He can still run; can still turn around and flee, because the boy’s scent reaches his nose long before the sound of his approaching heartbeat does. It doesn’t matter how good of a sneaker Stiles has become, how he barely makes a sound when walking through the woods. His scent is too strong and too familiar to Derek to go unnoticed. He has no clue how Stiles managed to find him, but at this point Derek has given up on trying to understand how Stiles can do all the things he does. He’ll never stop to surprise.
Derek can still run and escape this, but he doesn’t move.
"You didn’t think you’d be able to leave without saying goodbye, did you?"
Stiles’ smirk can be heard in his voice, and Derek can’t help but smile faintly to himself when hearing it. He smells of relief and victory, as if he hadn’t counted on catching up with the werewolf at all.
"You know," Derek sighs softly, turning around, "for a moment there I actually did."
Stiles scoffs, ducking his head as he comes to a stop. He shoves his hands down his pockets, shoulders tense. The moonlight makes his skin look even whiter than it really is, but when he lifts his head back up, his eyes are still glowing gold. There’s a smile tugging at his lips, just as it should be, but Derek can see the sadness behind it even without using his werewolf senses.
"You’re really just gonna leave without saying anything?" Stiles asks, voice flat, and Derek is not prepared for how it makes his heart sink in his chest.
"Wouldn’t be the first time," he says, planning on shrugging but his body doesn’t obey.
"We didn’t know each other back then," Stiles counters, steadily meeting Derek’s gaze.
Derek pauses. “No,” he then agrees. “We didn’t.”
It feels like such a long time ago, the day they first met in these same woods. Sometimes it feels like in a complete different life. He’s not the same man he was when first coming back here to look for Laura. He’d been vengeful, power-thirsty and so alone. Nothing that mattered to him back then mattered today. He’d returned to Beacon Hills to face his demons, a past he’d spent six years running from. It’s strange to think he grew up more during the last couple months than he ever did those years.
And the boy in front of him is not the same either. He grew up too. A little too fast, and deep down Derek thinks it’s probably his fault. Stiles’ hair was short and his features more childlike. He couldn’t stay still, which Derek now realize he must’ve learned somewhere along the way. It’s difficult to notice when something gradually change when you’re always watching. Derek always thought Stiles is just the same as he’s always been, but now he knows that he isn’t. He looks older, stronger and less fragile than when Derek first laid eyes on him.
Stiles opens and closes his mouth without any words coming out. His face is unreadable, and Derek isn’t sure what to call the feelings he’s broadcasting. They seem confused themselves, colliding with each other to the sound of Stiles’ heavily beating heart.
"You look like you’re about to say ‘I’ll miss you’," he points out, expecting and wanting Stiles to turn it into a joke. Laugh, snort – anything to make this less serious.
He doesn’t. He looks at Derek for a moment in silence.
"What if I am?" He eventually says, voice low.
"Don’t," Derek breathes.
Stiles smells of hurt for a split second before nodding.
Maybe he should’ve just run while he could. It would’ve been easier, to not have to say this, to look into Stiles’ eyes and know it might be the last time. But he never would forgive himself if he ran from Stiles. He doesn’t want to run from Stiles – ever, and the second it dawns to him, he feels something clutch at his insides, like a warning.
He’s never trusted a human like he trusts Stiles, and something tells him he never will. It should scare him, but it doesn’t. It makes him feel safe. Stiles would never be able to protect him like Scott or Deaton or Chris Argent can; would never be able to provide more in a fight than Derek’s own claws, but Derek doesn’t need anyone to protect his body. His body will heal within minutes. Other parts of him won’t.
"Say it," Stiles says, breaking the silence. There’s a hint of desperation in his tone.
Derek doesn’t want to say it; doesn’t want to make this more real. Part of him really wants to stay; wants to stay and make new memories in a place where he got so many bad ones, but he’s only brought pain and suffering to this town ever since he got back. Besides, it’s time to leave the territory for the new Alpha; a boy whom Derek finally got the right to call his brother.
When Derek remains quiet, Stiles steps closer. Derek remains where he is, feeling the air around him being infiltrated by Stiles’ presence and warmth. Their eyes stay locked on each other as the distance between them decreases. Derek feels himself frown weakly, remembering a time when Stiles was still afraid to him. The stench of fear used to reek off him every time Derek got into his personal space, but that was a long time ago. There’s no skip in Stiles’ heartbeat when approaching him now, and he smells anything but scared.
Then Derek manage to catch the only emotion that’s clear enough for him to name. Affection.
"Will you come back?"
Hope. It’s evident in every corner of Stiles’ voice, and Derek gets a lump in his throat. He doesn’t deserve it. He doesn’t deserve anything from Stiles. Not affection. Not to be missed. Not to be wanted. He doesn’t deserve Stiles.
And that’s true, because he’s certain he’ll return one day, but he can’t say when. Maybe in a few months. Maybe many years from now. Maybe when Stiles is all grown up and got kids which he tell stories about a boy who ran with wolves. Maybe they’ll even be told the big bad wolf’s name.
But it’s enough to make Stiles smile. Derek feels a warmth spread in his chest just by looking at him. Maybe he’s not breaking everything he touch.
"You better," Stiles sighs, shoulders sinking as if he can relax.
Derek allows the corner of his mouth to twitch, because he knows this is it, and he wants to remember Stiles just like this; with a smile on his face. He listens in on the sound of his pulse, trying to memorize it. He forbids himself to ever forget what it sounds like, even though he knows he never will.
"Goodbye, Stiles," he finally says, words forced off his tongue.
Then he turns, before the smile fades on Stiles’ face and the glow in his eyes dies, and runs.