It starts in a hospital, Stiles’s mother hooked up to too many tubes and his father drinking too much. It started when the doctor had said, It’s probably nothing, and Stiles has exhaled, but he feels like he hasn’t drawn breathe since. Feels like he’s drowning but if he just keeps on going, swimming, fighting, then maybe, just maybe, it’ll all be okay.
It starts with the ding of an elevator, and Stiles has always thought it says the word lobby like it’s trying to seduce him.
“Going up?” asks the man. Stiles thinks that hospitals are horrible but the people are nice. Stiles thinks that this man needs a shower and a shave and a drink.
“Going down,” Stiles tells him, mouth dry.
The doors close and that is that.
His mother isn’t getting better. Stiles doesn’t need the doctor to tell him that. His mother’s cracked lips and hollow face tell him all he needs to know.
“Going down?” asks the man, and Stiles remembers him from the other day. Stubble and cheekbones and a leather coat that has obviously been well worn and well loved.
Stiles briefly thinks, if you’re offering, but that’s another time and another place another Stiles, one who is brave and doesn’t have a mother who is dying. “Yup,” he says instead, shuffles to the side, “Which floor?”
The man grunts, “Four,” and reaches across to hit the button himself.
“Okay then,” Stiles says, because, hello, rude. The man grunts again, shoulders tensing, eyebrows frowning, and Stiles thinks, okay then, but doesn’t actually say it aloud this time.
Floor Four is Long Term Care and Stiles has been hanging around long enough to know it means coma. To know it means that whoever is waiting there is never coming home.
Stiles doesn’t know if he’s happy or sad that his mother isn’t going to live long enough to be transferred there.
They take it in shifts, him and his dad. Stiles still has class. His dad still has work. Neither of them really try that hard to pretend that everything is okay, except that they do. Except that Stiles doesn’t let his friends come around here. He’ll shower and go out for a drink when his dad is sitting by his mother’s side. He’ll laugh when Scott tells a joke and nod when Allison talks about class and he checks his phone every time they’re not looking, terrified that he’s going to miss her last breath. Terrified that his dad is going to be alone at his mother’s side and the silence is just going to swallow them up.
(Except Stiles knows it’s going to happen eventually and then all he and his dad are going to be left with is the hospital bill, impossibly large, and the silence between them, filled with everything they haven’t been saying to each other, impossibly vast.)
“Third time’s the charm,” Stiles says. The coffee’s better in the cafeteria than on his mother’s floor, but the best coffee is on floor five, dermatology.
The man looks at him like Stiles has grown an extra head. Stiles holds out his hand that isn’t holding his coffee, “Stiles.”
“Derek,” the guy answers. His grip is firm and a little too hot.
“You found the good coffee too?” Stiles asks instead of do you only own black henleys or do you just never change your shirt?
Derek nods, “Nurse let me in on the secret.”
Stiles laughs, “Well then, I’ll leave you to it.”
Derek doesn’t say anything as Stiles leaves. Stiles isn’t really surprised.
His mother is awake less these days. “Aloysius, Aloysius, my beautiful boy,” she whispers when she is and Stiles wishes she wouldn’t waste her breath on him and Stiles wishes she never said anything else because, God, he’s going to miss her and nothing is ever going to be the same.
“I’m here,” he tells her, holds her hand—too small, too bony—in his own.
“I love you,” she says, and there is something in her that sparks alive, like the woman she used to be, “I’m sorry.”
Stiles doesn’t cry because he’s so hollowed out he’s not sure there’s any tears left, “Shhh,” he tells her, “It’s not your fault. I love you.”
These are the only two things in the whole world Stiles knows to be true.
(Stiles knows, though, that when the day comes, there will be tears again.)
“Smoking will kill you, you know.” The cold curls around Stiles and he hugs his hoodie closer, wishes he felt as warm as Derek looks, but is glad for the chill all the same. Likes the way it settles into his bones, a pain he can name.
Derek takes a long drag. “You should tell that to him,” he nods to the doctor smoking in the bus shelter over. The smoke mixes with the cold of his breath until Stiles isn’t really sure where one ends and the other begins.
“You know I would,” Stiles tells him, “But you were closer and I am fucking freezing.”
Derek looks unimpressed. He’s in his same jacket and jeans as always but his henley is maroon today. Stiles briefly wonders when he went home to change. “It’s warm inside,” Derek says, and Stiles can’t tell if he’s stating a fact or trying to show concern. Stiles is fairly certain that it’s Derek just trying to be an asshole.
Inside isn’t an option anyways. Inside is his dad and inside is his mom and sometimes Stiles can’t tell which one of them is dying, wakes up some nights and thinks that he’s an orphan. That both his parents have faded away in the night.
Home’s not really an option either. Home will smell like the whiskey that his dad would deny if Stiles even bothered to mention it. Home is his mother’s eternally unfinished quilt and the picture of her, laughing with her sister, on their mantelpiece. Home is where Stiles left his cell phone, and he knows that Scott will have called, asking if everything is okay. Stiles is going to tell him that everything is fine, he always does, because lies are easier than the truth. Because Scott would look at him with those eyes and Stiles doesn’t want to be the strong one right now. Doesn’t want to accept the truth because denial is easier.
“It’s also warm in Southern California and Mali,” Stiles informs Derek, always found talking easier than not. If he just keeps talking then he doesn’t have to listen to himself think, “And it’s not even really winter yet. I refuse to wear a jacket. I’ll live.”
“Fine,” Derek flicks ash to the pavement, “Good news is we’re near a hospital when you get hypothermia.”
“Hardee har har,” Stiles says and for the first time since this all began, feel like he could actually, genuinely laugh, “You’re a comedian. I’ll be fine. You’re the one sucking down cancer sticks.”
Derek shrugs, “Everyone dies.”
“And ain’t that the fucking problem,” Stiles tells him, accidentally honest, when he meant to say, might as well go running with the bulls while you’re at it.
Derek’s laugh curls itself through Stiles’s belly, dark and wild, warmer than any cigarette.
Stiles can hear the beeping of machines in his sleep. Sometimes he thinks that he’s hooked up to them instead, but even then his mother still winds up dead. Some nights too much Adderall and the infinite pages of Wikipedia are all he can do to cope.
Sometimes they eat lunch together, but not really. Derek sits at one end of the table, eat his green beans like they personally offended him, and Stiles sits at the other, pretends to read his Econ textbook while his food grows cold. Some days Derek’s not there and Stiles sits near Mrs. Collins, whose husband had the heart attack, instead. Some days it’s Mr. Eli, whose daughter has leukemia.
It’s not there aren’t other twenty-somethings around. It’s not that Derek is Stiles only option, but everyone else’s smile comes too easily. Those people will go home with their loved ones in tow.
In any case, Stiles doesn’t mind Derek. He’s silent and he’s surly, but he doesn’t look at Stiles like he’s sorry for him and he doesn’t walk around like he’s sorry for himself. Stiles could do with feeling a little less, just for now at least.
Nurse Kristal brings Stiles coffee when she knows he’s studying for a test. Diane talks to him about lacrosse when he feels like talking. Stiles tries not to think about when they changed from his mother’s nurses to his sort-of friends.
Scott says, “Allison’s freaking out, her aunt just got arrested.”
It’s Friday night and Stiles knows that he’s supposed to be out, supposed to be drinking and talking about senioritis and the future. Stiles knows that it wasn’t that long ago when he was doing those things. When his biggest problem was job applications the prospect of the real world. But Stiles knows what the real world is now: it’s his dad drinking too much and his mom dying and Stiles knowing, deep down, that he could have done something to stop it. That it didn’t have to come to this. But it did and it has and Stiles is at home pretending to study and Scott is on the other end of the phone and Stiles misses when his life was simple.
“What did she do, chain herself to a bulldozer to save some trees or something?” Allison’s family has always struck Stiles as well-intentioned, if crazy.
“She burned down a house,” Scott says and Scott has never been one for practical jokes, “Dude, I think she fucking killed a shitton of people.”
Stiles wants to say, Well, then, sounds like Allison has a right to be freaking out, but the last bad thing to happen to Scott was his dad skipping town in seventh grade, and Stiles has always found it hard to be cruel to him. So Stiles sits and he listens and he lets Scott talk, because that is what friends do, and Stiles is nothing if not a good friend.
And maybe he gets up at one point. And maybe he turns the TV on low. And maybe he sees Allison’s aunt’s mugshot plastered across the screen, the words Argent charged in Hale House Fire scrolling across the bottom. And maybe, just maybe, when the reporter shows the pictures of the two surviving members (three if you’re kind), Stiles’s heart skips a beat.
Stiles and his dad don’t talk much these days. They never used to have a problem communicating—Stiles used to call his parents up every week and spend an hour talking to his dad alone. Used to tell him about his classes and Lydia Martin, with the strawberry blonde curls and searing intellect. They used to talk lacrosse and hockey and how the hell they were going to get Stiles’s jeep to pass inspection this year. But now they don’t talk at all.
He hugs his dad every night—I love you and don’t leave me and I am going to miss her so much—but there is so much more to be said, because right now Stiles is keeping secrets, lies by omission, and he and his dad are fading away. Are becoming defined by his mother’s illness, by her death, and Stiles is terrified that when she goes there will be nothing left. That Stiles and his dad will be nothing more than ghosts of what once was. There comes a point where it becomes pointless to say I don’t know what is going to happen next, but Stiles thinks that they missed ever saying it in the first place.
Stiles has quickly become comfortable living with regret.
There is a woman, tall with dark hair, bright eyes, and a quick smile. Stiles recognizes her face from the news and he feels instantly guilty—like he stole the knowledge when he has been so careful not to pry.
“This is Laura,” Derek says, doesn’t wait for Stiles to ask. They are getting coffee and the nurses are pretending that they don’t know that none of them have any loved ones of this floor.
Stiles shakes her hand and introduces himself, “I see Derek’s shown you where they keep the good coffee.”
Laura’s smile is genuine and kind, if sad, and Stiles wonders briefly what Derek looks like when he smiles, if he smiles at all these days, “It’s just so he doesn’t have to get it for me. He’s just doing it for himself.”
Derek’s look of indignation is priceless.
The doctor’s say that his mother can go home, for now. It is a kindness of their part, an act of mercy, to let a dying woman have one last Thanksgiving at home.
She doesn’t eat much and sleeps through her beloved Cowboys beating The Saints. Stiles sits by her side the entire day, combs her hair out of her face, and feels like his heart is going to burst. Like he loves her so much and he doesn’t know what he’ll do with it once she’s gone.
“Haven’t seen you around,” Derek says, voice low, smoke curling around him.
“They let mom come home,” Stiles explains, and he doesn’t think he’s ever actually told Derek why he’s always here, “For now.”
“It’s hard when it’s your mom,” and Derek has never actually told Stiles what brings him here either.
Stiles shrugs, because there’s nothing else to say. It is hard, but he’ll still have his dad. He’ll still have his house and his friends and his memories. Stiles wonders what it’s like to lose everything you’ve ever known in a single afternoon.
“Is your sister still around?” Stiles asks. He doesn’t want to go inside, where his parents are being told by a doctor how exactly his mother is going to die and the only thing there to distract him are months old copies of People magazine.
Derek crushes his cigarette into the ashtray, “She headed home. Couldn’t get the time off work.” He shoves his hand into his pockets and Stiles thinks that for someone so big, he looks so small.
“That blows,” Stiles says instead of asking why Derek doesn’t have to go to work himself, “Must have been good to see her though.”
Derek’s smile is small, but genuine, “Yeah, it was.”
It’s not a surprise when his mother is sent back to the hospital, but it’s a surprise how quickly she fades after that.
“We’re doing all we can,” the doctor says, voice carefully neutral, “At this point, we’re trying to focus on making her as comfortable as possible.”
There was a point, back at the very beginning, when his dad would have shouted. Would have told the doctors that they could do more, that he wasn’t losing his wife like this. But there is nothing to do now except listen to the doctor’s words and pretend that the Stilinski men aren’t crying in the hallway.
He doesn’t really want to leave his mother’s side, but if Stiles wants to make sure his dad doesn’t skip meals, then Stiles can’t either.
Derek’s on the elevator, the smell of smoke clinging to his clothes. “You look like you could use a drink,” he says instead of hello.
Stiles laughs until his whole body aches, “Dude, you have no idea.”
The elevator door opens with a small ding. Derek’s mouth is grim but his eyes are open, honest. “No,” he disagrees, “I really, really do.”
The doors close before Stiles has the chance to apologize.
This is how Stiles’s mother dies: in a hospital, connected to machines, her husband and her son by her side.
She hasn’t spoken for a week, can barely stay awake for more than two minutes at a time. The last thing she said was, “I love you,” and the words sounded like they were being wrenched from her. Like it took all of her energy, all of her willpower, to get them out.
There is a poem, Stiles’s knows, and it says this is how the world ends, / not with a bang but a whimper. His mother goes with a strangled breath and the beeping of machines, no longer needed, and Stiles’s world as he knows it ends.
His ears ring with the sound of doctors and machines and his father’s uncontrollable sobs and all Stiles feels is numb.
Numbness does not last forever.
Derek finds him in the men’s room, sobbing on the floor, unable to breathe, feeling like the whole world is crushing in on him. Panic attack, Stiles thinks, remembers them from when he was young. My mother’s dead, Stiles thinks, and sobs into Derek’s shoulder. Breathes in the smell of cigarettes and leather and thinks that his mother always smelled like summer.
There is paperwork, of course there is. The woman at the hospital is too polite, too cultivated. Her kindness feels like salt on an open wound.
Derek is outside smoking, of course he is. It’s early December and Stiles is cold. It’s early December and his mother is dead. A handful of snowflakes float lazily down from the sky and melt as soon as they touch the ground.
“So,” Stiles says, and his voice sounds foreign to his own ears, “How about that drink?”
Derek stubs out his cigarette without even batting an eye, “I’ll drive.”
Derek’s car looks as dangerous as Stiles feels. His mom drove a grey Volvo because she liked the safety rating.
Derek takes Stiles to a bar and he buys him a drink and he doesn’t ask about it, so of course Stiles tells, never comfortable with silence.
“It feels like I’m just going to wake up and everything’s going to be okay, you know. Like, because this can’t be real. It doesn’t feel real.” The beer tastes bitter in Stiles mouth, but he drinks it down, drinks it down and tries to stop thinking. He’s never really been good at that. “Tell you what though, she would kill me if she knew I was out drinking on a school night.”
“You’re in school?” Derek asks and of course Derek doesn’t know that because they don’t actually know each other. They don’t actually talk, just share each other’s silences, and Stiles doesn’t actually do that with anyone else.
Stiles nods, “Senior, yeah, in communications,” and then when Derek raises his eyebrows in an obvious what the fuck is that, “Pretty much I’m majoring in fuck all and hoping that shit pays off.”
“Don’t sweat it,” Derek tells him, “I majored in Art History.”
“Seriously?” Stiles asks because he can’t help himself.
Derek shrugs, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
Stiles’s father is at the hospital filling out paperwork, paying bills. Stiles’s father is at home, calling relatives and drinking too much. Stiles thinks he should be there with him, but Stiles also thinks that there is nothing to do now. That the groundwork had been laid long ago and all that’s left is to let the chips land where they may.
They don’t really talk about themselves and that’s okay, because Stiles doesn’t really want to be himself right now. They don’t talk about family, and that’s okay because they don’t really have a lot between the two of them.
Derek has soft lips and sad eyes and broad shoulders. He makes Stiles’s work for his laughter and he cuts through Stiles’s bullshit and when Stiles can’t stop himself, leans forward and kisses him, Derek doesn’t stop him either.
“This could be a terrible idea.” Stiles says, kisses his way down Derek’s neck just to be contrary.
“I don’t care,” Derek growls, slams Stiles into the wall and kisses him like he’s trying to make a point.
“My mother just died,” Stiles says, gasps for breath because, Jesus, Derek’s hands are on his hips and Derek’s mouth is hot and perfect.
Derek bites Stiles’s neck and Stiles can’t do anything but moan, “My last girlfriend killed almost my entire family.”
The laugh that rips its way out of Stiles is just on the edge of hysterical, “Sounds like we’re perfect for each other then.”
“Prove it,” Derek challenges, his grin feral, and Stiles has never met a challenge he didn’t take head on.
Derek wakes up at the asscrack of dawn and makes Stiles coffee and eggs.
“You should go see your dad,” he says.
Stiles wants to disagree. Wants to lick his way down Derek’s ridiculous six-pack and just forget about everything, but Derek has this look on his face that Stiles doesn’t really understand and doesn’t really know what to do with.
“I don’t know what to say to him,” Stiles admits.
“Then don’t say anything,” Derek tells him, “Just be there for him.”
Stiles supposes he can do that.
He realizes, halfway home, that he needs to email his dean and his professors and sort out how he’s going to take his finals this semester. And then he realizes that he needs to tell Scott, and the idea of Scott’s heartbreak makes it real in a way it never was before. Panic sets in like a crushing tidal wave and all Stiles can think is my mother’s dead, my mother’s dead and the words feel like a lie.
Derek must pull over, because the next thing Stiles knows it that Derek is by his side, is wrapping him up in his arms, rubbing his hands over Stiles back. “Breathe with me,” he says, voice soft and steady and sure, “Breathe with me, Stiles” and Stiles does. And eventually the panic recedes and Stiles is left with Derek, bent awkwardly across the gearshift of the Camaro but seemingly unwilling to move, and for now Stiles will take what he can get.
Derek keeps the car parked on the side of the road, keeps his hand on Stiles’s thigh, his eyes out the driver’s side window, when Stiles calls Scott.
Scott’s voice is soft and earnest in Stiles ear, “I’m so sorry, Stiles. Is there anything I can do, do you need me to come over?” and the familiar patter of his friend’s speech settles something in Stiles stomach. Makes him remember that he is not alone in this
“I’m good for now,” Stiles answers, honest, “I’m just going to spend some time with my dad.”
Stiles hangs up with Scott and holds Derek’s hand, and they sit there like that, just letting the world pass by.
His dad is asleep on the couch. There is an empty bottle of whiskey on the kitchen table and The 700 Club on TV. The picture of his mother on the mantelpiece has been turned over and Stiles’s heart aches.
Derek hands Stiles a glass of water and takes the empty bottle without question. Stiles breathes in and breathes out. The universe does not shatter. The earth does not open up and swallow him whole. He can do this. He can. He will. He doesn’t have any other choice.
Derek leaves with a kiss goodbye and an apology, “I’m meeting with the prosecutor today, I’m sorry,” and he still hasn’t really told Stiles the whole story but, Stiles supposes, there will be time for that later.
“Stiles,” his dad croaks when he finally wakes up. They have been silent for so long now, but, Stiles thinks, now is not the time for words.
“Shhhh, dad,” he says, hands his father some aspirin and a glass of water and pretends that this is not killing him, just a little, “It’s okay.” He lets his father swallows the pills, take a drink, and then he pulls him into a hug, “It’s okay.”
His father shakes in Stiles’s arms, the sound of his father’s tears the worst thing he’s ever heard outside the sound of his mother’s dying breath. But Stiles holds on and thinks, I still have this.
Stiles’s Aunt comes to town and organizes the funeral and their home, tucks away his mother’s things with care, puts them where Stiles can get them later, when he’s ready. Everyone is too kind and everyone is so sad and Stiles feels hollow. Feels like he has been mourning for so long now and there is nothing to do but get on with it.
Derek doesn’t really leave his side and they don’t really talk about it. It’s okay, Stiles thinks, there is time for words later.
There is a moment, tense and unsure, when Derek sees Allison and Allison sees Derek where Stiles thinks that this could all come apart. But Allison says, “I’m so sorry,” and she is so genuine, and Derek puts his hand on Stiles’s lower back, like he’s trying to ground himself, and he says, “I’m here for Stiles,” and that is that for now.
Stiles sleeps at home even though he’d rather be sleeping in Derek’s bed. Stiles sleeps at home because he is afraid to leave his father alone. Because this house is where all Stiles’s memories of his mother live. Somehow they manage to make it through one day and then another.
It’s going to be okay, Stiles thinks and dares himself to believe.
“You don’t have to stay,” his dad says a week later after dinner.
“Dad,” Stiles protests. Derek is new but Derek will still be there. Stiles wants to make sure his father isn’t going anywhere before he leaves.
His dad smiles, a small quirk of the lips, and it’s more than Stiles has seen in months, “He can stay here, if you want, your gentleman caller. I’ll try not to faint.”
Stiles laughs and throws his napkin at his dad’s head. When his dad just laughs, Stiles believes just a little bit more.
Stiles has lived in this house his entire life and having Derek here, in his childhood bed, feels like he’s laying himself bare. Like he’s letting Derek in on all of his secrets and it doesn’t feel as scary as Stiles thinks it should. It’s just Derek, after all, and Stiles trusts him with his heart.
“You two shouldn’t be here for Christmas,” Derek whispers into Stiles’s neck, “Come home with me and Laura.”
“I can’t leave my dad,” Stiles says. He knows, though, that they need to get the hell out of dodge. Everything is still too raw, his memories still too fresh.
“Bring him,” Derek tells him, and he says it like it’s so easy. Maybe, Stiles thinks, it could be.
They don’t say I love you, but Stiles knows it to be true. For now—Derek’s hand on his waist, his lips pressed to Stiles’s neck—this is enough.