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A Wayfaring Knight

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Derek has been hearing about the Chamber of Governance for most of his natural born life. Since he was a young child, he’d gone with his father to Chamber gatherings just to be exposed to the procedure. When he got older and entered school, studying the government system of the United States was obviously a recurring theme. Part of learning about the government utilized by the masses included learning about the governing body for the noble families.

Despite being a part of the government system early American settlers were trying to escape from in Europe, the concept of a noble class lived on. Families were able to achieve the status of nobility in the early days of the country by capitalizing on earning wealth from trade. Tobacco, cotton, lumber, rum, corn, livestock, and slaves were all commodities that early settlers monopolized to gain monetary prominence over the average man.

In addition, the estates that were being built had to be defended, thus the tradition of knights with military prowess was continued. As time continued to pass, the noble class deepened their wealth and influence with the growth of the country and expansion westward. Knights were called upon in the battles against the Native American populations, noble families moved away from the crowded east coast and spread across the country, and despite the efforts of the common man, the government system developed so that popular vote merely influenced the votes of the nobility, it did not dictate them.

The Hale family made two great changes throughout their history. What began as an estate built on timber products, furs and maple syrup in New England, shifted in locale to the Midwest, taking advantage of trade routes in the Great Lakes. But the biggest move the family made was sending one son’s family off to California on the cusp of the Gold Rush. In a very short amount of time, Joseph Hale sent word back to the main estate that gold had been found, and the family had claim to large tracts of land. The Hale patriarch at the time, James, sold off his trade enterprise for an obscene sum of money and moved the family estate for a final time, settling with his newly expanded wealth in the northern part of California.

Since then, the Hale family has continued in its nobility, maintaining their wealth and status through business and political participation.

Growing up a Hale son meant many things for Derek, including time spent at Chamber gatherings. He had to learn the power the Chamber had over the noble class, as well as its limitations. He had to learn not only the skills to deserve his knighthood, but the code of conduct required of him once he did so. He has spent his whole life knowing what is expected of him, what is required of him, and what freedom he has between the two.

Which is why he is so confident the current request for his presence at the Chamber of Governance is nothing important. When he was 15 his presence was requested for a Chamber meeting and he was commended for his actions in a perilous situation. He’d brought pride to his name and his family name through his actions and he’s sure that this meeting is going to do the same.

He’s dressed neatly, dark slacks with a white, long sleeve button down shirt. It would be far too plain but he’s also wearing the mantle he inherited once he achieved his official knighthood after coming of age. It’s a dark grey cloak, resting on his shoulders and flowing behind him, reaching down to the middle of his calf when he’s standing still. In the center of the material is the Hale family symbol, a simplified version of their family crest, a triskelion big enough to span the distance between his shoulders. 

Feeling no reason in the world to be anxious, Derek opens the door to the Chamber gathering and takes his seat in front of the bench of Chamber Officers.

*

 

“This is bullshit,” Derek says fiercely under his breath, as he stalks out of the Chamber building over two hours later. He tugs at the cord keeping the mantle around his neck until the knot comes untied and he can scrunch the material into a ball as he walks out to his car. His chest is a boiling pit of embarrassment, shame and stubborn righteous anger.

The Chamber had not gathered to commend his actions.

In fact, they’d done just the opposite. Derek has been ordered, effective immediately, to leave his family estate and its protections, and launch his own personal pilgrimage. Its purpose? To quote the Chamber Chief Officer, “to adjust the appalling attitude you’ve adopted.”

He stomps his way out to the Camaro, rips the door open and tosses his mantle in the back seat. He drops down into the driver’s seat and wishes for a long moment he could trust himself not to use too much strength so he could hit the steering wheel like a human could. He flexes his claws, letting that much of the shift come over him, a release of the nervous, embarrassed energy that’s been accumulating since he saw the expressions on the Officers’ faces as they walked in the chamber.

It’s too soon for any self-reflection though so he starts the car, reveling in the power that vibrates through his senses when the engine roars to life. He wastes no time in pealing out of the parking lot, taking off through the town towards the Hale estate. He’s driving fast, too fast honestly, for someone who just had all protection revoked from the Chamber until he returns from his pilgrimage.

It doesn’t stop him from speeding through town, barely obeying traffic laws. He slows down when he gets to the curvy, winding roads through the forest that lead to his family’s house. But he doesn’t take the turn off for the house, knowing his family will be returning shortly from their places at the Chamber Gathering. He’s not ready to face their reactions yet. So Derek keeps driving, winding his way through the forest until he spots the little dirt road that breaks off from the paved trail through the estate and takes him up to a clearing overlooking the city below.

He takes the smaller road and finally slows down to accommodate the loose gravel. He takes a deep breath once he’s surrounded by tall trees and nothing else, letting go of the anger and truly feeling the shame wash over him. It’s not entirely a pleasant experience but when he parks in the clearing he no longer wants to run until his muscles tear or claw at a tree until his claws are dull. He mostly wants to collapse in the sweet smelling grass until he can think about what just happened semi-rationally.

So he does. He turns off the car, pockets the keys as he gets out and walks to the middle of the clearing, dropping first to his knees then to all fours before finally flopping on his stomach in the soft grass. Derek only takes a moment to breath in the smell of earth, clover and something he can only define as growth before he turns onto his back and stares up at the sky.

This is ridiculous.

He saved his family, just like he saved Paige when he was 15. Sure the method was a little different, he hadn’t had to kill anyone when he was saving his best friend from a feral alpha werewolf. But the Argent knight had practically declared war on his family, simply because they were Shifters.

Where the social structure of the world they live in is, for the most part, clearly defined, the supernatural world and how the two interact is less so. Shifters are among the most highly respected group of supernatural beings, Magic Wielders being directly below them and Lechers being at the bottom. There hasn’t been outright discrimination against the supernatural world for decades now. Which made the vitriol that Kate Argent had spit at him all the more enraging.

Derek’s mother, Talia Hale, and Chris Argent, the Argent Family’s new official leader and Kate’s older brother, had been in discussions to try to end the continued tensions between their families. Derek was brought before the Chamber for ripping out Kate’s throat after he found her, dumping gasoline at the base of the house, in the early hours of the morning. It was the part of the house that Derek and his family slept in.

The police authorities had ended up deferring to the Chamber’s judgement in the whole matter. And Derek had maybe been a little prideful in his actions, boasting about saving his family from certain death in a house fire. And maybe he’d been a bit too confident that he wouldn’t face any consequences because of his family’s prominence.

But he hadn’t expected such a public reprimand, nor such a severe punishment.

He lays there, watching the clouds pass as he thinks about what he has to do now, how he’s going to prove to the Chamber that he’s changed his attitude without having to spend too long on the road away from his pack, his family. He’s not keeping track of the time, his phone on silent and sitting in the cup holder of the Camaro. He hears someone approaching through the woods, from the direction of the house, and on four paws.

He knows from the pace and the gait that his mom is coming to check on him. He doesn’t move from his spot, content to stay right where he’s at until she makes it to him. It’s only another minute before she makes it to the clearing, shifting back to two legs and dressing quickly in whatever clothes she’d had tied to her back as she ran.

Talia walks barefoot across the grass and Derek marks her movements even as he continues to lay there, eyes closed and just the slightest bit apprehensive. He’s already been dealt a harsh and public lashing; he doesn’t know if he could stand to hear another reproof from his alpha right now.

Instead of standing over him and demanding he sit up and accept whatever type of lecture she’s been building up to give him, she sits next to him at his shoulders. He feels her gentle fingers brush his hair back from his forehead and he sighs.

“Are you alright, mon loup?” she asks quietly and Derek doesn’t respond for a long moment. Long enough for her to stop petting his hair and tug gently until he opens an eye and looks up at her concerned expression.

“She was going to kill us,” he says, trying not to sound plaintive and probably failing. “She was going to set fire to our house, where Tyler and Genevieve and and everyone was still sleeping just because we’re werewolves. I was defending my family, my pack.”

“I know,” she says gently, her tone hushing him as she starts petting his hair again as well, “and for that reason I disagree with the Chamber’s assessment.”

He opens his eyes again to look up at her a little critically when she trails off, almost like she’s going to leave that thought unfinished. Seeing his reaction to her words she sighs softly.

“I’m not saying you’re to blame for this, but I do admit that their criticism of your response after the fact is cause for concern,” she explains and Derek flushes.

“Your father and I are partly to blame, I know we are. After the incident with Paige and the commendation that followed,” she pauses to shake her head, “we let you go unchecked a little too much. We shouldn’t have allowed such, pride to take root in you.”

She raises her hand and looks down at him tenderly when he starts to rise to argue with her words until he lays back down.

“Not that you can’t be proud of our family, or yourself for your accomplishments. But I think the Chamber’s words on your focus being on past achievements and not on future ones is pretty spot on.”

Derek closes his eyes again against the tears that are starting to sting behind them. He’d never intended to become what the Chamber had described. He’d never meant to be “an arrogant, entitled, unsympathetic, attention-seeking, unmotivated young man with no future if he continues to look only to his past.”

His mom just continues to pet his hair back and gentles her voice further.

“No one in the family is disappointed in you. No one thinks you’ve brought shame to the family name or anything else you might be thinking. Even though your father and I have to side with the Chamber in enforcing your pilgrimage, don’t believe for a second that we won’t be supporting you through the whole thing. You can take the car, your bank accounts will all still be there for you to use; you’re not being cut off from the family, the pack, even slightly.”

“You’re still my son, and I still love you, that won’t ever change,” she says, dropping to press a kiss to his forehead as a couple tears finally break loose from behind his closed eyes and slide down his face into the grass beneath him.

She leaves him then, after running her fingers through his hair one last time. He doesn’t know how long he lays there trying to push all the emotions still swirling around his chest down enough that he feels confident in facing his family. But he eventually gets there, gets to a place where he feels nothing but dread for the road ahead.

*

Laura is waiting for him in his room when he gets back to the house. The rest of his family is giving him space but he’d honestly have been surprised if she’d left him alone right now. He walks in, already knowing she’s lounging on his bed, and ignores her in favor of returning his mantle to a hanger in the closet and getting out of the stiff dress clothes. They’re rumpled from his time in the grass so he throws them right into the laundry basket for someone else to deal with.

Derek grabs the nearest pair of sweatpants out of the dresser in his closet and pulls them on. He grabs his suitcase and his weekend travel bag while he’s in there and walks out, dumping it on the bed next to Laura. He knows she has no patience to wait for him to speak; it’s just a matter of time before she breaks the silence.

He manages to get two pairs of jeans and two pairs of shorts folded and tucked into the side of the suitcase before she breaks.

It’s a record two minutes of silence from his older sister.

“Did mom talk to you?” she asks with a huff and he merely nods in response, turning back to his closet to decide which shirts will be packed.  

“Did she tell you none of us are mad?” she prods again and Derek nods.

"What did she say? What did you say? Is she mad? She didn’t seem mad when she came in the house earlier,” she goes on to ask, starting to get irritated and probably hoping the multiple questions will drag a verbal response out of him.

So he shrugs.

He goes to look at the chain mail shirts he has to pick from; it’s an unwritten rule that knights wear their mail shirts to denote their status while traveling. But his sister is not to be ignored, he hears her get up from the bed and stalk towards him. He turns and catches her hand before she can either lay it comfortingly on his shoulder, or more likely, grab him and turn him so he has to face her.

“Give me something to work with here,” she growls in his face and Derek feels his eyes start to glow in response to her tone, irritation being what finally snaps the tenuous hold he has on his emotions right now.

“What do you me to say, Laura,” he growls back at her, throwing her hand away from him.

“That I’m embarrassed?” he starts, cheeks heating up as the Chamber Gathering replays in his mind, “That that was the most mortifying experience of my life?”

He turns around and grabs the mail shirt he’s going to wear in the morning when he leaves the house and glares at his sister as he walks past her to lay it on his bed.

“To be told by the Chamber, in front of all my friends, family and peers that I’m some spoiled brat who doesn’t know how to behave in public.”

She stands firm in the middle of his room, arms folded across her chest, face pinched with both concern and irritation. He walks back from the bed to his closet, flipping through the shirts hanging there, quick and harsh.

“You want me to say that I feel like I’ve failed my pack and the Hale family name?” he admits truthfully before he switches to sneering sarcasm. “Or maybe I suddenly regret killing her now even though I was defending my pack?” Derek says angrily, thoughts and emotions bubbling free now that he’s gotten himself going. He gives up on looking for the right shirt and opens his dresser drawer to find socks, underwear and undershirts. “You want me to say they’re right about me and I’m a terrible person who has to be sent away from his family to hopefully become a more respectable member of society?”

He takes his handful of underclothes that he’d pulled from his drawers and walks past Laura, her irritation fading fast as he continues his rant. Derek dumps it in his suitcase and braces his hands on the hard edge of the case and lets his head drop, pulling at the tension between his shoulders.

“You want me to say that I’m pissed,” he continues harshly but growing quiet, “pissed they’re making me do this, that I have no idea what I should be doing on a pilgrimage or what the hell that even means.” He grabs one of the pairs of socks that had fallen on the floor and throws it into the case a little too hard.

“Want me to admit that I’m angry that they assume I’ll get ‘better’ with no guidance from them, like my frame of mind is going to magically be adjusted by going on a solo road trip?”

He leans against the suitcase again, needing to keep still and have something brace him up now that he’s not holding himself together by the tips of his claws.

“You want me to say that I’m scared,” he says finally, quiet and embarrassed and vulnerable. “There. I said it; I’m scared. What- what more do you want me to say?” he finishes, hating himself a little more for the way his voice cracks and tears start prickling at his eyes.

He doesn’t block his sister again when she approaches him this time. Derek lets her tackle him to the bed, dragging him over the luggage to the open space on the other half. She’s hugging him tightly and he wraps his arms around her waist as she tucks her face into his neck.

His tirade was loud enough for his whole family to hear, should they be listening. Their house is large but everyone tends to stick close to the living quarters, especially since the almost-attack from the Argents. The little one’s probably tuned him out, but he knows his parents, Cora, and Tyler probably heard every word.

But Laura’s whispered response is the complete opposite.

“You’d be an idiot if you weren’t scared right now, boo. After you left, the Chamber Officer told mom and dad that when you stop in the morning before leaving that they’ll have some guidance and some requirements for you,” she says, and it should be a reassurance but it falls kind of flat. “If you weren’t scared,” she continues, “you’d truly be all those things they said in the chamber today, with little hope of redemption. All of us kids probably need something like a pilgrimage to get over the privilege we’ve grown up with. Of all of us, you’re the one who could come back and teach us, get us in line,” she says lightly, clearly trying to lighten his mood.

He sniffs hard, trying to hide how much her words were able to do what she wanted, comfort him, calm him down. He’s still pretty panicked but it feels a little more manageable now that he’s aired his thoughts.

Derek is still completely unsure of how this will help him, but he knows he has to do it. He would only bring more shame down on his family if he disregarded the Chamber’s orders. He’s not willing to do that, despite how pleasant it is to lay here with his sister playing with his hair until he relaxes.

It’s not like he has to leave within the hour but eventually Laura stands him back up, presses a kiss to his cheek and leaves him to go back to packing.

He tries to keep it a modest packing job. His favorite, softest t-shirts and henleys. He throws in an extra pair of boots and a jacket just in case he goes somewhere that requires it. But his weekend bag has the rest of his stuff. His laptop, camera, journal, pens, and all the chargers he’ll need for his electronics.

His toiletries bag is relatively small so he packs it in there, really only needing his toothbrush, toothpaste, his hair brush, shaving cream and a razor. He takes a look at his hair gel and decides he can forgo it for the trip. While his hair might get a little more unruly as he goes, he’s not willing to sacrifice being clean shaven. A beard is so itchy and with all that he’s going to be dealing with, that is not something he wants to add to the list.

He checks over his bag one more time, making sure he’s not forgetting anything major before he goes back to his closet to get what he’ll wear tomorrow. He grabs his softest jeans, a dark maroon henley and lays them both out with his mail shirt. It feels like too little too late of an effort to make himself feel better with everything he’s facing; but if he can face being terrified without crying like a small child he deserves to wear his favorite clothes and take comfort from them.

As he sits on his bed, staring into his closet his mantle catches his eye and he realizes he’s forgotten something.

When sons of noblemen come of age they choose to accept the mantle of knighthood for their family. Not only are they burdened with new responsibilities and a code of conduct, but they receive physical symbols of their newly bestowed status. The mantle worn to Chamber Gatherings and other important events is only one of those physical representations of knighthood.

The other is the family shield. Most noble families have a coat of arms, a symbol that can at times date back thousands of years. While heraldry isn’t completely necessary with the large jousting shields emblazoned with family colors and coats of arms, it’s still common for noble families to acknowledge their heritage.

Derek doesn’t know when the tradition began but big jousting shields transformed into smaller, more manageable sized ones. They’re akin to the badges police officers carry around, only slightly bigger and each family can have a different shape. Derek’s family has shields in an edged shape, with a base of silver and a burnished titanium triskelion centered on it, surrounded by wolfsbane blossoms.

He stands up from his bed again and crosses to his armoire. He never wears his shield. In the safety of his hometown, where everyone knows who he is and whose son he is, he doesn’t need to. Their family vacations outside of Beacon Hills had been when he was younger, before he even had a shield to wear. Derek’s prized possessions have always been in the armoire. When he was younger this meant baseball cards and his glove. Now it means his best suit, his ties and his shield get tucked away in its drawers and shelves. He doesn’t have to dig around for it or anything, it’s right where he keeps it, safe and polished. But it’s strangely another weight on his shoulders, another level of anxiety to think about the fact that tomorrow he’s going to be in a situation where it will be necessary to wear it.

Still he grabs it, holding it tightly in his fist and thinks about the positives. Tries to think about the positives. The shield shows his status so people will maybe see it and leave him alone. It also makes him a representative of the Hale family, which gives him protection in its own right.  

He puts it with his clothes for the next day, moves his bags off his bed and next to the door and then curls up in the middle of his bed even though it’s maybe only 5:00 in the evening.

He is resolutely ignoring his phone. His friends and relatives started sending him messages almost immediately after the Gathering ended. He’s tempted to not even bring the stupid thing with him on the trip but he’ll need it to call in case of emergency and for navigating wherever he ends up going. He lays there, staring at the ceiling for a while until even just the screen lighting up the room, which is steadily growing darker, becomes annoying. But then he only gets up and turns the damn thing off without reading any of the messages.

He has nothing to distract himself at this point. Watching something or walking across the house to a library to try and find a book is too much effort for too little reward right now. Part of him doesn’t want to be distracted. He knows he still needs to fully process everything that was said in the Gathering and how he’s going to approach fulfilling their orders.

His mom brings him a plate of food after a while, probably once his absence from the dinner table was taken to show his intention of not leaving his room until the morning. She doesn’t say anything this time, just sitting on the edge of his bed and running her fingers through his hair as he clutches a pillow to his chest and his heart races.

He can’t believe this is happening to him, he just never thought he’d turn into the kind of person that gets sent out into the world to gain some perspective. He never wanted this, he and Laura had practically sworn to each other that they and their siblings wouldn’t grow up into spoiled, lazy adults who live off their parents’ wealth.

He doesn’t really register time moving along so he doesn’t know how long his mom sits with him, petting his hair, before she presses a kiss to his forehead and leaves him to his thoughts. At one point he checks the time on the clock hanging on his wall and realizes more time has passed than he realized because it’s 11:00 at night and he hasn’t eaten anything yet. So he picks at the sandwich his mom had brought him and then dumps out his luggage on his bed.

He has to double check he’s not forgetting anything major so he goes through everything again. It gives him a chance to get things better organized instead of just haphazardly thrown into the bag. Organizing and refolding everything frees up a lot of space and Derek decides against taking his suitcase and digs out another duffle bag instead, packing everything snuggly inside it.

He looks up from placing his bags by the door, again, and it’s 3:04 am.

He doesn’t think he’ll sleep but he goes and lays down on his bed anyway. Staring at the ceiling, trying to ignore all the rampant thoughts going through his mind is apparently the right thing to do because he does fall asleep, albeit a fitful one. He tosses and turns, half asleep half-awake but getting rest all the same until it’s 6:15 and an acceptable time to be up and moving around the house.

He goes to the bathroom and splashes water on his face, waking himself up a little further before he faces his family for the last time in who knows how long. He catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror and the only thing Derek notices is the fear that’s so evident in his eyes. Throwing the towel he’d used to dry off his face back in the sink, he stalks back into the room and towards the chair where he laid out his clothes for the first day of this trip.

Pulling on his jeans, favorite shirt and his chain mail feels less like getting dressed for a road trip and more like preparing for battle. Too bad the battle will be against himself and keeping his emotions in check. Where he normally feels controlled and confident wearing clothes like this, denoting his status, today it feels like he’s donning armor. Like the shield hanging around his neck and the mail shirt resting heavily on his shoulders is the only barrier between him and the rest of the world, the only thing keeping him safe.

He knows his movements have woken his family; his parents probably waking up his younger siblings more fully and soon the sound of footsteps on the stairs fills Derek’s ears and he sighs to himself. He’s going to do this, he has to do this. And as much as he isn’t looking forward to it, as much as the tight pit of panic and dread that’s settled in his stomach which isn’t going away anytime soon weighs him down, he picks up his bags and opens the door to his bedroom.

Derek drops his bags by the front door and walks to the living room where his family has gathered to say goodbye to him. He wants to laugh, it’s a small emotion compared to the panic but still, it’s there, when he sees his younger siblings, still in pajamas and curled into each other on the couch, fighting to stay awake.

Laura sees the quirk of his lips and approaches him first, not stopping outside his personal space but wrapping him tightly in a hug.

“Love you, Der,” she says lightly, her chin hooked over his shoulder, “you’re gonna be fine and we’re going to be here the whole time. You better check in every step of the way,” she says sternly and Derek nods, still holding her tightly. Her words of reassurance are again, the balm for his already weary and still-anxious heart.

She pulls back from the hug and smiles at him, warm and confident and Derek does his best to return it. She squeezes his arms one more time before she steps back and then Cora is there in his space so fast he has to step backwards once to keep his balance. She’s holding him tightly, a rare show of affection from his teenage sister that has recently taken to acting more and more aloof.

“I love you, you know,” she says quietly and Derek gets with the program and wraps his arms around her smaller frame, holding her safely in his arms as long as she’ll allow. He ducks his head a little to press his cheek against her temple and just stays there for a long moment.

“Love you too, Squeaker,” he responds finally, a more genuine feeling smile growing on his expression when she pinches his side for using her old nickname. She pulls back then, a false scowl on her face.

“Check in with us so we know you’re alive,” she says and Derek nods, smile still in place.

Getting hugs from his younger siblings, Tyler who is 12, David who is 10 and Genevieve who is 7, fills his chest with warmth. They don’t know why he’s leaving, not completely understanding the situation with the Chamber just yet, but they know he’s going on a trip and won’t be back for a while. Tyler and David both are more asleep than awake still but they hug him and say goodbye before collapsing together in a chair and falling back asleep.

Genevieve though is actually a little upset. She puts her arms up until he lifts her and holds her to his chest for a tight embrace.

“Why are you leaving?” she asks, voice a little wobbly and nearly destroying all the confidence that had built up in him from his family’s reassurances.

“I have to go on a little trip here Veive,” he says gently, “but I will call you and you can call me whenever you miss me, okay? I’m not going away forever, I promise,” he continues, rubbing a hand up and down her back, trying to comfort his little sister.

She nods into his neck and holds him tightly for another moment. Despite the 13 year age difference between them, Derek really loves hanging out with his littlest sister when he has the chance. Her being in school now and his tendency to keep to himself in the house meant they haven’t seen each other very much lately, a fact he regrets now that he won’t have the opportunity to see her at all unless it’s through a computer screen.

“Love you, Monkey,” he whispers before pressing a kiss to her hair and she pulls back to kiss his cheek.

“Love you too, Bear,” she says in return and then wiggles for him to put her down. The panic and uneasiness starts to overwhelm him again as he is realizing he’s getting closer and closer to having to leave.

Derek looks up at his dad, who he hasn’t talked to since he saw the sad, concerned look on his face in the Chamber meeting. But his dad is standing there, still looking concerned but he has no trace of disappointment in his features and Derek breathes a little easier just at that. While disappointing his family and his alpha has been pretty mortifying, being a disappointment to his dad would have pushed him over the edge.

Derek walks over to his dad's open arms and hides his face in the taller man’s chest, like he’s 15 again and scared of getting behind the wheel of a car for the first time. His dad’s strong arms wrap around him firmly, holding him together even when everything suddenly starts to feel like too much.

“Good luck, kid,” he starts, gently rubbing Derek’s back, “I want you to remember, no matter where you go, we’re always going to be here for you, you can always come back home. No matter what the Chamber says when you get back, you’ll always be a part of this family. You’ll always be a part of the Hale pack,” he says firmly and Derek tries not to shudder in relief at hearing the simple words. He nods silently and sniffs, allowing the tears that have been stinging at the backs of his eyes finally spill down his cheeks.

His dad pulls back, his big, warm hands resting heavily on Derek’s shoulders when he does. He forces Derek to look him in the eye and pay attention before he says, “I love you, none of this stuff changes that, okay?”

Derek nods one more time and his dad pulls him back in for another brief hug and a quick kiss pressed into his hair. This time when his dad pulls back he just nods and steps back, giving Talia enough room to step in and wrap Derek in the last hug before he has to leave.

She drags the side of her face from the base of his neck up to his temple, scenting him strongly one last time before he leaves. They’ve already had their words, he knows where he stands with his alpha so she skips the lecture and pulls back from tightly embracing him to smile at him warmly. She lets go of him quicker than he’d anticipated but it’s only to grab another bag from her feet.

“This is the sick quilt,” she says and Derek’s heart starts beating a little faster, “I want you to take it with you. It has everyone’s scents in it so if anything happens and you need the scent of your pack you’d have it.”

Two days ago Derek would have scoffed at the idea of needing help controlling his shift or that he’d be put in a position where he wouldn’t be able to control himself to the point that he would need the scent of his pack to calm him down. But today, with the steady undercurrent of panic and anxiety still coursing through him, he takes the bag gratefully with an understanding nod.

She leans in and presses another kiss to his cheek, before pulling him into a fierce, tight hug one last time. He clings to her, feeling the anxiety well up in him once again as he realizes this is it.

He’s leaving the safety of his home, his pack, his family for literally, an unknown destination.

“Love you, kid,” she says gently when she pulls back and Derek gives her a weak smile.

“Love you too, ma.”

The words come out only slightly choked through his tight throat but no one comments on it. They all walk him to the door and he grabs his two bags he’d left by the door. With one last parting look and wobbly smile to his family, he opens the door and walks out the door, less than ready to face the Chamber again, but ready to do what he needs to in order to redeem himself in their eyes.

 

*

Chapter Text

By noon Derek is just on the Oregon side of the state border with California so he stops for lunch in some little town just off I-5. Finding a diner with wifi is relatively easy, but the nearest one is a little sketchy looking for his taste. He’s never stopped in such a place before and judging by the way the waitress’s eyes go wide and scared when he steps up to her stand to ask for a table, he guesses they might not have many knights or people of his status in the restaurant.

“Can I have a booth?” he asks, voice coming out harsher than he intended and the girl, who can’t be older than 16, flinches and averts her eyes even as she nods and grabs him a menu and napkin wrapped silverware. If he could palm his face in frustration while in a public place he would. As it is he takes his seat when she ushers him to a booth in the corner, out of the way. Derek makes sure to give her a soft smile, putting effort into saying, “thanks,” gently and sincerely.

He sees the way she kind of, slumps in relief when he sits down and her hands aren’t clutching the menu quite as tightly when she hands it to him.

“My name is Eleanor and I’ll be your waitress today, can I start you off with something to drink?” she rattles off, sounding confident despite their somewhat confusing interactions so far.

“I’ll just have an ice water, please,” he tacks on at the end, he is nothing if not polite, “and also the wifi password?”

She pockets her notepad, not needing to write down his simple drink order and nods at him again.

“I’ll be right back with a water then and the password is just ‘fritters’ with a capital ‘F,’” she explains, waiting for him to nod in response before she walks away to get his water and check her other tables.

Derek rolls his eyes at himself, making sure his face is turned down so no one thinks he’s doing it at his waitress; he’s 6 hours into this pilgrimage thing and he’s already nearly made a fool of himself. Still, he pulls his laptop out of his bag and opens it up on the table, typing in the password Eleanor had told him and waiting for only a moment until it connects.

Once he’s got internet access he opens a browser and goes to Google.

The Chamber Officer that had met him earlier that morning had given him only three guidelines and two recommendations beyond that.

The guidelines he had to follow were: 1. Be open to change 2. Visit sacred places and 3. Be attentive to others. The only other recommendations he received were to journal his experiences and to spend at least a month out of Beacon Hills.

What wonderful direction.  

Being open to change and attentive to others he can focus on wherever he goes, in theory. So instead he types in the search bar “sacred places in the US.” The list of results on the page is pretty extensive so he clicks one that looks credible, while it loads the waitress approaches his table. He’d forgotten to look at the menu to figure out his order. His glass of ice water gets set in front of him, a straw in a white wrapper laid next to it but she doesn’t pull out her pad and pen, just shoves her hands in her pockets.

“Need another minute to decide?” she asks hesitantly and Derek looks up at her bashfully through his eyelashes.

“Sorry, yeah, just a minute though,” he says, still keeping his voice soft and patient sounding. He’s rewarded with a tentative smile from her for his efforts and it feels a little like a minor victory at this point in his day.

“Okay, I’ll be back to get your order after I check my other tables,” she says and Derek nods, picking up the menu to decide what he’ll have.

It’s all fairly standard diner food, or rather, what he’d expect from a diner like this. He’d kill for a good cheeseburger but he’s not willing to risk a stomach ache from substandard beef. Seeing that they have a chicken tenders basket he goes for that, knowing most restaurants can manage deep fried chicken strips.

He puts down the menu once he’s made the decision and Eleanor walks back over to him, note pad at the ready. Derek places his order, earning himself a smirk from the girl before she walks to the kitchen to put his order in. Knowing he’s got at least 10 minutes before he gets his food served to him he turns back to his computer, looking at the page that loaded with list options of sacred places within the US.

It’s quite a thorough list, longer than he expected if he’s honest with himself. He’d have expected such a list of spots for places across the globe, but he’s limiting himself, at least to begin with, to stay within the country. He starts scrolling through before giving up and going to the state by state list, needing some sort of general organization to the massive list. 

Alaska is obviously number one on the list, giving the states are in alphabetical order, and as he clicks through the links Derek decides, since he’s already heading north, why not start there. He’s never been to Alaska, hell he’s never been most places in the world, but the pictures he scrolls through make it quite enticing. He’s reading about Sitka National Historical Park when his lunch is placed on the table in front of him.

Derek shuts his laptop, happily turning to his food as his stomach grumbles.

“Anything else I can get you?” Eleanor asks, her relaxed posture indicating her initial discomfort at his presence has since vanished.

“Nope,” he responds with another charming smile, once he notices there is a sizeable dish of ranch already on his plate, “I should be good, thank you.”

She acknowledges him, finally giving him a real smile before she walks away.

When he looks back down at his plate he’s kind of taken by surprise. Even for a dish that’s about the most basic thing he could have ordered it looks fantastic. The chicken strips are all big and fried to a perfect golden brown, seasoned differently than he’s ever seen before. And the basket they came in is full of crispy seasoned potato chips instead of the soggy fries he half expected. It’s so far above what he anticipated to be served to him that he dives into his meal, with gusto.

Before he knows it, Eleanor is walking back to ask how the first few bites were tasting but he’s already eaten all of the chicken and is snacking on the delicious chips, trying the extra dish of sauce he’d been served with them.

“Hungry there, big guy?” she asks before she pales, clearly it’s something she’d say to one of her regular customers, but the overly familiar moniker isn’t necessarily appropriate towards a knight.

He smiles quickly, giving her another bashful look.

“It’s been a stressful morning,” he tells her and she starts breathing again, her heartrate which had spiked at her casual words slowing, “I was hungrier than I realized. It was so delicious it was no trouble at all to clear my plate.”

“I’m glad,” she says, all the effort to calm her down seemingly futile as her voice wobbles slightly, “Can I get you anything else?”

“Actually, I could really go for a slice of pie from the case out front,” he says easily, doing his best to ‘be attentive to others.’

“What kind are you looking for?” she asks, sounding more sure of herself again.

“Um…” he hesitates, reaching across the table for the dessert menu he’d seen when he set up his laptop. He pulls it up and reads the list of desserts. “I’ll have a slice of lemon meringue, please,” he decides and she writes it down on his tab with a nod.

“I’ll have that right out to you,” she responds with a tiny smile.

Derek nods in response and a smile of his own before she walks away. He continues snacking on the chips as he opens his laptop again and starts looking for ways to get to where he wants to go in Alaska. As much as he wants to drive his car and have the control that that allows, the easiest way to get to Sitka seems to be by plane.

He’s engrossed in flight shopping when Eleanor brings him his pie and refills his water.

“Thank you,” he says before she walks away and she smiles, bigger than before.

“You’re welcome.”

He turns back to his computer, still absentmindedly grabbing at the chips in his basket until his reach comes back empty and he looks over to see he’s eaten every crumb. He sighs, he could probably eat another serving of those chips without any guilt at all, they were delicious. Still, he’s found his flight (Seattle to Sitka) and has purchased his tickets, giving himself a week there before he will have to fly home. A week seems long enough to explore a single place.

A decision made, and having an immediate goal of getting himself to Seattle by nightfall, he allows himself some measure of confidence in himself as he closes his computer and digs in to his pie.

Once he’s cleared his plate, again, Eleanor pops up again, a to-go box in one hand and the check in the other.

He raises an eyebrow at the box when she sets it on the table and she shrugs a shoulder.

“I’ve never seen anyone look so sad at having run out of our chips,” she admits a little smugly, “figured you might want some for the road.”

Derek feels his face light up when he smiles at her, unembarrassed that he’d been called out for his excitement over food.

“Thank you,” he enthuses, “It’s just what I’ll need for my drive up to Seattle this afternoon.”

“Seattle?” she inquires while he pulls his wallet out of his back pocket, “What’s in Seattle?”

“Well, it’s more a hopping off place, I’m headed to Alaska,” he tells her as he rifles through the bills in his wallet, looking for a smaller bill.

“Interesting,” she says, “I’ve never even been out of the state let alone all the way up to Alaska,” she mumbles and Derek looks up at her, having clearly heard her admittance.

“Well, to be fair, you’re still in high school right? There’s plenty of time to travel once you graduate,” he says but she frowns. “What?”

She still hesitates and Derek realizes what she wants to say.

“Oh, well, it never hurts to start saving up,” he tries, and looks back down at his wallet, giving up at finding a twenty dollar bill and grabbing a hundred. “Here, can you break this for me?”

She nods and scurries away, anxious to escape the awkward conversation. By the time she gets back with his change he has all his stuff wrapped up again, ready to leave his tip and go. She thanks him for his visit and then goes back to check her other tables. Normally he’d be calculating what he’s supposed to leave for a tip, never leaving more than 20%. But, he thinks, he’s supposed to change his ways, right?

Might as well start small.

Derek grabs the pen off the table and writes a quick note on the receipt, ‘start a travel fund,’ and leaves the four twenties underneath it for her to find. He shoves the coins in his front pocket and walks out of the restaurant, smiling at the tired looking waitress at the stand.

*

Derek isn’t learning anything. Sure he went for a walk in the national park, saw awe inspiring views of both wilderness and beaches. He learned about the history of Sitka and saw the great Totem poles. But, he feels exactly the same as when he left Beacon Hills.

Instead of venturing out into the wilderness, yet again, he’s meandering through downtown. There’s plenty of little shops and cafés along the main street and it’s enough to hold his attention for hours.

Beacon Hills doesn’t have much of a downtown area. And of all the places they went as kids, Disneyland, a resort in Mexico and one in Hawaii, he had neither the inclination nor the permission to explore such places. And once he graduated high school most of his time was spent, well, however he wanted.

And driving to the next city over to peruse shops wasn’t anything he’d ever thought he would enjoy.

He finds himself walking past a bookstore and he stops himself from walking right by. He can’t be the first person sent on a pilgrimage; someone has to have written down the method to this madness that he could follow. So he ducks inside the store, a little bell tinkling above his head to signify his entrance.

The store is quite small, but books don’t take up that much space, especially when the bookshelves reach all the way to the ceiling. With exception to the shelves under the front windows, the ones lining the walls and filling the majority of the space tower far above his reach, each shelf full of books in all shapes and sizes.

There’s a pair of stuffed armchairs with a low table between them in front of one window, and a counter with a register in front of the other. There’s soft classical music playing over the speakers and Derek finds he is relaxing despite himself, eased simply by the calm, quiet serenity created within the shop. He can hear only one other heart beat in the store, strong and a regularly paced, if he had more practice he could probably pinpoint more information from the sound but as it is he only knows that it’s a young person, someone probably close to his age, maybe a year older.

He’s feeling quite smug when a young man, a few inches taller, a few inches broader and skin many shades darker than his, walks out of the stacks and smiles at him in greeting.

“Welcome to my store, Paws Prints! I’m Boyd, just browsing today or can I help you look for something specific?” he asks, quietly despite his bright smile.

Derek clears his throat, “I’m wondering if you have any books on pilgrimages. I’m,” he pauses and rubs at the back of his neck, “kind of lost to what I’m supposed to be doing beyond traveling around,” he admits and inexplicably, the man’s smile grows brighter.

“Yes, we do! Let me show you where the section is,” he says happily, waving a hand at Derek, gesturing for him to follow into the stacks.

Derek goes easily, hoping the ‘section’ has more than a handful of books to choose from. He hasn’t read a book in a very long time; if his only option is a thick, indecipherable tome he’s not going to be as enthusiastic about purchasing it. However, when the man stops in the back corner of the store, Derek realizes he may have had some luck when he chose this shop.

“Here we are,” Boyd says as he points to the shelf, “these five shelves all have books on pilgrimages,” he explains, pointing to the ones Derek should survey.

Derek raises an eyebrow in surprise and the man laughs easily.

“I know, it’s a lot for one topic in a store this size, right?”

“I mean, I don’t know much about bookstores,” Derek is quick to say, “I think this could be the second one I’ve been in my whole life, but, uh, yeah. This seems like a lot of books for one subject outside of Barnes & Noble.”

Boyd huffs a laugh again.

“Well, I wanted a section with some depth on the topic, I know how much they, pilgrimages that is, can affect people.”

“You say that as though you have personal experience?” Derek asks, half hoping for a verbal education to save him the trouble of finding and reading a book on the topic.

“Yeah,” he admits, smile still comfortably in place, “I went on one to show my parents I could do more than just learn to fight and train my body as a knight, that I could train my mind as well. I went to a few different colleges down across the States, kind of bounced around a semester at a time until I found one I liked well enough to commit to.” He shrugs bashfully, “It’s not normal to have gone to five colleges for a four-year degree, but I enjoyed it regardless.”

“Interesting,” Derek offers genuinely, “What did you study?”

“English literature,” he responds happily before shaking his head, “But this isn’t about me, what about you? What’s your purpose behind your pilgrimage?”

Derek ducks his head again, embarrassed to be admitting the truth to another knight.

“Well, I’ve been sent on orders from my Chamber of Governance,” he admits and Boyd’s face shifts to confusion.

“Why would they do that?” he asks curiously.

Derek huffs with a smile, hoping he comes across as self-deprecating as he feels, “My attitude after successfully defending my pack was, less than what they expected from me.”

His mind immediately goes back to that early morning. Of finding Kate Argent, gas can and lighter in hand, his house already reeking of the accelerant. He remembers listening to her spew her hatred of his family and his kind, her cruel smile as she flicked the lighter open, the small flame bursting forth and spelling out almost certain death to his family inside the house. He remembers the horrible sensation of her throat ripping open beneath his claws, remembers the relief when the flame was extinguished as the lighter fell from her hand.

But then his remembered terror shifts to embarrassment as he recalls what happened next. He’d been such a prick to the responding officers, angrily refusing to be taken away from his family to be questioned at the station and have his statement of the incident recorded official. Of course it had been driven by the instinct to stay close to his pack after such a frightening attack, but he’d taken it too far and made a scene. Or two.

He’s brought back to the present when Boyd speaks up again.

“Oh, well, how could they do that, just send you off? Aren’t you missing school? Or a job? You can’t be out of college, not with that face,” he says confidently and Derek self-consciously rubs at his jaw. 

“No,” he admits quietly, “No, I’m not missing anything.”

His mind goes to days spent working out, training to fight, playing golf and video games for hours on end. He hasn’t minded that he hasn’t been doing anything with his life, he hadn’t really thought about it until after the Chamber reprimanded him. But now, standing in front of a young knight like himself that not only completed a college education but now runs his own business already, well. He’s kind of embarrassed, again, by his actions or rather his inaction for the last two years.

“Oh,” Boyd says, thankfully seeming to drop the subject when he just clears his throat and shrugs, “Well, then there’s no limit on how long you can travel then.”

Derek ducks his head again, blushing slightly now at his apparent incompetence.

“Um, I thought I’d start with sacred sites in the US and see where that got me,” he admits and Boyd nods encouragingly.

“Good, nice, there’s lots of beautiful places in the US, that will make you think and that way you’re not putting an ocean between yourself and your pack right away in your trip,” he offers.

Derek looks back up at that, a question popping into his mind.

“Yeah, speaking of pack, I’m assuming from the the name you picked for your bookstore your family are Shifters?” Boyd nods and Derek continues with his real question, “How did that work for you, going to college and being away from your pack for so long?”

“It was easier than I expected,” Boyd tells him, gesturing for Derek to follow him back out to the chairs at the front of the store. “Although I should say, with it just being me and my little sister, who is 8 years younger than me, we aren’t the most tactile pack out there by any means. And so I know that helped a lot.”

As Derek takes a seat in the overstuffed chair he can’t help but think about Genevive crawling into his lap as he played video games. He can’t help but remember Laura flopping down on top of him as he laid on the couch watching Netflix after she’d had a long day in class. It’s been a while but he thinks about when he used to play catch with Tyler and David, teaching them to use their baseball gloves. He thinks of how easily that changed from friendly instruction to wrestling matches out on the lawn.

He thinks about sitting on the couch, tucked under his mom’s arm as they all watched a movie together on family night. Thinks about bumping elbows with his dad at the dinner table almost every day. His family is about as physical as they come for werewolf packs and it makes him worry a little.

If he stays away too long, is it going to change him? He’s heard of werewolves going out on their own becoming so touch starved they can’t bear to be touched at all because of it. Boyd doesn’t seem to notice his inner freak out though.

“But I talked with people at college and while I was on the road and the best advice I heard was to make a point to not avoid touch. Like, even if it’s shaking hands with someone who gives you directions, or letting someone clap you on the shoulder as they pass by you without shrinking away. You don’t have to let the strangers overwrite the scent of your pack, but at the same time, simply interacting with people goes a long way in keeping from getting too lonely on the road.”

Derek breathes a small smile of relief; he can do that, he’s never really had an issue being accepting of other people, outside his family and friends, being in his personal space. But that was when he knew he could go home and fill his senses with his pack. He can see how paranoid ‘wolves could get once they get separated from their pack.

“That shouldn’t be too hard,” Derek answers finally, “at least, it shouldn’t be for me, I haven’t ever had issues with strangers and casual touches like your describing.”

Still, it’s something he should write down in his journal to keep in the forefront of his mind. He makes a mental note to dig it out of his bag once he gets back to the hotel.

“There are other things, like FaceTiming home and seeing their faces, that helped a lot with my parents. And don’t forget you can still text them and however you used to communicate before you left home. Just because you’re out on a pilgrimage, that doesn't mean you have to give up all communication with home. I think some people would see it as a distraction but i think for us it’s important to be able to keep a connection with our pack,” Boyd goes on to say and Derek can’t find anything he disagrees with in the declaration.

While he is trying to take this seriously, despite still being a little rankled at the Chamber’s description of him, he doesn’t think separating himself from his pack any more than he already is would help him in the long run.

So he just nods in response and lets Boyd go on to point out his recommended books, and start to discuss them. They talk for a while, Boyd continuing to regale Derek with tales and misadventures from his own journey. He gives Derek some advice, where to go, his favorite college campus, how he decided what he wanted to study, what he wanted to do with his life.

When Derek walks out of a quaint little bookstore in Sitka, Alaska he thinks he may have a couple things to write in his journal.

Mainly that, apparently, just training to be a knight isn’t the only thing he has to do to fill his time. Apparently, he can have higher expectations of himself and how he contributes to society.  

Who knew?

Chapter Text

Derek quite enjoyed his week in Alaska, all existential upheaval notwithstanding. He now has close to a dozen pages filled with his messy scrawl in his journal. He wrote mostly about the things he learned, things about the park, Alaska, and the native tribes that lived there before Russian settlement. He wrote about his conversation with Boyd in the quaint little bookstore, even making a note of Boyd’s phone number that he’d given Derek in case he needed more guidance or just someone to talk to as his trip continued.

He left the bookstore having gained something of an acquaintance and a handy sized book with tips and questions to ask himself as his pilgrimage unfolded.

On his last day in the state before he was due to fly back to Seattle, Derek shifted fully and went for a run through the national park, seeing things and discovering things he otherwise wouldn’t have experienced on two legs instead of his four paws.

When he got back to his hotel room, exhausted but exhilarated from the novel experience of running through unexplored woods, he writes it down in his journal on the first page where he wrote Boyd’s advice on casual touches.

Shift at least once wherever you are.

*

Derek shoulders his way into his hotel room in Seattle, a little frustrated but trying to remain positive regardless. The airline lost his checked bag. Luckily the jeans he’s wearing are clean and he will either have to make due with wearing the same shirt two days in a row or he has to go shopping for an extra shirt.

Plus, he was all set and ready to get in his car and start driving south to Arizona, the next state on the list. He’ll admit he’s not that good with changing plans, once he’s mentally prepared for something it takes him a little time to adjust when things suddenly change. He dumps his carry-on bag onto the bed and sighs at himself.

He takes a deep breath and tries to let go of the irritation that built up in him on the drive from the airport out to his hotel. It helps a little. Derek opens his bag and pulls out his computer. A quick check to his bookmarked list of sacred sites shows he can still make something of his day, he can go out from Seattle to Snoqualmie Falls.

He sheds his mail shirt, leaving himself in a grey t-shirt; it’s a little snuggly fitting, more for wearing under something else, but it looks fine anyway. He fidgets in front of the mirror in the room, it’s a little tight. He shrugs and it bunches up a little at his waist, on top of his belted jeans. He smirks a little, feeling a bit more balanced knowing whatever he does on this trip, he’s still the same, still is rather good-looking.

With the tight shirt and the bulky combat boots, he looks ready for a night out, if he was old enough to actually get in to night clubs legally.

As he’s leaving the room, slings his shield around his neck and double checks that he has his room key in his wallet. He hates having to ask for a secondary key at the desk.   

The Snoqualmie Falls are beautiful. He can see why the waterfall is such a crucial part of the Snoqualmie people's religious beliefs. The connection of strength from the powerful rushing water, and the cleansing from the ever present mists at the waterfall is recognizable even to him. The only negative aspect of the visit, in his mind at least, was the fact that there were so many other people, tourists, there as well.

In Sitka, he'd been able to find some measure of solitude to have his thoughts, do some research or read the brochures to fully understand what he was seeing and experiencing.

But here there has been too many people at the falls on the trails to even step away to be alone for a minute.

So, he returns to the downtown area of the little touristy city. He had such luck meandering in Alaska he hopes that maybe it will continue. As the day continues and it gets hotter and hotter the crowds in town start to thin, heading inside for afternoon naps or out of the city to the shade of the hiking trails.

It clears up traffic enough that Derek decides to move his car from one parking space, which he has undoubtedly overstayed his welcome in, given the enforced time limits.

Just as he's walking up the street to where he parked he sees the parking officer checking cars and get out of her little car right behind his Camaro. He doesn't outright run up to his car but he does put on a burst of speed to get there while she's still checking her watch.

"You really don't want to do that," he says, tone wheedling as he plasters on his most charming smile.

She turns to him, her pale skin, dark eyes and entrancing smile almost distracting him from his end goal. Almost changing the goal of the conversation entirely. Mentally he shakes himself and focuses on controlling the outcome of the situation.

"I don't want to do what?" she asks sweetly but her scent is more irritated than enamored, he's going to have to work for this one.

"Well, I wouldn't tell you how to do your job," he tells her raising his hands as if in surrender, "you seem more than capable of writing my parking ticket, and much, much more. But see I'm right here and I was on my way to move my sister's dumb car because I left it in a 90 minute zone and thought it was a 2 hour zone like the next block over is."

Her smile softened into something a bit more genuine the longer he talked. He just had to give her the credibility her position as a police officer deserves, put the fault on himself and finally, establish that ridiculous muscle car is in fact a loaner and that he's not some pretentious jerk compensating by driving just such a car.

"I still should give you a ticket regardless," she replies, but it's halfhearted at best.

He ducks his head and scratches at the back of his neck before looking up at her through his eyelashes.

"Yeah, but see then I'd just contest it to my Chamber," he says dropping his hand from his neck to fiddle with his shield, drawing her attention away from his face finally to the badge, "And then all your hard work would be for nothing."

She sighs but she's still smiling wryly and her hand holding the ticket printer relaxes fully, hanging loose at her side.

"I noticed your California plates, just passing through to see the sights?" she asks then and Derek internally fist pumps. He so won this exchange.

"Yeah," he tells her as he nods, "an impromptu road trip of sorts."

It's probably too close to the truth but it's a fairly innocuous statement given she doesn't know his current standing relationship with his Chamber back home.

"Move your car, Mr.?"

"Derek," he tells her with a bright smile when she trails off and reaches out to shake her hand, "Well, Hale. Derek Hale."

"Right," she says laughingly, "Well Mr. Hale, I hope I don't have to see your car parked for too long on another street down here. I don't know if I could walk away twice," she finishes firmly and Derek nods along, putting his hands together as if in supplication.

"Thank you, thank you. You won't see it over-parked; I'm going to go find a lot and pay to park if I have to."

She nods and starts turning to walk away. It's a nice view as she makes her way back to her vehicle and Derek doesn't miss a step of her sauntering walk. He's almost too caught up because he's still standing on the sidewalk instead of getting into his car to move it when she's behind the wheel and looking at him expectantly.

That gets him moving.

Moving his car is just as simple as he anticipated because of the number of people that left the city to go out into the hiking trails. He picks a spot on a block a little removed from the downtown area so he doesn’t have a time restriction to worry about at all anymore. He’s walking back down the street where he’d been parked when he notices an interesting looking clothing store.

He’s more than ready to duck inside and escape the hot sun for a few minutes. His suitcase will be in Seattle in the morning but he still might want a fresh t-shirt. The one he’s wearing is far from fresh now. So he walks in, peering around a little to see if the window displays match the actual merchandise. Once he knows he’ll find something that is his style in the shop he walks all the way in and starts to browse.

The store is empty, which is a little surprising but it’s a welcome change compared to the crowds he’s deal with in the airport and at the waterfall. The only other person in there with him is the girl behind the register.

She’s petite, sharply dressed and busy studying an aging book, her bright auburn hair covering her face as she looks down. There’s something else about her, something that’s maybe in the shop as well and he can’t put his finger on it. He scopes out the clothes, finds a few different things he’d buy if he wasn’t living out of a suitcase currently. It’s only when he gets to the back of the store that he figures out what set off his instincts.

The shop’s backroom has more than just clothes in it. He can feel the power coming through from, no doubt, a spell on the doorway to the storage area. He eyes some of the trinkets a little closer and notices they’re not nonsense but talismans.

So at the very least, the girl is probably a Magic Wielder. At best, it’s her boss that does it.

He grabs a forest green short-sleeved shirt with dark grey hems on the collar, sleeves and the bottom. It’s nice and simple but the small details make it a little, softer, in appearance than a plain t-shirt would. It’s not outrageously priced and he does sincerely like it so he takes it up to the counter, ready to get out of the store.

He places the shirt on the counter and has a smile half formed on his lips when he looks up at the girl only to freeze in place. His hand is shoved in his back pocket, reaching for his wallet but the irritation in her glare has him frozen.

“Uh, hi,” he says uneasily, “Is something wrong?”

She purses her lips as she takes the shirt from the counter and starts to take it off the hanger.

“I don’t know,” she says, voice sickly sweet and biting at the same time, “Are you going to be the same manipulative, lying jerk as you were to the police officer just trying to do her job?”

“How-“ he starts to ask, having managed to get his wallet from his pocket and his card out. But her eyes flash with something more than anger before she cuts him off.

“I hear things, Mr. Hale. It comes with being a-“

“Banshee,” he finishes before she can say it, cutting her off in return and starting to get irritated himself. “I understood it was polite practice not to listen in on private conversations,” he says, even as he hands his card over to pay for the shirt.

“It’s also polite practice to not lie and manipulate but you didn’t have any issues doing both to get out of a ticket,” she shoots back, sliding his card to him on the counter.

“How did you know I was lying?” he asks genuinely, despite his mounting frustration with the whole conversation.

She purses her lips again as she puts his folded shirt in a small bag. The transaction is technically over but he’s bothered by the fact that she somehow knew he was lying, despite being inside her shop while he talked to the police officer right outside on her sidewalk.

“No, really. How could you tell?”

“Doesn’t lying go hand in hand with manipulation,” she says slowly, her voice changing from biting and quick.

“What else did you hear?” he asks through gritted teeth at the non-answer. He knows meeting a Banshee doesn’t tend to end well for those who hear her screams, at least based on legend. But being in the presence of one he suddenly remembered that a respectfully asked question will be answered truthfully. He doesn’t anticipate the way her eyes seem to lose focus when she answers, her words still slow and deliberate.

“I hear disheartened sighs from your family surrounding you, frustrated grumbles from your Chamber and unsatisfied moans from your lovers,” she says, and Derek can’t hear a change in her heart to indicate any lies. “You will continue to disappoint those around you, regardless of your current efforts to change should you not take things more seriously. And really, given your character it will take something dire to change your nature, and thus your future.”

Her eyes focus on his face again, her answer coming to an end, but Derek doesn’t stay long enough for her to say anything else. He leaves the bag on the counter and runs out of the store, cheeks hot with embarrassment and renewed shame.

He jogs to his car so as not to arouse suspicion, crawls behind the wheel and speeds away, back towards his hotel. And if he spends the rest of the day curled up in his family’s quilt on the hotel bed panicking and alternating between righteous anger and chagrin, well, no one is there to witness it.

*

 

Chapter Text

Derek is exhausted. He’d laid in the Seattle hotel for a few hours, incredibly uncomfortable despite the soft mattress, when on the cusp of sleep his phone chimed, signaling a new message. He’d extricated a hand from the quilt and opened the email from the airline that his bag had arrived at the Seattle International Airport and he could pick it up at his earliest convenience.

Despite being the wee hours of the morning, Derek doesn’t wish to stay in Seattle any longer than he has to. A quick check to his list of places to go and he decides Arizona is as good a place as any to continue along on the list, given how poorly his efforts went switching to the end of it. He reluctantly unfolds himself from the quilt, folds it up carefully and puts it back in the bag. He’d already tucked everything back into his carry-on so he simply had to ensure he had his key and he could go to the lobby to check out.

Getting his bag from the airport was relatively simple and then he was on the road, heading south. Despite regular stops for coffee and snacks he made good time, it’s only just after nine in the evening and he’s already made it to the Grand Canyon. Well, almost made it, currently he’s in a rest stop diner, one that seems to be open 24 hours a day as they’ve made no efforts to ask him to leave thus far despite the time.

He’s staring at his phone currently, as his cup of coffee cools enough for him to drink it. It’s decaf; just as soon as he can google search out the nearest hotel he’s going to sleep until he wakes up and maybe even then he’ll sleep some more until he wakes up from the nightmare his life has become. He’s really wishing he were the type to break down into tears and let it all out but alas, he isn’t. He takes a deep breath and switches from FaceTime to Messages on his phone and sends identical texts to his mom, dad and Laura.

>>I’m still fine, just got settled in Arizona for a few days xxx 

He knows it’s not enough of an update but, once he’s in the privacy of his own hotel room and can get rid of the dark circles under his eyes at least slightly, he’ll video call them so they can see his face and he can see theirs. Once the message has been delivered he sets his phone on the table and tries to focus only on his coffee for the next few minutes.

Of course, he isn’t granted even that small mercy. Much like the feeling he’d had in that clothing store in Washington he’d rather forget about, there’s something niggling at his senses. He only hopes no one is going to yell at him again, he might just become that person who cries in response, he doesn’t have the energy to fight anyone right now. He looks around the little diner slash convenience store area and finds there’s only three other people there with him.

The man back by the drink coolers is human, tired and clumsy as he shuffles around, not anything that poses a threat to him. The teenage boy at the cash register is fidgety and nervous but Derek would guess it’s more about the test he’s obviously studying for, the flipping of crisp textbook pages and scribbling on paper clueing Derek in.

The only other person there is the waitress on the diner side of the business. She seemed friendly enough when she served him his coffee, but maybe given his exhaustion he missed something. He shifts only his eyes and extends his hearing further as he waits for her to be engrossed in the novel she’s been paging through listlessly.

He very nearly gasps when he sees the aura surrounding her. She is quite petite, similar to the redhead in Washington but her features are quite different. Her hair is just as long but it’s a startling black, her face free from almost all makeup but her lips and eyes still stand out from her fair skin. Her dark eyes are kind and sparkling. In fact, Derek thinks that despite her waitress uniform, as a whole she is quite beautiful.

But when he sees the aura surrounding her he can’t quite believe his eyes. Her fox spirit towers over her, looming bright and ferocious. It’s unusual, given she can’t be any older than he is, probably younger in fact, that such a powerful fox spirit would be so uncontrolled, so wild. He lets the shift fade from his eyes and takes another swig of his coffee, now cooled to an acceptable temperature.

He keeps an ear on the girl, not quite threatened but unwilling to put himself in a position where he could be unprepared for an attack from such an unrestrained being. While he’s scrolling through the google results of nearby hotels, she approaches his table, a menu and a pot of coffee in hand.

“Can I top off your cup?” she asks with a tired but sincere smile.

“Sure,” he says, he’s not ready to get up and drive to a hotel just yet.

She hesitates after filling his cup and he looks at her, watches her bite her lip as she hovers there next to his table.

“I don’t want to bother you but, I just, couldn’t help but-“ she rambles but Derek doesn’t scowl or frown like he normally would to discourage conversation. He’s not quite sure why, maybe he’s too tired and isn’t thinking straight. “Is everything okay?” she finally gets out. “It’s just, I see a lot of people come through and you seem…particularly-“

“Miserable?” he supplies and she winces.

He shakes his head at her though when she looks at him again.

“It’s been a…trying week,” he admits and she puts the coffee pot down on the table, leaning a hip against it as if settling in for a conversation. So, he deflects.

“Are you okay?” he asks and her spine straightens fractionally. “It’s just, your aura is a bit, wobbly,” he says gently and she pales. “You’re a kitsune, right? Or a fox?”

“You can see my fox?” she asks nervously, “Is that bad?”

Derek has to pause for a minute because something as fundamental as her fox spirit being visible as an aura should definitely be common knowledge to her. She is the one who is a kitsune. She should know this about herself.

He thinks back to the vague memories he has of being told he was a werewolf. Even at a young age he had had this innate feeling inside him, as if he’d had a second self almost. Not that he’d used those words at three. He’d run to his mom about a creepy crawly feeling beneath his skin right before his claws popped out. They have it on video, it’s actually pretty adorable.

But she is at least 17 years old, she should know something so essential to her nature, her state of being.

“No,” he quickly assures her, “it’s not bad that I can see it,” he says shifting his eyes so they glow golden and she stiffens further, “it just doesn’t look like you have full control maybe? I don’t know, I’m not an expert or anything it just seems, you know, kind of fierce?  Which is kind of, incongruous given how nice and chill you seem?”

She slumps into the booth across from him, surprising him a little but not enough for him to do anything but raise his eyebrows at her and sit back against his own booth seat.  

"You may not be an expert but you clearly know more than me," she grumbles, her face buried in her hands before she sighs and straightens. "Sorry this is so, just, weird I just. No one’s ever told me that? And this is all so new to me and you're not even a fox and you know more than me I'm such a failure at everything and I just-"

"Whoa whoa whoa," Derek interrupts her, raising his hands to slow her rapid speech, "take a deep breath and maybe we can start at the beginning."

She compiles, take a couple deep breaths before she nods and looks up at him. 

"My name is Derek Hale, I am from the noble Hale werewolf pack in Northern California. I am on a pilgrimage on orders from my Chamber and I drove from Seattle to here today so if you could speak just a little bit slower I'll catch everything you're saying instead of just the gist of it," he finishes with a tired smile and she returns it. 

"I am Kira Yukimura. I inherited the kitsune nature from my mother who is 900 years old and currently with my father who is on sabbatical in Korea for the foreseeable future," she tells him which only furthers his confusion. 

"Are you alone, then? When did you inherent your fox abilities? Who is training you to control them now?" he asks, too tired to realize how invasive his questions are towards the perfect stranger across from him. But Kira only sighs again and pulls the pony tail from her hair to let her long tresses loose. 

"I got them when I was 16, almost 2 years ago now. I graduated high school, barely, and then my parents left. They pay the bills and let me stay in the house. I only have to pay for my own food and gas and stuff, that's why I work here. I live there alone now while they're gone," she tells him, "I'm an only child." 

Derek can't imagine. How could they leave their only daughter to fend for herself with such a powerful spirit residing in her uncontrolled? 

"Has anyone ever helped you to control your fox spirit?" he asks again seriously and she shakes her head. 

"My mom tried but her methods, well, they weren't very effective. And then we tried the thing with the skinwalkers and that didn't really help much in the long run either," Kira admits and Derek, in his exhaustion seems to be feeling more than he usually does. 

Because he feels so awful for the girl across from him. No one should have to feel at odds with their own nature, he wouldn't wish that on anyone. Least of all this kind, seemingly intelligent girl. He kind of feels like he sometimes does with Cora when she learns some harsh new reality of the world, like wrapping her up in a blanket and hugs would make them all feel better. 

"Would you, I mean, I don't have many plans outside exploring the Canyon while I'm here. I could help? If you want?" he offers truthfully. He suddenly doesn't feel like trusting anyone else to help this girl that somehow already feels like a younger sister. The way her face lights up solidifies his decision to offer her assistance. 

"You would do that? Where are you staying, I could meet you there?" she says, eyes wide and excited. 

"I'm not staying anywhere yet," he admits, "I haven't found a hotel for tonight."

"You could come stay with me," she offers excitedly. "We have a guest room and everything. I have a day off tomorrow, we could start right away!"

Derek raises an eyebrow at her critically. 

"You'd trust a strange man to come stay in your home despite only having just met?"

But she scoffs and waves her hand, "You're a knight and a wolf who just offered to help me. I don't see any ulterior motives nor did I hear a lie in your words. Besides," she adds a little mischievously, "I'm a kitsune, I do own a few swords to defend myself with."

Derek laughs as he nods, conceding to her logic. 

"Fine, fine. I'm too tired to argue with you. When do you get to go home? I'm so tired I may sleep in this booth."

*

It’s approaching noon when Derek shuffles his way from the guest bedroom at the Yukimura house to the kitchen. The sun is bright and warm but the steady air conditioning circulating through the house keeps him comfortable in his sweatpants and t-shirt. He doesn’t really remember much about the drive from the diner to the house, just made sure not to lose sight of Kira driving in front of him.

Now that the house is bathed in sunlight, he has a clearer picture of his surroundings. He’d been more preoccupied with finding a bed to crash on last night than he had been about taking in the size and décor of the house. As he walks through the halls and rooms towards where he can hear Kira cooking he gets a better feel of the home.

It’s a big house; obviously it’s not the size of a noble family’s manor but it’s still quite large and well put together. Clearly the family has money he concludes, simply from the quality he can see in the living space and the hallway. It’s nice that he’s not staying in some run down, unkempt home; he wouldn’t know how he’d be comfortable in a place like that.

As he walks into the kitchen he nearly laughs at the sight of the girl trying to cook breakfast. Her hair is messily pulled back into a bun and she’s wearing shorts with an oversized jersey falling off her shoulders. She’s staring blankly at a pan of scrambled eggs while they cook and Derek allows himself to smile.

She looks so like Cora waking up in the morning in that moment he can’t handle it.

“Morning,” he says, voice rough from sleep and she looks up at him blearily.

“Morning,” she mumbles and Derek goes to sit down on a bar stool at the counter to wait for his breakfast. She eyes him briefly when he sits there, hands folded on the counter in front of him as she reaches for the salt and pepper shakers above the stove.

“There’s juice and fruit in the fridge,” she says easily, “and the plates are in that cupboard,” she tells him, pointing at a cupboard to the left of the sink with her spatula.

He kind of, well, he wasn’t expecting to be waited on hand and foot but, well. He hasn’t put together a meal in, well, ever. They have a live-in housekeeper at home that does all the cooking and most of the cleaning for the manor. Still, he gets up from his stool without comment and goes to the fridge. Peering inside it takes him a minute to find the orange juice, a minute too long. He feels like an idiot.

He fumbles around the kitchen, finding everything he thinks they’ll need for breakfast while Kira cooks. In the end, while he feels foolish, they get to have a nice breakfast. Eggs, toast, microwaved sausage patties, fruit and juice filling him satisfactorily. After the table has been cleared and the dishes are all stacked in the sink, Kira turns to him.

“I’m going to run to the grocery store and a few other errands. You good to wash up from breakfast and hang out here until I get back?” Kira asks seriously and Derek looks at the small mountain of dishes in the sink.

“Uh, you want me to do the dishes?” he asks a little hesitantly.

“Yeah, just stack them on the counter when you’re done,” she says easily, probably ignoring whatever emotion is playing across his face, “I’ll dry them and put them away when I get back.”

“Uh…”

“Great!” she exclaims with a smile, bouncing towards her room to change and Derek turns to the sink.

Well, this trip was supposed to have new experiences.

*

“I’m fine, mom,” he enthuses over the video call. Just as soon as he’d finished washing the dishes (and gagging at the feeling of mushy, congealed food touching his hands during the process) he’d gone to the guest room and called his mom. It’s been a few days too many since they’ve all seen his face and with Kira out of the house it was as good a time as any to talk to his family.

“You’re staying in the house of a fox, Derek, you’ll let me be slightly concerned,” she shoots back and Derek laughs.

“Mom, Kira isn’t going to pick a fight or anything, I don’t think she has an antagonistic bone in her body,” he explains and his mom refrains from commenting back but her lips form a thin line anyway.

“Well, at least tell me you’re learning something. I want you back home as soon as possible,” she admits and Derek can understand that. It has to be weird having not just a son but a beta so far removed from the protection of the pack.

“I am, mom,” he says softly and she softens.

“I’m glad. We miss you.”

Derek knows. He could see it in the eagerness from his younger siblings as they crowded together in the screen to talk to him earlier. Saw it in Cora and Laura’s grumpiness as they caught him up on the main happenings in town since he’d left and pressed him for details on his experiences thus far.

His dad comes onto the screen, ducking down as he stands behind his mom’s chair at the kitchen table.

“Hanging in there, Der?” he asks with an easy smile and Derek can’t help but mirror it.

“Yeah, basically,” he answers, feeling very much like it’s the most accurate description of how he’s dealing with the pilgrimage at the moment: hanging there.

Like he’s still holding on to the edge of the cliff but one by one the rocks keep slipping out from beneath his feet and at any moment he’s going to fall completely. So much of his mental foundation of how things are in the world has been shifted and moved away since he started this journey. And he’s only just started. He really doesn’t want to think about how much more he’s going to face.

He finishes talking with his parents after a few more minutes of calm reassurances of his safety and relative wellbeing. Derek stares at the blank screen after the call ends for a long moment before he pulls up his phone and opens a new message.

>>> Made it to AZ after an interesting stop-over in Seattle.

He pushes send and then locks his phone screen, determined not to wait on a response too obsessively. He gets his laptop put away and has his journal pulled out when his phone buzzes a response from Boyd.

<<<Nice! What are you going to see first?

He allows himself a small smile at the question, an easy way to continue conversation. Derek had been honestly intrigued by Vernon Boyd. In a way that he wanted to learn more about his experiences and his life beyond Derek’s short stay in Sitka. If he’s honest with himself, he’s been searching for a friend for a long time now. And he’s hoping he will find it in Boyd.

*

Derek wakes up one morning and while he checks the weather he notices the date. He suddenly realizes that he’s been in Arizona, in Kira’s house for two whole weeks. He doesn’t really know how time passed so quickly, but it’s been such a pleasant stay that he isn’t really complaining.

Things were a little awkward in the beginning as he learned how to be a contributing roommate with someone, helping cook, do dishes and clean up after himself. Not that he was a slob at home but in a home with no housekeeper his tendency to leave things wherever he wanted became apparent pretty quickly.

That first day Kira had off of work was when they started working on her control. Once he got through puberty, Derek has had the best control of his wolf of all of his siblings and cousins. He was a little nervous at first to try and teach something that had been so ingrained as instinct to him but it went surprisingly well.

Kira was eager to learn and the more they talked and the better they got to know one another, the more Derek wanted to help her.

They soon fell into a nice routine.

During the day while she was at work he explored the area. Derek went for hikes in the desert, explored the Grand Canyon in both human and wolf shapes. He would go walking through town, stopping in a little coffee shop to read the book he’d bought with Boyd, sending him texts as he worked through it. One day he’d found another tiny little bookstore tucked away off the main street and started looking for a new book to read, something with more encouragement for this pilgrimage.

Instead of utilizing the teenage girl sitting at the register Derek called Boyd. Boyd had been more than happy to give him more direction and then they wound up talking and visiting for a whole hour.

Boyd still enjoys what he’s doing at home but he’s started feeling restless, almost like he’s ready to go on another pilgrimage himself, or just move to a new place. Derek kind of jokingly says he could try out Washington state, that the Hale pack would allow his presence in the town. But after he says it he realizes he wasn’t really joking.

Boyd would be a great asset to any pack, with his education and his work ethic and his calm demeanor. In the moment though Boyd brushes it off with a laugh but Derek knows the seed has been planted in both their minds.

When Kira wasn’t working or had a full day off, they spent those times together. Talking about their own families, how they grew up. He found out that Kira’s parents really don’t know when or if they’re coming back from her dad’s sabbatical. He wants to teach in a new place and before he left Cornell had been hinting at a position opening they wanted him to apply for. Kira doesn’t care where she lives, now that she’s been on her own she doesn’t plan to follow her parents wherever they go.

Derek helps her meditate, helps her to acknowledge her fox and allow herself to stop fighting its presence in her mind, body and her life in general. It takes some time, he gets in some good katana fighting practice but eventually it happens. They already worked on shifting and breathing and they were fighting, swords sharp and fast. Kira had him with his back pressed against the side of the house, her sword perpendicular to his keeping him in place.

He’d shifted his face, snarling at her when he saw her fox start to grow from within her instead of simply around her features. He’d smiled through his fangs, before snapping his jaws to rile her even more, test her control even further.

Kira surprised herself by growling back, jerking her hand to the side, loosening Derek’s grip on his sword enough that when she leaned back, her weapon knocked his away and he felt the sharp edge of her sword on his neck.

Her eyes had gone wide in shock before she stepped back, her fox fading away as Derek laughed.

“Did you feel that?” he had asked when she simply stood there, sword loose at her side.

“Is this what it’s supposed to feel like?” she asked, sounding unsure and Derek just stepped forward to pull her into a hug.

“It feels like it’s you right? Like there’s no difference between you and your fox anymore?” he suggests as she clings to him and just nods.

She’d just stayed there, her face buried in his chest as she took deep breaths, adjusting to the new feeling.  Derek remembers how he’d stayed there, just like he would have with Cora, holding on and rubbing her back for as long as she’d needed it.

That was two days ago.

Yesterday Derek had found exactly what he wanted to give her to celebrate what she’d achieved. Waking up and realizing he’s been in one place for two whole weeks he decides he needs to get moving along. He should probably find a new place to explore. Crawling out of bed and making his way to the kitchen he finds a note on the fridge from Kira.

Got called in for a morning shift. I’ll be back by lunch. –K

Perfect, Derek thinks, now he can get packed up, plan out his next move and he can tell her over lunch that he’s leaving so they can spend the afternoon just hanging out together. He knows, like Boyd, that he’s going to keep texting and talking with her after he leaves. He’s far too attached and invested now to just drop her from his life completely.

After grabbing a package of poptarts and filling a glass with juice he goes back to his room to fold and re-pack up all his clothes. He’s munching on a poptart when he walks in and sees the mess he’s made of everything. Derek sighs, takes a sip of juice before putting his breakfast on the dresser in the room.

He throws all of his clothes into a pile on the bed and starts picking through them, only to realize the worst.

He needs to do laundry.

He’s never done a load of laundry in his life. And even though he’s been in Arizona for two weeks he’s just been re-wearing things. He packed enough that he didn’t really notice he had no fresh clothes left. He gathers all of it up in his arms and walks to wear he knows Kira does her laundry.

Derek thinks he should be able to figure this out. It can’t be that hard right? Just put soap in with the clothes and let it run? But then he steps up to the washing machine and there’s all kinds of settings and options and he’s already lost. Knowing how many of his clothes he’s trying to wash are his favorites he doesn’t want to risk ruining something.

So he pulls his phone out of his pocket and dials his house. It rings a couple times before a familiar voice answers.

“Hale residence, Pam speaking,” she says and Derek smiles before he can stop himself.

“Pam, it’s Derek,” he greets.

“Derek! Oh goodness, young man how are you?” she asks, urgently and Derek feels bad suddenly, he doesn’t know if anyone even bothered to tell her how or where he’s been.

“I’m good, I’m good,” he assures her, “I’ve been to Alaska and Seattle and now I’m in Arizona!”

“Oh you sound so good, I’ve missed you around here,” she says, sounding relieved, “Who are you looking for, your mom?”

Derek can hear her walking through the house and he’s quick to stop her.

“No, no I’m looking for you Pam!” he says and hears her stop walking.

“What on earth do you need me for?” she asks, laughing gently.

“Well, um,” Derek hesitates, it’s kind of embarrassing but he really does need clean, non-ruined clothes so. He swallows his pride and asks.

“I need some direction here, I’m out of clean clothes and this washing machine looks like it might eat my shirts if I chose the wrong setting,” he says, eyeing the machine with suspicion.

“Well, first you need to separate things, pants from t-shirts, socks and underwear in another pile,” she tells him, not even laughing a little.

Instead of making fun of him or teasing him she just walks him through what the water temperature should be, how much detergent to put in and what needs fabric softener. He gets everything organized and a load started successfully before he hangs up with her, thanking her before he does.

After going back to the guest room he strips the bed, pulling off the sheets and pillowcases to wash them as well. While he waits for the laundry to wash he starts organizing everything else. He pulls his toiletries from the bathroom, packs up his books and his journal. His camera battery gets put on the charger and he plugs his laptop in to charge too.

He goes back to his list of places to visit and thinks about continuing in alphabetical order. Instead of jumping over to Arkansas though, the next state on the list, he decides to skip to California since it’s a bit closer. He has it all mapped out, a route from where he’s at now to San Diego.

Derek manages to get his laundry done, the bed remade and everything packed up before Kira gets home. She’s bubbly and happy despite her unexpected shift, bringing home burgers and fries for lunch for the two of them. Derek hates to ruin her good day, assuming his departure would even bother her. He’s all packed up and ready to leave right away in the morning so when he hears her unpacking lunch in the kitchen he grabs the bag with his gift for her and walks through the now familiar house to give it to her.

She’s plating up the food she brought home, her back to Derek as he walks in and sits down at the breakfast bar, setting the bag at the spot next to him.

“So, I don’t know what you have planned for today but I am not running 10 miles again today,” she says and Derek huffs a laugh.

“No, I don’t have much planned for today. Tomorrow though…” he trails off and she spins around.

She takes in his expression, the bag next to him and puts the pieces together all on her own.

“You’re leaving,” she says flatly and Derek nods.

“Yeah, it’s great here but…I think I have more to learn, more places to see,” he admits shrugging and she nods seriously.

“I can see that,” she answers honestly and Derek frowns a little.

“What?” she asks defensively before she scoffs and waves a hand at him, turning back to get their plates.

“Oh please, there’s no reason to get your fur in a dander. I just mean, you’ve improved while you’ve been here but there’s always room for more improvement,” she explains as she puts his plate down in front of him and then pushes the bag forward on the table to put her own plate down and sit next to him.

She elbows him and takes a bite of a French fry.

“Don’t revert here on me now sourpuss,” she teases and Derek growls playfully.

“Fine, fine, I still have some stuff to work on,” he admits then, smiling ruefully as he reaches for his cheeseburger. “I’ll keep you posted on my progress,” he says then kind of hesitantly.

“You better,” she says seriously, smiling kindly at him before taking a huge bite of her own burger.

“What’s this?” she asks once she’s swallowed, pointing to the bag and Derek ducks his head.

“It’s a thank you,” he says, feeling shy all of a sudden, “for letting me stay and being patient.”

She coos at him and pokes his blushing cheek before she slides the bag back closer to her and peers inside.

“Derek,” she breathes in awe and Derek peeks over at her as she pulls the black leather jacket out of the bag.

“You’re gonna need to look sharp if you’re going to be on that college campus next semester,” he says shrugging, “I wear mine like a second armor sometimes. It makes people hesitant to approach you, you’re too cool for them anyway,” he says and she giggles.

“You’re ridiculous,” Kira says through her laughs before she calms down a moment later, “it’s your glare that keeps people away, not the leather my friend.”

Derek sighs in exasperation and takes another bite of his burger.

“You sound like my sisters more and more every day,” he grumbles and she huffs at him.

“Then I think we’d get along, don’t you?” she grins, poking him in the ribs again. “So what are we doing today then for you last afternoon? Movies? Training? Sightseeing?”

They end up making a huge bowl of popcorn and settling on the couch together to watch Netflix. After a while Derek goes to get his laptop and they skype his family together. His mother seems quite taken with Kira and Cora and Laura (as predicted) love her.

It gives Derek an idea. One of those that’s not fully formed or thought out but still, that night before he falls asleep he writes it down in his journal and tries to get a decent night’s sleep before he’s back to staying in a hotel.

 

 

Next stop, San Diego and whatever adventures Southern California holds for him.