The cottage is loud, like a living testament of how much Stiles glorified the place as a child. It groans and shifts, wood scraping together, bolts ratting in their place, shelves teetering, the whisper of hangers in a closet. Together it forms something akin to a threat and a formality at the same time. A reminder of his childhood. His mother mentioned how she could always tell where he was without having to use the eyes in the back of her head just by the way he walked, how the steps shifted and groaned beneath his feet. When he was young, the biggest threat this house held to him was the floorboards giving attention to him during hide n’ seek.
Now, he can’t sleep, eyes unable to close despite the anvils of his lids, heart pounding. There’s something here that scratches at his chest, makes him shake, walk a little faster when rounding a corner. He doesn’t know what this place holds, memories be damned, and he doesn’t need werewolves to tell him he’s just imagining things. He can feel something, somewhere, a gentle nudge in the wrong direction. Everything is screaming at him to get out, to go, get lost and run for as long as he can, as fast as he can immediately.
He calls it quits just past two o’clock, feet hitting the ground with a groan from the boards, and decides he’s going to get water. He may be sleep deprived but he will not be dehydrated, not with a lake right outside.
He makes it three steps down without a noise and then there’s a harsh snap, a crick - Stiles fears he’s going to break directly through the steps and into the basement where God knows what is lurking - and the whole staircase erupts. Chills back up and down his spine as he races down the rest of the way, not looking back.
“Stiles!” He rounds a corner, but he’s too late. A pair of arms wrap around his waist and haul him up and back into a familiar chest. His head knocks against his mothers, and he hears a familiar huff of pain. Stiles is a clumsy kid and his mom is the victim of his misdirected assaults most of the time.
“Watch it, these teeth are my forever ones,” she’s laughing though, and the wash of shame flies out the door as he wriggles to turn around in her grip.
She’s glaring but in the funny way - the way that means she isn’t actually mad, just playing - and her lip turns over in itself, eyes rolling back in her head. Her hair has fallen from its tie and is lying on her shoulders, resting there. Big, beautiful brown eyes to match his are already turning up and rolling, laughing at his crestfallen face.
“You cheated,” he declares, his anger already escaping him. Now that she’s caught him means they’re probably going to eat now. Dad’s been clanging pots and pans forever - now should be the time. “Can we eat now? Dad said he’d make cookies after we eat.”
“ Dinner . After we eat dinner.”
“Is it dinner time?”
“It’s barely noon! Are you hungry or something?” Truthfully, no, but that won’t suffice.
Stiles shakes his head, eyes burning from the air rushing past him. The same corner, the same wallpaper, the same shitty trim that’s been marked up and down with names, ages, and heights. His cousins, uncles, aunts, maybe his mothers’ even. The entrance of the kitchen is something sacred, something so familiar and undisturbed that Stiles almost doesn’t notice the other body already slumped over the kitchen table.
He doesn’t mean to flail but it shocks the air right of his lungs, jumping up and backward towards the closet he’s so familiar with. He hits his shoulder on the handle on the way down, cold, hard brass burning a line down his unclothed back.
“If you listen closely,” his mother whispered right above his ear. They had sat in the linen closet, Stiles in Claudia’s lap, waiting. Dad was it then, and he had absolutely no clue where they were. Claudia had made sure of it. She whispered, “you can hear dad. He’s in your room, probably looking under the bed like an idiot. What does he think we are? Amateurs?”
Stiles giggled furiously into his hand because yes, he had heard it. The cautious little footsteps right over their head, a single layer of wood between defeat and them.
“Shh! Noise carries weird in this house,” Claudia sounded mystified, “always has.”
Above them, John hadn’t stopped searching Stiles room. He could hear him rooting around in the closet. He didn’t have a clue .
“It sounds like a song, doesn’t it? Like the birds outside?” Claudia’s voice was barely a whisper.
Stiles heard the birds outside, the splash of waves on the beach, a single dog in the distance. He could hear his mother’s slow, measured breathing in his ear and feel her heartbeat on his elbow, could feel the way her fingers were twitching around his stomach where they were latched.
“Stiles?” Derek is right in front of him, eyes alight with worry.
“It’s like a concert if you listen the right way.”
Stiles had to agree because mom was always right about stuff like this. His dad just didn’t get this. How the whole room is breathing, right under his feet, under his bed and above them, right now!
“The house is alive,” he whispers, but he must have been too loud because his father's slow, measured footsteps have stopped. He could hear him laugh and call for them, feet falling past each other on the race out of his room.
“Shit! You scared the hell out of me,” he shakes his head, eyes burning with the memory of it, of her, of everything. He stands up, shoulders stiff and shaking, side bruised. “Couldn’t sleep?”
“No,” Derek shrugs. His face is impassive as ever, but Stiles can see past his facade of annoyance with him; he’s tired, dreadfully so, eyelids dark and inflamed over his hazel irises.
“Me neither.” The kitchen is the same that it always was. Glasses in the cupboard closest to the sink, silverware right under it, cases of water nestled between the fridge and wall, stacked as high as Stiles himself. He remembers the height being as tall as a skyscraper.
He’s gulping down the second half of the water bottle when Derek asks, “Is this weird for you? Being here with the pack when you grew up here?”
“‘Growing up here’ is a bit of a stretch,” he pulls off the bottle with a sigh, unaware of how thirsty he was. He caps it and sets it beside where he’s leaning, “I came three or four times every summer for a weekend, if that, and like once in the school year. My mom was a teacher, you know. I didn’t grow up out here.”
Derek hums and looks away from Stiles, down the hallway, and into the living space. The TV is on, a low hum from some shitty B-rated horror movie Isaac and Erica insisted on watching until they inevitably fell asleep. Stiles doesn’t need to see it to know that they’re curled around one another looking unfairly beautiful with Boyd at the other end of the couch, feet in his lap while he finishes watching the movie.
“No, he went to bed after the sorority girl was gutted,” Derek’s lips turn up at that.
“Bet Erica was thrilled to see that one go down. She’s always got it out for the pretty ones.” Stiles can see it now: Erica throwing popcorn at the TV while the killer chases the skirt-wearing, push-up bra clad supposed-to-be-a-teenager-but-is-totally-a-grown-woman down a hill or into a lake, somewhere that makes her thin tube top completely see-through when submerged, right before slashing her throat in one epic motion. Isaac is groaning, feigning disgust, while Erica howls for it.
“She’s just self-projecting.”
It’s strange how they share a laugh, almost mendable like they’re friends. They aren’t friends though. Stiles refuses that, even now with his mother's memory like a ghost following him up and down these hallways. They can’t be friends with what they’ve been through, not with what they’ve done.
Their laughter dies down and all is silent.
Even if for a moment, it’s like the world itself finally quiets down, the hum of electricity falling short, the little creaks and groans of the house settling finally shutting down into this. Peace shared with Derek of all people, whose face looks like he’s desired it too. Silence.
He breaks it, “I must have been keeping you up by rolling around. Sorry about that. This place is… it holds a lot of memories. Ones that I tried forgetting, ones that I almost forgot.” Teetering on the edge of his consciousness, he feels eyes back on him again, right where he should be looking up, but he can’t. Not with his mother's gentle hands right on his face.
“Shh. Don’t let him find us,” his mother said, laughing, their fate already sealed.
“It’s okay. I couldn’t sleep anyway.”
He could hear his father's furious steps getting closer and closer. Around him, his mother's embrace tightened just slightly, enough to give it away that that she knew he knew that they were hiding in the closet, sandwiched between the smelly beach towels that just won’t wash the scent of lake out of them, and the soft smelling bed sheets that reek of Aunt Julie's perfume.
He shakes his head from the memory, eyes burning all of a sudden with that stench of her perfume. It’s been years since Aunt Julie died and he can still smell it, right to his left. He blinks the smell away, eyes still foggy when he demands, “What do you do? When you can’t make them go away?”
“I let it happen. To force out those memories is as harmful as keeping them bottled inside,” Derek looks surprised, to say the least, mouth open ever so slightly to reveal a hint of two front teeth, cheeks pinked, eyes wide and dilated.
When Stiles doesn’t say anything, just closes his eyes and wraps his arms around his waist like his mother did so many years before him, and thinks. All the mornings where his father shook him awake with a kiss on the forehead, smelling like coffee and shampoo, of all the afternoons spent in the sun with sunscreen on his nose, stinking up the room when he’d throw his wet clothes everywhere. He remembers the endless summers and the quiet autumn's here, all forgotten until now.
“What do you see?” Derek’s voice is quiet, so quiet Stiles opens his eyes to make sure he actually asked. He’s closer to him than before, soundlessly moving across the kitchen to stand right in front of him.
“I can see… so much,” he blinks back a wave of tears, so sudden he feels ashamed because this-this is just a house, a shitty cottage that should have been updated twenty years ago with the same shitty linoleum floors and creaky stairs. It shouldn’t mean so much.
He looks down for a moment, his bare feet stark against the dark vinyl.
He can hear his father's laughter just out of earshot, careening closer and closer to their location. His mother’s arms are tense and they lapse into silence Stiles hasn’t supplied since he had learned how to speak.
In front of him, Derek moves closer, breaching his little space of quiet panic that he hadn’t realized he’d put himself into. There’s a heat, a gentle touch on his shoulder before a strong hand grasps his shoulder. He looks up, unable to help it because this-this is something Stiles couldn’t have dreamed up himself. Derek, standing here in soft looking pajama bottoms and a faded NYU shirt that has holes in the armpits with fussy hair and no socks. Beautiful as ever and looking right at him.
He leans across the space, eyes slipping closed in time to see Derek’s close at the same time, while the house takes a hurdling breath, the pipes suddenly clambering to life, shattering the silence. It doesn’t matter because they’re not paying attention anyway, a soft hand sliding into hair, the pull of another body into the others. Tides crashing - Stiles feels it well up in him, the happy hum, and before he thinks about he does hum, laughing into the kiss.
They huddle underneath the lowest shelf, hoping for some cover from his father's view but in the end, Stiles knew it was hopeless. His dad would catch them and Stiles would be it and they’d go hide around the house. Stiles hated being it because his parents were always so good at cheating. Nobody is that good at hide n’ seek.
The footsteps stopped in the kitchen. He listened, no other sounds besides the sudden quiet knocking of the dishwasher outside the door. He was listening for Stiles and Claudia.
Derek pulls back, the single sliver of a grin hiding as he asks, “What?”
Their luck changed. His father retreated, footsteps moving out of the kitchen and into the living room.
Stiles closes his eyes again, hand reaching to cup Derek’s warm nape and pull him closer, “Nothing.”
They were safe. For now.