Title: The Graylands
Fandom: Teen Wolf
Pairing(s), Character(s): Stiles Stilinski/Derek Hale, mentions of others, mentions of original characters
Summary: Alternate Universe - Dystopia
Stiles is finally back. Derek hasn't seen him for years. All he wants is to latch onto him and never let go, but he's aware there is a big chance they don't know each other anymore.
Still, finally, he's got him alone. They take a walk through the dirt roads that watched them grow up, cold and malnourished. How do you say that you loved, in a place that you hate so much?
This came to me while reading The Hunger Games. It's inspired by life in the Districts of Panem. Specifically, the Seam.
There is no need to have read the books to read this fic. It contains no spoilers for either The Hunger Games series or Teen Wolf (aside from names of S2 characters).
Disclaimer: I don't own them. I'm just playing. I'll give them back. Maybe. If and when I'm done.
Derek takes it all in, letting it flow back and shake his memories alive. He walks slowly, dimly aware of Stiles' footfalls by his side. He takes in the gray dust on the floor, the gray decrepit cabins, the gray sky and the gray dirt-covered surviving trees. He never remembered this place fondly. Now that he's back here, he realizes he hates the Graylands with all his soul.
It's disheartening to realize you hold such violent repulsion for what is, essentially, your home. From when he was born to his fifteenth birthday, he lived here. He grew up pale and hungry, dressing in hand-me-downs from his brothers and relatives. Sharing a bed with Laura and Hemrick, sharing a room with two more cousins and their little sister. Stiles was born in the house across the street, grew up there with Scott, Jackson and the twins. Isaac's eyes lost their sparkle when Erica caught the fever and died. Derek remembers it. It must have been a few weeks before he was shipped off to camp.
Everybody gets through it. You grow up, if you survive your first year, you have school and labor. If you survive that, they ship you off to camp, where they sort you and figure out what they will shape you into. In Derek, they saw wood, apparently. He's been taught how to make furniture. Dull, standard, functional furniture. He likes to crave, to give a soul to what he makes. Now that he's been back a couple of years, found steady work, an income, maybe he can try to find some time to make, to create on his own. He won't have to use leftover wood to make little figurines with no one to give them to. Maybe Stiles will want them for his kids.
Because out of Stiles, they made a teacher. It makes so much sense to Derek, now that he sees past the teenagers they were when they last saw each other. Stiles' always been so good with children. With Derek's younger relatives, with kids around them. With putting himself in the middle of his brothers when needed. He glances sideways, taking in Stiles' unruly mop of hair, so different in texture and in looks from Scott and Isaac's. He never forgot the unusual color of Stiles' eyes, now rimmed with glasses. He remembers those golden eyes shiny with tears Stiles was trying to contain as they said goodbye. Stiles' gaze catches his before skittering away nervously. Derek feels the overwhelming urge to grab onto him and feel him. Like before. When he didn't have to question his conduct with anyone.
He's learned pretty early after being shipped off that behavior was very different in the other Districts or at the Academy. In the Graylands, touching, huddling, sharing space and heat is so natural and common that it only became something he thought of when he found himself deprived of it during the seven years of training. He grew up snuggling close between Laura and Stiles to watch the fireflies, tugging Hemrick closer when he was cold or sad. He grew up holding hands and trading caresses and nudges and physical affection.
In most of these memories: Stiles. Because Stiles wasn't just the neighbor's kids. He wasn't just Jackson's little brother. When Laura and Hemrick had started hanging out with the oldest, they'd though him to be 'stuck with the kids'. But the twins were sufficient on their own, and Scott was very quiet. Most of his time 'babysitting' was mostly exploring the woods with Stiles, making sure they didn't lose Scott on a prank chase by Isaac or Erica. As they'd grown up, Derek had stopped babysitting and started just coming by. He remembers Stiles' fascination with a book he'd found – paper! – that described insects. They had spent hours reading about them, searching for the tiny creatures and following them as they went about their busy bug days. He remembers Stiles showing him how to cut a fork of small branches into a silhouette that looked human, effectively imprinting Derek with the feel of a blade, in his hand, scraping on wood. He wonders if Stiles knows Derek's most treasured skill and pass time came from him. They used to spend entire days fishing in order to bring something back home to eat and be celebrated like heroes. Everybody shared happily even though there was barely enough to truly feed more than three people.
Derek grew up hungry, and cold, and poor. But he was happy. And despite his hating the Graylands, it still holds his fondest memories. They just don't relate to a specific place. They relate to people.
Stiles has only been back a few days, the celebration of the new batch of homecomers are not over yet, but the spirits aren't in it. It's the same every year, and it's not like they can afford to host a real banquet. They'd need food for that. So two banquets a day for a week of festival? Not happening. It's mostly people congregating in the village square and passing around watered-down infusion of whatever plants they could spare.
Derek is glad that he finally had the opportunity to pull Stiles away from the gatherings, and has the feeling Stiles felt intense relief at that. However, now, he seems as tense as he ever saw him. Granted, Derek feels awkward at best, walking down memory lane with someone he hasn't seen in nearly ten years, but he is genuinely happy to get Stiles back. He knows that it will take some time getting things back to how they were, if they even click that easily ever again, but he's not skittish.
Stiles' never been skittish. Well, not around him anyway. Stiles' always been wary of strangers, and it tugs at Derek's insides the wrong way to have him behave like this around him. He feels something twist in his chest when he realizes they've been walking towards the woods all along. Without thinking, he offers out his hand, like he has thousands of times, and says before Stiles' lack of composure rubs off on him. “I haven't been in to check without you, but I'm sure the glass is still in our big oak tree.”
Stiles had found pieces of glass in the earth on several occasions, digging for insects and worms in a particular patch of the woods. Glass was so rare, they should have brought it back to the adults back then, but they were such tiny fragments that they never did. Over time they gathered five pieces. Two normal, two blues – one strong and one very light – and a pink one. All were more or less eroded into tiny rounded shapes. The five fragments easily fit in Derek's palm by the time he got sent away. He's never seen them since. He has dreamed about them while in the Academy, more since his return, but it hasn't felt right to come back without his fellow explorer.
When Stiles' hand slips tentatively in his, it's a complete shock. It's familiar, and warm and comforting and everything he's been missing. It's Stiles. At the same time, it's the first time he's being touched since he left the Graylands. A real touch. An intended one. One that doesn't mean 'move forward', or 'quicker' or 'out of my way'. This one means 'I'm here.'. Stiles' hand is so much bigger than it used to be, startlingly soft against his now calloused ones. And the touch itself wakes things in Derek that he knew were there, but never expected would be that strong. He knew he missed his siblings in his bed, and studying shoulder to shoulder with Hemrick, feet tangled with Stiles' and Laura's and Jackson's. He'd missed petting Stiles' hands in his hair and braiding Erica's. He knew, rationally, all of that. But when Stiles' skin touches his, it slams into him how ravenous he's been for it all this time.
He caves, unaware of what he's doing before he's feels Stiles' startled huff in his neck. There's a shiver running up his arm, hair standing up on the wake of their hands joining, but he let go, so fast, in favor of crushing Stiles to him. And it's good, so good, but painful too, because the last time they saw each other, when Derek was being torn away, they did exactly this. The memory of Stiles, rigid and silent in his arms burns. Derek doesn't know how long Stiles cried once he was taken away and the younger boy let his tears free, but he remembers waking up still crying the next day.
He hugs Stiles, unable to put some restrain on the strength with which he hangs on, even though he knows Stiles is afraid and this might spook him further. He can't help it, he's trying to erase all the time that's happened between those two hugs and get back to before. When he still felt human, and didn't wonder if his reactions or thoughts were programmed by years of training and 'education'.
Stiles hugs back, stepping closer to right his balance and turning his face in the crook of Derek's shoulder. Reassured, comforted, and fueled on by the reaction, Derek holds on tighter, wraps himself around Stiles more and finds the younger man gripping back desperately. He realizes he'd not the only one that's been starving for something when Stiles gives a noise that sounds like a sob wrenched out of him, so Derek tries to give as good as he gets. “God.” He huffs painfully, pressing his face to Stiles' hair. “I missed you so much.”
Stiles claws his shirt into fistfuls in response, whimpering quietly. Derek holds him, slowly taking up to rocking back and forth on his heels. He blinks owlishly when he feels salty drops of water reach his lips and realizes he's shed a few tears. He starts scratching Stiles' hair like he used to when he feels the younger man shuddering in his arms. He's very grateful to be here to be able to offer this to Stiles as he comes back. Leaving is horrible, living there is hard, but coming back is a crash landing, and Derek didn't have anyone to help him through it. Hemrick had come back a year earlier than he did, even quieter and reserved than before. Laura hadn't come back. She's military. As soon as she'd graduated, she'd deployed. There was Jackson in his class, but their paths hadn't crossed during the whole of the training so they hadn't really felt like they had something to relate to when they came back.
Jackson, a baker? Who would have thought? Maybe now the household would get to have bread every once in a while, on a good day. Maybe he had chosen that profession, posed to display those skills in order to return to the Graylands. Derek sure despises the place, but there was no way he wasn't returning. He would be lost and miserable anywhere else. Even amongst the brilliant lights of the large cities or the sunny orchards and fields of the agricultural places.
A portion of the people never made it back. Those who became doctors, engineers, financiers. All of those went to different worlds. Generally, there was a state imposed 50% return rate, to ensure a supply of fresh blood to the gene pools, but since the Graylands were so unappealing and offered so little qualified job opportunities, a great 70% of people got to come back. Meaning most of those who left did so on their own volition. Like Lydia. Like Derek had always expected Jackson to. He really pitied the 30% who came from other places. Although, from conversations he'd had with Boyd, a boy who had come from another place only a year prior to Stiles' return, there are far worse worlds to live in than the Graylands.
He's not sure how long they stand together, basking in each other, getting reacquainted with the feeling of someone, but when they eventually pull back, Stiles' arms leave his shoulders cold. Stiles' face is dry when he blinks up at Derek searchingly, but his eyelashes are sticking together tellingly. Derek doesn't know what to say, so he looks back and waits for Stiles to ask out loud. Instead, he slips further away, disentangling himself and stepping back. His eyes fall away from Derek and he smiles to himself a little, dreamy and distant. Then he wraps a hand around his elbow. “I missed you a lot, too, Derek,” he says, and Derek is satisfied that no matter how elusive Stiles has been, he says it flatly, like the fact it is, and not an admission of something that shouldn't be or should be a surprise to Derek. “I...” Stiles frowns, and Derek waits, unsettled. He doesn't know Stiles to be at a loss for words. They haven't seen each other for ages, but he's seen Stiles whisper and talk quietly with his family and a few friends. He's not as loud and happy and unhindered as he was before – which is sad, in Derek's opinion – but he's still as lively and animated and eloquent. “It's good to be back, and... I couldn't describe the kind of happy it makes me to have you so glad that I am. And I wanna be, back... But we're different. It won't be...” His brows furrow. Derek knows they're not kids anymore, and he knows Stiles knows him well enough to know he doesn’t need to say that. Explaining as much would be absurd. There must be something else. “Look, I know you must remember me like the younger kid who had a crush on you all that time ago and used to follow you everywhere, but... I'm... I can...” Derek's noise of protest and confusion rattles Stiles and he loses his train of thought, trailing off awkwardly.
Derek keeps staring. He understands Stiles words, but they don't go with the memories he has. They don't make sense. Stiles, the Stiles in front of him, looking so scared and beautiful, seems to think he was some kind of a bother to him. Derek's whole body revolts against the idea. Because Stiles, of all the things and moments and beings in this dreadful place, is the one that made him feel loved.
He's not being unfair to his family. Laura, Hemrick and the others were always nice companions. They were comfort during hardship and they stood up for one another. They cared for each other without having to say so. But it was limited. They haven't grown up in a loving family. It wasn't bad, they were never mistreated or verbally abused. But they were, emotionally, left raw and unattended. Derek had learned expressions of affections watching Scott and Stiles exchange conspiratory grins. Or Erica and Isaac with matching lights in their twin sets of eyes, rarely letting go of each other's hands. Or, not matter how much they bickered and wrestled, watching Jackson slip Scott some of his ration of food while the younger boy wasn't looking, or hauling him into a crushing embrace when he cried. He hadn't been taught to share, to care, to hand out love at home. Not at his home. He'd learned it watching them. He had learned how warm it felt to be in such an exchange when Stiles carded his fingers in his hair lazily as they fell asleep in the sunny meadow on Sunday afternoons ; or watching the grin tugging at Stiles lips when he pulled him closed and ticked him until he forgot the cold and then kept him wrapped inside his too big jacket. When Melissa grabbed him once into a crushing hold when Stiles and him brought fish home and told him he was staying for diner. Or when he'd carried Scott back from school with Stiles at his side when he'd gotten that high fever and his nose had started bleeding in class before he'd passed out, and once he'd set Scott down, Isaac and Erica had framed him, gripping his hands gratefully.
It wasn't Peter's fault that they hadn't learned that from him. They had been happy, once. Derek was lucky enough to remember his parents, not just vaguely. With age, he could interpret memories that remained clear in his head. He can recall the loving gestures, and tender looks. He remembers his dad's huge paw of a hand on his head, ruffling his hair, or his mother's lips on his forehead at night.
When Derek, Hemrick and Laura lost their parents, Peter lost his sister and his best friend. He took charge, bringing his own children into the fold and raising the whole family. Feeding them. Derek loves him and is infinitely grateful for that. He lays no blame on the man at all for retreating into an emotionless shell at the same time. He kept them alive. He couldn't have if he'd allowed himself to take the full blow of the grief. In this place, gray is the color of everything. They all did the best they could, and Derek knew he was lucky.
He loves his siblings and his siblings loves him. He knows that and so do they. But that's family, a bond that very few things can damage – not even hate, not even betrayal. Stiles is something else. He was there, all that time, and it wasn't instinct, it wasn't blood. He didn't have to be here because he was part of the fmily. Somehow it means more. Stiles is the one that chose Derek.
A difference that is striking to Derek in its insignificance is giving. Gifts are things he learned about in training and found out there was an etiquette involved. Gift is merely a word in the Graylands. A notion. Presents don't matter much in a world where someone you know dies of starvation or exposure every year. Wrapped, decorative, purposeless presents are things they tried to picture and found absurd growing up.
The act of giving, however, is something entirely different. He pieced it together in his bunk at camp during nights of sleepless lonely nights, aching for a warm body to huddle close to, yearning for good memories to lull him to sleep.
Derek remembers Stiles father coming to see him, personally, climbing up in the muggy little room emptied of his siblings during the day. He had the high fever and could do nothing but lay all day long, soaking his mattress in sweat. If he closes his eyes, he can still feel the candy the man had slipped into his shaky hands gently, explaining about blood sugar and recovery. That day, Derek had been so delirious with fever he couldn't even make out a face, but the man's soft voice still rings clear as a bell. He remembers the sweet taste on his tongue, and how unsettled he was that someone who didn't have the family duty to care for him was.
He remembers his present to Stiles on his thirteen's birthday. Stiles came to fetch him up in that same room, bright eyed and excited. Laura tried to kick him off the bed in annoyance so Derek hurried to follow him out before he completely woke up, Stiles' hand in his his only reassurance he was jogging the right way. Stiles brought him behind the old factory, now a ruin inhabited by the least fortunate and Derek shuddered at the idea of Stiles coming here on his own. Stiles' hand grew clammy and held on tighter, and soon he crouched down to pull apart several large leaves, revealing a whole litter of writhing kittens.
Stiles showed him his find with glee until he saw the look on Derek's face, his hesitation. He paled instantly. They were supposed to report the kittens. The Graylands didn't have much in terms of food reserves and tried to keep the competition of them at a minimum. The kittens would be harvested and fed until they could be sold and eaten. If it happened before the Shadows in the warehouse found them. Stiles knew it, but instantly started to beg Derek to help him save them. Derek found them adorable, granted, and didn't feel like reporting them either, but Stiles insisted they moved them away form the Shadows as well, as soon they would start whimpering louder. Derek had given in, naturally. If they had gotten caught, they would probably have been punished publicly for it. But Stiles' big eyes and sloppy kiss on his cheek had made Derek understand how much it meant to him. It was worth it. Especially on that day.
Their gifts weren't always grand gestures like that. Mostly, they weren't. Derek looking up from twenty minutes of cracking nuts for the entire household to find that Stiles was done kindling the fire ; finding a drawing of him in the ash, made with the tip of a twig, presenting him engrossed in his task and Stiles grinning awkwardly next to his artwork. A dug up piece of glass slipped in Stiles' pocket as they parted. A crown of interlaced green sprouts and grass he made for Stiles to give to the red head he kept blushing around. The braided leather bracelet Stiles had painstakingly made out of collected cut leftovers that, once he found it was too long for his wrist, instead of shortening it, he bound around Derek's wrist without a second thought. Him showing Stiles how to braid Erica's hair, under the fond gaze of her twin. Stiles explaining which bug to follow to find fresh berries in the woods, which plants to spot for spring water. Derek offering Stiles food, ignoring the growling of his own stomach in favor of watching the crinkle at the corner of Stiles' eyes when he sunk his teeth in the fresh fruit. – He'd gotten a beating for that, because stealing the harvest was a crime. Only because he had been young and a first offended had he avoided the public whipping. Stiles had begged him never to do it again. Derek hadn't. He still took food out of his own meals to give to him, though, when Stiles cheeks became too hollow and his smile too tired. – He remembers Stiles massaging away the kinks in his neck and slipping away with laughter as Derek tried to return the favor. In the Graylands gifts are free. Your acts of kindness aren't motivated by your will to trap someone into a dept.
How can he be feeling all of that, at once, all immediate in his memory, not distant and dulled by time but vibrant and rattling, and Stiles be so unaware of it all? Did he not just reach out for him first? Twice?
Stiles is red and embarrassed and uncomfortable and looks about ready to run away. Derek can't have that. His hands find Stiles' face, his arm. “Stiles, you're my...” It's less unusual for Derek to be at a loss for words, struggling and reaching for them with difficulty. He has to get this right. “You're my one fond memory of childhood.” Stiles blinks up at him and he can't resist pressing in to mold their lips together. “Hundreds of days...” He says, forehead pressed to Stiles' before he pulls away to catch his gaze again. “...moments, glass, kittens and firefiles. And sunsets and stealing nectarines and braids all rolled up into...” Stiles' eyes flutter downwards when he feels what Derek has lifted his sleeve to reveal, then placed Stiles' fingers on it. The knotted and braided bracelet of leather that they cut off his arm on his first day of camp and he sewed back together on his last. “... into you.”
Stiles blinks again, baffled, his hand coming up to touch Derek's face. Then an incredulous, shy smile breaks on his face like dawn. “Derek?”
Derek knows his eyes are shiny again, but he laughs. “Yes!” he says, grinning wider when Stiles giggles. “Yes. It's me. I'm here. I'm right here.” He can't do anything but smile in the face of so much glee in Stiles' golden eyes. “Always was.”
Stiles' kiss is so much different from his own. His was to prove a point, to stop a flight. Desperate and hurried and without much more meaning than “wait!” and “Stiles!”. This one is soft and pliant and giving. Generous. Hesitant. Loving. Everything Stiles is.
And Derek melts into him. This time when he drags Stiles back against his chest, he doesn't crush him. He molds the two of them together, careful and tender, and kisses back, meeting Stiles' pace, following his lead when he deepens, until Stiles makes a noise against him and pulls away, panting. He doesn't go far, simply resting his forehead against Derek's cheek.
Derek wraps his arms around Stiles' frame more securely, and looks up at the sky. Here in the woods, the Graylands don't have full reign. The dust can't compete. The sky is blue, the bark is brown, the leaves are vibrant greens and yellows. Insects, birds, life bring a myriad of colors, and he can finally take them in.
Some things never change. Not even after nine years. As always, Stiles is the one who lifts him up.
Two years since he's been back, and he's finally home.