When Derek first left after Mexico, Stiles never thought it would be permanent. He understood that the werewolf needed to get away from the hell that was Beacon Hills – to finally get a semblance of peace. He understood that Derek had found something comforting with Braeden. He understood when the older man had given him a long, lingering look before turning away and getting into his car, driving further and further away from Stiles.
He understood the need to get away. He just never thought it would be for forever.
The news that Derek Hale was back in Beacon Hills spread like wildfire. Within an hour, the entire town of Beacon Hills was whispering that the elusive Hale was back in his hometown – back to stay after a six-year absence. His Camaro was parked out by his building, overflowing with belongings. News that Derek had hired a contractor to work on the decrepit Hale house was juicy gossip between the townspeople.
Stiles was among the first to know. After all, no one gossiped like bored deputies in a quiet police station.
He had been writing reports that he’d been putting off for a week when Tara, the deputy that usually manned the front desk, sauntered over to his work station and leaned down conspiratorially.
“Did you hear?” she asked in a not-so-quiet hushed whisper.
Stiles hummed conversationally, most of his focus on the reports in front of him. “Hear what?”
Tara gave a gleeful chuckle. “Oh my God you haven’t heard yet. You won’t believe it!”
The pure excitement in her voice finally made him look up at her. Her face was practically radiating with a shit-eating grin. Interest piqued, Stiles leaned back in his seat and quirked an eyebrow.
“What won’t I believe?”
“He’s back in town!”
It could only be the pure, blissful effect of denial and ignorance that gave Stiles a few peaceful moments – the last in his life for a long while – before his world turned upside down.
“Who?” he asked, mind flitting through the possibilities. Jackson Whittemore, back from London? Lydia, one of his best friends, back from getting her second PhD? Or maybe it was Jordan Parrish, back from the vacation the sheriff forced him to take?
Any of those possibilities – including Jackson – would have been preferable to the name that came out of the other deputy’s mouth. Because none of them would have made his heart lurch painfully in his chest before beating rabbit-fast. None of them would have induced a panic attack. None of them would have transported him back to some of the most painful memories of his life.
Yes, anyone else would have been preferable.
Tara’s grin widened. “Derek Hale.”
Stiles called his dad from his Jeep, still parked behind the Sheriff’s station. It took twenty minutes for his breathing to calm down enough that he could speak and another five before his hand stopped shaking enough that he could dial his speed-dial 2.
The Sheriff picked up after five rings.
Immediately, concern leaked into his father’s voice. “Stiles? Are you okay?”
Stiles took in a shaky breath before unsteadily letting it out, gulping back the tears threatening to spill over. It would be humiliating to break down again. He had sworn to himself that he was over this. Over Derek leaving him and staying away. Over anxiously waiting for a reply from the werewolf and never getting one. The last time he had broken down, he had vowed to himself that enough was enough.
He’d just broken his own vow once. He wasn’t about to do it a second time.
“Um, I’m not feeling very well. Is it okay if I go home?” He tried to make his voice as strong as possible.
His father was silent for a long moment. And then, “Go home, Stiles. It’s okay. But I expect you to be back for your next shift on Wednesday.”
The sheriff’s tone was enough to let Stiles know that he had also heard the news of Derek Hale’s return. It was the sheriff who understood most why Stiles took it so hard once he realized that the werewolf was never coming back to Beacon Hills – that he was gone for good. It was the sheriff who got why Stiles took it harder than the rest of the pack, who never once snapped at Stiles to get over it – thank you, Isaac – because he knew more than the others, what Stiles was going through. The feeling of abandonment, of loneliness even within a crowd… It was the sheriff who understood.
Stiles owed his dad a lot. The two years after Derek first left were so rough that thinking back on what he put his dad through still made Stiles cringe in guilt and shame.
But it was because the sheriff knew that he hadn’t contested Stiles’ request to go home – even though he had repeatedly drilled into Stiles when his son had first joined the force after graduating from university that he shouldn’t expect any special treatment just because he was related to the sheriff.
Stiles let out a relieved sigh. “Thank you,” he replied sincerely.
“Let me know if you need anything, kid,” his dad let out gruffly.
“Yeah. Will do.”
Stiles hung up, started his car, then drove home.
He didn’t leave his apartment for two days.
Stiles had just come back home from the grocery store after his shift when he heard the knock on his door. Pausing, he cocked his head to the side, wondering who it could be. Scott was on date night with Kira and Malia was still in Paris. None of the others were due back in Beacon Hills for a while. Unless it was Isaac? But Isaac voluntarily seeking him out raised red flags in the deputy’s mind.
Frowning, Stiles put the carton of milk in his hands down on the counter and began to make his way around the kitchen island, heading towards his front door. He kept one hand on the holster of his gun – thanking God he still hadn’t put it in the safe – and approached the door apprehensively.
Stiles took a deep breath, grabbed the knob, turned it around and pulled his apartment door open.
Standing outside, in a black leather jacket with too-long sleeves and a henley peeking from underneath it, was Derek Hale. His ever-present stubble was groomed and neatly trimmed. He seemed different – something about his stance. It was looser, not the tense posture Stiles was used to seeing. Yet Derek’s eyes were the same multi-colored nirvana that haunted Stiles’ dreams.
All the breath whooshed out of Stiles, heart beating an erratic tattoo against his chest, as if desperate to break free – break free towards the werewolf standing in front of him, six years too late.
Stiles locked eyes with Derek, noted the new laugh lines around his eyes with surprise. This Derek Hale laughed?
“Hi,” the werewolf said quietly. “Can I come in?”