No matter what happened, at least he had met him. It was that thought that kept him going. The war in Vietnam raged on and on, taking so many young lives needlessly. Stiles had hesitated applying for college and was drafted six months out of high school while he had been working to save up for tuition.
While Laura was in college upstate, Derek was the primary guardian for Cora after the loss of their family years before; and it was this fact alone that kept him off the list. When he told Stiles that the night they met, the night before he shipped out he had smiled so brightly that it almost helped ease the crush of despair at meeting his soul mate 15 hours before he was set to ship out to war.
Stiles was relieved, happy to not be meeting Derek while on tour; a horror story that too many young people had faced in the recent years. They spent every second together, trying to soak up as much as they could; learn everything, imprint the memory of this moment. The younger man was blunt, and smart as a whip. He knew his chances of not coming home, asked that Derek help his dad pack up his things if he didn’t make it back; make it as easy on him as he could. The thought made a rage burn so deeply inside Derek for a country that would allow this that sometimes he couldn’t breathe.
364 days. The memory of their stolen few hours together carried Derek through it. Through protests, headlines, 364 letters addressed to a Miecyslaw that Stiles assured him would arrive because the likelihood of him being mistaken for someone else on that side of the world was a million to one. The hope of what may come altered Derek in profound ways, to strive to be better; to move away from the place where the memories of what they had lost were a constant reminder and had smothered them for too long. They moved closer to Laura, never planning to stay but finding it impossible to leave Beacon Hills on their drive through to San Francisco; the sheriff finding solace in having a small tether to his son; the town welcoming them in like they had always been a part of them.
The letters pulled Stiles through. Through the rain and the blood and the constant nagging terror of what his world now looked like. He kept the best ones close to his heart, right where he knew his name blackened the skin on his soulmate. It felt like a hundred years had rolled by as he watched his fellow soldiers fall like the trees in a storm, one by one. Stiles clung to the flashes of the hours spent together in Derek’s little loft, the record player scratching purple haze in the background; out on the balcony sitting so close together it was like they were trying to meld into one person. Even though soulmates weren’t always romantic, better described as a counterpoint or a balance; he’d known from the moment he set eyes on Derek Hale that he would marry that man at his first opportunity. The person he’d knocked into and spilt his beer all over the night before he shipped out of LA. He clung to that memory with every shred of hope in his veins and prayed he could survive this and remain the person that he had been in those fateful hours.
Stiles got shot on a Tuesday in March. Caught twice in the arm and chest as he finished his patrol. As he lay in the mud he remembered the feel of Derek’s bedspread under his fingers, the other mans laugh warming him all the way through; his hand brushing across the letters down the curve of his neck. Such terrible timing.
Derek found out in May, a letter having arrived on the door of the sheriff early that morning. It was perfunctory, stating the barest details like a hastily written grocery list. He drove across town to read it himself, needing to see it. Wondering how he couldn’t have felt it that day, wondering so much of how it happened and feeling so helpless that it took all he had in him not to break. They didn’t get him back until July, each day so heavy that they were all so relieved to have each other. To have built a connection around a boy who was so special. Laura met them at the airport, her hands clutching Derek’s and John’s on either side; Cora with her arm around Derek’s waist anchoring him. The light in his eyes had gone, replaced with a worried smile that pressed terrified words into Derek’s neck that he was broken; that he wasn’t good enough to be loved anymore, that he had done and seen terrible things.
Derek had rebuilt his life from the ashes of the one before it. He had dragged himself out of bed and pushed himself to the point of agony to shake himself free of the monsters in his past and he would walk Stiles through his. This more than anything cemented the bond between them, proving he wasn’t just a name on a boy’s pulse but the true balance and anchor to him.
A year later they got to see Jimi Hendrix’s play live, playing purple haze just like that first night in Derek’s loft where they clung to every word and moment to make them last a little bit longer. Both of the having grown together, healing each other with a love that for them was stronger than death. They were where they were meant to be. Stiles laughing that Derek was such a hippie, setting flowers in his hair; kissing the words off his lips whispering “excuse me while I kiss the sky.”