Something feels good the moment Derek wakes up. The forest is calm around him, there's no danger in the air, the summer sun is brushing warmly against his face. The day is his own, he remembers, the pack all have their own business and he's looking forwards to the peace that brings. He tests the pack bond briefly and everyone is content in their own way. Not even the obvious presence of Stiles downstairs is going to harm how good he feels.
He takes his time getting dressed, picking out his most comfortable jeans (the ones Lydia had pressed onto him after one of her many shopping trips) and a t-shirt with actual colour on it because he knows Stiles won't be able to stop himself from commenting on. He rakes a hand through his hair and even that feels good.
The house breathes around him, finally restored to his hazy memories, familiar and new at once and his bare feet feel good against the smooth floorboards. He can see Stiles' head at the bottom of the stairs, hair longer than usual in some fit of summer reinvention, and he resists the urge to jump down and startle him.
“Good, you're up,” Stiles says as Derek comes down the stairs to join him on the bottom steps. He sits one step behind Stiles and props his elbows on his knees, folding his hands in front of him.
“How long have you been here?” Derek asks, nudging Stiles' shoulder with his knee. Stiles briefly leans into the touch before answering. (Stiles knows it's okay to touch, that Derek encourages it within the pack to keep everyone connected, but he's still shy around Derek.)
“Fifteen minutes?” Stiles wonders, twisting his face up as he calculates. His presence is probably what woke Derek up.
“Early for you, isn't it?” Derek asks, raising his eyebrows. Stiles rolls his eyes at him and leans back on his elbows, tilting his head back. It bares his neck and it's a mark of how far Derek's come that he doesn't have the slightest urge to mark Stiles into submission.
“Why're you here?” Derek asks, dragging his eyes away from Stiles' neck.
“Do I have to have a reason to drop by and see my favourite Sourwolf?” Stiles asks with a shrug. Derek narrows his eyes for a moment because it's been a long time since Stiles called him that and, yeah, there it is under all the usual sweet Stiles smells; Stiles is nervous.
Derek files that away for later as he stands up, pushing one hand down on Stiles' shoulder and covering a laugh as Stiles slides indignantly down the last couple of steps.
“Very funny,” Stiles says, hauling himself up and following Derek into the kitchen. “Totally uncalled for.”
“You were the one lying,” Derek says, tapping his nose briefly. Stiles shifts from one foot to the other, his mouth parting to speak. “Why're you here?”
“I knew the rest of the pack weren't around today,” Stiles says on an expulsion of breath, like holding it in had been difficult. “And I thought – I've only got a couple of weeks left, so maybe we could, you know, hang out. For the day. Just us.”
Stiles shuffles as he speaks; his shoulders rounding down and making him look small again, like the boy he was when Derek met him instead of the man he's grown into over the past years. He ends looking down, one hand rubbing backwards and forwards over his neck. It's a good thing, too, because it means he doesn't see the way Derek looks at him – Derek's reputation doesn't involve looking startled by the human members of his pack.
“You haven't really talked about it,” Stiles continues when Derek finds himself unable to do anything other than stare at him. “Or, I mean, we haven't talked about it. And I know you've already talked to everyone else about college and the dangers and all that and there was that big meeting we had when we'd all accepted places but I just – I, we haven't talked about it. So maybe we could do that.”
Derek turns into the fridge without answering to hide his face from Stiles as Stiles looks up at him again. Truth is he has been putting off talking to Stiles about college, and it's not because he doesn't need to (although Stiles is amongst the four packmembers that genuinely don't need a lecture about not doing stupid things at college), it's that Stiles is going nearly the furthest out of everyone, to Chicago where he'll probably freeze to death, and Derek doesn't really know what to do about it.
“I'm doing this all wrong,” Stiles says suddenly, blowing out a huge breath at himself. “I wasn't meant to mention this until much later – I was totally going to butter you up first.”
“It's okay,” Derek says, sensing the tension in Stiles' voice. He turns around, wearing the mildest of his blank expressions, and inclines his head in a nod. “We can talk about whatever you want, you know that.”
“Can we talk about it later, though?” Stiles asks, turning in on himself again. “I really do have a good day planned. Got to make sure you're in the best mood possible.”
Stiles' smile is only a little forced at the edges and Derek doesn't like seeing it, Stiles' smiles should always be free and gratutious.
“I'm already in a pretty good mood,” Derek admits, easing the blankness out of his expression, letting his lips quirk a bit. Stiles' smile evens out and that's a whole lot better to look at.
So what if it took Derek eighteen months to get his handle on his alpha shit (thank you Erica), the important thing is that he got there in the end.
“Awesome,” Stiles says. He comes around the kitchen counter and pushes the fridge shut, briefly leaning into Derek's space. Derek lets himself breathe in Stiles' scent for a moment, happy he freely can. Stiles wrinkles his nose at him as usual, as if he can't understand why Derek likes doing this. He'd understand if he was a werewolf.
“I'm buying you breakfast,” Stiles answers the unasked question he reads in Derek's face. Derek lets out a breath and tips his head in assent, getting another smile in reward. Stiles squeezes Derek's arms briefly. “Go and put some shoes on, you animal.”
Derek bares his teeth at Stiles and Stiles steps back, raising his hands. Stiles' heartbeat never changes when Derek's instincts go 'all wolfy' on him (thank you Stiles), he's learnt by observation what to do and Derek's never been able to figure out how a human got so good at reading him.
He heads upstairs again for some socks (shoes are kept by the door in a rack Boyd built him when he complained one too many times about the mud his pack tracked into the new house). He finds his favourite pair, which had been missing for a few weeks, tucked into the side of the sock drawer and smiles involuntarily. They had Darth Vader on them and the line 'now I am the master' and had been a joke gift from Stiles the first Christmas they all spent together as a pack. They go missing enough that they're hardly worn at all and they somehow fit his feet better than any other socks he's ever bought.
Stiles is slipping his shoes back on as Derek returns downstairs, one hand pressed against the wall as he bends over precariously to work the right one on. Derek catches his elbow when Stiles unbalances slightly (something that doesn't happen so often now Stiles has grown into his limbs some) and Stiles mutters 'thanks' under his breath. Derek puts his feet in his boots and crouches down to tie the laces, noticing belatedly that it puts him on a level with Stiles' ass. As usual he gets the urge to slap or poke, something that would startle Stiles, if only because the reaction is invariably hilarious. He resists, though, because his mood doesn't really need the improvement.
“We're taking your car,” Stiles says as Derek locks the house up behind him, the pack have keys if they need to get in for any reason. “You know the place.”
Derek smiles and ignores the way Stiles mutters 'number one' under his breath when he does. He got used to Stiles counting his smiles a long time ago and he's oddly proud of how high the number reaches these days. He thinks about telling Stiles that this is actually smile number two but decides he'll keep his habit of smiling at his own socks to himself.
The diner is on the road out of Beacon Hills and it serves the best pancakes in the county. They know the pack there, it's always the first and last place they stop when they pile into the motley fleet of cars and go on what Stiles insists on calling 'pack outings', and the hostess smiles openly at Derek. Derek smiles back instinctively and knows that Stiles is adding it immediately to his tally. Stiles had shifted between subdued and babbling in the car, which was par for the course whenever he was holding something huge back between his shoulder blades, and Derek had let him be.
The hostess places them at the booth Derek's begun to think of as their own – it even holds their scent now, they've used it so often – and doesn't even bother sending a waitress to take their orders. Fifteen minutes after they arrive Stiles has a steaming cup of coffee beside him and Derek has a tall glass of orange juice at his elbow. Between them sits a gargantuan plate of pancakes doused in syrup and the waitress, Charlie today, hands them two sets of utensils with a grin.
About the only times Stiles is guaranteed to shut up completely is when he's faced with a pile of pancakes. He'll talk through pretty much any other kind of meal but Derek gets a feeling there's something sacred about pancakes, something Stiles remembers when he eats them. He can always taste a faint trace of sadness around Stiles and it intensifies at times like this. Derek's pretty sure he knows why but he's never pushed – Stiles doesn't talk about his Mom very often.
(Derek hit a low point about ten months into his dubious career as an alpha which happened to coincide with a witch hexing him into feeling every emotion ten times stronger than usual. He'd been buried under his grief and guilt for two days when Stiles physically broke into the shitty apartment Derek had been sharing with Isaac up until he locked Isaac out. Stiles spoke about his Mom, then, about how he blamed himself 'present tense, Derek' for her death still, about his fears for his father and the endless ache in his heart where his Mom used to fit. Stiles shared his empathy with Derek until Boyd and Lydia could trace a way to break the hex and Derek still feels like he never thanked Stiles enough. Could never.)
“My Mom made the best pancakes,” Stiles said when they were about halfway through the plate. Derek made enough of a noise to let Stiles know he was listening. Stiles drew a barely shaky breath and continued. “Every Saturday morning she'd get up before me and Dad and go out to that fresh food market about ten miles out of town?” Derek nods. “She'd pick up all sorts of fruits or berries to put in the pancakes and just make these huge batches. So many we couldn't eat them all so I'd invite Scott over to finish them off at lunch. They were almost better cold.”
Derek watches Stiles' face as he talks, the easy rippling of emotion that Derek's only barely beginning to reflect on his own face, and feels...privileged that Stiles is sharing. Stiles still holds a surprising amount of himself private for a guy that sometimes literally cannot stop talking (yeah, that was the worst witch ever) and each piece of himself he shares is something precious Derek tucks away inside himself for the bad days.
(That's a lie, really. The worst witch was the one that stole Stiles' voice for some perceived slight. As irritating as Stiles' rambling words could be they were a soothing background noise to the pack. No-one had felt right until Stiles got his voice back, the silences that grew up between them without him were frightening.)
He doesn't really know when Stiles became more of an anchor than his anger, though he thinks the slow shift began around the tenth time they saved each other's lives, but he thinks Laura probably would have approved. She'd never liked the way he'd clung onto his anger after the fire but she'd never understood that it was all he could use to survive. Isaac understands, a little, and Derek has a feeling Stiles would if he ever told him.
Stiles lapses into silence again, lost in thought, and the golden sunlight lights his face in a way that Derek suddenly realises is heart-stopping. He swallows down the thought and instead presses his legs around Stiles' under the table, letting him know he understands. Stiles smiles at him, wistfulness lingering in his eyes, and Derek nods.
“My Dad was the cook in my family,” Derek says after he's swallowed the last mouthful of pancake on his side of the plate. Stiles looks up in surprise and, sure, Derek doesn't talk about his family more than he has to but – today he feels good, today feels like a day where he can talk about them and instead of it hurting all he feels is peace. “Mom was a disaster in the kitchen. Dad used to chase her out when he was ill – wouldn't even let her make chicken soup for him.”
“Your Dad was human?” Stiles asks, eyes round with surprise. Derek smiles. Four
“Human born into a werewolf family,” Derek says, pushing his knife and fork together and resting them on the edge of the plate. “Mom was wolf and he carried the gene as a recessive trait. I – I wish you all could've met them. I think they would have liked you.”
Stiles thankfully doesn't point out that if Derek's parents were alive the pack wouldn't exist, that they probably wouldn't even know each other, and Derek lets out a breath over that kindness.
Stiles finishes his pancakes in silence and they leave the waitress a sizeable tip before leaving. Derek catches Stiles' scent when a breeze ruffles his hair on the way out of the diner; the sweet smell of morning Stiles is now impacted with coffee and the leather-smell of Derek's car. The layering isn't bad, actually, because they're smells that still speak Stiles to him.
“Where to?” Derek asks when they're settled in the car again. He spares a moment to be amused that he's driving himself around on the day that Stiles has planned for him. Stiles has never been orthodox.
“I thought,” Stiles says, twisting in the seat as he buckles himself in. “We haven't been out to the coast for a while. I know how much you enjoy all those new scents.”
Derek rolls his eyes as he starts the car. The dog jokes should, by all rights, be incredibly old by now but there's more truth in this one that he's ever wanted to admit. Stiles, weirdly good at reading Derek as he is, realised pretty quick the first time they gathered up the pack and went to the beach that Derek couldn't stop inhaling deeply, drawing in all the new smells. It's always been the favourite of Derek's senses – how he can tell so much just by scenting the air – and his cousins used to make fun of him when he was a kid for burying his nose in anything he could find.
“Don't give me that,” Stiles says, slapping him lightly on the arm and grinning at him. “I've got your number, wolf boy.”
Derek snorts despite himself and Stiles' grin widens.
“To the beach!” Stiles commands, pointing out the window in the complete opposite direction of the coast. Derek shakes his head, a grudging smile tugging at his lips. Five.
They put the windows down and Derek winds his sense of smell down so he doesn't get a headrush from the wind. Stiles plugs his iPod into the stereo and pulls up a driving playlist Derek has a feeling he's made specially for the occasion. He suspects this because the music trends heavily towards his own tastes rather than Stiles' more eclectic taste and he appreciates it. Sometimes when Stiles is listening to music his iPod will shuffle from British punk to Seattle garage to Mozart to swing without any regard for the confusion of the listener.
Derek finds himself singing along with songs he hasn't heard since he left New York and Stiles joins in on the choruses, laughing openly and widely.
It's so incredibly good that Derek really doesn't know how to feel. Stiles would probably joke about it – that Derek was so out-of-touch with his own emotions that he doesn't know how to just feel good. Derek shoots a glance at Stiles and Stiles has his eyes closed against the sun driving down through the windows and Derek thinks he's beginning to understand how to feel good.
If he lets his right hand fall so that it occasionally brushes up against Stiles' leg he's pretty sure Stiles will just write it off as pack touching. Pretty sure.
When they get to the summer town they normally come to with the pack (there's a friendly pack here who welcomes the ragtag Hale pack like they're distant relatives, coastal packs have always been like that) Derek parks up by the beach and feels distinctly over dressed when he climbs out of the car. He realises belatedly that Stiles had been wearing the kind of pants that can be turned into shorts when he sees the pale flashes of Stiles' shins.
“Can we -” Derek starts, getting momentarily distracted Stiles' calves like some kind of Victorian gentleman. Stiles clears his throat when Derek doesn't continue. “Should we get ice cream?”
“Oh, hell yes,” Stiles says, grinning and tugging Derek by the elbow towards the ice cream parlour he loves. Derek realises that it would be more than simple to take Stiles' hand in his and is surprised by the force of the urge to do it. He doesn't, though, negotiating with himself to make do with Stiles' hand still wrapped firmly around his elbow.
It's not new, this feeling, but it's not normally so close to the surface. There's something about Stiles today, though, something about the summer air wrapping about them both and the way Stiles' body is loose with a contentment he so rarely wears. Something that Derek wants to capture and hold onto forever, living in this one moment of time.
God. The ways Laura would make fun of him for this are impossible to list.
“Derek, Stiles,” the owner of the parlour, Mario, says with a huge smile for them both. Derek returns it and feels Stiles trace a five onto the flesh of his arm before letting go. Derek's tally is six.
“I didn't think we'd see you here again before this one goes off to college,” Mario says, nodding his head towards Stiles. That reminds Derek of why they're spending the day together but this time his heart doesn't constrict thinking about it.
“Always time for one more visit to your fine establishment,” Stiles says, spreading his arms wide.
“Just the two of you today?” Mario says, looking behind them. Stiles bounces on the balls of his feet and nods.
“Left the kids at home,” Stiles says, mouthing twisting wryly. “You know how it is.”
“Oh, I know,” Mario says and there's a knowing look in his eyes when he meets Derek's. Stiles misses it because he's already pressing himself up against the ice cream case in a disturbingly loving manner. Derek gives Mario a 'what can you do' look and a small smile. Seven. Mario's answering grin is huge.
Stiles orders a double cone of bubblegum and vanilla, asking Mario to layer the blue and white ice cream, because he clearly needs to smell sweeter than he already does. Derek asks for rocky road, a choice which never ceases to amuse Stiles apparently, and Stiles pays for them both, insistent. Mario wishes Stiles the best of luck for college and Stiles thanks him sincerely, the breathless quality to his voice betraying that he still can't believe he got into Northwestern.
They wander down onto the beach, which is quiet in the middle of the work week, and amble along towards the sea-worn rocks that have piled themselves up at one end. Stiles walks closer than he probably should but Derek can tell he needs the proximity and quite apart from how much he likes the closeness Derek wouldn't be able to push him away. This is alpha business.
Derek's finished his ice cream by the time they reach the rocks and looks across at Stiles in time to see Stiles bite off the end of the cone and suck the remaining ice cream through the hole. Derek looks away before the hollowing of Stiles' cheeks can get to him. They sit down companionably, on the rock Derek realises he knows is theirs, and Stiles presses himself against Derek's side. Derek lets Stiles rest his head on his shoulder and waits.
Derek's very good at waiting.
After a long fifteen minutes of silence Stiles starts talking. At first it's his fears for his father's eating habits, something Scott's Mom has promised to take care of, but then it's everything spilling out of him: how far away Chicago is, how he keeps thinking it's a mistake and he'll get there and find out that his scholarship is bullshit (Derek offered to help pay his tuition once, because God knew Derek had more money than he ever knew what to do with because of insurance, but Stiles didn't take kindly to the offer), what Scott is going to do without Stiles to watch over him, what Jackson will do without Danny's balance, whether it was the worst idea ever to let the pack spread out like this, Boyd (who would be closest, attending NYU) not wanting him around even if they were both lonely for pack. Derek lets him talk himself out over several hours, Stiles stopping and starting as various thoughts pass through his brain, and they haven't had a moment like this since Stiles finally put his romantic love for Lydia to bed and accepted that he was more than a little bisexual. That had been a big weekend for Stiles involving, as it did, the loss of his virginity in a completely unexpected way (Derek had been genuinely surprised to find out that Danny gave in because he was almost certain Danny never intended to act on his burning candle for Stiles).
“- and what – what if you don't miss me,” Stiles says, very quietly. He scrambles to cover himself with: “You as in the collective you. I mean. Um.”
Derek lets out a long breath against the finally bubbling up in his chest and puts an arm around Stiles, drawing him even closer. He can smell Stiles' confusion and worry and, no, he won't have that, not on such a good day.
“Listen,” Derek says, turning his head so that his mouth is right by Stiles' ear. “We'll miss you. You're important. You always have been. The distance won't change it.”
Stiles pulls his head back so that he can look at Derek and Derek can pinpoint the moment where Stiles' resolve solidifies. Stiles licks his lips and it's all Derek can do to stop himself from tracking that movement with his eyes.
“What about you?” Stiles asks, his words ghostly against Derek's skin. “Will you miss me?”
“You have no idea,” Derek says, shuddering slightly because he's been trying so hard not to think about it; of not being able to climb into Stiles' room to surprise him (even though he's had the freedom of the house for a year thanks to the Sheriff's clemency), of not being about to see him whenever he wants, of not having Stiles instantly by his side if something starts causing trouble in his territory. “You really don't.”
“Shh,” Stiles obviously understands more than Derek's giving him credit for. He slides a hand tortuously slowly into Derek's hair and tugs Derek's head into the crook of his neck, inviting. Derek breathes several deep breaths of Stiles' scent, trying to implant the sense memory of the day as deeply as possible – the pancakes, the car, the wind in Stiles' hair, the ice cream and the salt sea air, the taste of Stiles' precious memories and of shared (halved) grief.
Later Derek doesn't remember how they went from that to kissing, Stiles' mouth desperately tender against his own, but he remembers Stiles' hands in his hair and his hands on Stiles' hips. Stiles' t-shirt rucking up enough that Derek can press his thumbs against the warm flesh of Stiles' hips. It's a long kiss, a promise of sorts, and it leaves Derek gasping for reasons unrelated to breathing.
“Let's go home,” Stiles says, honey brown eyes wide and dark in the lowering sun.
“I already am,” Derek says, covering his embarrassment at the cheesiness by pressing a kiss to one of Stiles' palms. He can feel Laura laughing at him from wherever she is.
“That should be like the worst line of a Nicholas Sparks movie,” Stiles says, laughing as he presses a kiss against Derek's hairline. Derek knows all about Nicholas Sparks because of Lydia.
“I'm hardly Ryan Gosling,” Derek says with a sniff. Stiles makes an assessing noise and Derek shoots him a mock glare.
“What?!” Stiles says, waving a hand. “Look – I thought People got it right when they picked Bradley Cooper over him.” Derek continues the frown even though his mouth is fighting against it. “And both of them, obviously, have nothing on you. I mean. Have you seen you?”
Derek lets the smile break and Stiles returns it before suddenly biting his lower lip in thought.
“We'll make this work,” Stiles says and the certainty in the words is the payback for all the trust Derek poured into him before Stiles returned it.
“We will,” Derek agrees, nudging their foreheads together.
(Later still Stiles will trace Derek's smile in the moonlight that comes through his window. Fifteen, he'll whisper against Derek's chest and Derek will shake his head.
Eighteen, he'll say against the palm of Stiles' hand. You missed three. One for my socks. Stiles will laugh. Shut up. One for Mario that you didn't see.
The third? Stiles will ask, stretching in a way that brings more of him laid out across Derek's chest. Derek's smile will become an open grin.
I was behind you at the time. Stiles' mouth will drop open for a moment before closing on a huff of laughter.
Dirty, he'll say, shaking his head.
You like it, Derek will say dismissively, loving the ease of words spread between them.
Yeah, Stiles will say. He'll fall asleep not long after and Derek will let himself think, then, that the reason he woke up feeling so good that morning was that he already knew Stiles was there.)