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The Long Way Around

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“You don’t have to help me, you know,” Derek said as he watched Stiles walk through his family’s vault. He’d decided to go through everything one night when he’d realized that there might be something of emotional worth down there.

“Are you kidding me?” Stiles asked as he looked through a box. “This is like-- this is your history. You shouldn’t be doing this alone,” Stiles said. He was seated cross-legged on the ground as he rummaged through the box labeled ‘Toys’ in his mother’s scripted handwriting. “Can you tell me again why your vault is below the school?”

Derek sighed as he fiddled with knickknacks that lined the shelves.

“My family has been in Beacon Hills for a long time,” Derek said. “This vault is older than the school.”

“Then why is the entrance the school’s sign--”

“Stiles,” Derek said, interrupting him. “Just-- be quiet.”

He didn’t mind that Stiles wanted to come. It was almost easier having someone else there with him. He’d been avoiding going through his family’s stuff since returning, but he felt like it was finally time, with the lull in supernatural shenanigans happening. Stiles was home from college for fall break and had been banned from spending all his time at the Sheriff’s department. Scott, unfortunately, couldn’t make it down for the long weekend.

“Oh my god,” Stiles said, pulling Derek back into reality from the headspace he’d found himself in as he held a watch that had belonged to his grandfather.

“What?” Derek asked as he walked towards Stiles, his attention on the watch as he began winding it. He wanted to wear it.

“This is amazing,” Stiles said as he held up a clay art piece that Derek had made in kindergarten with his hands pressed into it. Derek made a face as he took it from Stiles, turning it over to see his name written in scribble on the back, his horrible handwriting faded.

“I think we need to get rid of some of this,” Derek said with a sigh.

“What? No! This is pure gold,” Stiles said, pulling another one out. This one had Laura’s name on it. Derek’s heart clenched as he watched Stiles pull out one for Cora, then one for--

“Stiles,” Derek said, grabbing the fourth one out of Stiles’ hand. “Let’s just leave these.”

“Whose is that one?” Stiles asked. Derek looked down at the clay keepsake. It was a mistake looking through the past. It hurt too much, still. It would always hurt.
“Brandon,” Derek said, thinking about his younger brother as he ran his fingers over the small hands imprinted into the clay. Maybe it was good to have reminders of those he lost. A small smile tugged at the corner of Derek’s mouth as he remembered him. He cleared his throat as he handed it back to Stiles. “He was two years younger than Cora.”

“Oh,” Stiles said. He pulled another box closer, this one full of unsorted family photos, some even in black and white. “Wow.” Derek sat down next to him, pointing out cousins, aunts, uncles, and great-grandparents.

“We had some hanging in our house, but not all of them. It’s great seeing at least some of it surviving the fire.”

“You know, I think that’s the first time I’ve heard you actually mention the fire,” Stiles said as he held up an old black and white photo beside Derek’s head. It was of a man, probably from the 20’s, with a handlebar mustache. “You look exactly like him.” Derek took the photo from him, looking it over.

“I guess, I just-- it’s time to move on. I spent so long holding it against myself, blaming myself instead of coping with it.” Stiles fiddled with a few of the photos, some baby ones of Cora and Brandon as Derek stared down at the photo of his ancestor on his father’s side. “I should get frames for some of these.”

“Definitely,” Stiles said as he stood up, stretching. Derek watched him do it, then his eyes averted back towards the pile of photographs. “Hey, what’s this?” Stiles asked, picking up a metal tin that was on one of the shelves. Derek tore his eyes away from the family photos to watch as Stiles opened it, pouring dice into his hand.

“Oh, wow,” Derek said as he discarded the photos, dropping them back in the box to join Stiles. He held his hands out, and Stiles rolled some of the dice into Derek’s hand. “These were what we used to play Liars.”

“Liars?” Stiles asked.

“Yeah,” Derek said as he sat back down. Stiles joined him on the floor, crossing his legs as he put his hands in his lap, watching as Derek put all the dice back into the tin, then shook them. “We played Liars together as a family on game nights, you know? You have the dice, and you shake them up, then cast them out. Each player had a cup, and once the dice were thrown you try and grab as many as you could with your cup, covering them up. You look at the dice you have, the numbers that are face up, and you say how many total of a number you think there are.”

“Like, if I have three fours then I say that there are, say, seven fours total?”

“Yeah, and you can up the ante and whoever is right, wins the dice at the end of the round. Whoever has the most at the end of the night wins.”

“So this is a good game for werewolves--”

“Because in it you have to lie and werewolves can hear that,” Derek said, raising an eyebrow. “Or you learn to talk around lies, how to steady your heartbeat. It was a lot of fun for us as kids.”

Derek cast the dice, upturning the tin and letting them all fall out. Along with the dice, a key dropped to the ground, bouncing once before it stilled. Derek and Stiles exchanged glances as Derek reached forward, picking up the key. It was a normal key, one he’d find on his key ring, unremarkable and yet he knew exactly what it was to.

“What is it for? Do you know? Stiles asked.

“Yeah,” Derek said. “My family has a cabin.”

“A cabin? Really?”

“Yeah,” Derek said, looking at Stiles past the key that he held up before him. Stiles’ lips were wet, his hair haphazard in a way that suited him, his shoulders broader than they had been in high school, his clothes fitting better as well. “It’s about four hours from here, it’s where we played Liars. No TV, no anything.”

“Sounds boring,” Stiles said as he picked up a few dice, shaking them before casting them. He did it again. “You going to go there?” Stiles asked.

“Yeah, I think I will,” Derek said.

He ended up going after Stiles headed back to school. The drive up had been quiet, filed with good music instead of the crap that Stiles and Scott seemed to listen to. Everything reminded Derek of Scott and Stiles, their pack. It was hard, them all going away to college and starting their lives, but they kept in touch. Senior year had been good, full of bonding and healing in the aftermath of everything that had happened. He ended up listening to Journey the most, finding that he felt better about visiting his family’s cabin while belting out the words to their songs as he drove. That, too, reminded him of Stiles. Stiles always sang loudly, out of tune, not caring how he sounded whenever he rode in Derek’s car. Derek rolled his eyes as he tried not to smile as he thought about it.

It was almost dusk when he arrived at the cabin, tucked deep into the woods. His parents bought it to be out of the way, to celebrate the solstices with family without prying eyes. The road was almost overgrown, with no one having been there in almost ten years. Before heading inside, Derek went around back, to a shed built off the house where the generator was kept. Once he got it going, filling it with oil that he’d brought, he made his way up the creaking steps to the front door. He looked at the door, wooden, then at the porch that had piles of leaves and dirt covering it from years of neglect. Derek held his breath as he put the key in the lock, then turned it. It stuck slightly from disuse, but it opened with a small shove.

Though the air inside was stale, musty and mildewy, Derek breathed it in because it smelled, more importantly, of something he hadn’t been able to smell for over six years: his family. His eyes filled with tears as he stepped inside, overwhelmed at the scent of his pack that lingered in the couch and the throw pillows. Though covered in dust, it was there. Derek bypassed the small kitchen and made his way down a short hallway towards the bedrooms. He stopped at the linen closet he knew was there, opening it. He was engulfed in the scent of the laundry detergent his mother used. He picked up a sheet, putting it against his nose. He didn’t care if it needed to be aired out or not; it smelled like home.

He went around opening the windows, turning on lights after wiping down the bulbs. Then, he pulled back the covers of his parents’ bed and buried his face into the mattress. His chest hurt, but at the same time he felt safe, safer than he had in years. He’d been another person the last time he’d been at the cabin. It felt like a lifetime ago when basketball and the swim team were more important than anything else. The cabin reminded him of a time before Paige, before Kate, before.

Derek woke up with the sun shining through the curtains. He sat up, unaware that he’d even fallen asleep the night before. He had to go into town, which was one single street with one stop light, to get groceries if he was to stay and work on the cabin. He wanted to refurbish it.

Leaving the windows open so the house could be aired out, he ventured into the small town for supplies. There was a hardware store, which he took note of, in case he found anything that needed fixing around the cabin. He bought cleaning supplies, assuming eventually that they went bad and he shouldn’t use whatever was under the kitchen sink.

First thing he did when he got back was clean the fridge. He scrubbed it down, putting a box of open baking soda inside to help with the stale smell. There hadn’t been anything left in it, but it still needed to be cleaned. Before he knew it, he was checking the plumbing under the sink and in the bathroom to see if any pipes had burst during the winters. He hadn’t realized how late in the day it got until his phone beeped, letting him know he got a text message. It was from Stiles.

Hey, what’s up? Stiles asked. Derek sat down where he’d been kneeling over the bathtub as he wiped the sweat off of his face.

Cleaning the bathroom. Derek typed honestly. A second later, his phone rang.

“You’re what?” Stiles asked, half laughing. Derek couldn’t help but smile at Stiles’ laughter.

“I’m up at the cabin, cleaning it out,” Derek said as he leaned against the bathroom door. “What are you up to?”

“Walking between classes; Scott didn’t answer his phone.”

“Ah,” Derek said, closing his eyes as he rested his head against the bathroom door. He liked listening to Stiles’ voice. If he listened hard enough, he’d be able to hear his heart beating. It was too loud, wherever Stiles was, though. “What’s next?”

“Anthro,” Stiles said. “Hey, so I think we need to try the Google hangout thing again.”

“I would tonight but I’m out at the cabin,” Derek said. The pack had done a Google hangout a couple of times, where they’d all did a video call and talked to each other for hours. Well, they had talked, Derek had mainly listened. Okay, so he’d mainly watched Stiles animatedly talk to his friends, but Derek had enjoyed himself. It took him a while to be able to admit it to himself that he had feelings for Stiles, but he wasn’t quite sure that he was ready to tell Stiles about it.

After everything with Paige, Kate, and then Jennifer, Derek wasn’t sure how to approach Stiles. Sure, he’d had a healthy relationship with Braeden, but he’d been turned into a human at the time. He didn’t know what he wanted. He wasn’t sure if he liked Stiles for Stiles or if he liked him because Stiles was safe. He knew Stiles wasn’t a killer, didn’t have a history of kidnapping, and wouldn’t burn down his house.

“Are you out in the boonies?” Stiles asked. “You didn’t tell me where it was.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty far out. I’m surprised I have reception, actually,” Derek said as he pulled his phone away from his ear to see how many bars he had: two. “I bet in certain parts of the cabin it would probably drop your call.”

“Well, don’t move then,” Stiles said, amused. “Well, if you can’t make it to the hangout then I guess I’ll have to make a sad attempt at a stick figure of you.”

“You do that,” Derek said.

“I’ll talk to you later, man,” Stiles said before hanging up. He’d probably made it to anthropology.

That night for dinner, Derek grilled himself kabobs. He’d brought enough food to last for a while, wanting to make sure he took care of everything he needed to at the cabin. He’d planned on repainting his old bedroom, since it was his and all, but that was the only room he’d truly wanted to remodel. Reluctantly, he washed all the sheets and towels, but overall the scent of his family remained.

He made a chili the next day, enough for lunch, dinner, and lunch for the following day as he re-caulked the bathtub and shower, even around the toilet. He went into town to buy shingles to fix the roof, since he wasn’t sure how long it’d been and he’d found some ruined wood flooring due to a leak somewhere on the roof. Instead of pinpointing it, he decided to rip the whole thing off, giving it a new one.

He’d bought the tools, pulled up some how-to videos from youtube, and used his second hand knowledge from all the HGTV shows that Laura used to watch in the background back in New York.

That reminded Derek that he still, in fact, had a place in New York he was still paying for. He’d gone back a couple times but he hadn’t stayed long, just long enough to pack a couple more things, like the rest of his clothes, before heading out. He’d gotten a sublet, of course, but it was still under his name. It had been under Laura’s, but that had changed. Derek tried not to think about his life of then vs. now, but it was difficult not to.

He had changed over time, especially in the years since meeting Scott and Stiles. He’d been angry, mostly at himself, and his attempt at helping Scott had backfired. He had never really wanted to be an alpha, had always assumed that either his mother or sister would be there instead of him. He’d let the power go to his head, and he was glad to be rid of it in order to help Cora. Power wasn’t important, pack was.

Helping Scott build his pack gave Derek a sense of purpose. He had a place in Scott’s pack, not really a beta, but not really an omega either. Even with the Sheriff, Derek had found a place at the department as a consultant when the time arose. Stiles’ father called Derek in time after time to help in odd cases that usually dealt with the supernatural.

When Stiles left for school, those calls hadn’t stopped. At first, Derek had been afraid that with them going off to college, the Sheriff would cease his calls and Derek would be left alone, but he didn’t. In fact, the Sheriff insisted on having dinner with Derek at least once a week. Derek cooked for him at the loft, making fresh vegetables and steered clear of red meat at Stiles’ insistence.

It was nice, being able to cook for someone, even if it was the Sheriff.

“You should teach Stiles to cook,” he’d said one night as they ate shrimp scampi that Derek had made.

As Derek chopped vegetables, alone in the cabin, he thought back to that moment and wondered if the Sheriff knew how he felt about his son. He had been careful, especially around the pack, at his subtlety. Now, though, he wasn’t so sure he’d be quite subtle enough.

After two weeks, Derek headed back to Beacon Hills. Instead of going straight to the loft, he decided to drive by the Stilinski household to see if the light was on. It was, and the Sheriff’s patrol car was in the driveway. Derek stopped, parking on the side of the road, deciding to let the Sheriff know that he was back in town. He rang the doorbell, then waited.

What he hadn’t expected was for Stiles to answer the door. Derek looked at the driveway, then back at Stiles again.

“Hey there,” Stiles said, smirking.

“Hey, I wasn’t--”

“Expecting me? Yeah. I made a surprise visit home for the weekend.”

“Where’s your car?” Derek asked, confused.

“At the shop, it was sticking in third,” Stiles said with a shrug, then he turned his head towards the house and shouted. “Hey Dad, it’s Derek, do we have enough for three?”

“Oh, you don’t need to--”

“Yeah!” Derek heard from within. Stiles turned back, his grin genuine when he waved Derek inside.

“It’s like you knew to stop by on sauerkraut night,” Stiles said as he led Derek into the kitchen. Sure enough, the overpowering aroma of sauerkraut filled his nostrils. “Old family recipe.”

“Derek,” the Sheriff said as he went to shake his hand. Instead, the Sheriff pulled him into a hug. “Glad you’re back.”

“Back?” Stiles asked. “Have you been up at the cabin this entire time?”

“Yeah,” Derek said, rubbing at his face where his beard was filling in, long past the point of just stubble. “I had a lot to work on.”

“You just get back into town?” The Sheriff asked him. Derek nodded as the Sheriff handed him a beer. Stiles, mischievously, tried to grab himself one but ended up getting glared at.

“I did,” Derek said after he took his first swig of the pale ale. He read the label, pretending he liked it. He wasn’t a beer person, not really, since he couldn’t get drunk, but he wasn’t about to be rude to the Sheriff. Stiles gave him a knowing smirk. “I was just driving by to see if you were home.”

“Well, I’m glad you did. We were just about to sit down. Stiles, you mind adding another place setting?”

“Sure,” Stiles said, clapping Derek on the back before he headed into the kitchen.

“You were gone a while,” the Sheriff said, filling in the silence. “Stiles told me about your family’s cabin. Everything looking alright up there?”

“There is still work that I plan on doing, yeah. Some of the siding is rotting, so I was planning on renting a truck and finishing up some work on it with supplies that don’t come from the world’s smallest hardware store.” The Sheriff laughed as he led Derek into the kitchen. Derek watched as Stiles pulled a rock out of the massive pot.

“What is that?” Derek asked. As Stiles set it down on a plate. It was still steaming.

“The sauerkraut rock?” Stiles asked. “It helps to press the cabbage down as it cooks. It’s an heirloom.” Derek had never even heard of that before, but he liked the thought of something like that being passed down from generation to generation. “It’s from my mom’s side.”

“My brother has my side’s,” the Sheriff said. “Lucky I married a Polish girl, or I wouldn’t have any like my own mom used to make. Did your family have any old recipes?”

“My mom baked,” Derek said. “She made pralines during Christmas from an old recipe from her grandmother, but it had been in the house--”

“Ah,” the Sheriff said. Derek didn’t need to explain any more. “Well, I made the cold chili that goes on top of this, canned last winter, so make sure you try it, alright?” The sauerkraut was not like any that Derek had tried in the past. It was full of flavor, and had pork ribs that was so tender it fell off the bone in it, topped with the chili the Sheriff made, Derek had two helpings of it. Authentic and mouth watering, he wished he had a family recipe that had been so obviously passed down like this one had.

Afterward, he and Stiles cleaned up, bumping shoulders as they washed the dishes by hand.

“Do you stop by often?” Stiles asked him. The Sheriff was in the living room, watching whatever movie was on FX, most likely Thor or another Avenger movie since that always seemed to be what was on that channel.

“I try to,” Derek said with a shrug. Stiles grinned at him.

“Thanks,” Stiles said, like he meant it. Derek flung bubbles at him, just to break the tension he felt in himself at the way that Stiles looked at him.

When Derek went home, he felt lighter than he had in a while, though his mind didn’t wander far from Stiles and how much he’d changed since going off to college. He no longer flailed as much, like he’d taken full control over his body. He’d obviously started working out, his arms toned and chest filled out nicely beneath his fitted t-shirt. He wasn’t the same scrawny teenager anymore, and Derek was running out of excuses as to why he didn’t approach him with interest.

That night, he came twice thinking about him.

He didn’t stay in Beacon Hills long, just long enough to rent a U-Haul truck and buy the supplies he needed. Derek ran into Peter at the hardware store, which was unexpected since he didn’t think Peter did any home improvement work himself.

“Where have you been hiding?” Peter asked. Derek could tell him about the cabin, but he wanted to keep it to himself. It was his, he decided, a space for himself.

“I haven’t been hiding,” Derek said, which was true. “I’ve been working.”

“You work?” Peter asked, looking at the wood Derek had stacked on his pallet. “In construction?” Derek shrugged noncommittally. “A hobby perhaps?”

“Something like that,” Derek said.

He left Peter next to the nuts and bolts.

The drive up to the cabin, knowing that Stiles had still been in town when he left, was long. He could have waited until Monday, when Stiles had class, but he didn’t. He doubted that Stiles would have wanted to see him again anyway. He had other friends.

Well, Derek was wrong, and not for the first time. Stiles called him three hours into his four-hour drive.

“Hey man, want to go grab some lunch?” Stiles asked him.

“Can’t,” Derek said, grimacing. He could have been going to lunch with Stiles and there he was, driving away from him instead.

“What? Why?” Stiles asked, surprised Derek said no. Derek remembered a time Stiles didn’t even want to be in the same room as him, would feed him to the wolves, even (no pun intended). Now, though, he sounded disappointed.

“I’m headed back up to the cabin.”

“Dude, you just got back yesterday,” Stiles said, the disappointment dripping off of his words. “Why’d you leave so soon?”

“I wanted to get back to it, besides, you probably should bring your dad in lunch, I’m sure he’d like it.”

“Are you trying to pawn me off to my own father?” Stiles said with a laugh. “You’re right, he’d like it as long as I didn’t bring him a salad. Maybe I’ll go get him some fish tacos, he liked them that one time.”

“Better for him than beef,” Derek said.

“Damn straight. Alright, Derek. Go be a recluse, then. I’ll see you at Thanksgiving.”

“See you.”

When Derek got to the cabin, he was miserable. He’d had the chance to be around Stiles, and he took it away from himself. He’d brought more oil for the generator, and warmer clothes. The altitude was higher at the cabin, the nights cooler as they neared Thanksgiving. Instead of heating the cabin normally, his family had always used the fireplace.

So Derek spent his entire afternoon chopping wood for the winter, letting out his frustrations by swinging his father’s axe over and over again. He let time slip by as he shed his layers one at a time, his jacket, his henley, his tank top, until he was shirtless and covered in sweat. His muscles burned in a way that made him feel more alive than he normally did.

He thought about loss, about deceit, about betrayal and losing hope. He tossed the axe aside, taking a piece of wood in his hands, ripping it apart. He grunted as the pieces fell to the ground. He was alone, his own sister didn’t want to be near him, his uncle untrustworthy. He had no one.

It was past dusk when he finished stacking up the chopped wood on the side of the house. He covered it with a tarp so that it would stay dry before he turned in for the night. Before heading inside, though, he turned his face skyward, where the stars filled the night sky, along with the moon which was almost full. It looked huge against the backdrop of the mountains, impossibly so, due to his eyes playing tricks on him. He’d be alone for the full moon, like an omega. It wouldn’t be the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last.

After showering and digging into the stew that he had simmering in the crockpot all day, Derek pulled a book off the shelf and started reading. He’d always liked to read, studied linguistics in college before he dropped out to go searching for Laura, but it’d been awhile since he’d just picked up a random book. Sure, he read back in Beacon Hills, but those were his books. These, though, were his family’s, mostly left behind when they visited.

It was one of Laura’s fantasy books, the spine bent and broken, loved. Derek never broke the spines of his books or dog-eared the pages. Laura had, though, had always said that meant they were well-loved, that it showed how often she read them. Now, Derek was glad of the well-worn pages. It was a reminder that she’d been there, that this book had been one that she’d cherished.

Before he knew it, he’d finished the book and it was almost three in the morning. He’d done nothing but read for hours, completely undisturbed. He blinked his eyes multiple times, rubbing at them idly as he stretched out on the chair he’d curled up on.

He walked into his bedroom, where he’d left his phone charging all day. Derek didn’t really expect to have any messages for him, so it surprised him to find not only a text from Scott about the full moon, but one from Stiles that was sent less than ten minutes prior. It simply read: ‘you up?’ Without thinking, he called him.

“Not gonna lie, I’m surprised you’re up,” Stiles said over the receiver.

“I just finished a book, actually,” Derek said as he stretched again. “What are you doing up?”

“Well, my bed time is about four a.m. these days. I just finished a paper worth 25% of my grade that’s due in the morning.”

“Cutting it a bit close there,” Derek said. Stiles laughed.

“Getting that full college experience in,” Stiles said. “Eight a.m. classes and coffee-fueled term papers.” Derek knew what Stiles meant, he’d done the same when he’d gone to school in New York. He’d been on his last semester when he left. “Hey, you’re going to be home for Thanksgiving, right?”

“Yeah, why?” Derek asked.

“No reason. Wasn’t sure if you were staying up at the cabin.”

“No, I can be in Beacon Hills for Thanksgiving,” Derek said, even though he had planned on being away. Everyone had family, would spend it with them. He didn’t exactly plan on having turkey and stuffing with Peter in his loft.

“Good,” Stiles said. “You should come to our house for it.”

“I don’t-- Are you sure?” Derek asked.

“Yeah, we’re making it a pack thing. My dad, Scott’s mom, Scott, and I. You totally should come.” Derek couldn’t help but smile at the fact that Stiles wanted him to be there for Thanksgiving.

“I’ll be there.”

“Bring pie,” Stiles said.”

Derek wasn’t sure if Stiles was serious or not, if he wanted store bought or homemade pie, so the first thing Derek did when he got back into town was buy supplies to make a pie or two. His mother’s recipes had been burned, but he searched online to a recipe that seemed similar enough from what he could remember.

At the time, he hadn’t really helped in the kitchen, shrugged off assisting his mother bake. Now, he regretted that wasted time, but he refused to think about that as he made the crust. He had HGTV on in the background, some remodeling show with brothers, while he got the crust ready for two pies. He worked in silence as he readied the fruit, fresh blackberries he picked from his cabin. He didn’t want to show up with apple and pumpkin pie, because those were the obvious choices. No, he wanted blackberry and pecan. Pecan had been his favorite growing up, and the blackberries reminded him of Laura in the best way.

He heard Stiles approaching the door to the loft before he saw the sliding door open without so much as a knock.

“Oh my god,” Stiles said as he shut the door behind him. “Are you baking? Is this a real thing? I need to snapchat this to Scott.” Derek made a face, his lips in a thin line as he kept himself from sighing outwardly. Stiles walked forward, moving to stick his finger in the blackberry filling. Derek swatted his hand away.

“Don’t,” Derek warned. Stiles was grinning at him, and it took all of his self-control to look away from him. “There’s just enough for the pie there. But I have some more blackberries--”

Stiles took a handful, popping them into his mouth.

“What are you doing here?” Derek asked.

 

“Hanging with you, duh,” Stiles said as he sat on one of the stools at the bar top island where Derek was working. Derek gave him an incredulous look. “Alright, fine, Dad’s at work, Scott’s with Kira, so naturally I’m here.”

“Naturally,” Derek murmured. Stiles rubbed the back of his neck as he looked around the loft absentmindedly. “You can change the channel if you want.”

“Nah, I know you like HGTV,” Stiles said, not even looking back at him. “When did you get into town?”

“This morning,” Derek said as he began pouring the blackberry filling into the pie tin. “I wanted to make these before tomorrow.”

“Awesome, well, the first kick off is at like, 9:30, so you can come then, if you want. We usually eat between the games.” Derek watched Stiles’ fingers tap a nonsensical beat against the bar top as his words sunk in. “Things you need to know: the important game is the 49ers.”

“Obviously,” Derek said. He thought about how Stiles just told him to come over at 9:30 in the morning and that he’d be there the entire day, not just for dinner. “Do you really want me there at 9:30?”

“Huh?” Stiles asked, finally turning his gaze back on Derek, liked he’d been lost in his own thoughts. “Yeah, of course. I mean, Scott and his mom won’t be there until after the first game, but yeah. You should come.” Stiles wasn’t looking at him again, and something was off with his heartbeat-- it was like he was lying, but that wasn’t quite it. “We can make omelets. Those I can totally make.”

“Okay,” Derek said.

Derek showed up at 9:25 after waking up at dawn. He’d gone for a run, then to the grocery store where he’d bought ice cream and whipped cream for the pies. Sleeping had been out of the question the night before, because he was worried that pumpkin pie was expected at Thanksgiving, so he’d made that as well. He balanced the three pies and bag of groceries as he waited at the door for someone to open it.

The Sheriff answered, ushering Derek inside by helping him with the groceries.

“These look amazing,” the Sheriff said. “Let’s put them in the kitchen.” The Stilinskis’ dining room had been cleaned up, the Sheriff’s work all hidden away to make room for the five of them.

“They just need to be baked for about fifteen minutes whenever we want them,” Derek said as he shrugged. It really wasn’t a big deal. Without meaning to, he looked around for Stiles, who seemed to be missing.

“He’s upstairs, you mind waking him?” The Sheriff asked. “I’m on kitchen duty until it’s time to make the gravy. Stiles’ got that part down.”

“Sure,” Derek said, making his way up the stairs. He knocked on the door, lightly, then opened it to find Stiles sprawled out over his bed, sheets cast aside as if he’d kicked them off during the night. He was in nothing but his boxers, star fished across the bed on his stomach. Amused, Derek watched Stiles sleep for a minute before walking forward. He had to decide how he wanted to wake him up. If it was a couple of years ago, he’d have scared him awake, but now he didn’t want to do that.

“Stiles,” Derek tried. Stiles didn’t move, except for his head, which he turned towards Derek. “Stiles it’s time to get up.” Still nothing.

Derek put his hand on Stiles’ bare shoulder, giving him a shake. “Stiles.”

“Hngh,” Stiles grunted, shifting in his sleep so that he was on his side.

“You’re the one that wanted me here this early,” Derek said.

“Go away,” Stiles groaned, swiping his hand out towards Derek. Derek grabbed his wrist before Stiles accidentally hit him in the balls. Somehow that led to Stiles holding his hand in his sleep. Derek let his fingers linger for a moment before shaking Stiles’ hand. Stiles made a face of protest as he opened his eyes blearily.

“The game is starting.”

“Football is dumb,” Stiles said, his voice rough from sleep. Derek lifted an eyebrow. “Do you always look like that in the morning?” Derek looked down at himself. He was wearing jeans and a henley, nothing new. “Jesus.” Stiles pulled his hand away from Derek’s, which he hadn’t realized he was still holding, stretching it above his head as he rolled onto his back. Derek tried not to stare at him, but it was futile. Stiles’ hair was a mess, more so than usual, and the morning light gave the moles on his face contrast, or Derek just never allowed himself the opportunity to stare so openly at him, at his chest dotted with a constellation of moles just like his face.

“You promised me omelets,” Derek said, instead of telling Stiles how much he’d like to jump into the bed with him.

“You’ll get them, damn,” Stiles said, finally sitting up, ruffling his hair. “Let me shower then I’ll be down.” Derek took that as his cue to head back down stairs. The Sheriff was seated in his recliner with the game on.

“Did you wake him?”

“Yeah, he didn’t seem to want to get up.”

“He never does,” the Sheriff said. He went quiet, then. “But I’d rather have him oversleep, like he has been lately, than live through what happened to him in high school all over again.” Derek sat down on the couch, only half paying attention to the game. Football wasn’t really his sport, but it was Thanksgiving, and he hadn’t had a real Thanksgiving since before the fire. This was more low-key than his family’s had been, considering they always had at least three times the size of their family visiting for it.

Stiles came bounding down the stairs wearing a pair of jeans along with one of his patented plaid shirts, barefoot with his hair dripping wet.

“Who wants an omelet?” He asked. “Also, coffee.”

-

By the time Melissa and Scott showed up, the first game was over and they were in the second quarter of the next. Stiles had sat next to Derek on the couch, sitting cross-legged, his thigh brushing against Derek’s as they got more into the games. With the turkey in the oven, along with the green bean casserole that Melissa had brought, they had time to kill before everything would be ready.

“Now, the cornbread needs to go in just to reheat it, I cooked it this morning,” Melissa said. She had a glass of wine in her hand. The Sheriff and Derek, too, had drinks, beer. Stiles eyed his.

“No,” Derek said firmly.

“You can have wine with dinner,” Melissa said, looking at the Sheriff, who conceded. Scott didn’t mind not drinking, since he couldn’t get drunk, but Stiles did. Derek knew that Stiles drank at college, he’d called him multiple times while completely intoxicated, laughing so hard he was intelligible.

Derek decided not to drink anymore so Stiles wouldn’t feel left out.

After they ate, Stiles went upstairs to change into sweatpants because he’d overeaten. Derek had too because everything was delicious, but he didn’t have extra pants to slip into. He was jealous of both Stiles’ and Scott’s comfortable pants. Even the Sheriff did the patented ‘unbuttoning the top button’ maneuver. Derek stood up, just to walk around some before dessert.

They ended up playing dominoes, which got heated as time went by. Derek hadn’t smiled so openly, gotten mad without actually being mad, or had as much fun as he did while playing with them in a very long time. He didn’t want to leave. He mostly watched Stiles interacting with Scott, or the Sheriff and Melissa giving each other knowing glances. He was content in just being there with them, being included. He was thankful.

-

Stiles talked Derek into going out for breakfast before Derek headed back to the cabin and Stiles was on his way back to college. The Sheriff was on duty, so Derek didn’t feel guilty about taking that time away from him. He allowed himself to enjoy the time alone with Stiles.

They sat, cramped in a two-person booth, where their legs were much too long, with their knees banging together and feet tangling beneath the table top. Derek didn’t mind it.

Stiles practically bounced in his seat as he sipped on his coffee. Derek had tea, green.

“So when am I allowed to visit?” Stiles asked after they’d ordered. Stiles got pancakes, Derek, waffles.

“Visit where?” Derek asked. He hadn’t been paying attention, his mind off somewhere distant where he had the words on his tongue to tell Stiles what he really wanted.

“Your cabin,” Stiles said, almost rolling his eyes, though his face was nothing but amused.

“Oh,” Derek said, playing with the straw wrapper. He shrugged. “You can come up any time.”

“Really?” Stiles asked, leaning forward. “You just-- you made it seem like it was yours, you know? Like it was a sanctuary where none shall pass.” Derek frowned.

“No,” he said simply. “No, I--.” He didn’t know what to say to that. He hadn’t meant to make it seem as though he didn’t want anyone else there. He thought about having Stiles’ scent in his family’s cabin, about the smells mingling. He smiled. “What if we do Christmas at the cabin?”

“Really?” Stiles asked, his eyes widening with interest. He leaned back against the seat, his fingers strumming on the table top. “Like, who, my dad and I?”

“Sure-- yes,” Derek said, giving a half shrug. “Scott and his mom, too, if they want.” The cabin wasn’t ready yet, but if Derek spent all his time there before the holiday, it would be completely finished. Stiles reached out across the table and squeezed Derek’s hand, his fingers lingering for a moment before pulling back. Derek watched as Stiles put his hands in his lap as he bit his lip, eyes casting downward as though he hadn’t meant to touch Derek.

“Thank you,” Derek found himself saying. Stiles looked up, his face open and bare. Derek cleared his throat, any eyebrow lifting as he took a deep breath. “For calling me randomly, for texting--”

“Dude,” Stiles said with the shake of his head. “That’s what friends do.” Derek gave a curt nod as their food arrived. If Stiles was offering him friendship, he would take it and cherish it.

Once the food was gone and they were both idly playing on their phones as they sat, Derek grabbed the bill, paying for the whole thing.

“Derek,” Stiles said in warning as Derek handed the waitress the bill and his card.

“I got it,” Derek said in his best faux alpha voice. Stiles laughed, covering his mouth to quiet the guffaw. Derek smirked.

Outside, they had to say their goodbyes. They’d never hugged before, so when Stiles wrapped his arms around Derek’s torso, he froze. Stiles’ hands were splayed out across Derek’s back, his face close to his own. Before Stiles could pull away, Derek hugged him back, holding him close, breathing him in as he closed his eyes. Derek ached at the scent of him. When they pulled apart, the corner of Stiles’ mouth was turned upwards. Derek wouldn’t call it a smile, not really. He wasn’t sure how to describe it except that it made warmth spread throughout his body.

Without thinking, Derek put his hand on Stiles’ shoulder, his thumb moving back and forth before he let go. He walked away from Stiles, his hand tingling.

The drive to the cabin seemed longer than normal.

In the month he had left, well, less than a month, Derek busied himself. He woke up early, readying the guest bedrooms. He had to air them all out, clean sheets and wipe down baseboards. He took all the rugs out of the house and beat them, ridding them of dust. It was cold, would only get colder as Christmas drew nearer.

Derek chopped more wood.

He cleaned the wood floors with Murphy’s Oil Soap, filling the cabin with its scent. He dusted every surface, stocked the fridge and cupboards. He was almost ready. A week before Christmas, Stiles called. He’d been in the middle of building a fire, since it had dipped down into the 30’s.

“Hey, so are you ready for company?” Stiles asked. Derek looked around the cabin, proud of it.

“Yeah,” Derek said.

“Good, give me your address I’m coming tomorrow.” Derek’s eyes widened, his hand stilling where he’d held out a match, about to light the kindling. Derek blew it out instead, sitting cross-legged in front of the fireplace.

“Tomorrow?”

“Yeah, I’ve been home for a couple of days and I’m going stir crazy here.” Derek rattled off his address.

“Are the others coming tomorrow, too?” He asked.

“No, just me,” Stiles said, his voice quieter than normal. “Is that okay?”

“Yeah,” Derek said, shaking his head a bit to clear his head. “Yeah, that sounds great.”

-

The next day, Derek couldn’t sit still. He woke up early, like he always did, and started to make a stew in the crock pot for dinner. He’d made enough for two, but didn’t want to think about the fact that Stiles would be there, with him, alone.

He tried to read but couldn’t concentrate. He chopped more wood, then needed to shower afterward to get the dirt and sweat off of him before Stiles arrived. He’d just slipped on a clean pair of jeans and henley when he heard the sound of the Jeep pulling up the long drive. Quickly, Derek ran his fingers through his hair and looked at himself in the mirror, checking his beard.

Perhaps he should have trimmed it, but it was too late for that now. He pulled on his coat, because the weather had called for flurries, as he walked out onto the porch. Derek watched the Jeep as it appeared around the bend, a smile appearing across his face as he slowly walked down the wooden steps.

Stiles practically jumped out of the Jeep, the grin on his face contagious as he walked forward, wrapping his arms around Derek freely.

“This is so awesome,” he said, his breath hot against Derek’s neck as Derek clung to him. When they parted, Stiles looked to Derek’s beard, his fingers ghosting across it. “As is that.”

Derek closed his eyes, then looked at the cabin instead of at Stiles. Stiles had on fingerless gloves, and multiple layers. He wasn’t used to the cold, having usually worn long sleeves all year long in the mild weather of Beacon Hills. Derek rubbed his hands up and down Stiles’ arms, then dropped them.

“Come on, let’s get your stuff inside and start a fire.”

“You hadn’t started one yet? It’s freezing!” Stiles said, his teeth chattering.

Once inside, Stiles roamed around the entire place, with Derek following behind him a few steps, his hands stuffed into the back pockets of his jeans. The last room was the master bedroom, Derek’s parents’ room, now his. It had a four-poster bed, elevated with drawers beneath it because it took up most of the room. To the corner was a cast iron furnace, one of the only other pieces of furniture in the room besides wall hangers that held coats, and Derek’s leather jacket.

“Wow,” Stiles said. “This is amazing. So you guys all used to come up here?” Derek couldn’t find the words, so he simply nodded as he watched Stiles walk around the room, looking out the window. “You know what’s missing?”

“What?” Derek asked, worried he’d forgotten something essential.

“A Christmas tree.”

“I--”

“Decorations,” Stiles said as he stepped forward. “There are no signs of those things.”

“We can go get them,” Derek said. Half-heartedly, Stiles rolled his eyes as he stepped closer. His face was close to Derek’s, so close that all Derek had to do in order to kiss him was to lean forward.

“Damn straight,” Stiles said, then walked past him back towards the front door where they’d dropped his things. “Where am I sleeping?”

“Whichever room you want,” Derek said truthfully even though he wanted to say in mine. In the end, Stile chose Derek’s old room without realizing it. It was next to the master bedroom, and had a furnace in it as well because of the connecting wall.

Leaving Stiles alone to unpack, Derek started the fire, then checked on the stew.

“That smells amazing,” Stiles said, appearing over Derek’s shoulder. Derek breathed through his nostrils, paying more attention to Stiles than to the stew. Now that Stiles was here, actually there alive in front of him, he had no idea what they were going to do for days before the others arrived. He had no TV, no video games, no internet. There was nothing for Stiles to do.

Stiles had taken off his gloves and a few layers, but had on a hoodie. His nose was slightly pink, from the cold.

“What do you want to do?” Derek asked, looking at Stiles’ lips as he licked them. Stiles’ cheeks reddened as he looked around the small living area.

“Well, I’ve been driving all day. Let’s not go out again until tomorrow.”

“Okay,” Derek said.

“What do you usually do?” Stiles asked. “Up here all alone.”

“Read,” Derek said.

“We can read, then,” Stiles said, disappearing towards his room. When he reemerged, he had a book in hand, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. There was only one couch, and a chair that wasn’t conducive to reading. Stiles sat down first, making himself comfortable. Derek, grabbing his half-finished book off the coffee table, wavered for a moment before Stiles, without looking up, patted his hand on the spot beside him. Derek sat.

They read in silence, which Derek didn’t know was a state that Stiles could live in. Eventually, Stiles fell asleep, his feet tucked up underneath Derek’s thighs, helping them keep warm. When Derek got up to stretch, Stiles grunted, his eyes opening.

“Dinner?” Derek asked. When he held out his hand to help pull Stiles up to his feet, his hand lingered. Stiles brushed past Derek, yawning as he scratched at his head as if Derek hadn’t held his hand for an uncomfortable amount of time. Derek had been spending too long alone, without company. He sought affection in a way that he hadn’t in years, possibly even ever.

Having grown up in a pack, where affection was part of day to day life, then having that life altered drastically when it was just he and Laura sharing a shitty bed in New York together, to now where he was completely alone... Derek knew he had to keep his distance.

He handed Stiles a bowl, allowing him to get his stew first. They ate in silence, though Derek didn’t think it was an uncomfortable one by the way that Stiles kept humming to himself, his knee knocking back and forth beneath the table, hitting Derek a few times without an apology.

“This is so good,” Stiles said as he stood up, helping himself to a second serving. He practically drank it straight from the bowl and licked it clean. Derek watched him, forgetting about his own bowl.

They did the dishes together, saving the rest of the stew for another day. Once that was done, Derek added more wood to the fire, stoking it before he turned his attention back to Stiles, who was walking around the room looking at the bookshelves.

“What now?” Stiles asked. The sun was long gone, the sky pitch black and moonless outside.

“We have games,” Derek suggested.

“Two player games?” Stiles asked. “I’m pretty good at Old Maid and Go Fish.” Derek smirked as he shook his head, showing Stiles all of his childhood family games that he found stacked up in the linen closet.

“Blokus!” Stiles said with a clap of his hands. “I can so play that for hours.”

So they did. Stiles grabbed the quilt off of Derek’s bed, wrapping it around himself to keep warm as the temperature dropped outside. They sat by the fire, dragging one of the old travel trunks that were used as coffee tables to set the game up on. Derek was relaxed, was enjoying himself despite the fact that Stiles won three times in a row. He didn’t care, though.
When it was time to sleep, Stiles hesitated.

“It’s really far from the fire,” he said. Derek knew that the rooms warmed up, especially when the furnace was lit, but he wasn’t about to turn down spending time closer to Stiles. “Can’t we just camp out out here?” Stiles asked.

“I guess--”

“Let’s make a fort,” Stiles said, his eyebrows raising. Derek bit his tongue, willing himself not to scowl at the thought of making a blanket fort. Stiles disappeared down the hallway, then appeared carrying an arm full of blankets.

“That isn’t... safe,” Derek said, his face contorting. He tried not to look angry, since that was his face’s semi-permanent expression. Stiles’ shoulders slumped. “Because of the fire.”

“You’re right,” Stiles said, setting the blankets down on the couch.

“I have a blow up mattress, though?” Derek said. “Or we can light the furnaces in our rooms.”

“Are those safe?” Stiles asked. “I wasn’t sure if they were decorative or not.”

“They’re safe,” Derek assured him. He’d just backed himself out of sharing a bed with Stiles, but he told himself that it was for the best. The last thing he needed to explain was him scenting Stiles during the night without meaning to.

Stiles rocked back and forth from one foot to the other as he thought about it.

“Alright, no sleepover, then,” he said, grabbing three of the blankets. “But I’m taking these.”

“Use as many as you need,” Derek said as he followed Stiles into his room. Stiles got ready for bed as Derek lit the furnace, adding firewood to it.

When he got into his own bed, with his own furnace lit, all he could hear was the sound of Stiles’ beating heart in the room next to his. He slept contentedly, not alone.

The next day, after an entire pot of coffee between them, they layered up before they headed into town in Stiles’ Jeep. They spent time picking out decorations, bought hanging lights, and stopped by the store before heading to the only diner in town for lunch. When Derek paid, Stiles protested, but ended up smiling behind a cup of hot chocolate he got to go.

On their way back to the cabin, it started to snow.

“Are we going to get snowed in? Can you drive in the snow? I can’t drive in the snow, Derek,” Stiles said as they pulled up to the cabin. “How are Melissa and Scott going to get here?”

“They’ll drive,” Derek said. “And it will stop soon.”

“Are you sure?” Stiles asked.

“Positive,” Derek said. True to his word, within the hour, it stopped. “Do you want to go find a tree?” Derek asked.

“Find-- find a tree? You mean like go find one on our own and chop it down?”

“Yeah,” Derek said, elongating it. “That’s why we didn’t buy one in town.”

“Oh, wow, yeah that’s awesome, let’s do that,” Stiles said, his nose still pink from the drive. First, he put on more layers. They trudged together through the light dusting of snow, into the forest surrounding the cabin. Derek had the axe, while Stiles held onto the twine they’d use to wrap the tree in to make it easier to move.

“What about this one?” Stiles asked. Derek grunted.

“Too small.”

Stiles groaned, which made Derek smirk as he looked back at him, continuing forward.

“This one?”

“That-- that’s too tall.”

“You’re killing me, Smalls!” Stiles said, leaning against a tree. He sniffled, his pink nose running from the cold. “You’re being picky.”

“I haven’t had a Christmas tree in-- in a long time,” Derek admitted. Stiles licked his chapped lips, gnawing on them as he listened. “I want it to be perfect.”

“Alright,” Stiles said, walking up to Derek and linking his arm with Derek’s. “Then let’s get you a fucking phenomenal tree.”

They walked and walked, and then walked some more, until Derek stopped in front of one that would probably clear the ceiling of the den. Probably.

“This one,” Derek said. It was full, didn’t have many holes in the branches. It was perfect.

“Gonna chop it down?” Stiles asked with a sly grin. He was rubbing his gloved hands together conspiratorily. Derek raised his eyebrows, then showed Stiles the axe. “I’m gonna watch.”

“You do that,” Derek said with a laugh. He tried not to allow himself the opportunity to blush, knowing that Stiles would be watching him.

He knew what he looked like, hell, he owned a mirror. He was hit on every time he went into town, and New York had been an experience for a high schooler who grew up in a small town. But for some reason, thinking about Stiles eyeing him had Derek’s ears turning pink, and not from the cold.

It didn’t take him long to chop it down, using his strength to his benefit because he knew Stiles was probably freezing. Stiles hooted and hollered as he danced around the fallen tree, handing off the twine to Derek. They wrapped it, then Derek dragged it back.

“I can help,” Stiles said as he walked on ahead, turning his head back towards Derek every so often.

“I got it,” Derek said. Stiles grumbled, his hands stuffed in his coat pockets. Stiles went quiet after that. Derek chalked it up to the cold. When they got back, he stomped his boots against the porch, then toed them off before stepping into the house. He left the tree outside, for now, so they could warm up the house. He added wood to the fire, then started heating up left over stew as Stiles peeled off his layers. His hair was a mess, his face completely red.

They sat down in front of the fire, cross-legged, as they ate the stew, thawing out their cold limbs. Stiles was still silent.

“You--”

“So--”

They’d both started talking at the same time.

“You go--”

“What were you going to say?” Stiles asked, setting his bowl down in front of him, looking at Derek expectantly.

“You go first,” Derek said, his voice soft. “I was just going to say you’re quiet.”

“I thought you hated when I rambled,” Stiles said. Derek shrugged as he took another bite of his stew. Stiles sighed, picking at the rug beneath them. “I was just-- gah.” Derek watched Stiles’ facial expression change, his shoulders slumping, could hear this heart rate pick up. He was fighting himself on something. “I don’t want to ruin what we have.”

Derek’s gut sank as he nodded his head solemnly. He had gotten stew on his thumb as he placed his bowl on the ground next to Stiles’, so he licked it off without thinking, sighing himself.

“I don’t either--”

“But I need you to know that I, I mean, I’m not a kid.” Derek’s brow drew, confused by Stiles’ admission.

“I know that,” Derek said.

“So I don’t, I mean, have there been mixed signals here, or-- do you want me?” Stiles asked, his hands signifying his body as a whole. Derek watched his hands flail around his torso area, then caught his gaze. “Am I making this up?”

“No,” Derek said with a shake of his head. “You aren’t making it up.”

“Then why haven’t we been-- I mean, I’ve liked you since--,” Stiles kept stumbling over his words. “Since the woods.”

“The woods?”

“Yeah,” Stiles said, shrugging. The tips of his ears were pink, along with his nose. His body was turned towards Dereks, his hands in his lap. “Like, you know, grouchy you throwing Scott his inhaler woods.”

“Then?” Derek asked. Stiles hadn’t even registered to him, then, he had been too caught up in the fact that a newly turned werewolf was there, on his property.

“I mean that was a completely superficial, you know, inappropriate reaction now that I look back on it but teenagers, you know? But that’s beside the point, the point being that we are alone, in a cabin, and I like you but I don’t want to ruin the semblance of a friendship we have, and the fact that you and my dad hang.”

“I like you, too,” Derek said. Stiles looked like he was holding his breath before he grinned, leaning forward and capturing Derek’s lips with his own. Derek pulled Stiles closer, tugging on his hoodie as the kiss deepened. Derek closed his eyes as Stiles crawled into his lap, his knees on either side of Derek’s thighs as they continued kissing.

“This is good,” Stiles said, his lips hovering over Derek’s. “You’re a good kisser.”

“Thanks?” Derek said as he wrapped his arms around Stiles, holding him even closer. He kissed him again, long and languidly, making Stiles let out a low moan.

“I’m gonna get a wicked beard burn,” Stiles laughed as he rubbed at his face when the kiss ended. Derek couldn’t help but laugh.

Eventually, they got off of each other and brought the tree inside. It fit, barely, and together they began putting the lights on it. Every so often, they stopped so they could kiss again, and again. Derek didn’t want to stop touching Stiles now that he knew that he could. Stiles leaned into it every time. Once they finished putting the ornaments on the tree, Derek tugged Stiles close to him, wrapping his arms around him so that Stiles’ back was to Derek’s chest. He dragged his beard against the back of Stiles’ neck, making him squirm.

“Mercy! Mercy,” Stiles laughed, his fingers linking with Derek’s. “Please, I can’t--”

Derek turned him around, kissing him on the lips once more.

They sat by the fire, wrapped up in blankets with mugs of hot chocolate, looking at the Christmas tree. Stiles leaned back against Derek’s chest, admiring it.

“First Christmas,” Stiles said, craning his neck to look at Derek. “You know, together.” Derek nodded his head. He liked the sound of that.

“First Christmas,” Derek said with a smile. First Christmas to the rest of his life, where he was no longer alone.



artwork by banryeo