Stiles met Talia Hale once, as a kid lost in the woods. She’d brought him back to his mom, and he remembers how grateful his mom had been when she’d opened the door to see Stiles holding Mrs Hale’s hand.
Of course, she almost certainly smelled him on her property, he knows that now. Werewolves are a thing; he has to deal with that fact daily in his life now.
But at the time, he’d been lost in the woods, scared and lost, and this tall amazing woman had showed up and taken him home. He’d thought she was a superhero, had drawn comic strips titled ‘the amazing lady Hale’ for a week before some other person caught his fleeting attention and became the main character in his scribblings.
He’s nearly forgotten about Mrs Hale when his mother dies, but sitting in the hospital waiting area, fighting back tears, waiting for his dad to get there from work, he sees a familiar woman walking into the room. She’s holding the hand of a little girl, younger than Stiles and clearly her daughter by the family resemblance, and when she sees Stiles staring he looks away quickly.
She kneels down in front of her child, and hands her a handful of change with a whispered instruction, and the kid runs off.
“Stiles?” she asks, and he avoids her eyes. “Is everything alright?” she says, moving closer to him and kneeling on the ground in front of the chair he’s sitting in, feet not quite touching the ground.
He opens his mouth, to say… he doesn’t know, has no idea what to say, and then there’s a pair of strong arms around him, pulling him into her chest. She smells like the perfume his mother used to wear, before she got too ill to need perfume, and he sobs into her chest, the tears spilling over at last.
She strokes the back of his head, and stays with him for nearly half an hour, the kid coming back at some point to hand her tissues and chocolate, that she offers to him.
She leaves only a few minutes before his dad walks through the door, and he knows the moment he sees Stiles’s tear stained face. He watches his dad’s face crumple and goes to comfort him.
When Mrs Hale burns in the fire along with 5 of her children only a few months later, he mourns for her, and for the little girl he’d seen her with, knowing they were both gone.
Every time Stiles visits the graveyard, he takes two sets of flowers with him, one for his mom, and one for Mrs Hale, because he may not have known her, but her loss tore him apart- less than his mothers had, but still enough that he can’t ever forget.
At first the Hale graves are covered in flowers, and poems, from school friends and family friends and the two remaining non hospitalised Hales. But eventually they stop coming. Derek and Laura, the two kids who survived according to his dad, leave town. Friends forget, and move on, and only bring flowers on birthdays. But Stiles still brings his flowers, sets them against her gravestone before heading off to see his mother, tell her about his day, and how dad’s doing, and what school’s like.
Stiles knows when Laura comes back she goes to visit her family, because another set of flowers show up at the graves. He only connects them to her after he’s knee deep in the nightmare of werewolves, but his heart sings with grief for another dead Hale, another grave that he knows will sit there amongst all the others.
Derek’s flowers start to show up a few weeks later, every week a fresh set. He knows they’re Derek’s, because they’re not bought like the arrangements he buys for their moms, they’re freshly picked from the woods. The wolfsbane flowers he finds in the bunch are a clue as well, though he can’t help but want to cry when he thinks of Derek seeking out the flowers he knows will hurt him to even be near, and picking them to set over his family’s graves.
Derek has to know that the other flowers are from Stiles, has to smell him on them, but he never says anything. Never calls him out on it, never corners him to find out what he’s doing there, and Stiles is grateful. After all these years, he isn’t all too sure how to explain why he’s doing this, after all.
A side effect of visiting the Hale graves weekly is that he knows the inscriptions on all their graves by heart, the quotes he knows Derek and Laura must have chosen, the names of all their siblings. But most important of all, he knows the date of all their birthdays, and the day they died, has the dates carved into his mind just like they are on the stone.
He knows when Derek’s youngest brother Christopher would have been 10, and treats Derek with more caution, glares more fiercely at Jackson when he opens his mouth to say some smartass comment. Something in his eyes must tell Jackson that he’s serious, that today isn’t the day to push his luck, because he shuts him mouth for once.
The day of the anniversary of the Hale fire, Stiles buys the largest bunch of flowers he can find for Talia. There’s already a bunch on the grave, so Derek must have already been by the graveyard. He sets his flowers on Talia’s gravestone and whispers that he’ll look after her son. He thinks she’d be glad. Then he heads to the Hale house.
Derek doesn’t live in the ruins anymore, they’d persuaded him to buy a sensible apartment, where the pack spend most of their free weekends hanging out and eating all Derek’s food like the teenagers they don’t feel like they are anymore. But Stiles knows Derek, has learnt the ways he copes by watching him and piecing together the information he has. He knows that’s where Derek will be today.
When he drives up to the Hale house, Derek doesn’t come out, but he wasn’t expecting him to.
“Derek” he says, heading inside, and there’s no reply, but he finds Derek anyway, curled up on the burnt old couch that sits in the middle of the room. He heads over to him slowly, cautious, but Derek doesn’t growl at him, just pulls himself into a smaller ball.
“Hey.” Stiles whispers, respectful of the house on this of all days. He sits next to Derek on the couch, and Derek uncurls slightly, looks up at Stiles with eyes red from tears.
“Why?” Derek asks, quiet and choked, and Stiles doesn’t reply, because there’s no answer to what could be hundreds of different questions. Instead he carefully pulls Derek over so his head rests in Stiles’s lap, and strokes his hair. He starts to talk, and feels Derek relax under him as he tells him about his brief meetings with Talia, reminds Derek of who she was, to wash away a little of the loss like flames.
They take the flowers to her grave together after that.