Stiles knows he’s crossed into another universe when he wakes up naked in Scott’s bed.
Okay, let’s be real, he’s been naked in Scott’s bed before. There was that time that tiny Stiles brained himself on the way to Scott’s house and had a bit of frostbite, so Melissa packed him into the bed with an electric blanket and a few dozen warm water bottles. There was also that time that he had been stung by some giant supernatural scorpion thing (Stiles is still hazy on the details, but both Derek and Scott refused to talk to him about it, so he thinks he probably gave them his verbal will, or professed his eternal love, or something); letting Melissa in on the whole supernatural magic eyebrow men thing was definitely a good move, even if she lectures Stiles and Scott every time they even get a scratch.
Stiles has been naked in Scott’s bed before. Just not with Scott. Who is also naked.
“Holy god,” Stiles jerks fully awake, flailing away from Scott and completely off of the bed. He manages to take the thin, meager sheet with him, and he wraps it around his nethers. “Holy god.”
“Stiles?” Scott asks, genuinely confused and concerned. “What’s wrong?”
“I know we’re close, and there’s no one I trust with my kumpel more than you, but there are some things the Bro Code just doesn’t cover,” Stiles wheezes out, because when he fell off the bed his elbow wedged into his hip, and also he’s freaking out a little. He notices that his clothes that he was wearing the night before are tossed haphazardly on Scott’s chair. With Scott’s clothes.
“Stiles, what are you talking about?” Scott’s dangerously close to rising off the bed into his line of vision, so Stiles rolls round with the sheet, making a Stiles burrito. He grasps at his clothes on the chair, trying to at least get his underwear. Scott’s face is scrunched up in shock and concern. “Did you hurt yourself? You don’t smell hurt. Babe, talk to me.”
Stiles freezes. His mind is racing through all the activities he did in the past week, pausing at the shit he was playing around with in his room the night before. He had been experimenting with some herbs he’d gotten from Deaton and some old skeevy book pages on traveling.
Traveling. God, why did this always happen to him?
“Mhm, yeah, okay. Scott, what are we?”
“What?” Scott asks, his face flushing.
“Like, to each other. Are we best friends? Bang buddies? Am I your beard? Fuck, wait, that’s not how that works.”
“I don’t understand,” Scott’s voice is wavering, and shit, abort, abort. “Stiles, we’ve been together since senior year. I know you don’t like to talk about this sort of stuff, but I thought–”
“Please don’t cry,” Stiles pleads, holding up his hands. “I just. I’m not your Stiles. I’m fairly sure I’ve done some illegal sneaking past dimension customs. I’m also pretty sure I’m better at magic than I thought.”
Scott’s face falls, and then hardens. Stiles knows that look; he’s annoyed.
“Again?” Scott asks, done with the world.
“I’m afraid so–wait, what do you mean again?”
Scott gets them clothes to change into, seemingly trying to shake off what just happened. He tells Stiles about the differences in this universe: that after the Alpha pack, the nogitsune came, but he doesn’t mention Malia, so Stiles assumes she was never found; Allison did die, but Kira moved back to New York soon after. Lydia’s mom sent her to her relatives on the East Coast to get away from it all.
“After Derek and Isaac left, well,” Scott shrugged. “We were all each other had. Have.”
Scott takes him to Deaton, who is somehow still around. On the way, Stiles tells him that in his world, he’s with Kira. Scott laughs.
“She was nice,” Scott says, parking the car. He turns and places a hand on Stiles’ shoulder. Stiles doesn’t move away; it’s nice, familiar, but just a step to the left. Just slightly wrong, like this whole world. A world where Kira didn’t stay, and Derek didn’t come back. Where Liam never turned, and Malia was still a coyote in the woods, alone. Where after everything, Scott and Stiles were all each other ever had. Scott smiles at him, and Stiles returns it. “She wasn’t home.”
It’s all surprisingly easy to jump back to his universe, and Stiles is surprised at the lack of Deaton’s cryptic riddles. There’s a feeling of resignation in this universe, of happiness, but of tiredness. Stiles can understand that.
“Did the me from this universe go to mine?” Stiles asks.
“Most likely,” Deaton nods, preparing more herbs, lighting something on fire.
Stiles panics for a second that his counterpart has gone around trying to kiss Scott, but Scott pats his back comfortingly. “Don’t worry, it’s not even ten o’clock, he’s probably still asleep.”
Deaton finishes the herbs and Stiles steps into the small circle he’s prepared.
“I didn’t use a circle when I came here,” Stiles says.
“You don’t need to.” Deaton grins. “I just like being dramatic.”
Stiles laughs, and realizes that the sound feels foreign to him. Scott smiles as Deaton lights the last item needed to be set ablaze.
“See you later, babe.” Scott promises, and Stiles falls asleep.
Scott doesn’t mention Stiles acting weird and trying to smooch him, so Stiles doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t tell anyone about the trip he took; he packages all the herbs and papers neatly and stashes them behind his Scott Pilgrim comic books.
He puts off traveling again, trying to convince himself that the pack was capable of being happy, if not whole, in the universe they lived in. There has to be a redeeming factor, Stiles thinks, even as he still doesn’t sleep in fear of nightmares, and their pack is threading. There has to be a reason we’re here.
He thinks about the other Scott often; how he was lonely, ostensibly, without a pack, but happy. Stiles looks at his Scott and wonders if he’s happy. If anyone in the pack is happy.
When he manages to sleep without nightmares he dreams of a world where everyone survived, where everyone is together and happy. Derek’s family, still here. Erica and Boyd. Allison. Isaac. Even Jackson. He wakes up smiling, sometimes. Other times, there are tears in his eyes.
He doesn’t tell anyone that there are other universes. He thinks that they would become obsessed with finding their own world where tragedy didn’t happen; where the fire didn’t happen, where the Desert Wolf didn’t kill Malia’s family, where Allison didn’t die. Stiles doesn’t think he could tell them about that possibility.
Not until he finds it.
Malia gets nearly torn apart by two omegas that wander through their territory. She howls loud enough for Scott and Derek to hear, and they all run into the preserve just in time. Stiles hooks one on the jaw with his baseball bat so hard a couple of teeth fall out, and something inside him grins. In the end it’s Derek that kills the omegas. He’s much more forgiving than Stiles would be, but that’s not his place. His place is helping carry Malia back to the car, and knowing he’ll be the one to get the blood out of their clothes and the upholstery. Everyone stays awake all night in Scott’s house as she heals, and Scott and Melissa attempt to put her back together. It’s a close call.
Derek remarks that werewolves don’t scar, but he thinks that if it was possible, this would be the exception. Stiles huffs. Coming from the guy that was thrown off several stories and barely survived, Stiles supposes that means something.
He stays until Malia is fully healed, sitting in Scott’s chair. He stares at Scott’s furrowed eyebrows, his haunted eyes, his frown, and thinks of the other Scott. The other Scott, whose eyes still held the same horrors, but that had somehow managed to make them soft again. He would give anything to see Scott’s eyes be soft again.
Stiles gets home the next evening and gets to work.
He writes a manual for the other Stiles’, the ones that will be waking up in his bed not knowing where or when they are. The other Scott had seemed familiar with the idea, meaning that that world had dealt with magic more than theirs had. Well, good magic. It seemed probable that the other Stiles’ would understand not to mess with anything, or at least to act cool around his dad if he came around. He didn’t think that was really an issue; he didn’t plan on being gone that long. Just a quick look, and then he’d come right back. Of course, there was the possibility that there could be a Stiles that didn’t know shit about the supernatural world and what was out there, and that he’d effectively just scare the shit out of him.
Stiles guesses he’ll find out.
He places the manual on the desk conspicuously and locks his door before gathering the herbs around him on the floor of his bedroom. He makes sure to send a text to the pack group chat, something arbitrary and unsuspicious. His dad is on shift overnight, but Stiles sends him a text anyway about not eating a cheeseburger for dinner. No fries, either. It reminds him of earlier times, and he smiles.
Stiles lights the herbs, and he wakes up.
There’s a soft snoring on the other side of the bed, on the floor. Stiles jackknifes up, but stops himself before he rocks the bed. He breathes, and takes in his surroundings. He breathes again.
That’s Scott snoring, on the floor, he can tell. He looks next to him on the bed and sees a halo of strawberry blond peaking out from beneath a blanket; his heart skips a beat as he listens to Lydia breathe peacefully. There’s no hitch in her breath, no spasm in her limbs as she fights off another nightmare. Stiles turns his head and sees Derek, his back propped against the wall where he inevitably fell asleep while on watch. On one side Kira is nestled in a ball, her back against Derek’s thigh, and on the other there is Cora, her head resting on Derek’s hip, his leather jacket folded like a pillow. Liam is shoved into the corner between the bed and the wall, face squished on one of Stiles’ textbooks. Near the door Isaac is sprawled on his back, Malia on the floor near him, her arm haphazardly tossed over his chest, both their mouths wide open in sleep. Something stirs in Stiles’ chest, knowing that in his timeline, Malia and Isaac never really even met.
He quietly rises from the bed, toeing across the carpeting of his room. At home, the pack wouldn’t be gathered in his room like this, let alone be asleep together. Someone would have woken up, launched across the room, there’d be something to do, someone to save, someone to mourn. Stiles is about to open his bedroom door when he hears an extra person shift, and his hand freezes around the handle as he turns around. Scott’s arm is wrapped around another figure, dark hair stuck to the corner of Scott’s lip. Allison turns her head softly, deep asleep. Scott smiles and snuggles in closer to her subconsciously. They both look so peaceful that Stiles wants to puke and laugh and cry all at the same time.
He ducks out of the room before he can fully process everything that’s happening and descends down the stairs quickly. He pauses when he hears a soft laugh coming from the kitchen. His heart skips a beat, his hope soaring when he thinks that maybe it’s his mom, but it comes again and he knows it’s not true. He’d recognize her laugh anywhere.
But that laugh…
He pads into the kitchen doorway, barely breathing. By the refrigerator he sees a head of blond hair thrown back in laughter. Boyd’s hand rests gently on Erica’s hip, head ducked down to whisper in her ear. Stiles hears his throat issue a pained sound, but he doesn’t register it. He registers Erica’s head turning to look at him, lips still spread in a smile.
“Hey, Batman,” she says, but it echoes throughout Stiles’ ears like a pinball. “You’re up early, it’s not even noon.”
She takes a step toward him, Boyd’s hand sliding off of her hip. The edges of the kitchen begin to dim. Erica’s smile begins to turn into a grimace. “Stiles? Babe, are you good?”
Breathing is hard. Allison, Boyd, Erica, they all look so real. Alive. Their death scenes begin to flash before Stiles’ eyes and he tries to take a breath but it doesn’t exist anymore. He feels a tear start to slide out of his eye, but a thumb wipes it away, a hand holding his cheek. Erica.
“You’re okay,” she soothes. He feels Boyd help him down into a chair. Erica holds his hand. Boyd is speaking to someone, multiple someones on the stairwell. He feels Scott’s hand on his shoulder, his smooth voice counting breaths with him. Lydia’s soft hand runs through his hair; there’re so many people, but he doesn’t feel crowded. He hasn’t felt this way in forever, it’s overwhelming. So…not lonely. “Shh, you’re okay.”
He takes a big breath, letting it hitch slightly on the exhale. He does it again.
“There you go,” a voice says, and something in Stiles erupts. It’s Derek, kneeling in front of him with a hand on his knee. His eyes are troubled but kind, kinder than Stiles has ever seen them. He squeezes Stiles’ knee in encouragement and he instinctively knows that Derek is the alpha.
Stiles thinks about Scott and Allison and power Scott never wanted to shoulder and thinks good.
“Come on back,” Derek says, and Stiles does. Scott stops counting breaths, and Stiles runs his hands through his hair. He realizes that half the pack is there, the rest milling on the stairwell. There’s a chore sheet on the wall, dishes piling in the sink, a pile of backpacks near the front door. He looks up and sees Lydia with her hair naturally down, clad in only a tank top and pajama pants with penguins on them, and laughs out loud.
“There he is,” Erica smiles, rubbing his hand. “Haven’t seen you have one of those in awhile. What’s up?”
Stiles looks around, a little overwhelmed, a lot okay with it. “Nothing,” he says, shaking his shoulders a bit. “Just had a nightmare.”
They’re fucking mini golfing, and Stiles is resisting the urge to cry or laugh at every moment.
There’s too many of them for not one team, but even two (and that’s something that shakes Stiles, the fact that there are eleven of them), so they split up; Stiles ends up with Derek and Kira and plays a pretty fair game. He watches as Boyd hoists Erica over her shoulder when she tries to cheat and knock Cora’s ball out of the way, watches as Isaac and Malia argue over who gets to go first, watches as Scott wraps his arms around Allison and helps her put when they all know she’s much better than Scott ever would be. Lydia never gets less than a hole in two, Kira trips over the ledge in between holes and Derek catches her, Erica screams profanities as Boyd threatens to throw her into the pond. Stiles hasn’t felt this fucking happy in…
Stiles doesn’t know if he’s ever felt this happy.
“You doing okay?” Derek’s voice shocks him, and he turns to face the man. “That nightmare seemed to really shake you up.”
“Yeah,” Stiles says. “Just…freaked me out a little.”
“Can I ask what it was about?” Derek bends over to pick up his ball, and Stiles absolutely totally does not look at his ass.
“My mom,” Stiles blurts out, and watches carefully as the look of pity crosses over Derek’s features. The look confirms everything Stiles needs to know: she’s dead in this universe, too.
“I’m sorry, Stiles.” Derek says. “I still, sometimes, with Laura–”
“Don’t worry about it,” Stiles smiles, just a little. “Water under the bridge, right?”
Derek returns a soft grin. “Right.”
Just then, to prove Stiles’ point, Erica launches over a bush with Boyd and Isaac in swift pursuit, sliding into the fake river and splashing both Derek and Stiles with water. She lets out a war cry and makes her way down toward Scott, Lydia, and Allison. Stiles can hear Boyd’s sigh, but sees the smile on his face.
They get kicked out of the mini golf place very soon after, and pile into a diner down the road, managing to squeeze into an extra long booth, five people on each side with Cora on the end. Stiles is crammed between Scott and Malia, with Derek, Lydia, Erica, Boyd, and Allison across from him. Stiles can’t help but stare nearly the entire meal; the happiness on Lydia’s face, the lack of strain around Derek’s eyebrows, the fact that Erica, Boyd, and Allison are there at all. Malia plays footsie with both him and Isaac, and Liam consults Scott as to what to get like a younger brother seeking advice. At one point during the meal Scott laughs out of nowhere and lands a hand on Stiles’ knee; he startles more than he thinks this universe’s Stiles would, but manages to keep it under the radar enough.
Scott’s face is split into a wide grin. “Oh, man,” he wheezes. “We have an Econ quiz tomorrow.”
A chorus of responses erupts around the table, from “oh god, you’re right” to “shut up, McCall”, and Stiles takes in the sheer positive noise around him. Cora and Derek pay for the meal, and then they’re all in each other’s cars, and Stiles finds himself behind Roscoe (not nearly as destroyed and weary as she is in his universe) on his way to the Hale house.
It’s not renovated completely, it’s not a paradise for lost wolves and orphan children, but it’s a work in progress. It’s standing, it’s there, it’s not condemned or torn down or the spot where kids sneak away to drink and tell ghost stories. There’s a kitchen and an unpainted living room without any furniture, there’s a backyard and a clothesline and a grill. The new frame of the house is smaller; the upstairs is still under major construction, with tarps and plywood, and Stiles notes that there is no basement.
They spend the rest of the day tossing a frisbee and running around, tackling each other and playing games. Derek breaks out a package of hot dogs and veggie burgers and grills like some sort of domestic dad, barking at Isaac when he hits Boyd in beta form a bit too hard for the occasion. At one point Stiles grabs the hose from the side of the house and turns the water on, running around and soaking everyone on the porch, including Derek. Lydia and Allison squeal but are smiling, and Kira and Malia immediately launch themselves at him, just narrowly missing the opportunity to tackle him to the ground by Erica, who jumps on him from behind. At some point it becomes a massive piggy pile, and Stiles’ shirt is steadily getting soaked by the hose spray soaking the grass. They make a fire when it gets dark, Stiles wrapped in a spare shirt of Derek’s that’s just slightly too large, eating s’mores and warming his hands.
He finds out that everything changed after the kanima in this universe, that Jackson still left for London and didn’t come back, but the alpha pack didn’t come. Cora came back on her own. The darach still came, but without the alpha pack, Erica and Boyd never died, and they were there to help fight. Allison, Scott, and Stiles still made their sacrifice, and the nogitsune still took Stiles, but Derek never lost his alpha status in saving Cora from the alphas. They found Malia. They saved Stiles. Allison didn’t die. Scott was a true alpha, but Derek was the alpha. They had a power balance worked out as one pack. It warmed Stiles’ heart, but confused him. He doesn’t think Derek and Scott from his universe could ever work together like that.
It’s nearly midnight when Stiles jerks, springing to his feet. Lydia looks up lazily at him, sleep beginning to coat her pretty features. Derek is behind him, and places a hand on his shoulder. It hurts inside when Stiles can’t hide the way he flinches.
“You headed home?” Derek asks.
“Yeah,” Stiles says, even though he really, really doesn’t want to. He thinks about staying here, in this universe where the pack is alive and together and faces threats like an unstoppable team, that hasn’t had to bury anyone too early, that goes mini golfing on Sundays and plays football in the backyard while Derek grills and wears a goddamn apron. He could just stay here and be happy for once.
But then he thinks about the other Stiles, the one that most likely spent the last twenty-four hours in his room, reading his manual and realizing the horrors of his universe. That Stiles couldn’t stay there. He hadn’t seen Erica or Boyd die. He hadn’t been responsible for Allison’s death. He didn’t have to survive when Derek left, when Isaac left, when Kira left. He didn’t kill someone without the nogitsune guiding his hand. He didn’t think that sometimes, he shouldn’t have ever left Eichen.
That Stiles didn’t deserve to live in that universe. This Stiles did.
“Goodnight everyone,” he calls. “See you all tomorrow.”
He gets a chorus of goodbyes in return, all heartfelt and genuine. Scott gives him a wave and a wink, and Stiles smiles in return. He wants to stay where Scott has Allison and is happy, where Isaac and Malia have met and seem like good friends. Something sinks in his chest. It’s a good universe.
It’s just missing someone he’s looking for.
He goes home and performs the reverse spell without any fuss. When he gets back into his room there’s a note from the other Stiles on his desk.
I didn’t leave the room, texted a few people to make sure they didn’t worry. Stiles…I’m sorry.
Stiles resists the urge to gag and doesn’t cry. He writes down the logistics of this travel in a journal, just in case he wants to go back; he thinks he’ll try to resist, though. He stays up all night sitting on his bed, just thinking. He wants to stay in bed forever, but he goes to school anyway. He has an Econ quiz to take.
“Dude, are you okay?” Scott asks quietly, leaning over and whispering from his desk. Not too close though. Never close anymore. Stiles blinks, half listening to their English teacher drone on about The Scarlet Letter. He knows he looks like he hasn’t slept, because he hasn’t. He knows that he’s also been distant from the pack, even more than his new usual; and he knows how bad that is, to couple distance with the bags under his eyes and the outward apathy, he knows what it looks like, but he can’t–
“I’m fine.” He grounds out, not looking at Scott. He still sees him frown, though, and decide not to say anything more. Stiles wishes he did.
He wakes up and the room is dark. He blinks a few times and sees his board in the corner, tangled up in strings and pictures of the pack, pictures of people he doesn’t even recognize. Stiles moves to get up from the bed, but stops halfway, turning slowly to face the figure in the corner of his room.
The nogistune made Stiles look like an emaciated fragment of what he was, a hairline fracture of a clever personality and a rotting corpse, panic incarnate. It makes Allison look like something you’d let into your home despite knowing it would kill you, a rag doll reanimated, fear itself. Her hair is unkempt and parted down the middle, her hands unfurled but tense at the side of her simple short-sleeved dress. She smiles at Stiles and he doesn’t know where he is anymore.
Her lips twitch. “Almost.”
“No,” he coughs out. He’s having a nightmare. This is a nightmare, the nogitsune still has him, it’s making him see things again. “It was me. It was supposed to be me.”
“Why would it be you?” Allison asks, taking a slow step forward. Stiles swallows down bile. “You’re both so rich with pain, but you…so volatile. Unpredictable. Unreliable. Useless. Stiles. Why would we want you, loud and conspicuous, when we could hide?”
She smiles again and Stiles moves. He grabs the herbs he now stashes in his pocket before he jumps and scatters them on the floor next to the bed. The movements are memorized, he’s been at the universe jumping for weeks, now. Allison strides toward him, louder and more purposeful, and Stiles is hit with the instinctual knowledge that he is the only person that lives in this house. He pushes the pain and grabs the lighter, fumbling as she reaches him and pulls at his arm. She pulls him close and jabs her hand up to his neck, thumb and forefinger digging into his throat and cutting off his air. She lifts him up in the air and Stiles feels bruises start to fester. Allison’s eyes are dead, the shadows under them too deep and tinged with yellow and green. It’s been months, nearly a year, how did they not figure it out, how did they not help her–
“You’re just like Lydia,” Allison hisses, and Stiles coughs in fear. “You know too much.”
She reaches out with her other hand, grabs Stiles’ bicep and pulls. Stiles feels his shoulder pop out of his socket and attempts to scream to a world where no one can hear him. His yells are choked off, and through his blotching vision Stiles can see Allison is still smiling. He flicks the lighter in his hand and raises a knee, kicking out at her as he drops the lighter from his hand. He crashes down into the circle alone as it lights and he is thrown back into his regular room violently, his cries coming out cracked and strained. He rolls onto his back on the floor and stares at the ceiling, small lines of tears coming out of the corners of his eyes as he breathes, loud and broken.
He knows he has to get up and fix himself but he can’t move. His shoulder is still dislocated and his throat still sore and screaming, he has fix it but all that comes is grief and pain and panic; he sent the other Stiles back there, back to her, and she was dead, she’s dead here and she’s dead there but it’s so much worse. Stiles tries to roll over but a spike of pain jolts through his shoulder to his neck and he must cry out, because a few moments later his dad his bursting through the door and sliding down onto the floor beside him, saying his name and reaching out toward him. Stiles tries to pull away and protect his shoulder, crying, he can’t breathe, she’s still holding him by his neck and squeezing, she’s still dead, he’s dead, he killed the other Stiles, he’s dead and she’ll pretend she found him, the pack doesn’t know, or maybe he was the only one left, she was always smarter than him.
“Stiles,” The Sheriff pleads, pulling him closer to his chest. He sees Stiles’ shoulder and blanches, reaching under his arms as gently as possible and holding his son as he cries and wheezes. “Jesus, kid, what did you do to yourself? What happened, what did you do?”
Stiles hiccups and slams his head back into his father’s chest repeatedly, trying to breathe as he starts counting slowly. He breathes and coughs and breathes until he’s calm, the sun crawling up the sides of the mountains, and then he just stares at his board, empty and void.
He tells the pack he dislocated his shoulder falling down the side of the preserve, and that he got tangled in his sheets during a nightmare and bruised his neck. Either they believe him, or they don’t care. Lydia and Derek narrow their eyes at him, aware that he’s lying, but neither say anything.
“Why were you in the preserve?” Liam asks. “Scott said not to go out there alone since the omegas.”
“Yeah, well, I’ve never really been good at rules.” Stiles mutters. Hayden rolls her eyes in a way that looks too much like how Erica used to, and Stiles swallows bile as he stands up to leave.
“Where are you going?” Derek doesn’t so much ask as he demands. Stiles stops halfway to the door.
“What, are we going to watch a movie? Play Quiplash? Take a family photo?” He knows he’s being overly sardonic, nearly cruel, but he can’t help it. He ignores Scott’s hurt look, the frown on everyone’s faces. Isaac is gone and there’s only seven of them, nine if he counts Hayden and Mason, which he’s not sure he does. They barely talk, and definitely don’t trust one another. This isn’t a family. “I didn’t think so.”
“Stiles,” Scott says, and Stiles clutches the door handle too tightly. Waits for him to ask him to stay, to be real friends again, to mend. He breathes, and it comes out ragged. “Take some pizza, you should eat.”
Storms roll in Stiles’ chest as he beats down anger and disappointment. “No thanks,” he lies, teeth clenched. “I have food at home.”
He leaves the house, slamming the door a little too hard and stiffly walking to his car. He starts it and rolls out of the driveway, only turning the corner out of earshot before he pulls over on the side of the road and kills the engine. He clutches the steering wheel with white knuckles and breathes harshly, trying to kill the thoughts in his head. He thinks of the universe he visited two weeks prior where he lived with his grandparents in the valley and had a dog. The one where no one had known about anything supernatural, and the Hales never even lived in Beacon Hills; it had taken him two days to get back from that one, and no one had noticed. His anonymity in that world had been refreshing, a reminder of freshman year of high school where it was just him and Scott. Losers with no blood on their hands. Now Stiles has to check his every once and a while just to make sure they’re not still stained red.
There’s a knock on his passenger window that startles him out of his thoughts; he turns sharply to see Derek standing there, looking overall miserable, like always. There’s a weird look in his eye, like he expected Stiles to jump out of his skin and yell at him at the sudden intrusion. Ever since the nogitsune Stiles hasn’t been as jumpy as he used to be, his movements more unfazed and calculated. He knows no one likes that.
He rolls down the window and looks at Derek, his mouth set in a line to match the werewolf’s. “What.”
Derek’s mouth twitches slightly, and just settles into a deeper frown. He tosses a half-empty box of pizza onto the passenger seat, motioning jerkily at it as some sort of way to communicate that Stiles is supposed to eat it.
Stiles rolls his eyes. “I said I wasn’t hun–”
“Whatever you’re doing to yourself,” Derek cuts him off, glaring at Stiles’ arm brace and the bruises around his neck. “Stop it.”
“Thanks for the therapy session, doc, really doin’ wonders,” Stiles deadpans. Derek glares back, but Stiles isn’t intimidated by Derek I wear sweaters now and eat guilt for breakfast Hale anymore. He raises his eyebrows, and Derek sighs.
“You’re worrying everyone.” he says.
“You’re not taking care of yourself, and it’s getting infuriating.”
“Newsflash, I’ve never been good at taking care of myself. I ate Kraft mac and cheese for dinner for three months in seventh grade.”
“Just…” Derek drags a hand down his face, resting it on the ledge of the Jeep’s door. Stiles tries to find fault with the casual nature of that, but can’t muster up the energy. “If you don’t want to tell me whatever it is you’re doing, that’s fine. But it’s hurting you, and it’s hurting the pack. So I think you should stop.”
Stiles stares at him, blinking. “Yeah, I’ll get right on that.”
Derek’s eyes flash. “Everything you say is a lie, Stiles, and it’s–”
“Goodnight, Derek.” Stiles says, and begins rolling up the window. It’s a slow process to do manually, and Derek stares at him with some sort of emotion in his face as he does it. Stiles starts the engine and Derek growls low in his throat before he turns and stalks back toward Scott’s house, hands fisted at his sides. Stiles swallows the lump in his throat and pulls off the side of the road, shoving a slice of pizza in his mouth and heading home.
He wakes up in a hospital bed. He jolts up, trying to rise from the sheets, but is stopped by the pull of wires and tubes in his arm. Stiles looks around the room, panicked, and then down at his body. His clothes have been replaced with a johnny, both a top and a bottom, which signifies he’s been here fairly long. Stiles is pretty certain this is a universe jump, seeing as he remembers setting out the herb circle and lighting it, but when he taps at his clothes, his hidden bunch of ingredients isn’t there. He opens the drawers of the nightstand next to him, but finds nothing.
“Fuck,” he mutters, and makes an executive decision. If he’s traveled, then he needs to get back as soon as possible, because this whole situation gives him the heebie jeebies. If he hasn’t, and something happened to him that he’s just conveniently repressed, he’ll run into Scott or his dad soon, and they’d fill him in.
That makes him stop. There’s no one in his room, which is obviously private. If something had happened to him, his dad and Scott would be there when he woke up, right?
Stiles shuts his eyes for a second and then gently takes out his IV, sliding his legs over the side of the bed and ignoring the tinny sound of a small alarm as he makes his way to the door. He opens and shuts it silently, making his way down the hall toward the exit, because he knows this hospital like the back of his hand. The herbs he needs for the return spell aren’t rare, he just needs to find Deaton, or go to a garden store, or a farmer’s market–
“Mr. Stilinski!” a voice shouts, and Stiles walks faster. Another voice shouts his name and he starts running in the direction of the stairs and elevator, because he does not recognize a single voice and he needs out.
Suddenly there are arms around his body, pinning his arms to his side, and he jerks, trying to free himself from the restraint.
“Stiles,” a familiar voice pleads, and he falters. “Stiles, Stiles, look at me.”
Stiles stills slightly and looks, meeting Melissa’s eyes as she releases him slightly, her hands still secure around his shoulders.
“Hey,” she says, smiling, but her eyes are hard, and the other nurses are still running down the hall toward them. His eyes flicker from hers to the stairwell door and back again. He feels cagey and panicked, his heart thundering in his chest. This is wrong.
“Melissa,” he rasps out, and Melissa’s eyes soften a bit in pleasant surprise.
“Yeah, hon, it’s me,” She nods. “Do you know where you are?”
“Hospital,” he says harshly. “Why–”
“You can’t leave your room without telling someone first, remember?” Melissa asks, and no, Stiles doesn’t fucking remember. Two other nurses catch up to them, equipment in their hands, and Stiles eyes them with distrust. One moves to touch his arm, and he jerks away, ignoring the small pain remaining from his dislocated shoulder.
“This is wrong,” he says, locking eyes with Melissa. “You don’t understand, I, I need to go, I need to–”
Melissa’s face is wrought with sadness as she regards him. “Stiles, can you please walk with me back to your room? I can get you what you need, I can get your dad.”
“No,” Stiles shakes his head, panicking fully, and the other nurses reach forward to grab him. “No!”
He rips himself out of their hands, trying to turn and sprint toward the stairwell but tripping and falling onto his knees. He crawls forward, kicking out when they try to get him to stop and be still.
“No!” he yells, swatting at them, trying to get himself out of this, trying to make a plan. His panic swallows it all whole, and he flails instead, only knowing that this is wrong and he needs to leave. “Let go of me! I need to go, let go of me!”
One of the nurses must inject something into him, because one minute he’s fighting, and the next he’s lying against the wall of the hospital hallway, panting, his muscles twitching. There are tears pricking at the corners of his eyes and Melissa is crying, apologizing under her breath repeatedly as all of the fight seeps out of Stiles’ limbs and into a puddle on the floor. Nurses help lift him into a wheelchair and start to cart him back to the room he woke up in, and right before Stiles goes numb completely he realizes that he is completely and royally fucked.
He’s not supposed to be on the drugs he’s on.
Stiles opens and shuts his mouth, marveling at how dry his tongue is. His thoughts are moving a lot slower than usual, but he’s figured out that if he clicks his tongue enough times a nurse comes over and gives him some water, and that’s nice. His hands are shaking and tingling, tremoring a staccato beat against his leg that’s covered with blankets; if he tries to focus he can stop the shaking, but he’s too tired. Stiles knows he has to figure out how to get out of the bed, out of the hospital, back to his own universe, but every time he tries to formulate a plan a wave of confusion and tiredness washes over him and he cares less and less, his gaze focusing on the painting on the far wall of his room in a numb haze.
“He had another episode,” he hears Melissa say, low and careful, from the far side of the room. “The doctor had us up his dosage to keep him calm.”
“Jesus,” another voice says. “Can I talk to him?”
“You should be able to,” Melissa says. “No promises about how responsive he’ll be. Recently he’s been pretty mellow, mostly apathetic, but then today it was just explosive. That happens sometimes.”
“Don’t I know,” the other voice sighs. “Thanks, Melissa. Will you grab the kids?”
“Sure, I’ll tend them in when you’re ready.”
There’s a period of silence, and then the scratching of a chair. A hand on rests on Stiles’, a warm presence overriding the cold numbness encroaching on his wrists and forearms, and Stiles turns his head to meet his father’s eyes. The Sheriff’s eyes are cautious, a look Stiles hasn’t seen him wear since the nogistune. The thought sends a jolt of fear down Stiles’ spine and into his gut, where it stays.
“Hey, kiddo,” the Sheriff says, running a thumb over Stiles’ knuckles. “How you doin’? Heard you took a bit of a tumble, there.”
“Dad,” Stiles says, throat thick. “Dad, I’m scared.”
The Sheriff’s face hardens, and he scoots forward, both hands coming to clasp Stiles’. “What’s wrong, Stiles?”
“I–” Everything in his head is cloudy, and he knows that’s bad, knows he’ll be trapped here if he can’t figure it out, but it’s all disjointed. “My head hurts. I’m not supposed to be here.”
“I know,” John soothes, but he doesn’t know. “I know, son, and I’m doing everything I can to see if you can be at home, okay? I’ll take off work and take care of you, but that can’t happen just yet. Soon.”
“No,” Stiles shakes his head. “You can’t, I need to go.”
John frowns and ignores what he said, which makes Stiles screw up his nose in agitation. “Hey, I brought someone here with me today to see you, would you like that?”
Hope floods every aspect of him and he can’t help the words. “Mom?”
The Sheriff’s face shuts down for a moment, and dread and resignation replace the spot in Stiles’ chest where the hope was. “No. Uh, no, Stiles, Mom’s not here, and I’m sorry. I wish we could see her too. But uh, I brought your friends to see you, do you want to see your friends? Scott?”
“Scott,” Stiles repeats excitedly. If anyone will help him, it’s Scott. He’ll make him believe that he isn’t the right Stiles, that he needs to get back home, and everything will be right again.
John takes Stiles’ reaction as positive and smiles, waving at the door. “Yeah, Scott’s here. I bet you miss him, huh, kiddo?”
Melissa is talking lowly again, explaining to whoever is with her walking through the door. “We had to up his olanzapine and sertraline, and he was also sedated recently, so he may be a little out of it right now, but hopefully he’ll know you’re here and be comforted, at least.”
Stiles looks up at the door as Scott walks in, the world slurring a bit, and blanches when he realizes who walks in with him. Allison is beautiful and alive, her hair pristine and her hand laced in Scott’s, but Stiles’ weighed down mind distorts, and for a moment all he can see is the nogitsune’s twisted version of his friend as she laughs at him, her hand around his neck and the world empty–
He whimpers, retreating back into himself, and everyone’s faces shift from hopeful to concerned. Stiles’ hands shake and he feels numb; the memories of every universe he’s been to swirl in his mind and combine together, confusing him, and suddenly he’s not sure where he is anymore. He’s not sure of anything at all.
“I’m dreaming,” he says, his voice shaking, and Scott and Allison freeze where they stand halfway between the bed and the doorway. “No. No, I’m dreaming, no.”
“Stiles?” Scott asks, voice afraid. Scott is afraid of him. He’s always afraid of him, because Stiles kills, Stiles can’t be trusted, not anymore, it made him a monster too.
“Stiles, what’s wrong, sweetie?” Melissa asks, coming forward as Stiles begins to scratch at his arm. He wants to count his fingers, but everything is too slow and fast at the same time.
“You’re dead,” Stiles says, overwhelmed and confused and not in control of his thoughts anymore. He’s looking right at Allison, and everyone looks at her too. Her face is a mosaic of fear and concern, blush making her cheeks seem to have color, and it’s wrong. “You’re dead, you died.”
“What’s happening?” Scott asks, voice shaky, as Allison stares right back at Stiles, eyebrows furrowed and lips parted.
“Allison died,” Stiles says, needing to say it, needing it to be true because this can’t be right, he can’t be here, because if this is real then that means none of it was real, the nogitsune wasn’t real, he just made it up, his mom is dead and he’s sick like her, making things up and dying. “This isn’t real. I shouldn’t be here. This isn’t real, Allison’s dead. You’re dead!”
Everyone’s faces are painted in horror now as Stiles gets angry, slamming his head back against the bed because it hurts and he’s so confused.
“Stiles, I’m right here.” Allison says, attempting to be comforting.
“She’s not dead, kiddo, Allison’s just fine,” his dad grips his hand, but everything’s numb now, pins and needles. Stiles slams his head back again and whines, disoriented and afraid.
“No! No, I’m dreaming, this isn’t real, you should be dead, I killed you, this isn’t real, you’re dead!”
Allison takes a step back in alarm, and Stiles’ head is too full; he yells, and Scott steps forward as Allison squeals, confused and afraid.
“Stop tricking me!” Stiles yells. His dad is standing now, and Melissa is on his other side, talking to him, saying things that don’t work and mean nothing. “Stop it! She’s dead, no more riddles, please! Let me go!”
He knows he’s being thrown head-first into a panic attack again, crying out of confusion and frustration. He can’t get anything straight in his head and nothing makes sense anymore. Allison is sobbing and his dad is gripping his hand, trying to bring him down.
For a moment all there is is pain and confusion, and through it Stiles finds the thought that he’s used to bring himself out of every panic attack since the possession: that pain and confusion was what it wanted. That’s what it wanted, and Stiles would rather die than give it anything it wanted ever again.
When the world stops swirling and Stiles can breathe Scott is one side of him, his dad gone; when he turns his head he sees him out in the hallway, talking to Allison, whose eyes are swollen as she continues to cry. She nods along to whatever it is his dad is telling her, hand covering her mouth. Stiles turns his head back and looks at Scott, whose eyes are also leaking tears onto the sheets of his bed.
“Scotty,” Stiles says, and his best friend looks up at him.
“Yeah, Stiles?” Scott asks, hope in his eyes. This is the only chance he may have to get Scott to believe him.
“Yeah, I’m here. I’m here, it’s okay.”
“Listen. Basil. Salep root. Dandelion. Eryngo. Mint, and matches,” he says, trying to emphasize importance. “I need you to get them for me.”
“Stiles, what are you–”
“I’m not supposed to be here,” Stiles stresses. “Please. I have to get home, I’m not supposed to be here.”
Scott looks terrified, but grasps Stiles’ hand anyway. “Okay, buddy. Okay, I’ll get them.”
Stiles doesn’t believe him.
He rests his head back against the pillow and closes his eyes. “This can’t be real,” he murmurs. “Please, this can’t be real.”
“Scott, you can’t have that stuff in here!”
“Mom, Stiles told me to get them for him!”
“Stiles has frontotemporal dementia, Scott, you shouldn’t be getting him anything he could use to hurt himself, especially matches!”
“I wasn’t gonna give them to him, mom, I was just going to show him I got it for him! No one’s believed a word he’s said for months, don’t you think that’s frustrating? The reason he’s been so disoriented and sad is because he’s been cooped up in here and you don’t listen to a word he says! He deserves to go home!”
“We’re working on it, Scott. Believe me, I want him to go too, but he needs a nurse with him, and I’m still trying to get them to let me take hours with him instead of the extra ER hours so that John can still go to work.”
“Let me just show him. He knew what he was talking about, mom. He’s not stupid, he’s just confused a lot. I don’t know what this stuff is for, but it seemed important to him, and I want him to know he’s still important.”
A pause. “Fine. But take that stuff home with you when you’re done, okay?”
Scott slowly opens the door to Stiles’ room, a plastic Ziploc bag in hand. He pads into the room, approaching the curtain drawn around Stiles’ bed.
“Hey, Stiles,” Scott says. “It’s me, Scott. I, uh, I brought the stuff you said you wanted! I know it was important to you. It’s okay if you don’t want to see anyone or talk right now.” he sets the bag down on the side table, wringing at the skin of his palm with his thumb. “Everyone said to say hi. You know, Isaac, Lydia, Derek. Kira and Malia, even. Uh. They really want to come see you, but Mom doesn’t think that’s a really good idea, since what happened yesterday with Allison. But that’s okay, because maybe once you’re home you won’t be so scared anymore. I know you don’t like it here, I wouldn’t really either. So. I’ll just leave this stuff here and sit around until you’re ready to talk, and I’ll show it to you. It’s okay, I have all day, there’s no school or anything, so just take your time.”
Stiles walks silently from his hidden position behind the door while Scott is talking, trying to ignore the tremors in his hands as he comes up behind Scott with his breakfast tray raised.
“I’m sorry, Scott,” Stiles whispers, and then swings the tray down hard, the edge of it colliding with Scott’s temple. Scott staggers, his hand reaching out to steady himself on Stiles’ bed, and Stiles grabs the bag of herbs off the side table, backing up toward the open door. Scott turns around, eyes glowing alpha red, and Stiles has just enough time to realize exactly what timeline this universe had taken and think fuck before he turns tail and runs out the door into the hallway. Scott runs after him, yelling his name, and Stiles pushes a nurse to the ground, grabbing the rail of a cart with his hand and pulling as he runs so that it crashes to the floor.
“Stiles, wait!” Scott cries, attempting to maneuver around the mess without hurting anyone. Stiles knows he doesn’t have enough time to get out of the hospital, let alone to the stairwell, so he turns abruptly into another room, slamming the door and locking it. He takes the table in the room and jams it against the door, buying him maybe an extra twenty seconds against Scott’s strength. The occupant of the room is a little girl, who’s screaming and crying, holding her blankets up against her chest as she sobs.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” Stiles says, ripping open the bag and scattering the herbs into their haphazard configuration, slower than usual because of his jerky hands. He holds the matches in his hands just as Scott reaches the door, trying the doorknob with regular strength before pounding on the wood.
“Stiles, what are you doing?” Scott cries. “Stiles, please!”
“I’m sorry,” Stiles repeats, stepping into the circle and crouching to light the herbs. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
He wakes up and he’s in his bathtub, the lights off and the curtain drawn. The cacophony of noise dies in his ears, leaving only a residual tinnitus that leaves him nauseous. Stiles listens for any sound of movement in the house, and finds nothing. He had chosen the first Saturday of spring break for two reasons: so that he wouldn’t have school on Monday, and that his dad would be out on duty on an eighteen hour shift from Saturday afternoon to Sunday morning. Stiles resists the urge to throw up at the thought of him having not succeeded, of him coming back any time after his dad had come home to discover not the son he left but one that was sick with the same disease that killed his wife.
Stiles breathes, letting his hands shake and shake. He hitches up his knees and lets his head fall onto them, his breath dragging in and out again. He stares at the bottom of the bathtub, tracing scuff marks from shoes that weren’t there before with his finger, and he breathes.
He shouldn’t travel again, but he does. He’s just looking for something he hasn’t found yet.
There’s a universe where his dad retired from the force and works at an auto shop down the road instead; he takes Stiles fishing, and it’s one of the nicer, most peaceful afternoons he’s spent in a long while. There’s another universe where the Whittemores are fancy lawyers in Washington DC instead of Beacon Hills, and subsequently no kanima was ever created. That universe still had its issues, but apparently somehow Gerard was never one of them. Stiles travels to another where he can’t figure out anything that’s different, but when he drives to the Hale house it’s intact, albeit still burnt, and when he knocks on the door Derek opens it just to slam it in his face. That stings a bit, but Stiles just shrugs it off and travels back, counting it as neither a win nor a loss.
When he wakes up this time he’s standing, which is new. He blinks a few times and realizes he’s standing in the middle of the woods, sneakers shifting on the dead pine needles beneath his feet. He’s never woken up in another universe not in a bed; usually because he travels late at night and early in the morning in a very calculated effort to not have a Stiles disappear and reappear in front of everyone’s eyes while he’s eating cereal. So the fact that he’s woken up in the middle of the woods leads him to make some dubious assumptions about this universe’s Stiles’ life choices.
Stiles turns and freezes, cold stuttering his heart as the stares at the Nemeton before him. The air around it is quiet and still, different from the subtle presence Stiles knows it to exude; this Nemeton was never awakened by Paige’s death, he knows instinctively. He hates the draw he has to the tree, the way he knows what it wants by the way it exists. It’s comforting to know that it’s not calling for anything now, but he turns away from it anyway. There can be no good reason why he woke up next to a tree that doesn’t want to be found.
He finds his way to a road eventually and follows it back toward town, watching as dawn turns into day above him. He’s dehydrated by the time he makes it to the edge of actual Beacon Hills civilization, and while he may not take great care of himself he knows better than to let himself get slowed down on something as silly as not drinking a glass of water. There’s a gas station on the end of the road, just as the town begins to open up, and Stiles makes his way toward the mini mart attached as soon as he’s near. He buys an extra large light blue Gatorade, because he’s not that great and he’s not going to start now, and exits the store, meaning to continue walking down the road. He stops instead when he sees a police cruiser at one of the gas pumps, and watches as his father emerges from the driver’s side door.
John glances at where Stiles stands in the middle of the parking lot, and immediately brings his gaze back to the pump. He selects the gas grade and starts filling up the cruiser before he looks up at Stiles again and frowns.
“Can I help you, sir?” The Sheriff asks, and Stiles swallows a lump in his throat. That’s the voice his dad uses when talking to strangers, and it’s certainly never been a voice he’s heard directed toward him. He tries to ignore the wheels turning in his head and plays on instinct.
“Oh, no, sorry sir,” Stiles raises a hand in acknowledgement. “Just admiring the Denali behind you there.”
The Sheriff turns to see the car Stiles is referring to, parked at another pump as the owner pays inside. He nods and looks back. “Shouldn’t you be getting to school or something, son?”
“Already graduated,” Stiles lies, shrugging. “Just took a morning walk, headed back home. I work with my dad, we’re uh, new around here.”
The Sheriff nods again, taking the gas pump out of the cruiser and setting it back in the holster. “Well you have a good day, alright?”
“Yes sir, you too,” Stiles says, striding past and walking down the road again, this time at a faster pace. The cruiser passes him a few moments later and he raises his hand again in a wave, shoving down the pounding in his chest.
“Alright,” Stiles mutters, turning at a stop light and making his way toward the high school. “What the fuck.”
People that aren’t varsity athletes are just getting to school when Stiles jogs into the parking lot. He had looped around the back of the school prior to see the morning lacrosse practice; he had recognized Jackson and Danny, but didn’t see Scott. He perches himself near the entrance to the school and lounges against the wall, pulling out his phone to seem inconspicuously his age. Finally, he sees a car door open and Allison gets out, Lydia emerging from the other side. They both look flawlessly beautiful, and talk to each other amiably as they grab their bags and make their way toward the door. Stiles can only watch as they come closer; Allison opens the door and holds it for Lydia, who glances to the side and makes eye contact with him. She looks him up and down and her lips part in a small, contemplative smile Stiles hasn’t seen since sophomore year, and never toward him; she looks back away from him and vanishes into the building without a word.
Stiles shakes off his sexual confusion and gets back to the mission at hand, because he’s done with the infatuation he held for Lydia. He hasn’t felt that in nearly a year and a half, because they’d been through too much together for him to reduce her to that feeling again, and he’d only ever had that when she had no idea who he was–
Oh. Stiles begins to put pieces together in his head, and another slots into place when he sees a car pull up and Erica nearly fall out of it, loose grey hoodie around her boney shoulders and bags under her eyes hidden by stringy blond hair. She murmurs a goodbye to her mom and walks toward the school, arms wrapped around herself and eyes on the ground. Stiles wants to reach out to her, but stops when he sees Melissa’s car in the lot. Scott jumps out of the passenger seat, and Stiles gets a full visage of what Scott looks like when he never got the bite. He’s skinnier, lanky like he and Stiles both used to be, but clearly old enough to have filled in somewhat. He holds a fraction of the strength and presence Stiles knows him to, and scuttles about like he’s late for everything, just like he used to before he learned how precious time was. Stiles waits until Scott is nearly at the door and then steps forward slightly, their shoulders colliding. Scott trips and falls over onto the ground, the haphazardly gathered objects in his arms falling onto the ground as well as his half-open backpack.
“Oh, man, I’m sorry, dude.” Stiles holds out a hand and Scott takes it, and when they make eye contact Stiles doesn’t see a single glimpse of recognition in his best friend’s eyes.
“It’s alright, didn’t see you there,” Scott says, smiling a goofy grin. Stiles grins back and kneels down, picking up Scott’s dropped inhaler on the ground.
“Don’t want to forget that,” Stiles says, and Scott takes it eagerly.
“Oh god, yeah, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve lost this,” Scott stuffs it in his backpack. “Not good, my mom would kill me. Thanks man, uh, see you ‘round.”
Stiles watches as Scott swipes his dropped hoodie off the ground and jogs through the doors, not even glancing back. He frowns, standing there as the last of students file into the school, and then walks down the stairs and off school grounds.
The cemetery is basically empty at eight in the morning, save for a few people running in to place flowers before work. Stiles knows the path from the gate to his destination by heart and he takes it quickly, not having to stop and say hi to any of the workers because none of them recognize him. At home, in his universe, his mom is buried next to two empty plots reserved for him and his dad, his maternal grandparents on his mom’s other side. In this one, one of the two empty plots is filled, a small gravestone accompanying his mother’s. Stiles sighs and stares down at it, reading his name etched in stone. Mieczslaw “Stiles” Stilinski, 1995-2006.
Stiles swallows down the fury building in his throat and turns from the gravesite, instead walking briskly down to the gate and around the corner toward his house. His house has always been close to the cemetery in some twisted irony, he’s always been close to his mom. Stiles walks with determination until he’s looking at the house where he’s sure his dad still lives, relishing in his anger at this universe. This universe, where he somehow died, and his dad lost both his wife and son within two years. This universe, where he was never alive to drag Scott out into the woods to find a dead body, and where Scott never got turned into a goddamn werewolf. This universe, where his friends aren’t friends, where Derek probably left and went back to New York with a broken heart and another dead sister; where Malia was probably still a fucking coyote in the middle of the woods, scared and alone; where Erica still had epilepsy and Isaac still had an abusive dad and Stiles’ mom was still dead.
The Sheriff isn’t home, and before Stiles fully realizes it he’s picked the lock on the back door and he’s in his room, still exactly the way it looked when he was eleven years old. There’s dust on the surfaces and a few cardboard boxes littering the floor. On the side table by the bed there’s a framed photo of him and his mom, smiling together. There’s smudged fingerprints on the glass and a divot in the bed, and Stiles knows his dad is in here often. He seethes and wants to scream because he’s looked everywhere, he’s been looking for months with nothing, absolutely nothing, to show.
Stiles gets down under his desk, trying to overcome the catch in his throat that just won’t leave as he focuses on breathing.
There isn’t a single universe where his mother isn’t dead.
He stays there until he hears the Sheriff’s cruiser pull into the driveway, and then he slowly crawls out from under the desk, taking the bag of herbs from his pocket and lazily distributing them around him where he sits on the floor. He hears the door open and close, the Sheriff’s footsteps beginning to trudge up the stairs toward the room in some designed ritual. Stiles closes his eyes, lowering the lighter to the herbs and feeling a deep, pure sadness in the fact that another Stiles will not take his place to greet his father. The sounds of his dad’s footsteps stop as the air shifts, and Stiles keeps his eyes closed a moment longer, taking a deep breath and dragging a hand down his face.
When he opens his eyes, Derek Hale is staring right at him, sitting in a chair in the corner of his room.
“What the ever fucking–” Stiles jerks backwards, supporting himself on his hand. He nearly sets his carpet on fire before he flicks the lighter off, throwing it on the floor. “What the hell, man?”
“You wanna maybe tell me,” Derek gestures vaguely at where Stiles sits, where the herbs have disappeared, because they do that. Stiles has to go to the farmer’s market a lot. “What all of that was?”
Stiles’ face shuts down, and he rises from the floor, kicking out the creases in his jeans. “No thanks.”
“Stiles.” Derek sighs, and Stiles hates how calm he looks. “I literally just watched you appear out of thin air. Tell me what’s going on.”
“What, are you not going to slam me against my own wall?” Stiles gesticulates wildly, even though it doesn’t feel right anymore. “Threaten to eat my throat or whatever?”
Derek glares at him. “Don’t tempt me.”
Stiles rolls his eyes. “Yeah, yeah, I’m not scared of you anymore, dickwolf.”
Derek is annoyed now, which is just what Stiles wants. “You didn’t go to school today, Stiles. Everyone is–”
“Worried about me?” Stiles mocks. He lifts his cellphone and points it toward Derek’s face, showing the whopping total of zero messages on the screen. “Yeah, I don’t think so. Because I texted everyone I wasn’t feeling well today, so I was skipping.”
“You were lying,” Derek says.
“And you could tell that over text? Do you have lie detecting vision now?”
“No,” Derek grunts, crossing his arms. “You’ve been acting weird for months now.”
“Yeah, and apparently you’re the only one to notice.” Wait, fuck, that’s actually sweet if Stiles thinks about it. He won’t. “Congrats, you noticed Stiles is being weird and distant again. Not like he doesn’t have years of trauma and a horrible aversion to counseling. Sweep it under the rug, Derek.”
“You were doing magic.” Derek continues on, ignoring him. “Since when can you do magic?”
“Since three months ago, apparently.” Stiles sinks down angrily back onto the floor again, his back against his bed, because apparently they’re having a conversation, now. “I can read.”
“What kind of magic are you doing?”
“The magic kind.”
“What’s the book on your desk?”
“Will you stop with the interrogation?” Stiles snaps. “Wait, you didn’t read it?”
“No. I was going to if you didn’t show up in another ten minutes, though.”
“That’s a lie, you were respecting my privacy, despite hanging out in my bedroom.” There’s a pause in the banter, and Stiles frowns. “It’s a manual. I’ve been traveling.”
“To other universes,” Stiles says, looking at the wall.
“Other universes?” Derek is full on glaring now, eyebrows furrowed into a horizontal line. “Stiles, that’s dangerous magic. Why would you do that?”
“For shits and giggles.”
“I’m not joking, there’s a reason why you don’t go prodding around–”
“I know that, Derek, I’m not two, I’m a big kid now–”
“Forget about how you could have altered those universes, think about what you’re doing to yourself–”
“I don’t need you to fucking babysit me, okay–”
“Is that where you got those bruises? What were you thinking?”
“I was trying to find my mom, okay?” Stiles shouts, closing his eyes. When he opens them, he continues to stare at the wall, rather than anywhere near Derek. “I was looking for a universe where she didn’t die. And I couldn’t find one! I’ve been writing them down, I’ve been to dozens, hundreds, and she. It was an accident the first time, and at first I just wanted proof that there were versions of us that weren’t fucking desolate and miserable, that–that there was a Scott somewhere that was happy and didn’t hate me. And then, I, I just wanted to find her, I just wanted to see her one more time, and I couldn’t, because she’s dead in every fucking universe there is, even the happy ones. I wrote the manual to explain to the other Stiles’ what was going on and what to do, and apparently they did their jobs pretty well because no one noticed, but everywhere I went I couldn’t find her because she’s dead. And apparently in some universes, there’s no Stiles to come here, because I’m dead too.”
Stiles stops talking, and for a moment the only sounds are his and Derek’s breathing.
“The bruises,” Stiles says shakily, because if he’s being honest now, he might as well get it all out there. “and the shoulder were from a universe where the nogitsune took Allison instead of me.”
Derek’s eyebrows twitch. “It’s been nearly a year.”
“I know.” Stiles wipes a hand down his face. “Apparently we–they didn’t figure it out. I’m pretty sure the Stiles I sent back there is dead. I think she killed him.”
Derek regards him. “You were saving your life.”
“By killing myself,” Stiles finishes, and laughs sardonically. Derek frowns more, if that’s possible.
“You need to stop.” Stiles looks at him, and he knows he looks tired. He is tired. “It’s not going to help.”
“I know,” Stiles says, his voice small.
“Running around looking for a piece of someone that’s gone isn’t going to bring them back,” Derek says. “If you take that from anyone, take it from me.”
Stiles doesn’t say anything, so Derek continues. “I understand that you wanted to see her again. But what were you going to do if you found a world where she was alive?”
Stiles blinks. “I don’t know.”
“It wouldn’t have brought her back,” Derek says. “You would have just wanted to see her again, and again, and you would have been taking that way from a version of yourself that doesn’t know what it’s like to lose her. Would you want to experience that pain all over again?”
Tears are brimming at the edges at Stiles’ eyes, and he angrily wipes them away with the back of his hand. “No.”
Derek shifts forward, his elbows resting on his knees. “And what if you had traveled to a universe where the nogitsune was still possessing you?”
“Stop.” Stiles brings his hands to his head and grips his hair. He doesn’t want to think about that.
“You would never be able to find your way back here, it would never let you, and you’d be trapped, living through that again.”
“Please, Derek.” Stiles says, but it sounds like a sob. “Stop.”
Derek rises from the chair and sits down next to him on the floor, their arms brushing against each other’s. “The pack is worried about you.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Stiles mutters.
“It does, because Scott doesn’t hate you. Neither does Liam, or Malia, and neither do I. No one hates one another. We’re all just sorry.”
Stiles exhales, this breath hitching as it leaves his throat. He cracks a smile, huffing out a sharp laugh in his next breath, and pushes against Derek with his shoulder. “Nice speech there, doc. Really got the waterworks going.”
Derek scoffs. “Shut up.”
“No, really, do you charge by the hour? Or can I get a ‘one month free for each possession’ kind of deal?”
“You’re an idiot,” Derek says, leaning his neck back against the edge of the bed. “Get rid of the herbs, and the book.”
“What, no room for a magic wielding badass on the team?” Stiles jokes. “I don’t have any left anyway. I was going to go to the farmer’s market and get some more.”
Derek makes a disbelieving sound in the back of his throat. “I’ve never seen you at the farmer’s market.”
“I get all my herbs from one stall,” Stiles says. “Why am I not surprised you go to the farmer’s market?”
“I like organic produce,” Derek shrugs.
“Of course you do.”
“Skip the herb stall next time. We can get some homemade bread and these really good pierogi.”
“Okay, mister, don’t even try to school me on my own culture, I will judge how good the pierogi are.” Stiles rolls his eyes. “I could probably make them just as good with my babcia’s recipe.”
“Yeah, well, Gladys gives them to me for a discount,” Derek smirks.
Stiles balks. “When you will learn to use your good looks for good and not evil? You monster.”
Derek huffs. “You won’t be complaining when you eat the pierogi.”
Stiles grins, relaxing a bit deeper into the side of the bed. For a few minutes they just sit there in silence, and Stiles finds that for once it isn’t overwhelming. He shifts and his hand accidentally knocks against Derek’s, making him flinch.
“I’m sorry,” Stiles says quickly. Derek shakes it off, looking at him like Stiles is afraid Derek will bolt. Which he sort of is.
“It’s okay,” Derek says. He looks at Stiles’ hand for a moment before moving his arm and draping it over Stiles’ shoulders, waiting as Stiles tenses and then finally relaxes before pulling him closer so that Stiles’ head is ghosting over Derek’s shoulder.
Stiles licks his lips, looking at Derek’s hand over his shoulders and then at Derek.
“You can move if you want,” Derek says, leaning his head back and closing his eyes.
“No, it’s fine,” Stiles frowns, thinking for a moment. He looks at the manual on his desk and the magic book shoved into the back of his bookcase. “This didn’t happen in any of the other universes.”
“Yeah, well, it’s happening here,” Derek says, not opening his eyes. “If you’re good with it.”
“Yeah,” Stiles breathes.
“Good,” Derek replies. “Now shut up and get some rest for once, idiot.”
“I don’t know, I just don’t get it.”
“You don’t get it? What isn’t there to get about Terminator? It’s a classic. If anything, you should be able to relate to it.”
Liam shrugs. “I just don’t get the concept.”
“You don’t–” Mason makes an exasperated sound in his throat. “Stiles, back me up here, please.”
“Sorry kid, you’re fighting a losing battle,” Stiles muses, shuffling a deck of cards in his hands.
“I can’t educate you on movies if you refuse to watch them with me!”
Lydia shushes them, stretching and cracking her knuckles. “Quiet, children, the adults are doing business now.”
“We’re playing poker,” Kira points out.
“Yeah, and I’m gonna kick ass,” Stiles says, leaning forward in his chair as he deals the cards. “All we need is some tequila and then it’ll be a real party.”
“Yeah, but only you can Lydia can actually get drunk,” Scott says, scrunching up his nose. Lydia and Stiles high-five.
“Was it really necessary to delegate us to a kids table?” Hayden jeers, kicking her feet up onto Scott’s coffee table.
“Entirely, now shut up and eat your cheese squares.” Stiles finishes dealing and picks up his deck, leaning back in his chair. Malia squints at her cards and leans over to Lydia, showing her entire hand.
“Do I get rid of this one?” she asks, pointing blatantly at a six of spades. Lydia sighs and shoves Malia’s hand into her chest.
“Don’t show everyone your cards,” Lydia says, and then lowers her voice. “Yes.”
“I feel like that’s cheating,” Kira says.
Scott hums. “I’ll allow it.”
Stiles looks up and back behind him, where Derek is standing, looking down at Stiles’ cards. “Why don’t you play instead of backseat driving?”
“Next round,” Derek smirks. “I’m scoping out my competition.”
“Yeah, yeah, why don’t you go scope out some more pizza for my stomach.”
Mason makes an indignant noise. “We are not watching The Incredibles again, man! It’s literally the only movie you’ve ever seen.”
Scott huffs. “I like The Incredibles.”
“Thank you!” Liam cries.
“We know you do, buddy.” Stiles says. “But it gets old.”
They play a few rounds of poker while the younger wolves squabble, Lydia winning the majority of the rounds, Stiles winning a couple, and Kira taking one victory for herself. Stiles bets all of his quarters on his hand and Malia takes it all from him, producing a royal flush by sheer luck alone. Stiles grabs another slice of pizza and excuses himself onto the porch, leaning up against a column and looking out at the parked Jeep, illuminated by the half-moon. He shifts when Scott comes out after him, meeting his friend’s eyes before looking back out again.
“I should take up smoking,” he says. “That would really piss off my dad.”
Scott breathes out a laugh, mirroring Stiles and leaning against the opposite porch column. “And completely destroy your lungs.”
“Semantics,” Stiles waves off the statement with the hand still holding half a slice of pizza. He pauses. “I know Derek told you. I stopped.”
“I know,” Scott says. “I’m not mad. I just wish you told me.”
“What would I have said?” Stiles asks, his voice dull.
“It’s just,” Scott crosses his arms. “You can still tell me stuff, you know? Anything. We’ve both made mistakes, Stiles. I don’t know how many times I have to say I’m sorry for not trusting you before you understand I mean it. That was my mistake. I don’t want you to feel like you have to hide from me, from the pack.”
“I wanted to see you be happy again,” Stiles says. “And then it became about…something else.”
“We don’t need to be who we used to be to be happy,” Scott says. “Because we’re not who we were.”
“I think we could be okay, though,” Scott says, looking back through the window at their friends. “We have a good pack.”
Hayden is on Liam’s back, attempting to wrestle away the remote control. Derek walks behind Malia, swiping the last slice of pizza off her plate and biting into it. Kira laughs as Malia launches out of her seat and at Derek; Lydia and Mason share eye contact and roll their eyes. When Stiles looks at Scott, he’s smiling.
“Yeah,” Stiles shrugs noncommittally. “It’s alright.”