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Batman Band-Aids

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 “This is Derek, leave a message.”

 “Hey Derek. Um, I’m glad you’re alive and well. I’m pissed you up and left without a proper goodbye. But, you know, good job on the whole digivolve thing you’ve got going on I guess. Uh...home is good. Nothing weird is happening thankfully. Everyone’s just getting over what’s been happening since things have calmed down. But if I’m being honest, I’m just waiting for the next shit storm to go down. For now though things are good. All good. So...yeah. Kind of glad you didn’t answer this call though because if you did this would have been so much more awkward than it already is. Sorry I called. Bye.”

 Message ended.

 

~~~~~~

 

“This is Derek, leave a message.”

 “Hi again. I’m guessing maybe you got a new phone, cause this number is still going so I know you didn’t change it. Anyway, senior year is here. I saw some initials, D.H. I know you probably didn’t put those there but I thought of you anyway. And no, I don’t miss you or your grumpy eyebrows. Anyway, this werewolf with glowing claws tried to take Scott’s power, but being the True Alpha he is it didn’t work. Then this guy we used to know, Theo, showed up and turns out he’s a werewolf too. I have a bad feeling about him but no one believes me. The guy just has something off about him, and I’m going to find out. So, yeah. Bye.”

 Message ended.

 

~~~~~~

 

 “This is Derek, leave a message.”

 “Aaaand like I predicted, shit is going down. Kanima-werewolf hybrids, dead bodies, a new evil power that are called the Dread Doctors, oh my! Typical really. Theo is getting seriously shady but everyone seems to think he’s an angel. I don’t like him. The pack...they’re not saying it but I know they think I’m being overly paranoid. Well, someone has to! Scott said that I never trusted half of the people we knew right off the bat, but that’s his job! If I weren’t paranoid I guaran-fucking-tee his little furry werewolf ass would be dead by now. Malia is the only one siding with me, but that’s out of my word instead of her own wariness. I’m taking what I can get though. We’ve got things handled though so...don’t worry about coming back. No need for you to be a chew toy too. Bye.”

 Message ended.

 

~~~~~~

 

 “This is Derek, leave a message.”

 “...Derek. I-I just killed someone…”

 Message ended.

 “I have his blood on my hands Derek. I called the cops but-but the body’s gone! There’s just...blood everywhere. I just- I just left. Derek, I can’t go to Scott. I can’t tell him, he can’t find out. He’s trying to save everyone and I killed someone! Oh god I’m gonna be sick…”

 Message ended.

 “...I need you to believe me Derek. I need someone to actually understand. You would better than anyone else. I just pulled the pin of the scaffolding and the bars fell and he was right there, but Derek, he said he was going to kill my dad. I can’t lose my dad, Derek. He showed up when my jeep broke down and he did something to my shoulder. I whacked him on the head with a wrench and ran into the school and-...I killed someone. I’ve seen death before, we all have, but this is different. Even with the Nogitsune, I did bad things and people got hurt. But this? I did this myself, mind and body. I killed someone. I watched him die....his name was Donovan.”

 Message ended

 

~~~~~~

 

  It wasn’t uncommon for Stiles to call Derek’s number, even if it was his old one. He’d call and at first it was awkward, leaving messages that Derek would may or may not hear, giving updates about a town he left behind. After the first ten calls it was pretty obvious that Derek had no intention of listening or returning them. So his voicemail box became a place Stiles told everything to up until the automated voice cut him off. 

 Then shit hit the fan. Because of course it does.

 Scott chose Theo over him, casting him out as if he was just another bad guy when he had done everything and sacrificed so much to help and keep everyone else safe, and Scott basically told him it was better for him to die than to defend himself? No. No.

 So when Theo gave him the ultimatum to save his dad or Scott he chose his dad. Besides, Scott could handle himself. He was a werewolf but his dad was human.

 When Stiles found his dad he’s just in time. He rushes over, kneeling over his bleeding, pale dad. Despite how painful and slow the injury mus be, the man smiles at him like he doesn't have any care in the world. Like he hasn't lost a scary amount of blood already. It's okay, everything is okay because he’s in time for his dad to see him, in time for Stiles to call the police and put pressure on the giant wound in his gut. He’s in time to babble reassurances and ride in the ambulance, hold his dad’s hand, feel how warm it was when he knew it should be cold.

 In the fast ambulance ride, Stiles realizes how little he’s been around his dad, how all those moments and all the time they could have spent making memories was lost. He missed his dad.

 "Stiles." His dad whispers, before coughing, red tinging his lips.

 "Shh," Stiles insists. The EMT's are rushing around beside him trying to keep his dad alive. "Don't talk. Tell me whatever you have to when you're better okay? Because you'll be fine."

 His dad squeezes his hand. 

 When they get to the hospital Stiles can’t go in with him when the doctor’s and nurses rushed his dad into surgery. Instead he has to sit in the very familiar blue chairs with the white walls and the smell of lemon-scented cleaning products. His leg was jumping up and down, he was sweating and his heart was beating fast like he had too much caffeine in his system. Stiles almost wished Melissa was here to comfort him, but he didn’t think he would be able to see her and not lose it. The second his dad had been wheeled away from him, the reality came flooding over him. His dad could- no. His worst nightmare felt like it was unraveling around him, but he refused to acknowledge it. He couldn't afford to.

 After hours and hours of sitting and waiting, a doctor comes and tells him that his father died during surgery.

 "I'm sorry to inform you, but...your father's heart stopped twice...too much blood loss...couldn't resuscitate..."

 Silence.

 It’s all Stiles can hear. He knew the doctor was still talking but he didn’t care. He stopped listening.

 Silence.

 He turns on his heel and walked down the hallway.

 Then there was the sound of his blood was rushing in his ears. Stiles felt like he was caught in between a panic attack and having the opposite of one; his hands were shaking and he couldn’t focus, but at the same time it was like he was hyper aware.

 He doesn’t remember getting in the car. He doesn’t remember the drive home.

 He just finds himself slumped against the door to his dad’s bedroom.

 Stiles’ phone is in his hand and to his ear before he can fully register what was going on.

 “Derek,” his voice cracked. “My dad’s...he’s dead.” The words feel thick and foreign in his mouth, like they don't belong. They don't. They shouldn't.

 Stiles stops talking. He feels completely numb; at a loss of all the emotions. Or maybe he can’t decide a single emotion to feel, so to prepare for when he does feel he’s just numb. All Stiles is completely sure of is that he hasn’t felt exactly like this since his mom died. Maybe this was worse.

 “I can’t stay here.” He says. It’s mostly to himself but he says it into the phone anyway.

 “I need to leave. Please-please if you listen to these...come get me. I’ll be at the loft. Come get me.” Stiles whispers. He stays quiet until Derek’s voicemail cuts him off and ends the message.

 A sob breaks past his lips and suddenly Stiles is sobbing. He can’t see past the tears in his eyes and he’s crying harder than he ever has. He’s alone. He’s an orphan. Both his parents are dead and he’s had to watch them die. He’s alone. He has no one, not even the pack. Not even his best friend. Not even his dad.

 He can’t breathe. He can’t breathe. Stiles knows he’s having a panic attack but he can’t even stop it. His chest is squeezing and hot tears flood fat down his face, blurring his vision and everything's shaking and he can’t breathe he can't-

 -there's a painful, hollow ache deep in his chest where his lungs are. The pain is the first thing feels when he comes to. The second is the feeling of the carpet against his face, rough against his sensitive skin. Tears are still leaking from his eyes. It takes his foggy mind a minute to realize he passed out. His breathing continues to hiccup as he curls into a fetal position. Stiles feels like a little kid crying for their parents. And really, that’s exactly what he is.

 Eventually (after hours or minutes, he can't really tell) Stiles manages to peel himself off the carpet and into a sitting position. He’s numb again; spent from crying. His body feels heavy and suddenly he just wants to sleep. But he can’t. He’s not done with what he has to do yet. There’s so much he has to do.

 Stiles picks up his phone to check the time and sees a notification from a text message. It’s from an unknown number.

 “I’ll be there. 11 hours.” The simple text is enough to let him know somehow, some way Derek got his message. A small trickle of relief finds its way into his chest. That’s one thing he didn’t have to worry about.

 A big part of Stiles thought that Derek wouldn’t come. He never responded to any of his calls, so what was one more? Either way, he wasn’t going to stay in this town. He couldn't bring himself to. Having the reassurance that Derek was going to be there was welcomed. He always thought that if Derek did show back up he’d chew him out for leaving and never responding to all of his calls. Now Stiles couldn’t care less.

 “Thank you.” Stiles sent back. His fingers were still twitching.

 Stiles sat and stared at his phone for a while longer. His mind went to Melissa. He doubted if she knew what happened, and if she had he was sure she would have already been here. And with him leaving, he needed to ask some favors he knew only she would be willing to do. He called her and she answered quickly.

 “Stiles,” She said. For some reason her voice was filled with relief. “I’m glad you called. Scott’s hurt pretty bad and I know you two had a fight, but I think he could really use you right about now.”

 God, her voice. He grew up hearing her voice alongside his own parents’. It never failed to be calm, caring, or disciplined with him.

 “Melissa…” He said softly. Even to his own ears, his voice sounded raw and emotional.

 “Stiles, what’s wrong?” Melissa asked.

 “My dad’s dead.” He said for the second time. Stiles heard a quick intake of breath and was met with silence.

 “No...oh Stiles, I’m so sorry.” Melissa was crying but he knew she was pulling herself together for him, even though he could only hear her voice.

 “I need you to do something for me.” He said.

 “Anything.”

 “I’m,” Stiles had to clear his throat to get out the next words he was going to say. “I’m leaving. I can’t stay here, Melissa. Could you just- just look over everything. Make sure the house and dad are taken care of?” Stiles was starting to cry again.

 “Sweetie, you know I’ll do anything for you, but why do you have to leave?” She asked.

 “I can’t stay. I already watched one parent be put in the ground, I can’t stand seeing another one. I…” Stiles put a hand to his mouth and tried to stop himself from sobbing like he did earlier. He needed to get through this one thing.

 “Okay Stiles, okay.” Melissa said. “How long are you going to be gone?”

 “I don’t know. A few months maybe. Not too long. All I know is I can’t stay.” He said.

 “Promise me you’ll be back.”

 “I promise.” Stiles whispered into the phone.

 “Good. And Stiles?”

 “Yeah?”

 “You know I love you, right?”  His bottom lip wobbled.

 “Yeah.”

 As Stiles attempted poorly to hold on to his composure he heard the phone move on the other side of the line, and then Scott’s voice was in his ear. “Stiles?”

 Stiles tensed and didn’t respond.

 “I’m sorry about what happened to your dad.” Scott said. Damn him. Damn him.

 “Yeah, well, so am I.” He said.

 “What happened?” Scott asked.

 “Theo.”

 He heard Scott sigh. “Why did I ever think to trust him?” He asked, but it sounded like the question was mostly to himself. Scott sounded so wounded that even though Stiles wanted to be furious, he couldn’t. Theo was great at manipulating everyone, even Stiles. He couldn’t blame Scott for that, but he wasn’t ready to forgive him or anyone right then.

 “Well it happened. Can't do much about that now.” Stiles said harshly.

 “But now we can Stiles. Don't leave.” Scott begged.

 “I can't Scott.”

 “Why not?”

 “I just lost my dad. I'm alone. Ever since you got bit, I've been breaking little by little. The nogitsune almost broke me, but I managed to heal Scott. The one thing I never wanted to happen was for something to happen to my dad. Now he's dead.” Stiles rubbed his face and sagged against the wall. “I just can't do this. In a few months, I may be able to handle all of this. But now? Remember how long it took for me to feel like I could handle things when my mom died?”

 Scott was quiet. “Okay.” He said. “I'll support you.”

 Stiles sighed. “Thank you.”

 “Where are you going?”

 “Don't know.”

 “You don't know? Are you just going to drive around until you find some place to stay?” Scott asked.

 “No,” He said. “I managed to get a hold of Derek. He's coming to get me.”

 “Oh.” Scott said.

 “Yeah. Derek said he’d be here in 11 hours.” Stiles said.

 “I can’t believe your dad’s gone. I can’t believe you’re leaving.” Scott said.

 “Things happen.” He said. They both stayed quiet for a moment

 “Will you at least come by to say goodbye?” Scott asked.

 Stiles sighed. “I don’t know Scott. I don’t know.”

 “What should I tell the others? At least, the ones that are still a part of the pack?”

  “The truth.” He said. “No need in coming up with lies. Lydia will understand. Malia and I have things of our own to work out. I wasn’t really that close to Liam and Mason so I don’t care what you tell them.”

 “Okay, well,” when Scott paused Stiles wanted to cry again. “Keep us updated?”

 “I’ll try.” He whispered.

 “...Bye.”

 “Bye.” And then the call ended, and Stiles was left with the silence once more, waiting as the minutes ticked on closer to when he’d leave.

 A pitiful whimper escapes him mouth as he moves to stand up. His legs feel like jell-o and he had to hold onto the banister to keep from falling down the stairs.

 Stiles decides to waste time by keeping himself busy. So he cleans everything. He washed the dishes that were in the sink, cleaned the counters and even swept the floors. He vacuums the entire house, wipes dust off of any surface he can find. The bathrooms are next on his list, then upstairs. He avoids his dad’s door completely, unwilling to walk inside. He can’t bare thinking about his dad.

 He cleans his room and does his laundry. He finds the biggest suitcase he can and stuffs it full of clothes and whatever shoes he had. He was being serious when he didn’t know how long he’d be gone, or where he’d be going, He could be going to Malibu or Alaska for all he knows. He throws in his toothbrush and shower stuff. On his trip downstairs to the drier he sees a photo he took somewhat recently with his dad. They both have their arms thrown over each other shoulders and smiling. He remembered Scott had taken that photo for them. He grabs the photo and runs up the stairs, shoving the picture frame face down at the very bottom of his suitcase.

 When Stiles is done cleaning and packing everything, he checks his phone. He still has a few hours before Derek is even close to here. He decides he should probably clean out the fridge of anything that will go bad. He won’t be here to eat it and he doubts Melissa would.

 Stiles sits on the floor and cries for an hour when he finds girl scout cookies hiding in the back of the freezer. He can’t bring himself to take them out.

 Despite feeling the grief filled fatigue, Stiles can’t feel the urge to sleep. He’s still jittery and shaky and can’t focus on anything. He doesn’t take his adderall because the last thing he needs is to be completely focused. So Stiles just sits nestled on the floor against the cabinets, looking at the floor and not thinking. Not like he could anyway. His brain is filled with cotton, trying to keep him from his grief.

 Stiles isn’t complaining. He can grieve later. He just can't handle it now.

 Two hours to go. Stiles dragged himself off the floor and up to his room. He grabbed his suitcase and dragged it off of his bed. Once more Stiles stopped at his dad's door. He took a shaky breath and laid a kiss on the door. He felt like he could cry some more but was effectively too dehydrated to produce tears.

 Stiles hauled the suitcase into the back of the jeep and headed in the direction of the loft. It was some time after noon and the sky was cloudy. It jarred him when he realized how much time had passed. Hours since...

 He tried to ignore how his hands suddenly seemed to turn a tint of red from the blood he tried to stop coming out of his dad as he put them on the wheel.

 His hands lingering on the ignition. The second he turned on Roscoe’s engine, there was no turning back. He was going to head to the loft and wait for Derek. He’d be on the road and leaving the place he grew up in. It’d be the longest he’s ever been away from Beacon Hills. Could he really do it? Leave this town, leave school, leave the pack that wasn’t much of a pack anymore in the midst of everything that’s happening? Leave the responsibility of his house and his father in Melissa’s hands?

 The jeep was pulling out of the driveway as he thought of his answer.

  Yes.

Chapter Text

 Stiles drives through the town he lived in. He passed houses he's always seen, neighborhoods he's trick-or-treated in. He passed the school, the station with its police cars, and gradually made his way out to the outskirts of town to Derek’s loft.

 He parked the jeep, looking up at the giant building. It’s been forever since he’s been inside the dark and bare loft, but he’s not nostalgic enough to go up all the flights of stairs just to see it. It was empty and cold now, not like it wasn't before. But now it held the lingering feeling of blood and lost life from the tragedy and violence the hard walls had become acquainted with.

 He pulled out his phone and typed a brief message for Scott.

 “Leaving my jeep at the loft. Get it when I’m gone.” His thumb lingers above the send button for a moment before he hits it.

 Stiles leans back and stares out the window. He hates the sun. Hates how it’s warm out and the whole world is moving around, not knowing it just lost an incredible man. He hates that there is never a moment for someone to have the world stop for their grief. Why can’t the world just freeze long enough to heal? Why do the broken get thrown into the fast pace of life even when it hurts to?

 He doesn’t know any of the answers, and he doesn’t know if he ever will. He isn't sure if he even wants to.

 By the loft he has no distractions from the cars on the road or the constant sounds that were all around him, so Stiles wondered where he’d be going. Derek had to be holed up somewhere. Eleven hours by car couldn’t be that far from California, probably in one of the surrounding states. In all honesty, with this being Derek, he could be living anywhere. And given his past poor choices of living establishments he hoped it would actually be a place where people could live.

 Stiles knew he probably did. It didn’t take a genius to figure out beneath all of his heavy eyebrows and mean comments that didn’t have any real ill-intent behind them, living in places such as the burnt shell of a childhood home and the subway train, Derek had been punishing himself. After the whole Kate de-aged thing, and even some time before then, Derek had started to make more progress in being comfortable in his own skin. He’d be living in a place where it’d mirror that.

 That middle ground between time going by really fast or really slow plagued him. A minute felt like an eternity, but ten minutes was gone in a blink of an eye. He tried not to anxiously count the minutes as they passed since that only succeeded in making him jittery.

 Eventually eleven hours was up. But where was Derek? Was he not coming? No, he was. Stiles was sure of it. Somewhat. Derek should be on his way but any number of things could be slowing him down. Traffic, a gas station, anything. Still, Stiles’ skin crawled as he sat in the jeep. He wanted out. He wanted to leave now.

 Ten claustrophobic minutes passed. Then twenty. Then thirty. Finally a full hour came and passed. Stiles eyes prickled with tears as he continued to wait. He couldn't stop fidgeting. He bit at his nails, jiggled his legs, and adjusted the way he was sitting every few seconds.

 Finally, before he could lose it completely, a car came into sight of his rear-view mirror. It wasn’t the camaro but instead an SUV that looked like it was made for off roading.

 It was Derek. Stiles scrambled out of the jeep to face Derek.

 He'd changed. Instead of the pale, somehow hairless, brooding and self-punishing attitude, he looked...good. Healthy. He wore a grey Henley and jeans and he had stubble so thick it was almost a beard. His eyes were light, his face relaxed. He looked his age in a good way.

 “You-you look good.” Stiles said, cringing at how his voice cracked.

 “You don't.” Derek said. His voice was still the same, a lost familiarity that almost made Stiles crumble to the asphalt then and there. “How much sleep have you gotten?”

 Stiles shrugged. “A few hours the past few days.”

 “So you've been running off of only a few hours of sleep.”

 “Adrenaline does wonders.” He simply said.

 Derek didn't say anything more, which Stiles was grateful for. Derek didn't offer any condolences or give Stiles his pity. He knew what it was like to lose all of your family. He knew how it felt and the things you did and didn't need. Derek knew. It seemed now days he had a lot more in common with him than his friends.

 “Do you have everything?” Derek asked.

 Stiles nodded and motioned to the suitcase in the jeep. Before he could move to get it himself, Derek was already opening the door and pulling it out, taking it to the back of his own car. Stiles let him. He wasn’t the one with werewolf strength and he didn’t feel like dragging the suitcase around.

 “Can I drive?” Stiles blurted out. It was impulse to ask. The thousand times he felt comfortable enough with Derek to ask to drive the camaro still sat on the tip of his tongue. All Stiles got in response was a snort as Derek slid into the driver’s seat. That small action eased some of the tension out of his shoulders as he got in the passenger seat.

 With ease Derek put the car in reverse and started driving. Stiles watched in the side mirror his jeep disappear from view. He pressed a hand to his mouth as he got the sudden need to cry. Of course the thing that broke him was leaving his crappy, old, awesome jeep.

 He couldn't stop himself from crying. He didn't like crying in front of other people, but that wasn't a luxury he could afford now.

 Being in the car with Derek, leaving, made everything real. His dad was dead. Dead, and he was just leaving everything behind. His suitcase alone held the contents of his entire life now. The jeep he never left without was now abandoned until Scott came to get it.

 Stiles faced the window as he cried. His chest heaved and his throat ached as he tried to swallow down his sounds. Tears dripped down his face and onto his lap. He knew Derek could smell his tears and his grief, but he kept driving without saying a word. He hiccuped, trying to steady his breathing and staunch the tears.

 By the time he was able to regain some composure, they were already out of Beacon Hills. Stiles was glad he didn't see the sign. He wiped at his face and finally looked forward.

 “So...why don't you have the camaro?” Stiles asked, trying to pay attention to anything other than his impromptu crying. He grimaced when he wiped his face only to discover it was wet with a mix of tears and snot. Gross.

 “It's not a practical car to have where we're going.” Derek said.

 “Where are we going?” Stiles asked.

 “In between San Juan National Forest and Dunton, Colorado.” He said.

 “Colorado?”

 “In the middle of the woods.”

 Stiles frowned. “Is there WiFi? Or any kind of service for that matter?”

 Derek shook his head. “Once a month I go into town. That's the only time I can use electronics that aren't radios.”

 “Then what do you do?” Stiles asked.

 “A lot of things. I hike, I read, I relax. Being away from the city is actually really nice once you get used to it.” Derek said.

 “Besides our little trips to Mexico, I haven't truly been in the middle of nowhere.” Stiles said.

 “Then this should be quite the experience.” Derek gave him a pointed look and Stiles gave him a sad excuse of a glare.

 Stiles reached forward and turned on the radio for some background noise. The radio station it was on wasn't something Stiles would particularly listen to, but it was good enough for it's purpose.

 “What the hell is this?” Derek asked, making a face at the music.

 “Mainstream music.” Stiles said.

 “This is crap.” He said, changing the station. Now country music, for some reason, was playing. That wasn't acceptable. He couldn't drown this music out.

 “Don’t be such an old man.” He said. Stiles changed it back.

 Derek looked over briefly at him. “Stiles.” He warned.

 “What?”

 “Turn it off.”

 “Why?”

 Derek frowned. “My car, my rules.”

 “What happened to guests are always right?” Stiles asked. Banter. He could do this. This was familiar but different, something unique to him and Derek.

 “I think you mean customers are always right.” Derek said.

 “Then I'm a customer. You can be my uber.” He said. Derek raised an eyebrow. “My mobile provider. Therefore, I can choose what music to listen to.”

 Derek was silent for a moment. “If I'm your uber then you must be paying me.” Damn. When Stiles didn't respond Derek turned to pay attention to the road with a smug look on his face.

 “I know what I can pay you with.” Stiles said. Derek furrowed his eyebrows.

 “With what?” He asked.

 “Miscellaneous facts.” He said simply. Derek's face fell and he groaned when he realized what he'd gotten himself into.

 “Did you know human birth control pills work on gorillas?” Stiles asked. Derek sighed.

 “No, I did not Stiles.”

 “Did you know that if you put a tiny amount of liquor on a scorpion it will make it instantly go mad and sting itself to death?”

 “Why do you know these things?”

 “I got bored one time.”

 “You must be bored all the time then.”

 “I’m going to ignore that comment.” Stiles said. ““Rhythm" is the longest English word without a vowel.”

 “But it has “y” in it. That’s a vowel.”

 “Only sometimes, Derek. Have you never heard A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y ?”

 “Well U O me some peace and quiet.”

 “Never.”

 As Stiles continued his facts, Derek continued to quip at him, but Stiles noticed Derek relaxed back against his seat as they talked.

 Derek didn't touch the radio once.

 

~~~~~~

 

 Hours into the drive and the silence between the two of them was relaxed. The radio still played music with minimal commercials. Stiles’ head lulled against the window and he struggled to keep his eyes open. Between the motions of the car and hours already on the road he was suddenly exhausted. It wasn't really surprising, but he still fought against sleep.

 Stiles felt the car break suddenly and his eyes shot open.

 Derek was cursing under his breath and glaring at a car Stiles couldn't see. It was considerably darker than he remembered it being a little bit ago. He sat up straight and rubbed his eyes.

 “Go back to sleep Stiles.” Derek said.

 “I was asleep?” He asked.

 “You’ve been in and out of it for awhile.” Derek said. Despite insisting that he be the one to drive, and already have driven eleven hours to get him, Derek still seemed perfectly awake.

 “I’m good.” He said.

 “No, you’re not. It’s okay to sleep. It’ll help the drive go by faster.” Derek said. Stiles cast his eyes down to his feet.

 “I don’t want to sleep.” He said softly.

 “You’ll be able to wake up.” Stiles snorted.

 “I don’t exactly have the best track record with being able to wake up.” He said. Stiles didn’t look over at Derek but he knew he was looking over at him.

 “It’s okay, Stiles.” Derek said. His voice was calm and quiet in the darkness of the car, his face illuminated a dull blue by the colors of the car and red from brake lights. “I’ll still be right here if you wake up before we get back.”

 “Okay.” He whispered. He reclined the seat as far as he could and settled down. He managed to turn on his sides and pulled his limbs up. He heard Derek lower the volume of the radio, and with his eyes closed, Stiles found himself quickly falling asleep.

 

~~~~~~

 

 “Stiles.” He woke up slowly, his head foggy and his eyes crusted shut. “Stiles.”

 Someone was shaking him. Stiles opened his eyes and yawned. “What’s happening?” He asked, looking around. All he saw was the car lights and Derek’s face. Outside the windows was completely dark. Why was Derek here? Why was he in a car in the first place?

 Everything from the previous twenty-four hours came crashing back down on him. His breath caught in his throat. Before he could even start panicking Derek was right there in his face.

 “Stiles, breathe, calm down.” He said. Derek’s hands were on his shoulders and he was breathing along with him. “Breathe with me.”

 Stiles mimicked Derek, breathing in for four seconds then out the same amount of time, even as tears slipped down his face. He was sick and tired of crying, of having damp cheeks.

 “I’m good.” He said finally, wiping his face with his sleeve. “I just...wasn’t prepared I guess.”

 “That’s okay. We’re here anyway.” He said. Stiles took a deep, shuddering breath and stepped out of the car.

 Stiles could tell it was early in the morning. The sky always looked different at night than it did during the dark hours of morning. The only light came came from the waning moon and the millions of stars in the sky. Stiles sucked in an awed breath as he looked up at the sky through the trees. He could see the milky way and knew he’d spend his nights trying to find the constellations hidden among each other.

 The sky gave way to tall trees, straining their peaks to the blue-black above them. Their trunks were thick, the other trees and bushes around them wild. There was no doubt that this was a place where nature ruled.

 In front of them was what Stiles had to call a manor for fear of understating how grand it was. When Derek talked about being in the forest, Stiles had imagined a decent sized wooden cabin, with one room and one bathroom. But this was a place that could hold entire families.

 The manor was made out of grey stone, that much he could tell in the limited light. There were quite a few windows, but only enough where you could have natural light if you wanted. The manor was sturdy and worn. It had obviously been here for decades but it still looked to be in good shape. The trees were cleared away far enough so the house wasn’t in danger of having a tree fall on it. Through the windows, only a small bit of light came through.

 “Impressive.” Stiles said meekly.

 “Thanks.” Derek said. While he was busy gawking at the building Derek had gotten out his suitcase and started hauling it to the front door. Stiles followed, less eager to look inside like he normally would.

 Inside was even more breath-taking. Outside seemed very grand and impressive, and the inside was as well, but it was a lot more comfortable. Dark wooden floors were worn down and scratched up. The walls were painted beige, with other colors of dark browns, reds, and golds mixed in to give everything a warm and cozy feel. It felt like a home. Tables, shelves, rugs, and knick-knacks were everywhere. Inside was warmer than it was outside. Summer was starting to end and fall was beginning, so the nights were chilly.

 As soon as they stepped into the foyer, there was an elegant staircase on his on his right. To his left were two hallways, and from what he could see one lead to a living room while the other went to a kitchen.

 “Follow me.” Derek said. He was heading up the stairs. Stiles did as he was told, looking over all of the things as he passed.

 One thing Stiles noticed was that despite the large amount of picture frames there were, most of them were face down. The very few that weren’t told the story Stiles didn’t have to ask for.

 They were old family photos. The house was one that was well used way back when. Some photos had as many as two dozen people in them, while other has only a handful. He recognized some of the kids in the pictures as young Derek and baby Cora. They were with an older girl who Stiles guessed was Laura. The family resemblance was striking. If Derek had been the same age as Laura, they could have passed for twins.

 He saw pictures with Derek’s parents, various aunts, uncles, and cousins. With a family as big as the one he had, it was understandable why such a big house would be in the middle of the woods. The number of their family members easily could be housed comfortably inside while being far enough away from civilization that the werewolf family members could be free with it.

 For Derek and Cora to be the last Hale’s left...Stiles realized just how many died in the Hale fire. He had faces to go with the bodies he never saw.

 Derek led him through the upstairs hallway and to one of the many doors. He opened one, walking in and setting his suitcase down. The room was pretty big, but that wasn’t a surprise. The bed was in the middle of the room, the frame against one of the walls. Two bedside table were on either side on it. The wall closest to him had a closet, while opposite of the bed was a dresser that had a mirror on it. Across the room was an open door that revealed a full bathroom.

 “Every room has a fully functioning bathroom. My room is at the end of the hall on the right.” Derek said. “Downstairs is bigger than it looks. There’s the kitchen, the living area, the library, the parlor/scotch room-”

 “Scotch room?” Stiles interrupted.

 “The Hale’s enjoyed good liquor and having a space we kids couldn’t go in.” Derek said.

 “Sounds about right with any parent.” Stiles agreed. They both went quiet, at a loss of anything to say, especially with parents suddenly being the topic of the conversation.

 “Are you hungry?” Derek asked.

 “Not really.” Stiles said. When the awkward silence returned, he shrugged. “But I should put something in my stomach.”

 Derek nodded and walked out of the room. He knew Stiles would follow. Stiles drew his hand down the banister as they walked down the stairs.

 When they finally walked into the kitchen Stiles was in love. The countertops were black granite and there was a small matching island in the middle of the kitchen for more counter and cabinet space. The cabinets themselves were stained a dark brown, and the handles were a bronze color. The sink, the dishwasher, and the refrigerator were all stainless steel, which somehow managed to go with the deep colors of the kitchen.

 “It’s really nice.” Stiles said. “I like the more modern appliances.”

 “I got them when I moved here. The older one’s weren’t really working for me so I replaced them.” Derek told him. Stiles nodded and moved to sit on one of the stools positioned by the island as Derek got a box of cereal out of one of the bigger cabinets.

 “I never took you as a Captain Crunch kind of guy.” Stiles said as he accepted the bowl Derek gave him.

 “It’s the only cereal I really like.” Derek said.

 “Really?” Stiles asked. Derek nodded.

 “But I only get the original kind. The ones with the berry things are gross.” Derek said.

 “Okay, now that’s just ridiculous, the one with berries is the best Cap'n Crunch." He said. "What do you have against the berries?” 

 “They take away from the actual cereal and get all soggy and disgusting.” Derek said, frowning.

 “Well I beg to differ.” Stiles said around a mouthful of the cereal.

 “Oh yeah?” Derek raised an eyebrow. “Then what’s so good about them?”

 “Not only do they add color, which all kids like, they add in flavor that the original cereal lacks.” Stiles said. Derek somehow managed to look offended just by his use of his eyebrows. Stiles always found the expressions Derek could achieve just from his eyebrows interesting.

 “They basically ripped off Trix cereal with it and it doesn’t taste any better. The original Captain Crunch is the best because everyone loved it before they began adding stuff.” Derek said. Stiles couldn’t really disagree. The original kind was the best, but he’s not going to admit it now.

 “Let’s agree to disagree.” He said. Derek shook his head and drained the milk from his bowl.

 “If you’re saying that, then your taste buds must be broken.”

Chapter Text

 The second time Stiles woke up it was slow. The fog of sleep drifted from his head and he came to. Unlike in the car, he didn't panic or cry. It seemed his emotions were finally spent. With leaving and sleeping, everything truly sunk in and left him feeling empty.

 The bed he was in was comfortable, wrapping around him in soft sheets that smelled like lavender and of a linen closet.

 The sun was out and bright. It streamed through the thin curtains of his windows but it somehow didn't bother him. His eyes were closed and that was enough to block out anything he didn't want to see. And Stiles didn't want to see evidence that the world existed.

 He drifted in and out of consciousness throughout the day. With an empty mind and an empty heart sleep was the perfect medicine for grief. He didn't have to think about anything that'd happened or worry about responsibilities that would only seem trivial if he tried to do them.

 Eventually though Stiles sat up in the bed and opened his eyes. In the light of day the forest green walls looked bright, the dark brown trim matching the mixed colors of the comforter. Stiles could see the theme the interior decoration of the entire house was striving for. Across from him was the mirror on the dresser. Even from the bed he could see how rough he looked.

 Stiles stood up from the bed and walked closer to the mirror. His face was pale but splotched red from all of his crying. His eyes were hollow in his eye sockets and bloodshot. His hair was an absolute mess. Derek wasn't lying when he said he didn't look good.

 Stiles rubbed his face and turned to the bathroom. Hopefully if he showered he'd look alive. He stripped out of his pajamas and turned on the water. The glass shower steamed up quickly and soon Stiles was stepping in. The bathroom was ridiculous with having a full shower and a separate claw footed bath. The water pressure of the shower was perfect. The heat stung his skin for a moment but he soon got used to it.

 For longer than necessary he stood under the scalding spray. He always loved how cathartic showers were. It relaxed his muscles and washed away what you wanted it to. Eventually though he knew he'd actually have to attempt to get cleaned up. Stiles realized that he'd left all of his shower stuff in his bag, but he ended up not having to get out of the shower. There was already shampoo and conditioner in the shower with him.

 It was Old Spice. Of course Derek would have Old Spice products.

 Regardless it still smelled good.

 When he stepped out he felt more awake, more alert. While he still didn't feel much, he felt...refreshed. Or something. He felt like he could see the world around him without crumbling like a jenga game. Stiles was well aware that he was more than likely compartmentalizing everything but he decided to ignore that for now too. He could ignore everything that wasn't in the woods.

 Stiles didn't bother getting super dressed after his shower, only putting on a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt. He'd have to start unpacking his things soon so he didn't have to root through his suitcase every time he wanted something. But at the same time, unpacking meant something he wasn't sure he wanted to acknowledge. Stiles shook his head to try and clear his jumbled thoughts and walked down the stairs, hoping he wouldn't get lost trying to find Derek.

 Thankfully the night before, after he and Derek finished their cereal, Derek had given him a brief tour of the rest of the house. There were a whole lot of rooms, doors, and hallways, but it wasn't too confusing. If he made a wrong turn it wasn't like he was instantly going to get lost.

 The sunlight streamed through all of the windows and lit up all of the house. Instead of looking dark, everything looked worn and warm and inviting. It made Stiles relax. Even though he's never seen this place before, it just feels familiar. Maybe it was familiar in the way the stairs creaked, or the scratches and dents on the floor. Maybe it was the crowded surfaces that proved people did once live in these spaces once. This house had been loved and used for what it was worth. That's what made a house a home. And Stiles could definitely use a home that wasn't his own.

 Different family, different rules, different feelings. Talk about paradise.

 Stiles walked into the living room and instantly saw Derek sitting on the couch, his feet on the coffee table in front of him and a book in his hands.

 The distracting part wasn’t how domestic Derek looked in his flannel pants and worn t-shirt. It wasn’t the way he still had bedhead, or what definitely constituted as a beard. The distracting part were the glasses. Big, hipster like black framed glasses sat nearly on the tip of Derek’s nose, tilted down so he could see the pages in front of him.

 “I didn’t know you wore glasses.” He said. If it were him, Stiles would’ve jumped if someone had just suddenly disrupted the silence. All Derek did was just look up. Werewolf hearing prevented him from being startled like most people. Stiles wondered briefly why Scott still got scared, then he immediately banished wondering about Scott from his mind. He wasn’t in Beacon Hills, he didn’t need to think about any of that. Nope.

 “I didn’t until a few months ago.” Derek said.

 “So...is that why you always frowned at things? You were actually squinting and trying to see?” Stiles asked. Derek gave him a flat look.

 “No.” He said. “I just had a lot of things to frown over.”

 Stiles rolled his eyes and sat down on the other side of the couch up against the arm. He looked at his fingers. They were long and gangly and always moving in some little way. Right now he was picking at his nails.

 “Have you read this book before?” Derek asks. Stiles looks up and inspects the book’s name. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.

 Stiles shook his head. “No. But isn’t there a movie called that?” He asks.

 “Yes, but books are always better than the movies.” Derek said.

 “Agreed.” The two of them went silent again.

 “Do you want me to read it to you?”

 “No, dude, you don’t have to.” Stiles said. “You already got a decent way into the book.”

 Derek shrugged and flipped back to the first page. “Are you going to listen or not?” He asked. Stiles opened his mouth and then closed it, opting to settle further down against the couch and pay attention to the seams of the fabric.

 “Clare:” Derek begins. “It’s hard being left behind. I wait for Henry, not knowing where he is, wondering if he’s okay. It’s hard to be the one who stays…”

 Derek reads the story about a woman name Clare and a man named Henry who are lovers that have a hard time being together. Stiles closes his eyes at the sound of Derek’s voice, light and familiar and putting expression into the words. It wasn’t a book Stiles would have read, but Derek makes the words come alive from the paper in a way he can’t help but listen to. The problems of Clara and Henry were better to focus on than any other problems going on right now.

 Derek read through the first few chapters before he put down the book. Stiles was mildly disappointed, which surprised him.

 “Why’d you stop?” He asked.

 “It’s getting late and I’m hungry.” Derek said. Stiles looked out the window and saw the light was a little duller than it was a little bit before.

 “What time did I wake up?” Stiles asked.

 “Some time after three. It’s only five now.” Derek said.

 “If I slept so long why am I so tired?” Stiles asked.

 “Sleeping in the car isn’t exactly the best rest someone can get. You didn’t get that much sleep to begin with anyway.” Derek explained. Stiles felt like there should be more to it but neither of them said anything.

 “Are you hungry?” Derek asked.

 “A little, I guess.” Stiles said. He got up and followed Derek into the kitchen.

 Stiles sat on the stool and rested his head on his hand as he watched Derek cook. Derek pulled out an arm full of ingredients from the fridge. He had, from what Stiles could see, chicken, butter, broccoli, and parmesan cheese. He grabbed various pots and pans and other ingredients from a spice rack and a cabinet.

 Derek was a very efficient cooker. Before he started cooking anything he got all the food prepared. He put the chicken on a cutting board, cutting off all the weird bits and seasoning it. On another cutting board He chopped up the broccoli into smaller parts and minced some garlic. He grabbed a pot and filled it with water, putting in the pasta he got from the cabinet along with the broccoli once the water began boiling. Then he turned on the heat under a pan. He put in a decent helping of butter and let it melt. Once it was sizzling he threw in the garlic and then the chicken. While everything was cooking, Derek cleaned. He washed off the cutting boards, putting one in the dishwasher but keeping one out. He put away the butter, grabbed a new knife, and put a strainer in the sink.

 The smell of cooking chicken and browning garlic filled the air and it made Stiles’ stomach growl. The time on the oven said it was almost six.

 By the time everything was done Stiles was starving. Derek cut up the chicken into bite sized pieces and put butter and parmesan on the pasta, serving all of it together.

 “Thanks.” Stiles said, accepting the bowl from Derek.

 “You're welcome.” Derek said.

 “I didn't know you could cook so well.” Stiles said. He took the first bite and sighed. It was really good. He just didn't know if he'd have the appetite to finish it

 “I've always been able to cook.” Derek replied.

 “I just never saw you cook I guess.” Stiles said. “Did you ever cook in the loft? Since that was a place that had an actual kitchen.”

 “Some.” Derek said. “But nothing impressive.”

 “I should've been around more often if you cooked. I could've gotten a free meal.” 

 Derek snorted. “I would've made you cook for yourself.” He said.

 “Rude.” Stiles scoffed.

 “Whatever you say.” Derek said.

 They ate mostly in silence after that, only talking to make little jibes at each other. When they were both done, Derek began storing the rest of the pasta in the fridge and Stiles started putting things in the dishwasher.

 It was surprisingly easy, being around each other but not needing to talk. They worked next to each other to clean everything up. The only thing Derek commented on was telling Stiles where things went when he went looking for them.

 Through the windows the sun was setting, the light turning a gold color from what he could see through the trees. “Could you show me around outside a little bit?” Stiles asked. Derek looked up like he didn’t expect the question.

 “You’ll need shoes on.” He said after a moment. Stiles nodded and headed upstairs to grab his shoes.

 By the time he got back down stairs Derek was already outside. Stiles walked out. It was getting a little chilly for wearing short sleeves, but he could manage.

 “There are multiple trails,” Derek began. “Some were made by me, others were pre-existing. There are various lakes, valleys, rivers, mountains, and cliffs. There are also various predators that could eat you.” Derek gave Stiles a firm look. “So don’t just wander off if I’m not with you. At least until winter comes, and even then.”

 Stiles snorted a little condescendingly. “You don’t sound like you have much faith in me.”

 “Knowing you, you’ll just stumble upon a bear getting ready for hibernation and it’ll eat you.” Derek said, like he actually believed that would happen. “Or you'll get lost. And I don’t want to be the person to have to tell-” He stopped short, but he’d already spoken enough for Stiles to tense. He could finish the sentence easily in his head. Tell your dad. Tell Scott. Tell your pack.

 He had none of those things anymore.

 He was alone.

 Derek knew his mistake. “Stiles-” He tried.

 “I’m fine.” Stiles said. His voice was clipped and shaky. All Derek did was look at him. His heartbeat was short but fast in his chest, like it was trying to escape. His fingertips tingled with anxiety but the last thing he wanted to do was panic. He wouldn’t he wouldn’t he wouldn’t.

 “Do you want to read a little bit more?” Derek asked. Stiles blinked and came back to reality.

 “Sure.” He said. Breathe in and then out.

 He followed Derek back into the house and into the living room. They sat on the couch. Derek put his glasses back on and began to read again. Stiles tried to listen, he did, but his ears weren’t working. His mind wasn't computing anything that was being said. He didn’t have a single thought or emotion the entire time Derek read. Some part of him registered the words, but mostly they were just static like everything else.

 Static.

 “Stiles?” Stiles moved his eyes to Derek. It was dark.

 “Yeah?”

 “Are you...okay?” Derek asked.

 “I’m fine.” Stiles said. His voice was unconvincing and flat. “I’m just tired.” At least that wasn't a total lie. His body felt heavy and weak. His mind was sluggish. Stiles felt like he’d gone through both a marathon and a generous beating. Sadly he knows how it feels to experience both.

 “You should get some sleep then.” Derek said carefully.

 “You’re probably right.” He said said. He took a deep breath and stood up, stumbling up the stairs and to the room. His skin was burning so he stripped off all of his clothes except for his boxers and collapsed on the bed, unconscious before his head even hit the pillow.

Chapter Text

 The inside of a locker is the first thing he sees. The flimsy metal squeezes his shoulders in the limited space. Stiles looked around, confused and slightly scared as he hits the door of the locker. It just makes noise. He smacks his hands against the door again as hard as he can.

 “Hey!” Stiles yells. “Hey! Let me out!” Someone’s on the other side of the locker. He could see a silhouette moving about in the dim light coming through the slots on the door. He’s yelling to them, feeling panicked. This situation was all too familiar.

 “Let me-” The locker door opens and Stiles is spilling out onto a tiled floor. He hears soft laughter and looks up.

 “There you are man.” Scott says. He’s smiling, his dimples of mass destruction right in his line of sight.

 “Hey.” Stiles said, standing up. “What the hell happened?” He asked.

 “I don’t know. I went over to your house and you weren’t there. I called Malia and Lydia and after talking to all of them I just figured maybe your jeep broke down again. I was right.” Scott said. “You should really take it to a shop.”

 “Roscoe is just delicate. It’s nothing I can’t handle.” Stiles said.

 “With more duct tape?” Scott asked. Stiles punched his shoulder and both of them laughed. They had started walking through the halls of the school. Were the hallways always weirdly long?

 “Why did you come to the school?” Stiles asked.

 “Huh?”

 “When you figured my car broke down.” He clarified. “Why did you come to the school.” He blinked and frowned. They were walking to the doors of the school now. “Why was I in the school anyway?”

 Scott shrugs like the question doesn’t even bother him. “I don’t know. It just made sense to come here. This school is a favorite for anything and everything to happen.”

 “Your right.” Stiles said. “From now on we should probably always check the school first, unless whatever is going on is happening somewhere else.” Scott smiles and throws an arm around his shoulders. Stiles looks ahead and is relieved to finally be at the doors. It felt like it took forever for them to get there and he was just ready to get back home.

 They walked through the doors, but instead of heading outside like he thought they were, they were in the library.

 Stiles froze. In the middle of the library was the scaffolding, and right next to it was Donovan, limp and dead with a pipe right through him. Fear holds his breath in his chest.

 “Scott-” Stiles starts. He turns around to find his friend but stops talking when he sees him. Scott is drenched, water dripping onto the floor, suddenly far away from him. His face is a mix of disappointment, sadness, and anger. He’s holding a bloodied wrench in his hand.

 “You murdered him.” Scott says. Stiles shook his head.

 “He was going to kill me Scott. He was going to kill my dad.” He said.

 “So that excuses you killing him?” Scott demands.

 “No! I know we try to save everyone but- that just couldn’t happen then!”

 “His blood is on your hands Stiles.”

 “I know!” Stiles shouted. He looked at his palms. They were covered in blood, splattered up his forearms and a little bit on his shirt. “Scott, you have to believe me, I didn’t have a choice.”

 “You always have a choice.” Scott said. “He was only a kid, just like us. Now look at him! Look what you’ve done!” Scott points the wrench to behind Stiles and he turns.

 But Donovan isn’t there.

 Stiles turns back and sees Donovan standing right behind Scott. He’s still bleeding, a mix of mercury and blood still dripping down his mouth, but he looks alive enough to be moving around. He’s alive enough for Stiles to see the murderous look in his eyes.

 “Scott watch out.” Stiles warns, taking a step towards the two.

 “Actions have consequences, Stiles.” Is the only thing Scott says. And then suddenly he’s gone, the wrench sitting on the floor in between he and Donovan.

 “Okay, Donovan, listen to me. Neither one of us wants to do this.” Stiles tries. Donovan snarls and begins rushing towards Stiles. Instinct pushes Stiles to run forward, trying to get the wrench to defend himself before Donovan is on him. He knows he won’t win a fight against Donovan if he has nothing to use to defend himself other than his own body. His shoulder aches in the memory of what the other boy did to it.

 Stiles lunges for the wrench right as Donovan slams into him. They tumble on the floor, Donovan grabbing at Stiles and Stiles desperately trying to keep him off of him. Like with the jeep before, Stiles desperately reaches for the wrench. Donovan’s forearm is pressed to his throat, their limbs tangled together in a violent struggle. Adrenaline pumps through his limbs and gives him a surge of strength to grab the wrench.

 The metal is familiar in his hand, cold and solid. Heavier than he remembers. Stiles swings his arm around, connecting with Donovan’s head. He jerks, but he still is on top of Stiles; burning eyes and sharp teeth are all he sees. Stiles hits him again. Donovan is on the floor and Stiles takes his turn on top. He can’t stop himself now, swinging his arm and smashing the wrench more and more into Donovan.

 He loses count how many times he hits Donovan. Blood covers his hands and makes it hard to grip the wrench. It splatters up all over his chest and into his face. Even when Stiles can’t see past the red, his arm moves against his fatigue and desire to stop. He just keeps hitting him, feeling rage and fear and anxiety, all fueled by sheer adrenaline.

 Finally Stiles stops. His chest heaves, his vision is blurry. The wrench drops from his hand as he goes to wipe the blood off his face. It seems never ending; a stain that keeps dripping from his skin.

 Stiles opens his eyes through the frustrating haze. He feels sick and panicked. He knows he’s going to see the broken face of Donovan.

 Except the body under him isn’t Donovan’s.

 It’s his father’s.

~~~~~~


 The scream rips itself from his throat as he bolts awake. Stiles can’t stop screaming and panic is driving any logic or calmness from his body. Derek is suddenly rushing through the door and grabs hold of him.

 Stiles resists, half asleep with the image of his father dead under him and blood drenching his hands. He can still smell the sweat and blood.

 “Stiles, Stiles, it’s okay. You’re safe.” Stiles shakes his head and cries, sobbing and shaking as Derek holds him firm. He tries to talk but ever sound from his mouth is incoherent. His forceful screams have tapered off into harsh cries and shrieks. His screaming already made his voice husky and harsh. Stiles’ chest heaves. He can’t get a solid breath in past his tears.

 “Stiles, I need you to calm down.” Derek tries but Stiles is too far gone. His heart can’t stop beating too fast and his lungs try to compensate for the pace but there’s cotton in his lungs. It makes his already short breath’s feel even more labored.

  In his struggle to breathe he kept swallowing air and thrashing in Derek’s arms. He felt pressure build in his throat. He didn’t have to say or do anything for Derek to somehow already know what was going to happen and already in the process of dragging him to the bathroom. As soon as the toilet in under him Stiles lets loose.

 He shutters hard at the sheer force he was was throwing up with, wretching and making painful noises for a full minute before he even dares to put his forehead on his forearm. Mutely he hears Derek flush the toilet.

 Stiles’ throat burns and the acidic taste of his bile is stuck on his teeth and that alone makes him gag some more. Derek stays with him the whole time, pressed against him and rubbing his back. Tears drip into the toilet water below him, making little sounds as they do so.

 Once Stiles stops throwing up mostly for a minute Derek separates himself from Stiles. When he comes back he has a blanket, a giant glass of water, and a damp towel.

 “Here.” He says softly. The only way Stiles can even see him is from the small amount of light the dull green nightlight is throwing off.

 Stiles doesn’t protest as Derek bunches up the towel for him to sit on and places the damn towel on the back of his neck. He doesn’t have a fever, but the coolness of it helps soothe the impressive pressure headache that he’s been building since he first woke up screaming and crying. His sinuses alone are rebelling against the abuse they’ve been dealing with.

 When the glass of water is being pressed to his lips he takes small sips. The first few are to wash the taste out of his mouth while the next few are for him to actually drink. Stiles didn’t realize how much his throat was burning until he started drinking.

 “Thanks.” Stiles said weakly. His voice could barely go above a whisper. Derek just nodded and went back to tangling their limbs together.

 It was hard. Stiles would calm down and start to drift back to sleep, only for the dream to pop back up against his eyelids. He’d start to panic but Derek was scary good at catching them before they got too bad. He’d make Stiles breathe with him, backing away and giving him space so he didn’t feel claustrophobic and trapped.

 He was good at handling them in a way that could only come from knowing how they felt.

 “I haven’t done any of this since my mom died.” Stiles said softly.  “Hey Derek?”

 He doesn’t quite know how long he’s been bent over the toilet. It could only have been thirty minutes, it could have been a few hours. His mind isn’t too keen on trying to keep up with timing.

 “Yes?”

 “Why is it when bad things happen, it makes you remember all the other bad things that happened to you?” He asks.

 “I’m not sure.” He said. “But I think maybe it’s because when you’re in a certain place, that’s all you can think of. All the bad just floods your mind.”

 “I hate it. I wish my mind would just stop working.” Stiles said. He closed his eyes and sighed, resting his head on the edge of the toilet.

 Beside him he could feel Derek hesitate, and then there were fingers running through his hair. Stiles’ eyes opened in surprise but he didn’t move away. The action was surprisingly comforting.

 “How are you so good at this whole,” Stiles motions vaguely.

 “I’m just going off on how it feels mostly.” Derek said. “I felt a lot like you feel after...and Laura didn’t know what she was doing, but she did a pretty good job at helping me. So I’m just…” He trailed off.

 “Going off of what she did for you?” Stiles finishes. Derek nodded.

 “That was nice of her.”

 “Yeah, it was.” Their conversation stopped after that. Stiles slowly finished off all of his water and begrudgingly continued to get more and more tired. His body and mind were both exhausted from his ordeal. But at least he wasn’t throwing up any more.

 “Do you think you’re okay to get back in bed?” Derek asked.

 Stiles sighed and shrugged. Bed meant sleep, and while his body needed it he sure as hell didn’t want it. A brainless coma sounded like his best option right about now.

 Derek moved the towel from his neck and actually picked Stiles up from the floor. Stiles made a noise at the sudden movement and clung to Derek so he wouldn’t fall. Which he probably wouldn’t since Derek was carrying him around like he weighed nothing. But considering he’d been losing weight that wasn’t all too surprising. Something Derek probably could easily tell since all he was wearing was boxers.

 Derek set him back in the bed, moving the pillows and blankets to settle around him. Stiles swallowed hard, his body twitching and then Derek was in the bed with him, arms around him and his chest at Stiles’ back.

 “Is this okay?” Derek asked because of course he would. Stiles pressed his face into the pillow, giving the smallest of nods. Derek laid down against him, his body warmer than any normal person’s and his breathing was so steady, so was his heart and he even smelled warm and safe.

 Stiles was already tumbling asleep, dreading it but unable to stop. Right before he fell back asleep, he promised himself tomorrow, tomorrow everything would be better.

 Tomorrow he’d get up and smile like nothing ever happened in the first place.

Chapter Text

 Stiles was completely fine.

 Sure, every night he had nightmares, nightmares about various deaths of people he knew, some he watched and some he caused. Sure he relived the dozens of times he had guns pointed at his head and some of them pulled the trigger. Sure he saw the listless faces of everyone who had died. And he meant everyone. Tara, Aiden, Allison, Erica, Boyd, Heather, the list just went on and on.  He even had dreams inside of dreams like with the nogitsune. Needless to say undisturbed sleeping hasn't really been a thing for him.

 The one constant with everything was Derek. Every time Stiles was in a nightmare, Derek would drag him out of it. He'd stay with him in his panicked aftermath and on some nights even stay with him unless Stiles asked him to leave. Stiles learned to accept the help Derek slowly tried to give him, even though sometimes he wished Derek would go back to dealing with things in the moment and then not bringing them up ever again.

 But he was completely fine. One hundred percent. A-Okay.


 "Do you want to talk about them?" Derek asked for the thousandth time the morning after, surprise, a nightmare.

 "Talk about what?" Stiles asked innocently and smiled. He smiled a lot these days, the days that blended together from late September when Derek brought him here to the chill of October deep in the woods of Colorado.

 Derek scowled at him. "Your nightmares." He said bluntly.

 "Nope. I'm good." Stiles said. He looked down at the old crossword book that he'd found on one of the coffee tables in the living room.

 "Stiles-" Derek started but Stiles cut him off.

 "I have nothing to talk about." Stiles snapped. He clenched his jaw and took a deep breath, and then added in a softer tone, "I'm fine Derek. I have nothing to talk about. They're just dreams."

 Derek frowned, opened his mouth, then closed it. "What do you want with your eggs?" Derek asked finally.

~~~~~~

 

"We're going on a trip." Derek said, leaning against the door frame to the library and crossing his arms.

 "In our favorite rocket ship?" Stiles asked. "Where?"

 "Into town. It's October and I doubt you have any proper clothes for when it gets cold." Derek said.

 "I have hoodies." Stiles defended but Derek kept talking like he didn't hear Stiles.

"We also need to get more food since two people are eating now." He said. Getting more food would probably be a smart move.

 "Are we going now?" Stiles asked. Derek nodded and walked away. Within a few minutes Stiles was outside, shrugging on a green hoodie and hopping in Derek's car.

 “So how far away is this town?” He asked. Derek pulled away from the house and began driving on what was a dirt road- an observation Stiles was being very generous in describing.

 “With the pathways-” Derek didn’t even call them roads, “I can get there in a little under an hour. It’s not big and mainly for people coming out to a resort nearby but it has enough stores for food and other things the people who are here year round will need.”

"Cool. And does this place at least have service?" Stiles asked.

 "What is it with you and service?" Derek countered. Stiles shrugged.

 "It's just weird being somewhere where the only phone that would work would be your satellite phone." He said.

 "Well you'll just have to deal." Derek said. They stopped talking until he realized something.

 "Hey, how did you know to get me if the only working thing was a satellite phone?" He asked. Derek spared him a quick glance before looking back to the road.

 "Whenever I'm in town I check my phone." He said, pulling out a phone from his pocket and putting it back. "I'll usually call Cora and catch up with her for a little bit but...but I'd listen to the voicemails I got too. I heard the last few all together when you called me to come get you."

 While Derek talked Stiles looked at the dashboard. He remembered every call he placed to Derek's phone with the thought he would never hear them. Yes, he's glad that Derek did because he's nowhere near Beacon Hills, but another part of him feels embarrassed. Since he never thought anyone would hear them once he got used to talking to his voicemail he talked about nearly everything. He used Derek's voicemail as a way to express all the things going on in his sometimes too crowded head to put them somewhere else.

 "And then you came to get me?"

 Derek nodded. "I was already out of the house and near a little of civilization, so I just drove."

 Stiles felt suddenly, heart-stutteringly vulnerable, but at the same time felt his throat close up. Not because he was sad...but because Derek came to get him. Dropped everything and came.

 He felt surprised then instantly chastised himself for feeling like that. Derek, no matter all the things Stiles said, was constant. Despite all his threats and looks, he tried to help, even though sometimes he ended up with opposite results. He and Derek always had a mutual understanding of one another after the general hostility from the beginning. They'd bicker, they'd fight, and they didn't stay in a room together if shit wasn't going down longer than necessary, but they'd help if one another was in danger. It was their balance. It was just how they worked.

 "Thanks." Stiles whispered. Derek hummed his response and they fell quiet.

~~~~~~

 The little outcrop of a town was quite quaint. Large and small slightly outdated buildings were stretched in a decent sized area, connected by cracking pavement. Derek explained as they drove there was electricity, but for the little town itself they had a lot of generators just in case. The lodge nearby was for the people who wanted the full forest experience while still having the luxury of being in a home in the city. Outside of the dirt road that emerged from the paths they took, they passed houses people lived in and various stores. Stiles noted that the building that was best in shape so far was a hunting and fishing store.

 "So do people do a lot of...hunting sport?" Stiles asked, waving his hand in the direction of the building.

 "In season, yes." Derek said.

"And when it's not?" He asked.

 "Then there are still demand for what they sell." Derek said. "Especially in fall since the bears are getting ready for hibernation."

 "Will we see a bear?" Stiles asked.

 Derek snorted. "You won't. I'll steer you away before we even get close."

 Stiles stuck out his bottom lip but wasn't actually pouting. With his luck if they encountered a bear it would decide he was the perfect before winter meal.

 Derek pulled the car over by a relatively big building and parked. "Here we are." He said.

 They got out of the car, Derek grabbing a lot of reusable bags and going through the doors with Stiles following. Stiles' original thought was that it kind of looked like a Walmart. He saw a section of clothes nearby, then saw a section of the building he could tell was food, and another section for various things people could need.

 "You start looking for clothes to keep you warm while I go get food." Derek said, already grabbing a cart and walking off.

 Stiles walked over to the men's section. He trailed his fingers over the clothes, his fingers stopping once he hit the flannel. He had plenty of clothes that he had started to unpack at the house, but Derek wanted him to get clothes for when it got cold. He grabbed a few thick flannel, a pack of warm looking long sleeves and picked a heavy duty jacket.

 "I'm done." Stiles said when he found Derek. He was currently loading food into the cart. Derek looked at the few items in Stiles' arms and scowled.

 "You're going to need more." He said.

 "I already have plenty." Stiles scoffed.

 Derek loaded up the cart with the rest of the things he wanted and dragged Stiles back to where the clothes were. He grabbed pants, more shirts, some sweaters, and even socks and a pair of boots.

 “I can’t need all of this stuff.” Stiles said once Derek seemed satisfied with the mountain of things they were currently buying. He just watched as the number at the cash register kept rising and rising in a way Stiles would normally feel sick at the thought of paying, but Derek didn’t even blink at it. Perks of having money, he guessed.

 “Grab some bags.” Derek said. Stiles gave him a look and grabbed all of the light bags. He heard Derek sigh behind him, then the rustle of the rest of the bags.

 The little moment, for a second, urged him to try to smile genuinely.

 He didn’t.

 He gripped the bags tighter so they wouldn’t fall from his shaking hands.

~~~~~~

 

   Stiles had always loved the Californian spring. It was his favorite season, with everything coming back after the winter and being full of color. But now he thinks fall may just be his favorite season now.

 The colors are, for once, breathtaking. The trees swell with reds and oranges and yellows, which are all his colors. They were so vibrant and rich in a way he hadn't really seen outside of pictures. Fall in Beacon Hills basically consisted of the leaves getting a little bit of color and then falling on the ground. The trees here kept their leaves so Stiles could just sit out and see them.

 The mornings were chilly and the afternoon barely got any warmer, but it was still really nice. The sky was clear and there was little wind. Stiles was currently wrapped up in a warm hoodie, his new shoes on and a backpack on his back. Derek was still at the house making sure he had everything they could ever possibly need. Stiles had taken the liberty to go ahead and go somewhat deep into a path he liked to hike.

 Yeah. They did that now.

 They never ventured too far, but each day they went longer and further than the time before. It was something Stiles latched onto. Throughout the years, even though Stiles hated exercising, with all the running to and from things helped him keep relatively fit, so the hiking wasn’t too bad. But when Derek took him off the few trails  the terrain was a little more difficult. He predicted his calves would be incredible by the time he left.

 Stiles banished any and every thought about leaving or time. He’d been very good at letting the days and nights blend together to where he didn’t know what day it was or how long he’d already been at Casa de Hale.

 “Finally.” Stiles said as Derek appeared from a slight send in the trail. “You took forever.”

 “I made sure I had everything. Are you sure you have everything?” Derek asked.

 “If I don’t, you do.” He said. Derek scowled at him. “Let’s continue on, Sourwolf.”

 “Still with that nickname?” Derek grunted, letting Stiles lead. He was excited because they were going to spend a few hours out and about and then have lunch in the forest. Stiles was eager to stay away from the house as long as he could. For a structure so big, it sure got suffocating.

 “Obviously. You’re my favorite Sourwolf.” Stiles said and smiled wide.

 “I’m the only one you call Sourwolf.” Derek pointed out.

 “Exactly.” He said. Derek rolled his eyes and suddenly sped up to go ahead of Stiles.

 “Hey! Slow down!” Stiles yelled, beginning to jog to catch up. This part of the path was steeper than the rest, and his foot caught on a root. He tripped, throwing his hands out to catch his fall. He felt the roots and rocks dig painfully into his palms. He didn’t stop his momentum, instead tumbling down until Derek stopped him.

 “Are you okay?” Derek asked. Stiles hissed through his teeth and sat up slowly. His body ached, his ankle hurt, and his palms were cut.

 “I’m fine.” He said, grinding his teeth. He lifted his palms to inspect and nearly threw up. Blood pooled up from his palms, not bright red, but thick in dark. Panic settled deep in his core as he shook his hands down to try to shake the blood off. It just smeared all over his hands.

 “Stiles, Stiles breathe.” Derek said. He placed his hands gently on Stiles’ face and blocked him from the rest on the world.

 “Breathe with me Stiles. In through the nose, out through the mouth.”

 “I know how to b-breathe.” Stiles stuttered, his chest heaving. He tried to calm his breaths down but they stayed short and quick. Stiles expected a comment like “i can see you’re so able to breathe” from Derek when he failed to get a hold of his lungs, but no such comment was made. Derek just got on his knees in front of Stiles and made him look him in the eye.

 “In and out.” Derek said. Stiles started mimicking the way Derek breathed, long and slow and lung aching but it helped slow his heartbeat and push the panic to only his fingertips.

 “There you go.” Derek said quietly. His hand had taken to cupping the back of Stiles’ head. Briefly, Stiles felt that Derek was draining his pain. “Are you with me now?”

 Stiles nodded. “Yeah. Sorry, I didn’t mean to freak out like that. It’s just-”

 “The blood.” Derek finished. Stiles nodded.

 “Yeah.” He said. He refused to meet Derek’s eyes.

 “Let’s clean you up.” He said. Derek got out a water bottle and washed off Stiles’ hands. Whenever he started to hiss in discomfort Derek would drain the pain. From his bag, Derek got a bandage and wrapped his hands up.

 “Good thing you have everything, huh?” Stiles joked, but his voice fell flat.

 “I guess.” Derek said after a moment. He grabbed Stiles’ forearm and pulled him back up.

 “Thanks.” Stiles said, making his way to the bottom of the steep end, wincing as his ankle throbbed.

 “I think we should head back.” Derek said. Stiles turned around and looked up at him.

 “Why?” Stiles asked. He was well aware of the heat crawling into his voice but he didn’t care. His nerves were frazzled.

 “Maybe because you just hurt yourself and had a panic attack not five minutes ago.” He said.

 “I do not want to go back.” Stiles said. He turned his back to Derek and continued walking, so Derek was forced to follow.

 “Stiles-” Derek tried.

 “I’m not going back.” He interrupted.

 “Then if you’re going to continue being so stubborn do you at least want to talk about it?” Derek asked, though his tone was a lot more growly and sarcastic than what qualified for an actual question.

 “Talk about what.” Stiles asked, ramping up his own sarcasm. Two could play at that game.

 “Anything. Everything.” Derek said, he grabbed Stiles’ shoulder to turn him around (the asshole did it gently so he didn’t hurt Stiles any more than he already was. That motherfucker.)

 “I don’t want to talk about anything!” Stiles yelled.

 “Well you’re going to have to!” Derek matched him.

 “Why the hell should I?!” Stiles demanded. “I will literally not benefit from talking. I have nothing to talk about! Crying won’t do me any good.”

 “Neither will not talking about it.” Derek said.

 “Oh, that’s rich coming from you.” Stiles said, his lips curling. “Like you’ve ever talked to anyone in your life.”

 “I didn’t.” Derek said. “And it fucked me up and then I fucked up a lot of things. Do you know what I was doing while I was away?” He asked. Stiles didn’t answer, because he didn’t know. “I was in therapy. I was talking and yes it was like pulling teeth, but I was getting better. My therapist recommended that I get away from everything, be by myself for awhile, relearn myself. I talk to her when I go into town.”

 Stiles clenched his jaw and swallowed any mean comments he would’ve had. “I didn’t know that.” He said finally.

 “Obviously.” Derek said.

 They both went quiet after that, standing under the trees. He could hear the birds chirping overhead and the few bugs buzzing about, but any other sounds he didn’t hear. Derek probably did. He could probably hear any animal scurrying around, could hear Stiles’ heartbeat, hear the sound of the distant thunderstorm that was forecasted to show up.

 “I...I can’t talk about it.” Stiles said, crossing his arms and looking at the leaf littered ground. He heard Derek sigh and felt the fight go out of both of them.

 “How far are you wanting to go today then?” Derek asked. Stiles looked up at him through his lashes.

 “I was hoping to that ledge you were talking about.” He said. “The one you said overlooked forever into the forest.”

 “I think we could get there for lunch and then head back before the storm rolls in.” Derek said. Stiles felt his heart clench in regret at what he said to Derek earlier, and he’s still being so nice to him. They didn’t have to apologize to one another though. The change in atmosphere and topic was enough of one for them.

 For the next hour they hiked, even as his ankle throbbed in protest and his body hurt with most movement. Derek pointed out a lot of things. Holes animals dug, squirrels fighting in the trees, birds nests, and at one point even bear poop (which was something Stiles didn’t want to think about. Nor did he want to think about how Derek could smell that it wasn’t fresh. Gross.)

 The clear blue sky above was starting to fill with clouds by the time Derek directed him to where the ledge was. They’d abandoned the trail about a mile or so back to go freely trekking through the woods to find the place Derek had told him about.

 “We’re here.” Derek said, pushing away a cluster of branches and bushes out of the way. As soon as Stiles stepped forward the breath stuck in his throat.

 It was gorgeous. They were elevated above this section of the forest, the other hills and mountains stretching out in the horizon with flat land in between. All the tall trees were such vibrant colors Stiles wanted to never not see this much color. Some trees were stubbornly clinging to the green in their leaves, but other than the evergreens, the pines, and a few other trees Stiles didn’t know the names of, all the other trees had color.

 “Wow.” Stiles breathed. He followed Derek to the edge that only looked like a drop-off and sat down.

 “How’d you find this place?” Stiles asked.

 “For the first few days I was here, I was a full wolf for most of the time. I did a lot of exploring.” He said.

 “Apparently.” Stiles said. He swung off his backpack and opened it to pull out his lunch.

 Stiles frowned as soon as he saw the bag that held his lunch. His perfect, carefully made sandwich was smashed all to hell, the chips reduced to crumbs, and even the pickle was so ruined all the juice went to the sandwich.

 Stiles didn’t even have time to feel sad over the state of his lunch before Derek was pulling it out of his hands and replacing it with his own lunch. Stiles blinked with owlish eyes as Derek started eating his ruined lunch. He swallowed the lump in his throat over the gesture and took a timid bite of Derek’s sandwich. It was much better than what his was going to be.

 “You know,” Stiles started, nudging Derek’s shoulder, “You’re not as scary as that scowl of yours leads people to believe.”

 Derek scowled and Stiles had to turn his head away to keep the look of brief delight on his face from Derek, so he didn’t have to see the crestfallen one that replaced it soon after.

~~~~~~

 

 The storm raged on for three whole days, firmly locking Stiles inside. The only time either of them braved going outside was during the few minutes the rain stopped, and it was only time spent clearing away branches and checking if there was any water build-up they needed to try to fix.

 If there was, Stiles didn’t really know, because he wasn’t ever the one going outside.

 Needless to say, with the storm came a foul mood and restlessness. Stiles couldn’t stay still for more that thirty seconds. He was always wandering around to try to keep himself busy, and he felt like that annoyed Derek, how he always was messing with things. Of course, Derek never looked at him or said anything that would confirm that.

 Even the extensive and impressive library wasn’t enough to make him concentrate. The books he’d otherwise be dying to read (some in fact, that were leatherbound, smelled like the beautiful scent of old paper, and filled with texts about all things supernatural and went into depth even more than the bestiary, to the point where there were full on volumes like the damn encyclopedias you always find in schools) sat open only a few pages in. That depressed Stiles even more, he couldn’t even read.

 Derek tried his best to help keep Stiles’ bad mood away. He finished The Time Traveler’s Wife (which Stiles both loved and hated) and continued on reading the collection of poorly written but addicting romance novels. He gave Stiles space when he wanted to be alone. He even made all the food Stiles liked, even though he didn’t eat much of it. That was something that caused quite a few fights between them. Stiles had already started to lose weight even before he showed up, so Derek hated the fact that he might be losing more for his lack of appetite.

 Which was what he was currently pointing out.

 “It’s not healthy.” Derek said as Stiles pushed his plate away from him, still mostly full of food.

 “It’s not like I’m not eating at all.” Stiles defended. “I’m just not eating that much.”

 “It’s obvious that you’re not eating enough.” Derek said. “Your cheeks are hollowing out.”

 Stiles refused to admit Derek was right. Between the lack of sleep that caused dark circles under his eyes and the lack of eating, Stiles avoided looking into mirrors. It wasn’t his fault that he wasn’t hungry.

 “I’m just not hungry.” He said. “If I try to make myself eat, I feel sick. And sometimes I throw up.”

 “If you throw up it’s because of a nightmare.” Derek said blantaly.

 Stiles bristled. “You said you wouldn’t mention them.”

 “I never said that. You said not to, and I never responded. You took that as a yes.” Derek said.

 “Well I’m not talking about this.” Stiles said and got up from his seat. Derek stood up.

 “Yes, you are.” Derek said.

 “Oh yeah? Who says I have to?” Stiles asked.

 “I do.”

 “What happened to letting me talk about it when I want to?”

 “Because you’re never going to Stiles!” Derek yelled. “I’ve been patient, but you’re so stubborn! You’re not going to admit you’re not okay!”

 “I’m fine, Derek! God, why the hell are you worrying so much? You’ve never showed this much interest in my well being before!” Stiles yelled.

 “I haven’t?” Derek asked sarcastically.

 “No!” Stiles flailed his arms, anger bubbling fast and hot under his skin. His cheeks felt like they were radiating heat. “We’ve saved each other’s lives, but that’s as far as we’ve gone! We’re not gooey, we’re not friendly. Our entire relationship is built off of sarcasm and as few interactions as possible. And then suddenly, you care!”

 “I’ve always cared, Stiles!” Derek walked closer to get in Stiles’ face. “If I didn’t I wouldn’t have bothered to come get you in the first place. You called me because you knew I would understand what you were going through.”

 “We’re going through two different things, Derek.” Stiles spat. “You’re going through having to finally realize your family is long dead, burnt to fucking crisps. Even though you’ve had years to get over it, you still can’t even have their pictures standing up so you can see their faces. And the pack you made because you were so lonely you turned other teenagers just so you could try to make-shift a new family? They’re dead too. But me?” Stiles asked. “My wounds are fresh. These are two different situations.”

 Stiles walked forward to Derek. They were almost the same height, Derek being only a few inches taller. Being wider and more fit, Derek radiated underlying anger. If this were back when he had first met Derek, he would’ve been terrified. Now though, he remembered just how easily he knocked Theo down with a punch, how surprising strength wasn’t lost on him during a fight.

 “It’s not different Stiles. I’ve been in your position so many times over-” Derek started, his voice steady. Stiles was really beginning to hate how he refused to lose his temper.

 “Why the fuck won’t you get mad at me?!” Stiles interrupted. “Yell at me! Fucking hit me! I just talked shit about your family, about Erica and Boyd! I’ve been nothing but a goddamn inconvenience to you!” Stiles shoved Derek’s shoulders, but didn’t feel any satisfaction on watching him stumble back. It only made him feel sick. “I’m fucked up, Derek! I’ve killed people! My dad died because some prick wanted me to choose between my dad or Scott dying, and I easily left Scott! He could’ve died and my dad still died. He didn’t even know that I’m a murderer !” Stiles turned to the table and picked up the glass of water and threw it against the other wall. Glass and water shattered outward, covering the floor.

 Derek grabbed his arm and Stiles turned, hitting his chest over and over, his hits shaky as he screamed and struggled in Derek’s arms when they held him tight.

 “Fucking just-” He hit him again. “Let me fucking just-” Each hit was weaker than the last. “Let me take his place-” Tears started to flood his eyes. “Dad didn’t deserve it. He did nothing wrong.” Stiles was crying, his knees going weak as he slipped from Derek’s arms and collapsed on the ground. He hiccuped, allowing Derek to pull him into a hug as he met him on the ground. Stiles sagged against his chest, the guilt and anger and grief hitting him like a freight train.

 Stiles clutched onto Derek’s shirt. “My dad is de-dead because of me.” He cried. “Theo was looking for Void, wanting to bring him back. B-but Derek...he never left. He’s still here.” He whispered, trembling hard at his confession.

 “No, Stiles, Void’s gone. You know he is.” Derek said softly into Stiles’ hair.

 “But I can feel him.” Stiles said. “I felt him when I killed Donovan and I felt good about it. I felt him when Scott and I fought. I felt him when I hit Theo and wanted to keep hitting. I just- I get angry and I don’t care if I hurt someone. If- if I don’t feel him, then I’m like him.”

 “That doesn’t mean you’re him, Stiles. You’ve been surrounded by death and gore and violence since Scott got bitten. You’ve been possessed and thrown into so many dangerous and life threatening situations. No one can come out of that being the person they used to be.” Derek ran his fingers through his hair that was getting a little too long.

 “But Scott...he’s not like this.”

 “That’s because Scott keeps his friends safe by believing he can. For him, optimism and hope keep him going. You’re just wired differently. You do background checks and are loaded with paranoia and you’re willing to do anything to keep the people you care about safe, even if it means others get hurt.” Derek said.

 “Exactly! I’m willing to hurt people!” Stiles said. His breath stuck as his face twisted and more tears came from his eyes. He was crying, but he wasn’t sobbing. The difference was surprisingly worse. His turmoil wasn’t going out with his cries, but instead building inside of him, turning into pressure behind his eyes and causing his chest to feel like he cracked multiple ribs and was taking deep breaths.

 “But that’s in self defense.” Derek said. “There’s a difference between that and murder. If needed, in the heat of a fight, you will hurt someone if it means the life or well-being of another is spared. That’s kind of like me. It’s...it’s not a bad thing.”

 “Y-you sound like you’re trying to convince yourself of that.” Stiles said weakly. He didn’t want to believe any of what Derek was saying, but he kept feeling the coil in his gut loosen in hope anyway.

 “I am.” He said. “That’s one of the reasons for the whole therapy thing.”

 Derek continued holding Stiles as he cried. It was a slow process, letting all of the emotions he felt slowly drain out so he could be left exhausted and empty. Except this time he knew he couldn’t smile after this. He wouldn’t be able to say “I’m fine” and make himself believe it when the words tasted rotten.

 “I need help.” He whispered into Derek’s chest. Derek held him steady, playing with his hair and giving him support while Stiles didn’t have his own.

 “I’ll help you.” Derek said. “But you need to be willing to meet me halfway with this.”

 Stiles sniffled and nodded. “I’ll try.” He said.

 “And who knows,” Derek added. “Maybe I can help myself more too.”

 “This’ll be a two way street then.” He said. “It’d be unfair if you were the only one pulling all the weight. And...I think helping someone else would help me.”

 He could feel more than see Derek’s nod. “Okay then.” He said.

 Stiles closed his eyes and wrapped his arms timidly around Derek’s waist. Derek adjusted them so the angle wasn’t awkward, and they held each other amongst the painful past and glittering glass.

Chapter Text

 “So, how will this work?”

 “Well, we talk, for one.”

 “Oh ha ha.”

 “Let’s start with how you’re feeling right now.”

 Stiles looked down at his little cup of coffee. It was still warm from the time it was put into the thermos and carried out among the trees in the cold. He lifted it to his lips and took a sip. Coffee wasn’t his favorite thing to drink, it always made him shaky and didn’t go well with his Adderall.

 “Tired, I guessed. But- but not physically tired. Physically my body is well rested. But emotionally and mentally, I’m shot. My emotions and mental state are the only things that affect me physically.” Stiles said.

 “How are they affecting you?” Derek asked. The faint morning light silhouetted him, his breath evident in the air.

 “You know,” He shrugged, but Derek waited for him to continue. “My hands refuse to stop shaking sometimes. I- That might just be the anxiety though.” Stiles has been Anxiety’s favorite plaything in the past few days after his meltdown. “And I can’t keep too many solid’s down. That makes me feel shittier. The fact that I can’t even keep food in my stomach kind of makes me feel a little depressed.”

 A leaf broke off from a tree and fluttered down to the ground. Nowadays the leaves were beginning to leave the trees bare instead of clinging to them. The temperature had plummeted greatly and Stiles was grateful for the clothes Derek insisted he got.

 “What else are you feeling? Besides being tired?” Derek asked.

 “Guilt.” Stiles said.

 “About what?” Stiles drained the rest of his coffee and set the cup down. His fingers chilled at the loss of warmth.

 “About all the things I’ve said to you. They weren’t exactly the nicest things to say to someone who’s trying to help you.” Stiles gave a mirthless chuckle. “I’m sorry.” He said for the thousandth time.

 “I forgive you.” Derek said softly. For the thousandth time, Stiles was glad he didn’t hear the words “it’s okay, I forgive you” or “you don’t need to keep saying sorry,” because Stiles did have to apologize for what he had said, for breaking that glass. It wasn’t okay and he needed to keep saying he was sorry, so at the very least he knew he said he was.

 “Do you feel guilty about anything else?” Derek asked.

 “I feel guilty with Donovan. But-but most of that guilt is with my dad.”

 “How?”

  “Dad didn’t know what happened.” Stiles said. “I was too terrified to tell him what happened. Even though Donovan was difficult, my dad had a past with his dad. He still wanted to help him. And...I killed him. And I don’t feel bad about it.” Out of habit, Stiles lifted his hand and rubbed his shoulder, the phantom pains from the scar still biting at his nerves.

 “You don't have to.” Derek said. Stiles looked at him. “He was trying to kill you. If nothing happened to him that night, he would've gone after your dad. It was self defense. Killing someone isn't easy, it'll change you. But if it's for the right reason, you won't feel guilty. You didn't murder him.”

 Stiles nodded and sighed a shaky breath out of his nose. “Who was the first person you killed?” He asked.

 Derek was silent. “Peter.” He said quietly. Stiles sat up straighter in surprise.

 “What? Really?” He asked. Derek nodded.

 “When it was just me and Laura,” Derek talked slowly, like he was trying to not say a wrong word. “We went to New York. There weren't a lot of werewolves. But if by chance there was a rogue, and if Laura needed to, she'd kill it. As alpha she wanted to take responsibility for stuff like that.”

 “She sounds like a good sister.” Stiles said.

 “She was.” Derek agreed.

 “So...Peter was really the first person you killed?” Stiles asked. “That had to suck.”

 “It’s fine.” Derek shrugged, but Stiles could see the tension growing in his shoulders. “It did suck. It didn’t feel good, to become an alpha like that, and it didn’t feel the way I thought it would be, but in a twisted way I was regaining something he had stolen from Laura.”

 Stiles just shook his head, pity welling up in his chest. Stiles could barely function after the individual deaths of his parents, but Derek had to deal with so much more, and then deal with a homicidal uncle and two annoying teens thrown in the middle of the mess.

 “Everything is so messed up.” He said. Stiles let out a ragged sigh and put his face in his hands. Derek’s hand gripped his shoulder. The gesture was small, but it was a great comfort to him. Everything was a mess. A mess of hurt and death and grief. “So fucked up .”

 “Not everything.” Derek said quietly. Stiles lifted his head and had to blink the tears out of his eyes before he spoke.

 “What?” He asked.

 “Everything that’s happened, yeah, it’s bad. We’ve-,” Derek’s voiced cracked a little, “we’ve lost people we cared about. We’ve had to see death and cause it. For the past few years it’s been nothing but one bad thing after another, but there were good times.” Derek looked at him like he wanted Stiles to add in.

 “Like...meeting people we otherwise wouldn’t have known?”

 Derek nodded.

 “I wouldn’t have become such good friends with Lydia if none of this would’ve happened.” Stiles said eventually.

 “I wouldn’t have met Erica, Isaac, or Boyd.” Derek said. “They were annoying at times but...but they were good people. They were pack.”

 “I wouldn't have had my pack.” Stiles said.

 “We wouldn’t have been able to save all the people we’ve helped.” Derek added.

 “Everything sucks, but not everything was bad.” Stiles said eventually. He shut his eyes tight and repeated that over and over.

  Everything sucks, but not everything was bad.

 Everything sucks, but not everything was bad.

 When Stiles opened his eyes, he was faced with the lively fall colors of the trees. Soon, when the leaves all fell to the ground, everything would look dead. But Stiles knew they wouldn’t be; they were just sleeping. Staying until the spring when they could live again. New beginnings, new life.

 Stiles would be a tree, he decided. Closed for the winter, battling through storms and snow and lightning strikes, but he’d come alive again; his roots would still be in place. He wouldn’t be knocked down.

 

~~~~~~

 

 The five stages of grief is total bullshit.

 On some level, he guesses it’s accurate, but in reality it’s, again, bullshit. Horse shit. It’s all the kinds of shit.

 The stages were denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance in that exact order. Stiles had already blown through the first two stages, acting on them like a total pro, but he didn’t get the urge to bargain. Who would he bargain to? He didn’t believe in a God to beg to, and even though it sucked he knew there was nothing he could do to get his dad back. Unless there was some supernatural Harry Potter style rock that could bring back the dead (he hoped there was no such thing) there was no getting his dad back.

 The thing Stiles wasn’t prepared for though was the depression. Nope, it somehow managed to blindside him and knock him over.

 When Stiles learned about the five stages in health class during freshman year, sure, he got depression. He understood it because of how he felt after his mother’s death, but this felt different. Stiles felt numb or he’d feel worthless or lost or angry at himself and everything just continued in a very vicious cycle he didn’t like.

 But Stiles has never had any kind of depression, so he couldn’t be sure if that was what he was feeling or not. He didn’t have anything to base it off of, which made everything all that more confusing and frustrating. It was hard, always feeling like his emotional and mental state was on a roller coaster, but he was making an effort to deal with it. His first and strongest instinct was to ignore it all together until it went away, but he knew it wouldn’t, and he didn’t want a repeat of the whole denial thing.

 So each day, he sucked it up, and went with Derek to the woods.

 They were both more comfortable there. The woods gave them a feeling of security and comfort. They could talk about the things they needed to get off their chest and not feel suffocated with their words. It was easier that way, together in the woods away from the rest of the world.

 The morning was for when they talked about the deeper stuff, when they weren't fully awake and in the aftermath of nightmares. Stiles could work on himself and Derek could let down his walls and they could lay themselves out bare and vulnerable before the sun shined on them.

 After the mornings, they'd have a relaxed day. They explored the woods, had picnics, watched movies, read books. Anything they could get their hands on, really.

 He and Derek had begun to build a careful balance with one another, and Stiles wasn't going to complain.

 Stiles curled up on his side and rubbed his face into the pillow. Early morning thoughts shouldn't be a thing.

 “You're awake.” Derek said next to him. Stiles heard the sheets shift and he buried himself deeper under the covers

 “You shouldn't be.” Stiles mumbled. He didn't try to raise his voice since he knew Derek would hear.

 “Technically we slept in.” Derek said.

 “I want to sleep in more.” Stiles groaned. Good Lord he was tired.

 Stiles heard the sheets shift again and then there was an arm wrapping over his side and pulling him back. Stiles eagerly shifted sides and pressed himself into Derek's chest.

 “Thank you, my personal werewolf space heater.” Derek snorted and practically draped himself on top of Stiles. He tilted his head to look at the part of Derek's face he could see.

 “Speaking of space, werewolves in space: how would it work.” He asked.

 “The same way humans being in space works.” Derek said.

 “But what about werewolves on the moon?” He asked. Derek moved and so did Stiles so they could both see each other; Stiles and Derek both on their sides facing each other.

 “I'm not sure about that.” He said.

 “But do you think the moon would make you turn? Or would, if a werewolf was on the moon, the moon would have to actually be a full moon? Or would nothing happen at all?” Stiles continued. He could tell Derek was fighting the urge to smile.

 “I'm still not sure, Stiles.” He said.

 “Well what do you think?” Stiles asked.

 “Well I think the moon's shift would only work on earth.” Derek said.

 “Why do you say that?”

 “Think of it like water.” Derek started. “If you put water on the moon, it would just freeze and fall to the ground. But water on earth have the tides controlled by the moon. The effect and pull the moon has is the thing that makes the tides rise and fall and the power that forces a shift. But a ball of rock in the sky isn't all that special.”

 “Point taken.” Stiles said, smiling. It was casual mornings like this that made him feel normal. Normal and okay. “Why do you think the moon has so much power over stuff?”

 “Maybe because the moon has always been associated with supernatural power?” Derek suggests.

 “That or the moon is just a badass thing.” Stiles said and Derek barked a laugh. Pun fully intended.

 “How about both?” Derek said.

 “Both.” Stiles smirked.

 “Both is good.”

 “Both is good.” They were both smiling stupidly.

 “Breakfast?” Derek asked.

 “What should we have?” Stiles asked.

 “Bacon, eggs, and toast?” He offered.

 “That’s so generic. I’m in.” Derek snorted and rolled away from Stiles, who immediately groaned and pulled all of the covers onto him. He watched Derek roll his eyes and trip on his way out of Stiles’ room. Derek wasn’t all that graceful.

 Stiles laid in the bed a little longer, not willing to get out quite yet. Because of rough nights, eventually every night they liked to share a bed. It was easier, for both of them, to have someone beside them when they woke up. Even if the other didn’t, just knowing they weren’t alone helped.

 When the smell of food was too good to resist, Stiles rolled out of the bed, one of the blankets folded over his shoulders.

 Even though Stiles was fully clothed, he was still a native Californian. He wasn’t used to anything colder than forty degrees except for some really weird cold spurts. And even then, that was too cold for him. Colorado though, Colorado was damn cold.

 Derek though seemed to not be affected at all by the cold. Stiles is only a little jealous of that.

 Okay, maybe he was a lot jealous.

 “Are you done yet?” Stiles asked, sitting on a stool. He stared at Derek’s back. He had already changed from pajamas to his usual jeans and Henley combo. He was weird like that.

 “Patience.” Derek said, meaning it wasn't done. Stiles made a disappointed noise and laid his face on the counter, wincing slightly at the cold.

 “I want foood.” He groaned.

 “If you keep whining you’re not getting any.” Derek threatened. He didn’t even turn around.

 “I don’t have to be a werewolf to know you speak lies.” Stiles said, smirking. He could practically hear Derek’s eyeroll. When the other didn’t respond Stiles took that as a win.

 “Sit up.” Derek said after a few minutes. Stiles did as told, watching as Derek made them plates, making himself a cup of coffee and pouring a glass of orange juice for Stiles. He took it all gratefully and began eating the slightly small portion on his plate.

 “I’m forever surprised you cook eggs in a way I like them.” Stiles mumbled past his food.

 “Don’t talk with your mouth full.” Derek frowned. He made a show of swallowing his food before he spoke again.

 “Better?” He asked.

 “Much.” Derek said.

 “Anyway, before I was rudely interrupted, I was saying that I like your cooking.” Stiles said. He chose to pretend he didn’t see Derek sneak more food on his plate when he got up to grab more orange juice.

 “You actually said you liked my eggs specifically.” Derek said.

 “Your eggs are your cooking. Take the compliment, asshole.” Stiles sat back down and started eating the extra food. He was delighted when he didn’t feel like his body was revolting against it.

 “Thanks.” Derek said, his tone full of sarcasm. Stiles would have to be blind to see the little look of pride on Derek’s face.

 “So what are we doing today? More hikes? A crossword contest? Me going through everything in the house while you clean up after me?” Stiles fires off.

 Derek snorted. “No. We might go for a hike, but we’re going to go to town pretty soon.” This peaked his interest.

 “Why? We went only a few weeks ago.” Stiles said.

 “I know, but I have to grab some things I didn’t get when we went.” Derek said. He swiped up part of the egg yolk onto his toast and took a bite.

 “Like what?”

 “Flour,” Derek said. Stiles was about to get on him for talking with food in his mouth but the other continued before he could, “sugar, more eggs, some more things for baking. Other stuff too.”

 “What are you planning to make?” Stiles asked.

 “For example? Pan de muertos.” Derek said. Stiles blinked.

 “Pan de muertos mean bread of the dead, right?” Derek nodded, looking pleased. Thank you basic high school Spanish classes.

 “Why are you making dead bread?” The pleased look dropped almost immediately as Derek glared at him.

 “Pan de muertos is something that’s made for Dia de los Muertos. Which starts today.”

 “Wait, really?” Stiles asked. His small knowledge of the holiday told him it was the same day as Halloween. That means Stiles has been with Derek for roughly a month. Wow.

 “Yeah.”

 “Oh.” Stiles said. “Do you want me to help you make it?”

 Derek paused, his last piece of bacon inches from his mouth.

 “You just called it dead bread. I’m pretty sure you don’t know how to make it.” He said.

 “I don’t,” Stiles shrugged. “But you can teach me.” He hesitated, “unless this is more of a private thing.”

 “No it’s-it’s not.” Derek said. He looked...surprised? “I can teach you.”

 “Cool.” Stiles said. “Awesome.”

 “I’m going to be putting you to work, though.” Derek said. “And it’s not super easy. We aren’t just making the bread.”

 “What else is there to make?” Stiles asked.

 “A lot.” Derek smirked. “What do you know about Dia de los Muertos?” He asked.

 “Not much,” Stiles said, “It’s a holiday to celebrate the dead and it’s celebrated in Latin America.”

 “El Dia de los Muertos isn’t about just celebrating the dead, it’s about celebrating the lives that that person lead. You gather with family and there’s singing and music and putting up decorations, making food, creating altars.” Derek explained. “It’s celebrated for either two to three days, depending on if you start on Halloween or not, but it goes on through November first and second; All Saints and All Souls day.”

 “That sounds really cool.” Stiles said. “I'd like to...do it with you.”

 “Okay.” Derek said, a small smile appearing on his lips. Even though Stiles could tell he was sadder than he had been earlier, he was still excited for the holiday. Stiles didn't know how important this all was to him, but he'd do his best to do it with Derek like how he wanted it to happen.

 Derek stood and grabbed his empty plate. Stiles ate the last bit of his food and followed Derek over to the sink to clean his plate.

 “So what are we going to do?” Stiles asked.

 “I was thinking we could build an altar.” Derek said. He shoved up his sleeves past his elbows and ran their plates under the water.

 “Altar?”

 “Altars are used as a way to honor the dead. You add all kinds of things to them for the people who have passed. Pictures of them, flowers, foods they liked. Candles and incense are put out because it's believed that the souls of the people who've passed come to the world and the candles are used to guide them safely home.”

 Stiles just looked at the designs in the granite countertop. He traced them, his finger trailing over the cold black fractures in the polished rock.

 “So...we're making one?” Stiles asked.

 “I'd like to.” Derek replied softly. He leaned against the counter and Stiles looked up at him.

 “Who are we going to make it for?” He asked after a moment.

 “Everyone who's past.”

 Stiles sighed through his nose and ran a hand through his long hair.

 “Does it have to be everyone?”

 “It's preferred to do one because the dead see it as an insult to be mourned over when they should be celebrated.” Derek said.

 “I just- I'm tired of crying.” Stiles said. He refused to meet Derek's eyes.

 “Then don't cry.”

 Stiles rubbed his face. “Okay. Okay.” He said.

 “If you get sad or upset, it’s okay. The hurt isn’t meant to disappear. You just...be thankful they were alive in the first place.” Derek said. Stiles looked over at Derek. His face was soft, looking as careful as his words have been. He took a deep breath and didn’t respond until the air tickled the very bottom of his lungs.

 “What do we start with?” He asked. A small, relieved smile came onto Derek’s face as he turned and started walking. Stiles followed him out of the kitchen.

 “My abuela,” Derek began, “was born in Mexico, but she immigrated with her parents to California when she was ten.” He said. Derek lead them up the stairs to the top floor before he stopped and faced Stiles. “Her brother was killed by hunters a few years before they left, so she was then an only child. When she had all of her kids, including my mom, she made sure to keep her culture alive with them, and eventually she did the same to us; her grandkids.”

 Stiles listened patiently, eager to hear this little bit of Derek’s history. He resisted the urge to say something dumb like, I didn’t know that. Because of course he wouldn’t.

 “I loved it.” Derek said. “It was a part of my heritage. It was a part of my past. It was a part of my family. As I grew up I learned both Spanish and English, but when it came to talking to my family I preferred using Spanish.” Derek looked at the ground, smiling nostalgically, “I cooked with my abuela and my mom every night I could. Holiday’s were the best because there was so much to cook and our entire family would come over. It was always a slew of aunts and uncles and cousins.

 Derek walked over to a door and opened it. The door revealed stairs that they began making their way up into the attic. Dust and boxes sat around in equal measure, covering everywhere in the dim light of the small window on the far wall.

 “My mom was the oldest, and that’s why she inherited becoming the alpha from my abuela. One of her younger brothers, Joseph, died. He had talked about coming here with the family all the time because he loved it so much.” Derek picked around in the boxes, trailing his fingers over the lettering before he finally stopped in front of one of the smaller piles. “So for Dia de los Muertos we all came here. Some of the decorations are still here.” Derek finished.

 “And we’re going to use those?”

 “Yep.” Derek said. He picked up a box and handed it to Stiles, then picked up another to carry. They both made their way downstairs into the living room and put the boxes down. They only had to take two trips since there was only a handful of boxes, and Derek took charge of carrying the heavy ones.

 “Let’s see what we have.” Derek said as he pulled up the flaps of the box.

 One of the heavier boxes contained a lot of small crates. They were painted beautifully, some splashed with all kinds of vibrant colors, while others were stained dark and pretty

 In another box were various things. There were three crosses that were all different sizes, half burned candles, candle holders, and sticks of incense. In the boxes that Stiles had carried down were some decorations and table cloths. The last box had mostly pictures.

 The first pictures he pulled out were pictures of the Virgin Mary and who he guessed was Mother Theresa. The next picture was older and in black and white. It showed a hard looking man, his eyes were squinted and his skin was starting to wrinkle. Despite his obvious age, Stiles could tell he was handsome and looked kind of familiar.

 “He looks kind of like you.” Stiles said to Derek. He felt him appear behind him.

 “That’s my grandfather,” Derek said, “I never met him, but everyone said I looked like him.”

 “You do,” Stiles said. “Same jaw, same eyebrows. Handsome.” He hummed thoughtlessly, tracing the edge of the frame with his thumb.

 “Thank you.” Derek said.

 “Mm.”

 Derek moved away to continue pulling things out of boxes. Stiles put down the photo of Derek’s grandfather and pulled out all of the others.

 There were older pictures, a picture of a man Stiles assumed was the uncle Derek talked about, and under all the other things was a picture of an ultrasound labeled Emilia, 20 weeks . Stiles put the picture down.

 “So what are these for?” Stiles asked, tapping the crates.

 “They’re used for individual spots in the altar.” Derek said.

 “Are we going to use all of them?”

 “Maybe.”

 Derek pulled out one of the white table cloths and cleared off one of the tables off to the side in the living room.

 “Put the cloth on the table and start setting up some of the crates. I’ll be right back.” Derek instructed. Stiles was then left alone.

 He did as he was told, covering the table and then setting up a few of the crates in a way they were all standing side by side in the middle of the table. Stiles had taken the liberty of arranging the crosses when Derek reappeared, but this time with a thin book in his hands.

 “Is that...a Beacon Hills yearbook?” Stiles asked incredulously. He stuck out his hand to take a look at the book.

 “It was Erica’s.” Derek said, and Stiles’ heart squeezed.

 He flipped through the pages, looking at Erica’s bubbly and neat handwriting. The inside of the cover was blank except for the few signatures of random people and a few teachers. She must have had this before she got the bite.

 “Did she give this to you?” Stiles asked. The next page he saw had a picture of Harris with a spectacular drawn on mustache and devil horns.

 “Before she and Boyd left.” Derek said. His fingers paused for a second before they continued on to the next page.

 “Oh.” He said.

 The yearbook...was strange to look at. This was the yearbook when everything was still new and cool. Allison was the new girl, Scott’s picture was ruined by the glare of his eyes, Stiles had his buzzcut. Erica sat in her picture with good posture and a shy smile on her face. Boyd looked the same, and Isaac looked meek.

 “We’re all so young.” Stiles said. He shook his head and handed the yearbook back to Derek. Even though those pictures were taken only -oh wow, a little over two years ago- they still felt like memories from a lifetime ago.

 “It’s hard to believe.” He said. “What are we going to do with it?”

 “I was thinking we could cut out their pictures and put them in the altars.” Derek said.

 Stiles gave a small, sad smile. “That's a good idea.” He said. “What are you going to do with the yearbook after?”

 “Keep it.” He said. Derek's fingers danced across the spine of the book, weirdly nervous, before he opened the book to the blank back cover and handed it to Stiles.

 He took it and immediately found Erica’s pretty handwriting in the bottom right corner. All it said was “Thank you,” with a small little heart next to it.

 “She did this before…”

 “Yeah.” Derek's voice sounded heavy. Stiles closed the book and stepped forward.

 “They cared about you.” Stiles told him.

 “I know,” Derek said, “but wasn't the best alpha.”

 “You tried. And I don't think anyone can rightfully blame you for trying. Especially given the circumstances of you becoming an alpha in the first place.” Stiles said.

 When Derek didn't say anything, Stiles took another step closer. They didn't really hug just because they could, they hugged because someone (usually Stiles) needed it. But now Derek needed one.

 Stiles closed the space between them and wrapped his arms around Derek's waist quite easily. Being similar heights now, Stiles could rest his face on Derek's shoulder. Slowly, arms wound back around him, and he felt the air Derek huffed out of his nose.

 The hug ended as quickly as it had begun.

 “So…” Stiles drawled out, “What should we do now?”

 “We can cut out the pictures. After we can go to the store.” Derek said.

 “Got it.” Stiles nodded.

 Derek grabbed some scissors and sat on the floor in front of the table. He opened up the first page of students, looking deliberately at Allison.

 “She always smiled.” Stiles said softly. That seemed to decide it as Derek wound the scissors around her picture.

 They were careful to avoid any handwriting of Erica’s they found. They cut out Erica's photo and then Boyd’s. Three tiny photos laid on the floor in front of them.

 “That's it?” Stiles asked. Then, “Is it bad that I'm surprised that not more of us died?”

 “I'm not sure.” Derek said.

 “Huh.”

 Derek closed the book and set it aside. He picked up Erica and Boyd’s photos and placed them in altars. Erica went to the one with the bright splash of color, and Boyd went to a dark and modest one.

 Stiles picked up Allison’s photo and looked at it. Her hair was long, her smile was wide, and she was completely free of any knowledge of the supernatural.

 He missed her. Sure, he didn't love her like Scott had, and he wasn't her best friend like Lydia, but they were friends nonetheless. They fought beside each other, lived and worried, and helped each other. Even with the Nogitsune, she fought for him. And she died saving her friends.

 Stiles placed her photo inside a crate that had a dark stain, but unlike the others it had carvings made into the side that made pretty designs. Her photo stood out against the dark.

 The three photos were in the middle, with one altar empty on each side, presumably for their family.

 “Let’s go to the store.” Derek said, laying a hand on his shoulder.

 

~~~~~~

 

 At the store, they split up. Derek had taken a cart to fill with groceries, and Stiles was looking at the things to put on the altars.

 Right now he was looking at an arrow.

 The hunting section had a lot of choices, and most of the arrows came in bundles, but the one he was looking at came individually. He picked it up, centered it on his finger and watched it balance.

 He placed it in the small bag he carried among other things. There were colored pipe cleaners, red and orange-yellow tissue paper, and now the arrow.

 Stiles continued to wander, looking for things to add. He didn't know Erica or Boyd very well, which was something he regretted now, but he felt like he could do pretty well for them.  A small make up section drew his attention. He walked over, looking at the tiny items and picking up a cherry apple red lipstick. Stiles put it down. It'd be too superficial for Erica.

 “I don't know what to get for Erica and Boyd.” Stiles said once he found Derek. His cart was already loaded with things for food, and he spotted more than a few bottles of alcohol. “Are we throwing a party?”

 “No, we're not.” Derek said. “And I can help you look for something.”

 Derek turned the cart around and pushed it through the aisles.

 “Erica was really sentimental and loved anything that was overly cute.” Derek explained.

 “So we're basically looking for the most obnoxiously cute thing we can find in here?” Stiles asked.

 “Basically.” Derek said.

 “What about Boyd?” Stiles asked.

 “He had a thing for classical music. I'm going to see if I can find anything that ties to that.” Derek said.

 They went near the back of the store where there was a mess of random things. There were stuffed animals, toys, CD ’s, movies, and anything else that a person could want.

 “Would Erica have liked that?” Stiles asked. He pointed to a stuffed kitten that had oversized eyes and had a stuffed heart between its paws that said “When I’m with you I’m feline good”.

 “She’d like it too much.” Derek said. Stiles plucked it up and put it in his bag.

 They rooted around to try to find something for Boyd but there wasn't anything that they thought he'd enjoy. Stiles had picked up something that was semi-promising, a bumper sticker saying “my other car is a Porsche” but then he remembered Boyd took the bus, and the Porsche was more on par with Jackson.

 They were about to give up their search when something under a mass of stuffed animals caught his eye.

 “Do you think Boyd would like this?” Stiles asked. It was a small bobble head of Mozart, but it was like an anime version of him.

 “He'd pretend he didn't like it.” Derek said.

 “But in reality it'd be his truest love?”

 “Exactly.”

 Derek flicked the bobble head and turned away. “Now we can buy everything.” He said. They worked their way back to the front of the store where check-out was. Derek began loading everything up, but paused and turned to Stiles.

 “Do you want to get anything else while I wait for everything to be checked out?” He asked. Stiles paused, squirmed, and then nodded. He set the bag he was carrying down in the cart and was off again. He already knew what he wanted to get.

 Not even a minute went by before he was back to Derek, this time with the addition of a roll of stickers that had police badges on them and an extremely stupid, very punny card added to the mix of things they were getting.

 

~~~~~~

 

 “So why did you wait so long to get all the things you needed?” Stiles asked. He watched as Derek was putting away all of their groceries. The man was adamant that he put everything away since he knew where things went. Stiles didn't get it but he just went with it anyway.

 “Well, usually we spent Halloween preparing for the next two days. The November first and second are the main days of celebration.” Derek explained.

 “Ah.” Stiles said.

 “Today we’re going to start baking. After when we're waiting for things to cook we'll put up some decorations and finish the altars.”

 “What are we going to make food wise?”

 “If I had everything I need, we’d have whole meals to cook, but with the limited variety of food here, I’m only going to make a few things,” Derek said. “It’s only going to be pan de muerto, some Mexican hot chocolate. Maybe some cake if there are leftover ingredients. It won’t be anything truly traditional, but it’s still something.”

 “Sounds tasty though.” Stiles said.

 “It’ll be good.” He said.

 “What are we making first?”

 “The bread first; it’ll take the longest.” Derek said. “Are you ready to put in some elbow grease?”

 “Are you sure that won’t ruin the taste of the bread?” Derek gave him a flat look. “Okay, okay, teach me your ways.”

 “First, wash your hands.” Derek said. Stiles rolled up his sleeves and did as told, playfully hitting Derek’s hands when he reached down to wash his own. He smiled when Derek hit his hands back.

 “Okay, we’re going to start with our mis en place.” Derek said.

 “Our what?” Stiles asked.

 “Getting our measurements ready so we don’t have to start on any of the ingredients half way through actually making it.” Derek said,

 “Ooh.” Stiles said. He watched Derek roll his eyes.

 Derek grabbed a few big bowls and a few smaller ones as he got out all of the ingredients. Derek sort of forgot about Stiles, but he was fine with that. It was cool to watch him get into the zone of cooking. It came so naturally to him; the recipes embedded in his mind as he measured everything the way they were supposed to be.

 Everything from measuring the flour, cutting the butter into small chunks, taking an orange and making some orange zest, everything  was just captivating to watch. Even though Derek hadn’t actually started cooking, he could see how things would come together.

 “What part am I going to do?” Stiles asked after everything had finished being prepared. Derek looked up like he forgot Stiles was supposed to be helping.

 “Oh,” He said. “Well, the kneading is going to take a long time. You can do that.”

 “Yeah, I can do that.” Stiles said. “I’m more than cool with watching you work.” Derek raised his eyebrows and Stiles shoved at his shoulder. Even though it wasn’t hard, Derek still allowed himself to sway slightly.

 Now Stiles had a front row seat to the actual making of the bread. He watched as a circle was made in the middle of the pile of flour and sugar. He added the butter chunks to the outside, then poured the wet ingredients that he added the yeast to in the middle.

 Derek then started to incorporate it all very gently. His hands were coated in flour and the dough he was beginning to make.

 Stiles was still amazed at how natural and at ease Derek looked in the kitchen.

 “How have I never seen you cook before?” Stiles asked.

 Derek’s eyebrows furrowed down at the dough. “You’ve seen me cook.” He said.

 “Only since I’ve been here.” Stiles said.

 “I never really had the time, I guess.” Derek said. His fingers slowly rolled the dough, adding in more of the dry ingredients but leaving the butter untouched. “Cooking is more of a comfort to me than something I feel I have to do. I like to take my time with it.”

 “Yeah, I guess you didn’t really have the time to cook meals like you do.” He said. “But if you did, I would’ve loved to be your taste tester.”

 Derek snorted and then stepped back. “Alright, time for you to do some work.” Derek said.

 Stiles eagerly stepped forward and looked at the gooey unfinished lump in front of him. “What should I do?” He asked.

 “You’re going to knead the dough and incorporate the butter at the same time.” He said. He took Stiles’ hands and covered them lightly with some extra flour. “Fold it and roll it.”

 “Got it.” Stiles said. It couldn’t be that hard to do. He pressed his hands into the dough, getting a feel for it before pushing in some of the butter chunks. He folded it in and then rolled it out on his heel, standing up on his tip toes to press his weight down onto the dough before standing back normally.

 “What are you doing?” Derek asked.

 “I’m incorporating the butter. Like you said.” Stiles said.

 “I get that, but what was that whole…” Derek mimicked what he did.

 “I was pushing down on the dough.” He said. Derek huffed and bumped Stiles out of the way.

 “Okay, stand behind me and put your hands on top of mine.” Derek instructed. Stiles again did as he was told.

Stiles pressed his chest against Derek’s back, his chin naturally resting on his shoulder as he extended his arms. He settled his hands on top of the Derek’s. His fingers were a little longer than the other man’s, but since their fingers were bent they fit easily.

 “Feel how I’m doing it with my hands.” Derek said, moving his hands to knead the dough firmly but gently. Stiles’ heart jumped in his chest.

 They settled into a steady rhythm of rolling and kneading the dough. They didn’t talk, but they didn’t need anything to fill the silence. It was comfortable, the way they just worked together. It made Stiles feel...content.

 Like Derek had promised, it did take a good thirty minutes before the dough was deemed acceptable. The sky had already started to darken when they were done making and putting away the dough.

 Night found Stiles curled up on the couch with a fire going strong in the fireplace. After a late but filling dinner, he and Derek used the pipe cleaners and tissue paper to make fake marigolds to decorate the altars. Plastic sugar skulls and various other decorations were on the table. A large picture of Derek’s entire family now sat in one of the crates, while in the other the card and stickers Stiles got were in the last one. They’d finish putting anything else out tomorrow.

 “Here.” Derek said over his shoulder. He had a steaming mug in his hand that he passed to Stiles.

 “Thanks.” He said, accepting the drink. It looked delicious. “What is it.”

 “The hot chocolate.” Derek said.

 “Scott’s mom would sometimes make hot chocolate like this. I can’t remember what it was called though. I think it started with an ‘I’.” Stiles said.

 “Ibarra?” Derek suggested.

 “Yeah, that’s the one.”

 “This is Abuelita. It’s better than Ibarra.” Derek said. Stiles raised an eyebrow but didn’t comment and instead took a sip of his drink. It was really good.

 “I like it.” He said.

 “Good.” Derek said.

 “But if I had Ibarra again, I’d say it was good too.” Stiles added, just to test to see what Derek’s reaction was. For a second Stiles worried that he might have offended Derek in some way, given the look on his face, but that soon just turned to amusement.

 “Why do you look so scandalized?” Stiles laughed.

 Derek shook his head. “It’s just this rival Laura and I had growing up.” He explained. “She liked Ibarra better, I liked Abuelita better, and no one would take sides. So when it comes to drinking it I think Abuelita is much better.”

 “What did Cora think?” Stiles asked.

 “If she got to choose how to make it, Cora would always choose to use both chocolates to make it.”

 “Blasphemous.” Stiles gasped.

 “Basically.” Derek chuckled. “Laura and I hated it. But we hated more to admit it was still good.”

 They both chuckled and settled into a calm quiet once more.

 “So tomorrow we’ll finish making the food and then set it out on the altars?” Stiles asked.

 “Yep.” Derek said.

 “Why exactly are we doing that again?” Stiles asked.

 “Well, we believe the lines between the dead and the living are blurred during this time of year, so the food and the belongings and the drinks and everything else is a way to ensure the spirits of the people who’ve passed can make it home and enjoy the things they enjoyed while they were alive.” Derek explained. Stiles took a long sip of his hot chocolate. It burned his throat but he was fine to concentrate on that.

 His stomach dropped at the thought of that being true. After all, if werewolves were a thing, why not spirits? Legends and lore existed for a reason.

 If his parents were coming here, what would they think of him? Would they be proud or disappointed? Would they really not want him to mourn for them, and instead be happy to have had time with them?

 The clock ticked on and the fire crackled, dying down. Stiles sipped at his hot chocolate and Derek sat down at his feet. They were silent, they were comfortable, but they were also sad. Lost in memories of family that have since lost vivid quality.

 “I’m going to go to bed.” Derek said. He got up and stretched.

 “Night.” Stiles said.

 “Night.”

 Derek disappeared into the kitchen with both of their empty mugs. Stiles could hear the soft thud of his feet as he walked up the stairs. Stiles sighed and ran his hand through his hair.

 He followed upstairs, going to his room to change into some pajamas before walking down the hall to Derek’s room. When he got there the door was still opened and he knocked on the door jam.

 “Hey.” Stiles said quietly. Derek turned from where he was pulling back the covers on his bed.

 “Hey.” He said back.

 “Do you mind if I…” He trailed off, motioning to the bed.

 “Sure.” Derek said.

 Stiles walked further into the room. His eyes were firmly on the carpet as he slid under the covers on the other side of the bed. This was the first time he was sleeping in Derek’s bed. It felt different, but in a good way.

 Neither of them talked. Stiles turned his back to Derek’s side of the bed, and soon the light was being turned off, save for the tiny night light plugged into the wall.

 It was weird, the silence. Stiles had always been so used to the sound of cars, the hum of the buildings and the barks of dogs. He was always surrounded with evidence of people, but so far out in the middle of nowhere the silence was sometimes the loudest thing. It roared in his ears and he felt weird if a sound disrupted it. He felt like he was calmly isolated only to have the walls around him crack.

 But now it felt more natural. He heard the sound of owls outside, heard the wind blowing the trees. He heard the steady breathing of Derek only inches from his back. If he listened hard enough, he could hear the beating of both of their hearts.

 In his little box of calm, he wasn’t alone. It felt better than the silence of loneliness.

 “Hey Derek?”

 “Yes Stiles?”

 Stiles shifted to face Derek in the dark. The moonlight filtered in and made the other’s eyes gleam silver.

 “Do you really believe that the dead are still with us? That they come back to us?” He asks.

 “It’s hard to believe it sometimes, but I try.” Derek said. “It’s something I’d like to believe.”

 He paused.

 “I’d like to believe it too.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 The late morning light filtering through thin curtains was the thing that woke him up. Stiles shifted, tangling the sheets around his limbs as he stretched. He sighed, content and well rested.

 He didn’t have any nightmares the night before.

 Stiles was slow to fully wake up. He dozed in and out for a little bit. He felt warm and normal. The smell of food being cooked in the kitchen wafted slowly up. Stiles smiled to himself as he remembered he was in Derek’s bed. He didn’t know what was causing him to be in such a good mood, but he was going to relish it while it lasted.

 He fell into a light sleep once more, but opened his eyes fully when he felt a gentle nudging against his shoulder. Stiles made a grumbling sound in his chest as he woke up. Derek’s face hovered above him. Stiles gave him a wide, happy, lazy smile.

 “G’mornin’.” Stiles mumbled. Derek raised a surprised eyebrow but gave him a small smile back.

 “Morning.” Derek said. “Breakfast is ready.”

 “Sweet.” Stiles said. He grumbled some more and scratched his belly before he rolled up out of the bed. “Lead the way Wolfman.”

 Derek snorted. “Have you even seen that show?” He asked.

 “What show?”

 “Wolfman Jack was a show.” Derek said. “My aunt Jaime loved it.”

 “Did you all watch it ironically? Was it actually about werewolves?” Stiles asked.

 “I never actually saw it.” Derek admitted.

 “What?!” Stiles gasped. “How can you ask me all pretentious like if I've seen it if you haven't seen it yourself?”

 “Well someone in my family saw it. I'm sure I've seen it but I just never paid attention.” Derek defended.

 “Uh-huh.” Stiles said. When he walked into the kitchen and scooped up the plate and began walking out.

 “What do you think you're doing?” Derek asked, blocking the door to his escape.

 “Going to the couch?” Stiles tried to smile.

 “No.”

 “Aww come on!” Stiles pouted. Derek lifted the plate of food from his hands and put it back on the island table.

 “You know there's no eating in the living room.” Derek said.

 "Can't you break the rule this one time?" Stiles pleaded.

 "No." Derek repeated.

 "Well why not?"
 "Because if I let you eat it this one time then you're going to want to keep eating in the room." Derek said.
 Stiles frowned and walked back over to the island and sat down.

 "You're no fun." Stiles grumbled. He cut a piece of the still warm pancake and took a bite.

 "Chocolate chips." Stiles said, surprised. He looked up at Derek, who made a plate for himself and began eating too. "How'd you know it was my favorite?" He asked.

 He watched him stop smother his pancakes in syrup as he looked up at Stiles. "I didn't. Not really." He said. "It was just...something I remember overhearing, I think."

 Stiles ate a little more before he spoke again. "We don't really know a whole lot about each other, do we?" Stiles looked up. "We know things about each other, but not through anything we've explicitly told one another."

 "We've told each other some things." Derek said.

 "But not a lot." Stiles said, pointing with his fork.

 "Then what do you suggest we do?" Derek asked.

 "Well," Stiles swallowed a mouthful. "We could play games. Like 20 questions." He said.

 Derek raised an eyebrow.

 "We're so play 20 questions." Stiles said. "Don't look at me like that. Your judgy eyebrow made that happen."

 "Fine." Derek said.

 "I'll start." Stiles said. He took a thoughtful bite, chewing slowly as he thought about his first question. "Question one. If you could only listen to one song for the rest of your life, what song would it be?"

 Derek tilted his head as he though. At least he was taking this seriously. It made a warm feeling bloom in his chest.

 "Probably Butterfly by Crazy Town." Derek said.

 "I'd listen to Centuries by Fall Out Boy." He said. "You will remember meeee, remember me for centurieeeees."

 Derek winced. "You are definitely not meant to be on The Voice."

 "Shut up, Simon Cowell. I wasn't even trying. I have a beautiful voice."

 "Sure you do."

 "Silence on the matter. It's your turn now."

 "Fine. Question two. What's your favorite childhood movie." He asked.

 "It was probably Eragon before I realized how bad of a movie it was." Stiles said.

 "Wow. You have horrible taste." Derek said.

 "I was a kid! What do you expect?" He asked.

 "I expect good taste coming from a Star Wars fan. Those are the movies I thought you were going to say." Derek said.

 "Well this was before I watched them with appreciation." Stiles sniffed. "Anyway, what was your favorite movie?"

 "The Secret Garden. The one with Maggie Smith." Derek said.

 "The Secret Garden!" Stiles exclaimed. "Man, I haven't seen that movie in forever. I loved that movie."

 "You did?" Derek asked, perking up a little. It was adorable.

 "Yeah, it was awesome. I don't remember everything because it's been years since I've seen it, but I remember enough." Stiles said brightly.

 "I haven't seen it in years either." Derek said.

 "What do you remember most when you think about it?" He asked. Derek's ears went a little pink at the tips.

 "The bluebells they show in the movie." Derek said. "They were so pretty, and they turned into my favorite flowers."

 "That's cute." Stiles smiled. "I remember that little ivory elephant with the broken trunk." He said. "What was the little girl’s name again?”

 "I think it was Mary." Derek said.

 "Oh yeah. Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow? I remember her that rhyme."

 "I remember the other kids teasing her with that rhyme after her parents died." That was a sobering comment.

 "I feel like any movie I watch where the parents are dead I will related a whole lot more to." Stiles said.

 “You can relate to it for other reasons too.” Derek said pointedly. Stiles nodded and took a deep breath, clapping his hands together.

 “Okay. Question three. What Disney character would you want to be?” Stiles asked.

 “Ariel.” Derek said after a moment's pause.

 “Darling it's better down where it's wetter?” Stiles asked. He wiggled his eyebrows and Derek glared at him. “Okay, fine. Why would you want to be Ariel?”

 "Because she was a mermaid. She lived under the water. It just seems cool to be able to do that." Derek shrugged.

 "Cool to be another supernatural creature?" Stiles asked.

 "Yeah."

 "I get that. I'd want to be Elizabeth from Pirates of the Caribbean." Stiles said.

 Derek tilted his head. "That is a Disney movie?"

 "Well, it's the franchise at least." He shrugged. "I fell in love with her badassery, and then I fell in love with Will. Basically I fall in love with a pretty face."

 "Elizabeth was pretty good in those movies." Derek agreed.

 "She's the best." Stiles corrected. "She became the freaking King of Pirates. She was smart and clever and willing even in the first movie. Like I said. Badassery."

 "You have to agree the first movie was the best out of the others."

 "Oh definitely. The other movies were good but not as good as the first one."

 "Okay, question five," Derek began. "Why all the flannels?"

 "Well my body was always really awkward and flannels were the only things that would fit even after I grew." Stiles explained. "Why the Henley's?"

 Derek looked down at his plate. He dragged his fork through the syrup. "They're good shirts. Good quality." He said. "It was something that I bought even though I shouldn't really have indulged."

 "But you bought them to do something for yourself you thought you might not deserve." Stiles said.

 Derek huffed a laugh and shook his head. "How do you do that?"

 "Do what?"

 "What you just did. You just know things about people."

 "I think it comes from a few things." Stiles said. "My dad being in law enforcement. Me being both a smart and curious pain in the ass. And being in life threatening situations where I am at a severe disadvantage, knowing things and obsessing made me feel like I could help keep my friends alive."

 "Alive without the claws." Derek said.

 "Exactly." Stiles said. "And sometimes I think that's why the Nogitsune chose me."

 "Because you were clever?" He asked.

 "Yeah." Stiles nodded vigorously, "Because he could play his games with me. He could play them on everyone and no one would guess a thing."

 "But we did. And now he's gone." Derek said.

 "Derek, that's not the point." Stiles insisted. "Because of what I made myself, he chose me. Even with that whole thing with Barrow and Kira- "

 "Her foxfire jumped him into your body." Derek finished.

 "It didn't though." He stressed. "I was the one who wrote her name on the blackboard, who hid him in the school in the first place and I don't even remember it." His words were coming out faster, fevered to get them out before they just became jumbled thoughts in his head again. "Void just need a-a medium to jump from Barrow? Or maybe he just needed the jump from Kira to get powerful enough to really get a hold of me, or-"

 "Okay, Stiles, okay. Stop. Breathe." Derek cut off, placing his hands on his shoulders.

 Stiles startled. He didn't realize that he had gotten up out of his seat and leaned so far over the table. He jerked back and sat back down.

 Derek sighed and stood up, pulling his chair over so he was sitting by Stiles.

 "Speculating about the 'what if's and 'or's, It'll kill you, or almost kill anyway." Derek said softly.

 "You know what I said to Liam when he was freshly bitten?" Stiles asked.

 "What?"

 "I said I was better." Stiles laughed humorlessly. "And I was, then. Why am I not now?"

 "Some things take time to hit you." Derek said. "Think of it like a car crash. You get into an accident but no one is hurt. You think you're fine. But later on down the road, you start to hurt from the collision. Trauma is like that. Sometimes the aftermath isn't immediate. And a lot of times it takes triggers to bring it out." He explained.

 "What do you think my trigger was?" Stiles asked. He cleared his throat to keep it from cracking.

 "When do you feel like you started spiraling?" Derek asked.

 "When Theo showed up, I think," Stiles said, "When no one believed me about him being suspicious."

 "Then you started obsessing over it to prove it." Derek said it like both a statement and a question.

 "Yeah."

 "And then the whole thing with Donovan sent you off the edge."

 "Yeah."

 Stiles bent his head down to look down at his lap. His hands were twisting together; he was picking at his nails.

 Derek laid his hands on top of them to keep them from moving.

 "After the fire-" Derek took a deep breath, "After the fire, Laura and I were devastated." He said. Stiles didn't dare to interrupt. "We just lost our families. Laura only just turned nineteen. She had to learn how to be the alpha quicker than she should've. When we went to New York we changed. Laura threw herself into being the role of alpha, and I just...shut down."

 "After some time I wasn't as shut down, but I was stupid. I did things to try to compensate of something."

 "To...punish yourself?" Stiles suggested gently.

 "Basically. I stopped caring about school. I was hanging out with people I shouldn't have. I, uh, threw myself into sex." Derek wouldn't meet his eyes and Stiles wasn't getting a good feeling about where this was going.

 "There was this- one girl." He continued. "And she -it was something so simple- but she scratched my back. That set me off. Laura found me vomiting in the bathroom in hysterics."

 This time Stiles was the one to hold Derek's hands.

 "You don't have to talk about this." He said softly.

 "It's-  not that I have to. I want to. I need to." Derek said. He looked up into Stiles' eyes. He looked vulnerable and determined. Stiles wasn't going to take this from Derek.

 "With Kate-"

 "I've guessed." Stiles interrupted. "That you don't have to relive. I have an idea. I've had one for a long time."

 He gripped Stiles' hand back. "That was my trigger for that particular thing." He said. "I never told Laura but. She knew. But she didn't blame me. So I-I know about being triggered about something."

 "Thank you, Derek." Stiles said sincerely. "Seriously."

 Derek nodded. He looked pale and uncomfortable, but at the same time the tension of his shoulders wasn't over the information he shared.

 "It won't do you good if you keep running scenarios in your mind, but it'll help to talk about it." Derek said.

 "Wise words."

 "You can thank my therapist for them."

 Stiles huffed a laugh and squeezed Derek's hands once more. "How about you read me another one of those trashy romance novels."

 Derek gave him a small smile. "Sure."

 He pulled Stiles up by his hand and pulled him to the library in search of a book he could read.

~~~~~~

 

 "Ready to pack this stuff up?"

 "I guess." Stiles sighed.

 They brought the boxes back out to put things away after Dia de los muertos. They had steadily began packing away the decorations for the past few days, but now only the altars were left, and they decided the needed to come down.

 "Are we really going to put the pictures and stuff in the attic?" He asked.

 "No." Derek said. "We can put them away, but we can put them in a drawer."

 Stiles picked up the police badge stickers and the hallmark card and held them to his chest. Those were the only things in the altar that they hadn't removed yet. Now the crate stood dark and empty. He was torn between wanting to throw the altars into the attic and never looking at them again, to nearly refusing that he and Derek take them down.

 Derek too was slow with the process. One by one he removed the contents of all the other altars. The little knick-knacks and things went first; a stuffed animal, a bobble head. Then the pictures of Erica, Boyd, and the family photo.

 "Why does doing this feel weird?" Stiles asked.

 "Because it felt nice to have positive reminders of them?" Derek suggested.

 Stiles nodded. "Yeah. That's probably it."

 Derek went over to a table that held a lamp and opened an empty drawer. "You know what? No." He said.

 "No what?" Stiles asked, startled.

 "I'm not putting these where I can't see them." Derek's face was tight with anger. He shut the drawer with more force than necessary.

 Stiles followed Derek as he began placing his family, Erica, and Boyd's things around the house. Picture frames that had been face down, or turned over, were being set up. Pictures of little kids and adults smiled out, somehow each picture void of the glare from a werewolves eyes.

 They both stopped when Derek flipped over a picture of him, Cora, and Laura. Laura was making a goofy face and had her arms thrown over the shoulders of her youngest siblings. Cora couldn't have been more than five, but she still looked like a trouble maker. Derek was smiling with chubby cheeks and eyebrows too big for his face.

 "You're adorable." Stiles said quietly.

 "Puberty did you well. You look so different as a kid." He continued when Derek never responded.

 "Question six," Derek said. "Do you remember that time in the park, before the fire, and we met?"

 Stiles furrowed his eyebrows. "Nothing comes to mind. Not immediately, at least." He said.

 "It was when school was out. You were out there alone when you shouldn't have been. You fell and hurt your knee." Derek continued.

 "I remember something like that," Stiles recalled. "I remember my parents had been worried about where I was. I came home right before my dad was going to go to the station to get a search party to find me."

 Derek smiled at the picture. "I found you crying on the grass so I got you ice cream and took you home."

 "Oh!" Stiles explained. The memory rushed back with surprising clarity. His parents had refused to take him to the park because his mom had to visit the hospital for reasons he didn't get at the time. So he just up and left.

 He remembered meeting Derek there. He knew who Derek was, both being Cora's older brother and everyone knowing if a Hale was around they'd help you if you needed it.

 "Yeah, yeah I remember." He said.

 "I remember you got the cotton candy ice cream and half of it melted on you."

 "How do you remember that?" Stiles asked.

 "Because even though you were a hyperactive spaz, you were still kind of fun to hang around with." Derek said.

 "Question seven." Stiles said. Derek turned to him. "If nothing had happened. If the fire didn't happen, if nothing bad supernatural happened, do you think we would've been friends?"

 "I don't know," Derek said honestly, "All the bad has made us into who we are. I don't know if anything would have...happened with us."

 "Well I'm, uh, glad that-"

 "Me too."

 They stared at one another. Derek's ears were red and Stiles was sure his cheeks were the same way.

 Derek ducked his head down and bumped their shoulders together before walking off.

 Stiles look back at the photo. He smiled.

 "Yeah. So cute." He said to himself.

~~~~~~

 

Once dinner came around, everything had been cleared up. The altars and the boxes of decorations were back up in the attic. They went through the rooms and cleaned the floors. With the size of the house it took a good minute for them to clean.

 Stiles was clearing his plate of his broccoli, turning his head up to look at the stars beginning to break through the sky.

 A breeze blew through the trees and made Stiles shiver.

 "Cold?" Derek asked.

 "Kind of." Stiles said.

 "Here." Derek put down his plate and took off his jacket and handed it to him.

 "Thanks." Stiles said. He pulled on the jacket and leaned back in his seat. "Even though it's getting colder, I like eating outside. It's nice."

 "Good thing you came up with the idea then."

 "I know. I'm a genius." Derek laughed.

 "I am!" Stiles defended.

 "No, I'm not laughing at you." He assured. "I'm just,"

 "Happy?"

 Because that's what Derek looked like. Happy. He was completely relaxed; eating his food, reclining in his chair, and talking freely.

 "I think I am." He said.

 "Question eight." Stiles began. "What kind of things make you happy?"

 Derek looked surprised by the question. "Oh, um, reading. I love to read."

 "What kinds of things do you like to read?"

 "I like to read trashy romance novels."

 Stiles slapped his arm. "No sarcasm. I know you like to read them, but I've seen the library. What else?"

 "History books." Derek said quietly. "I like learning about the past."

 "That's a good thing to be interested in." Stiles said.

 "Question nine. What would you have wanted to study in in college?" Derek asked.

 "Well...I've thought about maybe being a teacher." Stiles said. This was the first time he was telling someone.

 "Not law enforcement?" Derek asked.

 Stiles shook his head. "I mean, I've considered it obviously, but," he shrugged, "I don't mind kids. And I don't think I'd be a bad teacher."

 "You'd be a great teacher." Derek assured.

 Stiles smiled at him and picked up a glass of whiskey. They were finally drinking the alcohol Derek had gotten, even though it had taken a lot of arguing to get Derek to agree to him drinking under age.

 "Question ten. What season is your favorite?" He asked.

 "Winter." Derek replied.

 "Why winter?"

 "Because winter has snow and Christmas and warmth. Fires in the fireplace and time with the people you care about."

 "Yeah that...does sound really nice." Stiles said. "I think I like fall here. The colors are the best."

 "I like fall too." Derek agreed. "But what kind of fall do you like? Early or late fall?"

 "I'm kind of in the middle with that." Stiles said. "I don't like it when it's still hot in the afternoons; I like it when it's cold in the morning and chilly later. And the colors are the most vibrant before it gets close to winter."

 "I'll agree with you on that." Derek said.

 "You better." Stiles said. He giggled when Derek rolled his eyes playfully.

 “Question eleven. If there’s one place in the world you could go, where would you go?”

 “Such an original question.” Stiles snorted, “But I guess...I don’t know, Poland? My family is from Poland so I’d like to visit and stuff. Where would you like to go?”

 “China,” Derek easily said, “They have such a rich history. If I could travel all throughout China, I would.”

 “Well what’s stopping you from going?” He asked.

 Derek shrugged. “Not much. I just don’t like the idea of using a lot of money on something like that if it’s just for myself.”

 “If you go, I’ll go with you.”

 “You will?” Derek asked.

 “Sure.” Stiles said. “We like each other well enough, and I think it’d be cool to do.”

 “I’ll keep that in mind then.” Derek said.

 “So question twelve. Um, if you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?” Stiles asked.

 “Such an original question.” Derek mocked.

 “Oh ha ha. I bet you’re going to choose super rare steak.” Stiles gnashed his teeth together and made little growling sounds at Derek, who just laughed at him.

 “Actually, I would probably eat this meat stew my mom always made. Potatoes, vegetables, beans, any any leftover meat we had all thrown into a crockpot all night and most of the day.” Derek said.

 “Okay, yeah, that sounds really good.” Stiles said. “I’d eat that too.”

 Derek chuckled. “Question thirteen. What things never fail to make you sleepy, or help you go to sleep?”

 “I like it when my hair gets played with. It feels really good when someone combs their fingers through my hair.” He said. As if to prove it, Stiles raised his hand and ran it through his hair. “It feels even better now that my hair is longer. What things make you sleepy?”

 “I guess when my back gets rubbed.” Derek said. “But not like I’m getting a massage, more like someone is just running their fingertips all around my back.”

 “Speaking of sleep then, do you like to listen or watch anything to help you go to sleep?”

 “I sometimes like to listen to music when I go to sleep.” Derek said.

 “I like to watch t.v. because not only is it the perfect nightlight, if I wake up I instantly have a distraction available to me.” Stiles said.

 “That...actually isn’t a bad idea.” Derek said.

 “It is pretty genius.”

 “Question fifteen, what kind of things do you like to watch to go to sleep?” Derek asked.

 “I really like to watch space documentaries.” Stiles said. “Primarily I watch reruns of How The Universe Works because it’s super cool and the guy’s voice makes me tired.”

 “I think I’d watch ocean documentaries. The ocean is really interesting.” Derek said.

 “Well then question sixteen, which do you think is cooler: space or the ocean?” Stiles asked.

 “The ocean.” Derek answered without hesitation.

 “What?” Stiles exclaimed, “How can you say that? Space is so much cooler that the ocean.”

 “We’ve discovered more about space than something that makes up most of our planet.” Derek defended. “How can I not think it’s cooler. We know so little about it. It’s more interesting to learn about.”

 “But space!” Stiles yelled. “Space is so much more violent and what-the-fuck worthy. Another galaxy is hurtling towards us and is going to collide with the Milky Way galaxy in five billions years. At the center of all galaxies there is a massive black hole. Everything is in orbit. We know that dark matter is a thing but no one actually knows what it is. It’s like fire.”

 “What does fire have anything to do with this?” Derek asked.

 “Fire is called a plasma, but I think it’s not really a plasma, it’s just called that because it isn’t a gas, a solid, or a liquid, so scientists were running out of things to classify it as.” Stiles said.

 “How do you know this?” Derek asked.

 “Like I said, I’m full of miscellaneous facts.” Stiles said. “Now back to what matters. What’s so cool about the ocean?”

 “What isn’t interesting about the ocean?”

 “Lots, compared to space.”

 “Well for one thing, the ocean has living things in it that are very freaky and very weird. Werewolves aren’t half as strange as blobfish.” Derek said. “Plus, seeing as we’ve only explored about five percent of our ocean, no one can say that mermaids don’t exist.”

 “You and mermaids.”

 “If werewolves exist and so little of the ocean hasn’t been discovered, whether the mermaids are like fish or like mammals, you can’t say they don’t exist.” Derek said.

 “Okay, okay, I give this up.” Stiles said, giggling into his glass as he drained it. It tasted like how he thought perfume tasted like, but the aftertaste made the initial taste worth it. “Even though space is cooler.” He hiccuped.

 Derek rolled his eyes. “Question seventeen. Are you ready to get some sleep?” He asked.

 “Never.” Stiles gasped. Derek stood and began gathering their empty plates to take them inside. Right before Derek picked up the glass he hadn’t been drinking from, Stiles grabbed it and placed his empty one in the spot instead.

 Derek raised an eyebrow. “Really?” He asked.

 “I don’t want it to go to waste.” He smiled.

 “Uh-huh, sure.” He said.

 “Really!” Stiles said. “It’s not like anything is going to happen with me from one more glass.”

 “With your luck you’ll brain yourself tripping up the stairs.” Derek said.

 “Hey, give me enough credit to fall down the stairs. It’s more embarrassing tripping up stairs.” Stiles said. Derek just shook his head but left the glass in Stiles’ hand.

 “Don’t stay out too late.” Derek said, then walked into the house.

 “Roger that.” Stiles saluted.

 He turned back to the crisp night sky and sighed. He watched his breath blow through the air. Stiles lifted his glass to the trees before taking a long sip.

 

~~~~~~

 

 Stiles stumbled in through the door, making sure to close and lock it behind him. Just in case bears tried to break in.

 Stiles giggled to himself. A bear wouldn’t break in because they were hibernating.

 He turned and began walking through the house, trying to find his way to the stairs. Thankfully it wasn’t dark, so he could see his path. Derek probably did that for him. Derek was so awesome. One of the rugs tangled around his foot and sent him sprawling, his face inches away from smacking against the edge of a table.

 “Woah.” Stiles said. His heart raced as he used said table to pull himself into a sitting position.

 The table he almost destroyed his face on was the table they had used for the altars. It had been moved back to its original place, but even in the dark he knew what table this was. He’d been looking at it decorated and adorned for the past three or four days.

 Stiles traced the patterns in the dark wood with his finger, his fingers losing their place as his vision blurred with tears.

 “Why am I crying over a table.” Stiles asked himself as he began crying.

 He wasn’t sobbing, and he wasn’t making a mess of himself, he was just crying. His breathing hiccuped, his nose felt congested, and tears ran down his face, but he just sat there with his head ducked, crying by himself. It didn’t feel like a world ending cry like it usually did.

 After some time Stiles heard movement behind him and felt a hand hold his shoulder. “Question eighteen, h-how come I’m crying about this now?” He asked.

 “Nineteen. What’s going through your head?” Derek said instead.

 “You didn’t answer my question.”

 “Answer mine first.”

 Stiles brushed the tears off of his cheeks. “Nothing really. I didn’t cry when the altars were here, but now I am. I just don’t get it. Why am I crying?” He asked.

 “You have grief in your heart.” Derek said quietly. “The grief won’t go away, but crying helps drain some of it.”

 “It doesn’t feel so heavy lately.” Stiles said. “It hurts, but it isn’t crippling.”

 “You’re starting to heal yourself.” Derek said.

 “How can I be doing that already? It’s only been a few months.”

 “Just because you’re starting doesn’t mean you’re about to finish healing. It takes time.” Derek explained. “And just because you’re beginning to heal doesn’t mean you’re getting over what happened to your dad. Not allowing yourself to heal because you think you shouldn’t won’t do you any good.”

 “Okay.” Stiles said. He brushed the rest of his tears from his eyes and stood up.

 “Now are you ready to sleep?” Derek asked.

 “Yeah.” Stiles said.

 Derek took him by the arm and lead him up the stairs to Derek’s room. Stiles kicked off his shoes, pulled off his jacket and his shirt, and laid down in the bed in his sweatpants. The bed dipped slightly as Derek got on. Stiles rolled over to look at him.

 “Hey Derek?”

 “Yeah?”

 “Question twenty.” He said. Derek opened his eyes.

 “What?” He asked.

 “What’s your favorite color?” Stiles asked.

 “Green.” He said.

 “Could you flash your eyes at me?”

 “Why?”

 “Just do it.”

 Derek huffed a breath through his nose, but then Derek’s eyes illuminated and glowed a bright ice blue.

 “My favorite color is blue.” Stiles said. He laid his hand on the side of Derek’s face, his thumb tracing the corner of Derek’s eye. “Blue’s just pretty.

Chapter Text

 

 “I bet I could make the mashed potatoes better than you.”

  “Stiles.”

 “What?” Stiles asked innocently.

 “You need to stop with this sudden competitiveness.” Derek glared.

 “Aw, come on, you know it's fun.” Stiles teased. He elbowed Derek’s side and jumped away when Derek tried to hit him back.

 “Could you be any more annoying?” Derek asked.

 “Probably.” Stiles said.

 “I’m trying to cook.” Derek said.

 “And I’m trying to cook too.” He defended.

 “You’re trying to start trouble.”

 “You love it.”

 “You’re getting in my way.”

 “I can’t help it if you’re such a sourwolf over how I’m a bit of a messy cooker.”

 “Messy?” Derek asked. He sweeps his hand in the direction of the kitchen where Derek made him stay and, okay, he gets why it's irritating. There are bowls and spoons and measuring cups that are dirty. There is flour and some egg white and other bits of food items covering the counters. And he may or may not be leaving it like this just to irritate Derek.

 “I don't see anything wrong with how I'm cooking.” Stiles lied through his teeth. He watched at Derek stared at him.

 He was sure he was going to make Derek have an aneurysm before dinner was even done cooking. Derek opened and closed his mouth like a fish, losing all train of thought he had before.

 Stiles couldn't stop giggling.

 “Hey Derek, can I be the one to make-”

 “Finish that sentence and I will hit you.” Derek interrupted.

 “I stopped being afraid of your threats long ago.” Stiles said. “Derek, I want to make the gravy.” He finished.

 Derek didn't give him any time to react before he smacked Stiles’ neck with the wooden spoon be had been holding.

 “Ow!” Stiles exclaimed. He rubbed his neck, still feeling the sting and the remnants of the stuffing the spoon had on it. “That was totally uncalled for.”

 “I told you I’d hit you.” Derek said. “I gave you fair warning.”

 “You didn't say you'd hit me with a spoon!”

 “Exactly.” Derek said. Stiles could the the corners of his lips tilting up.

 “So is that a no on the gravy?” He asked.

 “Yes, Stiles, that's a no on you doing the gravy.” Derek said.

 “Them I’m doing the mashed potatoes.”

 Derek sighed. “Then if you're doing that then you're in charge of the asparagus, corn, and the other little side dishes.” He said.

 “Then if I’m doing all of that then you're going to be in charge of everything with the oven.” Stiles said. “That includes making sure the cornbread and pies get put in there after the turkey is done.”

 “The cornbread is already in since the turkey is almost done and the pies can cook while we eat.”

 “But then we’ll have to wait for the pie. What if it isn't done after we eat.”

 “Then I imagine that we’d digest some of our food before moving onto the pie.”

 “You can never wait for pie.” Stiles said. He walked over to Derek’s side of the kitchen and hijacked the spices he needed. “So, how long until the turkey is ready?”

 “However long it takes us to finish cooking everything else.” Derek said.

 “But won’t the turkey overcook if we do that?”

 “No. The heat is lower and it could still use some cooking, but we’ll be able to eat it when everything else is ready.” He said.

 “Cool.” Stiles said, turning and cooking all the side dishes.

 He didn't really mind cooking them since Derek had cooked so much more. He made the three pies (pumpkin, apple, and banana cream) and the cornbread from scratch. When Stiles woke up that morning Derek had already been preping the turkey. Now he was making more stuffing so they had some that he didn't stuff in the cooking bird.

 “Derek, let me do the gravy.” Stiles brought up once more.

 “Why do you want to do the gravy so bad?” Derek asked.

 “Because I feel like I haven't done enough. Let me do it.” Stiles said.

 “Okay.” Derek said. “Then get started on it now. I’m going to set the table.” He walked off and disappeared into the dining room. They would usually use the island but with there being so much food and a lot of dishes still around, they were set on having Thanksgiving Dinner at an actual table. One with seats instead of stools.

 The gravy they got was one of the few things he managed to convince Derek they didn’t need to make from scratch. This one was just a packet of turkey gravy that you put into simmering water and mix it in. The things he had cooking and made were all really simple, even if he did have his hands full of food. He wasn’t complaining about that though.

 “Are you going to want a glass of wine?” Derek asked as he came back into the kitchen to grab some glasses. He passed by the oven and opened it to pull out the cornbread.

 “Yep.” Stiles said.

 “You’re only going to drink one glass.” Derek said firmly. Stiles pouted just because before he stopped.

 “The sides are ready so we could probably set everything up.” Stiles said.

 “Good.”

 “Happy Thanksgiving, Derek.” Stiles said, lifting his class. Derek lifted his own and tapped them together.

 “To you too, Stiles.”

 “Thanks.” He smiled.

 Derek gave him a small smile back. He took the oversized knife and fork and stuck it into the turkey as he began to carve it up into slices to serve.

 “Can I get both white and dark meat?” Stiles asked, holding out his plate. Derek obliged. Stiles hummed his thanks and began loading his plate with as much food as he could. Anything he didn’t have on his plate he could keep ready for seconds.

 He and Derek looked up at each other at the same time, both paused instead of starting to eat the food on their plates.

 “Do you think we should...say what we’re thankful for?” Derek asked hesitantly.

 “Sure.” Stiles said. “I’m really thankful for you, Derek.” Derek’s ears went pink and he looked down at his plate, then back up at him.

 “I’m thankful for you, too.” Derek said, much quieter than Stiles. It made him smile.

 Stiles ducked his head and began eating. “Wow, this is really good.” Stiles said.

 “You’re talking with your mouth full on purpose.” Derek glowered at him. He stuffed more food in his mouth and gave him an open mouthed smile. Derek made a disgusted face. “Nevermind, I’m not thankful for you.” He mumbled. But Stiles knew there wasn’t anything behind it. There hadn’t been for a long time, even before they came here.

 Stiles’ shoulders shook a little with his laughter as he swallowed his food. “What else are you thankful for?” He asked. “And none of that generic ‘food on the table and roof over my head’ stuff, because that’s kind of a given.” Stiles mixed his mashed potatoes and corn together. “We can treat it like 20 questions, just this time with what we’re thankful for.”

 “Well I’m, um, thankful for Doctor Beebee.” Derek said.

 Stiles raised his eyebrows. “Doctor Beebee? What kind of name is that?”

 “She’s my therapist.” Derek said. “And you can’t talk with a name like Stiles.”

 “At least you’ll never be able to use my real name against me.” Stiles said.

 “Why not?”

 “Because very few people know my name. Scott doesn’t even know my actual name.” Stiles said. At the mention of his best friend -or possibly even former, he was a lot more uncertain about that now than he was a few months ago- he settled down. “I’m thankful for Scott.” He said quietly. Stiles opened his mouth, then closed it. Derek was patient as he gathered his thoughts. “There are things I don’t like that he did, or who he’s kind of become, but in the long run, he was my friend.”

 “I’m thankful for you.” Derek said.

 “You already said that.”

 “But I didn’t finish.” Derek said. “I’m thankful that you never used me. Most everyone else did, but never you.”

 Stiles smiled over at Derek. “Never.” He said, knocking their ankles together. Derek hooked their feet together, and they sat there like that while they ate.

 

~~~~~~

 

 “I’m thankful for my parents.” Stiles said. The two of them hand finished and the pie was cooling in the kitchen. Right now they were just sitting, talking about random things that kept coming up.

 “Yeah?”

 “Yeah.” He nodded. “My mom was always really nice and fun. She’d let me get away with things that my dad wouldn’t. And I always looked up to my dad because he was the protector of Beacon Hills, keeping it safe. Keeping me safe.”

 “I’m thankful for Laura.” Derek said. He slowly swirled the last bit of the wine in his cup around. “She always did so much for me.”

 “Like what?” Stiles asked.

 Derek shrugged. “She was my older sister. She teased me and annoyed me and we always fought, but it was never bad.” He smiled, a little lost in the past, and not all of it somber. “One thing that she would do for me, I had these friends who I sometimes didn’t feel good around. This was before I was on basketball team and found my real friends. They’d leave me out of stuff, and when I felt like I could trust them and talk about things I needed to talk to a friend about, they made me feel bad about it.” He explained. “Laura would listen to me talk about them, and she’d listen to whatever I had to talk about. She got upset on my behalf and helped me figure out what to do about them. She was always looking out for me.”

 “That sounds really awesome.” Stiles smiled wistfully. ‘I never had any siblings; Scott was the closest I had, but that was different. I always had a small family.”

 “Big families are nice.” Derek said.

 “I bet.” Stiles said. He stood up. “I’ll be right back.”

 Stiles stood and headed upstairs to use the bathroom. He could easily use the one downstairs but he also wanted to change into something that was more comfortable.

 Once he was done, he wandered into the room he hadn’t used in a while. Some of his clothes were in Derek’s room, some were strewn about in the room he was in, but most were still in the suitcase. He rifled through it, trying to find his fuzzy batman pajama pants. His fingers brushed over something that was hard. Stiles furrowed his brow and pulled it out.

 It was the picture of him and his father.

 It was like a punch in the gut after not seeing his father’s face in months. Months . It was still so surreal sometimes, especially since he was so out of the way of everything. Stiles carefully sat the picture frame on the bed and continued looking for his pants. When he found them, he put them on and picked up the picture frame.

 Stiles headed back downstairs. He walked into the living room where Derek could see him from the dining room. He looked at one of the shelves on the wall that had pictures of Derek’s family. These few were of him, his siblings, and his parents. Stiles set the picture down, angling it like the rest of them.

 “The picture fits there.” Derek said, his eyes glued to the picture.

 “Yeah, it does.” He said.

 Stiles settled back into his chair and sipped down the last of his wine in the comfortable silence between he and Derek, both of them filled up on good food and good memories.

Chapter Text

 Stiles watched himself pout in the mirror as Derek is just about dying of laughter.

 “Shut up!” Stiles yelled, but that only caused him to laugh even harder. Derek’s face was turning red and he had to support himself on the bathroom counter.

 “You said you looked like-” Derek was cut off by more wheezing and laughter. “You looked like-”

 “Yes, a hobo, I know what I said!” Stiles finished for him. “I highly regret saying that now.”

 Derek continued to laugh and only stopped when it tapered off into the occasional giggle. Giggle . Because that’s a thing he was doing. And it was irritating. In no way was it adorable. Irritating. Derek stood up straight and smiled. “Wow, I haven’t laughed that hard in awhile.” He said.

 “Yeah, well I’m so glad I could be the one to cause the hysteria.” Stiles grumbled, feigning to be upset when he really wasn’t. Much.

 It was still taking a moment to set in that he had made Derek laugh like that. Sure, Derek laughing wasn’t something new, but what just happened was a gut busting laugh that almost made tears come to the guy’s eyes. Over such a stupid comment Stiles hadn’t even thought about when he said it.

 “At one angle, I look really good with the beard,” Stiles had said. He hadn’t been shaving, so his facial hair was growing in, but some of it was patchy. “But at another angle, I look like a hobo.”

 That’s all he had to say for Derek to find amusement in it. But he couldn’t much blame him. Stiles did kind of look like a hobo. Compared to Derek’s beard, his was trashy. Derek’s beard was thick and dark and full and took up the lower half of his face. He didn’t shave it, and instead he just trimmed it when it began to get in the way of his mouth or if it threatened to get long enough where Stiles could start to make fun of him for it.

 “I’m really jealous of your beard.” Stiles said.

 “Yeah?”

 “Yep.” Stiles said. He looked at the shaving cream and a razor Derek had pulled out for him. He picked up the shaving cream and put some in his hand, then he spread it over his face. By the time he was using the razor to shave, Stiles only used the razor twice before he nicked his cheek.

 “Ouch!” Stiles hissed as the red blossomed up and dripped quickly down his face. In the mirror, Derek raised his eyebrows at Stiles.

 “Really?” He asked.

 “Shut up.” Stiles said. Derek just shook his head.

 “Put some toilet paper on it to stop the bleeding.” Derek said. His own (electric) razor was hacking away at his beard, which Stiles was not sad to see.

 “I am not doing that.” Stiles said.

 Derek made a face. “Why not? IT’s effective.”

 “I am not going to look like a dork.” He said.

 “You just offended every dork in the world.”

 “I don’t care.”

 “FIne.” He said. Derek bent down to the cabinets to look inside for something. “Here.” He held up a box of band-aids. Specifically, batman band-aids.

 “Oh, dude, yes!” Stiles said excitedly. He was all about batman band-aids. Derek took out a small one from the box and put it on Stiles’ face.

 “Thanks.” Stiles said. “At least I don’t have to look like a dork now.”

 “You’re ridiculous.” Derek said with a shake of his head.

 “Have I ever told you how sweet you are?” Stiles asked sarcastically. The only response he was was rolling eyes. Stiles looked back in the mirror at his still mostly shaving cream covered face. “I really don’t feel like shaving the rest of my face now.”

 “Are you going to just walk around with a partly shaved face?” Derek looked amused and thrilled at the thought.

  “No.” He said.

 Derek snorted and plucked the razor Stiles was holding out of his hand. “Then I’ll shave you.” Derek said. “Save you of any teasing.”

 They went quiet as Derek stepped closer into his personal space. He tentatively laid his hand on the side of Stiles’ neck; his thumb was pressed gently under his chin. He took the razor and carefully drew it over his skin. Stiles let Derek direct his head however he needed. It felt intimate, doing this. Especially when Derek tilted Stiles’ head up so he could get the few hairs that lingered on the bottom of his chin. There was a trust in the act of Derek shaving him. Stiles was completely vulnerable, exposing a vulnerable part of his body to Derek, who was holding a sharp object.

 But it wasn’t like he was getting a newfound trust that Derek wasn’t going to slit his throat. It was more casual than that; a realization of just how deep Stiles now trusted Derek. He had always been careful about who earn his trust and how much that person got.

 And Derek had managed to slide past all his precautions and get all of it.

 Derek finished fairly quick, and when he was done he wiped Stiles’ face off with a warm, damp towel. Somehow this whole action made his sleepy and content. He met Derek’s eyes and they smiled at each other.

 “Thanks.” Stiles said. "Can I trim your beard?"

 “Well seeing as you cut your face, I think I’m fine with trimming my own beard.” Derek said.

 “Oh please, even if I did cut you, you’d heal quicker than me.” Stiles said. “Besides,” He added, placing his hand on Derek’s cheek, “Your cheekbones could cut the razor more than the razor could cut you.”

 “That makes no sense.” Derek said.

 “You know what I mean.” Stiles said. He ran his thumb over Derek’s cheekbone. His finger dipped to trace the lines of his beard. Despite the curl the hair had, it was soft instead of coarse like he had thought. Stiles threaded his fingers fully into Derek’s beard. Why he hadn’t touched his beard before, Stiles didn’t know.

 “I’m still not letting you hack away at my face.” Derek told him. Stiles stuck out his bottom lip.

 “Don’t you trust me?” He asked.

 “I do trust you.” Derek said confidently with no hesitation. “I just don’t trust that you know how to trim my beard.”

 Out of the corner of his eye, Stiles could see to blush on his cheeks in the mirror. No doubt Derek could see it standing this close to him. His hand was still in Derek’s beard, so he pulled out his fingers and gave the hair a little tug in retaliation.

 “Then let me see how you do it, big man.” Stiles said. He hopped up so he could sit on the counter. “So maybe in the future I could have a go at that thing.”

 “You do that.”

 “I will.”

 Derek ducked his head but Stiles could still see his smile. He didn’t care that he was still blushing, because now Derek was too.

 

~~~~~~

 

 “Also, I forgot to tell you something.” Derek spoke up. Stiles was currently flipping through a book while Derek was doing sudoku puzzle after sudoku puzzle.

 “What was it?” Stiles asked. If he was being honest, he didn’t really care about that. He was too occupied with the book that was laying down in front of him that was about many things supernatural.

 Right now he was on a chapter about basilisks. He never thought they’d be interesting, but he doesn’t mind being proved wrong.

 “It’s supposed to snow later on today.” Derek told him.

 “That’s great.” Stiles said. He turned the page and continued reading about the different types of basilisks-

 “Wait,” Stiles said, sitting up and turning towards Derek, “Did you say it’s going to snow?”

 Derek looked up at him. “Were you not listening?” He asked.

 “No, I was listening, I just wasn’t paying attention.” Stiles said. “So is it really going to snow?”

 “Yes, it is.” Derek said. “The first snow of the season. We’re supposed to get anywhere between five to ten inches of snow.”

 Stiles’ head spun. It was actually, really going to properly snow, and he was going to see it. “I’ve never seen snow besides the occasional flurries if it got cold enough.” He said.

 “Then this should be quite the experience.” Derek smiled at him. Stiles got up and rushed to the window and looked up at the sky. The clouds were thick and heavy and a greyish-white.

 “When is it supposed to snow?” Stiles asked.

 “I’m not sure. Soon, maybe.” Derek said.

 “Maybe? How can you tell me I’m going to see snow for the first time in my life and not know when it’s going to show up?”

 “It’ll show up when it shows up.” Derek told him.

 “You do know that I’m going to be extremely impatient for the rest of the day now, right?” Stiles asked.

 “Just give it some time.” Derek said, looking back down at his puzzle and pushing his glasses back up the bridge of his nose.

 “Uuuugh.” Stiles groaned. He stomped around the living room, now at a loss of how to occupy and distract himself. The book he had been reading sat on the floor, but he had zero motivation to try and pick it back up. How could he when snow was coming .

 Stiles has never seen snow like he saw in pictures. He’s seen flurries where they melt as soon as they hit the ground, but inches and inches and possibly feet of snow is something brand new for him. It was the beginning of December and how they hadn’t already gotten snow was weird (Derek had told him that) and now here it was, on its way.

 And Stiles has never had snow during the holiday season. A “white Christmas” was only in songs for him.

 So to say Stiles was beyond excited and impatient for snow was an understatement. He had ideas. Plans. Things he was going to make Derek help him with. He is going to make them go all out for the holiday season.

 “Stiles, stop walking in circles.” Derek said.

 “Why?”

 “Because it’s distracting.”

 “That’s not my fault.”

 “Well, actually-”

 “Shut up.”

 Derek smiled down at his lap. “Why don’t you find something to entertain yourself with rather than just walking around.” He suggested.

 “Fine.” Stiles huffed. He walked over to the tv and looked around. There were all kinds of shelves that were stacked with dvd’s and cd’s. The movies he had already gone through since he and Derek had movie nights, but he had only briefly looked over the cd’s.

 When Stiles pulled them out, he was surprised to see that they weren’t regular cd’s.

 “Who burned all these cd’s?” Stiles asked, pulling more than a few from the shelf. The titles written in Sharpie. Titles like ready 4 the run, ROCK OUT YO, these are classics and you know it, and finally Laura’s feel better.

 “It depends on the cd.” Derek said. Stiles stood and handed him the ones he pulled out. A nostalgic smile was quick to grow on his face.

 “Oh wow.” Derek said. “I remember these.”

 “Yeah?”

 “Yeah.” Derek said. “The ready for the run one my dad did. It’s full of stupid songs meant to get everyone pumped to run during the full moon. Songs like Eye of the Tiger.”

 “Oh wow.” Stiles laughed. “What about the other ones?”

 “The rock out one was the one my cousin Simone did. She mostly put Panic! At the Disco, Fall Out Boy, and My Chemical Romance.” Derek said.

 “The holy trinity, I get that.” Stiles said.

 “The next one was one Simone’s mom, my aunt, did. I don’t remember what songs are on here, but I know there is both Def Leppard and Adele on here.” He said.

 “That is quite the range of songs.” Stiles said.

 “I know. Aunt Mary couldn’t own an album by a band because if the music sounded too similar like one would expect from an album, she’d hate it. So she had to burn all her cd’s with music she deemed appropriate.” Derek explained.

 “She sounds awesome.”

 “She was.”

 “Now what about the Laura one?” Stiles asked.

 “I actually burned this one.” Derek said.

 “Really?”

 “Yeah.” He nodded.

 “Why did you burn it?”

 “At the time Laura had been the person to break up with all of her relationships, and one of her break ups had been relatively recent, so I made a cd with a lot of her favorite songs at the time to cheer her up.” He said.

 “That was sweet of you.” Stiles said.

 Derek shrugged. “I like to think so.”

 Stiles took the cd’s back and wandered over to the stereo to put Laura’s cd in. He turned the stereo on, turned up the volume, and began playing the first song.

  “I got a pocket, got a pocketful of sunshine, I’ve got a love and I know that it’s all mine oh…”

  The smile that grew on his face was instantaneous as the beginning of the song started. The last time he heard this song was probably in Easy A .

 “How many songs are on this cd?” Stiles asked.

 “Maybe fifteen? I don’t remember exactly.” Derek said.

 “Mm.” Stiles hummed. He sat on the floor in front of the stereo, listening through a part or the whole of each song before he clicked to the next one. They were good all songs that threw him back to the early 2000s.

 “This is amazing.” Stiles said, mostly to himself as he skipped to the fifth song.

  “Uh-huh this my shit, all the girls stomp your feet like this-”

  “Few times I’ve been around that track, so it’s not just gonna happen that, ‘cause I ain’t no hollaback girl, I ain’t no hollaback girl!” Stiles burst out along with Gwen Stefani. Stiles spun around just in time to see Derek looked up, confusion written all over his face until he saw the devilish grin Stiles was wearing.

  “I heard that you were talking, and you didn’t think that I would hear it, people hear you talking like that, getting everybody fired up.” Stiles began stalking towards Derek.

  “So I’m ready to attack, gonna lead the pack,” Stiles wiggled his eyebrows at the last word, “Gonna get a touchdown, gonna take you out, that’s right, put your pom-poms down, getting everybody fired up.”

 He yanked the remote off of the coffee table and held it to his mouth, rocking side to side with the beat as the chorus hit. “Few times I've been around that track, so it's not just gonna happen like that, 'cause I ain't no hollaback girl, I ain't no hollaback girl!”

 “Why?” Derek asked.

 “You know you love it.” Stiles quipped.

 “I love my ears not bleeding.” Derek said.

 “Oh shut up, your ears are fine. My singing isn’t that bad.” Stiles said. He stuck his tongue out at Derek, who did the same back to him.

  “This shit is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S.” Stiles sung under his breath as he headed back over to the stereo to pause the song. As soon as his fingers touched the button, out of the corner of his eye Stiles saw something move. He turned his head to look out the window and stared.

 “Oh my God.” Stiles gasped. He ran to the window and plastered his face and hands against the glass, feeling the chill. “Oh my God, Derek, it’s snowing!”

 “Get your face off the glass.” Derek warned. “You’re going to smudge it.”

 Stiles ignored him.

 He heard Derek sigh and walk over to him. “It’s snowing pretty good. There should be enough snow on the ground soon.”

 “It’s so fluffy.” Stiles said. His eyes tracked the huge snowflakes from the backdrop of the clouds to the ground, where it stuck. It wasn’t melting! “I’m so excited.” He said.

 Stiles couldn’t stop smiling. The snow was literally taking his breath away. It was so pretty too. He watched it cling to the branches of the trees, gather on the ground, and soon cover the brown grass. It fell fast and plenty; he wouldn’t call it a blizzard, but along with the bare trees and all the movement he could see how disorientating it could be.

 “I want to go outside.” He said.

 “You’re not going out in that.” Derek said incredulously. Stiles looked down at his t-shirt and sweatpants.

 “Okay.” Stiles said, and he ran up to their room. He threw open the draw that had all his pants (Derek so graciously emptied out half of the dresser for him to put some of his own clothes in) and pulled on the thickest ones he had. He then ran to the closet, throwing on a thick long sleeve and grabbing the coat Derek made him get for the cold. He pulled on his red beanie and some gloves, and he was bounding back downstairs, somehow not tripping to his death while he was also wrestling his shoes on.

 “Come on .” Stiles urged Derek, who was still standing by the window.

 “I’m not going out like this.” Derek said.

 “Come on, you’re a werewolf, you’ll be fine.” He said. Derek just looked at him.

 “Ugh, fine. Go! Hurry! Get dressed so I can go outside.” Stiles whined. He pushed Derek by the back towards the stairs. He felt the vibrations of Derek’s laugh with his hands as he finally headed upstairs.

 Stiles flopped onto the chair Derek had been sitting in and sighed. He tapped his foot impatiently and stared out the window longingly. The urge to go ahead and fly through the door outside was strong, but he wanted to go out with Derek.

 “Finally!” Stiles said when Derek came back down, wearing shoes, a jacket, and a soft blue scarf that made the blue come out in his eyes.

 “I wasn’t even gone long.” Derek said.

 “Doesn’t matter. Snow. Come on!” Stiles reached forward and grabbed Derek’s hand and pulled him to and out the door.

 The cold hit him as soon as he stepped through the door. He felt the blood rush to his cheeks, and if he crossed his eyes he could tell that his nose was already getting red. But he couldn’t care less. He raced out into the yard and stood there.

 Stiles felt his face fall in awe. His feet crackled with every step with how much snow was already piling up on the ground. The snow stuck to his clothes in fat globs and swirled all around him.  All around him was his very first white wonderland.

 Stiles laughed a little to himself, smiling so wide his cheeks hurt. He turned to find Derek staring at him, wearing a smile of his own. The snow was sticking in Derek’s dark hair, and the contrast of the black he was wearing made him stand out amongst the white. His heart pounded.

 “This- this is amazing.” Stiles said. He could hear his own voice shaking in excitement.

 “It is.” Derek agreed.

 “I’ve never…” He trailed off in favor of looking back around.

 He could...he could go sledding. If they had a sled he could easily find a hill and go down it. He could build snowmen all over the yard and give them carrot noses and stick arms and buttons for eyes, the whole deal. The snow was thick under his feet, and stuck, he could make snowballs and he could-

 Something hit the back of his head hard, and sent him stumbling forward in surprise.

 “Wh-what was that?” Stiles asked as Derek laughed.

 “A snowball.” Derek said. “I thought you’d want to have your first snowball fight with the first snow of the season.

 Stiles stared at him.

 “Oh it’s on.” He declared. Stiles rushed down and packed snow into a ball in his hand. He watched as Derek did the same, but Stiles had gathered his snow first. He threw it at Derek and watched as it collided and broke apart against Derek.

 “Shit!” Stiles yelled as he ran from Derek. He grabbed at his snow as he tried to dodge Derek’s throw, but it was totally unfair because Derek had super werewolf powers and he didn’t. But he was going to make up for it with sheer determination.

 “I’m gonna win, Stiles!” Derek taunted. They both had snowballs in their hands and Derek was caging him in.

 “Can’t you give this one to me?” Stiles asked, trying to occupy him while he thought of something to do.

 “You would hate me if I let you win.” Derek said. His smile was evil , but at the same time it was one of the best smiles he’s ever seen.

 “You’re right, I would.” Stiles said. Screw it.

 He threw his snowball straight at Derek’s face. It caught him off guard, which was exactly what Stiles was hoping for. He dove under Derek’s arm, grabbing the snowball Derek had made and sprinted to the other side of the yard.

 Stiles yelped as he felt a snowball hit the back of his neck, and then Derek was tackling him from behind. They tumbled around in the snow until Derek stopped them by bracing his arms and legs on either side of Stiles.

 “I think I won.” Derek bragged and, wow, Stiles could totally see how Derek could’ve been a cocky teenager. That just wouldn’t do.

 Stiles locked his knees against Derek’s hips and rolled them over so Stiles was straddling Derek. He grabbed a handful of snow and shoved it under Derek’s jacket.

 “I think you’re wrong with that.” Stiles said, smirking as they just looked at one another. He could see their breath mingling in the air between them. Derek’s cheeks were red -from the cold or something else- as his eyes were wide as they looked up to Stiles. Under his hands, Stiles could feel Derek’s heartbeat. It was steady, but it was beating fast.

 And then Stiles realized his hands were still pressed to Derek’s chest, and he was fully sitting on him too.

 “Er, sorry.” Stiles said. He rolled off of Derek. His own heart was starting to pound.

 “It’s fine.” Derek said.

 They stood and Stiles looked around. The snow was completely disturbed from them running through it, but the heavy snowfall was beginning to cover up their tracks.

 They both walked back inside and peeled off their top layer of clothes, which had melted snow all over it that had them soaking as soon as the heat got to them. Stiles took off everything but his pants and his t-shirt since they weren’t too damp, but he was probably going to change soon anyway.

 “That was really fun, thank you.” Stiles said.

 “You’re welcome.” You’re just lucky I let you win.” Derek said.

 Stiles snorted. “You keep telling yourself that; soothe your bruised ego that I beat you fair and square.”

 “Bruised ego?” Derek asked. “I have no such thing.” He gave a small, disbelieving laugh as he turned to walk away, stipping off his soaked shirt while he went.

 And wow, Stiles was seeing something he hasn’t noticed. Derek had more hair that wasn’t just on his face. It was on his arms and his chest . He had a happy trail, darker than Stiles’ that lead down into his pants and it was all plastered to his body from the melted snow-

 Stiles jerked his eyes away and focused only on the beanie he was clutching for dear life in his hand

 Okay, so, yeah, he probably should avoid staring. Act like someone who wasn’t a pervert. Besides, it’s not like Stiles has never seen Derek without a shirt on, he just hasn’t seen him without one...lately. Since whenever Derek decided his body hair wasn’t a bad thing. Stiles just hasn’t noticed. Until now. That’s all. It’s just unexpected and new.

 That’s all.

 Stiles shivered, and only because the chill was starting to set in.

Chapter Text

 The morning of December tenth resulted in giving Stiles a Disney Princess moment. He woke easily and with a smile on his face. He stretched, working out all the kinks in his back and took a deep breath

 Today was a good day, and he was in a good mood.

 On Derek’s side on the bed, said Sourwolf was curled up on his side with his back to Stiles. From what he could tell going by shoulders, Derek’s breathing was even. He was probably still asleep.

 “Morning sleepy head.” Stiles greeted. He threw an arm over Derek’s side and nuzzled the space in between his shoulder blades. “Rise and shine. We have breakfast to make and a snowman army to build and fight with.”

 But Derek still wasn’t moving from his position. So he was either sleeping heavily -something Stiles didn’t know him to do- or he was ignoring Stiles. The latter was more likely.

 “Is that how it is?” Stiles gasped. “The Derek Hale ignoring me?” He got up on his knees and peered over to look at his face, ready to start nagging and making fun of him when he paused. Derek’s eyes were open, but he wasn’t really looking anywhere. There were also dark bags under his eyes, which was a clear sign Derek wasn’t doing well

 Stiles raked his fingers through Derek’s hair, laid back down, wrapped his arms around him, and whispered he’d get up later to make a mess of the kitchen whenever he decided to make them something to eat.

 

~~~~~~

 

 Derek didn’t get out of bed the whole day except if he needed to use the bathroom. Stiles didn’t push him to do anything or to talk, especially since his own days of recovery were still fresh in his mind and his actions.

 Derek either had a nightmare or he just woke up and wasn’t having a good day.

 But not having a good day was okay. They happened. And when Derek was ready, they’d have a good one.

 So Stiles instead just went about the house doing anything he felt. He made breakfast for them both but left Derek’s plate on his nightstand. He cleaned the kitchen. He vacuumed the carpets. He played the burned cd’s. At one point, he even went outside and built his own snowman.

 Each time he was about to move on to doing something new, he wandered back into their room. The first time to take Derek’s plate down after he ate what he wanted. The second was to pull the covers up more around his shoulder. The third just so he could cuddle against Derek for a nap of his own. The fourth to show Derek the picture of the snowman he built.

 “Look, it’s you.” he said, shoving the phone in Derek’s face. The spaced out look in his eyes cleared a bit as he looked at the picture. “I broke some sticks and stuck it above the eyes. I got to say, the eyebrows I made could rival yours.

 Derek slowly rose one said eyebrow. Stiles beamed down at him.

 “I think I’m going to leave it up so it can go unrivaled.” He said cheerily, right before realization dawned on him. “Oh my god, will the snow cover him up?” Stiles asked, mostly to himself, absentmindedly running his fingers along Derek’s back. ‘Is there even supposed to be more snow today? Or tomorrow? Fuck, I’m gonna have to check out the whether, aren’t I?”

 Stiles gave a long, suffering sigh at the thought. He hated checking the weather on Derek’s stupid radio thingy. It was irritating. He’d just settle for looking out the window and making a guess for now.

 “I’m gonna make us a late lunch.” Stiles said. He patted Derek’s shoulder and was headed back downstairs.

 

~~~~~~

 

 Stiles ran his towel through his hair to get the last bits of the lingering water still in it. He sat on the corner of the bed while he did so so when he was done he could put the towel up and get in bed. Which is exactly what he did.

 He slid under the covers and moved around enough so he was comfortable. Stiles stared at the nape of Derek’s neck. He could tell by now when Derek was and wasn’t sleeping.

 “C’mon, big guy, don’t make yourself a stranger.” Stiles said. He tugged on Derek’s shoulder but he didn’t budge.

 “Come on Derek, cuddle are a thing that needs to happen.” Stiles began. “I mean, I could cuddle you as you are, but at the same time I kinda wanna see your face. You have a very nice face for long moments of staring-”

 Derek rolled over and pressed his face in the crook of Stiles’ neck, which effectively shut him up. That was probably the goal of the cuddles anyway and he couldn’t help but smile.

 “I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist my charm.” He said smugly. Derek made a sound in his chest in response.

 Chuckling, Stiles wound his arms around Derek. He moved so he was on his back and Derek could sling half of his body on top of him. It was 100% worth it. He was warm and they got to hold each other to fall asleep. That was a win in Stiles’ book.

 

~~~~~~

 

 The morning of December eleventh brought Derek (a.k.a The Octopus) clinging to Stiles. Derek had tangled their legs together, pressed one hand under Stiles’ back and the other was thrown over his stomach. He felt Derek’s beard tickling his neck as he breathed.

 Stiles has already been up for some time, but he hasn’t tried to move from where he was lying. He was comfortable and he was finding that he really enjoyed being to one to hold Derek. His fingers trailed up and down Derek’s back gently until he woke up.

 It was around ten in the morning when Derek opened his eyes.

 “Hi.” Stiles greeted with a smile.

 “Hi.” Derek greeted softly back.

 “Are you hungry?” He asked.

 “A little.” Derek mumbled.

 “Want me to make us something?” Derek shrugged.

 Stiles was back in their room in ten minutes with two bowls of cheesy grits. All he had to do was mix grits and water and heat it up, but it was meant to be quick.

 Unlike yesterday, when Stiles went up to give Derek his breakfast, he was sitting up.

 “Here.” Stiles said, and handed him his bowl.

 He talked as they ate together. He babbled about how they should eat in bed more and how he used to hate grits unless his mom made hot dogs and put them in his grits with honey. He went on and on about how they absolutely had to start hiking again because the trails were covered in snow now and the leaves were gone so it was going to be like they were exploring a whole new forest which would be awesome .

 Derek bumped their shoulders together and got up to go to the bathroom. Stiles smiled and placed their bowls on the nightstand. He got in the doorway as soon as Derek was opening the door.

 “You know what you should do?” Stiles asked. Derek just looked at him. “You should shower before you leave the bathroom.”

 Derek just grunted in response but allowed Stiles to walk into the bathroom with him. He turned on the water for the shower and made sure the temperature was good.

 “Okay big guy, get clean.” Stiles said and patted his shoulder. Right before he could go though, Derek grabbed his wrist.

 He looked tired, but the look on his face as he looked at Stiles was a grateful one. He opened his mouth like he wanted to say something, but didn’t.

 “You don’t need to say anything.” Stiles told him. “I get it. You don’t have to feel bad or feel sorry. I get it.”

 Derek looked relieved and gave Stiles a small smile. It made him feel warm inside.

 “Now let’s stop wasting water.” Stiles said. He walked closer and took the hem of Derek’s, tugging it up and off of him. Derek stepped to the shower and pulled off his boxers and stepped inside. Stiles made sure to avert his eyes as he walked out of the bathroom.

 Since Derek didn’t have a tv in his room, Stiles got a portable dvd player and brought it up to the room along with a box set of a Nat. Geo. documentary on oceans.  Briefly, Stiles heard the water turn off, and Stiles grabbed the warmest Henley he could find (that even had thumbholes) and another pair of boxers, and knocked on the door to give to Derek.

 

~~~~~~

 

 Derek was riveted with the ocean documentary; his eyes wouldn’t leave it, even though now and then he dozed through the episodes. Stiles though, he was watching Derek.

 His face was pressed to Stiles’ middle and like when they slept, his arms were wrapped around his waist too. Though his hand that laid on his stomach had began to rub against the skin that showed from where the bottom of his shirt had ridden up.

 His own hand was tracing Derek’s tattoo through his shirt where Stiles just knew it was, and alternated between that and scratching through the hair on the back of Derek’s neck. It was very comfortable and lethargic for both of them.

 “Thank you.” Derek rumbled against his stomach. Stiles jolted out of his sleepy haze and looked down at Derek.

 “No problem.” Stiles said.

 “I, um,” Derek licked his lips, “It takes me a long time, usually, to get over my bad days. But...not being alone…”

 “Helps?” Stiles supplied. Derek nodded. “Well, I’m glad I could help you for a change.” They both gave each other small smiles.

 “Now go back to geeking over how deadly different jellyfish can be.” Stiles said. Derek rolled his eyes a little but turned back to the screen.

 Halfway through learning about the box jellyfish, Derek not-so-subtly moved his hand so he could link their fingers together. Stiles adjusted his own hand so it was more comfortable and gave Derek’s a squeeze. He swiped his thumb back and forth over Derek’s knuckles, and they didn’t let go.

Chapter Text

December 20

 

 “We don’t need that much, Stiles.”

 “Uh, in a few weeks we might want the extra. If and when we get snowed in, we can’t take any chances.”

 “Stiles-”

  “Derek.”

 “Fine!”

 Stiles fist pumped the air in his victory and loaded up the cart with a few packages of Abuelita hot chocolate. Ever since they did the Day of the Dead, Stiles has been insisting that they get it as the temperature dropped. And it has dropped . His Californian blood was not prepared. The copious amounts of hot chocolate helped. At least that was his argument.

 “So what else do we have to get?” Stiles asked, leaning against the full cart as Derek looked over the list once more.

 “I think that’s it.” Derek said.

 “What about presents?” Stiles asked. “I doubt we’re gonna make the trip back to town when we want to get presents.”

 “I didn’t think about that.” Derek said honestly.

 “Why not?” Stiles asked.

 “I just haven’t had a Christmas since Laura.” Derek said with a subdued shrug. “I was going to try to do it with Erica, Boyd, and Isaac, but…”

 “Yeah, I get it.” Stiles said sympathetically. There was no doubt in his mind that Derek still felt the loss of his pack. Stiles really felt regret for never trying to get to know them, and not seeing them as anything other than the not-bad-but-not-good-either guys. “Do you want to celebrate Christmas? Or just have music and hot chocolate all day and that can be it?”

 “No, we can have it. I want to spend it with you.” Derek said. The tips of his ears went red when Stiles bumped their hips together.

 “I’d love to have Christmas with you, too.” Stiles said and smiled.

 Since the store they were in had next to nothing that they could buy for possible present material, Derek paid for all of the groceries and then they were heading to another store where they would have better luck looking around.

 “Give me some money.” Stiles asked as soon as they walked through the door.

 “Why?” Derek asked. He scoffed.

 “Because there is no way we’re buying each other presents with the other around! They need to be a surprise!” He insisted. Derek just rolled his eyes but didn’t put up a fight as he handed Stiles some cash and parted ways with him.

 He had no clue what he was going to get Derek, but he was going to try his best. His plan was not to get one or two things he thought Derek might like, but just a whole bunch of little things he thought Derek would enjoy. It was the first time where Stiles was going to be buying something for Derek, and he was nervous he’d mess it up even though he knew what Derek liked and didn’t like.

 Stiles took a deep breath, rubbed his hands together, and walked deeper into the store.

 

~~~~~~

 

 Stiles walked out of the store with his arms full of wrapped gifts. He found plenty of things he could get Derek, and the lady was kind enough to wrap them up for him so he didn’t have to get creative to hide them.

 When he got outside Derek was already leaning against the car, his ear to his phone and a small smile on his face. Stiles went to the trunk and put in his presents and was happy to see other wrapped gifts inside as well.

 Stiles pulled out his own phone and looked at the blank screen. Behind him, he could hear Derek talking quietly to Cora like he did every time they came into town. Stiles hasn’t even looked at his phone since he got here. Now though, he felt ready to turn it on and see what happened. Stiles pressed down on the power button and watched as his phone turned on.

 Multiple calls, texts, and voicemails lit up his screen. The calls were from Scott, but as Stiles sifted through his notifications he saw he only had a handful of texts from Melissa and no one else. He bypassed the texts and headed straight for the voicemails.

 “ Heeeey, this is Stiles, I missed your call but please leave a message after the beep!”

 “Uh, hey Stiles.” It felt like a shock to his system, hearing Scott’s voice again after months of not even thinking about him. “I’m not calling to try to convince you to come back or anything. I’m calling because, well, a few things. The first thing I have to say is that I’m sorry. The pack has all but fallen apart, but I’m working on bringing us back together. Theo did a pretty good job at tearing us apart. I could really use your help, we all could, but I get that you need time to be away from all of this. I hope to see you or hear from you soon. Bye.”

 “...but I’m doing my best, and so is everyone else. Malia called Braedan for help so she’s here. The Beast has been killing a lot of people, but now the police are really confused because your dad isn't there. Parrish is doing all he can…”

 Voicemail.

 “...and then we were able to spring Lydia from Eichen. I was the first to get to her. She was in really bad shape and not in control of her powers, but she’s recovering…”

  After voicemail.

 “...it turns out Mason is the Beast...Liam is torn up but headset on saving Mason. We all are…”

  After voicemail.

 “...Kira came in and did something the skinwalkers taught her. Theo got dragged down by his sister. And...Allison saved me. Saved us all. Just like she’s always done…”

 Stiles pulled his phone away from his ear, briefly hearing Scott’s voice sound again for his last message, “I just wanted to wish you a happy Thanksgiving…”

 Stiles found with each passing message, he didn’t feel the strong emotions he had for Scott like he did a few months ago. Back then, there had been so much pain and resentment and anger. He didn’t give two shits about Scott. Not since he turned his back on him, and definitely not since Theo killed his dad.

 But now, he didn’t have the energy to hate Scott. He did for Theo, but not for Scott. They both messed up with things, they both made bad decisions, but Scott wasn’t the root of all evil. He was human, even if he did turn a little furry. Stiles couldn’t fault him on trying to do good when all around them things kept getting worse and worse. It wasn’t fair. Especially with all the things going on in Beacon Hills.

 No one was perfect. Not even Scott.

 Stiles ended the voicemail and went to Scott’s contact, and pressed call. The phone rang loud in his ears. His mind swirled with everything he’d just heard. He was overwhelmed. But he didn't have time to think it all over before his call was answered.

  “Stiles?” Scott asked, his voice clear and hopeful.

 “Hey man.” Stiles greeted. His voice wobbled a little bit.

  “H-Hey! Stiles, it’s so good to hear your voice.” Scott said, his voice full of emotion.

 “It’s really good to hear your voice too.” He said. Tears burned his eyes. He was going to blame the cold wind. Yep. The wind.

  “How are you? Where are you? Is everything okay? Do you know when you're coming back-”

 “I’m good,” Stiles interrupted, “I’m in Colorado, everything's fine, and I still don't know when I am.” He answered.

 “Are you really good?” Scott asked.

 “Yeah.” Stiles said. “I am. Derek's been a big help.”

 He heard Scott sigh; he sounded relieved. “I’m glad.” He said. Then, “I miss you.”

 “I miss you too.” Stiles said. He cleared his throat and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. “So how is everyone? How’s Beacon Hills?” He asked. Stiles could hear the hesitation in the silence over the phone.

  “Uh, good. We’re good. It's been a month or two since everything went down, so we’re all just recovering. Christmas break is letting us catch up on what we missed with school though.” Scott said.

 Stiles winced at the second part. “Yeah. School. Not something I’ve thought about.”

  “Oh, yeah,” Scott said, “technically you dropped out, so…”

 “So obviously I won’t be able to pick up where I left off in the year.” Stiles finished.

  “I think I’d be impossible to even if you tried.” Scott said.

 “Do you...do you think that if I came back I’d be able to do everything in my spring semester?”

  “Probably not, man.” Scott said. “The school might not let you. And besides, the workload you’d have to do would be insane. Do you really want to try and catch up?”

 Stiles sighed and dropped his head a little. “No, not really.” He said. “I was mostly just curious.”

 Deep down Stiles knew there was no way he’d be graduating on time with his friends. Even when he was in school, it was too filled with paranoia and supernatural distractions for him to learn much. And adding him being gone for months didn't help his case.

 “So, um,” Stiles started, “how did...how did everything go with- with my dad?”

  “Are you sure you want to know?” Scott asked. Stiles felt his heart drop into his stomach. Mutely, he stood there. Derek slipped into the car and he could hear music playing. He was glad for the privacy.

 “Yeah. Yeah, I want to know.” He said. “I need to know.”

 And Scott began to tell him everything that happened.

  “Well, since he was the Sheriff he had a good ceremony. All the deputies showed up and mom gave a eulogy for him. Some people were a little miffed about you not being there but they got over it pretty quick. I...I gave a speech too, about him. How he was a great man. He had a good service and a lot of people were there to pay their respects. He was buried in the plot next to your mom-”

 “Jesus.” Stiles interrupted. He slumped against the side of the car. “I’m glad he had a good service and all but I-I don't really want to hear anymore. I don't think I can.” He said.

  “Yeah, yeah, I completely understand.” Scott assured. Stiles took a deep breath to compose himself.

 “Uh, can I ask you why you called? Now of all times?”

 Stiles was glad for the subject change. “Well, it's Christmas, for one. And I listened to all of your voicemails about what's been happening back in Beacon Hills, and I guess I just felt-”

  “If you feel bad about it, you don't have to!” Scott rushed. “It was hard, and, y’know, all of us could’ve used you here, and we missed you, but everyone agreed that it was good that you got out of here.”

 “I don’t- I don’t feel bad.” Stiles said. “It’s just...a lot, I guess. I called so I could just, make sure all was well. Hear your voice. That kind of stuff.”

 Scott chuckled, but it lacked any humor. “Yeah, it was a lot.” He said. “But I’m glad you called.”

 “I am too.”

  “Hey, Stiles?” Scott asked.

 “Yeah?”

 “Can I ask you another question?”

 “You just did.” Stiles joked. It was lame, but it still made him crack a smile. “Yeah, ask away.” He said.

  “Um, what really happened with Donovan?” Scott asked.

 Stiles looked down at the ground and scuffed his foot against the slush on the pavement.

 “Don’t you already know?” Stiles mumbled.

  “I don’t think I know the real story.” Scott said. “All I know is what Theo told me, and I have a strong feeling that what he told me is far from the truth.”

 He swallowed the lump in his throat. “What did Theo tell you?”

 “That you bashed in Donovan’s head with a wrench, and that it was overkill and that he had never seen anger like that.”

 He choked out a wet laugh. The tears stung his cheeks with the cold. He felt sick with how much the story Theo told sounded like his nightmares.

 “That’s- not-” He sucked in a breath to try and calm himself down before he continued. “I hit him with the wrench. Donovan came up behind me and hurt my shoulder and was trying to kill me, so I hit him. I ran into the school and he chased me. With the construction I climbed up onto the scaffolding and I pulled the pin and one of the bars just ran through him.”

  “Damn.” Scott whispered.

 “Yeah.” Stiles whispered back.

  “Stiles, I’m so sorry I didn’t believe you. I’m sorry I didn’t believe you when you said it was self defense.”

 “Well I wasn’t really saying much to clarify anything either.”

  “Everything just got so messed up.” Scott sighed.

 “That’s how it usually goes, yeah.” He agreed. “But- but I need you to know that,” Stiles squeezed his eyes shut as he tried to say the words, “I don't regret it.”

  “You don't?”

 “No. At the time I...I even felt good about it.” Stiles admitted. “Not the killing, that didn't feel good. But it was just one less thing to worry about, one less threat, and that felt good.”

 Scott stayed silent and Stiles couldn't stop fidgeting.

  “I understand that.” Scott said finally. Stiles let go of the breath he had been holding.

 “You do?”

  “Yeah.” Scott said. “We were all under stress, but you had more than we did. I get that you didn't have a choice about killing him, but I understand that it would be a relief.”

 Stiles sniffed. “Th-that's exactly what it was. A relief.” He said. The words were thick in his throat.

 “When Kira sent Theo to wherever he went, he begged me to help, and I just stood there. I knew he’d be a problem again. So I let him go .” Scott told him. “What I’m trying to say is if you need forgiveness, I’m giving it to you. And if you don't need it, then at least I know I said it.”

 “I forgive you too, Scott.” Stiles whispered. He couldn't stop the tears from freely flowing down his cheeks. He covered his eyes with his hand and let himself cry.

 As soon as he said that he knew it was true. Stiles did forgive him. He forgave and missed his best friend.

  “I really wish I could hug you right now.” Scott said. He sounded like he was crying too.

 “You’re such a sap.” Stiles laughed, hiccuping.

 He and Scott talked a little bit longer. After so long without even one word from each other, talking felt nice. It was a little bit of a strain since at the moment they didn’t have a common ground to talk on, but Stiles made up for it by telling Scott all about Colorado; Scott made up for it by talking about school.

 When they ended the conversation with tentative goodbye’s and Merry Christmas’s, Stiles got into the already warmed up car.

 “Good conversation?” Derek asked.

 Stiles looked over to him and nodded. “Yeah.” He said, wiping away the last traces of tears. “I’ll tell you about it later.”

 Derek smiled at him. “I’m glad it was good.”

 “You talk to Cora?” Stiles asked.

 “Yeah.”

 “How is she?”

 “She’s good.” He said. “For her holiday she's camping and cliff diving with her friends in South Africa.”

 Stiles chuckled. “That sounds about right. I half expected her to try and fight the wildlife just because she could.”

 “That would be interesting.” Derek humored.

 “Cora verses a lion: who would win?” Stiles asked.

 “Neither, because Cora is not getting into a fight with a lion.”

 “But don’t you think-” Stiles tried.

 “No.” Derek interrupted. “She’s too smart to get into a fight with a lion.”

 Stiles stuck out his bottom lip. “Fine.” He said.

 “Thank you.” Derek said.

 “...Cora would so win.”

  “Stiles.”

 

~~~~~~

December 21

 

 “Hi ho, hi ho, off to the woods we go!” Stiles sang jauntily, jogging down the stairs with the last few pieces of clothes he’d need. He was already mostly dressed in his snowshoes and warm clothes, but he still had the hat, gloves, and jacket he needed to put on. Those he could put on in a minute though.

 “Are you ready?” Derek asked when he walked closer to the front door. He was zipping up both of their bags. What they were bringing, Stiles didn’t fully know, but he knew it’d be everything they needed.

 “Yep!” Stiles beamed. He finished getting dressed and all but ran outside.

 Derek followed, locked the door, and picked up the rather large axe that had been leaning against the stairs. Stiles in turn grabbed the big sled they’d need later on.

 “Do you know where to go?” Stiles asked as Derek started to head to the woods.

 “Of course I do.” Derek said. “It just depends on whether you’ll deem this tree worthy.”

 “Why wouldn’t I deem it worthy?” Stiles asked.

 “You’re a tree snob.” Derek said.

 “I am not!”

 “Last night you were literally telling me stories about how you would spend hours at the tree farm in Beacon Hills looking for just the right tree.”

 That was true so Stiles couldn’t say anything back to Derek. He shoved at his arm in retaliation instead.

 “Whatever.” Stiles said. “Just you watch me think that the first tree we find will be just right.”

 Derek snorted. “We’ll see about that.”

 Stiles rolled his eyes and continued trekking through the snow happily, humming merrily to himself a song he was making up as he went along. He was fully aware he wasn’t a good singer or a good hummer, but he was enjoying himself nonetheless.

 “So how far away is this tree?” Stiles asked. He hopped onto a mostly snow covered log and walked across it, throwing his arms out for balance. The sled made little difference in his balancing skills.

 “A few miles.” Derek said. “But it’ll be a while until we get there and back since the snow slows down our progress.”

 “Oh well.” Stiles smiled. “I guess this’ll be an adventure!” He said.

 “You seem very happy.” Derek commented.

 “It’s almost Christmas!” He exclaimed. “And this will be my first white Christmas.” As soon as the words came out of his mouth, he wrinkled up his nose. “That kinda sounds like it’s racist.”

 Beside him, Derek snorted and shook his head. “You’re impossible.” He said.

 “How?” Stiles asked, poking him in the rib. Derek swatted his hand away.

 “You just are.” Derek said.

 “Ooh, what a burn.” Stiles giggled. “Do you have any aloe vera in that bag? I’m in desperate need of some.”

 Derek snorted and pushed Stiles again. He squawked as he stumbled to stay upright, but joined in with Derek’s laughter.

 “Man, I was hoping you were going to fall.” Derek said, sounding disappointed.

 “What?! Why?” Stiles demanded.

 “Because it would’ve been funny.” Stiles didn’t like the mischievous smirk on his face.

 “It would’ve been a disaster.” Stiles said. “It would’ve been worse since I’m pulling the sled.”

 “Exactly.”

 “Now you’re impossible.”

 Derek laughed again, and Stiles’ breath caught in his throat.

 The moment was kind of picturesque. Snowfall from the trees had stuck on Derek’s beard and eyelashes. The sun was out, and the snow was glittering in the light; glittering against the dark colors of his clothes and hair. Derek’s head was tilted slightly back as he laughed loudly.

 In this moment, Derek was happy, and he was beautiful.

 

~~~~~~

 

 It took next to forever for them to finally find a tree Stiles approved of. The first evergreen tree they came across was too big, which he was able to use as an excuse so Derek couldn’t hold not liking the tree against him, but by the second and third and fourth tree Stiles had to admit he was a snob.

 “We had to find the perfect tree though.” Stiles defended himself. He watched as Derek hacked at the tree he decided on with the axe.

 “What could have possibly been wrong with the last one?” He asked.

 “The limbs were spaced apart weirdly so it wouldn’t have looked good with ornaments.” Stiles said.

 Derek landed the last crack of the axe and Stiles heard the wood groan.

 “Timber!” Derek yelled as the tree came crashing down.

 “A tree really does make a sound when it falls in the woods.” Stiles said. He walked over to help Derek pull the tree onto the sled.

 “Of course it makes a sound.” Derek said.

 “You so didn’t get what I meant by that.”

 “Yes I did,” Derek said, “But you were the one who said it wrong.”

 “Bullshit, no I didn’t.”

 “We were around to hear it.” Derek explained pointedly. “The riddle asks if it makes a sound if no one around hears it.”

 “Stop over examining my jokes.”

 Derek smiled at him. “Never.” He said. Stiles couldn’t help but smile back.

 Stiles picked up the axe and slung it over his shoulder while Derek began pulling the sled.

 “Wasn’t what we just did illegal?” Stiles asked. “Y’know, cutting down a tree not on your property?”

 “And we’re technically in part of a national park.” Derek added. “So to answer your question, yes.”

 Stiles snorted. “We’re such hardened criminals.” He joked.

 “Totally.” Derek said with a voice full of sarcasm.

 “Oh shut up.” Stiles said. He marched ahead of Derek defiantly. It was no surprise though that, even while pulling along a tree, he easily caught up.

 Like Derek said it was taking a long time to get home, but surprisingly enough Stiles began to recognize some of the trees, so he knew they were kind of close to home. He started humming again to a song that was stuck in his head.

 He started off humming the chorus quietly, but as the song played over and over again in his head he began singing it under his breath.

 “The bigger they are, the harder they fall, these big-iddy boys are dig-gidy dogs.” He sang. He didn’t know all the lyrics so he was skipping some.

  “...clothes off, twerking in their bras and thongs, timber.”

 “What the hell are you singing?” Derek asked him.

 “Timber by Pitbull.” Stiles said.

 “Why are you singing it?” He asked.

 “Because it’s been stuck in my head ever since you yelled timber.” He said, then went right on back to singing.

 “Face down, booty up, timber. That’s the way we like to -what?- timber.” Stiles was enjoying the scandalized look on Derek’s face more than he should. “I’m slicker than an oil spill…”

 “Just so we’re clear,” Stiles stopped singing, “You do know that the whole timber thing is him talking about his dick and sex right?”

 “Jesus Christ.” Derek muttered to himself. “Yes, I know Stiles.” He was glaring through the blush that spread from his ears to his cheeks.

 Huh. Who knew Derek got so flustered over sex song euphemisms? He’d have to remember that.

  “It’s going down, I’m yelling timber!” Stiles continued, nudging Derek and wiggling his eyebrows. “You better move, you better dance. Let’s make a night you won’t remember, I’ll be the one you can’t forget!”

 Stiles then went on to sing “Wooooah” and the chorus over and over again, dancing around a little bit. At one point he even used the axe as a prop. Derek was still blushing, but at least he was over being scandalized.

 After that it didn’t take long to arrive back home. They dragged the tree into the living room (getting the needles all over the floor) and set it up in the tree stand, surrounded by a big red skirt.

 “Perfect.” Stiles smiled softly. “Now all we have to do is put the presents under the tree and then it’s done.”

 “You’re forgetting something.” Derek said, slinging an arm over Stiles’ shoulders.

 “What?”

 “The tree decorations.”

 Stiles’ face fell and he groaned. He dropped his head into the crook of Derek’s neck. Stiles could feel Derek’s laugh. As much as he really didn’t want to think about decorating a tree, he was glad that Derek had been laughing a lot.

 

~~~~~~

 

December 22

 

  “Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock. Jingle bells swing and jingle bells ring. Snowing and blowing up bushels of fun. Now the jingle hop has begun…”

 Stiles smiled at tapped his foot to the music as Jingle Bell Rock came on. He was alternating between the radio - which was playing only Christmas music- and the cd’s when he felt they needed a break from the holiday music.

 Which was rare for him to do. Stiles loved Christmas music.

 The holiday spirit was exactly how it should be. A fire was crackling in the fireplace, which had stockings hanging above it. Mugs of hot chocolate sat abandoned. And outside the window, he could just make out the fluffy flakes fall from the night sky.

 Standing side by side he and Derek decorated the tree. They were winding some multicolored lights around the it. The colors reflected against the windows.

 “Do you think that this one strand is going to be enough to go around the tree?” Stiles asked.

 “Should be.” Derek said. “If not we can just improvise.”

 One of the bulbs flickered and Stiles reached out to twist it tighter. “I vote no on getting another string of lights. We can just figure it out with what we have.” He said.

 Derek snorted. “For someone who has to have everything being a certain way, you sure are lazy to do it.”

 “Oh well.” Stiles shrugged indifferently. “Here,” he said, “I’ll finish up with the lights if you go grab the ornaments.”

 “Okay.” Derek said, and headed off. Stiles finished up twisting the lights up around the top when Derek came back with the new box of gaudy, super modern decorations.

 They did have a small box up of ornaments in the attic, but when he noticed Derek stare a little too long and a little to sad at the box, Stiles made him drive back to town so they could get new ones. These ones didn’t have anything personal about them that either of them would feel. They were just something to put on the tree, and that was needed.

 “These are so horrible.” Stiles snorted. “It’s awesome.”

 “That’s probably the reason why they were basically free.” Derek said. “I mean, who the hell likes blue and orange anything?”

 “Hey, blue and orange are complimentary colors!” Stiles defended.

 “Every time I see colors like these I think of the Florida Gators or something.” Derek said.

 “What, the football team?” Stiles asked.

 “Yeah. Aren’t those their colors?” Derek asked.

 “I have no clue but I’m disappointed that you went for a crappy football team instead of using the Mets as an example.” Stiles said, feining hurt and throwing a palm over his chest. “The Mets pull off the colors better than anything or anyone else.”

 “That’s true.” Derek said. “The Mets are pretty good.”

 “Have you ever seen a game?” He asked.

 “Yeah.” Derek nodded. “When Laura and I were in New York we went to a couple of their games.”

 “You’re making me jealous.” Stiles bemoaned.

 “I’m sorry.” Derek chuckled, not sounding sorry at all.

 “Yeah, yeah.” Stiles rolled his eyes. He lifted up one of the orange ornaments that had beads hanging from it. He shook his head, partially amused and disgusted, and hung it on the tree.

 “Do we really have to still be listening to Christmas music?” Derek asked.

 “What’s wrong with Christmas music?”

 “You’ve been listening to it all day and have barely changed it out.” Derek said, pouting over at Stiles. “It’s not even Christmas yet, and I’m already done with it.”

 Stiles snorted but complied. There was only so much the man could take, he guessed. He switched from the radio to the CD player and put one he hadn’t heard before. He selected the first track and was delighted as he heard the soft strumming of a guitar and recognized the song.

 He smiled nostalgically and blushed a little in embarrassment. He knew all the words for this damn song.

 Right when the singing was about to start, Stiles turned and softly began singing the words.

  “There I was again tonight, forcing laughter faking smiles. Same old tired, lonely place.”

 Derek paused hanging up the last few ornaments and looked over at Stiles. They smiled softly to one another as Taylor Swift’s voice floated through the room with the undertone of Stiles’ own.

  “Walls of insincerity, shifting eyes and vacancy-” Stiles walked over to Derek and touched his cheek gently for dramatic effect, “-vanished when I saw you face.” Derek shook his head but still turned his head to press his cheek more into Stiles’ hand. “All I can say is it was enchanting to meet you.”

  Your eyes whispered have we met -” Derek started, grabbing his hand and pulling him closer, “- Across the room your silhouette starts to make it’s way to me.

   “The playful conversation starts-” Now they were making the song a duet.

 “- Counter all your quick remarks like passing notes in secrecy.

  “And it was enchanting to meet you.”

  All I can say is I was enchanted to meet you.

 Stiles drew back his hand and couldn’t help but dance and throw his head around as the music got louder. If he had long hair, he’d be whipping it around, but he had to make up for what he didn’t have.

  “This night is sparkling, don’t you let it go. I’m wonderstruck, blushing all the way home. ” He sang, louder than Taylor. “I’ll spend forever wondering if you knew I was enchanted to meet you!”

  The lingering question kept me up, two a.m who do you love? Stiles jumped up on the couch and danced, throwing his arms around and swinging his hips. I wonder till I’m wide awake.

  “Now I’m pacing back and forth,” Derek reached out a hand and Stiles accepted it, jumping down from the couch, “wishing you were at my door. I’d open up-” he mimicked opening a door in front of Derek, “and you would say-”

  Hey, it was enchanting to meet you. Derek continued effortlessly. They were using the lyrics like a conversation. All I know is I was enchanted to meet you.”

  “This night is sparkling, don’t you let it go. I’m wonderstruck, blushing all the way home…” Derek grabbed hold of Stiles and they were off dancing.

 The chorus continued and on into a new verse but this time it was only Taylor Swift singing. He and Derek were too busy laughing as they twirled and spun each other around. Behind the couch, around the almost finished tree, until they were standing up on the albeit small coffee table that was surprisingly holding their weight.

 “I can’t believe it’s holding us right now.” Stiles giggled as they carefully turned in circles.

 “I know, it’s kind of awesome.” Derek said back.

 Eventually they, like the music, began to slow down. They swayed on top of the table. Stiles’ arm was pressed in between Derek’s shoulder blades; Derek’s arm was securely wrapped around his waist. They were holding hands.

  “Please don’t be in love with someone else.” Stiles whispered along with the last lines of the song. “Please don’t have somebody waiting on you.”

 Taylor Swift’s voice and music slowly went away and was taken over by a new song. Stiles quickly recognized it as another one of her early 2000’s songs.

 “I’m don’t.” Derek said. Stiles lifted his head from where it had fallen onto his shoulder.

 “You don’t what?” He asked.

 “I don’t have anyone waiting on me.” He said. His eyes - they looked golden in the glow of the firelight - were intense as he stared at Stiles. He felt a blush, heavy and thick climb up his throat.

 “I don’t either.” Stiles said. Derek’s gaze lessened into something more gentle.

 “Okay.” He said. Stiles bit his lip and laid his head back on Derek’s shoulder. His heart was stuttering in his chest. He could feel Derek’s heart pounding. They were both on the same level.

 Whatever that level was.

 

~~~~~~

December 23

 

 Stiles stood under the hot water and let it wash away any soap and chill he might still have had. He and Derek had been out and about all day in the woods, playing and relearning all of their trails. More snow had showed up in a truly ridiculous amount. If Stiles had been around snow before, he might have already gotten sick of it by now. That wasn’t the case somehow.

 Stiles shut off the water and reached his hand out to grab his towel, only to find it was wet.

 “Derek!” Stiles yelled. “You used my towel again!”

 “No I didn't,” Derek's voice was muffled by the door, “you always use my towel. That's why it's wet.”

 “Well either way I don't have a towel.” Stiles said. No reply and a minute later Derek was walking in with a fresh towel.

 “You need to have a towel of your own.” Derek said.

 “Where’s the fun in that?” Stiles smirked. When he noticed Derek only looking him in the eyes it made him full on grin. “You're such a gentleman, knowing my eyes are up here.”

 Derek just shook his head as Stiles wrapped the towel around his waist.

 “So did you pick out any movies?” He asked, walking over to the sink to brush his teeth.

 “I’m trying to decide between 80s and 90s movies or Disney movies.” Derek said.

 Stiles shrugged his shoulders indifferently, but he knew which one Derek wanted to see.

 “Are you okay with Disney movies?” Derek asked. Stiles nodded and rolled his eyes fondly at Derek's smile.

 While he brushed his teeth, Derek laid his hand on his shoulder with his thumb brushing back and forth against his scar. It felt nice, standing there together, with Derek's hands on him while he finished brushing his teeth. He felt safe and comfortable and content, despite Derek being fully dressed and Stiles only wearing a towel.

 “So what Disney movies are we watching?” Stiles asked once he was done. He headed into the room and to the dresser with Derek following.

 “The Little Mermaid-”

 “Of course.” Stiles said. He abandoned his towel in favor for pulling on boxers and flannel pants.

 “Aladdin, and then Mulan if we want.” Derek continued.

 “Cool.” Stiles said. He grabbed hold of Derek's hand and followed him down the steps into the living room.

 Derek separated himself from Stiles to go put the movie in.

 “I want to do something different this time.” Stiles said.

 “What do you mean?” Derek asked.

 Stiles braced his fists on his hips and looked around the living room. “I mean this,” He said, raising a hand to motion around. “I still want to have movie night but this just seem boring.”

 Derek looked around the room and cocked his head to the side in thought. “We can make a blanket fort.” He said.

 “Make a what?” Stiles asked, surprised.

 “A blanket fort.” Derek repeated. “There are tons of sheets and blankets. I have clothes line that we can string up on the walls to hang that blankets now. We can even use some Christmas lights to do that too.” He explained.

 Stiles was speechless. He hasn’t made any kind of fort since he was in elementary school. And from how Derek was talking about it, he wasn’t going to make one just over the couch, but was planning for the whole room.

 “Oh hell yeah!” Stiles practically yelled. Derek smiled at him.

 “Then you grab blankets and I’ll get the lights and the clothes line.” He said. Stiles gave him a two fingered salute and bounded upstairs to the linen closet. He grabbed two of the thickest comforters they could lay on the floor and a dozen sheets that were either patterned or pink. So sue him, he wanted some pretty colors.

 Stiles went back to find Derek with the clothes lines and the lights, already putting them up. Stiles dropped the blankets on the floor and began pushing some of the furniture out of the way. He laid out the comforters on the floor, and then went to help Derek hang things up.

 “I’m so excited.” Stiles said.

 “I can tell.” Derek chuckled.

 They connected the lines to anything they could. The furniture, the walls, and even to other lines. They plugged in the strings of pretty white lights and draped them over the lines as well. They were dangling and bright.

 Then they began putting up the sheets. The pinks, patterns, and whites glowed lightly over the lights. They hung in dipping or tent like structures all over the room. The sheets were worked in a way that when they got inside the blanket fort, it was like they were sectioned off from the rest of the house. The tv was under the blankets and was easily seen through the little niche they made themselves. Derek turned off the other lights so the soft glow of the lights was warm and quaint.

 “I love this.” Stiles said quietly as he rearranged some pillows and couch cushions.

 “I do too.” Derek said. He popped in The Little Mermaid and they settled down together.

 “You know,” Derek started as the selection screen came up, “when we were all just kids, my mom couldn’t watch a Disney movie without falling asleep.”

 “Yeah?” Stiles asked.

 “Yeah.” He said. “Beauty and the Beast? She’d only stay awake until Be Our Guest came on. Tarzan? All three of us would cuddle up to her when she laid down on the couch. The Fox and the Hound? It made her cry the first time she watched it so she always made sure she slept.”

 “That’s so cute.” Stiles smiled. He loved these moments Derek would reminisce about memories, and while Stiles knew part of him was sad, he was still smiling and happy about the memories.

 “Yeah. But, the movies she would always watch are these movies we’re watching.” He said.

 “So you’d all watch it together?”

 “We would. And she would play the movies we’re watching so much that they became some of our favorites.”

 “Because these are the ones she would stay up at watch.” Stiles said.

 “Exactly.” Derek said. “Of course we had a few other favorites, but The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Mulan were out go to’s.”

 “That’s so cute.” Stiles repeated. “My mom and I would watch Brother Bear all the time.”

 “I like that movie.” Derek said.

 “I bet you would.” Stiles said. “But it would always make me cry when Sitka died, and my favorite characters were Rutt and Tuke, the Canadian mooses.”

 “I always loved Tanana and when she gave Kenai the Bear of Love.” Derek said.

 “You’d so love to have a totem necklace that represented you.” Stiles joked.

 “I would.” Derek agreed. “I’d be the Wolf of Wisdom like his brother Denahi.”

 “Aww I could so see that for you.” Stiles cooed. “I’d be something like Koda. Koda was awesome.”

 “He was super cute.”

 “And I am super cute too.” Stiles giggled, pulling Derek into his arms. “Now, let’s actually start the movie.”

 Derek snorted and complied, hitting play and adjusting so he could see the screen while laying on Stiles’ chest comfortably.

 Now, here’s the thing. Stiles is infamous for his commentary during movies. It’s a defense mechanism really, just like his humor. It applies for both real life and fiction. Rom-coms make him cry with feels, so what does he do? Critique the lack of communication between characters, point out the cliches, that kind of thing. Horror movies? He will ramble on nonstop for the whole movie about how stupid and predictable it is while trying not to piss his pants at the jump scares. But home movies like Disney? He doesn’t really feel the need to make comments unless something big happens that provokes them.

 Like for instance, when Flounder is being persuaded by Ariel to follow him onto the freaky ship and he was freaking out but trying to be brave, even when he called out that shit was going to go wrong? Stiles pointed at Flounder and said, “Me,” and that was that.

 Derek on the other hand? He rarely talks during movies. But now Stiles is finding Deek gets very chatty when he’s being judgy and old man like.

 “Sebastian put so much effort into that, and Ariel doesn’t even show up. She’s even made to be the star of the whole show and she doesn’t even feel obligated to show up? Rude.”

 “Tritan shouldn’t think he was too harsh on Ariel, she needs some discipline in her life.”

 “How on Earth is she still even willing to go up to the surface? If it was dangerous I’m sure everyone would have a healthy dose of fear of humans, but nope. Apparently not.”

 “You are sixteen years old! You looked at Eric’s face for, like, two seconds, that isn’t love.”

 “Derek, stop being such a cock about it.” Stiles interrupted. “It’s a movie.” He was curious only for a moment when Derek went red before he realized why he was red in the first place. He smirked.

 “Who says cock anymore?” Derek asked, trying to play it off, but Stiles wasn’t going to let up.

 “Cock just sounds sexier than dick.” He said, wiggling his eyebrows. “I call someone a dick to sound crude.”

 “You’re a horrible person.” He complained. Stiles just winked.

 “I know,” Stiles said, “It keeps me up at night.” He remembered a similar conversation way back when that involved Danny and an orange and blue striped shirt. “Now allow yourself to enjoy your favorite childhood movie. Geek out about mermaids.”

 Derek grumbled something under his breath that Stiles didn’t catch, but kept most of his comments to himself. Stiles could tell that once he stopped nitpicking Ariel’s every move, he enjoyed the story more and relaxed. Stiles got it though. Derek was nothing if not protective, and Ariel’s story didn’t go swimmingly (pun intended.) It was his instinct to berate and make comments to Ariel to try and prevent her from doing stupid stuff. Even though it was a movie and nothing was going to come of it.

 “I kind of love Ursula though.” Stiles whispered in Derek’s ear. It was the final boss fight between everyone and Ursula when she had Trident's power.

 “I get it.” Derek whispered back. Neither of them could move their eyes from the screen even though they both knew how it was going to end. “Her musical numbers are pretty awesome and she has a kind of flare about her.”

 Stiles smiled and squeezed the back of Derek’s neck affectionately. No one ever agreed with him about Ursula.

 The Little Mermaid finally came to a close, with Ariel and Eric happily together, and Ursula defeated. He and Derek moved around so they could be face to face.

 “I really love Disney movies.” Stiles said.

 “I’m pretty sure everyone does.” Stiles pinched Derek’s side.

 “You know what I mean. I love that they always have happy endings.” He said. “Basically all of them have depressing beginnings or middles or whatever, but always a happy ending.”

“It kind of tells kids that even if things are bad and you get hurt, you can still grow and be happy.” Derek added. “That misery isn’t all there is.”

 Stiles shook his head and smiled. “Exactly.” He said. “And happy endings aren’t only wishful thinking-”

 “They can still happen, and it isn’t bad to want happy endings.” Derek finished.

 “I love how we finish each other’s-”

 “Sandwiches?”

 “ God you’re perfect.” Stiles said, laying a hand on Derek’s cheek.

 He and Derek stared at each other, and then suddenly Stiles was leaning closer and pressed their lips together.

 It was a simple, single kiss. Stiles had always felt a little weird about kissing. He loved it, enjoyed it, but something always struck him as weird when he thought about the fact that lips coming into contact connected in an odd way and lips themselves weren’t that special.

 But that single kiss with Derek might have been the best kiss he’s had.

 He liked the kisses with Malia. He liked the kisses with Heather. Even with the one and only kiss he had with Lydia, it was mostly full of old feelings that had barely surfaced again.

 Derek’s lips were warm and slightly chapped. His beard tickled against Stiles’ mouth, but he found he liked the contrast. It felt like his first kiss all over again, but this time it was so much better and much more special.

 It was intimate.

 It was comfortable.

 It was content.

 It was thrilling.

 It was calming.

 It was a thousand more things he didn't feel like thinking about, because his heart was going faster and Derek was kissing him back. Who could think of anything else in this situation?

 They pulled away from the kiss. For some reason, Stiles was panting.

 When Stiles opened his eyes, Derek was gazing up at him with a mix or affection and wonder. HIs ears were red but a smile still grew on his face. Stiles could feel his fingers shaking as he ran a hand through Derek’s hair.

 “So I take it that that was unwanted?” Stiles asked.

 “It was completely wanted.” Derek said. He let out a shaky breath in relief. He would’ve hated if Derek hadn’t wanted the kiss.

 It felt like a damn had been opened. Like everything they have been doing all led up to this one moment. Without another word, they both leaned closer and kissed again. This time it was deeper. They kissed slower but harder, their hands cupping faces and gripping shoulders. Stiles moved Derek so he was on his back and Stiles was on top of him. Derek bit at his bottom lip, and he groaned quietly.

 The kiss rose and fell in intensity, until they were stealing quick pecks from one another, giggling and smiling like idiots. Stiles’ chest felt like it was going to burst with how unabashedly happy he was feeling. It was such a simple and free and pure feeling he hadn’t felt in forever.

 “Do you feel happy like I feel?” Stiles asked, pecking the corner of Derek’s smile.

 “Yes.” Derek said, kissing the tip of his nose. “I do. I really do.”

 Eventually they got around to putting Aladdin in, but they didn’t pay too much attention to it.


~~~~~~

December 24

 

 On Christmas Eve, all kids find it hard to fall asleep. The excitement of Santa and presents and holiday fun was too enticing to convince kids to fall asleep. Late night Santa Stakeouts plagues couches and staircases until the parents picked up their kids to go back to bed.

 Stiles had always been one of those kids. Every Christmas, even when he knew Santa was real, the thrill of Christmas morning soon to arrive always made him excited. Christmas Eve was always pure torture . He wouldn’t be able to focus on anything for too long. He’d bake healthy cookies that his dad would eat in the middle of the night, he’d stay up as late as he could, and wake up early. Stiles loved most holiday’s, but there was no doubt that Christmas was his absolute favorite.

 The night before Christmas, 24 hours after he and Derek’s first kiss, was one of his favorite nights. There were lots of kisses and cuddles and laughs that could be done in 24 hours. In books, Stiles had read about kiss swollen lips. Now he knew what they looked and felt like.

 It was awesome.

 It was extra exciting to sleep in the same bed together. They already did that, have for months, but obviously it was different when they could kiss and grope and have a next level of intimacy. Oh man, intimacy was so great.

 Stiles fell asleep in Derek’s arms, an hour after of trying to get to where their limbs weren’t falling asleep and they were willing to stop kissing each other to actually get sleepy. The past 24 hours have been near bliss. The happy feeling in his chest hadn’t gone away.

 Dreams of defying gravity and the sun and the frustration of not being to move fast enough plagued his head-

 Until he was being shaken awake straight out of his dream. One did not just wake Stiles Stilinski when he was dreaming.

 “Whaaaaaat?” Stiles groaned, turning his back to Derek, who was for some reason out of the bed?

 “Wake up.” Derek said quietly.

 “Why?” Stiles mumbled. He didn’t want to wake up. The bed was warm . He felt like he could cry if he wasn’t warm.

 “Because I’ve got a surprise for you.” Derek said. There he was with the shaking again.

 “Surprises are for the morning, Derek.” Stiles said. He rolled over so he could look over at Derek, who was only wearing boxers. He was suddenly more awake than he’d like to admit. “Does this surprise involve you scantily clad?” He asked.

 Derek glared at him. “Technically, it does.” His glare suddenly turned to a smirk. Stiles sat up and rubbed the rest of the sleep from his eyes.

 “What kind of surprise is it?” Stiles asked.

 “Get dressed, because we’re going outside.” Derek said, and walked out the room. Stiles stared after him.

 Outside? Why the hell was he going outside. This was already two things he didn’t like or understand; why this involved Derek with little to no clothes, and why he had to be out in the cold so late at night.

 Stiles groaned loud enough for Derek to hear but got up anyway. He pulled on some jeans and picked up Derek’s favorite Henley from the floor and put it on. He put on socks and snow shoes, and decked out in hats, gloves, and jackets. It was cold during the day, but it was nothing compared to when the sun went down.

 “I swear,” Stiles called, walking down the stairs to the front door, “this had better be a good surprise because-”

 He stumbled over his own two feet as he looked at Derek. Well, Derek was a wolf , rather than the person. The reason how he knew this giant wolf was Derek since he’s never seen him full shift, is because of the bright glowing blue eyes.

 “Uh, okay,” Stiles said, walking closer to run a hand through Derek’s fur. It was soft. “This is a pretty cool surprise.”

 Derek huffed through his nose and picked up a blanket with his mouth to hand to Stiles.

 “This is so bizarre.” Stiles said. He took the blanket and followed as Derek walked out the already opened door. Stiles closed the door behind him and stepped out into the snow where Derek was waiting. The sky was clear of any and all clouds, and through the branches of the trees he could make out the stars.

 “Lead the way to my surprise, buddy boy.” Stiles said. “I’m going to have to come up with new dog jokes, I don’t know why I haven’t.” Derek nipped at his hand.

 “Down boy!” Stiles yelled, smiling. “I’m only into some kinds of biting, and that ain’t one of them.”

 Derek turned around with his tail high in the air and Stiles had to rush forward to catch up. Stiles settled beside him. He tangled his hand in Derek’s fur, and walked into the woods.

 It felt like they were walking forever. The dark stayed. He could just barely see. The only reason he wasn’t tripping or getting lost was both because of the bright heavens above and Derek at his side.

 “Derek,” Stiles whined, “why is the surprise in the middle of the woods? I’m cold and tired and I can’t see. How much longer is this going to be?”

 Of course, he didn’t get an answer, but they did start walking a little faster. That was almost more annoying than the normal pace they’ve kept up.

 “I swear to god, Derek,” he started up once more maybe thirty minutes after the first time he complained. It was a miracle he hadn’t been doing this the whole time, really. “If this is just some stupid walk in the woods, it is a poor romantic tactic-”

 The trees suddenly broke away and the ground disappeared in front of him. Stiles’ stopped where he was to avoid getting to the ledge, but he was mostly taken aback from the view.

 It was the same ledge, during the fall, that they had lunch at. He could tell that much. But it seemed to be a completely different view this time.

 The trees below them were dark, some with leaves and some without. The snow stood out in the dark, still glittering in the dark like dull stars on the ground. But his favorite part had to be the sky. Since there were no clouds anywhere, the stars and dark sky was completely unobstructed. Billions and billions of stars filled up the sky. The Milky Way was clearly visible among them. The moon, hanging bright and heavy in the sky, seemed huge among the little dots of light. He could see the craters on its surface. The silvery light bathed the world visible.

 It was breathtaking.

 “Oh.” Stiles said meekly. He laid the blanket on the ground so he could sit, and Derek curled up around him.

 “This is-” He looked around, almost unable to comprehend the scene in front of him, “-it’s amazing. Thank you.” He said. Derek nuzzled against his shoulder. Stiles leaned into him, and together they sat, lost in the cold and the stars.

 

~~~~~~

 

 The walk back home after a good hour of two just sitting on the ledge seemed to go by in a haze. One minute he was getting back up with stiff joints, and the next he was once again in front of the house. Through one of the windows, he could see the glow of the Christmas lights inside.

 The whole time, he was quiet. Stiles was still partially in awe of what he had seen, but now his heart was stuck in his throat.

 Stiles opened the door and Derek walked in before him. He grabbed his boxers and headed off to presumably shift back and put them on. Stiles walked into the living room and stood in front of the tree. The lights through color all around, mixing oddly with the hideous colors of the ornaments. The presents under the tree sat, unopened, and it was so typical and usual he wanted to cry.

 Soundlessly, Derek came up behind him and wrapped his arms around Stiles’ waist.

 “What are you thinking?” He asked.

 “Just...it’s Christmas.” Stiles said weakly. “It’s only us.”

 He felt Derek drop his chin on his shoulder, and Stiles knew he was bringing them down. But he couldn’t help it. He was alone. Christmas morning without his dad sneaking down to eat the cookies, or grumbling as Stiles woke him up early. No presents being taken over to the McCall’s in the afternoon. No Christmas Eve dinner leftovers to take over to their parents when they went back to work.

 Stiles turned in Derek’s arms and pressed a kiss to his cheek. He slipped away upstairs, to the room he hasn’t used in months. He shed his clothes and slipped under the freezing covers.

 Alone.


~~~~~~

December 25

 

 Because of their late night, Stiles didn’t get up early. He didn’t hear Derek messing around anywhere, so he assumed that he was recovering from a hurting heart. Stiles was too.

 Stiles hasn’t felt this hurt about his dad’s death in a while. But Christmas was their holiday. Especially after his mom passed away. Even though most holiday’s his dad worked so one more cop could spend time with their families, Christmas morning and afternoon he allowed himself to take off to spend time with Stiles.

 Stiles remembers bad scrambled eggs he’d drown in mustard to mask the taste. He remembers the angel on top of the tree that they always joked about being creepy. Before his mom got sick, she had broken the star they had and went out to a thrift shop to find something else to put on the top. She came back with the cheapest and creepiest one she could find.

 He remembers the Christmas he found out Santa wasn’t real when his dad slipped up and said it when he was around. He was going to have a Christmas without Santa and Mom? He had been devastated. That morning when Stiles came down the stairs, his dad had already been awake, dressed up in the most ridiculous Santa costume ever. His dad insisted the entire day his name wasn’t John, he was Santa Claus. He even put the getup on over his uniform when he went to work. Stiles hadn’t been able to stop smiling the entire day.  

 Those were the things he’d miss. The things he was missing right now. He’d never have them again.

 One day, when he had kids of his own, will he still hurt on Christmas? Will he be able to be happy and exciting like his dad was? Will he be able to give them happy memories like he had, or will it hurt to much? Will he do it even if it does hurt?

 Stiles was just hurt and confused and alone. Well, not quite alone.

 He managed to pull himself out of bed at 11. He walked into he and Derek’s room to change into pj’s. Derek wasn’t in bed when he walked in so he was probably downstairs. When he went downstairs, Derek was on the couch, holding a steaming mug and looking out the window.

 “Morning.” Derek said. “I made you some hot chocolate.”

 “Thanks.” Stiles went to the kitchen to get his own mug and went back to cuddle with Derek on the couch.

 “How are you?” Stiles asked.

 “Emotionally tired.” He sighed.

 “I’m the same.” Derek pulled Stiles closer and kissed his forehead.

 “I know you are.”

 They sat there and held one another for the rest of the morning. Neither of them talked much. They drank their hot chocolate and sat together until they were ready to.

 “Do you want to open presents now?” Stiles asked eventually.

 “Sure.” He said. Stiles got up from the couch and put their presents on the couch between them.

 “Do you want to open them at the same time or open them one at a time?” Derek asked.

 “One at a time is fine.” Stiles said. “You open one first.”

 Derek picked up the smallest gift and carefully opened the paper so it didn’t rip.

 “So you’re one of those people.” Stiles said. Derek paused halfway through opening it.

 “One of what people?”

 “The people who carefully opens presents to save the paper or something.” Derek smiled a little.

 “Keeping the paper is perfect for other gifts.” Derek said.

 “It’s impractical.”

 “You’re impractical.”

 “Your face is impractical.” Stiles said. Derek rolled his eyes and continued to go even slower as he carefully took apart the present.

 “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Derek said, laughing as he looked down at the Disney’s Greatest Hits cd.

 “Music from Disney movies, of course I would get that for you.” Stiles said.

 “This is pretty awesome.” Derek kept chuckling. He flipped the cd over to see what songs were on it.

 “My turn.” Stiles said, picking one of the bigger boxes to open first. He made a show of ripping the wrapping as loud as he could. He grinned when he saw the items inside the box. It was a 1001 Puns book and a...whistle?

 “Why’d you get me a whistle?” Stiles asked.

 “It’s a dog whistle.” Derek said.

 He rose an eyebrow. “A dog whistle.”

 “Yeah,” Derek said, “you can blow it and werewolves can-”

 Stiles blew on the tip of the whistle. He heard nothing, but he watched Derek wince and stop talking when he did it. He giggled and pulled the whistle away from his lips.

 “You’re going to regret ever getting me this.” He giggled.

 “I know, I ruin my own life.” Derek agreed.

 “Your turn.” Stiles said, leaning forward to peck Derek’s cheek.

 They went back and forth between the handful of presents. Derek got him a Slytherin scarf, and Stiles had to tell Derek to open up his biggest box, which was full of Hufflepuff pj pants, hats, and scarfs. Stiles got Derek a leather managing kit for his leather jacket, and Stiles got an empty photo album.

 “What am I going to use this for?” Stiles asked, flipping through the album.

 “So you can have a place to put your pictures.” Derek said. “So that you can have a record of your life as you go along. And,” Derek reached into his back pocket and handed Stiles a small stack of photos, “maybe you can start with these.”

 Stiles took the photos and began flipping through them, recognizing them immediately. Some time ago, before the snow, Stiles had purchased a disposable camera to take photos with. He took pictures of the trees and animals. He took pictures of Derek and with Derek. But then Stiles flipped through pictures of just him. There was one with his head tipped up to look at the trees. Of reading a book. Pictures of him still asleep. Derek had been taking his own pictures too and then developed the film.

 He settled on the last picture in the stack. It was of both he and Derek. The fall trees were behind them. Stiles had a big, silly smile on his face, and Derek was looking at smile, caught in the seconds before he began laughing.

 He gently laid the pictures and the album to the side and surged forward to kiss Derek. Derek steadied them by putting on hand on the ground and the other on Stiles’ waist.

 “So I take it that you like it?” Derek asked against his lips.

 “I love it.” Stiles whispered. “Thank you.”

 “You’re welcome.” Derek said. They kissed again, slower, happier, and Stiles couldn’t help but think that this Christmas hadn’t been so bad.

Chapter Text

 “Holy Mother on Earth, why do we have so many clothes ?” Stiles groaned. He and Derek decided that today would be the day they stopped putting off their laundry, and he had to say, he was regretting it. Laying in bed and making out all day would be highly preferable to this. All Derek did was snort beside him. He filled up the drier and went back to folding the clothes they just pulled out.

 “I mean, seriously, do we really need all these clothes?”

 “Clearly we do.” Derek said. “Or we wouldn't have this much laundry to do in the first place.”

 “Let me complain at the universe as I throw stuff into the dishwasher.” Stiles grumbled.

 Derek raised an eyebrow.

 “Washing machine. Whatever the hell it’s called.” He laughed. “You know what I mean!”

 “I’m impressed with your spectacular vernacular. It’s truly a work of art.” Derek teased.

 “Oh shut your silly mouth.”

 “Make me.” Stiles blinked, smiling as he caged Derek in between him and the drier.

 “I can do that.” He said, pressing his mouth against Derek’s. He pretended like he was pushing Stiles away, but his fingers tangled in his shirt instead.

 “Asshole.” Derek mumbled against him. Stiles giggled, kissing all over Derek’s face when he got the chance.

 “Stiles-”

 “What?”

 He didn’t respond. Stiles felt something soft and warm settle in his chest. Derek was looking everywhere but him. His face was slack and red, so Stiles knew he wasn’t pushing any boundaries. He leaned forward and peppered kisses over his red skin. He heard the washing machine start with only half the clothes in it. He heard the drier beeping and the folded clothes falling to the floor. Stiles didn’t care though. He was too busy getting good at being a boyfriend.

 Derek interrupted his avid attention to smack a quick kiss on his lips before he pulled away.

 “Chores.” He said.

 Stiles groaned. “You wound me.”

 “You’re a big boy. You can handle it.”

 Stiles rolled his eyes. He turned and they resumed the laundry they had just been doing like they hadn’t just made out. He mentally checked off his list of places in the house he wanted to make out in with Derek.

 “Let’s go put these up.” Derek said. He picked up a pile of clothes that he had ironed . Who even owns an iron anymore? Derek Hale did apparently. Stiles picked up a laundry basket with folded clothes and headed to the bedroom.

 “We’re almost done with this right?” Stiles asked.

 “I don’t understand why you hate laundry so much.”

 “I would literally prefer almost any other chore to do besides laundry.”

 “Well at least your only job is putting clothes in and putting them away.”

 He sighed. “I guess you have a point.”

 Out of nowhere, Stiles’ foot caught on thin air. And then he was falling. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion. He could see the sunlight streaming through the window for the first time in what felt like weeks. He could see little bits of dust floating through the air like mini stars. The air smelled of laundry detergent that smelled so good Stiles could huff it all day if he was into that kind of stuff.

 Stiles hit the floor. The laundry basket dug uncomfortably into his stomach. His life flashed before his eyes as he watched the clothes tumble out, flying everywhere, unfolding as they went.

 It was silent. Derek had turned to watch him hit the ground without even helping. He looked between Stiles and the clothes before rolling his eyes.

 “Aren’t you going to help me up?” Stiles asked, reaching out a hand. Derek raised an eyebrow and lifted his own clothes higher in his arms, clearly saying he was not going to help.

 “Have you no mercy?” He gasped.

 “You’re folding them.” Derek said.

 “No mercy!” He shrieked. As Derek walked into the bedroom, Stiles could still see him in front of the closet hanging up the clothes. Well. At least the view wasn’t bad. “At least I can stare at you ass from here. Which looks great in those jeans, by the way.”

 Derek turned and closed the door in his face.

  “Mercy!”

 Stiles heard a muffled snort. The smug little shit.

 He sat up with a heavy sigh and stared at the clothes that littered the hall. Stiles grabbed the shirt closest to him and glared at it. He folded it and threw it in the basket. One down, a lot more to go.

  Yay.

 “Are you pleased with yourself?” Stiles asked when he walked into the room. It took him longer than he would have liked but he finally finished folding all the clothes. Meanwhile, it seems Derek had been in the process of putting on gym shorts. Okay, not a bad sight to see after the hell he just went through.

 “I thought you would appreciate how I handled the moment.” He said.

 “I would have if it hadn’t been at my own expense.”

 “Mm.”

 Stiles put the clothes away into their dresser. While he was organizing the shirts by who’s were who’s, out of the corner of his eye Derek walked over to the where the closet door was still open. He grabbed the top of the door jam and started- is he doing pull ups?

 “Are you seriously doing pull ups?” Stiles asked, feeling the oddest urge to laugh.

 “No, I’m baking a cake.”

 Stiles whistled. “My my, we are in a rare sarcastic mood today, aren’t we? Seriously though, I didn’t know you could even get enough of a hold there to do this.”

 Derek snorted. Stiles is not ashamed to admit Derek’s reply was lost on him when he focused on Derek’s arm. Because wow. He knew he had muscle; it was hard to miss. But he hasn’t ever seen Derek’s muscles on display while working out like this. And he definitely hasn’t seen it since he was allowed to kiss Derek.

 Suddenly he remembered the time Derek had been hit with a wolfsbane bullet, and he was writhing on the floor just after Scott showed up, saving Derek’s life and also saving Stiles from having nightmares about cutting his arm off. But admittedly, watching a shirtless Derek’s muscles flex as he arched on the floor had been one of the weirdest turn on’s he’s ever had. That had been a confusing moment.

 Now was a more appropriate time to be attracted to Derek’s muscles. This moment needed to be appreciated. So Stiles finished throwing the clothes in the dresser and leaned against the wall to watch Derek to a truly insane amount of pull ups. Stiles loved it.

 It was still a little surreal, openly acting on his attraction for a guy. Sure, he kind of always knew he wasn’t 100% straight, but to actually acknowledge it was new. Making out with a guy was definitely crazy. It was actually insane how different it felt to be in a relationship with a guy opposed to being with a girl. But it was a good different. Derek was a good different.

 “So what spurred this desire to work out?”

 Derek shrugged- or at least he think he shrugged. “Just felt like doing it.”

 “Oooh-kay.”

 Derek dropped down from his pull ups and faced Stiles. “Do you want to help me work out?” He asked. Stiles was instantly suspicious.

 “This wouldn’t involve me working out with you, would it?” Stiles asked, squinting his eyes.

 “No,” Derek snorted.

 “I guess that’s easy enough.” Stiles said.

 Derek went over in front of the bed and got in the standard push up position. The black triskele tattoo was on clear display in between his shoulderblades.

 “So what do you want me to do?” He asked.

 “I want you to sit on my back.”

 Stiles’ eyebrows made for the roof. “Why? Isn’t that dangerous?”

 Derek turned to look at him over his shoulder. “Need I remind you I’m a werewolf?”

 “Point taken.” Stiles walked over and did as he was told, setting his butt right in the middle of Derek’s back. He took a moment to balance himself and lay his legs on top of Derek’s. Hopefully he wouldn’t fall off, and hopefully Derek didn’t hurt himself trying to do this. “Seriously though, don’t try to be a Mr. Macho Man-”

 Stiles let out a very manly yelp as Derek suddenly dipped under him in his first push up. He slapped one hand on Derek’s side to steady himself, and put the other one over his mouth. A heavy blush flared up over his cheeks and down his neck. Derek kept moving, and Stiles could feel his muscles working under him. Feeling the sheer strength under him was doing so many things to him. He felt like he was radiating heat with how flushed he was.

 It felt like he was on Derek’s back forever, gently moving up and down until Derek finally stopped. Stiles slid off gratefully so he was sitting on the floor. Meanwhile Derek was obviously trying not to smirk.

 “You okay?” He asked. Stiles nodded, not trusting his voice if he spoke.

 Derek wordlessly shifted over onto his back, and Stiles sat down in front of him, putting his hands on Derek’s feet to hold him in place without having to be told so. When the sit ups began, he tried in vain to focus off into space. Don’t get him wrong, a sweaty, flexing Derek was great, but it was counterproductive in trying to control his body’s reactions to Derek. Reactions his body was having more and more lately. In the middle of staring out into space, on his next sit up, Derek leaned further forward and smacked a kiss right on Stiles’ lips. This shook him back to reality.

 He didn’t have time to react before Derek leaned back and then came back up, kissing him again. Oh, so this was how they were doing things.

 The third time Derek made to kiss him, Stiles met him halfway and didn’t let him go back down. He didn’t seem to be complaining. Instead, he shifted so they had a better angle to kiss. The kiss quickly turned into a heated makeout session. Stiles ended up crowded against the foot of the bed, half under Derek, who was running his hands up and down his sides under his shirt. He gasped when Derek did something with his tongue that caused shivers to run up and down his body. The hand that had long ago buried itself in Derek’s hair tightened. Derek groaned when he did that.

 And then they weren’t kissing. Stiles was out of breath, panting and probably looking a little out of it. He was sure he looked like a wreck, with his skirt half up and awkwardly bent on the floor.

 “I think I’m going to go take a shower.” Derek rasped, getting up to go to the bathroom without another word. But before he closed the door, he turned and winked.

 “You’re gonna be the death of me.” Stiles muttered under his breath, knowing full well Derek would be able to hear him. Instead of staying in the bedroom with a showering naked Derek only a few feet away, Stiles decided to go downstairs and outside.

 Spring was just around the bend, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t still cold. A chilly breeze caused goosebumps to pop up on his arms, but it still did nothing to ease the heat racing through his veins. He collapsed on the outside chair with a groan.

 Ever since Christmas they’ve been together . While they didn’t physically tell each other, it was safe to say they were boyfriends. They kissed. They cuddled. Their whole relationship somehow worked out rather nicely. It probably helped that they knew each other for years, and had spent these past few months with only one another.

 Though these past few weeks have been...frustrating, to say the least. Their kisses got more intense and they weren’t as cautious when it came to touching one another. More than once Stiles has had to take long or cold showers to deal with the boners he kept getting. Mornings were especially hard, because the two of them were wrapped up in one another, so feeling the more than occasional morning wood was near torture. Stiles wanted to kiss Derek and keep kissing him and do more than he ever did with Malia or any other girl. Which was a lot.

 But there was no way Stiles was going to bring that up to Derek. It wasn’t his place to bring it up. His past relationships with girls like Jennifer and Kate had been a wreck. Braeden had been his one decent relationship the entire time they were together until they weren’t. Stiles knew from Derek’s nightmares and whatever he’s told him that he’s been messed with when it comes to sex.

 So he was going to suck it up and wait until Derek was ready. He would wait until Derek was comfortable and trusting enough with Stiles to do that. And when the time came, Stiles was going to be the most caring, best boyfriend he could be.

 It was going to be awesome, and it would still be awesome before they even went that far.

 

~~~~~~

 

 When dinner came around, everything was a lot calmer. The two of them had been stuck in the kitchen for about an hour, but Derek nearly refused all of Stiles’ attempts to help. He set up where they were going to eat in the living room, and didn’t permit him to leave the kitchen because of that.

 “It’s a surprise.” Derek had said once Stiles asked him. He didn’t bother for asking for specifics after that.

 Though what they were eating, it was definitely no surprise. It was Stiles’ favorite thing to eat; breakfast for dinner. Soft blueberry pancakes, crispy yet fluffy chocolate chip waffles, scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast. While everything would usually be quick to make, Derek insisted on making everything from scratch. When plates were fixed and drinks made, he still had to wait for whatever was going on in the living room to get set up. Why on earth it was taking so long to eat, he had no idea. He was hungry.

 “Okay, you can come in now.” Derek called.

 “Thank Jesus.” He sighed. Stiles all but skipped into the living room, his stomach growling in wait of delicious food.

 He paused once he saw exactly what Derek had planned out.

 There was a fire in the fireplace that must have been been burning for quite some time, because the room was toasty. The only light came from said fire and a few candles that were spread out across the room. On the floor there was a blanket laid on the ground with their food laid out on top. Derek was standing at one end, his sock covered feet shifting side to side.

 “Derek Hale, are you trying to romance me?” He asked, positively delighted.

 “Maybe.”  Derek said. It was no trick of the light that his ears had gone a little rosy.

 “Don’t think I don’t see you’re blushing.”

 Derek rolled his eyes exaggeratedly. “Just sit.”

 “Touchy.” He said, obliging to sit across from him. “Really though, this is super cute of you.”

 “It was nothing.” Derek shrugged.

 “It was everything.” Stiles insisted. “You made my favorite food, you set up a romantic, firelit picnic, and you’re wearing the jeans I really like.” He smirked. “You’ve succeeded in making this a date.”

 Derek shrugged again, pretending like the compliments didn’t faze him, but he could see the way his shoulders straightened, obviously pleased with Stiles’ reaction.

 “I feel like I need to woo you in return.” Stiles continued.

 “Woo me?”

 “Yes. Woo you. Romanticize the fuck out of you.” Derek snorted.

 “How do you plan on doing that?” He asked.

 “Do you have a band-aid?” Stiles asked, smirking as Derek was taken off guard. “Because I scraped my knee falling for you.”

 Derek’s face fell. “Cheesy pick up lines? Really?” He asked.

 He just winked. “Hey, are you from Tennessee? ‘Cause you’re the only Ten-I-See.”

 “That is just pathetic.”

 “Did it hurt when you fell from heaven?”

 “Generic.”

 “You must be an electron because my atom just wants more of you.”

 “Better.” Derek admitted.

 “Did you sit in sugar, cause you’ve got a sweet ass.”

 At that Derek laughed out loud, throwing his head back. His eyes were crinkled in amusement, and it sent Stiles’ heart all aflutter. While Derek tried to fight off his giggles, he continued eating. Throughout their conversation he’d been sneaking bites between each pick up line. The food was so good he was happy he could stuff his face for a minute.

 “Do you have a map?” This time it was Derek starting. Stiles paused with a syrupy piece of bacon half in his mouth. “Because I got lost in your eyes.”

 “And you're calling mine lame?” He licked his lips.

 “Mine are better.” Derek said. “Can you give me directions to your heart?”

 “I’m no organ donor, but I would be happy to give you my heart.”

 “Roses are red, violets are blue, I didn’t know what perfection was until I met you.”

 “Nice one.” Stiles said. Even though all of the lines were stupid, his heart still beated a little faster. He was a weird sap like that. “I don’t believe in love at first sight, but I’m willing to make an exception in your case.”

 He may not be a werewolf, but he was sure if he had the hypersensitive hearing, he’d be able to hear a skip in Derek’s heartbeat. At this point it felt like a given.

 “You win.” He said.

 “I didn’t know this was a competition.”

 “Whatever.”

 “So I’m guessing pick up lines work for you?” Stiles asked.

 “Apparently.” Derek chuckled.

 “I’ve tried any combination of pick up lines on all sorts of people and no one likes them.” He said. “I’m glad they work on you.”

 “I never would have guessed they didn't work.” Derek’s tone was all sarcasm.

 “You like them.” Stiles pointed out. “I was under the impression that someone had to like them like I did, so I went around trying them out on people and everyone thought it was stupid.”

 “Who were you asking?” Derek asked.

 “Lydia, obviously. That was when she was still ignoring me. After Jackson made fun of me.” He said. Derek stole some of his waffle as he talked. “Um, I said them to Scott, but he doesn't count because it was no surprise he thought they were awesome. And Allison doesn't count because I’m pretty sure she just humored me. Danny ignored me for a full five minutes of pick up lines before telling me to shut up.”

 “That’s unfortunate.” Derek said

 “No shit.”

 He rolled his eyes with a smile. “But in all honesty that kind of reminds me of how I was when I was a teenager.”

 Stiles scrunched up his eyebrows. “What do you mean?”

 “I mean I wasn't smooth when it came to flirting and stuff.”

 “Bullshit.” Stiles said. “I met you when you were a teen, both when I was a kid and a year ago. You were smooth as hell.”

 “I was a smartass.” Derek corrected. “Flirting and being a sarcastic asshole mixed together. But when someone flirted with me-”

 “You got awkward?” He asked.

 “Yep.”

 “Oh my god!” Stiles exclaimed, throwing up his hands and barely avoiding throwing his fork in the air. “I can't believe this.”

 “Why not?”

 “Because it's absolutely precious that you were a cocky teenage jock who was actually a nerdy, awkward little bean.” Stiles couldn't stop smiling. “This is better than Christmas.”

 “Little bean?” Derek asked, looking confused and maybe a little embarrassed. Or flattered.

 “Precious little bean.” Stiles said. Watching him duck his head, there was no way Stiles could miss the blush and small smile on his face.

 “God, you're gorgeous.” He blurted out. Derek froze, looking up at him in surprise.

 “And not that you're not cute.” He babbled on. “‘Cause you are. You're so adorable it hurts. And not to mention you're hot like burning. And I mean,” Stiles pretended to lick his finger and reached over to touch Derek, making a sizzling sound as he did so. God, he needed to stop before he embarrassed himself even more. Derek was already looking like he was about to get hit by a train. But he couldn't stop himself when he was on a roll like this. ‘Tis the sad truth.

 “But your looks have nothing to do with the personality boner you give someone.” Poor word choice. “Yeah, you’re kind of an asshole but that’s more of a self defence kind of thing to protect yourself, and you have this annoying ability on trying to be a martyr and not helping yourself until recently. Like, you don’t know how many heart attacks and sleepless nights you’ve given me.”

 “I’m-” Derek tried to say.

 “Don’t be sorry!” Stiles yelled. “It’s not your fault. Well, mostly. I get it, cause it’s not like you didn’t see me do the same thing.”

 Stiles sighed, and ran a hand through his hair. “This is coming off as a wreck.”

 “So far it is.” Derek agreed softly.

 “What I’m trying to say is...you can be an asshole, you’re sarcastic is a way people think you’re serious. No matter how many times you got shit on you still always, without fail, helped. Even when helping hurt you even more. You just wanted to do good in the world when all that ever happened to you was bad. And...you’re gorgeous. Stunning. The most beautiful person I’ve ever met. And I’m not just talking about looks.”

 For awhile there was nothing but the crackle of the fire to fill the silence while Derek processed what he said. While he waited for a response, Stiles cleared their plates to the side. They had finished eating and he wanted the space of the blanket to sit a little closer to Derek.

 “I...thank you.” Derek finally said. “You’re pretty too. And awesome.”

 Stiles snorted, but not because of what Derek said. He was laughing at the situation he somehow got himself in. His heart felt like a hummingbird. Stiles had a feeling that if his heart rate continued to beat fast like it had started doing lately he might have a heart attack or something.

 “Really, you are.” Derek continued. “You’ve never really gotten credit for any of it, either. You were there for Scott every step of the way, no matter how many times he got his priorities screwed up. You…” He waved his hand in Stiles’ direction. “You saved everyone. You saved me. You were the first person in years to make me believe I wasn’t an abomination.”

 “The pool.” Stiles said, remembering that word choice. “After we got out.”

 “You kept me floating for hours, Stiles.” Derek said. “A skinny sixteen year old holding up a heavy twenty something, with both of our clothes on, for two hours to keep me afloat and both of us safe. I never thanked you for that.”

 “You didn’t need to.” He said.

 “But I still should’ve.”

 Stiles shrugged. “Maybe. But after that things between us were different. That was a thanks in itself, I guess.” He snorted. “Can you imagine telling ourselves two years ago where we’d be today?”

 “That would be interesting.” Derek said, chuckling along with him. Stiles scooted closer so he could put his legs over Derek’s and be face to face with him.

 “And, um, speaking of Beacon Hills…” He tapered off.

 “What?” Derek asked.

 “Do you miss Beacon Hills?” He asked. Derek looked away and was silent for a long moment, considering his answer before he spoke.

 “I do,” He said. “I do miss it. It’s the town I was born. The town I grew up in. I have a lot of great memories there.”

 “But?” Stiles asked.

 “But, I also have a lot more bad memories there. There are a lot more bad reminders than there are good ones. And even the good ones can hurt. So, I miss it, but I’m glad to be away.” Derek said.

 “I get that.” Stiles agreed.

 “Why do you ask?”

 “Because,” He shifted. “Because I want to go back soon.”

 “You want to leave?” Derek asked.

 “Not forever.” He said. "But I think that I’m ready to go back. I can’t stay here forever.”

 “Oh.” Before Derek could look crestfallen, Stiles took his face in his hands and pecked his lips.

 “I don’t want to go back alone though. I think it’ll be good for both of us if we go back.” He said.

 “Do you want to live in Beacon Hills?” Derek threaded their fingers together.

 “To finish high school.” Stiles said. “But after I think it will be better if we live somewhere else. Somewhere close, but somewhere new for us too.”

 “Somewhere new.” Derek repeated.

 “New places, new people, the works.”

 “You’ve given a lot of thought into this.” He observed.

 “I haven’t thought about it a whole lot.” Stiles admitted.

 “But you’ve thought about it enough to convince me.”

 Stiles perked up at this. “So you want to go? With me?”

 “Yes.” Derek said. “I think it’s a good idea for both of us to go back into the world. Together.”

 A happy feeling wormed its way into his heart, making his eyes sting. Stiles almost gagged at how stupid that way.

 “It’s ridiculous how heart-wrenching romantic this whole conversation was. I wasn’t expecting that.” He said. Derek snorted.

 “It was a very Notebook kind of moment, wasn’t it?”

 “Not the notebook.” Stiles groaned. “Lydia ruined that movie for me.”

 “You have to admit that it’s a classic.”

 “I will, but that doesn’t mean I like it.” They chuckled a little over that. Stiles allowed himself a brief, vulnerable moment to adjust and settle against Derek’s chest. It was big enough for him to lean comfortably and be enveloped in strong, warm arms.

 “I was thinking we could go back in spring.” Stiles said. “Once the snow melts.”

 “Okay.” Derek said. “Spring it is.”

 It would take a good month or so before spring was fully here. They had plenty of time to prepare and get everything ready, but Stiles knew the time to leave would come sooner rather than later. That scared him a little. It was one thing to say he wanted to leave, but it was another thing to actually do it. If he left, if he went back, he’d have to acknowledge his father’s death and the mess of a life he left. He’d have to prepare more than just his things. He’d have to prepare his mind as well.

 “Let’s get rid of these dishes.” Derek said, grabbing Stiles’ hand to help pull him up onto his feet. They gathered up their mostly finished food and empty dishes to take them into the kitchen.

 “Not it on doing the dishes.” Stiles said as soon as they were in the sink, going as far and pressing his finger to his nose. He couldn’t help but laugh as Derek glared at him.

 “I’m not doing the dishes right now.” He said.

 “Well as long as I’m not the one doing them, I don’t care when you do them.” Stiles smacked a kiss on his cheek before turning to go back into the livingroom. “So how are we gonna do this?” He asked. “Cause I would so love for us to read your crappy romance novels and all, but if we do that then I’m going to want to change and I know I’ll want to shower-”

 He just made it passed the doorway into the livingroom when a hand caught his arm, and another pushed his chest until his back hit the wall. His eyes widened as Derek came so close to him their noses touched. Derek’s eyes were doing that thing that always pissed him off; they were changing color. Blues and greens and browns. And somehow the light from the fire would occasionally catch and change them to a pale gold. They were mesmerizing and the way they always made his breath catch in his throat was annoying.

 And the way they were staring at him, all intense, made him swallow. There was something about Derek’s expression and his body language that made him tense in anticipation. His heart was thumping hard in his chest.

 “I don’t think we’re going to end up reading.” Derek said in a low voice. The implications swirled around and made his heart flutter. His stomach filled with butterflies.

 “O-Oh.” He stuttered. “Okay.”

 A kiss was pressed to his mouth. The kiss was slow. A lot like their first kiss it was timid, exploratory; not quite sure what to do but with the hope for more brimming under the surface. His hands tangled in the belt loops on Derek’s pants. The tension of the slow kiss seemed to pull, and then snap back like a rubber band.

 On the turn of a dime, the kiss was heated, even more so than it had been earlier that day. Their bodies were now flushed against one another. Derek’s hands moved all over his body while Stiles’ seemed to be rooted in place. After a particularly filthy kiss, Derek moved so he was kissing along his neck. Stiles shivered. His scruffy beard was rubbing all along his neck with each kiss and- and bite. Holy shit.

 “Sly bastard.” Stiles gasped. He slid his hands under Derek’s shirt and all over his back. “Everything today. You were planning this.”

 He yelped when he felt a tongue dip down to his collarbone.

 “Guilty as charged.” Derek hummed. His voice was turning deep and throaty, a sound he’s never heard before but would not mind hearing all the time.

 “A-Are we just gonna stand here or are we going to go to the- aah that tickles!” He laughed, squirming away. His beard against the top of Stiles’ ribs was not a good combo for sexy times.

 Instead of answering, Derek stood back fully up and began pulling them to the couch. As soon as they were on it, Stiles surged forward to continue the frankly magical kissing, but he only succeeded in knocking their foreheads together. Stiles jerked away, rubbing his forehead and smiling sheepishly.

 “Sorry.” He said.

 Derek kissed the tip of his nose. “It’s okay.”

 A little more successfully this time, they kissed. Stiles was truly surprised with how many ways you could kiss someone. There were heated, desperate kisses, sweet kisses, teasing kisses, all within a matter of seconds. In no time Stiles was on his back with his shirt bunched up under his armpits, and Derek nearly on top of him. Derek’s hands slowly traveled over every part of his chest, touching like they haven’t before. His own hands were half under Derek’s pants. A giddy laughter almost bubbled out of his chest. He was touching Derek Hale’s bare butt. He touched the butt.

 “I touched the butt.” He couldn’t help but whisper once they separated from kissing. Derek froze, before lifting his head to level a stare at him.

 “Finding Nemo?” He asked. When Stiles nodded, he just shook his head.

 “Weirdo.” He said fondly.

 “You love it.”

 “Sadly.” Stiles squeezed his butt in retaliation, making Derek jerk his hips forward. And wow, okay. The playful teasing was out the window, because somehow the entire time they’ve been making out, he hasn’t noticed how hard they had gotten. He noticed how he was completely obvious in his arousal with his sweatpants, while Derek looked like he was downright uncomfortable in his tight jeans. He had to swallow the thickness in his throat before he could speak.

 “I think clothes should come off.” He choked out. The hold Derek had on him tightened briefly.

 “I agree.” He said.

 Effortlessly, Derek sat up and stripped off his shirt. He’s seen his shirt come off more than enough times, but it just seemed so erotic . If this was what a sex life was like, he would never complain.

 Stiles in turn wiggled up and tugged at his shirt. It got over his head before his arms got stuck while sticking straight up. In attempt to un-stuck himself, he leaned to the side a little, thinking he could shake it off and go right back to his newly scheduled program of a la frottage. He laughed quietly to himself as he thought that in an overdone french accent.

 His amusement was cut short however, when his little lean to the side turned into much more. He tilted way more than he wanted to and ended up on the floor with a thud. His legs were still on the couch, and his face, which was burning red in embarrassment, was still hidden by his shirt.

 “Please tell me I didn’t just fall off the couch while trying to get laid.” He asked meekly.

 Stiles heard a snort, then a full on laugh. “You did.”

 “Please leave me here to die.” Another laugh, and hands were pulling off his shirt and pulling him back on the couch.

 “My luck sucks.” Stiles pouted. Derek was smiling, but there was nothing malicious about the way he just embarrassed himself.

 “It was something you would do.” Derek said, pecking his cheek. “It’s...cute, almost, that you fell.” He snorted. “You fell for me.”

 “Oh my god,” Stiles smiled, “You just made a joke out of this. This is amazing.”

 “Of course it is.”

 “Are you going to kiss my boo boo?” Stiles then asked. “Cause that was a pretty traumatizing fall and I think I should get some extra kisses.”

 “I can do more than just that.” Derek smirked, his eyes flashed briefly blue, and Stiles’ knees turned to jelly. He easily fell back against the pillows. Shaky breaths made his fingers quiver as they trailed over the top of Derek’s shoulders as he kissed down his chest.

 “This is really going to happen.” He said, mostly to himself. His usually small mouth-to-brain filter was gone. “This is really happening and I can’t get over how you k-kissing my stomach makes you look so scrumptious.” His words stuck in his word for a moment when the flat of Derek’s tongue traced right above the hem of his sweats.

 “You’re okay with this?” Derek asked, pulling away.

 “Very. Very. Please don’t stop.” He practically begged.

 “Good.” And then Derek was slowly, slowly , pulling down his pants and boxers in a maddening way. Eventually his pants were down to his knees, exposing him completely now. Stiles didn’t worry about not living up to any expectations Derek might have had. He felt safe caged between his arms and his hungry eyes on his cock.

 Stiles threaded his fingers through Derek’s hair, giving it a tug. He grunted, which Stiles guessed meant he liked his hair pulled. Derek took the opportunity after to take Stiles into his hand. He tilted his head back and groaned. After so long of touching one another so carefully of, kissing, everything, finally being touched like this was heaven.

 When he felt a mouth close around the head of his cock, Stiles had to physically look away to keep from coming. He had restrained himself for so long, fire was already racing through his veins. That, plus the fact that this was his first ever blow job, he knew he wasn’t going to last long.

 “Shit, Derek.” He choked out. Goosebumps raced up on his arm. His chest heaved. Stiles risked a glance down at Derek and felt his toes curl and pleasure grip him. Derek wasn’t taking his time anymore. He bobbed his head up, sucking along as he went. Stiles couldn’t help but moan and tighten his fingers in Derek’s hair.

 “You look so hot like this.” He gasped. With the way his mouth was hanging open, Stiles wasn’t going to be surprised if he started drooling. He was quickly being unraveled, becoming a complete mess, and all because of Derek and his stupid, stupid, beautiful mouth.

 In a matter of seconds Stiles stopped bothering trying to make this last. There was too much effort to be put into that, and he wanted to enjoy this. With tongues and hands and mouths, all he needed to do was watch and feel and fall into bliss. He moaned with nearly every breath he took.  A litany of “fuck don’t stop” and “just like that” and “ Derek ” poured out of his mouth without him even having to think about what he was saying. Stiles felt a familiar pull in his groin and, with a groan, pushed at Derek’s head.

 Derek though, apparently didn’t want to go anywhere. And- holy mother of Jesus -he looked like a wreck. Spit shined lips and lidded eyes and a hazy blush that showed that Stiles was not the only one being affected by this. He was turned on by giving Stiles a blow job. Derek met his eyes, and seemed to take Stiles’ pushing as a challenge.

 He pushed his mouth onto his cock again, but this time he moved his hand, and moved his head all the way down until his mouth was at his base. This was too much for him to handle. Stiles couldn’t help the jerk of his hips as he came, sounds warbling out of his mouth. He writhed. His arms moved everywhere while his hands tangled in everything. From the tips of his toes to the middle of his chest there was a warm, tingly feeling as his mind was flooded with endorphins from his orgasm. When it finally subsided, he laid limp against the couch. He was completely out of breath.

 “Have I told you that you’re going to be the death of me?” Stiles asked when Derek moved up to nuzzle his neck.

 “I recall you saying something similar earlier.” Derek murmured.

 “Well then I’m saying it again as a reminder.” Stiles turned his head so they could kiss. Derek was straddling him now, and he almost winced at the sight of the jeans Derek was wearing. He could clearly see the bulge he had in his pants and it looked almost painful.

 “Let’s get you out of these, yeah?” His hands made it to the zipper when he was stopped.

 “You don’t have to.” Derek’s voice quivered the tiniest bit as he said that. Stiles look up and marveled at Derek’s face. The firelight did wonders for him. His dark colors and hard edges were softened considerably. The flushed skin and lidded eyes were dark and intimate, and he wanted nothing more that to make this man feel incredible. He knew how much trust was being put in his hands with this, and he wasn’t going to abuse that trust like so many others had before.

 “I want to.” Stiles insisted. When Derek gave him the okay to continue, he went back to unzipping his jeans. Pushing them past his hips, he guided him up so he could pull both his pants and boxers off.

 His fingers shook as he trailed them over the newly exposed parts of Derek’s body he’s never seen before. His thighs were the first things to get any attention, believe it or not. They were large and firm and Stiles’ stomach lurched and the thought of one day having them around his head. Or his hips. Or around anything really.

 Licking his lips, he trailed a hand up until he wrapped it around Derek’s cock. The groan he got in response was downright sinful. While moving his hand, Derek began thrusting into his fist. The muscles of his stomach contracted as Stiles twisted his hand tighter around the head of his cock.

 “This isn’t going to last long.” Derek panted, his face contorting in his pleasure.

 “As to be expected.” Stiles said breathlessly. He picked up the pace of his hand and Derek surged down so they could kiss. The kiss was sloppy, but it was the best he’s ever had. There was passion and lust and all the things that make your stomach feel funny. Derek was moaning into Stiles’ mouth like a madman in the hottest way possible. The couch was making noises underneath their rapid movement, but they paid no attention to it. Stiles doubted an earthquake could break them up.

 “Come on Der,” Stiles mumbled against his swollen lips. “Come for me. I got you. I got you sweetheart.” He had no clue where sweetheart came from. The two of them didn’t really do pet names. But regardless, the endearment tumbled passed his lips.

 “Sweetheart?” Derek asked, a partially confused look crossing his face before he dropped his head on Stiles’ shoulder, coming with a shout all over Stiles’ stomach.

 Derek spent his afterglow kissing and nipping at his neck and smearing his come onto his belly. Stiles didn’t object. He understood that he was being scent marked so whatever werewolfy instinct inside of Derek could be satisfied. He just kissed his adorable boyfriend’s shoulder and played with his hair.

 “That was really nice.” Derek said after some time just laying on him.

 “It was.” He said softly. They kissed, slowly, gently, kissing like they should. Kissing with casual comforting feelings that scrambled their brains and put grins on their faces.

 Eventually the dried come on his stomach began to get uncomfortable, so Derek got up and left. Stiles sighed as he watched Derek’s retreating butt walk away. He smiled to himself. This whole night had been full of things that added up to be perfect just for them. When Derek came back, it was with a damp towel and two mugs of hot chocolate. Stiles cleaned himself up and kicked their clothes off of the couch so they could cuddle.

 It was a very picturesque moment. Here they were, naked and cuddling on the couch in front of a cozy fireplace after having sex. Everything inside Stiles settled down comfortably. Without a doubt, this is where he belonged. Tucked in Derek’s arm, both of them giggling and stealing kisses between hot chocolate like little kids.

 “Stiles?” Derek whispered.

 “Yeah?” He asked.

 “I more than like you.” He said. Derek’s eyes met his. His heart did more than a few flips. The L word was safely still tucked away, too soon to reach their mouths, but there were other ways to express how deeply you felt for someone.

 “I more than like you too.”

Chapter Text

  The spring afternoon was sweet and lazy. It wasn’t cold, nor was it hot, but instead stuck right in a Goldilocks zone. The sun was shining with fluffy clouds here and there. The warm gentle breezes sighed through the air, allowing for all the windows to be thrown open. Spring was a new and gentle creature on its own. The ability to explore the waken trees, see the cute little baby animals, or skip stones over the lazy snow run-off rivers was abundant and convenient.

 Yet he adamantly refused to get out of bed.

 He should be out in the woods. He should lounge in the soft sunlight enjoying the day. He should be gathering wildflowers to put in vases all around the house. There were so many things he should be doing, but he wasn’t going to. Those things were meant to happen when he wasn’t leaving.

 Derek was doing most of the work now that Stiles wanted to hide away from the world. He was the one packing and organizing and cleaning. He never complained or made Stiles help him. He understood what he was feeling.

 Around noon, Derek came back in. Stiles had to admit, spring suited him. Derek wore t-shirts and shorts and tennis shoes. Spending a lot of time outside was starting to bring back the color he lost during winter. Like the seasons, he changed to accommodate.

 He sat next to him and held Stiles’ shoulder. “I think you should get up.” He said.

 “Why?”

 “Because I have something for us to do.”

 Stiles rolled over and looked at him. “What do you have in mind?”

 “Lunch at the ledge,” Derek said, smiling.

 “ The ledge?” He sat up. “As in the one from Christmas?”

 “The one and only.”

 Stiles looked down at the comforter he was twisting in his hand. “Well, I guess a hike wouldn’t hurt.”

 “Then get dressed.” Derek gave him a quick peck and left the room. Stiles stood and looked around his room.  He looked around at everything he’s gained now packed in boxes, everything he’s gotten familiar with. He looks at all the progress he’s made within these walls and the woods.

 And he’s going to lose it.

 No, that’s not right. He isn't going to lose it. He’s just...converting it. Converting it from one place to the next. He isn’t going to revert back to being how he was those first days and weeks Derek got him. He wasn’t going to revert back to someone with self-destructive tendencies.

 But that didn’t mean it wasn’t going to hurt. Because it was.

 These past few months he didn’t think much of his grief. He didn’t forget about his dad, his guilt, his mourning. He just didn’t have thoughts that consumed him. It took more than a few midnight comforts from Derek to be assured that no, not thinking about it didn’t make him a bad person and yes, he didn’t need to feel obligated to be self-destructive in the name of death. Regardless, the tears were going home. He just had to have confidence in himself and the knowledge that he healed. That he was healing.

 He shook his head to come back to himself. Once Stiles got dressed he went ahead and walked outside. Derek was sat on the stairs with their packs beside him.

 “Ready?” Stiles asked.

 “Yep.” He said. They pulled on their packs and headed off into the woods.

 Hand in hand, they tracked on. Stiles had really missed the hikes. Because of the snow and the cold, they stopped going on them. It was nice to be able to do so now. Birds chirped and flew everywhere, flowers were in full bloom, and everything was alive with sunlight and noise. It was spring. New life was all around him. New life was about to become him.

 Because of their unhurried pace, it took them some time to get to the ledge. When they did, Derek handed out their lunch as they looked out onto the tops of green trees. They ate in silence, not really needing any words and instead content with one another’s company. When they finished, Derek made a point of tangling their fingers together.

 “You know everything is going to be okay, right?” He asked. Stiles sighed and scooted over to lay a head on his shoulder.

 “I do,” he said. “But I’m still nervous.”

 Derek kissed the top of his head. “About what, exactly?”

 “I don’t want to regress to how I was,” Stiles said. “I know I won’t, but I’ve made so much progress. What if I go back and realize that I actually didn’t? That by running away from everything that’s happened meant that I haven’t actually dealt with it.”

 “You have,” Derek said. “You’ve dealt with it by acknowledging the hurt and loss you’ve been through. If you were running away you wouldn’t have tried to work through it like you have. There’s a big difference.”

 “Yeah?”

 “Yeah.” He nodded. “Running away is what Laura and I did after the fire. We thought leaving would mean healing, and not talking about it would mean the pain would go away.”

 “But that wasn’t the case.” Stiles guessed.

 “No. When I came back to Beacon Hills, I was in a rough place. Especially since I suddenly lost Laura in the same place I lost my family. And for a long time, I was in a rough place. But,” Derek raised a hand and motioned to everything around him. “I stopped running. I started therapy and made efforts to get better.”

 “Have I ever told you how proud I am of you that you did that?” Stiles asked.

 “You probably have,” Derek said, smiling. “And I’m proud of you for taking care of yourself too.”

 “Thanks.” Stiles whispered. He swallowed the thickness stuck in his throat, burying his face into Derek’s neck at the sudden wave of emotion that hit him. Stiles hadn’t realized how bad he wanted to hear those works. I’m proud of you . Fuck, he felt like he hasn’t heard those words in so long.

  I’m proud of you . It whispered in the back of his head over and over. Eventually, the words changed into his dad’s voice. It pushed the tears past his eyes. He hasn’t heard his dad in so long. He missed him so much. Some days it didn’t occur to him that he would never get over the loss of his parents. It would always be apart of him. The pain would never go away, and some days would be harder than most to deal with it. Some days it will feel impossible.

 But with Derek’s arms around him, holding him, comforting him without words but instead actions, settled something inside of him. He wasn’t going to be alone. He had Derek. Derek, who knew the pain of losing family. Who was there for him every time he needed him. Who was leaving his own solitude to return with him to Beacon Hills, a place where had had only known hurt.

 He pulled away from Derek suddenly. His heart was pounding. Stiles quickly wiped away his tears with shaking hands, not even bothering to look brave.

 “Stiles, are you-”

 “I love you!” Stiles blurted out, interrupting Derek completely. The two of them froze, neither one of them quite believing that those words had actually come out of his mouth.

 “I love you,” He repeated, quieter and, surprisingly, feeling a little calmer. “I love you.”

 Derek’s mouth fell open a little, his cute bunny teeth peeking past his lips. Stiles couldn’t quite tell what was going through his head, but he wasn’t scared. Whether or not Derek was ready to return the sentiment, he knew he wouldn’t be pushed away. He simply just caught them both off guard.

 “You...love me?” Derek asked.

 “Yeah.” He said. Slowly, a smile grew on Derek’s face. He pulled him closer and pressed their foreheads together.

 “It’s been a long time since someone’s said that and I believed them,” Derek whispered. “I love you too.”

 Stiles leaned forward and kissed him. It felt incredible to hear his feelings were reciprocated. It was intoxicating, like the words were slowly getting him drunk and giddy every time he even thought of them. They sat there together for a while, stealing kisses and sharing “I love you’s”. The sunlight and the spring breeze and the grass underhand had his skin tingling and his mind blank of all thoughts. His senses were just flooded with Derek and love . He decided love was something he liked.

 Way later than they meant they finally got back home. The sun was setting in beautiful colors across the sky through the trees, bright and soft. Stiles felt like they should be giddy. They should be stumbling and kissing and generally being uncoordinated. They weren’t. Instead, they walked hand in hand, shoulders brushing with thrilled breaths at every touch. When they walked inside they bypassed the rest of the packing they had wanted to get done and headed straight for the showers.

 “I’m so sweaty,” Stiles complained. He sat on the toilet while he pulled off his socks and shoes.

 “I know,” Derek replied. “I can’t miss the smell.”

 “Well if you can smell it so well, then here.” He tossed one of his socks at him. Derek grimaced and stepped out of the way to avoid having the sock hit him.

 “Don’t dish it out if you can’t take it.” Stiles said gleefully.

 “That isn’t ‘taking it,’ that is just disgusting.”

 He made an offended noise as Derek ducked over to kiss his nose. “I may love you, but I’m not willing to deal with your funky socks.” He said, and promptly dropped said sock on top of his head. Stiles shook his head to get the sock off but couldn’t find it in himself to pull off an irritated face.

 “I sense a whole new form of bickering.” Stiles said. He stepped over and grabbed the hem of Derek’s shirt, pulling it off.

 “How is that?” He asked, taking the shirt from him and tossing it like a basketball into the hamper as Stiles started taking off his pants.

 “I mean, saying stuff like what you just did.” The zipper caught on Derek’s underwear, which made Derek take off his own pants. That made him pout. They always undressed each other before a shower.

 “So what you mean is how we usually bicker but with an ‘I love you’ or an endearment mixed in?”

 “Exactly.” Stiles lifted his arms for his shirt to be taken off. He shivered at the brush of Derek’s hands over his ribs. He couldn’t help but be ticklish in some places. “It’ll be fun.”

 “I guess.” Stiles hip-checked him before hopping in the shower. The water was already nice and warm, just short of scalding, and exactly how he liked it. The shower was big enough for them both to stand under the water.

 For the most part, they did their own thing.` Washing their hair and hogging the water. As Derek got ready to wash himself, Stiles plucked the loofa right out of his hand and started washing his back for him. He squeezed the loofa to see the white suds run over the black triskele in between Derek’s shoulder blades.

 “Are you washing my back or just wasting soap?” Derek asked.

 “Hush,” Stiles said. “I do what I want.”

 “Clearly.” Derek snorted.

 Stiles decided to actually be productive in the shower. Their bickering tapered off into a warm, comfortable silence. He was talkative by nature, but he didn't think he’d ever get tired of spending simple moments like these with Derek. There was no awkwardness, nothing was tense, and everything was pleasant. Simple.

 After he was done washing him, Derek managed to get his fingers in Stiles’ hair. He easily tilted his head back. One of his total weaknesses was his hair. Having Derek’s gentle fingers worked their way around to both massage his scalp and play with his hair under the hot water was heaven. That was definitely a benefit to having such long hair nowadays. Usually, his hair just fell into his eyes and generally looked like a big mess, but for some reason Derek loved it. He always ran his fingers through it, twirling the ends and occasionally braiding the strands. Stiles didn’t mind any of it. Even if he didn’t like having his hair played with, he always played with Derek’s beard, so the least he could do was let his boyfriend indulge.

 The two of them would’ve stayed in the shower longer, but just as they were getting a certain type of “cozy,” the water decided to turn into ice. Stiles yelped and pulled away from Derek, who had been in the process of sucking an impressive hickey on his collar bone. He shivered and wasted no time getting out and grabbing a towel.

 “I guess I should’ve waited to turn off the water heaters.” Derek said, stepping out next to him.

 “You think?” He asked sarcastically. Derek pinched his hip in retaliation when he stepped by to get his own towel. He wrapped it around his waist so it hung low on his hips, showing off his glorious v-line.

 “I think I should shave my beard.” He said out of nowhere, looking at himself in the mirror. Stiles was shaken out of his revere at the shocking statement.

  “What? No!” He said. “I like mountain man Derek. I like beard burn, and I like running my fingers through it. You can’t shave it!”

 “I won’t shave it all off,” Derek assured. “I just think if we’re leaving and going back to Beacon Hills, I should...shave it.”

 Stiles went and stood next to him. The two of them definitely looked like they had been hiding away in the woods. His hair was long and insane and Derek’s was big. He ran his fingers through the long strands hanging heavy with water from his head. This is the most he’s ever grown out his hair.

 He always had mixed feelings about hair. His mom had long hair, dark and soft and hanging around her. When she got sick and started spending a lot of time in the hospital, she had cut her hair short. And eventually the chemo and medicine made it fall out completely. Then she had died, and his dad had woken up to Stiles desperately trying to shave his head. For years while he grieved over his mom’s death he shaved his head. Only when he started growing past her death did he grow it out. For him his hair meant something. It meant representing loss, and then growing from it. Looking in the mirror now, he realized he had yet to cut his hair over his dad’s death. Part of him felt ashamed.

 “If you’re shaving, then I am too.” Stiles said softly. “I want it all gone.” Derek had the sense to not say anything about it.

 “Okay.” He replied. He rifled through the drawers and pulled out the razor. Wordlessly, Stiles sat on the counter, facing the mirror. He watched as the razor was plugged into the outlet. The buzzing it made when it was turned on was almost deafening. Derek ran his fingers through Stiles’ hair once, then placed the razor at the hair by his forehead. Stiles watched intently as the hair was shaved away. He gasped a little in surprise at the emotion that welled up within him. For so long it felt he’d had his long hair, growing it out as he grew into a new person, growing from the boy he once was that still refused to let go of his mom. Now it was gone, but this time in an acceptance and a recovery in response to his dad’s death. Getting rid of something to begin anew.

 He was having his own spring.

 Acceptance in his dad’s death still didn’t stop the tears from falling down his face as Derek continued to shave away all his hair. The loss of it cemented one last part of himself that would be forever changed about the losses he had experienced throughout his life. But it felt...relieving. Like he’d had a small weight on his shoulders that had just begun to ache, and now it was gone. Stiles smiled to himself in the mirror, looking younger and reminding himself of life before Scott ever got bitten.

 “Not half bad.” Derek said, running a hand over his new buzzcut.

 “It’s different.” Stiles agreed. He swiped at his tears and hopped off the counter. He wiped away the hair that now decorated everything, and pushed at Derek’s shoulder so he sat on the counter as well, facing him.

 “Now it’s your turn, big guy.” Derek snorted and handed him the razor. It should have made sense that Derek had been preparing to get rid of his beard. The last few times he’s shaved, he’d been cutting it shorter and shorter until the length was just right for a razor to cut it away. Stiles put down the razor and ran his fingers over the hair.

 “Sentimental?” Derek asked, raising an amused eyebrow.

 “Shut up,” Stiles said. “Your beard is one of the seven wonders of the world.” Derek laughed, and Stiles smothered it with a quick kiss. He pulled away with a few quick smooches all over his face, and grabbed the shaving cream. He lathered the bottom half of his face with it, snickering as he did so.

 “You look like a very intense, young Santa Claus.” He giggled.

 “My dreams have come true.”

 “Hey, does that make me your ho ho ho ?” Derek looked up and shook his head slightly, as if he were asking himself, what did I ever do to deserve this . Causing someone to have that look was a specialty of his.

 “No more horrible jokes please.” Derek groaned.

 “Okay, okay, I promise.” He said, saluting. “Scouts honor.” He took the razor in his hand and, with a deep breath, turned it on and began shaving Derek. He started with the side of his face, gently going over his cheekbones. As he did so, the white shaving cream and the dark hair smoothly wiped away until just a trail of stubble was left in its wake. He turned on the sink to wash off the razor, and settled into a rhythm of shaving. Shaving his cheeks, his chin, and even gently shaving the hair on his neck.

 He took his sweet time doing it, wanting to make sure it was a clean shave as well as making the process last longer. It strangely settled him to shave Derek like this. Derek was letting himself not have control when a sharp device was close to his face and/or neck, but was perfectly content to close his eyes and let Stiles move his head however he needed it. Besides that, the action of doing something that was taking care of Derek (even if it was just shaving) did something for him. It gave him the same feeling when he helped Derek undress, when he washed him, when he made him food. When he did something so intimate and simple for another person. When he was doing something good.

 When he provided, he guessed.

 Stiles set down the razor and grabbed a washcloth to wet it. He gently wiped it over Derek’s face to get rid of the cream and leftover hair. It was a bit of a cleaner shave than he was wanting, but knowing Derek, it wouldn’t take long for the full on stubble to be back. Stiles scratched his fingers over the newly exposed area.

 “You didn’t butcher my face, did you?” Derek asked, still not opening his eyes as he leaned against Stiles’ hand.

 “I gave you a face version of a mullet.” Stiles said. “It look’s very impressive. I think it’s a look you should keep.”

 Derek snorted. “As long as it works for you.” He joked.

 “Funny man.” Stiles sighed, leaning forward to press a chaste kiss to Derek’s lips. This time Derek did open his eyes.

 “We should probably get ready for bed.” Derek said. He hopped off the counter so he could look in the mirror and inspect his stubble. “We have an early morning.”

 “What about dinner?” He asked.

 Derek paused. “Are you hungry?” Stiles shrugged.

 “Not particularly. Just thought we might get hungry later.” Stiles said.

 “Well if we get hungry, we’ll probably have already started driving, so we can get something then.”

 “How early do we have to be up again?”

 “Two thirty.”

  “Ugh . Stiles groaned. He pushed off of the counter and walked into their room. “I don’t wanna.”

 “Well you gotta.” Derek mock whined, flopping onto the bed. “Eleven hour drive, need I remind you. And that’s without traffic.”

 “Ugh.” He switched off the lights and collapsed next to Derek, snuggling against his chest.

 “Ugh.” Derek repeated. “Now try to get some sleep, loser.”

 “Ugh.” Stiles smothered his laugh as Derek pinched his side. With having hiked all day and packed for a few days, exhaustion easily took them both.

 

~~~~~~

 

 “I want death.” Stiles whined. He was currently curled up in the passenger seat of the car, his arm over his eyes as the morning sun was finally rising to greet them. They had been up and driving for hours now, stopping only for food, gas, or when someone needed to pee. They were making good time, considering the eleven plus hours they had to drive all the way back to Beacon Hills.

 Derek, who had his glasses shoved on his face and frankly looking adorable in a comfy sweater, said, “At least finish your coffee first.”

 “But it’s not hooot.”

 “Then that sucks for you.”

 Stiles stuck out his bottom lip. “No pity.”

 “Nope.” Derek said, popping the “p.”

 He grumbled and just curled up in his seat even more. The two of them only got a handful of hours of sleep. His body had gotten accustomed to at least eight hours of sleep, so suddenly once again only getting a few threw him off guard. And of course with his luck, right as he was getting sleepy in the car again, the sun decided it wanted to rise.

 “Stiles,” he felt a finger poke his cheek. Stiles swatted at it.

 “What?”

 “Did you tell Scott?”

 Dammit, now he was really awake.

 “Not yet.” He sighed. He popped his seat back in a sitting positioned and grabbed his phone, which had been sitting in one of the cup holders while it charged. He opened it to his messages. He stared at the old texts he and Scott had exchanged every now and then since Christmas. There weren’t a lot, mostly just updates, but they were getting somewhere with them.

  “I’m coming back to BH. Headed there now.” His thumb hovered over the send button before he clicked it. The message was sent. The last official piece of his return, making all of this completely. One hundred percent real.

 “I wonder when he’ll see the text.” Stiles spoke. He leaned his head up against the window to watch the trees whip by as they sped along the interstate.

 “Probably soon,” Derek leaned forward to look past his blind spot to make sure he could merge into another lane. “It’s about that time where he’d be getting ready for school.”

 Stiles smirked playfully, “Still remember our schedules from your stalker phase?”

 Derek spared him a flat look. “I did not have a stalker phase.”

 “You had a little bit of one.” Stiles put his index finger and thumb together until there was barely any room between them. “Just thiiis big.” He widened the space until he had just an open hand.

 “You’re so funny.” He monotoned.

 “How are you so immune to my jokes?” Stiles asked. He sat up enough to rest his chin on Derek’s shoulder. “I mean, really, I’m hilarious. You’d think that you’d at least be a little weak to your lovers charms.”

 That got him a snort. “Lover?”

 “Is that not what we are?” Stiles pressed a kiss on the side of Derek’s neck, enjoying the small intake of breath. “I mean, we make love and we love one another. I’m pretty sure that’s the definition of lover.”

 “Lover sounds weird though.” Derek countered, turning his head to briefly kiss him. “I like boyfriend better.”

 He stared. “Officially boyfriends?” He asked.

 “Well, yes.” Derek said, making sure to keep eye contact with him as much as he could while driving. “Like you said, we love and make love. That alone should make it official.”

 “But, are you, like-” he gestured between them. “Cool with just, I don’t know, saying that out right?”

 “Stiles Stilinski, resident boyfriend and pain in my ass.” Derek said. “I think that has a nice ring to it.”

 Stiles slapped his arm at his joke. “Now you’re trying to be funny.”

 “I wasn’t already?” Derek tilted his head but smirked.

 “Derek Hale,” Stiles said instead. “Resident sourwolf, secret teddy bear, my boyfriend.” He traced his finger along Derek’s cheek, feeling the smoothness, so unlike the beard and stubble he was normally used to.

 “Nice ring to it, right?”

 “Mm.” He hummed. “Maybe.”

 “Maybe my ass.”

 “Your ass is pretty great.” Stiles agreed. He yelped as Derek stepped on the brakes just enough to jolt him. He slapped his arm once more. “Ass.”

 “I’m a werewolf, not a donkey.”

 “Wow,” Stiles nodded. “You are just so full of jokes today, aren’t you.”

 Derek smiled cheekily at him. “I learned from the best.”

 “Damn straight.” Just then he felt his phone vibrate. It vibrated again, and he had to wiggle around so he could grab his phone from where he had been sitting on it accidentally.

 “Scott replied.” He said, opening the messages.

 “What did he say?”

 Stiles smiled at the elated messages. “Well, there are a lot of typos, exclamation marks, and happy face emojis, so I’d say he was happy.”

 “Not surprised.” Derek reached over and casually rested a hand on Stiles’ thigh. “What about you?”

 Stiles quirked an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

 “I mean how are you feeling about this whole thing?”

 “Always with the deep talk.” Stiles sighed.

 “I’m the resident boyfriend. It’s in the job description.”

 “Har har.” Stiles poked him then leaned back in his seat. “I don’t know how I feel. I’m excited and I’m nervous. I’m scared that I’ll be too happy and I’m scared I will be sad. I’m uncertain about life and about my family and friends. It’s just…”

 “A lot?” Derek asked.

 “Yeah.”

 “It’ll work itself out.” Derek’s hand on his thigh squeezed it briefly before turning to the wheel. Stiles turned his attention the the phone loosely sitting in his hand. He opened up the screen to look at the messages.

  “T-minus way more hours than there needs to be, but I’ll be there in the evening. I expect there to be a lavish party for my arrival.” He typed.

 Scott’s response was quick. “Of course, I wouldn’t do any less.” And right after, “But seriously, I can’t wait to see you.”

 He took a deep breath. “Ditto.”

 He dropped his phone back into the cup holder before quickly bringing it back out again. He went to his pictures and scrolled through the dozens upon dozens of photos of friends and completed homework assignments he had been copying from, until he found the picture he had been looking for.

 There was only one physical photo he had brought with him when Derek was on his way to pick him up; the one of him and his dad. But awhile ago, before his dad had died, before Donovan was even a worry, before there was blood on his hands, he had found a baby picture. It showed his mom lying in a hospital bed, looking exhausted but incredibly happy. She was looking at the camera while his dad looked down at him in his mother’s arms. He didn’t want to take the actual picture, because knowing his life it would inevitably get lost or ruined, so he just took a picture of it. So once again he looked at it now, feeling sad at the reminder that he had lost both his parents, but was comforted by seeing the clear love they both had for him.

 

~~~~~~

 

 “Holy shit, oh god oh god oh god.” Stiles repeated like a mantra. He was restless, constantly tapping his fingers and moving around in his seat. The sun was setting and painting the sky a sleepy blue with leftover orange from the sunset. The space crowded with buildings and streets and people surrounded him for the first time in months. And for the first time in months, he’d be seeing his friends.

 Derek did nothing except hold his hand. He appreciated it. Nervous energy was building up in him and he needed to let at least some of it out before he was faced with the others. With his free hand, he slapped the arm rest a few times before brushing a hand over his shaven hair. It had been so long since his heart pounded at his ribcage like this. The thing is, Stiles wasn’t even sure what he was freaking out about. He was happy, excited even, to see Scott and Melissa and Lydia and everyone else. But part of him felt like he could potentially have a panic attack if he felt so inclined. So Stiles just closed his eyes and took the deepest breaths he could, so deep he felt the air tickle and hurt his lungs. Breathing slow forced his heart to slow too, and some of his nervous energy was gone.

 When he opened his eyes, he was in a familiar neighborhood. He didn’t have time process where exactly he was before he and Derek were pulling into Scott’s driveway. Within a second of Derek turning off the ignition and the front door was thrown open. Scott stood there, Lydia and Melissa slowly coming to stand behind him.

 “Holy shit.” He whispered, then smiled. He pushed open the door, practically falling out in his rush to get out of the car. “Scott.”

 “Stiles.” They both rushed forward and collided in a hug. He couldn’t help but laugh as tears leaked from his eyes and as Scott squeezed him half to death. He couldn’t complain though; he was squeezing just as tight.

 “You cut your hair.” Scott said when they pulled away, running a hand over the hair. “It’s kind of a throwback.”

 “I know, right? Sometimes when I look in a mirror I feel like I’m sixteen again.”

 “No kidding, I’m getting the same feeling just looking at you.” Scott looked behind him to Derek, who just stood by the car. He did some kind of bro nod that Derek reciprocated.

 “Okay, I don’t really want to know what kind of weird wolfy thing that was about.” He joked, pushing at Scott’s shoulder when his face started to get a little too fond. “Stop that.”

 “Stop what?”

 “That puppy dog look you’ve got on your face.”

 “That’s the second dog joke you’ve made and you’ve only been here for two minutes.”

 “Well that’s something friends do. Make jokes.”

 Scott got this look on his face like he was relieved but unsure. “So...we are still friends?”

 Stiles’ expression softened. “Yeah, we are.”

 They hugged again, not as tight as before but still like friends who missed one another. And they had. Even when Stiles had been full of anger and betrayal, he missed his friends; his pack. They all had gone through so much. All of them had changed. The tension, the conflict came from their own perceptions of one another. They still held onto the ideas and expectations they had towards each other before all of them changed. He had no doubt it was still going to be awkward at times because things between him and Scott and the rest of the pack had shifted. But they could work through it; they could learn each other again.

 A hand slid onto Scott’s shoulder onto Stiles’ arm. They pulled away, and he smiled at Melissa, who was smiling with teary eyes.

 “Sorry to interrupt, but there are others who would like to get a hug or two in too.”

 Stiles stepped forward and wrapped his arms around her. “Like I would ever pass up the chance to hug you.”

 “I hope not.” She chuckled. But then the arms around his shoulders tightened, and Stiles could tell Melissa was getting emotional. “Missed you, kiddo.”

 “Missed you too.” His voice was thick when he said this. Melissa was quick to pull back and hold his face briefly.

 “Okay, I have a no crying rule right now because if you start crying then I’ll start crying and we’ll be a mess,” she smiled, winked, and yelled, “Scott, where are your manners? Help me get their bags out of the car.”

 “Don’t worry about it,” he heard Derek say. “I can get them.”

 “Nonsense-”

 Stiles left the two of them bickering in favor of wandering to Lydia. She stood in the open doorway. Casually leaning against the frame, arms lazily crossed as she smiled at his approach.

 “Long time, no see stranger.” She greeted.

 “A few months makes me a stranger?”

 “Six months almost make you one.”

 He blinked. “Six months?”

 “About.” Lydia nodded. “You left in the fall and it’ll be June in a few weeks.”

 “Well time flies when you’re in the middle of the forest.” He smiled, tilting his head down slightly to do so. When had he gotten taller than her? “How have you been? Scott told me some of the stuff that happened.”

 Lydia’s smile stayed, but it was sad. Still. Stiles realized that it wasn’t just her smile that was like that, but it was present in the way she held herself. Ever since he had known her, Lydia had an air of intelligence and strength that may have wavered, but never fully faded. She ran into danger armed with heels and defiance. Yet now she had a quieter, almost ancient kind of strength. But it was tinted with the sadness of someone who had gone through something that forced them to change.

 He was familiar with that kind of change.

 “I’m better.” She said, and he could tell she meant it. “And you?”

 “Better.” He agreed. Lydia stepped closer and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. He leaned down a little to comfortably hug her back.

 “I’m glad you left.” Lydia’s fingers were clenching onto his back. “It’s good you got away.”

 “I know.” He whispered back. Lydia pulled away first, but not before kissing his cheek. They smiled at each other until Scott came up behind him.

 “Make way for the ridiculous amount of luggage.” Stiles slapped his shoulder as he passed.

 “Like it’s such a struggle.” He deadpanned.

 Scott laughed and gestured back behind him. “Not for me.”

 Stiles looked to see Derek must have lost his argument with Melissa, because she was trying to maneuver one of the more difficult suitcases up the driveway. Derek hovered awkwardly, his hands slightly out like he wanted to help Melissa but knew better than trying. Eventually she managed to wrangle it through the door, frustrated but proud she had done it.

 “See Derek,” she huffed. “I don’t need supernatural powers to move a suitcase.”

 “No,” he agreed. “Your power comes from being a single mom.”

 Melissa straightened at the compliment. “Damn right it is.” When she passed, she stopped and briefly put a had on his cheek before moving on.

 Lydia leaned to the side to look over his shoulder. “And hello to you too, Derek.”

 “Hello Lydia.” Derek greeted. Stiles felt his hand come up to the back of his neck and squeeze. The simple reassurance helped ease some of the tension out of his shoulders.

 Of course Lydia saw this. Her eyes zeroed in on Derek’s hand, then flitted back and forth between the two. A sly look bloomed over her face before she disappeared with a quick, “I’ll let you two have a chance to process,” as she sauntered away.

 “She’s quite the character.” Derek chuckled in his ear.

 “When is she not,” Stiles agreed. While they had a moment alone, he turned to snake his arms around Derek’s neck. “How are you?”

 “I should be asking you that.” Derek replied, settling his hands on his hips.

 “It’s...different,” he admitted. “It’s weird being back. This place is different. I’m different.”

 “But?”

 “But I think it’s not bad. Not entirely.”

 “Well,” Derek leaned their foreheads together, bringing a hand up to brush over his buzzcut. “I’ll take not entirely bad.”

 They kissed. Simply. Sweetly. Exactly how he needed for that moment.

 “We should go in now,” Stiles mumbled against his lips. “Brave the masses and all.”

 “You first.”

 He turned and walked inside, bracing himself against the sheer familiarity of it all. The couch he and Scott have spent hours playing Mario Kart on, the pictures and decorations that littered the walls, the kitchen walls that still had faded stains from that time Stiles and Scott had tried to make breakfast for Melissa when they were ten, it was all still here. All this history was untouched. The train of an entire life of memories barreled straight through him, threatening to knock him down.

 “Aw, Melissa, not you too.”

 “Sorry John,” she mused. “Stiles made quite the case about your health.”

 His dad glared down at the heaping salad and turkey burger on his plate, while the rest of them had juicy beef and fries. The table was full of plates and warm light and laughter. Stiles and Scott wore their brand new jerseys, sporting them proudly after their acceptance to the lacrosse team.

 “How is it that I’m the only one who ever has to eat this rabbit food?”

 “‘Cause you’re the only one with pressing health concerns, pops.” Stiles chirped, adding a few more shredded carrots to his plate.

 “Don’t worry Sherriff,” Scott said consolingly. “I’ll share some of my fries with you.”

 “Scott!”

 “Now,” his dad said, reaching over the table to ruffle Scott’s long hair. “This is a good kid.”

 “Yeah, sure,” Stiles slapped Scott’s wrist as he tried to share his food. “You say to the kid who’s contributing to your high cholesterol.”

 “But high cholesterol tastes so good.”

 “Stiles?”

 His eyes snapped up to meet Melissa’s. His hand was gripping the rungs on the stairs. Derek held his shoulder.

 “Sorry.” He said.

 “Don’t be,” Scott reassured. “Are you okay?”

 “Yeah. I’m just,” he relaxed his grip on the rungs, letting go completely to gesture around. “Remembering.”

 “Yeah,” Scott agreed, reaching over to briefly hold his mom’s hand. “We remember things too.”

 “What kinds of things?” He saw Lydia moved to sit on the couch, and wordlessly everyone followed. Scott grabbed one of the dining room chairs, Melissa sat next to Lydia, while he and Derek squeezed onto the loveseat.

 “How reassuring he was,” Melissa spoke up. She curled her leg up to her chest and cupped her foot. “John was always a steady, strong, supportive force. He was always willing to help.”

 “Like when he found out about werewolves,” Scott said as an example. “Sure, he was confused and a little pissed, but he helped us out a lot.”

 “He even went back through his old cases to see where he could help.” Lydia said.

 Stiles had no problem burying himself against Derek's chest. Derek's arms had no problem wrapping around him. He liked this. He needed this. He needed this moment of being surrounded by those he cared for, all of them celebrating the memory of his dad. His amazing, selfless, loving dad.

 “He did so much,” Stiles said. “I love him.”

  I miss him. Unspoken, but felt by all of them.

 In the moment of contentedness, Stiles felt a warmth spread over his spine and settle in his chest. A little part of loneliness was filled up; a wound patched up with neosporin and Batman band-aids, with a kiss for good measure.

 He closed his eyes, feeling his dad’s arms around him in an almost airy reality.

 When he opened them again, he was faced with those he loved. His family.

 Stiles smiled.

 He was happy.