Derek is late.
He promised Laura he'd visit Peter, and it's already Sunday at five pm. He'd skip--but he knows she'd know. Laura always knew everything just by looking. Once, when he was five, she knew he had stolen a cookie from the kitchen--even though she had been halfway across the house and hadn't seen him until hours later.
Now as they rebuilt their house from the ruins left by the fire, Laura let him get away with even less. There wasn't time for brooding anymore, she said, but Derek thought there was always time for brooding.
You never visit him, do you? She had asked--knee deep in old wood beams they were tearing from the floor. Most were warped and ruined by the fire but every so often they would pry one up and realize--no. This one they could use still. Derek.
Derek pressed his lips together. It was less of a question and more of a statement anyway: Laura already knew. She tapped her nails carefully across a piece of old black wood. Okay. If you're not going to talk to me--you have to visit him once a week.
This time he did respond, huffing and puffing like an affronted child. Demanding Why?
I think it will help you. You know--come to terms with...
She lapsed into silence and Derek nodded shortly. There was no need to dig deeper into the wound--they both could read the details in the fire damaged walls and broken down staircase.
Who knows. If I get you out into society you might actually talk to someone outside family for a change. Laura started again, a smile curving along her lips. Make sure to bring me any cute little nurses you pick up with your brooding.
Derek starts out wandering the halls of the nursing home, chasing his own shadow through a tangle of spindly hallways to his uncle's room. He meanders, fingers on the tacky pastel wallpapering, looking for a distraction.
A distraction is an excuse not to turn up in his uncle’s room. Without one, Laural will know. Derek knows the loopholes as well as Laura knows him.
Before now, Derek had come to the nursing home a grand total of one times. He went the day his uncle had been moved from the hospital to the nursing home ("long term care" facility they said--but it was a nursing home). He had never wanted to go again.
The smell of age and medication burned his nose. The forgotten people grasping for hands, five minutes, a word. The time he went before: he found himself there, in the forgotten. Or perhaps he had wanted to. If he was one of them, perhaps what his indiscretion had done would fade all the faster.
Two halls out and Derek has made plans to dash in and out of his uncles room. A minute in. A minute out. After that he can leave. Maybe see a movie.
Derek finds a teenager instead.
"Hey, kid." The kid jerks, nearly falls from the wall in a tangle of surprised limbs, and spits out something that almost sounds like,Jesustalkingtome.
Derek decides he would have felt more awkward if it wasn’t for the kid looking almost as shocked as he is that he started a conversation.
Families, according to Laura who has visited three times a year since the fire, typically only turn up on holidays. She says it viciously, like it's a shame, though she does little more herself. This kid is an anomaly almost as much as Derek is.
"You waiting for someone?" Maybe a Juvie kid? AP Classes with college on his brain?
The teenager is still gaping at him--cleanly dressed in jeans and a blue t-shirt. Shaved head--but he doesn’t look like a banger. Nice face.
Grandparent, Derek decides. He’s not sure why that matters to him at all--except that the teen is staring at him like Derek has just tossed him a lifeline. If so, that makes both of them--Derek is barely handling the smell of age and antiseptic. The distraction is...nice.
"Uh-yeah. Yeah." The kid's face still reads 'who, me?' and it makes Derek smile, sharp and predatory. "Are you looking for someone? I mean. I've been here a lot. I could probably help."
"My uncle. He's down a few more halls."
The teenager frowns at him and then looks to the rest of the hallway, as though thinking he should be able to piece together exactly who Derek is talking about from so little information. The silence hangs for a beat too long and then the teenager is visibly grasping for the proper protocols for whatever this conversation is. "Oh, yeah, sorry. I'm waiting for my dad." He shrugs, sucking his bottom lip between his teeth. Derek doesn't want to think this teen's nerves have anything to with him--but the look the teenager is giving him is flattering anyway. "I'm here a lot so..."
"My uncle is Peter Hale." Derek answers the unasked and the kid jumps again like everything is a surprise.
"Oh, so you're Derek." Then it's Derek's turn to twitch--though his is more of a muscle spasm right at the corner of his eye. Derek Hale shouldn't be news. Derek doesn't want to be news. The kid just grins, leaning head first back against the wall and jutting his chin out. "Dude, chill, the nurse who works with your uncle mentioned you. I'm Stiles."
Derek can’t stand to stay any longer. His stomach rolls in nerves so he shoves his hands in his jacket pockets and jerks his head to the left as he shoulders down the hall. "Well, nice meeting you."
Derek leaves Stiles in the hallway without having asked who it was Stiles was visiting. He brushes it out of his mind as unimportant.
It is unimportant. He figures he won't see Stiles for another year, if that.
Derek sees him again two weeks later.
It's Sunday, again--a choice totally not decided on on the off-chance that he'll meet up with a gangly high school student he met the time before--and Derek has his uncle out in the courtyard between two sections of nursing care rooms. Peter blinks and breathes, but he doesn't really respond to anything. Still, Laura insists Derek go, visit, talk to him. Practice talking to the barely there before the living, or something.
Peter Hale is never going to come back to himself. Derek might as well talk to him. Even if Peter gets nothing from it-- maybe Derek will learn to forgive himself for being a stupid teenager.
This is the theory, anyway. As much as Derek thinks the concept of self-forgiveness is a bunch of bullshit he's only visited three times so far. Maybe after fifty he will ascribe some use to it.
Stiles, meanwhile, has apparently made the nursing home his personal playground. He's hanging from a bar that supports the canopy in the middle of the courtyard like a monkey, wide grin in place. Derek almost doesn't see him at first--but then there he is. Or his head is, anyway.
"Derek!" Stiles eyes go from Derek's face to his uncle. "And Uncle Peter!"
If he is bothered by Peter's lack of response, Stiles doesn't show it. He simply grins and Derek frowns back at him. "Waiting for your dad again?"
It sounds like an accusation, and maybe it was. Derek wants to ask who Stiles isn't visiting when he's wandering around a "long term care" facility but something different comes out every time.
Stiles sputters from his hanging position, face flush, "Yeah. I just couldn't stay still any longer."
Derek frowns at him and Stiles manages to stay relatively still five more seconds before he is shimmying down head first as though planning on stretching himself from the overhang to the ground. His shirt rides up and Derek pointedly looks away as Stiles spreads himself until he only about three feet from the ground.
Then he falls. Into a nest of near-dead pansies. Derek rolls his eyes, more at himself than Stiles, and turns away to push his uncle's wheelchair into a better location and then locks the wheels. "You okay?"
"How's your uncle doing?" Stiles asks back and suddenly he is right in front of Peter. Like being closer will garner a response.
It doesn't, so Derek gives a one-sided shrug, "Same as always."
"Yeah." Stiles clears his throat as he climbs back to his feet, dusting off his knees. "I heard they didn't give him a good prognosis. Sorry. That's rough."
The words are barely out of his mouth before, suddenly, Stiles is rushing towards the bay doors on the far end of the courtyard. "Hey--sorry." He spins, half jogging backwards to a set of closed doors. "I gotta go. Just saw my dad."
Derek feels the air in his lungs dry on his tongue.
It surprises him, later, when he realizes he wanted to ask Stiles for his number.
They don't exchange numbers, though Derek sees Stiles every time he visits his uncle. Sometimes it's just a quick wave across the hall. Other days they steal half-an hour conversations. Stiles, Derek finds, ends up in the strangest of places around the nursing home.
Stepping out of closets, darting around the halls, chatting to little old ladies who don't seem to be listening. Derek might have wanted to see Stiles out of this environment...
But there is something about the repetition that is soothing.
After the fourth visit Derek finds himself looking for Stiles. The meetings with his uncle are almost... secondary.
It's like a trade off: go to a half an hour of non-therapy with his catatonic uncle, receive real interaction with a teenager who seems to hinge on his attention. As terrible as it sounds, the trade off isn't bad.
He sees Stiles at the grocery store. Given that Derek has never seen Stiles anywhere but the nursing home, he had started to think the teenager just lived there on constant deathwatch with his dad. In fact, if Stiles hadn’t mentioned his dad--Derek would have sworn the kid was working there.
But there he was. Wearing that same blue shirt and running around the grocery store from one pile of food to another. He lighted from one area to another, stopping for only a handful of seconds each stop. The only time Derek felt he could approach was after he skidded to a stop in front of a display for organic vegetables--and that was only because he seemed to have stopped running and decided bouncing on the balls of his feet was an acceptable alternative.
"Stiles." Derek is surprised to see him flinch.Since the first meeting, Stiles has almost seemed to be waiting for him and, for the most part, unbothered by Derek's presence. Here, though, and Stiles is wide-eyed again--glancing from the basket in Derek's hand to his face and back again. Derek feels his face morph into a scowl, "What. Did you think I don't shop?"
Stiles breaks out into a grin, half shaky but broad enough to press the tremble out. "Dude! No." He goes to lean against the shelf and almost falls. Righting himself again is full of exaggerated motion. Derek can almost hear the inner monologue, the same one he had when he first hung out with Kate be cool, be cool, be cool. The unwanted memory hangs sour in his stomach as Stiles continues, unaffected. "I just wasn't expecting to see anyone else here! Of course you shop. Everyone shops."
It was eight o'clock at night on a Saturday. Derek shoves his dark thoughts away to glance surreptitiously around them. While it's not the highest shopping point of the week, it is very well far from vacant. Derek frowns at them pointedly.
Stiles waves a hand, as though to make all the other shoppers disappear. "You’re different. Food just appears on your table. Or--something."
Derek frowns harder, knowing it flusters Stiles. He is almost enjoying this, though--the way he can say nothing and pull responses from Stiles. It's friendly--like Laura but somehow more endearing.
"Oh, come on. Really?" Stiles grumps, turning to speak to the vegetables as though the cucumber could answer him. He gestures again, a rude jerk of his palm. "Come on. Most guys can't even stand coming to a nursing home once--much less every week. Of course you're different."
Derek considers and is just about to respond, finally, when Stiles turns to stare down the aisle at a man in law enforcement khakis. "Oh, shit, sorry--I have to go." Stiles thumbs at the man who is not even looking at him as he doggedly pushes his cart towards the checkout. "I have to go try to convince him he needs something other than instant meals... see you tomorrow?"
"Uh-Yeah." Derek responds to air. Stiles is gone, on the other side of the store, in an instant. "Tomorrow."
"You're pining. That’s the third time I’ve caught you sighing." Laura leans against their newly finished countertop. The kitchen, den, and two-thirds of the stairs have been remade, but its not enough to be a home yet. Still, the rebuilding makes him feel better. It's like getting a new lease on their life here--and he thinks Laura agrees.
He caught her singing to the radio days before--soft and smiling. It's had been a long time since she was so unguarded.
She says she sees the same in him--but Derek refuses to attribute it to the scrap of a teenager he meets for moments every Sunday. He can't even ask Stiles out--and not just because the thought makes him feel vaguely sick to his stomach. Stiles is young. Not too young. But the age difference isn't lost on Derek.
"You're wrong." He's washing the dishes from the spaghetti Laura made for dinner. They don't have a washing machine, probably won't ever unless one of them starts re-populating the house, so he uses a red wash cloth and dish soap.
His sister doesn't look convinced. She sighs, leaning heavily on her elbows. "You can admit it, you know. It's okay."
Through the back window Derek can see the sun setting into the barren trees that line their house. The sun rests red and orange and it makes the woods seem to light up with fire. It reminds Derek of that day too much. He looks away.
Laura comes around to the sink and hangs off of him, pressing her nose into the back of his throat. "I just want to meet him." Laura insists into his skin. There is a growl boiling in her throat that Derek ignores. "I have to make sure this 'Stiles' is worth all this from my baby brother."
Derek tries to shrug her off, but it's half hearted. "I'll ask him."
He means it to sound frustrated and put upon. It doesn't. Not to her.
Derek meets Stiles in the courtyard again. It's cold now--the air hangs with the promise of snow in thick gray clouds. If Stiles notices the change in temperature, he doesn't look it. He's sitting on a bench staring out into the twilight in a short sleeve t-shirt. Quiet. Unmoving. It's honestly somewhat unnerving as Derek walks over and sits next to him.
Derek wants to offer his jacket but there's a lot of things they haven't talked about, and Derek hesitates to offer up something so tangible without making sure it will be accepted first. Laura might be certain that everything will work out--but Derek Hale has never been as steadfast, self-assured, as his sister. Stiles is a teenager, after all--and if he's spending so much time here, well, someone must be dying.
He doesn't want to take advantage, but that is an excuse.
"Derek." Stiles turns to smile at him after he sits. "You're later than usual."
"So are you." Derek doesn't point out that he's been later--but when it wasn't winter the sun was out longer. Treading on the obvious seems risky, somehow.
"Nah." Stiles kicks his feet out towards the gloom. "I just have a lot of free time right now." He says it like I won't later.
Derek stares out over the grass and carefully manicured trees. What to say to that? He doesn't know.
Two minutes later and Stiles is on his feet, swinging his back into one of the canopy supports and leaning against it--half slouched like he was when they first met. "You know, Derek..." Stiles scrubs a hand over his face. The gloom hides the details from him and Derek wants to take out his phone so he can see his eyes. "It means a lot. You taking the time to... you know." He waves a hand. "Talk. To me."
Derek stares, dubious. Stiles is a moderately--scratch that, attractive--teenage boy. Who's reasonably friendly. The idea that Stiles doesn't have friends seems ridiculous. Derek grunts.
"No. Really." Stiles gestures at him. "You've been amazing. Really. Amazing. 'Cause sometimes I've sort of felt like..." He deflates, smiling ruefully. "I guess I just felt like I was wandering alone. Just... you know, waiting to disappear. But--I sort of had you, didn't I?"
Derek feels the warm cold clinch of muscle--because he has wanted to be wanted for so long after the fire...and because Stiles sounds like he has no one else and that seems wrong. "Listen..."
"No, man, it's fine." Stiles brushes the attempt to respond away. Rejection. "I mean. Its not fine but...it's okay, right?"
Derek wonders, momentarily, if Stiles is breaking up with him before he can even ask him out. He struggles with his tongue, the invitation to visit his and Laura's makeshift home of wonders at the forefront--when, suddenly, a nurse is at the door and calling for him. "Mr. Hale? Mr. Hale. You need to come in right away. It's your uncle."
There are hands on his shoulder and suddenly Derek finds himself walking away. He's leaving, though he half doesn't want to, half doesn't care to know what the nurses have to say. Derek turns once in the nurse's arms and sees Stiles still standing there, staring at him from the gloom. Derek doesn't wave. He nods and hopes Stiles understands I will be back. I will see you soon.
Derek's uncle wakes up January 2nd. He's not all there, not really, but he responds and has a physical therapist and a speech therapist at the ready. It's a Christmas miracle, the nurses say, though Christmas was a week prior.
Laura tails him for two weeks at the nursing home. Neither of them see Stiles--but its not for lack of trying. For all of Laura's interest in Peter, she seems equally curious about the boy Derek has taken a shine to. At first Derek thinks Stiles is just busy. Then he wonders if Stiles is avoiding him.
Or maybe, he hopes, Stiles was just only there on Sundays?
But two weeks rolls into three and he still hasn't seen Stiles. Eventually, reluctantly, he approaches one of the nursing stations. After all, a teen like Stiles stands out here. If nothing else maybe he'll get Stiles' last name--be able to call him, to apologize for their conversation being cut short.
"Hey," He glances at her name-tag. "Melissa. I was just wondering if you've seen a teenager around here?" He gestures an estimation of his height. "Gangly. Buzzed hair. Name--"
"Sounds like Stiles." The woman interrupts, staring at him quizzically and Derek lets out a huff. He's only twenty-five. He's not a creeper--he knows how this might look. He’s been talking to Stiles for months. He just wants to make sure he’s okay. Derek knows better than anyone how easy it is to take advantage and that is the last thing he would ever want to do.
He shoves his hands into his pockets and waits. There's no point in begging. She will tell him, or she won't. He flashes her a smile, hoping to look like less of a threat.
The woman puts down her clipboard and frowns at him, "You just missed him." The words Derek wants to say are, I don't understand. "His dad finally took him off life support two weeks ago."
There's a whistling sound in his ear as the woman continues, blithely unaware, "So sad, you know. It was just time. Brain dead since the car crash, I think. It was inevitable." She looks at him again, recognizes him, and finally smiles--though it's somewhat sad. "Too bad we couldn't have twoChristmas miracles."
"Yeah." Derek can't move and Melissa breezes on past him, patting him on the shoulder as she does.
I just felt like I was wandering alone. Just... you know, waiting to disappear. But--I sort of had you, didn't I?