When he’s five years old, Stiles meets a boy named Scott. He tugs at the boy's sleeve and gets the biggest smile he's ever seen.
“Is your name Scott?” he asks, because he has to be very sure.
“Yup,” the boy says, the “p” popping like bubble gum on his lips.
“What's your favorite color?” Stiles asks seriously, because he really does have to be very sure.
“Green,” the boy says, “what's yours?”
“It's blue,” Stiles says. “Did you get a name too?”
“Everyone gets a name,” the boy says, his eyes wide and surprised and confused.
Stiles bites his lip because he doesn't know how to make any more sure.
“Oh!” The boy named Scott grins again. “You mean this.” He tugs at the collar of his green and brown stripped shirt to reveal the blue-scratched word on his chest. “I can't say it, but I think the letters look pretty together.”
Stiles bites his lip but smiles. The letters tumble out of his lips, too close together and shy in their accent. “That's my name. But you can call me Stiles.”
He tugs down the collar of his Batman t-shirt to show the boy the word Scott written in a grassy green over where mommy says his heart is.
From that moment on, he and Scott are practically inseparable. They grow up together, they do everything together, they’re best friends, and no one has to question why. They’re soul mates, names etched onto each other’s skin by fate, and that’s enough because it means they’re always going to be together.
Then Stiles’ mom dies, Scott’s dad leaves, and the world keeps turning, even though Stiles swears it has no reason to.
When he’s 13, Scott sits down on his bed next to him and says, “It’s not a perfect system.”
Stiles, who’s flipping through a comic book, looks up and asks, “What?”
“Well, because we learned in health about how the names aren’t always romantic and how you don’t always get the person who got you and stuff like that, yeah?”
Stiles nods slowly. “Well, yeah.”
“Mom won't tell me,” he says. “She won't tell me the name. But she says it's not—was never Dad's.”
“Oh,” Stiles says, putting the book down. “Well that makes sense.”
“Right? But I asked her why then, why she wasn't with her soulmate, and she said that—she says that her soulmate is always there and that it's a friend and that their soulmate ended up being someone else. And it's kind of messed up isn't it?”
“I—yeah, I guess it is.”
“But you're my soulmate and I think it's important that we like don't mess things up, right? We got each other so like I guess what I'm saying is like that we should date.”
Stiles blinks at him. “Wh—really?”
“Yeah, I mean, yeah. To try. We should try dating. We could be that couple that dates through their eighth grade year into high school—we’ll set a record.” Scott seems genuinely excited about the idea, all eager eyes and a big smile, and Stiles just laughs, nods.
“Okay, Scotty, you got it.”
Scott grins. “Oh, man, it's going to be awesome. I'm gonna like…take you…bowling.”
“Bowling.” Stiles nods, holding back his laughter. “Yeah, okay. Curly fries though.”
Nothing really changes. They still go to school and they still do their homework together, hang out after school and eat dinner with each other’s families. There’s just hand holding now, which Stiles enjoys, and Scott is obviously a phenomenal boyfriend because he shares food and smiles all the time. Plus the Sheriff likes him.
Scott turns 14 before Stiles does, but once they’ve both passed into what they consider infinite wisdom, the decision is made.
“It’s kind of weird,” Stiles tells him.
“Everybody’s first kiss is weird.”
“Yeah, but—I don’t know.”
“For science,” Stiles says firmly, nodding. “We have to try for science.”
Scott looks a little hurt. “Don’t you want to kiss me?”
“Of course I do! No, bro, come on, come here. Gimme some sugar.”
“No.” Scott pouts. “Not if you don't really want to.”
Stiles flails and climbs onto his lap. “Come on, kiss me, Scotty.”
It’s plain. It’s just one little kiss, chaste and boring, and Stiles shrugs a little bit when he pulls back. Scott looks equally unexcited. “Wanna try it again?”
Stiles thinks they’re getting better at it a couple of weeks later, but truth be told, they’re going to officially be high schoolers in less than two months now, and they’ve done a lot of growing up. They’re good together. They talk and they’re patient and they’re friendly, but when Stiles crawls into bed at night and jerks off, he’s not thinking about Scott, and he’s pretty sure Scott’s not thinking about him either.
Shortly before summer starts, they sit down together at on campus and Scott says, “It’s not working, is it?”
Stiles shakes his head. “Man, I love you, I really do, but you’re totally not my type.”
Scott sighs. “Dude, what are we going to do?”
Stiles wraps his arm around Scott's shoulders. “What everyone else who is less lucky than us does? Stumble around life and get our hearts broken.”
“That’s gonna suck.”
“Yeah,” Stiles sighs, nodding solemnly. “It really, really is.”
It isn't a matter of public record. You don't look at each other's dicks in the bathroom and you don't look at anyone's chest in the locker room. It's common decency. A lot of people wear straps or other garments permanently over their hearts for extra safety. Still, things slip. People know things. Happy couples give details. Everyone knows that Jackson and Lydia are beautiful together and would make beautiful brilliant athletic babies. Everyone also knows that neither has the other's name etched on their heart.
“It’s none of your fucking business,” Jackson tells people, while Lydia just flips her hair over her shoulder and ignores them. Only idiots are willing to ask them, and nobody really wants to cross Jackson’s path anyway. He and Lydia are attractive together, good together, and if they’re happy like that, then no one else can bother them about it.
Stiles notices though, makes it his business to notice. He's a curator in the knowledge of all the ways that the universe's perfect plan is weird and painful and morbid. Lydia's eyes never linger on anyone. Her soulmate is not here. Stiles knows because Lydia's eyes always look like she's searching or trying to run away, like she feels her soulmate calling but can't figure out from where. Jackson's is too close for comfort. Everyone who knew Jackson when he was tiny and pudgy—and very few people with that knowledge still live anywhere near this town—everyone who remembers him chubby and rosy cheeked remembers when he first met Danny, all the things that Jackson would buy Danny so they could be friends. Everyone remembers when Danny, skinny and smart and still trying to find his place gave a box full of gadgets and treasures back to Jackson and gave him a hug instead.
They’re friends. They’re really good friends, Stiles thinks, because Jackson doesn’t know how to stay away from him. But it’s obvious that Danny’s name is on Jackson’s heart, and someone else’s is written on Danny’s. The system is fucked, he knows, and it’s not fair, even when someone who’s as big of a douche as Jackson is the one getting fucked over.
They’re sophomores when Allison Argent moves to town. She’s beautiful and smart and Scott moons over her like a dope. She’s nice to him, genuinely sweet, but she tells him off the bat that he’s not her soulmate.
“Soulmates are overrated anyway,” Scott tells her in a memorable, rambling speech. He dishes to her about Stiles, about their names and their fate, and Allison laughs, kisses his cheek.
It’s not meant to be.
Stiles is still perpetually single, but he takes solace that Scott is too. They join lacrosse together, go stag to dances—Stiles even dances with Lydia at the winter formal, and it’s pretty great. But the year passes faster than he really expected it to, what with the monotony of high school weighing him down, and nothing really interesting has happened all year, and suddenly they’re juniors, and they’re no longer the scum of the earth.
That’s when Isaac Lahey starts showing up to school, when Erica Reyes comes back with a makeover and new clothes, and when Vernon Boyd has dropped over 50 pounds and looks like he could plow through rock.
Most importantly, it seems that's when the twins enroll at Beacon Hill's high. It never occurred to Stiles that he's never met identical twins (65% of whom are each other's soulmates). He notices them now, though, and they’re kind of the type of guys that Scott wants to be—they’re attractive, popular, athletic, and seemingly intelligent, but Scott has most of that going for him anyway, he just doesn’t know it.
“Wonder what their deal is,” Scott mentions off handedly during passing period one afternoon, and Stiles shrugs.
“I’ll find out.”
Lydia knows of everyone, even the unpopular people, even the idiots. She knows everything about the school—even if Stiles knows just the slightest bit less than her—and so she’s the person he goes to. She’s, unsurprisingly, in the library, reading a book on thermodynamics and nuclear fission.
“The twins,” he says to her.
“Aw, c’mon, Lyds.”
She looks up at him for a brief second before returning to her book, and he manages to slip in a pouty face. “Don’t try it, Stiles. It’s a sensitive subject.”
“What do you mean?”
She doesn’t say anything, but it’s enough.
“One of them is Danny’s.”
Lydia closes her book, slipping it back onto the shelf. “Wonder why you haven’t seen Jackson around the two weeks we’ve been in school?”
“He found out and he left, because he couldn’t stand around and watch someone he loved love someone else.” She crosses his arms. “I hate the stupid system.”
Stiles bites at his own thumb. “Well he's weak shit.”
She glares at him.
“You took it, didn't you? For two years.”
“Well not everyone is me.” Lydia shrugs. “It doesn't matter anyway.” She flips her hair over her shoulder. “It was time to move on to a new distraction anyway.”
Stiles arches an eyebrow. “Well, hey—”
“Shut up, Stilinski. We’ve reached common ground. Don’t ruin it by trying to get into my skirt.”
“Duly noted. See you later.”
Scott is only slightly saddened to see that Isaac and Allison are soulmates. He and Isaac have become good friends, though, and Allison isn’t left behind, so their group grows a little bit, especially when Boyd joins lacrosse and he and Erica start spending time with them too.
Stiles doesn't know when they reached this social plateau where teachers actually remember who they are and freshmen look at them with a little bit of curiosity and awe. Maybe it's just age. Age makes Stiles think about everyone finding someone and about himself and Scott and how stupid this system is.
“It's like we have to be on the prowl for divorcees and—and—and people who are related to their soulmate! Like…love scavengers. We're fucking vultures, Scott.”
“Relax,” Scott tells him. “We’ll get there. I mean, my mom didn’t marry her soulmate, but they were happy for a while. And—there are people who have mix-matched names but fall in love. And it’ll be okay. We’ll still fall in love. They don’t have to have our names. There are more people out there like us.”
“Yeah, but what’s to say we won’t be broken in the process?”
“Well we've got each other, we have a soulmate who's never going to break up with us how cool is that. Just relax, dude, it'll happen for us.”
He doesn’t know how long he has to wait, though.
There’s no one in high school. In high school everyone is too worried about their own names on their chest, scared to venture on outside of it. In college, though (and Stiles is going to Stanford because without distractions he’s scored a 4.3 and 2300 on the SAT), there are girls and guys who didn’t get their soulmate, who are waiting for their soulmate, who had a relationship with their soulmate that, for one reason or another, ended, and they’re looking just like Stiles is. He has friends, he has lovers, he has a handful of girlfriends and boyfriends that he tries to see a future with, and it’s good, but none of them are his soulmate.
Scott finds Kira when they’re 21.
Scott isn't Kira's soulmate. Kira's soulmate is a girl in her great-grandmother's village who she takes pains to Skype with. Kira has met her once and they're best friends. The distance is hard and Stiles can't imagine being so far away from Scott.
“You guys are really great together” Stiles tells him as they lay close to each other on their second hand couch, “you found someone just like us.”
“There's lots of people like us,” Scott whispers with a smile. “You're going to find someone soon, man. Just give it a while.”
But Stiles can't help but think that without the soulmate bond, that warmth that ties him and Scott together, that no one is going to think Stiles is worth their time.
Kira and Scott are good, though. They move in together and they have plans to go to grad school together—Kira to get a degree in art history and Scott to get a nursing degree—and Stiles is just a little bit jealous. He’s had sex, he’s had relationships, but it feels empty now. It feels like he’ll never get that, that he’s one of the few people who don’t even have a real soulmate, regardless of the name on his chest.
“Only 30% of soulmates are actually in romantic relationships,” Stiles says to his father when he’s home the summer after graduation. (He’s going across the country for grad school, so it’ll be one of the last time they’ll be together in a while.) “And 15% have different sexual orientations! Like Jackson was straight, and Danny—isn’t. And,” he adds, crossing his arms over his chest, “it’s just as likely for your cousin to be your soulmate as it is for it to be someone on another hemisphere? That’s 2%.”
“Stiles,” his father sighs.
“I know, I know. I’m sorry, I just—I’m sick of it. I’m sick of the system, I’m sick of the loss, I’m sick of all of it.”
“I get sick of it too,” his father says in that tone he can use now, in that tone that reminds him that there are two men at the table both kind of fucked up by the fucked up world. “I get sick of this scar. It aches you know, like a burn scar, and it's ridiculous. As if it's any better than seeing her name. Let me tell you I would rather still see her name every day. She wasn't a scar.”
There are people whose soulmates have died. They don’t get left with the name. Instead, there’s a scar in its place, burnt over and scabbed like a terrible, aching wound, and Stiles thinks it would hurt, thinks that that would be the end of it and he wouldn’t be able to carry on living. He doesn’t know how his dad does it.
“I know,” he says softly, reaching over the table to cover his father’s hand with his own. “I’m sorry.”
Stiles comes home with a Master's in English and job at Beacon Hill's Community College. It's all he's ever going to need, he's decided, a home near Scott and his dad. Scott and Kira are still in the city, but Kira loves Beacon Hills and he knows that's where they're planning to live when Kira asks him to marry her.
It’s adorable, how she plans it out, and Stiles gets to watch her get down on one knee and see Scott grin like he’s the sun. It’s perfect, and they’re happy, and Stiles goes home to his empty apartment and thinks about buying a dog.
He's going to be one of those people. Nineteen percent of major depressive episodes in adults result directly from what the expert call “soulmate dissonance”. Usually it's when you find that you and your soulmate are completely incompatible. That's not the case with him and Scott, but the results are the same. He's 23, he loves his soulmate, and he's alone.
Teaching is easy. It occupies his time, it’s rewarding, and he enjoys it, truly. It’s a job he was made for, and he doesn’t think there’s anything else he would want to do. He has to do something, though, something that keeps him busy during the times he’s not teaching or grading, and he takes up running. It’s cheap and it keeps him fit, and that way he has more excuses to drink and eat crap like he’s a teenager again.
He gets sick of running into cyclists and starts running the trails in the nearby woods. When the trails get too boring for his speed car brain, he runs off them. The sounds of animals and the changing landscape keep him on his toes, keep him alert, and he skids to a stop when someone growls at him from a few yards away.
“This is private property.”
Stiles blinks, taking a step back. “I—sorry, man. I didn’t know.”
The guy is glaring, pointedly, and Stiles keeps walking backwards.
He doesn’t run that way anymore. He does, however, start going to this new coffee shop after his runs that’s buy this big, old apartment building in town. The coffee’s good and the prices are even better, plus they make the most amazing blueberry scones Stiles has ever had in his life.
Growly guy apparently lives there.
After they’ve run into each other a handful of times, he just sits down at Stiles’ table.
“Everywhere else is full,” he says. “Do you mind?”
Stiles blinks. He didn’t go running today, since he just came from class, and he’s wearing his jacket and tie and trousers still, dressed up like a twelve-year-old at a dance. “Uh, no. Not at all. It’s all yours.”
The man looks frustrated and a little bit angry. “No. That's—I just mean we could share the table. You don't—you don't have to go.”
“Oh. Well. Yeah. Go for it.” He has to force himself to turn back to his papers, reading through this kid’s for what must be the fifth time by now, trying to understand why he’s even taking the class.
“You a teacher?” Growly asks a few minutes later.
“Yeah, at Beacon County Community,” Stiles says without looking up. After a moment, though, he does look up, sticks out his hand. “Stiles Stilinski.”
“I'm sorry about the other day.”
“You startled me,” the man says. “I was… It was a bad day and I wasn't expecting anyone there...”
“I should have been paying attention,” Stiles insists. “Do you… Did you just buy that property?”
“My family lived on it a long time ago. I moved away after I graduated high school and I just moved back—it’s paid for and it’s still in my name, so.” He scratches the back of his neck, looks uncomfortable. “The house isn’t livable, though. There’s no—furniture or anything, it’s all just dust now.”
“Just around to clean that up and sell it or are you staying?”
“Staying,” Derek says with a nod. “My parents moved across the country and my sister and her husband live in England. My younger sister is going to grad school down south.”
“Just the five of us. You?”
“Me and my dad.” Stiles wants to ask of course, a man of this age and this beauty, where is his soul mate? Do they live far away? Are they together…that way?
They pass the next few minutes in silence, though, while Derek reads his book and Stiles reads the papers. He gets through two and a half before Derek says, “No mate?”
“Oh. Uh, it’s my best friend. So no romantic one, no.”
“Annoying how that happens.”
He shakes his head. “No.” And that’s all he says. So Stiles thinks he must be mated, must be madly, desperately in love, and he leaves it at that.
When Stiles leaves when all of the papers are done, Derek nods his goodbye and doesn’t ask him for his number, doesn’t say they’ll see each other around. Stiles suspects they will, but that’s fine.
Stiles goes running on trails near the house again. He can see through the trees sometimes, big and oppressive, like it’s claiming the forest. He doesn’t get close, though, not close enough that Derek could see him if he were there.
They see each other at the coffee shop, sit together sometimes if they have time. Stiles grades paper after paper, test after test, and then it’s Christmas and he gets to crawl into his bed and not do anything for weeks.
Scott buys him a puppy.
He takes the pup running with him which makes his runs more of a playful jog, especially in the winter chill.
“Come on, Robin, come on puppy boy.” He laughs as the tiny thing gets distracted by a pine cone. He’s a little golden thing, so small that Stiles’ two hands are able to keep him perfectly still, and he’s very excited about the world in general. That means Stiles has to slow to a walk every once in a while to let him enjoy their travel.
It’s during one of these walking and staring moments that another jogger passes by, except it’s winter and people usually tend to stay away from the leaves and the dirt so they don’t slip and fall during winter, which means it has to be someone who knows these woods and—
“Derek,” Stiles says brightly while Robin tugs on his own leash, trying to get closer to a tree. Stiles lets him go, unwinding the leash slightly so he can go further. “Hi.”
Derek is dressed in a grey tank and black basketball shorts. Stiles can appreciate it, seriously, considering the chill.
“How are you not freezing?”
“I, uh, warmed up.” He looks down at the dog. “Yours?”
“Yeah, a gift from Scott. My—my friend.”
Derek nods slightly and Robin is suddenly completely uninterested in the tree and very interested in Stiles’ new friends. “He’s energetic.”
It’s when Derek is bending down to pet the energetic thing that his tank dips away from his chest, and that means Stiles can see where the scar is spread over his left pectoral, shiny and waxy-looking.
“Oh,” Stiles says softly, unable to help himself. Derek doesn’t appear to have heard him.
“What's his name?”
“Robin,” Stiles says after a second, plastering on a smile. “Cause I'm his Batman.”
Derek's shoulders shake like he might be laughing. “Wanna come inside? I, um—the kitchen is working. I can make some coffee.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t wanna intrude—”
“You’re not,” he says with a shrug.
“Then, yeah. Yeah, that’d be great.”
The house really is bare. There’s a table with a computer on it, a couch, and nothing else. A staircase, doors that lead around to separate rooms, and then, in the kitchen, two chairs at an island, a coffee machine, a microwave, a stovetop, and an oven. Basic things, considering everything else is empty.
Stiles is carrying Robin, considering he might lose the little terror in the giant house, until Derek looks over his shoulder and says, “Duke should be around here somewhere.”
“You have a dog?”
“A cat,” he says, and Stiles feels the world twist over on its head.
“That’s, uh, interesting. You don’t really seem like a cat person to me.”
“My sister bought him for me, but he—I mean. Yeah.” He has a little smile, just barely there. “Is Robin okay with cats?”
“He’s only a couple weeks old. But I bet—yeah.”
It turns out that Robin is not so much okay with cats as absolutely in love with Duke. The cat perches on the kitchen counter while the pup yelps and bounces up and down trying to reach him, finally curling up by Stiles' leg and whimpering. The cat then hops off and licks at the puppy.
“I think they might be in love,” Stiles says when Derek hands him his coffee.
Duke looks like he’s above it all, side-eyeing Robin, although occasionally licking at his face. Robin bounces and smiles and barks just quietly, happily following the cat around the house.
“Duke doesn’t have a lot of other animals to play with.”
“They seem pretty content. So.” He turns back towards Derek, clutching his coffee mug. “How were first semester finals?”
“Some of them had great scores, great essays. Others were not quite as successful.”
“A lot of kids are only coming to BCC to get away from their parents. It’s not the end of the world. They’ll make up credits.”
Derek nods slowly. “And Scott, what does he do?”
“Oh, he’s a nurse at the hospital. With his mom, actually. They’re both—nurses.” Stiles takes a sip. “And his wife, Kira, she works at the college too. Art history.”
“You guys close?”
“Oh, yeah. Holidays, weekends and stuff. We’re—good.”
“He's your soulmate, isn't he?”
“Yeah… Yes, we grew up together.”
“Was that—was it hard, when he fell in love with her?”
Stiles blinks at him in surprise.
“I'm sorry that was inappropriate—”
“No, no, I just, I was surprised. Um, we figured out it wasn't that way for us when we were like 14 and I've just been kind of dedicating my life to collecting facts about how stupid this system is ever since.”
To be fair he hadn't planned on admitting that last part.
“Oh, yeah?” Derek asks. He doesn’t seem perturbed, instead he seems genuinely interested. “Like what?”
Stiles blinks. “Well.” He goes into the statistics he knows, that only about half the people in the world actually have true pairs, and even then the pairs aren’t always romantic, they don’t necessarily have the same desires, and they aren’t always compatible. He mentions friendship and enemies and death and divorce, mentions Scott’s mom and her soulmate who was always destined to belong to someone else. “It’s—not a perfect system. I mean, love is—it’s not predetermined. It can’t be. There’s no reason you can’t love someone who isn’t your soulmate. I’ve fallen in love. Scott’s mom fell in love. And I’d like to think that my dad could fall in love again, too.”
Derek doesn’t say anything.
“Was that—I’m sorry, maybe I shouldn’t have—”
“You should write a book,” Derek says.
“You’re right,” Derek tells him, “and you should write a book.”
Stiles blushes and scratches the back of his neck. “People don't want to hear that.”
“What?” Derek asks. “The truth?”
“That soulmates don't always work. Everyone likes hope.”
“What about all those people like you? Don't they deserve hope?”
“Well then there are professors and people with doctorates who could write that. I mean, I’m sure most people know that there are flaws in the system, that even happily married soulmates can hit the rocks and get divorced and stuff like that.”
Derek shrugs. “I still think you should write it. It’s important, isn’t it?”
“What percentage of bonds are between best friends?” Derek asks him, and Stiles knows the statistic.
“Twenty. More if they’re twins.”
“How much more?”
“Fifty if fraternal, sixty-five if identical.”
“See?” Derek asks. “You know all of this.”
“I made it my business to know. It was the only way I could believe that I would actually fall in love with someone eventually.”
“Do you believe it?”
Stiles takes a sip of his coffee. “I guess it depends. Sometimes I—sometimes I think the soul bond was made for people who grow up to be like me. You know, unattractive.” He laughs and looks away from Derek's heavy gaze.
“You’re not. Unattractive, I mean.”
Stiles scratches the back of his neck. “What about you?”
“I’m not unattractive either.”
“No, I mean—we don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to, but.”
“Her name was Paige. She died when we were in high school,” Derek tells him, flat and plain, simple, like it’s not the most painful thing Stiles has ever heard.
“I—I’m so sorry.”
“Drunk driver. It was—the worst thing that ever happened.” He finishes off his coffee, standing to put his mug in the sink. “The thing they don’t tell you about the scar is that it physically burns you. And you feel it for years.”
“I know. My dad. I've looked for remedies for anything to soothe it but—”
Derek shakes his head. “There's nothing I haven't tried.”
“Sorry, I know. So am I.”
Stiles bites at his lip, suddenly embarrassed. He has his soulmate, sees him and hugs him and knows he'll always be there. “I should go.”
Derek doesn’t argue. He does, however, say, “Come by sometime if you want, so Duke and Robin can see each other again.”
Stiles smiles. “I will. Thanks. And, uh, if you need help moving anything in.”
“I can pay you in dinner.”
“Sounds like a fair trade.”
Stiles doesn’t know if Derek wants anything to do with him romantically. He knows from experience, though, the way people look at him when they want something else. He knows the lingering gazes and the certain directions eyes drift. He knows that the fact that he continues running into Derek on the trail isn’t a coincidence anymore and that, ultimately, even if Derek doesn’t want to date anyone, even if he’s just lonely and sad and isolated, he’s looking for something in Stiles. And goddammit, Stiles is looking for something too.
“Give me your number,” Stiles says in February.
“I see you every day anyway.”
“Yeah, so give me your number.”
Derek is moved into the house, bookshelves and a scratching post and a television. There are armchairs and a desk, a dresser in his bedroom and real hangers in his closet. The bathroom is functional, complete with potpourri that Duke likes to steal. Even the kitchen looks brighter, happier. It has a mixer and a kettle and a blender, not to mention the fridge. It’s a real house now, and Stiles feels better in it.
He's afraid though, immensely afraid. If he tries to date Derek, if he gives it a try and it doesn't work out… Well, Derek isn't Scott. There's nothing tying them together, nothing to keep Derek smiling and relatively happy and with him if they're not meant for each other. The very thought of it hurts and Stiles remembers; the problem isn't falling in love, it's finding someone who will love you back.
“I think you should go for it,” Scott tells him at dinner in March.
Kira nods, tossing the salad. “I agree. He sounds nice.”
“Him being nice isn’t the issue. What if—there’s just—I can’t afford to feel this way about him.”
Scott hums contemplatively and then Kira asks, “Do you guys talk about Paige?”
“Do you talk about her?”
“Not—not really. I mean, it doesn’t seem like he wants to.”
“Well your dad doesn't bring up your mom,” Scott says, “but you know he feels better after he does.”
He decides then to ask Derek about it, to sit next to him on the couch the next time they get together to watch crappy television and ask him about Paige. Scott is right. Maybe talking about her will make Derek happier. Thinking about the good parts of people’s lives is uplifting, Stiles thinks. At least, that’s how he feels about his mom.
“What was Paige like?”
Stiles is griping a beer, blazer thrown over the armrest, shoes kicked off by the door and tie loosened. They’ve had dinner, they’ve watched Return of the Jedi, and now Stiles wants to watch the floodgates open and Derek open up to him.
Derek doesn’t respond for a long time, though, and when he finally does, all he says is, “I don’t really want to talk about her with you.”
Stiles thinks it probably wouldn’t have been so bad if he’d left off that last part.
“Oh,” Stiles says and tries to keep his crushed disappointment to a minimum. “Of course. I just thought. Maybe it'd be good for you. With someone else, someone you trust.”
“I have a therapist,” he says gruffly, staring straight ahead at the TV.
“Right. I. Yeah. Sorry.”
They sit watching a rerun of Get Smart for another eight minutes before Stiles stands up and goes into the den to grab Robin from his spot on Duke’s bed. Duke hisses when Stiles lifts the ever-growing puppy, but he doesn’t make a move to sink his claws into him.
“Sorry, bud,” Stiles tells Robin softly. “Time to go home.”
Derek is still on the couch when he walks back in, gathers Robin’s leash from the coat hanger, and slips on his shoes.
“You don’t have to leave.”
“Well, I—I have class tomorrow. It’s fine.”
“Seriously, Derek, it’s okay.” He makes sure the leash is firmly attached to Robin’s collar and opens the door. “I’ll see you,” he says, and he’s already sitting outside his apartment by the time he realizes he left his blazer on Derek’s couch.
He's disappointed in a terrible way and he only has himself to blame. He knew this was possible, hell, he'd seen it in Kira and Scott. When your soulmate isn't the love of your life and you do fall for someone, you fall hard. You might as well tattoo their name below the one that didn't work out. It's what drives Stiles crazy about the whole thing. If you can love someone this much—and God almighty, he's in love with Derek—then what's the point of being tied to someone else? Isn't it all random chance in the end?
He doesn’t go running. He teaches, takes Robin on walks around his own neighborhood, switches to a Starbucks near campus and doesn’t go into the woods anymore. He knows he’ll have to talk to Derek eventually, but when that time comes, he’ll have thought of something to say, something beyond “I’m in love with you and you don’t love me back.”
It’s only a matter of days before Derek shows up at his place, carrying a six-pack and a pizza. Robin immediately puts his front paws up on Derek’s shins, either trying to catch Duke’s scent or aiming for a bit of pepperoni.
“Let’s talk,” Derek says.
“There's a game on,” Stiles offers.
“Stiles, come on.”
“No. No, I don't want to talk. I want things to stay the way they are or…the way they were. I want to know that when I go into the woods you'll be there or that there’ll be coffee in your house for sure. That if Robin runs off, Duke will find him. I want to know that Scott is always going to be my neighbor and his babies will be my god babies and that, Jesus, some day, eventually someone will use their brilliant God given mind and make a Neosporin for broken hearts. So let's not talk about it, Derek. I just wanna have a beer and hang out and know you're here. Alright?”
Derek looks torn. “I didn’t mean to break your heart.”
“No one ever does. Just—shut up. C’mon.” He holds open the door, gesturing with his head for Derek to come in. He does, and he puts the pizza and the beer down on the coffee table.
He takes off his jacket, throwing it over the back of the couch, and sits, reaching for a can. It makes the cracking noise as he opens it, and Stiles still feels like there are crosshairs on his chest when he goes into the kitchen to get plates.
“Stiles, I think you misunderstood me.”
“What about,” Stiles asks without looking up or actually even phrasing it as a question.
“When I said I didn't want to talk about Paige with you—”
“I said I get it,” Stiles sighs. “It was presumptuous and rude. I didn't know her. And you don't have to—”
“I don't want to make us sad.”
Stiles blinks up. “What?”
“I… Us. You and me. You…make things brighter than they have been in years and I—people have left me before because I couldn't shut up about her. Because—because I would hold them and hear her playing music. Because they would smile and I would think about how she would never smile again. And people get tired, Stiles. They get tired of being looked at like the dead.”
“I don’t understand.”
Derek stands then, moving towards the little kitchen were Stiles is still hovering. “She’s not here right now, Stiles. You are.”
“I can’t risk that you’ll run away from me if I talk about her.”
Stiles rears back at that, eyes widening. “I was the one who asked, Derek. I was the one—I don’t want you to think that I don’t care. I don’t want you to think that I’m just going to walk out on you for being upset that your soulmate died. What kind of friend do you think I am?”
“Is that what we are? Friends?”
“Of…” He swallows. “Of course we are.”
“Am I your best friend?”
“Well, I mean, besides Scott.”
“Oh, so, I'm just another one of your friends,” he says, but his lips twitch like he's teasing.
“I don't know what it's like to lose a soulmate,” Stiles says quietly. “All I know is that my dad—there's no one he sees. No one, no matter how much they smile at or flirt with him. No one is my mom and he doesn't… He doesn't see anyone as anything more than friends. So of course we're friends, Derek. I’ll be whatever you need me to be.”
Derek licks his lips. “I think it’s different. Because your parents were married for years, because they lived together and they had a child together. I had a couple years with Paige, not a decade. And we—it’s not the same.”
“I want to move on, Stiles. Not forget her, because I can’t, but I want to be—” He takes a step closer. “I don’t want you to just be my friend.”
Stiles moves towards him on impulse but he doesn't—they don't kiss. They lean their foreheads together and Stiles shivers as he whispers, “I don't want to mess this up, Derek. Not if you can't love me.”
Derek’s hand is gentle on his wrist, stroking down his forearm and brushing over his palm, entangling their fingers. “I think it would be nearly impossible to stop now.”
Stiles takes a deep breath and presses his lips to Derek's. It's different than it has been before. Before, he has poured all his hopes and dreams for all he's never had into the fragile bodies before him. But this time it's Derek. All his fragility is beneath the strength and warmth of him, most accessible through the scar above his heart. Stiles presses his hand gently to it and revels in the way that Derek wraps and arm around his waist, pulling him closer, sharing with him not just heat and promise but also hope and all of that old stagnant grief.
“What about the pizza?” Derek wants to know, a smile darting over his lips.
“It’ll keep,” Stiles says, mouth against Derek’s jaw. “I won’t.”
Derek burrows his face into Stiles' neck. “I want so badly to keep you.”
It makes Stiles tremble. He could so easily have said I want you or I need you and it could have all be about desire and the need of a warm body. But Derek wants to keep him, wants to hold him and have him just as much as Stiles does him.
When Stiles gets Derek’s shirt off, he’s pretty sure it lands on Robin. He can’t be positive because it doesn’t check, but the hound makes a noise like it’s offended and Derek laughs, unbuttoning Stiles’ shirt.
“Yeah,” Stiles agrees, already pushing Derek backwards.
The light streaming through Stiles’ bedroom window paints them both in shades of warm orange. Stiles presses his lips to the pulse in Derek's throat and his hands on the sides of his waist. It’s easy like this, to put his mouth on Derek’s skin and fall into it, to give himself over to something he’s wanted for months but hasn’t known, to let Derek touch him and whisper in his ear, tell him things Stiles has never heard with such genuine emotion.
I love you.
I need you.
Let me have you.
Never let me go.
They move together in the near silence, their moans are choked off, their names whispered out. Stiles bites his lip when Derek pulls him flush against his skin.
“Look at me,” Derek breathes out. “I need to see your eyes.”
He thinks he’s going to cry, spread out on his back with Derek atop him, kissing his face and rolling his body. It’s too much, too emotional, too poignant, too good to hold all of it in, and he turns his face away into the pillow, squeezing his eyes shut.
Derek kisses his eyelids, hands on his hips, patient.
He sucks in a quick breath, chest heaving with silent sobs.
When Stiles opens his eyes they're watery and desperate. “You have to stay.”
“I will,” Derek promises. “I will. I'm yours now.”
He wants so badly to believe it. He wants to cling to those words and the mouth they’re being said from, wants to hold onto Derek for as long as he can have him, and he wonders if it was this intense for Scott, if he felt so terrified and excited and desperate, if he felt like this was it, that he was always going to love this person and never be able to forget.
The sex is only second to the intimacy. It’s him and Derek, alone, in the darkened room, shadows cast and enough light peering in for everything to be hazy and smooth and wonderful, and Stiles never stops kissing him, even when his mouth is open in moans and cries.
When they're close to the edge of sleep, Derek's eyes already shut and his breathing even, Stiles peers up at him through his eyelashes and smiles. He traces his fingers over Derek's chest and up the jagged angry scar over his heart. He hesitates before pulling himself up and pressing his lips to the raised tissue, like a crude strike across the faded name.
“I'll take good care of him for you. I promise.”
Derek shifts, wrapping an arm around Stiles’ middle, and, still half-asleep, mutters, “I know.”