Day 1: Beacon Hills, CA
Derek stays outside of the root cellar when he goes with Scott to help everyone out. There is no way that he'll go down there; his mom erased the memory of the location, but not everything that happened with Paige, and the familiar heartbreak and guilt comes back in waves. He always felt that his life went to shit because of what happened that night, that he's still paying for it, and, unfortunately, people who have the bad luck to be around him get stuck in the shit storm. The Nemeton is not his favorite place on the preserve, for sure.
At least he's distracted from the itching under his skin by Scott's heartwarming reunion with Melissa and seeing Stiles all smiles with his dad. For once, Derek helped avoid people getting killed and there's comfort in that. He needs to forget about Jennifer, her death, how he felt with her when he thought he finally had a nice thing to call his own. Derek had liked her, a whole lot, and now he's left wondering if anything he felt was real at all, if she liked him back, even a little, or if he was just a pawn, again.
Chris Argent nods when Derek pulls him out right after Allison. He's a little banged up, but not too much. That he offered himself as a sacrifice was commendable so Derek nods back. It's unsettling to think they might not be all that different, deep down.
"Stiles said everything is taken care of?" Chris asks.
"Yeah," Derek answers. "For now anyway."
It was Scott's idea to let Deucalion go and, to be perfectly honest, Derek feels it will backfire. But by the time Jennifer was dead at their feet, Deucalion was probably already too strong for them to fight.
The last to get out of the root cellar is Isaac, who's a bit wide-eyed when Derek gives him a hand to hop out. Getting trapped underground was probably triggering for him, and Derek wishes he still had the ability to comfort Isaac with a touch.
"Are you okay?" he asks anyway.
Isaac rapidly passes his hands in through his hair, getting rid of the dirt, and obviously tries to shake out everything else.
"I'm fine," Isaac says. He throws Derek a sideway glance. "You?"
Derek nods. "Yeah. Cora too."
"She finally healed?" Isaac asks.
"With a little help," Derek says, and lets his eyes flash blue. Isaac looks shocked.
"You gave her the Alpha powers?"
"No. It's gone." As much as they gave him an incredible rush, at least at first, Derek's mostly relieved to not have that pressure anymore. He always had a problem dealing with expectations, his own and otherwise. "I used it to heal her. It's better that way."
"About earlier," Isaac starts, clearly uncomfortable. "I shouldn't-"
Derek doesn't want to revisit the argument they had in the loft, and anyway he gets why Isaac was so mad.
"Forget about it."
They've started walking towards the road where he and Scott left the cars, and the plan is for the parents to come up with a plausible story to explain why they were missing and to go to the hospital to get checked out. Getting their story straight is doubly important because Stiles says the FBI is in town and will have questions, and one of them is Scott's dad. The almost identical displeased faces Melissa and the Sheriff make at the news clearly indicate that this isn’t a good development.
It's quiet in the car, Isaac looking away through the window while Allison has curled up to her father's side in the back. Eyes on Scott's tail lights, Alpha red, the more Derek thinks about it, the less he see the point in staying in Beacon Hills now that all is done. Scott is a true Alpha, he's got a loyal pack, the twins are unexpectedly alive and willing to help… Derek's got no place in all of this. Scott never liked him, anyway, and Beacon Hills is his territory even though the Hales were here for generations. Cora did ask several times for them to leave, to start over elsewhere, but at the time Derek felt as if he couldn't yet. As bad as he was trying to do the right thing, he had responsibilities towards his betas, in facing the Alpha Pack, or just dealing with Peter. It's nothing he needs to worry about anymore (well Peter is a problem, but not his). In the hospital's parking lot, he calls Scott over.
"We'll leave tomorrow. Cora and I," Derek announces.
Isaac clenches his jaw shut and Derek knows he's hurt him again, even though it's the last thing he wants to do. As he thought, Scott doesn't ask Derek to stay. "Will you come back?"
He's not judging, in fact he mostly looks understanding, and Derek shrugs.
"I don't know." Not for a while, if ever, he thinks. "You'll be okay?"
Scott huffs a laugh. "I think okay got out of the picture a long time ago. But yeah."
It's something Stiles could have said and Derek looks towards the other car to see him still at his father's side, gesturing about something he's also explaining to Melissa, Chris, and Allison. They are probably still working on their stories before they enter the ER.
There is not much advice Derek can offer. "Don't take everything Deaton says for gospel. And beware of Peter."
"I'll be careful," Scott says and to Derek's surprise he comes in for a brief hug. Isaac, who had stayed silent by their side during the exchange, follows, and Derek lingers a little more.
"You'll be fine, Scott's got this. I'm sorry, for everything," Derek says once they separate.
"I know you are. I am, too," Isaac replies, smile wobbly. All Derek had ever wanted was to make it better for him and he royally fucked that up, like everything.
Derek hates goodbyes, and he can't bear the thought of stretching this one. "Good luck."
"You too," Scott says, before going to the others.
As Derek backs his car up, Stiles turns and waves at him; he smiles, even. He probably thinks that Derek's going home for the night, not that he's leaving for good. He'd probably deserves a proper goodbye - they did grow closer during the summer while searching for Erica and Boyd - but Derek is exhausted and doesn't feel like justifying his decision (which he'd have to do with Stiles, he's sure of it. The kid just won't pass an occasion to argue). Derek salutes back.
"Take care," he says out loud, while they are still face to face, even though he knows it won't reach human ears. Stiles looks momentarily perplexed but turns away when Derek exits the parking lot.
At the first red light, Derek turns off his phone.
There isn't much left to pack, and it all fits in a duffel. Before he leaves the loft, Derek has a last look at the place. He'd loved it at first; for sure it was a step up from the train depot and his burned house, and he hoped to have his betas close. It sure had enough space for it. But now all he can see is where Boyd died, the fight with the Alphas, the good times with Jennifer forever tainted because of what came next… Getting away from all of this is a very good thing.
Cora is waiting for him in the hallway, so Derek closes the door, hikes his bag on his shoulder and follows her to the elevator.
"Where are we going?" Cora asks.
Derek has always deferred to the women in his life. He doesn't see why he should change now.
She smiles up at him, pleased. Curing her definitely destroyed the distance and mistrust that had never quite disappeared from her eyes since they had reunited.
"San Francisco it is, then," Cora decides.
Day 2-10: San Francisco, CA
They're in the city in time for lunch, and Derek suddenly yawns between two bites of sandwich. He blames it on Cora who slept in the car all the way here, curled against her door. She looks fuzzy around the edges even now. She's still a little pale and Derek really hopes whatever made her sick went away for good. He can't help her anymore, not like before.
"How are you feeling?" he asks.
"I'm fine," Cora says, but she yawns too. "I'm just tired."
He is, too. Derek mostly turned in his bed most nights since the Alpha Pack tagged his door, wondering how he'd get out of this. He feels like he hasn't slept soundly since… New York.
"Why don't we check in somewhere nice?"
Cora grins around the straw in her smoothie. "Take a nap? Recharge our batteries?"
That sounds good, actually. "Yeah. A couple of days, laze around, order take out, watch bad infomercials…"
She smiles wider. "Admit it, you want to find some Jeopardy and have the excuse to watch it."
"You remember that?" Derek asks, frankly surprised. Okay, fine, the whole family used to tease him about how seriously he took the game show, but Cora was so young.
"You being a secret nerd when you tried so hard to look like a jock? You bet I do," she teases.
"Fine, I wouldn't mind some Jeopardy," he admits, just to keep her smiling. "And I bet I'll beat the contestants."
What can he say, he's always been a bit competitive. When they leave the café to find a place to crash, Derek has secured several bets he's sure to win.
The first couple of days in San Francisco are passed catching up on sleep and building their strength back. The Argonaut hotel is great, probably the classiest and most original hotel Derek has ever slept in, but even though he has quite a bit of liquidities it would be irresponsible to continue to shell out $300 a night for a suite just because they can. After three nights, they find a cheap but clean place near Fillmore Street and mostly wander around, sightseeing for the most part. They don't talk much, not about serious things at least, but they are comfortable together. It's good.
"I haven't seen a movie in forever," Cora says.
Derek follows her line of sight and there's a multiplex across the street.
"Same," he says.
Last time was with Laura, maybe a year ago, and it's those little unexpected realizations that hurt the most. It hammers home the fact that Laura's gone, and that she won't be coming back. Something must show on his face because Cora frowns.
"Are you okay?"
Derek does his best to shove the hurt away. "I'm fine," he says.
Cora quirks an eyebrow at the lie but otherwise lets it pass. She looks across the street again, and back at him.
"What do you prefer? Sweets or popcorn?" she asks.
"Popcorn, all the way," Derek says distractedly, still lost in memories. Laura would always take the sour cherries.
"Correct answer!" Cora says with a thumbs up and it snaps Derek out his mood.
"With butter," she says with a nod. "Feel like some? It's been a while and I have a craving."
Not waiting for his answer, Cora is already jaywalking across the street and Derek rolls his eyes.
"Sure. It's not like my opinion is needed to make a decision or anything," he says, trying to infuse as much annoyance as he can in his tone. It's a front, though, because Cora's good to keep him on his toes, out of his head. He follows her, like she knew he would.
"Admit it, you enjoyed it," Cora teases later as they exit, the credits still rolling.
"It was okay," Derek admits, but only because he'd be busted if he tried to lie. "Not as good as the original, though."
Cora shrugs. "Never seen it."
"Wow. So you dragged me into a remake of Footloose for kicks, and not out of nostalgia?"
"Derek, that movie came out before I was even born!"
"Well, duh!" Derek says. "How old do you think I am? It was before I was born, too. But everyone's seen the one with Kevin Bacon, come on."
"Nope," Cora says.
When Derek goes to throw the used ticket stubs with the empty bag of popcorn, Cora snatches them up.
"Souvenir," she says with a tiny smile while she puts them in her pocket, which makes Derek shoulder-check her lightly.
"It would have been a better keepsake with a Real Steel ticket," he replies, still a bit bitter he lost that argument.
"Come on, admit it, Footloose was full of eye candy," Cora says.
"Sure. But not at the Hugh Jackman level, so your argument is invalid," Derek says, eyeing a promo poster appreciatively. Maybe he can come back and see it by himself if Cora really doesn't want to.
"Interesting," Cora hums thoughtfully. Derek considers confirming he's bi, it's never been a secret since he's came out to Laura when he was eighteen, but he's pretty sure she got it loud and clear. "Anyhoo, this put me in the mood to dance. We're going out."
"No. No, absolutely not," Derek protests. The sound in the theater was so loud it grated; he doesn't think he could stand a nightclub right now. He doesn't feel like dealing with a crowd and people hitting on him either.
"Awww, you are no fun!" Cora whines. "Come on!"
"I am no fun, at all," Derek tells her. "You need to start dealing with it."
"Pretty please?" she pleads, batting her eyelashes ridiculously.
Cora pouts, and Derek can feel she's genuinely put off. He doesn't want to sour their time together, so he immediately tries to compromise. "Not tonight, okay? Just not tonight."
With a big put upon sigh, Cora hooks their arms together. "Fine. Let's just walk a little."
Derek kisses the top of her head, relieved. "Okay. Thank you."
She squeezes his arm a little and he knows they're good.
They've had an early lunch and Derek is distractedly checking out people who are eating their own lunches on the different levels of Union Square Park while Cora chats with a vendor trying to sell her tickets for the double decked tour buses. They've fended them off all week, so Derek is not worried that Cora's going to be swayed. Then she lets out an amazed little "ohhh!"
Intrigued, Derek turns and sees that what caught Cora's attention is a psychedelically painted old bus. To his horror it stops behind the touristy ones and Cora aims straight for it. He hurries to follow, but she's already getting information from someone in eye-jarring tie-dye shirt who hopped off. Oh, God, it's a tour to connect to San Francisco's hippy past he learns with her, and the worst thing is that Cora is starry eyed at the idea.
"Can we?" she asks, almost bounding in place. She's still so young, but so rarely acts like it.
"It's called the Magic Bus!" Derek protests.
"I know!" she grins.
"There are bubbles blowing out of the windows!" he says, hoping she sees how much of a deal breaker this is for him.
"Isn't it awesome?" Cora says, obviously missing his point.
"No?" he says, but he's nonetheless taking his wallet out, making her clap like a seal. Okay, he's weak, especially after shutting her down the other night for clubbing. "One hundred bucks plus taxes, I can't believe this," he protests for form's sake.
"It's going to be fun!" Cora says, kissing him on the cheek.
"That's the spirit!" their overenthusiastic tour guide is saying, smiling widely. She ducks in the bus and comes back with daisies. "Leave your worries at the door and embrace the groovy experience of the Magic Bus! It runs on our positive energy," she adds, making Derek want to stab himself with his claws. "As we sing, our joyous energy propels us across space and time!"
"Oh my god," he says weakly as Cora herds him onto the bus, chuckling. When he lets himself slump on the padded bench in the middle of the bus, facing the windows, Cora tucks one of the daisies behind his ear.
"Lighten up, bro! You wouldn't want to make the bus stall, would you?" she says, obviously pleased by the torture, if the width of her smile is to be believed.
It's going to be a long ninety minutes, he can feel it.
"You are the worst," he says dejectedly, not even trying to take the flower off.
Cora throws her head back and laughs, something he hasn't seen her do since they've been reunited.
This trip suddenly doesn't seem that bad an idea, after all.
Day 11: leaving SF
They had a good week in San Francisco, but by common accord they are ready to leave.
"North, South, East?" Derek asks.
Cora shudders. "Not South."
It makes Derek grip the steering wheel tightly. He hates still not knowing what happened to her after the fire. He supposes - hopes - she might talk about it when she's ready.
As far as directions go, East wasn't so bad when he'd done it with Laura, but he doesn't want to revisit those memories right now. North it is.
It must be muscle memory or a slip of his subconscious, but thirty minutes in, Derek realizes he's on Highway 5 that would bring them right back to Beacon Hills. He surely didn't meant to. There's no need to make a big deal of it, though, they'll just have to drive through. But as the miles add up, so does Derek nerves and maybe 20 minutes before the Beacon Hills exit, he gets off the 5. They'll take the 101 to drive North instead, or even go catch the Shoreline Highway. He doesn't mind the detour, it should be prettier near the coast anyway.
Not once did Derek check in with Scott or Peter, and in fact he didn't even re-open his phone. He cannot help but wonder… What if something has gone wrong?
He glances at Cora, who has an arm extended out of her window, turning her hand slowly in the wind that rushes through her fingers. She has a tiny private smile on her face and Derek relaxes. Beacon Hills is not his responsibility anymore, Cora is.
He focuses on the road and rolls his eyes when Cora hikes up the volume for "Good Feeling" by Flo Rida. She's been doing that every time the song plays, which happens way too often for Derek's liking. He does his best to ignore it and steps on the gas.
Day 12-14: Clearlake, CA
Derek makes it to the food court ten minutes later than they'd agreed on when they entered the mall. Cora has a table and got herself a sushi box that she's already started.
"Sorry, it took longer than I thought," he apologizes, putting a bag in front of his sister.
She looks at him, surprised. "For me?"
He nods. Cora's look of delight at getting a surprise turns into puzzlement when she pulls the little box out of the bag.
"An iPhone?" She's looking at it as if it's going to bite her.
"I noticed you didn't have a phone."
Frankly, he thought she'd be happy. On contrary, she suddenly looks pissed.
"Why the hell did you think I'd need one? I have no one to call, since I'm traveling with you! Is it to keep tabs on me? Because that's not cool."
Wow, overreaction much? It raises Derek's own hackles.
"It's just a phone! You know, in case you'd need it! And there are games and shit, or you could use it as a paperweight, for all I care. Better yet, I can bring it back right now!" he says, extending his hand.
He can see Cora warring between wanting to give it back to make a point and the lure of the phone itself. She peeks at the box again, bites her lip.
"It's expensive as fuck, Der."
"I had a good deal," he says, sitting down. "It's not so bad, for what it does."
Cora meets his eyes. "You don't need to buy me expensive stuff."
You can't buy the years we missed on, is implied. Derek is aware of that.
"I know I don't need to. But I really thought you'd like one, that's all."
"Thanks," Cora says with a small smile. It's also an apology for the outburst.
"So, do I have to bring it back?" Derek asks. "It might make the girl at the counter cry, you know."
It seems that the shiny won because Cora is opening the box.
"Wouldn't want that," Cora says, before taking the phone out. "Ohhh, it's beautiful. I need to find a good name."
That's the reaction Derek hoped for in the first place and he rolls his shoulders, getting rid of the last of the tension from the argument. He knew they'd eventually have bumpy days, but he never thought it would be because of a well meant gift. Even though, in hindsight, it is probably too expensive for no special occasion, and it's possible that the idea was in part filled by residual guilt. Maybe.
The place where they've stopped is perfectly nice. It's a small town built near a lake big enough to have a marina and a public beach. There are a couple of tourists, especially on the waterfront, but the locals aren't nosy.
But once you've been to the lake a couple of times, and then for a hike in the trails spreading in the woods, there ain't much more to do.
Plus, frankly, it's physically too close to Beacon Hills for Derek's liking, an hour tops. He keeps thinking about the place and what could be happening right this moment while the goal of this road trip was to clear his mind and get away.
After three days, they get back in the car.
Day 15: Leggett, CA
Giving Cora a phone with a data plan was maybe not the best idea Derek's ever had. She's glued to the damn thing all the time, now.
"You know, you're missing out on some quality scenery," Derek says pointing at the Pacific.
The Shoreline Highway is pretty spectacular, though it's not like he can appreciate it fully since he's driving.
"Mmm?" Cora says, though she does have a look. And does stare for a little, before taking a picture with her phone. But then she turns the device towards him so he raises his hand.
"Come on, just a little picture," she says.
"No." He lunges to try to grab the phone, but Cora's quick enough to pull it out of reach in time. On the other hand, the movement makes the car swerve into the curb so Derek has to jolt the wheel on the other side to stay on the road. Cora laughs.
"Don't be such a drama queen, I just want a picture of my handsome brother."
"I hate it, don't."
Cora sighs. "God, so high maintenance. Okay, but just because I don't want you to get us into an accident."
Derek feels as if she let the matter go suspiciously easily.
They lapse into silence, mostly, the radio on low. The road has left the coast to cross the Mendocino Coast Range, which has some fantastic views too. Cora has put her phone aside for now, remarks once in a while on whatever is on the side of the road or a car they pass. It's different than traveling with Laura, who always tried to fill the silence.
At one point near Leggett, though, Cora starts to pay close attention to the signs, checking something on her phone.
"Hey, we should turn here!" she finally says at the junction of Highways 1 and 101, making him turn left onto the Drive Thru Tree Road.
"You need a break?" he asks while he complies.
"Yes. And I think this is the perfect place," she says, giving him more directions.
They pass downtown Leggett and finally reach the entrance to the park, where Derek pays a five dollars fee to the teenager manning the small wooden booth.
"Thank you Sir," the guy says. "Please heed the five mile an hour speed limit in the park."
Derek drives carefully as they go down the dirt road, which allows them to enjoy the forest that is quite beautiful with the tall trees, creek and ferns. Eventually, they enter a cleared area with Chandelier Tree, advertised as the park’s main attraction. The road does a roundabout, but there's a lane that goes right thru a massive sequoia tree, that you are visibly expected to drive your car into. In fact, someone is doing so right now with a small Volkswagen, while a dozen or so people mill around, some taking pictures of the event.
"Someone carved a giant hole. In a tree," Derek says, disbelieving. It's definitely not something caused by nature.
"Yep. In the 30's I think. And now we're going to go right thru," Cora says, miming it.
"No way," Derek protests. "I won't scratch my car in that tree."
Cora gapes at him. "What? Look at that hole! It's obviously big enough for your stupid car!"
"No, it's not!" he says, driving around to park next to the picnic tables. "Let's go ask, I'm sure it doesn't fit."
There's a gift shop, for crying out loud. Hopefully, someone can tell them the exact dimensions of the hole in the tree.
"Fine," Cora says, getting out of the car.
The store is jam packed with the all kinds stuff. There’s a fair amount that has no link whatsoever with a tree that has the misfortune of being butchered, and unsurprisingly the stuff that does is pretty tacky. He supposes the kitsch is part of the charm and that it must sell because the place is still in business.
The cashier does have the dimensions (6 feet in width by 6 feet 9 inches high) and Derek feels pretty smug after a search about the FJ Cruiser reveals that the car is 3 inches larger than the opening.
"Told you so!"
"Dammit," Cora says. "Okay, it's too big. Does it validate your ego? Is it a man thing?"
"Shut up," Derek says, feeling his ear turn red at the disapproving look they are getting from an old lady who is checking out crystals. "Let's go see if there are morons who try to go thru before asking questions."
Cora grins. "Ohh, that is excellent."
"I felt it would appeal to your ruthless side," Derek says, making her laugh.
They take a seat on an empty picnic table, and spend a while watching the weird people who decided to visit the Chandelier Tree today. At one point, a guy with a brand new pick-up truck decides to go thru and even though Derek predicted it would happen, he can't believe his eyes. Jeez.
It's been fifteen days since they left Beacon Hills, and impulsively, Derek finally turns his phone back at on. There are no voice mails, no new texts and, in fact, not even a missed call. Even though he thought he wasn't expecting anything, it's sort of a blow. He's clearly not missed at all.
Day 16: Klamath, CA
"I can't hear anyone close, can you?" Cora asks.
Derek closes his eyes to focus better for a moment and he agrees. "No one for several hundred yards, I'd say."
"Good," Cora says and from one moment to the next she is climbing the Candelabra Tree and is running across it, weaving through the trunks that spout out of the fallen one.
"I know you can read," Derek says, pointing to the 'please stay on the trail' sign.
"That's why I wouldn't have done it if there had been someone to see me. Are you trying to tell me you always follow the rules?" Cora says as she jumps down and comes back to his side.
She's got him there.
"Maybe not. But running across this tree isn't much of a challenge."
"You have a better idea?" Cora asks.
"I don't know, do you?" Derek teases as they continue the tour of the 'Trees of Mystery'.
"Remember the Cathedral Tree? You climb that one. From the center," she dares.
Derek smiles. "You're on."
He almost got caught but, thankfully, Cora provided a momentary distraction with a fake skunk scare that allowed Derek to move to the outside of the Cathedral Tree to climb back down, out of view.
As soon as they are far enough, Cora laughs until she has to wipe tears from her eyes.
"That was a little bit too close," Derek says, smiling himself. It's been a while since he's ridden an adrenaline rush not caused by a terrible situation.
"Understatement, bro! Without my quick thinking, a family of four would have seen you stuck a hundred feet up a tree like an oversized squirrel!"
"Yep. You deserve ice cream," he says, as they get back to the service area.
"Yesssss!" Cora says with a closed fist of victory. "I'll be right back, I just need to do a pit stop."
She bounds away while Derek enters the small line to get them ice cream cones. It rapidly occurs to him that he has no idea what flavor Cora prefers. He tries to think back to when they were kids, but to be perfectly honest Cora's taste in ice-cream - or in pretty much anything - when she was ten isn't something he used to care about so he just doesn't know. And there is so much that he did know, but forgot. Yep, here's his familiar daily stab to the gut. Derek wonders if he will one day go through 24 hours without one.
He's about to get one chocolate and one vanilla to cover the basics when Cora's back and hugs him from behind. Her timing is impeccable.
"What do you want?" he asks.
"Chocolate," Cora says.
"One chocolate and one vanilla," Derek asks the vendor.
"Vanilla, ha. So unsurprising," Cora comments.
Derek looks at her with a raised eyebrow. "And what is that supposed to mean?"
Preferring vanilla doesn't mean he's boring. Derek rarely eats sweets, so chocolate gets a bit much. And heck, if he was that bland, he would not have done one of Cora's dare.
"Nothing bad. Just that you're predictable.”
Derek pays, and tastes his cone as they walk away. It's not great ice cream, but it's decent and he hasn't had some in a long time. It's a shame he has to defend his honor and will likely not finish it.
"Oh yeah?" he asks. When Cora nods, busy licking her cone, Derek pushes her wrist up so she gets a face-full of it. He takes a moment to appreciate her round eyes and how she's spluttering in outrage before he runs away, cackling. Predictable his ass.
Day 18: Gold Hill, OR
"I can't believe they have the guts to ask money for this shit," Derek grumbles, arms crossed over his chest. A pure and simple racket, that's what it is.
"No no no, you don't get it," Cora is saying, reading from 'The Notes and Data' by John Lister, the first proprietor of the Oregon Vortex. "We're in a whirlpool of force, see, it's the basic form of our universe. From our galaxy, whose vortex form we see as the countless suns of the Milky Way, throughout the gravitational vortex of our solar system, down to the vortex of an atom, the vortex form recurs throughout our world structure..."
Derek forcibly closes the book. He can't take it anymore.
"If I hear the word vortex one more time, I will not be responsible for my actions," Derek says.
Cora grins. "But it's science!"
"No, it's not. All of those mystery spots and magnetic hills and what not are just illusions for gullible people."
"You're such a skeptic. Lister says he discussed with Einstein, so there. I think I'll call you Scully from now on," Cora says, but she's smirking. "We should go take pictures near The House of Mystery," she adds.
Derek shakes his head. He has no intention of going back to that shack.
"No, we should not. What's with you and pictures, lately?"
He's happy to see her use her phone and everything, but she's also noting things down in a little notebook. It's cute.
Cora shrugs. "Dunno. It's fun."
"Well as fun goes, I preferred the trees to this bullshit."
Cora bites her lip, not quite looking at him. He likes that she gets enthusiastic at the roadside attractions. It's not because Derek finds this one particularly stupid that he wants to stop visiting them.
"But this is fine, too, you know, to have a look and mock," he offers and it makes her smile.
"I think there's one you'd like," she says.
He has no idea what that could be. Color him intrigued. "Yeah?"
"It's kind of a detour, though," Cora says with a scrunch of the nose.
Derek tilts his head. "How can it be a detour if we have no plans on where to go next? Or maybe you do have a plan?"
"True, I don't. But we'd have to go back to Highway 101?" she explains.
Which… "But we left the 101 two hours ago!"
"I know, that's why I said detour."
Frankly, going back on their steps like that feels completely counterproductive. But at the same time, as he said, they do not have a plan so even driving in circles would do, if it feels right.
"Why not," Derek says, already going towards the car. Cora looks really happy about it, and even if it's just to get them away from the Oregon Vortex, it's a good decision. "What is it that you'd think I'd like?"
"Let's keep it a surprise, shall we?"
Day 20: Port Orford, OR
It's dinosaurs. Life sized, colored, set in a secluded 'rain forest' valley with high ferns called the Prehistoric Gardens.
He loves it.
He even caves and takes a picture with the triceratops.
Day 21-35: Eugene, OR
It's easy for Derek to get lost in his thoughts while he drives. They left Beacon Hills three weeks ago now, and somehow along the way it's been getting easier to breathe. Not much, but a bit.
Cora is still in change of the itinerary, which suits Derek well. After trying to take charge as an Alpha for months and mostly failing, having someone else calling the shots feels good. They're entering Eugene now, the biggest city they've crossed since leaving San Francisco. He's following Cora's directions, who is checking whatever is on her phone diligently, wondering what kitsch horror she's found for them now. The sector they're in looks totally normal although mostly commercial, with low building holding shops and a couple of restaurants.
"Park here," Cora demands when there's a free spot on the side of the street.
He follows his sister out of the car.
"What now?" he asks.
She points to a blue building. "Right here."
The sign reads 'New Moon Mixed Martial Arts Club'. He's puzzled.
"What's weird with this MMA club?" he asks, following her inside. The place smells of old sweat like all gyms.
"Nothing's weird, I booked lessons. You need to learn how to fight properly."
It stings. "Wow, thanks."
"Don't be a baby about this!" Cora says, leading the way to the training area.
There's a slender woman stretching on the mattresses who smiles when they get in.
"Hey, hi! You're Cora?" she asks.
"Yes. And this is my brother, Derek," Cora says.
The woman gets up with easy grace and comes over to shake their hands. "I'm Liz, pleased to meet you."
It's hard to estimate her age, but Derek guesses she must be around 45 years old by the grey in her short hair, but in great shape. Her handshake is firm and she's all smiles.
"Same here," Derek says, even though he wonders what possessed Cora to give her ideas about MMA fighting.
"Like I said in my email, I was wondering if we could take lessons," Cora says.
"You talked about street fighting?" Liz enquires.
Cora smirks. "Whatever is needed to get the job done. You know, if something would happen."
Derek is aware he's not the best fighter, god knows he's got his has kicked repeatedly enough these last few months to get the point across, but this woman is human. He's doubtful she can help him stand his ground in a werewolf fight.
"I'm not sure…" Derek starts.
"Come here a second," Liz says, walking backwards towards the center of the tatami and gesturing so he joins her on the mats.
Derek toes off his sneakers before climbing on the fighting surface, which earns him a pleased nod. He stands in front of Liz, pretty sure of what's going to come next. He's not wrong.
"Now hit me."
"Look-" Derek starts. He's not interested in play fighting.
"What? You think a girl like me can't take a big guy like you?" Liz taunts, rolling her shoulders.
"I don't want to hurt you," Derek says. It's patronizing, but also true. If Liz gives lessons here, she must be tough. She can probably dodge his hits easily enough if he punches at human speed and strength.
Liz laughs. "Yeah, right. Try me anyway."
"Come on, Derek," Cora says. "Indulge the lady."
"Okay, okay," Derek says, giving up and bringing his hands up. He'll go half strength to appear human and see how it goes.
As he thought, Liz avoids the hit easily, she's real fast, but instead of just getting out of the way she manages to sweep one of his legs and he ends up with a knee on the mat. Cora laughs, and he throws her a dark look.
"Again," Liz says, serious and focused. "First shot is a freebie."
Derek gets back in position, and this time he's more careful when he hits. Nonetheless, Liz counters his move and manages to destabilize him, even though he doesn't fall down this time.
"Better. Now really try to get me, don't stop."
He won't lie: Derek is getting into it. Not just because his ego is taking a mild bruising, but they've mostly been lazing around or been cooped up in a car for three weeks and the exercise is welcome. So this time when Derek lunges for Liz, it's with the intention of catching her. He still doses his strength and speed, but really goes for it. She's quick and cunning, and not even once Derek manages to clip her seriously. It's like she can read his mind and after an intense back and forth Derek ends up on his back, wondering where he went wrong.
Cora is finding the whole thing hilarious, and Derek raises a finger in her direction. It might be his middle one.
"You shut the fuck up."
"Think you can do better, little miss?" Liz asks her.
"Maybe I can," Cora says with bravado as she takes her shoes off.
"Show me what you've got," Liz says, beaconing her with a crooked finger.
Derek sits up, curious.
Cora uses speed to her advantage, almost too much for Derek's taste. But no matter how many times Core tries to take a swing at Liz, the woman counters the moves and replies. In a matter of seconds, Cora is on her back too and Derek cheers, just to be an ass. Cora's livid.
"You guys definitely have physicality on your side," Liz says, having barely broken a sweat. "Most of my clients come at night at this time of the year, so I'd be available for day lessons. If you're interested."
He was skeptical at first, but it does sound like something that could be fun. Derek exchanges a look with Cora and when he shrugs, she knows he's giving in and grins.
"That would be great. We could start for a week, see how it goes?" Cora says, getting up.
"Let's go to my office to set that up," Liz says.
She puts on flip flops as she steps off the mats and they follow her through a little corridor going towards the back of the building. At the end there's a little room with a desk full of forms and papers where Liz fishes a green laminated sheet. Cora, who'd slowed down to look at pictures on the wall, stops suddenly at the office's door and Derek collides with her back.
Cora immediately pushes back and hisses.
"Go go go! Now!"
Derek has no idea what is going on, but there's danger somehow and Liz, after looking stunned for half a second, hits her desk and a door slams behind Derek, trapping them in a small portion of corridor. He immediately tries to break the door by hitting it with his shoulder but bounces right off.
"Mountain ash!" Cora says around fangs.
"Whoa whoa whoa, easy there!" Liz is saying, hands raised in a placating manner.
"Let us go!" Derek demands. What is she? Maybe a witch, or possibly an emissary for a pack who lives around these parts. He just hopes she's not with hunters. They are trapped and there's no way he can attack her, as she's safe in her office with the mountain ash barrier. They'll have to try to get out of this in another way. "We don't want trouble, we'll just go."
"Don't worry, I'll open the door in a moment. I didn't intend to startle you," Liz's tone is calm, easy, no trace of a lie. She can manipulate mountain ash, though, so Derek's weary of her sincerity.
"Then open the door," Derek says. He's getting antsy.
"This isn't a trap. I didn't call anyone." It sounds honest. "The mountain ash is just protection for me, that's it."
"If it's not a trap, why close the door to hold us?" Cora asks. She has her claws out.
"I just wanted a chance to talk to you. Explain. I don't want trouble either."
If she doesn't want trouble, she should let them go and they'd be right out of here.
"I studied with an emissary, a long time ago," Liz explains. "He left with his pack over fifteen years ago, and as of right now Eugene is neutral ground. So you're not trespassing, if that was a worry."
It could have been bad. Cora and him are Omegas, after all, and generally not welcome on another pack's turf.
"I mean you no harm, and- " the woman abruptly stops. When she starts again it's with genuine emotion. "Oh, the email. Saw the name, didn't make the connection. Cora Hale of the Beacon Hills Hales?"
Derek, who had started to think they'd maybe get out of this unscathed, tenses again.
"Yeah," Cora says, tilting her chin up. "You know of us?"
"I knew your dad! He was from here, you know."
That's true, he was. They'd even visited when Derek was very young. Not that he remembers this woman at all, or anyone else specifically.
"You look a lot like your mom," Liz adds, looking at Derek.
"I'm sorry, Liz," Cora says, almost spitting out the name. "You might have known my parents and all but I don't know you. I am really, really not comfortable stuck here and if it's true you mean no harm, open the damn door."
"Okay, okay, I will. Alan and Marin could vouch for me, by the way. But before you go, I just want to say that the lessons?" Liz tells Cora. "We can still do that. And think of it: since I know you are werewolves, I could push you for real. I've done it before."
"Open. The. Door," Derek snarls. Why doesn't she just do it? He needs to get out of here.
Liz finally hits the button on her desk again, which relases the door behind Derek's back. Somehow the barrier is gone, too, because he can wrench it open and they tumble out, hurrying to go outside, back in the car and Derek drives them off to find a place to regroup.
"Fuck!" Derek curses, hitting the steering wheel.
"I didn't know!" Cora says, arms crossed tightly across her chest. "I swear, I had no idea."
The adrenaline is still high, but Derek is able to think more rationally now that they are free and out of the club.
"I believe you," he tells Cora. "I hope she didn't call anyone." Hunters, werewolves, whomever Liz could have ties with. It all sounds equally bad.
"Do you think she's telling the truth? That it was just for protection and that she means no harm? That she knew Dad?"
"How should I know?" Derek says, exasperated. "I didn't detect a lie, but she could be good enough to mask them."
"Right." Cora gets her phone out, taps on it a bit. Sighs and brings it to her ear.
"Who are you calling?" Derek asks.
He's got good enough audition to hear as the line is picked up.
"Beacon Hills Animal Clinic."
"The hell?" Derek says.
"Hi. Is it Doctor Deaton?" Cora asks.
"Yes. How can I help you?"
"Cora Hale. I have a question."
"Cora, it's nice to hear of you. I trust you and your brother are doing well?"
"Yes. Thanks. I was wondering: does Liz VonHout from Eugene Oregon ring a bell to you?"
"Elizabeth VonHout? Yes, I know of her. She studied with a friend of mine, great potential. I haven't heard of her for years."
"So you don't know if she's with a pack or hunters?"
"Not that I know of, but certainly not hunters. Her dedication to the pack she was with - your father's pack, in fact - meant she never could become an official emissary. Not enough distance for balance. My sister might have kept in contact with her, do you want her number?"
"No, that's fine. Thanks Doctor D!" Cora says.
"My pleasure, I hope it helped. Take care, Cora. You too, Derek."
Derek rolls his eyes, and doesn't bother saluting as Cora hangs up. He doesn't trust Deaton all that much – at least not all the time - but he relaxes in the knowledge that Liz is probably not a threat.
"Let's find a place to crash," Derek says.
It turns out that they avoid the subject completely for the rest of the day. No acknowledgement of what happened, of the fear they felt when they thought they were caught, how it made them realize they are probably not cautious enough. Not a word either about how they stumbled on someone who knew their dad's pack, and who, according to Deaton, could be an ally. It hangs between them, though, their usual silence heavier and tense. Derek forces himself to eat even though his supper tastes like cardboard and Cora keeps glancing out of the window once they settle in a motel near the highway.
It's only in the morning, after a terrible night where they both toss and turn - waking each other up so many times that growls are exchanged – that Cora speaks up.
"She was good."
"Fighter? Definitely," Derek agrees. They got their ass kicked after all.
"If we'd go back, she could teach us a thing or two," Cora says.
"You'd trust her?" Derek asks. Liz is a complete stranger, Deaton approved or not.
"I wouldn't say trust, exactly. But since we know, and she knows about us... maybe we can go talk to her again, ask more questions, listen carefully."
"What if she called someone?" Derek asks. He doesn't want to walk into a trap.
The corner of Cora's mouth lifts a bit. "If we had any sense, we'd be out of here. She won't expect us back."
Derek snorts. "Right. We really should get away."
But frankly? He's intrigued. His dad never talked about his old pack and after that visit when Derek was young, there had never been other contacts with them that he was aware of. He never knew what exactly happened, but it must have been pretty disastrous to cut pack bonds. Also Liz would help with the combat techniques, if they went back. If he can't hold up to a mere human who knows how to fight, no wonder he has no chance against supernatural beings.
"So?" Cora asks.
"Your call," Derek says.
"Let's pay her another visit, then."
Derek drives twice before the club, windows down. When they finally approach, it's carefully and Derek has half a mind to tell Cora they have to get away. But his sister has the determined set to her shoulders that Hale women get, and she leads the way. The gym smells the same as the previous day as they enter, with no detectable odor of a wolf being here lately. Two men are grappling on the tatami while Liz is supervising another one who's doing weights. The exercise corner isn't big, but seems well stocked.
Liz turns at their entrance and smiles widely.
"Just a second!" she cries out, before giving the man she's with dumbbell repetitions.
When Liz walks over it's with her hands visible at all times, palms up.
"I'm so glad you came back," she says. "Sorry again for yesterday, it must have been horrible for you."
"I'm not a fan of being captive," Cora says. "But I think you were as surprised as us."
Liz laughs before she takes them outside to talk. Derek appreciates the gesture of good faith.
"For sure. Look, I meant it," she says. "That barrier and trap is just for my protection, and if I had known, I'd had made sure it was disabled. On the other hand, I'm glad I know about you, and you about me, so we can cut the crap."
There has been no spike or trip in her heartbeat.
"And what would that crap be?" Derek asks.
"I realize you guys went easy on me yesterday to appear human. And I do admit that fighting with a wolf is really hard, even if I spent most of my life doing martial arts, but I do think I can help you guys, give you some tips. From what I've seen you rely a lot on your natural abilities but have very little technique," Liz says.
It's not false.
"If we'd train with our strength and speed, no one should see," Cora says.
"Of course. I really hoped you'd come back so I thought about it. I'd close when I'm with you, we'll work around the times used by my regulars. I'd demonstrate moves and make you fight each other, mostly. I've trained werewolves before," she looks very enthusiastic at the idea, too.
"Where's your pack?" Derek bluntly asks. If Deaton is to be believed, she was being groomed to be an emissary after all.
Liz's face falls a little. "They moved fifteen years ago after the Alpha changed, following a challenge. The new Alpha - Luke - wanted to leave the city and wasn't too keen on humans in the pack that weren't a hundred percent behind all of his decisions."
"Like you?" Cora asks.
"I've always spoken my mind," Liz says with a smirk and Derek has a stray thought for Allison and Stiles. He knows the type.
"Plus, I was married – to a human - at the time, and co-owned this place. Felt like a no-brainer to stay." Liz quiets, then, obviously lost in memories. "Now that I'm divorced and barely able to meet ends, I'm not so sure. I miss them every day."
"They cut all contact with you?" Cora looks fascinated by the story.
"Mostly, save a few close friends I see a couple times a year at most. Luke's still as much as a dictator as he was then, so I guess that's how it's going to stay."
"That sucks," Cora empathizes and Derek has to agree.
They might have walked away from Beacon Hills, but it was their decision. Being left behind like that is way worse, something Cora obviously relates to.
"When can we start?" Cora asks, not even looking at Derek who rolls his eyes.
He was going to give in, but he would have appreciated the pretense that he's part of the decision making.
They make plans for a week, but stay for three.
Liz is fun and attentive, but an absolute drill sergeant when it comes to training. Over a couple of days they fall into a routine. Every morning there's about an hour and a half of technical demonstration guided by Liz, where Derek and Cora repeat the same movements and sequences over and over again. How to avoid a hit, throw a good punch, duck, grapple, break a hold, etc. She's unforgiving about posture and form, and Derek gets into that whole aspect of the lessons a lot more than he thought he would. There have been lots of periods where he'd had no control over what was going on in his life apart from how his body reacted to working out. Getting these exercises right, and the pleased smiles Liz gives him when he does it rapidly, builds his confidence.
They break for lunch where Liz reopens the gym since it's not unusual for regulars to come over and she can't afford to lose clients. In the early afternoon, Derek and Cora go running in the many parks and trails easily accessible in the city. No wonder the place is nicknamed ‘Track Town, USA’.
At about three in the afternoon, they go back to the club for more technique and, if Liz deems them worthy, to finally let loose in combat against each other. In the first days, Derek holds back, unwilling to hurt Cora even though the pull of the full moon is bringing his aggression to the surface.
"Come on, Derek!" she complains when he tries to immobilize her.
"I'm twice as big as you are," he says, holding a little bit tighter. She viciously claws at his side, the pain sharp, and he lets her go. "Dammit Cora!"
"I'm faster. Stop babying me!"
"She's right, Derek," Liz says. "She won't learn to fend off bigger wolves if you go easy on her. And you're not helping yourself, either! I can't improve what I don't even get to see!"
"I'm sorry, I'm hardwired to protect her!" he protests, inspecting his shirt that is now ruined.
Derek can't help but think of the night two months ago now where he let Cora and Boyd almost claw him to death in the school's basement, not even sure there was anything left of his sister in the middle of the fury. If he couldn't bring himself to hurt her then, he has no idea how he can do it now.
"Get over it," Cora says, shifting to full beta form before lunging for him.
Derek does manage to get over his instinct to spare Cora and the fights get more and more savage as the days go by, though at the same time, their abilities to duck and deflect hits get better too so damages are minimal. After their private lessons, at around four thirty, Liz reopens her doors and Derek and Cora often stick around to practice with the club's members. Fighting humans then becomes an exercise in restraint and control, something Derek is sure Liz planned all along.
She gives no breaks, pushing them so hard that when they get back to their room by early evening, it's to stuff their faces with take out, shower and then face plant in bed. The exhausted sleep is the best Derek has had in years.
Slowly but surely, they get to know Liz better, learn about the pack she'd met through an uncle that had being bitten when she was a child. Cora can't seem to get enough stories about their dad, who'd been her uncle's good friend. The problem is that the tales dry up pretty fast, since he left when he met Talia. It's implied the decision hadn't been well received by the pack. Derek advises Cora not to push for more.
After three weeks of that training regimen, Derek wakes one morning to Cora sitting against her headboard and browsing on her phone, a frown on her face.
"Wass'up?" Derek mumbles.
"I don't know," Cora says, but it's a lie. He's caught her lost in thought often these last few days, and she's been less enthusiastic about the lessons.
"Getting restless?" Derek asks.
Cora shrugs. "But you're enjoying this. I've even seen you smile and everything."
It's true, the last few weeks have been good for Derek's headspace. The fixed schedule and lots of physical activities has calmed down his little inner voice that gets way too loud when he has too much time to think.
"I do, but it would be okay to go, too," Derek says. "There's no point in staying here if you're bored."
"Yeah?" Cora looks almost guilty, but hopeful at the same time.
"We'll give Liz two days notice, pay her what we agreed on and go. How does that sound?"
"Good, it sounds good." Cora gets up from her bed just to flop in his, giving him a hug. "Thanks, you're the best."
He kisses her temple, squeezing back. "No problem. Just a warning though: I'll use those last two days to properly kick your ass, you've been warned."
Cora laughs, hitting his shoulder. "Dream on, bro, dream on."
Telling Liz is terrible because she makes a brave face while simultaneously looking as if someone stole her puppy.
"I understand," she says with a wobbly smile. "It's been great, though. I really enjoyed training you guys."
"You're an awesome coach," Cora says. "We learned so much."
"We did, thank you," Derek adds.
"It's not that I thought you'd stay, I knew it was temporary," Liz says, rubbing the back of her neck. "But I had so much fun watching you guys even though it made me miss my p-, my friends."
"I know you didn't ask for my opinion, but that whole separation thing is bullshit. I'm sorry Alpha Asshole has been such a dick, not all packs are that closed minded. They'd be lucky to have you," Cora says.
Liz chuckles. "Thank you."
"Let us take you out to lunch," Derek says.
Her eyebrows come up. "And miss training? No, young man. I've still got some hours with you and a couple of tricks up my sleeve. Let's get moving," Liz says, pointing to the mattresses.
Cora and him groan simultaneously, which makes Liz laugh.
"Kids these days, so delicate. Get moving! I want your best Crane Pose!"
Day 36: Salem, OR
It's been weeks and being back behind the wheel feels good. Until Cora cranks the sound up at 'Good Feeling' again. Derek's fingers twitch on the steering wheel and Cora starts singing off key on top of the song, which is torture. But he can't show weakness.
She suddenly stops, though. "Oh, no!"
Cora, who'd been scrolling at her phone, does a massive pout.
"Dammit. I'd found the perfect place to go next!" she says.
"What's the problem?"
"It's closed! And reopens only in March!" she sounds genuinely disappointed.
Now Derek is curious. "What was it?"
"Enchanted Forest. It's a Fairy Tale Kiddy Park. It looks terrible."
"How bad?" Derek asks.
"Super creepy, with themed streets and cheap rides. The stuff of nightmares," Cora says wistfully.
It's easy to come to a decision.
"Then let's go anyway," he says.
A slow smile spreads on Cora's lips. "Break in?"
"The rides won't work, but we can have a look around," Derek says with a shrug. It's not like the place will have guards. At least he doesn't think so.
"Great idea. It's closer to Salem, I'll tell you what exit to take."
Derek nods and drums his fingers on the wheels. Not so predictable, now, is he?
If he'd come here as a kid, Derek is pretty sure he would have had nightmares afterwards. A lot of the park is quite ridiculous - or amazingly inventive, he's not sure - but as Cora says it's extremely creepy. Maybe if there were families around it would be a little better, but empty as it is with just the two of them? He's glad it's still daylight, it's that bad.
"Oh my god, I think I want to come back and actually ride this one," Cora says, blinking at the Ice Mountain roller coaster. If it can be called that.
"I don't know, I think the Shoe Slide is more your speed," Derek says and earns himself a slap on the arm.
They walk around the haunted house - Derek's glad he can avoid that one, he hates those things - don't bother with the kiddy rides section and end up… at a giant witch head. That is also a house.
They both stop, in awe. Cora, who's been documenting everything with her phone - to a point where Derek wonders if she'll need a bigger model soon - starts circling it, looking for the best angle. It has a big pointy nose and the door is its opened mouth, painted bright red. Cora peering in is hilarious and Derek uses his own phone to snap a pic.
He snorts at the result (what? it's like Cora is being eaten alive, it's hilarious) and has the sudden thought that Stiles would absolutely love this place. The image of him delivering one sarcastic line after the other at the whole park but at this giant witch head in particular is so vivid that before he really thinks about what he's doing, Derek sends Stiles the pic with an empty text.
The shocked wonder at what possessed him to do that is setting in when his phone chirps with an incoming text. Derek is so surprised that he almost drops the thing.
Of course there would be more punctuation marks than letters. Of course.
Right now, though, Derek isn't sure that he wants to speak with Stiles. That's not quite true, in fact. If it was just Stiles, it would be okay, but speaking with him means reopening communications with Beacon Hills, something Derek is not ready for. Not yet. He shouldn't have texted Stiles but can't bring himself to say it, so he just… doesn't reply. It's going to drive Stiles nuts, for sure.
5 minutes later: no details, nothing?
Around 5 pm: thanks, asshole. but I got home and my google-fu is, as always, stellar. that place looks amazing, omg! then, right after. salem, or. huh. i thought you guys were on the east coast or alaska by now.)
With no replies, even Stiles should get the hint to stop messaging him. Cora did notice something is going on, and she raises an eyebrow when Derek's phone chirps on the night stand once more as they are getting ready for bed.
glad u r okay. though I am worried for cora, she seemed like a tasty snack
Derek finds himself smiling and when he looks up, Cora's second eyebrow has joined the first high on her forehead. It makes him defensive.
"Nothing," she says. "Nothing at all."
Relieved Cora's not going to go twenty questions on him, Derek lies back down on his bed and reaches for the remote.
Day 37-43: Portland, OR
Portland is their second city in a row, but that's where the road leads. Instead of just passing through, they take a room. After visiting the town proper - Derek insists on touring libraries - Cora takes them on one day excursions.
Some are real close but maybe not worth even a twenty minutes detour. They are in Aloha, Oregon, which should have been the first clue this would be weird.
"Really, Cora, really?" Derek says, looking up at 26-foot-tall mutant rabbit man with a blue coat and cap. It’s probably meant to look like sailor, since it's adjacent to a boat business. It's named Harvey.
A car passes by and honks, making Derek jump in surprise, which puts him in an even fouler mood. It's the second time in minutes, it seems like people are purposely doing it.
"Come on, this is fascinating," she says, then starts reading from her telephone. "They say that FBI agents once used Harvey as a rendezvous location. There have also been vandals who once broke off his fingers. Oh, oh, another time they stuck a big penis on him. And someone once managed to steal one of Harvey's ears, but the police found it a couple of miles down the road. Harvey Marine was soon awash in get-well cards and flowers."
"What?" That's nuts.
Cora sniggers. "Not kidding. They receive letters addressed to Harvey, even keep a binder filled with the notes and cards. Wanna go in and ask if we can see?"
"No no no," Derek says, walking backwards towards the car. "The crazy could be contagious."
"Do you think it works?" Cora asks.
"No, not really. It's only cement slabs, too, nothing that align with the stars or the telluric currents or anything," Derek says. At least he doesn't sense anything.
"It's said to be astronomically-aligned," Cora says.
Derek sighs. "The view is nice, and it's almost interesting. But I’m not convinced that driving four hours just for this was worth it. Plus the four hours we need to go back to Portland."
Cora rolls her eyes. "Worth it, worth it. Can't you just enjoy this place for what it is? Or the World War 1 memorial it's meant to be? Even better, we could go see the real thing, that would be cool."
"Do you have a passport?" he asks.
"No." Cora sighs. "I think I'm completely off the grid."
Which is not bad for a werewolf, but not the best to travel.
"I don't have one either. Guess we'll give the real Stonehenge a pass, then."
"Hey, they say that the guy who started to build this place in 1918, Sam Hill, had himself buried not far, about halfway down the bluff, because he didn't get along with his family. And that there is no easy path to his grave, because he wanted to be left alone. Want to try and find it?"
"Sure," Derek says. "Let's go say hi before getting back in the car."
Day 44-45: Long Beach, WA
Marsh's Free Museum in Long Beach, Washington is… hard to describe. It's a curiosity shop, which means it's jam pack full of crap. The hundreds of stuffed and mounted animals (yak, lioness, boar, two headed calf, you name it and it's probably there) watching them from the walls or the rafters gives the place a peculiar atmosphere, for sure, and Derek doesn't like it at all. On the other hand, Cora is thrilled. They've even made a game of their visit, and now it's time to see what the results are.
"So, what's the weirdest thing you've seen?" she asks. "Jake the Alligator man doesn't count."
Well, yeah, it would be too easy because what trumps a supposedly ex-circus performer half man, half alligator? Nothing does.
"They have a shrunken head," Derek says.
"If you ask me, the skeleton of the girl they found in the closet is creepier," Cora says. "What about the human tape worm in a bottle?"
"Disgusting," Derek says with a shudder. "But I have to give them points for the petrified dinosaur dung."
Cora laughs. "Yeah. And for the peepshow machines. Hey, I'm going to get my free shell and go see Jake again, he's pretty awesome."
"Want to join his fanclub?" Derek mocks.
"Yes, I'd love to!" she says with a huge smile, and what is a good brother to do but fill the form? Cora even gets a certificate.
Derek's got to admit, the owners are milking what they've got with brio. They even have a whole line of clothing, caps and souvenirs with Jake. Before they leave, he goes to see it a last time himself and discretely takes a picture with his phone.
"It's a good thing they don't know what we are," Cora whispers as she leans on his side.
"Yeah. But on the other hand, it's maybe your only chance to get a fan club, too," Derek teases.
"Ha ha. The supposedly Wyoming Werewolf didn't," Cora says, pointing in the modified deer butt's direction that they advertise as a werewolf captured in 1976. "I think I'll pass."
"Good idea. Did you see, across the street? They have-"
"What was once the world's largest frying pan, I know!" Cora enthuses. "Let's go check it out."
Later, Derek leaves Cora at the motel to take a walk on the beach. The sun is setting on the Pacific and the sky is streaked with colors, which gives a pretty spectacular backdrop for his stroll. Derek finds himself thinking about Beacon Hills, wonders if it's a cop out to be somewhere this peaceful while Scott and all are probably dealing with supernatural crap over there. Stiles hasn't texted him in the last week, not since Derek sent him a picture of the witch house. It shows a restraint on his part that is frankly surprising.
Honestly? Derek is a little disappointed that Stiles gave up so easily. Oh, he's perfectly conscious that to be annoyed at that is laughable since Derek was the one not responding to Stiles' texts and he wished he'd stop at the time. But maybe, just maybe, he changed his mind. Derek might not be ready to talk or even to think about all the crap that happened in Beacon Hills, he definitely doesn't want to be thrown back in fucked up simili-pack business, but he feels the need to keep contact, somehow. The entertainment value of getting a reaction out of Stiles again could be worth it.
Conscious that if he does it would be the thin end of the wedge, Derek lets his thumb hover on top of the send button. In the end he caves, sending Stiles another blank text, but this time with a picture of Jake in his glass case.
Derek smiles at the row of exclamations points that he gets almost immediately in reply.
what the ever-loving fuck is that? yuck! follows soon after.
are you guys okay?
The question takes Derek by surprise, but he figures that it could seem like they'd faced some alligator monster. He had no intention to text back, not tonight at least, but Derek can't let Stiles worry. Before he can compose an explanation, another text comes in.
forget it, just realized it's stuffed. i'm not sure if i should be appalled or aroused
Derek itches to text Stiles back (Aroused, really? Wow. Talk about low standards.) but he doesn't.
It's not because he wants to test Stiles, or play with his head. No, Derek wants to take this reconnect thing slow. He doesn't want to justify why he left Beacon Hills and the way he did it with basically no goodbyes, not now.
still not using words?
Minutes later: okay. that's fine
love the crispy dude/swamp lagoon thingy.
oh my god. i must forward to jackson. lolololol
can't wait to see what you send next. stay safe!
Day 46-47: Seattle, WA
"All I ask is for you to drop it!" Derek shouts, so frustrated he wants to jam the brakes, pull over and stalk off.
"Excuse me for considering actions meant to keep us safe!" Cora yells right back. "You are so fucking stubborn!"
"Fuck you. Asking questions to find the local pack would paint a big huge target on our backs." Derek can't believe her. Can't she see it's too dangerous? "And what would you know about what we have to do?"
"What, you think that I can't take decisions because I'm not an Alpha?" Cora says, eyes narrowing.
"There's that. And the fact you are just a kid," Derek answers, insisting on the last word because he knows it's going to be a blow. He's right, Cora recoils.
"What? Fuck you, Derek, fuck you. How did being an adult Alpha work for you, brother?" she hisses.
Ouch. There's nothing much he can say to that, though, so Derek clams up. That's it, he won't say a word more on the subject, and if Cora is stupid enough to ask questions to find a local pack, he's going to leave her to deal with the fallout. While he leaves town. Cora looks as stubborn as he feels, arms crossed tightly over her chest, leaning on the door away from him.
They don't talk for hours, and it's not their usual companionable silence, it's heavy with resentment. The thing is that Derek is quick to anger, but he doesn't hold grudges, at least not for long (unless you mess with his family). An hour in, he's considering giving his sister an apology. But he won't do it until she talks first, he's strong headed like that.
It's still at a stalemate when Derek has to fill the tank. He's watching the numbers go up on the pump, when he hears Cora speak up inside, although very softly.
"I'm sorry I'm not Laura."
Derek knows he's not articulate enough to properly tell Cora - with words - that he doesn't need her to be a second Laura. When he goes in to pay for the gas, he asks around and, hopefully, his finding will be good enough to make peace.
Once in Seattle, he follows the directions he received and drives to the waterfront and then Pier 54. All the while Cora is silent, though more sad than angry now.
It's not a direct apology, but bringing her to the Ye Olde Curiosity Shop is a gesture she understands, because the corner of her lips turns up at the name.
Inside are enough oddities to earn him a few good points, he's pretty sure. After all, they have Sylvester, a perfectly preserved mummy, Siamese twin calves, one of the largest collections of shrunken human heads outside of Ecuador, the Lord's prayer engraved on a grain of rice, Ripley's name on a single human hair, the largest coin ever minted (6 1/2 lbs.!), fleas in dresses, a 67 lb. snail, oil paintings on pin heads, a six foot crab, a Chinese two-man gun, a three tusk walrus skull, a chain carved from a match stick, a nine foot blow gun, a woven cedar bark hat worn by Chief Sealth (namesake of Seattle), old time player pianos, a Chinese beheading sword, a real (working) merry-go-round organ, whale and walrus oosiks, and many, many more things.
Including his favorites: a virtual family of Barnum Mer-creatures: a Mermaid, a Mer-Baby, and a Mer-dog named "Petri-Fido." That does the trick, or maybe it's because many of the creatures and skeletons dangle from overhead cables. Anyway, as they leave the shop Cora gives his arm a squeeze and he knows that they are good.
"Thanks," Derek says when the waitress brings them theirs beers.
She smiles. "You're welcome. I just want to warn you that there's a problem with our payment machine. There's an ATM just next door, though."
"Okay," he says. Figures that they've been in little places and he's never had a problem paying with his credit card, but they've got a problem in a town like Seattle.
Cora looks up from her menu. "I'll take nachos, please. With chicken, the big plate. With guacamole if you have some."
"Sure," the waitress says, before she's called over by the next table.
Derek nudges Cora's foot under the table. "I'll go get some cash."
"What? Oh, no, no. It's fine, I've got this," Cora says with a smirk.
He thinks that she's got them covered but she points to the pool table in the back of the bar. Five young guys, walking the line of tipsy towards getting drunk, are heckling each other.
"Watch and learn. But stay here, or you'll cramp my style," Cora says, getting up.
It's with fascination that Derek watches Cora approach the pool tables, though she stays a bit on the side at first. It's not long before she's spotted and unsurprisingly a couple of the guys try to chat her up. Cora plays it quiet but soon she's by their sides, watching the game. The ones playing suddenly try to show off, which is ridiculous because they start missing their shots more than they were two minutes ago.
"It looks really hard," Cora says, somewhat soothing the ego of Moron One who managed to pocket the white ball.
"You've never played?" Moron Two asks.
"Not really, no," Cora says with a shrug.
And that, Derek realizes, is how she starts her hustle. He watches Cora being atrociously bad, not really liking how she lets herself be manhandled in 'better' positions when it's clear the morons are just trying to cop a feel. The nachos get served and Derek feels no guilt at starting on them, because they look - and taste - delicious. Plus, it gives something to do as he watches the show. After her 'lessons', Cora teams up with one of the guys as they play double. He's not so bad, but Cora brings him down so much they lose spectacularly as she sends the eight ball right into a corner. It makes everyone laugh.
"Not cool, boys," Cora says with a pout. "It was just an error. I'm getting better, no?" she asks her partner who winces.
The one she paired up with is long and lanky, with curly blond hair that reminds Derek of Isaac. He's the least obnoxious of the gang and Derek heard the others call him Eric.
"Maybe a little?" he says.
They play again, but for one shot that Cora does properly, she misses three. She keeps encouraging Eric, though, to the point that he gets cocky because the playing field is getting a bit more even. He's the one who eventually suggest putting money on the game, which is brilliant on Cora's part. Derek, who can see where this is going, orders more nachos to go because one of the morons is getting steadily drunker and louder which means he's bound to start trouble when he realizes he's been had. Fortunately, Derek has enough cash to pay for their food and drinks, even though it does take his very last bill.
Meanwhile, there's money on the table, and Cora manages to miss but place the balls in a way that the other team is hindered while Eric gets great shots. They win, high-fiving each other, which prompts another game with even more money since Cora convinced Eric to go all in. Once again, it's pretty even until Cora overlooks the table, looks up to grin widely at Derek across the bar, then turns to wink at Eric.
"Watch this, hun," she says.
She then proceeds to clear the table in sharp effective shots that have the five friends gaping. Cora's not good, she's great. The morons still have their jaw unhinged as she wins the game and drops the queue on the table. She then splits the cash in two before slipping half of the bills in Eric's front pocket with a tap on his chest. She puts the rest in her bra and kisses him on the cheek.
"S'been fun! Thanks sweetheart," Cora says, before sashaying towards their table, looking incredibly smug.
Derek gets up, grabs the bag with the nachos and points her towards the door, which makes Cora laugh. Meanwhile, Eric still seems in shock as the other team finds their outrage.
"What the hell?"
They don't wait to see what will happen, though there’s sudden laughter, Eric doubled over with it. He must convince his buddies to drop it because no one comes after them as they exit the bar.
"So?" Cora says, getting the money out and spreading it up as a fan to better show it off.
"Well done," Derek admits. "Though you played with fire, you could have won without rubbing it in their faces like that."
Cora hums. "True, but less fun."
"Is that how you found money?" Derek starts, not sure if he has the right to ask. "I mean it must have been hard for you."
"I wish, but they don't let eleven years old in bars." Cora says, which makes Derek flinch. God, she was so small, it must have been terrible. He can too easily imagine the creeps trying to take advantage of a baby girl and wants to slash all of their throats. "But in the last couple of years, yeah, sometimes. I'll tell you one of these days."
Derek doesn't push, hoping she feels comfortable enough soon. It annoys him, not knowing, but it's not his story to tell. In fact, he hasn't shared his and Laura's either, yet, apart from the basics. Derek gives Cora the bag with the nachos as they walk towards their hotel.
Day 48: Richland, WA
From Seattle they go East or they'd end up in Canada.
The next destination that catches Cora's attention is a visit of an old nuclear reactor for which they have to take a five hour tour. Cora's lucky they don't look too closely at her fake ID, because they only allow adults on the site. The place, called the Hanford Site, is huge which explains the long bus ride. They are told they'll do a drive-by of all nine of its reactors, a visit to the ghost towns that were depopulated to build the Site, and a stop at its 11-million-ton-capacity toxic waste landfill.
The B reactor looks like an old blocky factory, and they get a security briefing before the tour starts. Derek finds himself really into all of the explanations, chemistry formulas and all. The staff tried to set the place in a way that is interesting, but they clearly are trying to educate first. He's always loved history, enough that he majored in it at NYC, and this place hasn't changed since Word War 2 which is the closest he's done to a trip back in time.
One of Derek's favorite places in the reactor is the control room. It's painted a sick shade of green and full of mechanical gauges and dials, toggle switches, and colored lights like what you'd expect from a bad movie set. Derek takes a picture, and since it comes out looking pretty cool he sends it to Stiles.
The reply comes when they're in the bus, going back.
you send the weirdest shit
This time, Derek decides to answer. He's weirdly nervous about it, which makes no sense. It's only Stiles.
Closed nuclear reactor. he sends back.
It figures that Stiles only uses capital letter for smiley faces. By his side Cora cranes her neck, trying to see whom he's texting with and Derek pulls away, annoyed. It's none of her business. She rolls her eyes and checks her own phone.
"Spokane next?" she asks.
He goes through his bathroom kit twice before remembering that he threw his toothpaste directly in his duffel that morning. The diner's coffee had been truly atrocious and he'd wanted to change the taste in his mouth. That he comes out of the bathroom before brushing his teeth is the only reason he catches Cora going through his phone. He only notices because she's doing it while holding her own, too. She freezes, caught red handed.
"What the hell?" he says, furious.
Ever since she came back into his life, Derek has let Cora keep her secrets, respected her privacy. And now she's going behind his back when it was clear in the bus earlier he didn't want her to see?
"Stiles, really?" Cora asks back, as if she wasn't expecting that at all.
Derek didn't delete any of the texts, so Cora maybe saw that Stiles' the only one who bothered to communicate with him. And that it was only after Derek initiated contact. He doesn't want to feel embarrassed by that, but he is.
"Why not, we're friends," Derek says, and he believes it enough so it rings true. "Give it back to me right now and I won't kill you."
Cora throws the phone on his bed, raising her hands. "Okay, okay, sorry. I shouldn't have done that but I thought it was Peter. I wondered what he was up to."
Derek snatches the phone back. "Peter? Why the hell would I send travel pics to Peter?"
She laughs. "I had no idea you were sending travel pics! Which is very interesting, by the way."
"Shut up," Derek mumbles, putting the phone safely in his waistband and grabbing his toothpaste.
Sending Stiles weird travel pics isn't interesting. What is she trying to imply? They are sort of friends, that's all. Of the whole gang in Beacon Hills, he's probably the closest to being one, at least. Not counting Isaac, but it's not the same with a Beta. Should he have texted Isaac? That never crossed his mind. If Isaac even has a phone. Derek probably should know that.
Dammit, he knew texting Stiles would bring headaches. With a last glare at Cora, Derek goes back in the bathroom to brush his teeth.
Day 49: Spokane, WA
The fact he's replied encourages Stiles who now texts him without being prompted. The bulk of their interactions are still centered on the weird roadside attractions, though, which Cora manages to find everywhere. At every stop they make, Derek now scopes the place with the goal of sending the weirdest thing he finds.
He's got a lot of choice at Marvin Carr's One of a Kind in the World Museum, that's for sure, with among other things a car once owned by Elvis, the skin of Fritz the thirteen-foot-long boa constrictor who electrocuted himself on a stereo wire, the Room of Dazzle, and a life-size Spiderman dummy in chains behind a stuffed polar bear. He chooses two stuffed squirrels riding a tiny fire engine with a sign saying "Hurry: Nuts On Fire".
Derek can't resist texting back this time, too. I've always liked small woodland creatures.
you, derek hale, are weird. i just wanted to say.
Derek smiles, and then thinks about Cora saying he's predictable. Better weird than boring.
boring? you're many things, but boring has never been one of them my friend
He knows it's an expression, but 'friend' settles something in Derek. So maybe Stiles does think of him as a friend, too, that's good, surprisingly so, and Derek continues the visit wondering why he likes that so much. He's had people he called friends over the years, especially in college, but he'd never told them about his history, what he is. Stiles is the only one who has the whole picture.
Cora's frowning at her phone near the largest stuffed black bear in the world.
"Why the face?" Derek asks.
"Something looked cool and only 45 minutes from here," she says, looking disgruntled.
"What's the problem, we're off season?" That happens quite a lot.
"No, the owner has to be convinced by email that we're worthy visitors. I guess it's too short notice and anyway there's no way I'll write a full email with this," she says, waving the phone.
Intriguing. "What is it?"
"The Robot Hut: replicas from movies, toys, the works. Looked cool," she says, showing him a couple of pictures from the website she uses to find those places.
It does look cool.
"Let me try something. What's the exact place?" Derek asks.
"The Robot Hut, on highway two, Elk, Washington," Cora reads. "What are you going to do?"
"Me? Nothing. Just a long shot," Derek says, opening a new text for Stiles.
Robot Hut, Hwy2, Elk, WA. Look it up/ can you get us in? Preferably today? Thanks.
As he said, there is little chance it will work - Stiles might not bother for one - but it's worth a try. As they exit Marvin's place, his phone pings.
oh. wow. i'm on it, ttyl
"Let's go find somewhere to eat lunch," Derek tells Cora.
"Did you ask Stiles to email the guy?" Cora asks.
Derek shrugs. "Why not? He can be pretty convincing."
"You like him," Cora says, delighted.
"What? Shut up, it's not like that," Derek protests, but the suggestion makes him pause.
It's not like that, is it? He honestly never thought of Stiles like that, apart from a time or two he couldn't help to notice his attractiveness, like he objectively does for everyone. All the kids in Beacon Hills are good looking, think of it.
"Whatever you say." Cora gets in the car. "I have a craving for Chinese food."
"We need gas, I'll ask," Derek says, backing out.
Stiles doesn't disappoint. They're getting out Gordy's Sichuan Cafe, pleasantly full, when he gets a new text.
can you be there @ 3pm?
It's currently one thirty, so that's pretty much perfect.
Yes. What did you say to convince him?
dazzled him with my enthusiasm! =D
you're to be my proxy since I am a poor robot enthusiast who can't make the trip. you send me pics, let me take care of the rest!
Derek smiles. That's great, thank you.
my pleasure! it sounds great!
"Let's go," he tells Cora, who has a smirk on her face he doesn't like.
"Okay. I've found something cool in Wallace, Idaho."
"No, to the Robot Hut," Derek says, sitting in the car. "We're expected at three."
"No way!" exclaims Cora.
"Told you he was convincing," Derek says, amused.
(The visit ends up with John Rigg, the owner, chatting enthusiastically with Stiles on Cora's phone while he points at Derek what he has to take in picture. It's pretty surreal, no lie, and only when it's done does Derek realizes he didn't even get a hello. He tries not to be bothered by it. After the visit is done and the pics are sent by text, Derek gets a lot of flailing for hours, which brings back his good mood. He does eventually turn off the text-alarm sound, though, because he resents Cora's smirking as if she knows something he doesn't.)
Wallace, Idaho's attraction is the Oasis Bordello Museum. The place was opened for business until 1988, but vacated overnight when the occupants fled in a panic thinking the FBI was about to raid the place. What is left is a time capsule for the late eighties as the new owner kept everything intact. She added mannequins to pose as the woman who worked there and a couple of clients, complete with 80's clothes and everything.
Cora laughs so much at the dummy on a shower cap who's lounging on a tub of packing peanuts posing as a bubble bath that Derek sends that one to Stiles.
i've got nothing
Later, Derek follows it with the brothel price list that is taped to a wall for easy reference, written on a sheet of yellow tablet paper, broken down by sex act and timed to the minute.
on the other hand, i do have $30
On the list, $30 is for a 69 and Derek almost drops his phone, prompting a raised eyebrow from Cora. He sure hopes he's not blushing, though he feels his face heating up, dammit. It's probably just Stiles reacting to a sex act list like the teenager he is, but Derek can't help but to wonder if he said it with any thought to him. He hates Cora for bringing the subject up, he really does. Everything is going to get complicated now.
In the car, when they are looking for a motel, Cora turns up the volume when 'Good Feeling' starts playing. Again.
"Seriously?" Derek says, unable to fake being unaffected anymore.
He knows that riling him up is exactly what Cora is looking for.
"Oh oh, sometimes I get a good feeling, yeah," she sings. "I get a feeling that I never never never never had before, no no!"
Derek flips her the bird and tries to resist the urge to break the dash just to make it stop.
Derek learns that shit is indeed going on in Beacon Hills when he gets a
goddamn fucking peter, pissing off witches. argh!
For the first time, Derek feels guilty of leaving them, of leaving Peter free range to plot whatever nefarious plan he's working on. Because he must be, we're talking Peter after all. Derek worries when there's silence after that, a good twenty four hours, and when Club Foot George's Club Foot – ugh - gets no immediate reaction, Derek's vows to call in the morning to ask if everything is okay. Then a text finally comes in at four in the morning.
why so many mummified remains, that's what I'd like to know
The relief is so strong, it makes Derek sag in his bed where he'd been tossing and turning. Thank god. The snark means Stiles must be okay, right?
I ask myself the same thing. Derek answers.
oops, sorry, didn't want to wake you up
It's fine. Are you OK?
yeah, they should let me go in the morning
A shiver goes down Derek's spine. Hospital? What happened?
concussion, they are just overreacting. but ding dong the witch is dead!
Derek wants to throw his phone against the wall. Stiles got hurt, again. Don't the others know that they have to protect him? A little voice sneakily says he left, so that he has nothing to say about that. Derek curse under his breath and Cora mumbles in her sleep, unaware.
Good. Be more careful? Please?
He doesn't have any right to ask that either, but heck. It's late, and he was worried.
i'll try. i think i'll sleep, now. ttyl.
OK. Derek's fingers hover over the tiny keyboard for a moment and he adds. Sweet dreams. before sending it.
It makes Derek smile as he lies down with the hope to finally fall asleep.
Day 50-52: Butte, MT
It's rare, but once in a while Cora does convince him to go out. The bar they are in right now is alright, with decent music and with enough people to be full without being crowded. Derek avoids the dance floor, but he managed to snag one of the high tables placed around it from where he sips his beer and watches Cora do her thing. She's a good dancer and not short in partners, even though she's not encouraging one more than the other for the moment. If she decides to hook up with someone, Derek doesn't quite know how he'll deal with that. Of course, she can do whatever she wants, but she's still only seventeen and Derek's big brother instincts makes him want to show his teeth and scare the guys away.
"I'm not sure you can glare them away." The surprisingly echo of his thoughts comes from a tall blond young woman with nice blue eyes and a quirked smile. She nods towards Cora. "If you want them to stay away from your girlfriend, you should go dance with her. I'm sure that's what she wants anyway."
Derek scoffs. "She's my baby sister. And I'm pretty sure that's the last thing she wants."
Which is a lie, she'd love for him to go and then mock him endlessly. He'll pass.
"Oh, right," the girl says, suddenly coming closer with a wider smile. Here we go, Derek can't help but think. "I'm Ellen."
"Derek," he replies.
Objectively, Ellen is beautiful. And, with the data he has for the moment, she's most probably not evil (but he wouldn't swear on that, given past experience). But frankly? He doesn't feel it at all. It's not the visceral reaction to possible intimacy that he had to work though after Kate, but he just can't see a hook-up happening. Thankfully, Ellen takes the hint quite fast when he doesn't engage and moves on. Cora eventually comes over to take a sip of his beer.
"For a second there, I thought you had something going on," Cora says.
"Nah," he refutes, taking his beer back.
Cora scoffs. "You've got no game, brother."
"Not feeling it," he says with a shrug. He's been weary of relationship situations since Kate, but hooking up for a one night stand is usually not a problem. Maybe the whole Jennifer thing is too close for him to let loose.
"That cute guy over there has been checking you out," Cora says, directing his attention towards one of the big speakers.
True enough, a man that must be in his early thirties is looking back, and his gaze doesn't falter when Derek meets it. He's good looking, with dirty blond hair and a tight black button-up shirt. He also has too much product in his hair and a smile that advertises boatloads of self-confidence. Derek finds him lacking, though: too fake, not tall enough, ordinary hands…
"Not my type," he tells Cora.
"Uh huh," she replies, patting his forearm. "Would that be tall, pale and preferably a smartass?"
Derek jerks, annoyed. Is it like that? It might be, which to be honest is a complication he doesn't need. Stiles could be the picture right next to 'jailbait' in the dictionary.
"Are you done?" Derek asks, gesturing at the dance floor and Cora nods. "I'm okay to drive. Where are we going?"
"I don't know. Why don't you choose?" Cora answers.
From Butte, Montana, the four coordinate points are open. Cora doesn't look surprised when Derek decides to go South instead of vaguely East.
Day 53: Blackfoot, ID
Not all stops are a hit. The Farnsworth TV and Pioneer Museum in Rigby had potential, being heralded as the birthplace of television, but Derek finds it disappointing. Like many places it’s a mishmash of a lot of things, from the first television tube to Indian and ancient Egyptian artifacts and animal trophies.
On the other hand, the Idaho Potato Museum is campy fun. First, there is a giant Styrofoam potato in the parking lot, complete with sour cream and butter. The place is in a classy building for once and they obviously take their potatoes very seriously. Not only do they discuss the history and the agriculture of potatoes at length, there’s stuff about social, scientific, educational, artistic and economic aspects of potatoes too. Then there’s the silly stuff, like clothes made of burlap (a tuxedo and a rodeo queen outfit) and a tribute to Mr. Potato Head.
Derek chooses to sends Stiles a picture of the world’s largest potato chip made by Pringle in 1990. It measures 25 by 14 inches, and is in its own display case.
omg it’s huge!
I get that a lot. Derek sends back, because it’s too easy.
He regrets it almost immediately, feels his ears burn. They banter a lot, but innuendos have never quite made it into their interactions. What if it makes things weird?
He should not have worried.
lololololol! walked right into that one, did i?
good one. probably true, too
aaaaaand now i crave pringles. thanks for that
Derek’s not quite sure how to react, so he takes a picture of a t-shirt with Mr. Potato Head made to look like Darth Vader (now Darth Tater), and sends that instead. He can clearly see Stiles wearing something that stupid.
Derek buys it, and when Cora starts to make fun of him he points to the potato shaped soap she’s paying for - that comes in a burlap sack - and she has the good sense to shut up.
Day 54-56: National Parks, UT
Derek feels most at ease in forests and mountains, but he can admit that there is breathtaking beauty in the dry harshness of Utah.
One of their only stops is The Hole N' The Rock in Moab, where a man in the 40's had the idea to carve himself a house directly in a… big huge rock. Fourteen rooms, five thousand square feet, and Derek has to admire his dedication. If he understood correctly, it took the guy twelve years to drill. The result is a bit surreal, but a tad too claustrophobic for Derek's taste. Like a lot of the places they've visited, this one tried to preserve the look from the original owner who, Derek could have bet money before they got in, of course had a stuffed animal collection. Even creepier is his wife's doll collection.
Outside, some of the sculpted metal pieces are pretty awesome, and Derek shares his favorite, a huge bull that has an almost steampunk feel. Also a pic of Cora feeding a camel at the petting zoo. The animals are so desensitized to people that they don't even react to two werewolves, except from watching them warily at first. Once food comes out, that's it, no fucks are given anymore and they all get along great.
It's the second full moon since they left Beacon Hills.
After the first in Eugene where they burned off their excess energy while training with Liz, by a common accord, they decide to spend this one in the wild, in Canyonland National Park. They start their trek on the day of the full moon and come back to the car only on the evening of the next day.
In between, it's mostly running and climbing until they collapse, letting the wolf come to the surface. They chose the Maze District and filled some backpacks mostly with water, since Cora read there were no potable water sources. A couple of snacks and a sleeping bag each and off they went.
It's one of the best full moon runs Derek has ever had. They might be only two, but he feels in perfect communion with Cora. In the last years, in the few times when he upheld that tradition with Laura, he always felt she slowed down on his account. With Cora, there is no Alpha disparity and they run as equals. On a short distance, Cora might distance him - she's fast, very fast - but he's got endurance on his side. When it comes to climbing, they are well matched too. It's only when they come back, positively filthy with sweat and dust, and Derek's voice is rusty when he warns Cora to put something on the seat that he realizes he's probably only said a handful of words in the last 36 hours. He's okay with that.
A long shower will be more than welcome, though.
Day 58: Winslow, AZ
"I feel minuscule," Cora says.
"Yeah," Derek agrees.
"Yeah." It says a lot that he doesn’t do an easy joke with that, but frankly he’s humbled too.
"If I owned this place, I’d let people walk on the Crater’s floor."
"Would you, now," Derek replies, squinting to see the cardboard cut-out of a guy in a space suit next to an American flag. Even with enhanced vision they are hard to distinguish, being so far.
"Uh huh. For a fee, of course. I’d get some of those vehicles they brought on the moon and make them pay for rides," Cora says.
He nods. "To stay in the theme."
It could work; some people would pay big bucks to replicate the training the moon astronauts did here. Heck, they seem pretty happy to shell out for photo-ups that simulate only standing on the ground of the Crater, or next to an Apollo test capsule.
"Want to go run up the stairs and make out of shape people gape at us?"
He doesn’t like feeling this small, some exercise would do him some good.
Cora laughs. "You’ve got a mean streak, brother of mine. I like it. Let’s go."
That night, prompted by Cora, Derek buys half a dozen bottles of Jenever. He never told his Betas – frankly he didn’t want the complications – but it’s pretty much the only mass-produced alcohol that can get a werewolf drunk. For a while at least, as long as you keep on drinking steadily.
It works faster on Cora, due to her smaller body mass, and suddenly she’s telling it all. That she had sneaked out to play alone in the woods, which explains why she wasn't there when the fire started. How she panicked when she heard the screams and went to hide in the preserve, like their mom had taught them. Two days later, she came out of the woods, but then learned that Derek and Laura had skipped town already and she had no idea how to contact them. It’s a punch to the gut for Derek, the guilt so strong he can taste it over the Jenever. He wonders if he’s going to puke. Cora forestalls his apology with a raised hand, saying she made peace with that part a long time ago. They didn’t know, they could not have known, it’s ok.
Cora continues her story on how she survived, making it sound like a great adventure. How she picked pockets for cash, moving fast to steal food and hop on trains like a wannabe drifter. That her best friend was a pet rat named Herc she liberated from a pet shop in San Diego because she was afraid he’d be used to feed snakes. She first went South to Mexico, and then to South-America because she’d always wanted to see the jungle. She tells all of this with a soft smile, and Derek wonders if romanticizing that part of her life is how she managed to cope with it all. She definitely glosses over the bad times, he’s sure there had been tons, but it’s probably edited to make it easier on him.
When he can’t keep silent anymore, the alcohol helps Derek tell his side of the story. He starts by how he met Kate, the betrayal, and how the fire is his fault. That part he's never said out loud, not even to Laura - he's pretty sure she guessed, though - and if feels like a confession. Cora doesn't react much, just does a 'go on motion', and it's weirdly anti-climatic. He follows with how Laura and him gradually made their way East. Their life in Brooklyn, where he eventually went back to school even though he needed to keep three jobs to play for their crappy apartment. How suddenly, back in January, Laura announced she had business in Beacon Hills. He didn't like it, not at all, and she laughed, called him a worrywart. Said she was going to have a look at the house and promised she would call later. Then never did.
He barely can get out that he only found half of her to bury and stops, eyes blinking, trying to fight off the tears. Oh, god, Laura. Cora makes a soothing sound and drapes an arm across his shoulders, pulling him into a hug, and Derek breaks. He cries, finally, when he couldn't do it by her grave or since. At last, he mourns his big sister, his best friend in the whole world, his Alpha, and it hurts so much he wonders if there's a way to come back from it. It leads him to poke at the void left by Erica and Boyd, still so raw, and that doesn't hurt any less. Cora holds him and mostly pets his hair until there are no more tears, which takes a while. By then, he's mostly back to sober and exhausted.
"Oh, Derek," Cora says, still carding her fingers through his hair. It feels too good, he won't say anything that will make it stop. "You got dealt a shitty hand. Many shitty hands."
He grunts in agreement. He could add all of the other crap, too: Scott and Stiles getting him arrested, Kate again, frigging Peter, the kanima debacle, the Alphas, and lately, Jennifer turning out to be another mass murderer.
"You're due for some happiness," Cora slurs. She is most definitely still drunk, Derek's meltdown hadn't stopped her from sipping directly from a bottle. "What would make you happy?"
Pack. That's the thing that immediately comes to mind. He was so close to building something with those kids, as misguided as he handled the whole Alpha shtick. He misses them, the whole ragtag gang, because as mismatched and often at odds as they were, they could have been great. They could still be great.
Derek tries his best not to think about how much he misses Stiles in particular, because he's still pretending to ignore that he's well and truly screwed on that front. Dammit.
He opens a new bottle of Jenever.
Day 58: Oatman, AZ
They haven't talked about it, but with Derek now choosing the general direction to point the car as they move along, South became West a while ago and they'll soon be back in California. Cora still picks the stops, though, and she insists on the Living Ghost Town of Oatman. The road to get there is in terrible shape and Derek, who usually misses the Camaro, appreciates the ground clearance of the Toyota.
"Why this fake Old West tourist trap in particular?" Derek asks when they get there and the whole miniscule town seems to fit on less than 200 yards of Old Route 66.
"Because they have live gunbattles in the streets," Cora says.
They've parked the car and are walking towards a tourist saloon when as if on cue a guy starts yelling at another about how he stole his cattle.
It might be staged, but it's entertaining to see how suddenly the tourist families make a circle around the two gunfighters to watch the show. Derek flinches when they fire - it might be blanks, but it's still loud - but almost jumps out of his skin when a loose burro trots right by him. Followed by three more.
"What the hell?" Derek says, but Cora's laughing.
"And that would be the second reason I wanted to come. Friendly wild burros! I think they want food," she says, before pulling carrots out of her bag.
It speaks of a lot more premeditation than Derek was aware of, since their last grocery run was three days ago. It also means that Cora expected this was roughly the direction they'd take.
The carrots are an instant hit for the burros who converge on Cora, to her obvious delight. She's laughing, beautiful and bright, and the sight is like a balm on the still tender emotional wounds Derek scratched the night before. As much as it sucked in the moment, his breakdown was cathartic and finally, after years, he might be working on accepting that maybe not everything that goes bad is exclusively his fault. He knows he's got a long way to go to be even close to okay, but Derek might begin to see a way to get there.
By now, taking pictures is a second nature, and Derek snaps several of Cora with her new friends. These he keeps for himself.
Just before the border to California, they stop for a snack and Derek ends up dozing against the tree he'd leaned on. Normally, he wouldn't feel the effect of getting wasted on Jenever the night before because of the healing, but he feels sluggish. Cora throws him her new black cowboy hat that he uses to block most of the light by tipping it down on his face.
"Thanks," he says. "Half an hour?"
"Sure," she says. "Before you take your nap, can I borrow your phone? I feel like I should have more numbers than yours, Deaton's and Liz's. You know, just in case."
It's actually a good idea. Derek takes his phone out, but holds it close to his chest first.
"Promise not to snoop?" he asks.
"Cross my heart. I have no intention to check your text history," she says, and since it's not a lie he extend his phone.
"I trust you," Derek replies. It's true and he knows that should bind her to her promise even more.
There's soft tapping for a little bit and then the shutter of the camera's phone. Derek's more than half way to drifting off by then, so he doesn't have the energy to protest. Cora then puts his phone on his belly before lying on the ground with her head on his thigh.
"Want the hat?" Derek mumbles.
"Nah, it's fine."
What brings him out of his doze what feels like seconds later is a sudden string of text alarm pinging from Cora's phone. She whispers a soft 'dammit' while disabling it.
"Who'd you text?" he asks, still mostly out of it.
"Stiles really, really liked the picture," she says with a snigger.
Just like that, Derek's fully awake and he snatches Cora's phone out of her hands.
"Hey, give me that!" she protests.
"What did you do?" he asks.
Cora rolls her eyes. "Don't freak out, I just sent him a pic so he had my number too."
She takes her phone back and shows him the snapshot she took earlier. It's him, slouched against his tree. He looks asleep, completely relaxed with one leg bent and opened. It's a good picture, he's got to admit. With the jeans, tank top and the hat over his face it even looks like some kind of publicity shot Guess would do.
"Stiles' replies have been two strings of exclamation points," Cora says, amused. "Only after that did he deduce it was coming from me, and then thought of saying hi and ask how I was."
On one hand, Derek's happy to hear that. But mostly, he's irrationally pissed. He's got no exclusivity rights for texting with Stiles, but it feels as if Cora is poking at something that's not her business to poke.
Derek sighs loudly. "Cora…"
"I'm just trying to help," she says. "He likes you too, you know."
That's what he was afraid of. Cora thinks it would be cute to matchmake them.
"Could you not? Please?" He'll beg if he has to. "I just… Can this be mine, for once? Whatever it is?"
He's explaining this badly, but she seems to get it.
"Okay, okay," she says. "I'll tell him I just needed his number in case of emergency and that the pic was a one time bonus."
"Thank you," he says, heartfelt.
Derek cuts her off. "It's okay. Laura was the same, you know. Always trying to set me up."
It's good to be able to bring her up in regular conversation.
"Really?" Cora grins. "You didn't tell me what she was doing in New York."
"Marketing, mostly for law firms. She was great at it," Derek says.
"Oh, cool. Speaking of jobs, I've been thinking." Cora sits up, crosses her leg. "I think I should go back to school. Maybe aim to become a lab technician."
If Derek loves Jeopardy, it doesn't hold a candle to the obsession Cora has for procedural shows.
"That's a good idea. Any idea where you'd like to study?"
"Not really. I'm just starting to check the options," she says.
It's an unexpected twist of what might be to come. In the last few months, Derek has never thought about more than the next town or state to visit. He knew they wouldn't be on the road forever, of course, but it's the first time he stops to think about a fixed place. A home, wherever that might be. He likes the idea.
Day 59: Riverside, CA
It's weird how the simple fact of having crossed a state border makes Derek fidgety. Here they are, in California once again. Neither of them have mentioned Beacon Hills, but Derek can't help but to think about it. Should he go back? Is he even wanted there, except from Stiles who obviously enjoys texting with him? He chooses not to dwell on it too much, not for now. Instead, he enjoys his time with Cora, who is awestruck by the weirdest things.
"To quote Stiles, I've got nothing," Derek says, hands on his hips as he surveys Martin Sanchez's junk art sculptures. It's… overwhelming.
"Look at the rooftops!" Cora says. She's grinning, her eyes wide as she tries to take it all in.
"Oh, I see the rooftops alright."
There are dolls riding tricycles and stuffed dummies performing acrobatics on those rooftops. Sometimes Derek wonders what the hell those people are on, but it must be pretty strong. Not that it isn't interesting, because he agrees that the whole place comes from someone extremely creative, but not disposing of anything in seventeen years and using it all in the gardens to make folk art? That's a bit much. In his opinion.
"Let's go check out the Beer Bottle Chapel," Cora urges.
"Okay, but after that I want to try that restaurant. The food smells amazing," Derek says.
"For sure. I've read it's delicious. Oh, did you see the fountain?" Cora gushes, straying away from her original goal like a butterfly.
"I have seen the fountain," Derek acquiesces.
It's obviously one of those days when Cora won't be happy until she's done all of the exploring she wants to do. He lets her go, following leisurely.
ever heard of women in white?
Derek wonders if it's something they are dealing with right now or just curiosity.
Spirits with unfinished business, usually. What, is there one in BH?
well that's just it, you know? one would think a spooky tale about a woman in white would have made the rounds before now. they don't just appear out of thin air!
Admit that you'd be pissed if it was common knowledge but YOU somehow had managed not to hear of it. Derek texts.
i would have known about it!
Derek scoffs. And you would have dragged Scott with you on Questionable Adventures TM
hahaha! yep. me, scott, and my awesome sense of adventure.
You mean your propensity to get in trouble.
i have no idea why you'd say something like that ;)
and as a FYI, keep using big words. i like it. ;D
More and more innuendoes get in their conversations now, though usually it's through jokes. Derek decides to be a bit more overt, to see how Stiles reacts. Test the water, so to speak.
Funny, Cora says you prefer pictures.
It's the first time they mention the photograph Cora sent Stiles the day before. Derek had been surprised he'd kept shut about it.
i didn't know you knew about that
Derek frowns. There was nothing wrong with the picture, right?
Heard the shutter. Why would she hide that from me?
no reason. you just don't look like the type to like having your picture taken when unaware
Derek's text - She does it all the time. - is barely sent when Stiles finishes his previous sentence
even if looked like the intro of classy soft core porn
Okay, so Stiles overt game is leagues ahead of his own.
Is that so. Derek texts. Enjoyed?
i'm not sure you'd be comfortable with how much i've enjoyed it…
Yep, that's loud and clear. The admission that Stiles probably got off on that pic makes Derek's heart speed up. It's ridiculous to be affected by such a small comment, he's not the teenager here. Goddammit, he's flirting with a kid, what the hell is he thinking? But on the other hand, it's Stiles. He got himself into this, for better or worse.
As soon as the text leaves, Derek realizes it can be interpreted as a little blasé, dismissive even, while Stiles just gave a firm kick in the line they've been tip-toeing on. His boldness deserves some recognition and an admission on Derek's part, too.
Very comfortable. he adds, because he doesn't quite know how to word it.
It's easy to imagine Stiles smiling as wide as the little face on his screen; Derek might look a little goofy, too (but he refuses to send an emoticon in reply).
Day 61: Hollywood, CA
Checking out the Griffith Observatory and the James Dean bust? Awesome. Convince Cora it would be a bad idea to trespass and hike to the Hollywood Sign? Doable. Madame Tussauds' Hollywood wax museum? Great for silly pictures. The stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? Why not.
But to visit the Museum of Death?
"No, no way!" Derek protests. He even starts walking backwards, away from it. The skull is already a bit much.
"Cora, no!" Derek protests louder. He just can't. He hasn't read the description but can imagine how far one could go in a place like this. Derek's way too familiar with death, he doesn't want to see it being exploited for thrills or commercialized. "I followed you everywhere but I'm opting out of this one."
"Okay, fine," she says. "But they-"
"I don't want to know," Derek speaks over her. "Go in, I'll drive around, try to find a place to do laundry later. I'll come and pick you up in one hour."
"Are you sure?" she asks.
It's clear that she wants in so he nods. "Not a problem."
(She's greenish when they meet up later. Derek still doesn't want to know.)
Derek finds himself humming to "Without You". It's very possible that the song speaks to him, may David Guetta - and Usher - be damned. Derek squirms in embarrassment when Cora laughs, but he gets over it when she punches his arm joyfully and sings along too.
"You're adorable," she says later.
"Slander," he protests meekly.
They lapse into silence after that. It's comfortable, and so very them. Eventually, Derek speaks up again.
"It's good, this," Derek says, gesturing between the two of them and the road ahead.
"Yes," Cora says. She's silent for a minute, then adds. "But it's about to end, right?"
It feels like it. He's definitely drawn back towards Beacon Hills and not just because of the potential of what could happen with Stiles. Even after everything that happened, Derek feels like he has a duty to help Scott, at least for now. The boy's got a lot of heart and a moral compass he admires, but Scott is so inexperienced with everything werewolf, he can't let Peter be the one to advise him (sooner or later, he'll claw him in the back). Plus, the whole true Alpha situation is a lot of pressure for a guy so young. And there's Isaac, too. Their link has been almost severed, especially since Isaac has shifted allegiance to Scott and Derek lost his Alpha powers, but he's a part of him too. So yes, the trip is probably about to end.
"It was a good ride," Derek says. "Best time I've had in years. Maybe ever."
Cora grins. "Yeah, same for me. But frankly? I'm sick of this car. Ugh."
"It's a sensible car," Derek says, just as defensive about it than when he got so much shit for trading in the Camaro.
"Keep telling yourself that, old man." Her smirk is infuriating.
Derek flips her the bird (it’s a reflex by now).
Day 62: Auburn, CA
Stiles and him text several times a day now, but Derek hasn't sent a travel pic since the Hole in the Rock in Utah, over a week ago. He does it for a 45-ton concrete statue of a Gold Rush era miner.
It's common that Stiles doesn't answer immediately, but in this case he does.
i think i've been there! not far from sacramento, right?
Derek hadn't expected him to know that.
that's 2 hours away! you're coming back?
How can he say that he'd want to, but that he doesn't know if he'd be welcome?
I don't know. Should I?
Instead of a text, the phone rings. They haven't talked since he left and the thought is oddly intimidating. Texts have been easy, will real words break their stride? Would going back to Beacon Hills and being face to face fuck everything up? The only way to know is to answer the damn phone.
"What do you mean, should I? Of course you should!" Stiles says, obviously upset.
"You're probably the only person who wants that."
"What? Why would you say that? I'm sure Scott would be okay with it."
Derek snorts to cover the sting. "Wow, compelling argument there."
"Shut up, you know what I mean. We could use all the help we can get, honestly. It's been bad."
It's something they deliberately have not talked about, except for the time Stiles ended up in the hospital, but to know they faced a lot of problems while Derek was busy sightseeing does make him feel guilty.
"I'm sorry to hear that. You should have said something."
"I didn't want to guilt trip you back," Stiles says.
"Which you are trying to do right now," Derek argues.
"It's not a coincidence you're so close, man! Surely you've been thinking about it!"
He's got him there. Before he answers, Stiles adds, a little softer now.
"Well, I hoped you've been thinking about it."
"I am," Derek confesses. "I think I'd like to. Cora not so much."
They'd talked about it, the day before. She wants to start anew, go back to school to do what she needs to eventually start college. For her, Beacon Hills is a step back and too crowded with bad memories. It’s a sensible argument.
"Oh," Stiles says. He sounds bummed and that's why Derek had avoided telling him he was back in California. He didn't want to get his hopes up.
"So I have to set her up somewhere nice before," Derek says, mind finally made. Maybe he shouldn't have told that part, left his options open, but he's tired of always denying himself of potential good things.
"Really?" That's definitely Stiles perking up. "And then you'll come back?"
"Yeah. For a bit at least, see how it goes," Derek says. He won't know if there's a place for him in Beacon Hills if he doesn't give it a shot. If there isn't, he can leave again, go live with Cora and start over wherever she'll be.
"Good, that's good," Stiles says. His tone turns mischievous, teasing. "Trust me, I'll do my best to convince you it's the best idea ever!"
Derek can't help but smile, and is distracted from the bubble of his conversation with Stiles by Cora leaning against the car twenty feet away and making kissing noises at him. He turns his back to her; he'll deal with the teasing later.
"Yeah?" he tells Stiles.
"Oh yeah. So you get your ass back here, so I can start on that."
The tone is loaded, and it makes Derek's blood race in anticipation. Jesus Christ, he's got it bad.
Day 63-66: Sacramento, CA
Cora chooses Sacramento. It's a nice little town and close enough to Beacon Hills that Derek thinks they'll manage to keep in contact easily enough.
The problem to enroll Cora in school is that she's effectively off the grid, considered dead in the fire. To resuscitate her officially through the legal channels would bring more questions than they want to deal with - especially with Scott's FBI dad in the picture now - so they do it halfway, erasing all mentions of her death and forging fake school records for the years she missed as if she never left Beacon Hills. They manage that feat with the help of Stiles' friend, Danny, whom Lydia helps to convince. They also set up Derek as her legal guardian, so he can sign all of the paperwork to come.
In the end, Cora rents a little apartment in the basement of a private house. The neighborhood is neat and quiet and the older couple who own the house take an immediate shine to Cora, assuring Derek that they'll watch over her. All through the process, that takes only three days - the school registration is under way but it should be sorted soon so he can start after the holidays - Cora is all smiles, with a jump in her steps.
"Is this really what you want?" Derek asks once again as they are shopping for bedding and other stuff to decorate her room.
"Yes!" She says, throwing the purple duvet in the kart, but she immediately switches it for the orange one she'd been comparing it to. The action weakens the certainty in her voice.
"I meant starting over, here in Sacramento, on your own," Derek says. He'd sworn he would never leave her again and it's what he's about to do. She's family, pack, and it hurts just thinking of it.
"I know, and yes, I am sure," Cora says. She even pauses, takes his face in her hands to look at Derek straight in the eyes. "This is going to be great for me, I know it. I want it."
It's heartfelt and according to her pulse and everything else totally true.
"I'm going to be fine, and you have my blessing to go get your boy. I'm rooting for you, bro," she adds with a smile.
Derek rolls his eyes for show, but her words settle something in him. Her approval means a lot.
"He's not my boy."
"Yet," she says, raising a finger and laughs when he gently pushes her. "Anyway, you'll come to visit, right?"
Derek smiles back. "Of course. And you'll have to call me every day."
It was Laura's rule, too, when they were away from each other. He understands why now.
"I will, I will. And you'll give me details," she says slyly and that's enough, Derek does shove her away.
"In your dreams, squirt, in your dreams."
Day 67: Beacon Hills, CA
Derek figures there is no point in fussing around, so he heads for Stiles' house as soon as he drives into Beacon Hills. They can go see Scott together later, it should make his return easier. He's nervous, wonders how it will be to see Stiles again. They had several conversations over the last days, some to set up Cora's things but others just for the fun of it, getting to know each other a bit more. He learned that Stiles has strong opinions on Star Wars and Star Trek, which is not surprising at all.
He's about five turns from Stiles' street when he hears a howl that has him hitting hard on the breaks. An Alpha call to battle, for help. Shit, if Scott dares to howl in the middle of the day, there must be big trouble. Derek turns the car around and drives as fast as he can towards the Preserve where his instinct urges him to go.
A dozen scenarios go through his mind. Is it related to Stiles' women in white comment? Did Deucalion decide to come back? Could it be worse than that? What if Stiles is there and in danger... of course he'll be there, dammit. Derek hurries even more after that, runs into the wood when the car can't bring him closer. There are gunshots on top of growls and snarls, and Derek supposes it's Chris Argent and that he has to be careful not to get hit by accident, barging in unexpectedly. He stops at the edge of the clearing, taking in what is going on.
As much as he can see, the enemies are werewolves, nothing else. Scott, the twins, and Isaac have their hands full, though, since the whole pack of ten or so wolves are rushing them at once. In backup support with guns, maybe 10 yards in front of Derek, are Stiles, the Sheriff and Chris but shots are made difficult if they want to avoid their own. By their side Allison and Lydia are there too, with crossbows, and frankly Allison seems to be having a lot more success in helping out than anyone else. If Derek goes in without notice, he's going to look like a pincushion before he even gets close enough to Scott to help.
"Argents," he shouts through his fangs. "Derek Hale!"
All of the humans turn their heads towards him, a couple of the wolves too. He keeps his own eyes on the fight, though. Allison is the one who reacts first, pointing to the brawl.
"Go go go!!"
Derek doesn't have to be told twice. He runs right into the thick of it, going for Isaac first. Scott and the twins are Alphas, they can hold their own better, even if they are outnumbered. It's good he does, too, because Isaac is taking a beating. Derek slashes at the neck of the one holding him from behind, succeeding in getting his attention. From there all of the training with Liz kicks in and he ducks and weaves, punches and kicks until nothing is moving anymore. Not that Derek did it all on his own, far from it, but from a fight that looked pretty much at standstill even though the other pack is ten wolves strong - but just one Alpha - his arrival is the trump card that made the scale tilt in Scott's pack favor. He knocked at least three Betas down by himself and barely got nicked in the process. It's a heady rush, he won't lie.
Scott is holding the other pack Alpha's shirt bunched in his fist and shows his fangs. He'd be in his right to rip his throat out for trespassing and attacking on home turf, and to take that guy's pack away, but of course that's not the Scott McCall way.
"I told you to leave. But you didn't listen to me," he says, eyes burning red.
"I should have, Alpha." It's subdued and he even tilts his head to show his throat.
Scott snaps his fangs, but that's it. "Yes, you should have. And now you will leave, and you'll stay away. Understood?"
The defeated Alpha nods rapidly. Derek would bet quite a bit of money that one of his Betas will challenge him shortly. After that, it takes only minutes and the other pack slinks away, carrying their wounded. The next thing Derek knows, he's got an armful of Scott.
"Derek!" he shouts before letting him go. He looks thrilled to see him and, honestly, it's a surprise (a good one).
"Great moves, man!" Isaac says, all smiles too.
Derek pulls him into a brief hug next, and then ruffles his hair. "Thanks! I'm glad to see you," he can't help but say. "You too," he tells Scott, but upon seeing the twins walking over, he sobers up. "But not you guys." He'll never forgive them for their part in Boyd's death.
"Fair enough," one says with a shrug.
"Derek Hale," he hears Stiles say. He turns with a smile, watches him walk over with the rifle he was shooting with earlier resting on his shoulder. "You never could resist a dramatic entrance, could you?"
At first glance he looks okay, not hurt at all. And even prettier than Derek had ever dared admit to himself before.
"It's all about timing," he tells him with a wink.
Stiles throws his head back to laugh, gives his rifle to his dad and comes in for a hug, too. That one lasts a little longer and might be a tad tighter, too.
"Oh, man, I've missed you," Stiles says when Derek lets him go.
"Yeah, same," Derek answers with a smile.
"Where have you been, dude?" Scott asks. "We haven't heard from you for months!"
Derek looks at Stiles and raises his eyebrows in a silent comment. So he kept the fact they'd been in contact a secret, then. Stiles shrugs and looks unrepentant.
"Around. I've seen many wondrous things," Derek says, which makes Stiles laugh again.
"As touching as this reunion is," Chris Argent says. "We should clear out before the cops get here."
"Ahem. I'm already here?" the Sheriff says, raising his hand. It makes everyone smile and Derek can definitely see where his son got the snark. "But yeah, you guys should go and I'll take care of any fallout."
"Anyone hurt?" Scott asks. "Let's go to mine. Mom will want to check everyone."
He grabs Stiles around the shoulders, towing him along. Stiles throws Derek a look but he gestures for him to go. He's got something to do first, anyway.
"I'll be there in a minute."
Chris and Allison nod at him, too, and Lydia wiggles her fingers in a small salute. Derek waits behind and the Sheriff, who'd been picking up shells and a lone crossbolt Allison forgot, soon turns to him.
"Anything I can do for you, Derek?"
He's not going to lie, Derek's insides are in knots. But it's the right thing to do.
"I wanted to have a word with you, Sir."
The Sheriff nods, but raises a hand. "Stiles told me everything that happened. It explains a lot, and if I'd known before, things would probably have been very different."
"I get that," Derek says. "You worked with the facts you had, it's fine. I'm sorry everyone got pulled into the mess. But it's not what I wanted to talk to you about."
"Okay, then. Go on."
Derek can't believe he's doing this, he feels queasy with nervousness.
"It's about Stiles," Derek finally forces out, and the Sheriff tilts his head, a lot more focused. "I like him. A lot. And I am pretty sure he likes me too."
The Sheriff's eyebrows have shot up. At least he's not putting a hand to his gun (yet). "You and Stiles?"
Derek puts his hands up. "Nothing happened, we've been texting while I was away. But I wanted to tell you, because I don't want for Stiles to lie because of me."
"You realize he's only sixteen years old, right?" the Sheriff says.
Derek sighs. Of course the Sheriff is against it, he expected that. "I do. I'm ready to wait."
"You're telling me you'd wait for him to be legal before anything?" The Sheriff sounds skeptical.
"He's worth it," Derek says, tilting his chin up. He wishes the Sheriff had werewolf senses to hear how honest he is with this.
The Sheriff rubs his hands on his face. "And you think that Stiles, my Stiles, knowing you're interested, would be okay with waiting too?"
Derek winces. "Good point." He'd take it as a challenge to seduce him, it could be torture.
"Look, Derek," the Sheriff says. "First, this is a surprise. I didn't even know my son was gay, or bi, or whatever this means."
Which, Derek realizes, was probably not his place to tell.
"Second, I won't pretend the age difference doesn't bother me. It does. The statutory rape laws are there for a reason," he continues and Derek feels his stomach drop. If the Sheriff is dead against them even chastely dating, he won't be able to do this.
"But Stiles has been through a lot, especially since the Nemeton. I've been very worried about him," he says, which makes Derek frown. Stiles never mentioned anything bad going on with him specifically. "The only times I've seen him genuinely smile lately was at his phone, which I now realize was for you. Earlier was the first I've heard him laugh in weeks."
That sounds bad, he cannot believe Stiles managed to never let it show. It's true that texting isn't the most revealing mode of communication.
"What's going on?" he asks, genuinely worried.
"Trouble sleeping, panic attacks, other stuff. He's not telling me everything. But maybe he'd tell you. He needs someone to ground him, to care for him."
That's unexpected, but welcome. Derek feels hope rise. "I'd like the chance to try. I care for him a lot."
The Sheriff nods. "Good. So as I said it's not something I'm a hundred percent at ease with, but I do give you the permission to date my son."
"Thank you. Thank you," Derek repeats, feeling as if a heavy weight has been taken off his shoulders. He's smiling so wide it hurts. "We're going to take it slow, no pressure, I swear."
"I'll hold you to that. And if in any way, shape or form you do something to deliberately hurt my kid, I've got wolfsbane bullets," he adds, pointing his finger menacingly.
"Got it," Derek says.
He's itching to go, now. To find Stiles, learn more about what is going on with him (and give him shit for not saying anything). Hug him again, possibly even kiss. He must look fidgety because the Sheriff rolls his eyes.
"Just go already. But be back at the house for dinner, the both of you."
"Yes Sir. Thank you, Sir."
Derek says, and then he's running towards Scott's house, high on expectations like he hasn't been in years.
"Finally," Stiles mutters under his breath as they walk towards his Jeep.
He'd tried to get away and not so subtly gesture Derek to follow for a while, but first Melissa had wanted to check Derek out, and then Scott had tried to get him to talk about his trip. When Derek had cut that short - 'just up to Seattle then we came back down through Utah, LA, and that's about it' - Lydia demanded to know how Cora was doing in Sacramento (which had hurt Scott's feelings, as he visibly hadn't known about that either). Then Isaac and Allison had asked about Derek's new fighting skills, which had lead to a demo in the backyard and promises of lessons to come (kicking one of the twin's ass had been particularly satisfying).
"Your father invited me to dinner," Derek says, and can't help but laugh at the face Stiles does.
"Are you serious?" Stiles asks, but his shocked expression turns into a smile at Derek's amusement. "Okay, fine. Let's go to dinner."
They get in the Jeep, but before Stiles can start the motor Derek reaches across the cabin, gently grabs his stupid face with both hands and leans in to kiss him softly on the lips. Stiles makes a shocked sound and his expression, when Derek pulls back, is priceless again.
"I haven't misread this, right?" Derek asks.
Stiles, who by reflex at being grabbed had taken hold of Derek forearms, lets go only to clinch Derek's shirt in a fist to haul him back in.
"Definitely not," he says before crashing their mouths together again.
This time, it doesn't stay chaste and butterflies do kamikaze dives in Derek's chest as their tongues touch and slide together. He's the one who breaks the kiss once more, pulling back.
"Dinner, with your dad," Derek says as Stiles protests, trying to climb over to his seat. He manages to contain him, at least for the moment. "He might be okay with us dating, but if I get you home looking debauched within the first few hours he might change his mind."
Stiles freezes. "He's okay with us dating?"
Derek smiles. "Yeah. I asked him earlier."
"Wow," Stiles says, sitting back down in his seat. "Really?"
"Yes, really. I promised we'd go slow, and-"
"You what?" Stiles says, disbelieving. "I get to date you, but we go slow?"
He knew that Stiles would push the issue, but he hadn't expected him to take that part so badly. Is sex all he wants? The thought is like a cold shower and Derek takes his hands off Stiles' leg. Maybe he got it all wrong and Stiles isn't really interested in him, just in a buff older guy who happened to show interest, flirted with him. Stiles never made a secret that he'd jump whomever offered.
"I.. I need to go get my car," Derek says, reaching for the handle. He can't do this.
"No!" Stiles says, grabbing his arm again. He obviously realized something is wrong. "Wait, wait a second!"
"That came out badly, I'm sorry. I'm okay with slow. I'll take whatever I can get," Stiles says and Derek doesn't even have time to comment on how that doesn't make anything better that Stiles continues, looking panicked. "And that didn't come out right either, shit!"
Derek shakes his head. "It was a b-"
"No no no," Stiles says, clamping a hand on Derek's mouth so he stops taking. He's tempted to lick his palm or bite it so he takes it off. "Don't you dare say this is a bad idea. We're a good idea! What I meant is that I've wanted this for a long time, Derek. I really, very badly, want this. And if I can date you, kiss you, I'm not sure how I'll manage the whole going slow thing. I know what I want, it won't change, and I don't need to go slow."
Stiles finally takes off his hand, looking at the same time worried and expectant. Derek lets him stew for a few seconds, because this is important.
"Maybe I am the one who needs to go slow. Ever thought of that?" he asks.
"I-" Stiles starts, but then shuts up, looking chastised. "Oh."
"If you just want sex -"
"No!" Stiles protests. "Didn't you hear me before? I want you, but not just that. I like you, Derek. A whole lot. And I can wait for as long as you want, I promise."
He makes the whole thing sound a lot more dramatic than it is; it's not like Derek wants a no touching agreement for the next two years.
"I wouldn't be here if I didn't like you too," Derek says and that brings a smile back to Stiles' face.
"That's good. That's great. Can we get back to the kissing, now? That part was awesome," Stiles says.
Already unable to resist, Derek sighs as if he's completely put upon - which makes Stiles laugh - but leans in for another kiss.
Being in a relationship with Stiles is not that different than how they were before. The core of their interactions is still filled with banter, occasional fighting - especially about safety - and the knowledge that whatever happens, the other will be there. It's that trust that makes the difference for Derek, and sets what they have apart from every other relationship Derek ever had.
The pack easily accepted the news that they were together (in fact, they didn't even look surprised). Derek follows Scott's lead most of the time, but can't bring himself to consider him his Alpha. For now at least. In a way, Derek feels that he and Cora are destined to be a pack of two, and he's fine with that if he can have Stiles and have good rapport with the others. It's close enough to the real thing for him. As for Peter, he keeps vigilant and avoids him as much as possible.
Derek was appalled to learn about the darkness that plagues Stiles, Allison and Scott since Deaton's intervention to stop Jennifer. He started by being angry at Stiles for not telling him, but soon realized that was pointless. Stiles explained that his interactions with Derek while he was away was the only bright spot in his days and that he didn't want to jeopardize that by dumping his problems on him.
Now that he knows, though, Derek does his best to help. They soon find out that Stiles manages to sleep better when Derek holds him, which he's more than happy to do. The Sheriff notices and even tolerates Derek sleeping in Stiles' bed, as long as they're in pajamas and the door is opened. The Sheriff's not naive enough to think nothing's going to happen, but if it makes him at ease, Derek is more than happy to respect his rules.
Stiles takes Derek's request to take things slow very seriously. It's frankly adorable and Derek does enjoy gradually learning what makes Stiles tick. There's a lot of kissing, which is fantastic, but Derek is slowly going insane with desire. Stiles smells fantastic and is so incredibly responsive, pushing into every touch Derek dares. He's deduced that Stiles jerks off before they spend time together - he's always scrubbed squeaky clean, it's not a coincidence - and soon Derek does the same to take the edge off. It doesn't help all that much.
Two months in, Derek is not surprised that he's the one who cracks. They're in Derek's new apartment - a small two bedroom, for when Cora visits - and Stiles has been so annoying while changing channels on the TV that Derek decided to retake control of the remote. The struggle that follows unsurprisingly turns into making out, and at one point, Derek thigh presses right against Stiles' hard cock, making him moan. There has been some frottage before - and it's been great to make Stiles come in his pants, he's not going to lie - but Derek wants more. By now he's pretty sure they'll make this work, knows he's in love with Stiles and being loved back for once, so waiting more seems pointless. Arbitrary lines with age of consent feel extremely unfair at the moment.
Derek kisses Stiles deeply and rubs against his hip. "Stiles…" he says against his lips, voice hoarse.
"I know, I know, we have to stop," Stiles pants, though he's undulating below him in a very distracting manner.
He's stunningly beautiful with a flush high on his cheek and his lips are puffy and red from kissing. Derek wants to touch him all over, can't resist all of that soft skin anymore.
"What if we didn't?" Derek says. "Didn't stop, I mean. I want to blow you."
Stiles' hips buck into Derek before he answers. His eyes are huge, hungry. "Are you sure?"
"Definitely sure," he says with a smile, nipping at Stiles' jaw. He loves being bitten. "So?"
"Yes, yes, I'm totally on board with that," Stiles says. "Please proceed."
He doesn't have to be told twice. Derek does quick work of Stiles clothes and loses his too at Stiles' insistence. He makes sure to get Stiles' consent several times, enough that he gets slapped behind the head at one point.
"Derek Hale, I swear to god, if you ask me one more time if I really want this I'll, I'll-"
"You'll what?" Derek teases, busy kissing every single mole on Stiles' torso, using all of his willpower not to swallow Stiles' dick down already and cut this too short.
"I'll say that I do want this, over and over again dammit! You're killing me here!" Stiles cries out, and then moan when Derek latches on a nipple.
He reluctantly leaves Stiles' chest to kiss him once more, and gets his hair pulled in the process (Stiles learned what makes him tick, too).
"Shh, shh," Derek coos. "I just wanted to make sure."
Stiles' eyes are bright and beautiful. "I've never been more sure in my life. Now stop teasing because I won't even get to enjoy it, if you know what I mean."
Derek laughs. "Fine. But it's okay. I'll do it again, later, don't stress about that."
"Nghh," Stiles makes, and after a last kiss Derek moves down the couch, finally takes Stiles' cock into his mouth.
It's a little overwhelming, all of his senses being assaulted at the same time by nothing but pure Stiles. The smell of his arousal and musk is intoxicating, and Derek uses all of the tricks he knows to make it good. Judging by the sounds and curses, it's working. Quickly, Stiles is pulling at his hair, warning that he's going to come, but Derek stays where he is, sucking harder until Stiles loses it. He helps him ride the aftershocks and finally lets go, climbing back up to cover Stiles' body with his own. Stiles looks completely blissed out and pats Derek's cheek lightly.
"I've seen heaven," he says and Derek bursts out laughing, pulling him into a hug. He’s in love with a goof.
"It's true!" Stiles exclaims.
"Good." Derek rests his cheek on Stiles' chest; he wants to feel his heart come back to normal as much as hear it, it's soothing.
"But what about you?" Stiles asks, which does make Derek's cock twitch against his thigh. He was doing well ignoring it.
"It's alright," Derek says. "No need-"
"No need? Yes need!" Stiles protests, wiggling and pushing until Derek slides on his side instead of being on top. Stiles grabs his chin. "I want to make you come, too. Is that okay?"
"Yes," Derek says and then his eyes roll back in his skull when Stiles closes a fist on his dick. That feels fantastic, even better than the multitude of pornographic thoughts he's had about those ridiculously gorgeous hands.
"Oh, you like that, don't you?" Stiles comments, as he rubs just right below the head. Derek can't even berate him for sounding smug as he's too busy being unraveled.
"You're so incredibly gorgeous. Inside out. I'm the luckiest guy in the world," Stiles adds and that's it, Derek's orgasm hits like a freight train.
Coming down from the high takes a long time, which he sure won't complain about. Stiles manages to wipe the worst of the mess with a discarded shirt and they stay right there on the couch, enjoying being close and sated. Soon Stiles falls asleep, and Derek wonders if it's worth moving them to bed when they are comfortable enough. He tugs the throw from the back of the couch on them instead, and is about to doze off when his phone vibrates on the coffee table. If there's someone in trouble, Derek's going to be pissed. He grabs the phone and the display says it's Cora, so he answers.
"Hey," he says quietly, hoping not to wake Stiles up.
"Hi! Am I calling at a bad time?" she asks.
"No, it's fine. What's up?"
"Is there an ominous threat on the horizon, or are you free next weekend?" Cora asks.
"Well now you probably jinxed it, but we didn't have plans, no," Derek says.
"Awww," Cora cooes. "We, that's so cute."
It is a bit sappy, Derek is fully aware. "Is there a point to your call apart from being annoying?"
Cora laughs. "Yes, yes. I was looking at my favorite website, you know the one, and I now have the urgent need to go see the Moaning Caverns in Vallecito. It's about 80 miles from here, could be fun. Heck, there's part of it named Godzilla's Nostril."
It does sound fun, in fact. Stiles has stirred awake and is blinking up at him blearily. "Want to go see a cavern with Godzilla's Nostril?"
Stiles smiles. "Oh, I'm so in."
"Ohhhh, I did call at a bad time!" Cora says, but before she can be more of a smartass, Derek cuts her short.
"We'll be at your place at 10 on Saturday. Be ready," he says before disconnecting the call and throwing the phone on the table again.
"There's no need to be rude, Derek," Stiles needles. "We have to work on that, honey."
"I'll show you what we'll work on," Derek says, rolling on top of Stiles again and capturing his mouth with a kiss, cutting the laughter short.
He knows it was a joke, but Derek does have to work on many things before he can be considered half way to okay. But with Stiles, and Cora not far away, he's making some headway, slowly but surely. Life's a path, after all, and lately he has learned to enjoy the stops along the way for what they are, from the strange to the beautiful.
And right now? He seems to be working towards a happy ending, and that's all he needs to continue forward.