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Three months before the last of the pack graduates, Derek starts looking at cabins.

How it starts is an accident, really. He's in the bookstore passing a table of discounted books, and one titled For the Love of Nature! in bold white script with a picture of a cabin surrounded by trees catches his eye. It has three red stickers stuck on it, marked down from thirty dollars to fifteen, and finally ten, and Derek thinks, why not?

He buys it and uses it as a coaster and make-shift plate for two weeks before he lets himself look at it. The edges of most of the pages are stained brown with coffee from the three times Isaac has knocked over his mug in the morning in his rush to school.

Page after page is full of cabins, some by the seaside, some in the mountains. One is in a place that looks barren enough to be a desert, but most of them are in or near forests, with lush green trees surrounding the structures. Some of them are nearly swallowed up by the plant life, usually by design. If Derek stares hard enough, he can almost smell it, can almost taste how alive everything is.

He starts looking at land for sale that night and makes a trip out to the first place that seems right the following weekend. It's quick, decisive. There's already a cabin there, rundown but workable. Derek takes a chunk of what's left of his inheritance, and makes the deal.

*

He leaves on graduation day.

The Camaro was demolished seven months before, and it was almost a relief, the last reminder of his life before crushed into so much scrap metal. He bought another car, sensible and used, in a murky purple-gray color that most people don't notice.

All of the things he intends to take are packed and in the trunk. There's enough back at the loft to keep Isaac going, and more than enough space to add a few things of his own if he decides to stay. Derek leaves the lease for Isaac to sign, a bank book, and his set of keys.

After graduation and lunch and then an early dinner, Derek gives his congratulations one last time, says his goodbyes, and leaves.

*

He isn't running away.

Running away means he has something to hide and he doesn't, he's just done. He's done with Beacon Hills and it's done with him.

There's none of the anxiety that means running away, just peace.

It's a strange, empty sort of calm, but Derek figures he'll adjust.

*

The house is a fixer-upper, but Derek knew that. He could smell the musty-sweet scent of rotting wood ten feet away.

He sleeps in a tent near the tree line of the spot of forestry separating him from his closest neighbors, and makes plans to buy supplies. There are a lot of things that need fixing: the roof is leaking and the floor has rotted through in a few places; the bathroom needs to be retiled, and a few of the pipes are rusted; all but the light above the stove in the open kitchen have burned out.

The electricity and water work, but when he bought the cabin he was told it gets spotty when the weather is bad, so he looks in town to find an electrician and a good plumber, and to maybe buy some books for the upkeep. Derek isn't really handy, but he can fix things when he has the right directions.

It's a forty-five minute drive into town to the hardware store, and when he drives through, he gets lots of stares. Derek thinks it might be the car. A lot of people have pick-up trucks. He wonders idly if he should get one too, wonders why he didn't think of that when he first visited. It would be useful; he'd have more room for all of his supplies.

Maybe it's just that he's new. It's a small place. People are always wary of new faces in areas like this.

He gets a job at the hardware store when he helps Lou, the owner. Lou is fifty-five years old, as tall as Derek but twice his girth, head covered in thick, white hair. Derek sees him struggling with a cardboard box and takes it from him.

"Easy there," Derek says, pretending to have trouble as he handles the box. He sets it on the floor carefully and dusts his hands off.

"I'm Lou, and you're new," Lou says, laughing at his own rhyme. Derek smiles politely, shaking Lou's hand when he offers it.

"Derek," Derek replies.

"You're a strong one, aren't you, Derek." The way Lou says his name is warm and familial, like he's known Derek for years and was just waiting for him to come back home.

"Yeah. I, uh. I ate all my vegetables," Derek says, and feels the tips of his ears start to go hot. It's been a while since he's had to engage in this particular brand of small talk.

They chat idly for a few minutes, mostly just Lou asking Derek questions about his family (Lou nods sadly but doesn't apologize when Derek tells him he's all that's left of it) and work.

"You looking for a job?" Lou asks after a while. "I can't promise to pay you much, but we could use someone strong around here a few days of the week."

It seems too easy, but then everything has been unsettlingly simple since he left, so maybe this is his new normal.

Later he finds out that in a town this small, everyone knows everything. Derek's land used to belong to Lou's second cousin, and everything makes more sense once he knows that. They already know who Derek is, probably a little more than Derek wants them to know. He's already been sniffed out, but has been found acceptable.

It's a little like pack in that way, something he can understand.

*

Lou has a nineteen year old grandson named Joey whose services he offers to Derek. "He's not the smartest boy, but give him a hammer and he'll know what to do," he tells Derek.

It's a full month before he accepts the offer. Joey is nice enough, tall and strong with dark curly hair. He and Derek talk about sports. Sometimes Joey talks about girls, about the one he's in love with, about his celebrity crushes.

"She's pretty," Derek says when Joey mentions a starlet Derek only has the vaguest idea of. It's a safe answer; they're usually pretty.

"Just pretty? Really? That's all?" Joe asks incredulously, pausing with a tile in his hand. They're working on the bathroom today because Derek's been caught bathing in the creek one time too many; no one's complained, but a few of his neighbors don't look too happy about it either.

"Really pretty," Derek says, and then nods at the wall. "Can you do that before it dries?"

"Yeah, yeah," Joey mumbles, but it's all good natured and so easy that Derek feels a twinge in his chest. Something like nostalgia catches him, and he has to ground himself again.

This is peace, now. This is calm.

*

When they're finished with the repairs and Derek has furniture--a few chairs to sit in with a table to pull them up to, small couch in his living room, a bed in his bedroom--Edith, Lou's wife, comes for a visit.

The top of her head just reaches Derek's shoulder, and she's smaller than her husband, but still plump. Her hair is that odd, flat shade of brown that means she's been dying it on her own for years, and it falls in thick, wiry curls around her shoulders.

Edith smiles at Derek toothily, carrying two large trays of plants. Derek rushes to help but she steps just out of reach, saying, "There's more in the truck. You get those and I'll handle these."

They're mostly green things that Derek can't identify, but the trays that Edith has are full of wildflowers that will thrive in the environment, all of them in shades of yellow and purple and blue.

He and Edith plant them together, and as he gently packs soil around each plant, she smiles at him, sprinkling words of praise or guidance as needed.

"You've got the knack," she says, pink in the cheeks and smiling.

"Let's just hope I can keep them alive," Derek says, because he never quite relearned how to take a compliment.

"The plants do most of the work," Edith says, matter-of-factly, dusting soil off a leaf. The leaf shakes and sways as the soil falls away from it, shining a little brighter in the sunlight. "You just have to check in now and again. Just need to let them know you're here."

It feels like an eerily specific sort of unsolicited advice, and Derek isn't sure what to say or how to feel about it, so he doesn't say anything.

When she leaves, she tells him how many times to water the plants, and Derek writes it down on a piece of scrap paper that he tapes to his refrigerator.

*

In the summer of his second year at the cabin, Derek comes home to find Stiles on his front steps. It's a nice picture, Stiles sitting with his legs stretched out and crossed at the ankle. There's a duffel bag next to him, bright wildflowers on either side of him. Stiles looks up when the car pulls in, and Derek can hear the way his heartbeat speeds up before he realizes he's listening for it.

He gets out, because it would be strange not to. This is his home; Stiles is the one who doesn't belong here.

There are things in the backseat: books, a few replacement screws for the ones on his table that have come loose, dried pasta, and rice. He makes sure to grab the reusable bag they're in, and then goes toward the door, toward Stiles.

"What are you doing here?" he asks, but it comes out flat.

"You know, I was gonna ask you the same thing," Stiles says, and he's smiling but it doesn't reach his eyes.

Derek doesn't ask how Stiles found him, but his hand goes to the phone in his pocket. It's one of those pay-as-you-go ones; he left his old phone in the loft on the kitchen counter. He thinks about how he hasn't been hiding, it was just easier, better to keep track of his money for something he rarely uses anyway. He steps around Stiles and opens the front door, keys still tucked away in his jacket pocket. Derek rarely locks it; there's nothing to steal and no one to steal it even if he had anything worth taking. He leaves the door open for Stiles.

Stiles lets the door shut behind them, his footsteps loud in the silence as he goes over to the small living room area. The cabin isn't spacious, but he doesn't need for it to be. It's probably still more space than he needs.

He listens to Stiles dump his bag in the living room, and then goes to the kitchen, getting himself a drink. Derek has a few beers, mostly for when Lou comes to visit, and Stiles takes one of those. Stiles takes a long swig from the bottle before he sets it on the kitchen counter, turning to Derek.

"You have a cactus," Stiles says, looking around the cabin. Derek has exactly two cactuses: one perched on the windowsill in the kitchen and the other in Derek's bedroom on the small table beside his bed. The table is actually just two wooden crates stacked on top of each other. Derek made it himself.

The cactus in the kitchen is dark green with hundreds of densely packed, thin, white needles. Stiles runs his fingers over them, snatching his hand back when one of the needle catches on a finger.

"What are you doing here, Stiles?" Derek asks, because he wants to know and Stiles looks--not distracted, but like he's stalling.

"You're not even gonna ask how I found you? Because man, let me tell you, it was kind of a thing. I owe Danny the millions of dollars I'll never have and, like, a harem." Stiles reaches for the bottle after a long moment of Derek not answering, running his fingers through the condensation dripping down its sides.

"You can stay the night and then you're leaving," Derek says finally, and busies himself putting the few groceries away. He goes to the fridge when he's finished, taking one of the beers; it won't get him drunk, but he needs something to hold onto.

*

Stiles' stay goes from one night to two and then three, and on the fourth, Isaac comes. Recognition comes in waves: first some vague feeling that tugs at the back of his mind, a feeling that doesn't just mean another wolf but Pack; second is the sound of Isaac crunching through twigs and leaves, loud and almost painfully deliberate; third is Isaac's scent, wafting into the cabin when Stiles opens the door for him.

Isaac ducks his head, waiting until Derek nods at him to come in. He says, "Hi," and there's too much anger and sadness and relief packed into such a small word. He hugs Derek then, and Stiles slips away, back into Derek's bedroom probably, to leave them alone.

It feels nice, better when Derek brings his arms around Isaac to hug him back. He says, "Hi."

Derek feels it when Isaac relaxes, finally letting go and stepping away, stuffing his hands in his pockets and tucking his chin down.

"Are you hungry?" Derek asks, because it was the first thing his mom would ask just after she'd finished fixing one of his problems. Derek hasn't fixed anything, but it feels like the right thing to say in the moment.

"A little," Isaac says.

Derek heats up the chili Edith brought over the night before. There's just enough left for a full bowlful, and Isaac eats it all, scraping at the sauce left in the bowl with his spoon until it's almost clean.

*

Boyd and Scott arrive together on the eighth day, standing shoulder to shoulder at Derek's front door with sleeping and duffel bags.

Boyd says, "Hey," and waves, one side of his mouth quirking up in a half-smile. He hugs Derek, but lets go more quickly than Isaac did, and steps into the the cabin.

Scott says, "Nice flowers," and smiles in a way that makes Derek's mouth ache in sympathy.

Derek's due to go grocery shopping today, so there's no real food in the house to offer them. Stiles shares a party size bag of M&Ms he brought with him, and Derek pours them both a glass of the sun tea that Lou sent over.

*

The coffee table is pushed off to the side and there are two sleeping bags in its place. There are a few covers and a quilt Derek had bought at the thrift store folded to make a pallet at the foot of the sleeping bags. They take turns on the couch. Last night was Stiles' turn on the pallet.

"You--you could-- throw your bed into the mix," Stiles says between yawns. The others are out running together.

When Stiles stretches, his shirt rides up and his sweatpants settle a little lower on his hips.

Derek raises an eyebrow. "You could leave," he says, only he doesn't mean it, not really, and he thinks Stiles knows that.

"Whatever you say," Stiles says, and Derek doesn't answer, going to wash the dishes instead. They had macaroni and cheese for dinner--there was macaroni with cheese, anyway-- and what was left of it was stuck in congealed clumps on all of the dishware they'd used.

He thinks Stiles is asleep, but he speaks just as Derek turns the faucet off.

Stiles says, "You know how long it took me to find you?" His voice is just loud enough for Derek to hear, probably a mumble to human hearing.

Derek doesn't doesn't say anything, going tense. He had wondered when he was going to have to have this talk; he'd been hoping he wouldn't ever have to. He looks for a towel to dry his hands, but grabs a crocheted potholder instead. Susanne from the bakery gave it to him because she'd heard about the time Derek burned his hand trying to make a pot roast. Derek had reached into the oven to pull out the pan without thinking, and Edith was there to see it happen. So he'd healed in about an hour, but had to wear bandages on his hands for two weeks so no one would notice.

"Two months," Stiles says, his voice still thick with sleep. "Okay, maybe more like two and a half. But you left a lot of clues."

"I didn't leave clues. I didn't run away," he says, and it's too defensive, even to his own ears. It was true though, wasn't? He'd been doing so well--moving on and living and conquering adulthood and normalcy.

The potholder has a loop at the end which Derek uses to hang it up on the very corner of the oven handle, watching to make sure that it'll stay before he turns to do anything else. When he goes to look at the cactus on the windowsill--can't remember if he's supposed to water it today or not--he sees the dish towel laying in a crumpled ball next to it. It's striped red and white, and covered in food stains Derek was never quite able to fully wash out. Derek snatches it up and uses it to wipe up the water that sprayed on the edge of the sink and the counter. He hears the soft rustle of fabric as Stiles moves.

"Yeah, but see, you kind of did," Stiles says conversationally, and when Derek turns to look at him then, it's like he's seeing and hearing Stiles for the first time, but there's not a lot that's really different. Derek thinks maybe Stiles is taking up more space now, or maybe he's just lost interest in hiding how much space he actually needs. "You left all of us on fucking--fucking graduation day like some John Hughes reject, and then just basically expected everyone to either not notice or go along with it."

And he's not entirely wrong, but Derek doesn't have to agree, so he just stares back and tries to resist the urge to cross his arms defensively.

"I would've done this sooner but, you know," Stiles says, shrugging stiffly. He glances off to the side and then back at Derek, running his fingers through his hair. "I was kind of pissed off. We all were."

"You were angry," Derek says, just this side of too flat to be a question, trying to absorb that a little. "Even Scott."

"Scott's pissed by proxy, but yeah. We came here to bust up your little Zen and the Art of Repression wet dream because you fucked up, but we miss you. And I get that this is a hard thing for you to wrap your head around, but when you have people, you don't just leave."

It's a little ironic, and makes Derek more than a little angry, because this isn't news to him. He's spent a lot of time staying with people, not leaving no matter how much they actually seemed to want him gone. He's spent a lot of time trying to prove that everything and everyone was better off with him around despite violent and occasionally accurate assertions to the contrary. And even though everything had settled down and things had fallen into their own kind of normal, Derek was left with a thought that he'd spent a lot of time trying not to acknowledge: Derek doesn't have people, people have Derek.

"You don't need me," he says, and it doesn't feel like self-pity, it feels like a statement of fact. It feels right, because what more does he really deserve?

"Probably not," Stiles says, "but we want you, so it's kind of relative."

"It's nice to know that Philosophy 101 class is paying off," Derek says.

"'There are no facts, only interpretations'," Stiles quotes, and flips Derek off.

When Boyd, Isaac, and Scott come back, Erica is with them.

"Is plaid part of the dress code, or is that a choice you made on your own?" Erica says. She's wearing a sundress, baby blue, and the hem of it flutters slightly in the breeze. She steps up to him and hugs Derek both exactly and nothing the way the others had. She pulls away before he can reciprocate, brushing past him on her way inside.

"I don't know," Stiles says. "I kinda like it."

*

"I don't know what she gave him or where she got it from, but it was lethal. He wouldn't stop talking," Isaac says, reaching for a slice of pizza. They're halfway through their third meat lovers supreme, regaling Derek with tales from the past year and half.

Erica reaches out from where she's sitting across from Isaac to slap his hand away and takes the piece Isaac was reaching for, baring her teeth in a smile that's perfectly human but no less terrifying for that fact.

She presses herself against Boyd's side, folding her slice of pizza in half as she tells Derek, "He can't pick out witches."

"I don't know why you have to keep telling this story," Scott says, sucking up what's left of his coke. He sucks on the straw for a while after the glass is empty just to hear that rattle of air, until Erica growls at him.

"Because you keep doing stupid shit?" Erica suggests.

"Can we just, you know, simmer down? Because I think I'm, like, obligated to defend his honor and I know you can take me," Stiles says. He's been chewing on his straw so hard that it's flat and splitting at the sides. Derek pulls the cup away before Stiles can go for it again, so Stiles reaches for Scott's instead.

"I forget you're smarter than you look," Boyd says. Erica grins at him with her mouth closed, lips greasy from the pizza, and he presses a quick kiss to the corner of her mouth.

"Was there a point to this story?" Derek asks, and ignores the way Scott is frowning at him from where he's sitting across from Stiles.

"Cats," Isaac says, nudging Derek's shoulder with his own.

"Ooh," Erica says, sounding bored. "Meow."

"And witches," Isaac goes on. "But mostly he kept telling me about male cats and their--"

"He made me google that once," Stiles cuts in. "After he started working at Deaton's," he adds, chewing on his new straw. "And like, I did an image search, and it--"

"You really need to stop talking," Boyd says.

When they're finished, they all start to pool their money together to pay, but Derek gets to the waitress first, saying, "Yeah, I don't think she wants a fistful of quarters."

They pile into Derek's boring, sensible car--Scott riding shotgun with Stiles, Isaac, and Boyd in the back, Erica on Boyd's lap. At the cabin, everyone scrambles out except Scott.

"I'm not going to tell you to come back or anything," Scott says when they're alone.

"Okay," Derek says.

"But I'm not going to tell you that you can't, either," he says, looking at Derek. Derek's hands clench into fists where they're resting on his thighs, his whole body going tense, until he forces himself to relax. Scott waits a moment, then sighs and gets out of the car, leaving Derek alone.

*

It would be a mistake to think anything of before other than that they tried their best. It would also be a mistake to think that it didn't bring out the worst in most of them--in Derek. He thinks about it sometimes, has nightmares that a jumbled mess of blood and screaming that scare him awake and leave him gasping.

Tonight it's flashes of torn bodies, blood and mud caked under his claws and clinging to his skin, and when he goes to the kitchen to get a glass of water, Stiles is waiting up for him at the table. There are two cups in front of him.

"You like it here," he says, like it's a suggestion he expects Derek to agree to.

Derek pauses, brings his hand to scratch the back of his neck before he can catch himself, wipes away the sweat gathered there instead. He wonders if Stiles heard anything the way the others probably had, and how long Stiles has been awake, but doesn't want to ask.

"It's a nice place," he says, and Stiles just blinks at him. He takes the seat across from him, and when Stiles hands one of the glasses to Derek, their fingers brush. For a moment there's only the sound of clinking ice cubes. Derek takes a sip and feels the cold water go down, settling heavy in his stomach.

"You were always a minimalist, I guess. Except for that plant therapy situation going on out there," Stiles says, slouching down in his seat. It looks lazy, but Derek can see the way he's tense all over, the slight flush to his cheeks.

Derek inhales once, scenting, the way he can't help doing on nights like this. He smells Stiles the strongest, the sharp musk of arousal coming off him in waves, and has to push away the perverse urge to laugh. This isn't the first time he's noticed, but it's the first time Derek has realized he was interested. It's the first time he's let himself be interested.

Stiles licks his lips, and taps his fingers on the table to the beat of some song Derek feels like he should know. The others are still sleeping, but they'll be awake soon. Derek drinks his water.

"What are you doing here?" he asks, because it's early enough and quiet enough that he thinks he might get an answer, that he thinks he might want to know what that answer will be.

Stiles rolls his eyes, his head following the motion, and huffs. The tapping on the table stops sounding like the beat of a song and turns into an agitated taptaptaptaptap, until it stops, and Stiles presses his hand flat to the table to push away from it.

"Right, yeah. Okay. I think all those months apart gave me a lot of time to romanticize this, and you are just way more of a dick than I remember."

"You should get to the part where you have a point," Derek says, and the tension between them shifts to something Derek understands, almost comforting in its familiarity.

"Yeah, I think I'm done," he says. Derek pushes away from the table, too, standing to leave. He's a few steps down the short hallway when he hears Stiles following him, and Stiles is right behind him when he turns around.

He's saying, "Actually, no. No, I'm not," and then he's kissing Derek, hands gripping Derek's biceps to hold him in place. Stiles kisses Derek like he wants to prove something, and Derek lets him, leans in and parts his lips and holds on. He lets Stiles push him back into the wall, and when Derek's head knocks against it, he bites Stiles' lip, but Stiles is the one who says, "Sorry. Shit. Sorry--I'm sorry."

Derek whimpers, thinks oh, and pulls Stiles back in when he leans away. He feels hot all over, wound too tight, and another feeling is pushing its way through the haze of dream-fear still settled over him.

There's a pointed, dry cough and a chorus of sleepy snuffles from the next room, and they both go still. Derek lets Stiles go but doesn't step away, and Stiles' hands slide down Derek's arms before they fall to his sides.

"Think I'm done now," Stiles says, low. He looks a little stunned, lips parted, still breathing heavily. His eyes meet Derek's for a moment, then glance down at Derek's mouth, before he looks away altogether.

"Great," Derek says, quietly, and hopes Stiles misses the way his voice catches.

"I'm gonna just--I need to use the--" he says, squeezing past Derek and doing a short jog to the bathroom.

"Yeah," Derek says, just as the door shuts, and goes back to his room.

Later that day, Stiles touches Derek's elbow when he pushes past him on the way out of the cabin, and it would be completely innocuous if not for the fact that the contact is totally unnecessary. Stiles bumps shoulders with Derek when the group goes into town, a quick nudge against Derek before he's moving past him to get to Isaac, and mumbling some in-joke about rhubarb pie that Derek doesn't want to understand. He sits next to Derek when they gather in the living room that night, too, to watch a bootleg copy of Burlesque.

"I used to have a crush on Christina Aguilera," Erica says.

Stiles presses his thigh against Derek's, but leans against Scott's shoulder, and Derek only realizes how stiff Stiles is holding himself when he lets his hand rest at the point they're touching, and he feels Stiles relax.

Scott sighs loudly, and murmurs something Derek isn't listening in to catch, but that makes Stiles snort derisively.

"Even after you found out about Dirrty?" Stiles asks after a beat, drawing it out to pronounce the extra 'r'.

"Especially then," Erica says. "Especially then."

"Shit, yeah," Stiles agrees, "High-five," and he holds his hand up and out, palm forward and fingers extended. Erica mirrors the gesture from her place on the floor without looking back, eyes still on Stiles' laptop , for their contact-less high-five.

"I don't want to know these things about you," Derek says, and he's almost surprised at how even his voice sounds, how he manages just the right hint of fond annoyance.

"I've been meaning to say the same thing to you," Boyd says, and makes a show of taking a deep breath through his nose.

Isaac shushes them.

*

"If you're--you know, if you don't want to that's cool. I just kind of figured I should actually ask this time," Stiles says the next day, voice low. They're in the living room this time. Erica is in the shower, Isaac is out front sitting in the sun, and Scott and Boyd are doing the dishes. Everyone is pretending not to notice.

("But so much is happening all the time. How can you just not notice?" Isaac had asked Derek once, later when hyper vigilance wasn't a necessity.

"You tune it out," Derek replied. "It's just... polite.")

"I kissed you back," Derek says, because he's sure he did.

"Yeah, but I kind of just attacked your face with my face. Which, it was nice--I would like to do it again sometime."

"Sometime?"

"Soon," Stiles corrects. "But I thought I'd give you the chance to say if you actually wanted that to--to happen."

"You don't have to," Derek says. It's apparently the wrong thing to say. Stiles' mouth is tense, and Derek sees the quick clench and release of his jaw. Stiles is--not angry, annoyed.

"Yeah, I do. You're... you're you. And I wouldn't--"

"Okay."

"Okay?"

"I want-- we can do it again." And Derek would sigh, feels the beginning of a frown tugging the corners of his mouth down, but then Stiles is grinning at him and he can't put his heart into it.

*

That night, the pack--his pack, because that's what they are now, that's what they want to be--run together, flitting past each other through the trees. Stiles is back at the cabin, sitting on the steps the same way he was when he first got there, but in the dark this time. The lights are on in the cabin, but Stiles has Derek's storm light out with him anyway.

"Did you get it all out of your system?" he asks when they come into view. Everyone is loose, relaxed and too at ease take the bait.

"I could eat you," Erica says, but she's leaning heavily against Isaac's side, looking a little blissed out. Her hair is loose and wild, and Isaac's grin is small and quiet.

"Rawr," Stiles says blandly. "Grr."

*

They wait until Derek is awake before they start packing their things. It's obvious in the way they move, the way their voices are raised just a little louder than normal conversation warrants.

Boyd says, "How are you leaving with more stuff than you brought?"

"It's not that much," Scott says. "I wanted to bring something back for Allison."

"You couldn't just get a postcard of the woods with 'glad you're not buried here' on it?" Stiles says, smirking when Isaac laughs.

"You didn't have to come here," Derek says, and Stiles is the only one who jumps, knocking into Boyd.

"I'm kind of feeling like we had this conversation before," Stiles says mildly.

"What would you do without us, anyway," Erica says. She's wearing the same dress she had on when she arrived. Boyd tugs at the hem of it to get her attention, pointing to something she'd forgotten to pack.

Derek doesn't stay to see them finish packing, but he watches them go. When he goes back inside he sees his key to the loft sitting on the kitchen counter. It's still attached to the brass keychain forming the words Garden State in looped script. Boyd had given it to him as some sort of housewarming gift and said, "You can have it. I got it in a gift bag at my cousin's wedding. That's the only time I've ever been to New Jersey."

He picks them up, feeling the weight of them against his palm for a moment, then sets them down again. It's time to water the plants.

*

Isaac and Boyd come to visit during a long weekend.

Edith and Lou come over for barbeque. Lou brings over the ribs and refuses to let Derek help cook. Edith brings pineapple upside down cake and blueberry pie and makes everyone eat seconds.

"Do you boys fish?" Lou asks them while Edith tries to convince Boyd to have another slice of pie.

Derek used to go fishing, a long time ago, before-- his mother's father used to take him sometimes during the summer. "I haven't been in a while," Derek says. Isaac and Boyd have never been.

*

Derek buys a laptop after that and gets an internet connection that's just a crawl above dial-up that's enough to accommodate the odd video chat if it's late enough. They send emails--short and long updates, and pictures-- and, sometimes, Derek sends some of his own.

He recounts Lou's five-step guide on how to find properly chop the best firewood even though Derek just buys his. He congratulates Erica and Boyd on moving in together, and Isaac on an internship. He receives precisely four polite, but distanced emails from Scott about his general well-being, and Stiles asks him about the the cactuses.

He wonders if this is what it's like to have people, if that's what this is.

When he writes back, Derek tells them he's fine, that everything's fine, and is almost surprised to find it feels like something that's true.

*

Stiles visits during winter break. Derek comes home to see another car pulled in next to his own, and the lights are on. The air is cold and dry, and when he opens the door there's a flood of warmth.

Stiles is already at the door, hand outstretched like he heard Derek coming but couldn't get there in time. He stumbles back a couple of steps when Derek comes through. Derek should say something, offer Stiles something. He doesn't remember deciding to do it, but he must, because then he's bringing one foot in front of the other to step closer to Stiles. He's cupping Stiles' jaw gently and kissing him softly. Stiles wraps his arms around Derek to hold him close and they stay that way, kissing slowly, and Derek aches with how much he wants right now.

"You have a beard," Stiles says, breaking the kiss to catch his breath. Derek automatically touches a hand to his own cheek, realizes that he's trembling.

"Yeah, I kind of--"

"No, hey, I like it," Stiles says, nuzzles Derek's cheek as if to prove his point. "I like you. It's working. It works." He kisses the rise of Derek's cheekbone, sweeps his hands up and down the length of Derek's back.

"Right," Derek says, moving back enough to take off his scarf and coat. His fingers fumble on the buttons. Stiles pushes his hands out of the way to undo them himself.

"I'm appreciating you right now," he says. "I appreciate the fuck out of you, and your face. And the way your idea of making new furniture is just boxes you nailed to other boxes."

"Are you just going to mock me or--" Derek is saying, but Stiles cuts him off.

"Or what?" Stiles says, quick, lips pink and spit-slicked like he licked them when Derek wasn't paying attention. Derek kisses him again instead of answering--like that is the answer--harder this time because he can. He can have this.

Stiles pulls off Derek's scarf and pushes off his coat, letting them fall to the floor. He pulls Derek into the living room, onto the couch, tugging at Derek's shirt until he climbs in Stiles' lap.

"I have a bed," Derek says.

"Couch is closer," Stiles says. "Unless you want-- we can go there."

"Here is fine. Good," Derek says, and means it.

"I need--I really want to fuck you," Stiles says, smearing kisses over Derek's neck, his shoulder. He's got Derek pulled onto his lap, hands clenched tight over Derek's hips to grind against him. "Can we do that? I really want to do that." And Derek is caught between the second-hand embarrassment that he always feels whenever Stiles so much as opens his mouth, and a want so deep it aches. He takes Stiles' face in his hands and kisses, too hard, wanting to make it feel like yes-- like please.

"Okay. Okay, that's," Stiles slurs, turning his head to the side to suck in a breath and Derek just kisses his cheek, presses his face against Stiles' neck and breaths. Pushes his hands under Stiles' shirt to feel him.

"You have--oh god. Do you have, um. Anything. Stuff. Sex stuff," Stiles says, voice trailing off when Derek noses at and then licks a spot just behind his ear. "Condoms," he says too loud, forcing the word out. "And lube. We need, uh--do you have that?"

Derek goes still. "No."

"No," Stiles repeats, and goes still as well, hands pausing where they were sliding up the back of Derek's shirt.

"I wasn't exactly expecting--" This. Stiles. Any of this. He lets his hands drop, shifting back to look at Stiles' face.

"Of course not. Why would you have lube." And it's the same mocking, annoyed tone Derek is used to, but it's offset with the way Stiles is sliding his hands down to grab Derek's ass, squeezing. It's oddly reassuring.

"I could just blow you," Derek says after a moment, and it's worth it for the way Stiles just gapes at him. He's thought about it before, too, what Stiles would sound like, what he'd taste like. He's wondered if Stiles would try to hold himself still or, if Derek let him, just fuck Derek's mouth--grab his hair and just pull him down

"That works," Stiles says, and nods. His eyes flick down to Derek's mouth as he licks his lips.

Derek does. He swallows Stiles down and pins him, sucks and licks and drinks up every sound Stiles makes. "Oh, God," Stiles breathes, patting Derek's head, his shoulders, restlessly pushing his hips up just enough to test Derek's grip. "How are you even real?"

And when he comes he looks... awed and just genuinely floored by everything that Derek is and will ever choose to be.

Stiles pulls Derek back up on the couch and jerks him off. He says, "God, you're amazing. Fucking amazing. Perfect. You're so fucking hot and--" until Derek's spilling over Stiles hand, tilting his head just enough to kiss Stiles quiet.

"Perfect," Stiles says, lips brushing against Derek's as he speaks. It's so earnest that Derek doesn't know what to do, can't open his eyes for what he's afraid he'll see on Stiles face.

*

Derek wakes up before Stiles, twenty minutes before sunrise, and goes for a run. Then he goes to the pharmacy to get lube and condoms. He gets one box of condoms and two bottles of lube and doesn't look the cashier in the eye when he pays. He tries not to walk out of the store too quickly, but he's still not sure he quite manages to look casual. That's probably fair. He's never been a great liar outside of omission, and he's feeling a lot of things, but casual isn't one of them.

He drives back home to drop the bag off, dropping it on the coffee table, then goes for another run.

Stiles walks into the kitchen area when Derek is back, watching Derek as he leans over the sink, using a cupped hand to drink water from the tap. Derek drinks two handfuls and then splashes the third over his face, and Stiles lets out a long, low whistle.

"That is just unexpectedly hot," Stiles says, moving to sit on the edge of the kitchen table. He's wearing his shorts and one of Derek's shirts, slouching with his hands dangling between his legs. "Rugged. It's like I'm watching nature happen."

Derek rolls his eyes and wipes his hands off on his shirt, then uses his shirt to wipe his face.

"After a satisfying hunt," Stiles narrates, "the Alpha stops by a nearby watering hole to quench his thirst."

"There are a lot of things wrong with that sentence, " Derek says, walking toward Stiles and fitting himself in the space between Stiles' legs. Stiles sits up a little straighter, and his hands go to Derek's hips to hold him. "The main one being that you even thought of it."

"Never satisfied, he prowls the tundra for new prey," Stiles continues, and Derek nuzzles against the side of Stiles' neck, inhaling deeply. Stiles smells good, like his soap and Derek and cinnamon toothpaste.

"You reek," Stiles says, but his voice catches too hard on the 'k', and he shudders out his next breath. "You're doing this on purpose, aren't you? Getting your stink all over me."

Derek just hums because it's half-true anyway, lifting up just enough to press a kiss to Stiles' jaw before he catches Stiles in a kiss, slow and full of longing Derek hadn't even known he was feeling. Stiles' fingers flex against his hips, and he urges Derek closer.

"You already smell like me," Derek murmurs and kisses Stiles' cheek, his temple.

"I..." Stiles says and trails off, going quiet long enough that Derek thinks maybe he's forgotten what he was going to say. "I am learning just so, so many things about what gets me going. This is--this is really informative."

He looks a little dazed when Derek pulls back. "We can stop," Derek says. It feels like something he should say now. Maybe give Stiles an out.

"What?

"Or, are you hungry? There's nothing really here, but we can--I can get you something."

"Are you--no. Fuck," Stiles says, pushes himself against Derek so Derek can feel how hard he is. "I'm kind of interested in what's happening now. You don't have any--anything, but we could just--I mean, not just. But we could--"

"I do," Derek says, with an involuntary glance off to the side in the direction of the coffee table. Stiles catches the movement and looks over as well, spotting the white plastic bag. "Have stuff," he adds belatedly.

"That's why you left," Stiles says, eyebrows raised. "I thought you were just freaking out."

"A little," Derek says, because it seems fair to be honest now.

"But you still want to," Stiles says. The upward inflection is soft and clipped, barely noticeable.

Derek nods. "I still want to."

"Okay," Stiles says, and his smile is small but happy. "Okay, yeah."

They make their way to the bedroom, grabbing the bag on the way. Stiles is sexy when he undresses. Not in any obvious way but it's there. Derek thinks it has something to do with how Stiles looks like he doesn't care. Maybe it's that he has this way of making Derek feel like he's the only one who gets to see this.

"You didn't build this yourself, did you?" Stiles says as Derek pulls him down on the bed, onto Derek. "Because I doubt the structural integrity of it."

"I bought it," Derek says. "I buy things. Why do you think--" but then Stiles is rubbing against Derek's hip, and there is just this, just them moving with each other, skin on skin.

"Have you ever-- How long has it been since you--uh," Stiles asks, Still shifting against Derek, slower now.

"A while," Derek says, tipping his chin up.

"That's not an actual measurement of time," Stiles says, but kisses Derek. "You could just-- we could," he says, and makes an impatient noise in his throat. He makes a grab for the lube, slicks Derek's fingers and guides his hand back until Derek gets the hint. Derek circles one lube slicked finger around Stiles' hole, does it again to watch the way Stiles bites his lip. Stiles' eyes flutter when he pushes one finger inside, moans when Derek eventually adds another along side it, then finally a third. Stiles fucks himself on Derek's fingers, his dick leaking between them where it's rubbing up against Derek's stomach.

Stiles kisses Derek, runs his fingers over Derek's chest and laughs, low and breathy. He says, "Fuck, okay. Can we, now." Derek fumbles at the box of condoms, gets one out and rolls it on. There's slick, wet sound of Stiles coating Derek's dick with lube. Then the head of Derek's dick is nudging against Stiles' hole, and Stiles sinks down slowly. Derek grips Stiles' hips tight, holding on, flexes his fingers against the odd drag-stick of the lube he smeared on Stiles' skin.

Stiles is hot and tight and overwhelming. Everything about him is too much, and Derek feels greedy for wanting more. He feels greedy for never wanting it to end. And when Stiles goes quiet, when he bites his lip and comes with Derek's hand fisted on him, he gasps, eyes going wide like he's seeing Derek for the first time. It's hard to say whether it's that, or the impossibly tight clench of Stiles body around him that pushes Derek over the edge.

He says, "C'mere, c'mere," until Stiles kisses him. Stiles murmurs against his lips and cards his fingers through Derek's. Derek wonders at how he can feel so far away from this place, but so much closer to himself.

*

Later -- after the shower where Stiles pushes Derek against the shower wall and fucks him, Derek's forehead resting against the tile, hands braced on the wall, breath hitching and barely audible over the the spray of water, Stiles dipping his head down to lick away the droplets collected on Derek's neck-- after that, they go to the kitchen for something to eat.

Stiles can't cook, but he heats up Derek's leftover spaghetti sauce on the stove without burning it. It's full of beef and vegetables, and they eat it straight form the pot with the last half of a loaf of garlic bread. They use spoons when the bread is finished.

"Did you make this?" Stiles says around his spoon.

"Sauce is easy." Derek shrugs and reaches out to wipe away some sauce that's collected at the corner of Stiles' mouth. It leaves a greasy smear that Stiles tries in vain to lick away, eventually wiping it off with the back of his hand.

Stiles snorts. "If it comes in a jar, sure," he says. "This doesn't taste like it came in a jar." He drops the spoon in the empty pot, but flinches at the sound it makes.

"It's just tomatoes and meat-- "

"I'm trying to compliment you. Accept it. You can give me your sauce any day."

"That's disgusting."

"That's--" Stiles starts, but seems to think better of it, and tries again. "That's honesty."

"That's--"

"Nope, it's over. The joke is--it's dead now. No more. It's over," Stiles says, but nudges his hand against Derek's where it's resting on the table. Stiles' hand is cold, and Derek thinks about getting a fire started or maybe taking Stiles back to bed.

Derek pushes up enough to lean in, and presses a kiss just the corner of his mouth. Stiles makes a small sound in his throat, surprised, and Derek kisses him on the lips, soft and close-mouthed, just to hear it again.

"Sure," Derek say, straightening to stand. Stiles licks his lips, and Derek watches the quick rise of the blush that colors his cheeks.

They go to bed.

*

Winter passes and gives way to spring. The thaw melts and his garden starts to bloom again, bright points of color dotting the grass in font of his house.

Derek gets four invitations to graduation and keeps then on the kitchen counter with his old keys like a reminder. Everything after that happens in pieces. He buys the suit first, something dark blue that was on sale at the thrift store. It fits well enough, and when he tells the owner what it's for, he gives Derek a discount.

When he tells Lou and Edith that he's leaving, he doesn't say how long it might be because he doesn't know. He says, "I think I'm--I'm going to be away for a while."

He's having dinner at their home. Edith hums and spoons another fluffy heap of mashed potatoes on his plate.

"I need to--" he starts, but Lou holds up a hand to stop him.

"It's your business. Just let me know if you're coming back," Lou says, and holds up his beer with the neck of it tilted toward Derek to toast.

Derek packs his things that night, taking extra care to fold his suit. He leaves early the next morning when it's still too cool to be comfortable. The loft keys are tucked away in his pocket and his duffel bag is in the front passenger's seat.

Derek drives.