One Sunday morning, Derek just doesn’t wake up.
Less than a week later, Stiles doesn’t wake up either.
Before that though, there was life, and that’s the story, the true tale. The test of endurance. Because when Derek just doesn’t wake up that fateful Sunday morning, Stiles knows deep down that it was Time. It doesn’t mean he wants to accept it. It doesn’t mean he’s happy that Derek’s low-level suffering has finally stopped, even if he is somewhat. It doesn’t mean he wanted Derek to leave him all alone, even though he promised not to. It just means that rationally, Stiles knows that now was the right moment. Derek was ready, even if he himself wasn’t. Even if the pack wasn’t ready.
The first few days are the hardest, after they take Derek away and then bring him back to be put in a deep hole under their tree. After Derek Leaves for Good but his body remains. Leaves Stiles behind.
Alpha Scott and Matron Allison had been roused that morning to the sounds of Stiles’ whimpering and crying, his little body buried tightly into the patchy fur at Derek’s side. His nose pushed as far into Derek’s scent as it can go without blotting it out all together, and he tries to take deep breaths even as his chest constricts tight, as if someone is squeezing him too roughly. It hurts in a way that Stiles has never hurt before, and for a long time, his brain just can’t process every emotion that he’s feeling. Stiles knew the moment he woke up that Derek had gone sometime in the night. He just knew. Gone someplace that Stiles couldn’t follow him, not yet. That it had been time, they both knew it, for a few weeks now. Biding their time together because it was so precious. Promising to one another that after it had come, that the other would push on till the end. Stiles had promised, but he wasn’t sure he was going to be able to keep it.
Derek was old, and had been for some time now. He was nearly sixteen this year, more grey in his fur than black anymore, with a few dozen balding patches along his flanks and weakening hips. He’d been having trouble getting up and moving around for a few years now, but he always seemed to power through it. Even during his fall down the few back steps off their porch this last winter that had Stiles nearly in tears. He’d laid in the yard for a few moments before putting himself to rights and slowly getting up with Stiles’ aid, his massive body shifting slower and slower to more time seemed to pass. But despite his physical ailments and body aches, he was in good health. His senses were all in perfect working order still, a fact Stiles was envious of, but it was no longer a secret. (His own sight had begun to go a little bit at a time the year before, and was now steadily progressing towards a definite state of blindness faster than they both could keep up with. Derek always knew, though he never said much, and would help correct Stiles’ blunders when he made them, even though Stiles never admitted to his blurred state. They never talked about it. It was their rule.) Derek, for all his size, was beginning to diminish with his age. To shrink, almost, to fade. He was taking Stiles with him, even though he didn’t know it.
Derek’s age, which, according to Dr. Deaton and every other vet or specialist they’d come across, was far older than the average wolf or alsatian or general big dog lived, even in domesticity and with the proper care. Animals of his size and state just didn’t live extremely long lives in Human standards. Wolves of Derek’s descent only lived about seven years on average in the wild, and only to around eleven in captivity. Alsatians could live longer, of course, with the proper care, genetic set, diet, and exercise regimen. But Derek was a mix, a half-breed, a mutt, and he realistically shouldn’t have even pushed thirteen. Derek always did the exact opposite of expectations though, and everyone knew it. It was why -when Derek had begun to act a little funny two weeks prior to that Sunday morning- Stiles knew that their time together was almost up. Their lives together were drawing to an end.
They’d had a good run. Even Stiles could more than admit that. He himself wasn’t exactly a spring chicken anymore, and Connor was just pushing into his teen years finally, along with the few adopted children the Whittemore’s had picked up several years before to keep Jackson and Isaac company. Nearly raised and grown. His Alphas were nearing the late portion of their midlives too, aging a bit faster now by human standards. The pack was getting older, a natural part of life, and entering into a transition period. The older pack members would give way to the new ones, and with them, new ideas and gifts that would help the pack to flourish. It was how it was supposed to go. It was right. And it made Stiles hurt a little more each day.
Stiles and Derek had taken to staying fairly close to home, as of late. Derek couldn’t get around as easily as he once could, and Stiles couldn’t see as well as he should be able, and combined they really weren’t as comfortable in leaving as they once had been. So together they’d just started to relax and stay closer to the den. They took frequent naps together, whether they were inside near the dormant fireplace on the comfy dog bed large enough for both of them or outside under their tree in the green, green grass. It hadn’t mattered as much as the time spent in one another’s company, their proximity a bind that tied them closer together. It was what made the time truly theirs, and in a way, it was a way for Stiles and Derek to become more comfortable with the idea that they both had been entertaining but never saying. Because if they didn’t say it, then it couldn’t possibly be true. Couldn’t possibly happen. Not yet.
Often they’d tell one another stories of past escapades to one another, whispering and giggling about how Stiles had bounded head first into a petting zoo without thought when one of the goats had knocked a toddling Connor over and made him cry. The goat had been three times his size and four times as mean, and had chased Stiles around the pen for ten minutes until Scott and a farm hand had come to his and Connor’s rescue. Or how the one time Derek had gotten aggressive and defensive with a parade float made from a rusted red wagon, some old ply wood, and some crepe paper, just because he thought it was eyeing his pack all wrong. Stiles would never let Derek live down the destruction he’d caused because he was afraid of the thing and what it would do, whatever it had been. Stiles is still not entirely sure what it was supposed to be, but in the end it had been little more than scrap and kindling fit for the fire pit. Derek had been strutting proud for days after his triumph in battle.
More often than not, they’d talk about how full their lives had been after meeting one another during their gambit in the streets. Of their fate-filled adventure across downtown Beacon Hills, their flight through the back alleys, their discovery of one another late at night in an abandoned train depot. Their long walks to Deaton’s and back, the stealth that Stiles had discovered at Derek’s tutelage. How they’d learned that what they was the definition of a mating bond between them, and all the glory and good that comes with something so pure and right.
Mates, through and through. Together and forever. It was theirs. It always would be.
And all-be-damned if Stiles was going to let Derek go off and have that next adventure without him by his side, even for a bit. No, they would go together. Stiles knew that Derek would wait for him. Would wait wherever it was that dogs went after they Left. Derek would wait for Stiles like Stiles would wait for Derek.
And after holding on for nearly a week without him, Stiles goes into a sluggish sleep at his Alphas’ bedside and wakes up to Derek’s much younger face waiting inches from his own, massive black body nearly vibrating with constrained happiness and anticipation in a far off field filled with shifting scenery and thousands of scents. Each more tantalizing than the last. Gone was the grey from his and Derek’s muzzles, gone the cloudiness around his vision that crept farther and farther in as the days wore on. There were no longer any aches, there were no more pains, there were no worries or cares, and oh...
There was color.