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Where You Still Remember Dreaming

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A flurry of texts from Erica come through just as Stiles is about to board the plane, and the flight attendant gives him a dirty look as he gets his phone out to check them.

Change of plans. Isaac’s picking you up at the airport because it’s Felicia’s ballet recital at 3

And before you complain

We all know you and Isaac love each other really, so don’t even front

Also

It could have been worse...

It could have been Jackson

Jackson. Stiles scrunches his face up at the thought. Derek took him in a couple of years after Stiles left, and, well, he’s okay. Stiles is fond of him and all, but his particular brand of brash assholeishness clashes with Stiles’ own. Not that he and Stiles have ever met in person, but that hasn’t stopped them bickering over Skype, or Whatsapp, or the telephone, loudly and repeatedly.

Stiles’ phone beeps again.

It’s a picture of Erica’s daughter, Felicia, three years old, grin a mile wide, springy, black curls wild as she strikes a pretty pose in a bright pink tutu.

She’s gorgeous, Stiles texts back, and then, quickly, before the flight attendant can lecture him about his phone, Tell Isaac I’ll see him there

 

-


When Stiles first leaves Beacon Hills he follows a rambling, meandering trail which makes no sense to anyone but himself.

He heads north at first, stops in Seattle, stays for a while, visits the Space Needle because he feels like he ought to, and the Pinball Museum because he actually wants to. Then a couple weeks later, on a whim, he heads east, eventually stumbles across Glacier park in Montana, and spends a week there hiking, marvelling at the spectacular views. In Wyoming he hits the rodeo and sends Derek multiple pictures of men wearing chaps, hinting that it would be a good look on him. Derek responds with a series of unimpressed emojis, but Stiles isn’t worried, there’s plenty of time to try and persuade him.

He continues on, his progress scattershot at best; he stops wherever catches his eye, makes friends, even picks up work here and there. Erica starts a pack Whatsapp group and he spends far too much time bickering with Isaac, joking with Erica, and having long debates with Boyd about obscure TV shows. Derek’s in the chat too, but doesn’t contribute as much to the discussion as the others. Texts are not really his medium, and he tends to be quiet in groups anyway, even groups of friends, preferring to silently observe, appreciate things, and then discuss them at length later, one on one. And Stiles has plenty of one on one. Derek Skypes him most nights, and they lie in bed talking. More often than not, once the conversation peters out they fall asleep without ending the call, lulled to sleep by the sound of each other’s steady breathing.

It takes a while, but Stiles eventually finds his way to Michigan, spends two months staying with the McCalls in Grand Haven. Now a big, well established pack, it’s led by Scott’s grandson, Conor, a strapping guy of about forty-five, who bears a striking resemblance to his grandfather. Stiles stays two months straight, runs with them on the full moons, swims in the great lake, and visits Scott’s grave in the local churchyard more than once to pay his respects and feel close to his old friend. Towards the end of his time there, Conor floats the idea that Stiles stay permanently, but he politely declines. After all, he has a pack already, and besides, there’s an itch under his skin, a restless energy that he just can’t seem to tame, it’s urging him onwards. Adventure is out there, life is waiting to be lived, and he has a promise to keep.

So he says his goodbyes.

Heads south.

Makes his way to Texas. Then Louisiana. Strolls through the French Quarter in New Orleans, and listens to the easy strains of jazz music that floats toward him on the evening breeze. He likes it there, the heat, the relaxed atmosphere that belies the passion simmering just below the surface. He stays a while, but even the Big Easy can’t hold him forever, and so he heads east again, this time to Miami, drives through the Everglades, discovers great Cuban food, checks out the beaches.

But it’s still there.  

Longing. Yearning. A feeling that if he can just make it over the next horizon there’ll be something else. Something better.

It gnaws at his chest whenever he allows himself space to think, and won’t leave him be.  

So he drives up the east coast. Maryland. Boston. Finally reaching New York. He’s there almost six months. Gets a part time job in a bar and makes friends with a couple of weres, Jeff and Amir, and a not-evil succubus called Saeko. The three of them share an apartment in Brooklyn together, and are happy to let Stiles stay for a while as long as he pitches in with the rent. The first time he Skypes Derek and describes his new living situation, Derek says, “It sounds like the set up for an unlikely sitcom.”

“Like a paranormal Three’s Company? Or a supernatural Friends?” Stiles asks. “In that case can I be Chandler? I feel like I’m definitely a Chandler.”

“Well, you are hopeless, awkward and desperate for love, soooo--”

“Heeey--” Stiles says, and knocks his fists together twice in response a la Ross.

Derek grins. “So,” he says, thoughtfully, as Stiles reaches for the bottle of gatorade on his bedside table and takes a sip. “If you’re Chandler, does that make me Monica?”

Immediately Stiles’ snorts Gatorade out of his nose and all over the screen of his laptop. “Oh god,” he says, laughing and wiping furiously at the screen. “Sorry. Ugh. Shit. Monica?” He considers for a moment. “I mean, I don’t think you’re a direct fit for any of them really, but maybe more Phoebe?”

Derek raises an eyebrow. “Phoebe?”

“What? Phoebe’s awesome! She’s badass! She’s had a tough life. She’s lived on the streets. She has this terrible tragic past that she overcomes because she’s a survivor. I mean a pimp spit in her mouth, Derek! In her mouth!”

“Uh-huh--”

“Also, she’s fiercely loyal to those she loves. Accepting of people. Funny. Plus” Stiles continues, warming to his theme, “more than any other character she takes her friends and turns them into her family. Tell me that isn’t you.”

Derek’s quiet for a long moment. “I don’t know. She’s a little bit-- weird.”

“Yeah, exactly,” Stiles says, with a smirk. “See? You have loads in common.”

Derek shakes his head half exasperated, half amused. “You’re so annoying. Too annoying to be Chandler. I changed my mind. You’re Janice.”

“Oh. My. God!” Stiles screeches, horrified. “Shut. Up!”

“Oh. My. God! Shut. Up!” Derek responds, mimicking him perfectly. “Yeah, definitely Janice.”

“Yeah, well. Janice was a queen,” Stiles decides, sniffing haughtily. “And, FYI, I happen to look amazing in a leopard print pump.”

Time passes, life in New York is good, great even, he gets to see Central Park in the fall. Enjoys his job. Makes new friends, sees the sights, attends Mets games to his heart’s content. All in all Stiles is the happiest he’s been in a long time, or he should be, but soon the ache in chest is back again. And before long he finds himself staring off into the distance, unsettled and incomplete, wishing he was somewhere else.

It’s because he’s limiting himself he decides morosely one night, after too much alcohol and too little sleep. He needs to get out of the U.S., really stretch his wings, broaden his horizons. Getting out his laptop he checks the available flights, hoping that inspiration will strike, and books plane tickets on a whim.

Then he calls Derek, and lets him know what’s happening.

“What about Roscoe?” Derek asks.

“I don’t know.” Stiles gnaws at his lip. “Long term parking, maybe?”

“How long though?” Derek says skeptically.

In the end, it turns out Amir is planning to visit family in San Francisco the following month. He agrees to drive Roscoe back across country for Stiles and leave him with Derek. So it all kind of works out.

 

-

 

“Woah, Dad, woah, woah. What are you doing?”

Stiles’ dad shifts a little, struggling to get out of the rickety armchair, his joints groan under the strain of acute arthritis; the old blanket that covers him falls to the floor.

“Stay put,” Stiles says firmly. “What is it you need? I can get it for you.”

“Gotta go,” the Sheriff mumbles, blinking at him. “Gotta ride out to the ravine and check for the Dunbar kid. He’s lost, and there’s a storm a’brewin’.”

The Dunbar kid. Liam. Hmmm. That was a good while back, but when exactly? Stiles cocks his head to one side and racks his brain, trying to remember, even as he says, “No. No. You don’t need to go. It’s fine. There’s no problem. Sit down.”

The Sheriff’s brow wrinkles as he scowls up at Stiles. “What would you know, eh? You been snoopin’ through my stuff again? I’m the Sheriff here--” He taps a knobbly finger against his own chest belligerently. “--Not you.”

Stiles urges him to sit back in the armchair and picks the thick, scratchy blanket up off the floor, tucking it around his dad gently, making sure he’s warm. Winter this year has been particularly cruel.

“No snooping,” he promises, “I wouldn’t do that.”

His father snorts in disbelief, which may or may not be fair. Stiles never did have the best record on that score when his dad was a lawman, but that’s by the by.

Once again, his dad makes to get up, still agitated, and Stiles tries a different tack. “Jordan’s ridden out there already,” he says soothingly. “He’s gonna find Liam. You need to stay here, okay? Just stay here and rest.”

His dad sniffs, eyes flitting suspiciously over Stiles, but some of the tension seems to seep out of his shoulders. “Jordan, eh?”

“Yep. You like Jordan. He’s a good deputy.”

“He’s a little green.” Jordan is fifty years old now, and Sheriff of a small township east of Alameda. He hasn’t been anywhere near Beacon Hills in fifteen years, but Stiles doesn’t point that out.

“He’s a good guy, and a capable deputy,” Stiles says firmly. His dad grunts, but slumps back in the chair like a recalcitrant teenager, eyes fixed accusatively on Stiles.

With a sigh, Stiles turns, and, grabs the poker. He stirs the charred embers in the grate, bringing life back into them. Then, reaching out, he grabs a log from the pile and tosses it on. After a moment the fire starts to spit and crackle.

It’s difficult when his dad’s mind wanders like this. When it first started a couple of years back, Stiles used to try and talk him round. Used to try and explain where they were. When they were. Now, for the most part, he just goes along with whatever time or place his dad thinks it is. It’s less upsetting for them both that way.

He isn’t sure if that’s the right thing to do though, or just the easiest, and, not for the first time, he wishes there were someone he could ask. But his mom passed four years ago, and Beacon Hills isn’t the town it used to be. It’s changing. Slowly but inexorably, without the Nemeton’s influence to keep them here, the supernatural community is dispersing.  Apart from his dad, Stiles only has a handful of people left now who truly know him, and half the time his dad doesn’t remember what day of the week it is, let alone who his son is, and what he’s capable of.

“I was out at the Martin homestead today,” Stiles says, his thoughts settling on the banshee family who live just out of town and seem resolutely determined not to go anywhere. “Pam and George are talkin’ about taking over the general store and makin’ something of it. Could be pretty cool.”

The flames in the grate sputter and snap as the new log starts to turn white and cracked. His dad doesn’t reply, and after a moment Stiles looks around to check on him. The old sheriff is slumped in his chair, chin resting on his chest, wrinkled face lax in sleep, breathing soft and even. At peace, for now, at least.

With a sigh, Stiles turns away to tend the fire.

 

-

 

Bali, Stiles visits the Uluwatu Temple which sits high on the cliff tops, looking out over the ocean. As he approaches he can hear monkeys whooping and chattering in the nearby forest and later, as he walks around the grounds, one of them darts down from a tree and steals his sunglasses from his bag and runs away. Stiles gives chase, and finally finds it sitting on an ancient stone trough, methodically pulling them apart. As soon as it spots him, it runs again, scales a high wall, and glares down at him chittering angrily, the ruins of Stiles’ sunglasses crushed in it’s tiny fist. He takes a photo and posts it to the pack Whatsapp group, just to amuse them all.

Later he watches a kecak dance as the sun sinks low on the horizon, sky bleeding golden-red, and listens to the waves crash against the shoreline below.

It’s a beautiful place.

And he tries to settle into the moment. To appreciate it. Really feel it. But something won’t sit right in his chest.

He must have read Derek’s message in Peter Pan a thousand times now. Live fully. Embrace the adventure. It’s permission to do the things he’s spent years dreaming of, and he’s trying. Trying so damn hard.

He should feel happy.

He should feel at peace.

There are moments when he does, but he can’t seem to make it part of himself, can’t seem to hold onto the feeling, and own it.

Wherever he is, he’s always finds himself thinking about the next place. Gaze always fixed on the horizon.

Later, in his hotel room, he Skypes Derek, overcome with the urge to see his face and hear his voice. He feels like he needs it to ground him.

They talk about his day, and Derek tells him little bits about the pack, and then says, “By the way. I’ve been thinking about what we discussed the other week.”

“Yeah?” Stiles scrunches his face in confusion, and then says, “Oh! You mean the chaps I found on Amazon? Because I maintain that you would look--”

“No,” Derek says hurriedly. “The thing about the money.”

“Ah.” Stiles knows it’s something that plays on Derek’s mind a lot. There was a huge insurance payout after the fire killed his family. Millions of dollars just sitting there that he’d never thought to touch, never wanted to, until he actually had a pack to spend it on. “Okay,” Stiles says, “have you come to any conclusions?”

“I’ve been thinking maybe I could build a house,” Derek bursts out all in a rush, “For the pack. Not that I don’t love living in your apartment, I do, but it’s kinda small and the pack only seems to be getting bigger, and now that Erica’s pregnant, well--”

“That’s an amazing idea,” Stiles says immediately and with complete honesty. “I love it. You should totally do that.”

“Good. Uh.” Derek ducks his head, not meeting Stiles’ eyes. “So, okay. With that in mind, there’s some land for sale just out of town. I went to take a look today with Boyd. It was--I liked it, so did he. It backs on to the preserve, so it’ll be good for full moons, but it isn’t too far from town. I’m gonna take the whole pack out there to see it, but I was thinking of sending you photographs, so you can tell me what you think? No pressure. I know you’re not-- there’s no pressure-- but I--uh-- I want it to be somewhere you would want to--” he swallows, “I’d like you to be... involved in the process, if you want.”

“Yeah. No. Of course. I want. Definitely. Sure,” says Stiles, a lump forming in his throat. “I would love to. Send me all the pics. Seriously. I would be--” he grasps around for the right word, “--honored, to do that.”

“Yeah?” Derek asks, finally lifting his head to meet Stiles’ eyes, with a small, hopeful smile.

“Totally. One hundred percent.”

“Okay.”

“Okay,” Stiles says, taking a deep breath. “God, that’s huge.” He laughs a little hysterically. “I guess we’re gonna build a house. Or, y’know, you are--”

“We are,” Derek says immediately. “I’m not asking you to come back until you’re ready. That’s not what this is. But I want you to be as involved as you can be. At every stage. Because it’ll be our house. I mean. If you want. To live with me. Eventually.”

Stiles smiles then, he can’t help it. “I don’t know when I’m coming back,” he says, “But I promise I will. And when I do, there’s nowhere else I’m gonna want to be.”

Derek’s answering grin is like the sun, and Stiles knows he’s grinning like a loon. Can feel it stretching his face, his heart feels like it’s gonna burst in his chest.  

“Okay,” he says, waving his hand. “Enough of this sappy shit. The wifi in this hotel is pretty good. So I’m thinking I dim the lights, put some music on, maybe we get freaky deaky over the in-ter-net, whaddya think?” He waggles his eyebrows suggestively.

“I think maybe you guys oughta move this conversation to Derek’s bedroom,” Isaac says, hoving into view over Derek’s left shoulder. “Jesus. Why is it that the ace guy always has to be in the room for this stuff? Yesterday I walked in on Boyd and Erica mid--”

“Oh stop complaining,” Stiles says cutting him off. “Don’t you have your own apartment?”

“Yeah,” Isaac says, “But Derek and I were half way through a Die Hard marathon that you interrupted.”

Derek ducks his head, scrubs one hand over his face, ears scarlet.

Stiles feels a little bad about that, but it isn’t as though Derek told him at any point. “Call me later,” he says to Derek pointedly. “Once you’re alone . And tell your puppy that he better not be eating those gross lime tortilla chips in our apartment.”

“You’re not even here, you’ve not been here in two years. Why would you care?” Isaac cuts in. “Also, lime is the best flavor.” He disappears off screen out of Stiles view, but reappears quickly carrying a huge bag of the offending chips, and pointedly stuffs a handful in his mouth, chewing them obnoxiously.

“I’m gonna go,” Derek says, shaking his head, and probably regretting several life choices. “I love you, and I will call you later.”

“I love you too,” Stiles says.

“Gross,” says Isaac, and Stiles flips him off.

 

-

 

Stiles doesn’t get to check his phone again until a layover in Ohio. He has three hours to spare, which is not enough time to do anything of note, but more than enough time for him to freak himself out.

There’s a small box in the breast pocket of his jacket, it’s sitting just over his heart, and he feels the significance of that acutely. The thought makes his palms sweat and he wipes them off on his jeans nervously.

To take his mind off things, he gets his phone out and scrolls through the messages. There’s nothing more from Erica since her picture of Felicia earlier. But Kira, a sweetnatured kitsune, with a slightly macabre streak, who joined the pack around a year ago, has just sent him a picture of Derek. He’s sitting on the porch swing of the pack house, with Felicia snuggled next to him, as he reads her a storybook. Neither of them are looking at the camera, they only have eyes for each other, and the smile on Derek’s face is breathtaking. It makes Stiles’ heart stutter in his chest. Kira’s captioned the photo, Look at all the cute!!

What are you trying to do to me?? Stiles texts back.

Ten minutes later his phone beeps again.

Just think. Soon you’ll be able to see stuff like this every day. IN PERSON. FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE.

I can’t wait, he replies, with total honesty.

 

-

 

Stiles is sitting on a bench in downtown Beacon Hills, eating his lunch and deeply engrossed in the latest copy of Amazing Stories magazine which is open on his knees in front of him.

“Hey,” says a voice, and Stiles’ head snaps up to see who’s talking. It’s a guy, young, early twenties maybe with ill-fitting clothes, tousled black hair, a crooked jaw and an easy smile. “Hey! Hi!” the guys says again, and gestures at the seat next to Stiles. “Is anyone sitting here?”

“Uh, no,” Stiles says, and shifts along to make more room. He takes another bite of his sandwich and turns back to his magazine, but the guy apparently has other plans.

“So, my name’s Scott. Scott McCall.” The guy sticks his hand out. “I’m new in town.”

“Yeah?” Wistfully, Stiles closes his magazine, puts the remains of his sandwich down, and shakes the offered hand. Through a mouthful of half-chewed bread and ham he manages to say, “Stiles. Stilinski. I’ve--uh-- lived here forever. Literally.”

Scott grins at that, bright. Beaming. “Lucky you! It seems like a great town. Big.”

Stiles snorts derisively.

“Hey, I’m from Cherry Creek, in White Pine County, Nevada, population fifty. Compared to that, this place is huge.” He nods at the magazine next to Stiles. “Say, I loved the Man from the Atom, in the first issue, did you read it?”

“Uh,” Stiles almost chokes on what’s left of his food, spluttering helplessly until Scott bangs him on the back a couple times, in a helpful kind of way. “Yeah? Yeah I read it. It was great. So, you’re a fan of this--” he gestures vaguely at the magazine.

“Yup,” Scott says. “You sound surprised?”

“I--I guess I’ve just never met anyone in this godforsaken town who likes that sorta thing before.”

“You keep talkin’ that way! It isn’t that bad here, is it?” Scott asks, and then laughs heartily when Stiles scrunches up his face in response.

They spend the next half hour discussing the relative merits of Jules Verne and HG Wells. Then agree to meet up later that evening for a drink, which is where Stiles discovers that Scott has replaced Amos Smith as the local veterinarian, and that he has a room at a guest house downtown, but is looking for an apartment. As it turns out, Stiles has a spare room, and just like that, he finds he has a roommate.

For the next ten years or so the town of Beacon Hills goes through an unexpected period of affluence, even bucking the national trend when the Great Depression hits. Businesses open. The town expands, new buildings are built, houses and apartment blocks, schools and offices. People flood in from all over to take advantage of it, and life is good.

Years later, local historians still recall it as the town’s heyday. An inexplicable golden age of prosperity and industry.

For his part, when Stiles looks back on that time, he realizes it was the land responding to the fact that he was happy. He’d never had a friend like Scott before, close as any brother, a comrade, co-conspirator, and the nearest thing to family he’d known since his dad died.



-

 

“Fuck. We’re good at that.” Stiles rests his head on Derek’s chest, and listens to the steady thump of his heart. He’s drowsy, lost in a haze of post coital bliss, as one finger traces idle swirls in Derek’s chest hair.

“We really are.” Derek plants a sweaty kiss to his forehead, and lets his head flop back against the pillow.

Overhead the ceiling fan whirs, pushing warm air around the room. Apparently it’s the hottest April Hawaii has seen in a while. Unseasonably warm. Freakish, even. The local news stations won’t stop talking about it.

A myna bird chatters argumentatively from a tree near their window, and Stiles can hear people screeching with laughter and splashing in the pool outside. It sounds like fun, and if they ever peel themselves out of bed, they really ought to check it out. After all, they basically haven’t stirred from this room since they arrived at the hotel two days ago, except to eat.

“Enjoying your birthday?” Derek murmurs, his arm tightening around Stiles’ waist, pulling him closer, like he senses Stiles’ thoughts and disapproves.

“Every birthday with you is a good one,” Stiles says,  because it’s true, and because falling in love has apparently turned him into a giant sap.

Every year since Stiles left Beacon Hills, Derek has joined him for a week around his birthday, wherever he happens to be in the world. Last year it was Tokyo. The year before that, Vienna. Before that, Salvador. It’s both the best, and the worst thing in the universe, because a week together always leaves them both wanting more. Stiles always wishes Derek could stay longer, could stay forever, but he knows that that can’t be. Derek has responsibilities, a young pack to take care of, a Nemeton to protect, so they try and make good use of the time they have.

In practice, that means Derek never gets to see much of any place they’re staying, because they pretty much hole up in a nice hotel room and refuse to let each other go until it’s time for him to leave. Stiles might feel guilty sometimes that Derek’s spends so much money, but never actually gets to see the sights. It never seems to bother Derek, though. Case in point, he’s pushing up against Stiles now, nostrils flaring, like Stiles’ scent is the most addictive thing in the world, his steadily thickening cock pressing suggestively against Stiles’ hip, clearly ready for a second round.

Stiles huffs out an amused sigh. “Not all of us have werewolf stamina, y’know. I have this little thing called a refractory period? I know you’ve heard of it.”

“That’s okay,” Derek mumbles, flipping Stiles so he’s on his back, and kissing him soundly. “I’ll top this time.”

The next morning he does manage to prise Derek out of bed. They shower, change, eat breakfast and spend a couple of hours hand in hand, poking around the swap meet in Aloha Stadium parking lot. Stiles buys Derek a fabulous pink and green shirt, which he insists Derek wear immediately. Derek spends his time picking out gifts for the pack. A necklace for Erica, a baseball cap for Boyd, board shorts for Isaac, and hand carved windchimes for baby Felicia.

“I don’t know what to get Jackson,” he murmurs, frowning.

“I know it’s difficult, but personality transplants don’t exist, and even if they did, you couldn’t buy him one at a flea market,” Stiles says.

“He isn’t so bad,” Derek says, nudging him with a reproachful elbow. “You’ll see. He’s better in person. Sometimes he’s almost sweet.”

On their return, they say hello to the maid as she passes them outside their room and she winks at them. “Are you enjoying your honeymoon?”

“It’s amazing,” Stiles says immediately, not bothering to correct her assumption, and not missing the nervous glance Derek sends his way. “Hawaii is beautiful.”

When she leaves he reaches for Derek’s hand, and presses a kiss to it, gently, reverently. “I love you,” he says just to reassure him. “And I may not be ready to come back to Beacon Hills just yet, but I don’t give a shit if people think we’re married, okay? Because you’re it for me, and in my heart we totally are.”

Derek gives him this look. One that Stiles can read like a book. He’s deeply pleased, but trying to pretend like he isn’t because he’s a contrary little shit when the mood takes him. “Isaac’s always telling me we’re gross,” he says, unlocking the door to their room, and Stiles follows him as he steps inside. “I guess I finally see what he means.”

“Don’t pretend you don’t love it when I get all sappy, Hale,” Stiles says, letting the door bang shut behind them. “I know you’re game.”

“Is that right?”

“Damn straight. You live for that shit. You’re a sap. A hopeless romantic. Now--” Stiles makes a big show of rolling his shoulders and cracking his neck, like he’s preparing for something big. “Here’s the plan, big guy. I’m gonna order wine. You’re gonna put on that playlist you like. The one with all the Adele. And then--” he shimmies his hips suggestively, “--prepare to wooed. We are going to slow bone.”

“You hate that playlist.”

“Yeah, but as I already pointed out, I love you, and love is all about compromise,” Stiles says, affecting the air of someone making a tremendous sacrifice for the greater good.

“Uh-huh,” Derek says, tone dry as a bone, but he’s already stripping off his shirt, which Stiles definitely appreciates. “That's what long term relationships are all about, compromise and slow boning.”

“You see!” Stiles kicks off his shorts and tries to pull his shirt over his head without unbuttoning it, but it gets stuck. “You totally get it. We are on the same wavelength. That’s why we’re so perfect for each other.”

“Perfect?”

“Yup,” Stiles says, finally tugging his head free from his shirt. He sends it sailing across the room with a flourish. “Absolutely perfect.” He glances at Derek, who is already gloriously naked. “Awww, fuck it,” he says, and pounces.

They never do get to the wine, or listen to the Adele-- turns out neither of them mind very much.

 

-

 

Isaac meets him at Sacramento airport, he’s carrying a cardboard sign that reads, “TINKERBELL,” in large glittery letters, and has a sly smirk on his face.

Stiles hasn’t stepped foot in California in almost six years. Hasn’t seen Isaac in the flesh in just as long, but the sight of him, tall and lean, tanned and happy, with that goddamn annoying smug smile on his face and the stupid sign his hand, has Stiles grinning so wide he thinks his face might split. He drops his bags to the floor and launches himself at Isaac, giving him the biggest, longest bear hug he can muster, and Isaac returns it fiercely.

“I missed you, you fuck,” Stiles says, feeling suddenly, inexplicably, emotional.

“Yeah. Missed you too, dumbass. We all have.” They don’t seem to be able to let each other go. Stiles finds himself crying a few manly tears, and judging from the way Isaac is sniffing he probably is too.

“Okay, you have to let go of me,” Stiles says, eventually, voice thick as he wriggles away. “You bitten wolves never know your own strength. I’m getting crushed here.” He steps back, swipes surreptitiously at his eyes and sees Isaac do the same.

“You need help with your bags?” Isaac asks, a moment later, all casual.

“Uh,” Stiles sniffs. “I guess you can take the big one. Put those werewolf muscles to good use.”

He does, and they walk through the airport, shoulders bumping together companionably.

“He doesn’t know I’m coming, right?” Stiles asks, as they pick their way through the parking lot to Isaac’s car, a shiny silver sedan.

“Nah,” Isaac says, easily, grinning at him. “He hasn’t got a clue.”

 

-

 

More than five years after he first leaves Beacon Hills Stiles finds himself in London, and discovers he likes it, so he stays. He finds work shepherding tourists around the Victoria and Albert museum, and shares a miniscule, but astonishingly expensive, apartment in Soho with a guy named Malik, who busks on the London Underground during the day, and works at a local Comedy Club in the evening. It’s a pretty sweet set up, and Stiles likes it well enough.

One day, he’s walking through one of London’s ubiquitous narrow, winding, side streets on his lunch break when he passes a jewellery store and something catches his eye. He stops in his tracks. Goes back. Stares. Presses himself right up against the window, fingers splayed wide, breath misting the glass. It’s there. Sitting right there, in a little square red velvet box. Shiny. Perfect. It’s calling to him.

His heart feels like it’s gonna beat out of his chest.

Twenty minutes later he’s still pacing up and down outside the store, arguing with himself, before finally ducking inside and handing over more money than he can reasonably afford.

As he leaves, he places the small square box inside his the breast pocket of his shirt and heads back to work. He feels the weight of it there for the rest of the day, like a promise.

Later he sits in the bedroom of his tiny apartment and gets it out, stares down at it, allows his mind to wander. He can see himself asking. He can see Derek wearing it. He can see them , what they are, what they could be . He misses Derek so much in that moment that he almost books a plane ticket right then and there. He imagines driving down to meet Derek, surprising him at his house. Their house. A house Stiles has seen pictures of many times. Seen, but never actually visited. He thinks of walking through that door, of asking the question, asking and then staying…

Staying.

In Beacon Hills.

His breath catches in his throat, and he snaps the box shut, places it safely in his sock drawer, and tries not to think about it.

He doesn’t succeed.

He finds he can’t settle long in London after that. His mind won’t let go of the decision that’s before him. He doesn’t know how to reconcile the different things he wants anymore. Doesn’t know what to do. Needs to talk it through with someone and try and make sense of it.

So he does the most sensible thing he can think of and books another plane ticket.

He’s calling in the big guns.

 

-

 

In some ways, the moments when his dad is lucid are worse than the times when he’s confused. There’s a look he gets, pained, regretful; he doesn’t want Stiles to see him like this. Doesn’t want to be a burden. Doesn’t want to leave him to a long, lonely future, with no one around to look out for him.

In those moments of mental clarity, Stiles can see the heartache etched in the lines of his face, in his rheumy eyes, in the way his hands tremble, and his breath catches. “I’m sorry, son,” he says, in those moments, voice scraping out of his chest. “I’m so sorry.”

And Stiles holds him, shushes him like a small child and tells him, “It’s okay. It’s all gonna be okay.” And tries to believe it for both of them. Tries not to cry.

“You’re a decent cook,” his dad says one evening, slurping soup from the spoon Stiles holds for him. “I never could cook worth a damn, and neither could your ma, so I don’t know where you got it from.”

It’s one of those rare, good days. His dad is lucid, but not maudlin. There have even been moments where it feels just like it used to.

“She tried to cook?” Stiles never saw his mom much outside of his various forays into the preserve. He never saw her eat, let alone cook.

“Heh.” His dad snorts. “Tried is the operative word. I had stomach cramps for three days after she made me this rabbit stew one time. Not that I told her that, mind you.”

He grins at Stiles, who smiles back at him, and offers him another spoonful of soup. There’s quiet between them for a moment.

“Do you ever--” Stiles begins, then cuts himself off.

“What?”

“Do you ever regret how things worked out?” Stiles asks. “I mean, I know you loved her and I know you love me, so that isn’t what I’m asking. I guess I mean-- all those years spent apart and only able to meet up every now and then. It can’t have been easy.” There were plenty of women who were interested in his dad as Stiles was growing up. Many who would happily have stepped up to be the wife of the Sheriff, but his dad had never seemed interested.

With a sigh, his dad says, “Look, your mom and I didn’t have a traditional relationship, we never got married, we never even lived together, and it wasn’t always easy, but we made good use of the time we did get, and that’s all you can do in this life. We both had other things we wanted. Both had lives to live, dreams to follow. Responsibilities. It didn’t stop us being there for each other when it counted. Didn’t stop us from loving each other and you. So, to answer your question,  no, I don’t have regrets.”

“But--”

“Son, sometimes love is just like the storybooks tell you it will be, it’s a guy and a gal. It’s two kids and a house with a white picket fence. It’s growing old together and never being apart. Truth is though, a lot of times it isn’t that simple. People find love in all kinds of different ways, in different places, and it’s awkward and it’s messy, and it’s sacrifice and separation.”

“Is it worth it?”

“I’m not going to lie to you. It’s hard work. But at its best it’s a thousand little ordinary everyday moments that add up to something beautiful, something more than the sum of their parts. And it doesn’t always make sense to those on the outside looking in, but that doesn’t make it any less special, or any less real when you find it. You play the hand you’re dealt, son, and you make it work for you. One day you’ll fall in love. Then you’ll see.”

“I don’t know. I mean,” Stiles shrugs. “Given my--uh-- situation, I figure that may not be on the cards for me.” It’s the first time he’s ever said that out loud, though he’s thought it often enough.

At that, his dad leans forward and grips Stiles’ arm with surprising strength. He stares him straight in the eye, deadly serious. “You’re wrong. It’s gonna happen for you one day, I promise.”

“You can’t--”

“Your mom told me once she had a feelin’ on that score, not long after you destroyed the Nemeton, and I believe her. It’s gonna happen for you. So just hold on. You’ll see.” He seems to be getting agitated again. His fingernails are digging into Stiles’ arm, pinching the skin tight.

“Okay, Dad,” Stiles says, soothingly. “Okay.”

Stiles helps his dad to bed that night, then lies in his own room, listening to the wind blow outside. It makes a branch from the alder tree near his window tap against his glass like it’s trying to get in. He thinks about his dad and mom. About love. Tries to imagine what it would be like to feel that way about someone, or even more unlikely, to engender that feeling in someone else.

It’s a seductive dream, he decides, but dreams are for people who get to go to sleep. Wake up. Go about their daily lives. Grow old.

Dreams are for people who have choices and a future.

Dreams are for people who get to live.

Stiles doesn’t have the luxury of dreams.

 

-

 

When Stiles thinks about Beacon Hills, he remembers an air of tired decay that seemed to pervade everything from the crumbling apartment buildings to the old store fronts with their peeling paint bleached by the sun. While he lived here, it seemed to him that the town sucked the life from people, it was a place too small for big dreams, and a sense of quiet resignation always seemed to overtake people who stayed too long. They became as faded and apathetic as the place they lived in, pining for past glory, but without the will or wherefore to make it happen.

So, when Isaac drives him through town, he finds himself momentarily speechless. The streets are clean and bustling with people, the store fronts are vibrant. Where a disused parking lot once languished, a new cinema now stands proudly. There are modern apartment blocks springing up all over. The bakery has a new awning. Even Palmers, the dive bar that smelled of piss and stale beer, has been repainted, it’s brickwork repointed. It looks, if not respectable, than at least like a place you would actually have fun time on a night out.

Isaac is watching him out of the corner of his eye, a small smile on his face. “Pretty different, huh?” he says.

“Yeah,” Stiles says, feeling a little lost. “Yeah. Really different.”

“We reckon about ten percent of the town are supernatural now,” Isaac says, casually. “But the number’s growing all the time. Apparently the Nemeton attracts them, We have a were jaguar, and a couple of fairies, a druid, hell, a dryad moved to town a year ago and opened a nursery. How perfect is that?”

“You’re shitting me?”

“Nope.”

“Why didn’t anyone say anything?”

He looks thoughtful. “It didn’t happen all at once, y’know. Just slowly. So we didn’t realize how much had changed at first, and then when we did, well, you needed to not be here, and we all understood that, so I don’t know-- I don’t know how we could have told you without it feeling like we were pressuring you, y’know?”

“I get that,” Stiles says, still staring out of the window. They’re passing through the suburbs now. Rows of neat houses with tidy front yards, boxy SUV’s and kids riding their bikes on the sidewalk. “You could have told me,” he decides.

Isaac shrugs. And Stiles understands. What’s done is done. You can’t change the past.

They turn left and start down a road leading out of town. There are fewer houses, and the ones there are, are spaced further apart.

“Is he gonna be there when we arrive?” Stiles says, and Isaac doesn’t need to ask who he’s talking about.

“We should make it there before him. He insisted on working even though it’s his birthday. You know what he’s like. It kinda suited us, anyway, because it made organizing the party so much easier. The pack has spent the whole day decorating, apart from Boyd and Erica who took an hour to attend a ballet recital.” He grins. “It looks amazing, though. You’ll see.

“I can’t believe he’s turning thirty,” Stiles says, after a beat. “He’s getting so old .”

“Aren’t you, like, a hundred and sixty something,” Isaac says, glancing at him.

“Pfff, that’s nothing. Besides Derek’s an older soul than I will ever be. I may have more years on paper, but I made sure never to grow up.”

“And people say you aren’t self aware,” Isaac says, smirking at him.

Stiles flips him off on principal.

 

-

 

When Stiles wakes, it’s to sunlight streaming through a gap in the curtains. The window is cracked open to allow the cool sea breeze in; outside he can hear water lapping against the deck. A seagull calls from somewhere overhead, it’s cry loud and piercing. He blinks at the ceiling a long moment, then slowly gets out of bed, hikes his pajama pants up, and then crosses the room and opens the curtains fully, taking in the view. That done, with a sigh, he lopes to the dresser and peers at himself in the mirror. Something catches his eye, and he leans closer, poking speculatively at his chin.

It’s there.

It’s definitely there.

And he’s prepared to swear blind that it wasn’t yesterday.

He grins at his own reflection.

“Look,” he calls, as he makes his way out of the bedroom, bare feet slapping against the cool marble tiles of the gleaming white hallway. He hip checks an end table as he skids round the corner into the living room, and narrowly avoids knocking over a lavish floral arrangement. Everything here is impossibly chic, stylish-- just like it’s owner. It’s a beach house, Jim, but not as we know it.

“Look,” he says again, making his way through the wide airy living room and out of it’s sliding glass doors onto the deck. The sun is warm on his skin. Salt sea air fills his lungs. The ocean looks particularly beautiful today, azure waves  are crested white. Above him, gulls turn lazy circles in the sky.

On the deck before him, stretched out on a sunlounger and draped in an elegant kaftan, her strawberry blonde hair shot through with silver and swept up in an elegant knot on her head, there sits Lydia Martin. She peers at him over the top of her oversized sunglasses.

“Look at what?”

“Look,” Stiles says again, he shuffles forward and leans down over her, jabbing a finger at his chin. “Gray. I have a gray hair. An actual fucking gray hair. See? See! All these years and it’s finally happened! This is exciting shit.”

She takes a deep breath in through her nose and turns back to the book she has open in her lap. “Two things,” she says sweetly. “First, I’ve told you before, you need to shave, you can’t grow facial hair.”

“But--” Stiles gestures wildly at exhibit A: his beard.

“Two,” she says, not allowing him to interrupt. “Nobody likes a show off.”

“I’m not--”

She glares at him then, and okay, maybe he does like to tease her. Not that she isn’t growing old gracefully. At nearly seventy, she looks as poised and elegant as she ever did. But, well, she is a little sore about Stiles’ perpetual youthfulness.

Not that that is an issue anymore, apparently. He strokes his scraggly beard, fingers rubbing idly along his chin where the lone gray hair has set up camp. Derek has a beard now, too. It’s not the wild mountain man one that he arrived in Beacon Hills with nearly six years ago. It looks thick and lush, and well maintained. He looks like a hipster. Or a sexy lumberjack who moonlights as an underwear model. At least that’s what Stiles tells him when they Skype.

“Oh god,” Lydia says judgmentally, turning a page of her book over. “You’re thinking about him again, aren’t you? Your face has gone all-- gooey.”

“He has a beard,” Stiles says, not even trying to deny it. “It’s starting to get a little gray just here.” He gestures with his fingers either side of his chin. “Looks really sexy and distinguished. I think--”

“Shave.” Lydia says, firmly. “Derek can pull off a beard. I’ve seen the pictures. You on the other hand, look like you have mange.”

“Heeey,” Stiles says, voice ringing with genuine hurt and betrayal. “Sometimes the mean things you say are just really-- mean .”

She arches an eyebrow, unimpressed. “Does Derek like your beard?”

“He said it looked nice.”

“Uh-huh.” She smirks at him.

“Stop it.”

“I’m not saying anything.”

“You are. Your face is all judgy.”

“Mmmhmmm.”

“I mean it.”

“Stiles, honey. ‘Nice’, is the color beige. It’s the tepid bathwater of compliments. You know this.”

“Okay, okay. I’m the first to admit it can be used like that. But I swear to you he was sincere when he said it, okay? I could tell.”

“Nice is what you say when you either don’t really care about something or you hate something but don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. Tell me I’m wrong.”

Stiles opens his mouth, then shuts it again. He’d been so proud showing off his new facial hair to Derek over Skype the other night. His shoulders slump, crestfallen. “So, wait, you don’t think he likes my beard?”

Lydia closes her book with a put upon sigh. “I think he likes you . A lot.”

“But--”

“But he’d have to be blind to like the beard.”

Stiles pouts. “I’m going to text him and find out. No. Wait. I’m going to Skype so that I can see his face. He should be awake now. What’s the time difference between Barbados and California again?”

“We’re three hours ahead.”

“So it’s, like, three in the afternoon there. Dammit he’s probably still at work. I’ll just have to wait until he gets back which means another two hours at least until--”

“When are you going to stop pretending you’re not tired of the long distance thing.” She closes the book on her lap with finality, and places it on a wrought iron and glass end table that probably cost more than Stiles’ entire apartment back in Beacon Hills.

“Pffff,” he says, “It isn’t ideal, but we make it work.”

“Do you?”

“We still see each other. We speak every day. He knows I need time--”

“You needed time. You’ve taken time.”

“Maybe I need more time.”

“More time?” She folds her arms. “Stiles. Let me be frank. You arrived here from London six weeks ago, a complete mess. Something’s clearly on your mind. And it isn’t that I don’t adore your company, because you know I do, but at some point it would be really great if you just… spat it out.”

She glares at him. He tries to glare back, but it’s like a tortoise trying to beat Usain Bolt in a sprint: There’s no contest. Eventually his shoulders sag, and he slumps in defeat.

“Fine,” he says.

She draws up her legs to make room for him and he plops down on the edge of the sunlounger next to her, shoulders hunched.

The thing about Lydia is that she’s always right. Stiles discovered that fact back in 1957 when one sweltering Saturday afternoon, a precocious seven year old with fiery red hair in pigtails accosted him in the local ice-cream parlor and told him that he had dirt on his cheek, that the mint choc chip he’d ordered was vastly inferior to the strawberry, and that he’d been given the wrong change. She had been right about everything then, and right about almost all things ever since. Not that he’s ever bothered to tell her as much. Although he’s pretty sure she knows, and that she knows he knows.

The truth is, he came here for advice. They both know it. He just-- isn’t sure where to start.

“You remember back in Beacon Hills, how we used to talk about leaving,” he says.

“Vividly.”

“We were so desperate to get out of that place, and then you actually did, and I kinda resented that a little bit.”

“Understandable.”

“After you left, I went through this phase where I did nothing but read travel books. I collected brochures. I cut out the pictures and stuck them up all over my apartment. All the places I wanted to go. I had binders full of them.”

She hugs her knees to her chest and rests her head on them, watching him. It’s a gesture that seems to take years off her, and he’s forcibly reminded of the girl she used to be. It makes his heart ache.

“Even when Derek came along, I was so focused on that idea of escaping. I knew that everything would come right if I could just get out of that town.”

“And you did--”

He sighs. “It isn’t what I thought it would be, though. I thought it would be an adventure. I thought that it would lead to some big discovery about myself or that I’d be fulfilled. But no matter where I wake up in the world each morning, I’m never happy. I never feel content.”

“Oh, Stiles--”

“And I guess I’m coming to the conclusion that maybe the problem isn’t Beacon Hills at all, it never was.” His voice cracks, teetering on the edge of tears. “I think it’s me. I think maybe I’m broken. I’m incapable of being happy.”

She pulls him in for a hug then, and he goes easily enough, eyes a little watery. She pats his hair gently, and doesn’t mention it. It takes a while but eventually he’s calm again. Once she’s sure he’s okay she lets him go and he sits straight again, swiping at his nose.

“I want you to listen to me very carefully,” she says. “Because I’m going to tell you something important, okay?”

“Okay.” He sniffs dolefully.

“Literally everything you just said is bullshit.”

“Excuse me?” His jaw drops.

“I said, it’s bullshit.”

“Lydia--”

“First of all, get rid of the idea that happiness is a permanent state of being that you have to attain, and that any little discomfort or hurt or unhappiness is somehow a sign that the universe is out of balance. It isn’t. Happiness is one part on the spectrum of human experience. No more or less important than sadness or anger or regret or any other part you care to name. You feel all of those things at some point, and you ought to.”

“Yes, but--”

“I haven’t finished.” She glares at him. “The idea that you can’t experience happiness is a lie that you have told yourself. You can feel happy. I’ve seen you feel happy since you’ve been here. Every night this week in fact. It’s written all over your face whenever you talk to that boyfriend of yours and his goddamn pack. You were happy when we went hiking the other day. God, you were even happy last night when we made chicken parmesan.”

Stiles sighs. “I think it’s those breadcrumbs you use, they were extra crunchy.”

“You are capable of happiness. But if you want to feel happier, then here's some advice: Go back to California, be with Derek.”

“But Beacon Hills--”

“You’ve conditioned yourself, Stiles. Jesus. It’s practically Pavlovian. This is a consequence of more than a century telling yourself you can never be happy in Beacon Hills. But the truth is, you’ve found happiness with Derek. With the pack. Do you really think it makes a difference if you’re in Beacon Hills or Beverly Hills?”

“But--”

“You remember that time back in sixty nine, when I came back from MIT and you roped me into taking on a swamp monster--”

“It wasn’t a swamp monster, it was--”

“It lived in a bog, in the forest.”

“But--”

“The point is, we kicked its ass and then you did your magical travelling thing to try and get us home, and miscalculated, and we ended up being dumped in the river. You remember?”

“Yeah,” he says smiling.

“And we were soaking wet, and laughing, and we had a whole water fight thing, and then we walked two miles back to town, because I said I didn’t trust you to teleport us again. And you took me for ice-cream at the diner as an apology, and the waitress pointed out that I had pondweed in my hair. You remember all that?”

He nods.

“Were you happy that day?”

He hesitates. Nods again.

“Good. So was I. And we were in Beacon Hills. I was sodden. I had swamp monster juice all over my favorite dress and pondweed in my hair and it’s still one of my favorite memories. It isn’t about where you are Stiles, it’s who you’re with and what you choose to make of it.”

He doesn’t know whether he feels heartened or chastised. “I bought a ring,” he says, because that knowledge has been eating away at him, and he has to tell someone. “I bought a ring. I didn’t mean to but I did.”

“Well then,” she says, smiling, “I expect an invitation to the wedding.”

He nods. “You’ll be my best man?”

“I would be honored.”

After a moment he gets up from the sunlounger, as he leaves he half turns to look at her. “What if I go there and it all goes to shit because of me and I lose the best thing in my life?” As he says it, he realizes maybe that’s been the crux of the issue all this time, he just hasn’t let himself see it. He’s spent a lifetime losing people he loves. He doesn’t think he could stand to lose Derek. In some ways it’s been easier to keep him at arm’s length.

“Then you’re clearly an irredeemable fuck up,” she says, deadpan. “So you come and join me in Barbados, and we grow old disgracefully together.”

“Hah!”

“You had an idea about how your life had to be in order for you to be happy. It turns out you were wrong. Admit it. Change. Move on. Embrace the life you want to live. Be brave. Take the risk. Derek’s taken it, it seems to be working out okay for him.”

“God,” he sighs, “when did you get so wise,”

She snorts. “We both know I was born this way. Now go and shave.”

 

-

 

Stiles has seen the house in pictures more times than he can count. Pored over the blueprints, discussed which room should go where, and the exact color the walls ought to be. He’s caught glimpses of it over Skype and, when it was first built and furnished, Derek even recorded a tour on his phone, and sent it to him. Nothing, however, prepares him for how he feels when he sees it for the first time in real life.

Isaac drives them down a long dirt road lined with trees that opens out into a large clearing surrounded by woodland. It’s utterly secluded, and perfect grounds for the house that stands proudly in the center. It’s bright red bricks seem to glow in the late afternoon sun. There’s a porch out front with a swing, and a playset in the front yard that must belong to Felicia. Someone has strung lanterns along porch, as well as a sign which reads Happy Birthday and another that reads Welcome Home! In bright, bold letters.

Isaac parks his car a ways back from the house and gets out, but it takes Stiles a moment to compose himself before he joins him. When he finally climbs out, he can hear the sound of laughter coming from somewhere in the distance; the smell from the barbecue carries towards him on the breeze.

He finds his knees are shaking. Tears are hitting his t-shirt, and he doesn’t know exactly when he started crying, but he can’t seem to stop.

“You wanna go see inside the house?” Isaac suggests, nudging his arm gently.

“No,” Stiles says, thickly, and then, “Not without Derek. It wouldn’t be right.”

Isaac nods, like he gets it. “Maybe I’ll get the others to come around. They’ll want to see you too.” He jogs away, leaving Stiles to try and regain his composure.

He wasn’t sure how he would feel coming back to Beacon Hills, but as he stands here, looking at this beautiful house that Derek built, built for them, his heart feels so full it aches. It’s too much. He has to look away.

Suddenly, though, there’s the sound of whooping and hollering and then all at once he finds he’s surrounded. Isaac. Boyd. Erica. Little Felicia. Kira, and even Jackson. They surge around him like the tide, piling onto him, until he doesn’t know where he ends and they begin.

“I missed you,” Erica says, fiercely in his ear, as she hugs him. “I missed you so much.”

Stiles nods, because he can’t seem to find his voice.

When she lets go, Boyd pulls him into a hug and ruffles his hair. “You look good, man,” he says. “Real good.”

That makes Stiles laugh, a slightly manic edge to it. “I look like crap,” he sniffs. “And I smell like an airport. And I can’t stop crying.”

“Yeah,” Boyd says easily. “It’s a good look on you.”

That starts the tears again, and they all pile on to hug him once more.

Eventually, once he’s managed to calm a little, they convince him to join them around the back of the house, where the barbecue is set up. There are more people back here, and more arriving all the time. Some he recognizes from when he was last in Beacon Hills, like Boyd’s mom and Finstock, but a lot are new to him. There are large tables set up with pristine, white tablecloths and lots of chairs dotted about. Someone puts a beer in his hand, and he spends the next half hour fielding questions and trying to catch up with everyone he’s missed. Well, almost everyone.

Eventually, Boyd calls everyone to order. “Luis just texted, the eagle has left the nest,” he announces. “So we’re gonna go round the front, okay?”

They’re herded back round to the front of the house. And looking about himself, Stiles thinks they’re must be nearly a hundred people here by now. He finds himself sandwiched near the front between Erica and Kira, who have each looped an arm around his shoulders and are squeezing him tightly. People are still chatting and laughing, but all Stiles can feel is his own heart fluttering like a caged bird in his chest.

“It’s gonna be okay,” Erica whispers in his ear. “Promise.” And he nods. Can’t bring himself to speak.

Finally, he hears the sound of a familiar engine rumbling down the dirt road in front of them, and everyone falls silent. He recognizes the noise of the engine immediately. It’s his old Jeep. Derek’s driving Roscoe, and somehow that makes Stiles’ eyes fill again.

The Jeep bounces down the trail towards them, and Stiles sees the moment Derek realizes what’s happening, He parks a ways short of the house, and shakes his head rolling his eyes, even as he smiles. Then opens the door to the Jeep and climbs out.

“Happy Birthday!” everyone cheers, and Derek ducks his head, his ears scarlet.

“Happy Birthday I get,” he says, gesturing towards the sign, once the noise has died down, “but welcome home--” His nostrils flare and his voice dies in his throat. His eyes rake the crowd until they find Stiles. “Oh my god,” he mumbles softly, face draining of all color. “Oh my god.”

Stiles can’t move, can’t feel his legs, but then someone pushes him, and he stumbles forward a step.

Derek can’t seem to take his eyes off him, like maybe he thinks Stiles is a mirage or that he’s walked into a dream.

Stiles takes a few more steps forward, lets momentum carry him. “Hey. Hi,” he says, stopping a few feet short of Derek. “Hey.”

Derek swallows. “You came to my party?” he says, when he finally finds his voice.

“No.” Stiles scrubs one hand over the back of his neck awkwardly, and attempts a smile. “I came home. For good.” He finds he’s crying again, because apparently he can’t stop that at the moment, but he doesn’t have time to feel self conscious, because suddenly Derek’s right there in front of him. He cups Stiles face in his hands like he’s precious, and then they’re kissing, and everyone around them is whooping and cheering, and Stiles’ heart feels like it might just burst from happiness.

The party carries on late into the night. There’s music and dancing and drinking and more food than Stiles has ever seen, but at some point, Derek manages to steal him away, sneaking them into the house, so that he can show Stiles around.

It’s just as Stiles remembers from the pictures, large airy rooms filled with comfortable, practical, furniture and homey touches. Nobody would call it tidy, but it has a ‘lived in’ quality, that speaks to a life that is full and happy. A flyer for a bake sale is stuck to the refrigerator with a novelty magnet, and next to them are pictures drawn by Felicia of her parents and the rest of the pack. A million photographs in frames dot the walls. When he looks at them more closely, Stiles is surprised to find that many are of him. He’d shared selfies and pictures of his travels over the years, but he hadn’t realized that Derek had been making hard copies. There they are though, right next to the photos of every other pack member, and he sees his own face smiling back at him in nearly every room.

Eventually Derek takes him upstairs, points out the rooms that belong to various pack members, but stops outside a door at the far end of the corridor.

“Is this your room?” Stiles asks.

“Our room,” Derek says, and turns the door handle. He pushes it open and holds it ajar so Stiles can walk through.

It’s simply furnished: A large bed sits against one wall, with dark blue sheets. The bedroom furniture is sturdy, hand carved from from good quality wood. One wall is painted dark blue, the others are all white, and dotted with more pictures. But Stiles doesn’t look at them this time, instead he moves to the open window, drawn by the breeze that stirs the blue plaid curtains, curious to take a look at the view. The window overlooks the backyard, which in turn gives way to the preserve, trees laid out before him in every direction as far as the eye can see. Overhead the moon shines brightly in the sky above. He can hear the noise from the party rising up below them, the steady thrum of the bass, a sudden burst of laughter. The chill night air makes him shiver, but a moment later he feels the warmth of Derek’s body as he crosses the room and comes to stand behind him. This , he thinks, just this. It’s everything he’s ever wanted and not known how to articulate.

“What do you think?” Derek asks. He sounds nervous.

Stiles turns to face him, reaches out, runs a hand over Derek’s t-shirt smoothing it flat. Sighs softly. Smiles. “I think it’s good to be home,” he says, and pulls Derek in for a kiss.

 

-

 

When he wakes up the next morning, it’s to the sound of the pack moving around downstairs, clearing through the debris of the night before. The scent of pine carries through the open window. It’s a new day.

Next to him Derek shifts in his sleep, tugging him near, rubbing his scratchy beard against the nape of Stiles’ neck, as he tries to burrow closer.

For as long as Stiles can remember, he’s woken up with a restless ache in his chest, found himself constantly looking to the next thing to try and fill that emptiness. It’s left him unable to truly relax and enjoy the present. But as he eases back into Derek’s arms, and feels them tighten around him, holding him close, he knows for maybe the first time, what it is to be perfectly content. Knows without a doubt he is exactly where he’s supposed to be.

He has love. A pack. He’s found a family. Who knows? Maybe later today, if the opportunity presents itself, he might even propose, and that? Well, that will be the beginning of an awfully big adventure.

 

I see your face in  the window,

I see your face in the reflections of the moon

I feel my own ancients shadows disappear when I am near to you--  

--And all my life

Before I met you,

When I was trying hard in love,

I thought the sun w as going down,

but the sun was comin' up


Thunderbolt's Goodnight, Josh Ritter