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Where the Heart Is

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It’s Freshman Orientation at San Jose State, and Stiles is enjoying himself. High school graduation was a few weeks previous, and he’s really looking forward to the coming year. With the exception of Erica, who decided against college, they’ve all been accepted and done their paperwork at various schools around the San Francisco area. Stiles is the only one who hasn’t already visited his college campus. Most of the others had gone around to various schools the previous summer, while he had been stuck at the Conclave. Then there had been another trip just after graduation, but he was still recovering from being shot, and his father hadn’t wanted him on his feet an entire day.

He knows that he’ll be on his own a lot more than he’s used to once school starts, so it’s not a bad idea to go to orientation by himself. Mac is going to San Jose State, too, but she decided to pass on orientation because she had done early registration. So Stiles is here by himself, picking up his class schedule, taking the tour, finding the buildings where his classes are going to be located.

He’s got a fairly bland schedule for his first semester, mostly gen-ed credits, but he doesn’t think that’s a bad thing. It’ll be a good transitional period. He tested out of English 101, so he can skip that little slice of hell. Instead he has geology, computer science, modern history, Spanish, and intro to criminology. The last was technically full, but he had petitioned to be put on the add list, and the professor had recognized his name and let him in. Stiles chats with him for about half an hour after the tour. As happy as he is to have made it into the class, he doesn’t want everyone to know who he is. Doesn’t want to draw attention to himself. He’s jumpy enough as it is. One of the advantages of going to a school like San Jose State is that he’ll just be a face in the crowd. Anonymity will be his shield while he’s off his territory.

He can skip the second half of the tour because he won’t be living on campus. He did get a limited meal plan, since he’ll probably eat lunch at school most days. Their apartment is about half an hour away, and he won’t want to trek home all the time. He can survive school food as long as he can still cook at home.

It would have been nice if the entire pack could have attended the same school, but he knew that was a pipe dream. Lydia has had her heart set on Stanford since she was four, and nobody would be talking her out of it. Boyd really wanted to go to UC East Bay because of their educational program, and he got a full ride there. The others drifted through various options until they had all settled on something. Isaac will join Boyd at East Bay. Danny got a scholarship at Berkeley. Allison and Scott are both going to San Francisco State. And Mac will join Stiles in San Jose. Erica decided college wasn’t for her, and she’s already got some modeling jobs lined up.

They had tried to find some living space that would be at least somewhat central to where everyone was going to be going, and eventually wound up with an apartment – or several, actually – in San Mateo. It’ll be a bit of a hike for some of them, but better than being split up. They’ll get used to it.

It seemed a little extravagant to buy a house that they would only live in for a few years, and to be fair they never would have found one that really suited them. No apartment on the planet would be big enough, and what Derek had eventually set up with the help of a friend of his lawyer’s was renting a block of apartments. They had rented the entire third floor of an apartment building in San Mateo. It’s four apartments, each one-bedroom, and that should give them plenty of space. Stiles suspects that Derek paid several people to move, but hey, whatever works.

So they’ll have enough space, even if some of it is redundant. Derek has already called dibs on the room with the best light for his studio. Lydia decided that the room with the second best light should be their library/study. Another bedroom will be the ‘guest room’, Derek’s quaint euphemism for ‘the room in which people are allowed to have sex’, since they never have guests.

Danny has already said he’ll be able to program the elevator so it won’t be able to stop on the third floor. They can lock the door to the stairwell and just leave the apartment doors open. It isn’t the best solution, but it won’t need to be forever. They’ll have room enough to sleep and do their homework. They don’t really need four kitchens, but then again it won’t hurt to have two. Stiles can use one for all his cooking, and the other can hold a second microwave and toaster, so when he’s in the middle of something but Isaac has a craving for Pop-Tarts, they won’t get in each other’s way.

Stiles never saw the apartment building for the same reason that he hasn’t been to San Jose yet. He goes after orientation is over to check it out. It’s empty, but clean. He spends some time in each kitchen, deciding which one he wants. One of them has a squeaky drawer, and another doesn’t have a garbage disposal.

He stands there a long time, thinking about the future.

He had never planned to stay in Beacon Hills his entire life. He had figured he would grow up, go to college somewhere, find a job, who knew where? But everything’s changed. Even being away from Beacon Hills for a week or two starts to bother him. He remembers vividly how uncomfortable it made him during his semester in Neptune. It’s his territory; he’s tied to it through instincts that he’ll never be able to suppress.

He’s leaving it in good hands. The best hands. And San Francisco is only a couple hours away. They can go home at least one weekend every month.

They can manage four years of college. It’s what’s going to happen after college that worries him.

Some of them will have no problems living in Beacon Hills. Boyd can get a job at one of the three elementary schools. Isaac will take over his father’s cemetery business, and he’s talked some about going into landscaping. Scott will probably work at Deaton’s office until they’re both old and gray (presuming that Deaton ages, which Stiles still isn’t sure of). There aren’t exactly a lot of computer companies in Beacon Hills, but when Stiles mentioned that to Danny and Mac, they just laughed and said it was fine because they would just start their own. Mac does web design and Danny does internet and computer security; they could live anywhere in the world and still do the work.

But what about Lydia, who wants to win a Fields prize? What about Allison, whose archery is good enough to compete internationally? What about Erica, whose modeling jobs will be almost entirely in big cities like Los Angeles?

And what about himself? Beacon Hills is the county seat; that’s why the sheriff’s station is there. But there won’t be a lot of call for a forensics specialist or a profiler. He could commute to Frenso, he supposes. It’s a big city, big enough that they would have that sort of employee, and only about an hour away. People have longer commutes. But he doesn’t like the idea of so much time away from the pack, away from Derek.

After a while, he realizes he’s just standing in the empty apartment, watching the motes of dust in the sunlight. He sighs a little and checks the time on his phone. It’s half past four. He’s supposed to meet Derek before dinner, so he should get moving. Derek’s gallery is in San Francisco proper, and parking there is always a bitch.

He’s only been to Derek’s actual gallery a handful of times, but he loves it. It’s open and bright and there’s amazing artwork on every wall. Derek glances up as Stiles comes in, and smiles at him. “Hey, how was orientation?” he asks.

“It was fun,” Stiles says. “Campus is huge; I’m really going to get my exercise. And the apartment’s nice. Are you hungry? I want noodles.”

“I have to finish up with some numbers,” Derek says.

“Okay, I’ll hang out,” Stiles says. He sees most of Derek’s art before it departs for the gallery, but it’s always fun to look at. Derek is sitting with his gallery manager, going through sheets of numbers, so it could be a while. Stiles is content to wander.

There’s another couple looking around, and about fifteen minutes later, the door jingles and a young woman comes in. Stiles glances at her but doesn’t really take interest. She’s pretty in a girl-next-door sort of way, probably in her mid to late twenties, wearing a neat blouse and skirt. She looks at some of the paintings, and she seems nervous. Then she looks over at Derek, and Stiles can hear her sharp intake of breath from across the gallery. There’s a moment of hesitation before she walks over to him and says hesitantly, “I . . . you’re Derek Hale, aren’t you?”

Derek glances up, his face that of polite neutrality, and Stiles has a momentary surge of pride for how non-snarly his lupa has become. “Can I help you?” he asks.

“Oh my God, I just,” she says, and laughs nervously. “I love your work. So much. I think it’s fantastic.”

Now Derek’s face creases into that honest smile which is so rarely directed at anyone outside the pack. “Thanks,” he says.

“Oh, I’m Jennifer,” she says, extending a hand. “Jennifer Blake. And, um, this is going to be incredibly embarrassing, but . . . I’m pretty sure you saved my life. I had . . . some really bad experiences a few years back. I thought a few times about . . . giving up, you know? But then I saw one of your paintings, From the Ashes, you know the one I mean, of course you do, you’re the artist . . .”

Stiles knows it, too. It was one of Derek’s first big sellers, and the raw, real emotion in it had captured a lot of attention. It’s a picture of the old Hale house, burned down and decrepit, and Derek is sitting in the ashes, naked and practically skeletal. But Stiles is standing in front of him, extending a hand out to him, and Derek is taking it. It’s done in profile and neither of their faces is really visible, but what’s happening is clear to anyone who knows them. Stiles vividly remembers the first time he saw the finished work, and how he had cried for hours, both for what Derek had lost and what he had gained. It’s easy for him to see how that painting could touch somebody so deeply.

“Anyway, it just . . . it made me realize that I could keep going, that I should stand up and . . . anyway, I can’t believe you’re actually here, I mean, I just stopped in and here you are!”

“I come down about once a month just to make sure everything’s displayed the way I like it,” Derek says.

“The gallery’s on my way home from work, so I stop by in the evenings sometimes,” she explains. “It’s just particularly funny because this is the last time I’ll be able to come. I’m moving next week, and I probably won’t be able to come here again.”

Derek’s smile is still surprisingly warm. Stiles supposes that everyone loves being gushed over. “Where are you moving to?”

“Oh, it’s a little town east of here, Oakhurst.”

“That’s not too far from where I live,” Derek says.

Jennifer goes pink again. “I’m not a crazy stalker, I swear,” she says. “I had no idea you would be here. I just figured I would stop in and actually buy something for once, instead of just mooning around over it.”

“Well, you can have whatever you want,” Derek tells her.

“Noooooo,” she says, and laughs again, her cheeks turning pink. “I don’t have anywhere near enough money to afford anything but something small.”

“I’m serious,” Derek says. “Pick something out.”

“I couldn’t . . . why don’t you pick something out for me?” she asks. “I mean, pick out something that means something to you.”

Derek smiles a little more, and Stiles finds himself inexplicably jealous. He wants to hiss and spit and he’s not even sure why. Derek just doesn’t smile at people that way. He should be happy that Derek is learning to have social interactions like a normal person, but his instinctive, gut reaction, is to walk over and tell her to keep her paws off. Which is even more ridiculous because she hasn’t even touched Derek, beyond shaking his hand.

“Okay,” Derek says. He looks around, his gaze skimming the gallery. He walks over to one of his paintings that’s at the smaller end of normal. Stiles approves; trying to give her something huge would only make her more embarrassed about however little money she has. She had probably been planning to buy a print or something.

The picture he chooses is that of a set of wolves: two adults and four cubs. Stiles knows that the adults are Derek’s parents and the cubs are himself and his siblings. It is, indeed, a painting that means a lot to Derek. He tries to push back his irrational jealousy as Derek takes the price tag off of it and takes it over to the counter.

“I can’t, uhm, I only have twelve hundred dollars,” Jennifer says, cringing.

“What a coincidence; this painting happens to be on sale for exactly eleven ninety-nine,” Derek deadpans, even though Stiles knows it was probably priced somewhere like three times that.

He boxes it up for her and tells her about what sort of light it would look best in and Stiles is pretty sure that the frame was supposed to cost extra and he doesn’t say a word about it. “So, uhm, if I gave you my number, would that be super weird or creep you out or anything, because if so, we can pretend I didn’t say anything about it,” Jennifer says.

“I have no idea how to socialize and I’m absolutely terrible at it,” Derek says, “so how about I give you my number, because you might actually have some idea what to do with it.”

Jennifer turns an even deeper pink, but hands over her phone so Derek can program his number into it. She thanks him about sixteen different times and then departs. Stiles saunters over as Derek sits back down with his numbers. “She seems nice,” he says, careful to stay noncommittal.

“Mm,” Derek agrees. “Well, yeah. I mean, I know you guys all like my work, but it’s nice to meet a fan.”

“Look, uh . . .” Stiles isn’t sure how to approach this issue, but he figures he should do it now, while they’re alone, rather than when the rest of the pack could overhear. “If you decide to, you know . . . scratch an itch with her, I’m totally okay with it. You know that, right?”

Derek glances up, a little surprised, and then he leans over and rubs his cheek against Stiles’ temple. “I’m fine,” he says, “but thanks for thinking of me. Now let me finish this up, and we’ll go get some noodles.”


~ ~ ~ ~


The next few weeks fly by. One trip to San Francisco becomes two, then five. There’s a lot that they need to do. The apartment needs furniture. All of them want a chance to plot out the best route between the apartment and their respective colleges. Moving eight teenagers can’t be done in a single day. Hell, between Stiles, Lydia, and Derek, just moving their books will take an entire trip. That’s not even getting into the armory, and the endless debate over what it will be safe and necessary to bring with them. There are, Stiles says, many different men to see about many different ducks.

Not only that, but moving a werewolf pack comes with certain complications. San Francisco doesn’t have a pack of its own. Werewolves tend to avoid cities; they need room to run, particularly during the full moon. So it’s officially unclaimed territory. That doesn’t mean that Stiles can just set up shop there without repercussions. He doesn’t want anyone to think that he’s trying to expand his own territory, so he has to go gladhand the alphas that have the surrounding territories and make nice.

It’s actually an interesting experience. He has something of a reputation, of course, but their pack has been isolationist out of a simple lack of time to be anything else. With some help from the Argents, Danny and Mac have been putting together an app that lists all the different hunters, their territory, their choice of weaponry, whether or not they can be trusted or whether they’ll shoot on sight. Stiles had been so thrilled by that idea that they had started compiling information on different packs, too. It’s not finished yet, but Danny thinks it will be by the end of the summer.

That being said, it’s fun to go meet some of the people that they’ve been researching. There are five or six packs that are close enough to San Francisco that Stiles wants to make nice to so he’s sure he won’t be stepping on anyone’s toes. Most of them seem fairly receptive to this. The one closest is suspicious, but Stiles assures her that this is temporary, only while they’re in college, and she grudgingly accepts this.

But just because there aren’t werewolves in San Francisco doesn’t mean that there aren’t any supernatural creatures at all. Deaton introduces them to Sanjana, the ranking Druid in the city, and they exchange phone numbers. There are two vampire families, but Chris says not to worry about them; they’ve been thoroughly vetted by multiple hunters and ascribe to the supernaturally popular ‘you don’t bother us and we won’t bother you’ theory. (Like werewolves, Derek says, vampires can be either born or made, and families are typically fairly innocuous.)

Then there are the trolls. One on each bridge into the city. They leave mundane travelers alone, but require tolls from any supernatural creature who wants in or out. The entire pack has to visit each one of them so the trolls can learn the ‘sound of their passing’, which apparently has nothing to do with what car they’re in, and provide appropriate payment for a year of coming and going at will. Trolls are gluttons, which means payment has to be in food, which means another incredibly long week for Stiles, cooking everything in sight. It’s an interesting experience, however. Each troll has their own sensibilities; one demands sweets, another rejects everything as tasteless unless it has enough capsaicin in it to knock out a small army, and yet a third seems to relish bones and requires four whole chickens, two whole turkeys, and eight racks of ribs before it declares itself satisfied. Stiles spends an entire day in bed and wonders if they should have just taken the causeway back and forth the entire year. But no, it’s better to be prepared. With his luck, they’d wind up being chased onto a bridge by something else and then eaten.

Of course, Stiles doesn’t go on all the trips. He’s still in recovery, after all. He’s still not entirely sure of how bad his injury was. He knows that he’d probably be dead if he weren’t the alpha, and that he’d had major surgery. He knew that one of his kidneys had been damaged, because he had been on medication and needed regular bloodwork for the first few weeks after he got out of the hospital.

On most days, he feels fine. There’s still some residual soreness now and again from the broken ribs. He gets tired more easily, and he’s not allowed to participate in any strenuous physical activities. No sparring, no lifting. He has to ‘supervise’ while the others carry boxes of books up and down to their new apartment.

There’s also just the general work of being the alpha of a middling to large pack. There’s too many people to have everyone over all the time, so he has to make sure he’s available to everyone and that no one feels left out or neglected. That means he has to keep track of everyone’s schedule, which was a lot easier when school was in session. Boyd is working at the ice rink thirty hours a week to save up some money before school starts. Scott is working at Deaton’s office, Mac has a part-time job doing web design, and Isaac has been trying to work with the manager of his late father’s business. Allison has archery tournaments and Erica has photo shoots for her portfolio. Everyone is busy.

There’s usually three or four people at the den on any given night, and Stiles frankly likes the smaller gatherings because it’s easier to divide his attention up amongst the pack members who are there. It’s also a hell of a lot easier to cook for five people than it is for twelve.

So most evenings are quiet, which is fine by Stiles. This one is particularly quiet, and he’s startled from a half-doze when there’s a knock on the front door. Most of the others have already left for their respective houses. Allison has an archery tournament coming up, so she’s gone home to work out. The others have jobs or family obligations to attend to, parents who want to take them shopping for college stuff, things that need to be packed.

Stiles has actually been spending most of his nights at home lately, because his father is a little more clingy than usual. Given that he’s leaving the nest in a month, coupled with the fact that he’s still physically recovering from having been shot, this surprises nobody. So the den is usually empty come nightfall. Stiles, Derek, Scott, and Isaac are the only ones left at this point. Scott and Isaac are playing video games while Derek sketches in the ‘love pit’ and Stiles leafs through books and thinks about napping. He still gets tired easily.

‘Knock’ is the polite way of putting it. It’s more of a pounding from someone who’s clearly very impatient. Stiles frowns and starts to get to his feet. They don’t keep the electric fence on during the day, while everyone is coming and going, unless there’s trouble in town. But they don’t leave it open, either, so whoever showed up would have had to climb over. It isn’t one of the pack members – they would all just walk right on in, and if the door was locked, everyone has a key.

He’s barely gotten all the way up when Isaac shouts, “I’ll get it,” and comes out of the living room. Stiles sighs. He can’t fault his pack for being a trifle overprotective while he’s recovering, but it can get on his nerves. He decides he doesn’t want to be shuffled aside, and follows Isaac to the door. Of course, Scott and Derek are both immediately on his heels.

Isaac swings the door open just as the young woman there is raising her fist, clearly ready to knock again. She’s medium height for a woman – taller than Lydia but shorter than Allison. Her long brown hair is down around her face, dark eyes intense and worried, and she’s dressed in a sports tank top, jeans, and sneakers. And she’s a werewolf. That much is obvious from her scent; even Stiles can pick up on it. From behind him, he hears Derek’s quick intake of breath, and the girl’s eyes snap over to him. “Derek!”

Derek recoils in sheer surprise, nearly tripping over himself. Under normal circumstances, he would regain any physical loss of equilibrium quickly, but clearly not this time, as he stumbles forward a few steps, clutching at any pack member he can for stability. He sniffs the air a few times in a wolfish but almost timid manner. “Cora?” he asks softly, the name coming out in a strange mixture of wonder and horrified confusion.

“Derek,” she says again, clearly relieved.

Stiles’ head snapped around the instant that Derek had heard his name the first time, and he says, “Derek, you know her?”

“She . . . she’s my sister.” Derek swallows hard. “We . . .” His voice trails off and then he corrects himself, because there is no more ‘we’. “I thought she was dead.” He manages to move forward until he’s shoulder to shoulder with Stiles, but he’s staring wide-eyed at Cora. Isaac, who’s holding the door open, looks from her to Derek, as if he’s seriously considering just closing the door in her face. He doesn’t like seeing Derek this freaked out. He sends a questioning look at Stiles and Scott to get their opinion, but Stiles just gives his head a little shake.

“Yeah, I’m . . . not,” Cora says, shifting from foot to foot.

“Come in,” Stiles says, stepping back a little, gesturing for Scott and Isaac to come with them. Cora hesitates, then steps inside. That seems to trigger something in Derek, who moves forward, hesitantly, like he’s afraid she’ll just disappear. His hand stops short of actually touching her, like he’s waiting for permission.

Cora just stands there, just outside his reach, and the silence lasts a few too many seconds to be comfortable, so Stiles breaks it. “You want something to drink?” he asks Cora.

“Sure, I guess,” she says, folding her arms over her chest, a posture of tight anxiety.

“Come on into the kitchen, then,” Stiles says, but as he turns, he mouths ‘watch her’ to Isaac. As he does, Derek’s hand drops and he moves away from her like he’s been burned. He gravitates immediately towards Stiles instead, while Isaac moves to the side to get out of his way. It gives the teenager a convenient excuse to fall a little behind so he has an easier time keeping an eye on Cora, as they proceed further into the house.


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