Derek’s hands were numb with anticipation. He had this conversation with himself more times than he could count. He ran through all the different words that sped through his mind whenever he thought about what to say—how to say it. He wasn’t the best with words, but everyone who got close to him knew that.
Stiles knows that.
Derek pushed the butterflies away, knowing that even with the years that had passed by, Stiles could still cause him to blunder anything. The whole reason he came back to Beacon Hills was because of Stiles. He came back to finally apologize.
There were a number of times after he left Beacon Hills behind—weeks, months, years—that he found himself staring at his phone, his thumb hovering over Stiles’ contact number. When he was bad enough, he would call, hoping that he could at least hear Stiles’ voice—regardless of whether he was mad or not. He got used to the voicemail picking up, asking him to leave a message, but he couldn’t bring himself to leave a message—he couldn’t apologize to a machine. Then, one day, all he received was an automated message.
We’re sorry. You have reached a number that has been disconnected or is no longer in service.
And Derek being Derek decided that it was for the best. It was better if Stiles never knew what he had to say. Somehow, regardless of that sentiment, his feet had led him back to Beacon Hills—his feet had led him to the Stilinski house. His knuckles rapped against the old door of the Stilinski house, patiently waiting to hear the erratic footsteps trumping down the stairs as a bubbly voice called out to the Sheriff.
But there were no steps. There was no bubbly voice filled with laughter.
The door softly opened, revealing an older woman, who stared at Derek in a puzzling manner. She appeared weary, and Derek didn’t blame her—not when a some random, strange man shows up in front of you.
“Can I help you?” The woman asked, her voice calm and balanced.
“I’m looking for the Stilinskis,” Derek started, his hands suddenly regaining feeling. His whole body felt heavy, weighted down by the dread as reality started to sink in. He didn’t want to hear the woman say what he knew she would say.
“The old Sheriff?” the woman questioned.
“Old Sheriff …” Derek repeated, feeling completely floored by the realization that something happened—something catastrophic.
“Sheriff Stilinski retired,” the woman kindly explained. “He moved shortly after that.”
Derek released a breath of relief, overjoyed that the Sheriff was likely still alive, which meant so was Stiles. “What about his son?” He finally asked, his throat dry but hopeful.
The woman, unfortunately, frowned. “Stiles was a lovely boy,” she answered.
Derek stared at her in owl-eyed shock. “Was?”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, he’s still alive,” she quickly corrected herself. “I meant that he changed.”
Derek wanted to glare at the woman, maybe even yell at her about how she was terrible at delivering information to people, but he needed her to like him enough to talk to him. “What happened?”
The woman’s features softened with sadness. “After his father was almost killed, he changed. He became angry all the time—almost erratic in his behavior. He used to smile so much. His laugh could brighten up a room, you know?”
Yes, yes Derek did know. Instead of answering, Derek gave her a curt nod in response. He was about to turn and leave when the woman spoke again.
“They live in Beacon City now,” the woman offered. “But Stiles still comes into town every now and again. I’ve run into him downtown before.”
Derek looked up at the woman, hopeful that she was correct. He offered a small thanks before departing. He drove his car into the downtown area, parking by the old coffee and library. He let himself wander, painfully aware of just how much Beacon Hills had refused to change.
Beacon Hills never changed, but the people did. Beacon Hills forced its people to change, practically mangling them into a distorted image of what they used to be before they ran away.
Derek knew he should go see the pack, that Scott probably knew what happened. He could even go to the hospital and check in with Melissa. But it felt wrong. It felt the same way when he didn’t head back to Beacon Hills when they left La Iglesia. He didn’t offer an explanation, even a goodbye, because he knew that if he had to face them, he wouldn’t leave. He couldn’t leave them if he hadn’t taken the cowardly way out. But he had to leave—he had to escape Beacon Hills before it killed everything he loved and left him a shadow of the shell of a man he already was. He thought he was saving them from the pain of having to deal with any consequences they would suffer from being pack mates with him. He thought he was doing the right thing.
He thought a lot of things.
Derek had tried, a thousand times, to call each and every one of them to say he was sorry. That he didn’t mean to ruin their lives. That he knew it was his fault that Boyd and Erica died. That if he had been a better Alpha, he could have changed it all—if he didn’t fall for the idea of being valued, he could have saved everyone. That it should have been him in the vault, not Erica. It should have been him being impaled on a pair of claws, not Boyd. It should have been him the Oni stabbed, not Allison.
Derek could already hear Stiles scoffing and calling him out on his bullshit, telling him that he talks a lot about himself when he’s trying to apologize. He almost wished he could hear Stiles tell him that he was forgiven—that he could let some of the guilt go, at least for abandoning them.
Derek halted his steps, his entire body tensing as he processed that his name was being called—that someone recognized him. He turned to face the person. “Lydia,” he almost sighed, relieved that it was her.
She was still breathtakingly gorgeous, elegantly dressed and looking much older and sophisticated than she was. Her hair was still as fiery as ever, the glint in her eyes still bright after all these years.
“You’re back,” Lydia stated in disbelief.
“I’m … back,” Derek echoed, looking down at the sidewalk as he pressed his hands deeper into his pockets.
“You shouldn’t have come back,” Lydia suddenly stated, her calm and collected nature masking the hurt.
“I know,” Derek sheepishly replied, knowing that he deserved anything she had to throw at him. “I tried—”
“You should leave,” Lydia cut him off. “Before he finds out.”
Derek looked up to see Lydia staring at him in earnest, not a shred of the anger or hatred he thought he’d see pointed at him. “He?”
“Derek,” Lydia released a heavy breath. “Things changed—I mean really changed. If Scott knows you’re here, then Stiles will know soon after.”
Derek almost looked hopeful until he felt the wave of dread coming off of Lydia. “Why is that a bad thing?”
“Stiles,” Lydia hesitated, picking her words carefully. “Look, I know you did what you did because you had to. I get it—I would have left a long time ago if I went through everything you did. But without a driving outside force to keep Stiles and Scott stabilized, things went wrong.”
Derek carefully eyed Lydia. “What do you mean wrong?”
“Some things happened,” Lydia answered, clearly not comfortable enough to repeat them. “Things that changed everyone. Stiles and Scott … they’re not friends any more.”
Derek felt as if he was in the Twilight Zone. “Scott and Stiles. The two idiots who made my life a living hell for a while. The two morons that were like a packaged prize that you couldn’t get rid of.”
There was a small smile of fondness pulling at Lydia’s lips. “Yeah, those two idiots.” She clicked her heel against the sidewalk as she looked out at the passing traffic before turning back to look at Derek. “Want to get a cup of coffee?”
Derek nodded, thinking it sounded like the greatest thing he’d ever heard.
They sat in the old coffee shop for hours, both of them nursing a coffee that they weren’t even interested in finishing. They talked about what happened—about Derek leaving, how his absence was like a linchpin that caused event after event to spiral out of control.
Lydia talked about Theo. She told Derek about Donovan and how he almost killed Stiles. She told him how it was self-defense, but the way Theo spun them all, it came out at Stiles being void again.
Derek felt like he couldn’t breathe when Lydia said Donovan attacked Stiles in the high school. All he could see were fractured images of Paige running to escape from Ennis. He felt like a fool, unable to protect anyone he cared about.
“Scott didn’t believe him,” Lydia softly stated, hurt at remembering the way Stiles came to her afterwards and crumbled.
“Scott had a decision to make,” Derek answered. He was happy that she glared at him, that someone was prepared to take Stiles’ side. “He didn’t make it as Stiles’ friend, but as an Alpha.”
“Stiles was a part of his pack,” Lydia argued.
“So are you. Liam, Malia—everyone else. He had to think of them,” Derek replied. “I’m not saying it was the right decision—I honestly don’t think there is one—but he had to choose between protecting all of you, or taking the chance of Stiles being void.”
“He chose Theo—”
“He didn’t choose Theo, Lydia,” Derek corrected her. “He chose his pack over his best friend. He made his decision as an Alpha and not as a best friend. It was a hard choice to make, and I don’t envy him for it.”
Lydia carefully studied Derek’s features, a perplexed look gracing her features. “You’re different,” she finally commented.
“Better, I hope,” Derek answered in a hopeful voice.
The ring of Lydia’s phone interrupted her response. She apologized before picking it up. “Hello?” Her eyes slightly widened as she looked up at Derek, a flash of nervousness crossing her features. “I’ll be there in a few.” She quickly hung up her phone, forcing her grip around the device to tighten in hopes of ceasing her trembling.
“You should go,” Derek offered.
“It was Scott,” Lydia explained. “He said that he caught the scent of an … an Omega entering the perimeter.” Her eyes flickered across Derek’s features, searching for an answer. When he didn’t reply, she found it. “You never said—”
“I left my pack, Lydia,” Derek stated. “I left you all vulnerable. I … I abandoned all of you,” he softly said.
Lydia shook her head. “We abandoned you first,” she weakly corrected him.
Derek held back his bitter laugh, the desire to curse his life on the very tip of his tongue. “You should really get out of Beacon Hills when you can,” he finally offered as he stood. “It will push you beyond your breaking point until there is nothing left for you to do but run.”
“You don’t have to tell Scott that I’m here,” Derek quickly replied, placing enough money down for both his and Lydia’s untouched drinks. “I just came back to see … I had hoped everything was better than this.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry, Lydia. For everything.”
“Stiles became a hunter,” Lydia finally stated, knowing that the words were going to crush Derek, just like they had crushed her. She didn’t want to lose another friend to that training.
“He what?” Derek asked in disbelief, hoping that maybe he heard her wrong.
“After Theo hurt his dad,” Lydia explained. “He left the pack and became a hunter. He’s been keeping up with the new Argent code—Allison’s code. But, Derek,” she hesitated, closing her eyes as she accepting what she was about to say. “He’s different.”
Derek shook his head, his own self pity flaring once more as he pushed down his need to finally fall apart, to just let it all out. He failed everyone. He failed Stiles. So, he did what he did best—he ran away from it all. He left Lydia in the coffee shop, heading out back to his car with no plan to guide himself.
It wasn’t until he was walking down the sidewalk in front of the library that he noted the person tailing him. He kept his pace calm and easy, focusing his eyes on the area in front of him as he let the person follow. His heart was pounding against his chest as he recognized the scent—sugary sweet honey with a hint of sour apple. He knew it even in his dreams.
Derek let him follow after him, not giving away that he knew that he was there. He led him back to the one place that seemed to fit terribly timed conversations that were doomed to fail—the loft. He kept the deed, unable to part with it out of some sick kind of guilt. He wanted to keep it as a reminder of his failures, and nothing seemed like a better place to him for confronting his biggest failure: being there for Stiles.
Derek practically vanished the moment he made his way into the building, making sure to make enough noise to lead Stiles into the loft. He waited, watching as Stiles took in the loft, his eyes dashing around the space as he cautiously entered.
“Hello, Stiles,” Derek stated, his voice reverberating off the gutted loft walls as he moved to stand a few feet behind Stiles.
Stiles’ shoulders suddenly tensed, making it clear that he recognized Derek’s voice. It had been more than a couple of years since they last spoke, but there was no way Stiles could forget Derek’s voice. He turned to look at Derek, almost unable to believe his eyes, wishing many times before when he came into the loft on his routine visits that he’d find the werewolf there—reading a book with half-hearted interest as he pretended not to listen to Stiles’ rambling.
Derek held his breath as he took in Stiles’ appearance. He looked different, but still the same. His hair was longer, starting to hit the length that required him to shove a hand through it more than once throughout the day to keep it in place. His moles were even more prominent on his pale skin as it clashed against the dark color of his leather jacket. And if Derek wasn’t mistaken, he could swear he saw a tattoo peaking out from under his collar. His shoulders were broader, his frame filled out in the years as he matured into manhood.
But it was Stiles’ eyes that were the most different. They were still large in their amber nature, almost too big to balance out his upturned nose. But in the depths of those golden whiskey rings, Derek didn’t see the once playfully inviting glint. Derek could only see a hollowed out pain consuming them.
“That’s it?” Stiles suddenly uttered, glaring at Derek. “No apology for anything?”
Derek remained silent, not knowing what to say. He finally offered, “I tried calling you.”
“Is that your apology?” Stiles bitterly questioned, not bothering to acknowledge that this was their ill-fated reunion.
“At least I can say that I tried,” Derek retorted.
“You tried?” Stiles almost laughed. “You should have tried harder, Derek. You came back here and flipped our entire world around,” he started to yell, getting into Derek’s face. “Before you came back, I had a best friend. I had a relationship with my father where I didn’t have to worry about him getting killed. Then you came in and started turning misfit teenagers into werewolves!”
“I tried, Stiles!” Derek finally yelled. “I tried to call you to apologize, but you never answered.”
Stiles released a cruel, bitter laugh. “What, you wanted to talk about my day? You wanted to know how I was after you abandoned me? How I felt when I needed that hand on my shoulder and you weren’t there?!” He was only a few inches from Derek’s face when he finally pulled back. He ran a hand through his hair as he paced away from Derek, unable to control his feelings as his walls started to fall apart.
“I’m sorry, Stiles,” Derek firmly stated.
Stiles moved quickly grabbing fists full of Derek’s shirt as he slammed him back against the wall. His hands were light against Derek’s chest as he held him in place, his breath hot and heavy as he panted. The tears burning his eyes were years overdue.
“I’m sorry for everything I’ve done to you,” Derek finally uttered the words he had tried to say every time he called Stiles’ number. “I only ever wanted to tell you that.”
“You’re sorry,” Stiles bitterly stated, staring at the way his fists pressed against Derek’s chest. “Sorry isn’t enough, Derek.”
“I must have called you a thousand times, Stiles,” Derek started. “I tried to fix this—me. Everything I did, I never meant it to turn out like this.”
“Well, it did,” Stiles coldly stated. His fingers started to loosen around the material of Derek’s shirt.
That was when Derek caught the scent of heartbreak coming from Stiles. It was faint, almost nonexistent when Stiles was tailing him. But the scent had started to build once they entered the loft—once Stiles had started to talk to Derek.
“I’m sorry for breaking your heart.” The words were almost a faint whisper spoken in the hollowed out space. The silence that followed them was complete agony as they both just stood there, neither willing to look at each other.
The first hit was light, almost nonexistent—as if a small animal was pawing at a bigger one for help. The next hit of Stiles’ fists against Derek’s chest was harder. And then they started to come in rapid succession, a parade of small hits that hammered out everything neither of them could say.
Derek held onto Stiles’ sides in an attempt to stabilize him as he let everything go. The beats were warm against his chest, almost breathing life back into his body that he hadn’t felt in a long time.
Stiles’ hands collided with Derek’s chest until they were numb—until Stiles was sobbing through bitter, angry tears as he muttered words at Derek.
Derek let Stiles release everything because he knew he could take it—he could be this for Stiles.
They sat against one of the loft’s wall—just under the window panes—for what felt like days, Stiles curled against Derek’s chest as his breathing finally slowed down.
“I’m sorry I never picked up,” Stiles suddenly uttered against Derek’s chest.
Derek closed his eyes, the feeling of a weight finally lifting causing him to breathe easier. “I’m sorry I didn’t stay.” He closed his eyes, imagining what could have happened if Stiles had picked up the phone the first time he called. Could he have come back and changed it? Could he have fixed it? Or would he have just ended up another casualty to Theo’s horrid plan.
Now, in the early hours of the morning, when he looks back on that day in the loft, Derek still feels uncertain. He isn’t sure if he made the right decision in leaving Beacon Hills after La Iglesia. He isn’t sure if he was right in not leaving Stiles’ a message.
Derek is certain, however, that he made the right choice in coming back. The weight of Stiles’ body tucked safely under his arm as he curls into their blankets is enough proof to him.
He moves to drape his body over Stiles’, wrapping his arms tightly around him as he stirs from his sleep. When he’s certain Stiles is awake enough to hear him, he softly whispers, “Hello,” against the shell of his ear. To which Stiles responds with, “Hello from the other side.”
It’s a small promise between the two of them, that no matter what, they will always respond when the other calls.