Something was weird.
Stiles felt woozy, disoriented, and when he looked blearily around the room, he realized he didn’t know where he was. It almost seemed like a dream, because the last thing he remembered was falling asleep on the couch at the beach house while he watched a movie that he couldn’t remember.
When he really started to wake up, he noticed that he was hooked up to an I.V., and it took a minute, but he connected the dots and realized, hospital.
What the hell was he doing in a hospital?
He tried to sit up, but it was like he hadn’t used his muscles in weeks. He felt so weak, and as he continued to become slowly more conscious, he noticed that his wrists seemed kind of small. Along with his forearms. What was happening?
Just then, a woman in scrubs - a nurse - came into the room. She looked surprised to see him, and Stiles still couldn’t shake the feeling that he was dreaming.
She approached him slowly, and in a very gentle voice, said, “Hello, I’m Danielle, and I’m taking care of you. Do you know your name?”
Stiles nodded, and went to speak, but noticed his tongue felt heavy in his mouth. He swallowed, tried again.
“I’m Stiles. Stiles Stilinski.”
“Hello Stiles,” she said, giving him a smile. “Do you know where you are?”
“Hospital?” Stiles said, making it a question. “But how did I get here? I was at the beach, and I was asleep-”
“We’ll answer all your questions soon. But for now, you took a nasty hit to the head, so I’m going to go get your doctor, okay? We’ll have a few questions for you when she gets here.”
Stiles nodded, which actually did make his fuzzy head throb for a moment, and the nurse left.
He flexed his legs under the thin hospital blanket, and they felt equally as weak. And damn he was cold. He’d have to ask for another warmed blanket or something. Something. Ugh, what was happening?
He hit his head? But when? How? That didn’t make any sense at all. He’d been on the couch, and he would have noticed something like a massive head trauma. What the fuck.
Just then the doctor - Dr. Valeria Mendoza, she introduced herself - came in with a clipboard, and the nurse took all his vitals while Dr. Mendoza asked him a bunch of questions. When she was finally done, Stiles figured it was his turn to get some answers.
“How long have I been out, exactly?” he asked, and Dr. Mendoza didn’t even glance down at her information.
“You’ve been unconscious for 5 weeks, to the day,” she said softly. “You arrived on March 14th, 2014, and today is April 18th, 2014. We’ve called Scott McCall, your emergency contact, and he said that he’ll be here as soon as he can.”
Oh, god. Scott.
“Okay,” Stiles said, sort of stupefied and at a total loss for words. Dr. Mendoza nodded, and she and the nurse stepped out of the room.
Scott was coming.
It’d been months since he’d seen Scott. Months. It was amazing that Scott was willing to come, after everything, after how fucking horrible Stiles had been to him for all that time after Dad died. Shit.
But then, of course Scott would come. He was Scott. He would always come when Stiles needed him. He was just that stupidly loyal, and they had a deep, binding love between them. Stiles knew that no matter how much of a prick he’d been, once Scott heard he’d been hurt, he would have immediately been there.
Stiles suddenly felt like he was about to cry.
Wait just one motherflippin’ second.
Stiles… Stiles felt? He felt sad? He felt relieved. He felt… What the hell, did that hit on the head knock the fucking void out of him?
Stiles thought about anything and everything, and then there was an avalanche of emotions and different thoughts: Lydia sniffing at him when they were assigned partners and then later breaking down on his bed over Jackson; Scott, the kick in the shin and apology snickerdoodle that had started their friendship; Susannah breaking his heart; how he felt when she’d said yes to their first date; the excitement when he lost his virginity and the sadness and insecurity that came when she’d never called him again; wanting to kick Scott in the nuts for eating the pizza Stiles had been saving; inside jokes between Boyd and Erica like the thing with the sleeping bag; how Erica teased him like crazy about his awkward social skills every time he bombed asking people on dates; things that had embarrassed him in high school like the time Jackson pantsed him in front of the girl’s track team. And he felt, felt everything that came with the memories, good and bad, happy, angry, embarrassing, sad, elated, nervous… Fucking hell.
This was nuts. Jesus christ, Dr. Hirt was going to have a goddamn field day. This was a freaking miracle if Stiles had ever seen one.
His heart rate had been steadily rising, and he tried really hard not to pay attention to the beeps, because it was gonna drive him absolutely insane and possibly cause a freak out in the wake of all the feelings. He noticed absently that he was crying, not hard, but just tears rolling down his face.
And suddenly, despite everything that he was getting back, he felt overwhelmingly like he’d lost something, or forgotten something. Something really, really important.
And he felt really tired, the cloudiness filling his head again, but he also realized that he was freaking starving, something he hadn’t noticed when he’d first woken up, or even when he’d been a little more clear-headed.
As luck would have it, someone wheeled in a food tray just as he was thinking of how to go about getting food (especially since he wasn’t sure he could walk at all). But even perking up over food didn’t eliminate the strange sadness that he felt… It felt almost like it was someone else’s sadness.
He at the bland food mindlessly after thanking the employee (whatever people who brought food in hospitals were called), but slowly, because his stomach couldn’t really handle much. No wonder the food was so tasteless. And kind of revolting, texture-wise.
The guy who brought his food also handed him the remote, and Stiles flipped on the TV for some background noise before trying (and failing) to make his way to the bathroom. He ended up having to call the nurse for help. Damn, he was so, so weak. His muscles must have deteriorated while he was out. This was freaking ridiculous.
After some embarrassment and finangling, he got there. And after probably the biggest dump of his life, he made it back to the room, exhausted. He wasn’t sure if he should sleep, but the doc hadn’t said anything about it, so he relaxed back against the bed and watched Golden Girls until he started to drift.
He woke up a while later to someone coming in the room. Well, two someones. A different nurse than his first one, and-
Scott, whose face was a mix of shock and relief, and even a little happiness, which, shit, had Stiles immediately on guilt train express. But even if he was on that train, he still felt a wash of affection at seeing his best friend, and couldn’t help but smile tentatively.
“Stiles!” Scott squawked, and Stiles laughed a little. Scott’s eyes widened, and his jaw dropped before he sputtered, “Holy shit, that’s an actual smile!”
Stiles shrugged, feeling himself start to full-on grin, “I’ve been doing a lot of therapy. Or had been. Don’t get me wrong, I still will be, but. Surprise?”
“Dude, you get two seconds warning, I’m about to hug the hell out of you.”
Stiles felt a giddiness well up in him as Scott jumped forward and, true to his word, hugged the hell out of him. Stiles hugged him back as hard as he could.
“I’m still mad at you,” Scott said when he pulled away.
“Good. You really should be.”
Scott gave him his lopsided, crooked-jaw smile, and pulled the chair up to Stiles’ bed, where he sat back heavily.
“Sorry dude, it’s like 1:00 in the morning and I worked all day. I’m pooped. I’ve only got a little bit of that adrenaline rush left that I got from hearing you woke up left. That drive sucks.”
“Yeah, four hours is a doozy,” Stiles said, and Scott let his head drop backward.
“No joke,” he said, working his neck in a circle to get the kinks out. “We thought about moving you back, but this hospital is waaaaay better than the one back home. Ritzy town. The bad part was that we couldn’t really come to visit you much.”
Scott looked sheepish and a little guilty. Stiles waved a hand at him.
“Dude, don’t worry about it. You did the best you could. I’m just… glad you came.”
Scott gave him a look. “Of course I did. Stiles, you’re still my brother. Even if you are a grade-A asshole sometimes.”
“Speaking of my assholery-” Stiles started, but Scott was quick to interrupt him.
“We’ll have to do the big apology and explanation later; I’m barely functioning right now. So if we could just talk for a little while?”
“Sure,” Stiles said. “I wasn’t really sure if I was up for it, either. Mostly I just wanted to say I was sorry in the short form, and then get down on my knees and grovel when I can get out of this damn bed by myself.”
Scott smiled, then looked more serious. “You’re looking pretty rough, dude. Are you gonna have to do physical therapy?”
“My guess is yeah. I’m so weak, man. Remember when you had the flu for two weeks in like 2nd grade, and you couldn’t really move? That’s me right now, maybe a little worse. So much for my ripped muscles,” Stiles joked, and Scott smiled again.
“Right, because you were totally rockin’ it before.”
They both chose to ignore the fact that Stiles had been wasting away the last time Scott saw him. He was worse now, but he’d lost a lot of weight before he started up therapy again. A diet of booze and Adderall did that to a guy.
“You were always jealous of my physique. I’m a prime specimen of the human male.”
Scott snorted, but was still grinning. “Right.”
“Al-ways,” Stiles said, sing-song.
Scott shook his head. “I really can’t tell you how awesome it is to see you like this. You’re… laughing, joking, and, well, not mean. It’s like I’ve finally gotten my friend back.”
“It’s kind of crazy, to be honest. It was like everything came crashing down all at once, and it was all just... there. It was gone before, but now it’s back. Not totally, but I feel a lot better. I know I’m better. I’ve still got a long way to go in therapy, don’t get me wrong, but I feel like I’m free, weird as it sounds.”
“Doesn’t sound weird at all,” Scott said. “Because you are. You were seriously depressed, and that’s like a cage; you were trapped.”
“True,” Stiles said. He playfully narrowed his eyes at Scott. “And did you do research about my assholishness?”
“Duh. You would have done the same.”
“Also true,” Stiles said, and god, it was so good to just sit with Scott without this overhanging feeling of unworthiness, or wanting to be left alone. There was guilt, definitely, but Scott wanted to be around him, and he wanted to be around Scott, and right then, that was good enough for Stiles. “So how’s life? I’ve been a little out of the loop.”
“Uh, yeah you have. Man, where do I even start?” Scott said, thoughtful. “I guess… Kira? I met her a little after you left, and she helped me get through some stuff.” It was unspoken that Stiles was the stuff Scott was going through. “She’s really awesome, and so pretty. I think you’d really like her. She’s kind of awkward, like you.”
“So how’d you meet her?” Stiles asked, and Stiles got the Stupid Love Grin and the Hearts in Eyes look.
This was serious business.
“You know Erica and art history,” Scott said, and Stiles hummed in agreement. He continued, “A museum opened up about an hour away, and when Boyd couldn’t get off work for the opening, she dragged me along. Kira works there, and she was answering questions people had about the art and stuff, but she was really nervous. She tripped in her heels when she was rushing over to something Erica asked about and ended up rolling her ankle. I took her to the hospital, and we talked, and she was just… perfect. Apparently she never really wears heels.” Scott laughed, and Stiles smiled at him, but couldn’t help the eye-roll, either.
Love at first sight and Scott. So typical... It was just like Allison, which Stiles was absolutely not going to point out, because even though it was a long time ago, Scott still got that sad look when she was brought up. It was still hard on all of them, Stiles included. Lydia liked to talk about her to help cope, but Scott wasn’t great with reliving memories.
“I’m happy for you, man. I really am.”
“Thanks. I’m pretty happy too.”
That weird sadness was settling over Stiles again, and it felt like there was something significant right at the tip of his mind, that he was just missing. But he had no clue of what it could possibly be.
He shook himself out of it.
“So how’s Lydia? Erica and Boyd?”
“That reminds me! You’re supposed to call Lydia as soon as you can. She’s coming Sunday to bring you some of your stuff. I kinda blew out of town before I thought to grab anything.”
Stiles groaned, but couldn’t help smiling. Lydia. “I’m not ready for that conversation.”
Scott laughed at him, the jerk.
“I think you’re just gonna have to suck it up for this one. She was so calm when I called her that I can’t even warn you whether or not she’s gonna yell at you or just passive aggressively make your life a living hell.”
“Ugh. Probably both,” Stiles grumped.
“Probably,” Scott agreed.
But still, even if it was just to get an earful, he couldn’t wait to talk to Lydia. He wanted to thank her, because she was the one that had given him the final push to take the one step necessary to help himself.
He owed her a lot.
“So, did Erica and Boyd get married?”
Scott blew out a long breath. “In a nutshell, yes. There was a minor meltdown when Erica’s asshole dad showed up at their house and yelled about her marrying a black dude - she and Boyd had to get a restraining order - and then she got in a big fight with Boyd’s grandma because Erica wanted to wear her grandma’s diamond necklace, but Mrs. Boyd had wanted to give Erica her diamond. In the end, Boyd had his grandma’s diamond fitted into Erica’s wedding ring, so everybody won. But trust me when I say it was a lot worse than it sounds.”
“Dude, I know Mrs. Boyd, I can definitely picture that disaster,” Stiles said, letting out a little laugh.
“We’ve got a lot to catch you up on, but I’m about to pass out in this chair,” Scott said, standing up. “I’ve got a hotel room here until Sunday, so I’ll come by tomorrow after I get up.”
Stiles was sad to see him go. “Alright man, I’ll see you then.”
“Stiles,” Scott said, pausing at the door to turn back and look at him. “I’m proud of you. And I’m really happy to see you like this.”
Stiles raised his eyebrows at him and gestured down his body, “Dunno if you should be.”
Scott laughed, “Shut up, you know what I mean. I’m happy for you. I’m happy that you’re able to be happy again.”
“Thanks, man. Me, too.”
Scott smiled, nodded, and walked out.
Stiles was so, so tired. And he couldn’t shake that underlying sadness, the one that felt alien. He knew sadness, knew depression, but he didn’t know this. It was like a feeling from another lifetime, like he was missing someone that he’d never known.
Stiles settled back into his pillows and turned out the bedside light.
Maybe the feeling would be gone when he woke up.
“Dr. Martin speaking.”
Stiles smiled into the hospital phone. “Hey Lydia, it’s Stiles.”
It was quiet for a moment. “Give me one second,” she said, and Stiles heard a muffled, “Go away, Jackson,” who answered, “why?” to which Lydia said, “because you’ll play smug jealous husband and I am not in the mood to deal with it.”
Some grumbling down the line.
“Sorry about that,” Lydia started, and Stiles wondered if maybe he’d get off easy. But then her tone went ice cold. “You motherfucker.”
Stiles pulled the phone away from his ear, blinked at it, then said, “What?”
“Stiles Stilinski, you do not get to scare me like that. Ever. And I’m only saying this because Scott says you’re you again: I know depression isn’t your fault, but I am so, so pissed at you. I reserve the right to hit you where it hurts, hard, at least once. More if I decide to, and at any time. And you don’t get to almost die on me - mentally, emotionally, or physically - ever. Are we clear?”
Stiles laughed, “Crystal.”
The line went quiet again for a moment.
“I’m glad you can laugh,” Lydia said, soft like she hardly ever was. “I’m glad you’re okay.”
“Me too, Lyds. Me too.”
A sigh. “I’m never going to give up trying to break you of that nickname.”
“And I’m never going to stop using it,” Stiles shot back, smiling. “Listen, I wanted to tell you something.”
Stiles paused for a moment, and then quietly said, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Lydia said, and Stiles was surprised for a minute, wondering how she could have known, when she continued, “I understand how grateful you are for my presence in your life. Now, what, specifically, are you thanking me for?”
Stiles laughed again. “I see your ego hasn’t gone anywhere.”
“I don’t have an ego, I have high self-esteem and you are an asshole who is lucky to have me.”
“You went to therapy, didn’t you?”
Lydia snorted at him, something she only did when she didn’t give a shit anymore. “Of course I did. I lost my best friend. Again.”
She was very matter-of-fact about it, and Stiles felt so damn guilty.
“I’m sorry,” Stiles said.
“You’re forgiven. But never again, Stiles. You don’t get to shut us all out.”
Lydia sighed. “So, you were thanking me?”
“Yeah,” Stiles said, then took a moment to get his words together. “It was what you said that made me get off my ass and try to get better. You told me… You said that you couldn’t help me if I didn’t want to be helped. That made me realize that I did want help. I just couldn’t bring myself to ask you guys because of how I’d been. I was ashamed.”
“I know you were,” she said. “We all knew you were just trying to push us away.”
“I was. And after you said that, I hit rock bottom and I… I wanted to die. But I couldn’t do it, so I checked into a hospital. I couldn’t even make myself leave the house, so I called 911 to come get me, because I was right on the brink of really doing it, and I knew that even if I tried to before they came, they’d find me and pump my stomach.”
“But it was you,” he interrupted, fighting past the lump in his throat. “It was what you said, because I did want help. Somewhere in me, I wanted out, but I didn’t want to do it by dying. So I did the only thing I could.”
Lydia was quiet for a long time, and Stiles waited for her to say something, gave her time to process everything he’d just said.
“I wouldn’t trade all those years of you never listening to me for anything if it meant you listened to me then,” she said, soft once again.
Stiles smiled. “Thanks for being my friend, Lyds.”
“Always, Biles,” she replied. Stiles huffed a laugh.
Fucking Jackson telling her that stupid name.
“Love you,” he said quietly.
“I love you too. I’ll see you Sunday.”
Scott came back around noon, a few hours after Stiles had hung up with Lydia. He came bearing curly fries, which Stiles probably wasn’t supposed to have, but of course ate anyway. He couldn’t actually eat that much though; his stomach must have still been all shrunk up from just having the feeding tube for so long.
They’d joked some, bantered back and forth, and Scott updated him a little more on what had been going on. It was just minor stuff, but it felt a world away to Stiles. He’d missed a lot.
It was kind of awful to hear about everything, from Lydia’s spat with Jackson (it was implied that it was in part over Stiles) that ended up leading to individual therapy for Lydia. She’d kind of needed it for a while because of the damage between her and Jackson; even though they worked hard on their relationship, there was still some stuff that she couldn’t quite let go of. Stiles was kind of relieved to hear it, even though he grumbled (for show) at Lydia and Jackson working things out. Even if it was Jackson, he just wanted Lydia to be happy, and he knew that Jackson really wanted the same thing.
He got the full story of Erica’s wedding meltdown, an update on Boyd passing the bar exam, along with a half-abbreviated history on all things Kira.
Stiles felt vaguely sad at everything he’d missed, because he knew that he didn’t have anyone to blame but himself. Even though it was his depression talking and acting, all of that was still part of him. So he couldn’t just throw blame at depression by itself even though he wanted to. He did know that it wasn’t all his fault, at the heart of it, but that didn’t change the fact that he’d still said and done what he had.
The conversation trailed off, and they sat in easy silence, half-watching cartoons. Stiles bit his lip and took a quiet breath, figuring now was as good a time as any.
“Hey, Scott,” he started, waiting until Scott turned his full attention on him.
“I just… I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry,” Stiles said, and held up a hand when he saw Scott open his mouth. “Let me do this, I’ve gotta get this off my chest.” He took a shaky breath, ran a hand through his hair. “I’m sorry for everything that I did, for the things I said. I know I was really out of line, and that’s putting it really frickin’ mildly. I mean I - I told you some really fucked up shit, threw things like your dad leaving in your face, and literally throwing objects that really could have done some damage,” Stiles stopped there, trying to stop feeling so horrifically guilty for long enough to just freaking apologize. “Not exactly BFF material, if you ask me. If you ever want to just punch me in the face, please feel free. I know you did everything you could possible do to help me, right up til the very end, when I finally shut down on you. And I’m just… I’m sorry. You’re my brother, and you always will be, even though I definitely didn’t treat you like it.”
Scott’s face was serious as he glanced away from Stiles and let out a small sigh. Stiles honestly expected the worst from him, even though he knew that Scott would ultimately forgive him at least a little, because they were Scott and Stiles, and that was what they did. Stiles felt like some of the things he’d done were unforgivable - some of the emotional and physical abuse he’d put Scott through shocked even Stiles - and maybe there was some stuff that Scott wouldn’t really be able to let go. Even still, Stiles hoped they could at least try to rebuild their friendship.
“You were an asshole, but dude, I forgave you for all that while it was still happening,” Scott said, and his eyes were so damn earnest, it was killing Stiles. “I know you feel bad, and I knew that you felt bad about everything even back then. I get it. I hate that it happened, but it’s okay. I’m just… I’m glad I got my friend back.”
Scott smiled, and Stiles felt his eyes water. He was so damn weepy lately. Still, he smiled back.
“I know I’ve got a lot to make up for. I’ll try not to be annoying about it, but you know how I get. And at least you love my cookies. Prepare to be showered with them.”
“You’re just trying to make me fat.”
And just like that they were back to Scott and Stiles. There was definitely still shit between them, but at that point Stiles knew they could get back to being best friends again.
Stiles swore to himself that he’d never put Scott through anything like that ever again.
“I just want to get some meat on those bones,” Stiles scoffed, folding his arms.
Scott lifted his shirt, and there was the six-pack that Stiles had envied since high school.
“Nothing can break these abs, dude, not even your snickerdoodles.”
“One day, McCall. One day, when you’re forty, you’ll be fat. And I will crow in victory.”
“I don’t know what kind of victory that’ll be, because you’ll be fat too,” Scott said, smirking his half-smirk through a smile. “You could really stand to get fat right now though.”
Stiles grimaced. “Dude, I know. I’m a freakin’ skeleton. My doctor says I’m definitely gonna need physical therapy, and recommended that I stay monitored here for a little while before I head home.”
“How long will you be stuck here?”
“They don’t really know yet. But I’m hoping it won’t be too long. Just because I’ve been staying in one place the last few months doesn’t mean I’m not ready to see the world again,” Stiles said, gesturing at the window. The sun was shining brightly, the sky was blue, there were flowers and shit everywhere.
“Whenever you’re ready,” Scott said. “It’ll be good to see you get out of your apartment.”
“Yeah,” Stiles agreed. “I was working up to it before the whole head-knock thing. I’ve got big plans to keep going.”
Maybe he could take another visit to the beach house, really explore the little town. Go out to eat some places, take a cheesy tour.
Somehow he felt like that house was somewhere that he really needed to be, somewhere that had done him some good.
Even if he had ended up falling down the damn stairs.
“Just promise me one thing, Stiles,” Scott said seriously, breaking Stiles out of his thoughts.
“Don’t shut me out again. If you need help, ask me. I can’t deal with it if you do it again,” Scott said, and he looked fragile but stern. Stiles felt nauseated with guilt
“I swear. It won’t ever happen like that again. Ever.”
Scott smiled, a little shaky, but genuine. “Good.”
Lydia showed up Sunday bearing gifts like an angel sent from heaven. She had a messenger back with his laptop and phone, and a suitcase full of clothes that was mostly comfortable pajama pants and t-shirts. His flip-flops and a pair of sneakers.
“I’m surprised you didn’t bring Jackson to carry all that shit for you.”
Still, Stiles was unsurprised to see her gracefully hauling all of it herself while wearing her standard ridiculously high heels.
“He was acting stupid,” she said, handing Stiles the messenger bag as he scooted to sit on the edge of the bed. “He couldn’t decide if he was relieved or mad, and I knew he’d just make things worse for everyone involved. So at home he stays.”
He decided to ask about that later. He knew that he’d always been kind of a source of tension between Lydia and Jackson because of Jackson’s jealousy, but Stiles couldn’t help that he’d been there all those years Jackson hadn’t been. It wasn’t his fault that Jackson was insecure, and even though Stiles knew he’d been in therapy himself for a long time to get over those insecurities, there was still some resentment between them. Stiles hated how he’d treated Lydia, and Jackson hated how close they were.
In any case, Stiles didn’t want to talk about Jackson.
“What’d you have to bribe him with to convince him.”
Lydia gave him a sarcastic smile. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”
Ugh. “No, I really wouldn’t.”
Lydia’s gaze softened, and she sat down in the chair next to the bed.
“Scott was right. This is incredible.”
Stiles smiled. “It really is. I don’t know how exactly it happened, but I feel a lot better than I did pre-coma. Maybe not perfect, but hey.”
“Well, you’ve got a long way to go,” Lydia said, not meanly. “I know it’s not easy.”
“Nothing worth it ever is.”
Stiles was having a strange sense of deja vu, and it was quiet for a moment between them.
“Stiles,” she started, and Stiles wasn’t really sure if he wanted to hear what was next. “I know you’re probably sensitive right now. But you need to know that we’re hurting too, and have been hurting with you all along.”
Shame and guilt washed over Stiles. “I’m sorry.”
“I know you are. And I want you to know that I forgive you, and that I’m glad you’re on your way to being healthy again. But the point that I’m making is that you need to let us help you this time. You’re worth it.”
She was direct like she always was when it came down to the things that mattered, cutting to the chase with no sugar-coating, and it was one of the things Stiles appreciated most about her, even if it was sometimes hard to handle.
“Self-worth is a work in progress,” Stiles joked feebly. “But I’m really busting my ass toward it.”
“You better be,” she said, sitting back and propping her feet up on the bed. “You can start making everything up to me with a foot rub. I was on my feet all Friday for a presentation, and then in the lab yesterday for an emergency after I went to lunch with Mrs. Sophie.”
“I keep telling you to get a pair of sneakers to keep in the office.”
Lydia gave him the stink eye, even as he started up on her left foot.
“Shut up and rub.”
“Yes, your majesty.”
“Now that’s more like it.”
As Stiles took care of her (as much as he could with his weak hands), she talked. About her frustrations with the imbeciles at work, about how annoyingly disgusting Scott and Kira were, despite how happy she was for Scott, about therapy and how she wished she’d been going since Allison died and Jackson moved. Stiles hummed at her and jokingly said he wished she had, too, and she kicked him.
They sat and talked for a long time, and then watched one of Stiles’ many rom-coms he had on his computer. Lydia left a little after dinner, and Stiles was comforted by the scent of her perfume when she hugged him goodbye in her carefully affectionate way.
Stiles lay there and fiddled around on his phone, checking the messages that he’d gotten from a handful of people after his accident. There were ones wishing him better, and some from his closer friends that felt like they were more grieving than hoping as they got closer and closer to the present.
It made Stiles happy and sad, and the out-of-body sadness came creeping back over him again. He idly wondered if there was anything he could do about it, or if was really just his own black cloud of sad overhanging him but unable to reach him all the way.
Eh, he’d bring it up in therapy.
A week later, Stiles was being released from the hospital with a prescription for physical therapy. He could either go home and do it, or stay in town where he already was and do it there. He wasn’t really sure what he wanted to do, but it seemed kind of stupid to spend the extra money to stay where he was rather than just go home, so he’d ended up deciding to just go home.
He still felt weak, but he’d been getting some PT while he was at the hospital, so he was a little better. He could walk on his own, at least. He was leaving his room to head to the lobby with his stuff when something made him pause and look across the hall at the ajar door of room 8014.
It was a strange sensation, but he felt a pull to the room. It was like the feeling he would get when he’d forget why he came into a room; like he was forgetting why he needed to go into this room.
He turned to the door, stared at it hard for a moment, contemplating whether or not to take a peek. Just as he was reaching for the knob, a dark-haired woman opened the door fully. Stiles recognized her immediately, but wasn’t really sure how he knew her… Just that he did.
Her name was Laura.
He knew he was staring, but he couldn’t help it. She looked at him, questioning, and Stiles shook himself out of it, saying quickly, “Excuse me,” and turning to go. But he stopped, turned back, and asked, “Have we ever met before?”
She smiled at him, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes. “No, I don’t think so. But a lot of people say I look familiar. One of those faces, I suppose.”
Stiles idly wondered why she didn’t think it was weird that he’d been hovering right outside the door of her room, but she also seemed pretty distracted.
“I’m sorry, but I have to get to an appointment,” she said. “Have a nice day.” And with a smile, she walked away.
Stiles watched until she rounded the corner, then turned back to the door.
He just really needed to look, see what was in the room. Or who? He felt like there was something he needed to see, and that it was in there. It was a crazy feeling, and he wanted to give into it to prove to himself that there wasn’t really anything or anyone of note behind the door.
But then how had he known who that woman was? She didn’t know him, but he absolutely knew that he’d seen her before, that he knew her name.
Laura… Who was she?
Stiles took a breath, pulled the messenger bag strap more securely across his shoulder, and opened the door.
When he saw him, he knew, and he absolutely wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of longing and sadness and feelings of loss that hit him as he took in the figure lying on the bed. He looked smaller, more wasted, but Stiles would know that face in any shape at any time.
And with that name came a fucking avalanche of memories, of intimate moments and fights and sex and the sun and the swing and their bed, their bed in their house, where they’d thought they’d been dead together, where they thought they’d be together always until those final moments before they even got to say goodbye.
Stiles’ breath felt crushed out of his lungs as he walked robotically forward, and then almost fell to his knees at Derek’s bedside. God, even looking so small and weak, he was beautiful. Stiles missed him, and the ache that started deep in his gut erupted behind his eyes, and there were tears, so many tears. He was gasping for breath, not quite sobbing because he couldn’t tear his eyes away from Derek, but he was crying steadily and sniffling and choking.
He was almost afraid to touch him, because he seemed so fragile lying there, hooked up to machines and an IV, but in the end he couldn’t help himself, reaching out to trace Derek’s brow and down to touch his cheek. An insane, desperate hope hit him that Derek would wake up, that his touch would be magic and Derek would open his eyes, see Stiles, and they’d get their happy-ever-after.
Stiles wiped at the tears on his face, and ended up with snot on his sleeve, but he couldn’t give any shits about that when all of this emotion was hitting him out of nowhere.
It was only then that it occurred to Stiles how insane this was.
Here he was having a nervous breakdown over a man that he was convinced he’d fallen in love with while they haunted a beach house because they both thought that they were dead? What kind of crazy shit was that? But if it wasn’t real, then what was it? A dream? Some kind of coma-induced fantasy?
But there was so much to it, it was so detailed and there was everything, all of the banter and the jokes and the hateful words at first, the way that their “dead-world” worked, Laura’s breakdown and the subsequent truce they’d formed, the way that Derek had felt under his hands when they’d cuddled or when he was tracing patterns down Derek’s body when they had sex.
A thought popped into Stiles head as he stood there, looking at Derek and crying - Derek’s birthmark. The little asterisk looking thing that he’d seen on the front of Derek’s right shoulder. Stiles immediately moved to look, but as he was reaching for Derek’s nightgown, he suddenly felt like an insane, creepy idiot.
What the hell was he doing, about to strip some poor stranger in a coma just to confirm a crazy dream he’d had while he was passed the fuck out? This was nuts, not to mention stupid… He was probably having some leftover mental issues from the hit he’d taken. Or something. Anything seemed more plausible than him having haunted a beach house with this dude. What the fuck, Stiles?
Still, he wanted to be sure. He wanted to check, to see if he really was crazy, or if it was even possible. So he reached out, ready to carefully turn Derek so he could look at the back of his shoulder.
But just as he touched him, an older woman came in the room with an acoustic guitar. Stiles immediately wiped his face, tried to get himself together.
“Oh, I’m sorry honey,” she said. “I’ll give you some privacy.” And with that, she walked back out the door.
Stiles looked back down at Derek, once again questioning his own sanity.
Still, he was gently pulling Derek’s shoulder up and his hospital garb to the side, and sure enough, there was the birthmark.
Stiles nearly dropped Derek back to the bed, but managed at the last second to catch himself long enough to ease Derek back down. Still, he was shocked, didn’t quite know how to handle what he’d just seen, or what to do about it. All he could do was stare down at Derek, his tears drying up in the wake of his surprise, and a strange hope blossoming in his chest.
“Derek? Can you hear me?” Stiles’ voice was shaky, but there was no response. “Because if you can, I need you to wake up, okay? Can you do that for me?”
Still nothing. And Stiles realized that the hope was just a pipe dream.
Because Derek was unconscious, and had been for a long time. Longer than Stiles.
And from the little research Stiles had done in the hours he’d been at the hospital, Derek was probably in a persistent vegetative state. And that prognosis was poor.
Stiles started feeling desperate.
“Come on, Derek,” he said quietly, and his throat felt dry and sticky. “I woke up! It’s your turn! It’s your… It’s your fucking-” Stiles heaved a breath, grabbing Derek’s hand and squeezing tight, feeling like he was going to start sobbing at any minute. “You said - we promised - please, please, wake up, please…”
He almost started crying again, because he was coming to the realisation that even though the memories he had of Derek might actually be real, and not a dream, Derek himself was deep in a coma, or in PVS, and he might not ever wake up.
Just then, Stiles’ phone rang. He barely heard it, but through the pain swimming in his chest, he remembered that Scott was picking him up from the hospital. Because that’s where he was, he was in the hospital. And he was going home, leaving Derek here, not knowing if he’d ever see him again.
No. No, that couldn’t happen.
Stiles answered the phone, tried to sound normal.
“Hey, are you here?”
“Yeah,” Scott answered. “I waited downstairs for like ten minutes after you texted that you were on your way down, but when I went up to your room, you were gone already. Where are you?”
“Sorry, I got sidetracked. Um, give me five minutes and I’ll be you downstairs, okay?”
Scott was quiet for a moment. “Dude, is everything okay?”
“Yeah,” Stiles sighed. “I’m just… There was an emotional stressor on me. I saw something kind of triggering. I’ll tell you about it later, I don’t want to talk about it now.”
“As long as you’ll talk about it. I’m glad you told me. I don’t want you to pretend.”
“I know, buddy. I won’t. I’ll see you in five.”
They hung up, and Stiles tried desperately to think of what to do, how he might be able to get some answers about all of this. He went to the bathroom and blew his nose for real with the shitty hospital tissues, and then went back in to take a last look at Derek. He knew he’d be back, but he had to think first.
He walked over and kissed Derek’s forehead, pushing back the long bangs that weren’t styled up like they had been at the house.
“Find me,” he whispered, and with that, he left the room.
The guitar player was waiting a few feet outside, probably to give Stiles more privacy. Stiles nodded at her and went to walk by, but she stopped him.
“I’m glad one of Derek’s friends came to visit him,” she said. “I’m guessing you hadn’t seen him yet?”
“No, I hadn’t.”
“I know it’s hard,” she sighed. “His sister called our service up a few weeks ago and asked if we’d come play for him. She requested classic rock, so here I am.” Stiles was starting to understand that this woman was just very chatty. “Normally we only get called when people are already dying or are on into PVS - that is, persistent vegetative state - but from what I gather from her, he’s just still in a coma, which is much better.”
“That’s good,” Stiles said, trying not to sound like the disaster he felt like he was on the inside.
“Sure is. I’m betting he’ll wake up any day. Don’t you fret, sweety, you’re too young and handsome to worry so much.” She patted him on the shoulder and walked into the room.
Stiles felt a little weirded out by her, even though he was glad for the info she’d just given him.
He didn’t want to hope. Hope got him in trouble. But he also knew that he couldn’t live without hope, and that hope was important to therapy and improvement, and god, his thoughts were a mess. But in the end, he did have hope, because Derek…
Derek would always find him.
The first thing Stiles did when he got home was make an appointment with Dr. Hirt for ASAP.
The second thing he did was look up the website for the beach house again to dig up all the information he could on Laura and Derek. He’d gotten stuck when he realized he didn’t even know Derek’s last name, which seemed ridiculous after all that time they’d spent together, before he realized that at least Laura’s last name would be up on the site.
So now he knew. Derek and Laura Hale. Fucking hell.
He was almost afraid to do it, but of course he would, because he could never keep his goddamn curiosity on a leash. So he googled them together along with “Kate,” and immediately got the hit for an article on the fire and the subsequent trial.
It was fucking horrible. Stiles could barely look at the picture of the burned-out shell of house, but even worse than that was the picture of Kate smiling for the cameras like a goddamn model as she walked into the courthouse building behind her lawyers. She was still smiling when she came back out, her insanity plea having gone through.
Then there were the obituaries, all the pictures of Derek’s family. And there were children on the list, as well as aunts and uncles: Derek’s little brothers, Nathan and Will (Listed as Nathaniel and William), just 8 and 10, respectively; his sister, Cora, 13; an Uncle Peter, his wife Rosa and their daughter, Malia, who was 12; Derek’s parents, Talia and Wyatt; another Aunt and Uncle, Sara and Alek, and their twins, Christa and Calera. The twins were just babies, barely two years old.
Stiles felt sick.
He shut his laptop and put his head in his hands. Fuck, that was… God. His loathing for Kate Argent had no bounds now. He wondered if she was connected somehow to Allison, but Allison had never mentioned a psycho aunt, and she wasn’t around anymore to ask. But if Stiles had Kate for a relation, he wouldn’t want to advertise it, either.
Kate was the most vile kind of person, some kind of psychopath that didn’t even understand what it meant to be human and absolutely couldn’t relate to other people because of it. It was so - so, just - disgusting, horrifying, terrifying. Stiles didn’t even have the right words to describe how fucking disturbed he was by the whole thing.
God, and Derek. He was only 17 when it’d all happened. Laura had been 19, away at college.
Stiles was no stranger to bad news; after Mom and then Dad, he definitely knew loss. He knew that losing an entire extended family like that must have been completely devastating. He could imagine Derek and Laura’s disbelief… When Stiles had gotten the news about Dad, when he had to go identify the body, it was all something like a nightmare, and for several days he felt like he just needed to wake up, that if he could just wake up then he’d find his dad standing over him, a stern look on his face, ready to tear Stiles a new asshole over his DUI.
But he never woke up, and the nightmare only got worse.
Stiles shook himself out of his memory, and knew he needed a distraction. Normally, when something bothered him this much, he’d go on a short run, but he was still weak as hell - so annoying, by the way - and couldn’t do much more than walk down the block.
But that was something, so he did.
He bought a decaf coffee from the coffee cart that parked on the corner on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and Mr. Burt made a big deal out of seeing him again, asking what had happened since it’d been months and months since Stiles had last come there. Stiles gave him the abbreviated story (saying he’d needed to take some time after Dad), made small talk about the plans for his recovery, and then headed back home. He was tired by the time he got back to his building (and didn’t particularly want to hole up in his apartment at the moment), so he sat down on the bench where he’d spent the early days of therapy to rest for a minute.
He people-watched for a while, vaguely recognized some of the people out to lunch at the cafe across the street as regulars. It was only around eleven, so probably a lot of his neighbors were at work or school. That thought was kind of sad, because Stiles still had a long way to go before he could handle the stress of school or work again, especially now that his body was as weak as his mind.
He sat back, letting his head tip back in frustration for a moment before getting up and making his way back up to his apartment. He picked up his List of Little Shit to Do, and sat for ten minutes before working up to making the PT appointment for the next day.
PT fucking sucked, but Stiles could see even just three days later that he was making improvements in strength, so he tried not to grumble too much about the soreness. He’d managed to make it to every appointment on time, which was pretty huge in and of itself - it was still a fight, he found out on the Tuesday after he’d been discharged, for him to get up and go some days.
Better didn’t mean well.
But he’d done it, even if he did barely stick to his schedule sometimes.
Through it all, he thought of Derek, missed Derek, felt an ache in him that he couldn’t shake. He wondered if he was nuts, but his mind just couldn’t compute that Derek might not be real when he was right there in Stiles’ heart and memories.
Derek was so goddamn close. Stiles caught himself several times staring at his keys and thinking about going to see him, trying to shake him awake and get him back, but he knew that would just make him look like an idiot and possibly get him banned from the hospital.
He just… really wanted to look at his frowny face.
Today was his first appointment back with Dr. Hirt, and Stiles was having a teeny weeny crisis over what to tell her about Derek, or if he should even mention him at all. The whole thing sounded crazy, even to him, but he’d also made a promise to himself that he’d never to lie to her. Therapy didn’t work if you lied, he knew. He’d watched a few people in the hospital just grind out whatever the doctors wanted to hear so they could leave. Some of them hadn’t really needed to be there, but there were definitely some who got out that should have stayed. Sometimes Stiles wondered what had happened to them, but ultimately decided that maybe he didn’t want to know.
But Derek was a huge thing that had happened to him, and skipping over him was definitely lying by omission, which was also something that Stiles wouldn’t do. Lying was lying was lying when it came to his therapist.
Still, how the hell would he even bring it up?
After he’d talked a little about rebuilding his support network with Scott and Lydia, as well as the weirdness of waking up feeling stuff again, he started getting antsy to talk about Derek. I was like he absolutely needed to, needed to get some sort of confirmation that he wasn’t crazy.
(Or even that he was.)
So when it came down to it, he finally went with, “So… I had this dream. While I was out.”
“What was it about?” she prompted, when Stiles didn’t say anything else.
“Well, I was dead in it, like a ghost. I was haunting this house with this other guy, Derek, and we got to be really good friends and then ended up together-together. And… getting to know him, working on myself and helping him, that was how I started to feel things again. And being with me pulled him out of his anger and guilt. We were really good for each other.”
It was quiet for a long moment, Stiles not really knowing how to continue.
“Do you miss him?”
Stiles nodded. “All the fucking time. Every second. We were together for weeks, and now he’s just… gone,” Stiles stopped, searched for words. “Or, at least I thought he was.”
“Are you still dreaming of him, or have you started having any type of hallucination?” Dr. Hirt asked, concerned. She made a short note on her clipboard, so Stiles knew she thought this was important. She hardly ever wrote anything down.
“No, no hallucinations. Dreams, sometimes, but that’s not really what I’m talking about.” God, this was sounding crazier and crazier the more he said. “He’s actually a real person. When I was leaving the hospital, I saw his sister - I knew her - and talked to her for a second. It felt weird, and I didn’t really know how I knew her. And then I just had this feeling that I needed to see who was in the room, so I opened the door, and… There he was. Just… Lying there. In a coma. Like I was. And then I remembered everything, it hit me like a fucking tidal wave.”
Dr. Hirt made another note, then looked back up at him, her brows furrowed. “Do you think the dream was real?”
Stiles swallowed, looked away. “Yeah, I - I do. It felt to real not to be, and I don’t - I know it sounds nuts, but I have all these memories, and I know things that I shouldn’t know about him and his past.”
“So you looked him up after you got home?” Stiles nodded, but somehow didn’t feel scrutinized. “What did you find that stood out to you?”
“Well, first, there was this birthmark that I knew he had on his shoulder,” Stiles paused. God, this was embarrassing. “And I know it’s creepy, but when I was in the room with him I rolled him a little to see, and it was there. And then when I got home, I looked up the fire that he told me his family died in, and everything was like he said, even the part about the woman who seduced him and then set the fire.”
Dr. Hirt made another note, and Stiles was kind of dreading what her conclusion would be. He started feeling more and more anxious the longer she took to look up at him.
“I’d like you to email me everything you found as soon as you can so I can review it. I don’t want to make any hasty suggestions, but you’re in a very vulnerable state right now. You woke up out of a depression, literally, and your mind is probably unbalanced. I’m not going to take any action just yet, however. I’m assuming you stopped your medication after you woke up?”
Stiles nodded. “I didn’t want to get back on it without talking to you first, because things are so different now. I still have some trouble, but so far I haven’t had any really bad days. Though that’s not saying much, considering I haven’t even been up for two weeks.”
Dr. Hirt smiled at him. “I’m glad to hear that. I’d like you to call me if you do start to experience depression symptoms severe enough to impact your daily functioning for longer than two days, or if the harder days start to happen more often,” she said, and Stiles nodded. “But right now I’d like to hear more about what happened with Derek, and how he helped you.”
Stiles blinked at her. “You believe me? That he’s real?”
“I believe that something very real happened with you. As for him as a real person - that, I don’t know.”
“Shit,” Stiles sighed. “You probably think I’m schizophrenic.”
“Do you think you’re schizophrenic?”
Stiles didn’t answer, just stared at
his hands. He’d thought about it once or twice, but it seemed so implausible
that he could have just… Made it all up. He remembered whole conversations,
feelings and issues and touches as clearly as if it’d all happened yesterday.
How could it not be real?
That was probably what every schizophrenic said.
“I don’t know,” he answered, finally. “It… crossed my mind, but I didn’t want to think about it. I feel like it would just straight up erase everything that happened if that’s what’s going on. It would fuck with me so much, because I loved him. Like, really loved him. I feel like I’ve lost something huge, and then when I saw him lying there, it was like this hope came down on me, and I thought, ‘Thank god!’ But I know that when I talk about it out loud, it seems crazy and ridiculous, and I’m an idiot for thinking that it might be real.”
Dr. Hirt caught his eye when he glanced up at her, and looked at him steadily as she said, “You’re not an idiot. It is real, in the sense that you have the memories and feelings. Those are very real. Derek and the experiences you had with him might not be, but that doesn’t mean that those memories and feelings don’t have value. From what you’ve told me, Derek and the time you spent with him had a healing effect on you, and I’m glad for that.” Stiles couldn’t hold her gaze anymore, feeling flustered and embarrassed, and starting to get upset despite the fact that he knew what she was saying would be comforting later. “I’m not worried about you having schizophrenia. Not yet. There is a difference between a disorder and the imagination, and it’s my job to distinguish that.”
Stiles snorted, the upset starting to overtake him. “But either way, it’s just all in my head, right?” It was bitter, and he couldn’t help it.
“Maybe so. But that doesn’t make it any less real for you.”
Stiles leaned forward, buried his face in his hands for a moment before scrubbing his face with them.
“I just miss him so goddamn much. He said - we said that we’d always find each other. I found him, and now he needs to find me. If it’s not real, if he’s not the person I think he is, then… Where does that leave me? What am I supposed to do with the feelings I have for him? It’s not fucking fair, it’s not fair that I’d have him like some kind of dream, and then one day, poof! He’s gone, and I never see him again,” Stiles was getting too riled up, he knew, and could feel his breath getting shorter. “It’s not fair, it’s not, I lose everyone, and now my own fucking mind is making up people for me to love and lose, and what the fuck kind of bullshit is that?”
His head started swimming, his heart rate picking up and he couldn’t catch his breath. It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t, what the fuck - how did shit like this even happen, why would it happen to him, he didn’t deserve this, or maybe he did, he’d been such a dick to his friends but this was still shit, and he’d been getting better, he’d fallen in love, he’d had it he’d had it he’d had it and now it was gone and what the hell was he supposed to do how do you move on he couldn’t do this -
“Stiles, breathe with me. Take a deep breath,” Dr. Hirt said calmly, somewhere in the distance. Stiles’ ears were ringing, and he was vaguely aware that he was panicking. But he managed to inhale deeply, exhaling slowly and then gasping to inhale again. Once he’d taken the breath, he heard her continue, “Now hold, one, two, three. Exhale, one, two, three, four, five. Take a deep breath, one, two, three, four, five. Hold, one, two, three. Exhale, one, two, three, four, five. On this next breath, squeeze your hands into fists. One, two, three, four, five, and hold tight, one, two, three. Exhale and relax, one, two, three, four, five.”
They progressed through each muscle group, Stiles’ racing heart calming as his body became more and more relaxed. After a while, he was sunk into the chair, lax and exhausted.
“Fuck,” was all he said. Dr. Hirt was quiet as she let him recover, and Stiles was 90% positive that his session was almost up. He knew she’d keep him if she felt like he needed it, and that she was waiting for him to tell her one way or the other. “I’m - I’m okay, I think,” he said finally.
“I know this is stressful for you,” she said, her voice gentle without being condescending. “But I do think it would be good to talk about Derek with me, maybe even to friends you feel you can trust. Remember that youwill be okay, regardless of if you have to grieve for him, too.”
Stiles put the heels of his hands against his eyes. “This fucking sucks,” he mumbled. He didn’t want to move past it, he didn’t want to grieve. He wanted with all his heart to just keep hoping that Derek would wake up and they’d be together again.
Or even for himself to wake up, and be back at the house with Derek.
“I know,” she said. “And I’m sorry.”
Stiles sighed deeply, and then one of his conversations with Derek replayed in his head:
“I think we need to make a promise, here.”
“If we ever get separated - no matter what - we can’t give up on ourselves. We keep going.”
Derek had said he wasn’t certain that was a promise he could keep, and even though Stiles had promised himself, somehow that felt a million years away and so much more like a mountain he couldn’t climb.
“We did say that we wouldn’t stop,” Stiles said, fighting back tears. “That we wouldn’t stop trying to get better if we ever lost each other.”
“Are you going to keep that promise?” Dr. Hirt asked after a moment.
Stiles thought for a long time, then let out a choked laugh. “I think I have to, yeah.”
“That’s good to hear,” she said, and when Stiles got himself together reasonably, he looked at her to see her smiling.
She was on his side, like always.
“Is our time up?” he asked, and Dr. Hirt nodded. “Yes, but my hour after yours was just a planning hour, and you’re welcome to stay for another half hour if you’d like.”
“Do you mind?” Stiles asked, and she shook her head.
“Not at all.”
“Then I’d like to talk about him. About… Derek.”
So he did.
Stiles was having trouble sleeping. In the house all he’d had to do was think about sleep, and he’d be out; it didn’t work that way anymore.
He’d lay there for hours, just thinking. And 99% of the time, his mind was on Derek, trying to sort out his memories and feelings, and working toward getting it in his head that he needed to start the grief process and nip his hope in the bud. Which, unfortunately, had blossomed the second he saw Derek, and to go with that metaphor, the flower was just too damn pretty to cut off.
His thoughts always, always circled back to feeling like it was unfair. And, fuck, he knew life was unfair. He knew that better than most people. But it was the same thought he’d had when Mom had been diagnosed, when she’d died, when Dad died. And just like those times, he felt like it was his fault for losing Derek, because his mind might have just invented him in some kind of cruel cosmic joke.
God, Derek. He missed him so much. It seemed unreal that he wasn’t just around the corner, about to walk into the room and roll his eyes at Stiles for doing something dumb.
Stiles caught himself saying things to Derek because he’d just forget he wasn’t there, and those were some of the worst times, because it’d come down on his head all at once that was gone, might never have really been there in the first place. He’d think about things he wanted to tell Derek, or wonder idly where he was, before he’d remember again.
Sometimes he sat with the pajama pants he’d worn for weeks, just rubbing the material through his hands, and feel a crushing longing in his chest, a hole where Derek should be.
When he’d told Dr. Hirt about the ritual with the pants (which sounded fucking weird, but whatever), she suggested that he schedule time every day to sit with them and let his mind go wherever until the time was up. Stiles thought it was kind of a stupid idea, but he did it anyway. He wasn’t sure if it helped, because he didn’t feel like Derek’s ghost was leaving him at all, but he also knew that therapy was about persistence and repetition, so he kept doing it.
Then, two weeks after that first session back, Stiles decided to tell Scott and Lydia. Dr. Hirt had said it would be good for him, and that it would help him rebuild his support network.
He’d seen them a lot after he came back home, Scott coming by after work to play video games and eat dinner, and Lydia on lunch dates and some Saturday afternoons when she had time. Scott brought Kira to dinner a couple times - she was as cute as Scott had mooned about - and he saw Jackson sometimes when he went to Lydia’s. Jackson was less of an asshole than usual, probably due to some kind of grudging agreement with Lydia; she’d been telling Stiles about some of their couple’s therapy, and compromise was something they were both learning. Something that kind of cracked Stiles up (though he’d for sure never say a damn thing to Lydia) was that Jackson’s jealousy of Stiles was apparently number three on their list of Major Couple Issues. He tried not to feel smug, because he wanted Lydia to be happy, even with Jackson, and basking in Jackson’s envy wasn’t exactly a good way to be supportive.
So he’d invited Scott and Lydia over for dinner, telling them not to bring anyone else. They’d both been curious, so he’d told them he just wanted to spend time with close friends only. They’d let it go after that, and Stiles put “plan dinner” on his List of Little Shit to Do.
He was nervous though. It was one thing to tell Dr. Hirt about Derek, because she was his therapist, and it was comforting to know that the only judgements she was making were about his mental health. Which sounded kind of weird, because nobody wanted anybody to think they were crazy, but Stiles also knew that that was what the therapist was for. But it was a whole other fucking ball game to tell people who might not get it.
He trusted Lydia and Scott, more than anyone, but Lydia was analytical and scientifically-minded, needing methods of proof and logic to put stock into things, and Scott was still a little on eggshells around Stiles, even though that was fading as they hung out more. The last thing he wanted was for his friends to think he’d traded in one mental illness for another, or make them worry more. He was definitely aware of how the whole thing sounded to other people.
He waited until after dinner.
“There’s something I want to talk to you guys about,” he said as he was putting leftovers away, not wanting to look at either of them just yet.
“What is it? You know you can tell us anything,” Scott said from behind him, and Lydia hummed her agreement.
Stiles took a deep breath.
“Can you guys go sit on the couch while I finish up in here?”
There was a noticeable pause, before Lydia said, “Of course. Whenever you’re ready.”
Stiles heard them walk into the den, and braced himself against the counter, pulling it together. He put everything in the fridge, closed his eyes, and took one more deep breath before going to take a seat in the arm chair.
It was quiet for a bit.
“So what’s up?” Scott prompted, and Stiles licked his lips, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees.
“This is weird, but just hear me out,” Stiles said. “And please don’t think I’m crazy.”
Lydia’s eyes were sharp as she said, “You know we’ve never thought you were crazy.”
Stiles smiled. “Thanks. I just wanted to warn you.”
“Warning not needed,” Scott said.
“Okay,” Stiles said, and his fucking voice shook a little. “There’s this dream I had when I was unconscious.”
Lydia looked surprised. “Dream? But coma patients don’t enter the REM cycle.”
Good ole Lydia.
“Well, that’s all I can call it. It felt so damn real, but I’ll get to that. The important thing is that I - I met someone, in the dream. And he turned out to be a real person.”
Scott frowned. “What do you mean?”
Stiles sat back, ran a hand through his hair. “Well in the dream, I knew him. Intimately, if you catch my drift. I have all these memories of us, from the rocky start we had all the way up to the weird goodbye we did right before I woke up. Whole conversations, stuff about his family and a fucking birthmark that he actually has in real life. And… I don’t know how I could have known any of this if I didn’t actually know him, if it wasn’t real.”
“So the guy you dreamed about actually exists? You met him when you woke up?” Scott asked.
“Sort of. He was another coma patient in the room across from me - that’s why it took me so long to meet you when you were picking me up. I didn’t remember anything when I first woke up, but when I walked out of my room, I saw his sister coming out, and she looked familiar… And somehow I knew her name. Laura. I didn’t even know how I knew, but I did, and when she left, I just had this urge to look in the room, and there he was. Everything came flooding back, and… I don’t know. Fuck, I don’t know what to think about any of it.”
Lydia was watching him carefully, but looked concerned, while Scott kind of had a shocked look. Stiles didn’t know what he’d been expecting, but it probably should have been this.
“What has your therapist said?” Lydia asked, just as Scott looked like he wanted to say something.
Stiles sighed. “In a nutshell? She told me that my memories and feelings are important, but that I need to try to move on.” It was quiet for a long moment, but that wasn’t the whole story, so Stiles continued, “His name was Derek. Derek Hale. He had a guilt complex and anger issues, and I was still dealing with the crazy depression. But it was getting to know him, talking about shit I’d learned in therapy with him, and then realizing that I… that I loved him, that brought me back to being me again. Or close to it, anyway.”
Scott’s brow furrowed, but, like the hopeless romantic he was, Stiles could see the little hearts in his eyes behind the concern and skepticism. Lydia had her “I’m calculating difficult math in my head” face on.
“You never went into PVS,” she said, and she turned her eyes from Stiles to out the window, narrowing them. “If you were only in a coma, you wouldn’t have dreamed, because the cerebrum is shut down.”
Stiles was surprised into silence as he tried to digest that.
“Maybe there were times when something changed with him? He was out for a long time. Maybe he could have woken up a little at some point or something?” Scott asked, and Lydia shook her head in agitation.
“I doubt that, and otherwise it shouldn’t be possible. The consensus in the neurological community is that people don’t dream in the states of consciousness that exist within coma patients,” she said. “Usually patients wake up with no feeling of a lapse in time, because unlike normal sleep, you’re unaware that time has passed.”
“So… What could be going on?” Scott asked, and Lydia turned her attention back to Stiles.
“Can you show me physical evidence proving what you learned in your dream?” she asked, and Stiles let out a shaky sigh and nodded, leaving the room to grab his laptop.
He could hear Scott and Lydia muttering between themselves.
“What do you really think is happening?” Scott asked her.
“I’m not sure,” Lydia said. “I’m concerned it’s schizophrenia, though it also may be his mind’s way of coping with waking up with the worst parts of the depression gone. I don’t know whether or not we can trust his memory concerning the real Derek and Laura, however, but if what he’s saying is true, then something strange is going on.”
“Do you really think the whole thing could be real?” Scott asked, sounding doubtful.
“No. But sometimes the only explanations don’t make sense. And the mind is built to try to logically explain things it doesn’t understand.”
“Yes,” Lydia said. “But I want to see what Stiles has, first.”
Stiles decided to stop eavesdropping and go back into the room. He sat between Lydia and Scott, and pulled up the beach house, first.
“This house was where everything happened, all the stuff I remember. It’s also where I got knocked out,” he said, scrolling down the page. “And here’s Laura’s name. She and Derek jointly owned the beach house; they inherited it after their family died in a house fire set by an arsonist named Kate. This is the news story, and in the other tab are the obituaries. I didn’t know everybody’s names, but I know Nathan, Will, and Cora. Derek told me about all of this, and about how he felt like the fire was his fault.” Stiles left out the part about Derek’s real association with Kate, because real or not real, that wasn’t Stiles’ story to tell.
Lydia pulled the laptop over and scanned the articles.
“I have some thoughts, but I think it’s important to keep with what your therapist says. However, I think you should ask her if she thinks it’s a good idea for you to get some closure - go back to the house, then visit Derek and say goodbye,” she said, putting the laptop on the coffee table, and Scott nodded his head.
“I think that’s a good idea,” he said, and put a hand on Stiles’ back when he slumped forward. “I don’t even know how I’d handle what you’re going through. I know you’ve already lost a lot, man, but… he might never wake up. And if he does, he might not be him, you know?”
Stiles rubbed his eyes, happy to have Scott, who would suspend his disbelief just to comfort Stiles a little. “Yeah, I know. I just don’t want to let it go,” he said, trying to push the tears back. “But I know I have to.”
Lydia reached over and took his hand in hers.
“If Dr. Hirt agrees with me, then you should call up the owner of the house and schedule a time to rent it out, or see if you can take a tour if it comes down to it. Then go see him again,” she said, and Stiles squeezed her hand gently.
“When’s your next appointment?” Scott asked.
“Tomorrow,” Stiles answered. They’d scheduled it that way so he could talk about this meeting with Scott and Lydia.
“Then let’s not worry about it until then,” Scott said, and Stiles loved him, but that was like asking Stiles to fly to the moon on a broomstick. Still, he nodded his head.
“Movie?” he asked. He could tell that they still had questions, but he didn’t feel like he could really answer them right then. Thankfully, Scott and Lydia were well-versed in Stiles’s Moods, so the conversation was dropped like a hot potato.
“My pick,” Lydia said, reaching for the controller. “I’m not watching one of your Marvel movies for the hundredth time.”
Stiles laughed, though it was a little hollow.
“Sure Lyds, whatever you want.”
Stiles couldn’t get the stuff Lydia said when she thought he was out of earshot out of his head.
He knew it was counterproductive, and when he’d told Dr. Hirt about it, she’d said that the mind was a powerful thing, and that he may be rewriting his memories from shortly after he’d left the hospital. To Stiles it sounded just as likely that he’d done that as it did that the whole thing was real, so he was kind of caught up over what to think. Especially because Lydia - Lydia, of all people - had sounded like she might even be willing to believe Stiles.
Still, Lydia said that he needed closure, and Stiles knew that too. He knew that Derek might not wake up, and it was very likely that he’d slip into PVS (if he hadn’t already in the weeks since Stiles had been discharged) and really never wake up again. And even if he did, he might not be who Stiles knew, or know who Stiles was, because it could still all be some sort of crazy thing that Stiles’ imagination was torturing him with.
So any way he turned it, he knew he’d have to say goodbye.
When he ran Lydia’s suggestion by Dr. Hirt, she agreed that it was a good idea, and said that he should take a few days to visit the house and Derek. She wanted him to acknowledge his memories and feelings so that he could start to let them go and grieve.
He tried the website to reserve like he’d done before, but the first available dates were over two months away.
He did the only thing he could think to do, because his life would just be that much harder if he had all this hanging over his head for months. He wouldn’t be able to handle going that long dreading the time when he’d have to totally give Derek up.
So he was calling Laura. Or, at least, the number listed on the site.
He still didn’t know if he’d even be able to get a reservation for anytime soon. Last time he did it he’d made it a month in advance, and though Derek said that he thought she was renting it out less, he couldn’t exactly count on that memory.
His mind was whirring as he dialed the number and waited for someone to answer.
“Laura Hale,” she answered, and Stiles momentarily lost his breath. “Hello?”
“Yes! Yes, I’m sorry, my reception is… bad.” Lord. “My name is Stiles Stilinski. I was calling about the beach house? I stayed there a few weeks ago.”
“Were you looking to make a reservation?” she asked, and Stiles could still hear the exhaustion in her voice.
“Um, yes. For as soon as possible. I know the site didn’t have anything for another two months, but I really need to get the fu- um, I mean, I need to get away for a while.”
Laura laughed a bit. “I can understand that feeling. Hold on while I pull up the log book.”
It was quiet for a moment, and Stiles could hear her tapping at a keyboard.
“Normally we need at least three week’s notice, and up to three months in the on season,” she said, and Stiles’ heart started sinking right down into his stomach. “But we’ve had a cancellation for next weekend. Thursday evening through Monday morning.”
“I’ll take it,” Stiles said immediately, feeling simultaneously excited and sad, relieved despite the fact that he had a weird sense of dread starting up. Fucking hell, how could somebody even feel all that shit at once?
“Alright,” she said. “I’ll make a note here and open the dates for you on the site so that you can register and pay.”
“Thank you,” Stiles said, and somehow that didn’t seem like enough, even though he wasn’t really sure what he could say. “I really appreciate it.”
In the pause before she answered, he had an impulse to just spill his guts to her, verbal diarrhea until there was nothing left in him; but he stopped himself, because he knew he’d probably lose his reservation at best. At worst, she’d have him hunted down and shot or something for being a stalker. So when she said, “You’re welcome. Have a nice day!” Stiles could only nod (like she could see him).
She hung up before he could say anything else.
Stiles immediately put the dates in his phone, then tossed it on his desk, breathing deep and slow, taking a moment before pulling up the site again.
He couldn’t help hesitating right after putting in his card information. For a second it seemed impossible to finish up the reservation form, because this was gonna be it. If he did this, then in a little under two weeks, he’d say goodbye to Derek for good, and his heart stuttered, sending a bigass lump into his throat.
He frowned, sighed through his nose, and clicked the button.
He went to his bed and just let himself drop, closing his eyes.
He had to do this. He needed to do this.
No matter how much his heart screamed at him not to.
Over the next week, Stiles struggled every single goddamn day day. He told Dr. Hirt, and she started him back on his antidepressant at the same low dose, and Stiles 100% agreed that he needed it. There had been a few days when he’d completely fucked his schedule by sleeping on into the afternoon, and his appetite was fading again. It wasn’t the blackness or blankness, but it was a deep ache, and feelings of being lost and hopeless.
He always managed to get himself together by the afternoon to make it to PT or therapy, and especially on nights when Scott would come over. He didn’t miss any of his dates with Lydia, either, and he could still smile and laugh without it being empty.
It was just... He didn’t want to let Derek go. He didn’t want to have to say goodbye. Fucking hell, he just didn’t, okay, and sometimes he felt like he might never be able to. Somewhere in him, there was still a stupid spark of hope, and when he was trying to fall asleep at night, he’d think about what would happen if he woke up the next day and got a call from Derek, or if Derek would show up at his front door with a grumpy smile, or if Stiles woke up in their bed curled around him. His brain always went back and forth between despair, hope, and consciously admitting that he needed to let go. It was a fucking battle, and he fought it both when he was trying to fall asleep and when he couldn’t get out of bed after waking up, when he stayed in that just-barely-conscious drift he was way too familiar with.
The days were creeping by, and even though he tried to distract himself, Derek was in his thoughts even more. It was fucking crazy, and he was getting anxiety about the trip, about being in the house with all their memories floating around for Stiles to wallow in. And what if he couldn’t deal with it? What if he had a goddamn nervous breakdown and ended up back where he was before he woke up from the coma? God, he didn’t want that, and the thought was terrifying.
The Tuesday before he left, he told Dr. Hirt that he was scared of losing everything when he went back.
“I just feel like when I let this go, I’ll lose part of myself, and that it might be the part that’s actually not fucked up anymore.”
“I think you’ll find that this will be easier than you’re thinking. Remember what we talked about, how you cope with memories?”
Stiles sighed. “‘Remember, not ruminate.’ Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings but don’t let them drive you nuts. You can think about it for a little bit, but then move on and do something else.”
“Exactly,” she replied. “I want you to repeat that to yourself every now and then while you’re there. Write it down on a card and look at it, if you have to. You’re delicate right now, and I’m hesitant to send you on this trip alone; however, I think you need to handle this privately. But if things get to be too much for you to deal with on your own, I want you to call me or one of your friends. It’s important not to forget your support network.”
Stiles nodded, cracked his knuckles in agitation.
“I’m still learning how to use it,” he said, and they changed the subject to methods he could use to learn to accept help again.
He went home feeling weird and unhappy, but not upset. He had trouble sleeping that night, so he got up and folded the laundry he’d run earlier that day. Got back into bed. Couldn’t sleep. Read a textbook to try to bore himself tired. Got back in bed. No sleep. Got up and stretched. Back to bed. Restless.
When he woke up the next morning, he didn’t know how long he’d been asleep, but he was both exhausted and wired, definitely on edge. He had a lunch date with Lydia at noon, but it was only a quarter after seven.
He went on a long walk, definitely pushing himself (but feeling better because he could actively see his progress), and stopped at the coffee cart on his way back, buying a bagel with a ridiculous amount of cream cheese and sitting on the bench outside to eat. It was kind of a gross day, cloudy, and probably going to rain in the afternoon. It matched his mood, even though he was currently doing his damnedest to feel a little happier. Or, if not happy, at least get rid of this restless awfulness.
Lydia picked up on his weirdness at lunch, but she knew that his trip was the next day, and Stiles figured that she was leaving it up to him to talk about it if he wanted. She only ever pushed when she felt like she really needed to, but Stiles didn’t need a push right then; he needed a distraction. And she understood that, like she always did, because she knew him cover to cover.
The only thing she said as they were leaving the restaurant was, “Remember what I said about shutting us out. Call me if you need me, because if you come back and you’re a disaster, I’m going to be even more ticked, and nobody wants that.”
Stiles had smiled and hugged her.
He was more active the rest of that day than he’d been in a while, scratching off every last thing on his list, which he usually never really managed to do. He’d even packed without freaking out, though he’d had a long, long debate with himself over whether or not to take the pajamas with him.
In the end, they went into his bag.
He expected not to be able to sleep again, even though he was so damn tired. The dread was a pretty good stimulant, but despite it being heavy in his gut, he drifted off before he really wanted to, with the depressing/relieving thought that it’d all be over soon.
He’s ears were practically ringing by the time he stopped at the grocery store down the street from the beach house, because he’d been blaring music the whole drive to try to get his mind away from where he was headed. He shopped methodically, and knew in the back of his head that he was stalling for time while he debated over which bunch of bananas to get, and finally got fed up enough with himself that he snatched up a random bunch and all but stomped off to pick up the rest of the crap on his list.
Even with the extra time in the sort-of familiar setting, it was still surreal pulling up to the house, seeing Derek’s beautiful garden out front. He didn’t stop to look, just pulled all the way up under the house. He sat with the car running for a long moment, not looking at anything at all.
He finally shut the car down and got out, grabbing his bag from the back and turning to head up to the back deck.
He stopped at the bed-swing thing, put his bag down, and sat down on it.
This was where they’d had their first kiss.
Before he knew it, Stiles was crying. He wasn’t sobbing, but he was definitely crying enough to start to get snotty after a while. It was just… he could feel Derek’s lips, kissing his mouth, neck, ears, and he could see Derek’s smile, or his eyes dark with lust, and he could feel Derek’s hand on his ankle like it’d been that night shortly before they literally kissed and made up after fighting about the dumbass mancala disaster.
A longing hit Stiles, this absolute need he was too familiar with, the desire to just bring someone back, to have them again, to see them, touch them, hear them, feel them, because they belonged there. Because the person wasn’t supposed to be gone, they just weren’t, that wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. Derek wasn’t supposed to be gone, they’d promised, promised, and Derek was an asshole if he never found him. There was a hole that needed to be filled, and Derek was the only one who could fill it perfectly, have it match the right shape, and otherwise it would just be an empty space in his heart that couldn’t ever hold anyone else.
Why did his fucking heart even make new spaces for people when he knew he couldn’t afford it?
Stiles wiped his nose on his sleeve, which was gross, but he didn’t care. He had to stop this train of thought, because he could feel it leading him down a dangerous path. Shutting down everything just because he’d been hurt wasn’t something that he could let himself do. Boundaries helped people, but defenses destroyed them.
He took a deep breath and stood up, walking behind the swing and running his hand over the back. He picked up his bag and headed inside.
“Remember, not ruminate,” he muttered under his breath. When he got to the back deck, he had flashes of standing out in the storm, of making Derek frown-laugh-smirk-smile by falling off the railing, and of the final time he’d seen Derek, where they’d held each other as they said a brutal goodbye that they didn’t know really was the end.
His nose tingled and his eyes watered again, but he blinked the tears away and looked out at the ocean.
It was always so beautiful.
He let the salt-air clear his eyes, nose, and the choked feeling in his throat. He felt the wind ruffle through his hair, cooling him off from the heat of the sun. Summer was starting, and it was warmer than he remembered.
He stood for a long time, eyes closed, listening to the waves, before finally heading inside.
There were ghosts everywhere. He could see himself and Derek playing games on the coffee table, on the dining table, on the floor. He could picture them squabbling over the couch while they read, bugging the hell out of each other... and everything else about the couch: the kissing, hugging, spooning; Derek gently stroking Stiles’ back when he’d flop on top of him; Stiles running his hands lazily over Derek’s legs while they were propped in Stiles’ lap; Derek’s face looking ten years younger when he was sitting on the floor, head tilted back to the couch so Stiles could run his fingers through his hair.
Stiles ran his hand over the arm of the couch, standing in the spot where they’d had sex for the first time, Derek sucking Stiles off so fucking perfectly after being ridiculously adorable and playful.
He scrubbed a hand across his eyes, because this was too goddamn much. Everything hurt, his chest felt like it was compressing, and not in a panic-attack way, but in a I’m-fucking-devastated way. His stomach felt like it was in his knees, and there was a choking sensation in his throat.
He was so sad, and he missed Derek so much, and there wasn’t anywhere in the open den/kitchen/dining area that wasn’t full of memories.
He took a deep breath, gathering himself, and walked into the foyer where he’d slipped and fallen down the stairs. He raised his eyes very, very slowly up the stairs and to the door to that lead to the attic room where he and Derek had slept and cuddled and had sex. Fuck it, no, it was where they’d made love. Stiles was alone with his pain right then and he could be as fucking cheesy as he wanted, and making love was what they’d done the whole day they’d spent in that bed. The bed where they’d touched each other and got to know each other’s bodies as well as they knew each other’s hearts.
He couldn’t make himself go up the stairs, because the thought of looking at their bed made him want to puke.
He made a detour for one of the other bedrooms, realizing that it would have to be his safe haven while he was there, since he’d never really bothered with them before and there weren’t any real memories in them.
The first thing he did when he walked in the bedroom was take his bag over to the dresser and unpack. It was hard to make himself do anything right then, because his head was a fucking minefield, every little thing making grief explode within him in a brand new way. Still, he knew that the mindlessness of unpacking would help calm him down.
He thought about making something to eat, something else to do with his hands, then realized, shit, he’d left all the groceries in the car. Along with his laptop and cell phone and DS. He steeled himself against the memories and made his way back to his car, trying to find a happy medium between shutting down and sobbing hysterically, maybe freaking out like he did the moment he realized how in love with Derek he was.
All the groceries were put away on autopilot, and Stiles stood aimlessly in the kitchen, just staring at the ugly bird statue like maybe it had all the answers. He picked it up, turning it over in his hands. He absently remembered Derek trying to throw the thing in a rage, but it had just reappeared like it’d never gone anywhere since they hadn’t been able to move anything in the house when other people were there.
That was when he’d met Laura and she’d broken her camera.
An idea occurred to him - maybe he could ask Laura about the camera? But then, if his mind was just rewriting things like Dr. Hirt thought, then he wouldn’t really know if he knew later what he thought he knew now and jesus christ, this was so fucking ridiculous. But maybe if he called Scott and told him what he thought had happened, and then asked Laura, and then got Laura to tell Scott that she’d only ever met him once and talked to him three times then he could see and prove that he wasn’t making any of it up -
He couldn’t do that though, not without freaking Laura out in one way or another, and in any case, it was crazy to think that his dream thing had been real in the first place. What the hell, why was his mind doing this to him? This wasn’t fair, this wasn’t supposed to be this way, why was Derek gone, fuck, fuck...
Fuck, what did you do when you couldn’t even trust your own memory, your own mind?
Tears slipped down Stiles’ face without him realizing he was even crying, but once he noticed, the floodgates opened. He fell to his knees, heaving sobs like he hadn’t since that big breakdown that may or may not have actually happened, holy shit. He couldn’t breathe through the twisted version of hysterical laughter that sobbing was.
It wasn’t stopping, either, and he just let it wash over him in brutal waves, flashing back to collapsing on the beach in a mess of laughing and crying, but right then it was compounded because he knew that there would be no coming back like he did then. Derek wouldn’t be holding him close and soothing; there wouldn’t be a gentle hand stroking his ankle, or a soft voice murmuring to him that he’d be okay, that he was okay.
So he broke, clutching the fucking bird statue like a lifeline, and just let it all out until he was half-screaming, his throat going raw with the force of his breaths and cries. His mind was a goddamn tornado of memories and loss and pain and grief, and he could only hope he’d surface from it without passing out first.
He couldn’t even really think anymore, could only feel, and all he knew was pain and Derek and a longing for home.
Slowly, slowly, he came back to himself, until his sobs were just hiccups, and he realized that his whole face was leaking, but he couldn’t bring himself to give a shit beyond cursory wiping his nose with his shirt. He’d wash it or something, whatever, it didn’t matter.
His hand relaxed a little around the bird statue, and he realized how cramped up it was. His palm and fingers felt pinched from how he’d been gripping the sharp angles and points of the damn thing, but it was kind of grounding, keeping him in the present.
“Derek,” he choked, desperate. “Derek, if you’re here, if you’re listening….” His voice was shaking, squeaky, but that was okay, because there wasn’t really anyone to hear him. “I need you to wake up for me, okay? Just wake up. Please, please wake up, I don’t want to do this, I don’t want you to be gone, I just want you back, please, please, just come back to me.”
His voice broke, and when he squeezed his eyes shut again, more tears fell. The whole front of his shirt was completely soaked, and his face was a mess. He knocked his head back against the counter twice, frustrated and sad and hopeless.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry…” he mumbled, not even really sure what he was apologizing for, or to whom, but something felt so wrong that it’d just tumbled out of his mouth. “God, I want to go home, I’m so sorry…”
And that was how he knew that he was just low as fuck - when he got that intense need to go home, knowing that he didn’t really have anywhere that really felt like “home.”
He curled into a ball on the floor, let himself cry gently until there was nothing left. He was exhausted, but he also had to eat something despite the vague nausea, so he dragged himself up, wobbling a little as dizziness hit him. After a few breaths he was okay, so he slapped together a sandwich and got a coke, then went to his bedroom to eat and do something stupid and distracting like play all of his turns on that hangman app on his phone so he wouldn’t just lay on the bed and wallow.
Once he’d eaten, he felt strangely cold, so he pulled the extra blankets down from the closet and made a nest in the bed, set his laptop, phone, and DS within reach, and settled down.
He managed not to let himself fall asleep until eight, but he gave up on waiting for ten, and even though he was skipping dinner, he figured it’d be okay for one night.
He’d just get back on it tomorrow.
By Friday night, he wasn’t so sure he
could make it all the way through Monday morning. He’d gone to the beach for
most of the day, sat and thought and hurt and sometimes cried. He’d watched the
sunset, realized he was a little sunburnt despite the sunblock he’d put on -
fantastic, really - and then made himself actually cook something for dinner
before he hid away in his room again.
He definitely hadn’t managed to make it upstairs to their bed.
Still, Saturday morning was a little easier. He wandered around, just touching things, sitting places, letting himself remember. He didn’t cry anymore - he felt like he could, but he didn’t want to. Instead, he was trying to turn his mind around and remember the things that’d made him happy, and let them make him happy that they’d happened instead of sad that they didn’t. It didn’t have to make sense to anybody but him, anyway.
He went to the game closet, ran his fingers across several of the boxes. He took out the deck of cards.
“I still can’t believe you were better than me at speed,” he said quietly, huffing a little laugh. “Or maybe just playing Scott for years gave me a big head.”
He knew Derek wasn’t there, but he still wanted to talk to him. So he did.
“You were better than me at a lot of these, remember? Talk about blows to my fragile ego. Left, right, and center, I just got owned over and over again. You were probably cheating though, let’s be real.
“But you did play these games a million times with your family or when you were grounded, right? I still can’t believe your parents’ version of grounding. Talk about fucking brutal. But then again, you’re so fucking old that you were raised in the dark ages, so there you go.”
Stiles put the cards back and shut the door to the closet, turned and leaned against it.
“I’ll never forget you. Ever. Even if it wasn’t actually real, you were real tome, and that’s all I give a fuck about. You’ll be with me every day, just like Mom and Dad,” he took a deep breath, held it, then sighed heavily. “I have to let you go though, just like them, or else I can’t keep our promise - I won’t be able to keep getting better. You pushed me, helped me, and I’ve gotta keep letting you do it by moving on. I love you so fucking much, and I miss you, but you’re not in my world anymore.” Stiles knocked his head back against the door gently. “But I’m gonna keep loving you, probably forever. I can’t change that, and I won’t. And I promise that I’ll be happy, okay? I promise.”
Of course, there wasn’t any reply, just the silence of the house and the ticking of the ugly kitchen clock. He noticed that it was already noon, so with a sigh, he pushed off the door and went to grab his phone so he could play some gross and cheerful music while he made lunch.
God, he wanted a whiskey. The whole bottle, even. But that was still a no-no, and might be until the day he actually died for real.
He spent the rest of the day on the couch, watching whatever he found on Netflix on his laptop. He wanted to keep talking to Derek, but when he thought about it, it probably wouldn’t be a good thing to talk to him as if he were just hanging out with Stiles. It was one thing to try and get closure, and another thing to pretend that Derek was really there.
Stiles had another idea that night, but decided to put it off until the next day, too sleepy to really do anything else after he finished cleaning up from dinner.
So Sunday morning, he sat down at his computer outside on the back deck, and wrote.
He wrote about Derek, everything that he knew about him, all the memories he had. He described how Derek had looked when he smiled, when he frowned, when he frowny-smiled; he talked about his magic eyes, how they changed randomly and were kind of like watercolors; he wrote about his hands, their strength and their gentleness; he went through Derek’s family history; he scoured his mind for every joke he’d ever heard Derek make, as well as whenever he laughed at Stiles; their fights and the way they made up; their banter and Derek’s playful side.
He put it all on paper - well, on screen - and he did it for hours and hours, stopping only to make himself eat lunch and then do his exercises in the afternoon. By dinner time, he wasn’t even done, but he knew he had to stop or he’d keep going until he dropped. He’d been sort of obsessive over it, feeling like he had to get it all out, not only so he wouldn’t forget later, but so that he could remember it all now and try to work through it. He also thought maybe he could clean it up, give a copy to Dr. Hirt, maybe even Scott and Lydia.
Because he wanted people to know. Even if it made him seem (even feel) a little crazy, he didn’t want Derek to be this unknown ghost that followed Stiles around. The whole experience was so important to Stiles, and it was part of him now, no matter what it really was, and he definitely didn’t want to shut that down or shut his friends out of it.
It was good, though, because it didn’t give him much time to think about the next morning, when he would really, finally, completely say goodbye.
He was going to see Derek at the hospital.
He’d packed the night before, so
Monday morning all he had to do was eat breakfast, throw out the food that
wouldn’t survive the car trip (nobody liked food poisoning), put everything in
the car and go.
But right as he was walking out the door, he stopped.
He hadn’t gone up to their room the whole time he’d been there, and he knew he would regret it if he never went. He swallowed hard, felt the stupid panic start to creep up his spine, and sat down in one of the arm chairs to get himself to relax until the crappiness started to fade.
It took him a while even after he calmed down, but eventually he got up and made his way to the stairs.
He stared at that first step for a long damn time, trying to work himself up into taking the plunge.
He shook himself a little, and then determinedly put one foot on the first step.
Once he’d started, it was easier to keep going, and before he knew it he was there, back in the bright-ass room with the pale yellow curtains and the cozy heaven-bed he’d spent so many days and nights in. He took a deep breath.
The comforter was soft under his fingers, just like he remembered. Fluffy and perfect. Stiles turned and sat down gently, like the whole thing might explode or something if he fell too hard. The bed dipped under him, and he relaxed, lying back slowly. He turned to tuck his face into the comforter and breathed deeply.
He could almost feel Derek’s touch against his skin.
He lay there for a long time, not even really thinking. The bed was so ridiculously comfortable, and the morning light so warm and nice, that he felt safe. Almost happy.
If he’d known it would be like this, he would have done it sooner; but he had to admit that it probably wouldn’t have been this way if he’d tried it before then, before he was ready.
He didn’t really want to move, but he knew he had to be out of the house soon anyway… And it was time to make his final stop. So he peeled himself out of the bed, took one last, sad look around the room, and made his way down to the Jeep.
His eyes caught on the front garden before he pulled completely out of the driveway. It was kind of a magical place, in a way, and even better when he thought about what Derek had put into it. He watched his ghost wander around with Derek’s as he pointed out the different flowers, telling him about his family.
He looked away, and didn’t let himself watch the house disappear through the rearview mirror.
It took a long time to get out of the
car once he’d parked at the hospital. The whole thing felt like he’d been
pushing a huge boulder up a hill, and now that he was taking a rest, it only meant
that he had time to dread how much further he had to go.
He was close to the top, though. Or, at least he hoped so.
He leaned his head against the steering wheel, tapping his forehead on it a few times. God, this was so fucking hard, but he had to do this. It was the last thing to do, the one thing left before he could put all this behind him and start to move on.
This was what it would take to keep his promise to Derek.
With that thought and a last deep breath, Stiles forced himself out of the Jeep and into the hospital, but his determination wavered when he got to the eighth floor.
He kept thinking he was ready, that it couldn’t possibly hit him from any more goddamn angles than it already had, but there he was, standing outside of the elevator, staring at his shoes and almost crying, because this was it. This was absolutely the end, the last scene before the book was done. No more editing, no more words. It would be over, and he’d have to put it on the shelf and walk away, start writing something else.
Metaphors aside, he just didn’t fucking want to. There had to be more to this story, right? How could it just end like this, with a goodbye? What was the point of this fucking romance novel if they didn’t end up together? Nobody wanted to read something like that, because everyone wanted a happy ending. Or, christ, at least bitter-sweet.
And even though he knew how useless it was to think it, the “it’s not fair” ran through his mind over and over.
“Excuse me sir, but are you okay?”
Stiles shook himself out of his thoughts, noticing a young girl, maybe nine or so, staring at him with a frown. He smiled down at her, a little fake, but whatever.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I’ve just never liked hospitals, you know?”
“I don’t like them either,” she agreed. “But it means a lot to the people here when you come visit them, so it’s okay.”
“Yeah,” Stiles said, smiling a little more real this time. “Being stuck in one sucks - I know from experience - and it’s good to have people to come see you. It gets kind of lonely.”
“Exactly,” she said. “Well, I have to get back to my friend now, and you should probably go see your person, too. Cheer up, they need to see you smile!”
And with her own big grin, she set off down the hallway in kind of a flurry. She actually reminded Stiles of himself when he was around that age, putting on a happy face because his mom was dying and he didn’t want her to only ever see him cry.
He owed the same to Derek, to smile at him.
He stopped just outside the room, listening to see if there was anyone inside. When he didn’t hear anything, he knocked, but there was no answer.
No point in wasting any more time.
The door creaked a little when he pushed it open, and the lights were out. It was just a little dim, because the blinds on the huge window were pulled up, so Stiles could still see plenty. He braced himself, and looked at Derek.
The way the light hit Derek, it looked like one side of his mouth was quirked up, with one eyebrow a little raised; it was the same expression he wore when he was laughing at Stiles for being stupid. The other side of his face was peaceful, but kind of frowny, and the whole thing was perfect, because that was exactly Derek.
Stiles walked to the bed, but wasn’t quite sure what to do, what would be okay. In the end, though, he couldn’t help himself, and reached out to brush Derek’s thick, much longer hair away from his forehead.
He was warm - not fever-warm, but alive warm - and his skin was still soft as ever. He looked different with his face shaved and thin, but it was definitely still him. Derek breathed gently, and Stiles cupped his cheek, thumb rubbing gently under his eye. He wanted to touch more, trace Derek’s nose and lips, maybe even kiss him, but that was probably inappropriate and creepy - even bordering on some consent issues - especially if Derek had never known him.
He pushed that thought aside; right now he was saying goodbye, because Derek had been as real to him as anything or anyone.
“Hey,” he said quietly. “It’s Stiles. I came to visit you, but I also came to say- to say goodbye.” He swallowed hard, blinked back tears, and forced himself to keep smiling.
“I miss you, dude. I really fucking miss you, more than I can tell you. You were - are - so important to me... You helped me so much, you gave me hope, and I loved you. I still do, and I probably always will.” Stiles had to pause, because he could feel himself ready to really start crying. He couldn’t help the few tears that fell when he tried to blink them away, but he kept his smile up through it all. “It’s really our promise that keeps me going, because honestly? I kind of want to sit at home and cry all the time, and if I did that, I’d end up back where I started when we met. And nobody wants that, definitely not me, and definitely not you. I think you’d be pretty pissed at me if that happened.
“Anyway, I’m gonna keep trying, just like we said. And I already told you once that I’d be happy, so I will be. And I’ll do my best, even though… God, it’d be so much easier if you were here to frown at me and complain about me. I really miss your cuddles, too,” Stiles huffed a laugh, smiling and crying, because he could picture Derek’s raised eyebrows at Stiles’ choice of words. “Those were pretty great. And I’ll keep those memories with me forever, and remember things as the good times they were, and not be sad about it. Because… When it comes down to it, I’m glad it all happened, even if I did have to lose you in the end.”
Stiles sniffled, wiped his eyes with his sleeve, then reached out and took Derek’s thin hand, one of the hands he remembered as strong and soothing, gentle and sweet. He held it in both of his with a sad smile.
“I’ll be okay, I promise. I love you, always and forever,” he said, and even though he knew he shouldn’t, he kept going. “And if you ever can, remember to come find me.”
With a last, soft squeeze to Derek’s hand, Stiles let go and turned to leave.
He didn’t look back.
As he was shutting the door, something started nagging at him, the same way it had when he’d first walked by Derek’s hospital room. Whatever it was wanted him to open that door and go back in. Stiles stood there, fighting a huge internal battle, hope struggling over resignation and determination, the compulsion to open the door slowly beating down the need to keep going and let it go.
Stiles never was very good at impulse control.
He pushed open the door, probably a little hard if the way it bounced off the the damn door-stopper was any indication, and stood there wide-eyed and a little breathless as Derek shifted in the bed.
Stiles pinched himself hard in the stomach, and hissed an, “Ow, fuck!” when the pain hit him full-force. Meanwhile, Derek let out a moan, and the bottom fell out of Stiles’ stomach.
Was this it? Could this really be happening? Did Stiles’ speech thing make Derek wake up like something out of a bad romance novel? What the fuck, oh, god, Stiles was gonna pass out.
But what if he did wake up? Then what? He’d just remember Stiles and the whole thing would be real and they’d be that couple with white picket fence and 2.5 children happy ever after? This was fucking ridiculous, what was he even hoping for?
Still, he couldn’t move. He was frozen to the spot like a goddamn statue, unable to stop watching as Derek slowly blinked awake.
He watched awareness settled over Derek, but was still at a total loss for what to do.
And then Derek opened his mouth.
“What - Stiles?”
Stiles’ heart stopped.