The annual lighting of the Beacon Street Mall's Christmas tree was a long-held tradition in Beacon Hills.
It attracted people from all over Beacon County, a spectacle that delighted little kids and older residents alike. And it was no wonder why.
Every year, without fail, on December first, the giant twenty-foot tall noble fir that towered over the nearby businesses and homes was lit. The ceremony itself was surrounded by a fair amount of fanfare itself.
The mayor and her aides always attended along with other notable members of the community. Everyone from the principal of the high school to the chief of the fire department and the sheriff was involved in some way, shape, or form.
After a long-winded speech about the spirit of the holidays and the importance of family and community, the switch was flicked and in an instant, lights in various shades of red and gold and green and silver were illuminated.
Just like that, the humongous fir tree brightened the night, becoming a beacon in its own right. A pillar of light and holiday cheer, almost garishly bedecked in ribbons and bows and dazzling ornaments in every color known to man and then some.
The Beacon Street Mall wasn't exactly a mall in the traditional sense, instead a collection of retailers lining a cobblestone path. It was a vestige of Old West frontier towns, everything centered in two parallel lines of small businesses.
Not to be outdone, the mix of various small family owned shops and high-end boutiques never skimped on their own decorations. In the days after the tree lighting, the stores themselves turned into winter wonderlands with the help of lights and inflatable decorations set up by their front doors.
Glittering lines of lights were strung up across the walkway, casting a kaleidoscopic mosaic over the cobblestones. Bushes and small ornamental trees in flower beds were similarly adorned with twinkling lights and glittery ornaments.
It was a wondrous sight, the festivity of the season pervading every inch of the mall. It was even more beautiful when it snowed.
Like a scene straight out of a Hallmark movie, the mall metamorphosed into a replica of the North pole. With snow blanketing the roofs of the shops, complementing the brilliantly colored decorations, it was downright breathtaking.
Which is why two weeks into December, during a painfully boring pack meeting spent at Derek's loft watching reruns of Friends, Erica blurted out that they should go do something like walk the mall to stave off a slow death from mind-numbing boredom.
When no one had disagreed nor suggested any other activity, they had bundled up in their coats and boots and set out for the mall. It was only a short drive away, a benefit of the loft's proximity to the heart of the town.
The mere sight of the heavily decorated, lightly snow-dusted mall was enough to quite literally take their breaths away. It didn't matter how long they had lived in Beacon Hills, how many times they saw the mall, it was awe inspiring and would never cease to amaze.
Even Peter, who was usually stoic when he wasn't being a sarcastic piece of shit, was visibly affected by the sight. The only one who wasn't especially surprised by his reaction was Derek.
Mostly because he had grown up going to the mall. It had been a family affair so long ago that it seemed like a lifetime.
His mother used to take him and his sisters to the mall every year so they could pick out presents for their father. Even after selecting their gifts for him, usually books and journals and sentimental Christmas tree ornaments, they would continue walking the mall, engrossed in looking at all the lights and decorations.
Peter used to tag along with them on occasion, asking for his nieces and nephew's help with picking out his own gifts. He used to lift Derek up on his shoulders so he could get a better look at the string lights, telling him that one day he might be that tall.
Those were some of the fonder memories he had of his uncle, before things took a nosedive and the flames melted away the snow and left ashes in its wake. Before blue eyes turned red and red eyes went dead.
But now wasn't the time to think about it. Now was the time to take simple pleasure in the looks of pure joy and innocent elation that painted his betas' expressions, in the wisp of the cold air on his face, in the faint scent of the bakery a few blocks away.
Predictably, it was Erica who started walking first, the heels of her ridiculous boots clicking against the cobblestones. With every step, she composed a holiday melody of her own.
She dragged Boyd along with her, hand curled around his wrist as she led him over to a display window of a dress shop. Likewise, Boyd dragged Isaac along for the ride, gently fisting his hand in the front of his scarf, essentially using it like a scarf.
Derek was surprised Stiles didn't make a dog joke. It was a first.
Jackson rolled his eyes but followed after them just the same. He checked his expensive Rolex as though he were late for something and the others were keeping him, but a small smile lifted the corners of his lips.
The pack was good for him. Even if he'd never admit. But it wasn't hard to see.
Scott and Allison, joined at the hand, were next in the pack procession along the path. Twin grins graced their lips as they leaned heavily against each other, talking in hushed, intimate voices.
It was almost like they were in their own world, a habit of theirs they indulged in whenever they were together. Usually, it was rather obnoxious, annoying on a good day, but now it was rather fitting.
Kira trailed after them, dark eyes wide as she marveled at the plethora of lights illuminating the mall. With all of the wonder of someone who had never witnessed holiday decorations in any capacity, she ooh-ed and ahh-ed over the lights.
Her long hair swung behind her as she quickened her pace to keep up with the others, falling behind whenever distracted by different light displays.
Bringing up the rear was Peter, Stiles, and Derek himself. They walked side by side as they followed the others, occasionally pausing briefly to do some window shopping.
They were only a few blocks away from the huge Christmas tree at the end of the mall when the rich scent of hot cocoa reached their noses. It was accented by the sharp peppermint of candy canes and the sweet scent of common.
It didn't take them long to find the source. A hot chocolate vendor was set up in front of a coffee shop, a platter of cookies and a pile of candy canes also for sale.
Derek offered to pay out of both habit and obligation, he was the alpha after all. Besides, it was worth it to see the vendor's eyes widen at the order of ten hot chocolates.
Derek didn't think it was possible but the man's eyes widened even more when he slipped fifty bucks into the tip jar. From his side, Stiles sing-songed, "Guess I can't call you Grinchy wolf, huh?"
But the comment was said without the usual happy lilt of Stiles' voice. His smile didn't quite reach his eyes, either, and an odd whiff of despair tinged his scent.
Derek glanced back at Peter, wondering if his uncle had noticed the odd shift in Stiles' behavior as well. But Peter was absorbed in gazing into the window of a bookstore, the same one he used to bring Derek to before the fire, before everything.
He left Peter to his nostalgia and guided Stiles over to a nearby bench flanked by bushes wrapped in bright white lights. Stiles rolled his eyes but took a seat nonetheless, taking a sip of his hot chocolate. He clutched the paper cup too tight, fingers twitching.
Derek waited until the others were out of earshot, wandering over to the Christmas tree. Turning to Stiles, he kept his voice low, asking, "Are you alright? You don't really seem into this."
Stiles snorted, a genuine smile curling his lips. Shaking his head as he looked at Derek, he chuckled, "Dude, I'm Jewish."
Derek blanched. Stiles was Jewish? Since when? Had he converted? Oh, god, Derek had just brought a Jewish guy to look at a twenty foot Christmas tree.
His mind raced, running about as fast as Stiles' mouth usually did, trying to settle on a response that didn't leave him looking like a culturally insensitive ass.
But instead he just blurted, "You are?"
"Yeah, man," Stiles confirmed, nodding while he took another sip of his drink. Narrowing his eyes as he tilted his head to the side, he pressed, "You...didn't know that?"
Terrified he was going to say something else wildly stupid, Derek just shook his head.
"Yeah, my mom was Jewish so, ipso facto, I'm Jewish," Stiles explained succinctly. A moment later, seeing the confused look on Derek's face, he elaborated, "My dad's not, if that's what you're wondering. He's Christian, not that he's super religious. My grandparents, though? Majorly. I'm sure they wanted him to marry a nice Christian girl, just like my mom's parents probably wanted her to marry a nice Jewish guy, but he fell in love with my mom and that was that."
It took Derek a moment to process all of that. It took another for him to form the weak response of, "Do you celebrate Christmas?"
"Yeah. I mean, kinda," Stiles returned, tipping his from side to side like he was weighing something in his head. Shrugging, he clarified, "We sorta do Christmas and Hanukkah. We get a tree, do presents and whatever, but I still light the menorah and shit. For my mom, y'know?"
Derek knew. He knew about trying to carry on family traditions with no family. He knew about desperately trying to keep their memory alive by reciting the old prayers his mother had taught when he was still wet behind the ears.
Yeah, Derek knew. All too well. Which is why when Stiles let out a deep sigh, Derek knew what he was going to say before he uttered a single word.
"She died around this time," Stiles murmured, every word sounding more labored than the last, voice growing thicker with every syllable. "New Year's actually—" he barked out a bitter laugh "—I still can't watch fireworks without having a panic attack. Reminds me too much of that night."
Raising his head, he glanced around them. Waving his hand, indicating all of the decorations, he announced, "She used to take me here. Every year. Used to get dad donuts from the bakery before his cholesterol got too high. Used to let me run around looking at all the decorations. So, yeah, being here, it's kinda..."
"Bittersweet?" Derek finished for him, taking a drink from his own cup. Stiles just nodded before lowering his eyes, staring at his shoes.
Derek didn't know what to say after that. They lapsed into a silence that was neither awkward or not awkward.
It was odd and almost suffocating, spurring Derek on as he desperately tried to think of something to say. Anything.
"I could..." he started, pausing to lick his lips as Stiles looked back over at him. Like he was back in kindergarten, paralyzed by nerves, he stammered, "I-I could...y'know..."
Stiles waited patiently, turning to face Derek fully, accidentally knocking their knees together. Derek took a breath to steel himself, before managing to offer, "Maybe I could light the menorah with you."
Stiles let Derek's words sink in for a minute before swallowing and questioning, "You'd really wanna do that? For me?"
Not trusting himself to not say something completely stupid or saccharine, Derek just nodded. But that was enough for Stiles, enough for him to throw his arm around Derek's neck and reel his boyfriend in for a sound kiss.
Pulling back so they could look at each other, they both smiled brighter than the Christmas tree looming over them like a beacon of hope, of home, of the holidays.