Phone - On.
Chaperone - Former Alpha/Murder Suspect/Bad Boy Cliché.
Safety - Number one priority.
Necessity of Trip (out of 10) - 27.
Destination - Unknown.
Return Date - Unknown.
Love - A lot of it. Deal with it, old man.
Penned by - Stiles. Just Stiles.
The door of the Jeep closed with a sharp crack and Derek rubbed at the corners of his eyes. “Stiles, it’s four in the morning,” he said crossly, sounding haggard.
Stiles stared up at the dark face of his house, still sitting in his driveway, hands shaky on the wheel. He stretched out his fingers, ignoring the way Derek stared while they trembled. He looked at the clock on his dash and corrected, “It’s 3:56. We strive for accuracy in this Jeep, mon frère.” He reached across Derek to the glove compartment, smacked it with his fist and then tried the latch. It sprang open, belching out maps onto Derek’s lap. Stiles grinned. “Especially as you’re the navigator. Also, I seem to recall not asking you to come along.”
Derek ignored him, gathering up the crinkled paper. “Where are we going?” he grunted.
Stiles shrugged, feeling jittery, foot pressing onto the gas pedal despite the car still being in park. He pulled away as the engine roared.
Derek perked a brow at him.
Stiles licked his lip, said, “I don’t know. That’s the point of having a reckless, spontaneous adventure. The lack of planning.”
Derek glared at him. “I’m a navigator without a destination,” he summarized sourly.
Stiles shrugged again, grinned. “Where do you want to go?”
Derek just sighed, didn’t answer.
Stiles put the car in reverse and drove. He stopped at a roadside boiled peanuts stand. He made Derek eat two despite the way it made his nose wrinkle. Derek dozed but didn’t settle and Stiles got them all the essentials – teriyaki beef jerky, Mountain Dew and Reeses’ Pieces while Derek judged him silently from the next seat.
Stiles still made him eat his share of Reeses’.
He’d been driving for the better part of a day when he figured out where he wanted to go. He plugged the destination into his phone the next time he stopped for gas, since Derek was out cold. Stiles watched him through the rain-speckled window as he filled the tank. All he could see was dark hair pressed up against the corner of the pane, Derek too far slouched down to make out anything else.
He smiled as he set the nozzle back in its cradle.
Derek woke when Stiles’ phone buzzed. It was a text from his dad.
Derek better realize he’s traveling with precious cargo. I think he can guess the consequences should you not return in the same condition you left.
Stiles didn’t point out that he was hoping to come back in better condition than he’d left in. All he texted back was:
Derek stretched, arms above his head and back arching, shirt lifting up.
Stiles dragged his eyes away from the strip of skin that looked warm and inviting. “You slept,” he pointed out, almost accusatorily. “In front of me. I could have stuck a katana in you.”
Derek rolled his eyes. “That wasn’t you.”
Stiles bit his lip and murmured softly, “Or burned down your house.”
Derek looked out the window, taking in the fact that they were parked in a near-empty lot. Finally he said back, jaw tight, “That wasn’t you either.”
Stiles eyed him carefully. “So you know that? Because sometimes you act like you don’t.”
Derek sighed, seeming wrung out. “Stiles—” he started, quiet and condescending.
“Right,” Stiles cut him off, hands digging into the upholstery on either side of his knees. “Why address the fact that you avoided me for three months, or that you just happened to be outside my house in the middle of the night, or how we had something and you took off for South America without so much as a goodbye? Much better to let that fester,” he said with a scoff. He threw open the door of the Jeep, slammed it closed and wished Derek hadn’t insisted on coming.
This was supposed to be cathartic. Instead he was just as angry as he had been for months – years, if he was honest with himself.
“Where are we?” Derek asked unassumingly from the other side of the Jeep.
Stiles hadn’t even heard him get out. He’d been listening to his own breathing as he leaned back against the cool metal and tried to forget he cared one whit about Derek Hale. “Joshua Tree,” he answered eventually.
Derek seemed to be gauging his words. “It’s still dark out,” he said carefully. “There’s nothing to see.”
Stiles pulled his phone out of his pocket to check the time. “Sunrise is in eighteen minutes,” he said simply before stalking off on the trail he’d parked in front of.
Derek followed a few paces behind.
Stiles had forgotten he was there by the time he was climbing out on the rock face to get to one of the well-hidden edges. He slipped on some scrub brush and Derek caught him by the forearm before he could even wobble. Stiles used Derek’s hand to push off from to get to his ledge. He hung his feet over the side, Derek practically biting his tongue in an effort not to say anything before he pulled himself up too.
He sat at Stiles’ side, trying to surreptitiously grab a fistful of his overshirt.
Stiles noticed when it tugged awkwardly at his neck. He rolled his eyes at the overprotective gesture but decided not to call Derek out on it. “Three minutes,” he said, checking his phone and leaning forward to look over the edge.
Derek grabbed tighter and yanked him back. His own eye line was fixed unwaveringly on the horizon. “Don’t,” he ground out.
“Derek. Are you afraid of heights?”
“No,” he snarled, twisting Stiles’ shirt up further in his grip. “I have an aversion to stupidity. Which is what sticking your head out over a cliff is.”
Stiles snorted. Derek Hale, werewolf extraordinaire, was totally afraid of heights. Stiles opened his mouth to poke fun at that when the sun crested the desert floor. It only took a second for the sky to light up. Yellows, pinks, oranges, purples, blues – colors like Stiles had never seen them before, turned up to eleven and then some. “Wow,” he said blankly.
He saw Derek give a slow nod from his periphery and the death grip on his shirt unwound as they watched the sun come up.
Stiles pulled up his knees, rested his chin on one and let his head tilt to the side. He breathed in deep, the air feeling cleaner, the world brighter than he remembered it. He looked over at Derek and smirked smugly. “That’s one point for ‘Reckless Spontaneity’ by the way, to your big fat zero for ‘Cautious & Lame.’”
Derek snorted. The sky was cloudy and blue by now and still somehow worth marveling over. Derek stood and brushed off his jeans. He held out a hand to Stiles. “Going home then?”
Stiles let Derek pull him to his feet. Derek didn’t get this. He didn’t get any of this. He thought Stiles was just off on a joyride, ditching school, playing hooky. He didn’t get it. Stiles squeezed Derek’s hand, used that to root him to the spot. “I nearly died,” he said bluntly. He swallowed. “Allison—Allison did die. And I haven’t done anything,” he ran a hand through his wild hair, untamed and uncaring about it, “I’ve watched things happen to other people – I watched Scott get bitten by a werewolf, I watched Lydia and Jackson live out a romantic fucking fairytale, I watched Allison fight for something she believed in but I—I’ve only ever watched other people live their lives.” Stiles stared down at his shoes, eyes wet, and he admitted shakily, “I don’t want to die never having done anything.”
Derek let go of his hand but instead of calling Stiles an idiot, instead of offering him platitudes, all he said was, “Where to next?”
Stiles offered him a wan smile.
Stiles drove them all the way back up the coast, wasting time. He felt like a wanderer who wasn’t lost and maybe Tolkien knew exactly what the fuck he was talking about. He got them to Redwood National Park late in the day and they stood next to brobdingnagian trees and craned their necks back. Stiles couldn’t stop grinning, climbing on a root and staring up at the far away canopy filtering sunlight onto his face, resting his hand against warm bark. “I feel really fucking small,” he said.
He glanced over at Derek. He was wearing his awe just as noticeably. “Yeah,” he breathed out.
“It’s kind of nice,” Stiles admitted. He was too insignificant to cause so much damage; he’d just needed the reminder.
Derek nodded carefully. “It really kind of is,” he agreed vacantly.
Derek insisted on driving to the next place and Stiles made sure to pick somewhere that criss-crossed the state again. There was no way Derek was going to get out of doing the lion’s share – wolf’s share? – of the trip if that was what he wanted.
Long Beach was a good eleven hours away. And it felt like an important pin in his map.
Stiles got quieter the closer they got to the city line and Derek didn’t ask, didn’t make him talk, though he did look over at Stiles a bit more than usual.
Stiles tapped his knuckles against the door rest in an unrecognizable pattern and sucked his lower lip into his mouth. He pulled in a deep breath and said, “My mom used to drive us out here when I was a kid.” Stiles smiled to himself. “My dad would complain the whole way that the Jeep was going to break down, the A/C would inevitably stop working about the fifth hour in, I’d get carsick at about the seventh, but we’d get there and none of it would matter.” Derek stayed silent, not interrupting, and Stiles stared out the window. “My dad would swim against the waves and my mom would take me up on the rocks to look at tide pools.” Stiles shrugged, smudged the print of his index finger onto his windowpane. “I haven’t been back since she died.”
He changed into the swimsuit he had in the back of his Jeep, Derek’s head turned away like he was standing guard, and Stiles walked around in his Chucks and trunks with huge Hawaiian flowers on them.
“Sunscreen,” Derek snarled at him.
Stiles rolled his eyes and pulled some out of his center console.
Derek rubbed it on Stiles’ skin like he was angry with it and Stiles stumbled whenever he used too much pressure, glaring back at him. He grabbed Stiles by the wrist as soon as he was finished, led him to a place where there weren’t as many tourists and helped him climb up on the craggy rocks so he could look at the tide pools.
Stiles told him the names of as much of the marine life as he could remember – red starfish and sea slugs and starburst anemones and rock crabs. Derek listened and caught him whenever he slipped and steadied Stiles with hands on his hips and it was… companionable. Nice.
Stiles sat down next to one of the larger pools and stared out at the waves crashing in, the sun sitting low in the sky. “I think I needed this,” he said slowly. Not just the adventure but to come here. To see that it was still the same place he remembered. Derek was staring at him and Stiles shrugged, saying—saying, “The Nogitsune, it made the world seem dark.” His voice shook because he didn’t talk about it, he did not talk about this. He smiled and it didn’t feel hard, it didn’t feel like a lie. He jutted his elbow out towards the ocean. “But look at it, it sparkles.”
Derek swallowed, a look of resolution coming over his features. “We should go out there,” he said. “Surf.”
Stiles blinked at him. “You know how to surf,” he said blankly, shaking his head after a second. “No, don’t answer that. Of course you know how to surf. You were totally that kid – star basketball player, young love, surfer.”
“Yeah, it’s all come up roses for me,” Derek deadpanned.
Stiles laughed outright, let Derek drag him to the first surf shop they could find that offered rentals. Derek gave him a quick lesson on the sand – a far too quick lesson on the sand – and Stiles ended up swallowing more water than he managed to surf on. But it was fun. And weird, seeing Derek surfing. That was a life experience Stiles never expected to have.
He laid down on his stomach on top of his board more often than not, hands trailing in the water, and let the lazy sun beat down on his back.
Derek grabbed his board to keep them from drifting apart, sitting up and straddling his own. He waited until Stiles had peeked his eyes open to ask, “What do you think?”
Stiles sat up too. He placed his hands on the board, squinted over at the shore and answered the question Derek was asking. “Yeah, I think I’m ready.” He could go back now. He could go back and not feel like he’d never had a real experience in his life.
Derek considered him for a moment and said, “We should see the sunset.”
Stiles grinned back at him. “I could do that.” They sat on the beach and watched the sun set, deep reds and oranges painting the skyline and Stiles said, “I’m glad you got in the car. I’m glad you didn’t get out.”
Derek lowered his head, smirked at his knees. He took a moment to stare at Stiles curiously, eyes searching his face. “Lived enough, have you?”
Stiles looked up at the diagonal track of the clouds across the sky and felt a hand cover his in the sand. He turned his palm over, lacing their fingers together, and grinned so wide his cheeks hurt. “Getting there.”