Derek didn't know when it all began falling apart, but it seems like it happened really quickly. He just couldn't tell when it started or why it started in the first place; and, if he could, he would give anything to go back to that moment and save Stiles from whatever reason that kept him awake at night.
His first thought wandered back two and a half years into the past, when the Sheriff passed away, leaving a devastated Stiles behind. Derek and Stiles had just started dating, but faith didn't give them much opportunity to drown themselves into all the new happy feelings they had for each other. John had died a natural death. He didn't show up to work one day, which resulted in Stiles going back to his old home to check up on him. What Stiles didn't expect was the sight of his father lying on the couch motionless, in an eternal sleep, with the TV still running in the background.
To say that Stiles was destroyed would be an understatement. Stiles went to hell and back two years ago. He didn't get out of bed, he quit his job and spent a whole year drowning in a pool of his own tears. Derek made sure to never leave his side.
After that year, things got as normal as they could get. Stiles started smiling again, which then led to laughing even harder than he ever used to laugh. His whole body shaking and his voice loud and vivid, filling Derek's heart with warmth. They began staying up some nights. Watching entertainment TV. Derek never understood the "entertainment" part, but seeing Stiles shove food into his mouth and comment on every single scene, it was worth the huge confusion.
Stiles started working again. This time he got a job as a barista in one of Beacon Hills‘ smallest cafés. He liked his job and started talking more. Stiles would say he just needed to interact with people and that his job was giving him just that. They both knew it wasn't a well-paid job, but Derek never brought it up. Basically, there was no need for either of them to work. Derek had millions of dollars resting in his accounts, but he was saving the money for rough times, if they were to come soon. And even though Stiles' job was not worth the little money he was paid, it was definitely worth how it affected his scent. Making him smell like coffee and sugar, uncovering the underlying sweetness that belongs to Stiles alone.
And sometimes, when they would lie in bed, Derek would keep his nose tucked in Stiles’ neck, just to feel the sensation of floating on top of cotton candy clouds. But one day, Stiles stopped smelling like coffee and sugar.
In fact, Stiles stopped smelling like Stiles. And Derek, alltogether.
Derek wishes he could pinpoint the exact moment their life together started falling into pieces. Derek just remembers coming home one night, after having a late shift and finding Stiles in bed. A terribly crying Stiles with a soaked pillow under his head and eyes squeezed shut.
Derek had hurried in front of him, dropping to his knees and wiping the huge tears away. Derek had this sick feeling in his guts, expecting the worst, not ready for whatever reason had made Stiles tear up like that. But every time he would ask "Why?", tears would start forming again. Like Derek's questions would trigger his reaction.
So, after kneeling in front of Stiles for hours, squeezing his hand and wiping away the endless stream of salty tears, Derek quickly changed out of his clothes and got into bed with Stiles. He held him, until Stiles fell asleep around four in the morning.
So, yes. Derek couldn't tell why it all started. But this is what their life had become. Every night would end in Stiles soaking his pillow with a new load of unhappy tears. After a week, Derek stopped asking why. Now he simply kneels next to Stiles on the bed, wiping away the endless stream of tears, smoothing the hair away from his forehead and watching. Sometimes, he keeps his hands on his mate‘s face, trying to understand how it had gone this wrong.
After the first week, Stiles quit his job. He didn't tell Derek. Derek found out about it when he saw the coffee-stained resignation letter lying on the coffee table. So Derek started taking less shifts, trying to stay home more. During the day, friends would come over. Not many people had survived this soul-swallowing town, so Stiles and Derek could count their friends on one hand.
When they would come over, when people were around, Stiles would get on the couch, laugh about the tiniest unfunny details and Derek would just sit there, staring at him. Noticing how his laugh doesn't reach his eyes, how they stopped looking sun-kissed and shiny to become icy and dark instead.
And Derek got scared, thinking his mate was sick. That he had been sick for a while and none of the werewolves had caught the change in his scent. Derek had to beg Stiles to go and see a doctor. Stiles was depressed. That night Stiles cried even harder, biting his fist to lower his sobs. Derek tried holding his hand, wanted to touch him, take away his pain but Stiles wouldn't let him. Stiles didn't reach his hand out to touch Derek's. So Derek stopped touching him.
Stiles stopped touching Derek weeks ago. Derek thought that touch was what Stiles needed. Apparently it wasn't. In the end, he decided to let Stiles alone in his comfort zone where no one asked any questions.
At some point they stopped sharing the same bed. Derek would end up on the couch or in the guest room. And sometimes he would feel guilty, hearing Stiles’ sobs, while he was lying in the next room. But he had a conflict with himself. On one hand, he wanted to save his mate, help him, just figure out what went wrong. But on the other hand he simply wanted to keep himself safe. He was just so god damn scared, he didn't know whom to ask or what to do.
And on days like these, he just wished for his mother's advice. Or Laura's. He wished he had a pack he could reach out to. Derek was an omega waiting to be killed, leaving behind a mate who was already dead inside.
Stiles didn't get better. Not even after three months. In fact, the opposite happened. He started eating little next to nothing. The bags under his eyes would look like bruises. Derek's heart clenched in his chest, dropping all the way down into his stomach.
Derek takes a break from work.
Just when he hears Stiles’ heartbeat change, which means he had woken up, he starts packing some clothes, puts Stiles in some comfortable clothes, grabs him by the hand and leads him to the passenger seat of his car. Derek decided it was time for a road trip. Stiles loved these. Humming to whatever song was on the radio, leaning back into his seat. Getting yelled at by Derek because he would touch the leather with his fingers soaked in fat from the curly fries. And Stiles would laugh it off and cover Derek's face with apologetic kisses. And at night, they would end up in some cheap motel to spend the night. At times they couldn‘t handle the touches they shared during the drive and they would end up in a heated make out session in some gas station parking lot. Stiles loved road trips. He used to love road trips.
Now road trips meant Derek driving along an endless street, with Stiles facing his side of the window, his forehead touching the glas. Not looking at Derek for once.
Sometimes Derek feels disbelief and regret and anger swirling inside of him. He wants to get angry at Stiles, wants to ask what he wants. If he was happy, if his relationship with Derek is the reason for his condition. If he had fallen out of love with Derek ... But Derek was selfish, too afraid the answers would rip his heart right out of his chest.
But he was used to losing whatever he loved, so he asked anyway. They were taking a break from driving. It was late at night, the restaurant quiet and almost empty.
They hadn't eaten in more than ten hours. They weren't really hungry, their minds feeling blocked by unspoken words. Derek had a burger in his hand and a plate full of curly fries that he pushed in front of Stiles. Stiles didn't touch them, but played with the now empty glass of water he ordered.
He ignored the tightness in his chest as he started the conversation.
"Do you want to break up?" He asked. He could feel his heart rate picking up, a steady thud against his chest. Derek avoided Stiles’ eyes.
Derek had been wanting to hear that voice again for what had felt like decades, and getting it all back is so amazingly overwhelming at the same time.
Even though Derek promised to never listen to Stiles’ heartbeat because they were always going to be honest with each other, he did listen. Stiles wasn’t lying.
"Are you happy with me?" Derek asks another question, because he's already drowning into suicidal hate. It couldn't get worse, he thinks.
Derek put his barely eaten burger down. Stiles' sadness was balanced out with honesty. He was too much sadness and not enough of anything else.
Derek wished Stiles was lying.
Derek was screaming inside.
They had left after that, neither of them finishing the food. An empty stomach, but mind filled with heavy thoughts. They were heading back to Beacon Hills.
Derek's eyes had bags under them. He was exhausted. Physically and emotionally; and if he could, he would pull the steering wheel and just kill them both. His entire body rung with anxious energy.
When they got back into their apartment, Stiles heads straight to the bedroom. Derek didn't need his werewolf senses to hear that Stiles was crying. Hadn’t stopped crying for months, in fact. Derek started wondering if Stiles was even taking his prescribed medicine.
Two weeks later, Derek was kneeling next to Stiles again.
"Do you want to talk to a specialist?" his hand was ghosting over the shaken shoulder, too afraid his touch would cause even more damage. "Just tell me what to do, Stiles"
Stiles started sobbing again.
Derek stormed out of the apartment that he once called home. He found himself in the cemetery, because apparently this was the only place left with people who gave him a sense of home. Derek was mad at himself, screaming until his throat felt sore and not even the super healing could fix it in time. White noise, heaviness filling his mind, spilling over his body. He just needed his mother. So he stood in front of his family‘s grave, apologizing and explaining how he had been the reason why they were under the ground now, especially apologizing to Laura for letting her go alone that day.
Next, he moved to Erica and Boyd, almost not getting the apology out of his mouth, words choking in the back of his throat. His lips felt numb. He was cold. He shouldn't feel cold.
Derek had no idea what he was doing but he found himself sitting in front of the Stilinskis‘ grave. He stared pointlessly at letters written into cold marble.
Derek remembered the last time he visited the cemetery. It was more than five years ago, because apparently he only remembers to visit when something bad happens. Derek didn't tell his mother he was finally in a healthy relationship. Or, he used to be in a healthy relationship. Derek was a bad son.
Derek's thoughts went back to the reason why he was there in the first place. Stiles. Derek tried thinking about the good times they‘d had, but found himself frozen when he couldn't exactly name a time or place. Maybe Derek was falling out of love with Stiles too. Sometimes when their fights get really bad, he wonders if he ever was in love with Stiles. Or if he was in love with the image of Stiles he was always carrying around. Usually when his thoughts had gotten that far, he knew their situation was really bad.
When Derek got into the apartment, he felt guilty for leaving Stiles alone for so long. But at the same time he knew Stiles had already left him months ago.
So that was how they kept living. Derek going to work, taking the extra late shifts. Derek would stay hidden in the station, avoiding the strong scent of salt during the night, too scared to see Stiles around, too scared to see him in Derek’s space.
Derek felt like they were two strangers sharing a living space. Derek didn't know if Stiles had eaten at all, what he had been doing all day, if he had gotten a job. To be honest, Derek didn't even know if Stiles was still living in their shared apartment. Stiles’ scent still stayed strong in the air, but Derek thought the scent might as well come from the tear-soaked sheets.
Ironic how they needed about five years to finally grow into a relationship. And just a second to fall out of one.
It had been another sleepless night when he was circling around the same train of thought. Derek needed to fix them. He was going to lose his mind.
After months of taking the late night shift, one day he didn't. That day he left the station around 5 pm. He took his time walking. Kept thinking, trying to make up a monologue about all the things he wanted to say. But instead, he mostly thought of memories, leaving him pale and shaking and clearly upset. Derek felt like missing someone he had lost a while ago.
When Derek got into the apartment, it was already dark outside. He heeded straight for the bedroom door. It took him few minutes to finally open that door. Stiles was lying in bed. Crying. He looked terrible. Unhealthy and sick. The room smelled like cemetery, but while the cemetery also smells like flowers and good memories, this room was only filled with pain, sadness and death. Yes, it smelled like death. Even with the strong scent that hit him, a part of him was relived to see him lying there. To see him just being there.
Derek wasn’t even sure if Stiles noticed his presence. He hurried to pull himself out of his uniform, the uniform Stiles used to love so much, changing into comfortable pants and a simple shirt. Then he walked back to his usual spot, right next to Stiles’ sleeping side of the bed. Derek hadn't been kneeling there for two weeks now. He’d been avoiding it, avoiding everything.
Derek's heart had been beating too fast, he could almost feel it in his throat. Then Stiles’ eyes opened and Derek found himself blinking into the dark void. Stiles’ eyes were sore, reddened. Derek wanted to ask so many questions.
"Thought you wouldn't come back" Stiles‘ words choked in the back of his throat. Derek closed his eyes. Affected by Stiles’ presence, overwhelmed. He had missed his mate's voice.
Only after having opened his eyes again did he register Stiles’ words. And that alone broke Derek. Because Stiles was lying in bed at night, thinking Derek abandoned him.
Derek could feel the slow roll of warmth and wet down one of his cheeks. And when Stiles reached out, covering Derek’s hand with his own and holding onto it tightly, Derek lost it. He came in that room with the purpose to fix his mate. But he figured he needed a fix too.
Derek took Stiles’ wet face in both of his hands, staring into the void eyes. Then he found himself leaning in, covering Stiles’ face with remorseful kisses, tasting the salty tears in his mouth.
"I'm so sorry, I love you so much" Derek found himself repeating. He felt like a broken record. Stiles had been lying there, squeezing Derek's hand to the point where Derek started feeling a dull pain. But he let Derek kiss his cheeks and the tip of his nose, his closed eyes and his forehead. Derek thought maybe Stiles did need his touch after all.
That night Derek carried Stiles into the bathtub and washed his mate's body in frustration. The skin under his hands was thin, the body of the younger man weak. Derek desperately tried to get the scent of death off of him.
After Derek changed the sheets, they both lied in the same bed. Derek had thrown his arm over Stiles’ hip, pulling him as close as he could into his chest. Derek could smell the scent of new tears, which made his arm curl more tightly around him, his hand grasps with more strength around Stiles’. Derek started thinking about all of their plans about the future, getting lost along the way.
Derek woke up early the next morning, his arm still thrown over the tinier body next to him. He had spent a couple of minutes staring at the back of Stiles’ head, a reminder that lets him know this was real, it wasn’t a dream. Derek left the bedroom while Stiles was still sleeping.
He called in sick for work, went grocery shopping, spent the morning making them breakfast, and he made sure not to forget the coffee. He felt like a stranger in his own kitchen. He hadn't spent much time in that apartment lately. Spending the night at the station, sleeping in the guest room and vanishing from the apartment as soon as he opened his eyes in the morning.
Derek was unsure if Stiles was going to eat, but he made sure to make a little of everything Stiles’ heart desired. Having finished, he found himself with a plate of pancakes on the couch. Alone. Derek wasn’t even upset. He was glad Stiles was sleeping well, wondering how many hours of sleep he was getting lately.
Only after he started his second pancake did Derek hear the bedroom door opening, bare feet touching the ground, making their way to him. Derek felt the anxious energy filling his body, spilling over it. It had been way too long since they saw each other in the morning. But when he found the courage to look up, his stomach swarmed with butterflies. He covered his heart with his hand because Stiles felt like a daydream.
He rubbed his eyes, and the sunlight coming through the window made his hair shine, highlighting his cheekbones and sending his eyelashes in long dark lines across his skin. The thin blanket he had wrapped around his body lied half on the ground. Derek loved him endlessly.
Derek had thought about the possible reactions Stiles would have when after seeing Derek in the morning, but none of them included Stiles hauling himself into Derek’s lap and Derek holding onto him tightly. Stiles pressed back into the heat of Derek’s front and Derek only pulled himself closer, breathing in deeply at the crook of Stiles’ neck.
Stiles made grabby hands at Derek's hand which was holding his still full plate, so he handed his food to Stiles, because who was he to resist? Derek had made breakfast for at least five people, hoping for Stiles to eat, and he was satisfied seeing his mate showing food into his mouth like he was starving. A flicker of hurt passed Derek's mind, but he tried ignoring it deeply, enjoying the moment. However, he couldn't help his mind from wandering to all the questions he was dying to ask. Was Stiles eating at all? Was he taking his medicine? What did he do all day? What triggered his depression? ...
Derek realized this was a talk for another time. He wanted to simply enjoy the feeling of Stiles in his arms, not sure if he'll get to do it again, to feel it again. Derek started kissing Stiles face and head, burying his nose and inhaling the almost familiar scent that belongs to Stiles alone again.
When Stiles finished the plate, he simply handed it back to Derek, obviously asking for more. And Derek made a promise to himself to never again let Stiles get to the condition of starving. Derek figured that Stiles’ eating disorder was a reaction to his loneliness, that he was refusing to eat because he didn't want to eat, not because he wasn't hungry.
Derek took the empty plate and headed back to the kitchen, leaving Stiles sitting in his own place, drinking Derek's now cold coffee.
Derek warmed up some of the food he had made, but he also got behind the stove and made more pancakes for Stiles. He was setting the warm pancakes into a new plate, putting a amount of cream and chocolate on top of them because he knew how Stiles loved his pancakes best, when he saw the arms coming from behind him, wrapping around his chest, holding him tightly against a warm body.
Derek was afraid of ruining the moment, so he stayed with his back to Stiles. When the arms around him loosened up for a bit, he turned around. And then they were hugging. The second he turned around, Stiles buried his face into Derek's neck.
It was going to be okay.
Derek had missed him deadly, nuzzling his face into the crook of Stiles neck to scent him. Trying to get used to Stiles’ new scent. Part of him was breaking inside because he was holding the only important person in his life, but he wasn't familiar with their old scent anymore.
When Stiles’ arms started to weaken around him, Derek lifted him up to sit him on the kitchen counter, blanket still wrapped around his thin frame.
Derek was afraid that Stiles was crying, but found himself relived to find Stiles’ eyelashes dry. Derek thought it was a good sign. So he handed the full plate of pancakes back to Stiles, grabbed a plate for himself and positioned himself between Stiles’ knees. Trying to keep him in place, maybe afraid he'd lose him. Maybe in an attempt to anchor him.
"Coffee?", Stiles had asked after humming while chewing his food. And Derek had never been more happy to see Stiles’ unmanned food behaviour in his life. Usually they would fall into a argument about Stiles’ chewing his food first before speaking. Usually.
Derek poured him a mug full of sweet coffee, placing it in Stiles’ grabby hands.
And for a moment everything seemed fine. They seemed fine. But Derek knew they weren‘t. And he's not sure if they‘d ever be.
After finishing their plates, Stiles is still sitting on the counter while Derek does the dishes. He can't help himself but keep his ears sharp to follow every frequency of Stiles’ heartbeat.
It was when he finally put everything back in its place and turned around to face Stiles again, when he found Stiles already standing behind him. Warm eyes looking back at him, magnetic and hypnotizing.
Derek didn't expect Stiles to draw his swirling knuckles up to his lips, a quiet tear falling from the corner of his eye. "Thanks for not giving up on me", Stiles said and Derek wanted to yell at him.
Wanted to tell him how close he was to running because this is the only thing he's good at, how he was about to leave Stiles alone. How he was being so selfish.
And then Derek felt the wetness on his cheeks. Tears of shame and guilt. But also greatness.
So Derek took Stiles’ face in both hands, looked in the sun-kissed eyes that make his heart jump in joy and gently angled his face for a kiss. It’s a soft, sweet kiss. He could hold back the sigh. Derek was afraid he would never be able to feel that again. Stiles’ warm skin under his fingers, the long eyelashes touching his cheek. Soft lips touching his own so gentle. The taste of Stiles. Like coffee and sugar.
Derek loved him so much.