He had been given a choice, a chance, an opportunity to be free of it. Of everything. It promised to be an end to the pain and guilt that filled his lungs with oil so thick that each breath was a burden.
"Will it hurt?" he asked.
"Won't matter if it does," replied the monster that looked like a man. It chose the form of a hipster, around his age, with partially buzzed hair and a grandpa sweater hanging long and loose over skinny jeans. The creature smelled like cloves and copper, and it never smiled.
It seemed to nearly smile then, just a crooked tilt of thin-pressed lips. "Because you won't remember, even if it does."
The real answer was yes, yes it did. Everything that he was got burned out of him, turned to ash and shadow just like everyone he loved. He was hollowed out and empty, and it hurt like claws across exposed nerves.
Then, it was done.
"Yo, Darren, hottie at four o'clock. Totally letting you get this one, man; he is so your type." Rodney gave a discrete high five as he and Darren stepped by each other through the narrow passage of clothing fixtures, his bleach white teeth flashing in brilliant contrast to his sun darkened skin.
Darren grinned back before directing his attention to the customer who had just wandered in out of the oppressive Florida heat. Indeed the guy was exactly Darren's type. Giving himself a quick check in the mirror by the fitting room, Darren wove his way through the forest of fixtures to greet the young man.
"Welcome to Don's Surf Shop, I'm Darren. Anything I can help you find today?"
"Yeah," the guy said distractedly, attention not even on Darren as he instead rummaged through the messenger bag slung over one shoulder. "I was wondering if you could-" His next words became garbled, shriveled things as he finally looked up and their eyes met. The customer had been pulling out a sheet of paper from his bag, but it became a crumpled mess as his long-fingered hands crushed it to death. His distractingly curvy lips were gaping, and his big brown eyes were blown even wider, as what color there was in his pale face drained away as if he'd seen a ghost. "Holy shit," he whispered. "Derek."
The customer blinked, dramatic eyebrows squishing together in obvious confusion. "Whah?"
"You were close, sir, but I'm Darren, not Derek. Easy mistake. Now," he smiled wide and bright, sure that the guy's reaction meant that the attraction was totally mutual. "Is there something I can help you find? New board? Maybe some board wax? I mean, while some things benefit from getting a little slick, some things could always do with a bit more...friction."
Yeah, cute customer was totally in to him. Darren grinned wider. "You're not from around here, are you?" he asked as he sidled up closer and leaned a hip against the counter the customer was standing beside. "Or at least haven't been out surfing much this season."
The customer continued to gape a bit before shaking himself and asking, "Why do you say that?"
Waving around his own face, Darren said, "No tan. Everyone in this town is either tan or red." He chuckled softly, and was pleased to see a ghost of a smile on the customer's lips.
"Yeah, uh, no, I'm from California. But, like, not the coast." The customer shoved the paper back into his bag and scratched at the back of his head. "Also, I'd definitely be one of the red ones. I can't tan for the life of me. It's pathetic."
"Not something that can be helped much," Darren consoled, daring to shove off the counter and step even closer until he was within the customer's personal space. He lifted a hand to lightly run his knuckles across the customer's cheek. "Some people just have fair skin."
"Um." The customer stared at him, back to gaping. "Yeah."
"Here for business or pleasure?" If he emphasized the word "pleasure" a bit, so what? As cheesy as it was, it seemed to be doing the trick, if the way the customer gulped and couldn't look away from his eyes was any indication.
"Business." The customer licked his lips, his eyes slipping down to Darren's own, and oh he was so in. "But, um, it could maybe be both?"
"I'd love to help you with that. You free tonight?"
For some reason that snapped the customer out of his daze and he stepped back, eyeing Darren with suspicion. "What, really? You're asking me out? For real?"
Darren smiled and gave a one shouldered shrug as he closed the gap that had been made. "You just happen to be exactly my type. Soooo, yeah. That is, if you're interested?"
"Just your type?" The customer's eyes seemed torn between staring Darren in the eyes or looking at his lips.
"Yep." He popped the 'p' sound at the end, just to watch the customer's eyes then fix wholely on his lips. "At least physically. Which is why I'd love to get a chance to see if we'd work out in other ways, too."
"Oh. Um. Yeah. Yeah, okay. Dinner? Tonight?"
"Sounds good. I know a good place nearby. Can I get your number? I'll text you the address. I get off at five, so how about we meet there at about six? That way I have a chance to make myself a little more presentable."
"You're, um, plenty presentable," the customer stammered as he pulled out his phone. "Give me yours, and I'll text you so that you have mine."
Darren did, then grinned broadly as he pulled out his phone as soon as he felt it vibrate in his pocket. "Great. Now, just one thing." At the customer's curious look, Darren arched a brow. "What do I put for the contact name?"
The customer stared blankly for a moment, before realization dawned on him and he nodded. "Stiles. My name is Stiles. But, uh, with an 'i' instead of a 'y,' ya know." He seemed to be studying Darren's face with anticipation, as if expecting a particular response.
"No freakin' way! That's my name, too! Well, my last name. But still! Hell of a coincidence, right?"
Stiles resumed the gape from earlier, and Darren just then noticed how his eyes looked kind of golden in the right light. "Your name is Darren Stiles?"
"Yup." Darren laughed. "I guess that means if this works out and we get married down the line, we should maybe take your surname. Stiles Stiles would just be odd, right?"
Stiles' pale skin blushed brilliantly, and Darren felt himself fall a little harder. "Christ, you are so hot," he heard himself mumbling as his body made an involuntary shift closer. "Really wish my shift was already over."
"Oh, my god." Stiles licked his lips and only glanced at Darren's mouth briefly before taking a hasty step back. "I have to, um, go. Do stuff. Now. That is, like, out there. I'll see you tonight?"
Darren felt his smile turn predatory. "You can count on it."
Stiles turned out to be the epitome of Darren's type, in more ways than just his looks. Over dinner, he found out that Stiles had a wicked sense of humor that was all dry delivery and sarcastic quips, and it had him snort his drink and choke on his meal more than a few times. Stiles was also a complete geek, which was absolutely perfect, because Darren rarely found someone who could hold a substantially long conversation with him concerning his favorite comic book characters. He was also surprisingly considerate, and kept turning the conversation back to Darren, instead of letting it stay too long on himself. Stiles seemed particularly interested in learning all about Darren and his life there in Florida. He'd asked how long Darren had lived there ("All my life, actually. Floridian born and raised."), if he'd ever gone traveling to any other states ("No, actually. But, I mean, why would I need to when I live where everyone else in the country goes to for vacation? Am I right?"), and how big was his family ("Just me and my folks. They live over in Clearwater, and we still try to stay close. But, it's tough, you know, when all of us work and lead busy lives. We chat on the phone a lot, though.").
"What about you, though, Stiles? I'm sick of hearing about myself."
Stiles shifted in his chair and poked his fork at the scraps remaining of his steak. "Nothing much to tell. Just me and my dad, living in the same little town I grew up in."
"What do you do for a living?" Darren asked, twirling his fork around the last few noodles of his pasta. "What brought you way over to the other side of the country? Not that I'm complaining." He playfully leered across the table at Stiles and threw in a cheesy eyebrow waggle for good measure. It worked to make Stiles snort and relax a bit.
"It doesn't matter," he said with a negligent shrug and wave of his fork. "It's done." Stiles glanced at Darren then set his fork down and reached for his beer. "For the most part, anyway."
"How mysterious. Are you a secret agent?"
Stiles scoffed into his glass. "Close but no cigar. I'm afraid I'm just a boring ol' deputy sheriff."
Darren sat back in his chair, eyebrows raised high. "Isn't Malluna Beach a bit out of your jurisdiction?"
The glass hit the table at the wrong angle when Stiles put it down, causing him to hastily scramble to steady it before it tipped and spilled. "Is that where we are? I thought I was in Daytona."
"Naw, man, that's just north of here. We're sort of on the outskirts of it? Malluna Beach is a pretty tiny town. Understandable that you'd not even realize you were in it."
Stiles suddenly seemed a little grey and he looked down at his plate in mild horror. "I just remembered that there's something I have to check on back at the hotel. So, um, sorry to cut this short, but...yeah."
Watching Stiles get up from his chair and take his wallet out to pay, Darren quickly rushed to do the same. "Put your money away. This is on me. You can treat next time." He hoped there'd be a next time. Darren had thought everything was going well, but Stiles was acting strange and uncomfortable. "Can I walk you to your car, at least?"
With a shaky smile, Stiles nodded and said, "Sure. Yeah, that'd be nice."
"I had a great time," Darren said softly once they were alone out in the parking lot, the surrounding darkness adding the illusion of privacy.
Stiles smiled at him and turned to lean back against the side of his blue Jeep. "Good. I'm glad. I mean, me too." Giving a self-deprecating laugh, Stiles closed his eyes and shook his head. "Sorry. I'm just-it's just-"
"I don't usually need to ask permission, but you're seeming a little jumpy so...would it be okay if I kissed you?"
At Darren's words, Stiles' eyes flew open wide and he swallowed hard. "You really, really shouldn't."
Well if that wasn't odd as hell. "Why not?"
"You don't really want to."
Darren let out a small bark of laughter and leant in closer to Stiles. "Oh, but I really, really do. You have no idea."
Stiles' gaze was once again glued to Darren's lips, and he licked his own in an unconscious gesture that had Darren nearly groaning. "I think I do, actually."
Smiling, Darren leaned in closer until their lips were barely brushing. For a moment, he was sure that Stiles was going to give in and close the distance, but instead he was jerking his head back so fast it banged loudly against the Jeep. "Oh, shit, you alright?" Darren reached up behind Stiles' head, fingers running over Stiles' own as he sought out the bump. Releasing a sigh, Stiles slumped forward to rest his forehead on Darren's shoulder and let himself be gently petted.
Darren was about to open his mouth to apologize, but a faint scent on the breeze distracted him. It smelled like something was burning, and for a moment it shorted his brain so that his thoughts were a buzzing, static mess. He had the strange urge to seek out the source, a panic rising up and making him taste acid in the back of his mouth. "No," he assured himself, "it's nothing. Just someone having a bonfire on the beach or something. Maybe just a barbeque. It's fine. It's nothing." Just like that, the panic receded, and he found himself staring into worried, brown eyes. "It's nothing," he whispered, trying to reassure himself just as much as Stiles.
Looking thoroughly unconvinced, Stiles nodded and reached behind himself to open the Jeep's door. "I gotta go. There's something I have to go check on," he said, and Darren believed him because Stiles' eyes never once looked away from his own. "Some research I have to do concerning a case. But, ah, when's the next time you're free?"
"You need to be entirely sure."
Darren was dreaming. He knew he was dreaming, because he didn't know any burned-out houses or hipsters with buzzed hair. "I am," he heard himself say. The scent of ash filled his nostrils, even though the house looked as though it had been destroyed years before.
"You have to be able to let everything go." The hipster had strange, dark eyes, and he spoke with a voice that made Darren's nerves prickle uncomfortably.
"I have nothing left. No one."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes," he felt himself roar.
The hipster just stared back, unblinking.
Stiles. Stiles was beautiful. They continued to see each other, doing nothing more than flirt and briefly touch. They hadn't even kissed. Darren wanted to be supportive, to be patient and wait for as long as Stiles needed, but there was something about it all that worried him. It wasn't so much that Stiles wanted to wait, as Stiles was just convinced that Darren didn't actually want him. Which was ridiculous, because Stiles was so fucking beautiful, inside and out.
Darren stood there watching him try on a pair of garish swim shorts, making exaggerated poses in the mirrors outside the fitting rooms, and wondered how anyone could have hurt Stiles to such an extent. How could anyone be so fucking stupid?
"I like the surfing peppers best," he drawled with a grin. Stiles made a face at him in the mirror and shook his head.
"No way, man. What even is with those? Why the fuck would peppers surf? Nah, these babies right here are classic. Plus I can tell Danny that he should feel right at home in my pants." Stiles gave him a cheeky grin and silly sashay.
"Who's Danny?" Darren heard the jealousy in his own voice, but could do nothing to stop it, nor could he stop the way he stepped closer and clenched his fists at his sides.
Stiles turned to give him a blank look over his shoulder before nodding to himself. "Right," he murmured, before saying louder, "Danny and I went to high school together and were on the lacrosse team. He's Hawaiian. Like these shorts. Thus the joke."
Shaking his head, Darren let out a little snort as his body relaxed. "That's a terrible joke."
"Bah! You are obviously an uncultured heathen if you cannot appreciate such sophisticated humor." Stiles gave him a dismissive wave before sauntering back into the fitting room. "Are there any others for me to try?"
"Just those Speedos."
"Fuck you, no. A man's gotta leave something to the imagination."
"Then that's pretty much it. You've tried on nearly the entire store."
"I suppose I'll take these, then. Might as well buy something so your boss doesn't bitch you out for focusing on only one customer all day."
With a glance around the empty store, Darren scoffed. "We're not exactly slammed. Middle of the week's usually pretty slow, so we keep to single coverage. Boss isn't even here."
"So you're saying I've got you all to myself? Mmmm. How tempting."
"Christ, Stiles." Darren didn't remember crossing to the fitting room, but suddenly he was crowding inside. He was disappointed to see that Stiles had already gotten his pants on, but at least he was still shirtless. "You can't just say things like that," he said, voice suddenly faint and rough as he reached out to slide his palms along Stiles' middle until he was holding the man in his arms.
"Dar-" Stiles closed his eyes as he swallowed hard, and when he opened them he looked almost sad as he reached up to cup Darren's cheek. "Please don't." Despite his words, Stiles made no move to pull away. Instead he shifted closer, letting Darren tighten his hold and slipping his own fingers back into Darren's hair.
"I won't try anything," Darren assured in a soft, sullen voice. "Just, let me hold you for a moment."
Stiles sighed, deep and tired, but he nodded and leaned in to rest his forehead against Darren's. "What are you doing tomorrow night?" he asked, breath warm against Darren's lips.
"Hopefully spending time with you?" He smiled and tried to focus on Stiles' face, but when that close his dark eyes were melting into one, and everything was fuzzy.
"It's a full moon," Stiles said, voice holding some sort of expectation despite the simple words.
"Really? Perfect to go night surfing, then. You ever try it?"
The large, blurry eye closed and Stiles shook his head. After a moment he was pulling back, smiling ruefully. "Never tried any type of surfing at all, actually."
"Well then," Darren said with a wide grin, "guess you'll have to try on some wetsuits next."
Stiles sucked at surfing, and it was hilarious to behold. The sun wasn't set yet when he finally gave up and started trudging back to shore, water to his waist and board trailing behind on the leash he'd taken to holding instead of having strapped to his ankle. "That's it," he cried, raising his free hand up in flailing surrender. "I cry uncle! The ocean has thoroughly kicked my ass."
Darren laughed as he paddled along beside him, stretched out on his belly along his board. "You almost had it that last time. Before you totally wiped out."
"Yeah, well," scoffed Stiles, glaring at him askance, "we can't all have your supernatural poise and grace."
"Nothing supernatural about me," he laughed as he splashed Stiles. "You just gotta be patient and practice a lot."
Stiles faltered to a stop, his lips tugging down into a frown as he glanced at Darren. He tilted his head back to look at the full moon already visible in the orange sky. Before Darren could ask if he was alright, Stiles was reaching out to flip Darren's board over.
"Son of a bitch!" Darren roared playfully as he came back up thrashing and spluttering. Stiles just laughed and tried to hurry away. It's just nearly impossible to hurry when walking in water that deep. Soon Darren was on him, and they were splashing and wrestling. They paused momentarily to beach their boards, then they were off running and diving, swimming around each other and chasing each other along the beach's edge.
The sun was nearly gone when they finally fell together in a tackle that sent them rolling in the soft, wet sand, the shallow water lapping against them. Stiles ended up on top, their legs tangled together and their lips brushing each other's cheeks. Darren felt Stiles' breath hitch, and he couldn't help letting his hands slip up along his back, feeling out the bones and muscles of Stiles' body beneath the wetsuit. They were both half hard and getting harder, and the realization had Darren releasing an obscene moan as he rolled his hips and tilted his head back.
Stiles jerked away, pushing himself up by his arms to stare down at Darren beneath him. He cursed and bit his lip, eyes falling closed as Darren rolled his hips again. "You're making it very difficult to resist you," Stiles ground out, sounding pained.
"Then stop resisting." Moving a hand up Stiles' neck and into his wet hair, Darren tried to pull him down for a kiss.
Releasing another curse, Stiles was pulling away entirely, rising to his feet and fleeing back up the beach. Panic sliced through Darren and he called himself ten kinds of idiot as he scrambled up to follow. "Stiles!" he shouted, trying to catch up, but unable to make up for Stiles' determined strides. "Wait! I'm sorry! I didn't mean to push!"
When he finally caught up, Stiles was already at his Jeep in the parking lot, driver's side door open and seat pushed forward as he rummaged in the back. Darren reached out to grab his arm, but Stiles dodged and twisted around to face him, a crumpled sheet of paper in his hand. "I came here," Stiles said, voice low and nearly broken, "to find someone. He'd gone missing about three years ago. Everyone else gave up within the first year, figuring that he'd either left on his own or was dead. Either way, they said, it was pointless to keep looking."
"But you didn't give up."
Stiles shook his head, lowering his eyes to the paper in his hands. "I never stopped."
"Was he your boyfriend?"
A short, bitter laugh broke free of Stiles' throat before he clamped his jaw tight and shook his head. "I wanted him, and I'm pretty sure he knew, but nothing ever came of it. We sort of just danced around it for years. We were friends, though. It took us a while to get there, but we were at least friends."
Darren shook his head in confusion, and when he reached out that time to touch Stiles, he was allowed. He wrapped his fingers around Stiles' bicep, the fabric of the wetsuit cold and clammy to the touch. "So were you just leading me on, then? The dates and the flirting weren't going to go anywhere because I'm not who you want? Not him?"
The laugh that broke free that time was nearly hysterical, and Stiles' eyes were wet and glistening when he looked back up at Darren. "Quite the contrary," he said, and his voice sounded like something wet was being dragged across rough gravel. Darren felt his fingers go lax enough to slip down Stiles' arm until they touched warm skin. When Stiles turned the paper around, though, the fingers fell away entirely as Darren took a startled step back.
It was a missing persons flyer, and the man printed on it looked a hell of a lot like Darren.
"Your real name is Derek Hale," Stiles said, eyes suddenly fierce and flashing in the light of the street lamp overhead. "You were born in Beacon Hills, California," he continued, voice tight and determined, growing stronger as Darren shook his head and made sounds of protest. "I don't know how you got here, but his place is fake. It's a prison, and you're its captive. Malluna Beach?" Stiles laughed again, this time the sound harsh and cruel to Darren's ears. "There's no such town. And do you even know what it means? 'Bad Moon.' Who the fuck would name a town that?"
Darren tasted bile in the back of his throat, and he choked. "What...why are you saying these things? I know I look like him, but I'm not-"
"You are." The flyer fluttered to the sandy pavement as Stiles rushed forward and grasped tightly at Darren's shoulders. "I'd know you, Derek. I'd know your voice, your eyes, your posture, your stupid, perpetual stubble."
"Stop," Darren tried to say, but there was no breath left in his lungs to give it voice.
"Goddammit, Derek! Wake up! Whatever spell you're under, just fucking wake up!" Stiles' eyes were glistening again, the moisture threatening to spill over, and it made something deep within Darren tear and bleed. Then they were kissing, finally, just what he'd wanted since he first saw Stiles standing there in the shop. It was hard and deep and demanding and Darren was dying because it was too much.
The world flickered, colors bleeding to red-tinged monochrome and back again. He heard everything around them, from the cars on the road to the waves to the seagulls to the paper cup two streets away skidding against the asphalt as it was dragged by the wind. As if all of that was not bad enough, he smelled burning. It was as if the world was on fire, and he couldn't see it, but he could smell it. Burning wood, burning plastic...burning flesh.
He wrenched away from the kiss, crying out in pain and terror, clutching his ears and closing his eyes and wishing he could shut it all off. It was too much. Too much. Stiles was calling out to him, repeating that name that was his but wasn't his.
He was real. He was real. He was Darren Stiles, born in Clearwater, Florida. He had an orange tree in his back yard growing up, and his mom taught him how to stab a star into an orange's navel and turn it into an edible cup of orange juice. His dad taught him how to surf, using one of those long boards from the sixties, and he'd been so embarrassed until some college kids had come over to gush over how totally sweet and vintage it was. His life wasn't a lie. It wasn't. He was real.
But he had a sister with long dark hair and a teasing grin. She called him Der-bear even into his twenties, and gave him noogies when he annoyed her, and she loved rocky road ice cream the best. He remembered her laugh and her voice and burying half of her body with his bare hands.
There were others. Other faces, other voices, other memories that didn't make sense because they were someone else's life. He wasn't Derek Hale; he was Darren Stiles.
Sarcasm and acidic words and hands pulling him up from cold, clear water. Insults coupled with lingering glances, an overwhelming ache every time those brown eyes looked longingly at someone else. Someone with strawberry blond hair and soft curves. Someone else with dark hair and lean muscles. He didn't deserve to have the full attention of those eyes, anyway. Because there had been a fire.
There had been a fire, and it had been all his fault.
The stench of burning grew stronger, accompanied by the pain of fire consuming him from the inside. He was sure he was screaming, but he couldn't hear it. All he heard was a patronizing "Oh, sweetie. That's just a lot of guilt to keep buried."
As the fire consumed him, he knew nothing else. Everything was bright and hot and painful, and then there was just nothing at all.
When he opened his eyes, he was staring at an unfamiliar ceiling. The sheets beneath him were crisp and clean and smelled unmistakably of a hotel. Trying to keep his breathing slow and quiet, he inhaled through his nose and listened carefully. He smelled Stiles and saltwater. The couple next door were debating on whether or not to stay another day or head on out for Orlando in the morning. He must be in a suite, because he could hear Stiles on the other side of the bedroom door, talking softly into his phone to his father.
The voice startled him, and he jolted up into a sitting position. Sitting on the dresser across the room, long skinny legs dangling lazily, was the nameless monster he'd met in the woods. What had happened, he wondered, between that moment and this? Last he could recall, the thing had stalked him back to the ruins of his old home, and they had begun hashing out a deal. He could not smell the thing, this time, though he knew it was there, could see it clearly. It wore the same thing it had worn then, right down to its faded Converse high-tops.
"The deal was broken," the thing said, sounding almost bored. "I told you that you had to be completely certain."
"I was," objected Derek, reaching up to rub a hand over his face. His head hurt. "I am."
"A tether was made," the thing went on to explain. It swung its legs, heels thunking dully on a drawer. "A connection. You weren't ready to give him up."
Derek lowered his hand, glaring at the thing in confusion. "I honestly have no idea what you're talking about."
It tilted its head back, humming a little. "Fairytales. Such a stupid name for those old stories, you know. Not that people even remember what fairies are."
Derek knew. Stiles had told him, just as he had delighted in telling him about all sorts of other things that were and were not real. Fairies weren't pretty little people with sparkly wings that went around granting wishes.
"One thing they got right, those stories. And only a few of them. Most," the thing said with something that could almost be a smile, "were accurately dark in their tellings. Back in the day. Not now, though." The not-smile faded back into a bland line. "But that one thing they got right, you see, is still true. To this day. Even with other things besides the fae."
"And what's that?" Derek asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.
It looked back at him, its dark eyes like glimpses into another realm. "He kissed you," it said. "He kissed you, and now you're here."
Was that an answer? Derek squinted, trying to puzzle out the words. As he opened his mouth to ask for elaboration, Stiles burst in, eyes wide with hope and concern.
"I heard talking," Stiles said, as if to explain his sudden intrusion. He looked around curiously before giving Derek an odd look. "Who were you talking to?"
The thing was still sitting there, staring unblinkingly at Derek, but Stiles' eyes had slid right over it.
"Nothing," Derek muttered, shaking his head and trying to focus on Stiles instead of the creature. "Where are we?" he asked.
Stiles' mouth opened and closed, and the familiar sight made Derek smile a little before something fully sunk in. Stiles...looked different. Older. His hair was longer, his face lost most of its childish roundness, and he was nothing but long, tight muscles. He was fucking gorgeous, and not the Stiles he knew. The Stiles he knew was handsome, to be sure. After all, he was the star of Derek's guilty little fantasies every night. But the man standing before him now was something else, something well and truly beyond anything Derek could ever hope to have.
Stiles took a hesitant step closer to the bed. "What do you remember?" he asked, eyeing Derek.
Glance flicking to the thing, Derek looked up at Stiles and swallowed thickly. "I...I made a deal with something."
Staring into Stiles' eyes, Derek could swear he saw the man's heart breaking, watched the moment it shattered and bore heavily down on his bones. "A deal."
"Yes." He nodded, finding it harder to maintain eye contact but forcing himself to try. "To wipe it all away and start again."
Nodding in return, Stiles closed his eyes for a moment before looking back at Derek with such unsettling disappointment. "And what did it get in return?"
Derek dropped his gaze to his lap. "I'd essentially become like a battery for it."
When Stiles next spoke, his voice was harsh with rising anger. "So, let me get this straight. You offered to let some thing feed off of you, and in return you would forget about everything and everyone and start over again as someone new."
"Oh, fuck you." Derek snapped his head back up at those words, and watched in mute horror as Stiles glared at him hotly through thick, streaming tears. "You selfish son of a bitch. I thought Jackson was a dick, but you just took the fucking Academy Award for Shittiest Person Ever. I'd ask what the fuck you were thinking, but obviously the answer is you weren't. I can't believe I wasted three fucking years crisscrossing the country and half the world trying to find your sorry ass, and for what! To find that you're perfectly content being a fucking beach bum surfer dude in a fictional town filled with fictional people! Because obviously that's better than real life. Obviously! It's not like you had anyone who fucking gave a shit about you! Oh, wait! You fucking did, you goddamn piece of fucking shit, holy god why do I even fucking bother, Christ!" Stiles was screaming by the end of it, his deep voice scraped raw and cracking as if he was a kid again, and Derek felt his own eyes sting.
"I didn't think anyone would-"
"No," snapped Stiles, storming closer, arms flailing. His heart was racing, and Derek wanted to draw him closer and beg him to calm down. "You didn't think and that's the fucking problem!"
"Shut up! Just shut. Up. Do you have any idea what I've gone through to find you? Do you have any idea what I had to endure this past week?" He was beside the bed, but still just outside of Derek's reach. "Your new name was Darren Stiles. What does that even mean, huh? You kept flirting and smiling and it was almost like having you back, but it wasn't you! You'd never-" Stiles hiccupped into a sob and scrubbed both of his hands over his face. "It wasn't you."
Derek shifted, moving to his knees and crawling forward, closer to Stiles. As the sheet fell away, he noticed he was naked, and he looked up at Stiles with an arched brow.
Stiles looked a little sheepish through the pain and anger, offering Derek a one-shouldered shrug. "You were in a wetsuit when I got you here. It was either strip you or put your soggy ass in the bed."
"Stiles," Derek said softly, beseechingly. "I'm sorry."
"I never thought you'd care enough to miss me."
The anger was back, making Stiles' cheeks burn. "What the hell! I thought we were friends, Derek!"
They were? Derek had always thought it was just wishful thinking on his part, that Stiles didn't really like him. "He kissed you," the thing's voice repeated in Derek's mind, and he glanced back over to the creature that continued to watch them silently. "He kissed you, and now you're here."
"Stiles. Stiles, how did you break the spell?"
That snapped Stiles out of his anger, and he stared blankly at Derek. "What? I didn't. I don't think? Maybe it was because I showed you the missing persons flyer with your name and photo on it? Maybe it just jogged your memory enough to snap you out of it?"
"Did you do anything else?" he asked, catching Stiles' eyes and holding contact.
Stiles licked his lips, and Derek felt a foreign flutter in his chest. "Do you remember those fairytales you told me about before?" Derek asked softly, as he slowly edged closer. The sheet fell completely away from him, and his breath caught at how Stiles' gaze darted over his exposed body.
"The ones where the spells were broken by one thing in particular."
Stiles' cheeks grew red again, but not in anger. "Yeah," he husked, licking his lips again. "Yeah, I remember. Are you trying to say-"
In answer, Derek reached up and carded his fingers through Stiles' hair, drawing him down until their lips met. He felt Stiles let out a broken sob against his mouth, and then they were kissing properly. When they finally pulled away, Derek dared a glance over Stiles' shoulder towards the dresser, but the thing was finally gone.
"I'm still pissed at you," groused Stiles, even as his mouth moved to kiss along Derek's jaw and down his neck. "Fuck, you smell good. Missed you."
"I'm so fucking sorry," Derek croaked, running hands up and down Stiles' back and through his hair. "I know I'll never be able to make it up to you, but I'll try. Whatever you want."
Stiles gave a thoughtful hum near his ear, the vibration causing a shudder to roll over Derek's body. "You're off to a good start," he said just before his teeth nipped at Derek's lobe. "But," he pulled back, worry and doubt creeping into his expression, "I don't want to rush you, or make you do something you don't want."
Derek shook his head and drew Stiles close again. "I've wanted you for a long time."
"Then why did you leave?"
Burying his face against Stile's neck, Derek shook his head. "No more talking. Not right now. Please. Just...just, please."
Then they were tipping back onto the bed, Derek pulling and shoving at Stiles' clothes until they were equally nude. Every kiss Stiles gave him scalded, his hands against Derek's skin searing like flame. He was burning up, consumed by fire again, set alight by every touch until no inch of him was spared. It hurt, but it was good, cleansing. Stiles kept him grounded with his gaze, steady and hungry and amazed as he broke Derek apart and reconstructed him into something new.
This fire didn't leave him hollowed-out and aching. Instead, he was reborn, like some cliche of a phoenix rising from the smoking embers of what he once was. Or, no, that wasn't quite right. He was a brush fire, a clearing away of the dead and decaying to make way for new growth.
When the fire died down, Stiles kept kissing him, kept touching him, murmuring "don't you dare leave again" on repeat. He pulled the human close, breathed in his scent, and promised that he would stay.