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The Taste You Leave Behind in My Mouth

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Derek doesn't expect it. He doesn't expect the boyish smile of happiness and dark twinkling eyes when Scott throws his arms around Derek's shoulders, squeezes him tight and laughs in his ear, "You came back!" words spoken fondly and with a little disbelief. And Derek is a little stunned, his hands still stuffed in the pockets of his jacket and standing on the porch steps of the Hale House, trying not to tip backwards and off as Scott hugs him and he almost looks sixteen again, floppy hair gone but he's bouncing on his toes in excitement. And Derek doesn’t know how he’s supposed to respond.

Derek looks over at Stiles, who hasn't moved from the bottom step. He’s watching Derek and Scott, shadows wane and ugly beneath dull eyes that no longer shine as they used to when looking at Derek - out of irritation or goading or open honesty - and Derek doesn't quite know what to do with that either. Because he almost expected Stiles to be the one up here on the wooden porch with him, maybe punching at his arm and grinning because although they hadn't really spoken about what they were, Derek thought, he thought that out of everyone in Beacon Hills, that Stiles would be the one to show any emotion at having him back.

But Stiles' shoulders are hunched beneath the loose drape of his flannel shirt, long fingers dangling beneath the sleeve cuffs like broken branches too thin and too pale. His cheeks aren't flushed as they usually are from the sharp chill of fall, the slope of his brows stark above half-lidded eyes.

Scott gives a friendly slap to Derek's shoulder, dragging Derek's attention from Stiles back to the ever vibrant Scott.

"Awesome to see you back, man," he says, crooked jaw making his smile dopey and young despite the lean muscle of adulthood that he's put on. Derek nods distractedly, eyes flickering back to Stiles.

He's quiet for a long moment, waiting, because Stiles is so usually the one to speak first. But now he's looking away, small white teeth biting into the plump swell of his bottom lip, scraping and catching at chapped skin.

Derek says, "Hey, Stiles," a soft greeting, because he's not sure what else to say. He feels that he's done something horribly wrong, but it's not in coming back to Beacon Hills, as he thought it might be, and it's not in seeing Scott again, as he thought it would be but there's an ache behind his eyes, and he feels terribly guilty for something that he doesn't understand.

Stiles gives a slow gesture of acknowledgement, chin tipping upwards in the barest motion, before stepping back and dropping his weight off the bottom step, footsteps heavy and sluggish as he makes his way back to the jeep by the edge of the clearing.

Scott shifts awkwardly beside Derek, weight distributing back and forth on his feet. His hand slides from Derek's shoulder but he doesn't move away, just slants his gaze at Derek's face, his profile, since Derek still hasn't managed to pull his eyes away from Stiles' retreating form. He's a little taller than the last time Derek saw Stiles, still shorter than Derek but he looks smaller somehow, thin and gaunt and brittle.

"He thought that you were going to come back," Scott tells him quietly.

"I did come back."

"Sooner," Scott says. "Not a year later."

-

Derek settles back into his old home on the Hale property, which is vacant but standing and the front half is renovated and livable. Peter had contacted Derek during his absence, said that he was getting the Hale House back from the county and fixing it up because he was bored and hadn't much else to do. He left by the time Derek returned, vanished in his usual disturbing fashion but Derek hadn't questioned it. The steps to the upstairs were no longer in danger of collapsing in on themselves and while none of the bedrooms had been touched, Derek's had been cleaned up and the ceiling was patched, soot brushed away from the floorboards. The door was new and had a lock; a bed frame and mattress with dark cotton sheets supplied and a pillow with a matching case. There was a bureau by the window, one that looked used but in good condition, but other than that the room was just as Derek preferred: sparse, empty, without clutter. It hardly seemed Peter's doing.

-

Other than the first day that Derek had arrived back in Beacon Hills (back home), Scott doesn't come around again. And Derek doesn't spot Stiles around town at all, or in the woods or at the gas station.

The first time Derek sees Stiles again he's standing over Derek's bed in the pitch black of night, dressed only in a pair of soft sleep pants. He's shirtless, a canvas of pale skin shivering over the stretch of his limbs, too thin and too delicate, not at all how Derek last remembered seeing him.

Derek's on his back, breathing careful and shallow as he stares up at Stiles, who looks unfocused, warm brown eyes hollow. 

"Stiles?" Derek asks, voice faint, cautiously pressing his hands into the mattress and easing himself into a half seated position.

Stiles' chest swells when he breathes in, ribs sharpening like a cage of teeth trapped beneath skin.

"Stiles, are you- are you awake?"

The silence crawls across the back of Derek's neck, the night breeze skirting across his naked chest and making him aware of just how cold it is.

Stiles blinks languidly.

"You didn't say goodbye," his lips shape the words. He sways on his feet. 

Derek opens his mouth, at a loss, confused. He wants to reach out and curl his fingers around Stiles' wrist, hold the bone and feel its strength, seek the beating pulse within blue veins so harshly visible at inside of Stiles' wrist.

"You should be at home, Stiles." Derek tells him, carefully setting his feet on the floor and rising to Stiles' height. Stiles doesn't pull his gaze away from where Derek had been laying down; it's like he hasn't seen Derek move at all. His skin is cold to the touch when Derek sets a hand carefully on Stiles' shoulder. "Fuck," he whispers, "Stiles, where's your shirt?"

"Wasn't I worth a goodbye?"

There's a lump in Derek's throat that makes it impossible to swallow.

"I'm going to take you home now, here's my shirt, okay?" Derek drags his discarded garment from the tangle of his bed sheets. "Don't lose this one, alright?"

-

The second time Derek sees Stiles, he's on a morning run through the woods, the crunch of leaves the only rustle of noise whipping through his ears, a sea of orange and yellow and brown blurring around him. He's making his way around the pond's bend when he spots a figure sitting by the rocks.

Stiles doesn't turn his head as Derek approaches. He's staring at the open pool of water, but he's looking with that same unblinking vacancy that he had looked at Derek that night five days ago.

"Shit," Derek breathes out, crouching beside Stiles, watching his face carefully for any sign that Stiles might wake up. "When did sleepwalking become a thing for you?"

The Sheriff is out, so Derek takes Stiles through the bedroom window for a second time, settles Stiles' slack form beneath his blankets and tries not to feel sick inside when Stiles curls into himself, knees to chest and mutters something about shadows and how they need to go away.

-

"Is Stiles sleeping alright?" Derek asks Scott. He's at the gas station filling up the tank of his Camaro and Scott is at the pump beside him, caring to his bike.

Scott frowns.

"Yeah, why?"

Derek shrugs.

"No reason. He doesn't look like he's been eating much."

Scott squints at the numbers on the meter, watching as they tick upwards.

"Yeah..." he sounds distracted, fumbles a bit when he screws the cap back on the gas tank. "We all got affected differently." he shrugs again, not quite looking at Derek, not quite specifying the we in that. "Stiles lost his appetite. But he's doing fine. Deaton said we'll - he said it'll lesson with time. Just taking Stiles a bit longer."

Derek feels his mouth tighten at the corners, remembers the ice bath that Scott had told him about when they were walking through the woods, away from the warehouse and the smell of blood and death.

"He's fine, though, Derek." Scott's eyes flicker over to his before darting away. "Don't worry. I've got it."

-

Two nights later Stiles is asleep by the front door of Derek's bedroom. Derek nearly goes careening into the stair railing when he trips over the huddled figure.

"God damn it, Stiles," Derek mutters, a heavy sigh passing from his lips. He relieves himself in the bathroom at the end of the hall, studies Stiles for a minute when he comes back and then crouches down, lifting Stiles easily in his arms and returning to his room.

Stiles is fully clothed this time, doesn't look like he ever changed from his school clothes at all. Derek removes Stiles’ shoes and socks, sets him on the far left side of the bed and then slips in on the right, does his best not to reach out and touch, despite the aching want to try and offer comfort as he watches Stiles’ body curl in on itself, as if trying to hide from the world around him.

-

Stiles is gone the next morning.

-

It becomes a routine now. Derek doesn't see or hear from Stiles during the day and then each night Derek awakes to Stiles sleepwalking into his room and standing by his bed. Sometimes he waits by the bottom step of the front room, his body swaying half consciously and his hands limp by his sides. 

It gets to the point where Derek doesn't retire for the night until he hears Stiles shuffling through the front yard and up his steps, door knob turning almost eerily as he lets himself in and stares at Derek with glassy empty eyes.

Derek takes his hand and Stiles curls himself around Derek beneath the sheets.

-

Derek lets this go on for three weeks. Which is probably a lot longer than he should. But everything seems to be moving on quite naturally for everyone around him and the Sheriff is dating Scott's mother and Derek isn't sure if it's his business to reveal what Stiles is doing each night. Stiles' sleep-walking has not been mentioned by anyone and Derek thinks that maybe no one else knows, maybe not even Stiles. And Derek isn't sure that he has that right to reveal it.

Maybe it's selfish too, because at night Derek gets to have Stiles pressed against him, warm and pliant, his hand resting on the flat of Derek's stomach; he gets to feel Stiles rub his nose against Derek's ribs and sometimes Stiles mumbles about the darkness and how he likes that it doesn't come around as much anymore.

The shadows aren't as pronounced beneath his eyes these days, which Derek guesses is probably because Stiles is actually sleeping now, although probably not in the most conventional way. Derek tells Stiles quiet things at night too. He reads aloud and sometimes Stiles' chest makes a noise like maybe he's heard and understood what Derek has said and took amusement from it. Derek tells Stiles that he should try and eat more, that he'll cook breakfast for Stiles if he ever stays over long enough to let him.

-

Derek is standing in the frozen food aisle when someone bumps into him with a softly mumbled sorry. It's not something that catches Derek's attention too much, because he's frowning at six different variations of frozen peas and wondering why in the hell there are so many kinds. He gives a distracted hum of acknowledgement, arms folded over his chest as he studies the packaged vegetables with pursed lips.

The supermarket always smells strange to him, a congested mix of fish and meat and flowers and home products. He tries to shut it off, focus his senses and feel like a normal person but then something curls beneath his radar, something different and familiar and yet slightly off than what he remembers. There's a faint mixture of deodorant spice tinged with just the right smell of body heat, but it's the sorrow that makes him snap his attention away and his arms to drop by his sides.

“Stiles?” He says, eyes wide and the figure pushing away the shopping cart stops, back stiffening, hunching into himself. Derek takes a step forward, one hand rising as if he could actually reach out and touch. His heartbeat is pulsing in his ears, drowning out the fluttering chase of Stiles' own heart as it thumps erratically. It's the first time that Derek has seen Stiles during the day, outside of his sleepwalking and for a dreadful moment Derek wonders if Stiles is even awake now.

But then Stiles turns slightly, one hand steady on the cart handle as he eyes Derek warily.

“Derek,” he says, the familiar crack in his voice making itself known, filling Derek warm with nostalgia at how it used to be.

“I-” Derek hesitates, hand slowly dropping, because he realizes that he doesn't have anything to say to Stiles, not like this, not with Stiles' face so closed off and distant, body tense as if ready to bolt if Derek dares to move closer. “How are you?” he asks softly, has asked so many times with Stiles sleeping against his chest.

Stiles' eyes flicker, and he looks so terribly sad for a brief moment, all the words mumbled in sleep passing over his face, shadows and fear and raw questions. Wasn't I worth it?

He gives a slow shrug of his shoulder.

“I'm fine.”

-

He doesn't come to Derek's house that night. Instead Derek curses and argues with his bootlaces as he ties them with clumsy fingers. He grabs his jacket from the chair by the door, glimpsing at the clock by his bed stand, two in the god damn morning and maybe meeting Derek actually woke Stiles up and that's why he's not here right now.

But then Derek is jogging through the preserve, eyes glowing sharp and senses full blown as he takes in the sounds of the night forest, vibrant and alive beneath the waxing moon, cracked tree limbs and crumpled leaves sharply illuminated.

He calls out for Stiles, not entirely sure why, but there's an urgency blooming in his chest, making him out of breath even though he's run father distances for a longer amount of time without being nearly winded.

Derek runs until his hands shake and his kneecaps burn and there's the acid taste of fear in his throat, bile stinging his tongue and he stops by the edge of the same pond that he found Stiles at last time. He thinks of Stiles wandering through town, on bare feet and skin tinged blue from the cold, because Stiles never seems to wear enough clothes when he's wandering about, showing up at Derek's doorstep. He drove a car once to get to Derek’s, while still asleep, which was a horrifying discovery for Derek and he was half tempted to start stealing Stiles' keys at night.

It's only half a mile left to the house when Derek finds him. He's standing in a small clearing in the middle of the woods, as the trees loom above him, slivers of moonlight streaming through their thick branches. Stiles is hunched forward, head tipped back and face taking in the pale blue-white of the moon, the arch of his throat catching bits of light as it pools over the tendons in his neck, the small well of his throat.

Derek approaches carefully, footsteps soft, faint accent of leaves so that Stiles might notice.

Derek's fingers ghost along the back of Stiles' neck, feels him shiver but he doesn't acknowledge Derek other than that.

“Hey there,” Derek murmurs, lets his palm settle against the nape of Stiles' neck, firm and steady.

Stiles' head tips forwards, eyelashes fluttering over dull eyes, pale whiskey glittering in the moonlight.

“I was looking for you,” Stiles says, sounding somewhere other, voice small and distant.

Derek nods, shifts slowly in front of Stiles, curls his other hand around Stiles' wrist, trapping the fabric of his hoodie beneath his hand, hoping to keep the warmth buried against Stiles' skin.

“My house you mean?” he asks gently, “you're almost there. Here, why don't you come with me and I'll show you. It's not far.”

“I fixed it for you.” Stiles says wearily. He sighs, long and heavy, his shoulders slumping deeper and Derek has to steady him from swaying off balance.

Derek licks his lips, watching Stiles' eyes for any sign of Stiles being there, aware of the words slipping from his mouth.

“What did you fix?”

Stiles looks at Derek, his face broken and open and Derek thinks it's worse having Stiles look at him now, because the boy in front of him isn't Stiles, not really, Stiles is still tucked away inside his own mind, hidden from the darkness he's always begging Derek to protect him from.

“I fixed it for you. I wanted it to be something that you wanted to come back to. I fixed it and made it nice for you.”

“Stiles?” Derek whispers.

Stiles' eyes flutter shut, face pained. He sags against Derek's shoulder, cold and near weightless as Derek takes him in.

“Your room, don't you like it now?”

-

One night Stiles rolls away from him. It's dark and Derek is sluggish from sleep and forced into unrest by the absence of weight pressing against his side.

He looks over, to where Stiles is huddled in a seated position, back to Derek, the fine curve of his spine pressing up into the thin fabric of his shirt.

"There's something wrong with me, Derek." he says, the first time he's ever spoken here, deliberately, at least. His voice is soft but clear, and it's definitely Stiles speaking now, not some shell of a boy who's lost his way in the woods.

Derek swallows.

"I know," he responds thickly.

Stiles' body shudders, his head bobbing as he nods.

"I'm used to there being something wrong with me," Stiles rasps, sounding tender bruised and as fragile as that day when Derek first saw him on the porch. "I'm used to people leaving too, because that's what happens, that's what people do. And I know that."

Derek shifts his weight to his side, moving carefully, trying not to disturb the silence that feels so tight and heavy around them. Stiles smells of sorrow and misery, and it's making Derek ache beneath his ribs, in the joints of his fingers and the pulsing throb at his temples. It hurts to move, hurts to breathe.

Stiles turns his head, the sharp line of his profile catching the dim light from the bedroom window, highlighting the upward turn of his nose, the sad shape of his mouth.

"I didn't think that you'd leave too. I needed you and I thought you were going to stay, that you were going to come back for me, just like I-" his voice catches, a shudder wracking his lungs and his brows are furrowed in what Derek thinks may be anger. But it's not. Derek knows that look all too well. He's worn it most his own life.

It's betrayal.

"I always came back for you," Stiles grits out raw, voice breaking and cracking into pieces that Derek wants to catch with his fingers, piece back together so Stiles isn't shaking so hard, white knuckled imprints digging into his forearms as he hugs his knees to his chest. He's glaring at Derek, heat brimming in tears that he refuses to let fall and his mouth is an open red cavern in the pale stretch of skin pulled taut over sharp bones. "I came back for you every time, I made sure that you were okay, I was there for you every time and when I needed you the most you just left!"

He turns around fully now, pressing forward on his knees, fingers curling into fists and twisting the bed sheets in angry spirals. His collarbones catch the light, the hollow of his clavicles drowning in dark shadow and Derek thinks about the shadows that Stiles hates and fears so much.

"I didn't know," Derek whispers, throat a desert, dry and hoarse and Stiles' lips gleam wetly, streaks of salt tears tracking down his ruddy cheeks. "Stiles, I didn't know. You had- you had Scott, and your dad and Lydia, you had," he struggles, eyes flickering back and forth, trying to remember the excuses that he had made in his own head, again and again, each time he drove farther away and not back. "You had people. You had everyone you needed."

Stiles’ mouth twists into an ugly shape, his body pulling away. He draws into himself, oversized cloth enveloping him like a protective cocoon, bony limbs wrapping around his knees, caging himself in. His gaze falls to the edge of the bed, away from Derek. And there it is again, that look, half-lidded and dull, empty.

"What I needed was you," he whispers, a confession that unfurls in Derek's chest like an icy fist. Stiles sucks in a breath, pushes the heel of his palm into one eye and it looks as if he's trying to scrub out whatever image is trapped there. "Fuck, Derek, I just needed you. No one else- no one else understood and I just-"

"I wanted to make it okay." Derek says quietly.

Stiles stares at him.

"I was the broken piece." Derek says, gives Stiles a sad smile that feels tired and old on his face. "If I left, everything could go back to how it was. You could go back to the way you were."

Stiles' mouth opens, lips pressing together again. Derek winces at how slick and red they look, hates himself for still wanting, when he never had the right to do so in the first place.

"Why would I want that?" Stiles whispers.

Derek shakes his head, confused.

Stiles drags his bottom lip between his teeth, draws in a deep breath before seeming to make the decision that Derek doesn't even understand. He shifts closer on his knees, presses in and Derek leans away on instinct.

Stiles' face falls.

"Didn't you hear anything I said?" Stiles asks faintly. His fingers tremble on Derek's knee. "That's why you left?"

Derek nods, numbly.

"You're the only person I want to be selfish with," Stiles whispers. "And I hated you for that. I hated that you left me. I hated that you didn't know better and that you didn't call and that you just vanished." He drops his head between his shoulders, a tremor wracking through him again.

Derek reaches out.

And touches.

Stiles freezes at first, bones stiffening and muscles drawing taut. He hunches deeper into himself, head lowering as he tries to curl away but Derek's got a hand on either shoulder, and he can't seem to let go now that he's finally got Stiles beneath his palms, even as Stiles lets out a sob and tries to shy away. But Derek just hushes him soothingly, lips gentle at Stiles' temple as he coaxes Stiles in.

"Don't you dare," Stiles warns harshly, fingers digging into Derek's chest as he curls his hand into a fist. "Don't you dare if you don't plan on sticking around again-"

"I won't," Derek promises, his arms a weighted presence on Stiles' thin bony shoulders, holding him true, letting Stiles feel him steady and close. "I'm not going away again, I promise. I'm here, Stiles, I am."

Derek doesn't think that their first kiss should be like this, with Stiles sucking in wet gasps against Derek's throat and fingers clutching in Derek's shirt, pulling and stretching the material in desperate tugs to be closer. But Stiles slides into his lap almost too easily, long limbs folding and fitting against Derek's and Stiles' body fits so well against his, snaking one arm up and around Derek's neck and Stiles is whispering, "please, please" shuddering gasps that wrack his frame and Derek cups Stiles' face with one hand, smudges the wet streaks over the sharp press of his cheekbone, down amongst the moles dotting along the firm line of his jaw.

"Whatever you want," Derek whispers, and he means it. "It's yours," he says, against the press of Stiles' mouth on his own, lips flushed and hotter than Derek ever thought possible; it's yours, it's yours, whatever you want, again and again as Stiles' breath flares over his tongue, soft and incessant and Derek runs his hand over Stiles' ribs, staying above his shirt, because it shouldn't be anything more than this, not now.

"Mine, mine, and yours," Stiles mumbles, licking into Derek's mouth as he presses in close, Derek smiling as he allows Stiles to ease them back against the headboard.

-

When Derek wakes the next morning it’s to the lazy rhythm of Stiles’ chest against his own, rising and falling, slow and steady; and the soft tuft of Stiles’ unruly hair tickling the underside of his jaw, fingers grazing over the fine prickle of Derek’s morning stubble and sleepy murmurs painted against his throat from upturned lips.

“You stayed,” Derek says quietly.

Stiles inhales deeply, snuffling in closer and wrapping his arm around Derek’s waist, long legs tangling. He hums against Derek’s collarbone.

“You too.”

Derek chuckles, drags his fingers up through the mess of Stiles’ hair, scratching gently at his scalp in quiet reassurance. “Not going anywhere.”

Stiles pulls back, tips his face up at Derek so that Derek can see him, eyes all sleepy soft and warm-edged.

And when Stiles’ lips tug in the slow curl of a smile, Derek knows that Stiles believes him.