After Lydia, Stiles had been in love with every other person that crossed his path. He was crushing easily, giving in to the feeling easily, with little hope. Most times he was lucky though.
They were interesting boys and girls, all with unusual talents, intelligent, with a special aura circling around them. He was falling in love with their smiles, the way they liked to touch others, the soft voices. And he could honestly say that he loved each and every one of them. He didn't even fall out of love with them. But he was restless. He knew he was searching for something he hadn't found yet, and so he took every chance he could get at finding it.
That was, until he returned to Beacon Hills after he'd given up his first job since college.
It was time had frozen in this little place. The houses still looked the same, here and there a tree or bush was missing or a mail box displaced. His father was still the sheriff, Scott's mom being the good soul in the hospital she worked in.
The Argents had moved on into another town far from here, searching for other supernatural beings threatening the lives of innocent humans.
The coach was still teaching at Stiles' old high school, and he was still being his noisy self.
The pack though, was gone and spread throughout the whole country.
Allison was with her father, being the new and just leader of the team of hunters.
Scott was still nearby, but now worked as a fisherman. Everybody was surprised at that, to be totally honest, but then again this was Scott. He liked being unpredictable.
Isaac was becoming a veterinary and worked as a bartender on the weekends.
Erica and Boyd had decided to travel the world and by now they were someplace far, far away. Every now and then Peter would visit them.
Lydia was a scientist and Jackson a manager at a small IT company. They were now 5 months married. Everyone was surprised at the big news 4 weeks before the wedding, but then again they were not really. The two had fought their way back together and were inseperable ever since. Rumor had it Lydia was also pregnant but didn't want to tell them yet because the first three months were the riskiest.
And then there was Derek.
Derek... had not changed the slightest bit. He still wore his old leather jacket. He still drove the black camaro. He still lived in the Hale house (though he and Peter had renovated the whole house and now it almost looked as if nothing had ever happened all those years ago).
He was still lonely.
Stiles met him when he was roaming the streets during one of his sleepless nights after having the most unhealthy dinner he had had with his dad in years. It was also actually the first dinner he had had with his dad in years.
"Stiles," Derek simply said after looking at him for a moment. Gosh, it was as if he looked right at Stiles' soul.
With everyone else it was this usual mix of "Hi"s, "How are you"s, a bit of small talk and then quick "Godd bye"s. But Derek was giving off his usual, quiet vibe that made it hard for people to have a proper conversation with him.
"You look... good. Seems like you eat well," Derek muttered, a bit faster than Stiles was used to. "I mean... you're not fat, but... you don't look like a stick figure any more."
"Oh, yeah, thanks... I guess. Bought a couple of cookbooks, watched a few TV shows about cooking. I had a lot of time at my hands."
"You... you fixed the house. My dad told me it looks good."
Derek looked so terribly tired. But a little smile made an attempt to make its way into his face. "Yes. It took a lot of time. And a lot of Peter getting on my nerves." He smiled.
Somehow Derek's smile reflected in Stiles' face. It probably was a "Your dead family members would be proud" kind of smile, though. But maybe also a "I'm proud of you" kind of smile. Stiles hadn't even managed to visit his mother's grave ever since he left after high school.
Derek looked at him for a second or ten, obviously expecting a reply, and Stiles didn't know why his brain was so empty right now. Memory overflow, probably?
"I, uhm, I should go now. There's stuff I need to put in the freezer," Derek said as he lifted a filled plastic bag.
"I should probably go home as well. My dad wanted me to help him get stuff done in the garden tomorrow. Lots of stuff, so...," Stiles rambled as he nervously shifted his body weight from one foot to another.
Derek nodded a short good-bye and attempted to move on, taking a step towards Stiles.
"Derek!" Stiles suddenly blurted out as if the guy had punched him in the guts or something.
Derek froze and looked at Stiles questioningly.
"See you?" Stiles didn't even know why it ended up coming out as a question.
Derek nodded, patted Stiles shoulder without looking at him and then left in a hurry.
During the next couple of weeks, they randomly met on the streets or during shopping, had short conversations about what the pack was up to and what (or even who) Stiles had been doing during college, and ultimately Stiles invited Derek to Lunch at his dad's house.
"Thanks for the food, it was delicious," Derek said with a smile when they had all finished eating and Stiles was dragging him along upstairs, into his old room. Before Stiles closed the door behind them, Derek heard his dad whisper a "I just hope we'll get some meat next time".
The room was almost empty now, except for a fish tank, a bed, a few chairs and old clothes.
"Looks different," Derek stated while Stiles opened the window and looked at a couple of cars that were just passing by.
"Derek... what do you want from life?" Stiles suddenly asked and while he was leaning on the window sill he turned his head to look at the other guy. "Like... aren't you searching for anything? The job you always wanted or try sky diving or even getting yourself a new jacket?"
Derek admittedly had to laugh at the pun, but honestly didn't know what to actually answer.
Stiles pushed himself away from the window sill, closed the white curtains and took a few steps towards Derek.
"Or... finding someone you love, make a few werewolf babies?"
"No." And Derek was pretty sure about that. No children. He'd be a terrible father and Peter as the only part of his family left would certainly not be of help. He couldn't even guarantee that he wouldn't do anything stupid as the Kate situation again, and if he got his own children killed... "No."
But a strange feeling started squishing his gut. He had no idea where this conversation was going, but Derek would not allow himself to think about Stiles in that way ever again. He took two steps towards the windows, just enough to pass Stiles and not have him look him in the face right now.
He expected Stiles to say something, he even secretly wanted to find out where this conversation was supposed to lead. But instead he felt a hand touching his back where his tattoo was.
"You're lonely. I can still see that, Derek. And I'm... I feel lonely, too. Ever since I left I've been with someone, and now that I'm back here I'm feeling the need to have some physical contact with someone I love a lot..."
The hand was slowly sliding down Derek's back. Another hand joined in and they slowly made their way around Derek's waist. But before Stiles could join them in front of Derek's belly the wolf man turned around and backed away.
"No... Stiles," he whispered, his voice trembling.
"But I thought you and I-"
"Stiles! Listen to me... You and I... I wanted that, yes. I would've stayed awake at night to make sure you sleep well, I would have endured your never ending rambling, I would even have eaten that weird-ass salad you got for your dad almost every day. I would have taken you on the burned floor in my house. But..."
"Derek, I didn't..."
"No, listen. I would gladly have had you. I would have protected you. I would have been with you. I would have loved you. But now, I won't just be a random number on your list of people making you a little less lonely. I know better than that. That's not how it's supposed to work. Nothing good ever comes out of that."
Stiles was speechless. He hadn't expected such a heavy monologue.
"'Love is free'," Stiles quoted.
"Love is free. Lust will cost you everything you have," Stiles completed. He must have read that in a book.
The look on Derek's face showed how hard that quote actually hit him. It was the quote that would have saved his whole family, if only he'd known it before Kate Argent happened to him.
"Yes... Stiles," Derek pressed out, trying to contain himself while so many emotions attempted to blow up his chest. "This exactly, Stiles, is the reason why I won't give in. It cost me my family." He whispered the last sentence.
"But I... love you," Stiles said, trying to convince him while he reached for his arm.
Derek took another step back. "You think you love me, Stiles. Maybe even I'm just thinking that what I feel... have felt for you was love. But what if we're both wrong?"
Derek stared at him, tension disfiguring his face and questions burning in his eyes that he knew would never be answered.
"I should... I should go now. Thanks for the food. You improved a lot..."
Derek made his way around Stiles who wasn't able to move.
Derek took the same way out through which he had entered the house and walked back to his home. Or maybe he'd run.
A few days later, while Derek was fixing something in his car, he heard the familiar sound of a blue jeep pulling up the newly created driveway in front of his house. As he turned around after a second of contemplating if he actually should, he saw Stiles hurriedly pushing open the door and stumbling out of the car, clumsily making his way toward Derek.
"Derek..." Stiles said between two deep breaths. "I think I've found it."
"Found what, Stiles?" Derek asked, wiping off some oil from his hands on a white towel.
"What I've been looking for! Remember? I asked you what you wanted from life, what you were searching for to have a fulfilled life."
"And? What is it?" Derek turned around, placing the towel on the front porch. "A cat?"
"A... My... mate. You."
Derek turned around. He knew about the myth of some werewolves having found their mate, but it was just that, a myth. "Stiles, do you know what you're saying?"
"Yes, I do know perfectly well what I'm saying, thank you very much. And I mean what I'm saying. I want you, Derek. And I'm not saying that I'm lusting after you. Every fibre of my body and soul aches for you, Derek. I was always just too stupid to notice. And when I was gone... I was lonely before, Derek. While I was still here. I forgot about it when I was with you. And when I was finally gone, it had just gotten worse. I've been looking for someone to fill that hole. I've been looking everywhere, when I should have just been looking back. Shit, that sounded like it came straight out of a sappy dramatic romance or whatever."
Derek was trying to hold himself together, but still managed a nervous laugh.
"I don't think you understand the 'mate' part of this, Stiles. It's a myth. I've never actually heard about anybody in our time to find their mate."
"I know, Derek. I know, I've looked it up. But listen! Listen..."
He took a few steps toward the alpha who now turned the last few degrees to face the younger guy fully.
"As far as I understand, 'mate' is a powerful word, obviously. Or else people wouldn't make such a big fuss about it. But it's more than just a word and a legend and something everyone have given up looking for. Actually I think, a lot of people have found it. Being a mate means..."
Stiles reached up and touched Derek's cheek, softly caressing it.
"It means... Trust..."
"Relying on each other..."
"Having faith in your mate..."
Stiles' other hand caressed Derek's neck.
"And in good times as in bad times..."
Just as much as Derek wasn't able to take his eyes off Stiles', he wasn't able to move any part of his body.
"Unconditionally love your mate. Make their pain your pain, and never..."
The hand that was just now on Derek's cheek was now slowly sliding up the back of his head, drew paths in his hair and sent shivers down Derek's spine.
"... never being lonely again, even when you're alone."
Derek wanted to give in, to be all over that man who was holding him so tenderly like nobody had ever held him before. But he still couldn't.
"Some... some say that it's unfair because you're being forced to be with your mate once you've found them. That it's not your choice. Would you want that? Would you want to be with me even if I was the most awful being on the planet? Even if you'd feel physical pain when we're separated?"
"Love hurts, but that's common knowledge. I've had that before. I've been aching for you. And I can deal with that again. If not, I wouldn't love you enough."
Derek nodded, his face revealing the amounts of concern for Stiles that he was trying to deal with, trying to ignore. His head felt so heavy.
He let his head drop forward, leaning his forehead against Stiles' shoulder, his cheek touching Stiles' neck.
"We'd be able to make this work, wouldn't we?," Derek whispered. "Tell me we'll be able to deal with this and make it work out."
Stiles felt Derek smile.
"We two do make a pretty good pair after all."