In early May, Stiles stood up at a pack meeting and cleared his throat, looking half-nervous and half-proud.
Derek swallowed—he was pretty sure he knew what was coming—and tried to sink back further into the couch.
“So,” Stiles started, running his hand through his hair. “I’ve made my college decision. I’m going to the University of Texas, in Austin.”
Derek saw his own emotions reflected on everyone else’s faces, shock and sadness being quickly and purposefully overlaid with happiness and pride. Scott was the first to manage it, unsurprisingly, and stood up, opening his arms for a hug.
“Why there? I’m totally proud of you, man,” he added quickly. “But why there?”
Stiles shrugged and moved on to hug the Sheriff, who looked about ready to burst with pride. “It’s a good school with a great honors program and they gave me a really generous scholarship. Plus, Austin is supposed to be a cool place.”
Derek plastered a smile on his face—it felt incredibly, unbelievably fake—and gave Stiles a quick pat on the shoulder when it was his turn in the receiving line.
Derek twisted around and looked up at Stiles. “Hi. Why aren’t you at Scott’s party?”
Stiles shrugged as he carefully picked his way down the little slope, then plopped down next to Derek. “Was there for a little while, just wasn’t really feeling it. Missed you,” he said, bumping their shoulders together.
“How’d you know this is where I’d be?”
“This is where we came last year. Remember, I said I found the best place to watch all the fireworks and you didn’t believe me?”
Derek nodded, of course he remembered. Last year, Stiles dragged everyone out to this little outcropping in the Preserve, where you could see the Fourth of July fireworks shows from three different towns.
Stiles drew his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, staying silent. It had been a couple months, but the two of them hadn’t really talked about the fact that Stiles was leaving.
It was going to be a big change for the pack. All the older members had decided to take a gap year after high school, mostly to deal with the lingering supernatural issues and help the younger kids. But now, Lydia was heading to MIT and towing Jackson with her—no surprise there—while Scott, Kira, and Isaac were staying local.
Derek was going to miss Lydia, for sure—and Jackson, perfunctorily—but if he was honest with himself, it wasn’t anything compared to how much he was going to miss Stiles. They had grown a lot closer over the past three years, from reluctant allies to contentious acquaintances to, finally, honest friends. In fact, if pressed, Derek could admit that Stiles was probably his closest friend. And now he was leaving.
“So,” he said, leaning back on his hands to look up at the sky. Still dark—the fireworks hadn’t started yet. “Austin. When are you leaving?”
“Early to mid-August. I want to take my time driving down there and have a little bit of time to settle in.”
Derek nodded. “Smart.”
It was silent for a few seconds, and Stiles’ heartbeat ratcheted up. He started fidgeting, his knee a blur of perpetual motion, and Derek recognized the signs of something important that Stiles wanted to say. But he didn’t press.
Finally, Stiles turned toward him. “Dude, you should totally come with me.”
“What? Like on the road trip?”
“No, come with me. To Austin. Get out of Beacon Hills.”
Derek paused. “What?” he asked again.
Stiles sat up, his eyes clear and serious. “I want you to move to Austin with me. Leave Beacon Hills in our rearview mirror for a while.”
“You’ve been thinking about this, haven’t you,” Derek said, not bothering to phrase it as a question. For as much as Stiles could be brash and reckless, he thought things through, and this wasn’t an exception.
And to his credit, he didn’t even pretend otherwise. “Yeah, I have,” he said, nodding. “And I think it could be really good for you.”
Derek blew out a breath and scratched at his beard. “This is pretty out of the blue. That’s—I can’t just up and leave Beacon Hills, Stiles, that’s ridiculous.”
“Which is exactly why I’ve been too chicken-shit to bring it up,” Stiles said with a wry grin.
“Is this—are you just worried about not knowing anyone?”
Stiles frowned and shook his head. “No, that’s not it at all,” he said, and Derek listened carefully. No lie. “This town…,” he trailed off, looking out over Beacon Hills. “It’s been kinda shit, Derek, to me and especially to you.”
Derek snorted—there was an understatement if he’d ever heard one—and was pleased to see Stiles smile. “But aren’t you worried about leaving the pack?”
Stiles chuckled, but there was no mirth in it. “Yeah, of course I am. But this has been my life since I was 15, and I’d like to see for a little while what life is like, to see what I’m like without supernatural monsters-of-the-week looming around every corner like we’re in some kind of fucking TV show. If that makes me selfish, then…okay. I think I’ve earned a little bit of selfishness. But things have pretty much been under control for the past several months. Scott’s a good alpha.”
“He is,” Derek agreed, pleased that there wasn’t a hint of a lie in his own voice. He and Scott had gotten over any animosity between them a while ago, even if they’d never be the closest of friends, and he never really wanted to be an alpha anyway.
A sudden clap of noise made them both jump, and Derek leaned back on his elbows to watch the colors explode in the sky. Stiles mirrored his position, and they watched in silence for a little while. “So what about you?” he asked finally.
“What about me?”
“Don’t you want to figure that out, too? See what’s beyond the death and destruction that our little Beacon Hills provides on a regular basis?”
Derek sighed. He hadn’t had a happy, normal life since he was 16—nearly 10 years. Living in New York with Laura had revolved around just surviving and trying to deal with their grief, and his life in Beacon Hills had been the aforementioned shitshow. “I don’t know.”
“When was the last time you did something just because you wanted to?”
“What makes you think I want to?”
“Because you never said that you didn’t,” Stiles said plainly, and when Derek turned to look at him, he could see the fireworks reflected in his eyes.
“You deserve that, you know, you deserve to have a normal life,” Derek said. “Well, as normal as it can be, under the circumstances.”
“And so do you.”
“I’ll think about it,” he said finally, and Stiles grinned.
For the next few days, Derek couldn’t think about anything else. He went for long runs around their territory, turning it over and over in his head. Could he just—up and leave, this land that’s been in his family for generations? But he realized one day, as he passed Scott and Liam out on their own patrol, that it wasn’t his responsibility anymore. Not wholly, anyway.
And maybe he, too, could be a little bit selfish for once. Because for the first time in a long time, there was this curl in his chest, this fissure of excitement and anticipation. The feeling, actually looking forward to something instead of just ruminating endlessly in the past, was depressingly foreign.
Without making any conscious decision to do so, he found himself in the woods closest to Stiles’ house. And before he could lose his nerve, he leapt up to the roof and rapped on Stiles’ window—at least he’d gained an ounce of self-preservation and started locking it.
Stiles slid it open with a huff and waved him inside. “I have told you about a million times that you can use the door. My dad doesn’t even dislike you anymore.”
“But this way is more fun,” Derek said, baring his teeth in a grin, and Stiles rolled his eyes.
“Could you put on a shirt, please?” Stiles said, waving a hand at him as he turned back to his laptop. “Just—yeah. That pile on the bed is clean. I think.”
Derek rifled through it until he saw something that might fit him, one of Stiles’ plaid over-shirts, and slipped it on.
Stiles blinked when he turned back around. “You’re wearing plaid,” he said, and Derek gave him a flat look.
“I’ve never seen you wear plaid before!” he protested. “It’s…weird.”
Derek sighed. “You’re weird,” he said, reaching for the buttons.
“Don’t unbutton it!” Stiles yelped, actually batting his hands away. “It’s—it’s fine.”
“It’s the only thing that fit.”
“Whatever. So to what do I owe the pleasure of this little visit? Not that I don’t welcome your charming conversations at all hours of the day.”
“Pretty harsh words for someone who you’ve asked to move cross-country with you.”
Stiles’ eyes lit up. “Ah. So you’re telling me that you’re coming.”
“That’s not what I came here to say,” Derek said, which was not a lie.
“Uh-huh. Are you sure? It doesn’t seem like this visit was, uh, planned,” Stiles said, gesturing at him.
“I’m not saying yes,” he said carefully.
Stiles crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair, a hint of a smile on his face. “Okay. Then let’s just talk in hypotheticals.”
“Like what?” Derek said warily.
“Like what about the pack?”
“What about it?” he said, tilting his head. “Scott has it under control, we’ve talked about that.”
“Yeah, but what about you?” Stiles said with a broad gesture. “Would this make you, uh—”
“An omega?” he said wryly, and Stiles nodded. “No, you don’t have to maintain constant physical proximity. Kids leave for college all the time, after all, and this would be kind of the same thing. I could still be connected to this pack.”
“Well, that’s good. What about packs in Austin?”
“Territory and stuff are usually more fluid in big cities, where there are lots of people coming and going. But I could reach out to my contacts, see if they know anyone in Austin, if there’s anything we should be aware of.”
“Might be a good idea,” he said, and Derek agreed. “Where would we live?”
“Uh, I figured you’d be living in the dorms. I could find an apartment or something.”
Stiles scrunched up his nose and shook his head. “No way. I’ve been looking at apartments.”
“Really?” Derek asked, surprised. He would have thought that Stiles wanted the whole traditional college experience.
“I already feel older than everyone else—I mean, I am older than everyone else, but you know what I mean. I just…I have no real desire to live with some stranger and use a hall bathroom and deal with all that shit. It’s supposed to be all these character-building experiences, right? But I think I’ve had enough of those, thank you very much.”
Derek allowed himself a tiny smile. “I suppose.”
“And, you know,” Stiles said, looking down to pick at a thread on his jeans. “Panic attacks, insomnia, and night terrors aren’t really conducive to having a roommate.”
“Are—uh, are those still bad?” Derek tried, but Stiles just shook his head, waving his hand.
“I don’t want to talk about it. So, yeah. Apartment living for me.”
“I’ll take care of it,” Derek decided. “I’ll find a place.”
“You will?” Stiles asked, sounding way too excited for such a gesture, and Derek raised his eyebrows. “Dude, you just said will instead of could.”
Derek opened his mouth, but nothing came out. Stiles just sat there and grinned at him.
“I, uh, I want to. I do. But I just—”
“Feel guilty? Like you’re deserting everyone?”
Derek nodded, relieved that he didn’t have to put it into words. “Yeah.”
Stiles drummed his fingers against his leg. “Me too.”
“Then how do you…,” he said, trailing off, and Stiles shrugged.
“I just—I really want to, you know? I want to do something for myself, I want to see if I can do it. And hell, if I hate it, I can just come back. Plus, I’m young, this is when I’m supposed to be selfish and try new things.”
“I’m not as young as you,” he pointed out, and Stiles rolled his eyes.
“Sorry, old man, point still stands. When did you ever get the chance to do something like this? You’re our age emotionally, anyway.”
Derek frowned half-heartedly at him but didn’t press the point.
“If you like living here and you want to stay,” Stiles continued, “then you should. But if not, if this is just about some misguided guilt and sense of purpose that actually makes you miserable…then I say fuck it. Try something new, see if you can be happy somewhere else.”
Derek scratched at his beard. “Okay,” he said finally, and Stiles stared at him, his mouth open just a little bit.
“Okay, okay? Like, okay as in you’re coming, or okay as in ‘okay, I just decided which woodland creature I’m gonna chase on my run home?’”
He sighed—agreeing to this meant subjecting himself to a lot of Stiles. “Okay, as in I’ll come.”
“Okay,” Stiles repeated, his face spreading into a grin. “Wow, okay, awesome. I feel like I should pop a bottle of champagne or something.”
“You better not be bringing me along just to buy you alcohol.”
“Yep, that was it, the only reason,” he said easily. “Is this you saying no? You’re uninvited, then.”
Derek shoved Stiles’ shoulder on his way past to the window, where he easily hopped down to the ground.
“Hey,” Stiles called out after him, leaning out. “We gotta plan this, you know.”
“Come over to the loft tomorrow,” he replied, and Stiles gave a friendly wave before ducking back inside.
Derek thought about shifting for his run back, but he was still wearing Stiles’ shirt and didn’t want to risk it. So he just sighed and settled for a human pace instead.
Derek was leaning against the open door when Stiles appeared around the corner, smirking. “You’re excited, aren’t you?”
“No,” he lied, and Stiles pushed past him with a laugh.
“Whatever you say, sourwolf.”
“Don’t call me that,” he said automatically.
“Sorry, dude,” Stiles said with a wink as he sprawled on the couch, and Derek rolled his eyes.
“So,” Stiles repeated. “Any second thoughts?”
Derek hesitated. “Not exactly.”
Stiles pumped his fist and pointed at him. “Now that’s the kind of enthusiasm I’m looking for.”
“Second-guessing the amount of time I’ll have to spend with you, maybe,” Derek shot back, and Stiles grinned.
“You’re so lucky, don’t even lie. People would kill to spend that much time with me.”
“Someone’s gonna get killed, that’s for sure,” he grumbled, but Stiles’ grin just widened.
“Ah, you’re such a charmer. Anyway. Our apartment.”
“I said I’ll find a place.”
“Um,” he said, taking a pointed look around. “Not to, you know, offend your delicate sensibilities or anything, but can we please avoid places with holes in the walls?”
Derek rolled his eyes. “It’ll be nicer than the loft, I promise.”
“Fine. I’m trusting you,” he said, and even though his tone was teasing, Derek felt the reverberation of his words.
“You wanted to drive, right?” he asked, changing the subject, and Stiles nodded. “How far is it?”
“About 1800 miles. So—three days?”
“Yeah,” Derek said, doing the math in his head. “Depending on what car we’re driving.”
“But my baby,” Stiles said, with a plaintive look on his face.
“Your Jeep? What about it?”
“I want to bring her to Austin, but I’m afraid she wouldn’t survive the trip.”
Derek agreed. “I am not riding halfway across the country in that thing, no way,” he said, but Stiles just rolled his eyes, grumbling something about prissy werewolves.
“I guess we could tow it, but then what about our stuff? Or your car?”
“I’ll look into it.”
Stiles nodded and reached into his backpack for his laptop. “So here’s what I was thinking about the route…”
The next month was a whirlwind. Derek thought about selling his loft but decided to “donate” it to the pack instead, giving them an extra safe space as well as leaving a place for him to stay when he came back. He boxed up his meager belongings—it was kind of sad, really—and packed the small truck they rented. They decided to tow the Camaro and have the Jeep shipped to Austin, much to Stiles’ chagrin.
On the morning they were scheduled to leave, Derek yawned and hid in the truck for as long as possible. Even though it was so damn early in the morning, everyone had come to the Stilinski house to see them off, and he was trying to avoid socialization for as long as possible.
Derek wasn’t surprised when Melissa dragged him out and hugged him, but he had to hold back a little shocked noise when the Sheriff did, too. “I know that my son doesn’t need anyone to take care of him,” John whispered in his ear. “But you do it anyway, you hear me?”
John gave him a friendly slap on the shoulder as they pulled apart, and Derek tried to smile reassuringly at him. Kira was next, her lower lip trembling, and Derek gave her an extra squeeze as she hugged him. The two of them had gotten fairly close—they trained together a lot—and he would miss her. “You are not allowed to go off the grid, you hear me?” she said, her voice muffled against his chest. “I will just keep emailing you.”
“I have no doubt.”
Stiles and Scott hugged for a long time, rocking back and forth while speaking lowly to each other, and Stiles’ eyes were damp and red when they finally pulled apart. While Stiles launched himself at his father, Derek stuck his hand out toward Scott. But Scott just gave him one of those grins and hugged him instead, pushing his hand aside. “Proud of you, man.”
“Uh, thanks,” he said, patting Scott on the back awkwardly.
“Okay!” Stiles said, clapping his hands. “We gotta go, otherwise I’m gonna cry, and that’s going to be very embarrassing for everyone. Der, you’ve got first shift.”
Catching the keys that Stiles tossed at him, Derek rolled his eyes but didn’t protest. He swung himself up into the cab of the truck and drove off slowly while Stiles hung himself out the window and waved at everyone until they turned the corner.
“So many hugs,” Derek complained, and Stiles laughed.
“Yeah, people love you. Deal with it, dude.”
Derek wrinkled his nose, and as they drove to the outskirts of town, it was quiet between them until Stiles heaved a sigh, drumming his fingers against the door. “You want to say our final goodbyes?” he asked, and Derek nodded. Unfortunately, he knew exactly what Stiles was talking about.
He drove to the site of the old Hale house first. Last year he finally had the whole thing torn down, and the pack surprised him with a little memorial garden, complete with newly-planted trees, flowers, and a plaque with the names of everyone who had been lost—including Erica, Boyd, and Allison.
Derek wandered around for a few minutes, smelling the flowers and then crouching down next to the plaque that sat in a nest of gravel. “I’m sorry I’m leaving,” he whispered, the metal cool under his palm.
Stiles dropped down next to him and traced his finger over Allison’s name. “You know your family would just want you to be happy, right?”
“I just feel like I’m deserting them.”
Stiles shook his head. “Uh-uh. They’re proud of you.”
Derek rolled his eyes with a sigh and stood up. Before they left, he plucked several hyacinths—his mother’s favorite flower—and handed them to Stiles, who took them with a small smile. He drove to the cemetery next, without being told, and stayed several steps behind Stiles as he wove his way through the maze of headstones.
Derek shifted his weight, feeling like he was intruding on something way too private while Stiles knelt down next to a headstone and gently placed the hyacinths on top. “Hi, Mom. I’m, uh, I’m leaving Beacon Hills for a little while, for college. I got into UT. Derek’s actually going with me—but you know him, we’ve talked about him,” he said, waving his hand, and Derek stifled a smile. “Don’t worry about Dad, he’s in good hands, he and Melissa finally figured out their shit. She’s the best, and she does a great job of nagging him about his diet. Anyway, I just wanted to say goodbye for a little while. I, uh, I hope you’re proud of me.”
His voice was thick, and Derek stepped forward to gently grip the back of his neck with one hand. “She would be proud, you know that, right?”
Stiles nodded and sniffed once, wiping his face with the sleeve of his shirt. He slowly perked up while they walked back to the truck, and he was nearly back to his normal energetic self as they made their way to the highway.
“Wait,” he said suddenly, poking Derek in the shoulder. “There’s something important we have to talk about first.”
Derek froze. “What?”
He paused dramatically with one hand over his heart, eyes twinkling, and Derek relaxed a little bit. “I need to know your thoughts on Taylor Swift.”
Derek opened his mouth, closed it, then shook his head with a little laugh. “What?”
“She’s my girl, Derek, and it’s good road trip music, and I can’t have you hating on her, we won’t survive. We’ll have to scrap this whole plan and go in separate cars.”
“I can honestly tell you that I have zero thoughts about her.”
“Well,” Stiles said with a snort. “That will change by the time we get to Austin.”