. Like way up, Boyd."

"What happened?" Boyd asked.

"We got close," Stiles said, "Too close for having just met. Beacon Hills is still Beacon Hills, and I realized I was using him to escape that fact... That's probably the worst part – not only do I feel incredibly cheap, but I feel like one of those cheesy villains from those black and white films you love so much."

"They're not cheesy, they're classic," Boyd said, sounding slightly begrudged, "And it can't be that bad, Stiles."

"Worse probably," Stiles said, nodding his head and attempting to resist the yawn building within him, "I don't think I even gave him the opportunity to tell me one thing about himself. And then I blamed him for it when I cut ties."

"You lashed out," Boyd said.

"Yes," Stiles said, pushing back the memories of his argument with Derek.

"That's not uncommon for someone in your position, Stiles," Boyd said, "It's called being human."

"Maybe," Stiles said, guilt overcoming the unease gripping his stomach, "But that doesn't make it right. I feel like... I'm no better than Ethan, Boyd."

Boyd remained silent again, but Stiles could tell that it had less to do with reflection and tranquility and more to do with frustration. And maybe anger.

"Stiles," Boyd said, voice forced as if through a clenched jaw, "I'm going to say this one time and then we're going to move on. You are not Ethan."

"I know that, but–" Stiles said.

"You're not Ethan, Stiles," Boyd said, "Repeat that."

"Boyd–" Stiles said, frustration swelling in his chest.

"Repeat it," Boyd said, voice gaining heat.

"I'm not Ethan," Stiles said, shutting his eyes and taking a deep breath in.

"Good," Boyd said, "Enough bullshit – are you going to see this man again?"

"No," Stiles said, shaking his head, "I called it off. All of it. I'm not sure he'd even look at me twice again, even if I begged."

"Somehow I doubt that," Boyd said, voice gaining a different kind of heat.

Stiles blushed slightly as he sorted through what seemed like a hundred different memories, wondering which had ignited Boyd's response.

"It doesn't matter," Stiles said, shaking his head again, "I'm not here for that. I shouldn't be here for that."

"Because of your father," Boyd said.

"Yes," Stiles said, lifting a hand to rub at his jaw.

"Would you like to talk about that now?" Boyd asked.

"No," Stiles said, offering a small snort, "But I don't have much of a choice I guess, it's going to happen regardless. Might as well try to work through it right?"

"Are you working through it?" Boyd asked.

"I'm..." Stiles said, feeling as if he was almost on the threshold of feeling the weight of the world and giving it all up, "I'm angry."

"You don't think you deserve anger?" Boyd asked.

"No–Yes," Stiles said, hesitating, "It feels like... I'm angry for the wrong reasons. I'm angry because I shouldn't be angry right now. This is supposed to be a time of forgiveness and perseverance. I should be able to let it all go right now."

"But," Boyd said, leading Stiles forward.

"But he doesn't seem to remember anything, Boyd," Stiles said, the heavy weight winning over release, "I don't know what to do with that. His board's been wiped clean – and maybe it should be, he's dying. That's more important than the past. But I don't know how to move on without him. It's like we both went hiking together and got lost, but a rescue team found him. Now it's just me."

"It's not uncommon to feel alone in these situations either, Stiles," Boyd said, "That's part of the anger."

"I guess," Stiles said, staring off into the space in front of the left wall, "Yeah. I guess."

"Stiles, we could go back and forth about this until sunrise, but I'm not sure either of us would really benefit, so I'm going to cut to the chase," Boyd said, "Not every memory is stored in the mind, sometimes we place them elsewhere – willingly or unwillingly."

"Thanks, Yoda," Stiles said, snorting, "All better now, talk to you next week."

"Stiles, my guess is that your father still feels the divide between you," Boyd said, "And while you may not know how to bridge the gap without his memories to pave the way with apologies, that doesn't mean you can't still work together to find a new resolution."

"What does that mean, Boyd?" Stiles asked, a ball of confusion and frustration building within him.

"It means that he's probably just as frustrated with the situation as you are. He's still lost, and you're stuck on an old map," Boyd said, "You both need to build a new one. Together."

"That's what I was afraid you meant," Stiles said, worrying at his bottom lip again.

"It won't be easy, but–" Boyd said.

"Nothing worthwhile is easy," Stiles said, finishing Boyd's sentence and hating the truth behind the overly simplified quote, "Easier said than done."

"Do you want me to repeat the phrase?" Boyd asked.

"I always forget that you have an unparalleled ability to annoy me with just a few fucking words, Boyd," Stiles said.

"You're welcome," Boyd said, offering a small chuckle.

Stiles remained silent, though he considered offering a thank you. Regardless of the content of their conversations, Boyd's presence always had a grounding affect on Stiles.

And as frustrating as the other man's advice was, Stiles needed to hear it – he already knew it, was already thinking it, but he needed someone he trusted to tell him that he was on the right path.

"Now, can you explain to me why Isaac called me from what sounded like your jacuzzi tub, which he was sharing with a man named Jackson?" Boyd asked.

"He did what?" Stiles asked.

Chapter Text

Stiles took a ragged breath in as he focused on the overgrown path in front of him.

Unable to get much sleep after his call with Boyd, he had gotten out of bed around 5:30AM and set out for a run in the area surrounding the house.

A little over an hour and a half in, Stiles regretted ever leaving the bed. His body was sore from having put this form of physical activity off for so long, and he had definitely gotten lost a few miles back before finding the hidden path he was currently on – which he had the cuts from far reaching thorned branches to prove.

It had probably been years since someone had trimmed out these paths last. Stiles wasn't sure why the thought hadn't occurred to him earlier, the grounds were quite large, and he had only ever seen Derek work on the lawn close to the house.

Stiles swallowed a dry lump down as his stomach churned, but he wasn't sure the heaving feeling he felt growing was from the thought of Derek or the stress he was putting his body through.

A tremor of excitement shot through his body at the sight of a roof from one of the greenhouses near the back of the house, causing Stiles to push passed the pain and quicken his pace.

The thought of a hot shower was euphoric – it was almost beautiful enough to make him forget the sight of having checked in on Isaac's room before his run.

It wasn't that Stiles minded that Jackson had stayed the night – although the sheer number of hickeys visible in the dim morning light had been alarming – but Isaac had never done much more than complain about Jackson.

It was just... Really weird. And slightly hypocritical given their conversation about Derek, even if Isaac and Jackson had attended the same high school.

That in itself was a petty thought though – Stiles wasn't even sure what he and Derek were, or had been. On paper, in black and white, Stiles had used Derek, but a small part of him told himself that something more was there. And maybe Derek was partially right, Stiles had been running from the feelings.

Stiles physically shook the thought off as he reached the greenhouse, he had larger issues at the moment.

Though his body may not have appreciated the run, the exercise had provided him some much needed time for reflection, allowing him further clarity on his next steps.

He had actually locked himself in his room the night before to pour over various legal papers, gaining an understanding of his father's will and the ranch's property values. That also explained how he had missed Isaac's overnight guest.

At the time, Stiles had felt somewhat guilty for ignoring his friend the rest of the night, but he had also figured that Isaac wouldn't mind the reprieve.

Actually they all needed a break, tensions were high throughout the whole house.

The run had provided him some much needed time to filter through the petty thoughts and identify what was real, and–

Stiles paused as he turned the corner of the third greenhouse, the house's expansive backyard coming into full sight, along with his father sitting alone on a stone bench overlooking the nearest garden.

Stiles pulled the earbuds from his ears as he approached, and he took in his father's glassy stare, unable to identify whether or not the man was observing the garden in front of him or just space.

"Dad?" Stiles asked, sitting on the bench next to his father and grasping the man's right hand.

Stiles waited several seconds for a response from the man, and he was just about to repeat himself when the other man's head began to turn slowly.

Stiles met the look of confusion head on, though a wave of nausea and regret coursed through him.

"Stiles?" his father asked.

Stiles released a sigh of relief before nodding his head, thankful that his father seemed to recognize him.

"It's a little early to be out of bed, dad," Stiles said, still clutching his father's hand, "Does Derek know you're out here?"

"I've always been an early riser," his father said, the glassy look returning as he turned his head back toward the garden.

Stiles resisted the urge to correct the other man, too many memories of his teen years spent explaining to his father's office secretary that the Sheriff was on his way. Usually after Stiles had finally roused the man off the living room couch, or sometimes the floor.

"You built this garden," his father said, gaze still focused forward.

The resentment faded as Stiles finally focused on the garden in front of him as well.

It had been his first real project with his mother – something he had put just as much effort into as she had.

"She and I built it," Stiles finally said, a clot building in his throat threatening to shake his words, "I was... Really proud after. And she was, too. Though she probably should have been more proud of the patience she gave me throughout the whole thing."

His father released a small chuckle.

After what felt like eons of silence, his father clutched tightly to his hand, turning back toward him.

"When I look at you," his father said, face unsure, "I feel this..."

His father brought their joined hands up to his heart, moving in a circular motion.

"Burn," his father said, voice almost a whisper, "But I can't tell... Why?"

Stiles pulled his hand back as he weighed various responses to the other man's question. He could barely understand his own feelings, how was he supposed to explain his father's?

Stiles looked back up at the house as he took a deep breath in, quickly spotting Isaac resting against one of the large windows in the kitchen, a steaming mug in hand as he watched the pair.

Isaac nodded briefly, acknowledging that he could hear the conversation and offering encouragement.

A little cliché and all too common after several years of friendship, the move usually spawned little more than an eye roll from Stiles, but this time he felt the support behind the nod.

Or maybe Beacon Hills, combined with his conversation with Boyd last night, was really just making him an emotional and mental mess.

With newfound motivation, Stiles squared his shoulders as he turned back to his father.

"You were not... You are not," Stiles said, "An easy man."

"To love?" his father asked.

"I used to think so," Stiles said, slowly shaking his head, "But then I decided that if I hadn't loved you, I would have left before college. In many ways, you were too easy to love. But liking you was... Difficult."

Stiles cleared the clot from his throat as he took in the increasingly confused expression growing on his father's face.

"What I mean to say is," Stiles said, "I felt... Isolated. Alone. A lot. After... Her death, I wanted to reach out to you for support."

"I was there, Stiles," his father said, hand reaching out to grasp his again.

"No," Stiles said, deepening his voice as he shook his head, "No, you weren't. Physically you were there, but in every other way that mattered, you were... Just gone."

Stiles watched his father's gaze fall away, and he turned his own back toward the garden.

"In many ways, that was worse than her death," Stiles said, "I was an orphan living with a ghost – a shell. You looked like my father, but you spoke with anger. You spoke like a stranger. And you... Pricked. Whenever I sought comfort."

Stiles stared down at the small thorn cuts on his arms and hands as he took another deep breath.

"Things grew worse in high school," Stiles said, voice gaining sure as he continued, "And maybe I'm partially responsible, even if I was a kid. I just wanted to hurt you to the same degree I felt you were hurting me. And as I began to explore who I was, you began to reject me more and more. That's the distance between us. But the burn–"

Stiles lifted his hand back over his father's heart.

"That's something else entirely," Stiles said, slowly shaking his head, "That's the resentment festering between us that was never repaired. That's every argument we've ever had about your alcoholism, your parenting, my homosexuality, Ethan, my writing, college and moving to Seattle, moving in with Isaac... Every move I ever made you resisted, and vice versa."

Stiles thought he saw his father's eyes glint as if wet, and the other man opened his mouth like he had something to say, but closed it shortly after.

"I need you to say something," Stiles said, releasing a sigh of frustration, "Because one of our largest issues has always been that we've both had a plan, but neither plan matched up. I don't have a plan anymore, dad. My original plan was to leave and never look back, at least not until you apologized for shutting me out after her death. But you can't even remember what to apologize for, so my plan's been shot to shit. And I don't know how to move forward without that plan... Fuck, I'm not even sure I can. I need to... I think I want to, but... God damn it, I need some help here!"

"Stiles," his father said, reaching out to grasp Stiles's hand again, "Stiles, I–"

Stiles watched as his father's face flooded with an expression of panic before freezing, the other man's whole body seeming to clench before stopping still.

"Stiles," his father gasped out, just before falling down to the ground.

Stiles rushed to kneel down over his father, hands clutching his father's body while his eyes sought any visible signs of injury.

"Dad?" Stiles asked, alarm growing as he took in his father's labored breathing, "Isaac!"

Stiles attempted to pull his father back up onto the bench, half succeeding his goal.

"Dad," Stiles said, "Stay with me. Come on. Fuck. Dad, can you hear me?!"

Chapter Text

Stiles lifted his right thumb to his mouth to bite lightly at the nail for what felt like the thousandth time since – well, since arriving, however long ago that was.

A wave of frustration flooded his body, as if the realization that too much time had passed since entering the hospital had strummed the steady string of anger pulsing just below the surface.

"–iles," a male voice said, somewhere above him.

The voice sounded frustrated.

"Take a line, buddy," Stiles muttered, not looking up to see who was seeking him.

"Stiles," the voice repeated, followed by a firm hand grasping his chin and lifting.

A new wave of frustration, muddied with returning feelings of guilt, coursed through him as Stiles looked up to meet Derek's eyes.

Stiles blinked his eyes, which was an effort in itself. How much time had passed since he had even looked around his father's room?

A quick scan around the dark hospital room revealed that not much had changed. His father still lay still on the only bed in the room, the bizarre but steady electronic orchestra revealing that the man's comatose state remained much the same. A small snort brought Stiles's attention over to Isaac, the young man hunched uncomfortably in the chair across from him, the shadows almost hiding the thin trail of drool on Isaac's chin.

"Stiles," Derek repeated, hand gesturing for Stiles to look forward again, "It's time to go home."

"Home?" Stiles asked, eyes narrowing as he considering the other man's assertion.

Stiles wasn't even sure he still had a home – at least not without his father. Even though most of his memories sharing the house with his father seemed overwhelmingly negative, his father's absence seemed even worse somehow.

"No," Stiles said, pulling away from Derek's grasp and shaking his head, "I'm staying here. Take Isaac."

"Stiles," Derek said, releasing a sigh, "It's been over thirty hours. You haven't slept, you haven't eaten, and you haven't showered. Dr. Deaton isn't expecting any changes for the next twenty-four hours, which means it's time for you to focus on yourself right now."

"No," Stiles said, planting his feet more firmly onto the linoleum below, "I left him once, not again. Not when it counts."

Derek looked up to the ceiling, which was probably an attempt to hide the clenching of his jaw. A failed attempt.

Stiles suddenly remembered how much he enjoyed that jawline, unleashing a string of related memories that were completely inappropriate for the moment.

To his horror, Derek looked down quickly, nostrils flaring as his dissatisfied facial expression morphed into one of confusion.

Before either of them could speak, Stiles's stomach released a boisterous growl.

Stiles's frown deepened in tandem with the grin spreading across Derek's face.

"Fine then," Derek said, hand reaching down to clutch Stiles's elbow, lifting him up from the seat, "We'll go down to the cafeteria."

Stiles looked to his left again, taking in his father. The man looked too still. And old. He seemed to have aged years since their conversation in the garden.

Stiles consider offering another rejection, not wanting to waste any more time with his father, but his stomach quaked its own objection.

"I'll go alone," Stiles said, stepping around Derek, "You go home."

"No," Derek said, hand quickly reaching out again to clasp tightly to Stiles's own, "I don't trust you to look out for you right now. Once you've eaten, I'll think about leaving."

Stiles huffed a sigh of frustration as he pulled his hand away from the other man's, but he offered no further objections as he walked out of the room.

In the back of his mind, a nagging voice told Stiles to let Derek stay. To beg him to stay.

Stiles shook the voice from his head, reminding himself that Derek was the last person he needed around right then. The man's presence was comforting – too comforting, and that put Stiles on edge.

"Slow down," Derek said, pulling back on Stiles's arm as they reached the elevator, "This is your time to breathe."

Stiles closed his eyes as he did just that, releasing the breath a few seconds later as he opened his eyes to select the cafeteria floor.

"I'd really rather handle this on my own," Stiles said, looking back at the open door of his father's room, "You should go back to the house."

"And I'd really rather not leave you alone," Derek said, hand reaching up to bring Stiles's attention back.

Stiles stared back at the man in front of him, taking in every detail he didn't need. A warmth spread through his spine, almost as if someone had set the string of anger on fire. It burned.

Stiles looked away again as the elevator announced its presence.

"Derek," Stiles sighed, stepping into the shaft and pressing the button for the cafeteria's floor, "You're making this difficult."

"Making what difficult?" Derek asked, following but taking a few steps closer than necessary.

Derek was too close. The burning intensified, and Stiles considered giving into it for a moment.

"You know exactly what," Stiles said, stepping around Derek to center himself with the doors.

Derek shook his head, though a small grin began to form on his face.

"On second thought, I'll take the stairs," Stiles said, quickly stepping between the closing doors.

"Stiles–" Derek said, reaching forward to stop the doors, but it was already too late.

Stiles felt a sense of satisfaction as the doors shut firmly, the elevator already moving downward.

Turning away from the landing, Stiles briefly considered simply heading back to his father's room, but he shook his head as he moved toward the door marked, "Stairs."

One flight down, Stiles paused at the landing leading down to the cafeteria. He stared at the sign on the door in front of him, which indicated that a café was attached to the gift shop.

Internally debating whether or not hospital café food would be better than hospital cafeteria food, Stiles made a decision and moved toward the door upon realizing which location would also have Derek waiting in it.

As he opened the door, the familiar smell and whirl of coffee machines greeted him, and he followed the trail down the hallway toward an orange glow.

Stiles's stomach rippled as he reached the café, forcing him further into the shop as the blonde employee ignored him. His gaze moved toward the glass case, sweeping for something heartier than the croissants and other sweets on display.

"We're out of tea," a female voice said.

Stiles looked up toward the register, suddenly realizing that the blonde employee was the same disgruntled barista from the grocery store.

"Uh... Erica?" Stiles asked, hesitating with uncertainty that he remembered her name correctly.

"Uh... Stalker?" the blonde asked, though she nodded.

"I'm not here for tea," Stiles said, stepping forward, "Just hoping to avoid the cafeteria downstairs."

Erica's scowling face seemed to soften slightly.

"Do you have any sandwiches?" Stiles asked, looking up toward the menu options.

"We're out of most things," Erica said, "But I can offer you an unofficial BLT."

"You've got bacon, but you don't have actual sandwich meat?" Stiles asked, looking down as he raised a curious eyebrow.

"Blame the hipsters," Erica said, matching his raised eyebrow.

"All right," Stiles said offering a short nod.

Erica turned her back to Stiles, working on preparing the sandwich, and he thought back to the last time he had a BLT.

It was actually a favorite of his father's, which meant Stiles had avoided them since leaving. But they used to eat them a lot before his mother's death.

Perhaps a little strange, she used to serve them with hot chocolate. Probably because, like any child, that was Stiles's drink of choice.

Actually, that was pretty smart now that he thought about it. She was making them both happy at the same time.

Stiles pulled his wallet out as Erica stepped toward him, offering a wrapped BLT.

"Can I also have a hot chocola–" Stiles said, taking the sandwich.

"Stiles!" Derek said, breath slightly labored as he stormed into the small café, "I've been looking for you everywhere."

"Derek?" Erica asked, a look of confusion forming on her face.

Stiles felt his own confusion grow, though he attempted to tell himself that he was anything but curious. If the blonde teen were just a few years older, he would probably also be telling himself that he wasn't jealous.

"I thought you were..." Erica paused as her confused expression turned to one of surprise, and she looked back at Stiles with wide eyes.

"Erica," Derek said, nodding, gaze quickly turning back to Stiles.

Stiles watched as Derek pulled out his own wallet, throwing a bill at Erica and then clutching onto Stiles's elbow.

"Let's get back to your father," Derek said, pulling Stiles from the café.

"Uh... Bye, Erica," Stiles said, looking back at the still wide eyed barista, "Thanks for the sandwich."

"Derek," Stiles said, clutching tightly to the sandwich as Derek moved them quickly toward the elevator, "Slow down. What's going on?"

"What do you mean?" Derek asked, mouth thin and tone slightly clipped as he reached out to press the elevator button.

"You're acting weird," Stiles said, looking back toward the café, "A few minutes ago, you wanted me to leave the hospital, and now you can't get me back to my father's room quick enough."

"I'm not acting weird," Derek said, though he appeared relieved at the arrival of the elevator, motioning Stiles into the shaft and following behind, "Though if I were, it's probably because I'm annoyed that you left me to chase you down."

Stiles narrowed his eyes, and he set an assessing gaze on the other man as the elevator began to move.

Unfortunately, Derek remained unyielding, standing stoic.

They stood in silence, staring back at each other until the elevator reached his father's floor. Stiles shook his head and released a sigh as he stepped out of the elevator.

"Actually," Derek said, hand resting on the elevator's doorsill, "I think I'm going to back to the house, like you asked. You'll let me know if there are any changes?"

Stiles nodded slowly, slightly taken aback by Derek's behavior.

Stiles had felt paranoid about Derek in the past, but the man's encounter with Erica seemed to have woken something else. Something dug at Stiles's stomach, and for once he didn't feel the need to pursue his curiosity.

Derek's downcast face between the closing elevator doors told him that he didn't want to pursue his curiosity.

***

It was several hours later that Stiles was pulled from his thoughts once more in his father's hospital room.

Except this time, it was a coffee cup thrust in front of his face that caught his attention, rather than Derek's voice.

Stiles looked up, expecting to see the man offering some apology for his odd behavior earlier, but instead he found Erica looking down at him.

"I think you were about to order this before you left," Erica said, pausing to bite nervously at her bottom lip, "It's a hot chocolate."

"Uh... Yeah," Stiles said, accepting the drink, "Thank you."

Stiles took a cautious sip as Erica continued to stand in front of him, though she offered no other response.

"I'm sorry for my rudeness earlier," Erica finally said, "At the grocery store."

"Uh... Okay?" Stiles said, "Is that why you brought me this?"

Stiles lifted the hot chocolate up slightly.

"Partly," Erica said, mouth thinning as she wrapped her arms around herself, "And I didn't realize that you were Claudia Stilinski's son."

"How do you know that, Erica?" Stiles asked, wrinkling his brow in confusion.

"I think there are some things you need to know about Derek," Erica said, looking away from Stiles for the first time as she glanced around the room.

While Erica pulled the empty chair next to a still sleeping Isaac forward, Stiles thought back to Derek's face just before the other man had left.

It had almost been sorrowful.

Chapter Text

Stiles's legs ached and his chest burned, but he pushed himself forward, quickening his pace until his surroundings were nothing but a blur.

Stiles had tried to stay seated in his father's hospital room after Erica had left, but the weight of her words was too much. He woke Isaac up, and they returned to the house.

Stiles had also tried to follow Isaac upstairs, but all he could hear was Erica's voice each time he attempted to walk past Derek's door.

He made for the laundry room instead, pulling a pair of shorts from the dryer, and headed outside for an early morning run.

Unfortunately, he could still hear Erica's voice, and the physical activity only added to the nausea ripping through his stomach.

"My asshole stepfather is a member of Derek's pack," Erica said, "Which means I'm sometimes forced to join social gatherings and hunt bunnies or shit like that in an effort to bond."

Stiles titled his head up toward the sun and tried to even his breathing, legs pumping him forward.

"I was surprised to see Derek here tonight," Erica said, "Because he's been absent from said gatherings for the last six months or so. I thought–we thought, he was in Seattle on a family assignment."

"Fuck," Stiles said, realizing too late that he was falling.

His right knee slammed to the ground first, followed by the left, and he almost allowed his whole body to hit the ground.

"Derek's been struggling for a while to prove that he's invested in the family business – or the pack business, I guess," Erica said, "I couldn't give two fucks about it, but when I saw the two of you together... I didn't realize that you were you, or that your father was in the hospital. I'm sorry for that."

Stiles stood up slowly before attempting to jog forward, pain shooting through his knee. He settled for walking.

"If you haven't figured it out already, his assignment was Stiles Stilinski," Erica said, "I'm not sure he's someone you want close to you right now."

Stiles shook his head, and turned around suddenly, deciding to head back to the house for a shower.

"Whoa!" Derek said, standing directly in front of him, hands raised into the air.

Stiles narrowed his eyes and swept an assessing gaze over the other man, almost as if he could physically seek out the truth.

"Are you all right?" Derek asked, "I've been calling your name since you fell – Stiles, your knee is bleeding."

"Why are you here, Derek?" Stiles asked, pushing Derek's hand reaching for his knee away.

"Stiles–" Derek said, pausing his movements to stare back at Stiles.

"I've asked you before," Stiles said, heartbeat rising while the nausea continued to mount, "But I don't think I got an honest answer. So, why are you here?"

"Stiles..." Derek said, mouth twisting downward before he broke eye contact.

"Whatever Derek's told you about himself is probably a lie," Erica said, "At least anything about his family."

"What's your last name, Derek?" Stiles asked, heat rising through his voice.

Stiles watched as Derek took a step back, face contorting through various emotions before landing on remorseful.

"You can't say it?" Stiles asked, stepping forward and laying his hands on Derek's chest to push, "Is that the only response I'm going to get?"

"Stiles," Derek said, shaking his head, "You don't understand–"

"You're right, Derek," Stiles said, pushing Derek backward again, "I don't. I really don't understand."

"Derek is Derek Hale," Erica said, "As in Hale Media."

"I'm going to be sick," Stiles said, turning away from Derek and moving toward a nearby shrub.

"Let me help you–" Derek said, following behind and placing a hand on Stiles's back.

"No!" Stiles said, moving away, "No. You don't get to do that. You don't get to play the nice guy when you want to."

Stiles clamped down on the lump rising from his stomach, pushing further away from Derek and angling toward the house.

"I need answers, Derek," Stiles said, "Real answers, but I think I need to throw up first. And shower. So finish your run or whatever, I'm going back to the house. After that... I want you to leave."

"Stiles–" Derek said, reaching forward again.

"I said later, Derek," Stiles said, turning away, "Later."

***

Stiles's stomach heaved as he stepped into the shower – something he hadn't realized was possible given the amount of time he'd already spent bent over the toilet.

More unfortunate, the usually calming force of the shower's water only seemed to pound at him, and the steam simply served as a physical reminder of how unclear the world was around him. He understood nothing.

If Stiles had really wasted the short time left with his father on a...

Stiles's stomach rolled, and he closed his eyes as he tried to focus his breathing.

Stiles felt more than vulnerable, he felt wounded, with a million thoughts crashing through his head.

The idea of using one of Boyd's preferred exercises of visualizing each worry as something to be filed or simply put away made him snort – Stiles wouldn't even know where to begin. His father, Derek, or the glaringly obvious residual pain of Ethan?

Stiles closed his eyes as he pushed his face further into the stream, telling himself that those weren't tears sliding down his cheeks.

He lifted the soap from its shelf, focusing on getting out of the shower as quickly as possible. He wanted the day over and done.

Chapter Text

After spending far too much time staring into the mirror at the new dark circles beneath his eyes, Stiles released a long breath.

He looked like shit, which was to say his physical appearance matched his emotions.

"Let's get this over with," Stiles said, squaring his shoulders as he turned away and walked toward the wash room's door, headed down the hall for Derek's room.

A small part of himself hoped that Derek had already left, opting out of the difficult conversation and making it easier on everyone. But a larger part needed answers.

Stiles paused at the open door of his old room, looking in to see Derek seated on the bed, leaning against several packed bags.

The other man looked up as Stiles stepped cautiously into the room, electing to lean against the wall close to the door. He felt a mixture of anger and confusion build within himself at the dissatisfied look on Derek's face.

"Do you remember," Stiles said after several seconds of just observing Derek, "When I asked you if you were a Stilinski fanboy?"

Derek nodded his head, but offered no other response.

"You said you weren't," Stiles said, throat already tensing with emotion, "So what are you?"

"I'm not..." Derek said, abruptly standing up, "Not that. Not now. I was, I think. But I started to learn more about you – to actually know you. I was no fanboy when you asked me that question, I swear it."

Stiles snorted, but he stepped further into the room.

"I have... A lot of questions," Stiles said, shaking his head, "But the two I really need answers to right now are – who are you, really, and... Why?"

Derek looked down at his feet and released a sigh, and he pushed his hands into the pockets of his jeans.

"As much as you may not believe it right now," Derek said, shaking his head, "I never lied to you – not truly. I... I wasn't lying when I said that my life took a turn for the worse before I met your father."

Stiles waited for Derek to continue, watching as the man began to pace, gaze seeming to nervously shift back and forth from the leather satchel closest to Stiles.

"My name is Derek Hale, but you already know that," Derek said, "What you may not know is that my family is... Difficult. I think that's part of the reason I identified so well with you–"

"Derek–" Stiles said, losing patience with Derek's attempt to avoid the truth.

"Just listen," Derek said, setting an intense stare on Stiles, "Please."

"All right," Stiles said, nodding his head as he sat down on the edge of the bed.

"A year ago, I was facing rejection from Hale Media," Derek said, returning to his pacing, "That's a scary thing when you don't know anything else. But I'm also not very good at the family business itself. So I promised something new in the hopes of remaining an asset – an in depth novel that no one else had."

Stiles felt as though the wind had been knocked out of him – not because he hadn't expected the admission, but because it was something else to hear out loud.

"Originally, I traveled to Seattle," Derek said, glancing back at the satchel next to Stiles.

The uneasy feeling that Derek seemed familiar clicked into place, as if a switch had been flipped.

"You were the waiter," Stiles said, staring at the wall in front of him.

"Yes," Derek said, "I found a part time job at the restaurant across from your apartment. That was how I intended to meet you, but then–"

"You found out about Scott," Stiles said, too much starting to make sense at once.

"And I'm sorry for dropping your meal," Derek said, "I was just so surprised to hear the McCalls come into your dinner discussion. Melissa is part of the Hale pack, and it seems she hid her relationship with your family very well."

"That's why Scott wanted you out," Stiles said, standing up quickly, "He knew what you were up to, the reason you came to Beacon Hills."

"Despite being a complete buffoon, yes, Scott had a moment of understanding," Derek said, shaking his head, "I pressed Melissa for details on your family, and I found out that your father wasn't doing well. I left Seattle. I figured you wouldn't be far behind."

"Congratulations," Stiles said, a hot tear sliding down his cheek, "You were right."

"Stiles," Derek said, rushing forward, hand raised to wipe the tear from his cheek, "I didn't want to be right once I got here."

"You stayed, Derek," Stiles said, pulling away from Derek, "You stayed anyways."

"Because I wanted to help," Derek said, "I'm sorry for the initial deception, but everything – everything – after was real."

"I don't believe that," Stiles said, shaking his head, "I can't believe that. It's not real when it's built on a lie, Derek."

"You never lied to me?" Derek asked, eyes widening in a mocking manner.

"Do not compare our situations, Derek," Stiles said, heat raising in his voice.

"Face it, Stiles," Derek said, crossing his arms over his chest, "You didn't give me your whole self either."

Stiles jumped back, the hole inside his chest widening.

"Maybe not," Stiles said, shaking his head, "But I gave you more than most. And–"

Stiles reached for the satchel that Derek kept looking at, several rolls of paper sticking out of the front pocket.

"–I gave you several opportunities to correct your mistakes," Stiles said, pulling the papers out and hoisting them into the air, "Fuck, I'm not even mad that this isn't a longterm relationship – I'm fucking angry because this wasn't a relationship, it was a business transaction. One that I was once again unaware of, and I'm guessing this is the pudding, right, Derek?"

"Stiles–" Derek said, reaching for the papers in his hands.

Stiles stepped back as he flipped through the papers, skimming the sentences for an understanding of what was being written about him.

Stiles paused suddenly, a few familiar phrases making him stop. He dropped the papers as if they were on fire.

"You–" Stiles said, clearing his throat as he took another step back, unable to meet Derek's eyes, "You really dedicated yourself, didn't you? Nothing was off limits I guess. Glad to know the rest of the world will finally know what it's like to be in my bedroom."

"Stiles–" Derek said, stepping forward.

"Who's the blonde?" Stiles asked, suddenly remembering the photo from their first night together.

"Erica?" Derek asked, brow creasing with confusion.

"From the photo," Stiles said, shaking his head, "Who is she?"

Derek looked up to the ceiling as he released another sigh.

"Kate..." Derek finally said, "Kate Argent. My fiancé. Part of the turn in my life was discovering that our engagement was conditional on my continued influence at Hale Media. No Hale Media, no marriage."

Stiles walked toward the door, too overwhelmed to continue the conversation any further.

"I thought I was securing a family for myself, Stiles," Derek said, "And I thought I was also doing something for the rest of the world – you haven't let anyone in since high school."

"And both times were a mistake," Stiles said, reaching the door.

"Stiles, I was wrong," Derek said, "I saw that from the first night, but explaining all of this isn't the easiest thing to do. I'm so sorry for my mistakes – I never meant to hurt you, even before I knew you. I'm willing to grovel, what can I do here?"

"For starters," Stiles said, turning back toward Derek, "Forget the book."

"Stiles..." Derek said, shaking his head, "It's not that simple. You don't understand what this novel would mean to the rest of the world – to your father."

"Derek," Stiles said, a new wave of anger soaring through him at the mention of his father, "You don't get it – you walked into my life. I never asked for you to be here, and you preyed on my family's vulnerable situation to position yourself a better future. Regardless of how you felt once you got here, you continued writing – like this is something to fucking write about. Do you understand that this isn't a movie? This is my life. More than that, this is a human thing. Not a passing oddity for supernatural and unfeeling humans to critique or pass the time with."

"Stiles–" Derek said, a pained expression building on his face.

"Hey, you guys," Isaac said, running up to the bedroom door, "The hospital just called the house phone, they said Dr. Deaton's been trying to reach you, Stiles. We need to go to the hospital. Now."

Chapter Text

Stiles stared into the space in front of him, everything seeming to melt until he recognized nothing at all.

Something tightened on his arm, but his faculties were gone. It seemed like all he could hear was the blood rushing through him.

Stiles had wasted five perfectly good days to speak with his father about past misgivings – to fill the gaping hole that seemed to be widening within him with every passing second.

Granted, the man that had sat in front of him outside near the garden two hole days ago had been a completely different man than the one that had watched him stumble into the living room via an unlocked window.

His father's degradation had been rapid, and not just in the last two weeks, but in the last two years.

Two years also wasted, some twenty-four months feeling bitter and righteously defiant that turned out to mean nothing more than further regret and pain.

And it wasn't as though Stiles hadn't recognized it coming – he knew the end was close. He had been told the end was close. They had all been aware that time was running out.

Not that it mattered. That recognition didn't make him feel any less unprepared for this moment.

If anything he felt even more deceived, as if cheated from the moment he and his father should have had – the one he had begun to initiate in the backyard.

Except it had been too late. It was too late.

It seemed like Stiles was always too late to realize these things.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Stiles knew that it was too late because he had simply waited too long – not because of Derek, or Ethan.

That was possibly the worst thought of all, because his father wasn't the one to blame this time.

Stiles had chosen to pursue ignoring reality over repairing family ties, and the consequence was something unrepairable. Unforgivable even.

Aside from the building white noise and his own darkening thoughts, Stiles did hear one other thing.

Dr. Deaton's words repeating, "I'm so sorry, Stiles. He's gone."

Apart from the day Gerard Argent changed his life forever, Stiles had never felt so broken inside.

***

Derek's jaw clenched as he watched Stiles withdrawal further into himself, standing silently in John's hospital room.

His stomach twisted with jealousy as he watched Isaac wrap himself around Stiles. Derek wanted to be the one to make it better.

This was not his intention – none of this had been his intention. None of this had been their intention, but it was clear that Stiles was done listening.

And Derek couldn't blame Stiles. The way things began was bad. Really bad.

But it angered Derek to see the true harm the truth was causing Stiles, because if the man would just listen to him, there could be some redemption–

Derek narrowed his eyes as a young alpha werewolf entered the room, following a nurse.

Isaac seemed to stand on edge as well, suddenly taking a defensive step in front of Stiles. So Derek didn't bother to push back the low growl building within.

"Stiles," the alpha said, appearing to ignore Isaac, "I am so sorry for your loss–"

"Fuck off, Ethan," Isaac said, voice smothered between gritted teeth, "You're not wanted here."

Derek's growl deepened at the realization that the alpha in front of him was Stiles's first boyfriend.

Stiles remained motionless, still withdrawn. Derek wasn't sure that the man was even aware that Ethan had stepped into the room.

"If Hale stays, I stay," Ethan said, smirk forming on his face, "Freedom of the press, right, Hale?"

Before Derek had the opportunity to respond, Stiles threw his left hand out, landing what looked like a painful left hook squarely on Ethan's jaw.

The punch didn't knock Ethan off his feet, but it certainly made the other man take a few steps back, rubbing cautiously at his jaw.

An overwhelming sense of pride flooded Derek. That punch looked painful, even to a supernatural.

"Fuck," Stiles said, shaking his hand in the air, "I want out of here, Isaac. Now."

"All right, yeah," Isaac said, nodding, "Dr. Deaton, will you take Stiles down? I'll be right there, I'm just going to grab... The check out paperwork. Ethan, you know where the trash goes."

"Come on, Stiles," Dr. Deaton said, grabbing hold of Stiles's elbow, "If you wouldn't mind, I'm told there's a young employee working in the café that would like to say goodbye to you."

Derek watched silently as Stiles was pulled more than walked out of the room, still muddied by his own thoughts. The original nurse that led Ethan to the room leading the alpha out of the room in the opposite direction.

He turned his gaze toward Isaac's approach, squaring his shoulders and waiting for whatever onslaught was about to be unleashed.

Isaac stepped in front of Derek, narrowing his eyes as he assessed Derek.

If Isaac served his own left hook, Derek wouldn't stop it.

"He can't smell your emotions," Isaac finally offered.

"Do what?" Derek asked, suddenly confused by Isaac's statement.

"He doesn't know how you feel without explanation," Isaac said, "You may not know this about humans, but they need words. More than that, everyone needs trust. And consent. You took those two things away from him."

Derek nodded as the weight of Isaac's words sunk in. He had never thought of it in that way.

"If you're wondering why I haven't treated you the same repayment that Stiles just served Ethan," Isaac said, lessening his assessing stare, "It's partly because I'm not a big believer in the whole eye for an eye thing, or continuing the cycle of pain – though there are exceptions, and Stiles is certainly one of my exceptions, which brings me to my primary reason."

Derek nodded, motioning for Isaac to continue.

"Jackson overheard you arguing on the phone with a woman the night he stayed over," Isaac said, releasing a sigh, "Things kind of hit the fan after that, so I left it alone, but I'm guessing that was Kate."

Derek nodded again.

"I'm glad you ended things," Isaac said, offering a curt nod, "And I know that Stiles appreciates the help you provided the Sheriff before he came back into town. I'm not exactly sure what you and the Sheriff were up to, but I hope it helps more than hurts him."

Derek offered no response to Isaac, too caught off guard to even know what to say. He could understand why the man seemed to mean so much to Stiles.

"I would say don't be a stranger, but..." Isaac said, shrugging his shoulders before turning back toward the door, "You're kind of an asshole right now."

Derek snorted as he watched Isaac near the door.

"Hey, Isaac," Derek said, reaching into his back pocket and pulling out an envelope, "Would you mind giving this to Stiles? Not... Not now, but. Maybe when it feels right."

"No promises," Isaac said, walking back into the room and reaching for the envelope, "But I'll try."

Derek looked down at the bags near his feet as Isaac walked out of the room. He reached down to lift a couple over his shoulder.

As he walked out of the dark hospital room, he felt a renewed sense of purpose. He may have fucked up, but that didn't mean there was no solution.

If he broke this, he could repair it. He knew it.

He just needed to figure out how.

Chapter Text

Stiles slanted his eyes as he stepped out onto the porch and into the bright sunlight, the chilled air and diminishing gardens the only reminders that it was actually winter.

Much like every day, he paused on his way to the mailbox to stare at the remaining ribbons tied to the gate surrounding the Stilinski ranch. Reminders of numerous vigils held in both his father's and family's names since the former Sheriff had passed on.

The outpouring of support from millions of strangers had taken Stiles by surprise.

While he was sure that the nation, and even some international neighbors, had responded in a similar manner to Claudia's own passing, the event of her death itself took precedence in his memory.

A little over seven months ago, Stiles had never felt so alone, but he quickly found himself unexpectedly surrounded by a surplus of unconditional love in the subsequent weeks.

He had also probably never seen Isaac smirk so much in his life.

Another, but much crueler, surprise to Stiles had been that the first month was easily one of the least challenging.

Still numb from his father's death and the wake left by Derek, Stiles operated almost mindlessly. He had signed various legal papers assigning the Stilinski estate to him, taken over his father's financial accounts, and coordinated every minute detail of his father's funeral.

It was the second month that was probably the most difficult, for exactly the opposite – it marked the first month that the numbness had begun to fade, and Stiles no longer had busy work to keep himself simply passing through the motions.

If he was honest with himself – which is something he's much better at these days – Stiles would say that even the funeral planning had been a saving grace, since it kept his father's spirit somehow tethered to him. He was doing something for his father, so his father lived.

But the funeral had come and gone by the second month, meaning Stiles had simply been left with some bitter memories and a really empty house.

The month also marked the first time that Stiles started to truly understand how much the nation was watching him, as it was just starting to react to his father's passing.

With each new vigil held outside the ranch, Stiles became more and more paranoid that Hale Media was about to strike with its own criminalizing exposé, signed by none other than Derek Hale – a man that Stiles had been trying desperately to avoid thinking about.

But it hadn't been until the third month that Google Alerts informed Stiles that Derek had announced a new book tour, and he resolved to do something more than wait for the secrets of his life to unfold.

He scheduled his first official interview with The Parrish Tribune, coincidently coinciding with Derek's own first interview on tour.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, that day proved to be trying in more ways than one.

After suffering a prolonged panic attack in the dressing room while waiting to head out on camera, Isaac handed Stiles the letter.

Though he wouldn't realize it until after the interview, that was probably the worst and best time to receive the letter.

***

"Stiles," Isaac said, hand grabbing hold of his elbow to stop him from dropping the letter in the recycle bin, "That's not Derek's handwriting."

Stiles looked down at the somewhat sloppy cursive letters spelling out, "To Stiles," a penmanship that was becoming increasingly familiar the more he stared at it.

"Keep this here," Isaac said, grabbing hold of the letter and reaching into Stiles's jacket to slip the envelope into his breast pocket, "As a reminder for why you're here today."

Stiles nodded, since it seemed to be the only response he could offer. His throat clenched while tears welled in his eyes.

"Now," Isaac said, steering Stiles out of the small room and toward the interview stage, "Go out there and kick some ass."

Stiles clutched the letter as he continued to near his seat, every one of his fears and insecurities seeming to emerge as the audience's applause began. He pulled at the stiff collar of his oxford shirt, already sweating under the set's intense lighting.

Somehow he managed to bumble through the initial introduction, not a word sticking to his memory beyond Parrish's, "Welcome, Stiles."

The man seemed kind enough, though so had Ethan. And Derek. Stiles squared his shoulders as he reminded himself to remain on guard throughout the interview, doing his best to ignore the bright smile across from him.

"So, Stiles," Parrish said, "Not only is this your first interview since your father's passing – to which I must offer my deepest condolences, I am truly sorry for your loss – but it's also your first interview. Ever."

Stiles resisted the urge to respond with anything more than a head nod, realizing much more would be lost in the crowd's mounting applause.

"Let me just say that we're honored to have you with us here today," Parrish said, "Though I feel I should warn you – Jennifer Blake, a lead anchor from one of our sisters media companies, may come bursting in at any moment. It's my understanding that you came up as a topic in her morning interview with Derek Hale, son of Hale Media tycoon, Talia Hale."

Stiles stomach lurched as the dark background behind Parrish faded into a large scale photo of Derek's face.

"It seems Mr. Hale has written a new novel inspired by some time he spent at your family home this summer," Parrish said, "And we've got a clip of Mr. Hale explaining what that time meant to him, as well as how it relates to his novel – should we show it?"

While the audience erupted into more applause, Stiles turned a panicked faced toward Isaac standing at the set's edge. The man began mimicking exaggerated breaths, and Stiles focused on matching his own breathing to Isaac's rhythm.

The image of Derek's face had already begun moving by the time he turned back toward the screen.

"Given the rumors surrounding your novel – and the frequent promises from your uncle, Peter – I cannot imagine the record sales from your first novel's pre-order sale, Derek," Jennifer Blake said, "What can you tell us now before your book hits shelves this Friday – particularly how it relates to the Stilinski family?"

While he waited for his own applause to cease, Derek offered a small chuckle.

"Well," Derek finally said, "I can confirm that the Stilinski family played a critical role in influencing this work – they were, and continue to be through Stiles, a strong and unique force in our society. However, I'm uncertain about the promises you say my uncle has promised, especially considering that the man has never even read the work."

Stiles's brow creased with confusion, though Parrish continued to smile at the oversized version of Derek's face.

"You're saying your uncle has never seen the final draft?" Jennifer asked.

"He's never seen the first draft," Derek said, shaking his head, "None of Hale Media has. After my time with the Stilinskis, I started reflecting on how the family is treated by the media – all media, including my family's own business. I reviewed everything from this last year back to Claudia Stilinski's passing, and I have to say that I'm not sure any of us have truly respected the family's wishes."

"I'm confused, Derek," Jennifer said, leaning forward – something Stiles found himself doing with her – "Is this novel not about the Stilinski family?"

"Not at all," Derek said, shaking his head, "As the jacket itself reads, this novel is about my own journey of experience and search for identity since setting out on my first journalistic assignment up to the my actual departure from Hale Media."

"I knew that you were working with a small publisher, but I assumed it was one of the many Hale Media kept on payroll," Jennifer said, "You're saying you've actually severed ties with Hale Media?"

"Completely," Derek said, nodding, "And I owe that decision to the Stilinskis."

Stiles's stomach lurched while his head spun. Nothing Derek was saying made any sense – at least in that none of it fit in line with what he had been expecting.

"What about the rumors that this work is a goodbye novel from John Stilinski to his son?" Jennifer asked, leaning forward.

Stiles's eyes widened at the question, his heartbeat rising as the rest of the set was forgotten.

Derek shook his head slightly before turning directly to the camera.

"Rumors," Derek said, "Something that personal has no business being sold, and I'm certain that John knew that. That's not a novel, that's a letter."

Not for the first time, Stiles felt as though Derek had kicked the wind out of him. He reached up to his jacket to press the letter resting in the pocket closer.

The screen projecting Derek's face faded back to black, and Parrish turned back toward Stiles.

"Wonderful," Parrish said, head nodding frantically, "It must be great to see such a close family friend succeed after so much heartbreak. He spoke so well of you throughout the rest of the interview, and I can only imagine the shoulder you provided one another during these difficult times – what with your father's passing and Mr. Hale's decision to break his engagement and leave his family's business."

Stiles remained silent as Parrish smiled back at him, uncertain of what other response to provide than, "Not really," or, "Just the opposite, I hated my life because of him."

"Strong and silent type then," Parrish said, nodding while still smiling, "Speaking of which – not to give too much credit to Jennifer, but I do have a quote from later on in the interview that I'd like to share with you. Just let me find it... There are just so many questions I could ask you, and I think this will kind of help narrow the focus."

Stiles clenched his hands in his lap while he watched Parrish shuffle through various blue notecards in hand.

"Ah," Parrish said, pushing a sole notecard up into the air, "Here it is. When asked about what he took away most from his time with your family, Mr. Hale says, 'Something that really surprised me was that there was very little mention of Claudia – not that they ignored her by any means, in fact you could say that they were almost... I don't want to say drowning, but her presence was clear in their lives. She was still a huge influence in the way they went about their day, and I almost missed that at first because they didn't make it obvious. It's such a contrast from the way the media treats the Stilinski family – the ways in which the rest of the world keeps Claudia alive verses her family – and when I began to understand that, I realized that I needed to make a change myself.'"

Tears began to well in Stiles's eyes, and his throat clenched from both the awkwardness and surprise of the moment.

"I actually teared up during my first read as well, you can ask Jennifer," Parrish said, nodding slightly, "I left absolutely no Kleenex in her office. But what about that – does that speak to you beyond feelings for your mother? Is what Derek's saying about the media's use of your family fair or unfair?"

Making an effort to dry his eyes, Stiles blinked several times before clearing his throat to speak.

"Well..." Stiles said, hesitating slightly, "I think, as you pointed out yourself, the fact that this is my first official interview in over twenty-eight years of life is no accident."

"You value your privacy," Parrish said, smile widening as he motioned for Stiles to continue.

"Yes," Stiles said, nodding, "But only because I have so frequently felt like I have none."

Stiles paused to take a breath, heartbeat already raising from the anger and words ready to erupt, but hesitant to release the storm publicly. He squared his shoulders as Parrish motioned him forward again.

"Whether it was a member of the Argent family terrorizing my family on our own property – at home, where everyone expects safety – or their partner, Hale Media, sending solicitous phone calls, emails, letters repeatedly, neither my father and I simply chose seclusion, we were pushed into it," Stiles said, "And they both seem to have only profited from our silence, which is part of the reason I am here. I am not the same teenage kid that was tricked into a false interview by a peer being paid to report back to Hale Media, nor am I the same university student that had to request each semester that his class schedule by kept closed, so that a reporter never showed up to disrupt his classes again."

"Why exactly are you here, Stiles?" Parrish asked, an expression mixed with both interest and sympathy building on his face.

"To control my own story," Stiles said, looking briefly at Isaac for support before turning directly toward the camera, "And to ensure that no one – not the Argents, Hale Media, or anyone else – profits from the death of my father in the same way they did my mother."

***

Looking back on it, Stiles was still surprised he made it through that first interview. But he must have done something right, because the outpouring of support seemed to double overnight.

He also gained a new friend in Parrish, who seemed to have a more healthy than not fascination with Stiles's family. Compared to most at least.

Stiles wasn't exactly sure he would ever meet someone that wasn't at least mildly interested in his last name, and for a member of the media, Parrish seemed almost human.

And it was a friendship he leaned on a few weeks later when Isaac traveled back to Seattle, Jackson surprisingly in tow.

***

Stiles worried his fingers along the hem of shirt, watching anxiously as Isaac lifted a packed bag over a shoulder.

"Are you sure you have to leave now?" Stiles asked, stepping forward to lift a bag over his own shoulder, "You're a freelancer, it's not like you have an office to report to."

"Yes, I do, and no, I do not," Isaac said, a large grin forming on his face, "But I miss the city, Beacon Hills is just not really for me. Not anymore. And you need to find yourself in this big ol' house anyways, man. Can't do that if I'm always around the corner messing things up, leaving crumbs everywhere. You hate having me here."

"I hate having the shit scared out of me when I find you hunched down near the freezer in the garage – in the dark – eating a giant sized ice cream cone," Stiles said, punching lightly at Isaac's shoulder, "But I don't hate having you here."

"Hey, hey," Isaac said, looking around the entryway frantically, "Loose lips sink ships, keep quiet about my snacks. I didn't want to share with Jackson."

"What's this I hear about snacks?" Jackson asked, poking his head through the entrance door, a small smirk spreading across his face, "Are we grabbing some before we hit the road? The car's almost packed."

"Take these," Isaac said, handing the bag from his own shoulder and Stiles's shoulder over to Jackson, "I'll be right there."

"Roger," Jackson said, nodding while stepping further into the entryway, leaning forward into Stiles's space to place a kiss on his cheek, "Bye, Stiles. I'll call you when he becomes too much to handle. I'm assuming you have a cookie monster spray or something?"

"Get," Isaac said, lightly pushing Jackson out the door before turning back to Stiles, "Have you read the letter?"

Stiles bit his bottom lip as he considered the question, too many emotions already swelling from the thought of his father's letter.

He shook his head no.

Isaac nodded his own head as he leaned forward to wrap his arms around Stiles.

"You should, man," Isaac said as he pulled away.

Stiles watched Isaac walk toward the door, where the other man stopped to offer a final goodbye.

"I'm always a call away," Isaac said, "And don't forget Boyd, you know how he gets antsy when he doesn't hear from us."

"I know," Stiles said, nodding his head and following behind Isaac, "Thank you for... Everything. Travel safely. Call me when you stop for gas – and when you make it into the city."

Stiles leaned against the open door as he watched Jackson seat himself behind the driver's wheel, Isaac stopping at the passenger door to offer a final wave.

Stiles's next memorable encounter at that doorway took place only a few days later, nearing the sixth month mark.

Hand on the door knob, Stiles opened the door just as another series of knocks began. As the view of the front porch widened, Stiles jolted slightly at the sight of Scott standing on his doorstep.

"Stiles," Scott said, no other words following the greeting as the young man slid his hands into his pockets and stared back at Stiles.

"Scott," Stiles finally offered after several seconds of his own staring, "...Can I help you?"

"I came–" Scott said, face scrunching into a ball of frustration as he paused, a hand raising to rub nervously at the back of his neck, "I thought I should... I want you to know–"

"Words, Scott," Stiles said, leaning against the door's bulk, "Use them."

"I ended things with Allison," Scott said, hand raising from his neck to the back of his head, "And I quit my job at Hale Media."

"You were working for them?" Stiles asked, snorting slightly.

"I didn't... I..." Scott said, shuffling his feet awkwardly, "Allison told me that her family just wanted to help. I believed her, and I think she believed that, too, Stiles. I really do."

"And that's why you broke up?" Stiles asked, raising an eyebrow.

Scott's lips thinned as he dropped his hand, and he seemed to bounce slowly on his feet.

"After your interview," Scott said, "She didn't see it the same way I did. She still thinks that her family is helping."

"But you don't?" Stiles asked, gaze narrowing on the other man.

"I guess I always kind of knew, Stiles," Scott said, hand returning to the back of his neck as a sheepish face grew, "And I'm sorry for that – I'm really sorry for that. So sorry that I don't know what to say or do to make up for it."

"Scott..." Stiles said, weighing his words carefully as he considered what he wanted to say, "I appreciate the effort – I do – but... It's a little late."

"Okay?" Scott said, confusion replacing the sheepish look on his face.

"I mean," Stiles said, standing up straight from the door, "That's a real nice word you just said to me, and I believe you mean it, but that argument is over. I'm moving on, and I think you need to, too."

"Stiles," Scott said, brow creasing, "I don't understand. You're saying you don't want to be friends anymore? At all?"

"Scott," Stiles said, snorting, "When was the last time we were friends? I certainly don't remember it, and maybe if I did, I would be sad for us. But I'm not that young kid anymore, and neither are you. It's time to let go of those old feelings, and that doesn't mean just the hurt."

Scott opened his mouth to respond, but then closed it again.

"You're trying to save a friendship that doesn't exist, Scott," Stiles said, shaking his head slowly, "Do you understand that?"

"No," Scott said, shaking his head vehemently.

"Well, I really don't know how else to say it," Stiles said, stepping behind the threshold and placing a hand on the door's side, "I realized a while ago that I was carrying baggage from our friendship around for years. And the weight was just too much. It was toxic, and I felt... Almost dead inside. If you need it – I forgive you. I really do. But I'm not interested in being friends anymore. I've got my hands full trying to work through my own stuff."

"Stiles–" Scott said, hand dropping back down.

"It was nice of you to stop by," Stiles said, "But please don't do it again."

***

In actuality, Stiles should probably thank Scott for that visit, since it gave him the courage to open his father's letter that same day.

While it was never a question of if he would read the letter, Stiles did torture himself about when he would be ready to read it.

It had haunted him since the first day he received it, but the fear that the letter was not what he hoped always seemed to hold him back. And there was also the fear that opening the letter would reopen the wound – one he could barely accept as it was. So, why make it worse?

But then he would hear Derek's stupid voice in the back of his head, "That's not a novel, that's a letter." And it was that nagging reminder, combined with some of the newfound self-realization following his conversation with Scott, that gave him the courage to open the envelope.

***

Seated on the bench where he last spoke with his father, overlooking the garden he created with his mother, Stiles's hands shook as he slid the cream colored papers from the envelope, his father's sloppy scrawl already visible through the thick folds.

Everything seemed to tingle for a moment, and Stiles thought briefly about stuffing the papers back into the envelope.

He shook his head as he unfolded the stack, bladder already screaming from the anxiety of the moment.

For a few moments, he simply stared at the paper, taking in his father's penmanship – the way some lines seemed hurried or rushed, while others indicated a calmer hand. It was surreal. Almost like his father was alive again.

He took a deep breath before reading the first few lines.

 

Stiles,

I've written this letter way too many times, and each time I seem to remember something new to say to you, but then I forget something else from a previous version.

Sometimes I read through them, and I don't understand what I've written. But I think I'll include them all anyways, because they might mean something to you.

Except for maybe the first couple of drafts. Words are not my strong suit, and it's taken a couple tries before Derek has stopped frowning at me.

I'm beginning to think he's a psychology student, and not really an aspiring writer. This whole letter thing was his suggestion, and I ignored him for a full week because I thought you were paying him to be here.

After verifying otherwise, I actually tried to pay him to write this for me. He seemed to consider it for awhile, but then he muttered something about ghostwriting and threw this pen at me.

I guess I'm still doubting his writing abilities. And I'm still avoiding the reason for this letter.

Understand that this is not an easy thing to do – I have so much I want to say, but I lose just as much the next day. Apologies are also not my strong suit.

They're not anyones I guess, though. That's a human thing, I think.

I tried to say it all over the phone today, but I got so frustrated in the moment that I hung up on you. You should know that wasn't because I don't want you to visit – the opposite in fact. But I'm afraid of what you'll find when you get here.

And I'm afraid that this letter won't be good enough. Or that whatever I say to you when you get here will be too late. And stupid.

Neither of us is very good at talking to each other, and I understand that's all my fault.

I'm sorry for that – I'm sorry for ever making you feel like you couldn't come to me. I'm sorry for whatever I said that made you not want to come to me.

I would like to tell you exactly how wrong I was in what I said or did, but we both know that I haven't just lost those memories to sickness.

You should know that I've stopped drinking. I stopped for you. In my head, I called you and boasted this a hundred times, but the fear kept me from reaching out. I've let you down so many times, I didn't know how to tell you that I stopped. Or why I stopped.

I don't know how to tell you how much you mean to me.

I've been a poor father, and that's putting it nicely. I sense that I've known it to be true for far too long now. I got comfortable with that fact, comfortable keeping it to myself. It's uncomfortable admitting it, but I think it's time.

I wish I could look back and say that I used you to remind me to keep breathing after your mom passed away – that you were the light guiding me through all the darkness.

I hear other parents say those kinds of things all the time, and I wish I could say the same. But the truth is that I got lost.

It's not fancy, or pretty. But it's honest.

I couldn't cope.

It wasn't fair to you, but I just couldn't.

For that and everything else, I am truly sorry. Know that I love you, and I'm grateful for the patience you gave me.

I deserved less, and you deserved more. That acknowledgement doesn't fix things, but I hope it means something to you. It's all I have to offer now.

It hadn't been until the shadow of the house fell on him that Stiles realized he had reread the first letter until sundown.

***

He spent the next few weeks combing through and rereading the other versions of the letters.

Some recounted fond memories with his mother, and others seemed to be heartfelt apologies for miscommunication, or a lack of communication, mistakes between them.

One of Stiles's favorites actually referenced Ethan, and it was an apology from his father for not reaching out appropriately following the aftermath of that, for lack of a better word, relationship.

After ignoring and then resisting Stiles's homosexuality for so long, his father said that he didn't know how to reach out in a way that didn't come across as, "I told you so."

It didn't necessarily fix the hurt, but Stiles understood that at that point the pair had completely stopped talking about anything personal. He had avoided telling his father what had happened just as much as his father had avoided asking what had happened.

The letters were a bittersweet present – rekindling old wounds, heightening insecurities, and reminding Stiles what a fool he was to put off these conversations with his father.

He also cringed internally at the reality that Derek was partially responsible for them. As if he needed another reminder of the man.

Stiles had thought about Derek Hale more times than he would have liked in the last seven months, but he hadn't heard a word from the other man. Not directly at least.

Regardless, the letters repaired a lot more than his father thought they would.

For the first time in a long time, Stiles felt a calm growing within.

Stiles shook the weight of the thoughts off as he reached up to the mailbox, pulling a thick stack of envelopes from the shelf.

Resting on top was a postcard signed by Isaac and Jackson, Isaac's brief text explaining that Jackson insisted on sending a postcard from his new home, and that they wanted him to visit soon.

Stiles smiled as he stared down at the card, turning slowly back toward the drive leading up to the house.

"Excuse me, sir?" a male voice called from behind.

When he turned to find Derek Hale standing in the middle of the road, familiar gray henley slightly disheveled and dirtied with dark grease stains, Stiles almost dropped the stack of mail.

"I'm having some car trouble down the road," Derek said, lifting the tire iron up into the air, "I think it's the engine. I was hoping you might have a phone I could use?"

Chapter Text

Stiles narrowed his eyes at the man in front of him, biting his bottom lip as he considered his options carefully.

Over the course of the last seven months, Stiles thought he had imagined every possible scenario in which he and Derek would cross paths again. In each, a thousand words seemed to flow through him – some angry, some regretful, and others something... Other.

As much progress as Stiles had made since his father's passing, those other words were the gateway to a much messier state of mind. He for damn sure didn't understand the feelings behind them, nor was he prepared to face them.

Stiles suddenly felt as though his knees had been kicked in, the certainty that he was standing on firm ground disappearing quickly at the realization that by coming to him, Stiles would likely have to face those words and their entangled feelings.

Not once had he imagined that Derek would simply show up at his home. Not again. And certainly not by recreating the moment in which his father must have met the man.

Stiles felt the familiar tingle of anger spreading down his spine at the thought of Derek's time with his father.

And that was the larger complication. Though the other man hadn't said the words yet, Derek was clearly there to ask him to let go of the way his family was manipulated at their most vulnerable state.

As upset as the idea made Stiles, he was more upset at the voice in the back of his mind asking for the same.

The truth was that Stiles was tired of feeling angry at the world all the time.

It was a routine that had become far too familiar, one in which he gained nothing but further regret. It also kept him isolated from the rest of the world, which perhaps explained in some small part why he leaned so quickly on Derek without seeing the signs.

If Stiles's really wanted closure and a sense of peace, this was the time to talk.

Stiles had to push back a growing sense of indignation as he briefly considered if Derek had even given any thought as to whether or not he was ready for this.

History already told him no.

"That's a tire iron," Stiles finally offered, gesturing his head toward the tool in Derek's hand.

"So?" Derek asked, dismayed face beginning to slowly light up, one eyebrow lifting quizzically.

"You said it's your engine," Stiles said, offering a small snort, "Unless you clubbed your engine to death, I'm not sure why you're holding that."

Stiles's stomach wrenched as he watched Derek's face split into a bright grin.

"That's exactly what John said," Derek said, a small chuckle escaping.

Stiles's face must have expressed his own distress at hearing his father's name, since Derek's grin seemed to fade quickly.

The sensation of dropping into an ice bath at his father's name had slowly begun to fade within the last few months, but he still felt the cold in his chest. Like his heart stopped for a few seconds, as if he had forgotten the man had passed away and then suddenly remembered.

It was silly, but...

"I'm sorry," Derek said, awkwardly holding the tire iron against himself while shoving his free hand into one of his pants pockets, "I shouldn't have–"

"Why are you here, Derek?" Stiles asked, squaring his shoulders while resisting the urge to fidget.

"I..." Derek said, releasing a frustrated sigh, "I'm not exactly sure."

Stiles clenched his jaw as his frustration mounted within.

"It's just that... I haven't heard from you," Derek said, shrugging his shoulders in a sheepish manner, "Not that I've expected you to... I figured I wouldn't. But I just... I haven't missed a single one of your interviews. And it makes me feel like I'm going crazy, because I'm looking for any sign that you might be trying to reach out to me. That maybe you've been paying attention to my own interviews, and that you understand a little more about why I stayed here. And I've just realized what a Stilinski fanboy that makes me."

A bubble began to build in Stiles's chest, a pocket of confusing pressure replacing the previous unsettling mixture of cold and anger.

"I'm not really sure how you expect me to respond to that," Stiles said, pulling nervously at the sleeves of his plaid button down, as if they were some sort of protective shield.

"Yeah," Derek said, nodding slowly, "Yeah, I guess I don't either. I'm sorry for bothering you. Again."

The bubble's pressure increased as he watched Derek turn away, already taking a few steps down the road.

His head seemed to scream at him to say something. Anything.

"I didn't ask you to leave Hale Media," Stiles yelled out, causing Derek to pause.

He immediately regretted the statement, realizing too late that it was an admission that he had been paying attention to Derek's interviews as well.

The reality was that he had listened to and watched most of Derek's as well. If only to gain a better understanding. Or that's how he justified it to himself at least.

Stiles still wasn't entirely sure the emotions he had felt for Derek were actually real – not when they were based on who he thought the man was, rather than who he actually was. And not when they were forged out of a period of great anguish and susceptibility.

Actually, Stiles knew that they hadn't been real. Not if the foundation had been false, frail as it may have been. And that just made him feel like a larger fool.

"I know that," Derek said, turning around quickly, "Though I won't lie, you were a large part of that decision for me. But I did it for myself as well. Yours wasn't the only family mine built its enterprise on. They're still my family – I still love them. I'll always love them. We just don't see eye to eye right now. I thought it was best to take some space."

"I might know something about that," Stiles said, nodding his head slowly, "Off the record."

"All right," Derek said, dropping the tire iron to the ground to clutch his hands to his chest as though wounded, "I deserved that. I deserve a lot more, too, I know. If that's what you need right now, I'll stand here and take it."

"You do deserve a lot more," Stiles said, clenching his jaw as the less polished feelings of anger that he had left alone for months rushed forward before he could stop them, "And so did I, Derek. I deserved the truth, and that's something you decided not to share with me until after someone else decided to give it to me. Do you realize how stupid I felt? How stupid I feel? I was already telling myself that it was too soon to trust you, but now..."

"I'm really sorry for that, Stiles," Derek said, stepping closer, "There are no words to express how much I regret the way you found out, but I swear to you that I thought I was doing something good. Before and after I changed my mind about the novel."

"Do you know how much that infuriates me when you say it like that?" Stiles asked, heat rising through his voice, a small voice in the back of his mind pleading him to stop, "Like it's some fucking gift you've given me – you changed your mind about royally fucking me over. You decided that I deserved privacy after all. Where did I fit into all those decisions you were making about my life?"

"Stiles," Derek said, shaking his head again, "At first... At first, I was so far in my head that all I could think about was myself. I admit that. But after that first month with your father, I started to realize that there was something else out there other than Hale Media. And then when you walked into the picture... I was still thinking about myself – in more ways than one. But I see that now, can't that be enough?"

Stiles resisted the urge to clench his jaw, his head beginning to ache.

The most infuriating part was that he wanted that to be enough, too.

He stared down at the ground to avoid showing the tears welling in his eyes as what felt like every confusing emotion from that time seemed to flood back in, his throat constricting uncomfortably. The other words on the tip of his tongue.

"Why did you keep writing?" Stiles whispered.

"I don't know," Derek said, shaking his head quickly, "I really don't. I told myself that's what any good writer would do. But I saw the lie even then. I think a part of me just wanted to keep a part of that time with me, no matter how things turned out in the end. I know that's stupid. But I never intended to publish that content, not after that first night, Stiles. I need you to know that."

Stiles lifted his eyes upward to let air in, an attempt to shift the water forward to dry. He faced Derek again to stare back at him.

And maybe to scrutinize his face, as if he could somehow see whether or not Derek was being honest with him.

"I had hoped to get here after that," Derek said, gesturing toward a large yellow envelope mixed in with the rest of Stiles's mail, "But I guess I've been a bit hasty."

Stiles raised an eyebrow quizzically before offering the rest of the mail to Derek, moving quickly to open the envelope's seal and pull out the contents.

Stiles's eyes widened as he took in the large text in front of him – the completed manuscript of the notes he had read in Derek's bedroom that last day.

"I thought," Derek said, shrugging his shoulders, "Well, I thought you could do what you wanted with it. Everything's there, and it's the only copy. I deleted my computer files. So, if you want to burn it, it's gone, Stiles. Or... If you want to publish it to reveal the depths of Hale Media's madness..."

Stiles continued to stare down at the manuscript, eyes moving across the first page as he took in the very hour and second that Derek had moved onto the ranch.

"I fucked up, Stiles," Derek said, stepping closer again, "That's all I can say. Other than that if you let me back in, I will never keep anything from you again. I will never deceive you again. I don't know what else to do, but if you just tell me what you want, I'll do it. I'll do anything, Stiles. I've already ended my book tour early to be here–"

"Okay," Stiles said, lifting a hand up to pause Derek, unsure how much more he could hear as it all seemed like too much too soon, "Derek, I don't know what you want from me exactly, but I can't just go back to... It can't just be like it was before."

"I know that," Derek said, nodding quickly, "I'm not expecting anything at all. I understand if I can't have you back in my life, but it is killing me thinking about the way we left things. The way I left things."

For a brief moment, Stiles felt something lift within him, almost like he was weightless. The excitement of that pulse made him shiver, and he realized that it felt a lot like hope.

It felt good. A lot better than the indifferent calm that he had been feeling for so long now.

As much as he was afraid of making another mistake – of the torturous and overwhelming feeling of regret mixed with heartbreak – Stiles wanted to be happy again.

"I didn't ask you to break your engagement either," Stiles said, a nervous tension starting to fill him.

"No," Derek said, shaking his head, "You didn't. But I've had a hundred or so dreams in which you did. Stepping away from you was difficult, but more difficult was realizing that every moment of my relationship with you was more real than ours had ever been. I know that I was less than forthcoming with details about myself, but what I couldn't say in words, I tried to express physically. And isn't that fucked up? Not just that my engagement was shit, but that I had been subconsciously trying to communicate with you the whole time. Kate deserved better, too. She deserves someone that can love her. I realized I couldn't do that even before I left."

"That..." Stiles said, hesitating slightly, "Sounded like a really good excuse for bad behavior to be honest. Too good, really."

"Fair enough," Derek said, a small grin returning to his face, "And noted. Stiles, just please tell me that I've got some groveling left to do. Give me one more chance."

Stiles took a step back as he assessed Derek again. A large part of him felt like an idiot for even bothering with the conversation, but a smaller part was begging for it to continue.

He felt like he was drowning in ice but also burning on fire. And that was the real bullshit.

Derek continued to make him feel like some clichéd fool, and to top it off – the distress only made him realize the growing and disturbing familiar want to reach out to the other man for comfort.

That was definitely part of the other words.

Not that the confusion over his emotions for Derek was anything new. He hadn't even known what to make of them when he was sleeping with the man, and he felt like an ass for allowing his mind to linger on those old memories then.

But something felt right when he was near Derek. Maybe because their relationship never was about anything more than raw emotion, at least on Stiles's end.

He didn't think when he was with the man, he just felt. And while that may have been part of the issue while attempting to also deal with his father's impending death, the reverse had been an issue before his return to Beacon Hills.

He had turned nearly all emotions off, until all he could do was think.

The complexity of the situation only made his head scream.

"No," Stiles finally said, shaking his head, "That would imply that there's a fix, Derek – that there's a way to alter the past, and that's simply not true. It would be delusional for me to tell either one of us that you could repair anything. What I really need is for you to own your mistakes, because that's something I can actually work with. That's something that might make me stop feeling like the whole world is on pause."

Derek's face seemed to stop on a face of confusion, and Stiles took a deep breath before continuing.

"Since my father..." Stiles said, releasing the breath, "Passed away, I've been focusing on letting go of some really shitty parts of my life. You happen to be one of those shitty parts, but you also happen to be a really non-shitty part, too. And sometimes I really hate you for that, because the person that's hurt me the most is the only one my body keeps telling me to run to. You fucked me over in more ways than I realized at first, and I need a fucking life vest. So, no. You can't grovel to me, but you can buy me a cup of coffee."

Stiles would have released a snort at how long it seemed to take for Derek's wide eyes to change from a look of horror to surprise, but he was too busy cringing at the vulnerability of the statement.

"Do what?" Derek asked, face contorting in disbelief.

"Coffee," Stiles repeated, releasing a small sigh, "I usually visit Erica about this time."

Stiles paused for a response from Derek, but the man seemed to stand motionless, mouth slightly parted.

"That's a beverage that strangers sometimes share to learn more about one another," Stiles said, waving a hand in front of Derek's face, "Food is frequently used as a bonding experience to build friendships."

"Yes," Derek said, nodding quickly, "Please. Absolutely. I'll do it – I mean, do you want me to drive? That's too much like a date isn't it? This is not a date. No date. Friendship. Yes. I accept. The friendship coffee. Wait – I can't drive."

"Because of your engine?" Stiles asked, gesturing toward the tire iron, "Should we rescue your car first?"

"Uh...," Derek said, face turning sheepish as a small blush settled over his cheeks, "There is no car. I actually asked Erica for a ride out here, and I kind of just rubbed around the engine of her car for some grease. She seemed all for it, though in hindsight, that was probably because she thought you'd refuse to see me, meaning I'd end up walking all the way back into town."

Stiles resisted the urge to smile as the uplifting sensation shot through him again, though he did allow the corners of his mouth to turn up slightly.

As he turned back toward the house, gesturing for Derek to follow, Stiles realized he felt more right than wrong, which was something to celebrate – as small of a step as it may have been.

There would be plenty of time to confront the anger he felt toward Derek, so long as he didn't ignore it like he had with his father.

He might continue to feel a confusing pressure build whenever he thought about the entangled emotions he held for Derek for awhile, but if there was one lesson Stiles had taken away from the last seven months and some weeks, it was that no one else would continue to dictate his life choices.

While the small olive branch he had just extended to Derek might mean he wouldn't be facing those old frustrations before the day ended – as he had previously determined heading into the conversation – it was also a small hope that he wouldn't be facing them alone.

And that was good enough for him at the moment.