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Derek wakes up nervous. That happens, sometimes - panic left over from years on the run, from bad memories, from the nightmares that haunt his dreams - but this is a different kind of anxiety. It actually has a purpose today. As comfortable as he is, he can’t lie still, and he’s up and out of his bed in a blink. It’s probably a good thing, he thinks, as he warily checks the time. He’s got somewhere he needs to be.

He eyes his suit, hanging pressed in the corner.

Today, he thinks. Today, today, today.

 

-

 

It isn’t love at first sight when Derek meets Stiles.

Pretty far from it, actually. Stiles is, at best, an annoying little shit and at worst the weak link that could bring them all down, the human that could expose all of them because he won’t fucking stay out of their business and he’s the goddamn Sheriff’s kid. If he shows up mauled, the cops would be all over the forest, the news would be all over the papers, and the hunters (and not just Argent, this time) would be all over the town. The kid has no self-preservation instinct at all, always poking at proverbial bears with sticks. Hell, Derek’s threatened to rip Stiles’s throat out a time or two himself. The fact that he’s so frequently a thorn in Derek’s side is at constant war with the fact that while Derek could hide it pretty well to anyone that mattered he couldn’t make himself believe that he didn’t find the kid attractive as hell.

He smells good. That’s part of the problem. He smelled fresh, like grass after the rain and the beginning of summer. That alone he could handle, but it’s paired with pale skin, freckled with moles that Derek wants to trace and find patterns to, and a tall build that looks like it would fit perfectly curled around Derek’s bulk. Stiles is long and lean, hard planes of shoulders and points of elbows that have nothing in common with... Anyway. So yes, Derek thinks Stiles is kind of hot. And yes, he’s always inadvertently turning Derek on (with his fucking mouth, Jesus, it’s a magnet for pen caps and phallic shaped food and, in one memorable occasion that nearly had Derek creaming his boxers, Stiles’s own goddamn fingers) but that doesn’t have to mean anything. Derek will never be stupid enough to fall for a pretty face ever again, he’d learned that lesson too well the first time around.

Then Stiles saves Derek from the wolfsbane bullet. And holds him up, even as his own muscles were seizing, in the pool for two hours. And risks everything, even his own life, just to get Derek back after the Alpha pack captures him and traps him in a building that was burning to the fucking ground. Stiles does all that, and he does it for him. Him. He thinks Derek is worth saving. And he’s loyal, and kind, and so fucking brave that Derek can’t look at him and see her face. Not anymore. Stiles might be a wolf in sheep’s clothing but that’s fine, it’s a good thing, because that makes him part of Derek’s pack. There are times that Stiles’s eyes even glow beta-gold in the afternoon sunlight. He’s perfect for Derek in every way that counts. And Derek’s not stupid, he knows Stiles is interested, by the way his pupils dilate and the swift uptick of his heart whenever Derek walks into the room. Stiles could be his. All Derek would have to do is ask.

Except.

The age thing is a problem.

Stiles is sixteen. Sixteen, for fucks sake. It’s too young to give the kinds of things Derek wants to ask him for. And Derek won’t be her. He’s not going to take Stiles’s youth, his innocence, his chance for a normal high school experience. Stiles has given Derek enough without Derek taking that, too. Not to mention the fact that Derek’s life is a fucking trainwreck. He’s in no position to be good for anyone, not right now. He lives in a goddamn abandoned train depot, for fucks sake.

So he’ll get his shit together. In a few years, Stiles will be eighteen. If he still wants him, Derek will tell him all the things he’s feeling. Then, maybe, the timing will be right.

He can’t rebuild the Hale house. He doesn’t feel like he has the right. Even if he did, there are too many memories buried there, bad and good, and too many ghosts of his past to haunt him. There’s a lot of land in the preserve, though. A glade that would be perfect for the kind of house he wants, a place that he could call home. A place his pack could call home.

He hasn’t touched the insurance money up to this point because it felt too much like blood money, but it’s there, unused, and it’s stupid to pretend it’s not. He razes what’s left of his childhood home to the ground, hires a company to fill in the tunnels, and lets the grass grow, tall and wild, like his brothers and sisters used to be. A mile to the north, he begins construction on the place that will house the new Hale pack, the place where they’ll grow and be safe. He’s got big plans - walls of bulletproof glass that open quickly to the wilderness outside, a top of the line security system, a series of balconies with discreetly styled lattice work that could double as a fire escape in a pinch. If the contractors he’s working with think his plans are strange, they never say anything - if you’ve got enough money, people tend not to ask questions.

He watches the house take shape and he waits, waits for it to be complete, waits for Stiles to turn eighteen so he can say all the things he’s been waiting to whisper into his ear. Maybe they’ll live in the home he’s building together, if Stiles wants to.

A few more years. Derek will tell Stiles then.

_

 

He swipes an arm to clear the steam from the mirror in the bathroom. His hair doesn’t need much attention (despite whatever Stiles thinks, it’s not like he needs more than a dollop of pomade to push the front messily out of his eyes and to slick the rest down so it won’t stick up) so his eyes roam over his chin. He could shave. He probably should shave.

Instead, he pushes his hair into place and steps into his bedroom. His boxers, undershirt, and socks are already laid out - he was freaking out last night, okay, and even though Stiles says Derek wouldn’t know a plan if it bit him on the ass, when Derek gets nervous that’s what he does; he plans things ahead of time so he has one less thing to worry over - so he throws them on, glancing quickly at the clock as he dresses. He can’t be late.

His suit’s on a minute later. He’s knotting his tie around his neck, and he’s out the door and sliding behind the wheel of the Camaro not five minutes after that. The engine purrs to life below him and he glances up into the rearview mirror, running a hand over the scruff covered chin.

Stiles always liked his stubble, anyway.

_

 

It’s Stiles’s eighteenth birthday and Derek is terrified.

Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration. He’s not terrified. He is, however, nervous as all because he’s going to tell Stiles how he feels about him. Tonight. It’s happening tonight, finally, after two years of waiting. He’s unable to sit still, flitting from room to room in his house, checking in on the members of his pack to make sure that they’re not too out of control. Werewolves can’t get drunk but they can get high. Weed metabolizes differently in their system, something about the smoke weaving through their lungs and into their bloodstream as opposed to the way alcohol is processed by the liver.

Isaac is lying on the floor, head pillowed on Scott’s stomach as the two wax philosophical about... something. It sounds like it could be about Super Mario Brothers but Derek’s not going to take to the time to find out. Scott’s girlfriend - Molly, a little pixie of a thing, turned by the Alpha pack two years ago - sits with Scott’s feet in her lap as she laughs and rolls her eyes. Lydia and Boyd are curled around each other on the couch (and wasn’t that the surprise of the fucking century, Derek never saw that shit coming) as Boyd shotguns Danny and Lydia swirls the wine in her glass. Stiles is... around. The party is for him after all,but Derek finds him outside on the porch, alone.

“Hey,” he says as Derek plops next to him. Stiles’s eyes are glazed over, either with booze or weed or happiness, Derek can’t tell, and he grins back at him.

“It’s your party, man. Why aren’t you in there?”

Stiles smiles lazily, leaning back on the porch to rest on his elbows. “Needed some air. Had to breathe a second, you know? Just wanted to take it all in.”

He’s so fucking gorgeous like this, all sprawled out in Derek’s home, the place he built for a future with Stiles in mind, that it makes Derek’s breath catch in his throat. “Yeah,” he says, swallowing. “I know what you mean.” Now would be the perfect time to tell him. Stiles is still interested, still smells like want and lust whenever Derek’s near. All Derek would have to do is confess. Just open his mouth, say the words...

“So,” Stiles says, pulling Derek out of his thoughts. “I picked a college. Mills.”

The corners of Derek’s mouth pull up. “That’s not far,” he says carefully, not wanting to push.

“Less than an hour,” Stiles says happily. “I can come home whenever I want, see my dad, see the pack. See you.”

“Me?” he teases. “Thought you’d had enough of the ‘big bad wolf’.”

“Pffft. Not so big and bad anymore,” he says, flopping back to lie on the porch. “You’re just a big softy. Less growling and more purring lately.”

Derek lies next to him. Their shoulders push together, warm in contrast to the cool night air. “I’ve got less to worry about,” he says finally. “Less shit to stress me out, anymore.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” Stiles says, exhaling. “No Alpha pack. No hunters. No drama.”

Derek nods, silent, mulling over what to say next.

“I’m sure there will be enough drama next year though, for me, to make up for it,” Stiles says softly. “Living in a new place, meeting new people. Feels like starting over, ya know?”

The coils of nerves in Derek’s stomach unravel, replaced by something heavier and harder. Fuck. Of course. It’s not like it’s news - Stiles got into colleges all over the country, Derek knew this was coming, and him only being an hour away is better than he could have hoped for but still - Stiles is going away. He’s leaving. And up until this second, Derek didn’t realize what that meant. Stiles has a whole fucking new life ahead of him, with dorm rooms and college parties and all nighters fueled by red bull to get a paper in by morning. Two years ago, Derek wasn’t willing to take Stiles’s chance to be a normal kid away from him. Now Stiles has this, this chance to have this experience (Derek will never know what it’s like to sleep in a twin extra long next to a roommate, to sit in a lecture hall and take notes for hours, to be young, to be free) and... and Derek can’t take this from him, either.

The timing still isn’t right. Not now.

“Yeah,” Derek says finally. “It’ll be great, though. You’ll...” he clears his throat, willing his voice to sound less thick. “You’ll be great.”

“Thanks,” Stiles says, cheeks flushing a perfect pink.

They lie in the quiet for a moment but it doesn’t last (it never does, with Stiles). “What are you going to do now?” Stiles asks, rolling over and propping himself up on an elbow. “We’re all going to be at school, learning new things. What are you going to do when you don’t have to babysit?”

Derek snorts. Babysit is an all too accurate description. “I don’t know,” he says honestly. He doesn’t. The last two years have been driven by pack, pack, protect pack, make a home, home FOR pack, home for Stiles that he doesn’t know what to do now that it’s over.

“You know,” Stiles says carefully, “My dad said they’re looking for deputies down at the station. Strong dudes that can run fast and stop bad guys.”

“Stiles. I have a police record.”

Stiles waves his hand. “Semantics,” he says dismissively. “You were cleared. And you’ve got cop written all over you. Fuck, you can smell crime.”

Derek thought about it. It wouldn’t be a bad thing, to get a job. He needs to be around people, be a part of the community like his parents were. It didn’t mean hunters wouldn’t fuck with him - there’s always been the zealots like... well, like her, and there always will be - but he’d sure as hell look better when a new pack of assholes looking to make a name for themselves roll into town. You’d have to be pretty fucking stupid to mess with a cop.

“I do have the glare down,” he admits, letting his face fall into a smirk.

Stiles’s face lights up like the sun, like it always does when Derek takes one of Stiles’s suggestions to heart. “Officer scruffywolf,” he teases, running a finger over Derek’s chin.

Derek huffs out a short bark of laughter. “Only you, Stiles,” he says, catching Stiles’s wrist and letting his arm fall over his chest.

“You know you love me,” Stiles says, cuddling up to Derek’s side. Derek says a silent prayer of thanks that Stiles isn’t a werewolf, that he can’t hear the way his heart is pounding. He waits until Stiles’s breath has slowed and his heart rate signals that he’s dozing before carding a hand through Stiles’s hair. “Yeah,” Derek whispers. “Yeah, I do.”

Stiles will go away, go to school, go do all the things Derek never had a chance to do, and Derek will continue to try to grow the fuck up. Get a real job. Maybe impress the Sheriff, make him happy so that when Stiles and Derek do get to be together (when the timing is finally right between them) he’ll be happy about it.

A year or two more. Derek will tell him then.

_

 

The traffic thickens as he gets closer to Mills. It’s a good day for a graduation. It’s sunny, warm, bright - it fucking feels like a beginning, like starting fresh. It feels full of promise. Derek thinks it’s a good sign.

He pulls in the lot and wades through the crowds to the amphitheater. It’s nice that they can do this outside, Derek thinks. God bless California weather. He picks up a program and finds a seat near the back and focuses on a heartbeat he’d know anywhere.

Thud thud thud thud... there it is, beating rabbit fast with excitement. He lets the sound guide him (he’d hear it if there were drums, if there were fucking cannons, he’d be able to find that heartbeat no matter what) and finally zeroes in on Stiles, waving happily to the Sheriff from a row near the front.

The speeches are boring - they always are - but it’s worth it to see the look on Stiles’s face as he crosses the stage, shaking the dean’s hand enthusiastically and waving his diploma triumphantly over his head. Derek’s heart swells, and he’s so fucking proud of him, of this person that he loves, this kid that’s found a way to worm under the walls he’d built so strong, so tall, so that no one would ever get in again. Only Stiles could do that. He’s tenacious. He’s perfect.

And now that the graduation ceremony is over, Derek’s going to tell him exactly that.

_

 

Stiles comes home late from his second year of college. He’s normally back in May, but he stuck around to take a workshop - coding, or some shit - and doesn’t blow back into town until the middle of June, on what happens to be Laura’s birthday.

And... it’s not good.

Derek’s normally so glad to see him and so happy and he’d been waiting long, so fucking long to tell him that he’s no longer a probationary hire, he’s a full deputy now (he’d made the Sheriff promise to let Derek tell Stiles himself) and to tell him what he’d been trying to get out for two years.

He wants to tell Stiles he loves him. Because it is love, not lust, not attraction, not infatuation. It’s those things too, but it’s not only his heart thumping every time Stiles grins - not anymore. It’s long hours talking on Skype when Stiles has to get a paper done and he knows that Derek’s awake because he’s always the only one awake when Stiles is, because Derek doesn’t sleep so well with Stiles being so far away. It’s the way that Stiles sends stupid, silly gifts that he buys because he sees them and can’t help but think of Derek.

It’s love because... it just is. Because the only person Derek will ever want to spend the rest of his life with is Stiles.

But Stiles comes back and it’s the wrong day and it’s the wrong time and Derek lashes out, angry, wanting to hurt anyone, especially someone like Stiles who’s so damn alive and vital while Laura is gone, dead.

Later, he knows how badly he fucked up and he apologizes. Stiles understands. He always does. He’s great like that. He knows Derek in ways that nobody else does. And even though Derek had wanted to tell him now that he was a real boy and had finally grown up, he realizes exactly how much growing he still has to do to be right for Stiles. To be good for him.

Stiles makes him want to be a better man.

It’s not hard to find a werewolf, if you know what you’re looking for. Derek searches Yelp for therapists in California, narrowing it down to cities that he knows have established packs. He reads reviews until he finds a psychiatrist an hour south whom a reviewer theorizes is a Wiccan because she’s never available on the full moon. All it takes is a quick drive to her office to sniff her out. She’s not thrilled to have another wolf in her territory but once he explains that he needs help, and he needs it to be from someone he doesn’t have to lie to, someone that understands him, she agrees.

She makes him talk. And talk. And talk.

And he’s not better, not even close, but he’s trying. He’s getting there. In a couple of years, maybe, he’ll have gotten his head on straight and he’ll be in a place where he can fucking breathe on birthdays and holidays and that fucking day that he doesn’t mention, doesn’t think about if he doesn’t have to. Maybe then he’ll be ready for Stiles, because now that he’s actually talking to somebody he realizes he’s not ready to be with him. Not by a longshot.

When Stiles graduates, they'll talk, and he'll tell him. He’ll be ready then.

_

 

Derek makes his way around the amphitheater, tracking the beat of Stiles’s heart when the crowds part and then... there he is. Fifty yards in front of him. Derek could be there in a minute, less than, if he could just make his feet move, put one in front of the other.

The black graduation gown is stretched across Stiles’s broad shoulders. He’s filled out even more since his last visit it seems - or maybe it’s just the absence of the stress of his classes that has him standing taller, prouder. His smile is stretched wide across his face.

Melissa and Scott have their arms wrapped around him in a tight embrace as Sheriff Stilinski fiddles with a digital camera, trying to capture the moment forever. The quartet laugh and Stiles’s face is so open, so happy, so full of promise that suddenly, Derek knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’s not going to do what he came here to do. He’s not going to tell him how much he loves him, how much he means to him, and how much he wants to be them together, forever. He’s not going to say it. And now, he knows that he never will.

Because Stiles... Stiles is good.

Stiles is so good.

He's smart, he's loyal, he's kind, he's brave. He's got ingenuity and drive for days, he's always pushing himself to be better, to be more. To be amazing, for himself and his pack. Derek had hoped he'd have the balls to tell him now, today, that he already is amazing, that he's always been amazing in Derek's eyes. Looking at Stiles in his cap and gown, laughing and talking and so goddamn happy that Derek aches with it, he knows he won't. He can't.

Stiles is whole in all the ways that Derek is broken, right in all the ways Derek is wrong. And no matter how many homes or places in the world Derek tries to make for himself or nuggets of pain his therapist will manage to drag out of him, he'll never be enough.

He'll never be good like Stiles is. Derek burns everything he touches, and he won't do that to Stiles. Not to him. Stiles doesn't deserve that.

Derek knows, now, that it will never be right. He and Stiles simply aren't meant to be. He's tried, god knows he's tried, but deep down Derek's always known that it was never going to happen, no matter how much he tried to convince himself otherwise. The biggest lies are always the lies we tell ourselves.

He won't do it anymore. This ends. It ends now.

He allows himself a moment of mourning, though. One minute to look at Stiles and grieve for everything that might have been between them, if only she hadn't gotten there first, if Derek wouldn't have let her. If Derek had always been the kind of person he so desperately wants to be for Stiles. They could have been happy. Derek would have been by Stiles’s side from the moment Stiles stepped off the stage, Laura clambering behind Stiles’s dad to take the picture, urging him to stand next to his son and embracing he and Derek both. They would have gone back to the house, his parents’ house, and there would have been food and laughter and happiness and so much fucking love that Derek’s chest tightens just from imagining it.

In another life, maybe. Not this one.

He gathers himself up, pulls at the strings holding him together, breathes.

“Congratulations, Stiles,” Derek says quietly, knowing Stiles will never hear it, and disappears back into the crowd.