“How long are you planning on keeping me running?” Stiles asks, voice as clear and calm as the very first day, regardless of the disarray of the rest of his body. As guilty and panic-ridden as Derek feels, he is glad that it is Stiles’ voice that is lasting the longest because he doesn’t know what he would do without Stiles’ constant chatter.
Right now, though, he can sense where the conversation is going and he doesn’t like it one bit. Stiles has been trying this every day now. Derek busies himself with fastening a panel on Stiles’ metal back so he doesn’t have to face the soul piercing gaze. The eyes were the biggest aesthetic challenge but he knew he would have to get them just right because eyes were the windows to the soul. They allowed for the minute expressions that made Stiles feel so real, even if they were cracked at this point. They showed Stiles’ soul. Where it had come from, Derek couldn’t tell. But he wasn’t about to just let it go.
Stiles truly is his greatest work so far and Derek doesn’t even know how he did it but something about the algorithm he had developed had allowed Stiles to develop and grow, almost just like a human, just a thousand times better. And he isn’t saying that because its own creation, it’s just that humans were all absolute assholes.
“Derek, it’s been 5 years,” Stiles speaks up again and yes, Derek knows. He does not need the reminder. Every day he goes out to scavenge for parts and every day the search takes longer, is harder and less fruitful. Every day he spends more time out wandering and less time with Stiles. Every day he promises again and again that he will fix Stiles and every day he keeps failing more and more.
It had been 5 years since the war, since artificial intelligence and robots of any kind had been outlawed. 5 years of hiding away in an old basement of an abandoned factory, where Derek managed to reinstate electricity and have Stiles hooked up to keep him running. 5 years of Stiles continually falling apart despite his best efforts.
“You need to get back out there, among people. My time has come. The time for you to find someone… actually living to spend your life with. You aren’t getting any younger. You could have kids.” Sometimes Derek entertains the thought of going back into Stiles’ programming to make him less stubborn, but no. No, he doesn’t really want to. He hasn’t touched his programming for over a decade.
“I never wanted kids,” he lies. It doesn’t matter. He doesn’t need kids when he has Stiles. Stiles is his family, all he needs.
The sound of metal scraping against metal rings through the air and Derek tries not to cringe because it’s coming from Stiles and there’s nothing he can do anymore. He doesn’t have the tools, the parts. He can’t find them anywhere. There’s nothing he can do.
Stiles’ fingers close on Derek’s arm and there’s still this sort of warmth, even if the surface is no longer smooth. Derek had to replace his fingers with varying lengths of scraps he had lying around. His last saw stopped working maybe about a year ago now. Derek stills at the touch, but his heart doesn’t. It does the opposite, pounding harder, beating against his constricting chest like it wants out. Like if Stiles has to go so does it.
“Derek, if you- tell me this. Do you love me?”
Derek doesn’t want to look up but the question is so absurd and he believes so vehemently in the answer they both so clearly know that he has to actually face Stiles for this.
“More than anything in the world,” he whispers and leans into the palm that lets go of his arm and cups his cheek, tries not to think about how Stiles can only use one hand because the only thing the other arm is capable of is hang limply at his side.
“So, then will you do something for me?” Stiles asks and Derek replies without skipping a beat.
“Anything,” he croaks, even as his throat constricts and his tears well up. He’d always been jealous of robots for not having to cry but when he has Stiles to hold him it’s not so bad. It’s like he has a safe place to fall apart. Stiles is the one who holds him together. But Derek can’t return the favor. He failed Stiles and Stiles knows because if Derek hadn’t failed they wouldn’t even be here right now. Stiles wouldn’t be about to ask him to let go of everything that matters.
Derek had never been good at letting go. Not of his family, not of his guilt, and definitely, most definitely not of Stiles.
“Anything,” he repeats because if he could rip his heart out here on the spot and give it to Stiles for him to keep living, he would. He wouldn’t waste a moment's hesitation on second thoughts or regret, “Anything but…” His voice quivers through the vast, dimly lit room and dies somewhere in the corner where Derek knows there are rats. No matter how much poison he lays out, there are always new rats coming in to chew on Stiles’ cords.
“Derek, Derek, look at me,” Stiles instructs when Derek squeezes his eyes shut hard, a tear starting to slip down his cheek. “Please.”
And Derek does.
“Live for me.”