Sometimes you love. Sometimes you yearn. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you learn.
Stiles inhaled deeply, the sweet smells of summer blooming from the sea of wildflowers blowing in on the warm breeze. He watched as the shades of pinks and purples dipped below the fields of green, his eyes following the tips of daffodils swaying until they fell into the dark swirling blues and greys of the lake tucked in the middle of the preserve. There was a small waterfall spilling in from a creek that ran parallel to one of his favorite hiking trails. It was a popular spot for summer swimming and the grass was lined with blankets and baskets as people waded in the water to cool off from the mid afternoon heat. He rolled onto his stomach, tucking his head in the crook of his folded arms as he watched Scott pick up a giggling Kira before tossing her deeper into the water. He caught Liam’s surprised yelp as he was thrown backwards from Mason’s shoulders, Isaac pumping his arms in victory as Cora sat on top, smirking. Even Lydia had abandoned the towel in favor of sitting on the beach, toes in the water. Despite her cherry red sunglasses, Stiles knew she was giving Malia the look that dared the coyote to drag her into the water.
Stiles liked the feel of the sun against his back, even if it was too hot to still be wearing a shirt. He heard Scott call his name, but he lazily waved his best friend away, indicating he would join later. There was something akin to peace settling in his chest as he took in the smiling and carefree faces of his pack. They weren’t rewarded this many opportunities to just be and Stiles wanted to soak in as much of it as he could. He wanted to memorize the way the wind ruffled his hair, the smell of strawberries and sunscreen, the taste of frozen lemonade tart and sweet on his tongue. He wanted to remember the way the golden rays of sun shimmered against the water and the soft feel of grass between his toes. Most of all he never wanted to forget the smile of pure happiness and joy overcoming Derek’s face. It was all bunny teeth and Stiles thought he had never seen anything more beautiful in his life. He wished Derek would always smile like that.
Stiles wanted to keep all of these things because he knew they couldn’t last. As much as they wanted to pretend they were always one step from falling right over the edge into the abyss that was Beacon Hills. Despite the good days, the sun, the laughter, and the warmth, not a day went by where they weren’t reminded of the things they had lost. This was a ghost town afterall. It came when Erica’s favorite song played on the radio or when they flipped to the cooking channel and Boyd’s baking show was on. It was there when Stiles swore he heard Allison’s laugh echo in the halls of school catching the pained look in Scott’s eyes he knowing he heard it too. It clawed its way into his dreams, twisting them into nightmares that still forced him to count his fingers. It was invisibly stained on the walls of places where there had once been blood. Just like his hands. It was reflected in the dark shadows that hooded his eyes when he looked in the mirror and, for the briefest of moments, saw it . So Stiles selfishly took as much as he could in this moment so that when he closed his eyes against the darkness that would always come he had something to hold onto.
When his honey-whiskies inevitably found Derek again he exhaled sharply against his skin. It was unfair, really, how quickly Derek could take him apart with a small quip of his eyebrow and the softening of his grey-green eyes, like he had somehow learned to read between the lines and see Stiles for who he really was. The thought was absolutely terrifying. Stiles wasn’t really sure what Derek would see because sometimes he didn’t know who he was. But he knew Derek. God, did he know Derek Hale. And it shouldn’t hurt to look at him, but sometimes Stiles couldn’t stop that deep ache in his chest, his heart beating against his ribs until his entire body hummed with a longing he could never satisfy. There was never a good time, but Stiles felt like it was always the wrong time and they would be cursed to spin in each other’s orbits until the universe burned up. Until it took them with it.
He felt his cheeks flush angrily as some beautiful stranger entered Derek’s space, her eyes batting playfully, lips curled into a flirtatious smile. She was all tanned and stunning and here he was curled half way beneath the umbrella still dressed in his shirt and shorts because he was too self conscious to show the world what saving this town did to you. He knew he shouldn’t have been embarrassed, but one of the shortcomings of being human meant he didn’t heal like the rest of the pack and he was littered in unforgiving marks and scars. He could barely stand to look at it when he passed the bathroom mirror to shower. The years of lacrosse and hunting monsters made him physically fit, but they couldn’t hide the damage that had been done. He didn’t want people to stare. He didn’t want them to wonder what hell he had been through. He didn’t need to live through every pained memory, every claw that dug beneath his skin, or bullet that had passed through. He didn’t need them to see where his body had not been his own.
The first time he noticed the looks was in the locker room when he was changing for lacrosse. The freshly healed scar that crossed the entirety of his abdomen where Void had cut in. It was still red, a little angry, and hard to miss. Stiles hadn’t really thought much about it. He was still working through feeling comfortable in his own skin, remembering this body was his and his alone. It wasn’t until he pulled his undershirt over his head, throwing it into his locker did he notice some of the other boys staring. He followed their gaze, the sour tang of bile climbing his throat when he realized what had caught their attention. He quickly opted out of the public shower and went straight home. He narrowly avoided a full blown panic attack and he had to fight the urge to rip away the flesh that immortalized the monster within. It hadn’t been his first scar from the supernatural and it wouldn’t be his last. His skin had become a canvas, a visual guide to the fucked up things that kept him up at night.
So Stiles wore layers when given the chance and avoided showing too much in public. Even now when it was uncomfortably hot all he had to do was look across at his friends. Their smooth and naked skin enough to make him cling to his shirt a little tighter. When he couldn’t stand to hear that girl’s fake laughter anymore he abandoned his towel and joined the rest of the group in the water. He waded slowly, his skin pebbling with goosebumps the deeper he got. They were all happy to see him and not a single one of them questioned why he was still wearing his shirt. He floated on his back, the water rushing against his ears, drowning the sounds of life away. After a few moments he pulled back up, going still when he realized Derek was looking right at him. The girl had followed his gaze and Stiles could practically hear the scoff coming off her lips. His hands went to his shirt, fingers clenching the fabric to make sure it was still there because he suddenly felt like she could see right through it. Like she was trying to figure something out.
Maybe it was instinct or the sudden stench of panic, but Scott was standing protectively in front of Stiles, blocking the girl’s view. There was a smile on his face, kind and patient, with the smallest hint of mischief, “Bet I can throw you to the waterfall from here.”
Stiles rolled his eyes fondly as his hands unclenched, “Uh, yeah dude, werewolf strength.”
Scott was laughing causing Stiles to crack a grin. He took advantage of his best friend’s distraction and sent a giant wave of water in his direction. It wasn’t long until the entire pack had descended into a splash war. When Derek tried to rein them in he became their number one target, the beautiful girl on the shore long forgotten. Stiles found his arms wrapped around Derek’s neck, plastered against the wolf’s back laughing as Derek tried to, playfully, throw him off. When they were all exhausted the waters rippled gently until they were calm as everyone floated along the waves of blue. Derek’s hold on Stiles’ legs were gentle as he moved lazily around the waterfall. Stiles placed his cheek against the tattoo inked on Derek’s back, exhaling softly. He could feel his eyes growing heavy, deciding he could fall asleep just like this.
“You don’t have to worry,” Derek murmured, “you never did.”
Stiles was already halfway to unconsciousness, but he stirred slightly, his tongue slowly moving to lick his lips, “Hmm?”
“Nothing,” and Stiles could picture Derek’s bashful smile, chin dipping to his chest, “nothing at all.”
The words came out more as a primal growl, a demand that promised a devastating punishment if he was not given the right answer. He would have felt bad as he watched Isaac flinch, shrinking back from the harshness if his heart wasn’t hammering out of his chest. Like most of their goddamn plans this one hadn’t exactly gone the way it was supposed to and the entire pack was left scrambling. It was a storm of gunfire, a small band of hunters leftover from Monroe and Gerard’s army, that thought they could outsmart the McCall pack. So far they weren’t entirely wrong, but the tide was turning. It didn’t stop the sheer panic constricting Derek’s throat as he scanned the chaos for the one person he would have burned the world down for.
“Last time we saw him he was helping Liam and Kira in the warehouse.” Cora snapped, teeth bared at her brother, eyes flashing gold.
Derek tore his eyes from her, ears straining to hear the too fast heartbeat he’d come to recognize almost better than his own. When he closed his eyes the world faded into a slow hum until it was almost standing still. And he could taste it, a familiar bitter bite of butane that had been permanently branded along the lines of his throat. He could feel the strike of the match against the ground, his fingers curling against his palms, nails digging into flesh to ground him. To remind him the foundation he was standing on was concrete not wood. He could smell the sour stench of fear, the moment of understanding that it was all going to be over, before the warehouse blew to pieces. His own scream was drowned out in Lydia’s hideous wail. Derek wondered if this was some sort of sick fucking punishment. Retribution for all of his sins.
“ Stiles .” His voice was hoarse as he took a staggering step forward, “ Stiles! ”
“Holy fuck,” that beautifully familiar voice said as Stiles came stumbling through the smoke, hand holding his side, but he was grinning, “that was so close!”
Derek wanted to kill him. He wanted to swipe that infuriating smile right off the boy’s face because it made Derek’s chest ache terribly, but in the best way possible. Stiles was in his space now and Derek could see blood dripping from his fingers, his flannel torn and stained crimson from where he was deeply cut, but goddammit he was alive. He smelled like smoke and adrenaline and cinnamon and Derek suddenly pulled Stiles into his arms, burying his face in the crook of the boy’s neck. The synchronicity of their beating hearts was the only sound as he held on tightly. Stiles didn’t question or fight it. He let his weight fall against Derek, a quiet acceptance of safety.
When they had returned to the loft, the pack lingered for a few minutes, letting their wounds heal while they decompressed from the horrors of battle. Only Stiles required stitches, which Deaton had graciously stopped over to do for the evening. Derek watched as Stiles kept his shirt close to his chest, trying to keep as much of his torso covered as possible. His winning grin was now gone, replaced with the grimace of pain and a hint of something else. The cut was fairly deep, spanning from the middle of his ribs to his hip. Scott was right by his side, taking away the pain and acting as a barrier between Stiles and the rest of the pack. As they started slowly filing out of the loft Derek turned his attention to finding Stiles a clean shirt to wear. He needed to keep his hands moving, his mind busy as it wore down the urge to be on edge - to fight and protect. He counted his breaths.
In one two three .
Out one two three .
Soon it was just the two of them. Derek stood in the doorway, watching as Stiles crossed his arms, trying to hide as much skin as he could as he shifted uncomfortably on his feet. Derek cleared his throat before carefully walking over, holding out his shirt for Stiles to take.
“If you want to shower first, feel free.” He said as he threw his thumb in the direction of the bathroom.
“You know I have a shower at home,” Stiles hummed in amusement.
“Yeah,” Derek shrugged his shoulders, “well, if you wanted to stay…”
It shouldn’t have been that easy to say how he felt, but Derek was so fucking tired of running. He was almost out of time - out of chances - and he had lost so much already, he couldn’t lose this last, little piece too. Stiles didn’t say anything, just gave a small nod of his head, lips tugging up into a faint smile.
“Yes, shower, yes, um,” he bumped into the wall as he tried to navigate to the bathroom without taking his eyes off of Derek, his cheeks flushing pink and god did Derek want to chase the blush with his tongue, “right, shower.”
Derek watched him finally disappear into the bathroom, the door left slightly cracked open. He could hear Stiles open the bathroom cabinet, like he was facing the mirror towards the wall so he didn’t have to look at it. The shower started a few minutes later, but Derek was still standing in the hallway frowning. He looked down at his hands, the jagged cut he'd received a few hours prior already healed over, like it had never been there at all. He knew Stiles didn’t have that luxury. That he would have to live with the memories permanently carved in his skin. He sighed and turned away to clean up whatever mess the pack had left behind.
When he finally turned down for bed Stiles padded into the bedroom bleary eyed and yawning softly as he ran a hand through his wet hair. The wolf in Derek’s chest hummed happily seeing his old basketball shirt cling to the boy’s body and he had to drag his eyes away when Stiles stretched his arms over his head, revealing a slither of skin. Stiles climbed into his bed without invitation, but - where Stiles was concerned - he never really needed one. They laid on their sides facing each in the dark, just a breath a part. Derek could feel the heat leftover from the shower. The smell of his body wash mixed with the underlying hints of cinnamon and prescription medication. If he titled his head just right he could capture the moonlight reflecting in the honey-whiskey pools.
“I’m sorry,” Stiles said after a while, “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“I’m sorry about the scar,” was his response.
Stiles snorted a soft laugh. “What’s one more, right?”
Derek hesitated for a moment, his hand hovering in the space between them, but Stiles shifted closer and Derek allowed gravity to gently lay it on the warm skin. He could feel the tautness of the stitches beneath his fingers as they trailed up the line Derek knew would be painted there forever. He wished Stiles could see how Derek saw him. Brave and beautiful, moon kissed and soft lips, milk white skin dusted with a constellation of moles Derek wanted to map with his tongue.
“Don’t look at me like that.” Stiles whispered when Derek reached his ribs, thumb rubbing soothing circles over a star shaped burn mark he’d gotten a year ago.
“It’s the only way I know how.” Derek admitted.
“I believe I’m usually the one on the receiving end of the famous Hale murder scowl,” Stiles laughed, but he was closer.
“That’s different,” Derek grinned, “and well deserved most of the time.”
“Yeah,” Stiles mused, “most of the time.”
It happened quietly, their lips meeting, before it melted into desperate hunger. His tongue burned with the taste of cinnamon and Adderall as he licked into Stiles’ mouth, the boy’s hands tangling in Derek’s hair. He held onto Stiles tenderly, tracing the war path with trembling fingers. He wanted to memorize the way Stiles sighed against his skin, his breath hot and heavy as his teeth tugged on Derek’s lower lip. Derek was always better with actions more than words so he kissed Stiles harder, deeper, with everything he had left to give. And this was something he could do forever. Stiles’ smile pressed into the crook of his neck told him that Stiles could do the same.
“Your bark is worse than your bite.”
“ Stiles ,” Derek growled, eyes flashing dangerously as the sound of fist meeting bone cracked through the nearly empty warehouse.
“I like this one, Derek.” Kate sneered as she casually wiped her bloodied knuckles on Stiles’ shirt. “He’s got spirit.”
Derek bared his fangs, a deep snarl following before he was met with a strong surge of electricity, forcing him to stay human. He could see Stiles slumping forward, crimson streaked face falling to his chest for a moment, eyes shut in pain. Kate had done a number on him. Dislocated shoulder, a few broken ribs, a couple of claw marks against his legs, and her knuckles had become intimately familiar with the curves of his face. And all Derek could do was stand there and watch. She hadn’t laid a finger on him, but she didn’t need to in order for him to hurt.
“Your dad could hit harder.” Stiles mumbled, blood spilling over his lips.
Kate laughed, sharp and cruel, “Funny, I’ll give you that kid.”
She flicked her claws out before digging them deep into Stiles’ shoulder. Derek could see he was trying not to give Kate the satisfaction as he bit down on his lip to stop himself from screaming. It didn’t work as she twisted her wrist, leaving Stiles gasping for air when she finally pulled them out. Derek’s roar was cut off by the jolt of pain, the sting of wolfsbane laced in the bindings digging into his skin.
“No,” Kate purred as she grabbed Stiles’ chin, jerking him forward, “no, I don’t think so. I want you to stay awake for this.” Stiles swallowed hard, but there was no witty comeback or snarky reply as Kate held on to him. “Because I want Derek to realize what it means to love a human.”
“Stop,” Stiles whispered, “you don’t get to fucking do that.”
“Don’t I?” Kate asked, fingers sliding up to thread in his hair, yanking harshly to expose his neck. “Derek,” her eyes snapped to the wolf, “haven’t you learned that everything you touch, everything you love burns?”
“Don’t listen to her—” Stiles began, but another harsh yank made the rest of his sentence die in a pained whimper.
Derek’s jaw was clenched tightly in anger, but he couldn’t help thinking that she was right. Kate was always fucking right and she always had the upper hand. His selfish desire to be wanted, to be loved, only gave him a plot full of ash in return. If he truly cared about Stiles he would have let him go.
“I suppose it’s just a lesson that bears repeating,” she smirked as she leaned down, placing a gentle kiss against Stiles’ neck.
“I’m going to rip your fucking throat out.” Derek snarled.
It wasn’t until she pulled the bright red gas can around, Stiles’ desperate pleas for her to stop as she tipped the liquid around his feet did Derek finally lose it. The match had been in her hand, but Derek’s claws were already buried beneath her skin. It all happened so fast and when the spark hit the tank on the other side of the warehouse Derek had thrown himself against Stiles, taking the brunt of the explosion. The terrible sound of crunching metal and falling debris was thunderous, like a raging storm. Derek heard the pipe before he felt it pierce through his back on the right side, straight through his abdomen and into the ground. He knew his hands were placed on either side of Stiles, still shielding the boy from anything else that would cause him harm. He could feel Stiles shaking. Could smell his anxiety, his fear, his excruciating pain soaked by smoke and the revolting taste of butane.
“ Derek ,” Stiles’ voice was so small, a slight tremble to his words like he was trying hard not to cry.
“I’ve got you,” Derek murmured trying to focus, trying not to pass out from the blood loss and the wolfsbane, “don’t worry I’ve got you.”
“I know,” Stiles choked out, his fingers wrapping around Derek’s wrist, gripping them to an almost painful degree, “I know, but Derek… ”
Derek forced his eyes open, but he really wished he hadn’t. The pipe stuck in his body was impaled into Stiles, just above his left hip. The pool of dark red was steadily becoming bigger.
“No,” Derek said as he immediately began taking Stiles’ pain, “no, you’re going to be fine, I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”
It was too much, too much , but if Derek stopped he knew Stiles wouldn’t make it. So he gritted his teeth and took the pain because….because.... because...
“Kate was wrong,” Stiles murmured, eyes fluttering close, “you don’t burn everything you touch.”
But I do
Wasn’t this proof? No matter how hard he tried or how far he ran he would never - ever - escape who he really was.
“You don’t burn me,” Stiles said, a breath against Derek’s skin, his chest rising and falling too shallowly, “you don’t burn me.”
Derek wished that were true. “Hang on,” he pressed his lips to Stiles’ forehead for a moment, gathering all of his strength, his everything to get them out of this alive, “please, hang on.”
“Mmm not going anywhere,” Stiles slurred, a peek of amber gold watching Derek with a gentleness he felt like he didn’t deserve.
And as Derek pulled himself from the pipe, pulled Stiles to safety, cradling the dying human in his arms, he could still hear Kate in his head, when will you ever learn?
When the pack made an impromptu lake trip Stiles immediately passed. Even if most of his wounds had healed or he could leave the house without over exhausting himself or suffering from too much pain. He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t stand the thought of existing in the middle of broad daylight with everyone staring at the fresh scar against his skin. It didn’t matter if he wore a shirt or ten they would know. Somehow they would just know and their eyes would find him and he just couldn’t fucking breathe thinking about how another, small piece was ripped away from him.
Because someone wanted to punish Derek in the worst way possible. Because Derek hadn’t suffered enough.
Stiles carefully pulled his shirt up, tracing over the lines the stitches followed. He’d almost lost this battle. He could still feel the warm brush of lips against his forehead, the desperation in Derek’s voice, the way the wolf held him against his chest as he ran to save Stiles. This scar was just another reminder, another taunt by the universe that they could never truly be happy. That someone would always be waiting to rip them apart.
Derek was avoiding him.
He knew it was because Derek thought it was for the best, that he was doing Stiles some sort of favor by pushing him away. As if the supernatural would simply leave him alone because he was no longer tied to Derek Hale. It wasn’t fair . What was the point of surviving and fighting if they couldn’t have what they want? He knew what came with loving Derek. He knew that it would probably be a never ending war and that maybe they wouldn’t find peace, but they would have each other. And that was enough. He didn’t really want anyone else and if that meant he’d have an unfinished canvas of scars, he could learn to love those too.
He couldn’t do it until it was late at night. The moonlight reflected over the lake, casting a soft, pale glow over the field of grass and wildflowers. There was something about the hushed quiet of the night that made him feel brave. The only eyes watching him were the only ones he wanted to see him. All of him. Derek stood a few feet away, wringing his hands, as he looked at Stiles like he wasn’t sure what to do. Stiles knew he was trying to decide to run away or right into Stiles’ arms.
“Why are we here?” Derek finally asked.
“I wanted to go for a swim,” Stiles replied cheekily, grinning in Derek’s direction. He took it as a small victory that the wolf rolled his eyes in fond exasperation. Stiles cleared his throat as he said a little more seriously, “I don’t want to lose whatever this is between us.”
“Stiles—” Derek began with a pained expression.
“You’re not—” Stiles took a deep breath, cheeks flushing in anger, he tried again, “you’re just punishing yourself for things you can’t control.”
“I can make sure no one uses you against me,” Derek argued, taking a small step forward.
“Bit late for that,” Stiles huffed.
“Then you see why we can’t…” Derek trailed off, swallowing the words that would mean they were something. He closed his eyes, shook his head, “Why I can’t—” he bit down on his bottom lip, looking anywhere, but at Stiles, “why you can’t…”
“Bit late for that, too.” He whispered.
When Derek looked at him he was reminded of the moment they had shared after the swimming pool. When the word abomination had completed Derek’s sentence like it was second nature and the wolf had looked at him like he had never really seen Stiles before. Like he’d finally found someone, even if it was just for a moment, that didn’t think he was the monster. Stiles reached for the hem of his shirt, carefully pulling it over his head. It was terrifying, showing this part of himself without a barrier between them, but Derek had always known Stiles and found him beautiful anyway.
He took a step into the water, Derek’s eyes never leaving his face, “I love you and it’s as simple as that.”
“It’s never that easy.” Derek murmured, but he mirrored Stiles’ movements, abandoning his jacket and shirt on the shore.
“It could be.” Stiles said as he let Derek’s hands wrap around his waist, fingers grazing over the myriad of scars. “I love you and you could love me,” he licked his lips, “and we could be in this together forever or however long this goddamn town allows us to live and—”
He never finished his sentence cause Derek was kissing him and Stiles really didn’t mind. He wrapped his arms around Derek’s neck, allowing himself to be pulled against the molten skin, the wolf’s fingers pressed into the small of his back.
“I do,” Derek said as he pulled back for a moment, their lips a breath apart, foreheads leaning against each other, “love you.”
“Then you got me,” Stiles said as he pressed forward again, capturing Derek into a deep kiss as the reflected moonlight rippled around them. “You’ll always have me.”