He hated the name Genim. A lot. He had tried to suggest some different nicknames to his aunt and uncle when he was younger, but they wouldn't hear of it.
"That's the name your mother gave you, Genim," his aunt Mildred had said, "it would be disrespectful to her memory to call you anything else." But he remembered her and his dad calling him all sorts of things before they died, Kiddo and Gem and Linny and Stiles. He liked that last one best.
On the morning of his twenty-ninth birthday, Stiles hated the name Genim more than ever, as he heard his aunt calling him from downstairs at exactly 6:00 am, the same as every other morning he could remember. He dressed and came down to breakfast - plain cheerios - and nodded and said thanks when his uncle Richard wished him happy birthday. He went into work with his uncle, who owned a gas station on Main Street, which was the only street with sidewalks in Beacon Hills. He spent ten hours restocking shelves, helping at the cash and pumping gas before he and his uncle met his aunt at the church for evening services. Then they all went home, had dinner, and went to bed at ten o'clock on the dot.
Stiles lay in bed, staring at the ceiling and hating his life. When he was younger, he thought about going to college, getting a fancy job, moving out of Beacon Hills. When he was really young, he thought he'd find a nice girl to marry, before he realized that was never going to happen. He thought maybe he'd become a filmmaker, or a writer - he loved the two horror movies he snuck in the theatre to see when he was young and he loved making up stories about supernatural creatures. But high school was too challenging when he couldn't concentrate or sit still, and when the school counselor had recommended to his aunt and uncle that they should take him to be assessed for ADHD, they informed her that they didn't believe in such things and that God didn't approve of popping pills to make life easier.
So when he turned eighteen and his aunt and uncle informed him that he needed to earn his keep, he left school and went to work for his uncle for minimum wage. He had always thought some opportunity would come up, something would change, but that night of his twenty-ninth birthday, he resigned himself to the fact that it wouldn't ever change. He was a high-school dropout with no money, he would never be able to fool a girl into marrying him and he sure as heck wasn't even going to have the opportunity to fall into sin with a man, and he was going to live with his aunt and his uncle, who he hated and who hated him, forever.
He let himself cry a little before he went to sleep and repeated the whole thing the next day.
Sundays were the only day of the week that were different. Stiles was allowed to sleep in until seven and at eight they left for church services, which lasted until noon. He remembered loving church when he was a child - the message of God's love was potent to an orphaned kid - but as a teenager he had a lot of trouble feeling like the life God granted was such a blessing. He couldn't understand what he had done to deserve the unnatural attractions God was testing him with; couldn't understand how God could make him how he was and condemn him for it. These days he just tuned out and retreated into plotting out yet another story he was never going to write or film, or planning out his afternoon.
Because Sunday afternoons were the best. The gas station was closed, as were most businesses in the small, conservative town, so Stiles was usually allowed to take the car and run errands for his aunt in the next town over, which was only slightly bigger and less conservative, but it had a 24-hour WalMart. Sometimes he managed to go into the comic book shop for a half an hour that he could account for saying the lines were really long at WalMart, and even if he didn't have money to buy anything and definitely couldn't have taken one home if he did, the woman behind the counter looked at him with kind eyes and didn't say anything when he read the comics without paying.
He was preoccupied with thoughts of his afternoon when he was standing outside the church, waiting for his aunt to finish gossiping with her friends and his uncle to finish talking about last night's football game. But when the loud roar of a car engine came down the street and the whole crowd stopped chattering to watch, Stiles looked up too. Just in time to see the black Camaro pull up in front of the convenience store owned by Vernon and Erica Boyd, the town's only interracial couple. Stiles had heard his aunt talk about them in uncomplimentary terms before, although she didn't quite come out and say it was because Vernon was black. They were godless, she said, opening their store on Sundays and going to that United Church of Christ two towns over, that 'church' which allowed homosexuals to practice openly. Stiles remembered Erica from school; she was a few years older than him but she'd always seemed so nice. He always regretted that he was more interested in her younger brother, Isaac, than he was in her.
He'd heard some rumours about Isaac, too - that he'd gone off to live in San Francisco and be depraved. Stiles had always been torn between scorn and jealousy, until he heard a few years ago that Isaac had come back to live with Erica for some reason or other. All thoughts of Isaac flew out of Stiles' head, though, when the man stepped out of the Camaro.
Derek Hale had dark hair, stubble and dangerous eyes. He wore a leather jacket and drove his fancy car through town at all hours of the night. He'd bought a cabin a bit out of town, in the woods, two years ago and people said all sorts of terrible things about him. They said he'd killed his whole family, or that he was a hitman for hire, or that he was a rapist - and not only women needed to be afraid of him. But Stiles had caught sight of him once talking with Erica on the street, and before his aunt had tsked and he had looked away, he saw Derek smile at her. No one with dimples like that could be all bad, Stiles thought. There were also whispers about Derek and Isaac, but Stiles' aunt always looked at him sharply when that kind of gossip was brought up, so Stiles really wasn't sure what the deal was.
Before Derek entered his friends' store, he stopped to smoke a cigarette, not caring that the church crowd was glaring and judging. They all shuffled off slowly to their cars, and when Stiles looked up at Derek Hale before opening the car door, Derek looked back at him and smiled - sly and secret. Stiles flushed, feeling exposed and vulnerable and deeply flattered, and jumped into the car before his aunt could say anything.
That night he tried so hard not to remember that smile on Derek's face as he lay in bed. Stiles had a lot of practice; he was generally pretty good at repressing thoughts of men as gorgeous or, God forbid, sexy. But every once in a while, he couldn't resist, and from that day forward, his thoughts always went to Derek when he couldn't control himself any longer.
It was a few weeks after his birthday when Stiles got yet another headache that made him want to curl up in a ball and cry. They really were pretty terrible. The headaches had started about a year ago and they kept getting worse. After the third one, Stiles had told his uncle about them, but his uncle just gave him some Advil and suggested he pray more.
This one started when he was in the comic shop on a Sunday afternoon. Stiles tried to make light of it, but the woman at the counter - Mrs. McCall, was her name, apparently - was really concerned and insisted that he should go see her daughter-in-law, who was working as a doctor at the local clinic. When she insisted it wouldn't cost him anything and that confidentiality laws would ensure that no one would find out about it, Stiles wondered how much Mrs. McCall knew about him. It turned out, in fact, that she was the mother of his only friend in school, Scott McCall. After he had dropped out, he had stopped seeing Scott, but he remembered him fondly. Stiles wasn't quite sure what he was going to tell his family, but he let Mrs. McCall drive him over to see Dr. Allison McCall.
They chatted pleasantly for a while. Allison told Stiles that Scott had mentioned him to her, and Stiles was genuinely happy for his friend when he heard that Scott was now a firefighter and a father. If he was a little jealous too, especially at the love he could see in Allison's face, no one could blame him.
Allison listened to him, frowning slightly, when he described his symptoms and didn't tell him he just needed to be praying more. She shone a light in his eyes, touched different spots on his head, and told him she needed to do a brain scan. A few hours later, Stiles was back on his way home with some new painkillers, trying to think up a plausible story for his aunt and uncle. He had promised Allison he'd come back next Sunday for the results, and he thought of maybe asking her to let him mow her lawn or do repairs around the house to pay her back, since she had blown off the question of payment when he asked.
He completely forgot to ask her about payment options when she told him, quietly and sadly, that he had a brain tumour. Most likely a glioblastoma multiforme, from the looks of it, she said. Even with treatment, he wasn't likely to live more than another year and a half. She talked to him about treatment options - chemotherapy, radiation, surgery - and it all sounded horrible. She gave him a referral to a specialist, said she'd send his file over, made Stiles promise to call him.
Allison looked like she was going to cry when she hugged him goodbye and told him to call her or Scott if he ever wanted to talk.
So Stiles started to drive home, but he pulled off the road partway to have a breakdown. He was only twenty-nine, but he was going to die. He was going to die without ever having experienced love, sex, real friendship, self-confidence, pride in his work. He was going to die to meet a God he hated. He was going to die without ever having lived.
He cried in the car for an hour and it just made his head hurt even more. He knew he wasn't going to get treatment - what was the point? It would just make the last few months of his life miserable and he couldn't afford it, anyway. What was the point in extending his life if all he was going to do with it was what he had been doing and hating the last twenty-four years of his life?
Eventually, he drove back to Beacon Hills in a daze. All the crying had dehydrated him, so he pulled up in front of the Boyds' store. He thought he was pretty much past being shocked today, but when he saw Isaac sitting behind the counter with Erica, he discovered he was wrong.
Isaac looked terrible. He was pale and drawn and unbelievably skinny. He was wrapped up in a blanket but he still looked cold. He was obviously miserable and extremely ill.
"Isaac?" Stiles asked, almost hoping that he was wrong and it wasn't Isaac at all.
"Hey, Stiles, long time no see," Isaac replied, a small smile gracing his lips. Stiles really couldn't do much more than gape. He knew it was rude, really he did, but he couldn't help himself.
Erica, her older-sister protective instincts intact, snapped: "Is there something I can help you with?"
"I just wanted to get a Sprite, but... my God, Isaac, what happened to you?"
Erica was preparing to yell or kick him out or something, but Isaac laid a soft hand on her arm.
"It's fine. I have AIDS. You hadn't heard around town?" Isaac asked.
"No," Stiles replied, stunned. "No, my aunt never... she never talks to me about you. Not since, uh, since we used to play together."
Isaac grinned, and for a second Stiles could see the old Isaac underneath this new fragile shell. "She never got over seeing me try to hold your hand when we were twelve, did she? And I heard you're still living with her? That has to be... hard."
"Yeah, hard. But why are you here?" Stiles asked.
"He has just as much a right to be in this town as anyone else," boomed Vernon, from a back storeroom.
"No, I mean, here at the store. You look awful, you should be in bed!" Stiles exclaimed. He couldn't deal with the idea of his old school-friend dying, of Stiles himself dying, of Isaac obviously having lived before he dies and Stiles never doing it at all. He wished, fiercely, for just a moment, that he was dying of AIDS rather than a brain tumour, because that would mean he had done something at some point to feel alive.
Erica looked surprised at Stiles' reaction, while Isaac didn't. Stiles was always pretty sure Isaac had guessed they were alike, they were both... the g-word that Stiles could never bring himself to say, even mentally.
"It's this fucking town," Erica said, sounding mad and sad. "We hired a caretaker but she kept treating him like shit, she wouldn't touch him or his sheets or anything, so we fired her and we can't find anyone to help us, not for what we can pay."
"Would you provide room and board?" Stiles asked, before he even knew what he was saying.
"What?" Erica sounded as if she couldn't believe her ears. Stiles couldn't blame her - he couldn't really believe that any of this was happening either.
"I don't have any money to move out and I'm pretty sure my aunt and uncle wouldn't let me drive the car over, so if I do it, you'd have to let me live there. And feed me."
Erica was silent, and then looked over at Isaac. Isaac was staring at Stiles, consideringly.
"Why? Want to watch the fag die for his sins?" he asked.
"No! No. I just... you look like you could use a friend. And maybe... maybe I could use one, too."
Vernon came out from the back room. "Your family isn't going to like it much. Are you sure you're okay with that?"
He wasn't sure at all, in fact. But he said yes anyway.
In the end, they agreed that Stiles would be paid a hundred dollars a week on top of room and board, and he'd have two days a week off. Stiles wasn't exactly sure what he was going to do with his money or his time off, since he'd never really had much of either to decide what to do with before. But it was an exciting thought.
The confrontation with his aunt and uncle was less fun. They fumed and called him Genim and told him he was not allowed to leave. But Vernon - Boyd, he'd told him to call him - came in to help him carry his stuff, and they were clearly torn between being afraid of him and of the need to keep up appearances, so they didn't do anything drastic when Stiles packed up and threw his stuff in the trunk of Erica's car.
That night, he was set up on a futon in their spare room, hearing Isaac cough down the hall, and staring at an entirely new ceiling for the first time in his life. He couldn't change the fact that he was dying, he knew, but he could fix some things. Even if he could never have a life full of love and happiness before he died, he could have a friend and he could help someone - really make a difference - before he left this world. He decided he could be okay with that.
Things definitely weren't always easy. Erica seemed disinclined to trust him at the beginning. He still had headaches that the painkillers couldn't quite ease. He was watching his new/old friend die of a painful, wasting illness, and some nights and days were worse than others.
But he had a friend. He and Isaac laughed and watched movies and played video games together. Sometimes they made short outings - to the park, to the movies, to the grocery store. He and Erica and Boyd would all eat dinner together (Stiles had discovered he was a pretty okay cook) and he felt like a real person. Isaac would make jokes about cute guys sometimes, as if he wanted to get Stiles comfortable with smiling and nodding at them, even in front of Erica and Boyd.
He went with them to the United Church of Christ on Sundays, and it wasn't a chore. He liked their message of love, the idea that "God is still speaking", that he wasn't some sort of unholy abomination. Church actually started to do him good rather than harm.
One night, Stiles asked Isaac about how he got the disease. He wasn't sure what he was expecting, probably stories of drugs and anonymous sex, but Isaac looked sad and told him that he probably got it from Danny, his partner of five years, who had died only a few months before he moved back to Beacon Hills to be with Erica. They stayed up all night and Isaac told him happy stories about Danny, and funny ones and sad ones, and he showed Stiles pictures of the two of them looking happy and disgustingly in love. Isaac cried a lot, and so did Stiles.
By then Stiles knew that there was nothing of that sort between Isaac and Derek Hale, because Derek Hale was around a lot. He and Isaac were friends - good friends - but nothing more. And for the first time, Stiles let himself have a real crush.
Derek was gorgeous and gruff and kind and still mysterious. He came by often to see Isaac during the day, and the three of them played board games and cards and Halo. When Isaac grew too weak to go to the movie theatre, Derek brought over a gigantic flat-screen TV and illegally-obtained copies of new releases that Isaac wanted to see. Sometimes he'd come over in the evening and the five of them would drink beers (minus Isaac) and talk into the early hours of the morning. Stiles would stare at Derek for a little too long sometimes, especially when he smiled, and Stiles was sure Isaac noticed. But what did it matter?
Derek would tell stories about his experiences out in the woods and about his travels all over the world, and Stiles was rapt. He made casual mention of men and women he had dated, but he managed to never really reveal much about his past. Derek laughed at Stiles' dry comments and Stiles started to talk more, feel like maybe he was actually funny and not just worthy of disapproving glares when he said what he thought.
One day Derek drove Stiles to the pharmacy to pick up Isaac's medication in his Camaro. Derek suggested they stop at the town's only Indian restaurant for dinner - Stiles had never eaten there before and it was delicious. He and Derek sat across from each other and Stiles pretended it was a date. He had such a good time that he didn't even care when he heard a whispered 'fag' as they walked down the street back to the Camaro. Derek obviously cared, though - he shot the man a terrifying glare and threw his arm around Stiles' shoulders. Stiles felt happy and free, so he laughed and put his arm around Derek's waist.
The first time Erica paid him, he went straight to Mrs. McCall's comic book store and spent all of his pay on the spot.
One day, he was sitting out on the porch reading a Stephen King book while Isaac was napping, when Derek came by. Derek sat down next to him and stayed quiet for a few minutes. Finally, he took a deep breath.
"Thank you, Stiles. You've been really good for Isaac. I haven't seen him this happy since... since Danny died."
"Dude, you shouldn't thank me. I'm getting paid. And it's what anyone would do."
Derek shot him a glare. "That's not true and you know it. I just mean, it couldn't have been easy to leave your family."
"Actually, it was disturbingly easy to do that part," Stiles laughed.
"Danny was my best friend. His death was hard on us all. I just... I really appreciate you taking care of Isaac." Derek laid his hand over Stiles', which was on the arm rest, and squeezed. Stiles felt the warmth and pressure of Derek's hand all through his body.
"Sometimes I think he's taking care of me as much as I'm taking care of him," Stiles said, softly.
They sat there, hands touching and silent, peaceful, until Boyd and Erica got home and they all went in for dinner.
Isaac and Erica had made it their mission at some point to make Stiles okay with being gay before Isaac died. (Stiles knew, although Isaac didn't, that there was a deadline for both of them). One night, when Isaac was already sleeping peacefully, Erica convinced Stiles to do shots with her at the kitchen table. After four, she put him into some of Isaac's old clothes - a tight t-shirt and jeans - and convinced him that they should go to the gay club two towns over. Stiles resisted, but Erica was not used to taking no for an answer. Boyd drove them over and said he'd come back when Erica called.
It was new and scary for Stiles. He had a few more drinks with Erica at the bar before he finally got up the courage to go out on the dance floor with her. Soon it was all a blur - he was dancing with guys, they were touching him and he was touching them, nothing crazy but way more than Stiles was used to. He felt like he was a different person, like he wasn't some sort of closeted freak but a normal guy who was gay. He was having so much fun that when he saw Erica looking tired and knew she had to get up early to go to work the next day, he told her to go home. She looked dubious - very dubious - but he insisted.
He kept drinking and dancing, but as the night went on it got a little less fun. The men were pushier, grabbier, and while Stiles liked pretending he was part of this world, he wasn't - he still couldn't make out with a guy whose last name he didn't know. So he found himself having to be more and more forceful moving away from people who he had been dancing with earlier in the night, and he found himself pretty turned off at some of their propositions for bathroom sex.
He was just wondering how he was going to get home as he was grabbing a guy's hand that had started to reach down his ass when Derek Hale, furious and magnificent, swept through the crowd.
"Sorry, man, didn't know he was yours," said the anonymous man, finally removing his hand, as Derek growled. Literally, growled.
Stiles really didn't care how hard Derek was gripping his arm, or that he'd have bruises later, as he dragged him out of the club. When they got into the Camaro and Derek slammed the door, he took some deep breaths before turning to Stiles.
"What the fuck were you thinking? You don't stay at a bar by yourself when you're that drunk. Ever. It's fucking dangerous. Stiles, you don't know what some of those guys are like. I couldn't believe it when Erica told me you got her to leave you by yourself."
Stiles didn't care that Derek was mad. All he perceived in that moment was that Derek cared - cared enough to be mad, cared enough to come get him.
"I didn't know," Stiles said, and it was true. He wondered if Derek knew as much as Isaac did about his past.
"God, do you even have any condoms?" Derek asked, still fuming.
"I wasn't going to... Derek, I don't even know any of those guys! I wasn't going to sleep with someone!"
"You're sure dressed like you were," Derek said darkly, and Stiles couldn't help the flash of heat that went through him as he felt Derek's gaze on his body.
"Oh, fuck off." He knew he should be mad, but he couldn't quite manage it. Derek drove in silence for a while.
"Look, if you want to pick up, I can give you condoms, we can talk about how to stay safe," Derek said. He sounded desperate, and Stiles wondered how many friends Derek had lost to AIDS already.
But even as Derek was talking about Stiles picking up other guys, Stiles realized it wasn't going to happen. Because Stiles was in love. In love with Derek. Which was... amazing. He didn't know what Derek did for a living or where he came from or what his parents were like, but it didn't matter. It didn't matter that Derek didn't love him back, not at all. Stiles just leaned his head back against the headrest and checked one item off of his bucket list, as Derek drove him the rest of the way home.
Stiles had always known there was a time limit on his happiness, but as it approached, he realized he wasn't ready for it. Isaac was getting worse, quickly.
They had talked, he and Isaac, about death. Isaac told him that he wasn't afraid, that he was tired, that he was ready to be with Danny again, wherever he was. And when Stiles didn't try to make him feel better but just said that death didn't always have to be a bad thing, it was only bad when we aren't ready for it, Isaac looked at him as if he understood more than Stiles thought he had. He hadn't done as good a job of hiding his headaches and painkillers as he had thought, he figured.
But Isaac passed fairly peacefully, in his sleep, and his face was wiped clear of the lines of pain that had decorated it since Stiles had met him again.
He hadn't talked to his aunt and uncle since he left, but he was pretty sure he was officially disowned. Erica and Boyd told him he could stay as long as he needed, but without Isaac the house felt sad and empty. The only guidance he had was in a letter of heartfelt advice that Isaac had left him, in which he told him to take risks, to live, to make the most of what time he had.
So when Derek came by to pick of the box of things Isaac had left for him, looking sad and like he hadn't slept in days, Stiles asked if he could talk to him. They sat together on the wooden porch swing.
"Sure, what's up?" Derek's face was open and concerned, and Stiles' heart felt like it was going to race out of his chest.
Derek rolled his eyes, but his lips curved slightly as if moving towards a grin. "Out with it, Stiles."
"I want to move in with you," Stiles blurted out, "and somehow legally make you my next of kin. I wish we could just get married, but yeah, not exactly possible, now is it."
"What?" Derek could not have looked more surprised and confused if Stiles had told him that he wanted to follow his lifelong dream to become a hippopotamus-herder.
"Erica and Boyd are great, but they're mourning and I can't stay here. I can't go back to my aunt and uncle's house, I just can't. And... it won't be for long, anyway."
Derek waited as Stiles took a deep breath.
"I haven't told anyone this, and I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't either, but I'm dying. Probably pretty soon. Brain tumour."
Derek looked stricken and opened his mouth to speak, but Stiles stopped him.
"If I don't get all this out, I never will. I need somewhere to live for a little while, and I need it to be somewhere where I can actually live, not just... exist. And I don't want my aunt and uncle to be the ones to make medical decisions for me. They have all kinds of crazy beliefs and I don't want to be a vegetable, hooked up to a machine and brain-dead."
"But... why me?" asked Derek.
Stiles desperately wanted to keep himself safe, to make a joke to hide behind, but he knew it wasn't fair to tell Derek less than the truth.
"Because I love you. No, I know you don't feel the same way, don't worry. Honestly, I wouldn't want you to - I'm going to be gone in a few months, anyway. I just... I wasted so much of my life being afraid of who I am that I want to spend what's left of it happy, you know?"
"Yeah, I know," said Derek softly.
"I know this is kind of the biggest favour anyone has ever asked anyone else, so I totally won't blame you if you say no. But I'll cook and I'll clean and I'll pay rent if I can find a job. And you could still... be involved with other people. If you wanted to be, I mean."
"You just said you love me and you want to marry me, but you're okay if I sleep with other people while we're living together?" Derek asked, with a sardonically raised eyebrow. Stiles flushed.
"Well, I didn't say I'd like it," he replied, a flash of his humour returning, and his heart leapt when Derek smiled.
"I'm just trying to figure out how this could even work - Stiles, my place is tiny, there's only one bed." Derek ran his hand through his hair, looking a little agitated.
It was Stiles' turn to raise an eyebrow. "You thought I'd complain about that?"
This time Derek actually laughed.
"Well, I may not be in love with you, but I wouldn't complain too much about that either," he said, as he took Stiles' hand.
"Are you sure?" Derek asked. "You don't know me. I could be all those things people say about me in town. I could be a serial killer."
"No, you couldn't. And even if you were, I don't care. I'm sure, Derek. I've thought about this a lot. But you don't have to answer me now, I mean, Erica said I could stay here for a bit."
"There would have to be some conditions," Derek told Stiles. "There's a warehouse on my property that you'd have to stay away from. And some nights I won't be home. And I won't talk about my past, so don't expect me to."
"Okay. I know it's super demanding to ask for another favour, but I'm going to anyway. Could we just pretend I'm not dying? I don't want to think about it all the time."
Derek nodded slowly. "I'll talk to a lawyer. See about having some papers drawn up. If you can pack up tonight, I'll come by tomorrow to pick you up."
"Really?" asked Stiles. He couldn't help the grin that took over his face. "I just mean, um, great, awesome!"
Derek leaned forward and pressed his lips gently to Stiles'. It was a short, chaste kiss, but it was Stiles' first kiss and it was from someone he loved.