Derek knew the moment he woke up that something was wrong. Well, not wrong, per se, but different, and in Derek’s experience, different usually equated to wrong. So since something was different today, he knew that meant something was wrong.
Consciousness returned to him slowly, and he had to wonder if he’d been drugged. He didn’t feel drugged, but he didn’t understand why consciousness was so slow to return. He struggled past the haze in his brain and when he was conscious enough to try and take in his surroundings without opening his eyes, he found himself frowning.
He was lying in a comfortable, yet unfamiliar bed, wearing only boxer-briefs and with sheets bunched up near his waist. He could hear movement outside his room, somewhere below him, suggesting he was in a house.
And he could smell bacon.
Ascertaining that he was alone in the room he was in, Derek opened his eyes to slits just to be sure, and then wider when he was correct and found himself alone. He sat up, looking around and frowning.
The room he was in looked vaguely familiar, and he felt like he should recognize it, but it was also as unfamiliar as it was familiar. Like he knew this room, but not how it was now.
Throwing the covers off himself, he stood slowly, still looking around, and walked towards the mirror. Staring at himself, he was somewhat relieved to see he looked to be okay. A little pudgier than he remembered being the day before, but he couldn’t remember what he’d had for dinner.
Actually, his memory of the entire night was pretty fuzzy. He remembered waking up wrapped around Stiles in the loft, and having lazy morning sex before the other had gone to class. He remembered making lunch and eating while reading through the newspaper to see if there were any more clues on the recent disappearances. Stiles had come back around one, done for the day since he only had two courses on Wednesdays, and then they’d gone to Scott’s. Everything from Scott’s onward was fuzzy.
He wasn’t entirely sure where he was, even though the place smelled and looked familiar. He scowled, annoyed, and moved to the closet to find some clothes. He was surprised to find that the closet was full of his own clothes.
Had he moved overnight and forgotten or something?
Not dwelling on it just yet, he pulled some jeans on, grabbing a random shirt and then his jacket. It might be too warm for the jacket right now, but he’d rather have it than not.
Getting some socks and shoes on, he moved to the door and listened hard. He could still hear movement beyond, and soft voices speaking, but they weren’t loud enough for even his enhanced hearing to pick up.
He was just contemplating going out the window when he froze, a familiar voice calling through the house.
“Derek? Are you coming down soon? Breakfast is ready.”
Derek stared at his bedroom door in horrified disbelief, his gorge rising. He couldn’t have heard that voice. It was impossible for him to have heard that voice!
Slowly, entire body tensed and ready for a fight, he reached for the doorknob and opened the bedroom door.
Nothing jumped out at him, the top floor empty and sunlight streaming in through the various windows. He stepped out slowly, looking around and listening hard. When he inhaled, he almost choked and instead decided to breathe through his mouth.
This was all a trick. A horrible, terrible trick. Something was trying to confuse him so he would let his guard down, but he wasn’t going to let that happen. He wasn’t an idiot, and he wouldn’t let whatever was doing this win.
He descended the stairs cautiously, feeling the wolf peek out slightly. His eyes burned, fangs pushed through his gums and his nails sharpened to claws. He wasn’t in full beta shift, but he was wolfed out enough to feel slightly secure.
Reaching the bottom of the stairs, he ignored the feeling in his chest at the voices he heard coming from the kitchen and slowly moved towards it. He knew he had to be ready for anything, and when he rushed in to start his attack, he realized he was not ready for anything.
He skid to a halt at the sight that greeted him, feeling his eyes return to normal and his other wolfish features fading.
Laura, Cora and his father were sitting at the kitchen table, all of them staring at him. His father even had a coffee mug halfway to his mouth. Derek’s mother was at the counter, holding a plate of bacon and eggs, staring at Derek in confusion.
He’d expected some kind of trick, but this was beyond cruel. This was, quite possibly, the cruelest thing he had ever experienced. Seeing his family, alive and well, sitting at the table like nothing was wrong.
It occurred to him why the room had been familiar. Why everything here was familiar.
This was his house. This was the house he’d grown up in as a child. The one that had burned down and killed his entire family.
And yet there they were. All four of them.
“Honey, are you okay?” Talia asked with a frown, continuing to the table and setting the plate down in an empty spot. Derek realized it was the spot he used to always sit in back when his family had been alive.
“What is this?” he demanded, feeling ready to be sick.
“What’s what?” Cora asked, cocking an eyebrow. “Why do you look constipated?”
Talia moved back around the counter, approaching Derek and he took a step back. She didn’t get the hint, trying to move right up to him and he reacted instinctively, eyes burning and roaring loudly.
His mother froze in her steps, looking startled, and her eyes flashed red but she didn’t do anything else, staring at him with concern.
“Derek, what’s wrong?”
“What is this?!” he demanded angrily, looking around. “Where the fuck am I?”
“Derek,” his father said, standing from his seat and moving up behind his mother. “Son, what’s going on?”
Derek growled low in his throat, feeling sick at the sight of them. This wasn’t real, and he didn’t want to see this shit.
Turning on his heel, he bolted through the house, ignoring his mother’s voice calling him back.
No, he thought viciously. She’s not mom. She’s a hallucination. She’s something I’m being forced to see.
He made it through the front door, but the Camaro looked like it was boxed in by another car, so he passed it by and just raced into the woods, slapping branches out of his way. He didn’t know what was going on, but he did know who could help him.
It was a long run back to town from the preserve, but it was something he had done numerous times in the past. He was just a little frazzled and panicked right now so it felt longer than usual. He made sure to stay off the main roads, making his way expertly towards a familiar house.
When he reached it, he saw the Jeep parked in the driveway and immediately hurried towards the tree in the front yard. He could probably knock at this time of day, but Derek tried to avoid the sheriff as much as possible, given he still wasn’t particularly happy that Derek and Stiles were dating.
Grabbing the lowest branch he could reach, Derek made quick work of climbing the tree and leaping from it to the roof. He climbed it quickly and crouched beside Stiles’ window. The curtains were closed, which was weird, but he didn’t worry about it and slid the panel open, climbing into the room and shoving the curtains away.
He landed with a thump and looked up, then immediately froze.
The usually ordered chaos of Stiles’ bedroom was missing, the walls bare and the floor clean. An unfamiliar dresser was against the far wall, the closet door was firmly closed, and the bed in the middle of the room looked unused and foreign, the bedspread a generic white comforter.
Where the hell were Stiles’ things? What the hell had happened last night?!
He jerked his head towards the door when it slammed open, the sheriff appearing and aiming a gun at him. Derek just cocked an eyebrow at him, wondering what he was doing. He was acting like Derek had never broken into his son’s room before.
“Derek?” The man blinked, then let out a small sigh and lowered his gun. “Christ, son. What are you doing here?”
Derek stared at him. Son? he thought, completely baffled. Why the heck had the sheriff called him that?
“Where’s Stiles?” Derek demanded.
The sheriff was massaging his chest just above his heart, gun returning to its holster. He frowned at Derek and said, “Who?”
“Stiles,” Derek repeated, annoyed. He didn’t have time for this, and while he knew he needed to be polite to his boyfriend’s dad, there was some weird shit going down.
“I don’t have time for this,” Derek insisted, moving forward a few steps, scowling. “I just woke up in my house with my family in the kitchen. I need to talk to Stiles, where is he?”
The sheriff gave him a concerned look, reaching out one hand to touch his shoulder. Derek stared at the hand touching him, then at Noah, then back at the hand on his shoulder. Why was the sheriff touching him so familiarly?
“Honey?” a woman’s voice sounded from down the corridor. “Who was it? What happened?”
Derek turned to look at the door when it opened further and felt like something was definitely wrong. Because he didn’t know this woman, but he recognized her. He’d seen her in pictures around Stiles’ house, and had a vague recollection of her having come in to substitute one of his classes while he’d been in middle school.
Claudia Stilinski had just walked into the room.
“What’s going on?” Derek asked, feeling true panic beginning to rise for the first time in a long time. “What the hell is going on?!”
“Son, I think you nee—”
Derek shrugged the sheriff’s hand off his shoulder, backing away so the man was out of his personal space and scowling. He didn’t know what was happening, but he was positive it had something to do with the fuzzy memories of the night before.
“I’m gonna deal with that in a minute,” Derek informed the sheriff, pointing a finger at Claudia. She looked startled and Noah turned to see what Derek was pointing at, looking and smelling utterly confused. “I don’t have time to worry about this. Where is Stiles?”
“Derek, honey, does your mother know you’re here?” Claudia asked, moving a step forward.
Derek backed up a step in response, unintentionally flashing his eyes at her. She didn’t even react, just frowning, the scent of worry beginning to fill the room.
“Where the fuck is Stiles?!” he shouted when they continued to play dumb.
“Derek, who is Stiles?” Noah asked, sharing a look with the wife Derek knew wasn’t real.
“Your son!” he shouted. “Your son, Stiles! Where is he?!”
The mood in the room instantly shifted, and not for the better. Claudia looked like she’d been slapped and the sheriff’s face twisted into something ugly, anger rolling off him in waves.
“It’s clear you’re going through something right now, Derek,” the sheriff said, voice hard, “so I’m going to let this go this one time, but if you ever bring our son up again, we’re going to have a problem.”
Derek didn’t understand. He didn’t fucking understand!
Both people in front of him were clearly being honest in their emotions, but that didn’t explain where the fuck Stiles was. This wasn’t working.
Turning on his heel, he hurried back to the window and leapt out of it, ignoring Claudia’s shout of his name. He slid down the side of the roof and landed on his feet in the front yard, running down the driveway and along the sidewalk.
Scott. He could go and see Scott, and figure out what the hell was going on.
He had to change directions when he heard sirens start up behind him, feeling like the sheriff was coming after him. He ducked around a side yard and leapt clear over the back fence, making his way through a few backyards until he was on another street, and then continuing to run in the direction of Scott’s house.
He reached it less than five minutes later, climbing the porch steps quickly and knocking repeatedly and insistently on the door. He heard something clatter inside, a curse when someone tripped down the stairs, and then the door unlocked. It opened only a crack and Scott’s face appeared, frowning out at Derek.
“What the hell is going on?” Derek demanded, shoving the door open. Scott stumbled backwards, almost falling on his ass, but he caught himself on the hall table, eyes wide while he stared at Derek.
The older Werewolf shut and locked the door behind himself, moving through Scott’s entrance and towards the stairs so they could go to his room.
“Who?” Scott asked, hurrying after him and tripping over his own feet. “And speaking of who, who are you?”
“Don’t fuck around, Scott,” Derek snapped, climbing the stairs quickly. “We need to find Stiles, something is seriously wrong. My parents are alive in my kitchen, Claudia’s not dead, and Stiles is missing.”
“Dude, I have no idea who you’re talking about,” Scott insisted, following him quickly up the stairs and into his room. “Like, one-hundred percent.”
Derek rounded on him, mouth opening to snap for him to stop being an asshole when he froze. His eyes fell on what Scott was currently holding up, watching as he inhaled twice from the puffer in his hand, and then coughed once while lowering it.
Why did Scott have a puffer?
Without warning, Derek leaned into his personal space, Scott stumbling back, but he’d gotten enough of a whiff to determine exactly what he’d been worried about.
Scott smelled human. He smelled one hundred percent human.
“What the fuck is going on?!” Derek demanded angrily, turning to pace in Scott’s room, raking one hand through his hair.
What had happened? His family was alive, Claudia was alive, Scott was human, and Stiles was missing. What was going on? What the fuck was going on?!
“Hey, are you, uh, are you okay?” Scott asked hesitantly.
It was such a ridiculous question Derek wanted to punch him, but he somehow refrained, continuing to pace and struggling to calm down.
Something had happened last night. The whole evening was a blur, and he knew he’d been with Stiles the day before, and Scott had definitely been a Werewolf, and the people he’d seen today had definitely been dead!
“I need to find Stiles,” he insisted. And he did, he knew he did, but maybe he should fix something else first. “Is Deaton at the clinic?”
“The vet?” Scott asked. “Yeah? Where else would he be?”
“I need a ride.”
Derek started to walk past Scott when the doorbell rang and he froze. Scott looked uncertainly between Derek and the stairs, as if worried to leave him alone with all the valuables in his room. When the doorbell rang again, he sighed at Derek.
“Please don’t steal anything.” He turned and headed for the stairs, and Derek scowled. Apparently Werewolf or not, Scott saw the best in people.
He was pacing in the bedroom, waiting for Scott to come back so they could go, but he whipped towards the door when he heard Scott speak, and then heard the answer.
“Good afternoon. I’m sorry for bothering you, but I believe my son is here.”
Derek raced for the closest window, wrenched it open, and leapt out onto the roof, running along its length before jumping through the air and grabbing hold of a tree branch in the neighbouring backyard. He dropped to his feet, ignoring the startled kids playing with plastic swords a little ways from him, and ran for the side of the house.
He had to get to Deaton. If anyone could help him right now while Stiles was missing, it was him. So he just hurried through people’s backyards, trying to make it to the clinic without anyone in his fake family finding him.
Derek was sweaty and completely freaked out by the time he reached the clinic. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt this level of panic, and he knew it was because, usually, no matter what happened, he always had Stiles.
Whenever anything happened, even before they’d been together—hell, even before they’d been friends—Stiles was always there. Always planning, and researching, and connecting the dots. He always figured things out, knew exactly what to do, who to contact, what would work best to resolve everything.
Not having Stiles with him was really messing with him, and the more people he met, the more panicked he became.
Why did nobody know who Stiles was? How was it possible that he’d mentioned “the sheriff’s son” to someone who’d stopped him for a chat, and the woman had given him a weird look and asked what he meant?
Everyone knew Stiles. Everyone. He was the sheriff’s son, he was someone who couldn’t go anywhere without people recognizing him. This wasn’t right. This wasn’t right, and the lack of knowledge related to Stiles was making him suspect something he didn’t want to consider.
When he reached the clinic, he walked into it and saw the front empty, as it often was. He walked up to the swinging gate, stopping short of it and leaned forward slightly, craning his neck and listening hard. He could hear animals moving around in their cages, a few of them barking or meowing.
Underneath it all, he heard the slow, steady beat of a human heart and he called, “Deaton.”
Nothing happened for a long while and Derek scowled. “Deaton,” he said again, louder.
When the man still didn’t come out from the back room, Derek looked around in frustration and noticed a bell on the front counter. He moved to it and rang it loudly, moving back to the swinging gate when he heard Deaton pause in what he was doing and head in his direction.
He smiled pleasantly when he came around the corner, eyes shooting to Derek’s feet before saying, “Hello. Can I help you?”
“Something is happening,” Derek informed him, shifting closer and wishing the man would open the swinging gate so he could step through it. “I need your help.”
“Of course. What kind of animal do you have? Can you describe what you’re referring to? What exactly is happening?” Deaton was walking towards the computer at the reception desk and Derek gawked at him.
“Deaton, this is serious,” he insisted, following him on the other side of the counter. “I need your help.”
“And I’d be more than happy to provide it, but I need you to answer my questions,” the man said patiently. “What kind of animal is it?”
“What are you talking about?!” Derek demanded, frustration and anger rising. “Look, I just need to find Stiles, and he can help me. I have a blank from last night that needs filling and nothing is making sense right now!”
Deaton gave him a concerned look. “I’m sorry, are you requiring assistance for a pet or yourself? This is a vet’s office, you’re aware of this, right?”
Derek wanted to leap over the counter at him, and he leaned forward to bang his fists angrily against the barrier, except his hands went right through and slammed on the counter instead, Deaton taking a step back, face guarded.
Staring down at his hands on the counter, Derek glanced up at Deaton, then shifted his gaze to the swinging gate. He strode over to it and pushed it open, Deaton letting out an exclamation for him to stop, but Derek barely heard him.
The door had opened. Deaton had been using mountain ash in as many things as possible around the clinic for years now, and for the swinging gate to open...
He looked up at Deaton, trying to control his temper since he was now on the verge of a panic attack. “You’re not an Emissary, are you?”
“A what?” Deaton blinked.
Derek turned on his heel and slammed out of the clinic, but he didn’t know where to go or what to do. He just stood in the parking lot, scowling at the scenery, mind going a mile a minute.
What the hell?
What the hell?!
He dragged his hands down behind his head, gripping the back of his neck tightly and trying to figure out what to do. Was he dreaming?
A sharp stab of pain in his neck when he broke skin with his claws suggested he was not, in fact, dreaming.
But then what? Where was he? What the hell was going on?!
A car pulled up beside him and he jerked away from it. His heart leapt into his throat at the sight of Stiles’ Jeep, but a glance at the driver squashed that excitement immediately. He turned to run again, but the door opened and Claudia stepped out.
“Derek, wait! I think I know what’s happening to you!”
Those words made him pause, but only for a moment. He turned to her, but quickly took a few steps back, wanting to keep some distance between them. She didn’t seem like a threat, but she didn’t smell entirely human, and that was something to be cautious of.
“What do you mean?” he demanded. “What’s happening?”
Claudia was wringing her hands together and she licked her lips, moving forward a few steps. Derek took a few back and she seemed to realize he wasn’t going to let her approach. Derek didn’t like feeling like a cornered animal.
“Why did you ask about our son?” she asked quietly.
“Because I need him,” Derek said. He didn’t really want to be answering any of her questions, but if he was vague enough, maybe he could get a hint of what was happening right now. “I need him to help me figure this out.”
The last thing he expected was to see tears forming in the woman’s eyes, and he really didn’t know how to handle that.
“He’s alive, then,” she said quietly. “Mieczyslaw is alive where you’re from.”
For a long moment, neither of them spoke, Derek staring at the woman in front of him, who should’ve been dead, but somehow wasn’t. At the town around him, that was the same but also not. At his family, who was alive and well, when they shouldn’t have been.
“What do you mean?” Derek asked after a lengthy silence. “What do you mean he’s alive where I’m from?”
Claudia took another step forward and Derek tensed, shifting back. She held both hands up in surrender, stopping once more.
“Derek, I’m not going to hurt you.”
“What are you?” he asked in response to that statement.
Claudia sighed, shaking her head. “Normally I wouldn’t share this, but given what’s happening, I feel like I have no choice.” She licked her lips, head tilted slightly, and the action was so Stiles that it made Derek’s chest ache. “I’m the Hale Emissary.”
“The Hale Emissary,” she repeated. She motioned the clinic Derek had just exited, and said, “And I’m guessing where you’re from, Deaton is your Emissary, is that correct?”
Okay, this was getting a little weirder, and it had already been plenty weird.
“Why do you keep saying where I’m from? Where am I?”
“If it’s happened again, then you’re in a parallel universe.”
Derek just stared at her, wondering if she was insane.
“It’s happened once before,” she said, taking another step forward and this time, Derek stood his ground. “Deaton appeared at our house, and he was the same, but he wasn’t. I sensed the magic in him right away, and when he saw me, he understood something wasn’t right. We determined that he was from a parallel universe, sent here by a Jumper.”
Claudia sighed and looked around, then motioned the Jeep. “Please. Let’s go somewhere more private and talk about this.”
Derek didn’t want to go anywhere with her, but he was out of people to turn to, and if she really was Stiles’ mother, he didn’t know who else to trust. Besides, if she was the Hale Emissary, she was his best chance of figuring out what was happening and how to fix it.
So, despite his better judgement, he decided to take a chance with her, the same way he’d taken a chance with Stiles, and nodded.
She smiled ever so slightly, then turned and headed for the Jeep, Derek following behind her.
The two of them returned to the Stilinski household, the cruiser now gone, and Claudia explained the sheriff had gone out in search of him and likely wouldn’t be back for a while. They entered the house, Claudia leading him into the living room, and Derek paused on his way past a shelving unit on the far wall.
It had pictures he recognized on it, most of them from Noah and Claudia’s wedding, as well as a few from when Stiles had been born, but that was as far as it went. The only other picture of Stiles showed him sitting up on some kind of blanket with his left hand stuffed in his mouth, staring at the camera. It was a professional picture, and he couldn’t have been any older than four.
Claudia moved up beside him while he inspected the pictures, seeing more of Claudia and Noah, but none of Stiles any older than four years old.
“What happened to him?” Derek asked quietly. “Stiles.” He frowned. “Mieczyslaw.”
Claudia smiled sadly, reaching out to pick up the picture of toddler Stiles and running her fingers along the glass.
“Leukemia,” she whispered. “We tried to get him treatment, but it spread too fast. He was going to die, so we took a risk and your mother agreed to give him the bite.”
“It didn’t take,” Derek guessed.
“No,” Claudia whispered, still staring at the picture. She let out a small sniff, wiped at her right eye with one hand and then cleared her throat, putting the picture back on the shelf.
“Just over four.”
“I’m sorry.” It was weird to be standing in Stiles’ living room, talking to his mother while she told him about how he’d died.
It was crazy to imagine Stiles didn’t exist here.
“Thank you.” She turned to him, forcing a smile, but Derek didn’t believe it for a second. “It was a long time ago, now, but it never gets easier.”
She motioned the couch and Derek went to sit, Claudia taking the seat beside him, angling herself towards him so they could speak.
“Mieczyslaw is alive in your universe?” she asked, and Derek nodded uncomfortably.
“He is.” He paused, then added, “We call him Stiles.”
“I suppose Mieczyslaw is a mouthful,” she admitted with a sad smile. “What’s he like?”
Derek didn’t even know how to begin answering that question. He did his best, trying to give her the most accurate description of him while leaving out the fact that they were together. He needn’t have bothered, since she asked how long they’d been together when he’d finished describing him to her.
“Two years,” Derek said quietly.
“I’m glad he’s living such a good life.” Claudia smiled.
They were silent for a moment, Derek shifting uncomfortably, then the woman clapped her hands together, making him tense.
“I’m sorry, that was selfish of me. I just really wanted to hear about what he would’ve been like. His mother and father are very lucky to have him.”
Derek hesitated, then said, very softly, “Stiles doesn’t have a mother.”
Claudia’s smile was sad and she let out a sigh. “Of course he doesn’t.” When Derek frowned at that, she explained, “Balance. The universe is always moving and flowing in an attempt to keep balance. In my universe, here, my son is dead, but I have my husband. In your universe, I am dead, but my son and husband have each other. In another universe, my husband is dead, and Mieczyslaw and I have each other.”
“Isn’t there a universe where all three of you have each other?” Derek asked, not wanting to believe that wasn’t a possibility.
“I don’t know. Perhaps.” She stared at Derek for a long while. “Your mother said you’d been acting oddly this morning. Who have you lost in your universe.”
Derek stiffened at the question, clenching his hands. She hadn’t said it unkindly, and waited patiently for him to decide whether or not to answer.
Finally, he managed, “Everyone but Cora and Peter.”
Claudia’s eyebrows shot up. “Peter? Talia’s brother?”
“Yeah, my uncle.”
“He died when Talia was fourteen.”
That was weird to hear. Peter being dead in this world. Stiles being dead in this world. All the strategists seemed to not exist in this universe.
But his parents did. His parents, and Laura. His family was alive here, they existed, they were real. He wondered what it must’ve been like to grow up here, with his family, living in the same house he’d been living in since he’d been a child.
That was when a thought occurred to him and he frowned. “If I’m here, does that mean this universe’s Derek is in my universe?”
“I don’t think so, no,” Claudia said, shaking her head. “From what Deaton and I were able to ascertain when he was here, whether your Deaton or not, it seems as though most other universes are more...” She frowned, searching for a word. “Dominant,” she finally said. “Think of it like our genes. We have dominant and recessive genes. If you have one of each together, the dominant gene will take over the recessive one. I think this is how our universes work together. I think your mind is currently in this world’s Derek’s body.”
That explained why he was a little pudgier, because he definitely hadn’t eaten enough at dinner to gain this much weight in only a few hours.
“So where’s my body?”
“I don’t know,” Claudia admitted. “Perhaps back in your universe, or maybe somewhere between the two spaces.”
“You said Deaton came before, and that this was caused by a Jumper.” Derek leaned back further in his seat. “How did he end up going home?”
Claudia seemed surprised by his words. “You want to leave?”
“I don’t belong here. I have to get back.”
That seemed to surprise her, and she gave him a curious look before saying, “But your family is alive here.”
Hearing those words come from her mouth made his heart clench in his chest and his lungs constrict, but he just crossed his arms and scowled at her.
“I don’t belong here,” he repeated. “How did Deaton get back?”
“To be honest, I don’t know.” She sighed, running one hand through her hair, fingers sliding between the strands. “I’m going to have to look into it, not much is known about Jumpers.”
“So what am I supposed to do in the meantime?” he snapped, not wanting to stay in this place.
He was worried if he stayed, he wouldn’t want to leave. He would choose this place over his own home, because his family was here. That worried him, because this wasn’t his life. This was another Derek’s life, and he wanted to get back to his own.
“We’re going to take you home, explain to your mother—only your mother—what is happening, and we’ll go from there.”
Derek had to go home. Back to the Hale house. That was charred ruins in his world. And talk to his mother.
His dead mother.
Derek should’ve known his mother would take the news that he wasn’t actually her Derek in stride. He’d gone back to the house with Claudia, the woman giving him a ride in the Jeep he was so familiar with, it was uncomfortable being there without Stiles. When they reached the house, Talia exited the moment the Jeep stopped and she headed towards them. She climbed into the back without a word and shut the door, and Claudia pulled away from the house.
They couldn’t stay there with all the Werewolves, given they would hear everything, so they drove around town while Derek awkwardly informed his mother that he wasn’t actually Derek. Well, not her Derek, anyway. He did so without looking at her once, and when he was finished explaining everything, Talia said his reaction that morning made sense, and that they would have to look into what was needed to return him home.
It was comforting to have her take the news so calmly, and when they returned to the house, Derek thanked Claudia for her help throughout the day and he exited the Jeep. Talia came to stand beside him, Derek tense and stiff at her approach, and Claudia pulled away. They watched her until she disappeared from sight, then his mother turned to him, smiling.
“Don’t worry, honey. We’ll get this sorted out for you.”
He jerked away when she reached out to run her fingers through his hair, but she didn’t seem offended by it and just let her hand fall back to her side. She motioned towards the house, then she and Derek headed back to it, climbing the porch steps and entering it.
Laura and Cora were in the living room watching TV when they walked in and both of them turned to look at them when they passed by the entrance.
“Is Derek okay, or can we have him committed?” Laura asked, her voice teasing but her scent betraying how worried she really was.
“He’s fine,” Talia promised, stopping to speak to them. Derek wanted to stick close to her, so he had no choice but to do the same, hovering behind her. “Claudia says he was exposed to a rare strand of wolfsbane. He’s a little confused, but it should wear off in a few days.”
“How did he get infected?” Cora asked, eyes sliding past their mother to look at Derek. “Is he gonna be okay?”
“Yeah, he’s not even grumbling about us talking about him like he isn’t there.” Laura’s face fell. “Oh my God, is he broken?”
“I’m not broken,” he snapped.
This was going to be harder than he thought it would be. Having his mother there, and Laura, and his dad. His family was whole, he was standing with them right now, his dad in the kitchen, sisters in the living room, mother right beside him. They were all here, and it was making his heart clench painfully in his chest.
This was a world with no Kate Argent. A world where his family hadn’t been burned alive, and he and Laura hadn’t fled, and Laura hadn’t been killed by Peter. A world where Scott McCall was a normal teenager, where he could live his life without having to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Deaton was a normal vet, the sheriff still had his wife, Derek had his family.
But no Stiles.
Derek stared at his sisters while they spoke to their mother, and it hurt. Because he wanted this. He wanted this life so badly he would kill for it. But to have this life, to stay, would mean to give up Stiles.
He honestly didn’t know if he could do that. He didn’t know if he could stay here indefinitely, live out his life with his family, happy and together. It had been so long since any of them had been alive or around him. Cora had left Beacon Hills almost six years ago, and his parents and Laura were dead. All he’d had the past few years was Stiles.
Stiles and the Pack. It wasn’t a perfect Pack, and there were often disagreements, and his life was hard with how often danger and evil found its way to their town, but he wasn’t alone. He didn’t have his parents or sisters, but he still had a family. He had a boyfriend, and a good Alpha, and a dysfunctional but amazing Pack.
He’d managed to let the past fade. It never disappeared entirely, but it hurt less than it used to. More of a dull ache that reared its head every few months as opposed to the constant throb of agony and guilt.
Stiles had helped him accept what had happened, he’d helped him look past it. He’d helped Derek understand that bad things happened to good people, and good things happened to bad people, and that it was okay for Derek to want something and to get it. It was how Derek had finally accepted his feelings for Stiles half a year later, and when he admitted everything to him, he’d honestly been expecting for something to go wrong.
But it hadn’t. Stiles had just smiled at him and leaned forward to kiss him. Their lives were still fraught with danger, but they were together, and that was all that mattered to Derek. He’d finally accepted that his family was gone, that it wasn’t his fault, and that he was actually allowed to be happy again if he wanted to be.
And now he was here. In another reality. Standing in a house where his family hadn’t died, and he could see what life would’ve been like if only Kate had never walked into his. And he wanted to stay. He wanted to see what he could’ve been like if he’d just ignored Kate’s advances and gone home that day she’d introduced herself to him.
“Did you want to help me with dinner?” Talia asked him, snapping him out of his thoughts. “It might do you some good to have something to focus on.”
“Sure,” Derek grunted, and he turned to follow his mother into the kitchen.
He didn’t want to get attached to these people. They weren’t his family. They were the other Derek’s family.
He couldn’t forget that.
After almost a week and a half of living in the parallel universe, Derek was starting to think he didn’t have a choice anymore. Every day he spent in this place made it harder for him to want to leave. He missed Stiles like crazy, but life with his family was everything he remembered it being.
He and Laura joked and laughed and teased one another. Cora was calmer, less violent and angry than the one in his universe. They had good conversations, and it hurt sometimes to realize that she could’ve grown up to become this amazing person if only the fire had never happened.
And his parents... they were every bit as amazing as he remembered them being. The first few days had been hard, especially with Talia, since she knew the truth about who he really was, but by the fourth day, Derek stopped flinching or jerking away when she went to touch him, and she started doing it more often.
Derek had missed this. The familiarity, the scenting, the small touches between his family members. He and his Cora were so detached from one another. Even when Laura had been alive, their grief had kept them distant from one another, worried to let any emotions in and risk losing each other again. The pain of Laura’s death had been suffocating, and Derek had barely survived it.
The only reason he had was because he’d shut himself down, and had stopped himself from ever feeling anything ever again.
And then Stiles shown up. It had taken him years to tear down Derek’s walls, but he had, chipping away at them bit by bit until he’d managed to squeeze himself through the opening. Stiles was stubborn that way.
Derek missed him. A lot. But his family held so much of his attention that he sometimes thought maybe he could stay. Maybe he could live here, survive without Stiles. He was sure the Pack would get by without him. He was sure, in time, Stiles would forget about him. He’d been gone over a week by now, they probably weren’t even looking for him anymore. They’d probably assumed he was dead or something.
He didn’t truly believe they would still be looking for him, which was probably why he’d jerked awake in bed on the twelfth night, heart slamming against his ribs and sweat coating his body.
He had no idea what had happened, and a part of him wondered if it had only been a dream, but somehow, he knew it wasn’t. Somehow, he knew without a shadow of a doubt that he’d momentarily crossed back into his own universe.
Stiles had been sitting at his desk, dark circles under his eyes and multiple books open on every available surface. His father had come in, told him he needed to sleep, and Stiles had said,
“I’m not sleeping until I find Derek.”
“Stiles, we don’t even know if he’s still alive.”
“He is alive,” Stiles had insisted vehemently. “And I’m going to find him. If he thinks going missing is going to get him out of this relationship, he obviously doesn’t know me very well.”
The sheriff hadn’t lingered, but had returned twice more before finally giving up, setting a plate of food down by Stiles’ elbow before turning in for the night.
Derek wasn’t sure how much longer he’d been in the other universe, watching, but the entire time Stiles sat and researched, rubbing at his face and drinking red bull to stay awake while he worked. Every now and then his phone went off, and Derek could see him texting with the rest of the pack, all of them providing various updates.
Scott was still tracking the Jumper, having gone as far as two towns over before losing its scent. He’d spent four hours trying to get it back and had only just managed it, following it to the next town.
Lydia and Chris were still researching utilizing all the information they’d obtained from the Beastiary and one of Chris’ contacts from his old life. Deaton was apparently at some weird Emissary meeting and was trying to gather more information, suggesting that the Deaton who’d arrived in this universe hadn’t been his Deaton, or he would’ve had more information.
When Derek’s body jerked in bed and he sat up abruptly, he realized that he’d been wrong.
Stiles wasn’t ever going to give up on him, and a part of him had always known that. But he’d wanted to be selfish. He’d wanted to be able to stay in this world, with his family, and be happy. He’d wanted to force himself to pretend that Stiles would be okay.
Derek would never stop missing him, but deep down, he still knew he didn’t deserve him, even though he wanted him. If he stayed here, with his family, then Stiles could move on to someone better than Derek was.
But Derek didn’t want that, not really. He’d spent time with his family, had enjoyed an amazing week of living with them, but he couldn’t stay here. He knew he couldn’t.
Stiles was his family now, and he had to go home.
“Why are you all like this?”
Derek’s head jerked to the side and he instantly went into his Beta form, growling and shifting into a more defensive position in his bed.
The man standing by his closed door rolled his eyes dramatically, moving forward with his hands shoved in his pockets. “This was what you wanted, Derek. Don’t you remember?”
“What?” he growled, the man vaguely familiar, though he couldn’t place him.
“Of course you don’t remember, because where’s the fun in that?” The man snapped his fingers and Derek’s head jerked slightly to the side.
For a second, he didn’t know what the man had even done, but then he suddenly realized he could recall the night before he’d woken up here. He’d been in the woods, tracking the man—the Jumper—and he’d caught up to him. The other had offered him a deal for his life. He’d asked Derek what he wanted more than anything in the world, and just to humour him, because the guy talked so much he almost put Stiles to shame, Derek had said his family.
And then he’d woken up here. In this universe.
“You did this,” Derek accused, scowling at him.
“I’m not a bad guy,” the man insisted, both hands pressed against his own chest, motioning himself. “I have a gift, and I try and help people, but every time I give them what they want, they always end up wanting to go back home in the end.”
“I don’t have what I want,” Derek insisted. “I only have my family.”
“But that’s what you asked for.”
“I lost Stiles.”
“You can’t have everything.” The man held up both hands. “Your family,” he said, lifting his right hand and lowering his left, “or your boyfriend,” he switched them around, lifting his left and lowering his right. “Balance. You can have this,” he motioned around the room, “or that.” He pointed to his left and space seemed to break apart, a portal opening and showing Stiles, sitting at his desk with one hand pulling at his hair, the other flipping pages in a book.
“This, or that, but not both,” the Jumper said.
Derek’s gaze shifted to his bedroom door, his chest clenching. He wanted his family, but he also wanted Stiles. Why couldn’t he have both? Why was the universe such an asshole, demanding balance?
He supposed it related to the idea of equivalent exchange. To obtain one thing, you had to give up another. Derek could have his family, or he could have his Pack and Stiles.
He’d accepted his family’s death. He’d accepted that they were gone, he’d healed from it. But even now, being away from Stiles this week, thinking he might never see him again, it had been hard. Stiles was still a raw wound in his chest, something that he would have to work years to heal over. And even then, his family would only die again. Maybe not now, or in a year, or even ten years, but one day he would lose them again. He would lose them, and he would no longer have Stiles. And he knew that one day, he would also lose Stiles, because death came for everyone, but he’d barely had him. They’d been together two years, and they were some of the best years of his life.
He wanted him back. He wanted Stiles. And he was sure Talia wanted her son back.
If he stayed, if he decided this was what he wanted, Talia would always know that this wasn’t her son. He was still Derek, but not her Derek. And while Talia looked like his mother, sounded like his mother, acted like his mother, she wasn’t truly his mother.
His eyes slid towards the portal—it was more of a window, really, since he could see through it, but Stiles’ lack of a reaction meant he couldn’t see him. He was on the phone now, pacing and looking distressed, still tugging at his hair with one hand. Derek wondered if it was because Scott had lost the Jumper again, considering the man was here.
“That it is,” the man said, Derek looking at him again. “Sometimes I wonder why I bother. Eight people, I took from your town in your universe, and you’re the eighth of eight to choose to go home.”
Derek frowned at him. “You’re not meaning to make people disappear, are you?”
“Of course not, what do you take me for?” he asked, offended. “I find people who have a need, and I try and help. It never works.”
“People find closure,” Derek admitted quietly, eyes returning to the pacing Stiles. “And they find new things to live for. Once you’ve healed from one wound, you don’t want to re-open it. And you don’t want to create a new one.”
“Huh.” The Jumper sounded thoughtful. “That’s not bad. Well, at least I try.” He motioned the crack in space. “Well, go on. He’s waiting for you.”
Derek stood, hesitating. He wondered if he could have time to say goodbye to his family, just one last time, but he couldn’t linger. He didn’t know if the Jumper would actually be kind enough to keep the portal open for him if he took too long.
Besides, he’d said good night to all of them before bed. He’d hugged Laura and Cora, kissed his mother’s cheek and slapped his dad’s back. He’d already said goodbye to them, and at least he’d had a few days to pretend everything was fine and Kate had never happened.
He’d already had closure, but this had helped ensure his past stayed in the past.
“Can I do just one thing?” Derek asked.
“Sure.” The Jumper shrugged. “I got nowhere to be.”
Derek reached for the phone on his nightstand, going through the contacts quickly before hitting the appropriate one and putting it to his ear.
It rang four times before a tired voice answered.
“Derek? Is everything okay?”
“I’m going home,” he said. “I’m heading back now.”
“What?” He heard shuffling, like Claudia had sat up in bed. “Are you sure? How do you know?”
“The reason I’m here showed up to take me home.” Derek’s eyes shifted to the Jumper, and the man just smiled, hands in his pockets and rocking back and forth on his feet slightly. “I’m going back, this Derek will be back as soon as I’m gone.” He hesitated. “I’m going to see Stiles. I was wondering if you wanted me to tell him anything.”
Claudia was silent for a long while, and when she finally spoke, he could hear the smile in her voice.
“I appreciate that, Derek, but no thank you. I think it might hurt him more to know I’m alive in this universe. Just take care of him, and make sure he lives a long and happy life for me.”
“I’ll do it for both of us.”
“It was nice meeting you, Derek. I hope things go well for you in the future.”
“Thank you. You too.”
Claudia hung up and Derek did, as well. He put the phone down on the nightstand and looked back at the Jumper.
“I was in boxers when I woke up here. I’m not going to end up naked once I’m through the portal, am I?”
“You’re not in your own body right now,” the Jumper reminded him. “Once you go back, you’ll be exactly as you were when you left.”
Derek nodded and moved towards the portal. Before he walked through it, he turned to the man. “Thank you. Even though this isn’t where I want to be, these few days with them meant a lot.”
The man beamed, seeming pleased, and Derek knew that this experience had changed him. He felt like a different person, and he hoped that he could continue to be this person once he was back where he belonged.
Letting out a breath, he moved forward and walked through the crack in space. It felt like someone had dumped a bucket of water over his head, and when he felt the rip close behind him, he all but stumbled out the other side, slamming into Stiles and almost sending him flying before he managed to catch his arm and yank him back.
“Ow!” Stiles insisted angrily, phone still at his ear. “What the—Derek!”
Derek heard a thunk when Stiles’ phone hit the ground, the other wrapping his arms around him and hugging him so tightly it almost hurt, which was impressive, considering Stiles was human.
“You’re here! You’re back! Where the fuck did you go?! Don’t ever do that to me again!”
Derek inhaled deeply, Stiles’ relief and happiness and love flowing off him in waves. He smiled, wrapping his arms around him and burying his face in his neck. He could hear Scott asking questions from the phone still connected on the floor, but he ignored him, holding Stiles tightly.
Maybe he didn’t have his family here, but he had his Pack, and he had Stiles.
He would rather have his Stiles than another him’s family.
And he was never letting Stiles go.
The Jumper had good intentions, but in the end, ‘this’ would never be better than ‘that.’
Stiles would always be worth coming home to.