“You cannot use a made up thing from Harry Potter as a word!”
“It’s not a proper noun, and I’m like 98% sure I saw it on the Merriam-Webster online dictionary,” Stiles countered, surprisingly and pleasantly actually amused at Derek’s pouting.
“No,” Derek said, stubborn. “I refuse to let you play the word 'quaffle.' There’s no way it’s in the actual, legitimate dictionary.”
“Quaffle is a perfectly legitimate word, dude.”
Derek pressed his lips into a thin line, glaring at Stiles as if trying to make the power of such a look force Stiles to submit.
After The Night of Share and Care, as Stiles had dubbed it (though it was only just the night before), he and Derek had come to an understanding. It was obvious that, alone, they were both spiraling down and collapsing in on themselves, and after Laura left and they’d stood quietly together for a long stretch of time, Stiles had finally suggested that they try to do this together, or at least to get along. Not to be so isolated.
He hadn’t really expected Derek to agree at first, because Derek’s words about wanting to be left alone were still pretty fresh in Stiles’ head. But Derek had, in so few words, told Stiles he was willing to try to make this whole “dead-and-stuck-together” thing work. He said they should sleep on it, and Stiles had bug-eyed dropped his jaw and blurted, “Sleep?!” like the word had somehow personally offended him. Derek had rolled his eyes and said, “Just shut yourself down, you’ll wake up in a few hours, you never stay out long,” and left Stiles to figure it out.
So Stiles went up to his attic room and lay down on the comfy bed, and at the thought of sleep and “shutting off,” as Derek had so eloquently put it, he fell into some kind of weird darkness, waking up what he assumed was the next day to the sun poking through the yellow curtains.
He’d met Derek on the beach, where they sat around for a few hours that morning, quiet, but it wasn’t long until Stiles felt an energy that hadn’t been around in a while, the kind of energy that set his mouth running and put ants in his pants, giving him the feeling that he needed to be doing something. It was surprising, but he’d taken it and run. It was just - he felt like he had a goal again, something he hadn’t had since he died, and something he’d had trouble buying into even when he was alive. It wasn’t nearly as magnified as the kind of drive he’d had before the... before, but it was enough that he’d poked at Derek and asked if there was anything to do around there other than beach bum and read.
Which led them to their current situation, arguing over words in Scrabble, and Stiles found himself - wait for it - enjoying engaging another person.
Seriously, having actual good feelings - small, maybe, but still there - about something (anything) was the best ever.
“I’m not letting you play 'quaffle.'”
“Oh, c’mon man, I let you play 'bibble' on a triple word score, and I’m pretty sure you just smashed together 'bite' and 'nibble' to get that.”
“Bibble is a word, it’s not my fault that your vocabulary sucks.”
Stiles rolled his eyes. “Yeah, but you are at least partially responsible for the noticeable lack of dictionary around here. Who has a Scrabble game but no dictionary?”
Derek sighed through his nose, casting his own eyes upward (quite possibly begging the powers that be for patience) before settling them back on Stiles.
Derek leaned forward, staring Stiles down.
Stiles pursed his lips and held eye contact with Derek for a long moment before flailing one hand in exasperation, though internally he was becoming more and more amused.
“Fine! Spoilsport,” Stiles said, making a show of taking back some of his letters and rearranging the others. “There, 'equal.' Happy now, picky pansy?”
“I’m not being picky, half the words you want to play aren’t even words,” Derek said, face frowny but body relaxed. “You tried to play 'splunker' earlier, like I wouldn’t know the difference. I’m wondering if I should be insulted.”
“I’m just testing you out, getting a feel for what I’m up against.”
“You mean you want to know if you can get away with cheating.”
“I never!” Stiles gasped, mock-insulted. “I’ll have you know I am so straight-laced I can’t even tie shoes.”
“Good thing you’ll never need to again,” Derek said, nodding down at Stiles’ socked feet. Stiles huffed a little, feigning indignity.
“Low blow, man, it’s not my fault I died in my pj’s with no shoes on,” Stiles wiggled his toes in his socks.
Whatever haunting type thing he was doing here with Derek, an interesting thing to note was that he would never again lose his socks or any other item of clothing on his person. Somehow whatever he was missing always ended up right where he happened to be looking, even if there wasn’t a chance that he’d left it there. Last night he’d taken his socks off to “sleep,” and when he thought of his socks again that morning in the kitchen after coming in from the beach, he found them in the sink, put there by some creepy magic.
Derek shrugged. “Could have been worse,” he said, and Stiles’ brain immediately jumped to something he’d thought of his second day dead.
“So I’m not the only one here who’s thankful that they didn’t kick the bucket in their birthday suit.”
Derek gave him a flat look. “Thank god I don’t do yard work naked and you actually wear clothes in the house.”
Stiles snorted a laugh, surprised by Derek’s dry sense of humor, but even more surprised that he was really laughing.
He was so busy having major internal analysis concerning a genuine reaction that he almost missed Derek’s little, tiny, eensy half-smile, and something in him that had long been cold and dead started, just barely, to ease and warm. It was kind of like a spark in a blizzard, but he’d take it any day.
Also, Derek doing naked yard work wasn’t a bad thought... Until Stiles thought of the grass and the dirt in unpleasant places. But, moving on, there were some things he’d like to know.
“Have you had some renters of the “love-the-naked” variety since you’ve been here?” Stiles asked. Derek was probably above shuddering, but Stiles didn’t miss his small facial twitch. “You have, haven’t you! Oh my god, who was it and were there multiple people? Was it like, a whole family of nakeds?”
“You’re ridiculous,” Derek answered, but didn’t say anything else.
“Oh, come on! You can’t just leave it at that, my curiosity is literally going to cause me to spontaneously combust, and I will set this whole place into a ghostly blaze.”
Derek gave him some serious side-eye (though he was still looking directly at him? That’s pretty magical), but sure enough, he caved to Stiles’ pressure.
“It was just this older couple, probably retired, maybe mid-sixties. They were... comfortable in their skin, I guess. I spent a lot of time outside.”
It was apparent to Stiles that Derek was a little uncomfortable, but trying to hide it. Stiles chose to pry deeper anyway.
“Did they close the blinds?”
Derek hesitated for a second before responding, “The ones in the bedroom, but that was probably more to keep out the sun than to stop other people from seeing them.”
Stiles sat back, a little stunned. “Well, props to them. I’m a “naked in my own room in my own house with the curtains shut” kind of guy m’self, but I’m not judging,” Stiles said. Derek raised his eyebrows, and Stiles squirmed a little before scoffing. “What, like you don’t sit around bare-assed sometimes. It’s a thing, everybody does it at least every once in awhile.”
There was silence for just long enough that Stiles started feeling the itch to fill it, but right when he opened his mouth Derek said, “It’s not something I advertise.” And despite the awesome mental picture Stiles was getting of Derek in a sexy naked lounging position on the couch, Stiles was starting to suspect that Derek’s long pauses weren’t social ineptitude so much as seeing how long Stiles could go without opening his trap.
In spite of the irritation he felt at Derek’s possible Mess with Stiles game, he could feel his face heat. Just, goddammit, he really didn’t want his Derek boner to be seen from space here. He managed to keep relatively cool though.
“See?” Stiles started, clearing his throat a little before continuing. “Everybody does it. By the way, it’s your play.”
Stiles contemplated Derek as Derek contemplated his letters and the board. There were bits and pieces falling into place, even though he probably said one word to every ten of Stiles’. But Stiles was starting to put together a picture of who Derek was underneath the grumpy douche he’d first met, and he found it was cool to get to know somebody, and though he was definitely still forcing it a little (especially initiating, which, unfortunately, was left almost totally up to him), getting to know and interacting with Derek was a lot easier than most of the things he’d been making himself do over the last month and a half.
It wasn’t necessarily Derek himself that was making Stiles feel better, but rather that he and Derek understood each other and were both actively pursuing feeling better for themselves by seeking other people. Stiles hadn’t had anyone but his therapist for about two months now - and she’d only come in a month ago - having done a pretty damn good job of alienating his friends. He felt like he was taking a big step for himself, and he was guessing that Derek was feeling and doing the same. Hell, one of the things he’d been supposed to be working on for his therapy, something that he’d been noticeably avoiding, was building a support network. Once he finally admitted that he didn’t want to approach his friends until he had his shit together more, his therapist had suggested some local grief/depression support groups, none of which he’d brought himself to go to. As it was, he’d barely been able to leave the house for groceries and therapy.
He thought that this thing with Derek could be really good, if they somehow managed to let it be.
Derek leaned forward with a handful of letters, and Stiles watched as he carefully placed them on the board.
“Okay, hold up, no, no way, I refuse to believe that “mungo” is a word. I’m not letting you get away with that “m” on a triple-letter because right now, at this moment, you are making shit up.”
Derek smirked a little and shrugged.
“Still not my fault that your vocabulary sucks.”
It was the kind of day that Stiles really liked, especially on the beach - a few clouds in the sky to interrupt the sun every now and then, warm but pleasant with the nice, perpetual ocean breeze. He was currently planted next to Derek, both of them in the somewhat shitty beach chairs from the storage room under the house.
It was bright as fuck, the water and sand reflecting the sun even when it was hidden by clouds, and Stiles found himself wishing for some sunglasses, and wondered if he could find any in the house. Which, there was an interesting thought, because what would someone see if they were to stumble upon them on the beach? Some sunglasses floating above a chair?
Stiles looked around then, noticing people to the left and right of them out on the beach, some kids building a sandcastle with some dude that was probably the dad while the mom sat back reading something. In front of the other house there were some guys, probably late twenties, throwing a frisbee back and forth... But none of these people seemed to notice the beach chairs, and they hadn’t done anything when he and Derek had carried them out and set them up. Did they just not notice?
“Hey, I’ve got a question,” Stiles started, and ignored what he thought was Derek rolling his eyes beneath the lids. “Why don’t people think it’s weird that two chairs just floated across the beach and set themselves up in front of the house? I mean, if I saw that I would definitely think it was weird, or that I was going nuts. But nobody comes to check it out. What’s up with that?”
Derek didn’t say anything for a moment, but shrugged after a bit and replied, “I don’t think they can see us.”
“But don’t they see the chairs?”
Derek opened his eyes and sat up a little, looking around at the other people on the beach.
“I don’t think they notice anything. Maybe it’s all hidden when they’re not close,” Derek said, but then leaned back and settled into his relaxed position again. “But I don’t really know. I’m not worried about it.”
“Oh c’mon, you’re not the least bit curious about how our ghostly existence works?”
“Key words in that question: ghostly existence. I really don’t care. We’re here, and that’s kind of all there is to it.”
Stiles huffed, but turned Derek’s words over in his head, gears turning as he wondered about distances and sightings and the way things had just stayed or put themselves back into place when Laura was in the house. Maybe with a little effort he could work out some rules for the way this whole thing worked.
“You’re no fun,” Stiles said, sinking back into his own chair.
“Never claimed to be.”
Stiles tilted his head back, letting the sun shine through his eyes, causing red spots to flutter around his vision. He felt... comfortable. He was comfortable here, with Derek, sitting in the sun, not really doing or saying much of anything. The blank, stable boredom receded a little with the company, which was surprising, because for so long being with other people had only been exhausting and way too much effort to deal with. It had something he felt like he needed to get away from.
It happened kind of suddenly, realizing how lonely he’d been.
There was still a sinkhole in his chest, and something in it that tried to pull him down every time he inched his way up, but he felt like at least he had a rope to hang onto now. Derek wasn’t super talkative, so when Stiles felt himself get tired, Derek’s quiet disposition helped him be able to just be in another person’s presence without feeling the need to engage 24/7. Until everything went to shit, he’d always felt that way around everyone, because there was that ever-present underlying itch to fill the silence... But back then he’d wanted to engage people.
That had faded away as the depression worsened, especially as the alcohol and Adderall abuse had gotten worse and worse. He didn’t want to talk to anybody, didn’t want anybody around. He alternated between not caring that he was a wreck and feeling deeply ashamed of what a mess he was, and he didn’t want anyone to see him like that. He’d just wanted to be left alone.
He hadn’t even been able to bring himself to try with Scott or Lydia when things hit their lowest.
But right now seemed like a good time to try to start up a conversation with Derek (or at least a conversation as far as their version of conversation went for now), so he took off with the unintentional half-opening Derek had given him.
“So what did you do for fun? When you were, you know, alive?” Stiles asked, rolling his head to look over at Derek, who adjusted his position in his chair before answering.
“I didn’t really do much,” he started, and for a moment Stiles thought that might be all he was going to say. But he could almost see the second Derek remembered that he was trying to be a “normal” person again, and he continued on. “I liked gardening. It was... Calming, and nice to watch something I was taking care of actually grow. I liked listening to music while I did stuff. I’m pretty sure I died listening to All Along the Watchtower.”
The idea of Derek gardening and listening to Jimi Hendrix was really fucking cute, and Stiles couldn’t help the little smile he gave. He felt warm with the information, like the sun was sinking through his pores and making him feel more alive. Which, irony, but anyway.
“Somehow your taste in music is both surprising and not,” Stiles said, thoughtful. “But the gardening thing is pretty awesome. And you died doing stuff in the yard, didn’t you?”
“Yeah. Guess it’s good to go doing something you enjoy.”
“Do you remember what happened? I mean, like, how you bought the farm?”
Derek shook his head. “No. I just woke up on the ground in the middle of the day. Also, that was a terrible pun, and I hope it wasn’t intentional.”
Pun? Bought the farm... Oh, gardening. Right. So yeah, that hadn’t been intentional, but it made Stiles snort and immediately take credit for it.
“What can I say, I’m full of awesome humor, puns included.”
Derek cracked open his left eye just to give Stiles some dubious side-eye.
“Liar. That wasn’t intentional at all.”
“Guess you’ll never know,” Stiles sighed out in a sing-song, amused at Derek trying to call him out.
“You’re so full of shit,” Derek muttered, closing his eyes again.
“Whatever you say,” Stiles said, closing his eyes as well, that tiny, warm spark inside him growing just a little.
Stiles felt empty. It was dark, a new moon, and he sat directly in the sand on the beach, gazing out into the ocean, which at the moment more resembled a pit of nothingness than the well of life that it actually was. His pajama pants were sort of uncomfortably damp from the sand where the tide had only recently receded, but even that discomfort felt like it was a world away.
He closed his eyes, tried to savor the sea wind ruffling his hair and misting his face, but only felt a heavy blankness settle deeper within him.
Derek was sleeping, and Stiles wasn’t sure what would happen if he tried to wake him up from their weirdo ghost-sleep, and anyway he wasn’t sure that he and Derek were close enough for Stiles to disturb him just because he was feeling fucked up. Somehow he felt that Derek wouldn’t mind being bothered as much as Stiles was imagining... But it was the same old song and dance that played every time he thought of talking to someone when he was like this, and he couldn’t bring himself to reach for it because it felt like too much effort when there was always potential rejection. If Derek told him to just go away, Stiles knew he’d just start collapsing inward faster, like some kind of bad metaphor for a black hole.
He took deep breaths through his nose, the salty air a slight sting that brought him a little closer back to reality and out of his head, a parachute in the free fall of his mind.
He called on his memories of the last couple of days, the good that he’d felt punctuating the silence or downslide of his emotions. He imagined someone with him, remembered the comfort that came from another human being, someone who had no expectations of him and could just let him be, but be there, too.
It was kind of a lucky accident that it was Derek that Stiles ended up stuck with, because they each knew that the other was struggling, taking baby steps that felt huge; they were opening themselves up slowly, becoming more vulnerable with every interaction.
It was good, what he had with Derek. And it was good, too, that he could think of those feelings and have them be tangible, even if still just a little out of reach. But he was so tired of being alternately miserable, rageful, and blank, and he forced himself to hold onto those precious snapshots that made him feel like existence was worth something.
And anyway, it wasn’t like he could escape this if he were so inclined... But he wasn’t thinking like that, wasn’t going to think about it at all. There was a time when he’d flirted with it so closely, but it wasn’t an option he gave himself in the weeks before he died, and he wouldn’t contemplate it now if he were alive. He forced it out of his head, not only for himself, to keep himself sane, but because he felt like he’d made some kind of unspoken pact with Derek where they’d both agreed to try. That was something else to hold onto, something to help turn his parachute into a hot air balloon that could help him get back to baseline.
He wanted to feel happy again.
Something shifted in his space, that feeling when something changes slightly though your primary senses don’t process it, so Stiles sat up fully and opened his eyes, catching a small movement to his right. When he looked, he saw Derek settled into the sand next to him. He was looking out at the dark water, but glanced at Stiles briefly.
“I like the moon,” Derek said, quiet against the backdrop of crashing waves. “Especially the new moon. It’s always made me think of renewal, like fading out from one bright step and into another,” Derek gave a sardonic smile. “It’s a shame I never felt like I was capable of that.”
Stiles was silent for a long moment, and absently thought that it was interesting that they’d seemed to swap places, conversationally speaking.
“I guess we’re kind of in a new moon at this point. I sure as shit don’t feel like there’s anything bright right now, even though I know I was feeling different even this morning.”
“At the risk of another pun... I guess it waxes and wanes,” Derek said, and Stiles snorted in spite of himself. “It’s not easy.”
Stiles hummed in agreement, and picked at the hem of his pajama pants.
“I wish it would be. Just a little. Like... God, if you’re listening? Throw me a fucking bone here.”
Stiles’ mouth lifted a little at the barely-there chuckle Derek gave.
“At least you know it’s not all there is,” Derek said. “It doesn’t last forever.”
Stiles leaned forward and pulled his legs up, resting his chin on his knees. “I just wish it wouldn’t come back at all. I’m so fucking sick of it.”
“I am, too.”
It was said so quietly that Stiles barely caught it, but in those small words Stiles could feel a huge wave of burned-out exhaustion rolling off Derek. Stiles turned to face him, watched him for a moment.
“Well, new moon and everything,” Stiles said, gesturing up with one hand and sighing. He opened his mouth to say more, but stopped, for once feeling like he’d said all that was needed. Instead he turned his attention back to the ocean.
“Yeah,” Was all Derek replied, but the quiet that followed was easier, more comfortable, and somehow Stiles was relieved.
They sat like that until the sun started to change the colors of the sky, going inside before it finished rising.
Stiles went to bed, and fell asleep with some vague unidentifiable better-ness running in an undercurrent in his head.
Stiles was balancing (screw you, Jackson Whittemore, because he was fully capable of being composed and coordinated when necessary) on the rail of the porch, concentrating very hard on floating, feeling light, flying, balloons, feathers, airplanes-
“What are you doing?”
Stiles jumped a little in surprise, wobbling and flailing as he tried to keep his balance.
“Dammit, don’t sneak around! We’ve discussed the sneakyness and the thing where Stiles is easily, repeat: easily startled!” Stiles said, annoyed, heart hammering from the near fall.
Derek raised his eyebrows in return. “I made plenty of noise coming out here. The door slammed, you just didn’t notice.”
Stiles rolled his eyes. “I guess it depends on your definition of the word “slam,” because I heard no such thing.”
“So what exactly are you doing?” Derek asked, apparently choosing to ignore Stiles’ remark. Stiles looked away from him and gazed intently at the window to Derek’s right.
“I’m getting my zen on, you know, doing yoga while balancing on a narrow structure during the sunrise.”
“Except it’s mid-afternoon and you’ve just been standing there for ten minutes doing nothing.”
Stiles smiled a little at Derek’s snark, pleased with the small happy feeling he got, something that had been happening more and more as the days passed, but checked it with a smirk.
“How observant. No dude, I want to know if we have any other ghostly perks. Y’know, like floating around.”
“So you’re going to jump off the railing from the second floor to figure it out,” Derek eyed him, but his mouth tilted up at the corners. “Well, let’s see how your little experiment flies.”
“Oh my god, that was the worst pun, you are the worst, I revoke your speaking privileges, go sit in a corner and think about what you’ve inflicted on the world.”
“Zip it,” Stiles said, snippy. “And no, I’m not about to walk off the railing and drop 20 feet just so I can bust my ass on the nice concrete below if everything goes pear-shaped. I’m gonna walk out onto the porch and think of airy things, see if I can get my float on.”
Derek looked amused, in that slightly-less-frowny way that he had, and Stiles pulled a frown of his own in response. But despite both his expression and, really, himself as a whole, he was enjoying the banter like he had been starting to, and even more was just happy to be genuinely interacting with someone.
“Okay, let’s see it.”
“Shh,” Stiles shushed around his index finger like he would a small child, satisfied when he noticed Derek twitch a little in annoyance. “I need to focus on this.”
Derek made the universal “by all means” gesture before stepping back to lean against the wall, arms crossed over his chest and one corner of his mouth lifted into an irritating and unhelpful smirk.
He might as well have a bag of popcorn, a soda, and some Junior Mints for all he’d apparently settled in to watch the show.
Stiles pursed his lips and looked away, then closed his eyes, picturing clouds and whipped cream, jetpacks and hovercrafts, and stepped out carefully, not thinking about a fall but an expectation to meet something solid-
-and fell hard to the ground in a flail, busting his knee and falling wrong on his wrist. He rolled to his side, groaning and cradling his injured arm.
Derek snorted a laugh, once again the opposite of helpful, before walking over to Stiles and offering him a hand up.
“The pain’ll go away in a minute, just stop thinking about it or feeling like it’s supposed to hurt.”
Stiles grimaced up at him, narrowing his eyes at Derek when he noticed that he seemed to be getting the biggest kick out of Stiles falling like an idiot. He held out his good hand and Derek gripped him, helping him up while his knee protested mightily.
“Stop looking so pleased, jerk. You can’t tell me you never thought about trying it,” Stiles grumped, but an idea struck him. “No, you know what, I bet you tried to walk through a wall and did a vertical face-plant right into it,” Stiles said, shaking out his wrist and flexing his knee, taking Derek’s advice and trying to ignore the pain. Derek hesitated before reacting, and Stiles knew he had him. “I totally nailed that! You did try it! Oh my god, I wish I had that on camera, I’m going to hold onto that imagery like a sacred holy relic, you have no idea how much my day has just been made.”
Derek schooled his features into a smooth mask, but betrayed himself by smacking Stiles on the back of the head as he walked past him.
“It’s not that funny.”
Stiles smiled after his retreating back, feeling something bubble in the back of his throat before he let out a surprised burst of laughter as he replayed his mental movie of Derek determinedly walking into a wall.
“And that is where you are 100% correct,” Stiles said, and Derek paused turned his head back to face Stiles, looking confused. “It’s not funny; it’s hilarious.”
“Shut up,” Derek bit, continuing his walk down the stairs. Stiles just laughed again, real laughter, following him down to the beach and poking at him verbally the rest of the afternoon.
He was never going to let Derek live that down.
“Your reflexes are stupid,” Stiles said, slamming down his cards as Derek sat and tried to look innocent, failing miserably as smugness radiated off him.
“You’re the one who suggested the game,” Derek replied, and Stiles wanted to hit him.
“We’re playing again.”
“You just lost five times in a row.”
“Which makes it statistically more probable that I won’t lose this time!”
“You do realize that this isn’t based on only chance, right? It’s also a game of skill,” Derek said in a tone that really wasn’t necessarily unkind, but it only made Stiles fume more.
“Set it up,” he snapped.
“No, you set it up. You lost.”
Stiles clenched his jaw, but took a deep breath, exhaling his irritation. When he felt a little less like a spiteful three year old, he picked up the cards and methodically set up the next game of Speed.
Three minutes later Stiles threw up his hands and flung himself back onto the ground from where he’d been sitting cross legged across from Derek.
“I give up. My competitive drive has officially been shot to death.”
“Not sorry,” Derek said, and Stiles sat up on his elbows to glare at him as he stood up. “Pick up the cards, it’s boring beating you so badly. Repeatedly.”
Stiles flipped him off, but picked up the cards and put them back in their box. After he’d put the deck back in place, he turned to see Derek flopped on the couch with the book he’d been reading.
“Nuh-uh, if we’re doing the reading thing, you aren’t getting my couch,” Stiles said, stalking towards Derek, determined to make him move.
Derek just raised his stupid eyebrows, then raised his book, blocking his face.
“Oh c’mon man, I just got my ass handed to me at a game where I’ve owned every single person I’ve ever played. Cut me a break here.”
Derek turned the page.
Okay, so Derek wanted to play the “Aggravate Stiles” game he was so fond of (although Stiles would be a liar if he said he got nothing out of it himself).
But Stiles could play his own version of this game, dubbed “Annoy Derek Until He Caves.”
“I’ll sit on you,” Stiles said, leaning over the arm of the couch, arms crossed. “I’ll sit on you and I’ll shove my feet in your face.” Derek bent one knee, folding his leg up to rest against the back of the couch.
He went and grabbed his own book from the kitchen counter, and then stood over Derek with his back facing toward the couch.
“Last chance, buddy, before you get this all up in your grill.”
Derek turned the page again.
Stiles bet he wasn’t even reading anymore, just doing everything he could to get a rise out of him. It was kind of a pattern that they’d settled into for the past... However long they’d been doing this whole thing.
Stiles’ mind wanted to wander and try to figure out just how long it had been - the “sleep” and lack of remarkable events made it hard to keep up - but he hit the breaks of that thought train and resolutely dropped backward onto Derek.
...Only to get a foot to the back and a hard push forward, sending Stiles ungracefully flying into the coffee table, which slid back with an angry sound as he caught himself.
“Seriously?!” Stiles half-shouted, whirling on Derek, who was laying back, nonchalant, with one leg crossed over a bent knee. “You’re such an ass!”
He still kept his nose in the fucking book, but Stiles could see him smirking.
Stiles’ eyes cut left, and noticed that with both of Derek’s legs bent up like they were, there was a spot left where Stiles could easily park it. It wouldn’t be as comfortable as laying down, but he wouldn’t be totally giving up the couch. But he also knew that Derek probably knew what he was thinking, so instead of walking calmly over to the spot, he did a perfectly graceful twirl-leap into it, plopping down heavily before Derek could do something else assholish like shove his feet under Stiles’ butt.
He was just settling in, feet propped up on the coffee table, when Derek shoved his feet into Stiles’ lap.
“Oh my god, you are so fucking obnoxious. People call me obnoxious, but obviously they haven’t met Derek Hale, King of Obnoxiousness. Get your feet out of my lap, you dick!” When Derek didn’t move a hair, Stiles tried shoving him off to no avail. “I will tickle your feet! Don’t think I won’t!”
Derek dropped his book to his chest, blank-faced but obviously pleased with himself.
Stiles rolled his eyes and made an exaggerated gesture to the heavens. “Of course you’re not.”
“Go sit somewhere else,” Derek said, pulling his book and feet back up. Stiles grabbed one of his ankles and planted his leg firmly back over his lap.
“You may have won the battle, but I haven’t lost the war,” Stiles stated resolutely, shoving his face in his own book. Derek just snorted.
“Keep telling yourself that.”
It took about ten minutes for Stiles to realize the intimacy of the position they were in, like they were old friends or... or boyfriends, or something. At the thought he felt himself blush and sink further into the couch, clutching his book so close to his face his nose was literally almost buried in it. Thankfully, Derek didn’t seem to notice Stiles’ embarrassment.
Maybe they were getting to be on that level now. Derek wasn’t super tactile, though he did do a lot of shoulder touching or gentle pushes, so he wasn’t cold, either. Still, this kind of setting for them wasn’t exactly typical.
Stiles hadn’t felt embarrassed like this in a long time. He wasn’t uncomfortable, not really, it was more of an excited embarrassment, like when you’re suddenly kissed in public by the person you’re crushing on.
Okay, bad analogy. Because he wasn’t crushing on Derek. They were ghost-buddies, two dudes stuck together for quite possibly eternity...
But that wasn’t right, either.
Stiles pulled his book from his face, started reading, and resolutely did not think about it anymore.
There was what could be no less than a goddamn hurricane blasting wind and rain against the house, and as he stared out the window, Stiles idly wondered what would happen to him and Derek if the house did end up blowing away. Would they blow away with it? Were they attached more to the property than to the actual house? Questions, questions.
Stiles had woken up a while ago to the power being out and the great deluge going on outside, but hadn’t seen Derek around anywhere since before he’d gone to sleep. It was dark out, and the battery-powered analogue clock above the counter told him that it was eight o’clock. He thought briefly that he would have just finished eating dinner by now, if he were still alive, but these days there wasn’t a schedule to keep him on track, and time passed in strange waves between sleep, depressive episodes, and time with Derek.
He couldn’t put a name to his mood at the moment. He wasn’t necessarily feeling the strange weight of emotionlessness, but he wasn’t content either. This was some type of in between... And it was times like this that Stiles wished he weren’t so hyper aware of everything running through his head.
He felt edgy, restless, but didn’t really want to do anything. A boredom that was always hovering in the background was closing in on him the longer he sat alone, and that boredom combined with his weird mood felt somehow threatening, like if his thoughts strayed just the slightest bit off the path he would crash hard. So now he was very carefully focusing on the storm, squinting out into the darkness and catching glimpses of angry waves rushing high up the shore, closer and closer to the house itself.
Moments passed before he huffed in impatience with himself and stood up, stretching with a groan before turning to the window again. He wanted to get rid of this feeling, this itching that was starting to feel worse than the nothingness. He gazed out at the storm again, and felt overcome with the urge to stand out in the chaos and feel it all around him. After all, he was already as dead as someone could get, and he literally couldn’t be swept out to sea because of the whole reach-the-boundary-boom-teleportation thing, so... Why not?
He stood in the kitchen and stripped out of everything but his boxers, leaving his clothes in a pile on the floor like the slob he could be when things just picked themselves up after him, and stepped out into the rain.
He was immediately drenched, and he felt like he was being yanked around like a ragdoll as the wind blew around him mercilessly, flinging raindrops hard against his face. It didn’t sting so much as it just made it hard to keep his eyes open, but it felt good, too. It gave his body something to fight against and was like his brain was being drenched with the promise of a good scrub down to come.
He stepped out further onto the porch, going to stand at the railing to look down to where the tide was inching up toward the house. He was tempted to go down the stairs and stand at the edge, see how long it would take to come up to his ankles, if the water would rise up to waist-level and try to drag him out into the violent sea.
He closed his eyes as a sudden gust of wind blew rain harshly against his face, neck, and chest, and raised his face toward it, getting the sudden urge to stand with his arms out and let himself be battered by the storm. He was stepping back to maybe do just that when the thought of Titanic and the famous “king of the world” thing stopped him in his tracks, making him wince at the cheesiness of the action. But in the same instant he couldn’t give a shit less about what he was going to look like, because he felt free like this; with that, he raised his arms and let his neck and jaw relax.
He saw the lightning crack red from behind his closed eyes, and the thunder rolled immediately, shaking his bones in his skin. He was cold, ne noticed vaguely, but it felt good. There was something about that moment, standing against the cold rain and harsh wind, the sounds of tide crashing and thunder like god growling, that was making him feel clean and powerful.
He didn’t know how long he stood like that, but the rain was letting up the tiniest bit before he lowered his arms. He stayed for another moment, and then turned to go back inside when lightning split the sky again, and he glimpsed Derek inside, watching through the window.
Stiles jerked back, startled, and wondered if Derek had been standing there long, if he saw Stiles with his arms out like an idiot. Embarrassment crept up the back of his neck, followed quickly by a flush.
Of course Derek would see him.
Stiles took a breath and walked back into the house, trailing water behind him briefly before it evaporated from him and the ground, leaving everything dry. Derek wasn’t by the window anymore, but it was too dark to see very far into the house, so he could be in the living room and Stiles wouldn’t be able to see him.
He pulled his clothes back on and stepped into the darkness, calling out, “Derek?”
“In here,” Derek said softly, and Stiles followed the voice to the living room area, where he saw Derek’s outline curled into a chair that had been turned to face the window. Stiles watched his dark form for a moment, and waited to see if he’d say anything more. When he didn’t follow up, Stiles felt his way toward the couch and collapsed down onto it, gazing out the window, too, watching the storm start to subside.
“When I was little I hated storms,” Stiles started, hesitating a moment before continuing. “If I woke up to thunder, I’d run to my parents’ room and wake them up. They let me get in bed between them, and I’d fall asleep like that, with Mom and Dad both resting a hand on my stomach. I was kind of a wimpy kid.”
“That’s not wimpy,” Derek said in a quiet tone. “Laura and I are only a year apart, and we did the same thing whenever we were scared. Sometimes it was four of us in my parents’ bed. Cora used to come sleep with me whenever she was scared, too. My little brothers didn’t really get scared though.”
“Scott never got scared, either, but he was a good enough guy not to make fun of me when we’d watch a scary movie or my imagination went nuts and I’d make him sleep in the bed with me.”
Derek turned his head, and Stiles could practically hear his eyebrow raising. “And exactly how long ago did that stop?”
“Shut up,” Stiles said lightly. “I’m a very creative person with a very vivid imagination, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I will say that the nightmares weren’t a picnic though.”
Derek turned back to the window.
“I had nightmares every night for a year after the fire. Laura never said anything, but I know she did, too. I’d wake up to her crying in the middle of the night, and whenever that happened I’d go in her room and we’d just lay there until we fell asleep again.”
Stiles was surprised, but simultaneously felt like he shouldn’t be. Derek was standoffish and kind of an asshole, but Stiles had seen how much he loved his sister, and it was easy to believe that he’d do something like that.
Stiles wondered for a bit if Derek felt the same pull to comfort other people the way he did his sister, but just felt too awkward to do anything about it. Somehow that didn’t seem very far-fetched, either. He thought back briefly to the time he’d exploded at Derek on the beach, right before Laura had made her visit, how Derek had put a hand on his shoulder and told him “people survive, it’s what they do,” and he realized that that was Derek’s version of trying to comfort someone. Sure, he sucked at it, but now Stiles could see the actions for what they were, and could also see where he might even have hurt Derek by shrugging him off.
“I didn’t have nightmares after Mom... Just panic attacks. It was like I traded off one for the other,” Stiles said, pulling his knees up to rest his chin on them. “But after Dad I had both. It was fucking awful. The nightmares stopped in the last month or so before I bit the dust, but I wouldn’t wish that shit on anyone.”
“I can think of some people I’d wish it on, but they’re dead, so it doesn’t really matter. There are some things I’m not a very good person about.”
Stiles processed that for a second, and thought about the people who’d set the fire and the guy who’d killed Dad in that fucking car wreck, and realized that some people probably did deserve it.
“Maybe I’m not such a great person either, because now I can definitely think of someone. Though I’d like to call it more of a sense of justice than being a bad person.”
Derek laughed a little at that, and Stiles smiled.
“Sense of justice, huh? I like that.”
“I’m pretty good at seeing things from alternate perspectives. It was kind of a running joke and major source of irritation for my parents, especially Dad. I used to get around a lot of things by saying that he and I had different definitions of what something meant, and sometimes he’d laugh, though a lot of the time it looked like he wanted to tear my head off.”
“That really doesn’t surprise me.”
Stiles stuck his tongue out at Derek’s back. “You didn’t see that, but I just stuck my tongue out at you, even though you deserve worse. I’m just too lazy to get up and hit you.”
“You’re such a kid.”
“Have to keep young somehow, can’t just turn into a grumpy old fart like you.”
Derek turned around and lightning revealed one hell of a stinkeye.
“I’m not old, I’m only 30,” Derek paused a moment, “Was only 30.”
“I was 24. Just old enough to have to really be a responsible adult. Shitty.”
“Cora would be 24,” Derek said, turning back to the window. “And I have no problem believing that you put off growing up until you absolutely had to.”
“Who says I grew up?” Stiles said, choosing to avoid the topic of Derek’s family since the mood had already lightened, and he was feeling kind of done with the heavy stuff for a little while.
“I didn’t mean to imply that you had, because you really, really haven’t.”
“Forever young. I want to be, forever young...”
“Oh my god just-”
“You love it.”
“-shut up,” Derek said, and Stiles smiled, could feel that Derek was doing his best not to crack a grin either.
“In any case, we won’t get any older here, so at least you won’t get dumpy and old and gray and erectiley dysfunctional while I’m still lithe and youthful.”
Derek let out an exasperated sigh. “You’re fucking ridiculous. Six years is not that much of a difference.”
“Just keep telling yourself that.”
“You’re so annoying.”
“I keep you on your toes. Gotta make sure your mind doesn’t start to go in your old-”
Before Stiles could even see him move Derek was standing in front of him with a hand slapped over Stiles’ mouth.
“I’m. Not. Old.”
Stiles contemplated licking Derek’s palm, but thought better of it. They weren’t quite on the level that Stiles felt comfortable doing something like that, so he just nodded his head instead, and Derek took his hand away, settling on the couch next to Stiles. Stiles flopped to the side away from Derek, knees still tucked up, head resting against a pillow as it rained lightly outside. They sat there, quiet, and the sound was soothing in their comfortable silence. Stiles idly wondered if he’d be able to sleep again so soon. He didn’t know what time it was, and hadn’t been able to figure out how long he could go before he could sleep again. It was still completely dark outside, and it couldn’t have been more than an hour or so, depending on how long he’d stayed out in the storm.
When Stiles looked over at Derek, he could tell that his eyes were closed. He looked comfortable sprawled out on the couch with his feet up on the coffee table, and Stiles felt his warmth at his feet. He watched Derek for a long time, and even though he felt a little creepy, the contentment that had settled over him made it so that didn’t matter.
There was a rightness about this that he couldn’t pin down. The cleansing sensation he’d gotten from standing out in the rain, and the way that the conversation between them seemed so much easier than it had been made Stiles feel more alive than he’d felt even before he died. In reality, that wasn’t saying all that much, because he’d mostly felt nothing, but this was a real ease and good that he was feeling, and he was going to take it and hold onto it like it was his only lifeline.
Because in many ways, it was.
He turned back to the window, listened to the gentle fall of rain, and was better.
The power came back on around eight o’clock in the morning the next day, which was a good thing since it was still cloudy and damp outside, and though it didn’t bother him as much as it might have if he were alive, the humidity was almost oppressive. Even the constant ocean breeze wasn’t enough to dispel the mugginess.
Derek had still been knocked out on the couch when Stiles had woken up with his legs stretched over Derek’s lap (and that could be a thing if it kept happening, which Stiles found he was okay with). He’d ventured outside to check out the storm damage, but there hadn’t been much other than a bunch of seaweed from where the tide had risen high.
Derek had woken up a while later and gone outside himself, but, like Stiles, didn’t stay out long.
“It’s disgusting out there,” Derek complained, shutting the door behind him.
“No joke. I wanted to go hang on the beach today too, since hurricane Brutus lasted all yesterday.”
Derek rolled his eyes. “You were asleep all day yesterday, there wasn’t time for you to want to go to the beach. And you do realize that we’re on the west coast?”
“Just because they’re rare doesn’t mean there can’t be hurricanes out here. You never know with global warming.”
Derek just stared at him blankly for a moment.
“Mmm,” Stiles hummed at him.
Derek walked over to where Stiles was perched on the couch with his book (The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon... Thank god he couldn’t get lost in a forest anymore) and sat heavily on the couch. He looked more frowny than usual, uncomfortable, as if he had something he wanted to say but was doing his best to keep his mouth shut. Stiles eyed him for a moment before marking his place in his book and turning entirely to face Derek.
“Why do you look like you’re about to vomit?”
Derek glared at him from the corner of his eye. “Shut up.”
“Not until you tell me what’s got you parked in the center of frown-town,” Stiles said, and began tapping his fingers on the back of the couch.
“Would you quit that? It’s driving me nuts,” Derek grit after a few moments, glancing pointedly at where Stiles was drumming his fingers. Stiles stopped and squinted his eyes at Derek, irritated.
“Stop dodging the question, your assholery is just making you more suspicious.”
“I don’t-” Derek started, but the words seemed to get caught in his throat, and he clicked his mouth shut. Stiles waited, trying to be patient while Derek worked through whatever feelings he was trying to squeeze out through his emotional constipation. Derek heaved a sigh, and his brows furrowed together even more. Stiles toyed with the idea of teasing Derek about unibrows and frowns before dismissing it as inappropriate for the current conversation. “I don’t know what’s... wrong. With me. Right now.”
“What do you mean?” Stiles asked, needing Derek to give him something more to work with.
Derek sighed. “I don’t know how to do this. This is what people do, right? Talk about their... feelings.” Derek didn’t grimace as he said the word, but Stiles definitely felt the awkward vibes radiating off him.
Stiles turned his eyes away from Derek to help him feel less put on the spot, and settled back into the couch.
“Therapists will tell you it’s important to talk about your feelings, even if it makes you uncomfortable at first. They told me it’s like ripping off a bandaid, but it was more like opening a floodgate, at least for me. But I think for some people it’s more like... An archaeological dig. Very careful excavation and slow as fuck progress for digging up some huge monster thing from the past, you know?”
Derek huffed a laugh, and Stiles smiled a little.
“I hate to admit it, but that was a good metaphor.”
“Technically it’s a simile.”
“This is why I can’t compliment you.”
Stiles actually felt himself blush a little, and sank into the couch a bit further. “I’m not very good at taking compliments.”
“Neither am I,” Derek said offhandedly, and Stiles saw two options: abandon the heavy conversation Derek had sat down to have in favor of lighthearted banter, or try to pry some words out of Derek’s metaphorical cold, dead hands.
Stiles was honestly in the “ignore it” camp, but he knew that wasn’t necessarily what was good for Derek, and not everything was all about Stiles all the time. Stiles was important, but Stiles’ world had to include more than just himself.
“So what bones are we dusting off right now?”
Derek’s frown was immediately back in place, and he leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees and stare down at his hands.
“I think...” Derek started, and Stiles had a feeling this was going to be like trying to crank a car that would turn over but had trouble with the starter. “Last night, when I told you about,” Derek made a hand gesture, as if to encompass whatever it was he was talking about. Stiles hazarded a guess that he meant his family. “I was fine, but now I feel shitty. I don’t want to feel like that after I talk or think about them. It’s not fair to them to make it all... Fucked up, like that.”
“I get it,” Stiles said, after a second. “I mean, loss hurts. It’s painful. It sucks. However you wanna spin it, it’s hard to deal with, and people handle it and experience it in different ways. Like me, I shut down, stop feeling anything at all. It’s like my brain knows I can’t deal, so it takes away the ability to feel the shitty feelings. Unfortunately it takes the good feelings too, so that’s not exactly a good way to cope.
“I think you kinda shut down too, maybe? In a different way. You push it all into a filing cabinet that’s already exploding full, and I think one day the whole thing is just gonna come apart and all your papers and important documents will just be one big mess,” Stiles cleared his throat. “In conclusion, I think it’ll get less painful the more you talk about them. Gradually. Slowly. I’m talking, like, centimeters a week.”
“At the risk of sounding like a brat, that fucking sucks,” Derek said, clenching and unclenching his hands, but not really exuding an angry aura. Maybe frustrated, but not angry.
“Yeah,” Stiles agreed. “It really does.”
“Is it still hard for you?” Derek asked softly, and Stiles blinked and glanced at him briefly.
“Yeah, most of the time. It’s easier now than it was.”
“I’ve talked more about this stuff in the last two weeks or... However the hell long it’s been, in longer than I can remember. Even with Laura.”
“But that’s a good thing, right?” Stiles said, after a moment's hesitation.
Derek pushed off his knees and fell back against the couch. “I don’t know.”
Stiles thought for a moment, then grimaced a little at what he was about to say.
“Something I heard about four million times in therapy was that ‘remembering is a part of living, and ruminating is a part of self destruction.’ Or something like that. Basically, Dr. Hirt was telling me to, like... Surface the memories, but not make them so deep I start drowning. You have to remember shit to get past it or to enjoy the good stuff, but memories can also drag you under if you’re not careful. It’s a balancing act. In fact, life is one big goddamn balancing act,” Stiles paused for a moment. “Well, death apparently is too.”
Derek exhaled heavily through his nose. “I did not sign up for this shit.”
Stiles half-chuckled, “I don’t think anybody does.”
The next day was bad for Stiles. He felt like he was in a daze after he woke up, and lay staring at the sloping ceiling of the attic bedroom for what he knew was way too long.
He exhaled and rolled over, catching sight of the clock on the bedside table. 2:00 PM. He’d been in the bed for almost 13 hours. He scrubbed his hand down his face and sighed, opening his eyes to stare at the wall.
He didn’t feel tired. He just... didn’t feel anything.
(You can, though.)
He didn’t want to move. He didn’t want to go find Derek. He didn’t want to sit on the beach. He didn’t want to read or play cards or board games or talk. He just wanted to lay there and pretend he didn’t exist for a while.
Thoughts of the times he’d been this way before, when he’d been this bad started up in his head, but he pushed them down into the fog of his mind. He didn’t pay attention to the ghost of Scott’s concerned face, or Lydia’s exasperated voice, calling him out on letting his life sink into a shithole and not even trying to crawl out of it. It had been a comfort to Stiles to know that Allison had never seen him that way, even though the thought of her tended to make things worse.
He pushed away thoughts of the disappointment he imagined his father would have felt, how he’d be upset at seeing Stiles at his worst, and the even worse thoughts of Mom crying over him.
But most of all he shut down thoughts of how they all loved him anyway.
(You don’t have to shut down.)
That was the real kicker. He would probably never see any of them ever again, trapped here as he was, and dead as his parents were. That was a thought he’d had more than a few times since he died, and it was an unhappy one that alternately upset him or made him feel like he should be upset, depending on the day.
With his mood, with the depression, there were good times and bad times, after therapy and after he died, and right now was most definitely one of the bad times - probably the worst he’d been since he’d died.
(It’s not always like this.)
He couldn’t. He didn’t want to feel this way, but didn’t know if it would honestly be better to feel all the guilt and sadness that would come with raising the heavy curtain drawn over his emotions.
He rolled back onto his back and closed his eyes, because he did know what he wanted. He wanted not to be this zombie anymore, wanted to feel and be real. He’d been getting closer to that, especially the last - two weeks? - he’d spent with Derek. They’d been really good for each other, and Stiles had been happy, to an extent, had really laughed a few times, had wanted to be around Derek, to just be in his presence, almost the whole time.
Now, though... Now he just wanted to be alone. He didn’t want to talk to Derek, because he was afraid Derek might expect something of him now that they’d spent time together. He didn’t want to have to put up a front, to force banter, to fake smiles and laughs and anything else that came with their interaction. He wanted what he had with Derek to remain the almost sacred thing they had built. That was all he could think.
(You know this isn’t a setback. This is just a bad day.)
He was so lost in thought that he didn’t notice Derek coming into the room until he heard his name called. He grimaced and threw his arm over his eyes.
“Go away. Today is not a good day.”
It was silent for a moment, but just as Stiles went to move his arm to check if Derek was there, he got a response.
“I can see that,” he said slowly, carefully. It took a moment for him to continue, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. There’s nothing.”
“It’s not nothing. You’ve been up here for a long time, doing nothing.”
Stiles frowned and rolled on his side to face away from Derek.
“Like I said: nothing. I’ve been doing nothing, nothing is all I’m doing.”
“You’re not making sense.”
“Just go away. I want to be alone.”
There was another long pause, but Stiles could feel Derek’s eyes on him, and knew that he hadn’t left.
“I don’t think you should be alone,” he said, slow and forced, and Stiles felt traces of guilt, because here was Derek trying, and Stiles was being an ungrateful shit.
Stiles finally rolled to face Derek, searching for the words to explain. He looked over Derek’s shoulder for a moment before finally meeting his eyes, though it was only for a small fraction of time.
(Say it. He’ll get it.)
“I can’t do anything,” Stiles started. “I can’t... feel anything. Fuck, why is that so hard to admit?”
“And you think it’s best for you to be alone while you can’t feel or do anything.”
Stiles clenched his jaw, and began to feel annoyed, which was the primary thing he could feel whenever he was like this.
“I can feel annoyed. I’m getting annoyed,” he said, and when he looked at Derek’s face again he regretted it, because Derek looked earnest and a little vulnerable in the eyes if he looked hard enough. Fuck, Stiles was no good to anyone like this. He sighed heavily, managing to finally sit up on the bed. “Look, I’m sorry. I’m an asshole when I’m like this. I hate being this way, and I hate people seeing me this way, but more than that, I hate having to fake it for people so they don’t know. So I just want to be alone.”
Derek walked toward the bed and sat down on the edge, facing away from Stiles.
“You don’t have to fake it with me. I don’t - I...” Derek swallowed, and Stiles could see him working against himself to say something. Stiles knew he was aboard the rickety ride of Derek’s Comfort Train, and tried to be patient. “I don’t want you to think you have to be alone.”
(You really don’t have to be.)
Stiles was still for a moment, a little shocked at how exactly Derek’s words struck in a place buried deeply within him. He pulled his legs up until he could cross them and stare at his hands as they picked at them hem of his pajama pants.
“Thanks,” he said softly. “It’s just not that easy.”
“Nothing’s easy,” Derek offered. “You know that.”
Stiles gave a dry laugh. “Don’t I just.”
“Come on. You need to get out of this room.”
Stiles watched Derek stand up, and flopped himself back onto the bed. “I literally can’t move, dude,” he looked for some way to make Derek understand. “It took everything I had just to sit up. It’s taking all my reserves to talk. I can’t do it.”
(Don’t worry about “can’t.”)
Stiles felt Derek grab both his arms and pull him into a sitting position, Stiles not total dead weight, but almost.
“What the hell are you doing?” Stiles asked irritably as Derek yanked him to the edge of the bed. Still, he couldn’t find it in himself to be upset, even when Derek hauled him up over his shoulders in a fireman’s carry. “Oh my god, put me down, this is fucking ridiculous,” Stiles mumbled, even as he buried his face into Derek’s shoulder.
“No. You’re getting out of this goddamn room, and you had your chance to do it yourself. This is what you get.”
“I hate you.”
“No, you don’t.”
They didn’t say anything else as Derek carried him down the stairs, out the door, down more stairs, and out to the beach where two chairs were already nicely set up for them. He dropped Stiles directly into one of the chairs, rough enough that Stiles let out a little grunt. Stiles squinted up at him through the sun, managing a half glare before dropping his gaze down to the glittering ocean. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Derek strip out of his shirt and sit gracefully in the other chair.
“There. Enjoy the sun.”
Stiles snorted and leaned his head back. The sun was hot on his face, but it did feel good.
He rolled his head to look at Derek again, and thought to himself that he’d been wrong. Derek didn’t expect shit from him. He’d known that. He still knew it. It was just easier to believe that it would be hard to be around anyone at all so that he would have more reasons to sit by himself and wallow as he fell into the void.
(You can accept help; it’s okay.)
Stiles shifted again and focused on the light playing on the ocean, and felt the smallest bit of darkness ease away.
The next day it rained again, though it wasn’t a big storm like the last. Mood wise, it was an easier day for Stiles, and he felt motivated enough to play a game Derek suggested. Derek called it “ghost,” which made zero sense, but anyway.
“P,” Derek started.
“Oh my god, you ruin everything,” Stiles griped while Derek smirked back at him. “Poison. Poison. Why can’t you for once just spell something that I’m trying to spell.”
“It’s still not my fault that my vocabulary is better than yours.”
Stiles nearly flipped him off, but contained himself. “Start again.”
“K!” Stiles shouted, the feeling of victory making him smile. Derek just smirked back at him.
Stiles blinked, his mind searching, and found the letter that he knew Derek was looking for. He desperately went through words in his head, trying to find something that would extend the word that wasn’t the “N” Derek wanted.
“Ugh, you suck. N.”
“S. For success.”
Stiles glared hard at him.
“The worst, the absolute worst, that is what you are,” he complained loudly.
“Just admit that I’m smarter than you and it’ll be easier for you to lose.”
“Never. Never, ever, ever getting back to -”
“Don’t you even -”
“- gether, we are never, ever, ever getting back together -”
“Wait, Stiles, be quiet,” Derek said, and Stiles stopped his lovely singing at the serious look on Derek’s face. “There’s someone coming up the driveway.”
They both stood quickly, rushing over to the window at the back of the living area.
A grey, sleek looking van was pulling up. Dubiously, Stiles asked, “Laura?”
Derek shook his head. “Not unless she’s gotten a new car and spawned a husband and some kids.”
Stiles looked more closely, and saw the silhouettes of four people in the van.
The van pulled up under the house into the garage, and Stiles looked over at Derek.
Derek nodded, and they made a silent agreement to head to the kitchen to wait for the people to come into the house.
The doors to the van slammed shut, and after a few moments, a middle-aged woman was unlocking the front door and hauling in a giant suitcase with a duffle on her shoulder.
“Oh, thank god we’re finally here,” she mumbled, parking the suitcase and duffles next to the door.
A second later and a girl, no older than maybe 14, pushed her way inside and roughly threw her own bags to the floor.
“Of course it’s raining, what a fantastic start to our fun family vacation!” the girl half-shouted, sarcasm rolling off her in waves.
The woman shot the girl a look. “Tyler, go help your dad with the coolers.”
The girl - Tyler, apparently - gave an exaggerated eye roll and stomped out the door.
“Move, loser,” Tyler’s voice carried from outside, followed by a “Hey!” from another voice.
“Be nice to your brother!” the mom shouted, and another kid, maybe ten years old, came in with more bags.
“What is her deal?” the boy asked, and the mom shook her head.
“Hormones,” she said. “We’ll pick rooms after Tyler and Dad get back upstairs and we’ve unpacked the coolers.”
“I still don’t know what “hormones” even means,” the boy grumbled, and went to sit on the couch in the living room.
“We’ll have that talk in about two years, sweetie, but not now.”
The kid rolled his eyes and pulled a 3DS from his pocket, which Stiles eyed enviously.
“I’d kill for one of those right now,” Stiles said as the father and Tyler hauled one cooler up the stairs.
“I wasn’t huge into a lot of video games, but I did like some stuff. It’s not the main thing I miss, but I wouldn’t mind having something around."
“Not a big gamer, huh?” Stiles said, watching the boy carefully place the DS on the table before standing up to help in the kitchen while Tyler slammed her way back outside. Her parents exchanged a look before her dad followed her out.
“I liked Skyrim and adventure games like that; wasn’t a fan of the shooting crap. Too noisy.”
Stiles hummed, and the boy started talking again. “Couldn’t we just have left her at home? That’s what she wanted, anyway. Steve and Martha could have stayed with her.”
“We’ve been over this, Blake. We’re here to have a family vacation, and that includes all of our family.”
“But she sucks! She’s mean and complains about everything -”
“I can hear you, you brat,” Tyler growled from the doorway where she and her father were bringing in the second cooler. “I don’t want to be here any more than you want me here.”
“One more word out of your mouth and you lose your phone for tomorrow,” her father snapped. Tyler pursed her lips and glared, but said nothing.
The mom sighed, looking tired. “Let’s just put everything away, okay? Then we’ll pick rooms.”
The boy smiled and Tyler stayed silent, and they worked quietly in the kitchen.
“Want to head outside?” Derek asked. Stiles glanced outside, and the rain wasn’t nearly as bad as Tyler would have led them to believe. So he nodded, and they slipped out the front door without anyone noticing.
“Well, this is gonna be loads of fun,” Stiles said. “How long do renters usually stay?”
“Usually between three days and a week,” Derek replied. “They look kind of like they’re in it for the long haul.”
“Yeah,” Stiles agreed, and they walked toward the beach in silence for a minute. “They’re kind of a mess.”
“They’ve got a teenager.”
“She was kind of a brat though.”
Derek didn’t say anything until they were standing at the edge of the water.
“Laura was exactly like that at that age, and you can’t tell me you weren’t a little shit as a teenager, either. We’re all little shits when we’re teenagers. Hormones.”
“Hormones,” Stiles agreed, then thought it over. “I guess you’re right. It’s summer vacation and she’s away from her friends with her annoying little brother and evil parents who take away all the fun.”
A comfortable silence came over them, and they stood with the wind ruffling their hair, the rain misting around them, and the ocean barely at their toes. Derek surprised him a few minutes later by breaking it.
“You never realize until they’re gone,” he murmured, so softly that Stiles almost missed it.
“No,” Stiles said, focusing on the grey horizon. “You don’t.”
It was quiet for another long moment.
“Laura and I had pretty much the same dynamic that those kids have. She was all about her friends, and mostly just felt annoyed by our family. She loved me, and I loved her, but she and I used to get into it sometimes. I fought with her more than I fought with anyone else in my family. We even used to smack each other until I turned 11 and Mom threatened to ground us for a week whenever fights got that bad.”
“Grounding doesn’t sound so bad.”
Derek snorted. “Mom’s version of grounding was leaving you with no source of entertainment whatsoever. No games, no books, no TV, internet strictly for school - she and Dad put on parental blocks for websites.”
Stiles whistled. “Damn, that’s intense. Dad’s version of grounding was no friends, straight home after school or practice or whatever, and no games. I got some internet and TV, but I’d have to be in bed by some stupid time... 9:00 PM. He kept that time ‘til I was 16 - which, ridiculous, right? - when he changed it to 10:00. But that’s not as bad as having nothing to do.”
Derek shrugged. “We had board games. We’d have have to play with each other because we weren’t allowed to play with anyone else. I think it was supposed to force us to get along if we didn’t want to go crazy with boredom. Wednesdays - family game nights - were the highlight of the week when you were grounded.”
“Oh, family game night... So that explains the massive closet full of games.”
“We lost a lot of them after the fire. Laura bought all the ones she could remember, but there were only two of us. Not many we could play.”
Stiles hesitated; he knew this was a really sensitive topic for Derek, but he also wanted to keep him talking, so he asked, “How big was your family?”
“There were seven of us, but my little brothers would usually play with someone older as a team if the game needed fewer people or was too complicated.”
Derek’s reply wasn’t even stuttered; he seemed to be talking about all of this relatively easily, though Stiles could hear some strain in his voice. Still, Stiles would keep prodding as long as Derek seemed stable enough.
“Who were the teams?”
It took a moment, but Derek did respond. “Will usually played with me, and Nathan with Mom or Laura. Cora was obsessed with independence and never played with anyone.”
“Sounds like fun,” Stiles said, hearing the slight tremor in Derek’s voice and opting to switch gears to himself. It wasn’t like it was easy for him to talk about this stuff either, but he’d had more practice than Derek, and it felt wrong to try to jump onto a whole different topic. Stiles probably needed to talk, too, if he were honest with himself (something he wasn’t all that great with, but hey, he was working on it). He looked up at the grey sky, concentrated on the feeling of the tiny rain drops on his face. “Before Mom died, we had what we just called ‘outside day.’ We’d go hiking in the preserve, or have a picnic, or both. It wasn’t always once a week because of weather and Dad’s work, but we went when we could. My favorites were always the summer outside days because we’d go to one of the swimming holes in the preserve, or the big lake.
“After Mom died, Dad and I would go on camping trips, and had movie nights either at the theater or renting something before the days of Netflix. We didn’t have any of the old kind of outside days, and Scott came a lot, but we kept those camping trips up until he died. We couldn’t go all that often because of school and his job, but I always looked forward to them.”
Stiles stopped there, feeling his own voice start to waver this time.
“We lived out in the woods,” Derek offered. “Twenty minutes outside of town.”
Stiles hummed in acknowledgement, then stepped forward until his feet were covered by the water, his pajama pants getting soaked up to the ankle. Neither of them said anything for a long time, and the rain let up completely. Stiles absently thought that it would be symbolic if the clouds parted and the sun came bursting forth, but that didn’t happen, and he didn’t really feel like it needed to, at this point.
He swirled his right foot in the water a little, the waves starting to bury his left ankle, and suddenly his energy seemed to just drop out of him, and he plopped down, right there in the water, pants and all. He exhaled heavily and then flopped backward, the water not rising high enough to meet his ears, and just lay there for a minute.
“So what do we do while they’re here?”
“There’s not a lot we can do while anyone is awake.”
Stiles gave a put-upon sigh, sitting up. “So we just have to entertain ourselves with patty cake or something until night rolls around?”
“Or something,” Derek answered with a shrug. “The lights won’t work at night though.”
“Seriously?” Stiles said, and Derek just arched an eyebrow at him. “I’m not excited about this part of the haunting thing.”
Derek didn’t say anything else, and silence settled in again, Stiles sitting in the waves and Derek standing next to him for a while until finally sitting down as well, but out of the water. By the time the tide had fully receded, leaving Stiles sitting in a soaked, sandy mess, it was completely dark out. The sky was still covered by clouds, the moon and stars hidden. The house was illuminated behind them, and Stiles guessed that it was probably around seven or so; the family would be awake for hours still.
“I’m gonna go see what room was left free,” Derek said suddenly, and Stiles nodded, the mess of sand and water disappearing from his person.
“I’ll come with.”
It turned out Stiles’ attic room was left open (which was weird, because Stiles thought it was the best room in the house) and the three downstairs bedrooms had been taken up instead. The mom was making dinner with a pouting Tyler, while the Dad and Blake played a card game at the table.
“I’m going to sleep,” Derek said.
“Same, I guess. This isn’t exactly prime time TV.”
Stiles followed Derek up the stairs, and they both paused at the bed, realizing the problem; there was just one. Stiles felt a kick of anxiety and excitement (aka, kind of freaking out), thinking of the warmth Derek inspired in him and how it might one day become hot - whatever the hell that meant, thank you brain - and the fact that he knew those feelings might be possible was something that he hadn’t been acknowledging, because they were already happening, and also, hello, he needed his general emotions to have some kind of stability first - right? - and anyway, how the fuck would that work, they were both dead, and what was going on in Stiles’ head right now, holy shit.
There were things on the verge of acknowledgement in him, standing on a cliff waiting to fall into his conscious self, things like how much more he’d been feeling, how he’d laughed, how the time he spent with Derek made him… Made him so many things, he couldn’t even add it all up.
Scenes played through his head: he and Derek pushing each other’s buttons; the talks about family and past and feelings that never lasted long but were enough to help; the times that Stiles had felt amused with their banter and Derek’s grumpiness and dry humor.
He thought about all of his therapy, how he’d recounted it to Derek and had it running through his own head, especially when he didn’t want it to, when he wanted to wallow. There was a voice in his thoughts that had joined his therapist’s and, these days, Derek’s, in reminding him of what could be and repeating things to believe in. And it wasn’t the shaming voice - the one that told him he was a piece of shit for letting his life go to hell, that he was worthless for not being able to move or feel; it was something good.
All of that, all of the intensity of everything that he knew could happen with Derek, of everything that could take him back to normal-Stiles, back to emotion and the desire to live and accomplish - it was all on the tip of his mind, like a dream he just couldn’t quite remember.
Stiles couldn’t even feel awkward as they stood there, too wrapped up in his Derek-feelings and somehow simultaneously avoiding and forcing himself to experience some serious self-revelations. He saw Derek shift next to him, and Stiles opened his mouth to say something, but found that his head was still spinning too much to possibly get a word out.
“What side of the bed do you sleep on?” Derek asked, and Stiles harshly let out a breath he hadn’t even known he was holding, surprised out of his internal crisis. Derek glanced over at him, raising an eyebrow. “You okay?”
Well, at least one of them was keeping a cool head about this.
“Y-yeah, no, I’m fine,” Stiles stuttered, voice trembling. “Um, I like being closer to the door. If… uh. If that’s cool.”
(Stiles knew he was acting like a 12 year old, but he was getting hit from several emotional directions at once, and almost felt like he might cry.)
Stiles was grateful Derek didn’t press, and turned his gaze away when Derek stripped off his henley, which was fucking ridiculous considering how often he graced the public (which now consisted of just Stiles, but hey) with his half-nudity. Derek shucked his pants, too, and made his way to the bed, collapsing on the left side. Thankfully, he didn’t say anything when it took Stiles a little too long to venture over himself, and after a moment, he was able to calm down enough to lie down without feeling overwhelmed.
When he’d finally settled on his side, one arm tucked under the pillow, Stiles was relatively at peace. Derek was a warm weight next to him, just a few inches from his back, and with a sense of excited comfort, Stiles thought about phasing into sleep and was out in the next moment.
Stiles woke up to mid-morning and no Derek, which was sort of a relief. He lay on his back, blinking up at the ceiling, and turning over the previous night’s thoughts for a moment before deciding to set aside any and all Derek Related Feelings, and stay on the path he’d been on before his little emotional - god, what - episode.
He was glad for what had happened, though. It was all still just at his fingertips, not quite able to grasp, but he was touching on reality again. There were more rays of sun seeping through the fog of nothingness, yadda yadda, insert all those similes and metaphors he’d gotten so good at in his internal monologue.
He rolled his head to face the window, and lamented a little the inability to wake up slowly or turn over and snuggle back to sleep, before getting out of the bed completely with a stretch. Downstairs he found the girl - Tyler - sitting at the dining table in a bathing suit, furiously texting someone or multiple someones, who knew.
He looked out the window and saw someone floating out in the ocean, and the mom and dad sitting in two of four beach chairs that had been set up. He didn’t see any sign of Derek though, and was curious about where he’d gone, when a thought struck him.
It was a possibility that he or Derek could just up and disappear at any time. They didn’t know what was keeping them tied to the house, and what if one day one of them tripped the switch to move on to heaven or hell or reincarnate as a llama?
Stiles felt a highly unpleasant heaviness in his gut at the thought of being trapped here without Derek. He really would go crazy with no one around who could actually see and talk to him, and that wasn’t even touching on how he’d feel about losing Derek himself.
With some slight alarm that he was internally trying to talk himself down from, Stiles forced himself to calmly walk around the rest of the house, and let out a massive sigh of relief when he caught sight of Derek in the front yard area.
Derek was examining the plants, glaring at what were probably weeds poking around in the flowerbeds as if they would disintegrate if he stared long enough.
Stiles smiled a little, wondering if he should leave Derek up to his business with the garden and the rest of the yard, or if it would be okay to bug him. He didn’t want to bust in on Derek if he was having some private time, but he was also bored. He wound up compromising, choosing to watch Derek check over more of the flowers and other plants before making his way outside.
He hadn’t really paid that much attention to the front yard other than when he first drove up, not even on the later trip to the grocery store; he’d spent more time on the porch by the ocean or on the couch in the living room than anywhere else. But looking around as he made his way toward Derek, he realized just how many different things were growing in the carefully constructed beds. There were three large, somewhat twisted looking trees, and several flower beds and well kempt bushes.
“Did you do all this?” Stiles asked by way of greeting. Derek startled a little where he was squatting to look at plants, before dropping his head and sighing heavily.
“Now who’s creeping around?”
“Oh, please. Like this one time I surprise you matters when you’ve pulled creeper on me a thousand times,” Derek shook his head, still not looking at Stiles, but Stiles didn’t miss his minute smile. “So, did you?”
“Most of it, yeah,” Derek said, standing up. “The trees were already here, and I had some help with the plotting part of the landscaping, but I chose the plants and took care of them, for the most part. There was a gardener I’d call when I needed some help, but it’s hard to trust someone else with this.”
“I bet it is,” Stiles agreed. He walked forward and knelt down next to a pretty set of white-pink flowers that seemed to blossom upside down. He reached out and stroked the petal gently.
“Fairy lanterns,” Derek said. “Mom really loved them.”
“So who takes care of them now? Can you do anything for them, or does it not work anymore like everything else?”
“Laura kept Ben on, the guy who’d help me out when I couldn’t be here. I’ve… I tried to do some basic things. Sometimes it works. Sometimes not. Never when there’s people though.”
“It’s really beautiful out here.”
Derek shrugged, but Stiles didn’t miss the way he flushed a little, despite keeping a steady voice. “It’s the right time of year. Most things are in bloom.”
Stiles hummed, standing, and then made his way to a yellow flower in a sandy plot.
“Beach primrose,” Derek said, when Stiles touched one of the blossoms. And, “Flowering Currant,” when Stiles continued on to another plant.
They passed some time like that, Stiles going to different plants and occasionally asking questions, and Derek naming them and answering.
Even though Stiles knew that Derek’s main hobby was gardening, he was still surprised at how much Derek knew; he was like a fucking encyclopedia of plants. Everybody had things they nerded out over, but Stiles had never known someone so into botany.
“Where’d you learn all this?” he asked, fingers stroking the soft underbelly of a flower.
“I picked up stuff from different places. Mom and Dad did some gardening as a hobby, Mom more than Dad. She used to rope me into helping her out when I was little, when Dad had a job that kept him late. It got to be something I liked, especially going to the nurseries and picking out new plants,” Derek paused, cleared his throat. Stiles stayed quiet, knowing this was more of that raw territory in Derek’s head. “I got a job at the nursery doing grunt work when I was in high school, but quit after - after the fire. We moved, and when I went to college I took some classes, ended up majoring in botany even though the ‘how it works’ wasn’t as interesting to me.”
Derek stopped again, and though Stiles had a feeling he wanted to say more, the silence kept stretching. After a moment, he realized he could actually see Derek withdrawing back into his head, and it didn’t exactly look like he was in happy land in there, if his stony expression was anything to go by.
“But you like watching things grow,” Stiles prompted, but all he got from Derek was a nod. He swallowed heavily, and ventured, “You’ve grown some really beautiful things. Out here, it’s... It’s calm. In fact, it reminds me of the ‘garden of tranquility’ that my relaxation tape thing told me to picture.”
That chipped away some of Derek’s hard expression, and his mouth relaxed into what was almost a smile.
“Thanks,” Derek said, soft but genuine. Stiles could hear everything Derek wasn’t saying in that one word.
Derek turned to face Stiles, and looked like he had something else he wanted to say, but before he could even open his mouth, the front door slammed and Tyler came storming out and stomped her way down the stairs, furious tears streaming down her face and her father hot on her heels.
“Tyler Ashton Lee, you quit this temper tantrum and get back here right now! You’re thirteen, not three!”
Tyler whirled on her father. “I’ll have a damn temper tantrum if I want! You knew this place would make me miserable, and you made me come here anyway, and if that wasn’t bad enough, you’re punishing me for no reason!”
The dad visibly took a breath, but when he exhaled, it was more frustration than outright anger. “Honey, I’m not trying to punish you, but we came here to spend time together. You’ve been sitting in the house all day, and-”
“You know I can’t see my phone in the sun, but you’re dragging me out there, away from my friends! I’m… I’m gonna get left behind!” With that, she crumpled to the ground in a squat, hugging her knees tightly to her chest. At the door, her little brother - Blake? - stepped out carefully, clutching something in his hand. He spoke softly to his dad first, who nodded and rested a hand on his head before walking back into the house.
Blake went and sat down next to Tyler, who was slowly calming down. He tapped her knee and handed over what he’d been holding, which turned out to be a mini-pack of tissues. She took them and sat back next to him, wiping her face and blowing her nose. They were quiet for a little while.
“Your friends aren’t gonna forget about you,” Blake said softly. Tyler sniffed and wiped at another stray tear.
“I just don’t wanna miss anything. You don’t… you don’t get it. You’re not old enough to get it.”
Blake shrugged. “I dunno why you always treat me like I’m two. I miss my friends, but this can be fun too. We used to have fun, anyway.”
“We did, I guess,” Tyler said, starting to pick at the grass. “But it’s not fair, I…”
“I think we should head somewhere else,” Stiles said.
“Yeah,” Derek agreed, sounding a little strangled. Stiles nudged him, and they made their way to the bed-swing on the back porch. There was a tension around Derek, and Stiles, never one for this kind of tense silence, broke it.
“I was never friend-crazy like that. Mostly it was just me and Scott and my obsessive crush on Lydia until high school,” he started, picking absently at the hem of his shirt. “We expanded our tiny social circle a little in ninth grade, when Scott and Isaac got partnered for a biology project, then Erica transferred in 11th grade, and Isaac got a crush that dragged her in, too. It didn’t last long because they just didn’t click like that - you know, better off as friends.
“She and this senior, Boyd, ended up hooking up, so he was around, too. Disgustingly enough, they’re still together. Getting married, maybe? I kind of…” Stiles paused, took a breath, tried to move past the upwelling of shame. “Um, I dropped off the face of the planet awhile ago, so.
“Anyway, senior year I got put in a group project with Lydia, the girl of my dreams, and these two other people that turned out to be completely useless. When I didn’t turn out to be completely useless, she worked me to death, and was totally mean about it. But we worked really well together, even though my burning crush was getting the metaphorical fire hose.
“Then one day her douchebag boyfriend that she ended up marrying - what the fuck - said some really shitty things to her. When she came over to work on the project, she looked like a ghost or something… It was really bad. Like, this girl never left the house without makeup and there she was with mascara all over her face and blotchy cheeks. When I asked about it, she snapped at me, then started crying, and then she was spilling her guts to me. She was so embarrassed, but let me tell you, I handled that shit like a champ, and ever since we’ve had this snarky brains-bros friendship going, and… Yeah.”
Stiles stopped, swallowed, glanced over at Derek, who was watching him with an unreadable expression. He turned away after a moment, looked out to the ocean.
“I was popular in high school, but I was a lot different back then,” Derek said. “Then I just ended up shutting everybody out, and by the time we moved it was like my friends were all strangers. I hated the way they looked at me, and I didn’t trust anybody enough to really ever have friends after that. There were people Laura hung out with that would come over, people I had classes with. But I didn’t want to be around anybody. I just… couldn’t.”
They sat in the quiet for a moment, and Stiles spotted Tyler and Blake walking out to the beach toward their parents.
“After Dad died, I couldn’t do people, either. I drove Scott away hardcore, and I was an asshole to everybody,” Stiles paused, huffing a small laugh. “Lydia was the one who tried to cut through my bullshit, because she knew exactly what I was doing. She could see how ashamed I was and she knew I was just... giving up on life, and trying to get people to quit caring about me. Scott was awesome, and even though his patience would blow out, he always came back. Lydia was the one who shut it all down though. I said some fucked up shit to her, and she snapped at me, but then was quiet and just told me that she couldn’t help me if I didn’t want to help myself. After that, there wasn’t anyone anymore. Everyone left me alone, just like I’d wanted,” Stiles stopped, pulled his knees up to his chest and rested his chin there. “I knew I had a choice. I remember trying to figure out the best way to die, and then I decided that I couldn’t do it. I didn’t have anything left, but I couldn’t bring myself to just end it, even though I wanted to. I dunno. And long brutal story of therapy short, I ended up stuck here with Scowly McFrownface.”
“Scowly McFrownface? Really?” Derek said, eyebrow raised in judgey judgement, but underlined with an amused smile. Stiles was glad, because even though he tried to keep it light, it was still a heavy fucking story. He shrugged, and Derek looked out at the beach. “Do you ever get annoyed that you’re stuck here? That you can’t go anywhere?”
Stiles thought for a moment, but it wasn’t a hard question to answer. A little embarrassing though, maybe, but then this was Derek, who was probably the biggest hermit ever.
“Honestly, I didn’t go anywhere for like a month before I started therapy, and before that I only left when Scott would drag me out to get groceries and crank the Jeep. It was actually part of the therapy to get the fuck out of the house more than the once a week it took me to go to therapy itself. I pretty much got groceries and went to appointments, but Dr. Hirt told me I had to go sit outside for at least 15 minutes a day, and after a month that graduated to walking outside for 15 minutes a day. Anyway, all that to say that the whole ‘tied to a house to haunt foreva’ hasn’t really fazed me much. The property isn’t exactly small, and even our limited ghostly boundaries are relatively big,” Stiles laughed a little. “Old me would feel trapped and crazy though, I’m sure.”
“I miss driving,” Derek said. “I had this Camaro that I’d drive around on backroads; Laura tagged along sometimes. The gas was ridiculous, but it was worth it to just get out of my head for a while. I liked the scenery.”
Stiles whistled. “Camaro, damn. I’ve had the same beaten down Jeep since I was 16, but honestly, I can’t give her up. I’ve basically replaced everything in the damn thing to keep her. But, I mean, I lost my v-card in her. Scott and I toked up parked in a field and had crazy conversations. I bought her with money I’d literally been saving since I was ten. She’s my baby.”
“I get it,” Derek said. “Laura said Dad wanted to get me a Camaro when I graduated high school, as long as I hadn’t wrecked the Accord or gotten a ticket. She surprised me with it on my 18th birthday, and we took it for a drive,” he paused, exhaled heavily, and some of the tension drained away. “We ended up in a damn Walmart parking lot because she started crying, and it wasn’t long til I was, too.”
Stiles lost his breath for a moment at the scene that popped into his head with just those few words as description: Derek and Laura, Laura proud to be fulfilling their father’s wish, happy for Derek, but both of them missing the piece of the picture where their dad smiled and teased Derek about getting all the ladies with his new ride, but with a reminder that he had to be careful with it, before sending him off for a test run with a happy wave.
Stiles could see Derek and Laura smiling in the car, Derek in his small way, and then the weight of the loss hitting them as he drove this car that was new, but still heavy with unmade memories. Laura would have blinked back tears before she just crumbled, with Derek unable to keep himself together in the face of the open, raw devastation.
But Stiles ended up smiling a little, because Derek spoke of the Camaro fondly, and that could only mean one thing.
“Therapy car, huh?”
He saw Derek’s lips quirk up, too, though he still looked kind of far away.
They sat for awhile, lost in their own thoughts, until Stiles started to itch a little, restless for a scene change.
“Hey, think we could play something while they have family bond time out there?” Stiles asked, and it was a moment or two before Derek shrugged.
“We can try.”
“Alright then,” Stiles said, uncurling from his ball and stretching. “Off to see the wizard.”
Three days later, the family was gone, and Stiles found himself trying to read in the returning quiet.
But he was a little distracted.
He would be the first to say that the experience was kind of bizarre, like he and Derek had been the crew on some reality TV show or something. It felt weird to think that this would keep happening, that people would just continue to cycle in and out of this place until he faded away or the house blew up or something.
He’d tried talking to Derek about it, but he’d actually seemed kind of disturbed when Stiles brought it up. Stiles could tell that he’d already thought it all out, and just didn’t want to acknowledge that reality any more than he had to. Which, okay, that was fine with Stiles, but he kind of wanted to hash this out outloud. He couldn’t help but feel like he was being forced on these massive invasions of privacy, and it made him really uncomfortable.
Speaking of discomfort, there was Derek himself, who, ironically, was also a source of comfort.
Which he didn’t want to really think about.
Stiles finally dropped his book to his chest, rolling his eyes to the ceiling and sighing deeply. He fumbled his way off the couch and stood into a stretch before making his way to the kitchen to see if Derek was out on the beach; he spotted him standing out close to the water.
Stiles smiled a little to himself, feeling something like contentment settle over his skin, quickly followed by a sense of strangeness. It was weird as fuck, this calm warmth that Derek inspired in him, but Stiles would take it and run with it as far as he possibly could… Even if sometimes he wanted to run screaming back the way he came.
All of this had been growing steadily, he thought to himself, making his way down the back steps. Even though the things in his head and the world around him still felt muted and foggy sometimes, moments of clarity weren’t as few and far between as they had been.
Feelings… Seriously. They were scary, sometimes. It’d been so long since he’d felt them so full on, like he’d been getting recently, and he wasn’t always sure what to do with it all. But things like the pressure and anxiety he’d felt that first night that he and Derek had shared the bed definitely classified as scary. The affection and attachment he felt for Derek that he’d been slowly coming to terms with the last few days (because fucking hell, Stilinski, acknowledge your feelings bro, you don’t get them that often these days), that shit was terrifying.
But the anxiety over those feelings wasn’t enough to fully put a damper on his pursuit of them. He’d made a promise to try, and trying meant facing things that he wasn’t sure he really wanted to face, and accepting things that he wanted to ignore until further notice. Happiness fell into both of those categories, even as it was something that he knew he should - and, underneath it all, did - want.
Well, Derek made him happy.
The sand was cool under his feet, and he took a moment to dig his toes into it before shaking them off and walking further toward Derek, who still hadn’t noticed him. He was probably distracted by the sunset, which was really quite beautiful, Stiles thought, the way that the water seemed to reflect the pink-orange-purple-red of the sky, not a cloud to be seen.
He walked right up beside Derek, who turned and gave him a small half-smile, and something about the soft set of his lips and the gentle light around him made Stiles’ heart pick up speed, his mouth going dry and breath catching.
He wanted to keep this moment forever. Freeze-frame, whatever, just something to let him hold onto this, to what he was seeing and feeling right now. He felt like there was a low hum of electricity sparking through his entire body, and he suddenly felt overwhelmed and like he wanted to laugh and cry all at once.
What the fuck, I am an actual romance novel heroine right now.
He loved Derek.
Like, loved him.
There was a ripping sensation in his core, like he was being split at the seams, like everything that had been deleted from him emotion-wise over the last forever had just been copied to the clipboard and there was suddenly a fucking novel-length book of emotion pasted right on to his psyche. He was on the edge of that cliff from the night with the bed, and something had just picked him up and thrown him off of it into an ocean of fire, or, hell, maybe something had launched him into the sun - either way, he was completely fucked.
He started laughing.
At first, it was this choked-out, strangled mess of a laugh, because he was still struggling for air, mind going a thousand miles an hour while his heart tried to beat its way out of his chest, but then it turned into this huge, uncontrollable belly-laugh. He was laughing straight from his gut until it became an all-out guffaw, and he suddenly found himself collapsing into the sand and unable to do anything but laugh through the tears that had started collecting in his eyes.
“Stiles?” Derek asked, and hell, he probably thought that Stiles had finally snapped - which, shit, probably wasn’t too far from reality - but Stiles couldn’t bring himself to look at him. He thought he might actually explode if he did.
So he just kept laughing, there on all fours on the beach, staring at the sand and crying, too, unable to stop any of it.
It was simultaneously the most hilarious, wonderful, and horrifying thing he’d ever experienced.
He noticed movement out of the corner of his eye, and when he glanced over, he saw Derek’s face blurred through his tears. He laughed all the harder, and his fucking insides were probably going to end up all over the ground, he was being torn in so many different directions. He felt a wave of nausea come over him, and dropped from his position on all fours to his side, facing away from Derek, who he just seriously could not look at right then.
An eternity later, the laughter gave way into tears, into heaving sobs and snot and a hoarse throat, and Stiles just curled tighter into himself, trying to keep his fucking soul from exploding. He didn’t feel like he was in his body anymore, or that he was even on earth anymore, and maybe he wasn’t, maybe his soul was finally moving on into the ether, he didn’t fucking know.
All he could register was that he was ugly crying like he hadn’t cried since he was two and throwing a temper tantrum, this unbound, happy grief wracking his body. He buried his face in his hands and let out everything, because he was completely powerless to keep any of it in, and he honestly wasn’t sure if he wanted to get control.
He didn’t even know why he was crying. Hell, he didn’t have the wherewithal to remember what had set all of this off in the first place. He was just in a shit-storm of emotion, feeling happy and terrified and undeniably sad, all of it overwhelming and straight up making him feel crazy.
It felt like he’d cried himself right out of the time-space continuum, but he registered a warmth at his side, and realized he was being carried somewhere fucking bridal-style. But god, who even cared? Stiles certainly couldn’t give less of a fuck. He just hid his face in his hands and let the torrent wash over him, body giving way to laughing-sobs then back to open weeping again.
There was no telling how long it went on, how long it would go on, but eventually it did start to slow, until all that was left was a whimpering, giggling mess of Stilinski. When he finally started coming to, the first thing he registered was a rough texture against his forehead - stubble? - followed by gentle fingers stroking his ankle where his sleep pants had ridden up. He hiccuped, then pulled in a deep breath followed by a shaky exhale.
He finally pulled his hands away from his face, and absently noted the snot that had been covering them evaporated (thank god). His nose was drying, too, though there were some straggling tears. He opened his eyes and saw that he was being cradled against Derek’s body, in his lap. They were sitting on the gigantic downstairs bed-swing thing, and Derek was humming quietly while Stiles breathed himself back into reality, each breath more steady than the last.
“Back with me?” Derek asked, quiet, gentle. Stiles couldn’t say anything, so he nodded yes, then no, then yes again. “It’s alright. You’re okay, you’re okay,” Derek murmured, his hand coming up to run through Stiles’ hair, gentling him.
They sat that way while Stiles got his bearings, and when he remembered the revelation that had triggered the whole episode he’d just had, he closed his eyes. He absolutely could not deal with that right now; he was in no way equipped to handle that live-wire feeling.
So he just said, voice trembling, “I’m gonna go to sleep now,” and curled into Derek’s arms and thought of rest, and everything went quiet around him.
For the first time since he’d started “sleeping,” Stiles woke up muzzy-headed and tired. The sun was bright, and he squeezed his eyes shut tightly against it and flopped over onto his other side, but it was no use; the light just followed him.
When he finally did manage to crack his eyes open, he noticed that he was on the porch swing under the house, with the throw blanket from the couch covering him. He was a little confused, until he remembered what had happened in unfortunate technicolor flashes.
In love with Derek. Biggest nervous breakdown ever. Or nervous fix up? Stiles noticed that he was feeling... better, in a general sense. Or, at least, feeling things, which essentially meant he was feeling better. There was some sort of pleasant buzz in his head where the emptiness had been, and though there was still quite a lot of space to fill, there was at least something.
But still, what the actual fuck had happened, exactly? He remembered what amounted to a sonic boom of feelings going off in his head, and bam, on the ground, laughing, crying, screaming, making a general mess of himself. He’d lost time between the start of it and when he came to settled in Derek’s arms. Which… God, how embarrassing, what the fuck.
Stiles ran both hands through his hair before smoothing them down the sides of his face, pulling the skin in a mockery of an upset frown. He groaned and curled back up, rolling onto his side on the bed-swing and just laying there while he tried to make sense of himself.
So. There were feelings. Feelings in general, and then feelings for Derek. All of it felt like a live-wire, or maybe like something was searing over his raw emotions. There was a soft hum of contentment, but twisted up with that was the sadness and guilt that had become his besties, not to mention the thread of anxiety that was always woven in there somewhere. But all of it was like… A hundred times more than he’d been feeling, and all at once. His brain was struggling to process any of it and his soul felt like it had been flayed. Things flowed through him, things he remembered and knew that he could deal with, but it was like trying to remember how to ride a bike when you’d only just learned to crawl again.
He was grateful for the feelings, but he couldn’t help but feel an eensy bit of resentment for how they’d shown up. Wasn’t this shit supposed to be a gradual deal? Shouldn’t there have been some, like, warning, at least? This was just uncalled for, this onslaught of stuff that he was suddenly expected to sort through, and it felt like it was all going to come exploding out before he could even get a handle on it. God, he wanted to start laughing and crying all over again. Maybe he even needed it.
He rolled onto his back and took a deep breath, trying to reroute his mind into thinking about good things, and how this was good progress and a step forward, et cetera, et cetera, and when he’d marginally calmed down, he opened his eyes to stare at the ceiling. His face felt tense, and it was surprising to note that he was just… smiling like a doofus. At nothing. At anything? Everything, maybe.
He heard movement from upstairs, and thought, Derek.
Which was quite the rain on his metaphorical parade. Seriously.
Because what was he supposed to do with the whole ‘sorry I had a nervous breakdown and snotted all over you’ thing? Wait, scratch that, what the hell was he supposed to do about the whole love thing? How the fuck would that go? It’d been in the back of his mind, the attraction, but now that he was basically holding philosophical conversation with the bigass elephant in his mind, he didn’t know how to handle it.
There were so many things that could, and probably would, go wrong with it. And that was such crap, because what he’d had with Derek pre-revelation was so, so precious to him, and something still a little fragile. Stiles knew that no matter how hard he tried, eventually his feelings would bleed over. Derek would notice, and when everything inevitably came vomiting out of Stiles, things would change irrevocably. Hell, for all Stiles knew, Derek could be a total homophobe, and how awkward would that afterlife be? Not to mention miserable, lonely, and just… No. He couldn’t think about that, couldn’t deal, nope, not today.
But now what? What could he even do? How was he supposed to dig through this mountain of feelings when all he had was a fucking gardening spade?
Before his mind could really break into a lovely creative streak by exploring future scenarios involving Derek discovering Stiles’ pathetic unrequited love, some clomping noises came from the general area of the stairs, and Stiles knew Derek was coming down.
Pretty much number one on the list of Things Stiles Does Not Want To Do was talk to Derek. Or even look at his face. Stiles heard Dr. Hirt rambling in his head about not being ashamed of feelings, but Stiles was still embarrassed, and apparently in love, with no idea what to do about it.
He contemplated his options, which were limited to fight, flight, or freeze, but before he could even make a decision there was Derek, peeking at him over the back of the swing. As soon as Stiles caught sight of his stubble, he squeezed his eyes shut and threw an arm over his face. It was quiet for a while, which Stiles expected; he knew Derek was trying to keep the ball in Stiles’ court here and let him talk when he was ready, but the thing was that Stiles wasn’t sure he ever would be ready.
It took a while, but eventually Derek did break the silence.
“Are you okay?”
Stiles swallowed thickly. “And that’s the million-dollar question,” he said, voice a little shaky. “But then again, are any of us ever really okay?”
“I’m fine. I’m just… I need some time. I’m - It’s a lot. A lot at once, okay? I’ll be good in a little while, and I’ll come find you.” There was no response, but Stiles was used to these quiet lapses when Derek was trying to make a decision. Stiles steeled himself, and then uncovered his eyes to look at Derek. And it was nuts, because looking at his face was like staring into the sun - just completely overwhelming. “I’ll be fine, promise,” he repeated, giving his best shot at some semblance of a smile. It must have passed for believable, because though Derek gave him a once-over, he nodded.
“I’m here,” he said, before disappearing from behind the swing. Stiles sat up and watched him walk out towards the beach, where he’d already set up their two chairs. Despite himself, there was a warmth that bubbled up in his mind.
God, what a considerate douchebag.
Stiles flopped backward, and his fears swamped him again.
He’d forgotten what it was like to truly feel afraid. When he felt completely hopeless, when there was nothing left in him to give a damn, nothing was scary anymore. But this, this was fucking terrifying. This was another human being having power over him... This was him exposing all kinds of vulnerable integral pieces of himself and hoping nothing started zapping them with lasers or chopping them with swords and okay, enough with the video game boss-battle comparison.
The stuff with Derek wasn’t a dependency, but it was intense. It wasn’t a need, but it was a knowledge that he would be devastated if he were to lose it. His relationship with Derek was important, something that he wanted to stay good, because they were good together, even as just… friends, or whatever.
So why ruin all that?
Who the hell decided Stiles was capable of making these kinds of decisions? Jesus. Couldn’t he at least have dealt with the Derek-feelings a little while after having the feelings-feelings-feelings breakdown?
This was too much. This was just too fucking much, seriously, and here he was on his own with all this because Derek was his only human contact and he really couldn’t talk to Derek about everything. Hell, he could barely even think about Derek without wanting the ground to swallow him whole.
He didn’t know what to do. He had to come to some sort of decision, but he needed time to figure out what that should be, and Derek would probably want to talk to him soon. Derek wasn’t needy, but Stiles knew he was probably worried, or at the very least weirded out, and there would need to be at least something resembling a talk-it-out session, especially if he didn’t want Derek to shut down on him. But even so, Stiles needed to take care of Stiles first; he wasn’t going to be any help to anybody if he couldn’t get his head on straight.
He just needed a little time.