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Wanderlust

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“FREEDOM!” Stiles Stilinski cried as he burst from the doors of Beacon Hills High School on the last day of his junior year. Grinning widely, he threw his arms around Scott and Allison, walking with them towards their cars. “Ah, summer. What a glorious time we have entered, filled with no homework, or practices, or anything else that I don’t want to do.”

Allison and Scott laughed at their friend’s antics, both glad to be out of school themselves as well. Freeing themselves from Stiles grip, they moved to stand beside each other, holding hands as they always did when they were within reach. The huntress smiled, “What are you going to do this summer, Stiles?”

The teenager tilted his head in thought. “I don’t know.”

But the next morning, when the sun was just rising and Stiles woke to the sound of the wind howling outside his window, he knew.

~

Stiles barely knew his mother. His memories of her are hazy, blurred around the edges like an antique photograph. In the drawer of his bedside table there is a picture of him and his mother shortly after he was born. He is sitting on her lap, clumsy baby hands reaching out towards her long brunette locks, grasping at the ringlets that fell past her shoulders. There is a smile on each of their faces, but it doesn’t reach his mother’s eyes, which are glancing off-camera to her right. Stiles once took that photo into the living room where it had been taken and held it before him, trying to find what his mother had been looking at. It was the door.

Even as his hand dropped, picture held loosely by his side, Stiles is not the slightest bit surprised. Because as soon as she could, as soon as her husband got promoted to sheriff and they could afford a babysitter, she was gone. She got in her car, picked a direction and drove. She always came back, sometimes after a week, sometimes after a month. Once, when Stiles was six, his mother drove away and he didn’t see her until he was seven.

Every time she left, his father’s frown got a little bit deeper, his eyes a little sadder, and his nights a little more drunken. But every time she came back, he would light up. When he heard the familiar sound of her car pulling into the driveway, he would jump up and run outside and they would kiss each other lovingly on the porch. She would pick Stiles up and spin him around and tell him how much he had grown. Then they would all sit together and Mrs. Stilinski would show them pictures and tell them stories late into the night until Stiles drifted off on her shoulder.

When Stiles is nine, he goes upstairs and finds his mother packing, folding her clothes and placing them in a neat stack inside her suitcase, preparing for another quick exit. Standing in her doorway, Stiles asks her to take him with her.

“Oh honey,” she sighs and strokes his hair. “No.” Then she turns back and continues packing, and Stiles can never bring himself to ask again.

While Stiles sometimes wishes he could be mad at his mom, wishes he could cry and ask why he isn’t a good enough reason for her to stay, as he gets older he starts to understand why she needs to leave. He grows up and Beacon Hills stays the same, the landscape never changing, and the wind seems to call to him, enticing him with dreams of what else is out there.

A year later, his mom has been gone for two months when they get a call telling them she won’t be coming back.

~

When the sheriff walks downstairs at seven in the morning, he expects his son to still be sleeping, enjoying the relaxation that comes with the first day of summer vacation. Instead, he finds Stiles wolfing down a bowl of cereal, his backpack on the floor beside him and his car keys on the table by his hand. His father sighs, and Stiles looks at him apologetically.

“I’ll be back before school starts, I swear.”

“I know, I know.” He sits down across from the teenager and just watches him in silence. When he is finished eating, Stiles puts his bowl in the sink, picks up his bag and his keys, and kisses his father’s forehead before rushing out the door. It isn’t until that night that the sheriff goes into his son’s room and realizes that he left both his phone and his laptop. He sits heavily on the bed, already dreading the months to come.

~

It takes almost two years for the Stilinskis to start grieving, and by then it feels too late. She was gone, and they went to the funeral, but when the father and son went home nothing felt difference. They didn’t feel her absence, because she had never really been there in the first place.

Then one day when Stiles comes downstairs for breakfast, still half asleep, he mumbles under his breath, “When’s mom coming home?” The sheriff’s head snaps to him and Stiles freezes in the doorway. They are silent, the air around them thick with tension. Finally, the twelve-year-old turns around and returns to his room. When his father eventually creeps upstairs to check on him, he finds his son sitting on the edge of his bed, hand on his chest as he quietly gasps for breath, tears streaming down his face because oh God, his mom really wasn’t coming back, she was dead and he had barely noticed, what kind of son did that make him?

But life goes on, and the two remaining Stilinskis still can’t bring themselves to talk about it, as if it might make things easier to pretend she had never been there at all. So Stiles learns to breathe again and the Sheriff chases after arsonists and everything is fine. Stiles meets Scott in eighth grade, and his father is glad to see his son finally have a friend who looks like he’ll actually stick around.

~

For the first week, Scott waits for Stiles to call him. His friend had been so excited, he figured it would be no time before the werewolf was being dragged into all sorts of mischief to satisfy the hyperactive teenager’s endless energy. But the call never comes. And at first Scott doesn’t think much of it, figuring Stiles maybe wanted some time to relax now that classes were over, and so he spends that time with Allison. But eventually he starts getting a bit worried. So finally, he picks up the phone to call Stiles. But it goes straight to voicemail. He frowns and leaves a message, and can’t stop himself from calling four more times that day. The concern grows until it finally breaks when he calls around and finds out that no one has seen the other boy since school got out. So a week and a half into summer vacation, Scott makes his way over to the Stilinski house, determined to figure out what was going on with his friend.

~

Stiles runs away for the first time when he is fourteen during Spring break. He sees the way his dad watches him, and knows that he will not--cannot-- understand why Stiles needs this. So he writes his dad a note filled with apologies and promises to be back by the Sunday before school starts again, packs a small bag with clothes and food, and takes all the money he has and buys a train ticket to Sacramento. He keeps his phone on silent, and checks the growing number of voicemails every night. His father’s voice goes from furious, demanding he come home immediately, to desperate, pleading with him. Stiles lies about his age and stays in a hostel, the workers well aware of his lie but not willing to send him to the streets. He spends his days just walking, seeing everything he can, talking to strangers and exploring the new city.

When he finally arrives back home, the sheriff opens the door and hugs him, gripping him tightly to his chest, and whispers, “I don’t want to lose you, too.” That night they talk, but they don’t resolve anything. They hold all the love in the world for each other, but neither really understands the other.

On Stiles’ sixteenth birthday, they have another talk because more than anything, his father absolutely does not want to give his son a car. He does not want to gift him with an easier way to leave. They try to compromise, they really do, but the best they can do is Stiles holding his father’s hand and saying, “I promise I’ll come back.

A few weeks later, Stiles is in San Diego, sleeping in his Jeep at night and eating the best Mexican food he’s ever had by day.

He keeps his promise, though. He always comes back. Stiles makes sure to never miss school and he keeps his trips private, never mentioning them to Scott for reasons he himself doesn’t really understand. It’s just something he doesn’t want to share. So sometimes he drives a few towns over to go to the library or some random restaurant, and maybe he pays an obscene amount for gas, but it quells the restlessness in his chest--the days when the winds blows and Stiles knows that today, he cannot follow.

~

Scott knocks loudly on the front door of his best friend’s house. A part of him fully expects Stiles to open the door, smile sheepishly and give some excuse about breaking his phone or getting caught up in some RPG or something. What he doesn’t expect is the Sheriff to open the door, the lines around his mouth stark against his face, tight with tension, and his eyes looking very, very tired.

The teenager blinks, before finally stuttering out, “Um, hey Mr. Stilinski. I was, uh, looking for Stiles. Is he here?”

The older mam closes his eyes for a moment, breathing deeply through his nose. “He didn’t tell you. Why am I surprised?” He says it more to himself, but Scott still frowns in confusion.

“Didn’t tell me what?”

Sighing, the sheriff runs a hand across his mouth. “Stiles left. He… he does that sometimes. He’ll be back by the time school starts, though.”

“Wait.” Scott shakes his head, trying to clear his thoughts. “He left? Where did he go?”

“I don’t know.” He shrugs. “He told me he doesn’t like to think about it. Prefers to just pick a direction and see where it leads him.” The sheriff smiles fondly, but Scott is still gaping on the doorstep.

“But, I’ve been calling him and he hasn’t–”

“He didn’t take his phone this time. Or his laptop.”

“He’ll be back by August though, right? That’s what you said?”

“Yeah, he’s always careful not to miss school.”

And that is the part Scott can’t wrap his head around. “He’s really done this before?”

He nods. “Has for a couple years now, always during breaks. He used to only leave for a week or two at a time, because he had to pay for transportation and a place to stay, but now he just sleeps in the car and uses most of his money on gas.”

“Why didn’t he tell me?” Scott can’t keep the hurt from bleeding into his voice.

Mr. Stilinski puts a hand on his shoulder sympathetically. “It’s nothing personal, son. It’s just something he needs to do.”

Scott nods and walks back to his car. It takes him only a few minutes to call everyone in the pack, telling them to meet at the Hale house. He doesn’t want to think about this alone.

~

“He’s just gone?” Allison asks, her voice slightly confused.

“Just for the summer, but yeah. Apparently he does this a lot.” It took Scott the entire drive to the woods, but he finally figured out that what really bothered him was the fact that he hadn’t noticed before. Even when he never saw him over vacations, Stiles had always picked up his phone, never hinting that he wasn’t in town as they talked.

“Well fine.” Jackson crosses his arms, trying to sound uncaring, but giving the impression of a petulant child, upset that he didn’t get his way. “So we have to spend a few months without Stilinski, big deal. If anything we’ll probably get more done without his constant chatter.”

“It will be nice to have some peace and quiet,” Lydia muses.

Derek is silent. He leans against the wall and watches as his pack comes to the conclusion that three months without the hyperactive human wouldn’t be so bad, and that they would bug him about not saying goodbye to them when he got back. They talk about how much more productive they would be without Stiles’ distractions and clumsiness. They laugh that if anything, they’ll be getting a call from him within weeks about needing to get him out of some jam he got himself into. The alpha simply looks out the window and listens to the wind through the trees.