Derek and Stiles held hands as they made their way to the edge of the cliff. The Atlantic Ocean welcomed them loudly as it crashed against the rocks below. It was one of their favorite spots.
They came here whenever the occasion called for it. Anniversaries. Make up fights. Escapism from their everyday lives. It was one of the few places in the world where they could forget about their daily struggles and just be themselves.
Derek could forget he was the Derek Hale, of the Boston Hales. He could forget he was the son of Talia and James, one of America’s most beloved couples before they were killed in a house fire when Derek was a child. He could shake off the responsibilities of being vice president of Hale Corp, a billion dollar corporation. When he was in this spot, he didn’t have to worry about the paparazzi or his uncle Peter lecturing him on the importance of appearances.
As for Stiles, he had his own demons he didn’t want to think about. While in this place, he could forget about the constant pressure he felt while finishing his art degree at Harvard. He could forget about the alcoholic father he never spoke to anymore.
He closed his eyes as he breathed in the salty air. He felt a pain of sadness as he always did on this date. It was the ten year anniversary of his mother’s death.
He’d been with her that day. He could still hear the sound of screeching tires. He could smell the stench of spilled gasoline mixed with blood. When he wasn’t quick enough to push the memories away, Stiles could still hear his mother’s agonizing screams of pain before she finally fell eternally silent.
When he was finally pulled from the wreckage, he’d been motherless. And in some ways, he became fatherless that day as well. His father couldn’t get over losing his wife. He couldn’t look at his son, who no longer looked the same. Stiles’ nose and jaw had been broken, giving his features an off centered look. He had scar tissue that pulled the corner of his right eye down.
As Stiles looked over at Derek now, it still amazed him that Derek even wanted to be with him. Derek could have literally anyone he wanted in the world. Aside from being ridiculously attractive, he was also obscenely rich. The Hales were right up there with the Vanderbilts and Kennedys. Not that his money was what drew Stiles to Derek.
Stiles interacted with people on a daily basis at school who were born with silver spoons shoved up their asses. He wanted no part of that world. And that’s what really drew him to Derek. Derek didn’t want any part of that world either. He was funny, sarcastic, down-to-earth, and every moment Stiles spent with him, the more he fell in love with him.
“I love you,” Stiles said for good measure.
Derek smiled that special smile he reserved just for Stiles and said, “I love you, too.”
Stiles thought of his mother again, his heart heavy. He thought of how much he loved her even now.
“Will you love me forever?” he asked.
“Always and forever,” Derek replied promptly.
Stiles turned to him, reaching up to touch his clean shaven cheek. He knew Derek’s uncle had been pressuring Derek to end their relationship. From the moment Peter took custody of Derek and his sisters when they were children, he had pretty much mapped out their futures. Derek’s future entailed marrying Kate Argent, daughter of businessman Gerard Argent. Peter thought it would be “advantageous” if the two families joined forces. He’d said this in front of Stiles, giving him his usual look of cool disdain. Derek had told his uncle to fuck off before hurrying Stiles out of the mansion.
“Promise me, Derek,” Stiles said. Derek raised his eyebrow and Stiles snickered despite the gravity of the conversation. It was just so Derek. He grabbed his boyfriend’s other hand so he could hold both in his.
He continued, “Promise you’ll love me forever, no matter what.”
Derek’s face relaxed into tenderness as he comprehended what Stiles was getting at.
“Stiles, don’t let Peter get to you.”
“I promise to love you forever,” Derek said, lifting one of Stiles’ hands so he could place a gentle kiss on his knuckles.
“And you promise never to say goodbye to me?”
“I promise never to say goodbye to you.”
“Swear it on the love beads,” Stiles said, letting go of one of Derek’s hands to wave a beaded necklace Stiles had wrapped around his wrist.
It was from their first date. They had been on their way to some fancy restaurant when they’d passed a small carnival. Stiles insisted that they stop and they ended up spending their entire evening there, forgetting about their reservation. Derek had successfully knocked over a stack of bottles at one of the carnival booths, winning Stiles the beads.
Stiles had excitedly wrapped the cheap plastic necklace around his wrist like a bracelet, declaring himself hipster chic. Derek had fallen in love with him on the spot. Stiles was like no one he’d ever known before. Most men and women of his acquaintance wouldn’t have been caught dead at a carnival, let alone been happy with such a trivial item. Stiles had worn the beads every day since.
With a smirk on his face, Derek said, “I promise on the love beads to never say goodbye to you.”
“Good,” Stiles said. He unwrapped the necklace and looked around.
“What are you doing?” Derek asked, staring at Stiles’ empty wrist with a frown. He never knew how much he loved seeing the beads there.
“Ah ha!” Stiles said in response as he made his way over to a pile of rocks. He rolled one large one back and placed the necklace in its spot.
“Still don’t know what you’re doing,” Derek said as he got closer to his boyfriend.
“I’m commemorating the moment,” Stiles said. “Here, in our sacred place, I promise never to say goodbye to you either.”
“And that requires leaving your necklace?” Derek replied as he watched Stiles roll the rock back into place, hiding the beads from view.
Stiles rolled his eyes. “It’s symbolic, dipshit. We need something to mark the moment.”
“You are ridiculously cheesy, you know that?” Derek said fondly as he gathered Stiles in his arms, lifting his fingers to trace the smooth skin of his jawline.
“Yeah, I know,” Stiles said, grinning widely. “But you love me anyway.”
“Always and forever,” Derek whispered before placing his lips gently against Stiles’.
~~ * ~~
As they lay in their bed later that night, naked and sated, Derek ran his hands up and down Stiles’ empty wrist.
“It really bothers you, doesn’t it?” Stiles mumbled against his neck. “Me not wearing the beads?”
“I like seeing you wear something I gave you,” Derek replied honestly. Stiles chuckled against Derek’s skin, the wet heat of his breath sending shivers down Derek’s spine.
“How did I ever fall in love with such a caveman?” Stiles said before mockingly adding, “Me: Derek, want you Stiles, wear my mark.”
“I’ll mark you one,” Derek growled, rolling Stiles so that he was on top of him before swatting his ass lightly.
“Kinky,” Stiles joked before pressing down.
Derek groaned before frowning. “Stop distracting me.”
“Am I distracting you?” Stiles asked innocently.
Derek rolled them so he was on top and Stiles was on his back.
“Yes,” he said before he reached out and ran his fingers through Stiles’ buzzed hair. “How did I ever get so lucky to find you?”
“You weren’t watching where you were going and you stepped on my painting,” Stiles reminded him of their first meeting.
It had been Derek’s last year at Harvard. He’d been looking for his best friend, Isaac Lahey. Like Stiles, Isaac was an art student. Derek walked into the wrong art studio and stepped right onto a painting Stiles had just finished. They started yelling at each other and before Derek knew it, he had a date with the college freshman.
“I still say laying a wet painting on the floor is a dumb place to dry it,” Derek grumbled before he shook his head. “I’m trying to make a point.”
“Which is?” Stiles asked as he ran his foot against Derek’s calf.
Stiles’ eyes went wide. “What?”
“I want you to marry me,” Derek said.
Stiles started to smile but he bit his lip to stop it from forming.
“This is another caveman tactic, right? You just want to mark me by having me wear your ring.”
“True,” Derek said before tugging on Stiles’ ear with his lips. When Stiles shivered, he whispered, “I’m also crazy about you and I want you to be my husband.”
“Well, in that case, I better say yes.”
Derek pulled back to look Stiles in the face. “Yeah?”
Stiles didn’t hold back from smiling this time. “Yeah.”
Derek grinned brightly back. He gave his fiancé a quick kiss before he started climbing out of bed.
“Okay, not where I thought this was going to go,” Stiles said as he watched Derek get dressed. “Where are you going?”
“I’m going to get my dad’s wedding band,” Derek explained as he pulled a sweater over his head. “It’s at my uncle’s.”
“Oh yeah, him,” Stiles said, some of the happiness evaporating from his face. “He’ll love this.”
“His opinion doesn’t matter,” Derek said before leaning down to give Stiles another kiss.
“What am I going to do while you’re gone?” Stiles said as he leaned his forehead against Derek’s.
“Work on your painting,” he replied, pointing over his shoulder.
Stiles had been working on a piece for the last few weeks. It was a forest scene with a dirt path down the middle. In the background was a glimpse of the ocean. It was a drawing of their spot; the same place Stiles and Derek had made their vows to each other just that day. Stiles was half way done with it, but Derek already knew it was going to be his best work yet.
“I’ll be back,” Derek said, giving Stiles one more lingering kiss before grabbing the keys to his Camaro and heading out the door.
He made his way to his uncle’s mansion with the slightest sense of dread. Anytime in Peter’s presence was a waste of Derek’s energy. As he parked outside the driveway, he took a deep breath before exiting the car. He and Peter didn’t get along on a good day. Derek just wanted to skip the confrontation he knew was about to happen and get back to Stiles. He rang the doorbell and waited for the butler to answer the door.
“Mr. Derek, how lovely to see you,” Harris said, stepping back as Derek entered the hall.
“Hello Harris,” Derek replied, trying to hide his distaste for the simpering man. “Is my uncle home?”
“He’s in the library.”
Derek nodded and made his way into the room. His uncle was on the phone but cut his conversation short when he saw his nephew.
“Derek, what do I owe the pleasure?” Peter said as he stood from his desk.
“I’m here for my father’s wedding ring.”
Peter’s features flashed their disgust before his face went blank. “May I ask why?”
“I’ve asked Stiles to marry me and he’s accepted,” Derek said, waiting for the explosion. It didn’t take long.
“You can’t be serious!” his uncle snapped.
“I am. So if you’ll just give me the ring, I’ll be on my way.”
“Derek, you can’t marry that boy.”
“Why? Because he’s a man?”
“Don’t be so utterly ridiculous. I don’t give a shit who you sleep with,” Peter said. At least Derek could appreciate Peter’s lack of hypocrisy, considering he walked in on Peter fucking his male nanny when he was eight.
“Then what’s the problem?” Derek asked, already knowing the answer but wanting to get this conversation over with.
“He’s a nobody! His mother was a Polish immigrant with no family to speak of, and his father is in rehab for what, the fifth time?”
“How do you know about his dad?” Derek asked. He didn’t even know Stiles’ dad was in rehab again.
“You think I’m going to let some piece of trash get close to our family without knowing what garbage pail they climbed out of?”
“Careful, Uncle,” Derek said, his voice low and menacing. “You forget yourself. Remember, you’re president of Hale Corp in name only. Laura, Cora, and I own a majority of the shares. Say one more word about Stiles, and I’ll make sure you can’t even get a job at McDonald’s by the time I’m through. Now, I’ll take my father’s ring.”
Peter’s jaw clenched but he didn’t say anything further. He went over to a portrait of himself and pulled it forward. A safe was hidden behind which he quickly decoded. He handed Derek the ring box that was inside before walking over to grab a decanter of whiskey from a nearby table. Derek didn’t stick around long enough to watch him take a drink.
~~ * ~~
“Stiles, where are you?” Derek shouted as soon as he entered their apartment.
“Painting,” Stiles replied, sounding distracted.
Derek walked down the hallway and entered the living room. Stiles had his back to him as he worked on his painting. He wore one of Derek’s shirts and nothing else. Every brush stroke gave Derek a tantalizing glimpse of Stiles’ ass, but he didn’t have time to admire the view.
“Come on,” Derek said, as he went into their bedroom and grabbed a bag from the closest. He went over to the dresser and grabbed some essentials he and Stiles would need for the next few days. Stiles came in and leaned against the door frame.
“We are, yes.”
Derek could feel Stiles’ eyes on him.
“How’d it go with your uncle?”
“Exactly as I expected,” Derek said as he threw some pants at Stiles. “As much as I love to see you in my shirt and nothing else, we only have 45 minutes to make our flight.”
“What’s happening in Vegas?”
Derek gave him an exasperated look. “We’re getting married. Tonight.”
“What about our friends? Your sisters?”
“We’ll have another ceremony when we get back.” Derek stopped packing and went over to Stiles, grasping his cheeks in his hands. He started rubbing his thumb against his jawline. “I don’t want to wait any longer to make you mine.”
“I should go get my pants on then,” Stiles said softly. He kissed Derek before going into the bathroom to clean up and get dressed.
When they were ready to leave, Stiles grabbed the keys to his Jeep.
“We’re not taking that death trap,” Derek said.
“We’re not leaving the Camaro overnight at the airport either. Roscoe will get us there just fine, plus no one will be tempted to steal her.”
“Fine,” Derek grumbled. He climbed into the passenger side and buckled up. Stiles put the car into gear and they were off.
“You know what I was thinking?” Derek said a short time later.
“Hmm,” Stiles replied, his eyes on the road.
“I’m going to learn your real first name tonight.”
“What?” Stiles glanced over at him in horror.
“You’ll have to sign your real name on the marriage license for it to be legal.”
“How about you sign your name first, then I’ll sign it and keep the form?”
“I’ll have to have a copy of it though so I can legally change my name to Stilinski-Hale.”
“You want to take on my name, huh?”
“That’s cute,” Stiles said before adding, “I’m still not going to sign my real name.”
Derek was about to point out the absurdity of that statement when a flash of headlights caught his attention.
“Stiles, look out!”
It was too late. A semi-truck hit them head on, most of the driver’s side taking the full impact. The Jeep went spinning before it flipped over several times. Derek’s head ricocheted off the door frame causing him to go unconscious.
The windows on the driver’s side shattered, ripping Stiles’ jaw and cheeks to shreds. The pain was intense; the sound a horrid echo of the trauma he’d suffered from his mother’s accident. Something came flying through one of the broken windows, smashing into Stiles’ face causing him to see stars. When the Jeep stopped tumbling, they were upside down. Stiles saw a pool of blood beginning to form on the roof of the destroyed vehicle. It took him a second to realize it was his before the world went black.
~~ * ~~
The sound of a heart monitor beeping loudly woke Stiles from his deep sleep. He tried to figure out where he was. Going by the antiseptic smell, he’d say he was in a hospital. He tried to open his eyes but he wasn’t able to. That was when he was aware something was covering his face, only allowing enough room for him to breathe. He started to panic, feeling trapped, and the heart monitor went crazy.
“It’s okay, Stiles,” a woman’s voice said. “I’m Dr. Jones. Do you remember what happened to you?”
“Accident,” Stiles said. He swallowed over the dryness in his throat before speaking again. “Why can’t I see?”
“I’m sorry to say but your face has received significant damage. Several bones were crushed and will need to be repaired. The glass also damaged a large portion of your skin. Your sight should be fine, but we’ve wrapped most of your face in gauze to protect the stitching.”
Jesus, how many stitches did he have?
“Where’s Derek?” he asked.
“I’m not at liberty to discuss—” the doctor started to say.
“Where is he?” Stiles interrupted.
“He’s in a coma,” a male voice said.
“Who’s that?” Stiles questioned.
“Peter Hale,” the man said and Stiles stiffened. “Doctor, will you give us a moment, please?”
“Stiles, I’ll be back to check on you later.”
He heard her shoes squeak on the linoleum floor as she left.
“So, Stiles, quite a night, huh?”
“I want to see Derek.”
“Oh, I’m afraid that’s not possible. Family only.”
“I am his family. We’re engaged.”
“Yes, I wanted to talk to you about that.”
Stiles could hear a chair being scrapped across the floor before Peter settled into it.
“Stiles, your face has been horribly damaged. The recovery period will be extensive, not to mention the cost will be very expensive.”
“What’s your point?”
“I’m willing to pay for it. The many surgeries you’ll need; the therapy afterward. The doctor’s recommended you receive both mental and physical therapy to help get you back on your feet. I’ll cover everything. All I ask is for a favor in return.”
“What?” Stiles said cautiously, his head aching. He wondered if a nurse could bring him some more of whatever he was on.
“I want you out of my nephew’s life.”
Stiles felt his stomach drop. “No.”
“Be reasonable, Stiles. You weren’t fit for him before, but now…now you have to picture yourself in your current state. Scarred; face completely deformed. Derek is a very prominent man. He’s required to attend social gatherings. His picture is constantly in the press. How long do you think it will be before he resents being photographed with you? Picture the headlines, Stiles. Derek Hale and friend; Beauty and the Beast. Guess which role you’ll be starring in?”
“Derek doesn’t care about looks,” Stiles said, though it was weak.
“You’re probably right. But do you want to take that risk?”
Stiles was quiet. He had already been intimated by Derek’s life, knowing he didn’t fit into it socially. If his face was as bad as the doctor and Peter indicated, could he end up being an embarrassment to Derek? God knew his dad couldn’t look at him after his first accident, and he only had some crooked features and a little scar back then. It would destroy Stiles if Derek looked at him with the same horror as his father had.
“You know I’m right about this,” Peter said.
“I won’t leave Derek,” Stiles said stubbornly.
“Okay, I’ll make a deal with you then. I’ll pay for your surgeries and the different levels of care you’ll need. You’ll have the best doctors money can afford. I’ll do this for you under one condition. You don’t contact Derek. You let him make the decision if he wants to see you through this or not.”
“No,” Stiles said.
“You’re being selfish. You sold him on one package and now you want him to be stuck with damaged goods.”
“You’re a piece of shit, Peter.” Stiles said tiredly.
“I know. But you should still let Derek choose if he wants to be burdened with you or not. Think about it.”
Stiles heard Peter get up from the chair and start to walk away.
“Wait,” he said.
“I’ll do it.” Stiles said, instantly wanting to take the words back.
But he couldn’t. He knew Derek would choose him, but who knew how long it would take for Derek to recover. Then again, it wasn’t like Stiles could sit by his bedside. He had his own recovery he needed to get done. And he couldn’t stop the niggling fear in the back of his mind that Derek would reject him like his dad had. If he could make himself slightly more presentable by the time Derek joined him…well, all the better.
“Excellent,” Peter said. “You’ll be placed on our private jet to California as soon as it can be arranged.”
“California?” Stiles felt sick. He’d be so far away. “Why not here?”
“California has some of the best plastic surgeons in the country, Stiles. The damage to your face is severe. They are going to have to basically build you a whole new face.”
“Fine.” Stiles swallowed back the lump in his throat before saying, “Peter?”
“Tell Derek I love him.”
Stiles heard Peter leave. The only sound left to fill the empty silence was the monitor tracking his heart beat. It was good to hear it wasn’t as broken as it felt.
~~ * ~~
Peter hummed as he made his way to his nephew’s room. It had been a week since Stiles had been flown out to California. That was one bug out of his hair. He wished he could thank the truck driver who hit them, but the guy was in jail for drunk driving.
It really couldn’t have worked out better than if Peter had arranged for the accident himself. Life is funny that way. He opened the door and felt his good mood disappear when he saw Derek wasn’t alone. Speaking of bugs in his hair.
“Laura, how wonderful to see you.”
“Please explain to me, dear uncle, why I had to find out through the goddamn media that my brother is in a coma.”
“I didn’t want to bother you when you were in the middle of negotiations. How did the merger go, by the way?
“You can take the merger and shove it up your—”
“Laura,” a weak voice said from the hospital bed.
“He wakens,” Peter said as he went over to the other side of the bed.
“Derek,” Laura said, tears starting to fall rapidly down her cheeks. Peter looked away from the display of emotion. How the hell someone like Laura was named CEO of Hale Corp was beyond him. She didn’t have the physical or metaphorical balls to do the job.
“Stiles,” Derek said, his eyes opened but unfocused, his voice slurred. “Wheeere’s Stiles.”
“I don’t know, I’ll find out,” Laura said.
“I’ll save you the trouble,” Peter said, making his voice grave. This was the moment he’d been waiting for. He reached over and squeezed Derek sympathetically on the arm.
“I’m sorry, Derek. Stiles didn’t survive the accident.”
I've added some tags. Please review for possible triggers.
Six months after the accident
“How are you feeling today, Stiles?” Dr. Morrell asked.
“Good,” Stiles replied as best he could, considering a good portion of his face was wrapped in gauze. “Glad to finally have my jaw unwired.”
He’d been through a lot of surgeries over the past six months. Cheekbones and nose rebuilt; forehead and eye sockets reconstructed. But nothing had been as big of a pain in the ass as having his jaw wired shut.
Half the time he’d felt like he couldn’t get enough air, which then led to multiple panic attacks. When he wasn’t panicking, he was starving. It didn’t matter how much liquefied food he ingested, he could never quite seem to shake the hunger pains.
“That’s good to hear,” the psychiatrist said. “Dr. Martin told me you’re also moving around the hospital more.”
“Yes,” Stiles confirmed.
When he first arrived in San Francisco, he’d barely left his hospital bed, too shocked by recent events. Then he met Dr. Lydia Martin. She was like a hurricane, tornado, and earthquake all rolled into one. You either did what she wanted or she’d annihilate you.
Lydia had forced him to get out of bed and walk through the halls of the hospital. When people stared at him, Lydia would glare right back. Sure in those early days he looked like a mummy, but she wouldn’t allow him to get a complex over it. Anytime he’d start to feel depressed about his life, Lydia would firmly remind him that she was the best plastic surgeon in the country, if not the world, and he needed to focus on the end results – which are going to be fantastic, Stiles, Jesus. So, that’s what he did. He thought about what he was going to look like; not what he currently resembled.
Which was pure horror. Stiles made the mistake of looking into a mirror one time right after he arrived in San Francisco. He’d been about to have one of his first surgeries so the bandages had been off, and he’d stupidly asked for a mirror. What he saw almost made him throw up. His face would have given Frankenstein nightmares. He hadn’t looked in the mirror since, not even to see what progress had been made.
“What are you doing for fun?” Dr. Morrell asked, bringing him back to the present.
“Yes, fun. What are you doing for enjoyment? I know you were recently moved to a long-term care facility. They typically have activities you can do while recovering. Surely there must be something you’re doing for relaxation.”
Stiles hesitated before he said, “Lydia gave me a camera. It…It feels good. Getting out and taking pictures. Like I’m rediscovering a part of myself I thought I’d lost in the a-accident. I forgot how much I enjoy capturing pictures.”
“That’s wonderful news,” Dr. Morrell said. “And what about painting?”
Stiles shook his head. “I can’t. Every time I pick up a brush, I-I have to put it down again.”
“Because of Derek?”
Stiles sucked in a breath.
“Yes,” he whispered. “Every time I go to paint, I think of him. I wonder how he’s doing; if he’s awake yet. And it hurts. It hurts so fucking much I can’t breathe. I want to see him. I want to hear his voice. I want to know if he’s okay. I mean, he’s got to be hurt pretty bad if he can’t even call me.”
Stiles bowed his head so the doctor wouldn’t see his tears. His voice was broken as he choked out, “Why won’t he at least call me?”
“I’m sure there’s a reason,” Dr. Morrell said. “Perhaps he’s had some setbacks of his own. You could always try Googling him. He’s a Hale after all. You can’t blink without seeing their name in the news.”
“No,” Stiles said. “If something bad happened to him, I’d rather pretend he’s okay. And if he’s living a happy life and forgotten all about me…well, I’d rather not know that either.”
~~ * ~~
“Something has got to be done about Derek,” Cora Hale said as she barged into Laura’s office.
“Hello to you too, Cora,” Laura said, not removing her eyes from the paperwork she was looking at. Peter was sitting in the chair in front of her, looking bored as he examined his nails.
“He made my assistant cry, Laura!”
“Half the executives are threatening to quit as well if you don’t do something,” Peter added.
“I’ve already tried talking to him,” Laura said, sitting back in her chair tiredly. “What do you expect from him? He just lost the love of his life.”
“It’s been six months,” Peter said.
“You think you can put a cap on someone’s mourning?” Laura asked coolly. “Stiles meant everything to him.”
“Laura, as much as I hate to agree with anything Peter says,” Cora said, ignoring Peter’s huff of annoyance, “I agree Derek’s destructive behavior has been going on long enough. He doesn’t sleep. He barely eats. He can’t go on like this.”
“I know.” Laura sighed heavily. “What do you propose?”
“Take him out; get him laid,” Peter said, standing up and stretching before he left the office.
“That’s not a bad idea,” Cora said after a moment.
“Getting him laid?”
“No, forcing him to get out of his house. We should go out tonight. I know Isaac is just as worried as we are,” Cora said, mentioning her husband. As Derek’s best friend and Cora’s husband, Isaac was just as invested in Derek’s happiness as Cora was.
“Fine,” Laura said before reaching for her phone. She waited for Derek’s gruff response before she said, “Good news, little brother. We’re going out tonight.”
~~ * ~~
Isaac drove through the Beacon Hill district of Boston where Derek’s brownstone was located. He kind of missed Derek’s old apartment; the one he’d shared with Stiles. It had been geared toward students so it hadn’t been anything fancy. Isaac felt like he needed to adhere to some type of dress code while driving through this part of Boston. But it gave Derek the privacy he craved, and his mental wellbeing was more important than the pretentiousness of his surroundings.
Isaac parked his car outside the building and got out. He frowned as he looked up at the brownstone, noticing all the lights were off. He walked up the front stairs and rang the doorbell, listening to it clamor inside.
He waited a minute. When there was no answer, he tried again. Still no answer. Reaching in his pocket, he grabbed the house key Laura had given him. Isaac wondered if Derek knew his sister had a key to his place. He was so out of it lately, he didn’t seem aware of much.
“Hello?” he called out. His ears strained for signs of movement. When he didn’t hear anything, he yelled, “Derek?”
Frowning, he walked to the back of the brownstone and looked around. Empty beer cans and dirty dishes littered the kitchen counter tops. Isaac knew Derek had a housekeeper come in once a week so this mess had to be fairly recent. Movement from the backyard caught his attention and he looked out the French doors.
“Oh man,” Isaac said as he pulled out his phone.
“Hi babe,” Cora said after the first ring.
“Hey,” Isaac replied. “Listen, Derek’s not going to be able to go out tonight.”
“What? He has to. That’s the whole point of this evening.”
“Cora, he’s trashed,” Isaac said as he stared at his best friend. Derek was sitting on a patio chair in nothing but a t-shirt and jogging pants, despite the coolness of the evening. Beer cans were scattered around his feet and as Isaac watched, Derek took another unsteady swig before leaning back in his chair and closing his eyes.
“I’ll come over,” Cora said.
“No, I’ve got this. Why don’t you and Laura have a girl’s night out?”
“Are you sure you don’t need our help?”
“No, I’m good,” Isaac assured her. “I’ll see you at home later.”
“Okay. Love you.”
“Love you, too,” he told her before disconnecting the call and making his way outside. Derek was about to take another drink when Isaac grabbed the can out of his hand. “I think you’ve had enough.”
“I already told Lauuura, I’m stayin’ in,” Derek slurred.
“Come on, Derek, let’s go inside,” Isaac said, as he reached out to grab Derek’s arm.
“No!” Derek shouted before yanking his arm away.
“You’re going to make yourself sick staying out here,” Isaac told him.
Truth was, Derek already looked sick. He had dark circles under his eyes that showed his exhaustion, and Christ, when was the last time he ate? His face would have looked gaunt if it wasn’t half hidden by a beard that would’ve made a lumberjack envious. Isaac’s eyes lingered on the scar that ran from Derek’s eyebrow to his temple, a leftover from the accident. Peter recommended a doctor who could remove it, but Derek was adamant it stay on his face.
“Don’t care if I get sick,” Derek muttered in response. “Maybe I’ll die, too.”
Isaac swallowed over the painful lump in his throat as he sat down next to his best friend.
“Do you think that’s what Stiles would have wanted?” he asked gently.
Derek was quiet for so long, Isaac wondered if he passed out.
“No,” Derek finally said. “Stiles woulda told me to stop being a dipshit.”
Derek closed his eyes as tears streaked down his cheeks. Isaac wrapped his arm around him and gave him a comforting hug.
“I miss him,” Derek said hoarsely. “I miss him so fuckin’ much.”
“I know you do, bud,” Isaac told him. “But you’re not doing yourself any good living this way. He wouldn’t have wanted you to live this way.”
“You wanna know what kills me the most?”
“He didn’t have anyone at his funeral. Peter said he waaas cr-cremated. No one was there for him.”
“You would have been there if you could have.”
Derek ran his hand over his face. “I don’t even know where his ashes are. Peter said he took care of everything. He did, too. Cleaned out our apartment and everything. I didn’t—don’t have anything left of Stiles. Not even his paintings.”
“Maybe…maybe it’s better that way,” Isaac said slowly. “Maybe you need to let him go.”
Derek laughed without humor. “I can’t. I promised I wouldn’t.”
“What do you mean?”
Derek leaned his head back and closed his eyes.
“I’m tired, Isaac. I’m just so fuckin’ tired.”
“Let me get you inside then and you can go to bed.”
Derek didn’t protest this time when Isaac grabbed his arm and helped him to his feet. They made their way up to Derek’s room. Isaac grabbed the bedsheets and drew them down. Derek crawled onto the mattress and Isaac pulled the sheets to his chin.
“There’s something you can do for Stiles, you know,” Isaac said.
“Live for him, man. That’s the best way you can honor him.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Derek said before he rolled onto his side and promptly passed out.
~~ * ~~
One year after the accident
“I’ve decided something,” Stiles said as he looked out the window of Dr. Morrell’s office. He saw the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance, barely visible in the fog.
“What’s that,” Dr. Morrell encouraged.
“My last surgery is scheduled for next month,” Stiles reminded her, gesturing to his face. He was wearing large aviator sunglasses and a flat cap. They did little to hide the massive bandages on his forehead and eye region, but at least he no longer looked like a mummy.
“Since I’m going to have a brand new identity, I’ve decided to go by a different name,” Stiles said as he faced her. “Well, not too different, but I’ve decided I want to be called by my legal name, Mienim.”
“Okay Mienim, why go with that?”
“For my mom, really. I used to look like her, did you know?”
“You never mentioned it before, no.”
“Well, I did. Now, I’m going to look like someone completely different, but I can still have that connection to her.”
“If you’re happy with your choice, that’s good.”
“And that’s not all,” Stiles said. “I’ve decided to go to a dialect coach. Anyone who hears me speak knows I’m from South Boston. If I’m going to be a new person, I want to embrace it fully.”
Dr. Morrell frowned at that as she wrote something down on her ever present notepad.
“What if Derek tries to find you?” she said. “New face, new voice. How will he know if it’s you? You mentioned before he never knew your real name.”
Stiles turned back around to face the window, his body stiff with anger.
“He’s not going to come looking for me.”
“How do you know for sure?”
“Do you know what today is? It’s the anniversary of the accident. If we hadn’t been hit, I’d be celebrating my one year wedding anniversary today. I guess it’s a good thing the accident happened.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because!” Stiles snapped. “He’s just like my father. He couldn’t handle the way I looked after the accident, and he fucking abandoned me. What kind of man would I have ended up marrying? I didn’t know him at all.”
The doctor was quiet for a moment, her thoughts reflective as she looked at Stiles’ profile.
“Do you regret the deal you made with Peter Hale?” she finally asked.
“I made a deal with the devil and I got what I deserved. I lost everything.”
“You haven’t though, Mienim, that’s the point. Your life didn’t end with that accident. As you just said, Derek wasn’t the man you thought he was. Perhaps this new face will give you a chance for real happiness.” Dr. Morrell smiled before she reached for the rolodex on her desk. “You want a dialect coach? I know just the man.”
Stiles left Dr. Morrell’s office feeling better than he had in a long time. He had an appointment with some guy named Deaton next week who would help him put his Bostonian past behind once and for all.
And maybe Morrell was right. As more time passed without a word from Derek, Stiles grew angrier and angrier. Maybe it was time to let him go. He sat down at the local bus stop and waited for the trolley car, which would take him to his new apartment. One of these days, he was really going to need to buy a new vehicle – once he got over his fear of cars, that is.
“You think they’ll get married,” the girl sitting next to him asked. When he looked at her in confusion, she nodded to the iPad in her hand.
“Hale and Argent,” she said. She had some gossip website pulled up, and front and center was Derek kissing Kate Argent.
Stiles lurched from the bench and stumbled away. He must have walked for a good hour before he made it to the small space he was renting as a studio. He made it inside and locked the door behind him. Stiles looked around in a daze. His photography equipment and various pictures he’d taken were haphazardly thrown around the space, but in one corner was a stack of paintings he had done when he lived in Massachusetts. They had arrived in San Francisco shortly after he had.
Pummeled by inconsumable rage, Stiles grabbed a box cutter off a nearby table and grabbed the first painting, slashing it over and over until it was no longer recognizable. He did it again and again to the different paintings, tears blinding him with every slice he made. Each one represented different phases in his life with Derek. When he got to the final picture, he paused. His hand trembled as it hovered over the painting.
It was the last painting he’d worked on; the one of Derek and Stiles’ special cliff. He never did complete it. As he stared at it now, he found he couldn’t destroy it. He put the box cutter down with an anguished sob and turned away. Standing up on shaking limbs, he made his way over to a cabinet on the other side of the studio. Reaching inside, he grabbed some paint and a paintbrush before he made his way slowly back to the painting.
~~ * ~~
“I have some great news,” Laura said as she sat back in her office chair.
Derek smiled at her barely contained excitement. Cora sat in the chair next to Derek’s with Isaac standing behind her. Peter was noticeably absent.
Laura grinned at Derek and said, “Cora and I have been talking and we’ve decided we want you to head up the west coast division.”
“You definitely deserve it,” Cora added eagerly. “In the past six months, you’ve doubled our profits.”
It was true. Since Isaac found him drunk off his ass, Derek had thrown himself into work. He found he had a knack for business in a way he never fully realized before. His tactics were fair when warranted and ruthless when he was crossed.
“The new building should be up next year,” Laura said. “In the meantime, Isaac’s going to help out with the interior design.”
“Any Hale Corp building has to have the Lahey touch,” Isaac agreed with a wink.
“Why now?” Derek asked quietly.
“Derek, you realize what we’re saying here, right?” Cora said. “You’ll be president of the west coast division.”
“Laura,” Derek said, directing a warning glare at his older sister.
“You do deserve this promotion,” Laura said. “Plus…well, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to have a change of environment. Especially after the whole Kate thing.”
Derek gritted his teeth as he thought about the incident a month ago. He’d been attending a charity event with Peter for P.A.D.D, People Affected by Drunk Driving. Considering how he lost Stiles, it was a cause close to his heart. Peter had taken the event and made it an opportunity to showcase Hale Corp’s philanthropic efforts. All of New England’s high society was there, and the event was turned into a circus act. As the evening wore down, Derek had made his way to the exit where a line of photographers had been waiting. Next thing he knew, Kate Argent was plastered against him, her mouth pressed firmly to his.
Derek had been irate. He knew why she was at the event and who had invited her. He’d quickly broken off the kiss and threatened her with a restraining order if she ever did it again. He then went after Peter and made it clear he would never marry Kate. He also promised that if Peter ever tried a stunt like that again, Derek would destroy him. He and Peter had barely spoken since.
“So what do you say?” Laura asked, bringing Derek back to his current conversation.
The truth was, he could use a different environment. Everywhere he looked he was haunted by Stiles. Maybe it was time for a fresh start.
Smiling grimly, he said, “It looks like I’m headed to San Francisco.”
One year, six months after the accident
“Are you ready, Mienim?” Lydia asked.
“Yeah,” Stiles said, giving a nervous nod.
“Wait,” Erica said before adding a few squirts of hairspray to his hair.
Stiles had spent all morning with his plastic surgeon and her stylist. Erica Reyes was almost as frightening as Lydia. When she asked him how he wanted his hair styled, he had suggested she give him back his buzz cut. With all the times his head had been wrapped in gauze the past year and a half, hair maintenance hadn’t been a priority, and it had inevitably grown out. Erica’s lips had pursed into a dangerous line at his suggestion. She gave him a short and decisive “no” before slapping half a jar of hair gel on his head.
Now it was time to see if all the pain he had endured was worth it. Lydia reached over and removed the last bandage above his eye. She tossed it aside before crossing her arms over her chest, her face smug with satisfaction.
“So Coach,” Stiles joked. “How do I look?”
“See for yourself,” Lydia said, nodding to the mirror behind him.
Stiles’ stomach twisted as he thought about the last time he looked into a mirror all those months ago. He still woke up screaming whenever he was unfortunate enough to dream about his smashed-in face and torn skin. He hadn’t had the courage to look at his reflection since. He closed his eyes briefly before he got out of the styling chair and walked to the full length mirror.
The first thing he noticed was his legs. Due his avoidance of cars, Stiles had done a lot of walking since the accident and his legs showed his efforts. They were toned in a way he didn’t think was possible. As his eyes traveled up the length of his body, he noticed his stomach had lost the “Freshman 15” pounds he had gained his first year at college and was now firm. His eyes continued their journey up. His biceps bulged as he flexed his arms slightly. Those were due to a combination of lugging his camera equipment around and Lydia giving him weights to lift. She told him it would help burn off nervous energy. And it had. Stiles finally understood why Der—people found exercise so therapeutic. His eyes paused at his neck, unable to look any further.
“Breathe, Mienim,” Lydia encouraged, which made him realize he had stopped.
Taking her advice, he took in a shaky breath and finally looked at his face. He felt his jaw drop at what he saw. He knew he would look different, but he didn’t realize how much.
His jaw and nose had been crooked ever since his mother’s accident. Now they were perfectly symmetrical. The shape of his nose wasn’t as broad as it had been before. As Stiles turned his head, he saw it had a slight lift at the end.
His jaw line was sharp and strong. His cheekbones stood out proudly; his brow masculine. Where Stiles’ face had always had an almost youthful look to it, it now held a maturity he didn’t recognize.
But most startling were his eyes. Before they had been a little too round. People used to tell him he had that deer–in-the-headlights look patented. Now his eyes were smaller, narrower, and yet they complemented his new face even more.
As Stiles took a step closer to the mirror, he turned his head back and forth, looking for imperfections. He saw none. Even the scar he used to have near his eye was gone. As he looked closer, he noticed a lot of his moles were gone, either cut off from the shattered glass or lasered off when they were removing his scars. The few moles he still had weren’t in the same spots as they were before, which shouldn’t have surprised Stiles given how much his remaining skin had been stretched, pulled, or replaced. Yet it did. He tried not to panic at the stranger staring back at him.
“Well, what do you think? Lydia asked.
“Hot,” Erica said when he didn’t continue. She reached up to touch his hair, but put her hand down without making contact. It needed no further adjusting.
Stiles took in his hair for the first time. It was strange seeing it the way it was. While Erica had trimmed it so it was shorter in the back and on the sides, he now had bangs which were currently slicked back and defying gravity thanks to the half a gallon of gel Erica had used.
“Yes,” Lydia said proudly. “He does look quite good.”
“You think so?” Stiles asked unsurely as he reached up to touch his cheek.
“You’re ‘lead singer of a boy band’ level hot,” Erica confirmed.
Stiles continued to stare at himself, his mind trying to reconcile what he looked like before with what he looked like now. Lydia came over and gave his arm a squeeze.
“Are you disappointed?” she asked.
“No,” he said immediately. “It’s just…it’s just going to take some time getting used to.”
“Well, I know the perfect way to celebrate the occasion,” Lydia told him.
“Aside from the three hour makeover?” Stiles asked cautiously.
“Please, that was nothing compared to what I’m about to say,” Lydia said.
Stiles began to feel nervous again. “What?”
“My husband Aiden’s idiot brother, Ethan, recently dumped his boyfriend to go find himself in Budapest.”
“Okay?” Stiles said slowly.
“I want you to meet Danny.”
“What? No. I do not need you arranging my love life. I especially don’t need to be the rebound for your brother-in-law’s ex. Which is weird, by the way, that you’d even want to set me up with him.”
“That was not where I was going with this, but it’s interesting your mind went right there,” Lydia chastised. “I want you to meet Danny because he owns an art gallery.”
“And I showed him some of your photography. He wants to see more. He said and I quote, ‘If this guy’s other work is half as good as this, I need to showcase it’.”
“Seriously?” Stiles asked excitedly.
Stiles reached over and hugged her close.
“Thanks Lydia,” he choked emotionally against her hair. He wasn’t just thanking her for this new opportunity. He was thanking her for everything. For being so patient with him while he went through the different surgeries. For not letting him give up on himself. Most importantly, for giving him his life back.
~~ * ~~
Danny Māhealani was sugar wrapped around a steel cable. He was ridiculously attractive with his dark hair and dimples. But he was also a shrewd businessman who knew the San Francisco art scene better than anyone. He and Stiles had been talking about art for hours as they drank lattes at the local coffee shop.
“Your work is stunning, Mienim,” Danny said as he examined some of the photos Stiles had brought with him.
“Thank you,” Stiles replied demurely before taking a sip of his drink.
“Now…” Danny said, putting the photos to the side. “As much as I’ve enjoyed debating who was better, Monet or Van Gogh, it’s time to discuss business.”
“Van Gogh, hands down,” Stiles said, smiling innocently.
Danny flashed that dimpled grin of his. “Let’s agree to disagree. As I was saying, I’d like to discuss some business with you. I want to do an exhibit showcasing your work. Now normally I charge a commission for any sales you achieve, splitting the profits 50/50 with you retaining ownership of the copyright. However, I’m willing to negotiate a 60/40 contract, with you gaining the larger percentage. I’ll also be taking on the fees for all promotional costs. If your pictures are the draw I think they’ll be, they’ll help overall profits at the gallery skyrocket.”
Stiles took another sip of his drink in an attempt to hide his excitement. He had already read up on contract negotiations between artists and galleries, and he knew what Danny was offering was more than fair.
“I’ll need time to build my portfolio,” Stiles said after a moment.
“How does six months sound? That will give me enough time to get the word out about San Francisco’s hottest new artist.” Danny said, smiling broadly.
Stiles tried not to flush at the double meaning. “Six months should work.”
“Does that mean we have a deal?”
“I’ll have my lawyer look over the contact, but pending his feedback, I’d say we have a deal.”
“Perfect,” Danny said, the dimples in his cheeks deepening. “Now that business is concluded, I was wondering if you’d like to have dinner with me sometime.”
“Didn’t you just get out of a relationship?” Stiles asked casually.
“I did,” Danny admitted. “But to be honest, Ethan and I were over pretty much before we started. For as long as I’ve known him, he’s always had a case of wanderlust. I knew that going into the relationship so I wasn’t exactly brokenhearted when he told me he wanted to go find his life’s meaning.”
“I see,” Stiles said. He wanted to say yes to Danny. Every fiber in his being was screaming at him to say yes. But something made it hesitate.
“Look, no pressure,” Danny said, reading his face.
“Danny, if I said, ask me again later, will you promise not to take offense to it.”
“Sure,” Danny said, his eyes running over Stiles’ face. He added gently, “Perhaps it’s not my heart we have to worry about here.”
Stiles smiled weakly. “That’s a story for another time.”
Danny reached over and squeezed Stiles’ hand. Stiles moved his palm so their fingers intertwined. Danny was suddenly very glad there was going to be a next time.
~~ * ~~
Two years after the accident
Isaac Lahey didn’t get frustrated very easily. He loved his job. It allowed him to spend hours if not weeks exploring different galleries around the globe. There was a reason Hale Corp offices were considered some of the most beautiful in the world. Isaac was good at what he did. He knew how to pick just the right piece of art to hang in just the right place.
So it pissed him off to no end that he couldn’t find the right artwork for the new San Francisco office. The building was already creating buzz for its “green” design. Jackson Whittemore would undoubtedly win another award for his work, increasing his already pompous ego. Luckily Derek had to deal with him more than Isaac did.
Isaac sat in the empty lobby and stared at the wall behind the welcome desk for what felt like the millionth time. This was the first spot people would see when they walked in, and Derek always stressed the importance of a good first impression. It could make or break someone’s mood, ultimately swaying the outcome of business that day. As Derek was going to be officially moving to San Francisco in a matter of weeks to open the new building, Isaac needed to get this final task complete. But no matter where he looked, he couldn’t find what he wanted.
“To hell with it,” he muttered, getting up from the leather chair he was sitting in before stretching. He needed to get some fresh air, dinner, and then call Cora for some phone sex. With that plan in mind, he headed out of building and began walking aimlessly.
Isaac found a food truck that only sold tofu burritos—freaking California, man—so he bought one and continued his walk as he ate. He was about to head back to his hotel when a crowd ahead caught his eye. Throwing his trash away, he walked toward a brightly lit gallery.
In the window was a black and white photo of a ship. The photographer had captured the light in such a way, the ship looked almost ghostly. Isaac had to wonder if he was staring at an illusion or not. It was one of the most captivating pieces of work he’d ever seen.
“Yeah, that’s it,” he said, feeling like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. He looked at the window and saw an announcement, Showcasing Photographer Mienim.
He waited in line with the other patrons, an eclectic group that ranged from people in ball gowns to people in ripped jeans. When he got inside the gallery, he grabbed a brochure that included information about the photographer as well as some of his photos. Isaac learned that this was the first exhibit the artist had ever done, and he was considered to be an up and coming star. Isaac could certainly see why. He felt himself actually turn giddy as he looked at the tiny pictures in the brochure before letting his eyes rest joyfully on the larger prints on the wall. Each one was equally amazing, catching a different mood or expression. He tore his eyes away from the photo closest to him and looked around.
“Excuse me,” Isaac said, flagging down a waiter who was walking by carrying a tray of wine glasses. “Do you know if the photographer is here?”
“He’s over there,” the guy answered, nodding to a man standing on the other side of the room who was talking to several people.
Mienim was tall and lean with tousled dark brown hair. With his long black pants and button down blue shirt, Isaac thought he looked more like a young executive enjoying his weekend than an artist. Mienim threw back his head and laughed; the sound infectious to anyone who could hear it. Isaac felt himself smile and he didn’t even know what the joke was. The guy was charismatic; he would give him that. He had an energy to him that drew people in.
Isaac kind of wished Derek was with him. This guy was just his type. Maybe Mienim could bring him out of his self-imposed celibacy. But Isaac wasn’t here to play matchmaker. He was here on business.
The crowd soon parted away from the photographer and Isaac saw his chance. He stepped into the man’s eyesight and that’s when something strange happened. Mienim stiffened as though someone had just shoved a knife in his back. The merriment he had been wearing moments earlier disappeared as though it had never existed. His posture stiffened as Isaac approached.
Never one to be swayed by a negative response, Isaac said, “Are you Mynim?”
“It’s pronounced Meenim,” the photographer responded, his California accent sounding off to Isaac’s ears.
“Well, Mienim, it’s an honor to meet you,” Isaac said, offering his hand. The man shook it briefly before letting it go so fast, Isaac wondered if it had burned him.
“Your work is incredible,” Isaac told him, still unwilling to be discouraged.
“Thank you,” Mienim said, looking at Isaac’s shoulder. Okay, this guy may be a brilliant photographer, but he was weird. Then again, what great artist wasn’t?
“Listen,” Isaac said eagerly. “I’m an art consultant for Hale Corp. My employer is opening a building in San Francisco in a couple of weeks and…”
Mienim was staring at him as though he had grown two heads. Isaac was starting to feel self-conscious. Did he have tofu in his teeth or something?
“Did I lose you?” he finally asked. Mienim jumped like he was electrocuted.
“Sorry,” the photographer said, his cheeks flushing. “You were saying?”
“I’m an art consultant for Hale Corp. We’re going to be opening a new office in the area soon, and I’d love for one of your photos to be featured in our main lobby.”
“I’m sorry but that’s not possible,” Mienim said tightly.
Isaac felt his brow furrow. “It’s not though. I read that you’re an up and coming artist. This opportunity will put you on the map on a global scale. Our San Francisco office is going to be promoted heavily across the world and—”
“I’m sorry,” Mienim said again. “My answer is no. If you’ll excuse me.”
The man walked away and disappeared in the back. Isaac was going to follow him but a menacing looking security guard was giving him the stinkeye. Isaac ran his hand through his hair in frustration. Dammit to hell and back, now he was right back to square one. No matter how long he had been in this business, he would never understand artists. And he used to be one!
~~ * ~~
“Hey buddy,” Isaac said cheerfully over the speakerphone a week later.
“Did you find a piece for the front lobby yet?” Derek said, cutting right to the point as he continued to work his way through the company ledger.
He heard Isaac sigh heavily. “Not yet. Honestly, I found one artist and his work has kind of ruined me for everyone else.”
“So get him under contract,” Derek said as he shifted through the paperwork.
“That’s the thing,” Isaac responded. “The guy didn’t even want to have a discussion about it.”
“Then get someone else.”
“Derek, you don’t understand. This is your guy, I’m telling you. My instincts are never wrong about these things. Look, do me a favor and open the email I just sent you.”
Derek looked at his monitor and found the email from Isaac. Opening the attachment, he saw a scanned copy of a brochure. There were three pictures on the cover, each one equally compelling. Derek stared at them as though hypnotized.
“I see what you mean,” he finally said.
“Yeah, so I’m going to continue my search, but it’s going to be slim pickings now.”
“I want this guy,” Derek said, unable to tear his eyes away from the photos.
“So do I, but like I said, he flat out refused to hear anything I had to say.”
If there was nothing Derek enjoyed more, it was a challenge when it came to business. Leaning back in his chair, he felt a rush of power as he said, “Do you know how I can get a hold of him?”
I've been making photo sets on tumblr to go with each chapter. If you want to see different scenes from the story, you can check it out here.
Stiles was going to be late. He had a meeting with Danny to discuss his sales, which were apparently going through the roof, but he also wanted to finish mounting the prints he’d been working on all week. His shoulders hunched as he angled the photo on the mat board, making sure it was lying perfectly. The phone rang and he reached for it distractedly. He half expected it to be Danny about to chew him out for being late. He cradled it against his shoulder as he continued to work.
“Yeah,” he said in way of greeting.
There was a pause and then, “May I speak to Mynim?”
Stiles sighed inwardly and wondered again at the stupidly of going by his birth name. “It’s Meeeeenim.”
“Sorry, may I speak to Mienim?”
“You got him,” Stiles said as he straightened the picture for the umpteenth time.
“Oh…hello. I’ve been looking forward to speaking with you. My name is Derek. Derek Hale.”
Stiles jolted causing the phone to drop to the floor. With trembling hands, he picked it up. He could hear Derek on the other line saying, “Hello? Hello, are you still there?”
“Sorry, I’m here.”
“Great,” Derek said, his voice light. Stiles felt his blood boil at the easy confidence he could hear. Derek didn’t sound like a man who’d had his world ripped apart. Then again, considering how quickly he had hopped into a relationship with Kate Argent, he probably hadn’t. Did he even remember Stiles’ name?
“What can I help you with, Mr. Hale?” Stiles said, trying his best to keep the bitterness out of his voice.
“Derek, please,” Derek replied smoothly and Stiles had to bite back an angry retort. “I’m calling to discuss your photos. I believe you met with an associate of mine, Isaac Lahey. He sent me some of your work—”
“How?” Stiles interrupted, his mind racing. He had made sure to stress to Danny that he didn’t want any business dealings with Isaac or Hale Corp when Isaac had run into him at the exhibit. Danny had said he was an idiot for throwing away such an incredible opportunity but Stiles had been adamant.
“Isaac sent me a brochure. I believe it was from your exhibit.”
Stiles silently cursed. He forgot all about those.
“Your work is incredible,” Derek continued. “We would like to offer you a contract to showcase your work in our San Francisco office—”
“No,” Stiles said.
Derek paused. “I’m sorry?”
“As I told your associate, I’m not interested in having my work featured in your office.”
“Why not?” Derek sounded confused. “I’m talking about a major contract here. I’ll double our normal offer—”
“Let me phrase my answer differently so you’ll comprehend,” Stiles said. “I have no interest in working with you. Goodbye, Mr. Hale.”
He disconnected the call and turned the power off for good measure. He threw the phone on the table before burying his face in his hands.
~~ * ~~
Derek got up from his desk and loosened his tie. He ran a hand through his hair in frustration as he stared at the rain pouring down his office window. What the hell was that photographer’s problem? Derek wasn’t stupid. He didn’t offer top of the line deals to people without doing some inquiries. He knew this guy had business dealings with other companies. So why was he so willing to flush away a contract with a Fortune 500 company?
More importantly, why the hell was Derek so fixated on signing this particular photographer? There were plenty of other talented photographers in San Francisco. Why was he trying to work with this pain in the ass?
Derek turned and looked at the brochure Isaac had emailed him. It was printed and lying on Derek’s desk. He kept it close to him ever since Isaac had sent it, and he felt his tense shoulders ease as he stared at it. There was something about Mienim’s work that filled him with a yearning he didn’t understand. He hadn’t felt this type of connection to a piece of art since he had last viewed Stiles’ work.
And perhaps that was the reason right there. He was still looking for some type of connection to Stiles, even if it meant forcing his way into another artist’s life, despite the guy being a complete stranger. He was so desperate to feel close to Stiles again, his mind was even playing tricks on him.
Mienim had clearly been irritated when he was speaking with Derek. When he’d said, ‘Goodbye, Mr. Hale,’ his voice seemed more Bostonian than Californian to Derek’s desperate ears. He had sounded so much like Stiles in that moment, Derek’s heart had skipped a beat.
“I’m definitely losing it,” he muttered.
He grabbed the brochure and his one way ticket to San Francisco, placing them into his briefcase. Looking around his Boston office one final time, he headed for the exit where a car was waiting to take him to the airport.
~~ * ~~
“To you,” Danny said, lifting his wine glass to clink it against Stiles’. “You are the fastest selling artist I’ve ever showcased.”
“Really?” Stiles said, trying to drum up some enthusiasm. His earlier phone call with Derek had left him rattled.
“Why aren’t you more excited?” Danny asked, his eyes running over Stiles’ despondent features.
“I am,” Stiles lied. He stepped away from Danny’s desk to walk over to the office window. “You didn’t sell any to Hale Corp, did you?”
“No, you were firm on that, and with you owning the copyright, it’s not like I’m going to override you,” Danny said, sitting in his chair before setting his wine glass on his desk. “Why?”
“Derek Hale called me today. Said he’d double his offer.”
“Mienim!” Danny said, straightening. “That’s fantastic news.”
“I told him no,” Stiles said.
“I don’t understand. Why would you do that?”
Stiles bit his lip hard enough to taste blood. He finally turned to meet Danny’s gaze.
“Do you know what brought me to California?”
“You were in an accident. You came here so Lydia could be your surgeon.”
“Derek Hale was in the car with me when the accident happened. We were on our way to the airport to elope. His uncle offered to pay for my surgeries if I didn’t make contact with Derek again. I even had to sign a contract before the first surgery took place. He wanted Derek to have the choice to be with me or not, given how destroyed my face was. As it turned out, Derek wanted nothing to do with me once I was damaged goods.”
“I’m so sorry,” Danny said, walking over to him to hold his hand. “I didn’t know.”
“It’s not something I like to talk about.”
Danny nodded and said, “I won’t press you on the matter again.”
“Thank you,” Stiles said, giving him a relieved smile. His face brightened as he said, “I have something for you.”
He left Danny where he was standing and went out into the gallery. Grabbing the present from the receptionist desk, he gave him a smile before heading back into the office. Danny eyed what he held curiously.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“This is the last painting I’ll ever do,” he said, laying it carefully on Danny’s desk.
Danny sucked in a breath as he took in the painting of a cliff surrounded by forest. Stiles stared at him, taking in his awestruck reaction.
“Mienim, this is exquisite,” Danny whispered.
“You like it?”
“There are no words,” Danny said, not looking away from the painting.
“It’s yours then,” Stiles told him. “Do what you want with it. Sell it, burn it, I don’t care.”
“Burning it is out of the question,” Danny said with a shaky laugh. “Are you sure this will be your last painting? You have an incredible gift.”
“I was working on this the night of the accident,” Stiles said, waving a hand at the artwork. “This piece symbolizes my past, just like painting does. I’m ready to let it all go.”
Danny gave him a sympathetic smile before he said, “I think I’ll keep it for my personal collection. It’d break my heart to know this was out in the world and I didn’t own it.”
He turned and hugged Stiles, their bodies pressing together. Danny brushed his lips against his cheek, murmuring, “Thank you, Mienim.”
As Danny went to move back, Stiles reached for his hips, holding him still. He looked into Danny’s tawny colored eyes before looking down at his firm lips. He leaned forward hesitantly before pressing their mouths together.
Kissing Danny was nice. It left Stiles with his stomach feeling like it was being warmed by fluttering butterflies. It wasn’t the same sizzling heat he felt whenever he kissed Der—other people, but it was still nice. When Danny broke the kiss, they smiled at each other sheepishly before Stiles wrapped his arms around the other man’s neck to bring him close again.
~~ * ~~
Stiles tried to focus on the task at hand as he examined his photos of the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center. They had requested he take photos of their building, which would then be displayed throughout their lobby. It was a big honor, not to mention a huge commission. Yet, Stiles couldn’t concentrate for the life of him.
He had agreed to go on a date with Danny. He wanted to be—was—excited. Danny was ridiculously attractive, intelligent, and kind. Who wouldn’t be excited to go out with him? But Stiles couldn’t escape the feeling he was cheating.
And that pissed him right off.
After Stiles had left Danny’s office the day they kissed, he’d felt increasingly guilty. Which was complete bullshit. It wasn’t like Derek was keeping celibate. He was probably in bed with Kate Argent right now.
Sighing, he forced himself to look at the photos flashing against the screen on the wall. He liked to view his work using a projector connected to his computer. It allowed him to see the photos in greater detail. Any photos even slightly out of focus were discarded. With only the projector and a small desk lamp lighting the room, the darkness of his surrounding environment suited his mood perfectly. He was in the process of writing down his top choices when there was a knock on his studio door.
“It’s open,” he yelled, finishing what he was writing before looking up. A man stood in the shadows of the room. “Can I help you?”
“I hope so,” the man said and Stiles felt himself freeze as Derek stepped into the light.
Derek liked to pride himself on his ethics. Sure he had done a lot of questionable things in the name of business. He had been called a bastard by fellow businessmen; an unfeeling prick by many others, but none of them could ever say his conduct was unethical.
So he wasn’t too proud of how he acquired the address to Mienim’s studio. He’d stopped by the Māhealani Art Gallery first since they seemed to be the only dealer Mienim used to sell his photos. The receptionist had been firm on not giving Derek personal information on their artists, but then Derek turned on what Stiles used to refer to as his “killer charm.” He’d flirted and grinned at the man until he was blushing. The receptionist had finally handed over Mienim’s address along with his own phone number. It had been sleazy of Derek, seeing as he had no intention of calling the guy, but he had achieved his objective. Which is how he now found himself standing in the photographer’s studio.
What he didn’t understand was what he was doing there. Derek knew a bad deal when he saw it. He had to deal with hostile takeovers all the time. He had learned in the course of his career that there were deals you needed to pursue, and there were deals that weren’t worth the headache. Mienim had made it clear on more than one occasion he wanted nothing to do with Hale Corp. Pursuing this would cause nothing but a mess for Derek. It was better to let it go. But Derek wouldn’t—couldn’t—accept that.
He tried to remind himself that Mienim was one of thousands of photographers the company could use. He tried to tell himself he was acting like a spoiled child who hadn’t gotten his way. But honestly, he didn’t give a damn what he told himself. He was going to get one of Mienim’s photo’s for the San Francisco office. If he had to treat the situation like a hostile takeover, then so be it.
As he stood there, he waited for the photographer to greet him in some way. After Mienim had asked if he could help Derek, and Derek had responded that he hoped he would, the man had stiffened, not moving a muscle. Derek squinted, trying to get a better view of Mienim, but he was shrouded in darkness. He turned to look at the photos flashing across the screen on the wall. He felt that strange contentment he also did when he stared at one of Mienim’s works.
“You have such an incredible gift,” Derek spoke, almost to himself. “Do you know, I could walk into a gallery and spot your photos out of a hundred pictures. Especially the landscapes. They’re so familiar to me for some reason. It’s a rarity you don’t come across much these days.”
Derek turned to get a better look at Mienim, but to his ever growing frustration, the artist was still hiding in the shadows.
“Can I turn on the lights?” he asked.
“No,” was the immediate response.
“We spoke on the phone the other day,” Derek said. “But let me properly introduce myself. I’m Derek Ha—”
“I know who you are,” Mienim interrupted, his voice cold.
“Look, I know it’s presumptuous that I just show up like this, but I wanted to up my offer. I’m willing to pay you triple the amount we normally would…”
Mienim moved away from his desk, disappearing into the darkness completely. A second later, Derek heard the snap of a switch and the room was suddenly encased in bright light. He blinked at the change before finally getting his first glimpse of Mienim.
The man had his back to him, so there wasn’t much to see, but Derek found he couldn’t look away. There was something…familiar about Mienim. He couldn’t put his finger on it. And that was before the photographer slowly turned around and Derek saw his face.
Mienim reminded Derek so much of Stiles he was half tempted to go over, grab him, and never let go. They were both about the same height and had the same coloring. Hell, Mienim even had moles like Stiles had, though they didn’t cover his face in the same way.
But aside from the coloring and height, they didn’t look anything alike. Mienim was muscular in a way Stiles always abhorred. While Stiles didn’t mind muscles on Derek, he always said he had better things to do than waste his time working out. Stiles had also worn his hair in a buzz cut so he wouldn’t have to fuss with it. It had been so short Derek hadn’t been able to tell what the exact color was other than a dark brown. Mienim wore his hair artistically arranged, the rich mahogany tresses styled to perfection. Stiles would have hated that look.
Most telling though was Mienim’s face. Stiles’ eyes had been hypnotically large while Mienim’s were cynically narrow. Stiles also had a scar near his eye from the accident he’d been in with his mother. Mienim lacked that endearing imperfection. His nose and overall facial structure were so different from Stiles,’ Derek knew he couldn’t be anything but a stranger. It still didn’t stop Derek from staring at him like he’d seen a ghost.
Dammit! Would he always be haunted by Stiles? Would he always see him in the face of complete strangers? He had to stop projecting like this. Stiles was dead. He had to accept it, no matter how much his heart protested.
Derek tried to speak, but his voice was too choked. He cleared it and tried again.
“Yes?” Mienim said, his voice sharp to Derek’s ears.
“I…hope you’ll consider my offer,” he said weakly.
Mienim’s shoulders seemed to drop slightly before he said, “As I’ve already repeatedly told you, my answer is no. Now, please leave.”
Derek, feeling too rattled by the encounter, left without another word, thoughts of a hostile takeover completely slipping his mind.
~~ * ~~
Derek stared out the window of his office, gazing at the Golden Gate Bridge. His hands were shoved in the pockets of his pants, his expression blank. He had been in a daze for over a week now. Ever since he encountered Mienim in the flesh. He couldn’t concentrate on work. He couldn’t concentrate on anything.
He had not one, but two major epiphanies since their meeting. One: Stiles was dead. He knew it. The world knew it. And maybe—just maybe—his heart was starting to accept it as well. He was grieving in a way he hadn’t allowed himself before. It wasn’t like the first six months after the accident. He’d been a drunken mix of rage and denial then. Now, he was in the final stage of grief: acceptance, and God did it hurt. He reached up and rubbed the area on his chest above his heart, as though that could relieve the ache he felt.
His other epiphany: he was ridiculously attracted to Mienim. Which sucked considering how much Mienim seemed to dislike him. He felt sick to his stomach over the attraction. He was just getting over Stiles, and now he wanted the first pretty face to catch his attention? He felt like shit about it. He felt unworthy of the love Stiles had bestowed upon him.
Would Stiles really want me to be miserable the rest of my life though?
He knew the answer was no. Stiles only ever wanted Derek to be happy. But how would Stiles feel knowing that Derek was attracted to a man that reminded him so much of his dead fiancé?
“God, I’m fucked up,” he muttered, placing his head against the cool glass of the window.
“You won’t get any argument from me,” a voice said behind him.
Derek spun to see his uncle standing near his desk. He had been so lost in thought he hadn’t heard him come in. With his jaw clenching, he moved to sit behind his desk. Peter sat opposite him, looking like he didn’t have a care in the world.
“What are you doing here, Peter?” Derek asked.
“Can’t a man come visit his favorite nephew?”
“Not without some ulterior motive.”
“That hurts, Derek, that really does.”
“What do you want, Peter?” Derek said, in no mood for his uncle’s games.
Peter ran his eyes over Derek’s face. The younger man did not look good. His eyes were puffy and red from lack of sleep and he had dark circles under them. His hair was sticking up in different directions like he’d run his hand through it a dozen times. He didn’t look like the cool-headed billionaire businessman that people all over the world feared.
“You look like shit,” Peter said, feeling to his annoyance that he felt slightly worried about his nephew.
“Fine,” Peter said, wondering why he even wasted emotion on the brat. “I heard you blew off the meeting with Tseki.”
“I rescheduled for a different day.”
“That’s too important a meeting to reschedule.”
“This is my branch and I’ll handle meetings how I see fit,” Derek snapped. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have somewhere else I need to be.”
Derek stood and headed for the exit.
“Where are you going?”
Derek sighed, too tired to deal with Peter anymore.
“Seeing as it’s eight in the evening, I thought I’d get myself some dinner and go home.”
“Wonderful. I think I’ll join you so we can get caught up.”
“Wonderful,” Derek gritted as he led the way out of the room. The quicker he dealt with Peter, the quicker he’d be out of his hair.
~~ * ~~
Derek was toying with the food on his plate as he half listened to Peter bragging about his latest conquest; some closeted prince from some country Derek had never heard of. He looked up from his plate to tell Peter he was done for the night, when something over his shoulder caught his eye.
Mienim was here. He was standing in a private dining room segregated from the rest of the restaurant. A man was next to him with his arm around his waist. Mienim was talking animatedly to the crowd around them, but the man was staring only at him. Mienim said something that made the crowd laugh and the man smiled, flashing his dimples. He leaned over and kissed Mienim’s cheek, his hand moving down to rest on his ass where the people in front of them couldn’t see. But Derek saw just fine. He was on his feet and headed to the dining room before he knew what he was doing.
“Excuse me,” he said, interrupting the party.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Mienim said as he looked at him. He leaned over and briefly kissed Dimples on the mouth. Derek tried to pretend the gesture didn’t make his blood boil. He heard Mienim excuse himself before the obviously angry man turned on Derek. He grabbed his arm and led him out onto the dining room’s private balcony.
“This has got to stop,” Mienim said.
“I didn’t mean to interrupt your party,” Derek said quickly. “I was having dinner with my uncle and I spotted you.”
Mienim went rigid before he looked through the restaurant windows. Derek turned as well and saw Peter staring at them from their table. With the patio lit in soft light, it was very easy for patrons to see them conversing where they stood. Peter’s gaze seemed to be fixated on Mienim in a way that made Derek uncomfortable. He stepped in front of the artist, blocking Peter’s view.
“Why did you interrupt my date?” Mienim asked and Derek tried not to let that little fact irritate him as much as it did. He had no claim on the man so he didn’t have any right to be annoyed.
“I have a final proposition for you. Triple my offer, plus your work displayed in our offices worldwide.”
Mienim turned away from him so that he was staring out at the San Francisco Bay. He grabbed the rail of the patio balcony, and even in the dim light, Derek could see his knuckles turn white.
“Mienim?” Derek said tentatively.
“Don’t you know who I am?” he asked so softly Derek had to strain to hear him.
Mienim stiffened until his back was ramrod straight. He turned back to Derek, his jaw clenched.
“I’m an artist,” he said. “I will not be a sell out to any corporation. Least of all Hale Corp. Now for the final time. Leave. Me. Alone.”
Mienim walked away without a backward glance. Derek stared after him, more confused than ever. Mienim returned to his boyfriend and kissed him hard on the lips before whispering something in his ear. Dimples smiled brightly before grabbing his hand and leading him toward the bathrooms. Derek suddenly felt queasy but he forced himself to return to Peter’s table.
“Who was that?” His uncle asked as he sat down.
“A stubborn, annoying, pain in my ass,” Derek muttered before sighing deeply. “He’s a photographer. I’ve been trying to get him to sign a contract so I can display his work behind the welcome desk at the office. I tripled the normal amount and even said we’d be willing to display his work in our offices worldwide, but he won’t accept.”
Peter was quiet for a moment, his eyes staring off into the direction of the private dining room.
“You must think very highly of his work to offer that kind of deal,” Peter finally said.
“He’s brilliant. There’s no one else like him out there,” Derek said, before loosening his tie. He stood up and pulled a couple of hundred dollar bills out of his wallet before throwing them on the table. “I’m going to head home. Are you on your way back to Boston?”
“Soon enough,” Peter said nonchalantly.
Giving his uncle a small nod, he left the restaurant, his thoughts on the large bottle of scotch currently residing in his apartment, and not on whatever Dimples and Mienim were up to in the bathroom.
~~ * ~~
Stiles stared at his computer with a razor sharp focus he didn’t know he was capable of. He needed work more than ever right now. If he didn’t focus on work, then his thoughts turned to Derek, and he couldn’t have that.
He couldn’t believe Derek didn’t know who he was. For Christ’s sake, the man recognized his style of artwork. He couldn’t recognize Stiles? Sure, he deliberately changed his way of speaking and he had a completely new face. But…Derek still should have known.
“Dickhead,” Stiles muttered before forcing his attention back on the computer where he was taking a look at some pictures he had captured that morning.
Maybe he should call Danny. Danny had made it clear he was available whenever Stiles was. After Stiles had let him blow him a week ago in the bathroom of that restaurant, the dynamics of their relationship had obviously changed. Though they hadn’t seen each other physically since that night, their texting certainly hadn’t been G-rated. Things were progressing nicely between the two of them, but Stiles knew he needed to take it slow. What happened between them at the restaurant was in part due to his anger with Derek; part desperation to move on. It wasn’t fair to Danny to use him as an escape. They needed to take things nice and slow so Stiles could know this was what he wanted.
So work had to be Stiles’ only priority right now. His love life could wait until he had a chance to process everything.
A knock on the studio door tore his attention away from what he was doing. He stared at it, feeling a mixed reaction course through him. Part of him hoped it was Derek, despite his protests. Another part of him was pissed at himself for hoping it was Derek.
“Come in,” he said warily.
It was a Hale all right. But not the one Stiles thought it would be.
Peter strutted into the studio as if he owned the place, his designer suit a sharp contrast to Stiles’ dirty t-shirt and ripped jeans. He looked at Stiles with an expression Stiles knew well, disdain. If Peter’s sudden appearance was a shock, it was nothing compared to what he said when he finally spoke.
“Hello Stiles. It’s been a long time.”
Stiles felt like the world had dropped from underneath his feet as he stared at Peter Hale.
“I’m sorry,” he said weakly. “I think you have the wrong pers—”
“Come now. There’s no need for pretense amongst friends,” Peter said. “I’m pleased to see Dr. Martin lived up to her reputation and was worth the money I spent. You’re simply stunning.”
Stiles tasted stomach acid in his mouth and swallowed hard. If he didn’t know better, he would think Peter was hitting on him. But he knew better. Peter’s statement wasn’t a come-on; merely a cool, clinical observation.
Peter raised an eyebrow at him. “Don’t you think Lydia was the right choice?”
“She was,” Stiles agreed, lifting his chin in defiance. Peter’s lips twisted up at Stiles’ admittance.
“How did you know?” Stiles asked.
“That it was you?” Peter said, moving over to examine one of Stiles’ photos hanging on the nearby wall. “Simple calculation. Your face may be different but you still hold yourself the same way. That coupled with your reaction to Derek’s offer, and it wasn’t too hard to put two and two together. Speaking of, how has it been going with my dear nephew?”
“I haven’t broken our agreement if that’s what you’re asking.”
Peter nodded. “Good. And here I was thinking I was going to have to remind you of our contract.”
“I have no intention of telling Derek who I really am.”
“Then there’s nothing more to discuss,” Peter said, flashing his white veneers. With a wave at Stiles’ photo, he added, “You should accept Derek’s offer. A commission like that would have you set for life. You could move somewhere nice and quiet. Like Montana.”
With a nod, Peter turned to leave.
“Was it worth it?” Stiles asked.
“Was what worth it?” Peter said impatiently, turning back around, annoyance clear on his face.
“The misery you caused,” Stiles said, taking an angry step forward.
“Who says Derek’s miserable?” Peter replied.
“Who said I was talking about Derek?” Stiles retorted. “But since you brought him up, let’s talk about why Derek looks like he’s aged ten years since I last saw him. Or how about the fact he acts more like a robot than an actual human being.”
Peter didn’t say anything. Stiles continued walking until he was standing right in front of the man. He shook his head as he saw for the first time how truly pathetic Peter really was.
“You goddamn son of a bitch,” Stiles finally said. “Playing God like you have the right. You destroyed my life and Derek sure as shit isn’t happy with his. But you know what gets me through my day? Knowing that someday you’re going to end up miserable and alone just like I’ve been these past two years. You’ve alienated everyone who would care about you, and when you die, no one will even give a damn.”
Peter’s lips formed into a sneer which was in stark contrast to the sudden pallor of his skin. Without another word, he turned and left. Stiles breathed a sigh of relief as he felt a sense of exhilaration rush through him.
Peter had been this thing in Stiles’ mind for so long; an evil being that destroyed Stiles’ life. Now Stiles saw him for what he really was. Weak. Peter held no power over him anymore, and for the first time in years, Stiles felt free.
~~ * ~~
Stiles leaned against the exterior wall of his studio with his arms folded across his chest. He chewed on his bottom lip as he stared at the Vespa GTS 300 parked in front of him. After telling Peter Hale off, Stiles had felt like he could face all his demons and come out the victor. After their confrontation, he had marched himself over to the DMV and updated his driver’s license. He then made his way over to the San Francisco Scooter Centre.
He figured a scooter was a good first step. It wasn’t as fast or confining as a car, but it still was a type of motorized vehicle. The Vespa might be a baby step in terms of putting himself behind the proverbial wheel again, but at least he was moving forward.
The store had delivered the Vespa that morning. It was a sleek black color with a tan seat. Stiles’ camera bag was already stored inside the underseat storage compartment, and his tripod was neatly folded and attached to the scooter’s back rack. All that was holding Stiles back was himself.
“Fuck it,” Stiles muttered.
He reached for his helmet where it lay on the back of the bike and secured it on his head. Straddling the scooter, he sat down, feeling a mix of trepidation and excitement. With trembling hands, he started it up. Kicking up the side stand, he applied the slightest pressure to the gas. The Vespa slowly crept forward. Luckily, Stiles wasn’t on the main road yet and he took his time getting used to the feel of it.
With his confidence growing, he applied more pressure to the gas. The Vespa zipped along like the well-oiled machine it was. Stiles turned onto one of the main roads and headed towards the bay. Sure, he was probably pissing people off by going ten under the speed limit, but they shouldn’t be driving so fast within city limits anyway.
Once he got to the waterfront, he parked in the public parking lot and took off his helmet. He couldn’t help the goofy smile on his face as he felt the thrill of accomplishment. Taking his camera bag out of the underseat compartment, he placed his helmet carefully inside before closing the seat and reaching for his tripod. As he made his way toward the water, he noticed a recognizable figure sitting on a nearby park bench. His good mood instantly evaporated as he marched over to the man.
“I thought I told you to stop contacting me,” Stiles snapped. “This is harassment bordering on stalking. Do I need to get the police involved?”
“You do realize I was here first, right?” Derek said as he stood up.
Stiles opened his mouth to say something but closed it again, realizing he had nothing to say to that. Derek was right and he had overreacted. His cheeks burned slightly as he nodded his apology and turned away.
“Mienim, wait,” Derek implored. Stiles didn’t turn around as he felt Derek come up behind him.
“You made it clear you don’t want to sell your pictures to me and I’ve accepted that. It’s just…”
Stiles slowly turned back to look at him. He saw something in Derek’s face; something raw and painful. He wanted to reach out and comfort him. His hand stayed by his side.
“Your work…it brings me peace,” Derek explained. “I know this is going to sound stupid, but sometimes I feel like my world is closing in on me. I can’t breathe. I can’t sleep. But something about your work calms me. That’s why I wanted one of your photos in my building. I wanted to walk into that lobby every morning, see your picture, and experience a moment of peace to get me through my day.”
Derek paused as he looked down at the ground. “I’m sorry I pushed you so hard. I didn’t used to be like this. And I just wanted you to know I won’t bother you again.”
He gave Stiles a half smile, which was more of a grimace, and started to walk by him.
“Wait,” Stiles said and Derek paused. He reached inside his camera bag and located the flash drive he had placed in there that morning.
“Here,” Stiles said as he tossed the drive to Derek who caught it easily. When Derek looked at him in confusion, he explained, “I was going to take that to a studio who prints my larger pieces for me. There’s only one photo on there, but you can do what you want with it. No charge.”
With that, he turned on his heel and headed back to the parking lot. He wasn’t in the mood to take pictures anymore.
~~ * ~~
Stiles cracked his neck as he looked around his studio. It was almost 4 PM. He had a lot to do before he went home for the day, but since he hadn’t eaten since that morning, he knew he needed to get food. His stomach’s incessant growling was distracting him. It didn’t help that his head had been in the clouds since his encounter with Derek the day before, and he could use the air anyway.
He walked outside but came to an abrupt halt as he stared at the billboard across the street. Splashed across it in the biggest print he had ever seen was the photo he had given Derek yesterday.
“It looks good, doesn’t it?” Derek said from behind him and Stiles looked over at him. He was so surprised by the picture, he didn’t even feel startled by Derek’s sudden presence.
“How did you—” Stiles started to say before he turned back to the billboard. A sense of pride hit him as he saw people stop to stare at it.
“Yeah,” he admitted. “It looks real good.”
“You should see the response we’ve been getting at our office. I had them put up the same print behind our welcome desk. It’s the focal point of the whole lobby. You should stop by and see it sometime. A lot of people have been inquiring about the talented artist behind the camera.”
“Maybe I will,” Stiles said, grinning at Derek, feeling relaxed with him for the first time since they reunited. He made his way over to nearby bus stop bench and sat down. Derek joined him and they sat in peaceful silence as they stared at the billboard.
After several minutes, Stiles turned to look at Derek’s profile. There was a look of contentment there that Stiles hadn’t seen since Derek came back into his life. He seemed happy. Stiles’ eyes travelled to the scar that went from Derek’s eyebrow to his temple. Stiles felt his stomach twist at the reminder of their accident. Sure, he had to have his face reconstructed, but Derek had ended up in a coma. He could have easily lost him that night in more ways than the way he actually did.
Suddenly needing to talk about it and finally get everything out in the open, contract with Peter be dammed, Stiles said, “How did you get that scar on your head?”
The easygoing expression on Derek’s face dropped as though it had never been there. He suddenly took on the appearance of the emotionless robot Stiles was familiar with.
“It was nothing,” Derek said gruffly. “I forgot it was even there.”
Stiles jumped to his feet and headed toward where his Vespa was parked without another word.
It was nothing. It was nothing??? The accident, Stiles’ painful surgeries, and their separation was nothing?
A hand on his arm jerked him around until he was facing a pissed off Derek Hale.
“This has got to stop,” Derek snapped.
“Fuck you,” Stiles retorted. He yanked on his arm but Derek wouldn’t let go.
“What the hell is your problem? Ever since we met, you’ve had a problem with me, and I don’t understand why. Tell me, dammit!”
“Maybe because I see you for who you really are. A spoiled little rich boy who thinks he can buy whatever and whoever he wants, just like his piece of shit uncle.”
“What the hell are you even talking about?” Derek yelled so loud people nearby stared at them in concern. In his anger, he at least let go of Stiles’ arm. Stiles turned and went over to his Vespa, but before he hopped on, he swung back around to face Derek one more time.
“You want to know what my problem is with you? I see a man with no moral compass, no compassion, and most of all no loyalty!”
“Where the fuck do you get off saying something like that to me?”
“Because you asked for it. Now maybe you’ll leave me the hell alone.”
Stiles jumped on his Vespa and gunned the engine. He took off without a backwards glance even as he heard Derek shout, “You don’t even know me.”
Stupid prick. He headed for Danny’s art gallery. When he arrived, he turned off the motor with shaking hands. He didn’t even bother to say hi to the receptionist as he hurried straight back to Danny’s office. Danny was sitting behind his desk looking at papers, but he got to his feet as soon as he saw Stiles’ expression.
“I need you to do me a favor,” Stiles said. “Take me to the airport.”
Danny walked over to him and grabbed his hands in his. “Take a second and breathe for me.” When Stiles did that, he said, “Now what’s going on?”
“I need to do something in Boston. There’s something there and…I’m sorry, Danny. I want to be with you, but something keeps holding me back. There’s a part of me still holding on to Derek. And I can’t do it anymore. That’s why I want to go to Boston. I never got closure. I need to properly say goodbye to that life, and I hope you can understand that. Will you take me to the airport?”
“Okay,” Danny said slowly.
“And you’ll be waiting for me when I get back?”
“Of course,” Danny said with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes.
~~ * ~~
Derek was pissed. Well, he was well on his way to being drunk, but he was pissed. In the five hours since he last spoke with Mienim, his anger continued to grow and fester until he knew he couldn’t take it anymore. He couldn’t leave things with Mienim the way they had.
Throwing cash on the table, he left the bar he had been in the past few hours and made his way outside. Hailing a cab, he ordered the driver to take him to Mienim’s studio. He paid his fare before he got out and hurried to the door, hammering on it with his fist.
“Mienim!” he yelled. “Mienim!”
He shouted and pounded on the door until his voice went hoarse and his fists ached. It finally registered through Derek’s alcoholic haze that Mienim wasn’t in. He glanced around until he saw the trolley car coming. Waving his hands like a lunatic, he almost jumped in front of it to get it to stop without even realizing it had already come to a halt for its routine stop. The driver raised an eyebrow at him as he hobbled on board. When they reached the stop closest to the Māhealani Art Gallery, Derek jumped off and made his way to the front entrance. He pulled on the door but it was locked.
Narrowing his eyes, he saw a faint light coming from a room inside the building. He started knocking loudly. The door to the back office opened and Dimples came out looking furious, his shirt undone and hanging on him. When he saw who was making all the noise, his expression turned irate. He came over and unlocked the door with a snap before jerking the door open.
“Obviously, Mr. Hale, you can’t read the sign on the door. We’re closed.”
“Where is he?” Derek said, pushing his way into the building. He looked around the empty gallery before yelling, “Mienim!”
“He’s not here,” Dimples said, coming up to stand in front of Derek menacingly. “Now leave my gallery.”
It clicked in Derek’s head that Dimples was Danny Māhealani, owner of the gallery. It also dawned on him that he didn’t give a shit who Danny was. Especially when Danny was creating an obstacle to the one he really wanted to speak with.
“Mienim,” Derek called again. A noise in the office drew his attention and he headed that way, ignoring Danny’s shout of protest. He barged in to find the gallery’s receptionist lying on the floor, naked and sated.
Derek turned to Danny in disgust. “You piece of shit. Mienim leaves you alone for one night and you cheat on him.”
“First of all,” Danny snapped. “Mienim doesn’t feel that way about me. And second, I’m not the one who hurt him here.”
“Is everyone in this town fucking crazy?” Derek shouted.
“Get the hell out of here,” Danny said. “You’re not going to hurt him again.”
Before Derek realized what was happening, Danny’s fist connected with his face. Jerking back more in surprise than anything else, Derek tripped on something on the floor—a wine glass, maybe—and went down hard on his back. He was about to jump up and pummel the dipshit when something over Danny’s shoulder caught his eye. Pushing his way back to his feet, he hurried over to the desk so he could get a better look at the painting that hung behind it.
He knew this work. He knew it very well. It was the painting Stiles had been working on the night he died.
“How did you get thi—” Derek started to say before his eyes were drawn to a single name in the bottom right corner of the drawing.
“Oh God,” Derek murmured as he stared at the name. Everything became crystal clear as his mind connected all the dots. “Stiles.”
Peter had lied. Stiles was alive. He’d been alive this entire time. And he must have thought…
His eyes blurred with tears as he turned back to Danny.
“Why didn’t he tell me?”
Danny didn’t meet his gaze as he shrugged his shoulders.
“Please,” Derek begged, his voice aching. “There’s something he needs to know.”
Stiles had forgotten how much he loved Boston. He loved the history. He loved the food. He loved the culture. If he’d had more time, he would have walked around the city like he used to. But that wasn’t why he was there.
As he rode his rented scooter past the different historic sites, he made his way toward Cambridge. When he arrived at his old apartment just a short distance away from Harvard, he stopped the vehicle so he could stare at the building.
He had so many great memories there. This had been Derek and his first place together; their only place together. They’d talked about getting something bigger once Stiles had finished school, but it had suited their needs at that time. There’d been a lot of laughs inside those four walls, fights that ended in remorse and forgiveness, and a lot of love. Stiles’ heart ached as he stared at the front door. He finally forced himself to start the scooter so he could head to his final destination.
As he drove out of the Boston area, he passed the lot that once hosted the carnival they had attended. It was there that Derek had won Stiles the love beads he had cherished. Sure they were tacky and cheaply made, but Stiles had loved them anyway because they were from Derek.
It didn’t take him long to reach the state park. He saw other vehicles in the designated parking area, and he only hoped that no one had found the path to the cliff; their cliff. As he headed down the dirt walkway, he took a deep breath, smelling the salty Atlantic air.
This was the spot Derek had told Stiles he wanted to date him exclusively. This was the place where Stiles had told Derek he loved him for the first time. Memory after memory assaulted his senses, and he had to close his eyes for a second so that the moisture gathering behind his lids didn’t slip down his cheeks.
As he reached the edge of the cliff, he was relieved to see no one else was there. He stared at the rock where he had hidden the love beads. They had made a promise on those beads that they would never let each other go. It hurt Stiles to know the necklace was still out in the world, and he had every intention of throwing them in the water. He reached down and rolled the rock back.
The beads weren’t there.
He frowned and he ran his fingers through the dirt, thinking they had possibly gotten buried in mud, but to no avail. The beads were gone.
“I’m sorry. I can’t let you have that,” a voice said nearby. Stiles jerked his head up and felt his jaw drop in surprise as he saw Derek standing nearby with the beads in his hand. He let go of the rock and slowly stood up.
“You see,” Derek said, walking slowly toward him. “These belonged to someone very important to me. Someone I loved very much. But I was told two years ago that he had died in a car accident…”
Stiles shook his head in disbelief. An odd mix of rage and hope rushed through him. Goddamn Peter Hale and his freaking interfering. His mind tried to reconcile what he thought he knew with what Derek was telling him. He looked at Derek with fresh eyes and acknowledged that Derek looked aged for a reason. He looked like he had gone to hell and back. Was it possible that was because of his separation from Stiles?
“But you and Kate…” Stiles started to say, dropping the accent and all pretenses he had been using since he assumed his new identity. Derek stopped walking at the sound and briefly closed his eyes. When he opened them again, Stiles could see the sheen of tears Derek didn’t try to hide.
“Kate was Peter’s pathetic attempt at forcing my hand,” Derek said, his voice slightly hoarse. “Peter convinced Kate that if she kissed me in front of the paparazzi, the public’s interest would be so great, I’d feel obligated to date her. Peter loves to meddle in my life. However, that won’t be happening again. Even as we speak, he’s cleaning out his desk at Hale Corp with security standing nearby to escort him out of the building.”
Derek started moving again. “Peter never understood how deeply I love the person who owned these beads. He didn’t know that I had made a promise. I promised this person I would never let him go. And I never did.”
Derek finished the last few steps it took to reach Stiles. With a trembling hand, he reached out and ran his thumb gently down Stiles’ cheek. It was such a familiar gesture that Stiles felt his own eyes tear up in response.
“I don’t know how I didn’t see it,” Derek whispered as his eyes ran over every detail on Stiles’ face. “Same eyes”—he reached up and touched the skin near the corner of Stiles’ eye before letting his fingers trail to his lips—“same mouth.”
He moved both hands so that they rested on Stiles’ shoulders. He grinned achingly as he added, “Same charismatic personality.”
Stiles snorted at that because they both knew he’d been a complete—yet seemingly justified—shit to Derek.
“What I don’t know, Mienim,” Derek said. “Is if this man still loves me.”
Stiles stepped back and Derek’s face instantly became withdrawn in anticipated rejection. Stiles raised his arm and held out his hand. Derek’s expression turned to instant relief as he wrapped the beads around his wrist. Where they belonged.
Stiles leaned in and slowly pressed his lips to Derek’s. It felt like mini fireworks were going off inside Stiles’ head as Derek returned the kiss. This was something Stiles had thought was lost to him forever. He wanted to weep like a baby at Derek’s closeness. Searing heat steamrolled through him as their lips went from tentative to frenzied hunger. It had been too dammed long.
“I love you,” Stiles muttered when they finally pulled away. “Always and forever.”
He felt the tension Derek must have been holding onto the past two years melt away as he shuddered beneath Stiles’ touch. Their mouths joined together again as their passion reignited and flamed. When they finally broke apart to catch their breath, Stiles knew there was one more thing that needed to be cleared between them.
“Derek, promise me something.”
Derek nodded at Stiles’ grave tone, his expression a mixture of caution and unrelenting joy.
“Never call me Mienim again.”
Derek let out a watery laugh as he wrapped his arms around Stiles’ waist to pull him in close again.
“Whatever you say…Stiles.”
Stiles’ heart soared at the sound of his name, and he kissed Derek in sweet reward before saying lightheartedly, “Promise me, Derek.”
Derek rested his forehead against his, even as his hold on Stiles tightened.
Thanks for reading!