When Stiles got in his car that morning he hadn’t intended to leave Beacon Hills. All he needed was a drive to clear his head, one quiet hour to himself. No wolves, no fairies, and no witches. Stiles was confident in Scotts ability to keep the pack alive, so he turned his phone off, slammed the jeep door shut and was off. He’d be back before they noticed he was gone.
The pack had finally come together to form a cohesive unit. Derek returned towards the beginning of senior year with Isaac and Jackson in tow. His sabbatical had taken him through Europe and ended with all three boys yearning to come back. In the end Beacon Hills was where everyone always returned. For a while, Stiles was glad that Isaac and Jackson had made it out, that they were able to escape the always present darkness that seemed to surround the teenagers.
In the darkest corners of his room, when the lights were out, and his dad was at work, Stiles would let himself think about Derek. He thought about how the man had lost everyone, how he was quite possibly the loneliest person Stiles had ever met. He knew Derek would return. The Hale pack roots ran too deep for him not to feel the pull to come back. Stiles had too much experience with the supernatural to not believe that threads of magic connected them all.
Stiles cranked the heat and took off; despite it being the beginning of summer he was freezing. He could never seem to get rid of the chill that had settled deep in his bones. He hadn’t noticed until the nogitsune had left, when the goose bumps that weren’t caused by fear wouldn’t disappear, and the layers of clothes seemed to get heavier.
Every smile for the past two-and-a-half years seemed fake and the pain of loss and grief was always present that it was just a part of him now. The last couple of years had taken their toll on Stiles’ mental health and sometimes he wondered how the rest of the pack did it. He could feel the strain on his relationship with his dad. The person he once was able to talk to about anything was now being shut out because Stiles didn’t know how to talk to him.
Stiles was running on autopilot and before he knew it he was stopping at a gas station filling the Jeep up and going again. It wasn’t until the sun started to set that Stiles realized he had been out all day. He took a deep breath, deep where the grief sat inside was the urge to run, seek warmth, seek normalcy. Stiles wondered if this was why Derek had left the first time. Why he and Laura fled to New York after the fire. Was Derek running from his grief and pain? He wanted to call and ask him if he was ever able to start over, was there ever a moment he was able to put it all behind him.
Stiles wasn’t sure where he was going, he just knew he hadn’t reached his final destination yet. He refused to look back, Stiles was going somewhere warm, he was leaving the cold behind and he wasn’t sure when he would return.
After the first day had passed Stiles caved and called Derek. He figured if anyone would understand it would be him. When Stiles told him he wasn’t coming back Derek seemed to get even quieter than usual. He was half expecting a lecture on how irresponsible he was being, but he simply told Stiles he hoped he found what he was looking for. Derek promised to take care of his dad for him, and that was the end. He dumped his phone bought a new one and only texted occasionally.
The first two years were spent island hopping in the Caribbean. Stiles felt the ocean breeze and the warm rays against his skin and the cold began to seep away just a little. He made his way to Hawaii where he learned to dive and spent his days with his face turned towards the sun and his feet in the sand. When Stiles had his fill he bought a car and spent a couple years visiting every National Park. The outdoors brought back memories of the preserve and the smell of the woods reminded him of Derek. Stiles wondered how long he could get away with running from his problems before they all caught up with him. The emotional breakdown happened in the middle of Yosemite; he hiked back to his car and called the first therapist he could find.
He knew he would find guilt, and pain, but he was surprised by the anger he found. He learned to forgive and the nightmares began to fade. Stiles eventually ventured down to South America where he stumbled upon Cora. Her time away from Beacon Hills allowed her to blossom into her true self. She was loud and crass; the opposite of her moody brother. Combined with Stiles’ sarcasm and carefree attitude they were a force to be reckoned with. They made their way back up to the states and settled in Nashville.
People came and went in Stiles’ life. He got to experience love and heartbreak; he let people in and created bonds with people who had normal problems. Cora and Stiles had finally settled down, found a cozy apartment, made friends, and had jobs they loved.
Twelve years had passed, twelve, like a full turn around a clock; a complete circle. It was the beginning of summer, the time he had left Beacon Hills; he didn’t even have to check the calendar. He woke up with the urge to run again, except this time it felt more like a pull to return instead of escape. Stiles wondered if his spiritual journey had come to an end.
He shuffled into the kitchen causing Cora to look up from the paperback she was reading. Folding the book in half backwards she blinked, her eyes telling him all he needed to know. She felt it too, the pull. Stiles felt his insides begin to churn.
“I called Derek while you were sleeping, I booked two tickets. We’re taking the redeye.”
Her smile grew more genuine; she shook her head and went back to reading her book. There was a reason Cora was his best friend.
Stiles spent most of the flight freaking out about seeing his dad, then rehearsing what to say to his dad. The remainder of the flight was spent freaking out about seeing Scott again. He had been gone for over ten years and in all that time Stiles had never reached out. Communication with Derek stopped after the first two years and the only updates he received were through Cora. She made it a priority to talk with her brother, a relatively new thing, but they were trying.
Cora seemed to have zero anxieties about the reunion and spent the entire flight sleeping. If Stiles was being completely honest with himself he had been avoiding this day for far too long. There wasn’t a day he didn’t think about his dad; wondered if he was eating healthy and if he was getting enough sleep, but then he would think about the disappointment and how they had been growing further apart. He was spending the last half of high school lying and all Stiles felt was the pressing weight of the need and want to protect his dad. It took a lot of work, a lot of money on therapy, and a lot of late night talks with Cora, but Stiles was finally in a good place.
Derek met them at the airport and it looked like time had been very kind to the werewolf. Stiles had always admired Derek’s muscles in high school and it now looked like Derek’s muscles had muscles. There were new lines on Derek’s face, around the corners of his eyes and mouth, ‘laugh lines’ Stiles thought. Time really had been kind.
Cora went in for the kill first wrapping her arms around his neck. “Hey Derek,” she muttered into his shoulder.
Stiles let them have their private moment pretending he couldn’t hear her slight sniffle. She let go and before he knew it Stiles was wrapped in a protective hold, he clapped Derek twice on the back.
“Hey dude, it’s good to see you.”
He could feel the sting of tears already; he knew this was going to be an emotional trip. They hadn’t even made it out of the airport and he was already on the verge of breaking.
He had only seen pictures, but the new Hale house looked nothing like the photos. The house was built in a large clearing and was surrounded by trees. It stood tall and proud, two stories, with a TARDIS blue front door that he was sure Derek had argued against. Stiles approved. He wondered what Cora thought when she looked at it, he was just glad the pack had someplace to call home together.
“I assumed you would prefer to stay close,” Derek glanced at Cora. “Unless…”
“No this is good. It’s perfect,” Cora reassured him.
Derek gave them one last look before he grabbed their bags and began to walk up the drive towards the house.
“We’ll be there in just a moment.” Stiles yelled. “Thanks.”
Stiles waited until Derek entered the house with their bags before addressing Cora. “You ok?”
She smiled sadly. “It smells like…pack, a bunch of scents entwined together. It just reminds me of before…it’s just a little overwhelming.”
Stiles hummed softly and reached out placing his hand on her shoulder. “You say the word and we leave.”
Cora threw him a grateful smile. “You say the word and we leave.”
Derek led them towards the back of the house and towards the stairs leading up towards the guest rooms. Derek went downstairs as Cora and Stiles settled in, Cora hadn’t purchased a return flight home but both had only packed enough for a week. They weren’t planning on staying longer than that, they had a life to get back to. Their rooms were located across the hall from each other and before he knew it Cora was wandering over and signaling the arrival of the pack. Stiles looked over at Cora, she smiled and took his hand, she had been his solid support for years, he could do this. He had already done the bravest thing he ever thought he could do, he left. How hard is it to say hello.
He went downstairs and met Derek in the front room, Cora stood by his left shoulder and he could feel Derek’s warm presence on his right, with a Hale on either side Stiles was ready to face his past.
He saw Isaac first; he walked in the door and froze causing Scott to run into his back. Scott rubbed his nose, peeked around Isaac and the color drained from his face.
“Hey boys. We’re back!”
Scott opened his mouth and then promptly shut it. He tried again and on the third try all he got out was a strangled “Stiles?”
Scott cleared his throat, and tried again. “Whaa…I mean? What?”
“Hey Scott, long time no see.”
There were tears and hugs, a lot of hugs, but nobody seemed to resent Stiles for leaving. Eventually Stiles and Scott were able to slip away from the chaos and they wandered outside the back of the house. It opened up directly to the preserve which seemed to go on for miles and the trees were bigger than Stiles remembered. He took in a deep breath taking in the smell of earth and pine. They began to walk towards the trees careful to keep their pace slow.
They had walked for twenty minutes before Scott broke. “I hadn’t noticed you left until the next day. Derek called a meeting at the loft and I called your phone but it said it was disconnected. That was when I got worried. When Derek told us I was so angry, I felt like you abandoned us. Then I felt like the worlds shittiest friend. It took me a whole day, Stiles, to realize you were gone. What kind of friend did that make me? I’m sorry I was so wrapped up in my own shit that I never asked you how you were feeling.”
Stiles slowed his steps. “You weren’t the reason I left Scott. The violence was just becoming too much, the guilt kept piling up and I stopped seeing a future outside of Beacon Hills. I don’t think I fully realized how messed up I was until I left it all behind. I had a lot of stuff I needed to work on, stuff you wouldn’t have been able to fix.” Stiles stopped walking and turned to face Scott.
“Derek called it ya’ know; he said you would come back. The years kept passing but Derek never wavered, he kept saying it like it was a fact. ‘Stiles will come back.’ ” Scott laughed.
Stiles sighed. “How’s my dad?”
“He’s good. It took some time but he eventually understood. Derek helped a lot with that, with everyone. I may be the alpha but those first couple of years Derek really held us all together. He and your dad are really close, they do weekly lunches.” Scott reassured him.
Stiles exhaled, he hadn’t even realized he was holding his breath; that was exactly what he needed to hear. He was happy that his dad had found a community of friends, a group of wonderful people to call family. The last thing Stiles wanted was his dad to be alone.
Scott left to pick up Kira and the kids shortly after they got back to the house and Isaac had disappeared leaving only Derek and Cora behind. Stiles walked into the kitchen and was greeted with the glorious sight of Derek bent over, with his head in the refrigerator. Derek turned around and Stiles quickly averted his eyes, he could feel the flush making its way down his neck and could hear Cora’s giggle echoing throughout the kitchen.
“Your dad should be pulling up any minute,” he said, uncapping a water bottle. He tilted it towards Stiles, silently asking if he wanted a sip. Stiles waved him off, he was too nervous to drink anything. He took a deep breath, he had faced an Alpha pack, swarms of fairies, and had dealt with more witches than he had ever wished to; he could face his dad.
Stiles walked into the main room and stood before the front door, he could hear a car door slam shut and a brief glance out the window showed a black car instead of his dad’s old cruiser. He must have given it up when he retired, Stiles thought. Stiles blinked and suddenly the door opened and he was facing his dad. He could feel the tears, hot against his eyelids, falling down his cheeks. He took two steps before bringing his dad in for the tightest hug he could manage. He could feel his dad hugging him back just as fiercely and he knew it was going to be ok. He had made the right decision in coming back.
Noah let him go and grasped his shoulders keeping him at arm’s length. He took in his sons’ appearance; Stiles knew he had changed a lot over the past twelve years. He had put on a lot of muscle, years of swimming and hiking making him both lean and toned. He hadn’t grown much taller but his chest had gotten broader and he now wore his hair longer, curling slightly around the back of his neck and ears.
“You look real good kiddo. It’s nice to see you,” his dad mumbled, his voice thick with emotion.
“It’s really good to see you too dad. I missed you.”
So far every reunion had passed without violence, Stiles knew his optimism would come back to bite him in the ass. Lydia Martin was every ounce the scary, smart, beautiful woman he remembered. She also knew how to throw a punch that would make even the drunkest person in a bar fight scared. Stiles tried for the casual, “Hey Lyd’s, how’s it going?” but not even Jacksons werewolf reflexes could grab her before she unleashed her wrath. It only took one hit to his gut and another to his shoulder before he found himself with an armful of sobbing red head.
“You’re an idiot,” she cried.
Stiles laughed, “You’re not the first to tell me that.”
Jackson and Stiles merely exchanged handshakes; they were never close enough to warrant hugs or tears and it seemed like Jackson could sense he was reaching his emotional quota for the day because he stayed clear afterwards, seeking out Isaac for conversation.
Stiles looked over at Kira, she had one toddler wrapped around her leg while Scott held another on his shoulders. Stiles and Kira hadn’t been particularly close when he left; Allison had just died when Kira entered the picture and Stiles was still feeling plagued with guilt about his friends death. It made it hard for him to reach out and form a bond with the girl; he feared getting too close. He made a note to get to know the kitsune this time around.
Dinner was spent catching up over the lost years; stories were traded back and forth. Supernatural doom had quieted down five years after Stiles had left and once the Hale House had been built other packs had started to reach out. Scott began to make treaties and they had gained quite a bit of territory. The pack had established themselves and had certainly made a name for themselves. Stiles had spent the majority of dinner both trying to avoid looking at Derek and trying to soak in as much of him as he could. He wanted to know what Derek had been up to, he had so many questions, he wanted to know everything.
Dinner ended, and Scott and his dad left with promises to come back early the next day. The rest of the pack said goodnight with bone crushing hugs and before he knew it Stiles was left with the dark haired siblings. Cora looked at Stiles; he wasn’t even trying to hide it, he wanted to talk to Derek alone. She simply rolled her eyes, turned and muttered something to low for him to hear.
“You want something to drink?” Derek asked, already on his way to the kitchen.
Stiles nodded, he was going to need one. “Beer if you have it.”
They silently wandered into the living room, both too afraid to break the tension that had gathered in the air when they weren’t paying attention. Derek had the most comfortable couch Stiles had ever sat on. Perks of being rich he supposed, the cushions dipped just right and the pillows seemed to mold around his body, he made a note not to get too comfortable. Age had helped with his mouth-to-brain filter but when Stiles was warm and cozy that went straight out the window.
That sat in silence for a while, both taking in the stillness of the night. The windows were cracked open and the sound of the cicadas had grown quieter as the night dragged on but their song was still present in the air. Stiles found the buzzing comforting, a reminder of his travels and his emotional growth. He had a fleeting thought about what they must sound like to Derek with his amplified hearing. Did he find the subtle and calming sounds of nature overwhelming? Crickets and cicadas were background noise to Stiles, something that was just there, always present. He suddenly wanted to know what they reminded Derek of, if the sound was pleasing or annoying.
Questions began to flood his brain, questions he had never thought to ask before but now he wanted to know the answers. He wanted to talk to Derek for days, for years. He didn’t think they could ever run out of topics to talk about. He remembered Derek as the strong silent type but at dinner he had lit up. Full belly laughs and casual touches, this Derek had evolved much like Stiles. He wanted to get to know this Derek.
“Why did you decide to come back now?” He blurted suddenly.
“Why did you leave? After Mexico and Kate?” Stiles asked instead.
Derek looked up, staring at a spot over Stiles’ shoulder before looking at him. “I couldn’t process my thoughts here. I went home that night and despite living in the middle of nowhere, everything was so loud. My wolf was howling at me and my instincts were telling me to run. I kept thinking about Laura and…my family and I just…had to get out. It suddenly seemed like too much. When I found Isaac and Jackson the decision to come back just seemed right. There was just an instinct to return home, the pack was incomplete.
What brought you back?”
Stiles smirked, “From what I hear you always knew I was going to return,” he took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “Like you said, there was just an instinct…a pull I couldn’t ignore. Cora felt it too.”
Derek hesitantly reached over and put his hand on top of Stiles’ knee. “I’m glad you’re home Stiles.”
There was that word, ‘home’. Stiles could feel his heart rate pick up. Home was Nashville, where his friends and job were. Where the apartment him and Cora had lived in for five years was. Beacon Hills was no longer home; he had been gone for too long, he was a stranger here. Yet he had felt so comfortable in Derek’s house. There was no hesitation or awkwardness; there was still a place for him within the pack like he had never left.
“A home isn’t just where you are Stiles, it’s who you are. I knew you would come back because as much as Beacon Hills is a part of me, it's a part of you.” Derek snorted softly. “You wanted to leave it all behind you and you still managed to run into a werewolf.”
Stiles grinned, his smile taking up his whole face. “And a Hale, no less! I just can’t seem to stay away.”
Derek hesitated, opening his mouth before shutting it again.
Stiles waited patiently, focusing on the heavy weight of Derek’s hand. He had started to rub soft circles into the top of his knee and he could feel the warmth from his palm bleeding through his jeans.
The movement suddenly stopped, Derek reached over to grab Stiles’ hand, lacing their fingers together. “I don’t want you stay away,” Derek said, looking directly into Stiles’ eyes.
Stiles sat back and took a deep breath; he broke eye contact with Derek and looked around him. Pictures of the pack sat in frames on the end tables, the refrigerator held drawings from Scott and Kira’s kids, and there were books strewn around. He could spy Lydia’s sweater on the chair and a pair of Isaac’s shoes in the corner. This house was lived in, he couldn’t help but smile. The warm feeling that had long since taken over the cold in his bones only grew warmer. Stiles was home.
His grip on Derek’s hand tightened. “I call your room.”