The pack no longer fits in Derek’s loft. This, Derek feels, is Scott’s fault; if he hadn’t in his brief tenure as True Alpha – whatever that’s supposed to be – decided to save Liam’s life by turning him – well, then they wouldn’t have Liam. Or Mason. Or Corey, or Hayden, or even Theo, probably.
Ah, a life without Theo. Wouldn’t that be nice?
At twenty-six members – not counting Braeden, who swans in and out when she feels like it – the Hale pack is now bigger than it was when Derek’s mom was Alpha, which is weird, and also kind of sad. Derek oscillates between missing his family so hard that his heart aches with it, and actually enjoying the dynamic of having so many people around him all the time. This is his family now; he can feel it in their shared heartbeats pulsing around his body.
Still, there’s no denying that they absolutely do not fit in the loft anymore.
“What’s the big deal?” Stiles says lazily when Derek brings this up one evening. Stiles is picking pieces of glass out of Isaac’s back with a pair of tweezers, because the monster of the week – a chimera – decided it would be fun to grapple him through a window. “Don’t you have, like, a house?”
Yes, Derek does have a house, although it’s more a pile of rubble at this point. Isaac winces as Stiles removes a particularly large shard of glass from his shoulder. “Fuck!” he complains.
“This is your own fault,” Stiles says severely. Derek tries to remember why Stiles came back to the loft after they finished with the chimera; everyone else who doesn’t live here has gone home. “Next time, do everyone a favour and have your fights on a bouncy castle. Or a pile of pillows.”
“Yes, mom,” Isaac mutters sullenly.
“Stiles,” Derek says, because there’s something very frustrating about the fact that he can’t remember why Stiles is here. “Go home. I’ll deal with Isaac.”
“Nearly finished,” Stiles says. He yanks out another piece of glass; Isaac yelps. “I think that’s the last one. Be good, Isaac.” He hops down from the stool he’s sitting on. “Der, how’s tomorrow? At ten?”
“Tomorrow?” Derek repeats blankly.
Stiles raises his eyebrows. “To go take a look at the house? We can figure it out from there.”
“Oh,” Derek says. He can’t quite remember agreeing to that, but he supposes it makes sense. “Yeah. Sure.”
“Awesome,” Stiles says. He ruffles Isaac’s hair – Isaac blushes and ducks his head – and then he’s gone, the sliding door banging behind him.
Derek waits until he’s out of earshot before turning to Isaac. “What was that?” he asks.
Isaac stares at him. “What was what?” He sounds totally bewildered.
Derek grinds his teeth. “Never mind,” he mutters.
Stiles arrives at seven minutes past ten the next morning; Derek knows this because he’s been sitting at the kitchen counter for exactly seven minutes, leg jigging impatiently while he waits. Derek doesn’t like to be kept waiting, although he knows from experience that questioning someone – especially Stiles – over a seven-minute delay is completely pointless.
“Hey,” Stiles says in greeting, sliding back the enormous door. He grins. “Have you been going crazy?”
“No,” Derek says haughtily.
Stiles holds up two Starbucks cups. They smell amazing. “So you don’t want apology coffee?”
Derek narrows his eyes. “If you hadn’t stopped for apology coffee, would you have been on time?” he asks.
“Yes,” Stiles says blithely. “But then you wouldn’t have coffee. Come on, dude.”
“Don’t call me dude,” Derek says automatically, slipping off his stool and following Stiles out of the loft and downstairs. Stiles is looking particularly fresh-faced today, in a green plaid shirt over a grey top that smells like comic books and laundry detergent. For some reason, Derek finds this incredibly irritating.
“So,” Stiles says as they get outside, where his Jeep is parked haphazardly in front of Derek’s pathetic row of flowerpots. “Which car are we taking?” He grins, his teeth flashing unexpectedly. “I vote Camaro, personally.”
This is a quandary. On the one hand, Derek loves his car, and it has the added bonus of not being Stiles’ car, which he definitely does not like. On the other hand, Stiles should come with a hazard warning; Derek practically has paroxysms every time he so much as touches the Camaro, because you just never know what’s going to happen. He sighs. “Mine,” he says.
Stiles punches the air. “Awesome,” he says. He grins cheekily at Derek. “Can I drive?”
“No,” Derek says firmly. Stiles barely pouts, already heading for the passenger side; Derek wonders vaguely why he even bothers asking. Unless it’s to wind Derek up, which to be fair is exactly the kind of thing Stiles would do.
“Have you been back to the house much?” Stiles asks as he slides into the car. “Since it was condemned, I mean?”
There was a time – way, way back – when Derek used to live at his house, even without the luxuries of running water, electricity or furniture. Stiles made fun of him for it, and even though he’ll never admit it, now that he actually has basic amenities Derek isn’t quite sure how he managed it. That was before the housing council declared the property structurally unsound, which Derek hadn’t cared too much about since even if it fell down on him he’d almost certainly survive, but it had been condemned anyway.
“No,” he says in answer to Stiles’ question. He’s never seen the point of going back to what is essentially a pile of rubble on a piece of empty land; it’s just going to make him sad. Which begs the question of why, exactly, he and Stiles are going there now.
“Do I get my own room?” Stiles asks as Derek pulls out of the yard. He’s looking out of the window, his fingers tapping restlessly on his knees. Derek resists the urge to reach over and hold them still.
“Your own room?” he repeats, watching the road so he doesn’t have to be distracted by Stiles’ movement.
“When you rebuild,” Stiles clarifies. “There’s got to be room for all of us, right? So do I get my own room?”
Derek frowns. “You have a room. And a house,” he points out.
“But no swimming pool,” Stiles says immediately. He grins, his mouth wide and teasing. “You totally have room for a swimming pool.”
“I’m not building a swimming pool,” Derek says firmly, his head feeling like it’s swimming itself.
Stiles laughs. “I thought you loved swimming,” he says, his voice dancing on the edge of mockery. He’s obviously thinking about the same thing as Derek: those hours they spent in the school swimming pool, Derek frozen in Stiles’ arms and convinced the entire time that Stiles would give up and let him drown. It isn’t a pleasant memory.
“I don’t,” he says curtly. The truth is, he’s never particularly liked the water; he wasn’t a strong swimmer as a child, a fact for which Cora used to tease him mercilessly. Spending several hours trapped in a pool with only Stiles standing in the way of certain death has only exacerbated his distaste.
They don’t talk for several minutes as Derek drives to his old home, which for Stiles is something of a feat. He doesn’t stop moving the whole way, drumming his fingers, tapping his feet, jiggling his leg, like he’s dancing to some internal tune that only he can hear. Derek feels as though he’s itching under his skin, something restless that he can’t quite reach fluttering at the back of his skull. He keeps his eyes on the road, but he can still see Stiles out of the corner of his eye.
At last, Derek turns the corner and starts to make his way up the long drive towards his house. “We’re here,” he says unnecessarily.
“Cool,” Stiles says easily, nodding his head and whistling tunelessly through his teeth. Derek’s hands tighten around the steering wheel.
“Stiles,” he says in a flat voice.
Stiles looks over at him, brown eyes wide. “Yeah?”
“Can you… be quiet?” He can hear how pained his voice sounds.
“Sure,” Stiles says, sounding surprised. He laughs. “Sorry.”
Of course, this has the consequence of making Derek feel like an asshole, because really, what’s the big deal? He knows full well that Stiles has ADHD; he almost feels like he’s being discriminatory. He grits his teeth, pulling up outside the remains of the house in between two large oak trees.
Stiles unbuckles his seatbelt with unnecessary care, as though he’s trying not to let it click too loudly, which makes Derek feel even worse. He deliberately slams the car door shut once he’s climbed out, making the entire vehicle tremble in a way that’s almost certainly not good for it. To his annoyance, Stiles has a small smile on his face, like Derek’s temper is amusing him.
“What now?” Derek barks.
Stiles shrugs. “I guess we should look around,” he says. “If you’re going to rebuild this place—”
Derek feels a frisson of panic shiver through him. “Who said I was rebuilding?” he says.
“Um,” Stiles says, looking nonplussed. “Isn’t that the whole point of us being here?”
“I don’t know,” Derek says mulishly. “This was your idea.” He looks out at the ruins of his former home; already, he can feel dread curling through his stomach. It hurts to be here, hurts to look at a place that was once the home he shared with his family and is now nothing more than a shell.
Once, he hadn’t been able to leave, to move on. Laura, his last remaining thread tying him to the memories of his family, had died, and all he’d had left was the house. He’d spent hours just wandering through it, the acrid scent of smoke still lingering in the air, touching the crisped husks of rooms and trying to picture them the way they had looked before, terrified that he would forget. He knows now that that was grief; he is better now. Now, being here is just horrifying.
He feels the gentlest touch at his elbow, and flinches; Stiles is suddenly right there, in his space. His face is soft. “Hey,” he says quietly.
Derek bites his lip, hard enough to bleed. “Hey,” he says.
Stiles hesitates, looking around. Carefully, he picks his way between some of the piles of rubble, stopping beside a large heap of blackened wooden planks and turning to catch Derek’s eye. “Where am I?” he calls.
Derek frowns. “What?”
Stiles looks from left to right, gesturing to the empty bits of rebar around him. “In the house. Where am I?”
There’s not even a moment’s hesitation; Derek doesn’t have to think twice. “In the kitchen,” he says. His teeth worry at his bruised lip. “Standing in the doorway.”
“Hmm.” Stiles frowns pensively down at the littered ground. “Where’s the fridge?”
The pressure in Derek’s chest is lifting, just slightly, just enough to allow him to step through the detritus to stand in front of Stiles. It’s easy to picture it: the enormous French doors that stood permanently open between the kitchen and the den, the terracotta-coloured walls that his dad always complained about, the brass light fittings underneath his mom’s calendar, covered in her smudged scribble.
“Over here,” he tells Stiles, pointing. If he closes his eyes, he can almost see it.
“Fridge magnets?” Stiles asks.
Derek feels himself smiling. “Poetry magnets,” he says. “They were Cora’s.”
Stiles makes a face. “Seriously?”
It’s hard to imagine it now; Cora is so brittle and hard these days, a far cry from the soft young teenager who was so interested in the Romantics. “She used to write it,” he recalls. “Pages and pages of it. She left them all over the house.”
Stiles moves a little closer to him, his breath warm on Derek’s face. “Yeah?” he says softly.
“Yeah,” Derek says. “When she was little, she’d leave them under my pillow because she wanted me to have good dreams. Poems about flowers, about our family, about wolves. She’d scribble them in the margins of books. One time, she wrote a poem about homework on the kitchen table. Mom was crazy, she’d written it in Magic Marker so it wouldn’t come off, but she was also really proud because it was beautiful. Every time anyone sat there to eat you’d just see this really beautiful little haiku about math homework.” He stops, his throat feeling oddly tight.
“Wow,” Stiles says. He sounds weird; if Derek didn’t know better he’d say Stiles sounds emotional. “That’s amazing.” He hesitates. “Do you think she still writes?”
“I don’t know,” Derek says. Truthfully, he hasn’t really thought about it; it’s been a long time since he remembered Cora’s poetry. “If she does, she keeps it to herself, I guess.”
Stiles nods thoughtfully. “We could get poetry magnets,” he says. “They’re, like, ten bucks on Amazon.”
“I’d like that,” Derek finds himself saying. He stops, biting his lip again. “I don’t want it to be the same,” he says jerkily. “The house, I mean.”
“Okay,” Stiles says easily. “That’s okay. You can do whatever you want.”
“The walls were orange,” Derek says. “Dad hated them. Mom called them terracotta, but they were orange.”
“In the kitchen?” Stiles asks, looking around as if he can actually see it. “Here?”
“Yeah,” Derek says. “Mom wouldn’t let us change them. We all hated them.”
“What colour would you have them?” Stiles asks.
Derek thinks about it. It had been so homely, their kitchen; very kitsch, with a lot of ye olde furniture that Derek had always found a little pretentious. “Blue,” he says. “Modern.”
Stiles is already nodding. “Okay,” he says. “Can we have a pantry? I always wanted a pantry.”
“Yeah, okay,” Derek says. “And windows. Really big windows, that lead out into the garden.”
“Maybe a conservatory, with the kitchen table in it,” Stiles suggests. Derek likes the idea of that; something huge and spacious, letting in the light. He doesn’t want any darkness in his home.
“A den, I guess,” he says. “With cream couches.”
“Giant TV,” Stiles agrees enthusiastically. “PS4 and Xbox 1.”
Derek rolls his eyes. “I’ll have to have a giant table, to fit everyone,” he says. “There’s so many of us now.”
“Sure,” Stiles says. He has a smile on his face, and Derek is struck suddenly by how beautiful it makes him look. “Whatever you want, Der.”
Whatever he wants. It has been a long, long time since Derek has really thought about what it is he wants; it’s always been about survival, about making sure, yet again, that nobody dies. He knows they’re lucky, to have made it this far. “I want a blue kitchen,” he says decisively.
“We should get Erica to make a plan for you,” Stiles says.
Derek frowns. “Erica?”
“Yeah.” Stiles steps a little closer; Derek can hear his heart beating, loud in the quiet of the forest. “She wants to be an architect, you know.”
Now he feels stupid, because he’s supposed to be the Alpha. “No,” he says quietly. “I didn’t know that.”
“Dude, it’s okay,” Stiles says softly. “You can’t know everything.”
“I should,” Derek says roughly. There’s something very charged about this moment, here between them; something that feels like more than Stiles just helping him out. And why is it Stiles, anyway? He’s not even a wolf. What has this to do with him, really? And yet there’s something extremely right about him being here.
“Derek,” Stiles says. His mouth is very close. Derek’s eyes are drawn to his lips, to the line of his jaw, the scattering of moles on his chin. He can feel the blood pulsing through Stiles’ neck.
“We should go,” he says thickly, because suddenly he doesn’t want to be here anymore. “We should… ask Erica. To do the plan.”
He’s standing so close to Stiles that he swears he can feel the air moving when Stiles smiles. “Okay,” he says.
Derek feels lighter than air, all the way home, and Stiles’ relentless tapping doesn’t annoy him at all.