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I Am Afraid of the Water

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Running away is a coward’s option and not entirely possible. There will always be ropes you can’t untie, people you can’t sever away. They’ll just sit with you, in the pit of your stomach, rotting. Nothing will ever look the same once you run and destroy all relationships. Everything starts to get all fuzzy. You take one step in a different direction and suddenly you don't know how to turn back. -S

Stiles’ neck ached, burnt from the hot sun, and he instantly regretted not packing sunscreen or an extra water. His bottle had run out about five miles from Beacon Hills and he’d been thirsty ever since. He was practically in Las Vegas now, and had planned on driving straight through the hellish desert and stopping at a gas station for supplies, had his jeep not broken down.

Stiles could hear Lydia's voice in the back of his mind chastising him for not replacing his car yet, but his jeep, Roscoe, was his baby. Besides his dad, it was his only constant in his life, the only thing he could always remember being there. Even when he was stuck in the back seat as a child while his mom drove him around, it felt like something that belonged to him. He always knew there was a good chance he would run the jeep to the ground but the fact it had to happen when he was alone in the middle of nowhere with miles of desert surrounding him wasn't ideal.

Stiles briefly considered calling Scott but then shuddered at the idea. He hadn't even told anyone he was leaving. He probably wasn’t viewed very highly in anyone’s mind right now, so calling Scott to drive ten hours to pick him up seemed like a dick move. He had left a note on the kitchen counter that read, "Hey dad, I'll be back soon, sorry. Love you” but, knew that that was not going to be enough. However, he also knew that had he tried to explain his situation in person to them, someone would’ve held on too tight and trapped him once more. Maybe his friends and dad didn’t realize it, but no one wanted that.

Stiles dug through his backpack, hoping there would be more than some clothes, a phone charger, a couple of books, a notebook, some pens, and all the money he’d had saved up: about three hundred dollars. Maybe, Stiles had somehow forgotten he’d packed a tool kit or was somehow so lucky he’d forgotten there was a repair man hitchhiking inside his bag.

He couldn’t find anything helpful in his backpack, though, except for a roll of duct tape. Stiles had used that to patch up Roscoe before, but judging by the amount of tape that was already under the hood, it was a lost cause. Plus his whole engine was hot, ridiculously so, and Stiles was not about to touch it. Even just standing outside was god awful, the ground practically melting into puddles under his shoes. The road was wavy and shining like a lava lamp if you looked out far enough.

He could probably call a tow truck but then he'd be spending most of his money on that service and would still be stuck without a car. That would just force him to give in and call either Scott or his dad to pick him up and he'd have to explain everything.

Explaining was something Stiles was never particularly good at. Most people just assumed his mind was open and accessible; you could say one thing and get him to ramble on about it for hours. Except, Stiles rarely spoke about anything personal, he just talked a lot about simple things like how much he loved the new Captain America movie or how terrible math class was.

The thing about simple things is they never tell people real feelings, never explain why Stiles somehow looked both exhausted and jittery all at once because he was only staying awake due to a mix of Rockstar and coffee. Everyone just assumed he was the usual happy, bubbly, talkative Stiles, and moved on.

Stiles knew he couldn’t blame people for not reaching across an insurmountable distance just to understand him but it still hurt. He wanted to scream across the cavern that he was still there, that he was dangling over the edge and someone had to come save him. He never did though. Instead Stiles bitterly accepted his chosen fate, tried not to blame others, and felt terribly guilty when he inevitably did. It was some fucked up cycle.

Scott, his self-proclaimed brother since third grade, was the only one who could get anything out of him. But, that was before he’d become more confident, more self assured, and before he began dating Allison.

Allison was sweet with warm eyes and a comforting smile, but it was easy to get lost in her. Her love elevated Scott to his highest potential, and Scott couldn’t be expected to give that up. Scott had fears and worries too, like the fact that he felt too awkward sometimes to even be dating Allison, but he could share them and receive advice from Stiles. Then when Scott took a break from his success to notice Stiles’ pain, he’d grow angry at Stiles for hiding it. Stiles didn’t know how to explain how trapped he was by everything, and Scott’s frustration made it more difficult. So, instead, Stiles had decided to become better at hiding things. That way no one was sad or angry. Well, they still were, but it was a watered down upset that was easier to swallow.

Stiles wanted to laugh at how ridiculous he seemed; he was a guy standing on the side of the road next to a broken down jeep, melting into a puddle, and thinking about how he was kind of a shitty person. The whole situation screamed cliche, like some sort of awful coming-of-age drama. However, usually those movies didn’t end with the protagonist’s life being just as shitty as it was before and Stiles wasn’t exactly expecting some sort of big epiphany or life change to occur.

Stiles began planning his funeral, slumping onto the ground and wondering if he would die from either heat exhaustion or his own self pity, when he heard the familiar hum of an engine and for a moment thought his jeep had miraculously started up again just from him staring at it. Instead a huge RV, shiny and pure white was driving by. It was adorned with little purple flowers and the words "Barbie Girl" on the side in pink cursive letters and looked like something out of an acid trip. Stiles had to blink a couple of times just to make sure this cartoonish vehicle wasn’t some sort of heat induced hallucination.

"Hey!" Stiles screamed at the RV, running to the side of the road and waving his arms wildly. “Please, stop!”

Stiles knew he probably looked like a sweaty madman, his skin red-tinted and his hair grown out and sticking up in all directions, but he needed the RV to stop. If they could just drop him off somewhere or perhaps even fix his jeep and not kidnap or murder him that would be absolutely fantastic. He wondered if they would want cash and considered how much of his savings he was willing to give up. Not much if he ever expected to survive on his own. Maybe they’d accept a really sincere thank you.

Stiles cheered to himself when the car slowed down slightly and swerved, pulling up to the side of the road. It nearly slammed into the back of his jeep and he let out of a sigh of relief when it narrowly missed it. Before he could even take a moment to properly thank whatever merciful gods gave him some help, the passenger door was swung open, people spilling out.

A potential super model was the first to exit, leggy and blonde, her cascading curls pulled into a high ponytail. She was looking Stiles up and down like he was some sort of mess, which was fair, but frankly, she was so pretty that Stiles would look unimpressive to her even on his very best day. Her lips, blood red, formed into a predatory smile when she realized that Stiles was essentially checking her out.

Another blonde stepped out, looking sweeter than the girl, with pale skin and pink cherub cheeks. His hair was curly and his eyes wide and blue; he would have been the picture of innocence had it not been for the scowl on his face that he directed towards Stiles.

Stiles glared right back, fully prepared to comment on how the guy was an idiot for wearing a scarf in the middle of the summer, even though it was so hot, but quickly smoothed out his features so he could admire the next person to stumble out of the vehicle.

He looked tired, donned in a hoodie and sweatpants, like he'd just been woken up by their sudden stop, his shiny black hair smoothed down in some places and sticking up in others. He had a thin amount of stubble on his tanned face and his shoulders were broad, making him look older than the two before him. The man's eyes were earthy and green, framed by eyelashes as dark as his hair and thick eyebrows that were raised in confusion. Yet, despite his disheveled appearance, there was a certain grace about him, like he was always the most important person in the room. He wasn’t looking for attention, but was too beautiful to not receive it. Stiles quickly forced himself to stop staring, knowing that would only add to his creepy stranger on the side of the road impression, and directed his focus to the last person to step out, the driver.

He was a black guy that made the previous man look tiny, rippling muscles on display in a grey tank top. He had a buzzcut and reminded Stiles of some sort of bodyguard, his whole stature threatening. He would've made Stiles want to turn and run but his brown eyes were warm and thoughtful as if he was considering how to help him. Stiles was still a bit intimidated though, just because he was ninety percent sure he’d been rescued by an RV full of models.

"Well, aren't you just something delicious," the girl grinned, laughing at the look of annoyance the blonde guy gave her.

"Thanks,” Stiles replied, “This attractive look was brought to you by being stuck in the desert for thirty minutes.”

She laughed, a loud, twinkling sound, and bumped against the black guy. “Boyd, he’s cute, let’s keep him.”

Boyd rolled his eyes, but the smile that briefly flittered across his lips showed he wasn’t really bothered by the girl’s antics. "So, what seems to be the problem?" he asked, voice deep and slow.

"My jeep broke down." Stiles said, gesturing behind him as if they hadn’t already noticed the sad display of a car.

"Okay, well call a tow truck. We’re leaving,” the douchey scarf guy demanded, trying to make his way past the girl so he could step back into the RV.

"Isaac, seriously, I doubt he's an idiot, he probably can't afford one. We're his heroes," the girl dramatically stated, putting her hands on her hips triumphantly.

“She has a point, I kind of need to save the money I have, so I was wondering if any of you could fix my jeep or maybe give me a ride to the next hotel or something."

Stiles hoped they'd just nod and agree to give him a ride and not follow the douchey Isaac’s plan, but instead, he was taken off guard when the green eyed man asked, "You running from something?"

Isaac shot the guy an exasperated look and Boyd looked surprised that he’d even talked to Stiles at all. He did seem like a silent and lurking type of person, but Stiles understood why he asked. Afterall, who wouldn’t be at least slightly curious about the guy on the side of the road?

"I guess, sort, of, I mean like not really. I don’t know. I’m not like in danger if that’s what you’re asking,” Stiles rambled. He then shrugged and tried to look collected and mysterious, but he was sure that his anxiety and exhaustion were coming off of him in waves.

The guy just wrinkled his brow but then nodded, accepting Stiles’ answer.

"I say you come with us! That is if you really don't want to go home yet. We have these road trips we do every summer, kind of a tradition and you seem fun," the girl explained, bubbly and excited, as if Stiles had already accepted her offer.

Isaac’s lungs practically deflated, making a sort of choked sound, like he'd inhaled while chewing gum. “Yup, let's invite the strange, dirty guy we just met to join us on our road trip even though he could be a fucking murderer. Good idea, Erica! What’s next, we let him drive the RV or should we just give him our wallets to hold for safekeeping?”

Erica just rolled her eyes, still joyous and grinning at Stiles. "Oh come on, he could never take Boyd, Derek, or me for that matter. He'd probably just murder you cause you’re a douchebag and you’re dumb.”

Isaac just threw his hands up in defeat, realizing that arguing with the persistent girl was pointless. He did let out a dramatic sigh though, still in disagreement with Erica’s proposal.

"Look, uh, I don't want to impose on any traditions or whatever, I just don't want to return home at the moment and-"

"Because he's a murderer," Isaac interrupted in a sing song voice. Erica elbowed him in the side and he let out a yelp but quickly shut up.

"You can join our road trip if you'd like,” Boyd replied, cautiously, as if he was doubting his own words, “If Erica likes you, you're probably good company.”

Stiles didn't blame his hesitance, he was wondering what Erica was thinking herself. She seemed kind and good natured, and Stiles wasn't really threatening, a skinny, pale guy who was drenched in sweat, but still, Isaac had a point. Who invites random strangers onto road trips? There was a chance that he was going to be the one who ended up in the body bag.

Stiles knew that he really had every reason to reject these potential psychos’ proposal, but something attracted him to the group. The way the green eyed guy, who he assumed was Derek, had taken a moment to voice concern, even though he had put it so nonchalantly, hadn’t gone unnoticed. He was probably the first person to offer some sort of understanding to Stiles’ life for at least the past year.

“That actually sounds really cool,” Stiles grinned.

Erica squealed and then ran over to Boyd and gave him a quick peck on the cheek which caused him to practically swoon, before she made her way over to Stiles to engulf him in a big hug.

"I have a feeling that you’re going to be the best thing to happen to us this summer," she announced, eyes bright.

Then - in an after thought - the three strangers turned to look at Derek, who was still leaning against the RV, silently. Erica and Boyd had hopeful looks on their face, Erica’s eyes wide and pleading. Boyd seemed less desperate and probably only wanted Stiles along to appease Erica. Isaac donned narrowed eyes and a frown, as if wanting Derek to banish Stiles into the hot desert forever.

It was obvious Derek was partially in charge of the group or at the very least respected greatly, everyone waiting for his opinion on the situation. When Derek just rolled his eyes, Erica upped her begging and let out a few clearly fake sniffles. At this point, her eyes were so big she resembled a Margaret Keane painting.

"Stop looking at me like that Erica, it's your RV, he can come if you really want him to," Derek finally spoke, his voice gruff and agitated. "I just want to get moving again so we can get to civilization before the sun goes down." With that, he climbed back into the RV, leaving the group, sans Isaac, to celebrate.

Stiles jogged over to his jeep to grab his backpack, a red tattered thing he’d kept all four years of high school. He closed the hood of his jeep and locked it, slipping the keys into his pocket, as if that would really matter considering he was about to abandon it.

“Derek is really fucking antisocial, sorry,” Erica explained, shrugging. “But anyway, I’m Erica as I’m sure you figured out, Boyd over there is my boyfriend, and the little ray of sunshine is Isaac.”

Isaac just glared at Erica and kept grumbling to himself. He had at least managed to accept Derek’s decision, even though he was making no effort to hide his disappointment and anger over it.

The inside of the RV was surprisingly spacious, Stiles noted as he stepped inside. It had looked large from the outside, but as you entered it, it could almost pass for one of those snug but nice tiny houses HGTV was obsessed with.

Past the seats and into the back, there was a sort of living room that held a worn grey couch, a few stains carelessly half-covered with black and pink pillows. Derek was currently strewn out on it, headphones in and eyes closed.

The living room stretched off into a dining and kitchen area, a little wooden table with four chairs surrounding it, grey cushions on them that matched the couch. The chairs were a lot cleaner though, suggesting that most of the eating probably was done in the living room.

The kitchen held a small sink with a few plates and utensils inside of it. There was an even smaller counter next to it where a succulent and some clean dishes that were drying sat. A white fridge that was something in between a mini fridge and regular sized one sat right across the sink, shiny magenta magnets holding up various papers with messy handwriting and a few photobooth pictures from movie theaters and shopping malls.

There was an open door past the kitchen that revealed a glimpse of two large beds, taking up practically all the space in the room, only the corners empty. Stiles guessed that the closed door next to the bedroom had to be the bathroom since he had yet to spot one.

“How do you like the space?” Erica asked, clearly happy that Stiles was marveling at her creation.

Stiles didn’t answer, too distracted by the nearly hundreds of photographs that were covering the walls. He could only assume that there were more lining the bedroom and potentially even the bathroom. They were all slightly overlapping each other, creating a plastered wallpaper of pictures.

They were speaking, whispering stories, and Stiles marveled at the moments he could just barely touch with the tips of his fingernails, if he stared at them long enough.

There was one of Erica in a swimsuit at the beach, looking like she was shrieking, since Isaac was standing menacingly behind her, dangling seaweed over her head. Another one revealed Boyd and Erica kissing in a meadow, a sunset behind them. There was even one of Derek standing on a big rock in the forest laughing while he posed, flexing, shirtless and glorious.

Stiles’ favorite was one of the larger photos that was settled nicely above the couch. In it, they were at the beach, and Erica was on Boyd's back and Isaac on Derek's. Erica's head was tipped back laughing while Boyd smiled fondly at her and Isaac’s eyes were squinted, his smile cheesy and big.

Derek captured the whole moment though, Stiles’ attention suddenly and certainly drawn to him and his green eyes, focused and content. His mouth was slightly upturned and Stiles knew that he was happy and exactly where he wanted to be. Stiles couldn’t touch this photograph, this moment, no matter how hard he stared at it. This was something that you had to feel in your whole body, something that had to be all around you. It was an in-the-now sort of experience and Stiles was stuck wading in past mistakes, head barely above everything.

"Well anyway, this is my baby girl, Barbie the RV.” Erica said waving her arms around, shaking Stiles out of his thoughts. "Got her as a gift from my parents when I graduated."

"Oh, how old are all of you guys?" Stiles asked, suddenly. He’d assumed they were the around his age, but if they’d already had enough time since graduation to fill the RV with photos, they were clearly a few years older.

"Twenty four, except for the baby of the group, Mr. Lahey here, who's twenty two." Erica answered, pinching Isaac's cheeks. He shoved her away, and sat at the table, sticking his tongue out.

Their teasing reminded Stiles of how he and Scott acted with one another and the familiar shudder of guilt wracked through his body. He would need to call Scott eventually, so his jeep didn’t start decaying in the middle of the desert. Stiles had been purposely putting that off, not knowing how to ask a favor of someone he’d just abandoned.

"How old are you, sweet boy, who still hasn’t told us his name?" Erica waggled her eyebrows at Stiles not seeming all too concerned that she knew literally nothing about him.

"Oh, right, I'm Stiles, and I'm seventeen," he answered, feeling awkward that he was so much younger. "I'm turning eighteen next week though.”

Stiles knew that in the grand scheme of things, the rest of the group being a bit more than six years older than him wasn’t that big of a deal, but he still felt distanced from them. It wasn’t that they weren’t accepting, everyone clearly was, except for maybe Isaac, but he'd barely graduated high school a couple of weeks ago and now he was miles away from home in an RV with a bunch of strangers who'd already lived. Stiles biggest accomplishment was running away, which was entirely pathetic.

Erica wolf whistled at Stiles, looking a little bit shocked but not angry. "Well, damn, we should be calling you jailbait. I mean fuck, you’re just out of high school, aren’t you?”

"God, Erica, don't call him jail bait, you make us sound like sexual predators," Derek muttered from the couch, where his face was now pressed into a pillow.

"Besides, I'm eighteen in literally seven days," Stiles reminded her, not really liking the moniker, which made him feel even more childish and ostracized.

Erica just laughed, grabbing Stiles by his wrist and leading him over to the seat opposite of Isaac, squishing in next to him.

"Okay, but what exactly are you doing, Stiles?" Isaac asked. He didn't sound mad about it, just concerned, his attitude towards Stiles changing when he discovered Stiles’ age. “Like, why are you out here traveling alone and accepting rides from strangers? What’s your plan here?”

"I just, I don't know, can my explanation be I just had to leave Beacon Hills for a little while?" Stiles sighed, laying his head on the cool wood of the table.

"No one was, um, harming you were they?" Isaac questioned, voice low as if he was revealing a secret.

Stiles head shot straight back up. "No, no, no, nothing like that. I’m just looking for something… substantial, I guess. An adventure of sorts.”

Both Erica and Isaac still seemed a bit concerned and he wasn't sure about Boyd only viewing the back of his head. Derek was still laying face first on the couch so he was probably asleep or trying to ignore the situation. Erica had said he was antisocial.

"Okay," Isaac finally responded. He at least seemed relieved that Stiles wasn’t running from some sort of abuse.

"Well, here's our plan,” Erica announced, clapping her hands together. “We're going to be driving around for about a week just exploring, our first stop hiking in the desert here in Vegas, and then we’ll loop around to a campsite in Cali and finally go to the beach.”

Erica paused, studying Stiles’ features before seeing he was, in fact, excited, and smiled.

“We all actually share a loft in Beacon County, just in the city, so we can drop you off back at home if you’d like,” she finished.

Erica looked at Stiles expectantly, waiting for his answer. He knew that a week was going to go by fast and he wasn’t sure if he would be ready to face home or if he even wanted to go back. It was a scary thought, to never see Scott’s puppy dog eyes or his dad’s laugh lines ever again, but it was also scary to apologize. However, he also didn’t want to impose on the group’s generosity. After all, they were willing to drag him around on their vacation and give up room on their RV, so having any of them take him somewhere else after their trip seemed messed up.

"Yeah, that's fine,” he answered, finally.

Stiles must've sounded hesitant because Erica sighed and slung her arm around his shoulders, "Look, if after a week you haven't found what you're looking for, you can crash in my room in the loft for a while. But listen Stiles, you can't run away from everything."

Stiles just nodded. He knew that, of course. He knew that if the summer ended and he hadn't returned, his dad was going to go ballistic and probably try to send the C.I.A. to find him, as if his position of sheriff allowed that. Stiles also was accepted to Berkeley with Scott and Allison in the fall anyway, giving up that opportunity would be stupid too. It was all a ticking time bomb, leading to the end of the summer and Stiles knew he wasn't going to get much more time than seven days to figure things out. He either needed to start tearing off chunks of his being, giving up everything, or just go home. One sounded a lot more painful and bloody than the other.

"Okay, well, I'm going to go cook dinner so Mr. Grumpy Pants," Erica motioned to the sleeping Derek, "doesn't get all whiny. Also, you're kind of sweaty so please, please, feel free to take a shower.”

Erica walked past Siles into the kitchen, opening one of the cupboards to pull out a navy blue towel, thrusting it into his arms. She then started grabbing materials to start making what looked like some sort of pasta, so Stiles took that as his cue to leave.

He entered the bathroom and leaned against the door, breathing. Everything was quiet, besides the distant clanks of pots and pans in the kitchen and the lull of the RV beginning to drive. Stiles kept breathing, he told himself that he was okay, and he kept breathing. He hadn’t been alone like this, without the radio in his jeep blaring music, for a while.

He looked around the bathroom, taking in his surroundings as a form of distraction. There was a tiny shower with a sliding glass door and a toilet squished right next to it in the corner. There was no sink, the one in the kitchen the only one on the RV. Various bottles of conditioner, soap, shampoo, and shaving cream sat next to the shower and a few razors were on the top of the toilet as well as a makeup bag. A mirror was hung on the wall opposite of the shower, little smiley face stickers and hearts stuck on the edges of it like a frame.

Stiles turned on the water, running his hand under the stream while it warmed and contemplated what he knew he had to do next. He slipped his cell phone out of his pocket, hesitantly, looking at the object like it was some foreign thing.

Once it powered on, he was bombarded with a multitude of notifications: thirty missed calls from his dad, thirty three from Scott, ten from Allison, twenty from Lydia, and even three from Jackson. Texts ranging from Scott being confused, Lydia being pissed, and his dad being even more pissed also cluttered the device. He figured it was easiest to call Scott back, knowing his best friend probably wouldn't scream at him. Scott was usually level headed even when under stress. He could handle things a lot better than Stiles.

The ringing was cold and echoing and it almost stung Stiles' ears. It sounded like betrayal, like someone shouting, distantly, as they fell away. Like Stiles was taking a step backwards from them. He shut his eyes until the ringing stopped and there was just silence.

"Stiles?" Scott sounded sickeningly excited, relieved from the call. "Holy shit, Stiles, what the fuck? Just oh my god, dude, where are you?"

Stiles breathed, holding in an uncomfortable laugh. He just couldn’t fathom why Scott didn’t sound angrier. He needed someone to yell at him. He would force himself to be guilty if someone didn’t hold him accountable.

“Stiles?” Scott repeated, and Stiles remembered that he had to answer.

“I’m, um, traveling with some friends right now," he said. He danced around the details, knowing that his dad would be sprinting out the door, shotgun in hand, if he found out Stiles was essentially hitchhiking with a group of strangers.

"What friends? You literally only know us," an annoyed male tone pointed out, and Stiles realized it was Jackson and that Scott had him on speaker phone.

"Who all is there?" Stiles asked, ignoring Jackson's question all together.

"Just me, Jackson, Lydia, and Allison. Your dad asked us to stay at your house while he’s at work in case you came back home. I think he just needs the company. He's pissed, dude, like seriously my mom had to convince him not to report you as missing, saying you were almost eighteen and left a note and stuff so you clearly weren't kidnapped," Scott explained.

"Yeah, I figured he'd be mad," Stiles sighed.

Stiles could almost hear Scott crinkle his eyebrows and bite his tongue. He knew that his brother wanted to comment on the fact that of course John was mad. Everyone had to be. Mad seemed to only describe the base of Scott’s mood. He sounded endlessly tired. Stiles knew the feeling. He created it for himself and for everyone around him.

"Where are you Stiles? We're all worried.” Allison's sweet voice filled his ear. She was calm, much like Scott, but her voice also held so much fear. She was scared for Stiles and he did not know what to do with that.

"Are you just trying to prove that you're a man or whatever, Stilinski?" Jackson teased. The question was oddly rushed though, and Stiles wondered if maybe Jackson was semi-panicked.

"No, fuck off, Jackson. It's complicated."

"Complicated? Fuck you, Stiles," Lydia snapped. Her words were shards of hatred and he felt them cut across his own tongue, his doubts being spoken back to him. He hadn’t prepared himself for Lydia.

“Lyds, listen, I-”

“If you don’t come back soon, I won’t sit here hating myself or wondering what I did wrong. Come tomorrow, I won’t be waiting,” she simply stated, interrupting Stiles. “This isn’t fair and you fucking know that.”

The silence was everywhere, it swarmed around him. It was uncomfortable like the buzzing of flies and he couldn’t hear anything over the muted nothing.

"Scott, take me off speaker phone, please."

Stiles was trying to keep his voice steady, not wanting it to waver and reveal he was upset too. He knew that Lydia would call him out for that. He did not deserve to be upset if he was doing this. He was the abuser, the one who hurt people, and he did not deserve to be sad about that if he wasn’t planning on stopping.

"Okay buddy, you're off and I walked into another room, what's up? I'm trying to stay calm about all this, but it's really scary to be woken up at eight in the morning by a call from your dad because you're missing," Scott admitted.

"Yeah, I get it, but Scott you know me, I'm over the top and exaggerate things. Running away was bound to happen at some point,” Stiles tried to joke, but he was just met with a sigh from Scott.

"Where are you?"

"I told you. The only reason I called is because I need you to have my dad send a tow truck for my jeep. I'll text you the address and I'll pay him back when I get the money. You know I will."

Stiles was met with silence and he knew Scott really was angry now. Judging by the silence, it was the kind of anger that would stick too, even when all of this finished.

“Do I know that, Stiles? I don’t know if I know anything about you anymore,” Scott said, quietly.

“I love all you guys. You of all people have to know that."

Before Scott could protest, Stiles hung up.

He turned his phone off and set it on the toilet and began undressing, knowing Erica probably heard his entire phone call, despite the pounding of the water from the shower. The bathroom was awfully close to the kitchen and they were all curious about his secretive reasons for leaving Beacon Hills.

The water was searing hot when Stiles stepped in and he let it burn his skin raw and red. It was a dirty sort of clean and left Stiles wondering how much scrubbing he would have to do to make all his unpleasant feelings disappear.

He could still hear banging in the kitchen, Erica and Isaac chattering distantly.

He could still hear Lydia telling him he needed to be home by tomorrow and regretted that he had to disobey her.

------

There has never really been a time where I didn't have Scott next to me. Once he appeared in third grade, we became inseparable. He was, and still is, someone so kind and wonderful and selfless. He's probably the only good thing about our friendship now. I know it hurts him to hold it together, to keep us afloat. Scott can’t abandon people like how his dad left him and his mom. That’s why he stays. I’m holding on because I need a brother. Scott needs to be the hero. How do I tell him he is one? He deserves better, but I'm so terribly dependent on people, even though I close myself off as soon as they try to work their way into my life. I miss him so much. -S

Stiles decided to save washing his clothes for another night. Erica had showed him where they kept some detergent, explaining that there wasn’t a washer and dryer, so he’d have to hand wash them in the sink. Stiles was tired though, and he had enough clothes to last him a few more days without needing to do laundry. He did want to be more comfortable after his shower, so he slid on a black pair of gym shorts, a black shirt with the yellow batman logo, and some red fuzzy socks, making his way out of the bathroom.

Everything still felt a little bit like a dream, but he didn't have time to ponder on it when Erica was shoving a plate of spaghetti into his hands and demanding he sit and eat. It was just past six thirty and Boyd announced they'd be pulling into a rest stop for campers in another half hour so everybody could sleep.

"Well aren't you just cute enough to eat, Batman," Erica mused, taking in Stiles' ensemble.

"You know it, Catwoman," Stiles shot back.

Erica grinned, her teeth showing, features sharp. "I like it, I mean, I am hot enough to be Catwoman."

"Yes you are, babe," Boyd interrupted making Erica’s smile brighten. "Okay everyone, we'll probably be leaving the lot at around one am so I suggest you all get some sleep, because we are going to take shifts driving this thing."

"Yes, we get it babe, early bedtime," Erica laughed between bites of her spaghetti.

Boyd just chuckled, putting his focus back into driving. The rest of the group was seated at the kitchen table, Erica and Stiles on one side while Isaac and Derek took the other. A calm silence settled over the RV, the only sounds the quiet chewing of spaghetti and scraping of forks against plates.

Derek, of all people, broke it by asking, "So, Stiles you planning on going to college?"

Stiles paused eating and looked up at him. Derek had initially caught his attention with his chokehold of attractiveness but Stiles hadn't really paid him any mind since then. This was the first thing he'd even said aimed directly at him since they’d first met.

"Yeah, I'm going to Berkeley in the fall, I didn't really want to leave California," Stiles answered, noticing Derek's eyebrows rise in surprise.

"That's where we all go to college!" Erica shouted, happily, grabbing Stiles’ hand in her own to raise them up in a fist pump.

"Or went, Derek majored in history and now that he graduated is a curator at a museum," Isaac continued. "I still have three more years before I can start my residency at the hospital, I'm going to be a doctor." He sounded triumphant and excited.

"Yeah, I'm becoming a psychologist which is eight years of school," Erica groaned, "Why I picked a job that requires that much college is beyond me.”

"Once again, doctor," Isaac reminded her, pointing at himself. "I literally have to be a resident at a hospital for three years before I can even be considered an actual doctor."

"Oh boo hoo," Erica responded with no real malice in her voice, shoving some more spaghetti in her mouth. "Boyd inherited his parent's skating rink. Lucky guy doesn't even have to go to school. He’s definitely smart enough to go anywhere though, if he wanted to."

Boyd turned around to shoot her a cheeky grin and she flipped him off.

"What are you going to major in?" Derek asked Stiles, ignoring his friends complaints of college and studying.

“Criminal justice, I’d like to join the FBI someday, and I know going to college will help you get promoted faster,” Stiles explained. “I’d also like to maybe minor in journalism, just so I can maybe write some music or film articles. I mean that’s pretty much all I talk about.”

"You sound like Derek," Isaac snorted, "He could talk about his favorite song for hours.”

It was Stiles’ turn to give Derek a look of surprise, "Wow, I can’t imagine you talking for hours, especially about music.”

Erica laughed and Isaac just smirked at Derek. Derek, to his credit, managed to keep his deadpan, slightly annoyed stare.

"I talk. Just not to strangers that hitch rides on our RV without any explanations.”

Stiles blinked a couple of times. He half expected Derek to break his concrete features and laugh, joking. Derek just laid his arms on the table and folded them, like some sort of creepy Bond villain.

“Well, that’s fair,” he finally said. “So, let’s get to know each other. What is your favorite song that you could talk about for hours?”

“Landlocked Blues by Bright Eyes,” Derek answered, no pause for thought needed.

“Damn, you like Bright Eyes? I expected you to like slow jazz or something calm and collected.”

Erica started laughing even harder, Isaac joining in, and even Boyd let out a few snickers.

"Derek, calm and collected? Two words I'd never use to describe guy,” Erica said inbetween laughs.

"Fuck off," Derek muttered, but the corners off his mouth were lifted. “We should’ve left you in the desert with Stiles.”

Stiles just smiled widely. Maybe Derek was trying to be mean but he wasn’t doing the best job, a smile barely suppressed. Stiles couldn’t help but laugh at the sad display of a man trying his best to look macho, pretending to be unfazed by Stiles’ antics. Derek just put a hand to his forehead, a damsel in distress, as if he truly was put off by Stiles finding him so funny. Stiles could not help it though, he loved the bitterness and general lack of niceties that Derek had. He was razor sharp, could probably cut you if you stumbled into him, but he also seemed like someone that would bandage you up afterwards. It was intriguing. And, when Derek finally broke and let out some laughs, his eyes crinkling, the green in them so illuminated by the sparkling mood that had enveloped the room, Stiles warmed, and then completely melted.

"Even Derek likes you, it's a miracle!" Erica cheered, throwing her hands up.

"I don't like him, I don't even really know him," Derek corrected.

"Oh come on dude, you think I'm fantastic," Stiles teased and Derek just tossed a meatball at his face.

"Oh he definitely likes you," Boyd chuckled from the front seat.

------

I've only ever had one real relationship, with a pretty girl named Malia, who came to Beacon Hills junior year, after having been home-schooled her whole life. Maybe she lacked the pure grace of Lydia, who I had been infatuated with until my sophomore year when we became friends, but she was funny without trying to be and had a lot of heart. That's my favorite thing about people, when they trust you enough to wear their heart on their sleeve fearlessly, letting the world know that they feel something. There wasn't anything that she didn't have an in depth opinion on and things she cared about she protected with a frightening stance. I loved her so much, but it was not the type of love that she needed. I couldn’t give my whole body to her, I couldn’t wear my heart on my sleeve, not really. I think that's the saddest part of everything, that I couldn't make myself want to do more than just admire her. The love, although it was said and repeated, couldn’t be seen and it felt like a ghost against my skin. ‘Where is the love?’ I wanted to ask her. Because, I needed to see some sort of sign, a light around her, to believe that we were going to work out. Or, maybe, I didn’t want to let us work out. Either way, we both started to step away from each other, perfectly linear, but too far away. If I reached out, I couldn’t touch her, and soon I couldn’t even feel anything. Wisps of her hair fell around her face and she smiled once more and then she was gone, hidden completely. The love had escaped us, and that had to mean that it was barely there to begin with. -S

Stiles helped Isaac with the dishes, a therapeutic task that involved Isaac scrubbing them clean while Stiles put them away. They didn't talk just listened to the soft sounds of Bright Eyes that Derek had put on. Derek sat in the passenger seat next to Boyd, feet leaning up against the dashboard, mouthing off the words to the song.

The scene felt nice and domestic; Stiles could almost feel himself merging into the group, becoming a part of the family. It wasn’t real though, he was still the stranger, and the only reason he was helping with the dishes was that Erica and Derek both called dibs on not doing them and Boyd was driving. Isaac did keep splashing water on Stiles, though, suds now sticking to his cheeks and lips. That had to mean he wasn’t hated, at least. After all, the knives that had been washed proved that there were much more dangerous weapons at play besides water.

"You still worried I'm going to murder you?" Stiles asked, once he had put away the last dish.

"You don’t seem like the murdering type, anymore. You’re probably going to do something less violent, like rob us," Isaac joked, eyes dancing.

"Yeah, all your scarves really are looking awesome." Stiles twirled the end of Isaac's scarf, not really admiring it, and Isaac retaliated by whipping Stiles with the dish towel.

"You only wish you could pull off a scarf."

"It was ninety degrees today," Stiles pointed out and Erica snorted from where she was sitting on the couch watching Youtube videos.

"Isaac is a male model in his spare time. You’ve probably seen his pictures in magazines such as Playboy,” she quipped.

"Isaac does have a particularly over the top pout," Derek added from the front of the RV.

"That's rich coming from you," Isaac retorted. He turned to Stiles, "Just wait until you see him tomorrow morning before his coffee. Absolutely miserable."

Before Derek could respond the RV slowed and then shuddered to a stop. Stiles looked out of the window to see that they had arrived at the rest stop, a worn down little motel with ample room in their parking lot. The building had a florescent yellow sign that advertised vacancies and another smaller neon blue one below it that read: ‘$10 to park overnight without renting a room’. There was an eeriness to the area, all the lights just illuminating the dusty decor, but Boyd carelessly pulled the RV into an empty spot and unbuckled, immediately standing.

"Finally food," he moaned, stretching before making his way to the pots of noodles and sauce that were still on the stove.

"I'll go pay," Derek volunteered, sliding his feet off the dashboard and standing. He stretched and Stiles could see the glimpses of his stomach, happy trail visible, before Derek lowered his arms.

"Hey, I can pay," Stiles offered, "I mean, you guys like included me in your trip, it’s the least I can do. Plus, I kind of brought like all my savings, so it’s fine.”

Derek raised his eyebrows, but shrugged and headed towards the door. When Stiles didn’t immediately follow him he turned to give him a look. “Come on, before someone yells at us for parking here without a pass.”

Stiles quickly stumbled out of the door, realizing that he hadn’t put on actual shoes, his fuzzy socks the only thing on his feet. That was clearly a mistake, when the cool breeze of the night hit him. His toes crinkled and he let out a little shiver. Derek turned to look at him and bit his lip, to hold in a chuckle. Stiles shivered again, but this time it definitely wasn’t because of the weather.

“You are something else, I swear,” Derek sighed.

Stiles snorted. “Is that a good thing?”

Derek just rolled his eyes, but didn’t hide his little smile. The corners of his eyes were folded, like crinkled paper and Stiles decided then and there that Derek should be happy a lot more. He didn’t think the guy was depressed or anything, but he did have a grumpy mood going on. Happy looked good on Derek. It looked good on everyone really, but not everyone had Derek’s eyes or his slightly longer front teeth, which resembled a bunny.

The lights from the motel were even brighter outside of the RV and Stiles felt like he was entering the unknown. Derek was covered in a sheen of grey and blue, swirled together. They were walking somewhere less than five feet away, but it was an adventure nonetheless. Stiles wasn't sure why, but he felt indescribably drawn to Derek, even more so than he was to Erica, despite the fact that she was clearly enamored with Stiles. Stiles couldn't help or stop it, he just felt warm looking at Derek. His skin flushed, a contrast to the icy weather and lights.

Derek pulled open the door for Stiles and he pretended to swoon at the gesture, putting the back of his hand against his forehead and stumbling. Derek just rolled his eyes again and shoved Stiles inside the motel.

"If you roll your eyes too much they're going to get stuck. Then when people do something to bug you, you’ll have to find something else to express your annoyance,” Stiles teased, nudging Derek.

“Maybe I’ll just murder them,” Derek muttered. He looked down at his hands, but Stiles wasn’t scared. Derek seemed softer than most.

"I knew that one of you guys would end up being the psychos," Stiles exclaimed. “I mean I knew I wasn’t crazy, so it was destined that someone was.”

“I think you not being crazy is definitely up for debate,” Derek replied.

The middle aged woman at the desk of the motel coughed and the two men turned their heads towards her. Derek at least had the decency to look a little bit apologetic for acting so weird in her lobby, but Stiles couldn't shake the grin off his face even when he handed her the ten dollars and accepted the ticket they had to put in the window of the car. The lady just smoothed out her uniform and watched them walk out of the door. Stiles was sure that if they came back in she’d either ignore them or quit her job. Derek was too intriguing not to tease though, even if some motel employee found their antics to be off putting.

Stiles wanted to yell at himself for nursing a crush on Derek, but the man was attractive. Stiles half wished that Derek was an unapproachable jerk, but he liked Bright Eyes and put up with Stiles’ terrible jokes and chatter. Stiles’ feelings were already too muddled though, he had just left home, he didn’t need a boyfriend, or rather, an unobtainable crush. Stiles knew this, he repeated it in his head until he could taste the bitter tang in his mouth. But, when they walked back to the RV, they were close enough that their arms kept brushing together.

------

My dad once told me that life wasn’t fair, and despite loving him greatly, I spent a great deal of my childhood trying to prove him wrong. If I bought myself candy with my tooth fairy money, I’d give him and my mom some, as if to even out the universe. I would argue and argue with him when he punished me for something that I deemed ridiculous. Even though that usually just wound up with me standing in the corner for longer, I still felt like I had shown him. But, he was right, life really is just tons of shit happening to good and bad people, and those good and bad people trying to deal with it. This is why I’m terrified of losing people, it’s so easy. When my mom died, I stopped trying to prove my dad wrong and started trying to just be on his side. We as people are so connected to one another, it’s what helps us survive. But, when I realized the uncertainty of life, I started trying to weaken those connections. My dad and I are opposites a lot of the time, he is much less reckless than I am, he grew tired a lot quicker. I think, I understand now, though. I can barely sleep these nights because it is so uncertain that when I wake up things will be the same and that they will be good. If I stay awake, the odds don’t change, but at least I can see everything shift around me. -S

Derek had graciously taken the couch, allowing Stiles to lay next to Isaac in one of the beds, Erica and Boyd cuddled up together in the other one. The room was pretty barren besides several backpacks piled up in the corner and a huge framed picture of the four looking out at a sunset on the beach. The beds were decorated in tons of knitted blankets, though, various reds and oranges and then two turquoise comforters on each one. There were also big white pillows shaped like clouds, soft and fluffy.

It was incredibly comfortable and probably a lot better than the couch that Derek was suffering on, but Stiles still stayed wide awake. There was drowsiness seeping into his skin, coming in waves, but his body still remained wracked with sparks of energy, each time he felt close to falling asleep. Anxiety was thrumming through his bones, like little bolts of lightning creeping through veins and leaving a tingling feeling. He felt the need to stretch, to ease some of his discomfort, but was worried about waking up Isaac, who snored softly next to him.

Stiles had always had trouble sleeping, his mom joking that his thoughts were so big and fantastic that his brain wouldn’t let him sleep. She’d then bring him some honey tea that she often used to relax, and squeeze into his twin sized bed with him. It was easy to sleep when he felt warm and could hear her breathing next to him and her occasionally singing, so quiet Stiles could never make out the words of the song, only the tune.

He tried to focus on Isaac's breathing but it didn't sound right, it didn't sound how he remembered his mom’s. Erica and Boyd weren’t much help either, no one could emulate his mom perfectly, he was doomed to always miss her. It was also foolish to hope that maybe Derek would come parading in with a warm mug of honey tea.

After staring at the ceiling for several minutes, Stiles knew that if he didn’t get up he was going to lose it. He carefully exited the bed, dropping the comforter back down on Isaac. He slipped open the door and tried his best to navigate through the dark RV so he could step outside for a minute, hoping the chill would relax him, but of course smacked into the edge of the couch and fell on the ground with a thud.

"What the fuck?" Derek muttered, sitting up and rubbing his eyes. He grabbed his phone off of the table in front of him and shined the screen forward, the dim light revealing Stiles, lying rather pathetically on the floor.

"Hey, couldn't sleep,” Stiles explained, offering up a small wave.

"Could you not walk either?" Derek asked.

Stiles picked himself up and plopped down onto the couch as well. "It was more of an issue with not being able to see, actually."

Derek was probably rolling his eyes, but it was still too dark to see any details.

"So, were you trying to get to the bathroom or what?" Derek questioned.

"I was going to head outside, survey the great motel parking lot. Figured maybe fresh air would clear my head and I'd be able to sleep."

Derek shined his phone down at Stiles' feet still clad in fuzzy socks. "You wanted to go outside with no shoes again?"

"I'm tired, give me a break," Stiles groaned, leaning back onto the couch. His head sank into the cushions.

Derek sighed but stood up, holding his hand out to Stiles. Stiles stared at it for a moment, suspiciously. Derek didn’t exactly seem like the type to want to hold hands. It was more likely that Derek was going to toss him off the couch and go back to sleep. He had the muscles to do it, easily.

“Stiles,” Derek sighed, eyes going all squinty and lips furling. He had the makings of someone who would, in fact, toss Stiles off the couch, but only if Stiles didn’t take his hand, so Stiles followed instructions and grasped it.

Derek’s body was still warm, relaxed from sleep, but his hand was rough. He probably was one of those guys who acted like lotion didn’t exist, Stiles noted. He didn’t have much time to make a memory of Derek’s hand though, Derek letting go as soon as Stiles was on his feet.

“Grab your shoes, I can’t have you freezing,” Derek ordered, slipping his own on as well.

“I’m okay to take care of myself and even go outside alone. I’m a modern man,” Stiles replied. He still put on his shoes. It was hard not to listen to Derek. He also did get cold feet last time.

“I know,” Derek said, in a way that suggested he really didn’t know.

Stiles made a show of huffing and puffing and generally being annoyed that Derek felt the need to follow him as he headed towards the door. If Derek noticed, he paid no mind, just walked quietly behind him.

It was still blue outside, but now that the sun had gone completely down, their brightness had increased. It was now dizzying, almost overwhelming, to be painted in their shine, and Stiles felt like the waves of light were coming off of him and Derek. Derek looked like something magical, something that should not be allowed to exist. A god amongst men, tall and strong and still glowing. Derek stared up at the sky, eyes widened, basking in the glory of the night. He looked relaxed, suddenly, not restless or cold like Stiles was. It was like the moonlight, combined with the motel sign, had revived him. It was like he was a wolf, getting ready to howl at the moon.

"So, why are we out here?" Stiles asked when he decided he'd stared at Derek for so long it was certainly unsettling.

Derek jumped a little, shaken up. To his credit, it was barely more than a twitch before he was easily composed. “I thought you wanted to come out here.”

"Yeah, but why are we outside?" Stiles waved a hand in between their bodies to clarify. "As in why did you come with me?”

For a minute, Stiles assumed that maybe Derek didn’t know, had stumbled outside in a half asleep daze, but then he was grabbing Stiles’ arm and dragging him away from the RV, towards the motel. Stiles opened his mouth to ask why Derek was manhandling him, but then shut it when he realized he was being taken behind the building. He was either about to be murdered back there or pushed against the wall and made out with and the latter was good enough for him to keep quiet for a moment.

When Derek pulled on a rope that lowered down a folded ladder, leading to the roof, Stiles realized that maybe he was wrong. Also, that Derek was potentially insane and maybe was still going to murder him if he decided to go the whole pushing-someone-off-the-roof route. It was probably better that Derek wasn’t about to start making out with him though, considering they were right next to a dumpster that smelled pretty close to the grilled cheese sandwich that had once managed to get lost in piles of clothes under Stiles’ bed for two weeks. That didn’t really set the mood for anyone, unless Derek was into some gross kinky things that would potentially be a deal breaker to Stiles.

“You’re actually suggesting we go onto the roof? Boring Derek, of all people wants to do this?” Stiles clarified, only slightly shocked. Derek had offered up quite a few surprises so far.

"You barely know me Stiles, I can be fun," Derek huffed, folding his arms and looking a bit embarrassed.

Stiles felt a little bit bad, realizing that Derek probably didn't really open up to a lot of people. He wasn’t exactly sure if inviting someone to most likely trespass on the roof of a building was opening up, but it was something. When there had been a murder in Beacon Hills a few years back, Stiles had only considered inviting Scott to sneak out into the woods and see if they could find the body. He hadn’t even wanted to invite anyone else but the boy that he was closest to. It had been a pretty insensitive adventure that resulted in a lot of yelling from both Melissa and John, as well as Scott losing his inhaler when he tripped over some rocks, but still. Adventures with strangers were not preferred. If Derek wanted to do this with Stiles, wanted to somehow help him get some sleep, Stiles should be more grateful.

"Well, what are you waiting for slowpoke?" Stiles teased, putting a hand on one of the rungs of the ladder, ignoring the rust, and pulling himself up, starting to climb.

Derek scoffed, but followed behind anyway. Stiles half-wondered if he should be concerned that the thin, old ladder couldn’t hold the weight of two grown men, but was struck by a far more interesting thought. “Are you staring at my butt, Derek?”

Derek made some sort of choking noise, a mix between a snort and a cough. “Fuck off.”

“I mean, I get it, it’s a nice butt, but I need to be bought dinner first. Or at least be charmed a bit,” Stiles continued.

Derek didn’t flatter Stiles with a response, but he did chuckle a little bit, which Stiles counted as win.

They made it onto the roof quickly, the building not being the tallest, and Stiles sat onto the cool concrete. It was flat on top, a ledge around the borders, and a ventilation system in the corner.

Derek sat down next to Stiles and looked back up at the sky. He wasn't saying anything but Stiles felt like he was invading a personal moment just by looking at him. He stared down at the concrete instead and started counting the piles of bird shit. It was all surely poetic, somehow.

"I never pegged you for a climbing-roofs-in-the-middle-of-the-night kind of guy," Stiles admitted once he finished his tally of bird poop piles (sixteen).

"I never pegged you for a run-away-and-leave-his-friends kind of guy," Derek replied.

Stiles sighed and leaned back until his head touched the ground. Derek eventually did the same and they stared up at the sky together. "You heard the phone call?"

"Erica told me, thinks you're in trouble or something, I don't know. She was bullied in school so she always wants to save others. She wants to save you."

"Don't you?"

"Don't I what?" Derek didn't sound confused, more just like he was putting off answering the question.

"Want to save me? That's why you're helping me relax or whatever, right?"

"Stiles, I don't know you. I just know that Boyd is probably going to make you drive at some point and you need sleep. I also know that I always try to go up on the roof of this place while I'm here and figured you'd enjoy it." Derek sounded exasperated and Stiles sighed again.

"My name is Stiles Stilinski and yeah I ran away from home, but to be fair I'm graduated so really I just moved out and told no one, and no I won't tell you why. Also I like video games and the color red and writing and music." Stiles knew he sounded like an idiot but for some reason he wanted Derek to know him. He wanted Derek to understand something about him.

"I'm Derek, I'm just on vacation with my friends. Didn't run away with like three t-shirts like an idiot-" Stiles interrupted Derek by smacking him on the arm before letting Derek continue. "I like those old arcade games, reading, music, and the forest and history.”

The moment felt like a confession. Stiles was a priest and Derek was sitting in a booth, spouting information and waiting for Stiles to advise him. Or maybe Derek was the priest. It felt a lot more therapeutic than counting bird shit though, or laying in the dark searching for sleep.

“Not to be a dick, but I already knew you liked music. We went through this, remember?” Stiles said.

"You're an idiot."

Stiles just laughed. “I think that if you keep insulting me I’m going to cry, and no one wants that. My face gets all blotchy and swollen and frankly it’s gross. So you might want to calm down.”

"Why are you even coming with us, jesus," Derek muttered, but he didn't sound like he was really mad.

After that the conversation drifted into if Pac-man was the best arcade game or not and then continued into interrupted bursts of different topics and stories. Stiles learned that Derek could name every constellation and Derek learned that Stiles could name every X-Men member. They were both very proud of those talents. It was nonsensical, unimportant information, that didn’t really help them understand one another, but it was nice. Stiles had run out of useless facts to tell his friends about, and that had caused their conversations to lull because Stiles refused to go into anything deeper. Plus, Stiles felt like he had gathered a little bit of something special, had some facts about Derek that a stranger would not.

Stiles now knew that Derek was terrible at every sport except for baseball, despite having the body of a god, actually liked reading poetry, and once went through a phase where he had his hair so long that Erica would french braid it in new styles every day.

Derek had learned that Stiles basically worshipped curly fries, could talk about how much he liked a certain line in song for hours, and that he only joined lacrosse because Scott thought it was cool.

Stiles knew that he would retain the information he’d learned about Derek forever, despite the unimportance of it, and realized Derek probably would remember Stiles’ facts. After all, he had listened so intently, for a moment Stiles had thought he’d fallen asleep. Stiles didn’t think he would ever meet someone who had the same sharp focus that Derek did. He treated every moment like it was incredulous, like it would never occur again. Not everything was special, but with Derek it was. Sure, the guy laughed and teased and rolled his eyes at some of the things Stiles said, but he also just listened and made Stiles feel admirable for how he spoke of music. Stiles wasn’t someone to admire. He wanted to tell Derek this, but didn’t. Instead he told Derek that it was admirable that he hadn't fulfilled his murderous goals and pushed Stiles off the roof yet. Derek told him he was an idiot again and then started talking about stars.

When Stiles climbed back into bed, after they both he and Derek realized they could not stop yawning and had to go inside, Isaac groaned and mumbled something about Stiles being cold. Stiles just huddled under the blankets and tried not to smile uncontrollably like a child with a crush. That's what it felt like though, something so new and thrilling, like fireworks about to go off. He wondered if having a crush on Derek was a bad thing, decided that he was too tired to think about it and closed his eyes. He fell asleep with thoughts of stars and poetry and green eyes in his head.

------

I am lost. When I am at home and when I am away, the feeling doesn’t leave me. After I began to grow more self aware, could no longer ignore the fractured relationships and life in front of me, things began to grow fuzzy and I couldn’t recognize anything. My dad would speak to me, wish me good luck on a test, or wave goodbye before he left for work, and I would freeze, discovering for the first time that I had already woken up, gotten dressed, and was downstairs drinking coffee. I was dissociating and that, ironically, caused me to see things with the most clarity, finally. I pushed past walls of dishonesty and that’s when I decided that I had to leave. I’ve never heard someone say they appreciate lies, but we all do, really. Things get so ugly without them. -S

It was Isaac's turn to drive when they all woke up at one am, courtesy of Boyd setting an alarm on his phone, only three hours after Stiles finally fell asleep. They were back on the road, the time now 3:08 and the outside world still a vast expanse of desert and occasionally small rundown buildings. Stiles was thankful for the fact the RV had a bathroom, not sure he'd want to risk what horrors lied in one of the sad looking gas stations they passed. The time Scott fell victim to food poisoning at his house had been enough disgusting bathroom experiences for him.

Erica was on the couch curled up next to Boyd watching Arrested Development, occasionally turning away from the screen of her phone to kiss him sweetly. Isaac was softly singing along to the radio up front, seeming content with driving for a bit. Derek was in the bedroom, of all places, with Stiles, lying on the same bed.

It felt very innocent even though Stiles was harboring a small crush on the man. This was because Stiles didn’t want anything more than the purity of the situation, for now. They were both still tired after their escapades at the motel, and Stiles wanted to revel in the fact that Derek chose to lay in a bed next to him rather than take the other one. Derek claimed it was because Erica and Boyd had probably fucked in their bed before but Stiles decided to pretend Derek just wanted to be near him.

Derek was reading a book titled Our Numbered Days by Neil Hilborn. "It's a collection of his poetry," Derek had grunted when Stiles asked him about it, apparently completely engrossed in the book and not wanting to be interrupted.

Stiles was playing Tetris on his phone, the device set on 'do not disturb' so he could use it freely without the influx of texts and calls. They'd slowed from every few minutes to every few hours and Stiles hoped that after a few days his friends and dad would understand he wasn't going to answer. He had very little self control and was worried he would check his messages due to some sort of sick, self-sabotaging curiosity, and hurt his own feelings.

"Derek, I'm bored out of my mind, this is a pretty shit vacation," Stiles groaned, setting his phone down in despair.

"You literally hijacked our trip, you do not get to complain," Derek replied, rolling his eyes and not looking away from his book. "Besides, you should be sleeping anyway."

"Sleep is for the weak."

"Sleep may be for the weak, but the weak are well rested," Derek retaliated.

"Fair point, fair point." Stiles scooted closer to Derek so he could get a glimpse of the book. "Read me something."

"Like a bedtime story?" Derek teased.

"Is that your way of asking me to call you daddy?" Stiles smirked.

Derek’s blush covered his whole face, creeping up the bridge of his nose. Stiles had gotten him to look up from the pages of his book, though, which was an accomplishment.

"You always this blunt with strangers?" Derek questioned, his cheeks still dusted with red embarrassment.

"Pretty much. But we aren’t strangers, Derek. I only climb roofs in the middle of the night with my very best friends,” Stiles mocked.

Derek just smiled and turned his head back to his book. Stiles was slightly disappointed, actually hoping Derek would read him a poem. Derek’s voice was sandy and gruff and words rolled out of it so easy, when he let himself speak more than a few syllables.

Derek was suddenly speaking though, reading, and Stiles’ body tightened, stiffening, his mind at attention. "Um, this one is called 'On Sitting on My Ex-Girlfriend's Porch, Listening to Her Play a Song about Me that I Know Her New Boyfriend Helped Her Write.’"

Stiles liked the poem already, the title long and winding, like many sentences he spoke himself.

"Ok, babe, the fuck. I know you think that art is all about openness and total honesty, but honesty is like an ugly puppy. I don't want it,” Derek started, voice cracking a bit.

Stiles knew first hand that honesty was terrifying. It was still gripping onto him, even as he tried to shake it away. Derek continued.

"I know I should but I don't. If you aren't going to put down the ukulele and say, 'Remember when I broke your heart and then I wrote this song? I'm so happy that's in the past. I'm so happy we're married,' don't play the song."

Stiles was engrossed, hating that the poem felt familiar. Derek read the final verse, "If you aren't going to be the person the song says you are, someone who believes in permanence and redemption and America, someone who, like, loved me once, don't play the song."

The thing about good poems, good words, were that they made you feel like throwing up, because they were so familiar. Stiles related to the poem. He knew how easy it was to follow along to the beat of the lies, to trust himself, the biggest liar of them all. It was easier to be blind instead of facing the sickening truth. He knew that everyone in life was holding onto him with dishonesty, were saying they loved him even as the love faded away. He wished that no one would sing of love if they weren’t truly sure of it, if they weren’t aware of how it would affect everyone around them.

"Lies or honesty?" Stiles asked Derek after they sat there for a minute, both absorbing the poem.

"Honesty. Sometimes it hurts, sometimes it doesn’t, but at least it actually exists. I don’t have time for false things anymore.” Derek spoke like he was wounded, but recovering.

"You're a lot braver than me," Stiles confessed. He also yawned.

"If you keep lying, or letting people lie to you, you’ll drown eventually. I don’t see bravery in not wanting to drown,” Derek admitted.

"So much more brave," Stiles murmured, because, honestly, not drowning was sometimes the hardest thing a person could do. They say that after the struggling, the gasping for air, you feel peaceful. Maybe, Stiles was searching for that peace. Maybe, he liked the pain of drowning. It was confusing when Stiles was so tired.

"I think you take yourself for granted, you’re away from home and you’re not scared,” Derek told him. “Plus, you got on a RV full of strangers and made us all not hate you, when really, we could have murdered you.”

"So you like me?" Stiles asked, his stomach relaxing, leaving only giddiness behind. He closed his eyes. They were droopy and he could get some sleep with Derek lying next to him.

"The fact that that's all you got from that is troubling."

------

Tragedy remains inside of everyone, regardless of how far they try to push it back. I find myself choking down the sadness sometimes, swallowing up chunks of it, just to keep myself seeming sane. There have been moments, talking and living with these people, that I forget that I am even running from something, but it always comes back. That’s why I said that running was cowardly, because sooner or later you have to face the tragedy head on and running doesn’t solve anything. For now though, I like to pretend and change the subject and tell stories of how happy my life can be. Even if everyone in the room turns their heads to glare at me and call me a liar, I will continue to pretend, at least for a while. It’s easier that way and I am exhausted. I need something fun, something good. -S

Stiles awoke to whooping and hollering coming from outside the bedroom. Derek was no longer next to him, but the spot still felt warm and his book still sat in his place, evidence he hadn't been gone for long. A quick check to his phone revealed it was 8:47 am, the sun now bright in the sky and peeking through the window.

He stood and walked over to his back pack, stripping off his shorts, and beloved fuzzy socks, to put on some jeans and real socks. The yelling had been replaced with shrill giggling from Erica and low laughter that Stiles' recognized as Derek’s, the sound resonating through the RV.

Stiles exited the room and walked straight into a war. Derek had Erica slung over his shoulder, as he tidied the RV, picking up stray pillows and dishes left around. She was punching his back and yelling for him to put her down so she could get dressed and they could leave but he wouldn't let up. Derek kept spinning around quickly, disorienting Erica and causing her to shout more. Her legs nearly kicked Stiles as he squeezed past them and into the living room.

Isaac was shirtless and being sprayed down with sunblock by Boyd, eyes squinted shut and mouth in a thin line. It looked like Boyd was trying to suffocate him with spray, but Isaac was ridiculously pale, so it was probably for the best. Stiles, another incredibly pale person had had his fair share of itchy, peeling, red skin.

"Batman! My savior! Tell the Joker to release me!" Erica shrieked when she spotted Stiles.

Stiles laughed, "I think Derek is more Bane. Big and scary."

"Pssh, I'm not scared of him! Once he sets me down he'll realize how scary I am." Erica winked at Stiles before continuing to whack Derek's back as if that would do anything.

Boyd announced it was nearly nine, prompting Derek to finally set down Erica who proceeded to kick him in the ankle before walking to the bedroom to change out of her pajamas. Derek barely even winced, rolling his ankle around a couple of times before taking a seat on the couch.

"Where are we even going?" Stiles asked, taking a seat next to Derek. "It's officially my first day on the Barbie RV adventure squad, I’m ready to accept any mission given to me.”

“That’s definitely our new name!” Erica shouted from behind the closed bedroom door.

Derek shook his head, but didn’t argue. You could only annoy Erica so much before she grew villainous.

"Well we're in Vegas now, so we're going to go on a hike to a campsite we'll stay at for a bit," Isaac explained, before breaking out into a violent coughing fit. Boyd held the sunscreen bottle he’d just assaulted Isaac with innocently.

"Oops." Boyd's growing smile proved it hadn't been an accident at all, but Isaac just smacked him on the arm before pulling on a blue v-neck.

Stiles couldn't help but feel anticipation for the desert trip. There wasn’t a doubt in his mind that it would be terribly hot, and he knew he was going to come back with cooked pink skin and sweaty clothes. However, Stiles could not remember the last time he did something that was just for enjoyment, that wasn’t to benefit someone else or to help him get into college. He wasn’t the most selfless person, hardly, but he also was not the kindest to himself either. Stiles mostly just sat still and let things happen to him, around him. Now he was in the middle of something, and this group of people were all so different and excitable, it made the adventure seem better than it was. He didn’t know how to thank them for that.

After Erica was dressed and had forced Stiles to change back into some basketball shorts, claiming it was “as hot as the devil’s balls”, they began their long trek to the desert campsite. Derek and Boyd had been put in charge of carrying two large backpacks that held sleeping bags and food for everybody, apparently being the loser of a rock paper scissors game that had transpired before Stiles woke up. They'd agreed with a small amount of complaining, probably being forced to carry them on previous trips. Stiles figured that Erica played any game, even something as simple as rock paper scissors, dirty, and Isaac didn’t seem like someone who would do a bunch of heavy lifting without a large amount of protesting. It was probably easier for Derek and Boyd to just volunteer to carry the backpacks at this point.

Stiles was just thankful that they had brought a few extra sleeping bags after the year Isaac had found three huge spiders in his and refused to sleep in it. He was also thankful for the strain in Derek's arms when he lifted the bag up, muscles flexing. Stiles knew he shouldn’t be looking so much, but it was hard not to stare at someone so pretty.

Erica explained that they left the RV a little ways away because they prefered hiking when they could and the campsite was only ten minutes from their parking spot. The spot was behind a large rock a few miles from the road that mostly shaded the vehicle. A huge expanse of barren land, with the exception of a few dry bushes and cacti, made up the surrounding area. Erica swore that they parked there every year and had never dealt with any vandalism or break ins with the RV, and even claimed Stiles could leave his cell phone and wallet if he wanted to. Stiles grabbed the precious items despite Erica’s sweet words, feeling it was just as wrong to leave them as it was to hike when it was above one hundred degrees outside.

Reading the temperature didn’t prepare Stiles for the onslaught of pure heat that singed the hairs on his arms when stepped outside. He would not be surprised if the marshmallows that were stored in one of the backpacks for s’mores ended up roasting before they even arrived to their destination. No one else in the group seemed as affected as Stiles’ though, who was practically stumbling from exhaustion two minutes into the walk. They were all covered in a thin sheen of sweat and Isaac’s wardrobe noticeably lacked a scarf, but other than that, everyone else walked on with far too much pep in their step.

He quickly felt revived though, when Derek smiled at him, the biggest smile he’d donned thus far. “You’ll love this place,” he promised, and Stiles swooned.

He felt lucky, unbelievably so. He'd been thinking about that a lot. It all still felt like a dream. After one day, Stiles was already falling in love with these people and that both amazed and troubled him. He did not want to grow attached to another group after having just abandoned one. He knew that if he did, he would likely run away from them as well; Stiles could envision it repeating itself, the circle never breaking. The attachment that was shared both ways could not be denied, though. A familiarness had permeated the area, everyone so friendly with one another and with Stiles.

Erica kept grabbing his arm and making him walk faster, teasing him for not being used to hiking, with no real spite. Boyd regularly sprayed him down with sunblock and Isaac jumped on his back twice for impromptu piggy back rides that nearly resulted in both of them tumbling into the dirt. Derek’s smile is what really left Stiles dizzy, though. It roped him in, tied him to the group in a way that would take a while to untangle. Plus, the fact that he wanted to show Stiles somewhere because he believed Stiles would enjoy it, would love it, was overwhelming.

The sun did not waver their whole journey, but when Stiles got a glimpse of the campsite, he suddenly absorbed the warmth, grew to love it, if it meant he got to experience the place.

It was a small area, a mixture of large and small rocks, as well as brush, creating a lopsided circle that enclosed the area. Inside of the circle, a larger, dominant rock sat, sloping on the sides and rising in the middle, forming a mountain, or perhaps a castle. It was hollowed out inside, not really a cave, not nearly deep enough, more like some sort of hut. The back of the rock castle had jagged bits, that formed a dangerous looking staircase that lead to the top. It looked like a disaster waiting to happen, but Stiles had no doubt he would climb it at some point, just to recreate the feeling of being on the roof again. Maybe Derek would join him.

Really though, despite the initial beauty of the place, it should not have remained appealing to Stiles for more than a few seconds. The rocks were all hot to the touch, even Stiles’ own skin was hot to the touch. However, it was like his heart had obeyed Derek, had chosen to love it, despite its faults. This was the type of home Stiles could thrive in, one that he chose to love. That way, he had some control over the situation. A nagging voice told him that it could not really be a choice if it was so heavily influenced by Derek’s own words, but Stiles swallowed the voice back down like bile. He felt powerful for a moment, he felt human, rather than tired and worn out.

“Okay, the hike was worth it, I’m impressed,” Stiles marveled, scrambling over one of the smaller rocks to enter the circle.

He looked around once more now that he was inside the magic and did what felt natural, he breathed. He had been doing a lot more of that lately, just breathing. It centered him. It reminded him that he was not drowning anymore, or at least not for the time being.

"Told you you'd love it,” Derek said, and Stiles whipped around to see that Derek had joined him in the circle.

Stiles smiled and Derek smiled back. They were beaming at each other, two princes, lost in their own way, reunited at a castle. Suddenly, Stiles could not convince himself to breathe in this moment, even if he wanted to. That had to mean he was still paddling, barely afloat. He had to sever himself from Derek. He couldn't step away from Derek’s company. He was stuck. They were home, after all.

They set up their sleeping bags inside the cave, the inside just large enough that Erica and Boyd could have theirs secluded in the back, while Isaac, Derek, and Stiles had theirs lined up in a row closer to the front of the cave.

Stiles did have a couple of complaints, pointing out that Erica and Boyd were probably going to step on someone if they had to get out to go to the bathroom, and that they'd left the RV, and subsequently the toilet, ten minutes away. Isaac promptly pointed behind a bush a few feet from the rocky area and deemed it the bathroom, telling Stiles to suck it up. Everyone seemed in agreement and Erica pointed out that as long as he didn’t have to shit he’d be fine. Besides the S’mores supplies, they’d only brought hot dogs for food, so not shitting could be harder said than done. There also was not much set up, besides the sleeping bags, and Stiles was wondering how they were even going to pass the time.

Before he could ask, Erica slung bag full of huge super soaker water guns onto the ground in front of everyone. Her own gun, which was decorated with a pink army print pattern, she twirled casually in her hand, grinning.

"So, ready to be annihilated in the world's most intense squirt gun fight?" she asked, looking dangerous.

"Erica, you've never beaten Derek at one of these things, you’re not that good," Isaac laughed, rolling his eyes.

"Yeah, but you've never beaten me," she retorted, shutting Isaac up.

Derek looked smug, definitely assuming he was going to win again. However, Stiles would easily bet on Erica, she looked ready to murder. It was as if years of losing had made her go mad with the desire to beat Derek. Stiles didn’t blame her, cocky Derek could easily drive a person crazy. It was the eyebrows, for sure.

"How exactly does one win a squirt gun fight? Isn't it just for like shits and giggles?" Stiles asked.

"We set a timer for fifteen minutes and the person who’s the driest at the end of the round wins. We have to account for Derek and Boyd being fucking giant, but other than that it's pretty easy to tell," Isaac explained, "You also get to see Erica with makeup running down her face so that's hilarious."

"Now you're my main target," Erica growled, aiming her squirt gun at Isaac threateningly.

"Really, Erica? I'm going to lose anyway," he grumbled, and then added hopefully, "Unless Stiles is shit."

"My dad is a cop, I learned a thing or two about shooting," Stiles smirked. A squirt gun was different from an actual gun, and his dad didn’t let Stiles go to the shooting range that often, but he and Scott did play a lot of video games, so that had to count for something.

"Ooh, if you beat Derek I'll give you a kiss," Erica promised, blowing one his way for insurance.

Stiles dared a glance at Boyd, who thankfully still looked calm, just smiling at Erica like she was an idiot. Stiles figured there wasn't any real heat behind the promise. Plus, Derek didn’t look nervous in the slightest, so unless Derek was running on false confidence, Stiles likely wouldn’t beat him. He was hoping for third, after Derek and Erica, respectively, who were probably going to battle it out for first place.

"Okay well, we have ten seconds to hide," Boyd announced, "Then I'm going to beat all of you guys and get first place.”

"You barely beat me each time, babe, and I'm at least getting second," Erica laughed, but ran when Boyd started counting down in his low, booming voice.

They all darted off to opposite ends of the circled area, Isaac choosing a big bush as safety, Erica and Boyd both going for different rocks, and Derek ducking behind the cave. Stiles stupidly acted on his desperate need to go to the top of the big rock, scaling the side, and climbing the slanted edges like a rock wall. The stairs were steeper than they had seemed and he had to hoist himself up most of them, quickly losing momentum.

"Stiles, you're going to lose worse than Isaac!" Erica laughed, trying to hit him but missing. She then turned her attention to Boyd who was closest, and who had just sprayed her in the back.

Stiles ignored her taunts, finally making it to the top, with minimal damage, just a few hits from Derek, who seemed to appear out of nowhere and then quickly disappear once more. There was not that many places to hide and Derek had a quite a large frame, so Stiles was lost on how he was managing it.

Isaac really did suck when it came to water guns, drenched already, so Stiles was confident he wouldn’t come in last place, like Erica had suggested, due to his decision to climb. The group had collectively soaked the back of his shirt, though, Derek doing most of the damage. Isaac seemed like he was just running around wildly this point, getting hit for the sake of cooling off. Erica and Boyd were mostly just spraying each other, Erica yelling some choice insults at her boyfriend, while he just focused on beating her. Erica impressively dodged streams of water, all while trash talking.

Stiles finished surveying the others and focused on finding cover. Even though he could use the height to his advantage, already having rained down water on Erica, if he was standing out in the open, Derek was going to hit him. It seemed as though the guy had focused his main attention onto Stiles, Erica and Boyd too wrapped up in one another. Isaac kept attempting to shoot Derek, but he was also just lying on the ground, so he wasn’t a real threat.

There was a smaller rock in the corner, so Stiles forced his body into a compact ball behind it. It didn’t scream comfort, but it allowed for safety. He could also duck his head out to survey the area and be back behind his makeshift shield before anyone could get to him. The only way Stiles would get shot was if someone went to the back of the rock castle where his body was exposed, but that would also risk the assailant getting sprayed by Stiles, and Stiles knew that Derek wouldn’t risk it. Derek played careful.

"Suck it Derek!" Stiles shouted from the top after hitting him square in the chest. Derek had been attempting to maneuver his way closer to Stiles, but Stiles had had his eyes trained on him the entire time.

“Gross, don’t make me the fifth wheel!” Isaac yelled, pretending to gag. Derek promptly hit him in the face with a stream of water, but that didn’t hide the fact that both Stiles and Derek were flustered.

Erica nicked Stiles’ shoulder while he was distracted and he quickly crouched back behind the cover to catch his breath. It was clear that Isaac was making a poorly inappropriate joke, the kind that Stiles usually would make or laugh at himself, but when it came to Derek, Stiles was consistently surprised. The joke had nearly knocked the wind out of him, only because it made him wonder if he was being obvious, and how Derek felt about it.

He didn’t have much time to mull over it, because the fifteen minute timer Boyd had set on his phone went off, playing 2010 Justin Bieber loudly, causing Isaac’s face to go red before he burst out into heavy laughter. Everyone stumbled out of their hiding spaces, various stages of soaked. Erica kissed her boyfriend, before shutting off the alarm and laying down on the dusty ground. Boyd layed next to her, snuggling up and being overtly domestic and sweet. Stiles was exhausted and considered lying next to them, but didn’t want to interrupt their “in love” bliss. It vaguely reminded him of Scott and Allison and he had to stop himself from rolling his eyes.

"Wait! Fuck you're gonna dry from the sun! Everyone get up and compare wetness," Isaac suddenly shouted. He groaned when more water from the bottle he’d been drinking sloshed onto him, but no one was really concerned. It was pretty obvious Isaac had lost before his accident.

"Ooh, Isaac didn't know you wanted to see how wet I was," Erica teased but stood anyway, bending over to help Boyd to his feet.

Deciding a winner was a debate, Erica cursing and pointing out every droplet of water that she could see in Derek’s hair. Isaac tried to argue that some of the water on his shirt was really just sweat, but everyone dismissed his claims. The only thing the group could really agree on was that Isaac lost, so Isaac quickly stopped trying to defend himself and instead sang “We are the Champions” loudly, as if he had really won.

In the end, Erica accepted that the prestigious first prize was between Derek and Stiles, and eloquently took third place, happy that she had at least beaten Boyd. It then took about ten more minutes of shouting for Derek to grumpily agree that he had a couple more splashes of water on his left shoulder, meaning that Stiles had won.

Derek took the loss like a champ, dumping about half of a water jug onto Stiles’ head during Stiles’ victory dance. Erica laughed loudly and gave Stiles a quick peck on the cheek, fulfilling her promise and still managing to look angelic even with flecks of mascara underneath her eyes, and red lipstick smeared in the corner of her mouth. Stiles placed his fingertips onto the spot where she’d kissed him, red lipstick bleeding onto his hand, his whole body still wet.

Derek’s attack led to Isaac declaring a water war, which apparently meant an anything goes attack, Boyd swinging around the full water jug and Erica forcing Isaac to remove his wet shirt so she could try and whip Stiles and Derek with it.

Late afternoon came slowly, the sun still bright, but the mood quieting considerably. Everyone looked like they’d just come from a rainstorm and two of the five water jugs they brought were empty. The group huddled into a circle, sitting on the ground and ignoring the mud that was caking onto their skin. Stiles’ fingers were grimy and he wiped them on Isaac’s shin, writing profanities up and down his leg with wet dirt. Isaac didn’t stop him until the words got particularly dirty and Isaac had to scratch them away.

“I think that we should play a rousing game of ‘Did you Know’” Erica announced, lifting up her head from where it had been laying on Boyd’s shoulder.

“It’s not really a game, it’s more just us telling each other secrets or things that the others might not know. It usually just ends up in us reminiscing about old stories,” Boyd explained to Stiles, who had been thoroughly confused.

“I don’t really think there’s much we don’t know about each other, but it gives us a chance to learn about you!” Erica squealed, smiling at Stiles.

“Okay, I’m game,” he replied, only a bit hesitant. He knew that the burning question on everyone’s mind was why he’d left Beacon Hills.

“Okay, well did you know that I have epilepsy,” Erica started. “It was worse when I was younger, I used to get bullied, because I’d have seizures in the middle of class and took medicine that made my face break out. I managed to find medicine that worked better with my skin and I work with a physical therapist a lot, because the right exercise and stretching can help ease the seizures.”

Stiles was surprised, having thought of Erica as an impenetrable force. This humanized her, but also made her seem a lot stronger. He didn’t know what to say back to her though. She seemed content with her disorder and what it meant, so ‘I’m sorry’ felt inappropriate.

Boyd started talking, shifting the conversation before Stiles could offer forced sympathies that Erica didn’t need, which made him breathe easier.

Stiles learned that Boyd wanted a big family, but also wanted to wait until Erica was graduated and they were married. He spoke of their marriage like it was inevitable, fate, and Erica did the same. She told Stiles of how her and Boyd had known each other since fifth grade and had been dating since seventh, never really imagining a life without one another. Boyd skirted over details of his younger sister dying when he was a child, right before he met Erica, so it made sense he wanted to hold onto her. She had been his light through the tragedy.

Isaac told Stiles about how his father once had a girlfriend who loved knitting and would bring Isaac scarves and mittens every time she came over, until she stopped coming over. Isaac’s tone was bitter when he mentioned that his dad’s drinking had distressed the girl, and quietly explained that his dad hadn’t been the nicest, but also wasn’t around anymore, so that was fine.

Stiles knew that details were being brushed over, even though everyone else probably knew them, but couldn’t blame the group. They were opening up to a stranger and considering Stiles was pretty bad at opening up to even his closest friends, it seemed awfully brave.

Stiles had learned a bit about Derek when they’d trespassed on the motel roof, but now discovered that he only owned t-shirts in muted colors and soft, pale sweaters that Isaac would buy for him.

He also showed Stiles a tattoo that was on his upper back, right in between his shoulder blades. It was black and consisted of three swirls that radiated from the center, where they were connected. It was known as a triskelion, a Celtic symbol that had been used in his family for years. Derek mentioned that everyone in his family had one, that it tied him to them. His voice was dark, and Stiles wondered where Derek’s family was now.

When it came time for Stiles to share some information, he purposely told them base level facts about himself like how he could spend hours reading Wikipedia articles, even if they weren’t all true, and that he ate so much curly fries it was a wonder he wasn’t fat.

“Can I ask you a question, Stiles,” Erica asked, gently.

Stiles held in a groan, and nodded.

“Why did you leave Beacon Hills, really?”

“If I share one actually personal thing about me, can I not answer that?” Stiles asked back.

Erica considered his request for a moment, before nodding.

“Did you know, that when I started having nightmares about my mom dying, real bad ones that left me screaming, my dad took me to get my head shaved? He told me I was shaving away the bad thoughts. I left my hair short until tenth grade, when my best friend Scott started to grow his hair out and I thought it looked cool.”

No one asked how his mom had died or for more information about his dad or Scott and Stiles appreciated that. Instead Isaac started telling a story about how he peed his pants in a movie theater when he was younger because he didn’t want to miss a second of the cinematic classic, Kung Fu Panda.

The game petered out, slowly, as it got darker outside. It had turned into the group trying to see who was the best at impressions after Derek mentioned Boyd could do Kermit the frog’s voice perfectly. When Erica rubbed her stomach and announced they needed to get a fire going for food, Stiles felt warm and content. The group had become, in the span of a little more than a day, a sort of family to him, and Stiles found himself inexplicably trusting them. He could never truly shake the wariness he had around others, but the glowing in his gut was a good sign that he could easily love all of these people.

While Boyd and Derek set up the fire, Erica and Isaac sang their “fire song” while spinning around the flames. They claimed it made the fire burn brighter and longer, but it was really just them singing a gibberish version of “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” full of incorrect lyrics, besides the chorus, which was screamed at full volume.

They cooked hotdogs once the fire was going, shoving them onto skewers and trying to singe the outside without burning the hotdog itself. Stiles lost his food to the flames twice, his hotdog sliding off the stick and into the fire.

“Stop wasting our food!” Isaac shouted at Stiles accusingly, chunks of hotdog still in his mouth.

Derek slipped Stiles his perfectly cooked hot dog in secret, and finished cooking the one Stiles had been working at. Stiles grinned at Derek and Derek winked, nearly causing Stiles to drop his meal into the fire once more.

As soon as their dinner was done, Isaac was demanding s’mores, Boyd pulling out mass amounts of graham crackers, marshmallows, and bars of chocolate. Derek proved to have an extreme sweet tooth, popping several marshmallows into his mouth straight from the bag, while he roasted two more. Stiles was better at making s’mores at least, simply because he liked his marshmallows crispy and dark on the outside. He kept lighting them on fire and waving the flaming treat around before blowing out the flame.

“If you light my scarf or my hair on fire I will murder you,” Isaac warned Stiles, scooting farther away from him.

They had to use one of the water jugs as a makeshift shower, to scrub off dirt and chocolate smeared over their hands and faces, and then to put out the fire, tossing dirt onto the simmering embers to stop it entirely. Erica and Isaac sang a solemn, slow version of “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” this time, their closing ceremony to honor the fire for its hard work.

Stiles wasn't sure what time it was when Derek shook him awake and said that he owed him a nighttime adventure because he couldn’t sleep, but the stars were sparkling and the sky was as dark as Derek’s hair. It was pleasantly warm outside, a cool breeze passing through every few minutes.

They made their way up to the top of the rock, Stiles complaining the entire way up that he was probably going to fall off the edge and die due to not being able to see sufficiently because of the darkness. He had barely been able to make it up earlier when it was still searingly bright outside.

"I wear glasses, Stiles, pretty sure I have the disadvantage," Derek pointed out, tapping Stiles' ankle so he would keep climbing.

Stiles rolled his eyes but hoisted himself up another step. His ankle tingled. “Do you really wear glasses? And here I was thinking you were a super human.”

“A super human, huh?” Derek asked. Stiles stumbled a bit while climbing, realizing what he’d said, but didn’t respond.

Stiles sat cross-legged once he made it to the top, leaning back on his hands and looking up the sky. Derek joined him a few moments later, sitting next to him. His hand was barely touching Stiles’, but Derek’s fingers still felt heavy. They were all at once, connected, marveling at stars that seemed even brighter on top of a castle in the middle of nowhere. The moment, the stars, were their’s and no one else’s. If Stiles strained his ears, he could hear the others below, softly snoring, but his ears were tuned into Derek. Derek’s breath was staggered from climbing, slowly calming as he relaxed, his fingers barely rubbing against Stiles’ own, steadying himself.

"If I knew any better I'd assume you kept taking me up onto high places so you could get the nerve to push me off," Stiles finally spoke.

"Do I really look like a murderer?" Derek asked, rolling his eyes and smiling. He shifted and his hand fell away from Stiles’. Stiles tried not to act disappointed, hadn’t he been trying to lighten the mood with his stupid joke?

“Eh, maybe not with glasses on. You should model a pair for me and then I’ll get back to you.”

Derek chuckled, a bellowing sort of loud-laugh that could of possibly woken up the others. “You know, my mom used to call me her little wolf. She said I had sweet eyes but was too grumpy to be compared to a puppy. I was her angry little wolf.”

“Oh my god, can I call you Sourwolf? Like Sourpuss but wolf, since you’re a wolf,” Stiles explained, laughing at his own joke.

Derek groaned, "Oh god no, that's worse than when Erica always calls me Der-Bear."

"I'm liking Erica more and more," Stiles laughed.

Derek didn’t respond, just shook his head. Not in a mean way, but rather in a defeated sort of manner, like he knew he couldn’t win against Stiles, but was perfectly okay with that.

A slight breeze flowed through the air and a small shiver wracked through Stiles’ body. Derek instinctively scooted closer to him. His hand still wasn’t touching Stiles’ but their shoulders were pressed against one another.

“Derek?” Stiles started, slowly. “What happened to your family? I mean you speak of them like you’re missing them, like they went away.”

Derek didn’t chuckle this time. Stiles probably should’ve told another joke instead. It was all of a sudden too cold for this. Too indescribably lonely. Even with Derek and the stars and the castle. You couldn’t escape the emptiness that had crept between them.

Derek looked up the sky once more. He looked for a while and Stiles tried to figure out how he could change the subject.

“You don’t know my last name, do you?” Derek asked.

“Um, no… should I?”

“I grew up in Beacon Hills too, Stiles. I knew your father, your mom. I didn’t realize it until you mentioned your dad was the sheriff. I think I even talked to you before, when we were both still children, I’m not sure.”

Stiles froze. It wasn’t that shocking that Derek grew up in Beacon Hills, if he was still living in the area, just in the city. Most people didn’t get far from the town, it gripped you tightly, like it was calling you towards it, a beacon. However, all of a sudden, Derek looked strangely familiar to Stiles. He didn’t remember them ever meeting, but Derek looked like a grown up version of a teenager he’d once seen in a newspaper clipping, on every news station in Beacon County, on a photograph that sat on his dad’s desk at home.

“You’re a Hale aren’t you? Derek Hale.” Stiles said. He suddenly understood why Derek was so fine with Stiles intertwining his life with their vacation. They were both rooted in tragedy and poor coping mechanisms.

“Yeah, the only surviving member of the Hale family, besides my uncle, Peter, who left once I turned eighteen. He stopped being a Hale, though, done with the name the day my mother died. She was his favorite person, she was his sister, his only one, and all he could see in me was her. He believed that we were always going to be together, going to be great. After all, we were the family who helped build Beacon Hills.” Derek’s hand was clenching, nearly reaching for Stiles but he restrained himself. “You know, they used to call us the luckiest people alive, said we were attractive, athletic, smart, wealthy. Now they call us cursed. All because someone hated me and burned them all alive. And the thing is, I didn’t need to be lucky, I just needed to be normal.”

Derek wasn’t crying, probably hadn’t cried in a long time, but his eyes looked glossy, like he could have, if Stiles wasn’t next to him.

“It wasn’t your fault though,” Stiles said, testing his boundaries. When Derek didn’t respond, Stiles continued. “I’m going off what I read, but the woman who killed them manipulated you when you were fifteen and she was twenty-something, claimed she loved you, and killed your family when they rightly had her convicted as a sex-offender. Derek, you couldn’t have stopped her. Had she not attached herself to you, it would have been another fifteen year old, another family. She was insane.”

“I wish it had been,” Derek said.

“What?”

“I wish it had been another fifteen year old, another family. I know that’s terrible to say, but I didn’t know how to say no to her. I felt awful and great when I was with her, all at once, so I told my parents and had them solve it and got everyone killed. My sisters, my parents, my cousins, my aunts and uncles, everyone. We all lived in that big house together, because our whole lives revolved around family.”

“And your life still does. I see the way Erica, Boyd, and Isaac treat you. They’re your family. I know it’s not the same but it’s something. I know you know how my mom died, if you’ve met her, and I’m sure you heard people whisper about how badly the poor Stilinski kid was handling it. People love to gossip in Beacon Hills. It took me finding my friends, my new family to really heal. It’s shitty and I still miss her, but it does help.”

“And then you left them behind. What am I supposed to make of that, Stiles?” Derek didn’t sound accusatory, just tired.

“You’re supposed to just assume I’m a shitty person. But you’re not, you’ve stuck around. So don’t blame yourself for stuff that isn’t your fault.”

Suddenly, Derek was shifting away, and looking back up at the moon again. "Tell me a story."

"Excuse me?"

"Well, I did say I came out here because I couldn't sleep, and you do talk a lot." Derek unfolded his legs and laid down, putting his hands behind his head. "I'm waiting."

Stiles stared at him incredulously. Derek had seemed incredibly closed off when they first met and now had suddenly spilled his heart out to Stiles in one night and was just going to brush it off? Lydia had once told Stiles that he had the type of face people could trust, that he had warm eyes, but Stiles had always believed that that described Scott more. Maybe though, it was easier to talk to Stiles because Stiles left his own problems in his head. Stiles was the therapist and no one asked him if he was okay.

Derek knocked his foot against Stiles’ ankle and turned to look at him. “Stiles, are you okay?”

There it was, all of a sudden. The question that even Scott, even his own dad, had stopped asking.

“Have you ever heard the story of the cocky kid named Stiles who lost a bet and had to wear a full face of makeup for his junior yearbook photo?” Stiles asked.

Derek didn’t comment on how Stiles so easily changed the subject, he just closed his eyes and smiled. The night had been emotional enough, they deserved some peace.

“I haven’t heard that one, but it sounds great.”

Stiles grinned and laid down, stretching out his legs. The rocks were warm and so was Derek, so still, next to him. He began the story and all at once it became their little world again.

------

I find safety in people and ideas. I find solace in someone telling me that I am okay. It's not that I hate myself- I don’t- but I am scared of myself sometimes. Or, rather, I’m scared of what other people are going to say. This is why I hate that I become so attached so easily. I’m constantly looking around for someone else to lend me a hand and then I get disappointed when their smile doesn’t turn into anything else. I worry that people are leaving me, even when they stand right next me. If Scott leaves my house earlier that planned to go hang out with Allison, I get far too hurt. If my dad gets called into work when we were supposed to watch baseball together, my sadness is ridiculous. None of these people owe me anything, not after my outbursts I have sometimes, but I can’t get myself to truly believe that. I can repeat the words until they sound like mush in my head and never really believe them. Finding safety in others is fine, I’m sure, but you have to learn to be alone too. You have to learn that if people don’t come back, you’ll move on. I’m great at thinking all of this, of planning out my steps towards healing, but I’m awful at following any of them. -S

Stiles awoke to the sounds of giggling and the clicking noises of a camera. He instinctively curled into Derek and groaned, trying to hold onto being asleep. The giggling just increased, though, and his eyes flickered open.

The sun was already up in the sky with a vengeance, hot as ever and beaming down on everything. Stiles blinked, and his eyes adjusted. Erica leaned down to look at him, the ends of her hair tickling his cheeks.

"What the fuck?" Stiles cursed, until he realized that the only way he would feel the sun was if he wasn't in the cave. Then he realized that he was still on top of the large rock and Derek's arm had slipped down to his waist at some point in the night. His grip was tight and Stiles' head was resting on his chest.

Derek awoke at Stiles' outburst and looked just as confused for a moment until he figured out what was going on and immediately sat up, shoving Stiles off of him.

“You two are adorable!" Erica gushed, looking at photos she had taken on her camera and laughing at them.

"Delete those Erica, that's creepy as fuck," Derek grumbled, but didn't make a move to take her camera, just rubbed his eyes sleepily.

Stiles noticed Isaac standing behind Erica, with Boyd, laughing at his own photos he’d taken on his phone. "I'm too tired for this shit."

"Too bad, we let you sleep till eleven and Isaac wants to race," Erica chirped, far too chipper for Stiles. He ignored her and laid back down.

“Race? What on Earth are you talking about?” Stiles asked, keeping his eyes closed.

"You know, racing, as in people run and we see who's the fastest,” Isaac replied sarcastically. “I always lose the water gun fight, but I’m good at running, so this is my thing.”

Stiles just groaned and tried to fall back asleep. Derek grumbled, but did the opposite and forced himself to stand. Stiles groaned some more, realizing that he was going to have to get up and participate of all things. He took Derek’s offered hand and stood, sighing loudly to make a point of how he really didn’t want to be awake.

Once they had precariously made their way back down to the ground, Boyd began drawing lines in the dirt by dragging his feet, symbolizing the start and finish line.

“Fuck guys, running sucks, why are we doing this? I mean I get it, you want to show off, Isaac, but you’re already cute, calm down,” Stiles groaned, stretching to try and get some sleep out of him.

Derek frowned at that and Stiles couldn't help but notice him shoot an annoyed glance over at Isaac. Stiles forced himself not to consider what that could mean, it was more than likely just Derek not wanting to race either, annoyed that they had to appease Isaac. Derek wouldn’t be jealous of Isaac, not when it came to Stiles’ affections.

"Fuck off Stiles, running is fun," Isaac snapped. He was stretching, pulling his arms high and bending up and down. It was ridiculous representation of how serious Isaac was going to take this race.

"I think I just gagged, fuck running." Stiles started making puking sounds and Isaac had to stop stretching so he could whack Stiles on the back of the head.

"You don't have to participate if you don't want to, but I have to admit I want to beat you at at least one thing," Boyd told Stiles, smirking.

"So competitive, all of you," Stiles grumbled, pointing an accusing finger at the group, "But I'm doing it anyway because I'm great at running and I'm going to beat all of you and bask in my glory.”

Turns out Stiles was actually terrible at running, at least when compared to the ridiculously athletic group. He came in dead last, Erica, who was fourth, a good foot ahead of him at all times. Derek and Boyd tied for second, both arguing that they’d been a few inches ahead of the other person, but everyone was too focused on not dying since in the 90 degree heat to know for sure. Isaac fulfilled his bragging and came in first, far above everyone else, his long legs and lithe body giving him a large advantage.

Isaac began parading around, putting on a much larger show than Stiles’ had, cheering and hissing like a real crowd of people. Stiles understood why Derek had been quick to pour water on his head.

Erica was eyeing Stiles’ dangerously, and he could see the plan forming in her eyes. They grinned at each other before racing to the cave to grab water guns. Derek and Boyd figured out their devious attack a few moments later and thundered after them. Isaac was too busy dancing to realize what was going on until he was soaked, sputtering water and shouting.

Another water gun fight quickly broke out, if only to allow Isaac to get revenge for the senseless attack. Derek and Boyd teamed up with Isaac, possibly because they pitied him or possibly to screw over Erica and Stiles. Regardless, Erica and Stiles knew they were fighting a losing game and sacrificed their lives valiantly. They jumped in front of streams of water haphazardly, just so they could hit the opposing team.

The rest of the day was lazy and warm, the group eating beans for a late breakfast, telling stories, and talking mindlessly. A few more games were suggested and even another race but most of them were turned down in favor of lying around, the heat getting to everyone. They did play a surprisingly riveting game of hopscotch, Boyd completing the course on his hands and Derek doing it with Isaac on his shoulders.

The day ended the same way as the last, with Isaac and Erica doing their fire chants, hot dogs being cooked and eaten, and then marshmallows being roasted. Isaac smushed his cooler treat onto Stiles face and then took off running, giggling and screaming. Stiles caught up to him and smeared chocolate into his curls.

Isaac reminded Stiles of Scott, just cockier. They were both infinitely sweet at heart though, and loyal to a fault. Stiles tried to push the memory of Scott away, not because he wanted to forget it forever, but because he needed to forget it for a while. It was hard to set aside memories of his past though, when he saw bits and pieces of his friends in the new group. Erica was confident and beautiful like Lydia and Boyd was stubborn and intelligent like his father. Derek was something else entirely, not a remembrance of the tragedies that occurred in Beacon Hills - his mother and Derek’s family- but rather a reminder that it got better. That had to be why he was clinging so tightly to Derek’s side.

It was Stiles who woke Derek this time, nudging him slightly. Derek blinked his eyes open carefully and then was suddenly at attention, concern etched on his features. He could go into battle then and there, just by being woke up. Stiles felt bad, realizing that Derek was probably always ready for the worst to happen, but knew that it was smarter to think like that. The worst would happen eventually.

“We can’t do this every night, Stiles,” Derek told him, once they were climbing up the rock castle.

“I know,” Stiles answered, “But how often are we going to have this castle?”

Derek didn’t say anything back, but he also kept climbing.

Once they reached the top, Stiles stood on the very edge and spread his arms out, hearing roaring in his head. He wanted to do something memorable while standing there, wanted to scream or holler or something, but didn’t want to wake anyone. He needed to capture this moment, where there were stars and Derek, sitting comfortably next to him, legs dangling over the edge. Thrills of energy were sparking through Stiles and he felt all at once, lost, like he was meant to be doing something and forget what it was. He spread his arms out wider and considered what it would feel like to take another step forward, to fall.

Stiles sat down next to Derek, both of their legs swinging, looking down at the ground.

"You're honestly the strangest person I've met," Derek admitted, after they sat for a while, breathing out the words like he’d been holding onto them for a while.

"Not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but I've been called worse, so thank you,” Stiles laughed, softly.

"Definitely a good thing, I think I need a little strange."

Stiles looked over at Derek in surprise. "You literally live with Erica, Isaac, and Boyd. Sounds like you're trying to drive yourself insane."

Derek chuckled at that, a low rich sound that Stiles knew made the stars shine a little bit brighter, but he was too busy watching every expression Derek's face held to check.

"I don't know, I mean I'm used to them. You're this new and different kind of infuriating. You challenge me like they never have.”

“Challenge you? Are you sure I’m not just annoying you?"

"I don’t know. I mean, Erica always says I’m closed off, I am closed off, but I told you about the fire. I barely know you, but I told you about that. I don’t know what that means.” Derek sounded baren, his voice stripped and clean. It made Stiles heart beat faster and slower, faster and slower, over and over again.

"Yeah, well I’m just glad you’re talking to me. If you were still barely saying anything, I’d just keep talking and talking to fill the space and no one wants that. My best friend, Scott, calls it my panic mode, and it tends to drive everyone crazy,” Stiles explained to Derek, not ready to really face Derek’s confession.

“I never said you didn’t drive me crazy, Stiles," Derek said, face expressionless before a smile burst through the seams.

"I could push you off this rock. It's like twenty feet, you'd probably break something."

"I'm the murderer, I'll kill you first."

"That joke is stupid and overused," Stiles retorted.

"You're the one who keeps saying it, that's why it's overused," Derek pointed out.

"Whatever, I'm cold, let's go back, you can carry me as an apology since you’re a dick," Stiles demanded, but Derek just started climbing down the rock ignoring him completely. "You just proved my point!" Stiles whisper-yelled after him, keeping quiet for the sake of the others.

"I could've pushed you off the rock," Derek just replied and Stiles glared at him before making his way down as well.

They slid into their sleeping bags as silent as they could be, still making Isaac groan and roll over, mumbling idle threats about wanting to kick Stiles in the stomach. He considered it a win when Isaac left his eyes closed and kept his legs to himself.

Stiles attempted to casually scoot closer to Derek, which wasn’t really possible to do in a sleeping bag. The fabric crinkled and Derek turned to face Stiles, raising his eyebrows.

“I’m cold… body heat,” Stiles half explained, shrugging.

Isaac grumbled profanities under his breath, so Derek quickly shut his eyes. Stiles did the same and smiled at the warmth that radiated off Derek when he was so close.

The cave was warm and he could hear everyone's breathing around him. Stiles didn't really believe in people saving other people from their own minds, but he did believe in helping people save themselves. This group of strangers, who weren’t really strangers anymore, had started to heal Stiles, at least a little bit. He felt safe, unafraid, for the first time in months.

------

I once heard that everyone wants to save someone and I think that on some level, that’s true. It’s more like, everyone needed to impact someone, or make a difference. One thing I’m scared of is dying with only insignificant accomplishments. I don’t need to be remembered by everyone, I’m not that disillusioned to think that I’ll become famous for generations to come. I just want someone to find an old photograph of me or something and tell their grand-kids about their friend Stiles. I’m not a very good friend, though, that’s the problem. I need too much help and I find that I’m often too exhausted to help others. I can listen to people talk, but I will ramble and interrupt on accident, because I don’t know what to say. I think that I used to be good at helping people, but there came a point where I needed to help myself, and that battle between kindness and selfishness has continued to haunt me. I’ve gotten to the point where I just sit quietly and try to ignore everyone and ignore myself. If I don’t truly exist, then it might not matter if I make an impact. -S

Sleeping bags were packed up late afternoon the next day; everyone had slept in and treated themselves to a late lunch of S'mores. Once everything was all gathered they began their trek back to the Barbie RV, it's bright pink letters a welcoming beacon that meant air conditioning and actual bathrooms. The camping had been great, of course, but Stiles had also gotten a light sunburn on his arms and the back of his neck, so the promise of cool air and sun protection was bliss.

Isaac collapsed onto the cool couch and practically moaned, running his arms up and down the smooth material. He looked spaced out, staring up at the ceiling and practically panting. Derek was leaning against the wall, looking cool as usual, but sweat was still dripping off of his forehead.

"Boyd and I are taking first shower!" Erica announced, grabbing her boyfriend's hand and leading him into the bathroom. Boyd skipped after her, grinning.

"Christ, Erica, you and Boyd?" Isaac gagged, as if he hadn’t been hearing the same shit from the couple for years, "Definitely not something I needed to hear.”

A moan that would put a pornstar to shame came from the bathroom a few minutes after they entered, high pitched and airy. Giggles followed it and a promise from Boyd that they weren't doing anything. Erica's, "Yet," followed by more giggles had Isaac groaning again and putting a pillow over his face.

"I'm going to sleep, fuck you Erica!"

Erica just continued to laugh, the trickling sound of the water being turned on drowning it out.

"It's your turn to drive Derek, start the car and stop being slow, I want pancakes," Isaac drawled, half asleep and eyes still shut.

"Fuck off," Derek muttered, picking up a pillow and tossing it at Isaac, who let out a little ‘oof’.’

"Don't worry Sourwolf, I'll keep you company," Stiles grinned and made his way to the passenger seat. Derek groaned, either at the nickname or the fact he had to drive, or maybe even both, but sat down behind the wheel anyway.

"Remind me about that nickname when I'm less sleepy," Isaac's muffled voice requested, face now pressed onto the cushion. Derek glared at him as if he could actually see his furrowed eyebrows, before giving Stiles the same look.

"You're just going to have to give me an equally embarrassing nickname," Stiles chuckled.

"Don't you already have Stiles?" Derek started the RV smugly.

"Ooh, burn!" Isaac yelled.

"Jesus christ Isaac, go the fuck to sleep already," Stiles snapped and Isaac's arm raised to flip Stiles off, but he still quieted, eventually his soft breathing the only noise coming from him.

Stiles plugged the car charger and the AUX cord into his phone, playing Sorority Noise and resting his feet on the dashboard. "Did Isaac mention pancakes?"

"Yeah, there's a diner on the edge of Vegas that we usually go to. There's a couple of shops there as well, it's nice." Derek's voice was dreamy and reminiscent, just like how any of the group sounded when speaking of past places and adventures.

"Well I'm always a slut for waffles," Stiles noted, "Hope they have those there."

"It's a diner, they have waffles," Derek replied, deadpan, "But don't let Isaac hear you prefer waffles, he already gets mad at me when I order them."

"Well we can stick together and be waffle buddies!" Stiles cheered. “Although, that sounds like one of those weird children’s shows where all the actors are in their thirties and sing so often they’re on the verge of a mental breakdown. We might need a new name, is all I’m saying.”

Derek took his eyes off the road for a second to give Stiles a look. It was a little bit of a 'what the fuck' look, but mostly endearing, like he was thinking that Stiles was the biggest nerd ever and liked it. Stiles just wanted to freeze the moment, before he melted, and stare at Derek so long, he could memorize all his features.

"The mascot of the show can be some guy dressed in a big waffle suit, with a square of butter for a hat," Derek added.

"Oh my god, sometimes you're so funny and it's amazing," Stiles praised.

Derek looked over at Stiles for a moment and smiled, chuckling slightly. The only other sounds in the RV were Isaac snoring, the shower, and the hum of the engine. Derek’s laugh could overpower them all, though, because when Stiles heard it, it was the only thing he could pay attention to. He felt so warm just listening to Derek laugh, even warmer still each time he felt Derek glance at him. He could study to, fall asleep to, even fuck to the soundtrack of Derek's laugh, as ridiculous as it sounded. It was mind numbing, bone melting, pure adulterated happiness in a sound.

Erica and Boyd stumbled out of the shower wrapped in towels and made their way into the bedroom. A few minutes later they stumbled out with damp hair and matching oversized Bob’s Burgers t-shirts, that nearly reached their knees and covered up the fact they weren’t wearing pants, only underwear. Derek grumbled about there being limited water, but Erica pointed out her and Boyd saved way more water just by showering together all the time.

Erica also informed Stiles that driving to the diner would take most of the day, so he was free to shower, but would have to nap in his seat, since Isaac had taken the couch and she’d called the bedroom. Stiles considered asking about the other bed, but then got the hint, when Erica and Boyd sauntered into the bedroom, Erica practically crawling onto Boyd before they’d even shut the door.

“You get used them,” Derek shrugged.

Stiles just sighed, leaning his forehead against the cold window and watching the desert pass by.

He must of dozed off, because suddenly his eyes were fluttering open, due to a crash in the kitchen. Stiles looked out the window to see it was nearly dark outside, the sky a light grey, with hints of oranges. Isaac was slamming cupboards open and shut, cursing about how he couldn’t find the pizza pan. He looked freshly showered, his curly hair glued to his forehead, water dripping off the ends and onto his t-shirt. Isaac eventually pulled out a circular metal pan, and slipped a frozen pizza onto it, before putting it into the oven.

Derek was still driving, singing along softly to the radio. Stiles’ phone was still plugged in, now playing Motion City Soundtrack. Derek’s voice was rough and a little bit off key, but he sounded happier than Stiles had ever heard him. When Derek noticed Stiles was awake and watching him, he looked bashful, shutting his mouth and putting his entire focus on driving.

He did, however, greet Stiles with a small smile. "Did you sleep well?"

"Yeah sort of, I don't ever really sleep well," Stiles admitted. Derek frowned at that but let it be.

Stiles stood and leaned to the side, cracking his back before heading into the living room. He gave Erica and Boyd a quick wave, the two snuggled up on the couch watching Archer on Netflix. They were using Boyd's phone, Erica typing frantically on hers.

"Just texting my mom, she always thinks I'm going to get mugged in Vegas," Erica laughed, "We don't even go to the strip, jesus."

"Hey, I understand. My dad tries not to be, but he can literally be the most protective person ever. When my mom died it intensified by like a million, the cop and single parent in him combining for one super dad," Stiles confessed.

"When did she die, Stiles? Are you okay?" Erica asked, voice polite and curious. No one had asked about it since he mentioned the death earlier. It was Stiles' fault, really, for bringing it up.

"Yeah, it was when I was seven. It's been a while. She had frontotemporal dementia, basically shrinks parts of your brain and shit. Kind of a slow process of going crazy. So, uh, not really fun or anything," Stiles rambled, awkwardly.

He still felt uncomfortable talking about his mom, memories of her mostly happy but stained by memories of the woman the disease left behind. The woman who screamed at him and told him he was the devil, and left a child scared of his own mother. Derek turned to look at Stiles carefully, nodding. It was as if he wanted to let him know that he knew the full story of Stiles’ mom and understood his hesitation to mention her. It was nice to know that Derek understood a piece of Stiles without Stiles having to talk about it. He knew that some part of him felt guilty for not sharing details with Derek, when Derek told him everything about the fire, but it was hard for him to talk, especially when everyone else was around. Maybe he could confide in Derek when it was late at night and it seemed as though everyone in the world was asleep but them.

“I’m sorry Stiles,” Erica said, simply. She didn’t waste time trying to come up with some gaudy apology, thankfully.

“It’s okay, like I said it was a long time ago,” Stiles laughed, awkwardly. He was sure everyone could tell how he still felt terrible about the situation, but no one commented on it. “I’m going to go shower now.”

Stiles turned the water as hot as it could go, forcing himself not to feel bad for possibly using all the hot water. The mention of his mother reminded him of the emptiness he had been running from. It kept creeping up on him, ruining every moment he had with these people. Stiles wished the water could get hotter, so he could burn the sick guilt that had bruised his body. He wanted to feel better, but he kept seeing his father in an empty house.

When the water became too much, Stiles carefully turned it off, marveling at his reddened skin when he looked in the mirror. He dressed slowly, like he was putting on war paint, getting ready for a battle. When he stepped outside the bathroom though, it didn't feel like war. It smelled like the pizza cooking in the oven and Erica, Boyd, and Isaac kept laughing at Archer. Derek was up front still driving, but his lips were moving; he’d taken up singing again. The RV was moving at a slow, steady pace, and Stiles tied himself to, breathing just as slow. It was easier that way, to take things slowly.

Erica smiled softly up at him, her face looking so much younger, so much more innocent, without makeup. Her eyes were analyzing his every move, making sure he wasn’t going to break down. Isaac and Boyd didn't look away from the phone screen, but Stiles had always known that Erica was much more perceptive of his struggles. Derek had said she wanted to save him after all.

Stiles wasn’t sure there was much left worth saving.

------

I’ve been essentially having a never-ending bad day for the past year. The type of day country stars write about, and the type they overcome by playing guitar or finding a pretty girl in a pickup truck. Okay, maybe that was a little unfair to country music, there are several good country songs. But anyway, this is why it came as a surprise to me when I realized that some of my pain had lessened. Good days are the only thing that gets anyone through life, especially when struggles seem never ending. I remember clearly the day Jackson drove me home from school when my jeep had been in the shop and we sang along loudly to Jimmy Eat World. We don’t talk about it and we fight more than we talk, but it was a nice day, regardless. I remember when Allison had Scott do her makeup for fun, so I did Lydia’s as well, and we laughed for hours at how terrible Scott and I were at applying eyeliner. I try to think back on those little moments, scattered throughout life, when I get in a really bad streak. I was worried I was going to run out of good moments though, until I met the group. Until I met a boy with dark hair and green eyes. His presence and my impending crush were inconvenient, but they did make me smile. I could worry about how my feelings would muddle everything up later, for now, I like having some more good moments. -S

The diner was literally in the middle of fucking nowhere and the middle of fucking nowhere was ridiculously far away. Erica had to take over driving for Derek at around 1am and he took a shower before flopping onto the bed. Stiles clambered in next to him, shoving Isaac out of the way, so he wouldn’t have to get the couch, and so he could be close to Derek, but no one needed to know that.

“I can’t sleep in Erica and Boyd’s bed, they haven’t washed their sheets yet,” Isaac groaned, eyeing the sheets in question with disgust.

“Take the couch, Isaac, Stiles is our guest,” Derek grumbled. Stiles stuck his tongue out at Isaac who grimaced back.

Isaac muttered all the way to the couch, but in the dark silence of the bedroom, it didn’t matter. Nothing else seemed important when their bare legs kept brushing against each other, both only wearing gym shorts. Derek’s back was facing Stiles and he stared up at the metal ceiling, counting breaths Derek took. He closed his eyes.

They got to the diner just past 5am and no one bothered to get dressed, all a little groggy. Erica and Boyd did put on some polka-dot pajama pants to protect their modesty, though. Stiles walked in with just his fuzzy socks, and waggled his eyebrows at Derek, who held in a laugh, only pieces of it bursting out. They got a booth and Stiles sat next squished up against the wall, Boyd in between him and Erica. Derek sat across from Stiles and Isaac next to him. Stiles kept kicking Derek to remind him off his own unsensible choice of footwear. Derek kept letting out little half-laughs and Boyd kept giving them curious looks every time they started snickering under their breaths. He didn’t say anything, just looked up from his menu every time they made any noise. Everyone’s main focus was ordering some breakfast food, the apparent food of gods.

Roxy's Rockin’ Diner was small and a little bit worn down; the floors were a lavender and white checkered design, stains littering the light colors. The plush faux-leather of the dark blue seats was starting to peel and the music playing from the jukebox in the corner kept cutting in and out. The counter remained elegant, a black, glossy color, that shined due to the light peeking in from large windows. The old coffee pot and bar stools with the same peeling leather as the seats made the counter look even more out of place. Doors behind the counter led to the kitchen, the strong smell of bacon and syrup coming from it each time they swung open.

The place was clearly old, but it had an indescribable charm to it. The walls were pale yellow and cozy, nearly covered head to toe in pictures of patrons with their meals. Everyone in them wore cheesy grins and some even had, ‘Welcome to Las Vegas’ hats as if they had been touring the city and stumbled upon this place. It was a far drive from the strip, which was nice, because the bustle of the city remained unheard. The few people in the diner were chattering loudly, but it was a nice noise. Laughter and good food paired together well.

Isaac pretended to gag when Stiles and Derek both ordered waffles and praised Erica and Boyd for copying his pancake order. They all did agree that milkshakes were the perfect drink though, despite the early hour. If you went to a diner and didn’t order one, you were ruining the experience for yourself.

They sipped on their shakes and debated about whether pancakes or waffles were better. Stiles talked extra loudly, if only to help their case, since him and Derek were outnumbered by one. He waved his hands around and blabbed on, even with globs of whipped cream in his mouth. Isaac was equally as passionate, nearly spilling his milkshake when he slammed his hands down onto the table.

However, the pair quickly shut up when they caught a glimpse of the waitress carrying over their food. Stiles gaped at his waffles, a stack of three on his plate, arranged nicely with a sprinkle of strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries spilling over the side. They were huge, probably the size of his entire head, if not bigger, and he almost didn’t wanted to bite into them, if only to save the aesthetic.

He couldn’t help himself from snatching up the bottle of syrup and pouring it over his food. His stomach spoke louder than his eyes, apparently, and Stiles was beyond hungry. The pizza last night had been the last thing he’d eaten.

“Jesus, don’t use the whole bottle,” Erica warned, making grabby hands at Stiles until he finally handed it off to her.

His waffles were drenched in the maple goodness and after adding a dollop of whipped cream, Stiles deemed his waffles ultimate perfection.

“Honestly, I would commend you for your excellent choice of waffles and not pancakes, but I’m pretty sure your meal is ninety-percent syrup at this point,” Derek teased, raising one of his eyebrows up at Stiles’ plate.

In retaliation, Stiles shot his fork out before Derek could even accompany his sarcasm with an official Derek Hale eyeroll, and stole a raspberry off his plate.

“Hey!” Derek complained, “Raspberries are my favorite!” He looked over to Erica, as if he wasn’t technically the dad of the group, and she just rolled her eyes before turning back to Isaac, who she was having a mini whipped cream battle with.

“Boys, play nice,” she warned, barely even giving them a second glance.

“Sourwolf is being particularly sour today,” Boyd noted, stuffing a large chunk of pancakes in his mouth.

Derek’s jaw hung open for a moment, before stapling itself shut tightly. His forehead furled, and fingers rested upon it, frustration evident. “Thanks for the nickname, Stiles.”

“I just can’t believe Boyd, of all people, used it,” Stiles laughed.

“I’m a man of many surprises,” Boyd replied, a small smile teasing at his lips. Erica kissed him on the cheek, as if in congratulation for making fun of Derek, and his smile grew to a full on grin.

Derek just shoved some waffles into his mouth, eyebrows furled down. It was hard for him to look all that angry though, with whipped cream dripping from his lips and hair still in a mess of waves from sleeping. Stiles gave him puppy dog eyes that would put even the great brown-eyed Scott McCall to shame, and Derek just sighed. He did purposely bump his feet against Stiles’s though, a small smile mostly hidden as he looked down. All was forgiven in the Barbie RV Adventure Squad.

------

A lack of innocence doesn’t mean a lack of integrity or character. Everyone idealizes this innocent hero who loves entirely and doesn’t believe in evil prospering. I remember when my mom first died and my dad wouldn’t stop screaming himself into fits and then drinking himself to sleep. I was seven years old and I hated him. I don’t hate him anymore, because I had nightmares so bad he had to hold me down so I wouldn’t hurt myself and he doesn’t hate me for that. He never did, because he wasn’t still holding onto purity. Nothing stays pure. I think by nature, humans are so messy. I mean, we fuck up so much there is enough inspiration for millions of novels and movies. We mess up enough there are albums upon albums about regret. I wish I’d never been a dick to my friends and I wish that they were always kind to me, but we as people, like to tear up our innocence as soon as we realize it exists. I know there are people out there better than me, but that’s okay. Sometimes I will hate them for it, I will hate someone simply for being more attractive than me and I wish I didn’t do those things, that I always had this level of clarity. But at the end of the day, I am still good. My dad is still good even though he gets drunk on the anniversary of her death, every year, without question. Scott is still good, even though he rejects every male role model because they remind him of his father. I’m still good even though I’m the one that walked away. -S

Despite being in a truly deserted area of Las Vegas, there was a good amount of tiny shops and souvenir joints by the diner. A few tourists lingered around, taking pictures and buying odd knick-knacks like beaded jewelry or clay pots.

It was barely hitting seven in the morning and the entire group was exhausted, especially Erica who had been the last one driving and hadn’t received another nap. However, they all ignored the bags that had taken camp under their eyes and decided to explore for a little while. Stiles prided himself on being resilient when faced with no sleep, Adderall and energy drinks his fellow warriors. He didn’t have either of the two though, and after far too much grumbling he settled for a coffee. Boyd let him borrow a dark blue travel mug from the RV that said, “Jessica: Party Girl Extraordinaire” on the side, so they could leave Roxy’s without having to commit mug theft.

“So, Boyd, is Jessica your alter-ego or something?” Stiles questioned, stifling a laugh and trying to look as though he were inquiring about something intelligent. They strolled through the area, searching for an interesting shop to enter.

“It’s what I moan when we’re in bed together,” Erica quipped, sticking her tongue out at Isaac who made gagging noises.

“Derek bought it for me for my birthday last year. Thought it was real funny,” Boyd answered, seriously.

“Oh goodness gracious, our poor sweet Derek calls you Jessica? Is that his kink?” Stiles laughed, not able to keep up his serious persona.

“My kink is punching people named Stiles,” Derek muttered, looking up at the sky as if he were willing the Gods to strike Stiles down with a bolt of lighting or maybe a rock.

“Oh, so BDSM is your thing?” Stiles asked taking a long sip of his coffee as he eyed Derek innocently.

Derek turned beat red and sputtered over his words while Erica straight up cackled.

“Ugh, my kink is leaving this disgusting conversation,” Isaac groaned, heading over to a store that was selling scarves and hats.

“I hate to see you go but I love to watch you walk away, baby!” Erica shouted after Isaac, who just flipped her off over his shoulder, not even bothering to turn around and fuel her antics.

“Christ, you and Stiles are the same person,” Derek complained to Erica, “It’s the worst.”

“That’s why it’s perfect we let him join us, he fits so well. Really fills out our group’s dynamic,” Erica said, smiling.

“What? Two sarcastic assholes make our group perfect?” Derek asked.

“Hey, if anything you and Isaac are the two sarcastic assholes,” Erica countered, “Stiles and I are the fun sarcastic assholes.”

“Yeah,” Stiles added, “And Boyd is our party girl extraordinaire.”

Boyd forced out a loud sigh, even though his girlfriend was once again on the verge of tears from laughing so hard. Derek was giving Stiles a look that was half, ‘I hate you’ and half ‘you are a genius’ and Stiles figured it was a win. That seemed like general consensus for his jokes, unless you were Erica who was a wonderful goddess and found them always funny.

The four continued to walk the streets, until eventually Erica spotted a store that sold vintage clothing and claimed she wanted some cool shoes. She latched onto Boyd’s hand and dragged him off with her, chattering about finding him a shirt that actually had a pattern on it. Boyd looked nervous about what his girlfriend was planning, but he let Erica drag him away anyway. Stiles gave him a salute before turning back to Derek.

“Well, looks like the group has abandoned us, whatever shall we do?”

“Honestly, I’m considering going back onto the RV to sleep and you probably should too, I think you’re next on the list to drive.” Derek let out a yawn, as if proving his point.

Stiles put his hands on his hips and glared up at Derek, “What! Where’s the fun in that Sourwolf? Come on, let’s channel our inner Jessica!”

“I’m all out of party girl,” Derek sighed, but followed Stiles as he strutted off towards a bookstore.

The inside of the store reminded Stiles of somewhere a witch or maybe a really creepy old lady would reside. It was dusty, and the floors were a scratched navy blue tile. Despite being relatively small, the owner had managed to squish in tons of bookshelves, tightly packed with narrow aisles. Each shelf also held far too many books, the worn wood looking like it could snap from the weight at any moment. Even though most of the walls were blocked by the dangerous shelves, they were still painted a deep maroon, posters with quotes from famous writers decorated the few visible spots. Up front, a young girl chewing bubble gum and reading a book sat behind a desk, feet resting on the surface. She glanced up at Stiles and Derek as they entered, offering a small wave, that seemed more out of courtesy than actual interest, before turning her attention back to her book.

“I think these shelves might collapse on us,” Derek noted, looking up at the one closest to him with disdain, “I vote sleeping.”

“I vote Derek sucks and should have some fucking fun,” Stiles said, “You’re a nerd, you should be salivating in a place like this.”

“A place that probably is failing some serious safety codes?”

“No,” Stiles sighed, before adding, “Well I mean it probably is, but like everyone knows that bookstores in the middle of nowhere have the best books. Haven’t you seen a movie, dude?”

“Fine, find me something interesting then, boy wonder,” Derek challenged.

He followed Stiles as they perused the aisles, squeezing their bodies through the tight spaces. Derek still look pained whenever he so much as brushed up against a shelf, but he kept his complaints to a minimum.

Stiles, on the other hand, was enjoying the library a lot more. He ran his fingers along the edges of old and new books alike, marveling at the different covers and strange titles jutting out at him. He felt as though he was a kid who had to touch everything in the store, much to their parent’s- or in this case Derek’s- annoyance.

The only sound in the room for a while was the steady breathing that came from the pair and the occasional loud smack of the store employee’s gum. Derek even had started to enjoy the place, the history lover in him marveling at all the old and new books alike. He stopped to read a few titles, crouching down and making Stiles stop and wait for him. They could get lost for a while, just like this, picking up random books to read and to share with one another.

Derek eventually found a book that truly peaked his interest: a large dusty copy of Greek myths. He settled into a lopsided bean bag that was stuffed in the back corner of the place, behind several shelves and far enough from the front desk that they couldn’t hear the girl’s gum anymore.

Stiles continued to walk the aisles, not yet finding something he wanted to read. There were so many possibilities, from Oscar Wilde to more contemporary authors like John Green. He stopped when he saw a sleek leather bound book and slid it off the shelf. It was a slightly tattered collection of D.H. Lawrence poems, a name that sounded vaguely familiar to Stiles from high school reading lists. Maybe Derek had slightly inspired him with his poetry reading earlier, but something about the book was calling to Stiles. It might have just been the aesthetic of reading an old poem in a dusty library, but Stiles kept the book anyway. He held it to his chest and joined Derek on the bean bag. It was too small and their knees clanked together loudly but besides a small wince, Derek didn’t look up. He was used to Stiles’ lack of personal space at this point. Plus, by the way he was nibbling on his bottom lip and narrowing his eyes, Stiles guessed Derek was lost in his book.

Stiles treasured the press of Derek’s body against his, his focus flittering between the words that were spilled on the pages and the idea that he was so close to the other man. He wondered if Derek was thinking the same thing or was so enthralled by Greek myths that he barely felt the presence of another.

“Want to hear a poem?” Stiles asked him, mostly to get Derek’s attention. He wasn’t even sure which of D.H. Lawrence’s work he’d share with Derek, but flipped to a random one that was short and simple.

“Hmm?” Derek questioned, glancing up at Stiles, puzzled from being interrupted from his reading.

“Well, you showed me yours, so I gotta show you mine right?”

Derek sat at attention and really looked confused now. He raised an eyebrow at Stiles waiting for an explanation.

“Remember? You read me a poem before, it’s mine turn to share something with you.” Stiles waved his book in front of Derek’s face, nearly clocking him in the nose.

Derek settled back into the soft chair, eyes not leaving Stiles’ face. “Lay it on me.”

Stiles gave a loud, deep cough, giving Derek a sign that he was about to start reading, before finally saying, “Uh, this is called 'Self-Pity' by D.H. Lawrence.”

Derek nodded, eyes warm, no judgement present in their kaleidoscopic swirls of green and brown. Stiles wondered why suddenly the relaxing feel of the room had been tainted with an edge of embarrassment, he was reading a poem that wasn’t even his for crying out loud. The close proximity of the two men felt intimate though and the romantic undertones that poetry held made the situation so much more intimidating.

He began reading, “I never saw a wild thing sorry itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.”

Stiles half expected Derek to start snapping like they were at an actual poetry reading, breaking the awkward tension that at least he was feeling with a comical gesture. Instead Derek just looked like he was pondering the words.

“Do you feel self pity?” Derek finally asked.

“I’m sorry?”

“Do you feel sorry for yourself? There has to be something wrong if you ran away.” Derek didn’t break eye contact, so Stiles had to, looking down at his lap, rereading the words on the page.

“I guess, I don’t know. Besides, I didn’t run away, I left a note and I called Scott, so there,” Stiles snapped, feeling anxious. The calm wave was crashing violently.

“I don’t mean it as an insult,” Derek quickly responded, “I just feel like the poem is pointing out how often humans keep looking behind their shoulder, living like we half expect that we can change what has already happened. Animals live in the moment because they simply can’t comprehend being held back by trivial things in the past.”

“Do you let trivial things in the past hold you back, Derek?” Stiles asked, wanting to pose his own question.

“All the time.”

“Like what?”

“Well, I hate fireworks now. I know that watching them isn’t essential to life, but I used to love the Fourth of July and running around with my sisters, sparklers in our hands,” Derek answered. “I don’t like the bright flashing anymore, they remind me fire and loud noises only stress me out. They sound like screaming.”

Stiles was taken aback by Derek’s harsh honesty, wondering if he was simply easy to open up to because their relationship barely spanned four days or because despite the lack of time their relationship felt personal and treasured. Either way, he wondered if he should have picked a less haunting poem.

“I mean, shit, I don’t think that counts as trivial.” Stiles finally stammered out.

“I suppose,” Derek drawled, “But, I think we hold onto self-doubt, self-pity, self-hatred, for far too long.”

“I think D.H. Lawrence has a point, that we should live in the moment a little bit more, but the past is what makes us us. I can appreciate humans being fucking assholes, because our bad experiences just make the good seem a lot better,” Stiles pointed out, “Also fuck, I wanna feel sorry for myself sometimes. I’m big enough to admit that.”

Derek just laughed, the sound mostly joyous, but with a hint of despair. Stiles couldn’t really read his face, Derek was too good at putting on a mask. He wondered if this was how his friends felt.

He looked down at his phone, twiddling it in his hands. He typed out a text to his dad that read, ‘Just wanted to say I’m doing okay. Love you, eat healthy pops.” He looked at his phone a couple minutes more before hitting send. He wanted so badly to scroll up and read the messages his dad had sent him, but forced himself to turn off the phone and pocket it. Derek had been watching his movements, had surely read the contents of the text, but didn’t say anything. He just nudged Stiles’ shoulder supportively.

“Listen dude, if D.H. Lawrence’s ghost is haunting this book, I have to appease him. I’m getting rid of some self-pity,” Stiles explained.

“He’d be proud.”

“Yeah, he better fucking be, we just discussed the shit out his poem.”

Derek let out a bellowing laugh, before falling into a fit of wheezes so loud the girl at the desk walked back over to them to make sure that no one was dying.

Stiles liked this real laugh better, the one that wasn’t hiding sadness. It felt a lot more like Derek.

------

I love this group with a such a ferocity it reminds me of how much I miss my old friends. I miss flipping through cookbooks with my dad, even though he was reluctant to do so, while we found healthy foods to make together. I miss Melissa treating me like her own son and scolding me for the pranks I’d play on Scott. I miss laughing with Allison about stupid things Scott did that made us love him more and bonding with her over our favorite action movies. I miss talking to Lydia for hours on the phone about nothing and everything all at once and having study-sleepovers with her. I miss talking sports with Jackson and him helping me train in lacrosse. I miss everything about Scott. So much it hurts me sometimes. I don’t love him anymore than the rest, but I just know he’s taking this harder than everyone else. My dad is taking it plenty hard, I’m sure, but Scott is going to entirely blame himself. My dad understands my irrational decision making - it comes from my mother. Scott understands me deeply but he always wants to fix everything and hurts his own heart when there’s nothing he can do. The little moments with this new group of people has both healed and bruised me. -S

When everyone reunited at the RV, it was almost eleven. Isaac was holding a small bag full of scarves, a new forest green one tied around his neck. Erica was carrying a couple bags in each hand while Boyd held three small bags, looking pained to even have them. Stiles chuckled to himself, knowing that they had to be items Erica had picked out for her boyfriend.

Stiles and Derek had bought their books they were reading and a big bag of gummy bears from a nearby candy store, Stiles warning everyone that they were his and Derek’s only. Isaac just laughed and stole a handful of gummy bears, narrowly dodging Stiles’ attempt to smack him.

“Well, now we begin our long trek to California,” Boyd announced, glancing at his phone to see the time. “We aren’t going to make it to our campsite until early tomorrow, so that means shifts for driving and no complaining about being bored, I want to make it there as soon as possible, limited stopping.”

Erica slung her arm around him, “Ooh babe, you’re so hot when you give orders.”

Everyone clambered onto the RV, arguments of who was going to drive first starting up until somehow Stiles ended up shoved into the driver’s seat.

“Told you,” Derek laughed, sticking his tongue out at Stiles, a sight that made driving a little bit better.

Erica, Boyd, and Derek made their way to the beds, still groggy, but Isaac plopped down in the passenger seat. Stiles knew that he didn’t hate him anymore, enough jokes bouncing between the two that they were at least amicable, but the fact that Isaac was willingly allowing them to have some one-on-one time together was surprising. Stiles must have been making a face, even though he was trying his best to focus on only the road and the GPS system, because Isaac laughed.

“Are we not allowed to hang out?” he questioned Stiles, “Is Derek the only special one?”

Stiles wished his skin wasn’t so pale, because his cheeks suddenly felt hot and he knew that his face was mottled red, the pattern spreading down his neck. Isaac laughed once more.

“I’m half convinced you’re waiting for the perfect opportunity to choke me out with one of your scarves,” Stiles joked, turning to his defense of sarcasm.

“Ha-Ha, the murderer joke has gotten old.”

“You sound like Derek.”

“Aren’t you two adorable.” Isaac’s voice was light and playful. Stiles felt heavy enough to fall straight through his seat and through the floor, left to skid across the road.

When Stiles didn’t respond, they fell into a brief silence as Isaac fiddled with the radio, trying to find a decent station to listen to. He settled on one that played old rock, before leaning back against his seat and once more turning to Stiles.

“Well, do you have a crush on Derek?”

The radio was loud enough and the bedroom far back enough that Stiles wasn’t worried about Derek hearing, but he still shushed Isaac anyway. “That’s none of your business.”

“Hey, I’m just fucking with you. If you wanna date him go for it, you only seem like a semi-asshole. I mean, really, that’s the best kind of person for Derek, he sucks,” Isaac responded. “But he’s also the best person I know, so don’t fuck with him.”

“Wasn’t planning on it.”

“You’re also still underage for like three more days so keep it in your pants, buddy.”

“Noted.”

Isaac smirked, “So does that mean you do eventually want to not have pants on with Derek?”

Stiles groaned, “Jesus christ, give me a scarf, I’ll just hang myself.”

Isaac didn’t say anything back, just grinned before standing and patting Stiles on the shoulder. He finally headed back into the bedroom and Stiles let out a sigh of relief. He also felt a little bit happy that if in some alternate universe Derek Hale of all people fell for him, at least Isaac would approve.

Stiles turned the radio off and focused on the robotic voice of the GPS.

------

I rarely have crushes on people. I get infatuated easily with beautiful people, but forming actual feelings beyond that is rare for me. I think that says something about me more than anyone else though. I find people I like to an extent, but I hardly ever find someone that would make me so happy just by holding my hand. In one of my favorite books, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, they talk about how the Beatles’ ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ was brilliant because it described the best sort of moment. The moment where you like someone so much that holding their hand feels exciting. I want that moment. I want the person that is going to hold my hand with such certainty, I know they truly care about me. I want them to know that I love them when I take their hand into mine. -S

Boyd took over for Stiles at four in the afternoon, which was probably for the best considering Stiles was close to falling asleep at the wheel. Stiles stumbled back to the bedroom, and crawled into bed next to Erica, taking Boyd’s spot. She grumbled a little bit at the sudden intrusion, but everyone was already awake due to Boyd’s alarm going off to let him know it was his turn to drive.

Derek and Isaac spoke in hushed whispers before Isaac laughed and stood up. Without warning, Stiles was pushed out of the bed. He let out a shriek at the cruel treatment, but quickly silenced himself when Erica sat up to give a glare to the three boys.

“I’m tired you dicks, what gives?” she asked.

“Derek requests Stiles’ immediate presence so we’re switching beds,” Isaac announced, not looking the least bit guilty for throwing Stiles onto the floor.

Erica looked truly annoyed, ready to punch someone. “Oh, for the love of… just stop being loud.” She pulled Isaac down next to her and then slid on some earmuffs that she had on the floor. Isaac pulled some earbuds out of his backpack, giving Derek and Stiles a knowing look, like he expected them to be annoying and talk.

Stiles slipped under the covers, next to Derek, the two face to face.

“You requested me?” Stiles finally managed to get out, after staring at Derek for far too long.

Derek seemed to remember that, yes, he had been the one who got Stiles yanked out of bed, stammering out, “Right, right.”

“So, why did you need me?”

Derek looked strained, like he was racking his brain for an answer, before finally settling with, “Isaac smells, so I kicked him out.”

“Oh,” Stiles said, somewhat deflated, half expecting Derek to confess something big.

“Yeah, oh.” Derek replied.

“So is that it?”

Derek surged forward, too fast for how close they were, and their noses collided. Before Stiles could even complain about the burst of pain, it was soothed with Derek slowing down and slotting their lips together.

Stiles knew that Derek hated fireworks, but he wondered if maybe this was an exception. Because as they kissed, it felt like little fireworks were setting off. It was disgustingly cliche and that somehow made it a little bit better. The sparks that everyone wrote about were real. The sparks that spread from Stiles’ gut and traveled up his arms, making his hairs stand up, were real.

Each movement of lips against lips was hesitant though, both nervous, both testing the waters before they fully committed. The pair was entirely too calculating to dive right in, Derek already being daring with the surprise kiss. They settled with slow.

Derek’s lips were soft and tasted like gummy bears and Stiles wondered if his own lips were too rough, because he bit them all the time but Derek didn’t seem to mind. He kept kissing Stiles, like he was drowning in him. Derek hadn’t shaved, and his stubble was almost a slight beard, thick and scratchy. Each time it rubbed against Stiles’ face he shivered, he needed that feeling to never go away, it was like a tether, something harsh to remind him that he was here and he was kissing Derek and it felt so good.

Eventually the slow was not enough, and Derek wrapped an arm around Stiles’ waist and pulled him closer. His nails were short, but he was clutching Stiles against him tight enough that Stiles could feel them dig into his side, even through his t-shirt. Stiles gasped at that and Derek used it as an opportunity to finally, finally, deepen the kiss. When his tongue brushed against Stiles’, Stiles couldn’t help but bring a hand up to twist into Derek’s soft dark hair. He needed something to hold onto, because he was going fucking insane.

They fought for control now, both wanting it for themselves and other person, a messy contradiction. This was desperate, sloppy kissing. It was wet, dripping passion and spit and feelings all over. They were tying themselves together, making a pact that they cared about one another deeply, that at least in this moment they cared so much. Stiles was kissing Derek with conviction, if only to tell him that he should always be kissed, to always be told he was the type of person who deserved fireworks and happiness and warmth. He deserved anything he wanted.

Derek nipped at Stiles’ bottom lip, mouth curving into a grin, before his tongue delved back into Stiles’ mouth, twisting around, making a home. Stiles knew he smiling too, both of them just smiling into their kiss like fucking idiots.

It ended in panting, and Derek having to pull back for air. He planted a kiss on Stiles’ forehead, then his nose, and finally onto his lips, a quick chaste one. He then settled back down, as if sated, pulling Stiles closer until Stiles’ head was lying on his chest, Derek’s arms wrapped around him and their legs twisted together. They both were hard in their sweatpants, but ignored it for now. They were two untrusting people, putting so much trust in one another already. For now, all Stiles needed was for Derek to keep holding him.

“Hey,” Stiles whispered out, voice quiet and nervous, “Does this mean you like me?”

“I think so,” Derek breathed out, a laugh mixed in with his words, “I mean, I kissed you and everything, so there’s that.” He paused. “Do you like me?”

“I mean I kissed you back and everything, so there’s that.”

“Yeah, yeah you did.”

------

Fear is all consuming. It starts as a heavy weight on your back, but then its tendrils wrap around to your waist and grow claws, ready to dig through your flesh and when you are ready for the pain to stop, for it to reach your heart and end it, it stops. The claws make their way out of your belly and they climb off your body entirely. But they left a message. They blackened your heart and reminded you to always be fearful. Fear leaves its mark. Can anyone truly get rid of it? Can anyone truly fight with a rotting heart? -S

Stiles woke up to an unfamiliar - but not unwelcome - warmth. It felt safe and comfortable like when he was younger and him and his mom would curl up onto the couch and drink hot chocolate under mountains of blankets. He wanted to clutch onto it, squeeze tight enough that his fingers left indents as if to say, ‘This here is mine. This is worth keeping. This is happiness’.

His head was pressed against Derek’s chest still, a darker patch left on Derek’s t-shirt from where he had so gracefully drooled. Derek’s breathing pattern was even, steady, chest rising and falling in a pattern. He was still sleeping. Stiles twisted up his neck to look at Derek. His eyelashes had always been dark and long, but now, so close to them, they looked even longer. He was fucking gorgeous, something pulled out of an old black and white movie, so elegant and perfect, and somehow placed into a bed next to Stiles.

Stiles briefly wondered if he could hold onto this moment forever. He wasn’t going to lie and say he wasn’t worried that when Derek woke up he would no longer want to stay in this embrace. He could picture Derek sitting up in a panic, seeing Stiles and trying to bolt out of the room. Stiles knew that just because Isaac approved of the possible relationship didn’t mean Derek would want it to go any farther. He chastised himself for thinking so negatively about Derek, sweet Derek who sat and talked about fucking poems with him, terrible, awful Derek who made mean jokes and rolled his eyes far too often. Derek the human being who had to like Stiles an awful lot to trust him so much after so little time. Stiles hoped he was right.

He turned his head as much as he could manage when still trapped in Derek’s arms and realized that the other bed was empty, Erica and Isaac having left the room. Neither of them had woken the pair up with a surprise photoshoot this time, or at least they were quieter as they took “adorable” pictures. The RV was still moving; they hadn’t made it to the campsite yet.

“Why are you wiggling so much?” Derek groaned, his voice weighed down with sleep, eyes still shut.

“I am a naturally wiggly person,” Stiles answered, not looking up at Derek, still scared.

“Well, we should probably get up anyway, I think it might be my turn to drive soon, it’s-” Derek paused to look at his cell phone and see the time, “12:19 am. I should have already been driving actually.”

Stiles held his breath and Derek untangled their limbs and sat up, running his hands through his hair, looking disheveled, tired, and still so very beautiful.

Before Derek could stand, Stiles clutched onto his hand, keeping the other man in the bed. “Now that it’s officially morning-”

“Barely morning,” Derek interrupted.

“Yeah, but it's still morning. So now that it’s morning, what do you think? Do you still like me?”

Derek looked stunned and Stiles expected him to walk away, stand up, and go drive. He wondered if the last three days of their trip would end in Derek and Stiles trying to impossibly avoid each other in the confines of the RV.

Instead, Derek leaned in and kissed him. It was short and sweet, and Stiles found himself chasing after it. Trying to get one more second of Derek’s lips before he pulled back. When Stiles got control of his senses, no longer high on a kiss, Derek was smiling, soft and gentle.

“I still like you. I still like you very much,” Derek promised. They were still holding hands.

“Yeah, but I’m seventeen and you’ve known me for like four days and I don’t understand why.”

“Well, you’re about to be eighteen, but we probably should avoid the whole sleeping together thing until then,” Derek admitted. “If you ever even wanted to sleep with me,” he quickly added.

“Wow birthday sex, sounds hot,” Stiles teased, feeling a little bit less fluid now, some confidence returning. “I’ve never done anything before though, so be gentle with me.”

“That right there is why I like you,” Derek said, “You’re so fucking ridiculous and it’s insane that you are still so intelligent despite it. You are brave, even if you don’t think so. You left home all on your own and own up to that. I just think that being around you makes me feel less cynical, because you’re someone that makes people happy.”

It was Stiles turn, finally, to the be the first one to kiss Derek. Derek melted into it, and they just sat there kissing. Stiles could feel every line on Derek’s lips, could taste his terrible morning breath and he fucking melted into it, because he didn’t know how else to say thank you. All he could do was press his body against Derek and hold him, mouths pushed together, tongues eventually meeting. Everything getting warmer and warmer.

Stiles pulled back. “I like you so much, because you have dumb eyebrows and dumb teeth, and I love it. I love that you can be so dumb and still so smart and that you read poetry and have an opinion about everything. Why are you so opinionated? It’s ridiculous I find it so endearing. Sometimes you barely talk and then other times you’ll monologue a life story and I love that. So many good people care about you and for good reason. You’ve made me feel safe for the first time in a while. You’re one of the good ones, Derek Hale.”

“You’re so beautiful,” Derek replied, almost in a daze.

“Is it weird it’s only been four days? I hate the whole soulmates cliche,” Stiles admitted.

“I mean, I’m not proposing yet, let’s just take it day by day,” Derek replied, “Besides, we’ve been stuck together this whole time. I was either going to kill you or kiss you, it was inevitable.”

“We’re going to be making murderer jokes on our deathbeds aren’t we?” Stiles laughed.

“Unless I’m the one who puts you on your deathbed,” Derek teased.

“What, to fuck me on?”

“You’re disgusting,” Derek groaned, he also kissed Stiles again. “The worst person ever.”

They could have continued their banter for hours if necessary, Stiles proud he had been successful in keeping Derek in the bedroom, if only to joke around and make out, but Erica paraded in, barely shocked at the sight of the two kissing.

“Listen boys, we’re about to get to the campsite, and I let Derek sleep without having a shift driving, so enough of the k-i-s-s-i-n-g, up and at ‘em,” she demanded.

“You’re ruining a moment Erica!” Stiles shouted after her as she exited the room with a toss of her hair.

“I’m pretty sure I’m going to be stuck driving the whole rest of the way, after this,” Derek sighed, standing. This time Stiles didn’t stop him, he instead took Derek’s hand and stood too.

“I’ll keep you company, sit in the passenger seat and tell jokes,” Stiles promised, as they exited the room.

They were greeted to wolf whistles and hollers and Boyd raising an eyebrow at their interlocked hands before continuing to read his book. Even Isaac looked back at them to waggle his eyebrows, despite the fact he was driving and really should of been focusing on the road.

Erica was in the kitchen, making oatmeal, as if midnight was really the appropriate time for breakfast. When Stiles saw she was only grabbing two bowls, he realized she must of been making the meal for him and Derek and decided not to question it. He was hungry after all. Making out and confessing your feelings all in the span of a few hours was tiring work.

“So, what, did Erica come out here and tell you scandalous tales of our hot makeout session?” Stiles asked the group. “Because really we had barely shared a couple of kisses this morning don’t listen to her lies.”

“Well, Erica and Isaac spun some pretty interesting story about how you guys had a whole make out session, complete with moans, last night,” Boyd said, this time not even bothering to look up. If he had, he would’ve seen red and shocked faces.

“Did you guys… watch us?” Derek hesitantly questioned, horrified.

“Geez, calm down, I just looked up and saw you guys kissing and went back to sleep. The rest of the story was assumptions, but looks like they were right,” Isaac laughed.

“I’m just glad you guys didn’t fuck while Isaac and I slept right next to you. I would’ve cried,” Erica added.

Derek looked insanely relieved, and Stiles couldn’t blame him. Scott had once walked in on Stiles jerking off and the awkward feeling every time they made eye contact went on for about three days. Scott also wouldn’t even sit on Stiles bed for a week and a half, even though Stiles promised he washed his sheets. In other words, some things shouldn’t be viewed by other people. Stiles wasn’t sure if he even minded PDA but he did know that the thing with him and Derek was too new and too private to be publicly viewed by their friends yet. Plus Isaac was a shit who didn’t deserve to see them making out.

“As if I haven’t walked in on you and Boyd doing unspeakable things before,” Derek muttered under his breath.

“Hey, keep insulting me and you don’t get any of this delicious oatmeal I made for you. I slaved over it for hours,” Erica warned, placing two bowls onto the table,

“I’m pretty sure we bought instant oatmeal Erica, so what was the hard part, pressing buttons on the microwave?” Isaac shouted back from upfront, laughing.

“Be careful curly, when you stop driving you’re gonna get it,” Erica yelled back before turning to Stiles and Derek. “Well you love birds, enjoy.”

As he shoveled hot oatmeal into his mouth with one hand and held Derek’s hand with the other, Stiles pondered over the fact that Erica had called them ‘love birds’. Stiles knew the term was for teasing purposes only, but the word love still had him feeling like he’d been knocked sideways. Like someone had thrown a brick at him with the word ‘love’ written on it. It was all very startling and ominous. Stiles didn’t think he was in love with Derek, not yet, it had been four days, and despite the fact that they had already learned so much about one another, he still felt like he couldn’t be in love after such a short time. Love was terrifying.

Scott’s guilty pleasure was rom-com films, probably thanks to Allison. Stiles wanted to make fun of him for it, but then Scott showed him Crazy, Stupid, Love and Silver Linings Playbook and The Proposal, and Stiles realized, that fuck, rom-coms could be seriously great movies. Stiles desperately craved what those people had because they always seemed so happy at the end. He felt like he was stuck at the point of the movie where the main character felt lost and saw love as a formidable beast. He didn’t know how to move onto the happy part.

He had seen love fuck people up tremendously and now that the buzz of kissing Derek had faded, Stiles felt scared. Not scared that someone wasn’t going to like him back, but scared that someone did like him back.

When his mom died, he saw his dad fall apart, and Stiles wondered if love was worth it. He knew that if he ever were to ask his dad, he would answer, ‘Of course it is!’ and then tell some sappy story about a date that he and Stiles’ mom went on when they were teenagers. But Stiles also knew that every time his mom got brought up, that that night his dad would have to drink at least one beer. They would both pretend this didn’t happen. This had been going on for nearly eleven years. Stiles tried never to bring her up.

He also knew that despite the fact that Scott preached love as the savior of the world, he sometimes hated Allison. They had broken up several times before and even though they were in a good place now, Stiles didn’t understand how so much hate grew around love. Scott would say that Allison had changed him for the better, but what if Stiles didn’t want to change? What if he didn’t want to ever have to fight like Lydia and Jackson did? What if he was worried that another person would make him happier, and he wanted to be happier on his own?

“Stiles,” Derek gently spoke, “You haven’t taken a bite of your oatmeal in about five minutes, are you good?”

Stiles could have said no, he was scared as fuck, and he could’ve told Derek he was a terrible person to start a relationship with, and he really really should’ve told Derek why he ran away, if only to reiterate the fact that he was a terrible person to start a relationship with.

Instead, Stiles replied, “I’m good, I’m good.”

Derek squeezed his hand.

------

I worry that I haven’t jumped enough in my life. I am stuck glued to the ground trying my hardest to take a step forward. I have progressed somewhat, but I’ve never made that final leap to something good. One of the reasons Malia and I broke up was that she felt I was too distant, too unobtainable. I agreed, and that’s why I didn’t put up a fight when she walked away. I’m happy with Derek, I’m still scared, but I’m happy, yet I still wonder if I should’ve fought when Malia left. Should that have been the moment where I jumped? I don’t want to wake up one day full of regrets and memories of me standing still while people lived all around me. That’s how I felt when I was in Beacon Hills and that’s why I ran. I don’t think that was my big moment, my big revelation, though. I feel too guilty and dirty from doing that. If anything, leaving was me taking several steps backwards. There is still something in life that I am missing. I don’t know how to jump forward and grab it, though. -S

The group did make Derek drive the rest of the way to the campsite. It was only four more hours, which was what each person usually drove, but Stiles still offered to take over at the three hour mark. Derek refused, of course, because he was a stickler for the driving shift system they’d set up. Instead they talked, Stiles staying true to his promise that he would keep Derek company the whole time. He also kept his promise of telling Derek jokes, although most of them were puns that Derek groaned at.

When they arrived, Erica let out an excited hollar, waking Isaac who had been dozing on the couch. Apparently her favorite part of the trip was camping in the woods because she loved hiking, and within twenty minutes of parking, she had Boyd and Derek helping her set up tents.

The site was a cleared out spot of dirt, in an area of the woods that was approved for hiking and camping. It was thick into the forest, but a trail led straight from the ranger’s office to the top of the large hill the forest was located on. They were only about halfway up, but Isaac explained that most people wanted to be at the top of the hill so they could look over the cliff’s edge. The group tended to avoid crowds, using the trip as a way to bond, so hidden in the forest in an abandoned spot worked fine for them.

Since the other three were working on the tents, Isaac led Stiles back into the RV to get a generator and some sparkly white Christmas lights to decorate the spot.

“I feel like this generator could be used for something more important than Christmas lights,” Stiles commented as he lugged the heavy thing out of the RV.

“You haven’t seen how pretty they look, like fairies. Now don’t be a dick,” Isaac replied.

Stiles laughed, but helped string lights around the trees in a large circle anyway. As he wrapped the lights around the last tree, Stiles noticed there was something carved into the bark. It was a heart, with V.B. + E.R. added inside of it.

Derek snuck up behind Stiles to wrap his arms around his waist and stare at the heart with him. Stiles was only mildly scared, and by mildly, he meant he jumped and practically slapped Derek in the face with all his flailing before he realized who it was.

“Do you guys know who carved this?” Stiles asked.

“Boyd and Erica. Boyd’s real name is Vernon, Boyd is just his last name. And then Erica is Erica Reyes,” Derek explained. “Has no one told you Boyd’s real name? Wow.”

Stiles knew that Derek didn’t have any mean intent behind his words, didn’t mean to make Stiles feel alienated from the group, but that didn’t change the fact that Stiles did feel distant. He kept reminding himself that he’d barely started the fifth day of hanging out with these people and suddenly one of them had their arms wrapped around his waist. And that suddenly he was kissing one of these people and thinking about love like he had permanently situated himself into their family. Stiles knew he was still an outsider, in the end he wouldn’t know everything or every story that they all knew. He also knew that it was stupid to worry so much about that, but he already felt far away in his old group of friends. He didn’t need it anymore. He also couldn’t breathe with Derek’s arms around him anymore.

Stiles softly nudged Derek away, and then harder when Derek didn’t realize he was trying to squirm out of his arms. When Derek finally pulled back he gave Stiles a puzzled look.

“I just want to keep helping everyone set up,” Stiles explained.

“I think all we have left is loading sleeping bags and pillows into the tent,” Derek said. “Three people is more than enough to do that.”

He stepped towards Stiles and Stiles flinched back. Derek looked confused, a lot like someone who had just been slapped. There was a sort of stinging feeling permeating the once clear forest air. Stiles bit his bottom lip so hard he wondered why it wasn’t drawing blood.

“I just want to be useful, Derek, okay,” Stiles finally said.

Derek nodded and let Stiles walk away, back to the RV to start grabbing sleeping bags. He stayed staring at the carving on the tree and Stiles wondered if they would ever carve something of their own onto it. He hoped that Derek was thinking about whole hearts still and not breaking ones, not yet. His feelings were constantly contradicting each other. Stiles didn’t want to destroy this so soon but he felt it was only a matter of time. His head only felt clear when he wasn’t with Derek. Or maybe it was just too clear with Derek and he’d grown used to the static.

------

Once upon a time, there was a kid who was terrified of his shadow. I mean fucking scared, up to the point that he tried to avoid the sun. His mom joked he was a vampire boy until she realized that he really had a problem and asked him why he wouldn’t stand in the sunlight. This boy responded, “Mommy, there is a dark figure following me.” And his mom stared into his eyes and asked him to show her. He hesitantly ventured into the sun, and showed her the shadow right next to him. He was scared but felt better squeezing her hand. And she looked between him and the shadow and laughed. The kid laughed too, but he wasn’t really sure why they were laughing. She explained what a shadow was, how it was just another part of him, a shape created by rays of sunlight. His mom promised him that there was nothing to be scared of because the shadow, it was harmless. She showed him hers and told him that their shadows loved each other very much, just like how they loved each other very much. He watched their shadows hug as he and his mother hugged. Her explanation only made him feel a bit better. What really made him understand that shadows weren’t a danger was that when she first saw his, she laughed. And that melodic, bubbling sound that spilled from her lips told him that whatever a shadow truly was, it was something beautiful. Because it made his mother laugh and that had to mean it was something good. He knew that he loved her and that she loved him and that their shadows loved one another. But most of all, he knew that he would give anything to hear her laugh again. A special sort of love is required to understand a laugh, to believe a laugh more than logic. Sometimes the sound, the feeling, of love is more powerful than anything else. -S

It was seven in the morning by the time the group deemed everything set up. They decided on a hike, which Stiles was honestly against, especially when he saw everyone making sandwiches and realized it was going to be a long one.

The hike was to the top of the hill, which took two hours there and back and Stiles managed to stick by Isaac’s side the entire time. It wasn’t fair to Derek and Isaac kept giving him strange looks, but no one decided to butt in and demand why Stiles was giving Derek the cold shoulder. He wasn’t entirely ignoring Derek, but he was giving him short answers to any questions and trying his hardest to start conversations with only Isaac. Derek got the hint eventually and traveled up front with Erica and Boyd.

When they reached the top, Erica had another hiker take a group picture of them and shoved Stiles right next to Derek. Derek wrapped his arm around Stiles and Stiles hoped that his smile didn’t look too fake. Based on the pictures hung up in the RV Stiles knew that Erica treasured photos. Maybe if he fucked things up badly enough during these last few days of the trip, she would never even want a picture of Stiles hung on the wall of her vehicle.

When they arrived back at the campsite Boyd pulled out a lanyard kit and this time Stiles stuck to his side, pretending that he didn’t know how to make lanyards, as if he hadn’t been the master of them at the summer camp he and Scott used to go to when they were younger. Boyd didn’t seem to mind teaching him and Stiles ignored the fact that Derek looked like he minded a lot.

It didn’t get dark until around eight, and Isaac excitedly powered up the generator and switched on the Christmas lights. They suddenly were enclosed in a circle of little sparkling dots, the stars in the sky just adding to the magic. Isaac had been right, the lights really did look like fairies. Isaac turned on some slow indie song and leaned back against one of the trees to survey the ethereal scene he had created in a matter of minutes. Erica and Boyd decided to slow dance and Stiles wanted to hate them for it. He didn’t mind their relationship, it was cute, but their dancing was what inspired Derek to walk to him, shyly.

“Do you want to dance too?” Derek asked Stiles. It felt very middle school dance-like except the awkwardness was from the fact that Stiles had been acting like a major jackass the entire day.

“I-” Stiles faltered, he didn’t have an excuse for why he wouldn’t dance with Derek except that he was scared and that already sounded stupid enough in his head. It would be truly idiotic to utter those words aloud.

“What? Are you still avoiding me?” Derek questioned. His voice was steady, but held a bite to it. He was ready to hiss and strike at any moment.

“I was never avoiding you, I like other people too,” Stiles snapped back.

“Yeah, but other people you didn’t fucking make out with last night,” Derek retorted, angry this time. There was no more steady, the scale had tipped.

“Fuck you, we didn’t fuck last night, we kissed. That’s it,” Stiles growled. He was aware that everyone was staring at them now.

“Yeah, of course we didn’t fuck because you haven’t fucked anyone. You’re a fucking virgin remember? You’re too busy acting like you like people only to push them away like they mean nothing.” Derek hissed back, then instantly looked like he regretted his words. His eyes widened and he reached for Stiles.

Stiles just shook his head and side stepped away from Derek’s hand. He held back tears as he stormed into the tent that he and Derek were meant to share of all things to grab a flashlight, before fleeing into the forest.

He stopped when he reached a large, flat, boulder, sitting and finally crying. It felt like someone was standing on his stomach, forcing everything out. Every mess that he’d been trying so hard to simultaneously create and clean up were leaking out into the open. He had just wanted it all to stay hidden, he wanted to be happy for more than a few days.

“You know, you have to run a lot farther if you want to really hide. Also you should probably turn off your flashlight,” Isaac said. He sat down next to Stiles and they were both quiet for a while, as Stiles wiped away his tears.

“You must think I’m the biggest dick. Not even twenty four hours into our relationship and I already fucked with Derek. I did exactly what you asked me not to do,” Stiles eventually spoke.

“Yeah, I mean you kind of turned into an asshole in a matter of minutes and that sucked,” Isaac admitted. He didn’t yell at Stiles, at least not yet, with relieved Stiles.
“Although Derek’s whole ‘oh you’re a virgin hahaha’ thing wasn’t nice either. I’m sure Erica is yelling at him about that as we speak.”

“I know I was being awful and I also know I don’t want Derek to be yelled at because I do want good things for him. It was just, Erica mentioned love birds this morning and then I saw the heart she and Boyd had carved into the tree and I found out Boyd’s first name and I don’t know, I panicked.”

“You started avoiding Derek because Boyd’s name is Vernon?” Isaac asked, confused. He was probably the worst person to be having this conversation with.

“No, jesus christ,” Stiles ran his fingers through his hair, tugging so hard it hurt. “Can I tell you why I left home?”

Isaac opened his mouth to say something before shutting it and nodding.

“Okay, well when my mom died, I was sad for a long time. My dad was suddenly drinking a lot and ignoring me because I look a lot like her and I know he wishes he could take it back now, but fuck, it was hard then because I felt like an outsider in my own home.” Stiles paused to breathe, feeling his eyes dampen once more. “Then I met my best friend Scott and it was great, we were more than best friends, we were brothers. And it stayed great until high school when Scott offered this girl Allison a pen and suddenly they were dating and I forced to hang out with my crush Lydia and her boyfriend Jackson feeling like a third wheel and feeling so distant from Scott. I grew out of my Lydia infatuation, thank god, but everyone had somebody except me.

“I started dating a girl named Malia, a while later, but really I could never like her as much as I should have. We broke up shortly after. And I was alone again. And holy shit, this sounds so fucking dramatic, but I felt like an outsider again. I felt crazy because I can’t make myself open up because I keep seeing people walking away. I tell myself that people are always going to find a reason to leave so I make them leave before it’s possible. I’m scared of giving someone the power that my mom had. I got lucky with people like Scott, Lydia, and even Jackson and Allison who deal with my shit, but that’s probably because lately I only see them in short waves. I don’t even tell them anything about myself because I figure what’s the point?”

“So you left because you were alienating yourself and blamed your friends for it?” Isaac asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Before my mom died, she got really sick and delusional and told me it was my fault she was in pain and that she couldn’t wait to leave me and then she died and she did leave. So, I feel like that’s reason enough to fucking be scared of permanence. I figured if I left for a little bit, I could calm myself down and stop feeling so anxious all the time and maybe I could stop thinking I needed to push people away. Or that I had to be happy at every second to deserve friends, I don’t know. I never expected to meet you guys and Derek and feel like I’m a part of something again only to realize I barely know any of you and that eventually you’re going to leave too. I was scared. I’m still scared. I’m scared of facing Derek and of facing everyone back at home. I feel this indescribable loneliness wherever I am. Like I’m alone with my pain, my problems, all of it.”

Isaac didn’t respond for a while, he looked down at the ground and turned his flashlight on and off and Stiles felt really stupid and really selfish all at once.

“I just didn’t want to make Derek deal with all that,” Stiles said.

“It’s not a competition of who leaves first with relationships, Stiles. It’s also not a test. Sometimes people leave and sometimes they stay right next to you but still manage to leave. It’s shit, but don’t force it.”

“Thanks for that advice, I feel like I’m ready to face my commitment problems head on,” Stiles muttered, which wasn’t fair, he knew that, but he was still upset and why was Isaac the one sent to talk to him?

“All I’m saying is try,” Isaac sighed. He paused and looked like he was deep in thought, trying to make a decision. “Can I tell you a story?” he finally asked.

Stiles wanted to say no, but Isaac had listened to his rambling so he knew that he owed the guy the courtesy of listening to him speak. He nodded.

“You told me a story of how you felt like you lost your family, so I figure I should tell the story of how I wished I could lose my dad,” Isaac said. His voice was so low and Stiles recognized the fearful edge it had taken, something he never expected from the sarcastic, silly Isaac.

“You don’t have to tell me why you hate your dad, Isaac,” Stiles whispered. He was worried he would be right about how Isaac’s story went.

Isaac ignored Stiles and continued. “I never knew my mother, she died in a car accident when I was still a baby. My dad was sad sometimes, but I don’t really remember it. He was great when I first growing up, really happy. He was great to both my brother, Camden and I. He could get really mad sometimes, but he never did anything beyond spanking us. It was when I was eight and Camden, who was eleven years older, died overseas that something in my dad broke. I wish I was enough to fix losing a wife and a son, but I wasn’t. I knew my dad sometimes cried about my mom but I never saw him cry about Camden. Never. Instead, he screamed about him dying. He screamed at me. I learned to scream back, he learned to hit me, a never ending fight.”

“Isaac,” Stiles said. Isaac didn’t look up from the ground.

“I made the mistake of hitting him back when I was ten. He learned how to really make it hurt then. He punched me so hard he broke my nose. Then he twisted back my arm and told me that if I ever laid a hand on him he would break my arm. I spit in his face. He did break it and I wished I would black out, but instead I just screamed and sobbed until eventually he told me to shut up or he’d break the other one. I believed him finally, I shut the fuck up. I agreed to tell the doctor I fell out of a tree when I was climbing.”

Even though Isaac eyes were directed at the dirt, Stiles could see how recalling the memories was draining him. His shoulders were hunched together and his voice kept wavering. He kept sniffling too, but Isaac didn’t cry. He had probably spent years crying over this. Yet Stiles knew that didn’t mean much. Sometimes crying was the only weapon you had.

“Soon I got hit for anything. If I had a C on my report card I was hit. If lacrosse practice ran late, hit. If my voice held any malice towards him, hit. Once someone rear ended his car and I was beat because I was in the passenger seat. That one never really made sense to me, but I suppose it didn’t have to. He didn’t need a reason anymore. There were days where I wanted him to beat me if it meant he didn’t have to hold anymore hate and sadness over my mom or my brother. But he didn’t run out of hate. Sure, sometimes it subsided and I saw a glimpse of my old dad, but it always returned. Most of the time I just wished he would die and I hated myself for thinking it, but I did wish it.”

Isaac was crying now. Stiles took his hand into his own. He knew a squeeze of the hand wouldn’t solve everything, or really solve anything. But Isaac clutched onto it so tightly. It was a temporary lifeline. Stiles wished more than anything that Isaac would stop crying because the only reason he was telling this story was to teach Stiles something. He always felt selfish and now he felt like he had sunk so low.

“My dad died when I was seventeen. Someone stabbed him when he was walking back to his car from work. I was sickeningly overjoyed and sad all at once. Then the cops had the audacity to question me as a murder suspect. Apparently I had the most motive to do it - the neighbors had heard us fighting before - and nothing had been stolen from him, so why would a random person kill him? I wanted to show them the scars on my back or the freezer he locked me in when I was particularly annoying. I didn’t do any of that, I mostly just screamed at them that I was innocent and I finally I understood why my dad just needed to hit someone and I felt horrible for it.

“I thought I was going get blamed for everything, when a college student who worked at a gas station came forward with tapes from their security cameras. The gas station was a few buildings down from my dad’s office, and apparently the place had been getting vandalized a lot lately, so they put up cameras that faced the street. He turned in the footage to the cops and they ended up arresting the man who killed my dad, a druggie who wasn’t even in his right mind when he did it. Someone who didn’t even really remember killing a monster had ended years of my pain. I wasn’t sure how to feel about that. The gas station clerk offered to drive me home and gave me his number if I ever needed anything. It seems a little weird now, I threw away the number at first, but then the dreams of my dad beating me started and I didn’t have any friends. I’d distanced myself in high school like you’re doing now. I was scared of people disappointing me like my dad. I called the gas station clerk, we became friends, and now I live with him.”

“The gas station clerk was Derek?” Stiles asked, although he knew the answer.

“Yeah,” Isaac let out a breathy laugh, sobs mixed in. “Derek is good at saving people. The point of this whole fucking story is that we all have fucking shit we deal with Stiles. I’m not trying to say my pain is worse than yours or that yours is worse than mine. We all fucking feel alone with our pain though, that much is true. We all feel alone sometimes, even when people reach out to us. I didn’t ever want to trust Derek or Erica or Boyd, but they helped me get into college and they gave me a new home. It was the first time I’d let people in in years and it felt so relieving. Sometimes people being there isn’t enough but sometimes it’s everything. You don’t always have to be alone with your pain. Let people stick by you and give them a chance to help you. They can’t help if they don’t understand why you’re hurting. Give them a chance, Stiles.”

“What if I don’t know how?”

“You’ll figure it out, trust me. If you really care about these people, you need to try. You have a chance to not only have us as a family, but to make amends with your old one. Don’t waste it.”

They walked back to camp together, not speaking, just heading towards the distant lights that were still hanging from the trees, still glowing. When they made it back, Isaac gave Stiles a small smile, so different from the scowl he’d given him that first day they met. A lifetime had passed in five days and Stiles was thankful.

Erica and Boyd were in their tent but Erica poked her head out of the flap to wave at Stiles. She didn’t need an apology, both her and Boyd too understanding for their own good, but Stiles still mouthed, ‘I’m sorry.’ She smiled, nodded, and allowed Isaac to enter the tent, before retreating back inside.

Derek was asleep in their tent, but sat up at attention when Stiles entered.

“Stiles, I’m so fucking sorry,” Derek spoke, voice unwavering, strong and full of regret.

Stiles nudged Derek over and forced himself into the sleeping bag with Derek, thankful for how large it was.

“Shh, you have nothing to apologize for, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’m stupid,” Stiles whispered into his ear.

Derek turned to face him, “I’m still so-”

“Just hold me,” Stiles interrupted. “For tonight just hold me. I know it’s selfish, but please. Tomorrow we can talk about everything, but for now I just need you to hold me.”

Derek’s mouth opened and closed several times before he met Stiles’ eyes and nodded. Stiles turned his back and snuggled up against Derek’s chest. After a moment, Derek wrapped his arms around Stiles and pulled him even closer.

Isaac was probably the best person to talk to about everything, Stiles decided. He was also right, sometimes people felt alone with their pain.

But sometimes, for a moment, a person can share that pain with you. For a moment the pain subsides and there is just love.

------

People are stupid, that is a fact. I am stupid and so are you and so is everyone around you. We make terrible decisions and sometimes we don’t ever fix them, we just let them fester and ruin us. But past our stupidity, we are so passionate and intelligent. We don’t just fight and break things. We create things and when we truly love, we are not careless. The love that is true, the kind that poets scrawl onto pages, and people go on and on about does exist. It lives in many forms, in the form of a friend, a lover, a pet. Not all powerful love is romantic and I think people forget that. We are not stupid when we trust in a friend and feel at home when we are with them. We are truly great people when we care for an animal and they care for us back, when we earn trust from something purer than a human will ever be. Romantic love is wonderful too. Freeing you and consuming you in each gasp. I have never felt more intelligent and sure of myself when I have all of this love swirling around me. -S

“I think I love you,” Derek told the Stiles the next morning, just as he was waking up.

“Is that so?” Stiles asked. He blamed the stupid words on the fact that he was still wiping sleep from his eyes.

“Yeah,” Derek said. “Well actually, I know I love you. I love you so much, Stiles Stilinski.”

Derek said the words with such ferocity and passion that Stiles felt less afraid. He was always going to have some fear, he knew that, but it had lessened.

“I love you too, Derek Hale,” Stiles said. Fear didn’t stand a chance anymore.

“Why did you push me away yesterday?” Derek asked.

Morning bled into afternoon as Stiles repeated to Derek what he told Isaac. Derek understood pain and lack of courage, had spent so long running from memories of a family burning. They argued, sure, especially when Stiles told Derek he felt alone. But they also kissed. They kissed softly, and hard, lips bruising as they met. Derek kissed Stiles and told him he wasn’t alone. Stiles kissed back and told him okay. Their mouths met and they both realized, that past the terror and the agony, that they had each other. And that was enough. Stiles didn’t kid himself into thinking it would always be enough, pain had a way of pulling people apart, but love also had a way of pulling them back together.

When they emerged from the tent it was a little bit past noon and there was a note taped to the other tent that read, ‘We didn’t want to intrude on your lovey-dovey sad talk. Meet us at the stream -Isaac’ in barely legible handwriting. Stiles knew that if Isaac could still joke after last night, anything was possible.

“What’s the stream?” Stiles asked as he and Derek got dressed.

“I would hope you would know what a stream is,” Derek teased, before pausing and looking at Stiles as if he wasn’t sure if it was too soon to start joking around with one another.

Stiles surged forward, kissing Derek, nipping his bottom lip lightly before pulling back and continuing to get dressed. “I love you, stop being weird.”

Derek’s smile was conformation enough that things would be okay again.

“You still never said you knew what a stream was,” Derek laughed.

“Fuck you, bunny teeth,” Stiles huffed back.

Derek groaned, “I think I like Sourwolf better than that.”

“The two are interchangeable, bud. Get used to it.”

The stream turned out to be an actual stream, go figure. It was flowing slowly, and the clear water revealed smooth rocks at the bottom. Isaac, Erica, and Boyd were all in swimsuits wading in the water and talking. When Stiles and Derek walked up, Erica quieted everyone so she could begin singing ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from the Lion King.

“It’s not even night, it’s 11:32 a.m., you morons!” Stiles yelled at them, blushing slightly at the singing. This only prompted Isaac and Boyd to join in too.

“Wait, why aren’t you in your swimsuits?” Isaac asked, noticing their attire.

“Well, Stiles doesn’t have a swimsuit, he has three outfits, so I figured I’d just not swim with him,” Derek explained.

“Awww,” Erica teased, pretending to swoon, falling back onto Boyd.

“Yeah, that’s adorable,” Stiles laughed. “But I’m swimming anyway, suit or not.” He started to strip off clothes and Derek’s eyes widened comically. It was like he was a cartoon character seeing their crush for the first time. Stiles had never felt this desired by someone before, always feeling like the funny guy more than the guy people wanted to date. It left him feeling strangely powerful. They’d briefly seen each other undressed when they were changing, but had been quick and fleeting, awkward glances in a too-small tent.

“Derek, how do you feel about lending Stiles to Boyd and I for a threesome?” Erica asked, batting her eyelashes and eyeing Stiles’ body. He was now down to only his Batman boxers.

That shook Derek out of his daze and he rolled eyes before stripping off his own shirt. It was Stiles’ turn to be taken aback by the god that was Derek Hale shirtless. He had an actual fucking six pack, like he was yanked out of a magazine. When he was finally undressed Stiles wolf whistled, much to the embarrassment of Derek.

“Spin in a little circle Derek, show off your ass,” Erica shouted.

“I second that notion,” Stiles declared.

Derek quickly spun in a circle, barely giving Stiles a glimpse of his butt when it was only covered with tight boxer briefs. It was still enough for Stiles to decide it was the best butt he’d ever seen. Derek quickly lowered himself into the river, face red. Stiles followed him, laughing and giving Derek a quick kiss on the cheek.

“Love you,” Stiles whispered into Derek’s ear, but Boyd was close enough to hear Stiles’ words.

“Love?” Boyd questioned, not even bothering to hide his smirk at Erica and Isaac’s gasps.

“Our very own Der-Bear and Batman love each other?” Erica squealed.

Before she could get out of hand with the over dramatic reactions, Stiles splashed her in the face with water. That of course led to a water fight to the death. Erica shoved Stiles’ head underwater and laughed as he came back up sputtering water, hair sticking down onto his forehead. Isaac mentioned something about how Stiles resembled a drowned rat, and well, water fights took up the rest of the afternoon. Laughter and the sounds of splashing and squeals filled the forest.

That night Isaac and Erica brought back their campfire chants, and even taught Stiles how to do their “magical” dances. He tripped over his own feet and fell, clutching his stomach from laughing more than anything, but it was still fun. They finished the evening with s’mores and a argument about which of Isaac’s scarves were the best, forcing Boyd to model all of them.

Tomorrow was going to be Stiles’ eighteenth birthday, but he would stay seventeen forever if it meant living in the moment where everything smelled like a campfire, woodsy and burnt, and everything felt peaceful and healed. Happiness was fleeting of course, but for a night, Stiles was seventeen and he could stuff his face with s’mores and not worry about anything but how Boyd really couldn’t pull off pink fuzzy scarves.

------

Proving yourself wrong is one of the most important things you can do in life. Sometimes all you need is to realize that, ‘Oh shit, I really can do this’. I never thought I could fall in love, not entirely, but now it’s all I can think about. I wonder how I’m ever going to explain to Scott that I ran away from home and came back with a boyfriend. I think I am going to go back after our last day on the beach. I owe it to them to keep proving myself wrong, to keep telling the part of me that says I will never hold onto happiness or relationships to fuck off because I’m doing okay for right now. I am starting to see this trip as a gift, the best birthday present I could ever really receive. -S

Stiles didn’t wake up to anyone professing their love the next morning. Instead he woke up to four people crammed into his tent singing “Happy Birthday” so loud and out of tune, his eardrums were probably crumbling away. The group finished their song with hollars and clapping, Erica jumping onto Stiles and wrapping him in a tight hug. Isaac, Boyd, and Derek followed suit, until they were all crushing Stiles’ ribs with the tightest bear hug in history.

“I can’t believe I turned eighteen only to be smothered to death on my birthday,” Stiles squeaked out, trying to wiggle his way out of the hug.

Erica scoffed, but she and the others did back off. “You’re just mad because we haven’t given you your presents yet. We all got you something at those shops in Vegas.”

Stiles brightened at the word presents. He was only human and everyone loved receiving gifts. He hadn’t even considered that any of the group would have anything for him. He knew that he had mentioned his birthday a week ago when he first embarked on this wondrous journey, but the idea of everyone not only remembering, but deciding that Stiles was good enough to buy presents for, was incredibly sweet. He was filled to the brink with joy, looking around at everyone’s expectant faces. They were genuinely excited to give him something and that meant more to Stiles than he could ever probably explain to them. It meant that he had found another home with these people, another safe place.

“Come on, we have everything in the RV,” Boyd said, forcing his way outside, clearly done with the far too crowded tent.

Everyone followed Boyd out of the terribly small space and into the RV. Sitting on the kitchen table were four presents, all wrapped in different wrapping paper. Stiles paused as everyone sat down, staring at the gifts in awe. He vowed he would find out everyone’s birthdays and buy them kick ass presents.

“I feel a little undeserving of all this,” Stiles admitted as he joined the group at the table.

“Hush, you’re wonderful Batman,” Erica assured him. “Now open mine first!”

A soft and lumpy gift was shoved into his hands, wrapped in sparkly silver paper. Even with the odd shape of whatever was inside, the wrapping was still immaculate, not a piece of tape out of place, something only Erica could pull off. Stiles, on the other hand, was anything but graceful, and ripped into the paper wildly, pulling out a little plush grey wolf and Little Red Riding Hood doll. The Red Riding Hood doll’s hair was short though, unlike what the usual character had.

“I took the liberty of cutting her hair so she’d look like you. Or I guess I should say ‘he’ now,” Erica grinned. “Now you have a little you and a little Sourwolf.”

Stiles beamed at the girl. “I love it. And I also love the fact that I now know I look great in a dress.” He waved the Little Red Riding Hood doll around to prove his point.

“I can’t believe there’s now a Sourwolf doll too,” Derek grumbled. Stiles threw the doll at him in retaliation.

Isaac was the next to force a gift into Stiles’ hands, his present also something soft. Although, his black wrapping paper was crumpled and folded awkwardly. When Stiles finally managed to get past all the tape used, he rolled his eyes at the gift, a smile forming.

“I can’t believe you found a Batman scarf,” he laughed, holding the article of clothing up for everyone to see. “I also can’t believe that I really like it.”

“That scarf store really outdid itself,” Isaac grinned, clearly pleased that he had managed to find a scarf even Stiles liked.

Stiles opened Boyd’s next, wrapped in Christmas paper with little ice skating snowmen on it, despite the fact it was summer.

“I like ice skating,” Boyd explained with a shrug.

His gift was the biggest and when Stiles opened it, he discovered why. Under the wrapping paper was a box full of various leather bound notebooks in several colors.

“I noticed you were always writing in that journal of yours and figured you were bound to fill it up sooner or later,” Boyd explained. He seemed worried that Stiles might not like it, a new side to the strong silent guy that Stiles had come to know.

“I love this so much, dude. Thank you,” Stiles told Boyd. Boyd was in the seat to his left, so Stiles leaned over to give him a hug, to show him that he really did love the gift. Boyd hugged Stiles back and when they parted he had a big smile on his face.

“Now, Derek has requested we let him give you his present alone, probably because it’s a box of condoms,” Isaac announced. “So we must leave.”

“We’ll start packing stuff up and won’t be annoying shits anymore,” Boyd assured Derek, giving Isaac a warning stare.

Once everyone was gone, Derek pushed the present towards Stiles. It was wrapped in plain red wrapping paper and Stiles grinned at the fact that somehow Derek had managed to pick his favorite color.

“I promise it isn’t condoms,” Derek told Stiles, looking nervous.

“Ah, so it’s lube, of course,” Stiles giggled.

“Just open it,” Derek urged him, placing the small package into Stiles’ hands.

Stiles opened the wrapping paper to reveal a square dark purple velvet box. He knew that it had to be some sort of jewelry and wondered what Derek had managed to find in the small shops back in Vegas. Sure, Erica had managed to grab some cute clothes but Stiles didn’t see anywhere that had sold jewelry. He slowly opened the box and gasped at what was inside.

The gift was a necklace with a thin silver band and a black triskelion charm on the end. It was just like the tattoo on Derek's back and Stiles knew he now had every reason to be terrified of this relationship and the pace it was moving at. Derek had given him a family symbol for his birthday, something that represented the greatest love to him. But Stiles didn’t feel scared. Well, he felt a little scared, but mostly he felt overcome with the certainty that Derek was right for him. He knew that while he held this necklace, he was also holding a piece of Derek.

“It’s made of obsidian,” Derek told Stiles.

“When did you even have time to go and buy this? We were with each other basically that whole day.” Stiles played with the necklace in his hands, amazed at how the material shined with the light.

“Remember when I said I was going to go find a bathroom since the bookstore didn’t have one? Really I just walked around for awhile in search of a gift for you until I saw this necklace sitting in a display window of an antique store,” Derek explained. “It felt a little bit like fate that I was looking for your birthday present and found a triskelion charm.”

“That was before we even kissed or said we loved each other,” Stiles realized. “You were that sure of us that you bought me a necklace that had a symbol on it sacred to your family?”

“I think I’ve been a little bit in love with you since that first night, when you almost froze because you went outside in fuzzy socks,” Derek admitted.

Stiles just stood, turned his back to Derek and kneeled down in front of him. He placed the necklace into Derek’s hands. “Put it on me please.”

Derek unclasped the necklace and slipped it around Stiles’ neck before closing the clasp. Stiles turned so Derek could survey how it looked on him. It hung just past his collar bones. Derek reached out carefully to touch it, running his hand over the triskelion. He rubbed his fingers against it, twirling the charm, all while he stared at how Stiles was actually wearing it.

“Kiss me,” Stiles breathed, when Derek hands became too much.

Derek complied, pulling Stiles up and allowing him to sit on his lap before sealing their lips together. The kiss became urgent quickly, Stiles turning his body so his legs could wrap around Derek’s waist and the back of the chair. Derek’s lips were still so soft, but the kisses were anything but. They were rough slides of lips together as Stiles practically climbed Derek, trying to get closer and feel closer. Their tongues slid together and Derek traced Stiles’ with his own. They were learning how each other’s mouths looked and tasted and felt once again and it was consuming them.

Before anything could get more serious, before either of them could get more than half hard at best, there was a knock. Stiles broke the kiss to look over at the door but had to close his eyes and gasp when Derek began kissing up his neck. He stopped at the spot just below Stiles’ ear and nipped lightly, hard enough to have Stiles let out a loud moan just as Boyd entered the RV.

This time both Stiles and Derek froze staring at the doorway where Boyd stood, Isaac and Erica behind him.

“Okay,” Boyd sighed, walking through the kitchen and into the bedroom, holding a few sleeping bags in his hands.

Stiles quickly climbed off Derek, smoothing out his clothes and smiling sheepishly at Erica and Isaac who had the biggest grins on their faces.

“So the present was condoms?” Isaac asked, stifling a laugh.

Before Stiles could even answer, Erica’s eyes widened as she took in the new piece of jewelry around his neck. “Oh, oh wow,” she murmured.

Isaac took in the necklace as well and gave Derek a thumbs up. “Way better choice than condoms, man.”

After Erica and Isaac finally stopped ogling over Stiles’ necklace, the gang realized it was already nearing one in the afternoon and they needed to get a move on if they wanted to make it to the beach before it got dark. Erica apparently had to get some more pictures taken to decorate the RV. Each year she would hang up the new pictures and put some of the old ones in a scrapbook.

Stiles and Derek retired to the couch, Erica graciously offering to take the first shift driving and Boyd and Isaac sitting at the kitchen table playing some card game.

Derek was leaning against the armrest while Stiles was pressed up against his side, his arm wrapped around Stiles. Stiles was slightly slouched down so his head could rest comfortably on Derek’s shoulder. Their legs were curled up on the couch, tangled together. They probably looked disgustingly domestic but Stiles could not bring himself to care. He remembered being annoyed by how Erica and Boyd were always like this, but understood why they needed to now. Derek’s body was warm and every once in awhile he would let his fingers travel up Stiles’ back and to the nape of his neck so he could play with Stiles’ hair.

Eventually Derek drifted off to sleep and Isaac walked over, sitting on the other end next to Stiles.

“You did a good job unfucking everything up, my friend.”

Stiles chuckled, trying to stay quiet so Derek wouldn’t wake up. “Thanks, that’s my specialty, fucking things up but somehow managing to fix them.”

“Maybe you could try skipping the first part. You know, just so I don’t have to follow you into the forest when it’s dark outside,” Isaac suggested, grinning.

“Yeah, maybe,” Stiles mused. “Thank you for that by the way. You could be a motivational speaker, really helped me out.”

Isaac just rolled his eyes and patted Stiles on the arm before going back into the kitchen to continue his game with Boyd. Stiles leaned back against Derek, wiggling around to get comfortable. He could use a quick nap too.

------

Sometimes there aren’t any big words or deep phrases to describe how fun a day can be. I just can’t believe a week ago I was scared that I would never have people who genuinely care about me and now I have four who do. Not only that, but I have come to realize that I ran away from people who did genuinely care about me. Of course I’m scared to face them, but it’s all worth it if I get to have more fun days with people I love. If I get to feel the sun on my skin and look around and see smiling faces and touch my face only to realize that wow, I am smiling too, well, that seems worth a little pain sometimes. Even if I’m not always happy, even if I’m so sad or anxious sometimes I don’t know what to do, I won’t let myself try and push away the things that make life so great. Sometimes the only cure to life is having a little bit of fun. -S

The “quick” nap turned out to really just be Derek and Stiles sleeping for three hours and only waking up when Boyd shook them to announce they’d arrived.

The beach had an area set up for camping far from the water and Boyd parked the RV there before they all headed out, towels in hand and bathing suits on. They apparently had stopped to buy Stiles a bathing suit without waking him up, so he was stuck with neon pink swim trunks that had a smiley face on one of the buttcheeks. Stiles figured it could have been a speedo though, so he counted himself lucky. Derek had on plain black trunks while Isaac and Boyd celebrated their friendship with matching Supernatural swim trunks. They had switched it up from their plain trunks they wore at the river, unashamedly loving the show. Stiles couldn’t blame them; Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, and Misha Collins were all gorgeous.

Erica looked the best out of the group with her wavy hair tied up in a loose ponytail, strands framing her face. She wasn’t wearing much makeup, save some mascara, but she still looked gorgeous. Younger, sure, but still just as pretty. Her bikini was navy blue and elegant, with white lace trim on the edges.

Boyd repeated his excellent sunblock methods, forcing everyone to be sprayed down heavily before he had Erica apply some onto his back. Stiles knew he would probably still get a sunburn, his skin already slightly pink from their previous adventures, but at least the sunblock would prevent it from getting too bad. He didn’t want a repeat of the year he and Scott went to Warped Tour without putting any on and Stiles had ended up looking like a lobster that had been wearing a tank top, tan lines ridiculous, while Scott and his golden tan skin only ended up slightly pink.

“Race you guys to the water!” Isaac suddenly yelled out, barreling through the sand and down to the ocean.

“No fair! We’re all carrying towels and stuff!” Erica screeched, but ran after Isaac nonetheless, a few towels stuck under her arms.

“Guess that means we’re carrying the bulk of the load,” Derek said turning to Stiles and Boyd only to realize Boyd had already started racing after Erica, holding the umbrella and another towel.

Derek sighed. “I’ll grab the cooler.”

“And I will stand and look pretty,” Stiles replied.

“Or you’ll grab some more towels and the sandcastle stuff,” Derek demanded, a stern look painted onto his face.

“Whatever, I’m gonna smash your sandcastle,” Stiles muttered. He kissed Derek on the cheek though, to let him know he wasn’t really mad. He probably was going to smash Derek’s sandcastle though, some things just had to be done, but Derek didn’t need to know that.

“Race you down there,” Derek smirked, waddling away, arms heavy from the large cooler full of sandwiches and waters.

“See you, ya nerd!” Stiles shouted as he easily passed Derek, the stuff he was carrying far lighter.

In all fairness though, Derek probably would have let Stiles win. The big, bright, smile that formed on his face when Stiles collapsed under the umbrella Boyd had set up and began singing, “I am the champion of the world! Not ‘we’ just me!” was proof enough that he was okay with losing the race.

The beach had a decent crowd even thought it was close to 4:30, people running around in bathing suits, splashing in the water, and sunbathing. After everyone enjoyed a sandwich under the shade of the umbrella, lounging on towels and joking around, they decided to go into the water.

“I promise you all,” Stiles warned, “If I step on seaweed there is a high chance that I will scream. Like very likely.”

“Well, I for one am daring and will be ultimate body surfing,” Isaac announced.

“If you drown, I won’t save you,” Erica told Isaac, rolling her eyes. She and Boyd were wading around in the water, splashing each other and talking.

“What is ultimate body surfing?” Stiles questioned, the term intriguing him.

“It’s just like surfboarding, but you don’t have a surfboard. You just go far out from shore and wait for a wave to come and then you ride it on your stomach back to shore. I just added the ‘ultimate’ for dramatic flair,” Isaac explained. He looked eager to go out and body surf already, instead of being stuck standing in shallow waters.

“Yeah, it’s fun until you accidentally swallow water and choke,” Derek muttered under his breath.

“Well, I wanna do it,” Stiles decided. “It sounds awesome. Where’s your adventurous spirit, Sourwolf?”

“Yeah, Sourwolf, why are you so boring?” Isaac teased.

Derek groaned, “I hate that you two are all buddy-buddy now. It was bad enough when Stiles and Erica were a duo.”

“Hey, Batman and I are the best!” Erica shouted over at Derek.

“Does that mean you’re gonna ultimate body surf with us?” Isaac asked, looking on the verge of passing out from pure excitement.

“Fine,” Derek grumbled, ignoring the hollers that Isaac and Stiles let out in favor of swimming out farther from shore, where some other people were lined up, waiting for waves to come.

They joined Derek, Stiles holding his breath as he watched a huge wave begin to form. You could see a distorted, wavy, view of the sky through the clear water. The bright sun cutting its way through the icy water was the last thing Stiles saw clearly before the wave crashed down on them.

Suddenly, Stiles was swallowed up by the sea, breath knocked out of his body, lungs absorbing up water. It felt as though the blood flowing through his veins was growing thin and he was weightless. Then the wave shifted and his head was above water, mouth flapping open and closed like a confused fish. He quickly angled his body, trying to lay as flat as possible in the unpredictable circumstances. The chaos of the moment subsided and a sort of tranquility took its place. Stiles could once again see the brightness of the sun, no longer shaded by water. Instead, he felt like he was flying, being carried across great distances all without moving. He didn’t need to think about anything except the cool wind that stung his skin and the salty water that dripped from his hair and filled his mouth every time his head dipped under.

As quickly as it had began, the moment ended and Stiles felt himself falling, the wave spitting him back out into the shallow part of the water. For a moment he was disoriented, not sure why he couldn’t breathe, before he realized he was underwater, and he forced himself to stand. Stiles knew that his skinny body emerging from the water, wet hair glued to his forehead, wasn’t a gorgeous sight, but he still felt powerful. For a couple of seconds he had discovered something that he didn’t think he could ever recreate: a moment that was fragile, like a glass on the edge of the table, always about to fall. It was exhilarating.

“Fun, right?” Isaac asked Stiles, ignoring Derek who was coughing and looking like he regretted his decision immensely.

“Fun,” Stiles agreed.

Isaac and Stiles continued to body surf for a while, Erica and Boyd even joining in for a bit, and Derek eventually making a return to battle the great waves once more, before they ended up back on shore, filling up buckets with water and sand.

“My sandcastle is going to be the shit, with a moat and everything,” Stiles rambled, as he packed sand into a bucket.

“Boyd is the king of sandcastles, sorry,” Isaac grinned.

“It’s a title I wear with great honor,” Boyd said, very seriously.

“If that I means I get to be queen by default, I’ll take it, because… uh… look at this mess,” Erica groaned, pointing to a pile of sand that had slight designs scraped into it, as if someone had smashed a previously made sandcastle. Really, though, Erica just couldn’t get her own sandcastles to stand up.

“Can you collect some shells for me, babe?” Boyd asked her, after surveying her mess of a sandcastle.

“Gladly. I’m fine with a collaborative effort if it means I get to win,” Erica replied, standing and dusting off her sandy legs, before walking away.

“Win? Is this a contest now?” Stiles asked, looking at his own sandcastle he had just made, parts of it crumbling away.

“Everything is a contest with this bunch, Stiles,” Derek responded, barely looking up from the moat that he was digging around Stiles’ castle.

“Are you helping me?” Stiles asked, putting as much genuine admiration and thankfulness he could manage into his voice.

“Of course,” Derek told him. “After all, we’re having a collaborative contest, apparently.”

“Erica really is just collecting supplies for me, not helping me build,” Boyd pointed out, but he didn’t seem all too worried.

Isaac was so engrossed in creating something gorgeous he didn’t even offer up a complaint that he would be the only one working alone.

The sandcastle building stretched on for a another half hour before everyone was satisfied with their creations. Even though they were all sitting a few feet from each other, Stiles had refrained from glancing over at the other two castles. In retrospect, he probably should have at least looked at Boyd’s, if only to steal ideas, because it was incredible.

Boyd had done the building, using the molds to create a huge tower in the middle with two smaller ones on each side. He’d carved in his own little swirling steps onto the back of the middle tower and added little windows to all three. He even made a bridge that went over a little stream of water and used balls of sand to represent rocks that sat at the bottom of the castle.

Erica may have only been in charge with decorating the masterpiece, but she really brought the creation home. She’d collected various types of shells, from large conch ones to flat ridged shells. She lined the tops of towers with tiny white shells and put big ones in the middle. The top of the bridge also had little white shells on it, as if they were the cobblestone on a real bridge. She’d put the biggest, bright pink shell on the large middle tower. Erica had also taken the buds off strands of seaweed and stuck them into the sides of the castle to look like little green flowers. Not only did it look pretty, Stiles had to give Erica credit for purposely touching the disgusting, slimy plant.

Boyd looked smug and proud, looking at Isaac’s castle which was just a perfect mold of the bucket with a couple shells set on top. He apparently had spent most of his time trying to find pretty shells instead of building.

Derek and Stiles had really tried, and Stiles prided himself on being good at creative projects, his poster boards at school always looking nice, but their sandcastle kept falling over. Derek wasn’t really any help either and focused most of his attention on the moat, which did look pretty cool and had a bunch of fun shells on the edges of it, but didn’t cover up the fact that their castle was barely standing up. Stiles had mostly freehanded a sort of castle shape and carved swirling patterns into the side to make up for that. He’d also added a little heart with D+S inside because he was cheesy as fuck.

“Well, I think Derek and I won this, I mean our castle celebrates our love,” Stiles said. “And it’s my birthday so...”

“No birthday favors!” Erica shouted at him.

“I think mine wins, it has a very simplistic approach,” Isaac countered.

“Let’s be honest, Erica and Boyd have the best sandcastle,” Derek admitted.

Stiles gaped at him, “How dare you betray us and our love Derek?”

“I’m not always going to take my boyfriend's side, just look at their castle,” Derek replied, motioning to the beauty that was Boyd and Erica’s creation.

Stiles wasn’t really focusing on Derek’s words anymore, not after he heard the word boyfriend and his brain short circuited. Obviously Stiles knew that he and Derek were exclusive, they had had a ridiculous love confessional, but neither of them had actually discussed being boyfriends. He had never had any relationship besides Malia, had sort of forgotten the proud feeling that washed over his body when he was referred to as someone’s boyfriend. He had forgotten how that one word love spread through his body and kept him breathing.

“Boyfriend?” Stiles finally managed to ask. He knew that asking that made him sound like he didn’t want to be Derek’s boyfriend, but he was still so surprised and out of it, it was all he could get his mouth to say.

The group, who were still arguing over sandcastles, Isaac trying to sell the simplistic angle, silenced, looking between Derek and Stiles carefully. They were probably expecting another fight, both Stiles and Derek moody, stubborn people.

“Is that okay?” Derek asked. His words were slow. He must have wanted them to hit Stiles with as least force as possible.

“Yeah,” Stiles said. “Yeah, it’s nice.”

Derek smiled and Stiles had to kiss him after that. They were still in the honeymoon phase of their relationship after all and Stiles was a person that naturally craved affection, so kissing Derek seemed like the only possible thing he could do after a conversation like that.

The kiss barely lasted a few seconds before Isaac was throwing seaweed at them and Stiles had to break away so he could jerk his body and scream. He fell right on top of his sandcastle, which had Isaac’s laughter growing stronger. Derek smashed Isaac’s sandcastle to save whatever honor Stiles had left after that display of fear.

Stiles had told Derek he would smash his sandcastle, though. Some promises just had to be kept.

------

I am not ready to die, but once, I thought I was. I don’t know if I ever would have killed myself but I did play around with the idea. I did not actively seek out death but if it were ever to come to me I would have opened my arms wide. That’s no way to live, waiting for something to take you away. Waiting in general will hurt you so badly. That is why I thought I needed to run, so I could stop waiting for something to change. I didn’t know that sometimes all you needed to do was speak up and demand change. I won’t wait my whole life away, but I will also no longer run. I’ve learned to try and if that is impossible, I’ve learned to walk away. I am in love. Not just with Derek, I am in love with it all. I am in love with the idea of forgiveness, acceptance, and bravery. I am even in love with flaws and mistakes. I’m sure if I went back in time I would be embarrassed by every stupid and mean thing I did, but I hope that I would leave it alone. I hope that I would sit back and watch my embarrassment and realize, ‘oh, that’s why I am so strong now’. I can only keep going if I keep falling in love, even with the most monotonous things. I will still hate the injustices and beg for mercy when things inevitably crumble, but maybe, with enough love, I will figure out that things can be rebuilt or that sometimes a clean slate is the best thing. I will cherish each connection now and I will go home and rebuild the ones that I lost when I started to step away. I will figure out how to love even when no one loves me. I have discovered the most important love is self love. I am glorious even as I fall. That is the best that I can do for now. I can keep discovering new ways to love. -S

When it started to grow dark, the beach emptied out. A few other RV’s and tents were in the camping area, but far enough away that Stiles could barely hear the chatter of whoever occupied them.

“You know, you only have two more hours of your birthday right?” Derek asked Stiles.

“Yeah, I know, I gotta make it special,” Stiles replied.

They were sitting on a towel together outside the RV, bodies covered in sand and hair still damp, while they waited for a turn to use the shower. Even though Stiles had complained he deserved the first one because it was his birthday, Erica had shoved her way into the bathroom and locked the door after she let Boyd in. Even with the couple showering together, it was still taking an awfully long time for Stiles to get his turn, especially since Isaac had beat Stiles to the bathroom when they got out, and had been in there for ten minutes already.

“Was it fun though?” Derek questioned, looking at Stiles seriously.

“Yeah, it was great, dude, honestly. Why are you so concerned?”

“My eighteenth birthday was spent alone, Peter had told me he’d be leaving that day, but I assumed he’d at least stay to wish me happy birthday. So I just wanted to make sure yours was great,” Derek told him.

Stiles was fiddling with his necklace not being able to meet Derek’s eyes when he said, “Well, there is one thing I want to do on my birthday.”

Derek brightened. He looked ready to do anything to appease Stiles. “Yeah? What?”

Stiles pulled his knees to his chest, suddenly very nervous. “Well, remember that one time we were talking about how I was still seventeen, but now I’m not, I’m eighteen, I’m a bona fide full time adult now, and-”

“You want to do that?” Derek asked, looking concerned.

“Oh boy, sound more excited to fuck me Derek, please,” Stiles grumbled sarcastically.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Derek sighed, “Just that I don’t want to force you. I do want to sleep with you, I have for a while.”

“Yeah, well I do want to. I mean not right this very second, there’s probably like sand in very awkward places right now, but after a shower, my first time being on a beach sounds romantic.”

“Jesus,” Derek breathed, before leaning forward to kiss Stiles. Apparently Stiles’ complete awkwardness over this situation was a turn on, because Derek was very eager, immediately pushing his tongue into Stiles’ mouth when he let out a gasp.

He lowered Stiles down onto the towel and kissed him deeper, hands running up and down Stiles’ arms, leaving goosebumps with each passing of his fingertips. Stiles let out shaky moan, swallowed up by Derek. With each swipe of their tongues, every time their cocks brushed against each other, Stiles was forgetting that sex covered in sand would probably be disgusting and that they were still out in the open.

He was almost thankful when Isaac walked out to tell Stiles he could take his shower, almost, because their tongues were shoved down each other’s throats and Derek was practically rutting against Stiles’ body. Both had been letting out moans, only briefly breaking apart to breathe before diving back in and well, Isaac didn’t need to see or hear that.

“You two are worse than Erica and Boyd, christ,” Isaac groaned, covering his eyes.

“Would it make you feel better if I said that Derek and I were going to go take a shower together?” Stiles asked him.

“Fuck you,” Isaac replied at the same time Derek excitedly asked, “We are?”

“Yes, Derek, come on,” Stiles said, grabbing Derek’s hand and pulling him into the RV.

“Hey, who wants to go on a late night beach walk?” Isaac asked as he walked inside behind them. Erica and Boyd were in the kitchen eating cereal and looking up at Isaac confused.

“I just took a shower and I’m tired,” Erica responded. “No thanks.”

“These two lovebirds are showering together,” Isaac explained, making a face and pointing his thumb at them.

“Oh my god,” Derek griped, putting his hand against his head.

“Don’t ruin the mood!” Stiles yelled at Isaac.

“I say let’s take that walk,” Boyd suggested, taking his and Erica’s bowls to the sink.

Once everyone else had made their way out of the RV with only a few complaints from Erica, Stiles turned to Derek. “You still up for that shower?”

“I’m up for anything with you,” Derek admitted.

“Even murder?”

“Even murder.”

Stiles laughed. “Well, let’s start with a shower, mister.”

Stiles of course knew that showering required being naked and so did sex, but as he and Derek entered the bathroom and turned the water on so it would heat, Stiles was faced with the daunting fact that he was going to have to be naked in front of Derek. They’d seen each other shirtless and had both appreciated one another’s bodies, but being naked was a different thing. Should Stiles have cleaned up down there? Shaved or something? He wasn’t insecure of his dick size or anything, it was average length and thin but not too thin, but still, he was letting someone see the most intimate parts of himself.

Derek noticed his hesitation and put a hand on Stiles’ shoulder. “Anything you want to do Stiles. Only if you want this too, I can wait.”

Stiles did want to do this, though, and he took a step backwards from Derek before turning to the shower, opening the door, and slipping down his swim trunks. He could feel Derek’s eyes digging into his back, knew that they were taking in his body. Stiles wondered if Derek was having any second thoughts now that he’d seen his butt, which was stupid, it was just a butt, but it had moles on it too, and well, Stiles felt weird. He also felt excited though and horny, half hard already, so he stepped into the water and left the door open, waiting for Derek.

He heard shuffling while Derek took off his own swim trunks before stepping in behind him, shutting the door. Stiles didn’t lift his gaze from the ground or turn around.

“Okay, before I look at you, I’m going to wash off, because gross sand and I might get distracted,” Stiles told Derek.

Derek laughed, “I’m already distracted.”

Stiles blushed but shuffled from the corner, through the water and to where his washcloth and bodywash sat.

“Get washed, sand sucks and turn around stop looking at me,” Stiles ordered Derek.

“Yes sir,” Derek responded and okay that made Stiles’ cock twitch and harden a little bit more. That would have to be something they explored later.

Stiles scrubbed his body roughly, making sure to get any hidden sand away. He was not about to ruin the moment by discovering something gross on one of their bodies. He even got a squirt of shampoo to run through his hair.

After about ten minutes of washing off in silence, Stiles announced, “Okay I’m done.”

“Me too,” Derek told him. “Can I turn around now?”

“Yeah.”

Stiles knew that he was making everything so much more dramatic than it really needed to be, but it was his first time and Derek was older and incredibly attractive and even past the want and need he was still nervous. He slowly turned around and found that Derek was already facing him. Neither of them tried to hide the fact that they were taking in each other’s bodies. Stiles let his eyes wander past Derek’s kaleidoscope eyes and long lashes, his perfectly sculpted chest, and landed onto his cock. Stiles had watched enough porn to know that even if everyone acted like cartoonishly big cocks were the best, they really were just scary to look at. He let out a sigh of relief that Derek’s was a normal length and thick, but not so big that he would be in pain.

“Do a little spin, let me take you in,” Stiles told Derek.

“I’ll probably slip if I do that,” Derek admitted.

“I believe in you.”

Stiles knew that Derek really did love him because he did it, letting Stiles look at his ass. It was plump and shapely, slightly lighter than the rest of his skin and with a light dusting of hair. It was normal, not photoshopped or daunting and Stiles felt more relieved about everything. Movies may have made sex look glamourous, but Stiles didn’t think he could compare to those actor’s perfect bodies and was starting to realize that maybe no one could and that was a good thing. Because looking at Derek, taking in his dark hair plastered to his forehead and thick eyebrows scrunched down, waiting for Stiles to make the next move, had him swooning.

Stiles surged forward to kiss Derek, or at least tried to, remembering far too late that they were still in a shower and hot water was coming out of the showerhead. His eyes were assaulted with a spray of water and he slipped, suddenly blinded, falling forward and into Derek’s arms, his lips hitting Derek’s chin instead.

“Hey,” Stiles said sheepishly, looking up at Derek’s amused eyes.

“You’re hot,” Derek teased.

“Really?”

“Yeah, really. You’re so beautiful,” Derek assured him, before hoisting Stiles up so he was on his feet and then wrapping his arms around his waist so they could kiss on the lips this time, without being in danger of falling.

Derek tugged Stiles’ head towards his own, letting their lips meet. Stiles sighed into the kiss and allowed Derek back him up, through the water, until his back hit the wall of the shower. Derek was gentle with him, even with the force of the kiss, trying to balance between passion and care. Stiles bit Derek’s bottom lip hard, sick of gentle, a need building in his stomach. Derek understood, licking his own lips to soothe the bite, before pushing Stiles’ head back against the wall. Stiles heard a thud, feeling a stab of pain, but could only focus on the growl Derek made, the dizzying sound turning into a whine when their cocks brushed together.

“Der-” Stiles groaned out. Derek kissed up his shoulder to right below his ear and Stiles let out a low sigh when he realized Derek was kissing each of his moles, letting them lead him to his destination.

“I need you to kiss me again, please,” Stiles begged.

Their kiss wasn’t chaste before, but it was even more rough now. Derek nipped at Stiles’ lip, payback for the bite earlier, finding his tongue and leading it into the warm heat of his own mouth. Stiles’ whole body was overheating, the shower and Derek all too much. He needed to relieve something. He rolled his hips against Derek’s, tilting his head to deepen the kiss farther. Derek moaned when their cocks rubbed against each other, rolling his hips back against Stiles, hard, the water lessening some of the friction. It was all deliciously painful and Stiles broke the kiss, pressing his face into Derek’s shoulder and licking the wet skin. Derek’s hard cock thrust against Stiles’ hipbone and Stiles felt the precum drip out of it, feeling warm droplets of water wash it away as quick as it came.

Derek had to put one of his hands against the shower wall to brace himself and used the other to tangle his fingers into Stiles’ hair. He tugged harshly, pulling Stiles’ mouth impossibly closer towards his. They were kissing with abandon now, rutting against one another and Stiles felt dizzy. All he could smell was honey body wash. Derek tugged his hair again and everything was clear once more. Stiles was so overwhelmed his legs buckled, Derek the only thing holding him up.

“Fuck,” Derek groaned, when had to pull away, breathing heavily and licking water and spit off his mouth. He took his hand out of Stiles’ hair and Stiles immediately missed the pressure. He didn’t have much time to miss it though, Derek’s hand trailing down his body and resting just above his cock.

“You can touch me, you know,” Stiles told Derek. His voice sounded strange, rough, and more confident than he’d ever been. He wanted to be closer to Derek, tied together, wrapped around his body, draped across him, pulled so close he would forget which arm was his, which moan came from him and which was from Derek.

“You’re still wearing your necklace,” Derek noticed.

“I love you,” Stiles said. It’s the only thing he could say back. He hoped that Derek realized why he didn’t take the necklace off, why it was important for him to have it in this moment.

Derek stepped back and Stiles forced himself not to step forward and chase his body. He watched Derek reach around him to grab something off the ledge where the soap sat. He held up a small container of lube, coyly. The cap came off with a little pop that had Stiles jumping, almost falling.

“Why is there lube in the shower?” Stiles questioned, raising his eyebrows at Derek.

“Erica and Boyd,” Derek answered.

“Okay, forget I asked,” Stiles shuddered. “Don’t make me think of them while we’re about to have sex, please.”

Derek just chuckled and returned to Stiles. He applied some lube onto his fingers before putting the cap back on and letting the container clatter to the ground. His attention was entirely on Stiles and Stiles wanted to disappear.

“Don’t make yourself smaller, Stiles, you’re beautiful,” Derek promised him. He pushed Stiles’ hair off of his forehead with his clean hand, placing a kiss onto it. It was strangely domestic given the circumstances, but it allowed Stiles to ground himself. He pulled Derek’s other hand down onto his cock.

When Derek wrapped his fingers around Stiles, Stiles opened his mouth but suddenly forgot how to make noise. He was silently begging for air as Derek played with the head of his cock, brushing over the tip, before moving his hand up and down the whole length. Even with the slick that the lube provided, Stiles could still feel the rough pads of Derek’s fingertips. He could barely breath with the steam of the shower swirling around him. It tightened in his throat and let him go long enough that he could let out a staggered moan before pulling him back in.

Derek and the steam became one, both forces bigger than themselves, both making Stiles forget where his body was. Then Derek tightened his grip and he shot back into himself, his eyes only on Derek watching him. He knew he was gasping and whining desperately, begging for Derek to push him over the edge, all while he stared into Derek’s eyes and Derek stared back. Derek turned his focus onto making Stiles feel good, leaning over to kiss him on the neck.

The pressure of Derek’s lips on his neck combined with his rough beard tickling his skin and his hand still jerking up and down Stiles’ cock had him arching his back. His head hit the wall, harder than when Derek had pushed him, and he was coming, the ache wracking through his body. His moan started out as a gasp and formed into a loud shout mixed with a whine. Stiles tried to form Derek’s name but his mind was so numb all he could get out was a mix of unintelligible words. Derek rinsed his hand off in spray of the shower.

When Stiles came back to himself he was gasping, the water making him too hot but he still tried to reach for Derek’s cock. He wanted to return the favor, to show Derek that he cared for him too. Derek stepped back though, shaking his head.

“Let’s finish this in the bedroom,” Derek suggested.

“Oh,” Stiles said at first. Then he realized what Derek was trying to tell him, that he didn’t want to come until he was fucking Stiles. “Oh,” he said again. “Grab the lube.”

He strutted out of the shower, forcing himself to remain confident, not turning to look back at Derek. He heard Derek scrambling to turn off the water and grab the lube, and also felt Derek once again staring at him, as if he couldn’t decide what was more important: going to Stiles or not taking his eyes off Stiles. It was a breathtaking feeling, knowing that someone wanted him that badly and even though it hadn’t been long enough for his cock to get hard again, Stiles still felt it twitch appreciatively.

Stiles grabbed a towel as he left, rubbing it through his hair and over as much of his body as he could while he was still walking. He sat on the edge of the bed, waiting for Derek to join him. When Derek entered the room, Stiles looked up at him with a wanton expression, eyelashes fluttering. He hoped he didn’t look ridiculous and figured he succeeded when Derek sort of fell onto the bed next to him in awe.

“I brought the lube,” Derek said lamely.

Stiles knew what came next, of course he did, but he still felt so unsure of himself. He was still slightly wet from the shower and still flushed from the events that had gone on.

“I don’t really know how to start this,” Stiles admitted.

“Well, we can start with just kissing,” Derek told Stiles. He had a reassuring smile and Stiles felt better. He knew that at any moment if he wanted to stop Derek would without question or complaint. Stiles played with his necklace for a moment, before he laid down, his head against the pillow.

“Well, come here then,” Stiles grinned, tugging on Derek’s arm.

Derek sort of flopped onto Stiles, but quickly gained control of himself, putting his arms on either side of Stiles’ head before leaning down to kiss him.

They kissed for what seemed like an eternity, Stiles lost in the alternate reality that formed in his head each time their lips met. It started out slow, but didn’t stay that way for long, Derek still hard and both still desperate for something more. They moved against one another with ease, every body part fitting together as if they were once conjoined. When Stiles grew hard again and needed some friction, he raised his knees and Derek quickly settled between them, lowering some of his body down. They were thrusting against each other with quick succession, as their mouths writhed together, tongues battling, each trying to say ‘I love you’ without breaking apart.

When one of Stiles’ thrusts connected directly with Derek’s cock they both had to pause for a moment to moan, Derek trying to do it again, but Stiles stopping him.

“Okay, okay, next part, I know what comes next.” Stiles groaned, trying to reach past Derek for the lube that been left on the end of the bed. “I want you to fuck me.”

“Okay,” Derek breathed. He was slow moving, taken aback by Stiles’ direct words. His voice was raspy and tired too, as if he was already worn out.

Derek backed away from Stiles and Stiles shuddered at the warmth that Derek took with him. He was back soon enough though, this time with the bottle of lube in his hands.

“How do you want to do this?” Derek asked him.

“I don’t think I could stand not being able to see you,” Stiles admitted.

Derek must not have known what to say back to that because he just pulled Stiles up by his necklace to press a harsh kiss onto his lips before lowering him back down. Stiles barely had time to even contemplate what had just happened before Derek was opening the bottle of lube.

“If I do anything to hurt you just tell me,” Derek said.

“I love you,” Stiles replied.

Derek applied some lube onto his fingers, a lot more than Stiles thought anyone needed, but it was probably better to be safe than sorry. He then lifted Stiles’ legs, placing them onto his shoulders. Stiles watched as his hand lowered, feeling like he was about to jump off a cliff. That breath-holding, life changing, heart beating moment was upon him.

Derek circled Stiles’ hole with his fingers first, getting him used to the feeling of anything even being there. Stiles had fingered himself before, sure, but the angle was always awkward and Derek’s fingers were much thicker than his. This seemed so much more intimidating and he gasped at the feeling.

Derek slowly pushed the first finger in, stroking Stiles’ hair to keep him relaxed. Stiles squirmed at the feeling, not necessarily nice or bad, just odd. After a moment, Derek added a second, the feeling still strange. Derek started to stretch him open, kissing Stiles’ ankle twice. Derek’s fingers moved at a steady pace, exploring Stiles’ body, and opening him up. They briefly brushed over a spot that had Stiles see a flash of bright white, like a supernova had appeared, the moment ending as quickly as it had began. Stiles moaned loudly at the feeling.

“Okay, that’s definitely my prostate, alright. You know I once did a paper on that after my teacher said male circumcision wasn’t appropriate. I got an F on both of them but it was worth it,” Stiles rambled, not sure what to make of the shivers he’d just experienced.

Derek just chuckled softly, he didn’t tell Stiles to be quiet, despite the fact that his fingers were still inside of him and school papers weren’t really pillow talk. Derek just listened, something that most people never did, and that had Stiles whole body lighting up. He moved back against Derek’s fingers, telling him to continue, and Derek complied. He found Stiles’ prostate again, brushing over it, teasing, as Stiles moaned, not sure if he wanted to reach for his cock or beg Derek to touch it.

“Der, add another one, just do something,” Stiles groaned.

Derek pushed in a third finger, spreading them apart, stretching Stiles open. Stiles felt like putty, being moved around by Derek’s fingers, completely at his will. Each time Derek hit his prostate he would let out a little whine. He never knew that it was possible to need another person this badly. His body was a match Derek was scratching against, a spark almost forming with each move of his fingers.

When Stiles reached his hand up to dig his nails into Derek’s wrist, his words lodged behind his tongue, Derek understood, pulling his fingers out and leaning over the bed to grab something out of a sparkly pink bag. He sat back up with a condom in his hand.

“Did you just steal one of Erica’s condoms?” Stiles gasped in mock horror, half out of breath, and looking at Derek accusingly.

“She won’t mind,” Derek laughed. “Besides, I don’t have any. I didn’t expect to meet a gorgeous loser named Stiles and fall in love.

“Ooh, Derek, call me a loser while you fuck me.”

Derek just rolled his eyes tearing open the wrapper on the condom and slipping it on before applying some lube onto his covered cock.

“Not even opening it with your teeth, C-minus Derek, poor performance,” Stiles teased, but was left with his mouth hanging open when Derek nudged the tip of his cock against Stiles’ entrance. He couldn’t speak anymore, Derek had stolen his words, his mind, his heart.

Derek looked into Stiles’ eyes, pressing his hand against Stiles’ chest, right on top of his necklace, waiting. Stiles leaned up to kiss him, once on the lips and once on the nose before nodding.

Derek slowly pushed in, not moving his hand off of the necklace. The symbol had always been an anchor to Derek, but it had quickly become one for Stiles too. It had become a part of them. The intrusion still stung, even with the preparation, and Stiles groaned. He was breathing heavily, each gasp for air loud and shaky. Derek stopped halfway in, but Stiles just put his hand on Derek’s back and pushed him forward, urging him on. As Derek continued, Stiles realized that his hand was right where Derek’s triskelion tattoo was and he traced the design from memory with his fingers. He and Derek were finally joined - body and soul - the triskelion twisting them together. Stiles didn’t know how he was still breathing. This connection was too much, his eyes were burning from staring at Derek for so long. He couldn’t look away.

Stiles still felt pain, but the stinging had subsided. It wasn’t bad, it was more of a confused feeling, like his body didn’t know how to react.

“Move, Der, please,” Stiles pleaded.

Derek kissed Stiles before thrusting forward, a shallow move of his hips. He started slow, easing his cock into him. Each thrust gaining strength, friction. Stiles whined shamelessly, his cock practically leaking as it pressed against Derek’s chest. He was running his nails up and down Derek’s back, feeling the warmth against his fingertips. He wanted to rip into the skin, dig his way into Derek, and make them feel closer. Already Stiles felt impossibly full, like he was breathing in only Derek. Derek was gasping above him, trying to keep steady, not wanting to overwhelm Stiles.

When Derek’s cock hit that spot in Stiles he bucked forward, nearly headbutting Derek. The room was darkening as the sun set, but all Stiles could see was light. Bright lights as he cried out, clawing Derek this time. He needed something to latch onto. Derek moaned out at the feeling and Stiles hoped he was falling just as deep as he was. He hoped that Derek was getting lost inside of him, inside the deep heat of his body.

“Der, you gotta go faster, hit there again, please,” Stiles said, holding onto Derek’s shoulders, trying to yank him forward.

“I got you, I got you,” Derek whispered, hushed promises lost in their moans as Derek began to thrust faster.

Stiles was being pounded into. His whole body was trembling and Derek could read each movement, each moan, with precision. When Stiles started babbling about how Derek was the best, the only one that mattered, Derek would hit that same spot again. Stiles let out a litany of ‘ah, ah, ah’s’ that had Derek bucking forward harshly. Stiles was stuck between trying to not hurt Derek with his nails and wanting to just keep scratching him. He wanted Derek to know that this love and this body wracking feeling of Derek fucking into him, was something worth remembering. Stiles wanted it to hurt a little bit and he suspected Derek did too, if his moans every time Stiles pressed his nails a little bit harder, were anything to go by.

“Fuck, fuck, you’re straight out a poem,” Derek groaned, hitting Stiles’ prostate straight on and gasping when Stiles dug into him a little bit more. “You’re fucking perfect.”

Derek’s hand was still pressing onto Stiles’ chest, so hard that Stiles was sure his necklace was going to leave behind a triskelion indent. Stiles didn’t mind though, he wanted the design to burn into his skin. It would be like Derek branding him, which was disgustingly possessive and wonderful all at once. Derek’s other hand was traveling up to Stiles’ hair and yanking him forward, ripping him up off the sheets and allowing Derek to kiss him. Derek was trying to bite at Stiles’ lips and at his tongue, all while thrusting into him like he wanted to break Stiles into pieces. One of them were going to shatter, but Derek’s cock felt too good for Stiles to care. They were practically drooling, both of them really just panting into one another’s mouths.

Stiles realized that Derek was about to come when Derek started losing his rhythm, still going just as hard, but with less focus. Stiles was teetering on the edge as well, it was like he was back in the water at the beach, a glass about to fall off the edge of a table. This time, he wanted to shatter, if only to let Derek pick him back up. He wanted to see himself come back together. Stiles was so hard it was painful, but with each one of Derek’s erratic thrusts he was hit with another shot of pleasure. Derek’s pupils were blown, his eyes more black than any other color now, a darkened mixture. His eyebrows were furrowed and his mouth was wide open. He had let Stiles drop back onto the sheets, so he could move his hand to Stiles’ cock.

“Fuck, I’m so close,” Derek said, not slowing down. If anything he was speeding up, trying to chase that high, to let himself drop.

Derek’s hand still had remnants of lube on it, but Stiles’ cock was leaking so much that Derek was really just using his precum to slide his hand up and down. Stiles didn’t know what to even say back to Derek because he was biting his own lip hard and didn’t think he could unlatch from it long enough to speak. He was finding that the lines between him and Derek were blurring, he was beginning to see only the crashing blue and green waves of Derek’s eyes, the smell of seawater from outside drowning him. He could only focus on the pleasure that Derek was bringing him, with his hand and with his cock, and Stiles’ heart was racing.

Then all at once he was filled with a warm heat, and Derek was crying out, thrusting forward a couple of times before stilling. It was hotter now, everything only red, only the burning brightness of fireworks as Derek moved his hand faster. And then, just like that, all color faded, and all Stiles saw was white. Only white, and he was coming, gasping out Derek’s name and trying to pull him closer. He wondered if he’d broken skin on Derek’s back.

When Stiles’ vision came back, Derek was looking down at him. Their eyes were locked, forever now. Even as Derek pulled out and tied the condom, getting up to go dispose of it in the bathroom, Stiles could still feel his gaze. His chest was burning, right under the triskelion necklace and Derek’s back was red, right on his tattoo, from where Stiles had been pressing his nails into it. They were now matching. Maybe the feeling would fade or the connection would break apart, but for now, it was stretching across rooms, would stretch for miles and across galaxies if need be.

Derek returned with a warm washcloth, wiping Stiles’ chest clean from where his cock had shot out ropes of cum. Derek had already cleaned himself off. His movements were slow and labored. Derek was still panting, lighter now, but he was clearly exhausted. Stiles felt the same, heavy and sinking. He just wanted Derek to lay next to him, but he also knew he’d appreciate being cleaned off later.

When he was finished, Derek threw the washcloth onto the ground, ignoring cleanliness in favor of admiring Stiles. Stiles pulled Derek down, so he was lying on the bed, facing him.

“I love you so much,” Stiles told him. He kissed Derek once on the lips and then again, and then one last time, just to reiterate his words. Derek’s lips were dotted red and Stiles realized he must have bit his own lip so hard it was bleeding. He wiped away the blood on Derek’s lips with his thumb and Derek did the same to Stiles. They pressed their thumbs together, red smearing between them, before interlocking hands.

“I love you too,” Derek said. “More than you will ever know.”

Stiles turned so Derek could wrap his arms around him. He picked up one of the many comforters off the ground and pulled it over their bodies.

“Do you feel it too?” Stiles asked.

“What?”

“That connection, that energy.” Stiles clutched onto his necklace. “Like, I only just met you, but I love you so much and I think that has to mean something.”

Derek chuckled tiredly, kissing the back of Stiles’ head. “I have felt it since I first laid eyes on you. I think the love means that maybe you’re much more brave than you think.”

Stiles mind went back to one of their early conversations, when Derek chose truth over lies, when Stiles wondered how one man could be so courageous.

“You’re brave enough to fall in love, to trust me, and to trust yourself. That means more than anything,” Derek continued.

Stiles didn’t know if he would ever feel entirely brave, but in that moment he could do anything. Even without Derek, Stiles thought that maybe he was really brave. Without Derek, he was still going to dive into things head first, despite fear.

Maybe the bravest thing about Stiles was not that he was unafraid but rather that he was scared and still walking forward.

------

I once walked through a dark alleyway at night, just to see if I could do it. I was scared but it also felt liberating when I made it home alive. Once you get over that tide of fear, there is nothing left but relief and a feeling that you did something. I am taking control of my own life and it’s incredible. I think I should start taking more pictures, like what Erica does. I would like to be able to look back at moments in life and see people who are there with me. I just want to see other people laughing and realize that that happened because I told a joke or because the moment was full of so much happiness it bubbled out of our bodies. I don’t mean living life through a camera, but I think it's important that sometimes we are able to look at ourselves when we are our most vulnerable and when we walk through our alleyways or even just share a laugh with friends. -S

The first time Stiles woke up, he still felt groggy and it was dark outside. He sat up blinking at the murky figure standing at the end of the bed, only able to make out curly hair.

“Good, you’re awake,” Isaac snapped, looking like a disapproving parent, his arms folded.

“What the fuck is happening?” Derek grumbled, face pressed into Stiles’ shoulder.

“You really had to fuck in the bed that I sleep in? Really? What happened to shower stuff?” Isaac complained.

“You’ve slept in the bed Erica and Boyd fucked in,” Stiles sighed, closing his eyes again.

“They had just washed their sheets, I doubt you dicks are going to wash the sheets before we go home,” Isaac muttered.

“Isaac! Leave them alone!” Erica shouted from outside the bedroom. “You can sleep on the couch for one night you big baby!”

Stiles eventually heard the door shut and opened his eyes a crack to see if Isaac had left. Once he was sure that no more curly haired devils were occupying the room, he snuggled back up against Derek and shut his eyes.

The second time Stiles woke up, it was actually bright outside and Boyd’s alarm on his phone was going off. He and Erica were in the other bed, sitting up and stretching. Boyd shut off the phone and stood, grabbing his swimsuit out of his bag. He and Erica left the room and Stiles thought he was safe to sleep for a while longer, until they came back in ten minutes later, pajamas in their hands and swimsuits on.

“Come on you two, it’s ten and we have to take a picture before we leave,” Boyd told them.

Derek groaned, but pulled his arms off of Stiles and they both sat up. Stiles started to pull back the covers before he remembered one important detail: he and Derek were still very much naked.

“Hello, up and at em, boys,” Erica demanded. She was brushing out her long hair and staring at them expectantly.

“So, we’re kind of very undressed,” Stiles admitted, motioning at him and Derek’s crotches, as if Erica needed or wanted to imagine the visual underneath the blanket.

“Of course you are,” Erica sighed. She grabbed Boyd’s hand and pulled him out of the room, belting out “I Just Had Sex” by The Lonely Island.

“I feel like we’re going to be getting that all day,” Stiles groaned, standing and bending to get his bathing suit off the floor. “Also why does she have a song for every occasion?”

When he turned, swim trunks in hand, he realized that Derek was now standing too, but hadn’t managed to get dressed yet, his eyes locked on Stiles. He blushed when he realized that Stiles had caught him in the act.

“Enjoying the view?” Stiles asked, dropping his trunks and sauntering over to Derek, slinging his arms around his shoulders.

“I’d enjoy it a lot more if you were lying on the bed for me,” Derek admitted, voice teasing, but laced with lust.

“That can be arranged,” Stiles replied, nipping at Derek’s lip.

Derek let out a low groan, a soft sound really, but suddenly Erica was yelling, “Get dressed so we can take the fucking picture and swim a little bit! No fooling around you beasts!”

Stiles sighed, defeated, dropping his arms and going back over to where he’d set down his suit. “Well, you heard the love-killer, we have to get dressed,” he sighed, loud enough that Erica could hear him.

“More like the boner-killer, now hurry up! And put on some of Boyd’s cologne, you reek of sex,” Erica retorted.

Stiles and Derek begrudgingly listened, emerging from the room a few minutes later, holding hands.

“My god, I hate new couples,” Isaac complained. “I can’t believe I supported this, I take it back.”

“Oh come on, we’re holding hands not fucking on the kitchen table,” Stiles snapped back.

“Don’t give me ideas,” Derek whispered into Stiles’ ear. He had become so much bolder, so much more open, since they’d started dating. It was mesmerizing.

Stiles let out a light moan when Derek nibbled on his ear and Isaac put his head in his hands, muttering something about hating everybody.

Erica and Boyd, who had been in the bathroom while Erica styled her hair, walked into the kitchen, a nice professional camera in Boyd’s hands. Erica took one look at Stiles and Derek and frowned.

“You both have sex hair,” she pointed out, raising an eyebrow. Boyd snapped a picture of their embarrassed faces and Erica laughed. “You guys have five minutes in the bathroom, snap snap.”

Stiles and Derek probably took closer to ten minutes, pushing against each other for room at the mirror which led to a quick makeout session before Erica was banging at the door claiming she’d heard a moan and was going to come in there and castrate them. That terrifying and disgusting threat had them quickly putting water onto their tousled locks and trying to sort out their hair as best as they could without a shower.

“Good enough,” Erica said, when they exited the bathroom, hair a little bit less insane.

Outside, people were already gathered at the beach. It wasn’t that early, to be fair, but early enough that the crowds were still small and the air was still cool, although it was heating with every minute that passed.

Erica apparently had a whole photoshoot planned out in her head, making Derek and Stiles smile at the camera, waves crashing at their feet, as if she was taking prom pictures for them. She took ones of them with their arms wrapped around one another, smiling, one where Stiles was on Derek’s back, and another where they were sitting on the sand, holding each other’s hands and staring at one another rather than the camera. That photo of course led to a kiss, which Erica snapped a couple of pictures of before warning them that she would make Boyd separate them if they didn’t focus.

Afterwards, she had Isaac take a few of her and Boyd, and then had Derek take a few with her, Isaac, and Boyd. She switched around groups of people, even having Stiles and Boyd do a very odd photoshoot together that was really only pictures of them making each other laugh.

“Okay! Group photo time!” Erica squealed. Stiles had known that she loved pictures, having been taking several throughout the trip on both her phone and camera, but he had never seen her as excited as she was here, on the beach. He knew that he was excited to see the photos too, they would be a remembrance of the end of a journey; the end of an era of sorts. He wondered if that was how Erica saw the beach photos, as something to sum up the feeling of nostalgic bliss that had already begun to settle over the group.

“Stiles, since you are the newcomer sent straight from heaven, you pick the lucky fellow that will take our group picture,” Erica decided, thrusting the camera into Stiles’ hands.

He knew that probably anyone on the beach could press a button and take a decent photo, but this job seemed oddly important. Stiles scanned the building crowd of people with precision, until he spotted a young mother sitting on a towel next to a woman who he assumed was her wife. She had a small, cute baby in a little white sun hat and a matching dress sitting on her lap. Stiles knew that new parents were obsessed with taking photos and probably experts at it, plus the two women looked sweet and approachable, both with warm, dark eyes, and long brown hair.

Stiles walked over to the two mothers, smiling, and trying not to look like he was about to mug them or something. He wasn’t exactly threatening, especially with his neon swim trunks, but he was certainly bad at first impressions.

“Hey, so, I was wondering if one of you could take a picture of my friends and I, we’re making a scrapbook and you seem nice and yeah,” Stiles blurted.

The woman without the baby laughed. “We’re really terribly mean people, even though we look ‘nice.’ Sorry guy.”

“Emily!” Her wife chastised. “She’s only kidding, she has that sense of humor.”

“Whatever,” Emily chuckled, ignoring her wife’s complaint.

“I’ll take the photo,” the other woman said, setting the baby in Emily’s lap and standing. “I’m Caitlin.”

“Stiles,” Stiles introduced, handing her the camera and walking back over to the rest of the group.

“Wow, what a fun name,” Caitlin noted.

“Short for something terrifying,” Stiles explained.

“Oh, I’m sure.”

Erica quickly explained the camera’s settings to Caitlin, as if she wasn’t just going to have her press a button a few times, it being impossible to teach her how to master in photography in a matter of minutes, but Caitlin listened intently, nodding at everything Erica said. Once Erica was satisfied that Caitlin would be taking a good picture of them, she stood back, and motioned for the group to gather together. They were close enough to the water that each time the waves hit the shore, they brushed against their ankles.

“Okay, just tell me when you’re ready,” Caitlin instructed, holding the camera up.

The group quickly shuffled around, trying to get a perfect pose. When they finally stopped moving, Erica gave Caitlin a quick nod. Caitlin snapped a couple of photos before the group broke form, all eager to look at the picture.

In the photo, Boyd had swept Erica up in his arms, holding her while she stuck one leg in the air. Erica was grinning wildly, hair cascading down her shoulders, while Boyd looked down at Isaac, eyes mid-roll, but a smile on his lips. Isaac was snuggled up next to Boyd, giving him bunny ears and smirking. Stiles was next to Isaac, but his focus was entirely on Derek, and not the scene playing out next to him. He was looking up at Derek, a smile on his lips and eyes gleaming. They were holding hands, fingers laced together tightly. Derek was also looking over at Stiles, eyes just as bright, and the biggest smile on his face that Stiles had ever seen. Maybe Derek was grumpy sometimes, but in that picture he looked nothing but happy and in love.

They all looked a little bit love; they were in love with the moment and each other and the beach.

“I like it,” Caitlin offered, handing the camera back to Erica.

“Me too,” Erica replied, smile big.

“Thanks, Caitlin,” Stiles said.

“Hey, no problem,” she replied. “You guys have a fun rest of your trip, my wife and I now have a baby to bring into the water for the first time.”

“Wait, can we help?” Isaac quickly blurted. “What I like babies,” he furthered, when everyone gave him puzzled looks.

“I don’t see why not,” Caitlin smiled, letting the group follow her over to her towel.

They spent the next hour splashing around in the shallow waters with Caitlin and Emily and their baby, Alice. Boyd didn’t even complain that they were behind schedule, everyone lost in the pure experience.

Eventually Alice tired of the water and yawned, Emily taking her back to the towel. They exchanged hugs and Stiles kissed Alice on the cheek, the baby grumbling, before they walked back to the RV.

When they got back on, Erica lost the rock paper scissors game of who would drive the four and a half hours back to Beacon Hills, and grumbled to the driver’s seat. Stiles inserted his address into the GPS system before going back into the bedroom with Derek. Isaac yelled something about no sex, but they ignored him, shutting the door.

“So, this is our last few hours as the Barbie RV Adventure Squad,” Derek pointed out. They were sprawled out on the bed, shoulder to shoulder, changed out of their swimsuits and into sweatpants.

“Never thought I’d live long enough to hear you actually call us that,” Stiles laughed.

“It’s growing on me.”

“How’s Sourwolf coming along?”

“That’s growing on me a lot slower,” Derek replied, but Stiles knew that he was starting to like it. Or, at the very least, he liked Stiles enough to accept the nickname.

“Read me a poem Derek, and then let’s take a nap,” Stiles said, yawning.

“You sleep way too much,” Derek told him, but grabbed his bag anyway, looking for one of his poetry books.

He pulled out a plain black spiral notebook, not an actual book like Stiles had expected. It looked worn down and well loved, Derek holding it to his chest carefully before opening it up and flipping through the pages, on a hunt for something.

“What is that your poem notebook?” Stiles asked him, jokingly.

“Actually, yes, I write down my favorite poems in here. I haven’t gotten around to writing my own yet, but I like to read these when I’m sad or bored,” Derek explained. “I know, it’s lame.”

“I like it,” Stiles assured him, feeling bad for the previous joke. “Read me something.”

“I have something that reminds me of you,” Derek said, “It’s called Invictus by William Ernest Henley.”

“Ooh, well then go ahead mister,” Stiles grinned.

Derek cleared his throat, eyes scanning over the page before beginning to read. “Out of the night that covers me, black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be, for my unconquerable soul.”

Derek paused, looking at Stiles as he said ‘unconquerable soul’.

“In the fell clutch of circumstance, I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeonings of chance, my head is bloody, but unbowed.”

Stiles didn’t know why the poem reminded Derek of him. He had bowed plenty, he had been bloody and had just bathed in it, let it soak in rather than stand up.

Derek continued. “Beyond this place of wrath and tears, looms but the Horror of the shade, and yet the menace of the years, finds and shall find me unafraid.”

“Derek, I don’t think this poem is really about me,” Stiles finally spoke.

Derek ignored him and read the last stanza, voice cracking, but full of passion nonetheless. “It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of the fate. I am the captain of my soul.”

“I think I’m a little bit in love with you,” Stiles admitted.

“Only a little bit?”

“No, I love you a lot.”

Derek laughed and leaned over to kiss Stiles on the cheek. “Trust me, you are the captain of your soul. You have faced a lot, even if it seems dumb to you or you think you’re selfish or not good enough. Because you’re turning things around, you’re fixing things and that is you facing your horrors.”

“I’m not unafraid though.”

“It’s okay, you don’t have to be, I don’t think anyone really is, not even William Ernest Henley. I think we fool ourselves into bravery, because at the end of the day, we are in charge of our souls, and that’s a hard thing to do.”

Stiles pulled Derek down again, so he could lay in Derek’s arms. “Tell me about your family. If you can.”

“My dad loved baking, he used to make us all desserts. He was terrible at making cakes for our birthdays though, because he couldn’t frost anything for shit. He was a pastry or pie kind of guy. So my youngest sister, Cora, would help him frost. When we had to make a cake for Cora’s birthday and wanted to surprise her, I had to help, and I got so much frosting everywhere my mom sent me away to go take a shower. The shower tiles got dyed pink for a week, from food coloring.

“My older sister, Laura, was obsessed with poetry. I liked history, so we spent a lot of time together. She liked old poems and I liked them too because they were old and they could capture an era in a couple of stanzas. We scoured libraries together and brought Cora along so she wouldn’t feel left out. We had to carry all our heavy textbooks full of old writing over to the kids section where Cora would read Roald Dahl books.”

“Did she read Matilda?” Stiles asked.

“It was her favorite. A book about a little girl that loved reading. That described Cora perfectly.”

“I wish I could have met them, they seem wonderful,” Stiles said softly.

Derek nuzzled his face into Stiles’ neck, kissing up the back of it. “They really would have loved you.”

“As much as you love me?”

“I don’t think anyone can love you as I much as I do.”

Stiles closed his eyes, content to sleep. He realized that he had never slept as much or as peacefully as he had until he embarked on this trip.

Maybe the key to getting a good night's sleep was reminding yourself that even with problems, you were the captain of your own soul. Waves slowed you down, but you weren’t about to capsize. And, if Stiles ever did break apart, he’d have people there to help him rebuild himself, stronger than ever.

------

I am different now. It’s all I can focus on as I make my way back home. Staring in the mirror, contorting my limbs to try and find where the scars have gone is tiring, though. I don’t need to see the scars to know that they’re still there. I can trace my fingers over each and every one and see the memory replay above my head. I think the deepest ones come from a loss, but they demand attention because if I didn’t feel them every day, if I didn’t force myself to feel the angry, bitterness that sours my mouth, I would forget that I never really hurt by myself. I am a team, a one member team sometimes made of many parts, and at other times a man with a whole group of people behind him. I will win and lose with this team and that has made all the difference. -S

When they arrived in Beacon County, Erica came into the room to wake up Stiles and Derek. They’d be at Stiles’ house in twenty-two minutes and he still needed to get his stuff together. It was a little bit past 5:00 p.m. and the sun was still hot and bright in the sky. His backpack barely had enough room for his small amount of clothes, let alone all his gifts, so he packed the items that he had collected into the box with the journals that Boyd had given him.

Sitting at the kitchen table with Derek sitting across from him and holding his hand, Stiles felt like his stomach was falling away. He wondered if he were to lift up his shirt would there still be flesh or would it all be peeling off? Would there be a hole where his nerves were gnawing?

Derek kept reminding him he’d come so far from the person who ran away from home and had a fear of relationships, but Stiles knew that changing himself took time. He also had been able to listen to Derek behind the shield of being away from his friends and family. Now he was going to have to explain everything to not only his dad, but to Scott, Allison, Lydia, and Jackson. He’d have to look at them. Someone was probably going to punch him. He hoped for Lydia. She was terrifying when it came to words but she also didn’t work out as much as the other three did. She did wear rings though.

“I think that they might not forgive me,” Stiles confessed to Derek. The hand that wasn’t set on the table, intertwined with Derek’s, was clutching onto his Sourwolf stuffed animal tightly.

“I think they will,” Derek told him. “And, even if they’re mad for a while, they will forgive you eventually. You have earned everyone on this RV’s respect, trust, and love, and we are some of the most difficult people in the world.”

Stiles laughed hoarsely. His voice was wet and heavy with the idea of confronting his loved ones. He felt like he’d betrayed them, which in a way he had, and he was worried they’d want to even out the slate.

“I’ll be with you the entire time if you want me too,” Derek assured him.

“Yeah, so will we,” Boyd promised him from the couch where he was sitting next to Isaac. Erica was driving but she shouted out her support to Stiles as well.

“Holy shit.” Stiles’ eyes widened. He was suddenly a million times more afraid to go home.

“Well, we don’t have to help,” Derek said, looking at Stiles confused.

“No, no, I love a good support system, but I just realized that I’m going to have to explain how I ran away and ended up on a random RV full of strangers and how I’m really close friends with three of them and not only dating, but fucking the fourth,” Stiles groaned. The entire situation was ridiculous, like something out of a shitty fanfiction.

“Well fuck, that’s one way to word it,” Isaac laughed.

“Judging by Stiles’ face, I’m going to assume that you’re not helping,” Boyd pointed out.

“No, he’s not fucking helping, I’m going to puke.” Stiles was pretty sure he was hyperventilating. Not only did have to apologize for being a jackass he also had to explain to his dad that despite being the son of a sheriff, he had no concept of ‘stranger danger’.

Derek’s hand started to recede at the mention of puke, but he quickly realized that comforting Stiles was probably the best way to prevent an onslaught of sickness and he left it.

“We’ll get through this unscathed,” Derek told him.

“Or at the very least only minorly scathed,” Isaac added, unhelpfully.

The RV lurched to a stop; Stiles’ heart sped up. He saw his dad’s cruiser in the driveway and wanted to die. Of course they would arrive back on one of his dad’s days off. He also remembered that the RV had really loud breaks and stopping in front of his house was sure to alert his dad. Sure enough, John was coming outside, looking up at the hulking vehicle in awe and confusion.

“I hope you’re ready Stiles, because I’m pretty sure your dad is going to start knocking on the door if you don’t go outside,” Erica said, walking over to the kitchen table.

Stiles gulped, but stood, letting go of Derek’s hand so he could sling his backpack onto his shoulders and pick up his box of stuff. His Sourwolf was placed right up top, next to his Stiles-Red Riding Hood. It didn’t inspire much confidence, but it did remind him that if this all fell apart, at least he would still have something good left in life. Really though, all Stiles wanted to do was hug his dad.

Derek leaned over to kiss Stiles, Stiles graciously accepting it. He would hold onto everything good he had right now. Erica, in her typical fashion, took a picture of the moment, smiling, before slinging her camera back around her neck. Stiles was going to miss the environment that he’d spent the last week in and the ridiculously loving and insane family he’d joined, but he wasn’t going to leave his old family behind either.

He exited the RV, the group behind him. Relief spread across his dad’s face. There wasn’t a frown, not yet anyway. Instead he let out a ragged, “Stiles.”

“Hey dad.” He offered a pathetic half wave, not sure where to start. “So, I’m home.”

“Jesus christ,” Isaac muttered under his breath, but quickly shut up when Boyd elbowed him.

“Yeah, I can see that,” John replied. He looked like he was seeing a ghost, still unsure of what to say to Stiles. It was fading fast though, anger starting to take place as he looked at Stiles and his odd group of new friends.

“Okay,” Stiles started, wanting to avoid an argument more than anything. “Is it possible that I just call up Scott and everyone so I only have to explain myself once?”

John blinked, once and then a second time. He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. That was the impatient and blunt father that Stiles knew. He was shaking off his initial shock and staring Stiles down.

It didn’t seem like his dad was going to speak anytime soon and Stiles was unsure of how to continue the conversation. He just didn’t think he could handle re-explaining himself to his friends after his dad, especially considering his dad could very well have a negative reaction. John already seemed entirely done with Stiles’ bullshit, more so than usual.

Derek seemed to sense the building tension, and he spoke. “Sir, Stiles just really wants to apologize. It’ll be much less emotionally draining for him if he can confront everyone at once.”

Derek sounded odd speaking to John. His voice took on a steady, soothing, tone, as if John was an employee upset with his boss. He held himself high and looked the other man right in the eyes. He was authoritative without the usual sarcasm that Derek would fall back on.

Even with Derek’s impressively calm nature, John did not seem fazed. If anything Stiles’ dad looked more on edge and frustrated, his eyes narrowing at the stranger in front of him who was trying to mediate the situation. He must have noticed how Derek loomed over Stiles, hand resting lightly on his arm, his stance almost protective. Stiles realized that he probably should have had Derek stand as far away from him as possible and forced him not to speak. He was going to have to confront the situation of them dating soon enough, but Stiles was a devout procrastinator.

“Who exactly are you?” John asked suspiciously.

“Derek Hale. We've met before, when you worked on my family’s case. I believe you were the one who caught the woman who decided to burn the house down when everyone else gave up on finding her,” Derek answered. He was still calm. Stiles was in awe.

John nodded, clearly soaking in the praise for a moment. But John was also not a person that needed compliments to get by. Stiles had never known his dad to be desperate for good press; really all he ever needed was explanations, results, and clarity on a situation. No one was giving that to him and Stiles could see the dissatisfaction wading off of John. He wore the signature Stilinski face of frustration: widened eyes and a pouted mouth, and when he spoke, he waved his hands - not as wild as Stiles did - but enough that people took notice.

“Okay, that’s all well and good, son, but you were fifteen when that happened. Stiles was eight. That really doesn’t explain how you know him or why you apparently ran off with him.”

“Jesus christ, dad, just let me call Scott and we’ll sort all this out,” Stiles groaned. He wanted to crawl back onto the RV, slink his body across the floor, and crawl back into the bed, preferably with Derek.

“You don’t have to,” John finally responded. “Everyone is already here.”

Stiles wanted to ask his dad if he was losing his shit or perhaps taking the drugs he confiscated from criminals, but figured he was already in enough trouble without the jokes. Instead he asked, “Excuse me?”

“They’ve been coming over every afternoon and staying for dinner in case you came back. No one wanted to miss it,” John explained. “We all assumed the giant… Barbie RV would contain you, but I had everyone stay inside so you wouldn’t be overwhelmed.”

“Oh,” Stiles stammered, taken aback. His dad had said everyone was here and he was trying to picture Jackson sitting in his living room waiting for him.

John clapped his hands together, “Okay, let’s go inside everybody.”

The tension inside was overwhelming, everyone gathered in the living room blinking at one another while John was grabbing drinks in the kitchen. Scott, Allison, Lydia, and Jackson were squished up on the couch, while Stiles, Derek, Boyd, Erica, and Isaac were on the other side of the coffee table across the couch, sitting in wooden chairs that had been stolen from the dining room table.

John had instructed everybody to not start talking until he came back in, probably to keep the peace and prevent fighting, but Lydia Martin - the strawberry blonde goddess she was - was not one to follow rules she didn’t agree with.

“I should slap you right now,” she snapped at Stiles, glaring at him.

“I believe Mr. Stilinski said no talking,” Isaac told her, shooting Stiles a pitying glance. At least Isaac had his back, but he was little protection against the beautiful beast that was currently staring him down.

“Who are you again?” Lydia asked Isaac, ice trickling out with her words.

Isaac gulped. “Isaac Lahey.”

“And how do you know Stiles?”

Stiles let out a breath of relief when his dad returned into the room with a tray that had various cans of soda on it. He also realized that if his dad had that much soda he probably hadn’t been eating healthy while Stiles was gone, but Stiles knew that that was touchy subject even when he hadn’t just disappeared for a week, so he let it go.

“Lydia, I am just as pissed at Stiles, believe me,” John said, setting the tray onto the table before sitting in his recliner next to the couch, “But, I figure we should let him try and explain this shit.”

It was odd how relaxed his dad suddenly was around Lydia and the rest of his friends. Besides Scott, the Sheriff had barely socialized with them, despite the fact that they’d all known each other since sophomore year. They must have really been hanging out every day that week for such a dramatic change to occur.

Lydia frowned, but sat back and nodded. Jackson had his arm slung around her shoulders and was shooting Stiles daggers but that was normal. Scott and Allison were holding hands and Scott just looked exhausted. Allison’s face was warm, the only one who didn’t seem upset, but she was good at covering up that sort of stuff.

“You good?” Derek whispered into Stiles’ ear when Stiles didn’t say anything. Lydia raised an eyebrow at that, but thankfully didn’t comment.

Stiles nodded and began speaking. “I guess I’ll start with why I ran away,” he said, quietly.

Stiles, for the third time, had to put into words why he woke up one morning and packed up all his shit, walked out the front door, and began driving. It felt like he was treading through wet cement, everything was sticky and tough. But nothing had swallowed him up yet, the cement hadn’t dried, so he counted himself lucky and kept moving forward.

Stiles was not as open as he was with Isaac, not at first. When he told Isaac how he felt achingly alone he hadn’t cared if he vilified himself or not. He felt terrible, therefore he was terrible and his image didn’t matter. But now the people he trusted the most were staring him down and Scott looked like wanted to cry when Stiles said that he felt like he lost his best friend because everyday they took a step away from each other. And Stiles wanted to stop speaking and say he was joking and he ran away because he was bored, but he’d be lying. He needed to let his friends know that he wanted to be more open with them, but he didn’t know how. He just tried to tell the truth.

“I don’t resent any of you or blame any of you guys for this,” Stiles admitted. “I talked to Isaac about this a lot, and I can’t expect help without asking for it. I just accepted that everyone left and stopped trying to hold onto anything. It was all so slippery and I just gave up.”

When Stiles mentioned his mom, his dad let out a shattered gasp. It was hard for him to even hear Claudia’s name, let alone be reminded of how she fell apart in her last days or how much it had really fucked up Stiles and his perception of relationships.

“I don’t expect to be perfect, not yet and not ever, but I do want to try and be better to you guys, be more open, and actually talk about things,” Stiles told them. He wanted to make sure they knew he was promising them something, that his words were heavy and sorrowful but the truth.

His friends and father looked taken aback; Scott was looking at the ground.

“You know that we do care about you, right, Stilinski?” Jackson finally said. “We notice when you look upset or extra wiry and shit, but we don’t really know what to do.”

Stiles wanted to hug Jackson, probably for the first time in his life. It was strange but nice.

“Helping someone with depression and anxiety requires support and dedication from both sides,” Isaac explained. “I’d also recommend Stiles seeing a therapist.”

“Okay, really who the fuck are you people?” Jackson grumbled, sounding more like himself.

“Right, I guess that’s a thing that needs to be discussed,” Stiles sighed.

“Yes, son,” John urged him. “We have a lot of things to talk about later, but I think explaining who these people are would really make me feel like less of a bad parent.”

“Okay, so when my car broke down, their RV happened to drive by. They stopped and offered to call a tow truck, but I really didn’t have the money, hence why I called Scott. Erica, this blonde girl,” Stiles paused to point at Erica, “offered to let me join them on their road trip after I talked to them for a little bit. They were very hospitable.”

“I’m sorry, I think I just heard my not-too-old-to-be-grounded son say that he got into a car with a group of strangers,” John groaned.

“To be fair, we’re very nice people,” Erica interjected, but quieted when John glared at her.

“They are nice, dad,” Stiles defended. “They gave me a place to sleep, food, and they even live in Beacon county and go to Berkeley. They really helped me out, honestly. I needed the experience they gave me and the advice too. We’ve really all become close friends, they even got me birthday presents.”

John nodded, but he still looked angry, “I’d like to know, in detail, what went down during this road trip.”

“Not a problem, I have pictures!” Erica announced, slipping her camera off from around her neck and setting it on the table.

John picked it up and turned it on, hitting the view gallery button. His brow furrowed quickly, and he let out a loud, “What the fuck?” His voice was a mixture of confusion and anger.

Everyone stared at John quizzically, before, one-by-one, Stiles, Derek, Erica, Isaac, and Boyd realized what the last picture taken was.

“Oh my god,” Isaac half chuckled, half gasped at the same time Stiles let out an “Oh shit” and Derek’s face paled.

“So, that was my next talking point, although I was hoping to ease you into it,” Stiles stammered awkwardly.

“How the fuck were you going to ease me into the fact that my son is apparently off making out and doing god knows what else with an adult that he just barely met,” John seethed.

“Wait, what the fuck is happening?” Jackson asked, delighted. He leaned over to try and see the camera, but Scott held him back.

“I’m eighteen dad!”

“And how old are you, Derek?” John hissed.

“I’m twenty four, sir,” Derek answered, voice small.

“You are aware that my son was only seventeen at the beginning of your little road trip, yes? I don’t care if he was a week away from being eighteen, he was underage.”

Stiles assessed his father’s reddened face and realized there was not a simple word or sentence that would appease his rage. He knew that he would have to tell his dad about the fact he and Derek were dating, but he had planned to do it after he’d been home for a week or so and had made his dad a steak dinner or something. At the very least, that was the one thing he hadn’t wanted to tell his dad at the same time as his friends.

Stiles was now stuck between watching his father’s frown deepen and his friends’ shock and worry grow. He wasn’t sure if they were more worried about the sheriff shooting Derek, shooting him, or just worried about Derek and Stiles’ relationship, but the suspicious look Scott was giving Derek suggested the latter.

Stiles mouth flopped open a few times, each opening another chance to explain himself. Yet, Stiles didn’t really have an explanation, he didn’t want to make excuses for why it was okay he was dating Derek. He loved Derek and Derek made him happy and wasn’t that enough?

“I love him, Dad,” Stiles managed.

John let out a loud, bellowing laugh, one that seemed to shake the house. “Love? You’ve known him a week. You’re in love with an idea.”

Stiles wanted to cry or scream or do both. He understood where his dad was coming from and he knew it was near impossible to make him see how deep his feelings for Derek ran, how his blood had almost stopped flowing, his heart had begun to falter in its beats before Derek came along and reminded him how to live. But, in the end Stiles couldn’t do or say really anything. He was frozen, gnawing on his tongue and looking down at the floor. Stiles felt eyes on him, knew everyone was awaiting a bitterly sarcastic response, but he wasn’t sure he had it in him.

Derek started to reach for his hand before halting inches away from it. Stiles knew that he was doing it to appease John, but it stung, like being slapped in the face by a chilled wind. Stiles had become so close to him he’d forgotten how it felt to be alone.

The room held a pregnant pause, everything silent and cold. It was empty but certainly not dull, rather the melancholy feeling when everyone leaves after a party. Stiles looked around and saw the faces of his family and he felt home and he saw it being taken away.

“I don’t know how to make you believe me,” Stiles sighed, weighty, like water was in his lungs. “But I do know I love him and that he is important to me.”

The sheriff opened his mouth to speak but Lydia held up a perfectly manicured hand and silenced him. Only she could have that power, she commanded a room with her narrowed eyes.

“I wasn’t kidding when I said I should slap you right now,” she started, voice sharp. “Now please, explain this to me, explain to me why you left us and then came back with new people, replacements. Tell us why we shouldn’t be concerned or scared.”

Lydia’s voice wavered towards the end but her face was a blank slate. She needed Stiles to tell her what to feel.

“I never said they were replacements, they could never replace you, Lyds. I think I just needed a new perspective, someone to remind me of how to live. You have to understand, I was floating. I wasn’t feeling anything, happy or sad, I was just feeling empty. And loving Derek, wasn’t on purpose, but I am thankful for him. He has been through a lot, I know you guys have read about the Hale family, but I felt like I finally shared a feeling with someone.”

“We’ve all gone through shit-” Scott paused to give John a hesitant look before correcting himself, not as uncaring as Jackson, “um, stuff that kills us too, you could have come to us.”

Images of Scott sobbing when he finally realized his dad wasn’t coming back burst into Stiles’ mind. The plaster that covered the hole Scott punched in the wall that same day broke away. Stiles swallowed down bile.

“I thought I was bothering you guys, Derek was a stranger, and I thought that after a week I’d never see him again. But he is important. He saves people, he’s a martyr, and for a while I thought talking to him was a distraction from my pain, but I realize now that he was a remedy. He makes me feel safe and special and I feel lucky to have fallen in love so quick, if it means I can share this connection with him. I want you guys to know Derek and laugh at his terrible jokes, and see how smart he is, and love him a little bit. I want you to love everyone in this group, they are family to me know, just like you guys are. I know I should’ve talked to you guys, but for a moment I needed to be a part of something else. And now what I want is all of it, all of you guys. I know that’s selfish and I’m sorry.”

Stiles still felt sick when he finished, but he also was overcome with relief. He had stood his ground and it felt empowering. This time Derek did take his hand and he squeezed it tightly because he knew that Stiles wasn't made out of glass and that he loved him.

“I’m always going to love you, Stiles, and I want to support the decisions you make, especially now that you’re eighteen,” John said, after carefully eyeing Derek and Stiles’ interlocked hands.

“Then try and understand why I left and why I’m back and the decisions I made while I was gone. I’m not ever going to replace you, dad.”

John was blinking away tears and shoved at them, like he couldn’t be bothered. “You’re so much like your mother and it’s my favorite part about you. All your bad habits and good habits you picked up from us made something better than I could have hoped for.”

“She would have come back too, you know, if she had a choice,” Stiles said.

“I know, son, I know.”

------

Scott and I used to dream of discovering something so big. We were restless in such a small town. We’d listen in on my dad’s work calls to try and solve crimes alongside him, which usually resulted in us getting grounded. Yet, we knew that our hearts would always be tied to Beacon Hills. Scott couldn’t leave anymore than I could, which is why we decided on a college in California. When Scott’s dad left we were eleven. Melissa had woken up my dad up with a phone call, crying and asking if Scott could see me. My dad shoved my half-asleep body into a car and drove me over there. While Melissa and my father sat in the dim kitchen and talked, Scott and I sat upstairs on his bed. Scott’s head had a small cut on it; apparently, his dad had pushed him down the stairs in a haste to leave. Scott never really got over that one. We held hands and Scott screamed and punched his wall. We spent the next four hours in the emergency room getting a cast for his broken thumb. I remember that when Melissa asked Scott why he did it, knowing he would get hurt, he told her it was all he could do. Yet, after that night, I saw my brother grow up right in front of me. If there was a problem, Scott wanted to solve it. He wanted to help you. He wanted to be better. He studied longer and harder and did well in school. The night that Scott’s dad left was the most vulnerable I have ever seen him. It was also the night I realized I couldn’t lose him. His heart is so big and he is so much better than anyone will ever be. He’s the hero and he doesn’t even realize it. I can’t leave him as much as I can’t leave California. He’s my home. -S

The impromptu, soul crushing meeting ended in a small crash of waves, really only a brush against the shore. Derek, Erica, Isaac, and Boyd loitered at the door not sure of their place anymore, or if Stiles would be joining them.

Stiles sauntered over with his hands in the pockets of his sweatpants. He knew that it would be difficult to not spend a night without this wonderful group of people but he also understood that he really just needed his old life back, at least for a night. Stiles had begun to learn that the past didn’t always need to be shoved helplessly away. He’d integrate the two groups soon, but tonight he was far too tired.

“You sure you’re okay here?” Isaac asked, eyeing the others - specifically Lydia - suspiciously. He’d become surprisingly protective of Stiles since the night in the forest, something that meant more than either party would ever admit.

Stiles let out a throaty laugh, one that held a bit too much bittersweet flavor. “This is my house Isaac, they are my family as much as you guys are. And, tonight I need to remind them of that.”

Isaac looked a bit more relieved, but even sagged shoulders didn’t account for the narrowed eyes. Isaac didn’t inherently trust people, so Stiles didn’t hold him to it. To be fair, everyone in this room either trusted too greatly or too little, a group of worn down individuals. Stiles wasn’t worried though, they’d fit together nicely.

However, Stiles was worried when the group left and he was faced with those he had wronged, this time alone. Even after the heartfelt apologies and explanations, he still wondered if true forgiveness was ever entirely possible.

“Scott, Stiles, go get blankets and pillows from Stiles’ room,” Lydia demanded. “We’re building a fort in the living room and spending the night.”

Stiles hesitated. He hated that he did, but the pause was long enough to the hear the crunch of Scott’s flinch as he stepped away from the railing. They all knew why Stiles didn’t bound up the stairs gleefully following Scott. It was why Lydia was trying to force them alone. And Stiles, despite wanting forgiveness, did not know how to demand it be given to him. He was standing in one place and yet still finding a way to move backwards.

Lydia wore sympathy well. She could wear any emotion really, and still look impeccably beautiful. Enviably intelligent and poised even in the worst moments. Stiles knew that she was still trying to deal with her own feelings about the situation, but she clutched those in one hand and reached out to Stiles with the other.

“Go ahead you two,” she spoke softly, “Take as long as you need. We’ll start drawing up plans down here.”

Scott nodded, uncharacteristically quiet. He took a couple of steps up the stairs and then looked back, waiting for Stiles to follow him. It was the same old story, Scott, the loving leader, with Stiles trailing behind. But when Stiles reached his friend's side and they began to ascend the staircase, Scott did not stray ahead. Rather, they walked up together, and that felt important.

When they made it into Stiles’ room, he closed the door out of habit and instantly regretted it. He didn’t feel trapped per say, rather just unprepared, without a backup exit in case things went terribly. Scott sat on his bed but Stiles paused. It was all too comfortable and Stiles was afraid to revel in it.

“Okay why are you acting like this, Stiles?” Scott finally sighed.

He wore his feelings painted on his face, more open than Stiles had ever been. Scott had nothing to hide. Stiles wasn’t sure when his own hiding had truly begun.

Stiles sat down next to Scott, his arms hanging awkwardly by his side. He wondered if not knowing how to sit without feeling uncomfortable was a side effect of losing his mind or if the fact he was aware of the creeping feeling meant he was finally coping.

“I think I’m a bit stuck. Like I’m waiting for you to say that you hate me,” Stiles confessed, now twisting his fingers together.

Scott often tried to present himself as levelheaded, but one conversation with him had you realizing he was just as confused as anyone. But he was always endearing, even when you wanted to strangle him or scream at him to do better. And when someone finally had the guts to call Scott out, he eventually learned. Scott knew how to grow, perhaps slowly, sometimes hurting others, but when he was done growing, he tried to make right with anything he’d fucked up. Stiles ached to be like him or to at least be respected like him.

Scott wasn’t quite trembling now, but his body was sort of rocking, like he was steadying himself on a boat. Trying to grip onto the rails but always coming up short. Stiles could hear Derek telling him that he wasn’t the one shaking Scott but the evidence was right in front of his eyes.

“I think that I sort of got stuck too,” Scott finally answered. “I mean we all saw that you were getting bad and yet, I kept thinking that you were fine because you were cracking jokes and I ignored it, because god, Stiles, things aren’t ever really easy for us are they?”

Stiles’ stomach and throat rumbled and he realized it was laughter. He’d laughed a lot with Derek lately, but not with Scott for a while.

“Getting bad? Scott you met me when my mom died and you didn’t realize that I was pretending? I think I’ve always been bad.”

Scott laughed too, softly, politely. It was genuine but somehow Scott managed to keep his face almost emotionless had his darkened eyes not given away his sadness.

“It’s not just about your mom though, is it?”

“No, I think that’s where it all started, but no, it’s not just about that.” Stiles didn’t laugh this time.

Scott sighed and laid back, his head nearly touching the wall that Stiles’ bed was pushed up against. His long legs hung over the edge still, and he bumped his ankle against Stiles’ when Stiles decided to lay down too. They both stayed looking up at the ceiling. His fan was unbearably dusty.

“I’m not sure how to be happy and help you. I can’t feel guilty for being in love,” Scott admitted, he was quieter now that the laughing was over.

“God, it’s not about Allison. I mean it is, but it isn’t just her. Besides, I have Derek. I think being love is the best thing either of us can hope for right now,” Stiles sighed.

“Then what is it about, Stiles, is it about you being lonely? Because we all get lonely sometimes.” Scott was angrier now, he sat up. He was not on the verge of shouting but rather it was like he was chewing on metal, waiting for a tooth to break. “I’m right here, I’ve been right here the whole time.”

Stiles sat up too and turned his head to face Scott, even though his friend didn’t move a muscle. “I felt left behind and lonely when I was with you guys and that isn’t okay. I think that I am bad at explaining myself and I don’t share anything and I blame other people for not asking me. But, fuck, Scott, why couldn’t you just ask me? Why couldn’t you just be my brother again and ask me?” Stiles was crying now and he wanted to wipe away the hot tears but his muscles were glued to the bed.

“That isn’t fair, Stiles. You used everyone else’s happiness to feed your own sadness and that isn’t fucking fair,” Scott snapped.

“I needed help letting people in and none of you offered that to me so I’m sorry if I got bitter because you all seemed so happy and so sure of yourselves when I was still struggling to walk and to think, so I guess fuck me for being upset,” Stiles growled, but no amount of spitting anger could drown out the watery sadness in his throat.

“Yeah, fuck you,” Scott fired back.

Stiles wanted to retaliate, but instead he started chuckling. Scott joined in and they both began hysterically giggling.

“When did we get like this?” Scott asked, words cracking a bit.

“I think I was so busy believing that you were angry with me that you started to really get angry with me,” Stiles answered. His voice wasn’t cracking but it was worn out and soft.

“Yeah well, it used to be fun learning something new about you, but then you kept everything to yourself and it felt like a guessing game, like I had to figure out if you were sad or not because if I said something that didn’t go along with your mood you would freak out on me,” Scott told him.

Stiles hadn’t turned away from his friend and noticed just how tired Scott really did look. His eyes were darkened underneath and his lips were cracked and far too red, like he’d been biting them, something Scott only did when he was horribly stressed.

“I had to take a moment to step away, Scott, I’m sorry, but I think the most important thing I learned was that we all suffer through pain alone and we’re all a bit fucked up, but I can ask for help. Both of us have to try. I’m sorry I never really did,” Stiles said.

“To be fair, when I’m upset you listen and you don’t ever talk about yourself. You’re allowed to talk to me. I haven’t ever told you that.” Scott turned to look at Stiles, finally. “So, tell me about you, tell me about your mom or your new friends or Derek, just tell me. I promise I won’t step ahead or away from you this time.”

Suddenly, all at once, Stiles didn’t feel heavy anymore. He picked up his arm and bent it and moved it around and wiggled his fingers all in wonder. Things were coming together and he knew that Isaac and Derek and the whole group would be so proud of him and he knew that most importantly, his mom would have been grateful that he hadn’t become as lost and alone as she had.

The numbness had subsided. Derek didn’t take Stiles’ chance of happiness away when he had left earlier and Stiles hadn’t needed Derek to sit next to him while he waded through all the thickness of it all. Stiles had reached out for help and received it. He still ached a bit, but Scott wriggled closer to him until their shoulders touched and it all felt less cold and sharp.

“I think for the first time in a while, we understand each other,” Stiles marveled.

“I never really understood you Stiles, but I admired you and how you saw everything so differently. You didn’t need to fix everything, you just saw it, the good in it, and I admired that so much.” Scott was crying and Stiles wondered when that had happened.

“I think everybody needs to fix something and you’re the best at that. You hold all of this together.”

Scott laughed and finally it was bittersweet and not just sad. “Maybe I’m the hope, the one who tries to inspire others, but you’re the one that holds it all together. You’re our heart and that's why we waited for you and why I never asked if you were okay. If you stopped being okay, none of us would be okay and that was too hard to think about. I should’ve thought about it. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t worry, Scotty, you’re still the same hope-filled sap you’ve always been,” Stiles teased.

“No I’m not, I’m better, we all are.”

The room got lighter all at once and they were both floating. Even the dust on the ceiling fan became strangely beautiful and endearing.

“Thank god for that.”

------

I love feeling like I am a part of something. I love feeling unity. I think this whole journey was about that. I knew I was lost and it felt selfish to be lost when I was with so many other people. When you’re confused and wading through shit, you project all of it onto those you care about, even if you try not too. But, people can’t just stay alone forever, we all need someone to help us grow and love. And the strangers that I surrounded myself with became my friends and then my family all within a few days. So, yeah, I guess I love unity and being together and being with people. I know that we are going to fight again, Scott and I, and Derek and I, and even my dad and I will argue from time to time. But I’m going to be selfish and still hold onto the feeling of unity as hard as I can. I don’t care if my knuckles crack or my heart breaks, I want this to last. I won’t give up so easily. I want to love with all I have, I want to love myself with all I have, and most of all, I want to be loved. -S

The fort they built, when Stiles and Scott finally emerged from the room reborn and reunited, was not structurally sound. Lydia had come up with an expert plan that involved stacking pillows against chairs and attaching blankets to those pillows and chairs with clothespins, but they could only find two clothespins and Jackson kept accidentally knocking stacks of pillows over.

In the end they had draped the sheets over the chairs and taped them so they wouldn’t slide off. Then they added a big comforter over the sheets so it would be darker inside, but the comforter was a lot heavier and made it all sort of droopy. Lydia also decorated the interior with tons of pillows and fuzzy blankets and put on some sort of calming piano music before letting everyone enter, as soon as they removed their shoes, of course.

“It’s kind of cramped in here,” Jackson grumbled, finding a place to sit in the corner.

Lydia rolled her eyes and snuggled up against her boyfriend before pulling Stiles onto her other side. “We all love each other, we’ll be fine.”

Scott sat next to Stiles, leaning in closer to his friend than he was to Allison, who was on Scott’s left, and Stiles selfishly appreciated the gesture. He knew that it would not always be this way and he also knew that he was happier knowing that he could still have Scott even if Scott dated Allison. He didn’t need him to be glued to his side forever; people shifted and grew apart, it was a natural part of life. But when you had what Scott and Stiles had: this emotional bond that twisted and tangled itself in their guts and refused to budge, even when it briefly weakened, there was no amount of space that would separate them.

Besides, after meeting Derek, Stiles finally understood what it was like to be utterly consumed in a person, to breathe in and only want to smell them, to see the simplest of objects and think of them, and to be overflowing with stories about them. It was mind altering, shattering everything, and Scott and Stiles would always be brothers, but they also were important to others now. They’d grown up. Grown past punching walls and snooping around crime scenes.

Although, Stiles was sure if he asked Scott, he’d go exploring with him again. He was also sure John and Melissa would ground them both again. It didn’t matter how much they grew up, their parents could still be frightening.

“I ordered a few pizzas for you kids!” John yelled and he walked past the fort, only his silhouette visible through the blankets. “I’m heading to the station to get some paperwork done early. Money is on the counter.”

Stiles half crawled, half slug-slid out of the fort so he could face his dad before he left. He knew that John was only going to the station so he could sit in his office and listen to nothing but the quiet and slight tremble of bustling work that occurred outside of it. He needed to be alone with his thoughts and Stiles needed to be with his friends.

Perhaps the biggest shift in life was how children started needing their parents less. Some children learned this sooner than others, but eventually everyone created a certain degree of independence. Stiles might not have really needed his dad anyone, at least not physically, but as he pulled him into a tight hug, a nearly rib-breaking embrace, Stiles knew he would never feel right without him.

“I love you, dad, and I’m sorry,” Stiles told him, speaking into his dad’s shoulder, not ready to let go yet.

John pulled away and gave Stiles a small smile. “I love you too, kiddo. One day you’re going to realize there’s no changing that.”

Stiles nodded, not entirely sure what to say back to such a simple yet honest confession. He let his dad walk to the door and leave. He then made his way back into the fort where his friends, the people he loved so much, sat waiting, watching his movements. So, Stiles sat back down and spoke.

“I don’t know if I ever truly gave any of you an apology, but I am sorry for the way that my mind works and the fucked up shit I put you all through because of it. But I love you guys, I love you all to bits, and maybe that might not be enough, but I’ve learned a lot and I’m going to try and make it mean something.”

It was Allison who was the first to speak, after the group sat focusing on the soft piano music and the bouncing of words in their minds.

“I know we don’t talk that much, Stiles, which is weird because we’re always with Scott, but I was incredibly worried when you disappeared. Scott had to stop me and your dad from running off to go look for you, I was even considering getting my dad involved, he’s an excellent hunter.”

Stiles couldn’t help but chuckle slightly at the idea of Chris Argent, John, and Allison all teaming up to hunt him down as he traveled the west coast in a Barbie RV. The whole thing sounded like a bad joke. That’s how this series of unending apologies and confessions felt like. They were all so terribly serious and unfunny that he needed to laugh otherwise he would probably start crying and have no way to stop.

“The point is, I was worried too. We’ve all become some sort of weird estranged family that was forced to suddenly live together. I mean, Jackson hated all of us before I moved here and Lydia became my friend and then Scott started dating me and I made him and Lydia hang out with you guys,” Allison continued. “So, I guess what I’m asking is please don’t leave again, not before I have the chance to really know you.”

Stiles didn’t have much energy left to be truly stunned by Allison’s words, but he felt their impact nonetheless, it just didn’t sting like he expected them too. She was Scott’s girl, the pretty, pale one, whose hair was even wavier than it had been when he first met her, ever since she cut it short last summer. And now, a part of Allison was Stiles’ to keep and he, without even knowing, had become entirely ingrained in her. Even Jackson was humming along to the music, the song having changed to something slightly more upbeat than the somber one Lydia had first put on. So Stiles nodded and smiled at Allison and she smiled back.

“This is so depressing,” Jackson said, suddenly. “I mean, I get it, we’re all happy Stilinski is back and everything, but we’re just sitting here, sad.”

“Pizza’s on the way,” Stiles offered lamely.

“God, I planned this and even I agree with Jackson,” Lydia sighed, running her fingers through the front of her hair. Even that didn’t cause it to frizz.

“Stiles has Just Dance, doesn’t he?” Allison asked, a sly smile on her lips, probably because she knew that she and Lydia were the only ones in the room that could actually dance. Scott and Stiles were too uncoordinated and Jackson was simply unwilling to really try.

“No,” Jackson groaned, further proving Stiles’ theory that he would never dance in front of people, if it wasn’t a half-assed slow dance at homecoming or prom.

Stiles looked around at his little family, all shoved into a fort and arguing over whether or not Just Dance would be played and rolled his eyes fondly. These were the people who had slowly inserted themselves into his life ever since he first met Scott all those years ago.

Everything had changed, he was no longer in love with Lydia and as much as they liked to joke, him and Jackson didn’t hate each other anymore. Both Stiles and Scott were dating someone, even though they had agreed they would be forever alone back in eighth grade when they were twelve and both had bad haircuts and wore clothes way too big for them.

Some things were still the same though, like how Jackson was mostly grumpy or at least pretended to be. Scott still cheered when he discovered that Stiles’ dad had ordered half the pepperoni pizza with pineapple on it, even though that was disgusting to everyone else, Allison still laughed like an angel, and Lydia still got her way. That is why, the fort was awkwardly moved backwards, parts of it slumping down, so that there would be more room for the group to dance.

Allison and Lydia offered to go first and chose a Nicki Minaj song, while the boys sat on the couch eating pizza and laughing at the fact that even two of the prettiest girls in the world could look ridiculous playing an Xbox dancing game. When they finished, out of breath and slightly flushed, the girls joined hands and did a dramatic bow, flipping back their hair and pretending that there was a large crowd screaming for them. Jackson kissed Lydia on the cheek even though he had been previously pouting about her choice to even play the game. He was also the first to stand, so he could pick the next song, “Drag Me Down” by One Direction.

“Stilinski, McCall, I know that we can get a higher score than those two terrible dancers,” he mocked, motioning for Scott and Stiles to stand up and join him in front of the TV.

Allison scoffed, while Lydia pointed out it wouldn’t really be fair unless the guys danced to the same song, but Jackson ignored them both and pressed play.

They managed to all only get two stars and kept crashing into each other, but Jackson added all three of their points together and claimed that they won and were truly the better dancers. Scott and Stiles kept screaming every time Lydia tried to argue against this and she threw a pillow at them.

They polished off all four boxes of pizza in the next few hours and tired themselves out with Just Dance so much that they were ready to retire back into the fort by ten. John had come home at around nine-thirty, taken one look at the state of his living room and gone upstairs to sleep. How he had managed to handle four teenagers coming over every day that Stiles was gone was incredible. He could barely deal with the mess and noise of one.

Yet, much like his son, John was oddly content with the mess.

------

I think one day, after I’ve graduated college and I’m kicking ass in the FBI, I will take a moment and just have a million kids. Okay, realistically probably only four or five, but I think the idea of a big family appeals to me. My dad once told me that he and my mom wanted a bunch of kids, but her illness got in the way. I think he’d enjoy tons of grandchildren, even though I know he would pretend to be really grumpy and complain every time I asked him to babysit. I can picture my dad spoiling them senseless. It was just the two of us for a while and things got lonely with all that grief just sitting around. Then, along came Melissa and Scott and everything got a little brighter. As I met more people and extended my family, I’ve discovered that my happiness only intensifies. I have so many people that I can laugh with, that I can tell stories with, and that I can help and be helped by. I know there are people who like being alone, but I think everyone gets lonely sometimes. I know that I do. Maybe, people will tell me it’s bad to rely so heavily on others, to need people. But everybody needs someone. Everyone wants a family. I am grateful for mine and hopeful to watch it keep growing as I get older. It’ll only get better from here. -S

It was a week before Stiles saw Derek again. He had become caught up in his old life and couldn’t find a way to combine his two selves quite yet. Instead, John let them keep the fort up for three more days before he finally sent everyone to their own houses and reclaimed the living room as his spot to watch TV, making Stiles wash all of the blankets.

They spent the next four days lazing around at Lydia or Jackson’s houses because they both had pools and money, their fridges were full of endless amounts of food. They all developed slight sunburns, unfortunately. Even though Allison tried to make sure they reapplied their sunblock, she wasn’t quite as diligent as Boyd was.

Stiles constantly texted Derek, of course, telling him stupid jokes that he and Scott would take a good fifteen minutes trying to construct or sending him poems and then proceeding to talk about those poems for a few hours. No one ever yelled at him for the times he would sneak away to talk to Derek on the phone but Stiles was sure that they would sometimes listen to their conversations, because he heard a voice that sounded suspiciously like Jackson, muttering about how Sourwolf was the weirdest pet name he had ever heard.

They day that he and Derek finally reunited was a particularly hot Sunday, when Lydia suggested Stiles’ new friends come over to eat dinner and maybe even swim afterwards. Her dining room table could seat twelve even though it was only her and her mom that lived there. Natalie Martin was out of town for some relatives’ wedding that Lydia hated and didn’t want to attend. She had grown up so much from the Lydia who would’ve gone anyway, just to keep up appearances, and Stiles found himself infatuated with her all over again. Not to the point that he wanted to date her, rather that he was glad to be able to spend so much time with her. He was glad she had found love. Jackson was a good guy despite his attitude; although, that was fading less and less as the summer stretched on.

Derek brought over two bouquets of flowers, one for Lydia and one for Stiles, which had Jackson laughing endlessly. Stiles just kissed Derek on the cheek, quick and almost unnoticeable, still not sure how he felt about PDA in front of any of the others. He’d gotten used to it with Erica, Isaac, and Boyd, but no one else even knew Derek. It seemed weird to kiss a stranger in front of people who considered him family.

The new group were dressed in a semi-formal fashion, like they weren’t sure what the occasion called for. Isaac tugged awkwardly at his grey scarf when he saw Scott was just wearing a t-shirt, as if he didn’t wear a scarf nearly every fucking day of his life. Stiles found himself smiling, genuinely, at the fact that his new friends had tried so hard to impress his old ones. It was worth smiling over, he decided.

Lydia wore a pink form fitting dress and heels and probably made at least Isaac feel a bit less overdressed, none of them knowing that that was her usual attire. She thanked Derek for the flowers and, gripping them in one hand and waving the other, she led them into her house.

The table was decorated with white flower arrangements, lavender flower petals sprinkled on the white tablecloth, and a couple of large white candles. Lydia didn’t take dinner parties lightly. She quickly put Derek’s flowers into a vase in the middle of the table, beaming at the fact that they were a mixture of rich, plum purples and paler ones, matching her theme.

“Whoa,” Boyd marveled, staring around the room in disbelief.

No one sat down, everyone unsure of who should sit where or if they should just put each group on separate sides. Lydia sighed and clapped her hands together, her signal that she would, of course, solve the problem.

“Okay, guys,” She said turning to her friends, “Each of you sit by one of the guests, then we can all get to know one another.”

There was still some awkward shuffling, so Stiles grabbed Derek’s hand and sat down, his boyfriend joining him. At least with Lydia’s rule they could still sit together. Stiles was sure that she had planned that and gave her a little smile as she plopped down across from Stiles and next to Erica.

No one really spoke for a minute or two, distracting themselves by loading their plates up with burgers and french fries, the greasy food standing out starkly against the elegant decor.

After everyone was settled and munching on their food, Lydia softly clanked her spoon against her glass, more for dramatics than to actually silence the virtually quiet group of people.

“So, I know that this might seem a bit extravagant for our first official meeting,” Lydia started, earning a small chuckle from Boyd, “But, I just wanted to thank you guys for taking care of Stiles. I know that we were not the best of friends, but I am also confident in the fact that we were all struggling. I’ve been accused of trying to act perfect, to hide some insecurities people think I have, but I admit my flaws.”

Lydia gave a small smile, before turning to Derek. “I am glad that you brought him home to us, that you all allowed him to accept his flaws and in turn, gave us all a chance to look at ourselves. We are infinitely grateful for that. I am infinitely grateful for that.”

Derek nodded and smiled back at Lydia. Stiles had almost forgotten how distant Derek was around new people. Lydia seemed to accept this though and reached her hand across the table towards Derek.

He looked at Stiles for a moment, probably confused, so Stiles gave him a nudge, trying to tell him what to do without breaking the moment by actually speaking.

Eventually Derek settled his hand onto Lydia’s and she grasped it, squeezing tightly, giving a blindly sincere smile. She truly was gorgeous. Derek smiled back, smaller, no teeth in sight, but he still radiated happiness, if not slight embarrassment at the attention. Stiles wondered how he had gotten so lucky, how he had been able to surround himself with such beautiful people.

“Well,” Lydia said, finally pulling her hand away, “I think we should finish eating now and probably tell embarrassing stories about Stiles since this dinner is to honor him after all.”

“Oh my god, I have a million,” Isaac grinned as he tossed a couple of fries into his mouth.

“Hey!” Stiles protested, “I thought this was to celebrate the joining of our two groups or whatever. Don’t single me out like this!”

“Of course it’s about us meeting each other, but you did introduce us, so it all circles back to you, Stiles,” Lydia laughed, “Besides, you practically gave us all an ulcer, so let us enjoy your new friends.”

Stiles wanted to protest more, but Erica was already blurting out how hilarious it was to see Stiles and Derek pine after each other like children with a crush, which evolved into Scott sharing the story of the epic romance of Stiles and Lydia that never happened.

The room was warm and alive with the sound of laughter. Even if he was the punchline of most the jokes, Stiles was content. He owed his friends a break. Plus, noticing the way Scott and Isaac already seemed like easy friends as they stole fries and swipes of ketchup off each other’s plates and watching Lydia marvel at Erica’s flawless eyeliner solidified Stiles’ theory that these people were meant to meet each other.

He was reminded of school, of learning about how Zeus split these four-eyed, four-armed, double-humans in half, terrified of how powerful they would be, and let the two halves wander aimlessly looking for one another. Stiles thought that maybe the myth had left out something, that maybe pieces of families were broken apart too and left to feel something lost or aching, even with their soulmate. Stiles hadn’t felt as at ease until this very moment of togetherness.

“Hey, can I borrow you for like ten minutes?” Derek whispered into Stiles’ ear, startling him from his thoughts.

Stiles smiled, nodding, half expecting Derek to just want to go make out until he saw the determined and slightly nervous look on his face.

They slipped away, everyone so engrossed in their ridiculous stories that they paid no mind to the couple, except for Allison, who seemed to always be aware of everything. She gave them one of her signature sweet smiles and then continued listening to Isaac talk to her and Scott.

Derek didn’t know how to navigate through Lydia’s large house, having never been there of course, so Stiles took his hand and led him out of the sliding glass doors and into the backyard. They sat by the edge of the pool, Stiles slipping off his shoes and socks and Derek doing the same, before dangling their feet into the water.

“So, we’re not out here because you’re mad that I used to like Lydia, right? Because I swear I just thought she was hot and consider her family now and like come on even you have to admit she’s gorge-” Stiles started to stammer before Derek interrupted him with laughter.

“Stiles, I know you don’t still like Lydia and yes, she is very pretty,” he assured him, “I asked you out here because I want to read you something.”

That peaked Stiles interest and he quickly went from nervous to excited, and to be honest, still a little bit nervous.

“So, you know how I said I never wrote a poem before but I always wanted to?” Derek asked.

Stiles nodded and forced himself not to smile. He didn’t want Derek to take his anticipation as him teasing.

“Okay, so I think I finally figured out what to write. It’s called ‘I Am Afraid of the Water’,” Derek said, pulling a folded up piece of paper out of the pocket of his jeans.

Derek read slowly, hesitantly, at first, starting to look up at Stiles as if wanting to confirm he was doing okay, but quickly looking back down once more because nerves took a hold of him and he couldn’t bare to look Stiles in the eyes. That somehow made the whole thing more endearing, knowing that Derek cared that much about the words, the words that he had so clearly written for Stiles. All at once was Stiles was overcome with love, it was a constant and consistent feeling that he had for Derek, of course, but there were moments, the great ones, that hit him hard. Moments where Stiles felt like he was overwhelmed, like he was the one wounded, but still would have done anything to help Derek instead. It wasn’t painful, it was oddly nice to feel so much all at once. Stiles would’ve traded everything for one of these moments with Derek.

When Derek finished reading, he set down the paper and looked into the pool, sloshing around the water with his feet. He didn’t speak and Stiles didn’t know if he should say anything. It all felt so good, the heat of the sun didn’t bother them, and they were untouchable. Derek’s poem had united them with a sense of finality. This was the rest of their lives: being together. Derek looked up momentarily, to kiss Stiles. It was a deep, passionate thing. Love was tangling up with their tongues. Derek’s lips were soft and trembled, nerves still wrapped around his heart. Stiles understood and kissed Derek back harder, hoping he conveyed what he felt.

I love you, I love you, I love you.

------

Endings are painful. I know that after this summer we are going to go to college and not all of us will be together anymore. Even though I will have Erica Isaac, Scott, and Allison, I’m still afraid. Boyd will be working days at the skating rink and Lyds and Jackson will be off at Harvard and I will only see them occasionally through video chats and brief holiday visits. I also won’t get to spend every moment with Derek. He’ll be at the museum. I think I’m scared that if I’m not always with the people I love, they will replace me with someone else. Am I really irreplaceable? Am I one of a kind? I’m not sure. But, I do know that for now, these people love me and I love them. I’m going to hold onto that. I’m going to believe in something. I’m going to believe in this love and hope it saves everyone. It certainly saved me. -S

When they returned to the dining room, Lydia and Jackson were collecting dishes, the sound of laughter and running water in the kitchen suggesting everyone else had begun washing them.

“Nice of you two to join us when we’re almost finished cleaning, “ Lydia teased.

Jackson grinned and walked away towards the kitchen, a large stack of plates in his hands. “Busted,” he whispered as he passed. Stiles stuck his tongue out at him and Jackson just laughed.

“Sorry, I hadn’t been alone with my Sourwolf in forever, we needed a moment,” Stiles explained, Derek rolling his eyes at the nickname but still looking at him endearingly nonetheless.

“Stiles, dear, I don’t want to hear about your sexual moments with Derek,” Lydia responded, patting him on the shoulder before heading into the kitchen with some cups.

“We had a sweet and endearing moment, nothing sexual you jerk! And don’t act like you don’t wanna hear all about it!” Stiles shouted after her.

“I’m sorry, what the fuck are we talking about?” Scott asked, appearing from one of the hallways, now wearing a bathing suit.

“Lydia is trying to slander my good name, Scotty.”

“Right, okay,” Scott responded, still looking lost. “Anyway, go put on your bathing suits, we’re gonna go and swim now.”

They quickly changed and waited outside, no one wanting to get in until Lydia arrived, having been the last one to go change since she was finishing the dishes.

“So, Derek,” Scott started, “What are you intentions with my brother?”

“Fuck me,” Stiles groaned, “Are we really doing this?”

“Hell yeah we’re doing this, I have to ask,” Scott snapped back, putting on an intimidating face as he looked at Derek, one that was so goofy it made even Allison laugh.

“Well, my plan is to court him for a few months, with his father’s permission of course. I’ll offer a large dowry and then propose with my Grandmother’s ring. We’ll live on my large farm and raise our kids and animals together,” Derek responded, deadpan.

“I love him,” Jackson said, looking at Derek with admiration.

“I can’t tell if he’s being serious or not,” Scott admitted, looking at Allison for help.

“Jesus Christ, Scott,” Stiles sighed.

“It’s a joke, sweetheart,” Allison whispered to her boyfriend.

Scott threw his hands up, “Alright, alright, you win. Maybe you’re a little bit grumpy but I guess you have my approval.”

“Wow, it’s all I ever wanted,” Derek replied sarcastically and Stiles laughed.

Scott rolled his eyes. “I see why Stiles likes you.”

“I mean, I think he’s great,” Jackson laughed.

“Gross, if you like him that must mean I’m doing something wrong,” Stiles joked.

Suddenly, Stiles was falling, water rushing around him and swallowing him up. It filled his lungs and then he was kicking up, breathing in fresh air and heavily coughing. The sound of laughter hit him as soon as he was aware of his surroundings again.

“Did you really just push me in the pool, Jackson!” Stiles shouted, whipping around wildly in the water so he could face the culprit.

Jackson didn’t answer just kept laughing. Even Lydia, who had just walked out, was chuckling. Stiles was most offended by the big grin on Derek’s face. Just containing his laughter was not enough, he needed to be diving into the water to save his poor, nearly drowned, boyfriend.

“Help!” Stiles screeched, throwing himself back into the water and flailing his arms. “The force of the water has hurt my arms so badly I don’t think I can swim anymore. If only I had a hot shirtless boy named Derek to save me, but alas.”

Derek looked over at the others exasperated and Scott just shrugged. “You’re the one dating him, man.”

Suddenly there was a splash next to Stiles and he was wrapped up in warm, muscular arms. Before he could give Derek a big kiss and proclaim him as his hero, there were several other large cannonballs of water that crashed into him. They nearly knocked Stiles out of Derek’s arms and he clutched on tightly.

“What the hell, you guys ruined my moment!” Stiles yelled at his friends who were now all in the pool, splashing around.

Erica and Boyd just looked at each other, smirked, and then began splashing huge waves of water at Derek and Stiles. Everyone soon joined forces with them and Derek quickly swam behind one of the decorative rocks in the pool for shelter, Stiles still in his arms..

“It’s war out there, Sourwolf,” Stiles said, sticking his head out only to be met with a face full of water.

“Looks that way, yeah,” Derek replied.

Stiles squirmed out of Derek’s arms and looked up at him. “Are you ready for the biggest fight of your life, soldier?”

Derek smiled and gave Stiles a quick kiss.

“With you, I’m ready for anything.”

------

I Am Afraid of the Water

I am afraid of the water,
I never learned how to swim,
Only to float.

They pushed me in,
They watched me struggle and choke,
Until I was an empty body.

You came from underneath the waves,
Staring at my half-submerged skin,
And gripped my ice-cold ankle.

I don’t mean to be mean,
I was only scared of the depth,
But it came out as a threat.

It’s just that the waves might eat us up,
We might never survive this,
No one really survives anything.

But we are in a whirlpool together,
We are drowning together,
And we will build a boat together.

You taught me that this love, it is everything,
The water swallowing flames,
The ashes that are left behind.

Really, that’s the point of this,
The point is I don’t want the ashes anymore,
I want to dive into this for once.

I am afraid of the water,
But, with you, I learned to swim,
It hurts sometimes, sure.

But mostly, it feels like fucking freedom.