Stiles woke with a start. The air punched from his lungs as his chest hit the floor. He groaned, pushing himself up on his hands and knees and took a deep breath. What a way to wake up.
“Damn it.” He grumbled, dragging his body into a vertical position.
Swaying slightly, Stiles blinked his eyes against the blurriness that was his vision. There was a fuzzy quality to the world that suggested he was still a bit drunk. He looked around the room, taking in his surroundings. The first thing he noticed was, this was not his room. The blinds were drawn but he could see the distinct feminineness of the space. Stuffed animals sat on an armchair across the room, seemingly watching him.
Turning his head away from their judgmental eyes, Stiles spotted a picture on the desk beside him. In it was a girl and middle-aged man - most likely her father. It probably should have unnerved him that he didn’t recognize either of them, but Stiles had gone to the bar two towns over for that exact purpose.
He had gone to The Black Lagoon to get beyond drunk and find someone to go home with. Someone different. Someone… female. It was meant to be an escape. He went so far because he needed to be anonymous, free. No one knew who he was. They didn’t avoid him like the lost cause he had become for the men and women at home. He wasn’t the Sheriff’s son. He wasn’t claimed. He was Stiles. Just Stiles.
It seemed, as he turned to the left and spotted the soundly sleeping form of the girl from the photo, he had been successful.
Stiles sighed, scrubbing a hand down his face. Careful not to make any noise, he pulled his taut muscles into a full body stretch.
Looking back at the girl in her bed, Stiles couldn’t help but feel a bit guilty for using her.
He had walked into The Black Lagoon and headed straight for the bar. After hastily downing two shots of tequila, he made his way to the dance floor. Stiles pushed into the crowd of gyrating bodies, looking for a body to wrap his arms around.
His heart stopped momentarily when a familiar looking head of black hair shifted through the mass of people. Stiles knew it couldn’t be. He knew it wouldn’t be. The fact that it still might be, sent Stiles back to the bar for another shot.
It was then that he spotted her: A beautiful strawberry blonde sitting alone at the other end of the bar, nursing an appletini, from the look of it. Stopping himself before he could think about who she reminded him of, he waved the bartender over and ordered a shot for himself and one for the blue-eyed beauty.
He walked around the bar to sit on the vacant stool beside the girl. Her perfume permeated the air around her, overpowering the smell of alcohol and sweat with the sweet scent of flowers.
“You’re too beautiful to be sitting here all by yourself.” He called.
The girl turned her head toward Stiles with a careful look of indifference, obviously ready to reject whatever loser had decided to strike a conversation with her. However, when their eyes met, Stiles saw hers widen slightly in surprise. She smiled at him before responding.
“Does that line usually work?” She teased.
Stiles laughed. “Not usually, no.”
“I wouldn’t think so.” She nodded. “I’m Lilly.” She offered him a hand.
Stiles took it softly in his and kissed it, his eyes never straying from hers.
“Stiles.” He replied.
Over the years, Stiles had learned that, initially, women liked men of few words. They were “mysterious”. It was one of the things that attracted him most to--. He cut his train of thought off there. He didn’t want to think about that. He wanted to focus on Lilly, and the shots that had just arrived in front of them.
Stiles nudged one toward the blonde and took the other for himself.
“What should we drink to?” He asked.
“I always drink to world peace.” Lilly giggled.
“Whatever you say, Rita.” Stiles mocked.
Lilly threw her head back in laughter and it made Stiles smile. He hadn’t genuinely smiled in a long time.
“You know, you’re the first one to get that?” She congratulated.
“To world peace!” Stiles held his glass out to meet with hers before tapping it on the bar and throwing it back.
The drink was like fire down his throat, warming his belly and blurring his vision in an entirely satisfactory way. He was achieving his goals for the night and he hadn’t even been there that long.
“Would you like to dance?” He asked, hopping from his stool.
Lilly glanced at his proffered hand momentarily, before sliding from her own barstool and placing hers in his palm.
She smiled and nodded, following closely as Stiles lead them toward the dance floor. They made their way across the floor, stopping once they were encased in the crowd.
The pair danced face to face for a while, laughing when someone bumped roughly into Stiles, causing him to flail in his usual clumsy manner.
Smooth. He thought. Real smooth.
Eventually, Lilly turned her back to Stiles, pressing herself against his body and swayed to the beat. Stiles put his hands on her hips and followed her lead, grinding against her backside.
He tried to let the pulsing lights wash over him, let the beat replace that of his heart, but his mind wouldn’t shut up.
This wasn’t right. He was having a good time, sure, but the situation was wrong. He much preferred being held to holding. He preferred strong hands around his waist to the grip he had on Lilly’s soft skin.
Stiles longed for the heavy smell of musk and pine, the familiar growl in his ear, the green eyes that flashed red with need and the power to take. He wanted most the one thing he couldn’t have. Not anymore.
After another ten minutes of dancing, Stiles decided he wasn’t nearly drunk enough. He pulled Lilly back to the bar, where they challenged each other to who could down their shot faster, which resulted in a rematch or two. Things after that were a bit of a blur.
Stiles recalled stumbling out of a cab into Lilly’s apartment building, trying and failing to be quiet. He remembered kissing her against the wall of the elevator and stumbling down the hall to her apartment.
He tried his hardest not to think about what he had seen -- what he thought he saw. Out of the corner of his eye, Stiles would swear he had seen… He’d seen Derek. He was almost positive. There was no mistaking the glowing red eyes but, when he did a double take, it was just a man. An ordinary man with dull, disapproving, brown eyes. Stiles did his best to distract himself as quickly as possible by pushing past Lilly over the threshold and pulling her after him, shutting the door in the process.
They hadn’t wasted any time, heading straight for the bedroom, peeling clothes off as they went. Her skin was soft and pliant under his hands, her moans high-pitched and frequent.
Stiles had laid Lilly on her stomach, pulling her hips up to meet him, needing some semblance of familiarity. With one hand on her hip, the other on her shoulder, Stiles had draped his body over hers, rocking into her with slow powerful thrusts.
He blew a breath out slowly and bent to retrieve his jeans off the floor. As he straightened, the room spun forcing Stiles to steady himself with a hand on the desk. Yeah, he was still drunk, if the accompanying wave of nausea was anything to go by. He would consider himself lucky if he got home without throwing up.
Stiles shuffled unsteadily into the front room of the apartment, scanning the floor for his shirt. Once he was fully dressed, he hesitated with one hand on the doorknob. He contemplated leaving a note, but decided against it. The girl meant nothing to Stiles; She was a means to an end. With one last look at the room behind him, Stiles departed.
The hot summer air hit him so fiercely as he stepped onto the sidewalk that, for a split second, he actually considered going back inside. Pulling out his phone, Stiles saw that it was nearly 11am.
He scrolled through his missed messages while he waited for an empty cab to round the corner. There were several text messages from Erica, asking where he was and if she and Boyd could join him.
That was one of the things Stiles loved most about Erica. She was always looking after him in a way that was reassuring but never overwhelming. After everything that happened, she had stepped up and become a better friend than Stiles could have ever asked for.
Then there was Isaac. Even after Stiles moved in to the loft, Isaac hadn’t moved out. He had become part of Stiles’ every day life. He became a friend, a confidante.
Isaac never pushed Stiles to talk about anything he didn’t want to but, when Stiles did open up, he listened with rapt attention, ready to comfort, advise, or sit silently while Stiles cried himself to sleep.
Isaac had left two voicemails. Stiles played the first just as a taxi appeared down the street. He waved it down and slid into the back seat, mumbling the loft’s address to the driver. Settling into the cracked leather, Stiles smiled lightly at Isaac’s concern.
“I know you can take care of yourself and you don’t need me breathing down your neck…” Isaac trailed off with a sigh. “Just be careful, Stiles. For both of us.”
Stiles’ smile turned into a grimace at Isaac’s last plea. Both of us, he’d said. Derek was still with him even now, but Stiles needed more than sentiment.
Before he could think better of it, he held down the number two key and the phone speed dialed the combination of numbers it had dialed more than almost any other. It rang a few times before the telltale click. Then the recording:
“You’ve reached Derek Hale. Leave a message.”
His voice was like a punch to the gut. Stiles took a shuddering breath and began to speak.
“Hey,” He swallowed thickly. “I – I’m on my way home. I hope Isaac made coffee. I drink it like you, now: four parts sugar, one part coffee. Not sure how I don’t have any rotten teeth.” His lips shook when he smiled. “I miss you,” He whispered before pressing the button to end the call.
Stiles closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the leather seat. The Derek sized hole in his chest gave a nasty throb and any illusion Stiles had that he could have had a good day vanished like fog from a mirror.
He remembered arguing with Derek about that recording. Derek had insisted it was unnecessary. Anyone who called his phone would know exactly whom he or she had reached, so why couldn’t he just let the animated voice read out his number and let that be that? Stiles had whined about wanting to hear his voice and even pulled the ‘I’m your mate, make me happy’ card.
With a bit of coercion and a bit of puppy dog eyes (he’d thanked Scott for teaching him that later), Derek finally, grudgingly, gave in and recorded the grumpiest voicemail message Stiles had ever heard.
Little did he know, it would turn out to be one of the last remaining connections he’d have to his mate.
Stiles hit redial and put the phone to his ear. Ring, Ring, Click.
“You’ve reached Derek Ha-“ He hung up.
It was amazing how it didn’t seem to be any easier to hear his voice than it had been the day after the battle.
He turned his head to look at the driver through the rearview mirror. The man had no idea that just a handful of miles away, two packs of werewolves had fought against each other, killing five in the process and sending the world of one human crashing down around him.
For this man, it had been an ordinary Tuesday that had bled into Wednesday solely by metaphor. The worst day of Stiles’ life was completely irrelevant to the driver. The thought forced Stiles to press his fingers against the inner corners of his eyes to keep the tears at bay.
He had long since realized how ridiculous it was that such a momentous occasion had occurred when he was so young.
The taxi slowed to a stop in front of the loft building, right behind his dad’s cruiser. Stiles groaned. Throwing a twenty to the driver, he inched across the seat and stepped onto the curb. There was nothing, Stiles could think of, he wanted less right then than to see the disappointed expression on his father’s face when he walked in the door.
He took the stairs slowly, holding tightly to the railing. When he reached the fourth floor two minutes later, his father was leaning against the open door, arms crossed, waiting for him.
His gaze was even and assessing, eyes taking in Stiles’ rumpled figure. He stood back to let Stiles through and closed the door slowly behind them.
“So, dad…” Stiles huffed, dropping himself into the mercifully plush cushions of the couch that sat somewhat in the middle of the still sparsely furnished room. “What can I do you for?”
His dad didn’t respond at first, opting to cross the room and lower himself slowly into the armchair across from the couch.
They sat in silence for a few minutes. Stiles played with a hole in his jeans, waiting for John to start in on the admonishment.
“Son…” He said, a bit too loudly as though it had taken some effort to expel the word from his throat. “Stiles.” He sighed.
Stiles met his father’s imploring gaze, which seemed to convey a mixture of, ‘tell me what I can do’ and ‘please don’t leave me alone’.
It made his chest ache. He hated to put his father through this but he knew that if anyone could understand his current state of mind, it would be his dad.
Losing his wife to cancer, though it was a slower process, had thrown his father’s world completely off its axis, much like Derek’s passing had done to Stiles.
Back then, the Sheriff had taken to having a drink in the evening to take the edge off. Then it was a glass or two to help him sleep. After that he’d have one when he got off work, sometimes before he’d even removed his coat and holster.
Stiles could remember coming home from Scott’s some days to find his father asleep in his armchair, a drink held precariously in his hand, the TV playing unwatched in the background. Those nights, he’d slip the glass from his dad’s hand and throw a blanket over him before going upstairs and getting into bed.
He’d lie awake for hours, thinking about how different his life would be if his mother hadn’t gotten sick; occasionally wishing he could take her place so his dad wouldn’t have to suffer so, but he knew it wouldn’t make much difference. His family would be forever changed, forever broken; missing an essential piece to the puzzle that no glue would ever be able to hold together. It would be a misshapen form, a reminder of what used to be but could never be again.
“Dad…” He didn’t really know where to start. What does one say in a situation like that? ‘Sorry I’m drunk all the time. It’s the only way I can get through the day without thinking about how the love of my life died in my arms four moths ago.’ Or ‘I spend most of my time talking myself out of jumping in front of a bus.’
Stiles opted for, “I’m sorry.” It seemed to cover most of his bases. There were a lot of things he wanted to apologize for.
His father bowed is head and ran a hand through his thinning hair.
“You don’t have to apologize, son. I understand. I just- that’s the thing.” He raised his gaze to fix Stiles with sad eyes. “I don’t want you making the same mistakes I did. I know it hurts, but Derek wouldn’t want you beating yourself up like this.”
Stiles’ chest constricted at the mention of Derek’s name. Every time he heard it, it brought back the memory of that night. The way the glowing red of his alpha’s eyes faded to their human blue-green. The weight of his body against Stiles’ legs as he cradled him in his arms, rocking back and forth for an hour before Scott and Isaac pulled him away.
“It’s my fault.” He whispered.
He wasn’t supposed to be there. Derek had told him to stay home.
“It’s too dangerous, Stiles. You could get hurt.” He’d growled.
“Oh come on, Sourwolf! I can help! I’m ready to kick some enemy Alpha ass!” Stiles was nothing if not persistent.
“Stiles,” The tone of Derek’s voice made Stiles’ heart skip a beat. It was quiet, almost pleading. “Please. Please stay here. For me.” Derek had reached forward, stroking his thumb over his mate’s cheekbone. “Please.”
Stiles had looked into Derek’s eyes and seen true fear for only the second time in the five years he’d known him. He was no longer insisting. He was begging. It was only then that Stiles understood Derek’s need to keep him safe.
He sighed and nodded in resignation. His eyes closed when Derek pressed his lips softly against Stiles’ own. The kiss lingered for days after. It was a simple, soft brush of lips, but in it was everything they had ever felt and promised to one another.
“You don’t get to do that.” Stiles had whispered. “You don’t get to kiss me goodbye.”
Derek pressed one, two, three, more kisses to his skin - one on each of his eyelids and the tip of his nose – before pulling back.
“I love you.” He said.
Stiles had rolled his eyes. “I love you, too. Now go get ‘em Tiger.”
“Werewolf.” Derek corrected with a smirk.
“Don’t ruin it.” Stiles shoved him toward the window and watched as his mate landed lightly on the lawn before taking off on foot toward the forest. To his death.
The couch dipped next to Stiles, causing him to lean slightly against his father, who wrapped a comforting arm around his shoulders.
“There’re only so many times I can say this, son. It’s not your fault. There was nothing you could have done.” He pulled Stiles a little closer, squeezing his shoulder in attempted reassurance.
Stiles tried to swallow the urge to correct him, along with the renewed sting in his throat.
“Listen, dad. I had a long night. If you don’t mind, I need a shower and a nap.” He rasped. He didn’t want to be rude, but he felt caged in the circle of his father’s arms. Stiles wasn’t in the mood to placate his dad with mindless assurances.
“Of course.” John got up from the sofa, with a stifled groan at aged and aching joints, and turned to his son. “I just came by to tell you that the contractor called. He’s wondering if you still want to continue with the job as planned or…” He cleared his throat and let out a slow breath through his nose. “I told him you’d get back to him.”
Stiles’ jaw clenched at the reminder. They had been in the process of rebuilding the Hale house when the fight happened. Stiles couldn’t bring himself to continue without Derek. It hadn’t felt right. He had gone to the property a few days after things had settled but never made it inside. He’d taken one look at the hollowed out shell of the house and broke down. The empty frame looked how Stiles felt, hollow and incomplete.
His ribs confined the cries that threatened to break free every time he realized Derek would never again darken the doorstep of their home. Recalling, each time, the stories he’d heard about people dying of a broken heart. Stiles had always been skeptical but he was more inclined to believe them with every agonizing strike of lightening in his heart as it beat on despite having been clawed in half, hovering in his chest, torn and tattered.
He pulled a hand through his hair, sighing heavily.
“Thanks, dad. I’ll uh- I’ll give ‘em a call.”
The two of them shuffled to the door in silence, Stiles leaning on the frame as his father stepped out into the hall.
“Take care of yourself, Stiles.” John spoke to his shoelaces, body half turned to the stairwell.
“Yeah, you too dad.” Stiles replied, warmth bleeding into his tone.
The Sheriff pivoted to face Stiles more fully. “I mean it, son.” He asserted.
Stiles smiled lightly. “Don’t worry, dad. I’ll be fine. I’ve got Isaac. He’ll keep me in check.”
His father looked entirely unconvinced, but nodded nonetheless. He put a hand up in a final gesture of farewell, and slowly descended the stairs. As soon as the Sheriff was out of sight, Stiles pushed off from the doorjamb and hurriedly shut the door.
He stalked over to the fridge, opening it swiftly, and pulled a beer from the box on the shelf. Uncapping it, Stiles swallowed a good portion of it in one continuous pull. He lowered the bottle from his lips long enough to take in a few lungfuls of air, before draining the rest of the liquid in one final gulp.
Without much thought, Stiles grabbed another and took a small sip, heading up the spiral staircase at the other end of the room, to take a shower.
He set his drink on the tank of the toilet and turned the shower on, twisting the knob to the far left.
Letting the water heat, Stiles pulled off his shirt, dropping it carelessly to the tile. He nearly tripped getting out of his pants, reminding him of his current state of intoxication. Swearing under his breath, he stepped carefully out of his remaining garments and into the near scalding spray of the water.
Stiles stood, face turned up toward the falling stream, letting the water cascade across his body, hydrating the dried out and stress roughened skin. Eventually, he lathered shampoo through his hair. It was the longest it had ever been. He couldn’t bear to cut it knowing how much Derek liked running his fingers through its length when they cuddled together on the couch. Stiles would lay his head in Derek’s lap while Derek rested an arm on his shoulder as he read, carding his fingers through Stiles’ hair, occasionally scraping blunt human nails across his scalp.
Once his hair was thoroughly washed, he turned to grab his body wash but halted when he spotted Derek’s nestled behind the other bottles in the corner.
On impulse, he pulled it from its hiding spot and poured a generous amount into his palm. The spicy aroma of the soap nearly overwhelmed Stiles as he worked it into his skin.
As Stiles rinsed the excess from his body, he wrapped his arms around himself in a way that was reminiscent of how Derek used to hold him. Derek would wind one hand around his waist, the other curling diagonally across his chest to anchor on his shoulder. He would pull Stiles close and they would stand for long minutes, swaying slightly together in the heat of the small space, relishing the time they got to relax together comfortably.
The position was no longer comfortable, but necessary. His arms wound tight around himself, nails leaving small crescent marks in his skin where they dug in, in attempt to keep him from falling apart at the seams.
After a few minutes, Stiles gave up on trying to compose himself. He shut the shower off and got out. Grabbing a towel from the rack, he ran it half-heartedly over his head before wrapping it around his waist. He snagged the beer bottle from its resting place, took a quick swig, and opened the door.
He shivered in the cool air of the bedroom when he stepped out, the steam from his shower billowing around him like a clichéd romantic comedy. His heart gave a tiny jump when he spotted Isaac lounging on the end of the bed, laid back on his elbows. His gaze was soft, mouth turned down in a small, sad, frown.
“You smell like him.” Isaac said, in lieu of a greeting. He sat up, leaning forward, placing his forearms on his legs – gravitating, albeit unconsciously, toward the familiar smell of his alpha.
Stiles’ gaze dropped to the floor, his small nod of affirmation his only response. Making his way over to the dresser, he pulled a pair of boxer briefs from the topmost drawer. He held the beer and his towel in one hand and hopped into the underwear using the other. When he turned, Isaac was eyeing him warily.
“I’m fine.” Stiles sighed. “I’m just tired.” He shuffled back into the bathroom where he hung up the towel and took a large gulp from the now room temperature drink in his hand. It said something, he thought, that he still chose to hide most of his drinking from Isaac, though he knew there was little point. Isaac could no doubt hear the small clink of the glass against Stiles’ teeth when he tipped it back. He was definitely no stranger to the ever-growing stack of empty bottles in the trash underneath the kitchen sink, either.
When he came back out, Isaac was standing, lingering. He opened his mouth to talk, but Stiles spoke before he could get a word out.
“I got your message. I know you’re looking out for me and you know I appreciate it. I just need time.” He stepped forward and clasped a hand over Isaac’s shoulder. “I’ll be fine.” Looking Isaac in the eyes was something that had taken much practice since that night. Stiles watched as Isaac read his expression, listened to the small uptick of his heartbeat that meant he hadn’t believed the last few words he had spoken, tasted the fear and sadness in the air around him.
What endeared Isaac so much to Stiles was the fact that he didn’t argue. He didn’t push, didn’t force Stiles to take back his words, speak the truth. He simply nodded and placed his hand atop Stiles’ on his shoulder before walking to the bedroom door.
“I’ll be downstairs if you need me.” He said, quietly.
Stiles gave him a small smile and watched as Isaac closed the door behind him. Stiles turned then and crawled onto the bed and under the comforter. He let the king size mattress swallow him up and envelop him in warmth and comfort.
Burying his face in Derek’s pillow, he breathed in the swiftly fading scent of his love. Maybe he’d wake up and it will all have been a nightmare. He’d roll over and Derek would be next to him, snoring lightly with one hand curled over Stiles’ hip. They’d share lazy afternoon kisses and eventually Derek would make them lunch.
Maybe everything would be just the way it should be. Maybe.