Derek hadn’t meant to lose control. It shouldn’t have been that big of a surprise that he did, when he thinks back on it. Sure, he was in his early twenties, so as a born wolf he was fairly stable, but you try having some man who had clearly never heard of a moving run smack into your face with a pure silver vase and see if you don’t have your teeth come out a bit. He blamed recently losing his mother for his eyes burning yellow. And he blamed the growl that fell from his lips on Laura, for dragging him to all of those unfamiliar places for new Alpha networking. He squeezed his eyes closed, and he knew almost immediately he made a mistake. It was late afternoon in winter, but the sun was still out for everyone around to see him.
His savior came in the form of a crash, a horrible scent, and a long fingered hand wrapping around his arm. The hand pulls him down an alley and he follows, his eyes watering from the scent still coiling near his nose. They run until it ends, then run down another path. After a minute he’s calmed and can actually breathe, and he pulls his arm from the guy in front of him. “What the hell?” He mutters as he stops, trying to make sense of what just happened, and the boy turns around.
Derek forgot whatever other words he was going to say at the sight of the boy’s eyes.
He was tall and lanky, barely a couple of inches shorter than Derek himself. His skin, or what part of it was uncovered by his long sleeved flannel and baggy jeans, was littered in freckles and moles. They were the same color of deep brown as his hair, and his eyes, and Derek’s mother’s hot chocolate. Eyes that crinkled in a grin as soon as he caught his breath.
“You owe me big time.” The boy quips, and his voice sounds like his mother’s hot chocolate. Is that even possible?
“You owe me! That was a prime cherry bomb I threw back there. It was going to do me good at my friend’s birthday party. Lucky I had it on me, ‘cause it distracted them perfectly.”
Derek realizes he’s staring and forces himself to blink, shaking himself slightly. “Why did you do that?”
A soft snort, breathless, is the response. “Please, you were practically completely wolfed out back there. How else did you expect to get away?” He bites his lips in an obvious show of nerves. “My best friend is a werewolf. Bitten, not born. Back when we were in high school.”
Derek looks him up and down, trying to emphasize his point but enjoying the sight nonetheless. “And that was, what? Last week?”
“Hey!” But the guy is laughing, and there is a strange moment then, where they both are left looking at each other. But it’s not uncomfortable as much as filled with anticipation, like something more is coming. They just don’t know what. He can feel the wolf inside of him going crazy, and he’s not sure why.
Kate’s face flashes in his mind, but he speaks anyways. “Thank you. Let me buy you a drink. Since you wasted your... cherry bomb on me.”
“Seriously, I mean, it was this little baseball pitch called Lucky Shot of all places, and Scott is just wailing these balls, and I’m like.. crying I’m laughing so hard. Hindsight, it was stupid, but the worker’s faces were hilarious! You could see them imagining signed autographs and telling patrons, ‘Oh, that famous baseball player, I knew him when...!’ But one ball gets hit too hard and it just slams through the metal fence. It makes, like, a perfect little hole, I’m surprised it wasn’t smoking!”
Stiles can barely get the rest of his words out because he’s laughing so hard. He starts to feel his normal embarrassment seep in. His ADHD had that effect on him - he’d get into telling a story and sometimes forget that other people don’t care as much as he does. He usually didn’t realize that until he already had a raised voice and a loud laugh, but some would call it an adorable quirk. He’s sure a few people out there would. Lydia wasn’t one of them - he loved her alot, but she would always give him this long suffering smile and wait patiently until he was done to change the subject. He’s starting to think the guy sitting across from him was one of the people who could think he was adorable. It was a weird feeling.
The werewolf he pretty much saved was a chiseled god, to be honest. Black hair, five o’clock shadow, leather jacket - jacket that was off and slung over his chair in the perfect model like relaxation. He was laughing, too. Not loudly, not overly, but he was totally listening to Stiles’ story, turning his coffee cup gently on the table, and he was chuckling. It made Stiles feel good. Really good. So, of course, he had to embarrass himself after. “You have really pretty eyes. Has, uh.. anybody ever told you that?”
The guy licks his lips like he was born to torture Stiles, and his deep voice responds slowly. “You have now.”
He was a man of few words. Intellectual words. Totally awesome words. Stiles loved smart people. “I talk too much.”
“I like listening to you talk.”
Stiles was in serious trouble. And he really needed to get a handle on it. “It was really awesome meeting you.”
“It was lucky. I was in a bit of a tough spot.”
“A bit?” Stiles snorts, and regrets it because it screamed dork. But looking at this guy, he thought maybe he wouldn’t mind. Stiles looks down at his cup, turning the label that was emblazoned with the name of the cafe they were in. “Hey, maybe it was serendipity.”
Derek looks down at his own cup, raising an eyebrow. “What the hell is serendipity?”
“I thought you were mister college educated, huh?”
The guy laughs again, and it’s an addicting sound. It completely transforms his face. “I don’t think they have classes on that.”
Stiles leans back in his seat, trying to let himself relax. “Serendipity is when crazy things happen, but they are meant to happen, and they happen for good reasons. Like fate.”
“Do you believe in fate?” Derek leans forward, as if matching Stiles’ own lean, not wanting to be further away from him. “That we don't control anything, everything is predestined to happen, the universe already knows what our lives will become?”
“I’m sensing some bitterness. No, actually, I believe that there is a certain pathway to life. Our choices affect the outcome, and we are given chances to happiness. We just have to trust fate, or luck, and seize it when we get the chance... seize every good chance.”
There it was again, a weird feeling of anticipation. He felt it back in the alley before the guy offered to buy him a drink. He didn’t even know the guy’s name. Why hadn’t he asked for his name? The feeling is interrupted as his phone starts to ring. It takes him three rings and the guy’s pointed stare to realize it’s his, and Stiles quickly fumbles in his pocket. The phone flies out and onto the ground, as well as his wallet, a crumpled twenty, a bunch of coins, and a tissue wrapped gift.
“Oh, great,” he says sarcastically, but the other guy leans down to help. By the time he gets his change picked up his phone is done ringing and Tall, Dark, and Handsome Werewolf is holding his package. Yowza.
The tissue paper is wrapped around two bracelets, both mock-silver thin chains. Both of them have curling symbols etched onto small flat plates on either side of a half moon. It’s cheesy and gross and perfect. “Who are these for?”
“One’s for Scott, one’s for me. His birthday is coming up before Christmas and I saw the moon and thought it was the perfect bromance gag gift. I had to order it special and give my information to this little store over on East Ortega which is probably sketchy but he’ll totally treasure it, I know it.”
The guy gets this soft smile on his face, which doesn't really match Stiles’ somewhat juvenile sense of humor. “Do you know what this is?” He holds up one of the curling symbols, and Stiles can honestly say he doesn't. “It’s a triskelion. A three legged symbol. Father, son, holy ghost. Spirit, mind, body. Past, present, future. Alpha, beta, omega.” He looks up at Stiles, and damn there were those pretty eyes again. How was he supposed to think straight with those looking at him? “I have a big one tattooed on my upper back. I got it last week.”
Stiles tried his hardest to remember what he had been thinking about before his phone rang. He felt like it was important. It was totally important. It had to do with something not involving wanting to see this guy’s tattoo. About how weirdly perfect he felt, about the anticipation of what could come. About the guy’s name. Why hadn’t he asked what the guy’s name was? Why hadn’t the guy told him? He looks down at his phone as it flashes with a voicemail - Lydia. And he realizes that the guy probably didn’t tell his name for the same reason Stiles never said his own. Anonymity was a bitch.
“This was fun, but I should probably go.”
Derek really didn’t want him to go, and he could feel it in his veins. It was a thrumming sort of anxiety, fear that the night was going to end. They find a cab, and the boy holds the door, but on instinct Derek’s hand flies out to close over his fingers. “Let’s go do something else.”
The boy laughs, but he doesn’t seem too bothered at the idea. “What would we do?”
“Anything. Literally anything.”
Brown eyes honestly consider it, but ultimately there’s a shake of the head. “I gotta go. Friends to torture with stink bombs, gag gifts to wrap, the like.”
Derek really, really didn’t want him to go. He starts to get into the back seat, and Derek says the first thing he can think of. “My name is Derek.” It does what’s needed - the guy stands back up straight and looks his face over again, as if relearning what he looks like with a name attached. “Does that make you want to tell me something?”
“Yeah.” The guy says and he leans forward. Derek’s breath hitches but the teen’s head turns at the last minute so that his lips aim towards Derek’s ear. “Merry Christmas, Derek.”
And then he gets into the cab and leaves. Derek kicks a rock and it flies a little too hard, but no one was watching. He starts walking down the street, telling himself that he has to get over it. He was only here for the night anyways. In a few days, Laura and he would be back in Oregon. The boy was probably from here, and would probably never leave. What was the point in getting so obsessed with someone he would never meet again?
Kate’s face pops up into his head once more. He cared about Kate, he really did. Kate was beautiful and confident and loved having him as hers. He kind of liked being hers, even if he did wish they had more in common. The only problem was the lying... Kate didn’t know anything about werewolves, and even after months together he didn’t know how she would react. He didn’t think it would end well. And with his mother being gone, the true strain of being in a pack that was cracked and broken was showing, and it was getting harder and harder to hide from her.
He made it two blocks before he realized he forgot his jacket at the coffee house. He sighs, because that really is his luck. He trudges the whole way back, and there it was, slung over his chair where he left it. Picking it up, Derek catches himself staring at the chair across from him. They were slow business tonight, and he was lucky no one had come to clean the table yet. A flash of grey catches his eye and he looks down at the ground, seeing a black wallet with the Death Star on it beneath the table. He picks it up and considers opening it, but he knows whose wallet it is.
Instinct makes him look up. The boy looks back at him. It takes another bit of staring before he can speak, but the boy beats him to it. “Thank God for that twenty, or that cab driver would have had my balls.” Derek can feel himself smiling, and doesn't even try to control it. “Let’s go do something else.”
“What would we do?” Derek parrots his earlier words back, shaking his head.
Stiles takes them to the beach.
Or rather, a long stretch of pavement next to the beach where you can rent roller skates. The walk takes a good thirty minutes, and the whole time they talk. Stiles talks about the perfection that is Star Wars, Derek talks a little bit about all the girls in his family. Stiles says that he could be interested in journalism, Derek says his favorite number is three. Derek would ask a personal question, Stiles would skirt around it. Sometimes it was the other way around. They rented the skates and paid separately. Derek was much better at it then he was. Stiles never told him his name.
“Are you going to college?”
Stiles debates whether he wants to answer, slowly spinning on the spot. The street was emptying quickly and he knew they’d have to return the skates soon. “Yep. In January, actually. Only took half a semester off. Scott and Lydia are already in. What are you getting your degree in?”
“History.” Derek, with his stupid werewolf reflexes, is doing circles around him. “What about you?”
“I don’t know yet.” That wasn’t an avoidance. That was just fact. Shit, it was his turn to ask a question. “What’s your favorite book?”
“Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.” Stiles gives him a look and Derek laughs, another breathtaking noise. His shoulders raise in a shrug. “What? I promise, I’m not pretentious. Favorite California moment?”
“This one is climbing the charts.” A group of people covered in flashing lights and glow sticks skateboard around them loudly and they both stop to watch them pass. The whole night felt dream-like. “Your turn to ask a question.”
Derek swallows and Stiles can see his throat move with it. When did they start skating so close to each other? “Unless you want me to ask about your favorite sexual position, I’m out of ideas.”
That definitely sent Stiles back on his ass with a crash. Or maybe it was the sand. Derek scrambles and gets him up, and Stiles only whines a little about the scrape on his arm as they return the skates. Of course, that whining quieted down pretty quickly when they sat on a bench on the beach watching the sunset. Derek’s capable fingers roll up his sleeve, and Stiles really wishes the scrape had been bigger so he could blame his breathlessness on pain.
Derek raises an eyebrow. “I think you’re going to survive.” He’s tempted to ask if Derek would kiss it better, but the werewolf’s eyes were traveling down his arm, bending it straight to get a good look. Slowly, one of his fingers comes up and trails down Stiles’ skin. It takes him a moment to realize he’s connecting Stiles’ moles. Derek’s voice mutters as he moves, counting the bumps. “You’ve got a constellation on your skin. Cygnus, the swan.”
The words sink in and Stiles’ finger pokes Derek in the shoulder before he can think about how awkward it is to do so. “I’m a dork for knowing what serendipity means, but you know Astrology?”
“Constellations are Astronomy. Do you know the story?” When Stiles shakes his head, Derek does exactly what Stiles was hoping - he keeps talking. He also pulls a pen out of his back pocket, with bright blue ink, and starts to trace the constellation onto Stiles’ skin. “It has a lot of background stories, but my favorite is the son of Sthenele, with the namesake. Cygnus was really close to a guy named Phaethon. Phaethon was a bit of an idiot, even with Cygnus as a friend, and he ended up crashing a chariot he rode through the sky into a river and dying. Cygnus was so heartbroken over losing him that all of his cries eventually turned him into a swan. But he was still so upset that he never flew in the sky, but stuck to the ground.”
As he talked he had stripped off his jacket, throwing it over Stiles’ shoulders. Stiles hadn’t even realized he had started to shake as the sun disappeared. He was too busy hanging onto Derek’s every word. As he stopped talking Stiles pulls the jacket onto him tighter, and his mouth is dry. But the silence isn’t one he wants to interrupt this time. All he can think of is how terrible their timing is. “I should go. I told my girlfriend I would call her when I got home.”
“Yeah. Me too.”
The guy didn’t look surprised when Derek said he had a girlfriend as well. He did look surprised when Derek asks for his number anyways.
Derek starts to feel that anxiety in his chest again as the teen looks for a cab, but this time he lets it feed his mouth. “Listen, you’re the one who was talking about fate and serendipity and all of that stuff. You can’t deny that...” He sounded like an idiot, and he knew he was about to sound like even more of one. “...that we met tonight for a reason, that there’s something here. I’m not saying I’m going to go home and blow up your phone. I’m just saying, if we don’t do something, there’s a good chance that this is all going to end tonight and I’m not sure if I’m ready for that.”
The words seem to make an impact and he twists his lips, staring at Derek. Just when Derek is sure that the guy is going to give in, his brown eyes light up. “I have an idea.” Reaching into his wallet, he pulls out a five dollar bill, smoothing it out on the nearest wall. The paper gets pushed into Derek’s hand. “I want you to write your name and number on this.”
Derek is confused, but the same bright blue pen he used earlier comes back out, and he writes his information, before handing it back. Because the boy apparently lives to drive him crazy, he then crosses the street and gives the five dollar bill to a homeless man, waves to Derek, and walks away. Derek runs after him, but before he can even ask what had gotten into him, the boy answers. “You’re the one talking about fate. Now, it’s in fate’s hands.”
Maybe that did make sense, as much as this whole night had. “Well, what about your number? You put my information out there, but not yours.”
The guy sighs with something that sounds suspiciously like Derek was right, but solved it in his head quickly. “Tomorrow, I’ll go buy a copy of The Art of War. I’ll write my information into it, and then give it to a thrift shop, or one of those street book sellers.”
Derek stops walking and the guy turns to him. He can’t imagine the look he must have on his face at the idea of this being over, because the guy hesitates in his surety. “What else?”
“What do you mean?”
“What else can we do? To see if it really is fate. You’re the expert here.”
Long fingers run through his hair but the boy was thinking, he was. Suddenly, he grabs Derek’s hand and they are running around the corner, running through the crowds until they are beneath a massive office building. It’s lights are bright and it’s doorways are decorated with greens, and he doesn’t think they are supposed to be in there. But his hand is pulled inside and the mole covered teen is pressing buttons before he can blink. One elevator on either side of the hallway.
Derek focuses as the important stranger starts to talk quickly, trying to keep up. “You get in that elevator and I’ll get in this one, we both press a number, and if we end up on the same floor then it’s fate and those damn roller skates are the only thing wrong with tonight. You got it?”
“You don’t have to understand it, you just have to have faith.”
“Faith in what?”
Derek hadn’t even realized the door was open, but he backs up quickly, already looking at the numbers. His name is yelled and his head shoots up, only to find a metallic bracelet flying at him. He catches it, seeing the modest triskelion and moon design, and looks up one last time before the doors close.
The boy is smiling. “Stiles. My name is Stiles.”
Stiles doesn’t know why he told Derek his name, but he doesn’t regret it. Even after he presses the number twenty three and doesn’t see Derek there at the top. Even after he waits five minutes and the other elevator never opens. Even after he gives up, gets a taxi, and goes home. He doesn’t regret stealing Derek’s jacket, either.
Three years later, in Los Angeles..
In a way, Stiles regrets leaving his office so early. He wasn’t allowed to write any big pieces, just online sport updates mostly, but he figured burning the midnight oil couldn’t hurt in his boss's eyes. Besides, what was the saying? Practice makes perfect? So, the more practice he put in, the more likely he’d get better responsibilities. The more the higher ups saw his face, the more likely they’d think of his face for promotions. They sure as hell weren’t going to think of his complicated name. Why did he decide to not use his nickname professionally again?
If there was one thing he learned in the last few years of college and the working world, it was things don’t just come easy. People have to work for them. People can’t expect life to just take them to happiness. That also applied to relationships, however, so he made the choice... a night of less working to strengthen his bond with his boyfriend Jackson wasn’t a bad trade, especially after Jackson was out of town for a week and a half.
Of course, it seemed like no matter how many early nights he took, he and Jackson weren’t exactly getting closer. They had been together for a little over six months now, and he knows it’s not technically the longest relationship a twenty-three year old ever had, but he still constantly stressed over it. Most of it was probably Scott’s influence.. Scott managed to find Kira in the first year of college, and it was difficult to be around soulmates when you’re unhappy. Which he was, literally the whole time he was in college after Lydia and he called it off.
Now that he finally had someone to be with, it was hard to imagine letting him go. Even if the guy only thought about himself. It took Stiles an hour to drive through Los Angeles to the guys massive house, and like always, Jackson teased the crap out of him before buzzing him through the gate. He didn’t even bother meeting him at the door.
He found out the reason why pretty quickly. He found Jackson in the main living space with a reporter. Stiles knew him pretty well from the office - some douchebag with a camera named Matt who always tried to get them to take on news stories just because he got good pictures. Jackson acknowledges him, but Stiles knows the drill. He goes to the side of the room and throws himself down on a chair. After five minutes he props his feet up. After ten, he grabs a magazine. After fifteen, he starts wondering why he’s there when he could be working.
To be fair, Jackson was being cute. His answers were all confidence and bravado, and he kept winking at Stiles every other question. He assumed the interview was about Jackson’s first movie... it hadn’t even begun filming, but his boyfriend seemed excited about it nonetheless. He’s sure Jackson could come up with a whole interview about nothing. It was hard to stay mad at him when he jumped around like that in his seat. He just wished Jackson respected his work more. Or what he says. Or what he believes. Or when he wants to not watch a reporter drool over his boyfriend’s muscles.
The interview finally ends on the half hour mark with a private, whispered conversation between him and Matt. Stiles sighs, sliding to his feet and moving to greet Jackson with a kiss. “That took fifty years.”
Jackson winces, at least. “I know, I know, I’m sorry. It’s all about a big cover piece I’m doing next week, hopefully.”
“We’ll see.” Jackson has a creepy grin and Stiles furrows his brows, but he keeps going. “Now, I have a surprise.”
Before Stiles can blink, or realize that Matt was still in the room, Jackson slides to one knee and takes Stiles’ hand in his. “Meonienim Stilinski, we have been together for almost a year now, and... I love you. So much. I know I’ve been out of town a lot, but the times we have spent together have been some of the best in my career, and I don’t want them to end. I don’t think you want it to end either.” His hand reaches into his pocket and out comes a grey box. Stiles’ breath catches in his chest. The ring is silver and basic, but shines brightly in the brilliantly lit room. “Will you marry me and keep the good times coming?”
Time seemed to slow to a crawl once the question was actually out. Stiles wondered vaguely if that happened to everyone, or if the answer came to everyone automatically. On the one hand, Jackson was right. On the good days, they did have fun. Even if Stiles got annoyed sometimes, he was starting to think that was just part of his personality. When he thinks of the good days, he doesn't think he wants them to end yet. Maybe after six months, not yet a year but sure, close... this made sense. He could get married. He and Jackson could be happy. He could let go of his stress and have real love again. Even if Jackson didn’t pronounce his name right.
“Okay.” Jackson grins at the answer even as Stiles internally winces at the hesitance in his voice, but before Stiles could smile back the flash of the camera made him jump. His head shoots up and he realizes why Matt had been here in the first place. Jackson is kissing him before he can complete the thought, and sliding the ring onto his finger, and it doesn’t even kind of fit. Matt is taking a bunch of pictures, and after the tenth one Jackson starts to realize it’s making Stiles uncomfortable.
“Sorry, babe.” Jackson walks over and shakes Matt’s hand, their whispered conversation coming back again before he leaves and Jackson returns to his side. “Well, I said hopefully, but I’m guessing I’m going to get that cover story, now.”
Stiles pulls back, and he’s not sure why. By the look on Jackson’s face, he doesn’t know why either. He asks, but Stiles feels the beginnings of a panic attack coming over him and he stumbles outside. This didn’t feel right. None of it was right. He is flying down the highway and he doesn’t even understand what ‘right’ is, but he knows this isn’t it. What did he just do? Why did he do it? He doesn’t know how he manages to drive safely, maybe he hadn’t, but he ends up at Scott’s apartment probably way too late at night, banging on the door.
Kira doesn’t seem to think it’s the best idea, even if she does awkwardly give her congratulations. The girl could never hide her emotions. Stiles loved her for it. She goes to bed, and he’s left with the fact that Scott doesn’t think it’s right either. “Why did you say yes, dude? You barely seem to like the guy most days.”
“I know, okay, I know. I had a brief moment of insanity. But he was right, we do have a lot of fun! It was the ending line that got me... I didn’t want to end the fun.”
“Fun?” Scott shakes his head. “I don’t know if fun is the best thing to base a marriage on. You guys aren’t even living together yet.”
“Listen, buddy.” The term is supposed to come off exasperated but comes off a bit bitter. “Not everyone can have a marriage based off of love and passion and fate and...”
Dark hazel eyes and an unshaven face pops into his mind and he has trouble getting it to go away. Scott isn’t bothered and keeps the conversation going. “You’re so young, I don’t know why you feel like you’re never going to find love. You’ve been, like, the most pessimistic person I’ve ever met since you and Lydia decided to break up.”
“Yeah, maybe.” Stiles stares at the table in front of him, finally looking up at Scott with pleading eyes. “He said my name wrong, man. He just... butchered it.” All Scott does is laugh. What an asshole.
The conversation carries on a bit longer, before Stiles finally heads home. The drive gives him time to think, but he finds himself thinking about the past more than he thinks about Jackson. About his dad and his mom, and his dad without his mom. About Scott when his parents got divorced. About when Stiles used to believe in fate and some kind of magic in the universe that could guide him. He wished he hadn’t forsaken the idea of it, because he could use some magic right now.
He didn’t feel guilty for not thinking about Jackson until he came home to Jackson in his apartment. Jackson jumps to his feet as soon as the door opens and Stiles drops his keys into the bowl, taking a deep breath.
“Where the hell did you go? I was worried about you.” Jackson says harshly, and Stiles doesn’t blame him.
“Sorry, I had to do some thinking.”
“You went to Scott’s house, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, is that a problem?” Stiles holds up his hand before the conversation can go further, knowing that was a wormhole. He thinks it’s just jealousy on Jackson’s part, but it’s still not a conversation he wanted to have. “I’m sorry I ran out, okay. I just got freaked. You kind of sprung that on me. And having a reporter there didn’t really help, you know.”
“I know, I’m sorry about Matt. I know he’s a creep, he just always catches my best angle.” Stiles was pretty sure it was because Matt had a giant crush on Jackson, but whatever. “It’s just, with my movie getting filmed, I thought proposing would be a really awesome story. Get my name out there a bit and get some publicity.”
Stiles stares at him for a minute, but there’s nothing else. Jackson literally sees nothing wrong with that sentence. “Was there any other reason you wanted to propose, or...?”
“Of course! No, I meant everything I said too, I just.. I don’t know, I wanted to kill two birds with one stone, you know?”
Stiles tries to look through the words, he does. He tries to realize that Jackson was just a sweet guy that took his job really seriously. He didn't mean to sound as conceited as he did, because he didn’t mean the words that way. Right? But even looking into his eyes didn’t feel right. “I think I need some space.”
Jackson’s face shuts down at the denial, just like Stiles knew it would. “Fine.” He walks over to the couch and grabs some clothes, throwing it over his shoulder. “I went through your closet for some of the shirts I’ve left so I can wash them. Sorry.”
He walks up and only hesitates briefly before he kisses Stiles on the cheek, quickly turning and leaving. Stiles stares at the door for a bit before finally trudging into his room... only to find half of his closet thrown out in a mess across his bed. There was even a shirt on top of his favorite fake fern. He sighs heavily and falls back on the pile, closing his eyes. He inhales deeply, trying to center all the bad stuff coiling in his gut, and he’s suddenly aware of a cool material on his cheek. Looking, he sees a small bit of black leather. It takes him a moment to realize what it is, and he quickly sits up and pulls the sleeve, revealing the leather jacket.
Speechless was probably the most appropriate word for what he was feeling. Seriously, what were the chances? He forgot he even still had this jacket in his closet. It had been on a whim he’d brought it with him to college, Derek still a background thought that he had trouble losing, and it had pretty much been packed since he got the apartment. Without thinking about it he slid the jacket over his shoulders, his arms fitting in the sleeves easily. The leather was cold but the inside was warm, and he sticks his hands in the pockets to feel the full effect.
His fingers brush against something, and when he pulls it out he finds a mess of metal. The bracelet is understated, with three flat planes marked with individual designs. The middle, a moon. And the two surrounding ones..
Two days later, Stiles is staring out the windshield of his Jeep. Jackson knows he’s going out of town. His boss seemed relieved that he was actually taking time off for once. His dad is excited to see him. There’s a duffel bag in the backseat, and in the bottom of it is a leather jacket. The bracelet is in his pocket. The only thing that is making him feel guilty is Scott’s excited nattering in the passenger seat.
“Man, you are so right. Going to see our parents is such a good idea. You could totally use a vacation, and you can tell your dad all about Jackson, which is pretty damn important. Maybe he can set you straight. Metaphorically. And I haven’t seen my mom since mother’s day... which is pretty ridiculous, since Santa Barbara is only two hours away.”
“Four with traffic, though.”
Scott pops a piece of candy in his mouth and nods. “True. But still. This will be awesome. Just hanging by the beach, eating my mom’s cooking, watching movies with your dad, maybe we can go see Lydia! .,.or, maybe not. But still!”
The list of things they could do went on and on, and yeah. It all sounded good. It sounded like the perfect vacation to clear his head. Maybe he could start thinking straight again, start making good decisions. He could also check that his dad was eating healthy. And if he had the time, and he convinced Scott... they could go downtown for awhile. Just be there. Walk around. See what happens. See who they can find. See where life takes him.
He’s so excited he feels like he can’t breathe.
Derek felt like he couldn’t breathe most days. He’d never had a panic attack before, luckily. But there seemed to be an underlying amount of stress in his veins he had trouble focusing through.
First was this whole arranged marriage business. It wasn’t Laura’s fault, really. The Hales had lost a lot of standing ever since the debacle that was Kate Argent discovering werewolves were real. The Reyes were a traditional, older family, and marriages like this to strengthen bonds weren’t unheard of in this supernatural age, especially when they involved human children. Laura hadn’t even agreed... the Reyes suggested it, and Derek agreed. It was worth it to do some good for his pack for once.
Second, he lost his job. It wasn’t the Library’s fault. Derek blamed the internet, mostly. Who checked out books anymore when you could download audiotapes? No one liked to write or read. The staff just couldn’t keep him on. He tried to explain away any frustration - as much as he loved the peace and quiet, he only had that job to have an income as he worked on his novel. His History degree was meant for a career as a History Author, not a book shelver. It was still an annoying blow, though.
The last on the list, and probably the things that freaked him out the most, though, were the signs. Signs that just kept reminding him of someone that he had forced himself to try to forget three years ago. He still remembers what number he pressed in the elevator. He had been in awe at the guy's ridiculous name finally being revealed to him, but had shaken into sense as quick as possible and after a fair few seconds of consideration, slammed his finger into twenty three. He still remembers what it looked like lit up, and how the numbers at the top of the box had lit as they counted. But he also remembers when it stopped two stops too early
It had been a Christmas party. Someone reeked of eggnog and was ready to go home, but was holding the door for their designated driver. Extremely chatty designated driver. He had tried to tell them he was in a hurry - they said it would be quick. He tried to explain he was going up - they slurred a placating “Two floors up is nothin’ when you're drunk” and made him wait anyways. Finally, his friend came, but then there was another minute of arguing that they should just let the “poor anxious guy go” and wait for a down elevator. Eventually Derek just peeled his fingers off the door with a snarl and let it close.
By the time he had gotten up there, Stiles was nowhere to be found. For probably no reason, Derek had rushed back downstairs and looked over the road, but there had been no sign of him. Derek hadn’t even known if they had picked the same floor. Stiles could have stopped at two and left five minutes before Derek even got to the top, for all he had known. At least, that’s what he had told himself.
He spent the next couple of months trying to make sense of that night. It was panic, it was jitters, he was high on endorphins after his silver run-in. It was a new, freak level in the stages of grief. Honestly, other than his passive checks of copies of The Art of War wherever he goes and brief thoughts to the bracelet in his dresser drawer, he would have rather never thought of Stiles again. But apparently life had a different plan for him.
It started with Erica. They went on one date a week, per their own suggestions and the gentle pressure from her family. The wedding was set for late spring, but they all decided to make sure the two didn’t despise each other before then. She was a bit pale and shaky... he had known she was sick, which was the main reason the Reyes pack had never turned her, too scared she wasn’t strong enough to survive. But it wasn’t just the weakness in her bones that caused her pale skin. Even though they got along fairly well in a friendship sense, she seemed incredibly sad about the whole situation.
She never told him that. Instead, she plastered on a stunning smile and did any adventure he could think of doing. Dinner, coffee, a stroll through the park. They talked, and he did his best to not come off sour. Laura never stopped teasing him about his grumpiness. Erica was intelligent, thank god. They were even able to discuss books. But it was the stroll through the park that did him in.
“I read an article online the other day. It was called the Science of Soulmates.”
Derek’s hands are shoved deep into his pockets as he walks, kicking a rock on the ground in front of him. “Oh? Do you believe in that kind of thing?”
She turns to him with the sunshine in her hair and smiles brightly, nodding. But the smile disappears slowly and his heart breaks for it. It must have shown on his face because she somehow thinks he’s the one that needs to be consoled, sliding her arm through his. “I think they exist. I don’t think we are always so lucky to find them and keep them, though. But the time we do get with them is important. My brother told me that when he met his wife, his wolf went crazy inside. Wouldn’t let him leave her. But my mom says she never felt that. Her and my dad are happy, though.”
Her words, despite his best effort, strike a chord in him. And that chord doesn’t stop vibrating. It’s a constant thrum, and it drives him insane. Everywhere he goes, there’s more striking it.
First, it’s Star Wars. Everywhere. The kids in the booth behind him at breakfast are talking about it like it’s God’s gift. He tries to ignore them, but as soon as he successfully managed to focus on his laptop and tune them out he gets slammed in the head. By a toy Death Star. He bolts, he’s not embarrassed to say it, but it never stops. Every time he gets Stiles out of his head, every time he stops thinking about the way his wolf reacted to the guy, Star Wars of all things is there to remind him.
At one point he hears someone say, “I love your styles!” It’s directed at a couple of girls across the street, but he breaks his phone in his hand.
The next date he has with Erica he decides to do a movie, sure that would be a wonderful bonding time with absolutely no chance of talking about soulmates and marriage. He makes the mistake of letting her choose the film, and ends up with two hours of misfits skate boarding, roller blading, and having emotional moments on the beach. He almost tears his hair out by the end. His hair stays firmly attached to his head though, and they go walking down the street afterward. The sidewalk is mostly empty since it’s pretty cold, but he gives her his jacket and she insists she wants to keep going.
“I have something I need to ask you.” Derek doesn’t interrupt her, nodding his consent to continue. “So, my mother isn’t from here. She followed my dad up here, and her whole family live in a different state, and she kind of has this surrogate father, who’s an alpha. There’s a whole pack there and even though I’ve lived here all my life, I’m pretty close to them. I used to spend summers there, and Deaton let me help train the new wolves.”
“Doesn’t seem so strange. They are family. A pack is still a pack, even if you have connections to two different ones.” It would be the same once they were married. He would not only be connected to the Hales by blood, but he would have a large sense of loyalty to the Reyes as well.
He hit the nail on the head, if her smiling eyes meant anything. “Exactly. Anyways, I was planning on flying down to see them next week. I’ve been debating it, but honestly? I would really like you to meet them.” She stops walking, taking his hands and turning him to face her. “Not only are they family, but some of the betas still around the town are some of my best friends.”
Despite the crazy last few days he’s been having, her sincerity makes him want to smile. He doesn’t see why he wouldn’t. He lost his job just in time, it seemed. And crazy delusions aside, this was his future. Not some dream. And it was time for him to realize that. “I would love to meet them, honestly. It would be an honor.”
She smiles again, another showing of teeth that seems to light the sidewalk, and thanks him. This time she hugs him, her curly blonde hair coming right under his chin, and he hugs her back. They walk again soon after, and he imagines what it would be like to have this as his life, when he realizes she’s talking and in his desperation to picture it he hasn’t even been listening.
“..’s such a great place, honestly, and you could even bring some of your family, like Cora or Laura. Get some sun, enjoy the beach.”
“Sorry, where did you say it was?”
Derek deserves an award for keeping his cool. Luckily, the idea of seeing her extended family, and these best friends she keeps talking about, seems to excite her enough that she doesn’t notice anything but her own happy voice until he drops her off at home. After that, he’s left to his own thoughts, but manages to drive himself all the way home without crashing. Running up the stairs, he opens a door to find, as usual, too many people in the damn house.
Malia, his cousin, looks up at him quizzically, but his younger sister Cora and her boyfriend Isaac are trying their hardest to cuddle into one person on the couch. “I need to talk to you.”
“Okay. Then talk.” Malia wasn’t so good with people.
“Privately. About private things.”
Isaac snorts from the couch. “That sounds disturbing.”
Derek doesn't get the chance to do much more than glare at him before Malia is uttering a long suffering sigh and leading him out towards the cars. It takes a perfectly calculated three miles and a low playing radio before they know Cora and Isaac most likely aren’t listening. “Do you remember Stiles?”
Malia groans and gives him a stern look. He doesn’t blame her, honestly. Malia, though they didn’t grow up together due to his idiot of an uncle and her werecoyote abilities rather than werewolf, was the closest to his age. So, when he came home three years ago and needed to spill to someone that wasn’t a stressed out new Alpha or a bratty pre-teen that had just lost her mother, Malia was the best option. Derek may have talked a lot. “Not this again. I thought that was over with.”
“Hear me out.” And she did, thankfully. Listened to his whole lumbering, flustered rant about Star Wars and hearing Stiles’ name, about beaches and roller blades. The whole thing came out awkwardly, and he knew why. Because he was avoiding a certain turn of phrase, and finally he knew he needed to say it. “I just feel like these are signs.”
“I liked you so much better grumpy. You’re starting to sound excited again, and it’s weird.” Malia crosses her arms, leaning back in her seat. “What kind of signs? Like fate? Since when do you believe in that kind of stuff?”
“I don’t.” He says automatically, only to get stared down by his cousin. Honestly, though, why wouldn’t he believe in fate? He was a werewolf in a supernatural world, in a car with his werecoyote cousin, and he believed in fate. He believed that if he keeps being given nudges to a certain direction, maybe he should be listening. It’s instinct, isn’t it? That’s what his mother always told him to listen to, above anything else. If he had listened to his instincts then he never would have told Kate the truth about his family. And he probably wouldn’t have let Stiles get away in the first place. “Okay, I do. I really do. This is a sign, and if I don’t follow it, I think I’m going to go insane. I keep feeling like this is my last chance.”
Malia stares at him for a bit longer before shrugging. “Okay, then do it. What’s the problem?”
Derek has to admit it’s refreshing to not have her question his technical engagement, though he has a feeling it has more to do with her not caring about anybody but immediate family and less about any actual opinion on arranged marriages. “Will you go to Santa Barbara with me?”
“Fine. I’ve never been to the beach.”
Derek heaves a sigh of relief, and as he does he hears the pitter patter of water on the roof of his car, overwhelming quickly just like his own worries and anxiety about the dubiously appropriate adventure he was about to drag his cousin on. It was raining.
Of course it was raining when Stiles pulled up to his dad’s house. The quick downpour matched his own anxiety, and he had a feeling Scott was starting to pick up on it. Luckily, running without an umbrella was enough to deter his questions, and Stiles’ step mom greeted them at the door.
“Stiles!” Natalie greets, kissing his cheek and closing the door behind Scott, muttering about how strangely quick the rain started.
Scott shook the water off in a very doglike manner, but before Stiles could crack a joke his dad was enveloping him in a hug, and Stiles relaxes at his touch, squeezing him back. The hugs move to Scott and then they move to towels, and then they are invited to sit at the table. “So, how’s LA? Anything new?”
The oversized ring in his back pocket pops up in his head, but he shakes his head. Scott gives him a weird look, but he kicks him firmly in the shin. Scott doesn’t even flinch, because he apparently has steel bones. “Nope, nothing. Same old, same old. What’s new here?”
“Oh, nothing really. Deaton and his pack have been keeping things pretty calm on the supernatural front, and my men have the crime fairly low. We started a new community outreach program.” Natalie walks up to the table with some hot chocolate, finally settling in her seat. “Anything you can think of new, dear?”
Natalie hums, blowing on her drink. “The shop is doing good. Even better this year than last. Plenty of customers getting ready for spring season. Lydia graduated early with her Bachelor’s, and is debating going for her Master’s. She’s still picking up plenty of side money with her business algorithms. You should go visit her! Her and Jordan have renewed the lease on that nice loft together downtown. You remember the one...”
Stiles makes a face, and Natalie has the decency to look a bit sheepish at the suggestion. John and Scott both effectively roll their eyes, John clearing his throat. “I still think if you went back for your Bachelor’s maybe those jackasses would give you more chances to write.”
“It’s all about experience, dad. You just watch. I’ll show you.”
His dad seems very clearly not interested in the wait and see if they’ll notice you method, and turns to Scott. “How’s Kira?”
Scott’s near drugged smile he always gets with hot chocolate turns somehow even sweeter, and Stiles tries not to be pessimistic. “We’ve had some ups and downs, but we’re doing the best we can.”
Stiles is caught off guard by that answer, and wonders just how distracted he’s been by his job and Jackson. Ups he’s seen, downs are new. The conversation continues on, but it’s late, and eventually they are sent with their bags up to Stiles’ old room to change into warm clothes and get ready for dinner. Stiles immediately turns to ask what in the world was going on with Kira, only to find Scott’s angry face directed at him. And Scott’s angry face is not something to mess with. “What?!”
“Fess up. Now.” Scott has the narrowed eyes, flaring nose, all the signs of a fuming puppy. Stiles inches his way around him. “If we aren't here to tell your dad about Jackson, then why are we here? You’ve been acting weird the whole drive. I took a couple days off of work for this trip, man!”
“Okay, okay, okay.” Stiles sits down on his bed, kicking off his shoes. “I’m going to tell you something, but you can’t tell anyone, alright?”
Scott sits cross legged on the ground like he’s not budging until he gets the whole story and Stiles prepares himself for the spilling of guts. “A few years ago, back when I was dating Lydia, I met a guy here.”
Scott wrinkles his nose. “I didn’t even know you knew you liked guys back then. Did you cheat on her?”
“No!” Stiles pauses, thinking back to Derek’s tracing the constellation on his skin. “Not technically. Listen, it’s not like I meant for it to happen, okay? He was a visiting werewolf, and I was trying to help him, and one thing led to another..”
“So you did cheat.”
“No, we didn't even kiss! We just... talked. For, like, six hours. I don’t know what it was, but I couldn’t get enough of the guy, and he couldn’t get enough of me. I hung on his every word, and I didn’t even feel embarrassed by it. It wasn’t like my obsession with Lydia back in high school, ‘cause this guy felt the same way about me. It was insane.”
Scott’s eyes scream suspicion at his words, and Stiles can practically see the gears in his head turning. “So, what happened?”
“Well, we both had girlfriends. And I was super into fate and stuff back then.”
Stiles uses his foot to throw his shoe at him for his laughing tone. “Anyways, we put our names and numbers on random things, and then we did this weird thing with an elevator... I don’t know, I was drunk on infatuation or something. It was stupid, because I don’t even have the same number anymore! But long story short, we ended up leaving that night and we literally don’t know anything but each other’s first names. Do you know how many people have the first name of Derek in Oregon? It’s a lot.”
“Okay. What does that have to do with now?”
Stiles gets up and unzips his bag, tearing everything out to grab the jacket at the bottom. He carries it back to the bed and pulls the bracelet out. “This is part of a matching pair. He has the other one. And this is his jacket. I found it after my fight with Jackson.”
Scott doesn’t say anything for a minute, eventually walking over to sit next to him. He takes the bracelet, and for a second Stiles almost stops him, a possessive feeling striking him. But ultimately he lets Scott look. His darker fingers run over the fake metal, pressing along the wolf and triskelion carvings. Finally Scott grins, looking up. “Dude, this is awesome.”
“I knew you’d treasure it!” Scott gives him a confused look and Stiles waves him off. “Anyways, it all just made me feel like my old self again, you know? Before college, before Lydia, before this goddamn soul sucking job. I just felt like I needed to get here, you know? Maybe... I don’t know, maybe I’ll run into him. Maybe it’s time.”
“Dude.” They stare at each other, Stiles wary of Scott’s reaction, but Scott punches him in the shoulder. “That is totally awesome! That is romantic as hell. We should go right now! Maybe he’s waiting!”
Stiles can’t help but grin, pushing Scott back. He hadn’t realized how much he had been worried about being judged until he started talking, but Scott’s approval was everything. Now they could both run around town like idiots. “First, dinner and a good night's sleep. Tomorrow, we go on a hot guy adventure.”
Scott bats his eyes and gets up to change, rambling sarcastically about how that sounded like his dream day. Stiles looks out the window at the stars, thinking that the sky looked as bright as he felt.
The sky's too bright. It’s not even noon yet, and Derek asks Erica to close the small airplane window so the sun stops shining in his eyes. The flight is short, and he’s glad to have Malia there with him. She’s blunt and awkward towards everyone, but she keeps Erica distracted from Derek’s anxiety. He begs it off as not liking to fly, but it’s his wolf that is really causing the jitteriness of his legs in the middle seat. Like his wolf knows something he doesn’t.
When they get off the plane, Erica is practically jumping. He can’t help but give her a small smile as they wait for their bags, her blonde head swiveling back and forth over the crowd looking for someone that she called ‘her best friend’. Derek is picking up the bags off of the stupid spinning platform when she squeals and runs away, and he can honestly say that he’s never heard her make a noise like that. He shares an amused glance with Malia, and they make their way through the crowd.
She runs straight to a dark skinned man on the other side, practically throwing herself into his arms. He seems to be just as excited to see her, spinning her on the spot. As Derek approaches they part, and he raises an eyebrow at her. She blushes and he can’t help but wonder why he keeps thinking of someone else when he has someone so sweet right in front of him, and the notion makes him a little queasy to acknowledge. “Sorry, guys. This is Boyd. We grew up together, and he’s a very close friend.”
“What kind of name is Boyd?” Malia quips, and Derek knows she’s honestly wondering, but her questions don’t usually come off as anything but rude.
“A last one.” Strangely enough, Boyd’s answer is pretty gruff, but his narrowed eyes are directed at Derek himself. It’s unsettling. Derek shifts on his feet, and holds out his hand.
“I know.” His hand is ignored in favor of grabbing Erica’s bag off of Derek’s shoulder and turning to walk away. Erica sends him a sheepish look, commenting that Boyd is just protective, and they head out to the car.
The drive is just as awkward, but Erica’s near constant chatter and attempts to catch up help. Boyd seems to be happy to talk about anything involving Santa Barbara and has very little interest in hearing about Salem. Malia chimes in with interesting questions that always throw Boyd off, and Derek is once again grateful for her presence, even though he knows he shouldn’t feel so unsettled by the guy. He can understand being protective of Erica. Boyd didn’t know, couldn’t possibly know, but Derek’s mind kept thinking that in a way his protectiveness may be a little warranted.
The meeting of Erica’s pack goes quite a bit better. Alpha Deaton has a good relationship with Laura, just as much as Alpha Reyes. Honestly, with her higher up job in the government dealing with census and relations, it wasn’t hard to make friends with most Alphas. She had a lot to offer in return. Despite his nephew’s distaste for Derek, he lends Derek a car for the vacation, and gets him a discount on a hotel in the city.
Erica’s aunt is there and is just as bright and sweet as Erica always is. She does seem uneasy about and even skirts around the subject of the marriage, and Derek wonders if this side of the family didn’t have as much say in the matter as much as Erica’s dad and their pack did. He actually picks up a lot of unease about the future wedding in general, and at one point during a conversation about it, Boyd disappears. But all in all he and Malia get along with everyone and even have a few good laughs. Mostly at Malia and her unique brand of blunt logic, but she rolls with it, like she always does.
Derek and Erica made the decision to sleep separately long before the flight. They still barely knew each other, even with their commitment to each other, and despite a handful of goodnight kisses that probably could have used a bit more fire, they weren’t fooling themselves into thinking they were close enough to share a hotel room. Even though it’s still only early afternoon, Derek claims that he’s tired and leaves Erica to catch up with her family, taking Malia to the hotel. Erica seems more than happy to see him off, and he tries not to feel weird about it. He’s in the room long enough to drop off the bags before he tells Malia they’re leaving.
“Seriously? And going where?” Malia is distracted pressing a button that raises and lowers the large window blinds, but turns around after a second with bright eyes. “To get food?”
“Uh, sure.” He unzips his suitcase and reaches into the inner pocket, pulling out the bracelet he had stashed in there. The triskelions, mirroring his own tattoo, flash up at him.
Malia sees the jewelry and frowns, heaving a sigh. “Oh, right. We’re going to go do all that lovey dovey stuff. They should make pills for this.” Derek glares at her half heartedly, hesitating for a moment before sliding the bracelet into his jeans. “Why don’t you just wear it? You’re going to be pulling it out to look at it all day anyways.”
“I’m not going to walk around wearing a bracelet that some guy whose whole name I don’t even know gave to me years ago.” He’s not sure how he justifies drawing these invisible lines, but he’s come to terms with the fact that the concept of crazy is very loosely defined in his mind at the moment. He’s never been an impulsive guy, so he’s not exactly on steady footing right now.
Malia throws herself on her bed, and her face couldn’t look more annoyed by the whole situation. He can’t blame her. “It’s a shame. The thing looks like someone put a lot of work into it. Looks kind of girly.”
Derek remembers way back, Stiles’ voice talking about having it hand made by a little shop, needing to order it special. He narrows his eyes, reaching for the last piece of information, and it comes to him easier than he expected. “East Ortega Street.”
“What the hell is that?”
Sadly, East Ortega Street is a bit longer than Derek would have preferred, covered in shops. A lot of them. The more he looks at them the more they look like shops that would sell the bracelet.
“You don’t even know if the store is still around. It probably closed down.”
Derek shakes his head slowly, on instinct. “No, it’s still here. I know it.”
He soon finds out that between the awkward way he talks to strangers, and Malia’s confusion at the sunshiney attitude of the majority of the patrons, finding out where the bracelet is from is like pulling nails. To be fair, he thinks he would be pretty weirded out if two people who looked like them came in, one of them pretty passionately wanting to know about a bracelet that’s not even made with real metal and the other looking like she doesn't understand anything that’s going on. It ends up taking them two hours to find the store, but he was right, it was still around. He shows the bracelet and the stuffy old man behind the counter raises his eyebrows, taking it from him.
“Ah, yes. That’s my handiwork. See the initials?” He turns one of the plates over and sure enough there is an engraving of two small letters in the corner. Derek never would have realized they were letters without the man’s prompting. “I stopped making those years ago, however, so if you lost the pair then I’m afraid I can’t help you.”
Derek scrambles internally, caught off guard by the change in answer. He and Malia share a look before he continues on. “Actually, I need to find the other half of this, and I was hoping you could help me. Do you have records of who all custom ordered these?”
“Yes...” The man looks between the two of them, and sniffs haughtily. “That’s the private information of my customers, though. I could never divulge that.”
“No, I swear, I’m not trying to do anything bad with it, I just need to find the guy who bought them.”
“That’s all very well and good, sir, but I’m not sure what business it is of yours.”
Derek grits his teeth, his hands balling into fists, trying to think about how the hell he could reason with this man. “You don't understand, I have to find this guy. I know the exact day it was picked up, all you would have to do is look it up.”
“No, you don’t understand. That’s not my place.”
Derek opens his mouth to argue, but they both stop and turn around as they hear a crash behind them. Standing next to a tall stack of shelves in the middle of the room is Malia. One of the many large, round glass ornaments from the shelf is shattered on the ground, Malia’s hand still raised from where she knocked it off. The man sputters. “What are you doing?”
“Breaking your stuff.”
“Those are quite expensive, young lady! You’ll have to pay for that!”
“I won’t, though.” Malia’s hand grips the shelf, slowly leaning it not half a centimeter off the ground. The ornaments tip slightly and Derek can hear the man suck in a sharp breath. “I’m not even from here. I could knock this whole shelf over, walk out of here, jump on a plane, and you’ll never find me to even try to make me pay for it. I’m tired and I’m hungry and this is annoying, since my cousin is asking very nicely.”
The man and Malia have a sort of intense stare off, leaving Derek to look back and forth between them uncomfortably. It wasn't the kind of method he had planned, but the man wasn’t outright refusing anymore. Finally he looks away, turning to his computer. Apparently, he figured pretending like his customer’s privacy was important stopped being fun. “What day was it bought?”
Good news, there was only one bracelet set picked up that day. Bad news, it didn’t have a name attached. It did, however, have an address to a loft about an hour away, and Derek manages to be there in less. And that included picking Malia up a hamburger. She’s licking her fingers as they ride up the elevator. “This is getting fun. I’m kind of starting to hope you find this guy.”
Derek can’t bring himself to answer, stepping out of the elevator and walking to the door marked with a bright gold twenty-three. He stares at his favorite number, steeling himself, when his preparation is interrupted by Malia’s hand knocking for him. He glares at her and she shrugs. “What? I want to know!”
Before he can respond, the door opens, and it’s a woman on the other side. She has bright red hair and pale skin, and she’s looking at them with an expression of such sheer judgement he’s completely thrown off. “Can I help you?”
Malia moves for him again. “Does Stiles live here?”
Turns out, no he doesn’t. He never has, though he almost did at one point. Three years ago. When this woman and Stiles were dating. Derek starts to feel more and more uncomfortable, and Malia gets more and more interested. He starts to think maybe she secretly likes watching those super dramatic soap operas. “You guys broke up? What happened?” He glares at her, hoping it has nothing to do with him.
Lydia leans against the door frame, sipping from a large glass of wine. “You try keeping up a sexual relationship when your parents get married and you're technically siblings. Things get awkward. Fast.”
Derek’s eyebrows go up, but he’s quick to focus in. “Wait, so you’re still in contact with him? Do you have his number?”
“In contact? No. His number? Perhaps.” Lydia’s eyes narrow, and she sips her glass again, the sound of someone moving around the apartment evident behind her. “Why do you want to know?”
Malia opens her mouth, but Derek is quick to cut her off this time. “I have something of his. It’s important that I find him.”
The girl seems to be able to tell he’s lying, but before she can say whatever words come to her mind, a voice calls from behind her saying that dinner is ready. A very affectionate voice. Lydia responds that she’s coming, before sizing Derek up again. “What time is it?”
Derek pulls out his phone as soon as the question registers. “4:45.”
“Three blocks from here is my mom’s store. It’s a shopping center called Brightside, and her store is called Say Yes. She closes early on Saturdays, but if you run you could catch her.” Derek looks at her incredulously, but she gives a shrug. “What can I say? He’s not really in my life anymore, I’m tipsy, and it’s date night. I’ll let her make the decision.”
Derek isn’t ashamed to say that he runs as soon as the door is closed. Luckily, Malia runs right alongside him, weaving through the people on the road. It’s too late though. The lights are dark, and the store is closed. Malia growls, crossing her arms, and goes up to the door. She cups her face to look inside, but apparently she doesn’t see anything. “It says they are closed on Sundays and Mondays. We could come back Tuesday morning before our flight. Or I could go back and see if that drunk girl will give me her mother’s number?”
Derek doesn’t answer. All he can do is stare at the mannequins in the window. Two mannequins, holding hands, one with a wig of black hair and one with long, blonde. One in a tuxedo and one in a beautiful wedding gown. “No. We need to go back to the hotel. This is over.”
Malia seems more than annoyed by the idea. “What? Why?”
“I don’t know what I think I’m doing. This was stupid.”
“Are you serious? You’re backing out now, as soon as I’m actually interested? What about all those signs you were talking about?”
Derek’s only answer is to gesture, somewhat violently, to the window. “This is a bridal shop, Malia! If that’s not a sign, I don’t know what is!” He sinks his fingers into his hair closing his eyes. He only opens them as he feels a pressure against his leg, and a soft mew. A black cat is staring up at him with bright yellow eyes, a bell jingling on it’s collar, and he sighs. “Let’s go.”
“Aw, look at the kitty!” The day is young, Stiles is totally full of hope, and Scott has already found an animal to coo over. They were off to a good start. Scott scoops the black cat up as they step away from the curb, the cab driving away. “Where to next?” He asks excitedly, scratching the cat’s ears.
Stiles hums, closing his eyes. “Wherever my gut takes me, I guess.” The dinging of the bell on the cat's collar is drowned out for a moment by the ringing of a bell down the road, and Stiles starts walking in the direction. “I don’t know man, I just feel like I need to be here. Like, if something's going to happen I just have to make myself available for it.”
The cat jumps down as they walk, heading in the opposite direction like it has someplace to be. Scott is practically vibrating with excitement, and it only feeds into Stiles’ own mood. “I like it! Super magical.”
“I haven’t felt this way for years, man. I feel alive. Nothing can get me down today.”
He was pretty much wrong about that. The ringing bell took him to a store that was having a sale, which took them both down a street of vendors. A flyer on the ground sent them to a library art sale, which then had them running away when Scott accidentally stuck a claw through one of the canvases. Ultimately, it ends up past lunch time, and the energy from the morning is waning fast as they dig into sandwiches.
“Maybe the absence of signs is a sign.” Stiles comments, grabbing the tiny sword from the bread and throwing it at Scott’s face.
Scott is unaffected, taking a giant bite and chewing like he was in ecstasy. “Do you think that’s reading too much into it?”
Stiles sighs, looking around the restaurant. “How the hell am I supposed to know? I’m not an expert at this, I’m flying by the seat of my pants.”
“Seat of My Pants would be an awesome band name.”
“Maybe this was a mistake.”
Scott shakes his head, licking his fingers. “No, man, don’t think about it like that.” Stiles raises an eyebrow, obviously demanding how he’s supposed to think about things. “Listen, even if we don’t end up running into Derek in the middle of the street, this was the most fun I’ve had in months! You had a dream, and you went after it, and that’s cool.”
“How is it cool if it fails?”
“Because you knew there was a good chance it was going to fail, and you did it anyways.” Scott crumbles up his napkin and tosses it to him, and Stiles smiles at the retaliation. “You’re the shit, man!”
Scott’s voice carries, and an older lady next to them gives them a curious look. “That would be me, the shit.” Stiles comments to her, and Scott is still laughing when the waitress comes by with a fancy coffee drink. “Alright man, let’s get this to Natalie and pray to god Lydia isn’t there.”
“C’mon, you don’t even kind of miss her?” Scott’s face makes it obvious that he’s trying to get a rise out of Stiles, but Stiles still can’t help it.
“I slept with my sister, Scott!”
Luckily, Lydia is nowhere to be found and Natalie is grateful for the drink, chattering away about things they could all do together with the shop closed the next two days. The tuxedos and happy couples only seem to discourage Stiles further, and before it even hits two o’clock he’s ready to abandon the dream and go back to his dad’s house. They leave the store and walk through the shopping complex. Scott’s arm is around his neck, asking where they are going next and trying to rev him back to his earlier glory, when they run into someone and Scott’s face lights up. “Erica!”
The blonde woman turns around, and she smiles brightly. “Scott, oh my god! When did you get back in town?”
“I’m just visiting, when did you get back?”
“Same here!” They seem both incredibly surprised at the chances, leaving Stiles and the older woman by Erica’s side to sit there awkwardly. Erica seems to clue into the rudeness quicker than Scott, but most people do. She gestures between their close bodies. “Is this your..?”
They look at each other for a second before splitting apart quickly, Stiles rubbing the back of his neck where Scott’s arm was while Scott answers. “No, sorry, this is Stiles!”
“Oh, Stiles, I heard a lot about you!”
Scott turns to him, explaining. “Erica is in Deaton’s pack. She helped Boyd and me with that stability training way back when.”
“Oh, nice to meet you!” He shakes her hand and her aunt’s, before Erica gets to talking again. She seemed like a nice enough girl, but Stiles was barely able to focus. Especially when he sees a sign inside the bookstore Erica just left. He slaps Scott’s arm softly and smiles apologetically at the two new people before walking inside.
The sign is right inside the door, and is pointing to a hallway off to the side. It says “Predeterminism in Antiquity” from a group called the History Hunters. The hall is long and doesn't look remotely as nice as the shelves of books in the store. He’s not sure why he decides to walk down to the open meeting room and listen in, but he has a feeling it was for the same reason he came back home in the first place.
“I think predeterminism and fatalism is the same thing.” A man with red hair says, leaning back in his chair.
A woman across the table is quick to argue. “No, I think they have some differences. Mostly on what control human actions have on the future, what choices we have.”
A guy not much older than Stiles snorts derisively, and he comes off as a bit of an asshole. “No, I think both believe the exact same thing. That we don’t control anything and nothing we do affects anything because it’s already predetermined. It’s literally in the name.”
“There are intricacies, though. It’s not black and white.” The woman has her nose scrunched and she seemed to hate the younger guy as much as Stiles does.
“No, it’s literally that basic.” He shrugs nonchalantly, reaffirming the whole ‘asshole’ title. “I think it’s all stupid. I don’t care what Nietzsche says, people who sit around believing in fatalism waste their lives away and miss all the chances they have to actually be happy.”
Stiles had heard enough and turns to walk away. He needed to grab Scott and go home. He needed to make sure his dad eats a salad. He needed to drop by work and write an article or five. Because the asshole was right.
But just because that’s the way the world works, Stiles is distracted from Scott’s grumpiness at giving up by Jackson sitting on the ground outside of his dad’s front door.
Erica sitting on the ground outside of his hotel room door is the perfect distraction from Malia’s constant complaining about the night being a waste of time. “Hey.”
The blonde looks up from her phone and smiles, moving to stand. “Hey, I was just about to call you! Sorry to just show up unannounced.”
“It’s fine, is everything okay?”
“Yeah, I just wanted to give you something.” She gives a shy smile to Malia and Malia appropriately excuses herself, stepping into the room. “Wanna go for a walk?”
They take the elevator down and step out onto the sidewalk. The sun is going low by now, and he is reminded of their ‘soulmate’ walk in Salem. The talk that really cemented things for him, that maybe this was a chance he needed to take. He tried to look at Erica with new eyes, wondering if maybe he was supposed to take that conversation to focus on her. Maybe this was normal for someone in an arranged marriage, to freak out a bit. He wonders if she felt the same way as him.
“I wanted to apologize.”
Surprisingly, it wasn’t Derek that said that. Instead, Erica is looking sheepish. “For what?”
“For earlier. Things were weird, and Boyd was... he really is just protective, you know? I care about him a lot, he’s just...” Derek feels like there are all kinds of ways for that sentence to end, and he’s not sure by the look on her face she was going to say any of the negative ones. She shakes herself quickly, though, and Derek finds himself unsettled. “And I feel like I haven’t really been here, in this thing, not fully. I keep having these silly thoughts, these silly ideas from when I was a dreamy teen, about true love. It’s childish and it’s not fair to you. So, I’m sorry.”
Derek finds himself relating to her words, and it crushes him. He shouldn’t have been doing this to her. The whole afternoon was spent in the wrong place, talking to the wrong people, searching for the wrong person. Thinking of the wrong person. It wasn’t fair to Erica at all, but in a way he feels relieved. Apparently he wasn’t the only one freaking out. “I think I owe you an apology, too. I think this is just an adjustment. We’re allowed a period of uncertainty.”
Erica smiles at him, and she stops and turns to him, pointing over her shoulder to a car. “This is me. I just wanted to say that, and to invite you and Malia to breakfast in the morning. I gave Boyd a very firm talking to and he will be on his best behavior, I promise.”
“Sounds fun.” Derek laughs. At least Malia will be grateful for the food.
She starts to walk toward the street before stopping, turning back to him on her heel. “Oh, and I got you something! I went shopping with my aunt, and I saw it and... I don’t know, think of it as an apology in page form.” She reaches into the bag she was carrying and pulls out a book.
Somehow, Derek knows what book it is before she even turns it over. He’s proven correct. The bright red cover and yellow lettering glares up at him in the streetlight, and he takes it from her with shaking hands, swallowing the growing lump in his throat. The Art of War. Hardback. He slowly looks up, realizing she’s talking. “...you flipping through all the copies that time we went by that used bookstore, and they were all in such bad condition. When I saw how great this one looked, I called Cora and asked if you had a copy, and she said no. Sorry if I was mistaken.”
He realizes her apology must have something to do with the look on his face, and he quickly looks back down to the pages in his hand. The book really was like new, and he had long lost his only copy. Things around him, the people on the street, the whole world seems to slow as he opens up to the first page. Sprawled on the white is a name and number. He slams the book closed and time speeds to catch up, his head raising quickly. “Thank you, Erica.” He’s not sure if the emotion in his voice would worry her, but he couldn’t control it. “This was a really thoughtful gift.”
Erica grins, stepping up to kiss his cheek sweetly, and then she’s in her car and gone. He doesn't remember walking back, or taking the elevator, or stepping into the hotel room. He does remember when Malia asks what the hell is wrong with his face. He holds the book up and Malia blanches, taking it from him quickly to look inside. “Where’d you find it?!”
“Erica gave it to me. As a present. To say she’s sorry for not being completely faithful to the idea of us getting married.”
Malia has the decency to quell her excitement as she looks up, knowing the messed up ties this all had together. But it doesn’t deter her in the slightest. “Derek, you have to call him. I don’t know what the hell kind of name Meonienim is, but you have to call him.” Derek doesn’t move and she charges him and reaches into his pocket, pulling out his cell phone. “This trumps a bridal shop, okay?”
He finds himself nodding, and starts to wonder if he’s in shock. The numbers are typed in slowly, and he presses call at the same pace, gradually raising the phone to his ear. After a second it’s lowered again. “It’s disconnected. It’s not his number anymore.”
Malia had fallen to sit on the bed and her whole body crumbles in disappointment. ”Seriously? Seriously?!” She throws her hands up, and any other time he would have appreciated that she was getting invested in the whole thing. “Does that mean it’s over? Is that all we have?”
Derek watches her face, and thinks about the last week. All of the signs. He thinks of the kids talking about Star Wars, and he thinks about the beach movie. He thinks of the likelihood that Erica was from this area, and he thinks about how lucky he was to find Lydia. He thinks about the fact that Erica just handed this book to him. And he knows it’s not over. He presses a button and raises the phone back to his ear. “Laura, I need a favor. Can you look up an address for me?”
Malia doesn’t even blink when they find out there’s only one Meonienim Stilinski in California, and he lives in Los Angeles. Derek’s fairly sure he wouldn’t be able to get rid of her if he tried. The drive is stressful. The first part catches the tail end of rush hour, and the rest is filled with Malia’s taste in music, which is heavy in beats that Derek doesn’t think usually leave clubs. He can’t focus enough to argue, though, and it’s not like either of them are conversationalists enough to fill the time without music.
After close to four hours driving and parking spot searching, he’s running up a flight of stairs, Malia on his tail. It’s late, the quarter moon already high in the sky, and he had considered asking her to stay in the car, since his dream reconnection with Stiles had never really included her by his side, but he doesn’t try to deny her. She’d been by his side this whole time, and she’s by his side as he knocks on the door, praying for brown eyes like hot chocolate on the other side.
Instead he gets an asian woman, staring at him through the crack of the door given to him by the chain lock in place. “Um... can I help you?”
Derek blinks, wondering how in the hell he could knock on two wrong doors in one day. “Hi, I’m looking for Meon.. uh, Stiles. Is this where Stiles lives?”
The woman unlocks the door, giving him a sad smile. “Oh, yes! But you missed him, I’m afraid. I’m just house sitting. You know, watering his plants and all that.”
“Where is he?” Malia demands and Derek doesn't waste his breath telling her to be nice.
“He went back home for a bit, to tell his dad he got engaged. Which, oh shoot, may be a secret. You better not tell anyone!”
When they are back in the car, Derek thanking the woman and leaving her with a confused expression, Malia doesn’t turn the music back on. They drive away in silence, back towards Santa Barbara. Derek’s thoughts are more lost than ever, a confusing mess that he doesn’t know how to begin to untangle. He’s surprised to hear Malia start to speak, and begin the unraveling for him.
“Life’s a mess, Derek.” He can’t help but agree. “It’s chaos. It’s not some elaborate play. But there has to be some meaning behind it.” He doesn’t look at her, staring out the window at the road before him, lit only by headlights and the moon in the sky. “I don’t know how much I believed in this fate stuff before this trip, but I don’t think it’s fair to believe that all of this didn’t mean anything. It has to mean something.”
Derek chuckles, and even he hates the noise. It’s sick with aggravation. “I have no idea what.”
“Couldn’t it just mean you chased this life, because you don’t want to live a different one?”
Two hours without traffic bring them back to the hotel, and Malia goes straight to bed. Derek doesn’t sleep. But as the day breaks, he knows what he needs to do. He sips nasty hotel coffee as he watches the sunrise and reassures himself that he’s sure. That this is what needs to happen. That he should trust his gut and listen to it, really listen to what it’s telling him. He leaves a note for Malia and gets in the car, driving back to Alpha Deaton’s home.
Erica greets him at the door. “Hey.”
“I need to talk to you.” Derek is barely in the door when he blurts it out. He had been intending to have a bit more decorum, but as long as it gets done. There was no way they were going to have privacy in a house with mostly werewolves anyways.
“Okay...” She reaches out to set her hands on his arms, and he finds the touch reassuring. “I’m listening.”
“What you said last night. About silly dreams. About letting go.” Her kind eyes don’t leave his face, and the affection he feels for her sweet demeanor just pushes him further. Drives him. “I can’t allow you to do that.”
She blinks, looking confused. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that it’s not fair to you to let it go. Neither of us should let those things go. This, this thing between us...” He hands come up to grip her arms back, his thumbs rubbing the inside of her elbows as he forces the words out in some modicum of sense. “It’s not meant to be, even if it will help our packs. It’s not meant to be if it kills some part of us.”
He hears Erica swallow, but nowhere on her face does he see any disappointment. Just shock.
“Don’t let anyone make you think that true love and those dreamy teenage dreams can’t actually happen, okay? Even if it seems like everything is in your way, or it’s impossible, listen to the world. You may not have a wolf inside you, but the world will still point you in the direction you’re supposed to be. And I’m thinking it’s not pointing you to me.”
Erica stares at him for a moment longer, and Derek starts to feel embarrassed by his speech. But deliberately her eyes turn to stare behind him, and bit by bit he pushes himself to turn as well. Everyone in the room is staring at him. Everyone but one person. Boyd is standing behind them, and he only has eyes for Erica. Derek looks between them, sensing something in the way they stare, and he sighs. “Seriously? That’s why he hates me?”
Erica breaks their gaze and a flush rises in her cheeks. “I’m sorry, Derek. It’s a long story.”
Derek squeezes her arms, letting his hands lower to grip hers. “But I bet it’s a good one.”
“So? Was this a bad surprise? Or a good one?”
Stiles and Jackson had left Scott behind to go and see his mom, and Stiles was whisked away back to the city. Jackson thought a walk would do them good. Stiles tried to avoid a certain part of the beach. “A... surprising one?”
Jackson's face makes it obvious that’s not the answer he had been hoping for, and Stiles isn’t surprised. “Listen, I just really wanted to say I was sorry.”
“Of course I am.” The streets are busy right around dinner time, but not too loud. No one is drunk yet, at least. “I didn’t mean to imply that I only wanted to marry you for the movie, okay? I promise that’s not the case. And I completely own up to the fact that I handled the whole thing like a dick.”
Stiles nods. “Yeah, that’s true. A big one.” His graphic humor is never lost on Jackson, and tonight is no different. They share a small smile and Jackson reaches down to hold his hand. Stiles lets him, and hates himself a little bit.
“I wanted to propose to you, because... I don’t know, it was this bug that got in my head, and it seemed like such a good idea at the time. I thought about it the last couple of nights, though, and I get why you ran. I probably could have asked you to move in with me first.”
Jackson’s fingers are cold on his skin, and Stiles should be focusing on his apology instead of his fingertips. “Yeah, that probably would have been smarter.”
“Well, consider this me asking. I proposed because I panicked.” Jackson stops walking and pulls Stiles’ feet to be still as well. “I have to move out of the country for the movie. New Zealand. It’s not like my press tours, this will probably be for six months, at least. And I don’t want to go without you.”
Stiles’ eyebrows go up at the idea, but he’s surprised to find he doesn’t consider it for a second. “I have a job, Jackson.”
Jackson’s eyebrows come together in confusion, as if it hadn’t occurred to him. “Stiles, you can write little articles anywhere. Hell, if you went with an up-and-coming movie star for a year, you’d probably get an even better job when you get back. I could write you a reference.”
It’s in that moment Stiles realizes what Jackson is. Jackson’s nothing more than a placeholder to Stiles. And Stiles was apparently nothing more than a fun accessory to Jackson. Jackson didn't care about what made Stiles happy, he only cared about what made them both happy together. It was sweet, but it wasn’t enough. It never would be. He doesn’t feel any anger towards Jackson at the realization, or anger at himself. It just is what it is. He’s not sure why he couldn’t see it earlier.
Before he can say anything about it, Jackson’s phone rings. Jackson checks the screen and curses under his breath. “It’s my agent...” Stiles waits, but he already knows what’s coming next. “Just give me one minute, okay?”
Stiles doesn’t. Jackson turns to answer the phone and he walks away, down the block further. He knows Jackson can probably still see him, and he knows from experience that Jackson will be done soon enough. But he also knows he’s tired of being the person waiting, and the person put second best. He stops to lean against a street lamp, his foot tapping on the pavement.
A couple walks past him, curled close to each other even though it’s barely chilly and comments on the stars in the sky. He looks up, wondering how the time went by so quickly. He didn’t even remember the sun setting. But the stars and the quarter moon are shining brightly, and he can’t look away from them. Not even when Jackson comes to stand next to him.
“They all have names, you know?” Jackson comments, and Stiles doesn’t realize he’s searching them, but he is. “Like the dippers, and stuff. I never learned them all, really.”
It takes a few more seconds, but when he finds Cygnus, he can’t unsee it. It stands out to him like the sun, and he breathes deeply, any tension leaving his body like the random collection of dots in the sky are connected to him personally. He rolls his sleeve up, looking from his arm to the sky, and he realizes they really are. “Cygnus.”
Stiles looks away from the constellation to Jackson’s face. His handsome face. His endearing eyes. That slightly douchey brain that meant so well, but never seemed to quite get there. And he realizes that he feels more connected to the stars in the sky than he’s ever felt with Jackson, stranger in the streets be damned. He knew what he needed to do, and it had nothing to do with Derek.
“So, you just... ended it?” Scott asks the next morning.
Stiles nods slowly, sighing. “Yep. We got some food, and I told him straight up.”
“You told him about Derek?”
“No.” Jackson had been confused, but there was no reason to mention Derek. “It had nothing to do with Derek. I’m not looking for Derek anymore. I broke up with him because we weren’t supposed to be together. We were just passing the time, honestly. I explained it the best I could, gave him his ring back, he gave me a wad of cash for a cab... he went back to Los Angeles, as far as I know.”
Stiles shrugs. “Ring never fit anyways.”
“And you’re really not looking for Derek anymore either?”
“No.” Scott looks devastated. Stiles tilts his head, thinking back to how excited and supportive Scott had been yesterday. “You okay, man?”
“Yeah, man, it’s just... thanks.”
Scott shrugs, but Stiles doesn’t speak, knowing his best friend is just gathering his thoughts. “Things haven’t been going too good with Kira and me, honestly. A lot of fights, over stupid stuff mostly. But she’s almost moved out a couple of times.”
Kira not being with Scott is akin to the sun not taking turns with the damn moon. They were totally meant to be together, and the idea of them secretly fighting tilts Stiles’ worldview. “I’m so sorry, man.”
Scott surprises him again by smiling instead. “No, like I said - thanks. Because this, all of this, is what we’ve been missing, honestly. The romance, the passion, the fate and soulmate and... obsession, you know? And I’m going to bring that back. ‘Cause we used to have it, man. I don’t know what took it away, if it was school or her mom’s pressure on her career, or maybe a little of everything, but I think we can get it back.”
At least something good came out of this adventure. Maybe that was why he did it, why he was pulled here, to see he wasn’t supposed to be with Jackson, and reassure Scott he was meant to be with Kira. He just wished it had a bit more of a happy ending, instead of leaving him with more and more questions about where he was going. “You’re such an ass. You acted all mad because I didn’t tell you about Derek, but you came here to get a break from Kira!”
“Well... yeah.” Scott grins sheepishly. Stiles should have known, honestly. Maybe he’d been too caught up in the adventure. “So, what’s the plan now?”
Stiles takes a deep breath, wondering if he even knew the answer. But surprisingly, he did. He had done enough thinking last night, and in the morning light he wasn’t questioning any of his decisions. “We’ll go home tonight. I think I’m going to go into town one last time. Get some breakfast or something. Just try to clear my head. But then we’ll go home.”
“And then I buy Kira a bouquet bigger than her head.” Scott’s hand lands on his shoulder and they share a grin. “Good luck, man.”
Stiles wasn’t sure he needed it. Of course, he went to clear his head in the same part of downtown... he even decided to get breakfast at Serendipity. But he didn’t actually consider himself looking. He just liked the food at the cafe, and it seemed like the perfect place to end this adventure. Seeing Derek again, though, he could admit that sounded amazing. Okay, maybe he looked a little bit at the stranger’s faces around him. If nothing happened, he would survive, though. He wasn’t as desperate as before. He was pretty sure.
The cafe is busy, but he pushes through anyways, for sentimental sake. He passes the table they sat at, two girls seated across from each other, holding hands as they talk. They looked happy, and he wondered how long they’d known each other. Years, like Scott and Kira? Months? Days? He doesn’t feel bitter, but smiles softly instead. He spends a bit too long thinking about how long happiness lasts, stupid existential crap, and he’s caught completely unsure when it’s time to order. He scrambles and points out a muffin, already thinking about how it won’t be near enough food as he digs out the last of the cash Jackson gave him last night.
He hands the money over as the bored waitress gives him his food, but as she straightens the bills, Stiles’ heart slows to a near stop. The whole damn shop slows as the sun from the tall windows shine on her hands and he sees a blue scrawl on the green paper clear as day. It had been in his pocket. Jackson had given it to him. Derek’s name was right there.
Time catches up and his hand shoots out, grabbing the bill, fumbling as she jumps. “Uh, sir, I need...”
“I know, I know! I... Hale.” He has the bill spread out now, a thick five and Honest Abe’s head surrounded the best quick handwriting Stiles thinks he’s ever seen. He finds himself grinning, for no good reason, in the front of the line with a confused teenager staring at him. He’s grinning because this has to mean something. After everything, this has to mean something. Even if all it means is that this isn’t over yet.
The cashier clears her throat awkwardly, and Stiles’ head shoots up, a deer in the headlights. His mind rushes as he tries to think something other than ‘oh my god oh my god what the hell’ on repeat. He shoves a ten into the girl’s hand, telling her to keep the change, and grabs his muffin to rush to the side of the counter. His phone is shaking in his hand as he pulls it out, typing the number in carefully. He has trouble pressing call, his nerves overcoming his thumb, but inevitably he pushes it down. Because it feels right.
Suddenly, the cafe doesn’t seem so busy. It seems calm and quiet, as if the only noise is the slow ringing of a call in his ear. The call in his ear and the bright ringing of a cell phone around the corner of the restaurant. Stiles isn't sure how he knows he should follow the noise, but he figures he knows the same way he’s always known. The sheer intuition that always comes with Derek. Derek Hale.
Because of course it’s Derek. Derek, sitting at a booth, now in plain sight, pulling out his phone and scrunching his dark eyebrows at the probably unfamiliar number. He looked exactly the same as he did three years ago, except maybe even more handsome. He pushes the phone to his ear, and his gruff voice, deeper than the first time they met, greets Stiles. “Hello?”
“Hi.” At this point, Stiles is only a couple of feet away. Derek’s head lifts, and he can only imagine what the two sources of his voice sounded like to a werewolf’s ears, but then he has hazel eyes on him and he stops breathing, let alone thinking. They stand there for an awkward minute, staring at each other, before Stiles slowly moves forward to sit across from him. They still take embarrassingly long to hang up the phones, and Stiles is proud to say he was the first one to do it.
“I just tried to pay for my muffin with this.” Stiles slides the five dollar bill onto the table tentatively. Derek’s eyes drop to it, before looking at the book Stiles hadn’t noticed was between them. Art of War. Stiles reaches out slowly and opens the cover, and there was his name and old number. He swallows, his lips curling at the edges. “I guess you didn’t have much luck calling me with that.”
“I went to your house.” Stiles’ eyebrows go up, and Derek’s voice sounds wrecked. Wrecked in a delicious, attractive, meaningful way. Like a confession. “Your apartment, I mean. I looked up your name and found your address and went to your apartment. A woman answered the door and she told me you were in Santa Barbara telling your dad you were engaged.”
“Yeah... I wasn't. I’m not. I broke up with him last night.” Was that too much information? Then again, was it too much information that Derek somehow found out where he lived? He should probably be freaked out, but he had a feeling he would have done the same thing. “Full disclosure, I guess.”
“Full disclosure?” Derek smiles and Stiles mimics it unconsciously. “Well, that book you’re holding? My fiancée bought it for me, as a present. I broke up with her this morning.” Stiles isn't sure what reaction his face gave, but it must have been a comical one by the sound of the chuckle on Derek’s lips. “It’s alright. Pretty sure she’s in love with someone else.”
“Were you in love with her?”
“No.” Derek almost has a laugh to his voice. “But that’s a whole other story. And look at me now.”
Stiles finds the laughter to be as infectious as Derek’s smile, but the idea of Derek being engaged to someone else this morning flared both his belief in this crazy adventure and his anxiety. “Am I crazy? Am I crazy to think this is all...?” He can’t come up with an ending to his sentence, grasping for the proper word. But somehow he feels like Derek understands, that maybe Derek feels it too. Ultimately he reaches into his pocket, revealing the bracelet that’s hidden away, letting the chain run over his fingers gently.
Derek watches his fingers for a moment before his own hand disappears below the table, and comes back up with a mirror copy of the bracelet in hand. Any anxiety he may have felt in the recesses of his mind dips low enough to be non-existent, and when Derek’s hesitant voice crosses the table, Stiles starts to feel more sure than anything. “All I know is that I don’t think I want you to leave here without me, and if that makes me crazy, then so be it.”
The grin Stiles gives him is probably the dorkiest expression he has ever wore, but he can’t even control it. He thinks about the last couple of days, he thinks about the last couple of years. He wonders where Derek lives, wonders what Derek does, wonders what the future holds. But none of it scares him, because he knows they’ll figure it out, together. “What should we do?”
Stiles knew the answer before Derek even said it. “Literally anything.”