Actions

Work Header

I don't need any help to be breakable (believe me)

Chapter Text


“You need to come home”, Scott says when Stiles picks up the phone, voice urgent and tightly controlled.

“What happened? Who is it?”, Stiles demands, pulling up booking websites with trembling fingers, because Scott has never demanded Stiles come back, not once, in all the time that has passed since Stiles could call Beacon Hills home.

Stiles can hear Scott breathing on the other end of the line, hesitating, and Stiles’ fingers slow on the keyboard, chest constricting painfully in anticipation of what he knows is coming.

“It's Derek”, Scott says and Stiles clicks out of his browser, jams a finger against the power button of his laptop for good measure.

No”, he says, tone hard, and hangs up before either of them can notice the quiver in his voice.

Scott doesn't call again.


* * *


Stiles hasn't been to Beacon Hills in two years and twenty-nine days.

He hasn't slept in his childhood bedroom for a lot longer than that, hasn't had lunch at the station with his Dad, hasn't driven his Jeep, hasn't seen most of the people he used to call his friends.

Stiles hasn't been in the house his mother lived and died in for seven hundred and fifty-nine days and for that, most of all, he hates Derek a little bit more every single day.


* * *


“Stiles”, his Dad says when he calls, two hours after Stiles hung up on Scott.

“No”, Stiles repeats.

It comes out petulant and childish, because as much as Stiles can admire his father's loyalty in other contexts, it's been a thorn in their collective side that the Sheriff still likes Derek when all his son has been doing these last years is learn how to hate him more, bit by painful bit.

Sometimes, when he's feeling particularly hurt and vindictive, he wishes they could go back to the beginning, back to when his Dad was still over-protective of Stiles and wary of Derek, before he had begged his father to try and Derek to be nice, before he had made them bond over their shared love of baseball, before the Sheriff had made Derek his newest deputy and started calling him son - before everything had become too good to last.

“Listen to me, Stiles”, his father says, rushing the words out before Stiles can beg him to stop, “Derek was in a car accident.” - and Stiles can't fucking breathe - “He's fine, though, you hear me, son? Or he will be, at least. But...”

And here it comes, Stiles knows, the thing they were all calling about, because nobody dares use Derek's name around him these days - not when Derek gets shot by a rogue hunter, not when Derek freezes half to death because some troll threw him into a frozen lake in the middle of winter, not ever.

Certainly not when he's in a car accident he will easily heal from.

“Stiles, his car caught fire after the crash”, his Dad says, voice gentle and quiet and Stiles closes his eyes tightly against it, “He wasn't -- the paramedics cut him out pretty quickly after that, but he's still...he's not healing as well as he should be. Deaton says he’s gonna be okay, though,l and you know how I feel about that guy, but he's the best we got, that's what you always used to say, right?”

John's forced laugh sounds far away, distorted by the sound of rushing blood in Stiles' ears.

“But he was pretty out of it for a few days and when he finally woke up a few hours ago, he...” - his Dad stops, swallows audibly, takes a deep breath - “he doesn't remember much, Stiles. The doctors say it's probably mostly psychological and it should go away hopefully, but I didn't really understand a lot of what they were saying, and he's just -- he doesn't recognize any of us.”

And Stiles can't seem to hear anything over the rush of blood in his ears, thrumming adrenaline through his veins and leaving him shaky and brittle, but he's pretty sure there's something wrong with his breathing, because his chest hurts and his vision is swimming and there's no air.

He drops his head between his knees and presses the phone tighter to his ear, until his skin hurts with it and he can almost make out his father yelling down the line, telling him to breathe, now, one. Two. Three. and when they've made it to ten, the pain in his chest has stopped being quite so bright and all-consuming, has dulled enough that Stiles can feel the churning in his stomach again, that sick twisting and turning that makes him want to scream and rage and cry. That makes him find his voice again, because knowing is painful, but not-knowing is hell.

“Does he...?”, he croaks out, the rest of his question getting stuck in his throat.

“He remembers you.”

“Oh. Okay”, he breathes through the sudden wave of relief that hits him, hard and unexpected, because as much as he has worked on forgetting Derek these last years, through work and late nights and alcohol and strange bodies, he's never, not once, really thought about Derek forgetting him.

“Stiles”, his father says, soft and sad and apologetic, Stiles realizes, because this will be the thing that finally gets Stiles to board that plane home and they both know it before the words have even left his father's mouth, “he doesn’t remember anyone but you.”


* * *


Stiles packs in a daze, pulling clothes out of his closet at random and throwing them in the direction of his open suitcase, his mind already hundreds of miles away. The next flight out doesn’t leave for another four hours, but he packs in a hurry, motions quick and jerky, fingers fumbling against the cotton of his undershirts, because there’s a building pressure behind his eyes and his mind is racing a hundred miles an hours and he’s afraid of what will happen if he just. Stops.

That’s how Ryan finds him when he comes looking for him after Stiles has been officially late for their lunch date for forty minutes, comes through the front door that Stiles never locks when he’s home now because there’s nothing he’s afraid of anymore, here, and stares at the state of Stiles’ bedroom wordlessly for a long while.

It’s only when he places a light hand on Stiles’ shoulder to make him stop, just stop for a minute, that Stiles realizes there’s no underwear in his packed suitcase and his hands are shaking.

Ryan makes him sit down on the bed and unpacks everything again, folds the clothes up nice and tidy and puts them back into the suitcase, adds underwear and socks for good measure as well. Ryan waits until he’s in the adjoining bathroom, packing up Stiles’ shower gel and razors and toothpaste, before calmly asking him what’s going on and it makes Stiles’ stomach burn with shame - because he’s nice enough to not make Stiles look at him while asking and he’s packing up Stiles’ toothbrush even though Stiles compulsively throws away Ryan’s spare whenever he tries to leave one and because he never pressured him when all Stiles could give was casual dates and I like you and I’m not ready for anything serious yet.

It’s not fair to either of them, Stiles thinks, that he finds a nice, good, sensitive man who likes to plan ahead and talk about his feelings and thoughts and inner workings only now when he’s no longer able to appreciate any of it.

So because it’s the least he can do, Stiles tells him where he’s going and why and doesn’t cry about his many complicated feelings for his ex-boyfriend in front of his would be-boyfriend of nine months and when Ryan comes out of the bathroom with a sad tilt to his mouth, Stiles knows they both heard the silent apology beneath his words.

Ryan drives him to the airport, finally, although he’s still two hours early and when Stiles presses a perfunctory kiss to Ryan’s lips just outside the gate, he tastes salt and regret.

Ryan’s face is guarded when Stiles pulls away, the way it has been ever since Stiles uttered the words Derek’s name and they’d both realized this goodbye would be a lot more permanent than either of them was willing to let on.

Stiles doesn’t look back all the way to his seat inside the gate, and when he finally does, once he’s seated comfortably and his carry-on is resting on the seat beside him, Ryan is already long gone.


* * *


It's past midnight when his Dad picks him up at the airport.

He wordlessly pulls Stiles into a tight hug as soon as they’re standing in front of each other and doesn’t let go until the familiar smell of his father’s aftershave has made Stiles’ racing heartbeat calm down enough to let him breathe normally.

They drive straight to the hospital from the airport, his father filling him in on the situation as best as he can while Stiles stares out of the window, at familiar streets and houses and places flying by and it hurts his heart a little how nothing has seemed to change at all in the time he’s been away when he’s changed so much that sometimes, Stiles has trouble even remembering the person he once was.

He doesn’t hear anything his father says and after a few minutes of Stiles staring out the window without moving a muscle, the Sheriff falls silent.


* * *


It’s a testament to the quiet life he’s been leading these past years that when he gets pounced as soon as he’s stepped through the hospital’s sliding doors, he’s shocked enough to lose his breath a little.

“I can’t believe you’re actually here!”, Erica squeals from where she’s buried her face in Stiles’ neck, inhaling his scent in big greedy gulps and pushing her thick blonde hair up under Stiles’ nose.

Stiles nods dumbly, too stunned for words and lifts his arms jerkily to put them around Erica’s back, but before he has the chance to do so, Erica pulls back and hits him across the head, hard enough to sting.

“Ouch”, Stiles says, almost involuntarily.

“Don’t you ever do that to me again”, she hisses and Stiles takes a deliberate step back.

He hasn’t come here to let himself be guilted into apologizing.

“Don’t”, he warns, shaking his head almost imperceptibly.

Erica’s mouth thins, gaze going steely, “You could’ve called.”

Stiles presses his lips together, looks at the floor between their feet.

“Just once, Stiles”, he hears Erica whisper, “One phone call would’ve been nice.”

“Erica…”, he pleads, eyes still fixed intently on the squeaky clean hospital floor. “You know I -- I couldn’t…”

“I get that you had to leave, trust me, Stiles - everyone did. But no visits, no address, no postcards? Scott wouldn’t even give me your phone number, I mean, what’s up with that? It’s like you broke up with all of us.”

Stiles stuffs his hands deep into the pockets of his jeans to stop them from fidgeting, clamps his mouth shut tightly. It’s not going to help her to hear that that’s exactly what it’s felt like to Stiles all this time.

“What, did you think I’d run straight to Derek and give him your number or what?”

Stiles tries not to flinch too visibly at the casual mention, but he knows it’s a useless attempt when he hears Erica’s exasperated huff of breath.

He squares his shoulders and meets her gaze head-on, “Yeah, actually, I think that’s exactly what you would’ve done. Are you honestly telling me you wouldn’t have, if he'd been begging you for it?!”

Erica opens her mouth almost reflexively, ready to lash out and defend herself, her honor, her pack, but one look at Stiles’ face makes her reconsider.

“There’s a reason there were no visits, Erica”, Stiles says.

Because I don't have the strength to walk away a second time, Stiles thinks, but doesn’t say, just shoulders past Erica on his way to the elevators before she can open her mouth enough to ask.


* * *


Scott’s pinched face greets him as soon as Stiles steps out of the elevator and his best friend hugs him briefly, thankfully not asking about the flight or any of the other pleasantries that Stiles doesn’t have the patience for.

There are people in white coats standing off to the side, talking to one another and at Stiles’ inquisitive look, Scott leads him over to them and introduces them as Derek’s doctors.

There’s a lot of strange words being thrown around, then, but Stiles is pretty confident he gets the gist of it, because as much as he likes to wish it was, this is nowhere near the first time he’s had to do this.

Here’s what he thinks he understands: Derek was in a car accident. He’s suffered multiple fractures in his right leg as well as four broken ribs and a punctured lung. He has third degree burns on forty percent of his body and a severe concussion.

When he woke up from being unconscious for two days, as a result of his concussion combined with the profound emotional trauma of being trapped in the same hell that most of his family had lost their lives in, he doesn’t remember anything about the accident or the fire that killed his family. He doesn’t recognize any of his friends either.

“On a smaller scale, we know this kind of memory loss from patients who repress traumatic experiences if their psyche is not capable of dealing with the trauma and we also know that some severe head injuries can cause selective amnesia, but the exact workings are unclear”, the doctor explains with a placid smile on her face. “We think in Mr. Hale’s case, it’s probably a combination of the two, but there’s certainly reason to hope that his memory loss is mostly psychological and, therefore, reversible.”

There’s more after that, Stiles thinks, and Scott keeps asking questions that are mostly for Stiles’ benefit, he’s sure, but it’s all lost to Stiles the second he’s spotted Isaac slumped over and asleep in one of the chairs that line the hallway, right next to a door that’s firmly closed.

His feet start moving and the conversation around him falls silent.


Thirty-four steps and seven hundred and sixty days and then, finally, there’s Derek.


He looks different than Stiles remembers him, smaller and softer, somehow, almost fragile against the stark white of the hospital bed. His eyes are closed and his skin is pale, pale enough to tell Stiles there must have been quite a bit of blood loss.

There are people in the open doorway behind him; Scott and his father, he assumes from the hushed whispers. He balls his fists against the urge to make them leave and steps closer to the bed, lets his fingers dust over the crisp white bedding in lieu of touching skin.

The whispers fall quiet behind him and Stiles can feel their eyes on his skin, tracking his every move as he takes in the man lying before him. It’s strange to see him like this, all plastered up and bandaged and bruised - he never used to need any of that.

It makes the severity of the situation sink in quite suddenly and Stiles knows Scott has picked up on the increase in his heart rate and the sweating of his hands when there is a low whine from behind him, but then, Scott isn’t the only one.

Slowly, strenuously, Derek’s eyes open and then, like it’s nothing, like it doesn’t cut Stiles up on the inside and leave him raw and open, they’re staring at each other.

“Stiles”, Derek says, soft and croaky and Stiles closes his eyes briefly.

It’s been a long time since anyone has said his name like something to be treasured.

“I’m okay”, Derek continues because of course, of course he’s picked up on the racing of Stiles’ heart and Stiles would have laughed at that if all the air hadn’t been sucked out of the room the moment Derek worms one of his hands out from under the blanket.


Worms it out from under the blanket and reaches for Stiles’ hand still lying limply on the bedding, intertwining their fingers and squeezing tightly.


* * *


“You don’t think that piece of information would’ve been useful?!”, Stiles demands. “‘Hey, Stiles, Derek doesn’t remember anybody except you and oh by the way, he also somehow deleted the whole part where you broke up and haven’t spoken in over two years and thinks you’re still happily together. Yay.’”

There’s no immediate response to that, but the Sheriff and Scott both look sufficiently guilty.

“Stiles, you’ve got to understand the situation we were in here -”

“He tried to kiss me.”

The Sheriff sighs and rubs a hand across his eyes. “I know. And I’m...really sorry for that, but Stiles, what were we supposed to do? You’re the only one he’ll listen to, you’re his only --”

He tried to kiss me.”

“We know”, Scott says, placatingly, and Stiles rounds on him, fists clenched and eyes blazing.

“No. No, you don’t”, he spits, “You have no idea.”

A pair of nurses walks past them and they fall silent for a moment, Scott taking a step to the side to let them pass more easily in the narrow hallway.

Stiles is looking at the scuff marks his new trainers have left on the shiny linoleum floor, tracing the line of them with the toe of his shoe when Scott speaks up again, voice soft and apologetic.

“You can’t tell him.”

Stiles barks a bitter laugh. “Yeah, I kinda figured that’s what ‘he’s really fragile, you can’t upset him’ meant, but thanks for reminding me.”

“I’m sorry we didn’t tell you, but we were afraid you wouldn’t come if we had”, his father says. “I know you would’ve hated me for that later.”

And that’s true, probably, but it still hurts to realize that everybody knows one look is all it takes - one look at Derek and Stiles is utterly unable to leave, no matter how much it pains him to stay.

“I hate you now, for making me come here”, he spits out instead, turns around and leaves his father and Scott staring after him in the empty hallway outside Derek’s hospital room.


* * *


He takes a cab back to the house, raids his father’s liquor cabinet for the most expensive bottle of Scotch he can find and drives the Jeep to a secluded spot in the Preserve where the cops don’t ever think to look.

He’s obsessively conscious of the property lines, careful not to go anywhere near Derek’s land - Stiles has had quite enough of blurring lines and crumbling defences for his first day back.

He takes a few swigs of his bottle, the alcohol burning his throat on the way down and contemplates calling Ryan, imagines for a second how that conversation would go.

Already he feels like the voice his mind assigns to Ryan is losing its shape and focus, but then again he hasn't quite gotten into the habit of replaying their conversations over and over again in his head yet.

Instead, he calls Lydia.

“Tell me”, he says as soon as she picks up.

“Stiles. What happened?”

“Everybody hates me for leaving”, Stiles says because that's the easy part in all this and takes a long swig from the Scotch bottle.

“Everybody?”, Lydia asks carefully and it’s a relief, really, that there are still people in his life that he can count on not to say his name.

“Well, no, but that's only because Derek has no idea I ever left.”

There’s a sharp intake of breath on the other line, followed by a soft “Oh honey”.

“Yeah, well, that’s why I need you to tell me.”

“Stiles, I really don’t -”

Stiles thunks his bottle against the steering wheel and hurries to interrupt her before she can finish her sentence. “Lydia. Derek doesn’t remember he’s supposed to hate me. I need you to tell me.”

“I -”

“Please.”

Lydia sighs deeply down the line. “You had good reasons for leaving him, Stiles. You weren’t happy and you wanted different things and it wouldn’t have worked out.”

Stiles presses his eyes tightly shut and nods along with her words, the Scotch sloshing softly from side to side in the bottle with his movements.

“Your reasons for leaving are still relevant. You will not be weak when it comes to him. It’ll only end in heartbreak.”

Stiles puts the bottle to his lips, gulps down as much of it as he can in one breath and nods vigorously to himself.

“Thank you”, he says when he’s finished drinking.

“For the record, I still don't agree with any of that. You two clearly have a lot of unfinished business between you, maybe this could -”

“Just. Don’t.”
Lydia sighs again. “I’m just saying - you’re not the only one who’s changed over the past few years.”

“That’s kind of the opposite of what you’re supposed to tell me.”

Stiles feels like he can actually hear Lydia get frustrated over the phone, even with hundreds of miles of between them.

Fine”, she huffs. “You will not be weak.”

“I will not be weak”, he whispers back to her, listens to the dial tone for a long minute after she’s hung up and proceeds to drink himself into oblivion.


* * *


He doesn’t go back to the house that night.

He sits and drinks and ignores his phone ringing almost-constantly on the passenger seat until he falls into a hazy stupor somewhere around dawn.

It’s almost noon when he finally feels sober enough to drive.


* * *


Five hours later, Stiles is still hung-over and Derek is being quiet and Stiles is freaking out.

Derek hasn’t said a word since Boyd and Scott had manoeuvred him and his broken leg into the passenger seat of the Jeep ten minutes ago and neither has Stiles, but really, if appropriate words exist, he hasn’t found them.

He’s going to be the live-in caretaker for his amnesia-ridden, slow-healing ex-boyfriend of a werewolf, a little bit of speechlessness is his prerogative, he figures.

Thing is: Derek doesn’t know any of that.

For all he knows, this is just another normal day in the lives of Derek-and-Stiles, witch-hunting and late night dinners and picking up boyfriends from the hospital, and Stiles thinks it really shouldn’t be too much to ask for Derek to pick up the burden of making these silences less suffocating, just this once.

But alas, Derek doesn’t find silences suffocating on principle.

“How’re you holding up?”, Stiles finally cracks, after he’s stared at the side of Derek’s face for a full two minutes while sitting at a red light without getting so much as a glance in his direction in return.

Derek tears his gaze away from the window with apparent difficulty and throws Stiles an unimpressed look.

“Fine”, he grunts curtly.

Stiles snorts. “At least try for mildly convincing next time, dude, you’re kinda insulting my intelligence here.”

Derek glares at him darkly and Stiles almost weeps with joy that, at last, something feels vaguely familiar amidst all of this fucked up weirdness.

And then Derek sighs, deep and long, and nothing that comes out of his mouth next feels even remotely close to familiar.

“It hurts”, he grits out. “I’m not healing fast enough and I don’t know why and I’m used to pain, obviously, but I didn’t know it could be so...constant. I keep expecting it to stop and it just - doesn’t.”

Stiles throws a glance over at Derek and his stomach clenches hard at the barely disguised grimace of pain on his face.

He hadn’t even stopped to consider what it must be like for a born werewolf - for someone who has only ever had to deal with sharp, short bursts of agony - to experience the slow, burning, draining pain of healing.

“I don’t like feeling so helpless”, Derek goes on, quietly, and although the obvious Nobody does is on the tip of Stiles’ tongue, he makes himself stay quiet. “And then, as if all of that wasn’t enough, I always feel like I’m not in on the joke, you know? There are all of these people who know me and I can't even match names to their faces and it’s like this whole, huge piece of a puzzle is missing and I - ... I don’t even know what the finished puzzle’s supposed to look like.”

Stiles thinks he should have just let himself suffocate in peace, because he still hates Derek, has had years of practice hating Derek, but there’s a hard, coiled ball of feelings clogging his throat and cutting off his air supply and however hard he tries, he can’t make himself hate Derek even a tiny bit more today.

Not today.

“You’re the only piece of the puzzle that still makes sense”, Derek says then and reaches across the center console to grab Stiles’ hand in a vice grip. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

And that, that’s so much more suffocating than any kind of silence could ever be.


* * *


Chapter Text


He’s not prepared.

Stiles isn’t sure what he had been expecting to see when they pull up to the old Hale house, but he knows it’s not this - not this beautiful, old, perfectly restored house with apple trees and a fence around the property and fucking flowerbeds in full bloom.

He’s not prepared for the glaringly obvious reminder that things have changed, years have passed and the Derek he knows is not the Derek in front of him, unsteadily hobbling up the path to the house on crutches.

The Derek he knows had only ever done the absolute bare minimum of what was necessary to make the space livable, vehemently shutting Stiles down whenever he suggested fixing the rest of the house up. It had been a constant point of contention between them that most of the doors in the place stayed pointedly closed, shutting away the past to rot and fester in the crumbling remains.

It’s like a knife to the gut to realize that something must have gotten through to Derek at some point and Stiles hadn’t been there to see it.


It only gets worse when he steps through the door.

Something feels off about the space and it only takes one look at the bare walls around him for Stiles to realize that’s what Erica had meant this morning when she said they’d been by to “prep” the place, but even without a single picture frame on the large empty wall behind the couch in the living room, the house feels surprisingly warm and inviting. There are books on the coffee table, potted plants in the corners and big, squishy pillows on the armchairs and an honest-to-god self-made quilt draped over the back of the couch. One look at it and Stiles knows it’s Melissa’s work, feels like he’s found the long-lost brother to the one that’s currently protecting his bed back at the apartment from gathering dust in his absence.

It all feels weirdly like grown-up, I-deserve-good-things Derek’s version of the house, which, Stiles guesses, it very well could be.

Derek doesn’t seem too concerned by the sudden homeliness of the house, aside from some sniffing and general frowniness, so Stiles thinks it’s probably at least this Derek’s version of his home.


* * *


“What’s really going on here?”, Derek asks, later, when they’re sitting on the couch eating Mac and Cheese, Derek’s leg propped up on the coffee table and the TV on in the background.

Stiles stops mid-chew. “What d’you mean?”

“I mean”, Derek starts and makes an all-encompassing sweep with his arm, “All of this. Something’s off about the house, it looks - it feels different and there are all these different, strange smells and none of them are you. It’s like you’ve never even been here before.”

There’s a deep furrow between Derek’s brows and he blows out a frustrated breath.

“And you...you’re so distant. You barely talk and you haven’t tried to touch me once since we left the hospital. I feel like - is there something going on...with us?”

Stiles swallows his mouthful with difficulty while Derek watches him carefully and he knows it’s no use deflecting, knows that Derek has picked up on his elevated heartbeat and the sweat that’s starting to pool in his palms.

“There is”, Derek states, sure enough, his voice tiny and pained.

Stiles scratches his palms against the rough denim on his thighs and takes a deep breath, blows it out slowly.

“Yeah”, he sighs and keeps his eyes steadily trained on his knees. “A few days before your accident, I - we had a fight. A pretty big one. I stayed at my dad’s for a few days and then you were in the hospital and I didn’t wanna be here without you, so...that’s probably why you haven’t been able to smell me around here. I haven’t been back here in a bit over a week.”

Derek’s brows are still furrowed, but he doesn’t call him out on the lie.

“I can’t remember anything about a fight. Was it something I - what was it about?”

Stiles sits still for a moment, tries to remember what they used to fight about back in the day. He comes up strangely blank.

“I don’t really -- nothing probably”, he says, because that’s as close to the truth as he can get. “Stupid, petty things. The usual stuff.”

Derek nods slowly, like he knows exactly what Stiles means by that and it hits Stiles again how he’s talking to a version of Derek that’s never moved on beyond their relationship, who’s never had to look back at those petty fights with a mix of regret and twisted longing, who’s still experiencing the things that Stiles tries his hardest not to remember.

It makes him almost unbearably sad and he can't entirely parse for whom.

“Are you still mad at me? Is that why you’re … different?”

“Honestly? I’m not sure”, Stiles says, mostly truthfully, “I was. I was really really mad and then you were in the hospital and I was so scared and still also mad and now...I have no idea what to feel. This is all so fucked up. I just need some time, I guess. To figure things out.”

“Oh”, Derek breathes, his eyes fixed intently on his knees.

“Yeah”, Stiles says and in the awkward silence that follows, Stiles sneaks a look at Derek’s face, guilty and contrite and so sad in the blue-ish glow from the television screen and he wonders if that’s how he'd looked that day, when Stiles had boarded a plane with no intention of ever coming back and every single hope he'd ever harboured for their future together had gone up into smoke.


* * *


Only there is no fight, in the end. Not really.


“How’d it go?”, Derek asks Stiles one night, after he’s gotten back from a meeting with his college counsellor, unwittingly ringing in the beginning of the end.

“Yeah, good, I guess”, Stiles answers, between two bites of lasagna, “Ms. Santiago thinks I should apply to grad school in New York.”

Derek’s fork pauses mid-air.

“Oh?”

“Yeah, she told me all about this scholarship that she thinks I have really good chances of getting and I had a look at the course catalogue and it actually sounds really cool”, Stiles continues and shrugs a little. “But, New York, you know? I’ve never really thought about that.”

“You should go”, Derek grunts.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Everybody’s been saying for years how you’re wasting your potential here anyway”, Derek grumbles and shovels a large fork-full of food into his mouth.

Stiles frowns. “Nobody says that.”

“Not to you, they don’t”, Derek replies with a raised eyebrow, unimpressed, and Stiles wonders, briefly, what else people might have been saying to Derek that he’s not aware of.

“Well, what do you think, then?”

“About what?”, Derek asks and Stiles huffs impatiently, flails his arms a little.

“About going to New York, dumbass!”

Derek lifts one shoulder in a half-hearted shrug. “I think you’d like it there. Lots of smart-ass, artsy hipster people that like to wear glasses just to look stupid, you’ll fit right in.”

“Oh haha”, Stiles deadpans and kicks Derek’s shin under the table. “Thanks for the stellar assessment. What about you, though?”

Derek raises a questioning eyebrow.

“Would you like living in New York again?” Stiles clarifies and Derek goes eerily still across from him.

“No”, he says, very clearly, after a full minute of silence, “After everything...after Laura -- I’d never want to live there again.”

Stiles nods, furiously, and hooks an apologetic foot around Derek’s ankle under the table.

“Yeah, sure, sorry, that was a dumb question.”

Derek gives him a weak smile and slowly disentangles his foot from Stiles’, grabbing his half-full plate and standing up.

“Not that it matters anyway. I’m not the one going to New York, right?”, he says, just before turning to the kitchen, and the thing that still haunts Stiles, even years later, is the fact that he hadn’t even sounded mad.


If he had known, right then and there, that that would be the last time they had something resembling a normal conversation before everything went to shit, Stiles likes to think he would have pushed harder, would have followed Derek into the kitchen, would have pressed a kiss into the soft flesh between his shoulder blades and told him he loved him, one last time.


As it is, Stiles doesn’t do any of that.

Instead, he decides it’s for the best to let Derek work through one of his weird moods in his own time and goes to bed, lying in the darkness with his eyes wide open for what feels like hours and hours before finally succumbing to sleep somewhere around dawn.


When Stiles wakes up, Derek is already gone.


* * *


The first few days are a nightmare.

Derek is in a lot of pain, so when he’s not drugged up and groggy from his pain meds, he’s sullen and quiet in his suffering and Stiles doesn’t know how to talk to him when he’s like that, has never had to learn how to, up until now.

He tries small talk for a bit, but seeing as there’s virtually no safe topic between them and Derek is the worst person to engage in small talk with, in the end he just settles for putting on some old Simpsons reruns to drown out the silence.

Everything else is a struggle. Derek perpetually seems to forget that his werewolf strength has taken a hit in the aftermath of the accident; sitting up, standing, moving around - it’s all an exercise in patience.

He’s still too unsteady on his crutches to attempt to climb the stairs, so he spends the nights on the couch and - uncomfortable as it may be for Derek - Stiles can’t help but feel relieved that he’ll have a bit more time to get used to the idea of sharing a bed with Derek again.


And then everything gets that much more awkward when at the end of the first day, Stiles realizes why Derek has been shifting around restlessly on the couch for an hour and the reality of what he’s gotten himself into comes into sharp focus.

He clears his throat resolutely and stands up from where he’d been perched on the edge of the couch.

“Alright, let’s just get this over with”, he exclaims, nodding at Derek encouragingly when the tips of his ears turn red.

“Sorry”, he mumbles even as he shuffles into a stand, “I just...probably shouldn’t...”

“No, no, it’s fine”, Stiles hears himself say and goes over to where Derek is awkwardly bent over the back of the couch and slings Derek’s arm securely over his shoulder, makes his voice sound firm and confident, “That’s what I’m here for, right?”


*


Before this day, Stiles would never have thought he’d ever be glad that the Hale’s downstairs bathroom has always verged on being cramped, because this way, with the sink wedged right up next to the toilet, at least there’s something for Derek to hold onto while peeing.

They’ve already managed to maneuver Derek so he’s facing the toilet, one hand braced on the wall, the other grabbing onto the sink’s edge and Stiles is so relieved he could cry. If everything turns out to be this easy, he might just survive this hellhole of torture that is taking care of Derek.


Except, it’s not that easy, of course.

As soon as Stiles goes to take a step back, without Stiles’ steadying hands at his sides, Derek starts to sway dangerously on his feet, still too weak and dizzy from his meds to keep balanced on just one functioning foot.

Within seconds, Stiles’ hands are back around his middle.

“So...that’s not going to work”, he mumbles with a self-deprecating chuckle.

Almost imperceptibly, Derek shakes his head.

“No, it’s alright, Stiles, I’ll manage. You can go”, he mumbles, clearly aware that Stiles wants nothing more than to be anywhere else.

“Nope, not happening. I’m not gonna let you break your neck in here while I sit three feet away just because we were both too stubborn to get over our pride” Stiles insists. “So you’re just gonna suck it up and I’m...gonna stand here and hold you up while you pee?”

They both cringe at the sound of that.

“How about…”, Derek begins hesitantly, a blush creeping up the back of his neck, directly in Stiles’ line of vision, and clears his throat, “How about we try it a different way? Like...sitting down maybe? We’ll...um...have to do that eventually anyway, so…”
“Oh!”, Stiles exclaims, uncomfortably loud in the cramped space, “Yeah, sure. Good thinking! Let’s do that!”

And then they’re shuffling Derek around, Stiles still awkwardly steadying Derek with his hands at Derek’s hips until they’re face to face and breathing on each other and that’s in no way an improvement.

Without giving himself time to ponder on the feeling of Derek’s warm breath across his cheek, Stiles tries to lower Derek onto the toilet with his arms now wrapped securely around his back, only for Derek to stop him halfway there with an undignified grunt and a hand to Stiles’ chest.

“Wait. I need to -. My … pants”, Derek murmurs in an embarrassed little tone of voice and Stiles’ face floods with sympathetic shame.

“Yeah, of course, sorry...”, Stiles stammers, straightening up a little bit until they’re not half-leaning over the toilet bowl, “Do you...should I --?”

“I can do it myself.”

“Right. Sure.”

“Just - don’t drop me.”

“Mhm”, Stiles agrees and fixes his eyes on the little spot of mold that’s starting to form in the far left corner of the ceiling, because yep - there go the pants.

Only Derek gets really wobbly towards the end and for a split second, Stiles thinks it’s actually going to happen - he’s going to fall over onto Derek’s naked lap and he’s going to die of humiliation - so he tries to tighten his arms as best as he can without actually moving any closer to Derek’s uncovered crotch and yeah. It’s a mess.

And then Derek manages to steady himself and the pants are gone and he’s lowering Derek down, all while keeping his head held high and his eyes firmly averted and even though it’s difficult and hard and awkward as hell, somehow, as a team, they manage.

Once Derek is securely seated, Stiles hightails it out of there and closes the door firmly on his way out.

Heaving a sigh of relief, he slumps to the ground right next to it, sits on his shaking hands and tries to calm his treacherous little heart down while he listens to the sound of Derek’s piss hitting the water inside.


* * *


“Is he in there right now?”

“Yes, Scott, that’s what I just said, keep up, will ya?”

“But I mean, like...is that safe?”

“What, did you think I’d actually get in there myself and scrub his back or what?” Stiles gripes and scrubs a palm across his face. “He’s having a shower, it’s not gonna kill him.”
There’s a thoughtful hum down the line. “Well, three days ago you called me in a panic cause he couldn’t pee alone without nearly killing himself, so forgive me for being a bit suspicious that you left him alone with running water and slippery tiles and stuff.”

“He’s sitting on the bottom of the shower stall, alright, there’s like virtually no way he could hurt himself in there”, Stiles huffs. “He couldn’t stay upright in the shower and we couldn’t risk getting his cast all wet in the bathtub, cause that whole plastic bag thingy that everyone always recommends? Not as foolproof as it sounds.”

“So he what? Sits down there with one leg hanging out of the shower so his cast stays dry or what?”, Scott chuckles on the other line.

“Well. Yeah”, Stiles admits and Scott promptly erupts in giggles. “Oh come on, it’s not that funny.”

“It kinda is.”

“It really isn’t, but that’s so not why I called. Scotty, you gotta help me, you gotta get me out of this.”

“No way”, comes the immediate answer.

“Scott, I can’t do this. I’ve seen so much of his dick already and it hasn’t even been a week, like, how’m I supposed to survive that?”

Scott snorts.

“Stiles, you’ve seen his dick like a thousand times already”, comes Scott’s reply, very unimpressed, “You used to brag about it all the time.”

Stiles slumps into a chair at the kitchen table, cradles the phone against his ear.

“Yeah, but that was like...in sexy times context. That’s different”, he whines.

“Then...maybe...change the context?”

“Come on, Scott, even you know that’d be super gross of me. I mean, jesus, he doesn’t even know I’m not supposed to see his dick on the regular anymore! This whole thing is so beyond fucked up - please, Scotty, in the name of friendship!”, Stiles pleads.

“Come on, Stiles, you’re the only one of us who’s ever wanted to look at his dick voluntarily!”, Scott reasons. “Hell, you’re the only one Derek has ever wanted to have look at his dick! Sorry, buddy, but no way in hell.”

“But I don’t want to see it anymore either!”

“Just - don’t look at it then!”

Stiles scoffs and takes a second to listen for the sound of running water in the bathroom.

“That’s like saying don’t look at the sun, dude! You know it’ll hurt you and you won’t be able to look at anything else for a while, but it’s practically impossible not do it.”

There’s silence for a moment, followed by the sound of the shower shutting off in the bathroom and then Scott’s barking a laugh down the line.

Dude, I can’t wait to tell Allison you said that, that’s like...so looking at Derek’s dick is like looking at the sun, yeah?”

“Shut up”, Stiles hisses.

“Would you say you’re whole universe revolves around Derek’s dick, too?”

“Shut up shut up shut up!”

It’s suspiciously quiet in the bathroom for a moment and then there’s squeaking, presumably Derek trying to get at the towel that’s lying directly in front of the shower stall by himself, followed by a frustrated grunt and the soft mumble of Stiles’ name.

“Wait, wait - does Derek’s dick also --”

Stiles hangs up.


* * *


“Allison.”

Stiles looks up from his pad thai to see Derek looking shifty on the couch next to him, his chopsticks lined up neatly on the napkin next to his take out-box.

“Yeah, what about her?”, he asks and lowers his chopsticks as well, sticks them into his food and puts the box onto the table.

“Do I...like her?” Derek asks and winces immediately.

Stiles frowns.

“I don’t really...where’s that coming from?”

“I don’t - I don’t know”, Derek stammers and the look on his face says he really doesn’t, “I personally don’t feel like I hate her, but...the last few times I’ve seen her, she always looked at me like...I don’t know, she was afraid I would jump at her or something?”

Stiles exhales a shocked little laugh and tries not to remember a time when he used to look at Derek like that.

“No, you...you definitely like Allison”, he hurries to say. “There’s a bit of complicated history there, which is probably why Allison wasn’t so sure of her welcome, but it’s...it’s not Allison directly, it’s more ... Allison-related?”

And that’s, oh god, poor choice of words, that’s way too close to the truth than he likes to get when these questions arise and he can see Derek getting that look on his face that tells him he’s going to try to dig deeper and Stiles hurries to keep talking over him: “Anyway, Allison? You love her, really, cause who wouldn’t, right? She’s just like the sweetest girl ever. Seriously, when Scott and her finally get around to tying the kn --”

“You know I can tell when you do that, right?”, Derek interrupts him, eyebrows furrowed into a severe line. “When you clamp down and stop yourself from telling me things that I...shouldn’t need to be told, really."

Stiles sighs, deflates a little into the thick cushions on the couch.

“I know you do.”

“Why don’t you just...tell me then?” Derek asks, open and honest and so, so innocent. “Whatever it is, I can take it. And if there’s anyone I trust with this, it’s you.”

It’s a scary offer - tempting and big and heady - but oh so scary that Stiles has to close his eyes against it for a moment and breathe deeply.

“Derek, please, you gotta understand that I can’t do that.”

“Why not? This is no way to live, Stiles, and you know it”, Derek pleads, desperate.

“I know it’s hard, Derek, trust me, if there’s anyone who wants you to remember, it’s definitely me”, Stiles tells him, pulls his legs up under him so he can turn to face Derek fully. “But whatever I tell you, however much I try to stay faithful to what I’ve seen and what you’ve told me, it’ll always be my version of what happened. It’ll only ever be my truth. And I can’t risk that.”

There’s a wild, desperate tilt to Derek’s mouth and before he can start to protest, as Stiles knows he will, Stiles continues.

“What if, because you don’t have any memories of your own, you latch onto what I’m telling you and start believing it to be true?”, Stiles asks Derek, desperate for him to understand. “I still don’t know if that memory of my grandma pushing me on the swings for the last time before she died is an actual memory or just a by-product of looking at pictures and being told stories about it for years and years afterwards and I’ll never really know now. What if something like that happens to you? I can’t risk that with something as important as your whole life-story.”

His voice is shaking, Stiles realizes with a start and swallows heavily against the lump in his throat.

“I’m not going to be the one to take the truth away from you, Derek. Not while there’s still a chance that it’ll come back”, he presses on, eyes stinging and nose itching and Derek looks sad and defeated but understanding, and he gives a tiny little nod.

“Okay”, Derek whispers and reaches a hand out to swipe at Stiles’ cheekbone.

He’s surprised to see it come away slightly wet.

“Just - tell me enough so I don’t make a fool out of myself, okay?” Derek suggests lightly and the wink he sends Stiles is so ridiculous, it startles a snort out of him.

“What, like compile a list of all the people you’ve somehow offended with your sparkling personality? All the people you went on dates with and then never called? All the restaurants we got banned from for inappropriate behavior? The people you got puke on that one time you had that really bad stomach flu?”

Derek cringes, puts his face in his hands and sighs loudly.

“Yeah, something like that”, comes his muffled reply and Stiles can’t help but grin.

“Alright, I’ll see what I can do”, he replies and in the silence that follows, Derek relaxes back into the couch cushions in increments, calm in a way Stiles hasn’t seen him in a long time.

It’s kind of nice.


And Stiles can’t help but think - stupidly, helplessly - that he could get used to this again.


* * *


Derek stays gone just long enough for Stiles to start to worry, just long enough for him to get over his pride and call Scott, who directs him to the hospital with only a slight note of confusion in his voice.

He should have known then, probably, because they’d been over this a hundred times in the beginning and it's been years since Derek had been stupid enough to try to get himself in danger without at least telling Stiles.

“You did what, you stupid big oaf?! I swear to god, Derek Hale, if you’re not already dead, I’m gonna kill you with my own bare hands”, Stiles hollers as he rushes into the hospital room where Derek lays, splattered with blood and black goo, and looking rather shaken, but otherwise fine, “Going off to fight pixies without telling anyone, how stupid do you think you are?!”

Stiles stops short just shy of the bed, hands fluttering all over Derek’s arms and torso in search of any fatal wounds left unattended, ignoring the pained looks Scott and Allison are throwing him from where they’re huddled into the corner.

“Stop that. What do you care anyway?”, Derek spits suddenly then, yanking his arm out of Stiles’ grip.

Stunned into stillness, Stiles looks up from his examination, hands still hovering uncertainly in the air and only now does he notice the murderous expression on Derek’s face.

“Excuse me?”, he croaks.

Derek turns blazing eyes on him.

“Why do you care? You’re leaving soon anyway, aren’t you?”

“Derek, what are you - I never said that!”, Stiles stammers, throwing a panicked look at Scott, who shrugs at him apologetically, “We were just talki - Derek! I’m not leaving!”

“Who are we kidding here, Stiles? It was always just a matter of time, right?”, Derek spits, face red and eyes glinting and when Stiles reaches out for Derek’s face, trying to reassure, he flinches away from Stiles’ touch and turns around on the bed, leaving Stiles staring at his unmoving back.

“Everyone always leaves in the end”, he hears Derek mumble into his pillow, almost inaudibly, and Stiles screams at him then, begs and pleads and bargains with Derek’s unmoving form until his face is red and his throat is raw and when the words run out and Derek is still quiet and angry, all that they are left with is the silence around them, deafening in its finality.

 

* * *


The thing is: this whole situation has Stiles so angry and confused and sad and desperate that most of the time all he wants to do is scream, but he can’t be or do any of those things when he’s with Derek now.

Not when Derek is hurting and vulnerable and so painfully unaware of what he’s done to Stiles, what he’s still doing to Stiles.

Because the Derek sitting across from him every day now is not the one that’s driven Stiles away all those years ago, he’s not the one that Stiles had cried himself to sleep over for weeks and weeks on end and he’s not the one that deserves Stiles’ anger and the Derek that does -

- the Derek that does deserve Stiles’ anger and his hatred and his affection and the longing and all of his confused and twisted feelings -

that Derek is not here, and really, that is the hardest part of it all.


* * *


Chapter Text

 

Two weeks into his recovery, Derek masters the stairs and returns to sleeping in his (their) bed.

He sleeps curled away from Stiles, staying firmly on his side of the bed and it’s disheartening and hopeful all at once - like deep down somewhere he still knows there’s not supposed to be anyone else in his bed, like he hasn’t shared it with anyone in years (has he?).

 

It’s almost killing Stiles not to know; when he’s staring at Derek’s unmoving back in the dark of night, close enough to touch, counting his breaths and wishing the distance between them was bigger and smaller and nonexistent all at once, but he has never dared to ask before and he doesn’t think it would be fair of him to do so now, not when Stiles holds all of Derek’s secrets and Derek holds close to none.

 

 

* * *

 

“How you holding up?”, the Sheriff asks over lunch the next week, stabbing a fork into his salad unenthusiastically.

Stiles shoves a fork-full of food into his mouth to give himself time to think, mulls over the awkward silences, the bathroom disasters, the fleeting touches and shy smiles and shrugs a little.

“It’s going alright, I guess?” he starts and puts his fork down, runs a hand through his hair. “It’s strange because it’s Derek, but it’s not Derek, really, you know?”

His father’s face clearly tells him that he does not.

“He’s just so...different”, Stiles says and heaves a frustrated sigh. “You know I’m really starting to hate this amnesia thing for, like ... showing me a version of Derek that I’ll never have, kind of? And wow - that didn’t sound pathetic at all, did it?”

With a groan, Stiles buries his face in his hands so as not to see exactly how pathetic his father thinks that sounds.

“Well, it does sound a little bit pathetic, to be honest, but Stiles...you know all of that’s not just the amnesia, right?”, the Sheriff asks carefully.

It’s enough to get Stiles to emerge from his hands.

The Sheriff huffs a sigh and rubs a hand across his face wearily.

“You remember that time, about a month after you left for New York, when I asked you to come back to Beacon Hills?”

“Yeah”, Stiles chokes out with difficulty, still vividly remembering the ball of shame that had settled near-permanently in the pit of his stomach for weeks after denying his father’s desperate wish.

“I didn’t really ask for me”, the Sheriff reluctantly continues, “And I knew you’d never come if I told you it was about Derek, but...son, you should’ve seen him. He was in really bad shape there for a while and I just - didn’t really know what else to do. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, dad. I get it.”

“I think he just blamed himself for everything that happened ‘cause, you know -”

“He’s Derek”, Stiles supplies with a slight nod.

“Yeah”, John sighs, “I don’t think he knows how to do anything else.”

Stiles snorts darkly. “Yep. That’s Derek for you.”

“Which is why I never tried to talk you out of breaking up with him, son, even though I know it nearly killed you both - but I also want you to know that he’s not that guy anymore. A deputy of mine referred him to a therapist and...he’s been seeing her for two years. It’s really helped him, Stiles.”

Stiles takes a big gulp of his water, tries to wash away the sudden parchedness in his mouth.

“What are you trying to say, Dad?”, he croaks finally, when his glass is empty and his tongue is still sticking to the roof of his mouth.

“I’m not trying to say anything”, the Sheriff says, holding up his hands in a gesture of innocence. “Just...don’t be so quick to blame everything that’s different about Derek on the accident. Keep an open mind, that’s all I’m asking, really.”

 

Well that’s too much to ask, Stiles wants to say, but the look on his father’s face is one he hasn’t seen in too long and so he shovels a load of salad into his mouth and makes himself stay quiet.

 

 

* * *

 

 

He’s deep into Derek’s closet looking for Derek’s fuzzy socks when he finds it: a rather small, surprisingly heavy cardboard box, pushed into the far corner of the closet and buried under years worth of old, woolly sweaters.

Stiles sits in front of it for a moment, fingers idly toying with the corner of the lid, warring with himself. He knows he probably shouldn’t invade Derek’s privacy any more than he’s already doing every second he’s in this house, but then again, his daily supply of patience is pretty much all used up at the moment, what with a slightly medicated Derek making increasingly obvious passes at him all day that are becoming almost impossible to ditch without outright saying: we’re not actually doing that anymore, you know?

The lid goes off easily, revealing heaps and heaps of photographs.

At first, Stiles is fairly sure he’s stumbled upon the pictures Erica had taken off the walls in preparation of Derek coming home after the accident and, intrigued, starts to flip through them.

There’s picture after picture of the group of them, out for dinner, at graduation, at the first Christmas party  Derek ever held at the house; pictures of Stiles and Scott with their parents, pictures of Derek and Stiles with those silly party hats on New Year’s Eve that Stiles had bullied Derek into wearing; pictures of Erica and Stiles, pictures of Allison and Stiles,  pictures of Stiles, Stiles, Stiles.

There’s also other things, seemingly random scraps of paper that turn out to be movie tickets, postcards, post it-notes and plane tickets and receipts.

It’s the chronicling of their time together, Stiles realizes when his hands start to sweat and his neck starts to prickle, all of the big and tiny little moments in time that make up a relationship.

 

And on the bottom of it all, under knick-knacks and random slips of paper and Stiles’ key to the house, there’s a little grey box with a ring in it, too big to be a woman’s, too smooth to be new.

 

Stiles only stares at it for a second before slamming the box shut.

 

 

* * *

 

The thing is: Stiles is used to their push and pull - he’s used to miscommunications and staggering heaps of trust issues, he’s used to sifting through mounds of snide remarks and passive-aggressiveness to get to the soft, vulnerable truths that neither of them feel secure enough to voice, he’s used to giving as good as he gets - but lately, more than anything, he feels like Derek is pushing him away.

 

With how he always thinks every tiny fight will be the end of them.

How he never plans for more than to survive the next week, next month, next year.

How he only holds a steady job because the Sheriff presented it to him on a silver platter.

How they never talk about children. Or pets. Or even potted plants.

 

How Derek never plans for the future, and he certainly doesn’t plan for a future with Stiles.

 

 

Later, in the quiet, when all is said and done, Stiles will realize he’s been waiting for years, waiting and waiting with bated breath, for this particular self-fulfilling prophecy to live up to its devastating name.

 

 

* * *

 

 

They fall into some sort of rhythm along the way.

 

Stiles gets up early in the mornings and goes for a run in the woods and when he gets back, Derek is up and about and trying to manage as much of his bathroom routine on his own as possible. They go to appointments at the hospital then, to check on Derek’s recovery and change his cast, or they go grocery shopping and run errands around town. Stiles will cook lunch for Derek and take a portion of it down to the Sheriff’s station to eat with his Dad and when he gets back, he cleans the house or does laundry, makes Derek help him by folding the clothes on the couch. Idle time breeds questions, Stiles has found and he likes to keep them occupied, in some small way, in the long lazy hours before sunset.

In the evening, they have dinner together at the dining table, or on the couch, and watch whatever mindless TV show is on afterwards.

It’s all very domestic, if Stiles is being honest.

Almost unbearably so when, every night at half past nine on the dot, Derek gets tired, worn out from a day of lugging his uncooperative body around, and starts slumping on the couch, sliding lower and lower in his seat until his head is resting on Stiles’ shoulder and he’s snuffling quietly into the side of Stiles’ neck, his breath wet little puffs of warmth against Stiles’ skin; when Derek squeezes Stiles’ thigh in silent thanks; when Derek presses a dry goodnight kiss to Stiles’ temple.

 

It makes it hard to keep the lines from blurring.

 

 

* * *

 

They’re three weeks in when Lydia calls and asks about Ryan.

 

Stiles waits until Derek has shut himself into the bathroom to shave and turned the radio on and finds himself a dusty little corner in the supply closet on the first floor.

Boxed in between brooms and boxes of washing detergent, he types in a number that’s never quite made it into his muscle memory and calls Ryan; tries his utmost best not to cry into the receiver when the breathing on the other line starts to get decidedly uneven.

Ryan takes the news like the good man he is, silently and dignified, and he doesn’t accuse Stiles of anything, doesn’t curse or scream or rage and it makes Stiles curl in on himself in shame that he hates him a little bit for that.

It’s only the last bit of proof that Stiles has never deserved someone as good as Ryan to start with.

 

That’s how Derek finds him, thirty minutes later, curled up into a tight ball and breathing harshly.

“Stiles. What’s wrong?”, Derek asks, hushed and scared and clambers to the floor as fast as his cast allows, scooting up until he’s right in front of Stiles.

“I’m a terrible terrible person”, he croaks into his arms and at the touch of Derek’s fingers to the swell of his upper arm, slowly lifts his head.

The moment Derek takes in Stiles’ blotched skin his own face crumples in sympathy and a broken little sound escapes him before he’s tipping forwards and gathering Stiles into his arms, laying a secure hand between Stiles’ shoulder blades and pushing his face firmly into Stiles’ neck.

And Stiles has tried so hard to do the right thing these past weeks, has tried to keep his distance, to keep his touches light and friendly, has tried his hardest not to reciprocate when Derek touches him in intimate and affectionate ways, because as easy as it would be to just fall right back into it, one of them has to remember they’re not actually lovers anymore.

But as he silently cries into Derek’s shoulder, limply hanging in his grip and waiting for the denial, the absolution, the affirmation that no, he’s not a terrible person he suddenly realizes with startling clarity that it’s not coming; this is Derek and it’s never going to come and that thought alone punches a startled sob out of him and makes him hang onto Derek’s back for dear life.

Because they’ve both done terrible, horrible things and neither one of them has ever been naive enough to deny the truth of that.

Stiles grapples at Derek’s shirt in desperation, pushes his wet face into the comforting warmth of Derek’s neck and Derek tightens his hold on Stiles in return, gives back as good as he gets and in that moment Stiles knows what’s coming next, knows it and hopes for it and dreads it all at the same time.

“I love you”, Derek whispers into his skin, almost too quiet beneath the sound of Stiles’ broken sobs, his forehead pressed tightly to the back of Stiles’ neck. “I love you, Stiles.”

 

Because it’s the only thing that’s ever helped either of them, when the weight of what their world has become had gotten too heavy to carry alone: to know that even at their worst, they’re not any less deserving of love.

 

It only serves to make Stiles cry harder, now.

 

 

* * *

 

 

“Did we ever talk about kids?”, Derek asks one night, while Stiles is at the stove and Derek’s peeling potatoes.

They’d been having a perfectly nice evening up until now, comfortable enough that, between computer games and cups of tea and the sound of rain against the windows, Stiles could almost forget, just for a minute, exactly how not perfect the reality of all this really was.

Derek’s question shatters the illusion pretty thoroughly.

“Why’re you asking?”

Derek shrugs and doesn’t even look up from the potatoe in his hand, like he’s not completely blowing Stiles’ mind just now.

“Just...with you taking care of me all the time and never once complaining, I’ve kinda been thinking about what a good father you’d make and I  was just wondering if we’d ever discussed - that.”

Derek is perfectly nonchalant and Stiles is frozen to the spot.

“Uhm”, he makes and Derek looks up from his peeling, frowns a little at Stiles’ shocked expression.

“What?”, he asks. “I didn’t know it was that hard a question.”

“Uhm”, Stiles repeats and shakes himself a little bit. “It’s not - it’s just -. You surprised me. This is kinda the first time the topic’s come up, so…”

Stiles trails off uncertainly and Derek’s frown deepens.

“Really? That seems...odd.”

“Yeah.”

“Don’t you think it’s odd?”

“ ... Yeah?”

“Is it a sensitive topic, is that why it never came up?”

“Uhm...kinda?”

“What, you don’t like kids? ‘Cause I wou -”

“Derek!”, Stiles interrupts hastily and steps forward to take the peeling knife from Derek’s hand to stop him from waving it around the kitchen in agitation and turns around to quickly turn off the stove, “You need to slow down. Like, seriously, you gotta give me a minute, ‘cause I kinda feel like I’m having two separate conversations here.”

Derek huffs a little before giving a short nod and folding his hands on the kitchen table in front of him.

“I’ve never even had this conversation with you before the, uhm, the - accident and now I feel like I’m defending your decisions in front of, well, you and that’s just...crazy. Like, I’m talking to you about a version of yourself whose thoughts I can only presume to know, so I think I’ve earned the right to be a bit slow and confused about this, right? So I’m pretty much in the dark here myself … but Derek, if there’s one thing about this that I can tell you for certain, it’s that me not liking kids was never the problem.”

“Well it’s obviously not me not liking kids either, so…”, Derek says, tilting his head in confusion.

“Wait, what?”

“I said it’s not -”

“No, I heard you”, Stiles interrupts, holding up a hand. “You like kids?”

Derek narrows his eyes at Stiles.

“Yeah, what did you think?”

Stiles ignores him in favor of pressing the heel of his hand into his eye socket. He’s suddenly having pulsating headaches.

“You want to have kids?” he makes himself ask, voice only trembling slightly.

“Yes, I thought that was fairly obvious”, Derek answers, an edge of annoyance to his tone now.

“With...me?”

Stiles hates how his voice sounds in Derek’s big kitchen, small and high-pitched and pathetic and he hates even more how Derek doesn’t even seem to notice.

“I don’t get how this is such a hard concept to grasp”, Derek says, a confused frown still creasing his forehead, “I like kids and you like kids and we like each other and we’re in a committed relationship, so it’s really…-”

Something is bubbling up inside of Stiles, a burning sensation behind his sternum that’s clogging his throat and squeezing his lungs and Stiles doesn’t even know if he’s going to be laughing or crying in a minute, but he knows he definitely doesn’t want Derek there to witness it.

“I’m...I have to go lie down”, he interrupts Derek and turns around, leaves the kitchen without another look and hates himself and Derek and the whole stupid world for every single question that went unasked when there was still time.

 

 

* * *

 

And then sometimes, somehow, Stiles seems to keep forgetting, just for a minute or two, that they’re not actually supposed to be together anymore.

 

 

* * *

 

“You remember The Simpsons but not Friends? How does that work?”

“Why’re you asking me?”

“Well, don’t you think you should be the resident expert on your own amnesia, huh?”, Stiles asks and plops down onto the couch next to Derek.

He offers the bowl of freshly-microwaved popcorn to Derek and without taking his eyes off the TV screen, Derek grabs a handful and starts munching on it happily.

“I think that should be you, actually.”

“Me?”

“Yeah. I’m guessing there’s probably some kind of connection or association with something else I’ve forgotten but since I’ve, well, forgotten that, you’ll probably have a better chance at figuring it out than I will, right?”, Derek mused, completely unperturbed, eyes still glued to the TV.

“Right”, Stiles agrees, pops a handful of popcorn into his mouth and chews thoughtfully. “You think that’s why you deleted it?”

Derek shrugs next to him, the movement jostling Stiles’ shoulder where they’re pressed up against each other.

“Well I’ve never really had any strong feelings about The Simpsons, so it makes sense that there’s nothing emotionally challenging connected to that, so…”

Dude”, Stiles says, incredulous.

Derek flaps a hand in his face and turns away from the TV for a millisecond to flash Stiles a cheeky grin.

“Yeah, I know, you think it’s like an american treasure or something, and it’s funny, sometimes, I’ll give you that, but it’s not like...earth-shattering, right?”

Stiles snorts. “Speak for yourself, man.”

Derek laughs, a clear, high-pitched sound and Stiles doesn’t know if it’s in response to his indignation or because Ross is getting hilariously drunk on screen.

He finds it doesn’t really matter when Derek turns towards him and flashes him one of his brilliant smiles, all teeth and rounded cheeks, and nudges his knee affectionately against Stiles’ thigh.

“This, on the other hand?” Derek grins, all giddy in his excitement. “This is the best thing I’ve ever seen, I can’t believe I deleted this, my brain must be really stupid sometimes. God, if I could, I wouldn’t watch anything else, ever again...it didn’t get cancelled way too early, right? Please?”

Big hopeful eyes turn on him and Stiles feels the overwhelming urge to reach out and smooth his hand through the hair flopping down onto Derek’s forehead.

“Ten whole seasons, babe”, he says instead and doesn’t even care that he’s slipping.

The answering smile is blinding.

It’s like watching a child experience snow for the first time and he never would have guessed it before, but in that moment he can’t help but be happy about everything that lead up to this one tiny, perfect moment.

 

 

*

 

“You kinda remind me of Chandler”, Derek declares an hour later, when the popcorn bowl is empty and they’re snuggled under a blanket together, where it’s too warm and cozy and comfortable for Stiles to care about semantics.

Stiles gives a disapproving grunt against Derek’s shoulder. He’s not entirely sure he wants to be like Chandler.

“Yeah, totally”, Derek goes on, gaining momentum rapidly, “You’re goofy and awkward and you always make jokes when you’re uncomfortable. You have a really hard time talking about serious, emotional things and you tend to get like super-sarcastic when someone forces you to.”

“Uh - thanks?”

“Also, you’re like absolute shit at relationships, unless, of course, it’s with like...the One…”, Derek adds, snaking an arm around Stiles’ shoulders and squeezing affectionately.

Stiles snorts humorlessly.

“Sure, yeah, Friends you delete, but my abysmal track record of relationships you remember...thanks a lot, Derek’s stupid brain”, Stiles grumbles unhappily and tries not to think about what it means for his future that he can’t help but agree with Derek on that one.

“Aw, come on, you know I don’t care about your lapses of judgement in high school...and the first year of college. Aaand the first three weeks of the second … You got it out of your system and now we’re here and that’s all that matters you me, you know that”, Derek murmurs into Stiles’ hair and presses a kiss there,  a short, light pressure that makes something warm bloom in Stiles’ stomach.

“You’re also secretly a romantic, just like Chandler,  and you care so much about everyone in your life and you don’t do anything by half and you’re the best at making people smile -”

“Alright, alright, you can stop sweet-talking me now, gosh”, Stiles mumbles when his ears start to grow hot and he feels the line of Derek’s answering grin like a brand against his scalp. “You do realize that makes you Monica, though, right?”

“I’m nothing like -”

“You’re so Monica, don’t even try to deny it!” Stiles crows, delighted at having successfully shifted the focus and slaps a victorious hand onto Derek’s knee. “Just think about it, though: crazy competitive, orderly bordering on obsessive, focused and determined and strong … fiercely loyal to the people you love.”

He feels Derek hum against him thoughtfully and after a beat of silence, his head moves so his cheek is pressed against the side of Stiles’ head, his nose just barely grazing the ridge of Stiles’ ear.

“Head over heels in love with the goofy clown next door”, Derek adds, his warm breath ghosting over Stiles’ ear and making him shiver and swallow heavily.

“Sounds like you, right?”, he answers feebly, his hand still awkwardly positioned on Derek’s knee, feeling like a fraud, feeling like a liar, feeling utterly lost.

“Pretty much”, Derek answers and holds Stiles tighter, presses a light kiss to the hair above his ear.

 

It’s almost enough.

 

* * *

Chapter Text

 

 

Four weeks in and they’re starting to gravitate towards each other in their sleep again.

It’s a slow progression, from touching toes to bumping knees to twined hands, tangled legs and pillowed heads, but it’s steady and it’s undeniably there and it’s so, so familiar that it hurts, in that sweet, melancholy way that makes you hate yourself just a little bit for not hating it enough.

 

Stiles, very carefully, doesn’t have any feelings about it.

 

* * *

 

And then, somewhere along the way, without either of them realizing it’s begun, things start slipping through the cracks.

 

The first time it happens, they’re late to dinner with the Sheriff and Melissa. Stiles is brushing his teeth while simultaneously trying to smooth down his hair in the bathroom mirror when Derek calls out to him from the bedroom.

“Have you seen my dark green sweater anywhere?”

Stiles gives a noncommittal grunt around his toothbrush and the sounds of Derek rummaging through the drawers resume.

“I swear, if Erica swiped my sweater again, I’m gonna kill her”, Stiles hears Derek grumble form around the corner and Stiles goes very still. “I don’t care if mine are more comfortable than hers, if she doesn’t want to live with stretched-out sleeves because she gets cold fingers, neither should I.”

Stiles grips the edge of the sink with both hands, toothbrush hanging limply from his unmoving mouth, his heart pumping away painfully in his chest and doesn’t dare move an inch, listens carefully for any signs that Derek has heard himself speak.

There’s only the sounds of drawers being pulled open and shut in rapid succession.

“Right, babe?”, Derek demands Stiles’ affirmation after the silence between them has stretched too long.

Stiles lets his toothbrush fall from his lips, watches detachedly as toothpaste splatters his shirt when it hits the sink, takes a deep breath and nearly chokes on the foam still left in his mouth.

He clears his throat and grips the porcelain tighter.

“Right”, he croaks and closes his eyes, counts the seconds until the moment is over and he will have to move on to lighter, simpler things.

 

He’s wondering if it’s going to happen again; if this is just the start of a hundred little facts of life before the accident, trickling into the comfortable space they have carved out for themselves here in the in-between.

He’s wondering if Derek really remembered or if it’s just a glitch in the system, some small meaningless detail never important enough to be forgotten; if Derek will ever realize it’s happening. He’s wondering if he should tell him.

 

He’s wondering if one of these days, Derek will wake up and the thing he remembers will be that he doesn’t love Stiles anymore, not in that way.

 

 

 

And then, softly, from around the corner:

“That’s new, isn’t it?”

 

* * *

 

Neither of them knows how it works.

There’s no way of knowing how much Derek remembers, the memories coming unbidden and without rhyme or reason: small, inconsequential details that whet the appetite without satisfying the craving.

Derek likens it to having a word on the tip of your tongue - the harder you try, the more it evades you, coming forth only when you’ve just about forgotten about it.

It frustrates him to no end, having the truth at his fingertips with no means of reaching for it and the burden of pulling him back from the edge of darkness falls, predictably, to Stiles.

You can’t force it, he’ll tell Derek then. You’ll remember in time.

Your mind will know when it’s safe for you to remember it all and This is a good sign, I promise and Aren’t you happy, like this, as well?

 

He doesn’t tell him he’s afraid that Derek won’t be anymore, after.

He’s a coward like that.

 

 

* * *

 

Somewhere around the six weeks mark, the Sheriff and Melissa get engaged.

 

Melissa joins Stiles while he’s cutting bread at the party later that night, leans up against the kitchen counter next to him and clinks her champagne glass against the one he’s left untouched next to the sink.

She takes a slow sip of the champagne and eyes Stiles attentively over the rim of her glass.

Stiles cuts her a quick glance and rolls his eyes at her fondly before going back to slicing.

“Really, Melissa, it’s awfully nice of you to be concerned or whatever, but it’s really, utterly unnecessary and you know it”, he tells her and sweeps the slices from the cutting board into the bread basket. “If I could’ve hand-picked her myself, I wouldn’t have chosen anyone else for my dad to fall in love with again. Besides, Scott and I’ve been talking about this day for years, so…” - he shoots her a quick grin - “I think we’ll be okay.”

He puts the cutting board and the knife into the sink and picks up his own glass of champagne, leans against the counter next to Melissa and clinks their glasses together.

“That’s actually not what I was gonna say, but thanks anyway”, Melissa says and throws him another thoughtful glance. “I was just thinking … You look really happy.”

“Well, duh”, Stiles chuckles and makes a sweeping hand-gesture at the rest of the house beyond the kitchen doorway.

“Yeah, obviously, but that’s not what I meant”, Melissa clarifies and fixes Stiles with a serious look. “You and him. You both look happy.”

Stiles drops his gaze, concentrates on the pattern of the kitchen tiles and shuffles his feet, uncomfortable under Melissa’s scrutinizing eyes.

“That’s not … We’re not …-”

“You look happier than I’ve seen you in years.”

Stiles wants to snort, because happy is the last word he’d use to describe how he’s been feeling these last few weeks, but the sound stays caught up in his throat, wedged up right against his tonsils.

“I … I’ve been happy”, he forces out, defiantly.

“Yeah, but you forget that I’ve seen you in New York”, Melissa goes on, impossibly soft. “You were happy there, you’re right, but now that you’re here, you look like … you’re finally at home in your own body again, if that makes any sense?”

Stiles exhales sharply through his nose and crosses his arms over his chest tightly, stares pointedly at the floor. The silence stretches for a long time between them.

When Stiles makes no move to resume talking, Melissa lets out a low sigh.

“Alright, message received. I won’t say anything else”, she promises and lays a hand soothingly on Stiles’ forearm, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I might have had the tiniest bit too much champagne.”
Stiles shoots her a small smile and sighs a little.

“It’s alright. You’re forgiven, I guess.”

Melissa grins at him and hooks her arm through his and together they watch the Sheriff through the doorway for a moment, deep in conversation with Boyd.

“He’s really happy as well, you know”, Melissa says with a nod at Stiles’ father. “I don’t think he ever dared to hope for this, the two of you in the same room again.”

Stiles takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly.

“I know”, he says, dejectedly, because he does.

“He’s waited for this, you know”, Melissa continues, squeezing Stiles’ arm tightly. “We’ve been talking about marriage for a while and I know he never told you this, but really he was just waiting for something like this to come along … he didn’t want to do this when you two wouldn’t even be in the same city as each other. He’s a stubborn man, that one.”

“Yeah, tell me about it.”

“I know it hasn’t exactly made things easier for you, but please don’t blame your father for it, Stiles”, Melissa says, quiet and soft. “He can’t help it - it takes a lot for him to stop once he decides he loves someone.”

Stiles shakes his head and pats Melissa’s arm a few times.

“Nah, if there’s anyone to blame, it’s me”, Stiles sighs. “I made damn sure they got to liking each other - should’ve known all of that would come back to bite me in the ass.”

Melissa gives him a sad smile. “You loved them both and you wanted them to love each other as well - that’s not a flaw, Stiles.”

“Yeah, well, sometimes love just isn’t enough, now, is it?” Stiles rasps, struggling to get the words out against the burning in the back of his throat. “Sometimes, people just walk away the moment things get rough and then what good does love do?”

The air feels thick around them, laced with tension and hard to breathe and it’s too heavy, too much for what is supposed to be a happy occasion and they both realize it at the same time.

Melissa gives Stiles a tight smile and visibly shakes herself.

“Well - anyway”, she says, pointedly, her tone a note lighter than it was a minute ago, “I was starting to think I was gonna have to wait forever for this, so thank you, I guess, is what I’m trying to say.”

Stiles gives a humourless laugh, all breath and misery.

“Don’t thank me yet”, he says and pulls his arm out of Melissa’s grasp. “All of this is just an illusion, don’t you people get that by now?”

Melissa looks at him with big eyes and Stiles almost falters, almost stops himself, but the stress of Derek’s patchy memory has been eating away at him for days and he can’t be bothered to make himself care enough anymore.

“Derek’s already starting to remember things and one of these days he’ll remember that I’m not actually supposed to be here and then everything will go back to how it was before”, he tells her, voice low and rough and angry. “We’re all living on borrowed time here and Dad’ll do damn good to remember that. It hurt him enough the first time around.”

Melissa’s looking at him sadly, her hands hovering just above his shoulder, as if afraid to touch and Stiles starts plotting his escape route.

“What if he doesn’t?”

Stiles kinks an eyebrow at her.

“What if he doesn’t remember?”, Melissa clarifies and Stiles snorts.

“It’s already starting.”

“Yeah, but what if he doesn’t? What if he never remembers you two were broken up?”

“Are. We are broken up”, Stiles grits out and Melissa’s sad frown deepens.

“What then, Stiles? Are you going to leave him here? Are you going to go back to New York? Or are you going to go on like this, try for real this time? Take this impossible chance to turn back time?”

Stile shakes his head at her, slow at first and then faster and faster, until he gets dizzy with it, unable to stop.

“That’s not...that’s never going to happen. He’s already remembering, it’s not … It’s not possible anymore.”

One of Melissa’s hands descends onto his shoulder and squeezes affectionately for a second and then the next, it’s gone and she gives him the most motherly smile he has been given since he was 8 years old and crying himself to sleep every night.

“That’s not really the question here, though, is it?” she says, softly, carefully and then she leans forward to drop a light kiss on his forehead before turning around and leaving Stiles behind in the kitchen, angry and sad and alone once more.

 

* * *

 

 

It takes him three days to put everything into motion.

Three days to call Ms. Santiago and put in his applications and convince Lydia to let him crash at her place for a few days.

On the fourth day, he drives to Derek’s and gets the things he’s left there over time, the books and shirts and knick-knacks. He gets a big garbage bag and throws in his shower gel and razor and toothbrush.

He’s not planning on coming back, after all.

When there’s no trace of his existence left in the house, he turns to Derek who’s hovering in the doorway, mad and defensive and defeated and sad and tells him: “I don’t think it’s supposed to be this hard.”

I’m tired of fighting for this all by myself, he almost says, but Derek has spent his whole life blaming himself for every bad thing that ever happened to him and Stiles loves him too much to add to that, even now.

 

By the end of the day, he’s on a plane to New York.

 

* * *

 

He tries not to think about Melissa’s words in the days following the engagement party.

He tries his hardest to shove them as far away as possible, to the darkest recesses of his mind, but they wedge themselves tight somewhere on the way, to peek out whenever Stiles gets too comfortable, whenever his defenses are down and his touches turn too long, too soft.

He doesn’t want to think about them, but he does so anyway, in the long, slow minutes after he wakes up with his face mashed into Derek’s chest, in the dark of night when there is nothing else to think about.

What he finds is this: there’s a large empty space inside of him where his anger used to reside and it’s slowly starting to fill up with something Stiles doesn’t quite want to put a name to yet.

 

All he knows is that he’s tired of fighting it.

 

 

* * *

 

He looks like he’s about to cry.

Derek is standing in the middle of the supermarket, awkwardly balanced on his crutches,  clutching a carton of milk with one hand and looking like he’s about to cry.

“You don’t like two percent milk”, he tells Stiles with far more gravitas than is appropriate when Stiles rounds the corner and narrows his eyes at him suspiciously.

“Yes?”

“You always buy two percent milk!”, Derek accuses him in a harsh whisper.

“Because you like two percent!” Stiles shoots back, confused.

“Yeah but you don’t!”

Stiles crosses over to the shopping cart next to Derek and drops his armful of cereal boxes into it before coming to stand in front of Derek, still visibly upset at the milk in his arm.

“I … know?”, Stiles asks carefully and shrugs his shoulders in confusion.

“Well I didn’t!” Derek hisses, eyes wide and stormy.

Stiles stares at him for a moment, eyebrows scrunched together in a confused frown and when there’s nothing else forthcoming, he blows out a measured breath of air and deflates, holding out his palms helplessly.

“Al...right? Derek, sorry, but I don’t really get what’s going on.”

Derek huffs, annoyed and impatient, and jostles the milk in his arm, readjusts the grip on his crutch.

“I just remembered, okay?”, he hisses. “I didn’t know before and I just remembered and I didn’t even realize there were things I had forgotten about you until now.”

“That’s it?”, Stiles asks. “That’s why you’re so upset?”

“What, you don’t think that’s enough?” Derek shoots back. “ I thought you were the one thing I could rely on to be just as I remembered, the one constant in all this chaos and now what - that’s not even true? How am I supposed to react to that?”

Stiles bites his lip at the pained sound of Derek’s voice and lurches forward to put a reassuring hand on Derek’s shoulder, squeezing firmly.

“Hey, that doesn’t mean you don’t know me”, Stiles tells him in a soothing voice, letting his hand trail up and down Derek’s upper arm. “There’s probably a thousand little things you don’t remember about me. And then there’s another thousand things that you don’t remember because it’s all tied into all the things you forgot about Scott and Erica and Boyd and your past - our past.”

Derek keeps heaving large, heavy breaths and he’s still holding onto the milk tightly enough that Stiles is afraid it might burst right here, in the middle of the dairy aisle.

Derek flicks an annoyed glance at Stiles.

“Not making it better”, he grits out between clenched teeth and Stiles takes an instinctive step closer, lets his other hand come up to rest at the nape of Derek’s neck.

Huddled close together like this, their foreheads are almost touching and Stiles takes advantage of the proximity to lower his voice to a soothing almost-whisper.

“There’s also probably a million things I’ve forgotten about you over the years, ‘cause we both know my memory’s way worse than yours, normally, right?”

Derek lets out a long shaky breath that tickles Stiles’ chin, but there’s a little chuckle at the end of it and Stiles counts it as a win.

“Yeah.”

Stiles smiles and touches their foreheads together for a second before moving back a fraction, enough to let the sounds of the supermarket invade their private little bubble.

“Alright”, he says, still soft and careful. “Now how about we put that thing back…” - and with that he pries the milk carton out of Derek’s hands, one finger at a time - “and go home. Let’s just forget about groceries and order a pizza and you can ask me about anything you want, alright, whatever’s on your mind.”

“Anything?” Derek asks, his eyes astonished and hopeful, and Stiles feels the corners of his mouth tug into a smile at the rare sight.

“Well, anything within reason, let’s put it like that, shall we?”

 

* * *

 

“What on earth do you think you’re doing, Stiles?”

He’s been invited to coffee at Erica’s while Derek is off doing werewolf-y stuff with Isaac and Scott and he hasn’t even been there five minutes before Boyd comes at him, voice steely and accusing and a little bit tired.

Stiles darts a quick glance to where Erica has just disappeared into the kitchen.

“Uuuh…”, he makes and cowers in his seat on Erica and Boyd’s big leather sofa, trying to make himself look as small as possible against the large cushions. “What?”

Boyd rolls his eyes and jabs a finger in Stiles’ direction.

“Don’t play dumb. You know exactly what I mean.”

“Uuuh…”, Stiles repeats, dumbly.

“Oh, stop it, Boyd”, Erica interrupts them, coming back from the kitchen with two cups of steaming coffee in her hands and an exasperated  eyeroll for Boyd. “I told you there would be no hassling Stiley today; I just got him back, alright? Don’t scare him away.”

“I’m not trying to scare him away”, Boyd pouts, hunching his shoulders to make himself look smaller.

“Well, you’re succeeding anyway”, Erica points out and drops a light kiss to his cheek. “Why don’t you go join the boys and run around the woods for a bit or whatever it is you guys do on these things - let me and Stiles catch up in peace.”

She says it sweetly, without any kind of force behind it, but there’s a glint in her eyes that brooks no argument.

With a short nod in Stiles’ direction and a kiss to Erica’s cheek, Boyd turns around and leaves through the front door.

“Bye, Boyd!”, Stiles shouts at his retreating back and is graced with a noncommittal grunt in return.

“He pissed at me or something?” he asks when Erica drops down next to him on the couch with a bright grin and pushes the coffee mug into Stiles’ hands.

“Nah, don’t mind him”, she insists with a dismissing wave of her hand. “He’s just been a bit over-protective of Derek and his big, squishy heart since you two...you know.”

“Right”, Stiles drawls, utterly unconvinced. “Not pissed at all, then.”

“No, whatever, just forget about him. That’s not important”, Erica dismisses him. “What’s important is: what is going on?”

Erica seems to be vibrating with excited energy and Stiles throws her a disapproving glower.

“No, seriously, I need all the details”, she exclaims, a sly grin on her face. “Is it still as earth-shattering as it was back then?”

“Erica!”, Stiles exclaims, heat rushing to his cheeks.

“What?”, Erica asks, earnestly perplexed. “You certainly never had any reservations about dishing about your sex life before; in great detail, may I remind you.”

“There’s nothing to dish about”, Stiles hisses and puts his mug down on the table with a loud thud.

“Seriously?”

“Seriously.”

“Not even a bit of hand-acti -”

“Erica!” Stiles exclaims, burying his face in his hands.

“Just saying...it’s kinda hard to believe”, Erica goes on, pointedly relaxed in the face of a crimson Stiles. “You were looking awfully cosy last week for nothing to dish about.

Stiles collapses back against the cushions in defeat, letting his head fall back to rest on the back of the couch.

“Uuugh”, he groans and rubs both of his hands over his heated face.

Erica pats him on the knee consolingly.

“Yes, now use your words, please.”

“There’s really nothing going on, honestly”, Stiles begins once his face has cooled down some. “We haven’t even kissed since I came back, not once.”

Erica is looking at him attentively and Stiles sits back up, draws his legs up onto the couch so they’re facing each other and Erica gives him an encouraging nod.

“But it’s...really hard”, he goes on, fiddling with the seam on his jeans. “He loves me, you know.”

“Well, duh.

“No, but that’s the thing ... He doesn’t love me grudgingly, in a ‘well what can I do about it’ -way, you know? He loves me so...positively, like he delights in it, without any reservations or trust issues standing in the way and it’s … almost impossible to resist.”

Stiles blows out a shaky breath and Erica shoots him a small smile.

“I’d almost forgotten how it felt, you know … being at the center of his attention. It’s addictive, really”, he goes on, worrying his lips with his teeth. “And it looks so much like Derek that it’s making it hard to remember why I felt the need to leave once.”

Laying a reassuring hand on Stiles knee, Erica gives it a short squeeze and is rewarded with a wobbly smile from Stiles.

“That doesn’t sound so bad to me”, she says.

“Well, it’s not real, though, is it?”

Erica huffs exasperatedly and rolls her eyes at Stiles, who’s facing his lap and avoiding her eyes.  

“But that’s just the thing, Stiles: it is real”, she insists, dropping her head to make sure Stiles will have to look at her. “If you don’t think that Derek still loves you then I have like no hope for your intelligence, whatsoever, seriously.”

Stiles frowns at her.

“Derek doesn’t still love me; it’s been almost two and a half years, that’s ridiculous.”

Erica’s eyebrows shoot up and she gives Stiles a wry grin.

“Oh really?”, she asks, never breaking eye-contact. “So I’m guessing you don’t still love Derek either, right? Cause that’d be ridiculous.”

Stiles’ eyes go wide for a second, ears pinking up and then he turns away, averts his eyes.

“That’s not -”

“That is so exactly the same thing, don’t you even dare say it.”

Stiles sighs.

“Erica, it’s …”

“Complicated?”, she supplies when Stiles trails off into nothingness. “Sure it is. But you still love him and he still loves you, even after all this time, don’t you think that means something?”

“Even if it does, what are you suggesting I do here? He’s lost almost all of his memories!”, Stiles exclaims, throwing his hands into the air in exasperation.

“I’m not saying you should, like, jump straight into bed with him and act like nothing ever happened between you two”, Erica says, shrugging her shoulders. “Just … stop being so hard on yourself. Let whatever happens, happen. It’s not like it could get much worse than it was before the accident, right?”

“You make it sound so easy”, Stiles sighs, flopping back against the cushions.

“I know it’s not”, Erica concedes, patting Stiles’ arm consolingly. “But I also don’t think it’s as hard as you make it out to be. You’d be surprised how similar this Derek is to the one we’ve seen around here in the last year. I think you two would really hit it off, actually.”

That last part startles a laugh out of Stiles and they share a comfortable grin.

“Well you’ve always been our biggest cheerleader”, Stiles teases Erica.

“Hell yeah”, she replies, grinning.

“And a great friend”, Stiles goes on. “Sorry for abandoning you like that. That was really shitty of me.”

Erica flashes him a big grin, full of straight white teeth, and bumps his knee with hers.

“All but forgotten, Bambi”, she assures him. “Under one condition.”

“Anything.”

“Whatever happens in the next few months … you’re not allowed to miss mine and Boyd’s wedding, ‘cause guess what: you’re gonna be a bridesmaid!”, Erica grins and at the shocked look on Stiles’ face as she flashes a brand-new ring, breaks out into giggles.

 

* * *

Chapter Text

 

 

 

When the day finally comes for Derek to get his cast off, Stiles wakes with Derek in his arms and a sense of dread in his stomach.

Derek is excited during breakfast, chattering away about everything and nothing in particular, while Stiles nods distractedly and sips his coffee in silence, watching the late September rain outside the window drown the land around them.

Normally, Derek wouldn’t even go out in this weather, not with the way his crutches tend to slip on the wet grass and muddy ground, but today it’s like he doesn’t even register the rain soaking through his shirt when they’re making their way to Stiles’ jeep.

The drive is short and filled with Derek’s excitement and when they get to the hospital, they’re greeted by Boyd already sitting in one of the plastic chairs in the waiting area. At Stiles’ inquisitive look, Boyd shrugs his shoulders.

“Derek asked me to be here today”, he explains.

Derek starts shuffling uncomfortably next to Stiles, blotches of red appearing on his cheeks.

“Derek?” Stiles asks carefully.

“I thought maybe you could...I don’t know, go shopping or meet your Dad or something. You don’t have to stay here with me, Boyd can take me home afterwards”, Derek mumbles uncomfortably, avoiding Stiles’s eyes while lowering himself into the seat next to Boyd.

“What, that’s ridiculous, of course I’m gonna stay here”, Stiles says and sends Boyd an apologetic glance, “Boyd, I’m sorry he made you come out here in this weather, but it’s fine - I’ve got this, you can go home. Sorry.”

Boyd shoots Stiles an understanding smile and nods, claps Derek on the shoulder while standing up.

Derek fixes him with a pleading look.

“No, Boyd stays”, he says, almost petulantly and Stiles can’t help the exasperated huff that escapes him.

“Alright, what’s going on?” he asks.

Boyd hovers awkwardly next to his seat, looking like he’d rather be anywhere else.

Derek drops his eyes and focuses on his hands in his lap, twisting his fingers together.

“I don’t want you to see”, he admits after a few moments of silence, his ears burning bright red. “You’ll think I’m gross.”

Stiles lets out a startled laugh. “What, your leg? Come on, Derek, it’s not gonna look that bad.”

Derek lifts his head, a defiant look on his face and glowers at Stiles disapprovingly.

“You’ll think it’s gross and you’ll think I’m gross and you won’t want to - … I don’t want you to see it, okay?” he grits out and with a look at Derek’s shameful face, understanding dawns on Stiles.

Boyd seems to have caught on to the issue at hand as well, because he shuffles from one foot to the other next to them and pointedly clears his throat.

“I don’t think I need to be here for … this”, he says and hooks a thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the door, starting to shuffle backwards slowly.

Stiles shoots him a grateful smile and nods.

“Yeah, I think we’ll manage from here, thanks though.”

Boyd nods again, glances once more at Derek, slumped over dejectedly in his seat, and walks back to the hospital entrance.

Once he’s out of sight, Stiles drops into the vacated seat next to Derek with a sigh.

“You’re afraid I won’t think you’re … sexy anymore after I’ve seen your leg?”, Stiles carefully asks.

Derek buries his face in his hands with a groan.

“It sounds so stupid when you say it like that”, he mumbles from behind his palms and Stiles can’t help but chuckle a bit.

“Derek, come on, you can’t seriously think that”, he says and closes a hand around Derek’s wrist to pry his hand away from his face. Derek’s cheeks are flushed when he emerges, face set in a sheepish grimace. “You forget that I’ve once seen most of your small intestine hanging out … and I still had sex with you, like, five hours later. Or, probably, more like a day or two later, ‘cause you know, you being whole and healthy is pretty much basic requirement for me to get it - … but anyway. The point being: You really think I’m gonna get grossed out by a bit of icky skin?”

He’s still loosely hanging on to Derek’s wrist, so he can feel Derek’s shrug in the tips of his fingers.

“Trust me, it’s gonna take a lot more for me to stop finding you attractive, alright? Stop worrying”, Stiles assures him and slides the hand around Derek’s wrist lower, slowly dragging it across Derek’s palm and intertwining their fingers carefully, one by one.

He doesn’t dare think about resisting when Derek pulls their hands to rest in his lap.

 

*

 

“Yeah, okay, wow…”, Stiles amends when the doctor has finished sawing Derek’s cast in half and is taking off the top part, “that is pretty gross.”

The skin that comes to light has a sickly yellowish-grey color and a film of something white and slightly slimy coating it, probably layers upon layers of dead skin cells, Stiles assumes. In contrast with Derek’s healthy leg, this one is alarmingly thin, even more so than Stiles would have assumed after eight weeks of immobilisation. There’s also, strangely, a lot more hair there. Like a lot.

Derek makes a high-pitched noise deep in his throat and the doctor shoots Stiles a disapproving glare.

“I told you you shouldn’t see this”, Derek grumbles and Stiles rushes to his side, squeezing his biceps reassuringly.

“Hey, no, wait”, he hurries to say. “It’s definitely more gross than I thought it would be but, like, that doesn’t change the fact that you’re still hot like burning to me, right?”

The doctor’s glare intensifies.

Derek blushes a beautiful shade of red and gives Stiles a shy smile.

“Hot like burning, huh?”

“Yeah, totally”, Stiles grins, leans into Derek’s side a little.

Derek sneaks a hand around Stiles’ middle, his hand coming to rest on Stiles’ hipbone, and hums thoughtfully.

“Good, that’s...good”, he mumbles finally, clearing his throat when his voice comes out slightly rough. “You, uhm...you too, you know.”

The doctor clears her throat pointedly while removing the last bit of plaster from around Derek’s leg and Stiles grins at him.

“Really?”, Stiles giggles and lets his fingers slide into the fine hairs at the nape of Derek’s neck. “Hot like burning; me? Awesome.”

Derek huffs noisily. “Don’t act like that’s such a fucking surprise to you, please. You use it to your advantage far too much for that to be even remotely believable.”

Stiles laughs and hides his face in Derek’s hair to escape the doctor’s death glare.

 

* * *

 

It’s a lot harder than they expected it to be, after that.

Derek is incredibly miffed to find that he’s still dependent on his crutches, determined as he was that the way to the hospital would be his last time using them, but apparently muscular atrophy is yet another thing he will just have to endure like a normal, boring human.

He’s a lot more mobile, now, without his cast weighing him down, but he still needs help around the house from time to time, and he’s still unsteady on his feet sometimes, even more so now that he’s determined to try walking without his crutches as often as possible.

At any rate, he’s not fit to live on his own yet, and as much as it pains Stiles to see Derek frustrated with his long road to recovery, he has to admit he’s a tiny bit glad about it all.

He had been nervous on the day of the cast coming off; afraid his excuses for staying would be fragile and transparent afterwards and he would be forced to leave before he was ready.

Instead, no one has even approached the subject with Stiles in all the days since the cast has come off, in all the days that Derek has gotten visibly better, and so Stiles accompanies Derek to his physical therapy, does stretches and exercises with him at home and doesn’t think about what will happen when, one day, Derek won’t be in need of his help anymore.

 

 

* * *

 

 

“Do I still have a family?”, Derek asks one night when Stiles is just on the brink of sleep.

“What?”, he slurs and rolls over onto his side, facing Derek, rubs the heels of his hands into his eyes roughly to wake himself up.

Derek rolls onto his side as well, so they’re curled towards each other in the middle of the bed, faces only inches apart.

“Sorry, I just … realized that no one ever talks about my family and there are no photos or anything and everybody dodges my questions about them and I don’t even know if I had any brothers or sisters and just...are they all dead? Is that why nobody talks about them?”

Stiles sucks in a sharp breath and lets it out slowly into the small space between them.

“That’s the biggie, right?” Derek asks when the silence stretches. “The thing nobody really wants me to remember?”

It’s nearly pitch-dark in the bedroom, the only light coming from the small sliver between their curtains and the edge of the window where one of them was too lazy to tuck it all the way to the end, and still Stiles feels the need to close his eyes against the inquisitive look in Derek’s.

In all this, he had almost forgotten how intuitive Derek can be.

“One of them, yeah”, Stiles finally breathes.

Derek makes an aborted noise in his throat and Stiles snakes a hand across the empty space between them and searches for Derek’s hand, intertwines their fingers and holds on tight.

“We’ve talked about this. You know I can’t tell you everything.”

“I know.”

“But if you want...I’ll answer that one question. No follow-ups, though, okay?”

“Okay”, Derek breathes and then it’s quiet for a long moment while Derek gathers the courage to voice his question.

Stiles gives his hand an encouraging squeeze.

“Is anyone still alive?” Derek finally asks and Stiles can’t help the rush of breath that escapes him.

“Yes”, he says with conviction, tightening his hold on Derek’s hand and thinks of Cora, who he hasn’t spoken to in far too long, somewhere off in South America.

There’s a hint of a smile twitching at the corners of Derek’s mouth and he uses their joined hands to tug Stiles in closer, until his nose is buried against Derek’s shoulder and there’s no space left between their bodies, only heat.

“Thank you”, Derek whispers into the hair on top of Stiles’ head and lets go of Stiles’ hand in favor of snaking his arms around Stiles’ waist.

“Anytime”, Stiles says and gets a hand around Derek’s back, bunches his fingers into Derek’s soft, worn shirt and holds on tightly.

They lay in silence for a long time, simply holding each other and Stiles is almost to the brink of sleep again when Derek speaks.

“I just want to remember, you know?”, he mumbles, voice heavy with sleep and Stiles feels a heavy pang of guilt at the longing in his voice.

“I know”, Stiles whispers into the skin over Derek’s collarbone. “You’ll get there. It’s only a matter of time now, you know that.”

“I don’t want time”, Derek whines, desperate and bitter, and it gnaws at Stiles, somewhere between his heart and his ribcage, that he can’t help but wholeheartedly disagree, “I want my old life back.”

In lieu of an answer, Stiles presses a dry kiss against the patch of skin he can reach, and another and another until Derek’s grip on his waist loosens a bit, until Derek’s breaths are coming slower, less urgently, until Derek forgets that he never got an answer.

Stiles lies in the darkness with his eyes open for a long time after Derek’s breaths have dropped off into the familiar rhythm of sleep and tries to remember how it felt in the beginning, when he was still angry and hurt and unwilling to be here, when he and Derek were still working towards the same goal, when he still wished with every fibre of his being for Derek to get his memories back and for himself to go back to living in denial.

It feels like watching himself through very thick glass.

Detached. Unreal. Blurred at the edges.

It hurts.

 

“I do”, he whispers into the stillness of night and listens to any hitches in Derek’s breathing that might stop him from saying the truth, “I want time. There’s no place for me in your old life, don’t you realize?”

Stiles twists his hands tighter into Derek’s shirt, desperate and yearning, and Derek keeps breathing, slow and even and peaceful.

 

 

* * *

 

The ground is moving.

The ground wasn’t moving an hour ago and this isn’t how the night was supposed to go. Stiles squints over at Erica suspiciously, closes one of his eyes to make the double image of her face go away.

“D’you spike my drink?” he asks, stabbing an accusing finger in her direction and swaying lightly on his feet.

Erica laughs and swats at his outstretched hand.

“I might’ve? Just a teensy bit!”

“Erica!” Stiles hisses under his breath and sneaks a look around at all his family and friends milling about, seeks out the birthday boy making out with Allison in the corner by the fireplace, glances at Derek talking to his father in the doorway to the kitchen.

Only once he’s satisfied that nobody pays them any mind, does he turn back around to glare at Erica.

She shrugs her shoulders, unaffected.

“What? I’m doing you a favor”, she insists, words melting together slightly. “I think you and Derek should talk.”

“Yeah? And you think getting me drunk’s the right way to get there?”

She shrugs again, sloshing some of her wine onto the floor in the process.

“‘M not picky.”

Stiles groans and slaps a hand to his forehead, concentrates hard to make his blood stop buzzing distractedly in his ears.

“I can’t believe you did this” he complains, voice high-pitched and squeaky. “What if I tell him things?”

“Like what?”, Erica asks, a challenging look on her face.

Rolling his eyes, he takes Erica by the elbow and drags her halfway across the room, to a quiet corner where they’re less likely to be overheard.

“Like the truth!”, Stiles hisses pointedly once there, throwing his arms out to the sides.

“Ha!” Erica yells, after a slight delay, stabbing a triumphant finger into Stiles’ sternum, “So there is a truth!”

Stiles squints at her in confusion. “What?”

“What?”, she asks back, blinking repeatedly.

“You’re not making any sense.”

“Your pants aren’t making any sense.”

“Man, you’re so drunk!”

“So are you!”

“Yeah, because you fucking spiked my drink”, Stiles points out, eyebrows scrunched together into an exaggerated frown that makes Erica giggle into her hand.

“Don’t do that, I bet Derek likes you better all wrinkle-free”, she admonishes softly and smooths her thumb over the creases between Stiles’ brows.

Without even meaning to, Stiles can feel his face soften at the mention of Derek’s name.

“Derek likes me better all the time, wrinkles or no”, he tells her, softly, and they share a small smile between them, sad and hopeful and liquor-fuelled.

“So r’you gonna tell him, then?”, Erica asks carefully, her forehead creasing a little.

“Tell him what?”, Stiles shoots back, playing dumb and feeling it, too.

Erica rolls her eyes, swaying with her whole body while doing so.

“How about the fact that Derek’s basically all healed up and yet here you are, making no move whatsoever to go back to your old life”, she supplies helpfully, leaning back against the wall. “I think that’s a good starter.”

Stiles huffs a sigh and turns the corners of his mouth down into a frown.

“You noticed that, huh?”

“Of course we noticed, what d’you think?!”

Stiles rubs at his neck sheepishly and shrugs his shoulders.

“I don’t know, I thought maybe you just didn’t care”, he says, feeling stupid for hoping and even more stupid for the way his whole body keeps buzzing at the thought of telling Derek.

“Honey”, Erica sighs, wrapping her arm around Stiles’ shoulders and leaning into his side heavily. “It’s you and Derek. Everybody cares.”

With that, she pushes another glass into Stiles’ hand, filled to the brim and Stiles - Stiles just wants to stop the hot feeling in his stomach from spreading.

He lifts the glass to his lips and  drinks.

 

 

*

 

“Heeeey you”, Stiles purrs while he’s sidling up to Derek, sliding right past the amused look on his father’s face and into Derek’s embrace, both of his arms going around Derek’s middle.

Derek raises an eyebrow and looks down at him fondly, winding an arm around Stiles’ shoulder.

“Hey there yourself”, he smiles, exchanging an amused look with the Sheriff.

“Son”, he says, nodding at Stiles.

Stiles grunts a greeting back and proceeds to rub his face into Derek’s shirt.

“You okay there?”, Derek asks, grin evident in his voice and Stiles nods against his chest.

“Erica made me drink drinks”, he explains, very seriously and shoots his father a dark look at the answering chuckle.

“Ah”, makes Derek and starts to rub soothing circles between Stiles’ shoulder blades. “Did you two have fun?”

Stiles makes a noncommittal grunt. “She’s mean.”

“Yeah? That’s not very nice.”

“No. I don’t like her anymore”, Stiles agrees and lifts his head a little to nose under Derek’s chin, inhaling the comforting scent of his skin. “I like you, though. You’re always nice to me.”

The arm around his shoulders squeezes tighter once and then there’s a nervous chuckle from Derek. Stiles can feel the skin of Derek’s neck heating up under his chin and he tries chasing the warmth with his lips even though Derek is squirming beneath him.

The Sheriff clears his throat behind them.

“I’m always nice to you, too”, he says, in a tone that’s supposed to be stern but keeps cracking with barely contained laughter.

“Yeah, but you’re my Dad.”

The Sheriff huffs. “You make it sound like such a compliment.”

Stiles lifts his head away from Derek’s neck slightly and squints at his father.

“No, I mean, you’re okay and all…”

“Wow, thanks, seriously.”

“...it’s just - you’re no Derek, right?”

Derek makes an aborted squeaky noise in his throat and the Sheriff gives a throaty chuckle.

“Stiles, don’t say that your father”, Derek admonishes and Stiles flits a look between his flushed face and his father’s wide grin.

“What? It’s true, I like you more”, he says and gives a little shrug at Derek’s pained sigh.

“It’s alright, Derek”, the Sheriff assures him with a hand to Derek’s shoulder, “I knew from day one that  I’d never stand a chance.”

“See?”, Stiles exclaims, pointing a finger at his father’s grinning face. “He doesn’t mind!”

“No. No, son, I don’t mind at all”, he says, in a serious tone of voice that makes him slightly nervous and there’s a trace of something around his eyes that Stiles, in his inebriated state, can’t quite begin to understand.

It doesn’t matter much, Stiles decides a second later, because it makes Derek duck his head and brush his chin against Stiles’ cheek and - oh, now there’s something to explore - and all thoughts about his Dad’s cryptic words fly right out of his head as he slides his fingers into Derek’s beard.

Derek stills at the first touch of Stiles’ fingers to his face, standing stock-still and wide-eyed.

“What’cha doing there?”, the Sheriff asks, amusedly watching Stiles staring in awe at his fingers stroking Derek’s face.

Stiles makes an annoyed noise at his father without taking his eyes off Derek.

“Pssh, Dad, I’m havin’ serious conversations here”, he admonishes, much to the delight of his father.

“Oh, are you now?”

“Yes. Now pssht”, Stiles says, leaning closer to run his nose along Derek’s jaw, continuing in a whisper, “Don’t listen to him, he doesn’t know how to appresh...appreciate you like I do.”

There’s a noise like a dying man from within Derek’s chest then, followed by a pained: “Stiles, please tell me you’re not talking to my beard.”

Stiles scrunches his eyebrows together in a frown. “‘Course I am.”

“Why?”

Stiles leans back a little at that, far enough that he can look Derek in the face again, but not so far that he’ll have to detach his fingers from Derek’s beard, and frowns deeply at him.

“‘Cause I love your beard”, he tells him like he’s stating the obvious, “and I’ve missed it.”

Next to them, Stiles can dimly make out the Sheriff wheezing with laughter, but he’s somewhat distracted by the beautiful color painting Derek’s cheekbones.

“How have you - … It’s not really gone anywhere”, Derek states, mildly confused and Stiles hums very thoughtfully, adds a somber nod to the mix.

“Yeah, ‘xactly. It’s not really gone any … places, lately, if y’know what I mean.”

The laughter next to them rapidly drops off into a groan.

“Oh god, oh please no…”, the Sheriff groans quietly, voice pained.

“Like, for example, my stomach -...” Stiles continues, undeterred and Derek’s eyes widen, horrified, as his meaning sinks in.

“Yeah, no, please, I think we get it, Stiles”, Derek rushes out.

“- ...or my thighs. My thighs really miss your beard, le’me tell you.”

“Alright”, the Sheriff exclaims, clapping his hands together loudly to disrupt Stiles’ speech, “I guess that’s my cue to leave, then.”

Derek throws him a nod and an apologetic look while Stiles fits his face into the curve of Derek’s neck and flaps a dismissive hand into the direction of his father.

“Yeah, yeah, Dad, see you at home, let me and Derek … talk”, he begins, bored, before his words register in his muddled mess of a brain and suddenly, he’s scrambling back from Derek and fixing his father with wide eyes, “Wait, no, Dad, you can’t leave. You gotta stay here.”

The Sheriff lifts a sceptical eyebrow.

“Dad”, Stiles says imploringly, eyes pleading, “You gotta stay here and make me … not say things.”

The Sheriff flits a quick look between his son’s pleading face and Derek  and what he sees makes his face stretch into a wide grin.

“All the more reason for me to leave, I think”, he says, giving Stiles’ shoulder an encouraging squeeze.

“What, no! You’re supposed to be on my side here!”

The Sheriff sighs and throws Stiles a slightly disappointed look.

“But I am, son, don’t you see that by now?”

“Bu- , wha-”, Stiles splutters indignantly and is promptly ignored by the other two men in the conversation.

“You’ll take care of him, right?”, the Sheriff asks Derek above Stiles’ noises.

“Of course, sir.”

His father fixes Stiles with an imploring look.

“See, you’re in good hands. You’ll be fine, Stiles”, he says, and with one last squeeze to Stiles’ shoulders, turns around and leaves them alone.

 

With the natural buffer of his father gone between them, Stiles suddenly feels nervous to the point of nausea, his stomach flipping over onto itself disturbingly.

He slumps against Derek’s chest a little bit, tightening his arms around Derek’s waist to keep the dizziness at bay and opening his mouth to take deep, measured breaths.

“You okay there?”, Derek asks softly from above him, his arm strong and steady around Stiles’ shoulders.

“‘M tired”, Stiles mumbles, because he doesn’t want to tell Derek about the butterflies that are sloshing the alcohol around in his stomach, and only as he says it does he realize it’s true. He’s suddenly terribly, bone-achingly exhausted.

“Wanna try sitting down somewhere?”

Stiles gives a tiny nod, hoping their proximity will make Derek catch it.

Derek gives a light chuckle.

“Alright, think you can make it to the couch?”

Stiles makes a noise somewhere between a grunt and a sigh and then they start moving, Derek dragging Stiles along with him.

There’s chatter all around them and Stiles is dimly aware of people directing concerned questions at Derek, but all he can really focus on is the warm presence of Derek under him, next to him and surrounding him and he buries his face deeper into the soft fabric of Derek’s shirt to block everything else out.

He’s slipping away, Stiles can feel it, even as they’re moving across the room he’s slipping deeper and deeper into unconsciousness and he only drags himself back up to the surface for a few seconds to voice an important question:

“Can I sleep on you?”, he slurs, almost unintelligible, “You’re so nice and cuddly.”

Derek’s throat rumbles against his cheek with what Stiles is almost positive is an affirmative and then he’s being dragged back under, fast enough that he almost - almost - doesn’t catch Derek’s lips moving in his hair, whispering three little words against his scalp and curving a smile into his skin.

 

It’s almost worth the hangover that follows.

 

* * *

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

On the night of the twelve week mark Stiles comes home to the smell of burned cheese and a dejected Derek sitting at the kitchen table in the midst of a sea of unlit candles.

“What’s this all about?”, Stiles asks, carefully, setting his shopping bag onto one of the unoccupied kitchen chairs.

“I cooked dinner”, Derek says, unenthusiastically, and Stiles tries not to glance at the charred mass visible through the open oven door too obviously.

“Oh?”, he makes instead, putting on an encouraging smile. “What did’ya make?”

“Lasagna”, Derek huffs.

“I love lasagna”, Stiles enthuses.

It doesn’t seem to improve Derek’s mood much.

“Yeah”, he mutters instead. “It burned.”

Stiles gnaws at the corner of his mouth to stop from smiling and cocks his head in the direction of the smoking remains of dinner, lifting a teasing eyebrow.

“I kinda figured”, he says, lightly. “Bet you didn’t like that too much, huh?”

“There was smoke everywhere”, Derek says, suddenly horrified, fixing Stiles with a wide-eyed stare. “I was just trying to light some candles but somehow my fingers just wouldn’t cooperate and my breathing was all funny and I kept staring at the lighter without doing anything and I don’t know how, but suddenly, there was smoke everywhere and I couldn’t see and my throat was burning and everything smelled horrible -  … I’m sorry, I don’t know what happened, I should’ve paid better attention.”

Stiles pulls out one of the chairs right across from Derek and sinks down into it, lets his fingers pry the unused lighter out of Derek’s cramped hand.

“Hey, no, it’s not your fault”, he soothes, voice soft and eyes sympathetic, “You just … you don’t really do too well with fire, you know? Kinda why we normally don’t have any of these” - he taps his finger against one of the candles - “lying around here. I probably should’ve told you, at some point, but I just - didn’t know how to, without, you know -”

“Explaining?”, Derek supplies and Stiles winces.

“Yeah. Sorry.”

Derek shrugs and hooks his pinky around Stiles’ pointer finger.

“‘S alright”, he assures Stiles, “I’m getting used to it. I know you’d tell me if you thought it would help.”

And that’s dangerous territory and there’s a bottle of the red wine that is guaranteed to make Derek all warm and giggly in the shopping bag not a foot away from them and Stiles is tired of talking about the hard things all the time. Not tonight.

“So…”, he begins, tapping out a random rhythm against the back of Derek’s hand, “why’d you buy candles in the first place?”
He’s rewarded by a splotchy blush spreading up Derek’s neck and Derek ducking his head in embarrassment.

“It’s been … three months since the accident and I thought things were, you know, getting better between us and I wanted to do something special and make you dinner and stuff, you know, and…”, he clears his throat, rubbing a hand across the back of his neck, “I thought candles would be romantic.”

Stiles ducks his head, trying to meet Derek’s downcast eyes and gives him an encouraging little smile.

“Come on, Der, you don’t need candles for that”, he assures him, a fond smile tugging at his lips, “You - us - this, it’s the most romantic thing I’ve ever known, and we’ve never had candles for that.”

Derek looks up, a cautiously hopeful look on his face and Stiles twines their fingers together on the tabletop.

“Candles or roses or dinners isn’t what makes this romantic -”, Stiles continues softly, “ - you are. Making sure my feet don’t go cold at night. Taking care of my dad for me. Making my cereal before I’m even awake in the morning ‘cause you know I like it extra soggy.”

“I don’t know why, it’s digusting.”

“Shut up. It’s delicious, is what it is”, Stiles retorts and pinches Derek in the forearm when he makes a disagreeing noise, clears his throat lightly before continuing. “You trying to cook me dinner, even though you’re absolute shit at it. Stretching out my shirts cause you and your manly shoulders love to wear them so much.”

Derek lifts an intrigued eyebrow.

“Pretty sure you hate that.”

“Pfft, as if”, Stiles replies, winking at Derek cheekily.

“You’ve yelled at me at least a dozen times because of it”, Derek says, indignantly, huffing when Stiles rolls his eyes at him fondly.

“In case you haven’t noticed, Der ...I’m trying to be all sappy and stuff here, complimenting you and such - are you actively trying to make this extra hard? Cause you’re succeeding, like, real good.”

“Sorry”, Derek answers in a small voice and mimes zipping his mouth shut with the hand not holding Stiles’ on the table.

Stiles smiles at him, slow and warm and fond, and licks his lips.

“This - you fighting me every step of the way but always taking my side over anyone else. You still liking me even when I’m cranky and stupid and confrontational. You - loving me. That’s what makes this romantic”, Stiles tells him softly and smirks a little. “Not open fire.”

Derek’s hand squeezes Stiles’ almost painfully on the table and there’s a slow burn of heat, low in Stiles’ stomach, and for the first time in years, he allows himself to relish the sensation, to revel in the fact that it only grows stronger when Derek motions to his sealed lips and lifts a questioning eyebrow at Stiles.

“Please, go ahead”, he grins.

“That was … uhm, good. Yeah. Pretty good.  You know, for me being the romantic one and all that”, Derek mutters, lifting a hand to the blush on his cheeks.

“Only for you, Der”, Stiles says, smiling sweetly at Derek and wishing he could make him see just how true that statement really is, “Only for you.”

 

When Derek lifts his eyes to Stiles’, there’s tension in them, and desperation and longing, and it makes Stiles go hot all over that, for the first time in what feels like forever, he doesn’t feel the need to step away from it.

There’s electricity in the room, crackling in the air between them, and it’s not a new thing at all;  was there last week and last night and two months ago, Stiles knows it was, but it feels so different now that he’s not deeply afraid of it anymore.

 

The thought is exhilarating.

It’s electrifying.

 

Derek’s stomach growls, loudly, effectively slicing through the tension.

Derek flushes rapidly from the neck upwards, his face mortified, and Stiles laughs.

“I guess it’s a good thing I picked up Chinese on the way here, huh?”, he asks, shooting Derek a wink and getting up to extract the boxes from the shopping bag. Behind him, he can hear Derek opening cupboards to take out plates and cutlery, muttering under his breath.

“What was that?”, Stiles asks, turning around to place the boxes onto the table and propping his hip up against the kitchen counter.

“Nothing, I just … I was really looking forward to that lasagna”, Derek mutters, clearly embarrassed.

Stiles smiles at him sympathetically.

“That’s alright. You’ll get it next time, I promise.”

“I know, it’s just … It was a lot of work, alright?”, Derek sighs, picking at a tiny stain of sauce on the hem of his shirt. “I spent most of the afternoon on the phone with Melissa to make sure it’d be perfect and now - I’ll have to call her and tell her I ruined all of it by burning the damn thing.”

“You did what?”, Stiles can’t help but ask, slightly dumbfounded. “You called Melissa?”

Derek narrows his eyes at him.

“Yeah, what did you think? That I’d just wing your favorite meal ever?”, he asks, like it’s the most unbelievably stupid thing he’s ever heard. “Yeah, I don’t think so.”

Stiles thinks it’s the most adorable thing he’s ever seen.

And then, all of a sudden, the words are there; they’re at the tip of his tongue, they’re sticking to the roof of his mouth, they’re scratching up his throat and blocking his windpipe and   -

 

“I love you.”

 

-  there they are.

 

 

There’s a beat of silence after that, where neither of them breathes and in the quiet, Stiles can hear his heartbeat taking off and trying to crash out of his ribcage. Derek doesn’t blink and neither does Stiles, afraid the fragile moment will shatter into a million irreparable pieces if they break eye contact for even a millisecond.

Stiles’ chest feels tight and hot. All of his blood is rushing to his head. His eyes are starting to tear.

And then Derek moves, in a big giant woosh of breath and air stutters out of Stiles’ lungs in increments.

Derek licks his lips. Derek blinks.

“You … I can’t even remember the last time you said that”, Derek breathes, soft and awed and beautiful.

Stiles tries for a smile. He can feel on his face that it comes out wobbly.

“Me neither”, he replies, his tongue feeling thick and heavy in his mouth.

 

*

 

But that’s not entirely true, is it?

He remembers exactly when he said it last and boy, how he wishes he didn’t.

 

It had been two weeks before Stiles would leave for New York and they had been fighting, about something as stupid as some girl at college apparently having developed a crush on Stiles.

“Who cares about her?! I love you and only you”, Stiles had yelled, screamed, and god how he hates it now, how he hates that he hadn’t said it again later, in a softer tone, in a less charged atmosphere, “Why isn’t that ever enough? Why don’t you trust me?”

Derek had rounded on him, eyes blazing and fists clenched, looking murderous and deeply hurt all at once.

“You know exactly why”, he had hissed and Stiles had felt something inside his chest shatter and crumble.

“I’m not Kate, Derek!”, Stiles had exclaimed, exasperated and enraged and tired of fighting invisible demons every single damn day and he had had to force himself to soften his voice somewhat, to lose the razor sharp edge to his tone, “I could never do something like that to you and you know that.”

“You could leave me”, Derek had answered, tone flat, and the betrayal and fear in his eyes had cut right to the bone, leaving Stiles reeling and breathing harshly.

“I would never do that”, he had replied fiercely, knowing in his heart that he meant every word of it.

 

 

 

Only he had, hadn’t he?

 

 

 

Or maybe that wasn’t the last time at all.

Maybe, after all these years of convincing himself he made the right decision in leaving, he remembers it all wrong; Stiles can’t be entirely sure.

 

 

Maybe this, now, will be the last time.

 

Better make it count, then.

 

*

 

They should be touching, probably, Stiles figures. The empty space between them feels like an ocean and Stiles thinks he’ll gladly let himself be dragged out to sea, now.

 

Derek’s hands twitch at his sides, fingers curling into fists in an aborted move of reaching out and it’s enough for Stiles to slide one foot in front of the other, until the distance between them has narrowed down to a mere foot, until he can make out the light specks of gold in Derek’s irises.

He puts a light hand to Derek’s chest, letting it rest right over his spiking heartbeat, unmoving, until Derek reciprocates by laying both of his hands on Stiles’ hips.

Their chests are almost touching now, the buttons on Stiles’ shirt pushing into Derek’s sweater with every laboured breath they take and Stiles can’t quite decide whether he wants to look at Derek’s lips or his eyes or at the tiny little crease in between his eyebrows and he is in love with every second of this.

 

“I love you”, Stiles says again, just because he can, and because Derek’s neck seems so tense it hurts him just to look at it and because he thinks Derek ought to hear it.

“I - Iloveyoutoo”, Derek stutters out, in a rush, the words tumbling against Stiles’ lips in a hot brush of air, “before you say anything else or distract me again or - just - I didn’t say it before, and I’m sorry, I just - I love you too.”

A giggle pushes itself out of Stiles’ chest almost against his will and he smooths a hand over the hair at Derek’s temple.

“I know. Don’t apologize, please. The only person who should be apologizing here is me, for taking this damn long and even I won’t do that, cause you know what?” Stiles asks, sliding his hand around to rest against the nape of Derek’s neck, “We’re here now, aren’t we? I don’t care about anything else.”

 

The hands around Stiles’ waist tighten, fingers sinking into Stiles’ skin almost painfully, and Derek lets out a shuddering breath, screwing his eyes together tightly and letting his head drop forwards, until his forehead comes to rest against Stiles’.

Their lips are only inches apart and Derek’s breath is warm and moist on Stiles’ skin.

“Please tell me I’m allowed to kiss you now”, Derek whispers into the stillness between them, voice strained.

There’s a sudden spike of heat in Stiles’ stomach that leaves him slightly dizzy and he can’t help the grin that spreads his mouth wide even while his eyelids are sliding shut of their own accord.

“Mhm”, he hums softly, sliding one hand around to press between Derek’s shoulder blades and pushing forward slightly until his nose is bumping Derek’s, until it’s being squashed against Derek’s cheek and their breath is mingling in the sliver of space still separating them.

“Thank God”, Derek whispers on a shaky exhale, his lips just barely brushing Stiles’, and closes the distance between them.

The first brush of lips is so soft that Stiles almost feels like he’s imagining it, chaste and careful and barely there.

 

It makes his stomach flip over onto itself all the same.

 

Stiles stands stockstill and tries not to hyperventilate at the sheer tenderness of it all, lets Derek do his thing one, two, three times, every brush of his lips a silent promise in its delicacy.

On the fourth graze of skin on skin, Stiles can’t help but make an impatient noise in the back of his throat and press himself closer, put pressure on what otherwise barely qualifies as a kiss.

He gets a hand inside the hair at the nape of Derek’s neck and tugs lightly, willing him to reciprocate and almost instantly, he can feel Derek’s lips curl into a grin beneath his, his arms curling tighter around Stiles’ waist, until there’s not a breath of space left between them.

Their noses bump together when Stiles tries changing the angle and the grin on Derek’s face means Stiles is mostly kissing his teeth and it’s so overwhelmingly, mindblowingly perfect that Stiles can’t help but grin along with Derek.

Their teeth clack together with a resounding thud and a giggle escapes Derek.

“We’re so bad at this”, he murmurs against Stiles’ lips, amusement making his voice tremble.

Shaking his head, Stiles goes to press a kiss to the corner of Derek’s mouth and lands just shy of his left nostril.

“Nah, we’re awesome at this, we’re just out of practice”, he assures Derek, wagging his eyebrows teasingly and grinning when Derek rolls his eyes fondly.

“Maybe if you could just stand still for a damn second”, Derek murmurs, taking Stiles’ face into both hands, effectively keeping him still and swipes his thumb across a flushed cheekbone.

“Hey, I’m not -”, Stiles starts to protest half-heartedly just when Derek’s swooping in again, sliding his bottom lip right in between Stiles’ lips and silencing any further protest.

This kiss is different than the ones before, all heat and passion and confidence and it leaves Stiles dizzy and breathless within the first minute.

 

He’d forgotten it could feel like this.

Derek sucks on his bottom lip and Stiles can’t believe how deeply in denial he’d been these last years, how thoroughly he had convinced himself that he could live without this, that he could replace this and be happy with the substitute version of it, that he could leave Derek and not miss this for the rest of his life.

 

He can’t.

He won’t.

 

He pulls Derek’s bottom lip into his mouth and gives it a playful bite before pulling back slightly to lean his forehead against Derek’s and try to catch his breath.

They’re both panting.

“I’ve missed you”, Derek breathes onto Stiles’ lips, takes the sentiment right out of Stiles’ mouth and makes it his own and Stiles allows himself a millisecond to feel sad about how sincere Derek sounds even though he doesn’t even know the half of it.

“Me too”, he whispers back instead, leaning forward to press a lingering kiss to the corner of Derek’s mouth.

 

He’s not really sure what he means by it but he doesn’t care enough to examine it too closely. He likes the ambiguity of the statement.

It’s all true, after all.

 

 

*

 

 

 

When Stiles wakes up the next morning, he’s warm and cozy and buried deep into his blankets and it’s only when he blinks awake enough to turn onto his side that he notices Derek’s side of the bed is empty and gone cold.

 

He skips down the stairs humming under his breath, his stomach already growling at the thought of breakfast. When he rounds the corner into the kitchen, Derek is nowhere to be seen, but there’s a pot of brewed coffee on the counter, so Stiles pours himself a cup and goes wandering out into the living room in search of him.

There’s no Derek in the living room, but there’s a medium sized cardboard box on the coffee table that looks vaguely familiar to Stiles. He crosses the room to look at it more closely, his heart giving a painful squeeze as he realizes the top of the box is open, its contents spread all around the table, spilling onto the carpet.

There’s a small grey jewellery box sitting just left of the open cardboard box, placed right into the middle of a piece of paper, acting as a makeshift paperweight.

 

Distantly, Stiles is aware of the sound of his cup shattering on the hardwood floor, spilling hot coffee over Stiles’ naked toes, but he barely registers it, eyes glued instead to the words scrawled hurriedly across the piece of paper in a dark blue:

 

I remember now. I’m sorry.

 

 

*

 

It’s been five hours.

 

Five hours since Stiles found the ring box with Derek’s message beneath it, five hours since he teared through the house in a frantic search for him, five hours since he sat down in front of the window with the best view of the frontyard, his hands clutching his phone painfully, five hours since he sent out a mass text to all of his friends.

 

Derek remembered. Please make sure he’s safe.

 

Five hours since he made his father promise to send out a few patrol cars to search the area.

 

Five hours that Stiles has spent wringing his hands and tugging at his hair in frustration, going over every single second of last night, every word, every touch, every thought that could have triggered this, that could have made Derek go in search of his box of forbidden memories.

Every single way that he could have prevented this.

He tries hard not to feel sorry for himself too much, but it’s difficult, after last night, to know that he has, in all likelihood, just lost Derek all over again.

 

Most of all, though, Stiles tries hard not to lose himself in a panic.

He almost succeeds.

 

*

 

“Your heart is racing” Derek mumbles, lips pressed to Stiles’ skin, just above his left nipple.

Stiles huffs at the sensation and squirms, shoving at Derek’s head half-heartedly.

“Stop that. You’re tickling me.”

“You’re not having a panic attack, are you?” Derek asks, smirking, but he moves his lips away from Stiles’ chest obligingly, dips down to mouth at his belly button instead.

“What? No!” Stiles presses out around his hitching breath, tries futilely to get his heartbeat under control.

Derek rubs his beard across the soft part of Stiles’ belly and looks up at Stiles from under his eyelashes, smiling teasingly.

“What, you nervous then?”

Stiles can feel his face heat up under Derek’s playful gaze.

“Pffft, no”, he mutters.

Derek lifts his head away from Stiles’ skin.

“What are you nervous about?”, Derek asks, face genuinely perplexed.

Stiles squeezes his eyes together and puts a hand to his forehead, squeezes the other one into Derek’s shoulder, hard, in a silent plea to stop.

“Pretty sure we’ve done this before, once or twice”, Derek continues.

“Yeah, no, that’s not it.”

“I’m also preeetty sure we’re quite good at it.”

Stiles opens one eye to throw Derek a disapproving look and stares right into Derek’s disarmingly blinding smile.

Stiles lets out a shaky breath and drops the hand on his forehead to rest at the point where Derek’s neck meets his shoulder. The steady pulse of his blood under Stiles’ fingers is calming.

“That’s not it either”, he sighs finally.

“What’s it then?”

Stiles scrunches up his nose in embarrassment.

“I’m gonna have to tell you to stop this soon”, he confesses, cheeks tinging red as he makes an awkward hand gesture towards their naked torsos, “And I really don’t want to.”

Derek looks confused, brows drawn down into a frown.

“Then don’t?” he supplies, ducking his head down to press a soft kiss to Stiles’ collarbone. “I don’t wanna stop either.”

Stiles groans softly and gets a hand into Derek’s hair to tug his head up and off his skin.

“It’s not that easy and you know it”, he whines, gets a hand around Derek’s jaw to make him look at him. “You know we shouldn’t do anything...more until you get your memory back, right? You still don’t have all the information, that’s no basis for good decision-making, I’m sorry.”

Derek huffs in frustration, rolling his eyes at Stiles.

“I know enough”, he insists, turning his head just enough to press a kiss into Stiles’ palm. “I know you.

Stiles swallows hard against the lump forming in his throat.

“You don’t even know what questions to ask”, he whispers, carefully, and he can see in Derek’s eyes that he wants to protest and contradict him, but in the end, they both know it’s the truth.

Derek blows out a measured breath and lets his shoulders slump.

“Fine”, he acquiesces, “You’re right. That’s not how this should go.”

“Thank you”, Stiles says, leaning up to capture Derek’s lips in a kiss.

 

“Kissing is still on the menu, though, right?” Derek asks as soon as they come up for air, his lips still hovering over Stiles’.

Stiles smirks and tugs at Derek’s arms where they’re holding him up, until Derek has no other choice but to lower his weight onto Stiles, who winds both of his arms around Derek’s neck tightly and grins up at him.

“Oh yeah, totally.”

 

*

 

He gets a text from Erica just after darkness falls.

 

Found him. He’s upset, but otherwise okay. Going to stay with us for the night, though. Sorry, Bambi :(  Get some rest. xo

 

And that’s good news, right?

Stiles knows, intellectually, that that’s good news, that it’s about as good as one can expect from someone who’s just found out that the person he’s been snuggling up to for months has been lying about the fact that he’s actually the ex who up and left him out of the blue three years ago.

But still - Derek is upset and hurting and probably overwhelmingly confused and it hurts like a bitch that here - home, with Stiles - isn’t deemed safe anymore.

It hurts even more to realize that all of last night was a fever dream that Derek’s woken up from, leaving Stiles the only one still caught in the throes of this nightmare.

 

He goes upstairs to take Erica’s advice and get some rest, the long hours of waiting having worn him thin, and his steps are loud in the empty house as he drags his feet up the stairs one at a time.

It’s strange; he doesn’t think he’s ever been alone in this house without Derek before.

 

The feeling gets more acute when he enters the bedroom. The bed is still rumpled, left exactly as it was when Stiles rolled out of it ten hours ago, and the curtains are drawn. The closet door is standing wide open even though Stiles can’t remember looking for something in there, seeing as he’s still in the sweats and t-shirt he lazily pulled on this morning before going downstairs, and when he goes to close it, he realizes it must have been Derek who left it open.

The clothes inside are in unusual disarray, half of them shoved haphazardly to the side, rumpled dress shirts on top of the mountain of clothes from where they seem to have slipped off their hangers and there’s an obvious explanation for the display of chaos - the gaping hole where the box had been, shoved right to the very back of the closet.

 

Stiles wonders if Derek had remembered and started looking for it specifically, or if all of this had just been a spectacular catastrophe of coincidences. He wonders if he’ll ever be allowed to ask, now.

He closes the closet door and sits down heavily on the edge of the bed.

 

He can still smell Derek in here. He can still hear his soft breathing, he can still see the quiet smile he wears in the mornings after he’s just woken up. He can still feel Derek in here, his touch and his lips and his breath on the back of Stiles’ neck.

 

He can’t stay here.

 

 

He sends a text to Erica:

 

I can’t be here for this, I’m sorry. You have my number this time, I expect you to use it. Take care of him for me, please. I’ll be back for the wedding.

 

And then he gets his backpack and throws in all the things he’s left here over the last three months, the books and shirts, his laptop and his cell phone charger. He leaves anything that’s replaceable.

 

He doesn’t want to stay another second in this house that isn’t his.

 

*

 

The next morning, he’s on a plane to New York.

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

When Stiles gets off the plane in New York, there are two texts waiting for him on his phone.

 

There’s one from Erica.

 

I’m giving you two days to mope, then I’m calling you!!!  

 

And then there’s one from Derek.

 

Thank you, is all it says.

 

Stiles stares at it for a full minute, not entirely sure if he’s being thanked for staying or leaving.

 

Ignoring the text from Erica, he types out a quick You’re welcome to Derek before pocketing his phone and joining the masses around him in looking for a bus to take him into the city.

 

He’s not expecting a response and he doesn’t get one.

 

* * *

 

True to her word, Erica calls Stiles on his third day of being back in New York.

 

“How’re you doing?”, she asks as soon as Stiles picks up, no greeting, no nothing and Stiles sits down heavily onto his bed, puts his head in his hands.

No time for pleasantries, then.

“Fine”, he answers curtly and sits out the pause that follows, both waiting for the other to speak.

After a minute or two of silence, Erica lets out a noisy breath of air against the phone receiver.

“Really?”, she asks, incredulous. “That’s how we’re playing this?”

Stiles lets himself fall onto his back on the mattress and squints at the large water stain in the right hand corner of his ceiling.

He thinks it’s gotten bigger in the time he’s been away.

“Yeah”, he hears himself say absentmindedly, “I guess so.”

There’s a snort of frustration on the other line and for a brief moment, Stiles feels bad. He hadn’t meant to snap at Erica; she’d just ended up being the last in a long line of people grating on his nerves today and, incidentally, the first one where he could actually act on his frustrations without having to fear any serious repercussions.

It’s a combination that’s driven his father mad in Stiles’ teenage days, when everything was hormones and grief and frustration and he thinks about telling Erica about his day, about all of the professors he had to grovel to, all of the stories he had to make up to explain his unexcused absence, all of the shit he had to nod his head to today.

In the end, he decides he’s too tired to do it.

And so, when Erica says - “Oh, game on, Stilinski. I can wait you out, no problem. Expect a call in two days.” - all Stiles can do is nod silently into his phone and wait for the dial tone.

 

 

* * *

 

“So?”, Erica asks when Stiles picks up the phone two days later.

“Hi Erica”, he says, rolling his eyes.

“Hello Stiles”, she answers, voice dripping with sweetness, “How are we doing today?”

Stiles comes to a stop at a traffic light and sighs heavily.

“Fine”, he replies and imagines the eye-roll Erica must be executing right about now.

“Wonderful”, Erica replies. “How’s the weather over there? I hear it’s getting colder now?”

Stiles chances a look at the sky, all grey in grey, and thinks, for the third time today, that tomorrow, he’ll remember the scarf.

“Yeah, I’ve seen nicer days.”

“Mhm”, Erica makes, all fake interest, “And the subways? Crowded as ever, I imagine?”

The light turns green and Stiles starts walking.

“Sure, yeah.”

“Good to know, good to know”, Erica says and Stiles rolls his eyes. “How’re your neighbors doing? Talked to any of those recently?”

“Erica.”

“What? I’m just making conversation. That’s how this works, you know. One person asks questions, the other answers”, she says, dropping the overly sweet tone, “Pretty simple concept, actually.”

Stiles rolls his eyes heavenward. The clouds are hanging dangerously low.

“Fine”, he acquiesces with a heavy sigh.

There’s a beat of silence. Stiles turns a corner.

“Yes?”, Erica prompts

Another sigh.

“How’s everything back home?”, Stiles bites out, clenches the hand not holding his phone into a fist, digging his nails into the flesh of his palm.

Erica makes a satisfied noise.

“Fine”, she says, smirk evident in her voice and - god, she’s enjoying this way too much.

“Erica”, Stiles grits out.

“What?”, she asks, all innocence, “If you wanna know about something specific - just ask.”

Stiles clenches his jaw, so hard his muscles ache with it, and he’s pretty certain his nails are drawing blood and he wants to throw his phone under a bus, but still - he knows she’s never going to tell him anything if he doesn’t ask.

He figures she must be pretty pissed at him.

One finger at a time, Stiles forces himself to unclench his fist. He rolls his neck and closes his eyes briefly, taking a deep breath and letting go of the last shreds of his dignity in a big breath of air towards the sky.

“How’s Derek?”

“Fine”, Erica purrs, triumph evident in her voice.

Stiles stops walking abruptly in the middle of the sidewalk and promptly gets bumped into the shoulder for it.

“Are you fucking kidding me?”

“I told you I could wait you out.”
“Erica.”

“I’ll call you.”

Erica!

 

* * *

 

Being in New York is different, this time around.

Stiles still goes to school and he still hangs out with his friends and he still goes to work, day in and day out, but it all feels different now.

His classes are harder and his professors are less lenient and his friends all look at him strangely, like they don’t quite know what to do with him now that they’ve realized they’re missing an important piece of the puzzle - afraid of asking the wrong questions or aggressively invading his privacy in their quest for answers.

 

It makes him feel lonely in a city filled to the brim with people.

 

 

* * *

 

 

“Can we not do this today, please?”, Stiles answers the phone tiredly before Erica can even say a word, propping his elbow onto the table and leaning the weight of his head against the phone in his hand. “I’ve had a long day, I really don’t feel like being passive-aggressively chewed out by you again…”

There’s silence on the other line for a moment, then the sound of someone moving around and a door closing softly.

“Okay”, Erica replies in a calm tone. Her voice sounds closer to the phone today. “Tell me about your day, then.”

 

 

* * *

 

He meets up with Lydia for coffee once a week.

 

“So you just...left?”, she asks him, that first week, after he’s finished telling her about the disaster that was Beacon Hills.

“I … yes.”

“Why?”, she asks, eyebrows drawn together in a frown, “That seems pretty stupid, even for you.”

Stiles stays silent and starts tearing his napkin into tiny little pieces. The cafe is buzzing with energy around them, luring people inside with the promise of hot chocolate and shelter from the rainy day outside and Stiles despises every single one of them.

“Come on, Stiles, talk to me”, Lydia says, voice soft, drawing Stiles’ attention away from the throng of loud tourists at the counter, “I know you’re hurting, but we’re not gonna figure this out if you don’t tell me what happened.”

“There’s nothing to figure out”, Stiles replies.

“Bullshit.”

“I did what I came there to do, alright? What else was there -”

“Bullshit.”

“STOP -”, Stiles explodes, ducks his head almost instantly at the volume of his voice and goes on in a more subdued fashion, “Stop saying that.”

“Well stop bullshitting me, then”, Lydia answers smoothly and fixes Stiles with an expectant look.

Stiles sighs and pushes the heel of his hand into his eye, gives a humorless little laugh.

“I was scared, alright? That honest enough for you?” he starts, still defensive. “I was scared shitless. I mean, really, what else do you guys expect of me? I’m head over heels in love with Derek again, after I’ve spent years trying to be okay with not having him in my life anymore and I told him I loved him and he said it back and it was perfect and then not ten hours later, he wakes up and suddenly - he remembers every single terrible thing we ever did to each other.”

Stiles lifts his eyes from the shredded napkin in his fingers and finds Lydia watching him with a sympathetic look in her eyes.

“That’s hard, Stiles, I know, I can’t even imagine how hard - but isn’t it for the best that he got his memories back? Better sooner than later, right?”

“Of course it’s good!”, Stiles exclaims, throwing his hands and making several heads turn. “It’s awesome for him. But for me - all it means is I have no idea where we stand. Does he still love me, now that he knows what I did to him? Does he hate me for lying? Does he feel like I took advantage of his vulnerable state to seduce him back into a relationship with me? What did it do to him to suddenly remember every tragic thing that ever happened to him all at once? Is he still the person that I love? Has he gone back to how he was before, trust issues the size of the Pacific Ocean?  Is he worse now? I don’t know the answer to any of those questions. And I know it makes me a coward, but I can’t be there to watch him realize that he put his trust in me and I …just...”

Stiles makes himself break off before his voice starts cracking and shakes his head, throws Lydia a sad smile.

“You did the best you could, Stiles. You shouldn’t have been put into that position in the first place”, Lydia assures him.

Stiles nods, slowly, and starts gathering the shreds of his napkin into a little mountain in the center of the table.

“I know that”, he says, “And I don’t even regret it all that much - it made me let go of a lot of bad feelings, so that’s good, at least.”

A whole cluster of people leave the coffee shop all at once, bringing with them a gust of cold wind. Stiles stares at the water running down the windows outside and thinks he should have just stayed in bed, today.

“So now what?”, Lydia asks, disrupting his thoughts. “You’re just gonna hide here like you did for the last three years because you’re afraid of getting the answers to some hard questions?”

Stiles sighs, hard enough to blow some of his napkin shreds into Lydia’s lap.

“It’s not just about that”, he replies then, shooting Lydia a disapproving glance. “I just feel like it’s only right to give Derek some time to process all of this. I don’t think it would’ve been fair of me to stay there and put all of these hopes and expectations on him. It took me a really long time to get over all of the bad feelings I harbored towards him and get to a point where I can see him as the person I’ve always loved again, without it being tainted by bad memories - and I think he deserves that time as well.”

He looks up to see Lydia nodding along slightly to what he’s saying, lips pressed together in a thin line.

“And, even more than that, I want to be sure that, if anything more is going to happen between us, it won’t be out of gratitude or a sense of obligation”, Stiles continues, twisting his hands together in his lap. “He said he loved me - but he didn’t really know who he was saying it to. I’m not gonna hold him to that.”

 

 

* * *

 

 

It’s Saturday when Erica calls next.

“Is that what you think I’ve been doing?”, she asks. “Being passive-aggressive? Chewing you out?”

Stiles takes the mug of tea he’s just poured over to the coffee table and plops himself down on the couch.

“Well - yeah”, he admits and tucks his legs under himself, sneaks a hand out to grab the quilt draped over the back of the couch. “I mean, your face should totally be plastered right next to the entry in a dictionary, you’re like the queen of passive-aggressive.”

Erica snorts a laugh and Stiles feels a light smile tugging at his lips.

“Yeah, that’s fair, alright”, she concedes, tone light, “but I wasn’t like...trying to punish you, you know that, right?”

Stiles snorts.

“Okay, fine, I was totally trying to punish you at first”, she admits, her tone still light, “but you gotta admit you had it coming, right?”

Stiles makes a noncommittal noise in the back of his throat, watching the steam rise from his cup of tea.

“Anyway”, Erica continues, “after that initial - you know - knee-jerk reaction of being mean to you, I just … I wanted to get you talking again, you know?”

Stiles takes a tentative sip of tea and promptly burns his tongue.

“You were just so closed off about the whole thing, you know? It felt like you didn’t think you could talk to me anymore, just because for some dumb reason, you feel like I was Derek’s friend first”, she says and the disapproval is palpable under her soft tone of voice. “And that’s just bullshit.”

Stiles puts his mug back on the table and brings his hand to his mouth instead, prods a fingernail against the tender spot on his tongue where the tea burnt.

Erica is still talking, voice rising in volume.

“We’re not some kind of package deal where when you stop talking to one of us, everyone else will turn their back on you. We’re fully capable of being Derek’s and your friend and you better get that through that thick skull of yours, and soon.”

There’s a pause in her speech when she takes a breath and Stiles can sense another wave of words coming his way.

“Okay”, he says, to stop her before she goes off again and because he gets it, he does, he understands what Erica’s saying and it finally is okay.

Erica lets out a slow breath on the other line that sounds like relief.

“Okay. Good”, she says and finally, Stiles thinks, she sounds like she means it.

“How’s Derek doing?”, Stiles asks into the silence that follows, because if there’s one thing he’s tired of, after all of this,  it’s pretending.

“He’s doing good”, Erica says and it’s all warmth and softness and honesty, now. “He still gets quiet sometimes, and sad, but mostly, he’s doing okay. For what can be expected. He started seeing his therapist again and he’s dealing with it all as best as he can. He’s taking care of himself and we’re all looking out for him, too, I promise.”

There’s quite a lot of air that seems to be trapped in Stiles' lungs, he realizes, and he forces it out slowly now, in shuddering increments, until his ribcage doesn’t feel quite so tight with anxiety anymore, until he can breathe again, shallowly.

“That’s good”, he whispers with what little air he has left. “Thank you.”

“He misses you”, Erica says, softly, like she’s not quite sure she gets to say this.

Stiles closes his eyes and breathes deeply.

 

* * *

 

He sees Derek everywhere he goes, now.

Every stranger at a street crossing, every reflection in a shop window, every half-hidden face in a crowd - he sees Derek in all of them.

It’s like a dam has been broken and now that he’s allowed himself to feel the pain and grief of missing Derek  in its entirety , it’s all his mind can come up with when left idle for too long.

 

In a city chosen expressly to put as much distance as possible between himself and his heartbreak, he feels suddenly surrounded by it, drowning in it.

 

Maybe that’s what’s most different about New York, this time around.

 

* * *

 

Stiles is in the middle of picking out Halloween candy when the call comes through.

“Please tell me you’re not serious about this, dude” Scott whines down the line, all pleading and high notes.

Stiles lowers his basket to the ground.

“Hi Scott”, he sighs. “Serious about what?”

“Your dad just told me you’re not coming to Thanksgiving”, Scott replies. “What the hell, man?”

Stiles winces.

“Yeah, sorry buddy, probably not”, he admits reluctantly.

“Why not? I thought we were over that whole not-visiting crap.”

“Apparently not”, Stiles sighs. “It’s just - it’s gonna be so weird, with Derek there and - “

“Oh my god, this again? Are you kidding me?”, Scott groans down the line and Stiles vividly imagines Scott face-palming all the way across country right about now. “I can’t believe you two. Why you gotta make everything so damn complicated all the time? How’d you ever even manage to be on the same page long enough to get together in the first place?”

Stiles taps his shoe against the squeaky linoleum floor of the supermarket in an uneven rhythm, trying to dispel some of his nervous energy and smiles apologetically at a woman watching him suspiciously from a few feet away.

“Beats me”, he finally replies with a deep sigh.

“Just...think about it. Please?”, Scott asks. “We’d really like you to be there.”

“Scott, I don’t -”

“Please?”, Scott repeats and Stiles can practically feel his puppy-dog eyes over the line.

Stiles rolls his eyes to the Reese’s in front of him.

“Fine. I’ll think about it.”

 

* * *

 

 

He doesn’t think about it. Not with any real intention of changing his mind, anyway.

Not until, one day, he gets out of the lecture theatre to find a new text on his phone.

 

If what it takes for you to come home is for me to stay away, I will.

 

Stiles just about refrains from smashing his phone against the ground.

Stop with that self-sacrificing shit, you idiot!

 

He almost feels bad about opening the channels of communication back up like that, but alas, he’s had a really long day. His patience is practically non-existent at this point.

 

Wow. Back to name-calling already, huh? That was fast.

 

He’s just got on the subway by the time the text comes in, so he spends a relaxing twenty minutes composing and deleting and re-composing an appropriate answer until he gets enough of a signal to send it.

 

Damn right we are if you honestly think I’m gonna make you do that! You should get to spend Thanksgiving with your family and friends. Especially after what happened.

 

The response is rapid-fire quick.

 

So should you. Especially after what happened.

 

Stiles can’t help but snort a little, reading that. He forgot how easy this used to be.

 

I guess that puts us at a bit of an impasse then,doesn't it?

 

Does it?

 

Stiles can well imagine the confused frowny face Derek is probably making just about now.

 

I thought you wouldn’t want me to be there.

 

Why would you think that?

 

I just … assumed, Stiles types while rounding a corner and almost collides with an older woman who tuts at him disapprovingly for having his eyes glued to his phone.

 

Well don’t.

 

Alright?

 

He’s almost to his apartment building now and Stiles thinks idly about calling Scott to yell at him about getting Derek involved.

 

So you’ll come?

 

I don’t know. Maybe.

 

Stiles settles for switching tabs and typing out a quick text to his life-long best friend (Low blow, buddy. Low blow.) He has no interest in dealing with Scott’s whining over the phone.

 

Just … don’t stay away on my account.

 

Okay. I won’t.

 

He’s at his apartment door now, fishing out his keys with one hand and getting into a staring contest with Mrs Walloway’s poodle while they’re passing him in the hallway.

 

Good.

 

Good.

 

 

Scott doesn’t reply.

 

 

* * *

 

He manages to go a whole week without revisiting the subject.

He thinks about it, extensively; about going back for Thanksgiving and seeing Derek again, talking to Derek, being confined to an enclosed space with Derek, having to interact with Derek with his friends and family watching on - on his way to school, in his lectures, on the subway, but he doesn’t talk to anyone about it. He feels like it’s not up for discussion yet, this fragile sort of truce they’ve got going on.

On the seventh day, when he realizes  there are some variables to this whole endeavour that he won’t be able to make sense of on his own, he texts Derek.

 

So...does that mean you’re not mad at me then?

 

He’s in bed already, lying on top of the covers in his sweats and an old shirt, old episodes of Parks and Recreation playing on his laptop in the background.

 

Why would I be?

 

The reply comes in under two minutes, so fast that Stiles entertains himself with the notion that Derek has been lying in wait by his phone for a week, hoping for Stiles to reopen the conversation. It’s a worryingly pleasant thought.

 

Oh c’mon, don’t play dumb.

 

I’m not mad. You did your best with an awful situation.

 

That’s almost exactly what Lydia said.

 

Well we don’t call her a genius for nothing, do we?

 

Stiles stares down at his phone, tearing at the skin around his thumb nail with his teeth until he tastes blood, debating whether or not to broach more delicate subjects.

All in the name of getting on the same page, right?

 

I left, though.

 

Stiles can feel his heartbeat pick up pace as he stares at the little line of text next to Derek’s icon, informing him that Derek is in the process of writing a response.

He takes an awfully long time for what he sends, in the end.

 

Yeah. Not your smartest move, I admit, but … I think I get why you did it.

 

Stiles reads it over three times before he can even think about forming a reply.

 

Wow, you’re being awfully chill about this. I just wanna say, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you the truth earlier. I had my reasons for that and I still think it was probably the safest approach for your psychological well-being, but I get that you probably felt betrayed because of it and that’s the last thing I wanted for you.

 

Stiles pauses the episode on his laptop and tries to organize his jumbled thoughts, to get some semblance of order to the apologies that want to pour out of him now that he’s given the chance and he’s composed another two paragraphs of text before a reply from Derek makes him pause.

 

Stiles. How about we don’t have this conversation via text?

 

Stiles presses the delete button for a long time.

 

Right. Yeah. Sorry.

 

See you at Thanksgiving?

 

Stiles breathes deeply, once, twice, and lets his fingers fly over the keys of their own accord.

 

Yeah, I think. Yes.

 

Good. See you then, Stiles.

 

See you then.

 

* * *

Chapter Text

 

Thanksgiving approaches quickly, after that.

Stiles books himself a seat on the same plane that Lydia plans to take and calls his Dad, who’s ecstatic when he hears the news.

After that, it’s all hour-long skype sessions with Erica, psyching himself up for the awkwardness to come and letting Lydia make all of his clothing decisions.

They only have to talk him out of bailing on the whole thing four times and Lydia is determined to count that as a win.

Stiles doesn’t think he’s ever been this nervous to get on a plane in his life.

 

* * *

 

Allison picks him up at the airport when they land.

After they’ve said goodbye to Lydia who’s parting ways with them to spend the day at her parents’, Stiles slings the arm that’s not holding his bag around Allison’s shoulder and bumps her hip with his.

“Man, I’m so glad you’re here”, he tells her whole-heartedly.

Allison chuckles and flashes him her dimples.

“Scott wanted to come pick you up, originally.”

Stiles groans.

“Don’t get me wrong, you know I love that kid to death, but I’m so happy you’re here instead.”

“Yeah, Lydia instructed me not to let you get harassed before you even set a foot in the door and I figured trapping you inside a tiny car with Scott’s meddling for thirty minutes probably counts as such, so...here I am”, she winks at him and Stiles plants a wet kiss on her cheek.

“See? That’s why you’re my absolute favorite”, Stiles enthuses, squeezing her shoulder, “I’m so glad my future sister-in-law feels my pain, that’s like - the most important, I’m tellin’ ya.”

Allison elbows him in the side playfully as they make their way to the parking lot.

“Stop saying that, we’re not even engaged yet.”

“Pfft”, Stiles makes, waving her concerns away with a flail of his hands, “Semantics, shmemantics...” and gets an elbow to the ribs for his troubles.

 

* * *

 

Everyone is already there when Stiles arrives, chatting away excitedly in the foyer of Stiles’ childhood home. A slight hush settles over them as soon as Stiles steps through the door and Scott wastes no time in darting over and wrapping Stiles up in a tight hug.

“‘m so glad you’re here, man”, Scott sighs happily between enthusiastic pats to Stiles’ back, “Thanksgiving’s not the same without you.”

“Yeah, me too”, Stiles replies, patting Scott’s back absentmindedly, his eyes automatically seeking out Derek over Scott’s shoulder.

He’s standing off to the side somewhat, looking uncertain and shifty and Stiles’ heart throbs painfully with how much he wants to go over there and crack a joke just to watch him relax.

He untangles himself from Scott’s hold and makes his way around the room, purposefully avoids looking in Derek’s direction while hugging and kissing and greeting the rest of his extended family.

He feels it takes an extraordinary amount of focus to keep his eyes from wandering, the skin on the back of his neck prickling with it.

When Stiles finally comes to a stop in front of Derek, the last one in his round of hello, the room falls quiet around them.

Stiles can’t help but grimace at the awkwardness of it all, sees his own incredulity mirrored back at him in the way that Derek’s eyes flit around over Stiles’ shoulder, wide and disapproving.

Stiles leans in slightly and there seems to be a collective intake of breath from behind him.

“They all staring at us or what?” Stiles whispers.

Derek’s eyes flit to his for a second, making eye contact for the first time in weeks and already, Stiles feels like coming here was a bad idea.

With another quick glance over Stiles’ shoulder, Derek gives a sharp jerk of his head and Stiles rolls his eyes.

“Man, they’ve got to find some sort of chill, seriously”, Stiles murmurs, startling a chuckle out of Derek and Stiles watches, fascinated, as Derek’s shoulders sag into a soft-looking slope in the wake of it.

Taking advantage of the lighthearted moment between them, Stiles tips forward to wrap his arms around Derek’s shoulders, squeezing gently and breathing “Hi Derek” into the curve of his neck.

There’s a second of hesitation that Stiles feels in the pit of his stomach before Derek’s hands move and settle lightly against Stiles’ back in return, making Stiles’ lungs seize up uncomfortably and before Derek can do much more than reciprocate the greeting and squeeze briefly, Stiles is already halfway across the room again, slugging a grinning Scott in the shoulder.

 

 

* * *

 

Dinner is awkward, to say the least.

People seem to be divided on how to approach the elephant in the room that is DerekandStiles, with Boyd and Isaac resolutely sticking to discussing the latest in baseball while Erica tries to keep Stiles occupied with wedding talk and the Sheriff interjects pointed questions about Stiles’ plans for the future.

He’s only been home for two hours and already, Stiles can feel his patience wearing thin.

He wonders if this is what Derek has to deal with on a daily basis, wonders how he can possibly bear it, everyone always trying to butt in on his personal life all the time.

Wonders what they’ve been saying to him about Stiles in all the years he’s been away.

A glance across the table doesn’t reveal much in terms of answers - Derek mostly stares at his plate in silence and acts like he’s not being talked about in thinly veiled metaphors.

 

* * *

 

“Hey, so … have you guys thought about a date for the wedding yet?”

The main part of dinner is over, everyone slumped down in their chairs, filled up on food and drink and talk. There’s a slight lull in the conversation that comes with being too full to move and Stiles is quite determined to take matters into his own hands and make the next topic of conversation not about him.

John and Melissa exchange a quick look.

The Sheriff clears his throat.

“We’re, uhm… actually, we’re still waiting to see how some things, uh -  develop before making any decisions, so…yeah.”

A tense silence has descended over the table and Melissa shifts uncomfortably in her seat, keeping her eyes fixed on her empty plate.

Stiles narrows his eyes suspiciously at his father.

“Like what?”

John huffs and makes a vague hand gesture. “Like … we don’t even know where you’re gonna be a year from now!”

Stiles flicks his eyes over to where Derek is still focused resolutely on his plate. Everyone else is staring at him.

He looks his father dead in the eyes.

“Yes you do”, he grits out between clenched teeth. “I’ll be in New York a year from now.”

John heaves a sigh and holds his palms out towards Stiles in a placating manner.

“Look, Stiles, you don’t have to -”

“No, Dad, there’s nothing to discuss”, he clarifies, rolling his eyes at him. “I only have two semesters of school left, I’m not gonna just … Whatever happens” - he cuts a quick glance over to Derek only to find he’s finally torn his eyes away from his plate and is already staring back at him, an unreadable expression on his face that makes Stiles’ stomach convulse uncomfortably - “No matter what happens, I’m not going anywhere until I finish school.”

It’s suddenly become quite difficult to swallow, Stiles finds. Derek’s eyes are burning holes in the side of Stiles’ face.

He pushes back from the table in a hurry, the legs of his chair scraping obnoxiously over the hardwood floor and fixes his father with a pointed look.

“Quit stalling, Dad”, he says and without another glance at the table, leaves the room.

 

 

* * *

 

Derek finds him on the back porch, leaning against the railing and nursing a beer.

Stiles inclines his head in greeting when Derek leans next to him, otherwise keeping his eyes focused straight ahead.

“It’s a bit much in there, isn’t it?”, Derek muses, quietly.

Stiles takes a swig of his beer.

“Yeah, sorry”, Stiles sighs, rubbing a hand across his mouth. “They’re just - god, they’re so damn pushy.”

He thunks his bottle against the railing in frustration, startles slightly as some of the liquid spills over onto his hand, sticky and cold.

Derek chuckles warmly next to him.

“Yeah, tell me about it”, he says, tone fond and only slightly exasperated. “Did you know that after you left - ... um, here, I was presented with plane tickets to New York on no less than three separate occasions?”

Stiles turns his head to stare at the side of Derek’s face, relaxed and soft in the warm light streaming through the screen door.

“Seriously?”

“Yep.”

Derek pops the ‘p’ and turns to smirk at Stiles.

“Wow”, Stiles makes and tears his eyes away from Derek’s after a moment, slides a finger through the condensation on the side of his bottle. “I didn’t know that, I’m sorry. That’s kinda awful.”

“Yeah, well”, Derek shrugs and when Stiles lifts his eyes again, he’s staring into the darkness of the Stilinski’s backyard, seemingly unaware of Stiles’ gaze on him.

He looks good, Stiles thinks, not for the first time this evening. Relaxed, soft.

At peace, somehow.

It’s a stark contrast to how he looked when Stiles first walked through the door mere hours ago and Stiles can’t help but wonder what changed.

“Did you ever … you know. Think about using one of those?”

The words are out of Stiles’ mouth before he can make himself stop.

Derek seems to ponder the question for a minute.

“Not really?”, he finally says, shrugging again.

 

It stings more than Stiles would have imagined.

 

“I mean, I wanted to, don’t get me wrong”, Derek goes on, turning so his hip is propped up against the railing and his entire body is facing Stiles, “But I felt like you had made yourself pretty clear and I thought that if there was ever a chance that you and I could be … something again, in the future, friends maybe - I should respect your boundaries.”

Stiles’ mouth is suddenly very dry and he fumbles with the bottle a little, almost dropping it, skin gone numb with cold.

“Also”, Derek continues with a small smile playing on his lips, “and I know that’s not what it was all about, I know New York was where your scholarship was, but emotionally - egotistically - I always felt a little bit like you chose New York specifically because you knew I wouldn’t follow you there. So. I didn’t.”

Stiles hums thoughtfully, flicking his eyes up to meet Derek’s and smirking a little.

“I’d be lying if I said the thought hadn’t crossed my mind once or twice”, he says and watches, transfixed, as Derek throws his head back and laughs, freely, with his whole body.

Stiles wants to bottle it up and keep it for a rainy day.

“I knew it”, Derek chuckles and grins at Stiles.

“Still pretty egotistical, though.”

Derek hums.

“Oh yeah. My therapist says it’s a problem”, he muses and grins devilishly when Stiles chokes on his own spit and starts hacking up his lungs in loud, painful coughs.

He thumps Stiles on the back a few times, until his coughs turn into slow wheezes and he holds up a hand to signal he’ll be fine, tries to take deep, even breaths. He knows his face must be on fire.

“Derek Hale, making therapy jokes!” he exclaims once he feels like he’s got his breathing under control again, shaking his head in amazement, “You really have changed!”

“Is that what they say?”, Derek asks, leaning back on his elbows, “That I’ve changed?”

Stiles rubs a hand over his still heated face and goes to mirror Derek’s position.

“I mean … yeah”, he admits reluctantly, slightly afraid that might’ve been the exact wrong thing to say. “Change doesn’t always have to be bad, though, right?”

“I don’t know”, Derek replies, watching his shoe scratch at the old wooden planks on the floor, “you tell me.”

Stiles swallows tightly and chances a quick look at Derek’s face. His features are tense, gaze focused on the floor.

Stiles knows that look. And he can hear the implication behind Derek’s words, hanging in the air between them heavily, unspoken and dangerous.

After all, you used to love me once, before I changed.

Stiles fumbles his bottle, scratches at the corner of the label until the glue starts coming off.

“No, it’s definitely -”, he clears his throat when his voice comes out scratchy, “definitely good. Yeah.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he can feel Derek’s gaze on him.

“Yeah?”

Stiles gnaws at the inside of his cheek, slides his finger under the corner of the label and peels it off slowly.

“Yes”, he says, decisively, and glances up into Derek’s waiting eyes. “You’re still that same person, Derek, under all the therapy jokes and the talking about your feelings and stuff - you’re still you, only somewhat new and improved.”

Derek inclines his head in a tiny nod and gives him a shy smile.

“Okay”, he mumbles, tearing his eyes away from Stiles’ and facing the floor again and Stiles - Stiles thinks: Fuck this.

The words are there, they’re at the tip of his tongue, waiting to be spoken and Derek still looks unsure of himself, vulnerable and quiet and small and Stiles can’t stand to watch it one more second.

“I never loved that there were all of these dark places you’d go to where I couldn’t follow”, he breathes out, in one single gust of air and the way Derek’s eyes snap up to meet his, all hopeful and wide and bright, makes it all worth it: the gnawing feeling in his stomach, the tightness of his chest, the butterflies.

Derek’s eyes drop down from Stiles’ for a second before flicking up again and Stiles licks his lips compulsively. Derek angles his body slightly more towards him and Stiles grips the neck of his beer bottle tightly.

“Stiles…”, Derek begins, voice low and raspy and Stiles’ heartbeat picks up in anticipation, his torso swaying forward almost involuntarily.

 

A loud crash from inside disrupts the growing tension, then, both of them jumping away from each other at the sound.

They look up to see a sheepish-looking Isaac and Scott standing next to an overturned armchair right inside the screen door to the living room, purposely avoiding looking into the direction of the back porch.

Stiles lets out a laugh that’s more air than sound and shakes his head at his friends.

“Idiots”, he chuckles, turning to share a fond smile with Derek.

Derek inclines his head in the direction of the living room.

“You wanna go back inside?”

Stiles chances a look inside the windows visible from where they’re standing, finds his Dad and Melissa whispering to each other in good view of the back porch, Boyd and Allison working in the kitchen, Isaac and Scott painstakingly rearranging the armchair into its designated place.

“Nah”, he sighs finally, tilting the neck of his bottle in the direction of the windows. “They’re circling like sharks, I can see them.”

Derek chuckles a little next to him but makes no move to contradict him.

“Alright”, he acquiesces, “Tell me about New York then.”

 

* * *

 

“...and there’s this barista, this sweet little columbian girl who keeps flirting with Lydia, every single time we go in there, without fail, and she just does it so confidently and so openly that Lydia gets all flustered and shy, it’s a joy to watch, man, I’m tellin’ ya”, Stiles rambles, cheeks flushed and hands flying, “And I think she might actually like it? Like, seriously. Lydia and the ladies - who would’ve thought, huh?”

Stiles chuckles to himself and shoots Derek a quick grin. They’re both leaning against the railing, facing out into the backyard, close enough that their arms brush together with every movement of Stiles’ hands.

“Just - don’t tell anyone I told you that, alright? I don’t think she’s ready to announce anything to the world just yet.”

Derek gives him a soft smile and mimes zipping his lips shut.

“My lips are sealed”, he says and instead of turning back to face the backyard again, he turns his body sideways, leaning his hip against the railing and keeping his eyes fixed on Stiles’.

It makes heat settle low in Stiles’ abdomen, heavy and promising.

Stiles flits his eyes away from Derek’s, focuses on where he’s picking on a splintering piece of wood with his fingernail.

“Anyway, where was I?”, he continues and makes himself ignore the feeling of Derek’s eyes roaming his face, still, tries to keep his voice from wavering, “Oh yeah - their pumpkin spice lattes. Oh. My. God. Derek, I kid you not, you would be in love with this place, their pumpkin lattes are to die for, seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever -”

“I love you”, Derek blurts.

All air is suddenly gone from Stiles’ lungs.

He turns slowly, shakily, to find Derek staring at him intently, face screwed up in desperation.

Stiles swallows against the heartbeat pounding in his throat.

“ … what?”, he croaks out, voice small.

Derek drags a rough hand down his face and throws a quick glance in the direction of the house, like plotting an escape route.

“I … look, I’m - that’s not -”, Derek rushes to begin, darting a hand out towards Stiles and taking it back almost instantly, eyes wide and round and earnest. “I’m really sorry, this is - the worst timing ever, but I just - and you were -”

He breaks off again, letting out a shuddering breath and pushing his hand through the hair flopping onto his forehead and Stiles sort of wants to hug him.

Stiles licks his lips. His fingertips are buzzing and he presses them against the rough wood under his hand, hard.

Derek looks like he’s about to start pacing any second.

“Derek”, Stiles says, softly, and then again, louder, when Derek doesn’t seem to hear him, “Slow down. You’re not making any sense.”

Every word feels like it’s being dragged through molasses, his tongue heavy and dry in his mouth, sticking and unsticking itself from the roof of his mouth with every movement.

At Stiles’ words, Derek seems to straighten up, pushing his shoulders back and stilling his hands.

He nods vigorously.

“Yeah. Right”, he breathes out, seemingly to himself, and pushes the heels of his hands into both eyes for a moment.

The air is getting colder and colder around them with every passing minute.

Stiles feels like screaming.

With a big breath of air, Derek drops his hands to his sides and fixes his eyes on Stiles’.

“I know this is really bad timing, but I just … I wanted to tell you - just once - that I’m sorry for not making it clear, back then, before everything ... that even though I wasn’t sure about anything else - I was always sure about you.”

Without taking his eyes off Stiles’ face, Derek pushes a hand into the inner pocket of his jacket and Stiles’ hands start shaking.

When Derek pulls out a small grey jewellery box, Stiles can’t even say he’s all that surprised.

His stomach lurches into his throat at the sight nevertheless.

Derek turns the box over in his hands, smiling down at it sadly.

When he looks up again, his eyes are full of regret.

“And I’m sorry I didn’t give this to you when we still had time”, he continues in a soft voice, “but it’s yours regardless. I’m not gonna give it to anyone else.”

Without another word, Derek holds out the box, presenting it to Stiles on his open palm.

Stiles wants to slap it away from him.

His eyes are burning.

“Are you fucking kidding me?”, he half-laughs, half-croaks out after a minute, putting the back of his hand to an overheated cheek. “Jesus, get that thing away from me!”

Derek’s face falls when Stiles shoves at his hand for good measure, his eyes going big and round in the split of a second.

“Don’t you dare give that to me, you dumbass!” Stiles goes on, voice breaking as manic giggles threaten to overwhelm him, “You better hold onto that and fucking give it to me properly in a year or two, alright? God!

Stiles’ nose is running and Derek is still looking at him like he hasn’t understood a word he was saying.

Derek lets the hand still holding the box drop down to his side. He licks his lips.

“But - what -”, he stammers, squinting at Stiles in confusion.

Stiles throws his arms out to the sides with a laugh that’s mostly snot and sniffles.

“We’re not finished, you idiot!” he exclaims. “Or, at least, like - we don’t have to be. Derek - that night - the night before you remembered and I left - you didn’t know the whole truth, but I did. Don’t you get that? I did!”

Stiles drags the arm of his sweater over his face, wiping away the moisture there and smiles at Derek’s dumbfounded face when he re-emerges.

He takes a tentative step closer. Derek watches Stiles’ foot closely.

“I do”, Stiles breathes when he’s close enough to lift a hand to Derek’s chest, hooks a finger into the pocket of his leather jacket. “It might not’ve been real for you, but it was for me. Everything I said that night - it’s still true.”

He lets his eyes roam over Derek’s face, trying to catch the moment Derek realizes -  the moment Stiles’ words start to make sense in Derek’s head.

It’s a glorious sight, how Derek’s eyes widen with realization and instantly flit to Stiles’ for confirmation, how one side of his mouth ticks up half a second before the other, how color floods his cheeks and darkens his complexion.

“Oh”, Derek whispers on a shaky exhale, his lips forming a perfect round and Stiles can feel his lips split wide in a grin when Derek’s hand hesitantly comes up to curve around Stiles’ elbow.

“Yeah”, Stiles smiles, raising his other arm to touch his hand lightly to Derek’s waist, “Oh.”

Derek licks his lips, his eyes darting down to Stiles’ mouth for a second and his hand fluttering indecisively at Stiles’ hip.

There’s a confused little crease just above the ridge of his nose and Stiles wants to lick it.

“Does that - I mean, are we -”, Derek stammers out and winces, almost reflexively, his frown deepening.

Stiles grins at him and uses the finger still in Derek’s pocket to tug himself closer.

“That means”, Stiles breathes, “that I love you, too, you big awkward doofus. And that you’re really insanely dumb for trying to give me that ring like that.”

Derek exhales on a relieved laugh, warm air tickling Stiles’ chin, making his stomach come alive with butterflies.

He grips Derek’s waist tighter and unhooks his finger from Derek’s pocket, letting his hand slide up Derek’s chest and coming to rest at the curve of his neck.

Derek slides his hand around to press between Stiles’ shoulder blades, squeezes Stiles’ hip with the other.

They’re so close that all Stiles can see is Derek’ mouth and his left eye.

He grins.

“And now kiss me already”, he commands, gaze dropping down to fix on Derek’s lips, quirked up in a smile, “cause my Dad’s been watching us from the window for the last five minutes and I swear to god, if you don’t kiss me right now, I can guarantee he will come out here and make you.”

 

And on the tail end of Stiles’ giggles - Derek does.

 

 

* * *

 

 

Stiles wakes up to the sun shining in his face and his father yelling his name from downstairs.

It takes him a second to orient himself, to remember that he’s in his childhood bedroom instead of his tiny apartment in New York, that it’s the day after Thanksgiving, that Derek kissed him goodbye at the door last night, careful and shy and promising.

He presses his grin into the cool linen of his pillow for a second before reluctantly rolling out of bed and pulling on a pair of jeans.

He’s not sure what he was expecting to find when he comes downstairs, but somehow, it wasn’t his father and Derek in the open doorway, making light conversation.

The sight makes something slightly painful twist in his stomach.

“Hey, what are you doing here?” he says when neither of them seem to have noticed his presence. The smile that lights up Derek’s face as soon as his eyes find Stiles’ makes Stiles’ knees go weak.

It’s way too early in the morning for something like that.

“Hey you”, Derek replies, voice soft and eyes crinkled, and John throws Stiles a quick smile before nodding his head at Derek and turning away from the door and into the kitchen.

Stiles steps closer at the sight of Derek’s outstretched hand, hooks his fingers into Derek’s hesitantly.

“G’morning”, he says to Derek’s shoulder, swaying on the spot slightly, suddenly unsure of what’s appropriate, of where to go from here.

Last night was all confessions and big feelings and an overwhelming, all-encompassing sense of relief.

Today, in the bright light of morning, all Stiles can see are the things they haven’t yet talked about staring him in the face accusingly - the hurt feelings, the miscommunications, the disappointments.

It makes him unsure of whether he’s allowed to press his face into the curve of Derek’s shoulder and inhale, like he desperately wants to, and he hates it.

Derek squeezes Stiles’ fingers and swoops in to press a quick kiss to the corner of Stiles’ mouth.

“Come on”, he says, “I wanna show you the house.”

 

* * *

 

Stiles doesn’t remind Derek that he’s seen the house before, has lived in it for just over three months.

He doesn’t, but it’s a close thing.

 

* * *

 

“This one was Cora’s room, growing up.”

They’re standing in the doorway to an empty room, slightly on the smallish side, with a big bay window overlooking the backyard and to Stiles’ surprise, he’s actually never seen this room before.

“It’s green”, he states, slightly dumbfounded, staring at the light color painting the walls.

“Yeah.”

“Green!”

A tiny crease forms between Derek’s eyebrows and that’s not at all what Stiles wanted.

“You always said it was your favourite gender neutral colour, right?”

Stiles gulps, tearing his eyes away from the walls to stare at Derek who’s looking at the floor with a light touch of pink to his cheekbones, an embarrassed smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.

Stiles clears his throat and squeezes the hand that’s been leading him from room to room desperately, wills his voice not to come out too wobbly.

“Right”, he croaks, wobbly as all hell.

 

* * *

 

“See that corner over there, by the big oak tree? I’m planting gardenias there, and sunflowers. And tulips. Or -  like, I’m trying to.”

“Gardenias were your Mum’s favourite, right?” Stiles asks, quiet and careful.

Derek nods.

“Yeah.”

His own mother loved sunflowers, Stiles thinks, but he isn’t too sure he’s ever told Derek about that.

He squints at the corner Derek indicated, at the sad little stems of green and brown.

“Didn’t Laura hate tulips? I feel like I vaguely remember you talking about that at one point…”

“Despised them”, Derek concurs, smirk evident in his voice. Stiles turns away from the backyard to stare at the grin splitting Derek’s face wide. “Went on and on about how they were nature’s biggest failure, such a sorry excuse for a flower.”

“You’re an idiot”, Stiles snorts, leaning into Derek’s side slightly, and it comes out so fond that he has to bury his face into Derek’s shoulder to hide the blush that’s rapidly spreading across his cheeks, making his skin burn and his heart ache.

 

* * *

 

The ring box sits on the mantle in the living room, right smack in the middle of it.

Awkward silence settles over them when they come to a stop in front of it and Stiles can’t help but reach a finger out to touch the soft velvet.

“So…”, Stiles begins, trailing off into nothingness almost as soon as he’s started and quirking an eyebrow at Derek.

“I’m not even sure if it still fits you”, Derek mumbles, rubbing a hand across the back of his neck awkwardly.

“Oh, um. I - I wouldn’t worry too much about that, if I were you”, Stiles says, going for nonchalant and failing spectacularly when Derek’s eyes snap to his immediately.

“Yeah?” Derek breathes and heat creeps up Stiles’ neck at the naked hope in his eyes.

He drops his eyes and focuses intently on shuffling his socked feet across Derek’s beautiful hardwood floors.

“Yep. Mhm”, he mumbles, embarrassed smile tugging at his lips and, really, it’s not Stiles’ fault they end up on the floor mere seconds later.

It’s been a while since he’s had to brace for sneak attacks, is all.

 

* * *

 

It’s almost dark out when the topic finally comes up.

They’re sitting outside on the steps overlooking the frontyard, bundled up in thick sweaters against the chill of approaching darkness and cradling hot mugs of tea in their palms.

Stiles keeps sneaking glances at Derek, all soft and relaxed as he talks about coming up with the plans for the house and doing most of the construction work on his own with some help from Boyd and Scott and Isaac, and Stiles feels like he might burst from all the questions that keep bubbling up inside of him.

It’s been a nice day, seeing the house that Derek has rebuilt in his family’s memory and getting to hear all the little stories and memories that come with it, just being in each other’s presence again - quiet and calm and comfortable, even after everything that has happened between them and Stiles wouldn’t trade it, not for the world, but something doesn’t quite sit right.

Somehow, even though he feels so happy that at times he thinks he might burst from it, he also feels like they’re - cheating, almost.

“Hey, Der?” he interrupts Derek in the middle of some talk of tearing walls down, Stiles isn’t too sure, he hasn’t been paying very close attention, “Why aren’t you mad at me?”

Derek closes his mouth with an audible click, a deep crease forming between his eyebrows.

“What are you -”

“I’m not trying to start a fight or anything”, Stiles hurries to add, circling a reassuring hand around Derek’s wrist, “just, like - I kinda feel like we’ve gotten off way too easy, you know? Like we’ve tried to take a shortcut and jump to where everything’s fine and easy and I just … I feel like that’s gonna come back to haunt us one day or something. If that makes any sense?”

The frown on Derek’s face deepens.

“Oh god, that doesn’t make any sense, does it? Sorry, I swear I’m not trying to, like, kill the mood or any-”

“Hey, stop”, Derek interrupts, all calm and collected where Stiles is fidgety and nervous, and nudges Stiles’ thigh with his knee, “You’re right, we should probably talk about that stuff. Or, like, at least part of it? I don’t think Thanksgiving break is quite long enough to cover all of it at once, to be honest.”

Stiles sags a little against Derek’s shoulder in relief, lets out a weak laugh and presses his thigh up against Derek’s firmly.

“Yeah, we’ve accumulated a real mountain of fuck-ups between us, haven’t we?”

Derek chuckles and gives Stiles a warm smile that makes his insides all fluttery.

“That we have”, Derek agrees and he says it so warmly and fondly that Stiles can’t help but sway forward a little, just enough to close the distance between them and press a soft kiss to Derek’s lips.

“Go on then”, he breathes onto Derek’s lips when he goes to pull away, “tell me why you’re not mad at me when you have every right to be.”

Derek huffs out a laugh and shakes his head a little, colour darkening his cheeks slightly.

“It’s not that I’m not … mad at you. I am. Or I was, at least”, Derek begins, hesitantly, squinting out into the approaching darkness and picking at a loose thread at the seam of his jeans. “I was furious, actually. Not just at you, but at everyone. Everyone who called you and made you come here and thought that would be the best solution and … lied to me. Over and over and over again. I’m not gonna pretend like I’m not still resentful about that, at least a bit. And it wasn’t just anger. I was also just so...embarrassed, you know? To know that I kept throwing myself at you the way I did, to know that I’d made you uncomfortable, for weeks and weeks, when that wasn’t what we were doing anymore, at all,  that was ... Hard.”

Stiles reaches a hand out to still Derek’s fidgeting fingers, enveloping his hand with both of his and holding tight.

“So it’s not like the feelings weren’t there. They definitely were. It’s been more a matter of … reevaluation, you know?” Derek goes on, using his thumb to trace patterns on the skin of Stiles’ ring finger. “I’ve been talking to my therapist about it a lot and she’s been a great help with this. She’s been encouraging me not to focus too much on what makes me angry and sad and who’s wronged me in which ways but more on what makes me happy. She’s always saying, like: sometimes you’ve gotta decide to let go of the heavy things in order to stop from drowning and that’s super cheesy, I know, but just…”

“I like it”, Stiles interjects, softly, when Derek breaks off and stares into the darkness for a moment, lost in thought.

He drags his eyes back to meet Stiles’, a small smile tugging at the corner of his lips.

“Yeah, me too”, he mumbles. “And as bad as everything about that accident was, I can’t help but think we probably wouldn’t be here without it, you know? It’s made you come home and no matter how mad I feel about everything else - I could never be mad about that. So I just … decided to let go, I guess. Focus more on trying to be happy.”

There’s a big lump in Stiles’ throat, blocking his air supply and he swallows against it roughly, squeezes Derek’s hand tightly.

“Wow”, he croaks out, clearing his throat against the raspiness in his voice, “that sounded…”

“Well rehearsed?”, Derek supplies, a cheeky grin tilting one corner of his mouth upwards and making his eyes glitter. “Yeah. I’ve been talking this through a lot. Trust me.”

Stiles barks out a breathless laugh almost against his will and nudges Derek with his elbow.

“No. I mean, yeah, totally, but that’s not… I’m just. So glad you’re happy.”

Derek’s smile is a bright, luminous thing in the near-darkness and Stiles just wants to kiss it.

“Me too”, Derek whispers, like he’s telling a secret, quiet and soft and lovely, and tips forward to capture Stiles’ lips with his.

They kiss lazily, without any urgency or destination, and Stiles’ head feels dizzy with it, light and fuzzy now that they’ve finally started sorting through the mess of issues still separating them.

They break apart after a few minutes, trading soft little pecks before snuggling into each other, with Stiles’ head tucked into the curve of Derek’s neck, Derek’s cheek resting on top of his head.

The air around them gets colder by the minute, darkness surrounding them almost completely now, and Stiles thinks he can probably part with a toe or two if it means he gets to stay here, in this moment, just a little while longer.

 

*

 

“So what now?” he asks after they’ve been quiet for what feels like forever, his feet gone numb with cold.

Derek shifts beside him, his arm tightening its hold on Stiles slightly.

“Well you’ll be here for Christmas, right?”

“Yeah, definitely.”

“And then for Erica and Boyd’s wedding. And your dad’s.”

“Totally.”

“And, I thought, you know, New York’s just a plane ride away.”

Stiles untangles himself from Derek’s embrace at his words, squeezes a hand around Derek’s knee and looks at his grinning face with big, hopeful eyes.

“Really?”, he asks, not even trying to hide his excitement one bit, “You wanna come visit?”

Derek folds a big hand over Stiles’ where it’s still squeezing his knee painfully and nods a little, smiling.

“Yeah.”

“In New York? You think you’re gonna be alright there?”

Stiles’ brows knot together in concern and Derek reaches out a thumb to smooth out the crease between his eyebrows.

“It’s not all bad memories, you know?” he says, tone soft and warm. “And I think maybe it’s time to make some new ones. Good ones, for a change.  Also - I’ve really been craving a good hot dog lately, so … that’s as good a reason as any, right?”

Stiles huffs out a small chuckles and jabs Derek in the ribs with his pointer finger. “Also - your outrageously funny and very handsome boyfriend’s there. Just sayin'.”

Derek catches Stiles’ finger in his hand and makes a big show of shrugging his shoulders, puts on an unimpressed face.

“Meh”, he makes, barking out a laugh as Stiles charges at him with an indignant shriek. Derek lets himself topple over onto his back, using Stiles' momentum to take him down with him so he comes to rest on Derek’s chest, his hands planted onto the cold concrete on either side of Derek’s head to stop his fall and face adorably scrunched up in surprise.

Snickering lightly, Derek gets a hand into the hair on the nape of Stiles' neck and tugs, just enough that Derek only has to lift his head an inch or two to press a soft kiss to Stiles’ lips. “I love you.”

“Love you too, you big loser.”

 

 

* * *

 

 

And then, nine hundred and twenty-one days after Stiles leaves Beacon Hills with no intention of ever coming back, Derek is on a plane to New York.

 

 

* * *

 

Fin.