Derek didn't grow up near the beach. He remembered being a kid and going to Santa Cruz beach boardwalk with his family, but it was cold and foggy there, even in the summer. He never really understood the appeal of going to the beach until he spent a summer in the Hamptons with Laura. It was the summer before Laura started feeling the pull of Beacon Hills, the last summer they spent together.
They rented a tiny house and got by on waiting tables and doing odd jobs. They spent any free time they had at the beach. Sometimes they'd sneak into the private beach clubs and rub elbows with members and play beach volleyball with their neglected children. It was like something out of an episode of Saved by the Bell.
"We can't all be Lisa Turtle," Derek teased Laura as they snagged a pair of complimentary towels.
Laura didn't correct him. They had inheritance and insurance money to live off of, but they both liked the normalcy of having jobs. They could both sleep better after a hard day's work. Derek didn't even mind the cramped twin bed he got stuck with, the shitty water pressure, or the torn screen that let mosquitos in through the kitchen window. It was the happiest Derek had ever been after the fire.
"There are a lot of other programs closer to home," the sheriff said over dinner one night.
"And probably a lot cheaper," Scott added.
"Won't you miss us?" Allison cut straight to the matter.
It was logical for Stiles to stay in California as he had for his undergrad, but Derek could see that Stiles wanted an adventure. Two years was not so long, and the pack would have to understand.
"But the Pratt Institute offers a concentration in Rare Books and Special Collections, which will ultimately benefit us all. I think we should support Stiles if that's where he wants to go," Derek explained thoughtfully.
Everyone at the table dropped their forks and looked at Derek in shock. Derek was known for grumbling the loudest whenever a pack member wanted to stray far from their territory.
"Thanks, man," Stiles said as he raised his glass to Derek. "You guys can always visit me, you know."
And the pack did visit Stiles. Derek rented a house for the month of July in East Hampton with enough room so that the pack could come and go as they pleased. It was over the top extravagant, but Derek never could practice restraint when it came to Stiles.
Derek, Scott, Allison, Isaac, and Kira all came out for the first week. They celebrated the Fourth of July with a clambake and a lot of beer. Derek and Stiles stayed at the house when the four friends headed into Manhattan to be tourists. Stiles said his apartment could fit them okay, but any more wouldn't be fun, and Derek had no desire to go back to the city.
It left Derek and Stiles on their own in that big house. They discovered that they didn't want to kill each other, in fact, they were kind of perfect for each other. Derek rose early everyday to walk on the beach, and most days Stiles joined him.
"You don't want to go for a run? You sure you should be skipping your grueling workouts?" Stiles teased.
Derek rolled his eyes. "I'm on vacation."
They collected sea glass each morning and arranged it artfully on the patio dining table.
"Let's Instagram this shit," Stiles said while selecting a filter. "Erica's gonna be so jealous."
"It's her own damn fault for not getting the whole month off," Derek said while making fresh squeezed orange juice for their breakfast.
When Erica, Lydia, Boyd, and Cora arrived, they teased Derek and Stiles relentlessly for playing the role of a domestic couple perfectly.
"Just wait until you taste his fritattas, then the joke will be on you," Stiles said while chopping vegetables for Derek.
After dinner, when the couples retreated to their rooms for rounds of vigorous and very loud sex, Derek and Stiles escaped to the beach for their nightly walk. Derek let Stiles ramble about his thesis project and Derek admired the way the moonlight looked on Stiles' face. Sometimes Derek opened up about the summer he spent in the Hamptons with Laura. Stiles never pushed, but he seemed to enjoy hearing about the details of Derek's life. Derek found he didn't mind sharing.
When the house emptied out again, Stiles and Derek resumed their routine. They rode the bikes that they found in the garage and went into town for ice cream or to pick up groceries. They did laps in the swimming pool and laid out at the beach in the afternoon. The sound of Stiles' voice and beachgrass rustling in the breeze lulled Derek to sleep for late afternoon naps.
The sheriff and Melissa interrupted their cohabitational bliss for a long weekend toward the end of the month. Either they didn't notice the way Stiles and Derek moved in each other's space, or they just had the tact not to mention it. Stiles went out for a long drive with the sheriff one afternoon, and Derek felt the pang of missing him. He knew he was in too deep at the point, but the month was almost up. Derek would go back to Beacon Hills, and Stiles would go back to the city for his second year. Whatever they shared at the house would be over, or at least the feelings would fade by the time autumn rolled around.
Three days before the rental was up, Stiles took Derek's hand in his as they walked along the beach. Neither of them spoke, and when they got back to the house they didn't go to the kitchen to start breakfast. Stiles laid down on a lounger and pulled Derek on top of him. Derek didn't fight it. They kissed like the teenagers they never were. It was innocent and sweet, and they took their time learning the things the other liked.
"I wish you didn't have to go," Stiles whispered against Derek's neck.
"You're not sick of me yet?" Derek pulled back to see Stiles' face.
Stiles shook his head. "Not possible."
"Maybe it's this place. I'm different here." Derek thought about his summer in the Hamptons with Laura again but struggled to find the similarities.
"Well, Beacon Hills might not be on the beach, but maybe you could build a house like this?"
Derek thought about the house he'd rented for Stiles and the pack and how the big windows facing the ocean let in light, how the waves sounded at night when they crashed on the shore, the well tended gardens and lawn, the cozy patio furniture set around the pool, the outdoor kitchen perfect for entertaining, and even the bikes in the garage. It was a far cry from the placed he'd shared with Laura. That house had overgrown rose bushes with more thorns than flowers, the stairs squeaked, and water spots on the wallpaper in the living room.
"It doesn't have to be this," Stiles gestures with his hand, "decked out, but it should be something you could see yourself calling home."
And in that moment, Derek realized home was not a place. Home was wherever his heart was. For years, Derek had been living in apartments that he could never seem to fill, no matter how much stuff he bought. But he'd never been as content as when he was sharing space with someone he loved.
"It won't be home until you're there," Derek said and pressed a kiss to Stiles' chest, right where his heart beat.