It was the one day they always visited together. The two of them didn't speak about it beforehand; they didn't make any plans. They just met at the cemetery in the late afternoon and walked up the hill together. They cleaned off the stone, laid down the flowers Stiles picked up on the way to the cemetery and stood in silence while the emotions time had promised to dull ran just as sharp beneath their skin as the winter cold rolling down off the mountains. His dad played absently with the wedding band he still wore, or cleared his throat, or adjusted the sunglasses he wore on this cloudy, sunless day. Words, if spoken at all, were few and far between.
His dad always left first. He had to get to the station for an evening shift; a convenience Stiles knew was no coincidence but one he couldn't fault him for. This place held memories they often wished they could forget. Stiles watched the cruiser rumble down the drive, raising his hand in farewell when his father slowed at the gate, before he turned back to the grave in front of him.
He stood there with stories on his tongue, with seven months' worth of tales to tell her, but he wasn't quite sure where to start. It wasn't a story he could trace in a straight line from point A to point B. It didn't have an end. At least not yet.
There was the softest of whispers as someone else moved up beside him.
"Sourwolf," Stiles said by way of greeting, recognizing his visitor without looking. It still surprised him how quickly he had learned Derek's habits; how quickly he'd come to know Derek so well as to recognize him just by the way he moved.
Just like he didn't have to see Derek to know he rolled his eyes even as he stepped up next to him.
"What are you doing here?" Stiles asked.
Those were the first words either one had said to the other in days.
Derek had let the years of being alone get the best of him; Stiles had let those little in-betweens convince him that they were fooling themselves. They had walked away, but they always seemed to find their way back to each other.
"There are flowers at my family's crypt," Derek stated, ignoring Stiles' question as he normally did when Stiles asked something he'd rather avoid.
"It was on the way," Stiles replied with a shrug that made it seem like less of a thing than both of them knew it to be.
The two looked up at the sky, looked at the stone in front of them, looked anywhere but at each other. The past several months had been a journey fraught with challenges for the both of them. Derek was learning that just because he couldn't sense something didn't mean it wasn't there. Stiles was learning that sometimes those in-betweens were just little lies. They had good days and bad. They both were learning that was part of the process.
"What'd your dad say?"
Stiles had picked up the flowers on the way and he didn't miss the double take his dad did at the sight of a second bouquet of flowers in his arms. The bright yellow sunflowers were expected; the unassuming bunch of bluebells and ferns was not. But he didn't say anything as his son tucked them in the crook of one arm, leaving the sunflowers pressed against his chest as they walked silently up the hill. He didn't say anything as Stiles paused at the Hale crypt and laid the little blue flowers down to rest against the stone.
His father hadn't said anything about Derek's presence in the past months, and as much as Stiles would like to believe his father hadn't noticed how Derek always seemed to be leaving when he was pulling into the driveway he knew it was really just wishful thinking. His father wasn't the sheriff for nothing. That had been confirmed when Stiles had risen and they'd turned away to continue up the hill.
"He said, tell Derek dinner's at seven on Sundays so don't be late. And to use the front door from now on," Stiles said, imitating the no-nonsense tone his dad had used.
There was an amused huff from the werewolf at his side.
A lot of times when he came here Stiles found himself wondering what life would have been like if it wasn't like this. If his mom were alive, if his dad didn't drink himself into a good night's sleep. He wondered what it would be like if he were just a normal teenager.
The imagined lives, the make believe stories he concocted were always good. They always ended up with a happily ever after. They never ended here in this field of stones.
He had liked those day dreams; it had never been hard to admit that if he had three wishes he'd wish they were real.
Today was different. Today he was torn.
He scrubbed his face and crouched in the grass so he could reach out to trace her name engraved in stone. He felt a soft touch on the back of his neck, felt the curl of Derek's fingers against his skin. It wasn't threatening; it was oddly comforting.
"What is it, Stiles?" Derek asked.
It was hard to explain. Every way he thought to word it sounded wrong. How could he be happy about this path he was on? How could he appreciate his life as it was knowing that her death had led to this moment? It didn't feel right.
"Stiles?" Derek repeated, the question in his tone.
"Huh? No, it's nothing. I'm fine."
It was an automatic response; a practiced habit in Stiles' arsenal of deflections. But the thing about habits is that people learned them. Derek learned them.
"I'm—" Derek huffed out a breath like he was about to say something that pained him, "—calling bullshit."
That was a tactic Stiles had implemented for when Derek's stubbornness shined though, which was most of the time. It was something that Derek had grudgingly accepted, and never used. Until now.
"You what?" Stiles sputtered, looking up at him. He seemed to be having a hard time believing his ears.
Derek pursed his lips together before crouching beside Stiles. "This was you're idea; calling bullshit."
"Yeah, but that's because I didn't think you'd ever use it!" Stiles protested. He waited for Derek to argue, to make some sourwolf comment that might distract him from his original query. It didn't work.
Derek wasn't one to pry. He didn't push Stile with words; he pushed him through his actions, through his preference to pull away rather than give in. This was completely unlike Derek, and it threw Stiles off kilter.
There was no immediate retort, no automatic ramble to distract from the question. The rule was when someone called bullshit they got the truth, even if it was hard. Even if it hurt.
"I always come here thinking—wishing things were different. Wishing she was still alive. I wonder how different my life would be, and I always thought it'd be better…better than it ever could be now. My dad wouldn't drink himself to sleep, would smile more. I'd be a normal teenager." He laughs at that but there's no humor in it. Maybe normal isn't the right word. He, Stiles Stilinski, would never be normal. "I think of all these possibilities, all these scenarios, and none of them are like my life now."
He paused and looked at Derek, noticing the way his brows had scrunched together, the way he wouldn't look at Stiles. His eyes didn't leave Derek's face as he continued. "But this time… I'm… content."
It wasn't enough. Stiles knew it even before the long pause where Derek didn't raise his face to his. But it wasn't so simple. You don't go from bitter and broken to sparkly and whole in the blink of an eye, or even over the span of several months. Maybe you'd never be completely put back together again, but for once Stiles found he was willing to accept that.
He reached out to Derek, touched his jaw with trembling fingers, "I know content doesn't seem like much, it doesn't seem like anything, but it's huge Derek."
He told himself he wasn't sensitive enough to feel Derek's jaw unclench beneath his fingertips, even though he could have sworn otherwise. Relief was evident in the set of Derek's shoulders, in the way he leaned into Stiles' touch ever so slightly.
Yeah, content, and working on something better.
Stiles knew it wasn't going to be an easy road. That much had already been made painfully obvious. It was going to be long, winding and sometimes damn near unbearable. He was going to keep reading between the lines; Derek was going to have times when he blamed himself for all of the things he couldn't have helped; there were going to be time he didn't believe that love wasn't always going to end in heartache.
It was going to be a tough job, but someone had to do it. And he, as a someone, wanted that responsibility.
"We're broken people," Stiles said and Derek let out a strangled laugh and nodded his agreement.
He wasn't sure that broken really covered everything but splitting hairs had only gotten him into trouble before so for once he took his own advice and let it be.
"Thanks for coming." Stiles had mentioned this day in passing months ago but he hadn't expected Derek to remember, or show up. He thought it would be the same as it always was. A day that now passed without event, as if everything this day could possibly be had been bled from it the day he and his dad had lost her.
Derek tugged him to his feet; the hand that had rested on the back of his neck now drew Stiles in so he could kiss his mouth softly.
"Is that your way of saying 'you're welcome'?"
Derek rolled his eyes but the quirk of his mouth told Stiles it was. "It's my way of saying 'thank you for bringing flowers for my family'," he corrected and let Stiles kiss him even as the words left his mouth because they both knew it was more than both of those things combined.
They stood there in silence until Stiles tugged at the collar of Derek's leather jacket and suggested they go into town for some curly fries.
"I mean, really broken," Stiles quipped as they started back down the hill.
"We're back on that again?" Derek asked, but his normal gruffness had been replaced with something closer to fond exasperation.
Stiles trotted forward to tangle his fingers with Derek's. "When were we off it?" he asked and smiled when Derek shook his head ruefully.
"But you know what?" He continued before Derek could even think to get a word in edgewise. "For once I just don't freaking care."
And for once those in-betweens didn't try to convince him otherwise.