Chapter 1: La Iglesia
He thinks-- maybe we can do this.
He thinks-- maybe we’ll all survive. Maybe I was wrong.
It’s impossible to think anything else, when he’s sitting next to Stiles in the back of a prison van, and Stiles is shielding him from a out of control beta.
It’s impossible to think anything else, when he’s with Stiles.
Derek isn’t sure when Stiles became synonymous with safe. He was an irritant at first--brilliant, annoyingly so, but Scott’s best friend and nothing but a distraction for the new werewolf, nothing but a problem for Derek to deal with.
He hated the spastic sarcastic bastard. Hated him for disturbing Laura, for never backing down, for being right and there, and ruthless and loyal. He hated Stiles, because Stiles made him remember, what it was like to be in a pack.
That was then.
That was before Stiles made his priorities clear, before he treated Derek like family, constantly there.
Constantly saving him, dragging him back from the razor’s edge. Stiles was there, demanding Derek’s trust and giving his, unequivocally, his eyes never wavering as he watched Derek.
Sitting next to him, Derek thinks, we won’t die, because Stiles would never let me.
He wants to laugh because that’s such shit.
He’d seen it, the shock and terror, the furious helpless fear in warm whiskey eyes, and he knew Stiles would stay.
He’d stay and Scott. Scott would die.
“ Go,” he said, forcing a smile. Blood flecked his lips and Stiles stared at him, shock and hurt in his eyes. “Go. Save him.”
He talked back and argued constantly, but he listened, too, listened when it mattered. He was the best beta Derek had ever had.
Braeden is hovering over him, and she’s crying.
He thinks-- it’s strange.
He thinks-- you don’t even know me.
She slept in his bed a few nights, taught him to work a gun. She was safe, and healthy, and he liked her--but he didn’t do anything to earn these tears.
She didn’t do anything, to earn the right to this grief.
She didn’t earn the place at his side, when he’s struggling to breath and blood is filling up his lungs.
He wishes, sudden and fierce, for Stiles.
“Shouldn’t have sent him away,” he gasps, and she sobs, a distracting thing.
When Stiles showed up at his door, the summer Boyd and Erica were missing--he almost sent him away.
He would have, but Isaac was gone, already shifting to Scott, and Peter was...complicated, at best.
But Stiles was stubborn and brought him food, and the first time Derek leaned against him in the old house, a comforting press, Stiles’ scent had gone so shocky and needy--and he hadn’t been able to send the boy away, after that.
Not touched starved and desperate for family.
Not when he was nearly as frantic as Derek, to find the missing betas.
And that was it. Derek knows, it was that moment--not the one when Stiles found the loft for him, or the nights they’d sit up going over the map, or the midnight diner runs, or even snarking at Peter with him.
It was that moment in the kitchen, when Derek started to wonder.
When you’re dying--and whatever the hell he told Peter and Stiles to get them to leave, Derek has no illusions about what the outcome of that berserker attack will be--time seems to slow down.
It takes a stretched, sort of elastic feel, so he can lay there in the dirt, blood on his mouth and dripping wet down his chest, and he can think.
He can think, about Braeden’s scared crying, and the rotted scent that pervades La Iglesia. About everything he’s going to miss and it makes his gut ache, even more than the brutal wounds.
He always thought letting Kate in enough that she could kill his family was going to be his biggest regret.
But now there’s Laura--letting her go home without him. There’s leaving Peter after the fire, and the betas he bit and condemned to a life they didn’t truly want. There’s how much he fucked up with Paige and Scott and Jennifer and--so many things, he regrets.
But nothing, none of it, is quite the same as how much he regrets not chasing down the something building with Stiles.
He knew. He knew that summer, and he knew while he was fighting the alpha pack, and he knew during the nogitsune and the deadpool, and he always told himself--not yet. Not yet. He needs to grow up, needs time to be a kid, needs to be safe .
He fell in love with Stiles for his bravery, for his stubborn tenacity, for his smartass mouth and warm eyes and the refusal to let him die or even stand alone.
He fell in love and he pushed him away and now--
“I thought,” he gasps, “I’d get more time.”
He thinks-- everyone thinks they’ll get more time.
He thinks-- oh god, I’m not ready.
He thinks-- it hurts, it hurts, it hurts.
Braeden and the dirt and the blood, they all feel distant, and he closes his eyes.
He thinks-- Stiles, I am so sorry. I am so fucking sorry.
And then, he doesn’t.
He doesn’t think and he doesn’t breath and his heart doesn’t beat, and Braeden’s shaken, “ Derek!” echoes in an empty sky.
It doesn’t hurt, now.
Everything is fuzzy, and he wants to, desperately to grab something .
But the black is all encompassing, and he can only hear the whistles of wind in his ears, and the panicked unmoored feeling of drifting.
Derek jerks, realizing he can’t find his anchor.
He scrambles, and pain lances up his gut, fire hot and he howls--
And something in him yanks.
Derek screams as he’s pulled into the black.
Chapter 2: NYU
He doesn’t so much wake up as slams into something. The black is gone, and the sunlight is almost blinding, and it’s loud. For moment he thinks he’s still in the dust of La Iglesia, but it smells wrong.
Green and alive, books and sweat and arousal threaded through everything. He blinks and fights the claws itching to drop as he stares around.
He’s on the campus of NYU.
He knows this campus, knows it intimately, because he spent five years after the fire here almost every day--he’d head over after he’d finish his homeschool classes and sit with Laura, and when he graduated, he was here as a student, constantly with her.
It was as close to home as they found, after the fire, and he’s--
He stares, his heart pounding because he doesn’t understand.
A familiar scent slips over him, and his head comes up, eyes tracking over the familiar quad--
Except it’s not. There’s differences, subtle but there. A tree where it doesn’t belong, cutting off his sight to the Washington Square Arch, and the fountain--isn’t there.
He frowns at that, absently, as he keeps looking.
There’s something wrong here, something that goes beyond the fact that he just woke up on the grass at NYU and he should be dead in the deserts of Mexico.
“Der!” The voice is familiar and happy and he turns, a needle pointing north, to Stiles.
He’s dressed in tight black jeans and those ridiculous Converse he loves so much, a graphic t shirt poking out from under his red hoodie. He’s grinning, moving through the people toward him like there’s nowhere else he’d rather be, and he looks--good.
Stiles always looks good, but he looks almost vibrant, alive and beautiful, his warm eyes sparkling and his lips parted in a happy smile. His hair is longer than Derek’s ever seen and he wonders for a moment how long he was down, in the dirt of La Iglasia
Lydia is at his side, and--Derek sways, almost hits his knees because Allison is in Scott’s arms, laughing at something Lydia said.
Something is very fucking wrong here.
And then he can’t think because Stiles is in his arms, legs wrapped around his waist, and he’s kissing Derek.
He’s thought about it. Of course he has, he’s been falling for Stiles for too long to not have thought about it.
Even before that, before that horrible summer searching for his pack with Stiles, there was the spastic boy and his goddamn mouth, infuriatingly distracting and pretty.
So he’s thought about it, what kissing Stiles would be like, and this--
Stiles kisses him like he’s familiar, enthusiastic and happy as his hands cup his jaw, tilt his head back and lick at the seam of Derek’s lips, quick and utterly devastating for how fucking perfect it is.
He makes a noise, something a high broken whine, and the kiss breaks off abruptly. Golden eyes narrow as they stare down at him, assessing and cold, all the warmth gone.
“Derek!” Lydia throws herself at him, rubbing into his arm and Stiles slides down his body, his smile back and eyes bright as he grins. “You’re early, dude. I thought you weren’t getting into town until tomorrow!”
“Um. Surprise?” Derek says weakly and Scott laughs.
Scott laughs at him, making Derek do a double take because even now, when they actually get along, the younger werewolf always seems a little...impatient. Like he tolerates Derek. Not like he’s close to be hugging Derek, to casually scent mark him the way he’s doing, the way Lydia does.
“Surprises are good things, Stiles,” Scott says. “And now you can go have sex before we head to the summit.”
There is so much to unpack in that statement, Derek has no idea where to even start.
“ That, ” Stiles says, lacing his fingers with Derek’s, “is a fucking brilliant idea. Stay at Ally’s tonight. C’mon, Derek.” Stiles tugs and even if he weren’t completely confused, Derek would follow.
He can’t think of anywhere he wouldn’t follow Stiles.
On the stairs in his dorm hall, Stiles is unnaturally quiet. Derek gasps, once, a sharp stabbing pain in his chest almost taking him to his knees and Stiles is there, his hand steady and tight on Derek’s shoulder. The pain fades slowly, and he blinks at Stiles. “You with me, big guy?”
The truth is--he has no fucking clue how to answer that.
Something twists in his gaze, and Stiles tugs him up. “C’mon. Almost there.”
Derek lets Stiles lead him to a messy room that smells like Scott and Stiles and him and it’s so strange and right that it makes him sneeze, the scent tickling in his throat.
“Sit down,” Stiles says, digging in the obscenely tight pocket of his pants and dialing quickly.
Derek watches him, because it’s Stiles, it’s Stiles, and he’s brilliantly alive, healthy, smelling of him and reeking of--worry.
He glances at Derek, expression tight, and then, distant and small, Derek hears a familiar voice.
“Hey, babe,” Derek hears himself say. “Did you take my black henley last time you were home?”
“Where are you?” Stiles asks, and his voice is high and anxious. He stares at Derek, the phone clenched in a white knuckled grip.
“Um. At the pack house. Packing. Why?”
“You need to get here, as quick as you can,” Stiles says, evasively.
Derek has never heard his own growl, not like this, and it’s startling. A part of him wants to preen at how fierce he sounds. “Are you safe?”
“I’m aces. But there’s--just get here, and don’t tell the pack you're coming in early. It’d be better if I explained in person.” He eyes Derek and adds, “It’s kinda hard to believe.”
“I’ll be there in three hours.”
Derek blinks as the phone goes silent. Where the hell is the pack house?
“Ok,” Stiles mumbles. “You dealt with crazy before. You were possessed that one time, you’re good with crazy. This isn’t even the weirdest shit you’ve seen this year.”
Derek quirks a smile. “What is?”
“The flying monkeys in July. Those were weird as fuck. Tore Derek up real good, I fucking hate monkeys.” Stiles blinks and then scowls. “Don’t distract me.”
Derek smirks and Stiles sags back against his desk. “So you aren’t my Derek. I get that. So who the hell you are. Where did you come from?”
Derek opens his mouth, and then closes it again. Because he doesn’t know . He doesn’t know anything except the burning pain in that goddamn churchyard and Stiles’ wide scared eyes.
“I died,” he murmurs and Stiles makes a wounded noise. “And I didn’t--I didn’t want to leave him.”
Stiles is pale, and his voice shakes. Derek hates that, because if--if they’re together, this Stiles and Derek, he cares .
“How?” Stiles asks.
“A berserker. Kate,” Stiles flinches and Derek's heart sinks. He forces himself on. “she did something, took my power. I was practically human. There was too much damage, not enough time--" he closes his eyes, feels the black swimming in front of him, abruptly.
Shoves a hand against his chest to ease the tightness and bites off a curse when that doesn't work.
He can almost hear Stiles, his Stiles, shouting his name in familiar panic and fear and he wants, desperately, to answer.
You can't do this.
You can't leave me.
Stiles looks almost relieved, most of the tension drained away when Derek blinks at him. The scent of dust and magic clings to the air, making it hard to focus.
“That was trippy as hell,” Stiles says, a grin twisting his features up.
Derek huffs. “Glad I could entertain.”
“So why here? I mean. If you're dead.”
“I don’t know.” Derek snaps, irritated and Stiles frowns.
“God, I forgot what a prickly bastard you were.”
How. It's sitting on the tip of his tongue.
How did it happen.
How did they find each other, here.
How was Allison still alive?
He bites down on the questions and Stiles rubs his hands on his jeans.
“How did you know I wasn't your Derek?” he asks, carefully.
“You kiss wrong,” Stiles says absently. “Like you did when we first got together. It was weird. And then, once I got a clue, it was easy to figure out.”
A door bangs down the hall and heavy feet beat a pattern toward them.
“Shit,” Stiles mutters. “How many speed limits did you break?”
“All of them,” a familiar voice says, as Derek steps into the dorm room.
On the bed, Derek watches and its painfully bittersweet. Stiles touches him casually, easily, sure of his welcome. He smiles into a kiss, his face open and happy and goofy, and Derek--he looks soft.
His eyes are impossibly gentle, impossibly open, as he stares at Stiles, so in love Derek can taste it, permeating the air.
“You're ok,” he murmurs, voice full and choked.
“Course I am.” he waves a hand at the Derek on the bed and says, cheekily. “You would never hurt me.”
They sit across from each other, and Derek thinks the fascination in his other self’s eyes would be disturbing if he were in a situation anywhere close to normal.
“We just can't figure out why he's here.” Stiles says.
Derek-- his Derek--snorts. Loops an arm around Stiles’ shoulders. “That's easy. Something brought him here.”
Derek opens his mouth---
Gun fire. Blood. An endless night sky and the fading scent of every good thing he ever knew, fading under the scent of blood. Someone screaming and the salty tang of tears.
“What's happening?” Stiles demands, his hands fluttering against his shoulders. It feels distant, far away, almost like its happening to someone else.
Maybe it is, Derek thinks, muzzily.
“Derek! Why is he fuzzy? What the hell is happening?” Stiles shouts and he wishes he could hear the other Derek's response.
It's drowned out by a roaring wind, and Derek sees Stiles, eyes worried as he stares at him, before the black hooks in his gut and tugs.
He thinks he screams, before he doesn't do anything at all.
Chapter 3: Free Zone, California
FREE ZONE, CALIFORNIA
It is less disorienting this time.
He lands hard, hard enough that it jars through him, makes his ankles twinge and ache, and he wants to stop landing like this.
It takes him a second to process where he is, to look around.
The street is--any street in small town America. There’s a marquee for a theatre near the corner, blinking bright and enticing. There’s a squad car going by slowly, the officer eyeing him a little too hard.
There’s a diner, and it’s that--the diner--that drags Derek’s attention, a sharp insistent tug on his belly that pulls him in that direction.
Hunger or something else, he doesn’t know, but he follows the insistent pull, until he’s standing outside, peering in.
Stiles is there, fingers drumming on the table, and Derek’s breath catches at the sight of him.
He looks different. His hair is cut brutally short, the same buzzcut he had when Derek first met him, but his baby fat has melted away, and his broad shoulders are defined by muscle. There’s a curl of ink on his throat, mostly hidden by his collar, and Derek wants to see the rest of it.
But it’s not just the way he looks older and dangerous . It’s the way he holds himself, the kind of still watchfulness of a predator, but the sharp twitchy movement of Stiles is still there, impossible to repress entirely. He’s staring at the phone in his hands, a scowl on his face. There’s a plate of eggs in front of him, and across from him a bowl of oatmeal and fruit, a cup of heavily creamed coffee and Derek goes still at the sight of it.
His gaze tracks across the diner, and he sees before Stiles does.
His double is broader, carries the muscle mass Derek remembers from his days as alpha. He walks with the same prowling confidence, something that always sat wrong on Derek’s shoulders but looks right on his counterpart.
He’s wearing black jeans that look like they’ve seen better days, unfamiliar combat boots and a tight henley that does nothing to hide the weapons he’s carrying.
Derek isn’t sure what’s stranger--the fact that his double is carrying two guns and a truly ridiculous looking knife, or the fact that no one in the diner seems surprised.
Stiles’ scowl melts away when Derek comes up beside him, tension melting from his shoulders.
Derek didn’t even see that tension, but now that it’s gone--he looks limp and happy, an almost boyish smile on his lips as he cranes his head back for a kiss that Derek’s double is more than happy to give.
It’s not messy and long, but there’s a familiar ease to it that makes it almost worse.
This isn’t new.
It isn’t new, and it’s strange, because as he drags his gaze away from Stiles and himself he sees evidence that the diner and is not as quiet Americana as it seems.
The waitress is carrying two guns.
There’s a machete leaning against the counter, just out of sight.
Derek counts five guns in three booths, before he gives up, and there’s a wary sort of tenseness that makes him anxious.
And the entire building seems to throb with wards and--
He sees it a second before he pushes forward into the diner.
What the actual fuck.
Something cold and hard presses against his temple and he gets the scent of lead and gunpowder and wolfsbane, before he smell something he knows and a familiar voice says, oily smooth, “Who the hell are you and why are you wearing my nephew’s face?”
He saw the regret in his uncle’s eyes, a moment before he turned away, in the courtyard of La Iglesia.
He turned away before Stiles, intent on something that Derek can’t explain.
Scott doesn’t trust him, and Derek thinks he shouldn’t because Peter killed so many and he makes no apologies for any of it.
But for all that Peter did , Derek can’t forget who he was, before.
The uncle who shadowed him at school, who taught him control, who never pulled away when Derek’s eyes shone cold blue.
The one who laughed at Talia and Laura and snuck ‘bane laced whiskey into his bedroom and sent him dirty jokes and links to porn, just to see Derek flush and a smile on his face.
He knows what Peter did, knows better than to trust him.
But he does because before the fire burned down every good thing in his life, Peter was his best friend.
“Who are you?” Peter snarls.
He’s got Derek pinned to the wall but there’s no strength to it, and Derek thinks that he smells wrong--smells human .
“Uncle Peter?” he says, soft and pleading and Peter glares harder.
Glances back at where Stiles and Derek are curled into each other. “Idiots,” he mutters, voice undeniably fond, and he steps back, lets Derek drop to his feet. “Come on. I don’t need to get shot because there’s two of you.”
Peter hauls him along, practically shoves him into a dirty jeep and then stares out the window.
“Explain this,” he snaps.
I don’t know, Derek wants to say. Where am I? he wants to ask. “Why do you look like you’re fighting a war?” is what he asks, his voice low and trembling.
He feels lost, unmoored, achingly alone.
“Because I am,” Peter says, and he sounds so tired. “We are. We have been since Gerard Argent dragged his werewolves out of the closet ten years ago.
Peter explains, in fits and starts. About the Hales, a big political family that doted on each other, lived together in the forest outside of a small California town.
About how life was good and quiet and happy.
About Gerard Argent, a vitriolic senator from New York and how he clashed with Talia on the Senate floor and America chose between them, even before they knew.
“He slaughtered the Senate,” Peter says, blankly. Like it's something he's lived with for so long the horror doesn't register anymore. “It took him and the werewolves less than two hours to take control of the government and after that. It's been an endless war. We carve out pieces of territory--werewolf free zones like this, but they fight us for it. They attack constantly.”
“Mom?” Derek asks, hope a lump in his throat.
This isn't his Peter. It isn't his world or life. But Peter is his uncle, and he knows what raw grief looks like on Peter's face.
“Gerard sent his daughter and three betas. They killed everyone.”
Sometimes Derek thinks the pain of losing his family will ease, soothe into something bearable.
And then, there are moments like this, when it's so fresh and raw he can smell their burnt bodies and Kate's perfume.
“Stiles joined us a few months after--his father was killed in a werewolf attack and he wanted the same thing we do.”
That's what this is.
He stares at his uncle that isn't his, and realizes--he’s looking at a hunter.
“Do you have somewhere safe?” Derek asks. “Someplace I can't escape?”
Peter's eyes narrow and he can see the questions there but he doesn't ask. Just nods and makes a call.
“Get Stiles and head back to the compound. We have a situation.”
Peter is quiet, eyes thoughtful as he watches Derek. The dungeon is familiar only in the way all hunter dungeons are: too much metal, the taste of blood and electricity in the air, the steel bars reinforced with mountain ash and painted with intricate wards. He nods, to himself more than anything.
“Open it,” he says, quietly. Peter eyes him but does as Derek orders. He's just settled inside, securing the manacles around his ankle while Peter watches when he hears footsteps. His head comes up, eyes tracking them crossing the house and Peter's eyes widen a fraction.
He knows. Derek smiles at him with a hint of fang as his uncle slams the door shut and Stiles bursts into the room.
He stills at the sight of Stiles. He’s already seen him, of course but it’s still startling to see the changes.
There’s a scar on his face, something that could only be made by a werewolf’s claw and it makes his stomach twist.
“What the fuck,” Derek hears himself say, flatly and he winces.
That really is as annoying as Stiles always said it was.
“You’ve heard our story,” Peter says, ignoring his nephew and Stiles. “Who the fuck are you and where did you come from? What are you doing here?”
He shakes his head, helplessly.
“I don’t know.”
Peter doesn’t believe him.
Derek doesn’t believe him either.
No one believes him until he shifts, and Peter is snarling, impressive even as a human and Derek is pulling Stiles back, away from him.
That stings, Derek is willing to admit to himself.
“I won’t hurt you,” he says, too tired to put any strength behind the words.
“You’re a fucking wolf, ” Peter snaps.
“And so are you,” Derek snaps. “Where I’m from--we all were.”
“Were?” Stiles, asks, his eyes bright and searching.
Derek looks at himself, arm protectively around Stiles’ waist. “We were a pack. The whole family. And then Kate Argent burned us to the ground.”
Derek stares back from behind Stiles, a sick expression on his face, something furious and heartbroken, before Peter drags them out.
When he sleeps, he hears screaming, and gunfire.
There’s blood in his mouth, and a hand on his chest, and he can feel himself drifting , something impossibly big pulling a him.
He jerks awake, an echo of a scream in his ears, and his heart pounding in his throat.
He blinks, looking at Stiles whose sitting on the floor beyond the bars of Derek’s cage.
“Yes,” he says simply.
They’re quiet for a long time, only the drumming of Stiles’ fingers to break the silence, and then. “You really meant it all, didn’t you?”
He nods, too tired to defend himself.
“They don’t trust you,” Stiles says, unnecessarily.
Derek rolls his head to look at Stiles. “You do?”
“I trust that Derek would never hurt me,” he says, easily, and he can hear another Stiles, saying the same thing in a dorm room in NYU, and he blinks back tears. “What do you think about helping us, instead?”
Derek stares at him, and Stiles waits, expectantly.
He thinks of a eight year war and this boy orphaned by it. He thinks of Gerard Argent, in control of the government and military and nods, his mouth set in a hard line.
“What do you want to know?”
Stiles smiles, then, bright and pleased and dangerous. “Tell me everything you know about the Argents. And about how to hunt werewolves.”
“Why do you think you’re here?” Stiles asks, later. He’s talked himself hoarse, and Stiles has diligently typed everything down, asking questions and clarifying anything he was especially interested in and Derek almost felt bad for what he’s unleashed on the werewolves of this world.
Because it is, he’s decided.
It’s not his world, and he has no idea what to do with that.
He stares up at the concrete ceiling. “I died,” he murmurs, “And something pulled me here.”
Stiles cocks his head, staring, something bright and knowing in his eyes.
“How did you and Derek get together?” Derek asks, because he’d rather hear that then keep pressing on why he’s here.
Stiles smiles, then. He smiles and it’s like the war and everything it made of Stiles is stripped away, and his Stiles is grinning, goofy and beautiful, at him.
“He saved my life,” Stiles says, simply. “I saved his first, a few times, but then he saved mine, even though he bitched the entire time, even though he acted like he hated me. And we started spending time together when we weren’t fighting for our lives or trying to kill the bastards who ruined the world, and--he’s funny, you know?”
Derek arches an eyebrow and Stiles laughs, soft and secret. “Yeah. You know.”
“He loves you,” Derek says, and Stiles nods.
“Do you love your Stiles?” he asks, curiously.
Derek opens his mouth, not really sure how he’s going to answer.
Don’t do this to me, Derek, please!
Derek opens his mouth, not really sure how he’s going to answer and Stiles watches him, expectantly.
Something sharp and hot hooks in his gut and rips, and he sees panic in Stiles’ beautiful eyes, before he’s pulled away.
Yes. He thinks it, desperately, tries to force it out, yes, I love him. I love you.
But the black swallows him up and his words echo empty in his head.
Chapter 4: La Iglesia de la Luna Niños
mind the tags, friends.
La Iglesia de la Luna Niños
He’s standing in shroud like curtains, back to a stone wall.
There’s a dusty familiarity to it that makes his gums itch, and for a moment, all he can taste is blood and terror and dust, before he shakes his head and straightens.
He’s in a church-- a beautiful church.
When he was still young, when control wasn’t something he had to worry about because he wasn’t able to shift, his father would take him to the local catholic church. He’d sit quiet in the hard pew, hands folded and eyes watching the big, beautiful stained glass windows as his father slipped into the confessional.
He never listened, because even as a child, he knew that somethings were private, and this was one of them.
So the church, with it’s hard pews, and crucifix, with the soaring arches and delicate stained glass and bowl of holy water became a place of secrets and refuge and comfort. He wants to relax into it, the echo of his childhood.
But this is becoming familiar, and he looks for the differences and once he does--they’re easy to spot.
There are wolves carved into the pews, moon phases hung in an arc over the Virgin Mary. There is wolfsbane on the crucifix and the scent of mountain ash clings to the thick incense in the air--but real revelation is the stained glass windows.
He stares at them, his eyes wide, because the scenes are familiar--the apostles and saints, the Virgin Mary and Jesus, and in each, they are followed by a werewolf.
A blue eyed shifted beta, claws gentle as he cradles a baby, eyes devoted as he follows the Virgin Mother, teeth gleaming as he defended the Christ.
There are signs, everywhere in the church, of a faith intricately tied to werewolves and he shivers, shaking in the shock of it as he stares in blank shock.
There is a low hum of voices that he’s been ignoring because he knows--he knows that confessionals are sacrosanct.
But the voices are familiar, and one shapes his name and it calls his attention, his heartbeat jerking as he twists to stare at the little confessional.
“Do you think it’s wrong, to think like that?”
“No, child. I think--most people your age think about it.”
“But the church teaches--”
“Stiles,” Derek sounds exasperated, even to his own ears. Apparently, in any universe, Stiles can drive him to that. “You aren’t asking every Alpha for a Bite, are you?”
“ No , Father!”
“And you trust that if it is Her will and God’s plan, you will receive it in due time and strength?”
“Then there is nothing wrong with thinking about it. Our thoughts are only wrong when we follow them into temptation, child.”
There’s a moment of silence, and then, gently, “Do you need to confess anything else, Stiles?”
“No,” he murmurs and both Derek and the priest hear the lie. Only the priest growls, a low rumbling warning.
Stiles sighs. “I lied to my father. I watched pornography. I--” he hesitates, and his scent goes spicy and hot, flushed with arousal and embarrassment. It makes Derek want to groan, want to pull the confessional door open and Stiles into his lap.
“ImasturbatedwhilethinkingaboutbeingBittenbyyoufather,” he blurts out in a rush, and there is a moment of utter silence and stillness.
“You promised,” Derek hears himself say, softly.
There’s a choked noise, and the door squeaks open, footsteps on the hard stone, and Derek presses himself back, into the shadows as Stiles darts by in a flurry of flannel and long limbs.
A priest--shit, he’s a priest-- follows, too quick to allow the boy to escape, catches him and stills him with a hand on his shoulder.
“Stiles,” the priest sighs, and the boy makes a muffled sob, before Derek tugs him in, scenting him so intimately it makes Derek squirm against the wall.
“Three Hail Marys and four Blessed Moons,” he murmurs into Stiles’ hair and the boy shudders, nods against him, rubbing his scent into the priest’s robes before he backs up. He stares at the priest with such blatant hunger Derek almost-- almost-- moves.
Then his eyelashes flutter, and his head tips just so, baring the creamy length of his throat as he murmurs, “Bless you, Father Hale.”
The priest watches as he retreats--they both watch--and Derek thinks something so holy should never sound that utterly obscene.
“Come on out,” the priest calls, his voice hard and Derek startles, enough to draw the werewolf’s gaze.
His eyes go wide, as they stare at each other, one in a collar and robes, the other in tattered, blood stained jeans and a torn tshirt, and Derek says, lamely, “Um. You look good.”
His priestly counterpart snorts. “And you look like hell. Come on.”
Father Hale leads him through the church, into a small garden that is more dusty and struggling roses than anything, and Derek pauses there, a few feet from the tiny rectory.
“We--where are we?”
“Mexico,” Father Hale says.
Of course. No wonder it smelt familiar. He closes his eyes and a bitter smile tugs at his lips.
“Are you ok?” the priest asks and Derek barks out a laugh, before he follows him into the rectory.
Father Hale gives him a pair of sleep pants and a plain tshirt. “I don’t have much else, besides my clerical garb,” he says, almost apologetic as he points Derek toward the shower. “Clean up.”
“Don’t you have questions?” Derek asks, holding the neat stack of clothes gingerly.
“Of course I do. But they’ll still be here when you’ve showered. Go.”
He tells his story over simple tacos that taste like his mother’s, and swallows the pained feeling that summons.
“Ever heard anything like it, Padre?” he asks, when it’s done, when it lays in front of the priest like a confession. He’s never been, but he thinks if the confessional brought this kind of relieved bliss, maybe he should.
“No,” Derek murmurs. “But then, the Lord and the Moon work in mysterious ways.”
Derek can’t help his snort. “How did the catholic church get tied up with werewolves?”
It’s strange, reading curiosity in how own eyes, staring back--he thinks that it’s not Stiles, in all his different permations. It’s himself, that always startles him.
“The thirteenth disciple, Peter, was a werewolf,” Derek says, easily.
Derek stares at him, shocked. “Are you saying that Uncle Peter was named for a freaking saint?”
“Of course,” Father Hale says, patiently.
“Well, if I wasn’t sure, I definitely know that this is a alternate universe now,” Derek mutters.
“God has a very...ironic...sense of humor,” his other self says, wryly.
“He must, if he’s sending me through this instead of letting me just die,” Derek snarks and the priest tilts his head.
“Why do you think you’re here, Derek?”
There’s a thought, lingering just beyond reach, and it pulses with a deep stabbing pain in his gut. “I don’t know.”
“We were never a good liar,” Father Hale says, but his expression is mostly amused. Like Derek’s lies are funny.
“Why do you think I’m here, then?”
“Because you’re looking for something,” Derek answers, easily. He leans back, loosens his collar and sets it aside. “The question is only--do you know what you’re looking for?”
I’m the one keeping you alive, you ever think of that?
You don’t trust me.
“The question is only--do you know what you’re looking for?”
Derek doesn’t answer. It’s not the kind of question that bears answering.
“What’s you’re anchor?”
For the first time, the priest looks off balanced, and his gaze flicks to the door.
“It’s him, isn’t it,” Derek murmurs, and for a moment, he feels like that sharp pain eases and yanks , all at once.
“He’s a child,” Father Hale says, stiffly.
“I am very aware. A stubborn child that doesn’t take no well, at all.”
His counterpart pauses, looks at him hopefully. “You--he’s in your world too?”
“Stiles is one of the few constants in every world, I think,” Derek says.
He thinks, if that isn’t true, he doesn’t want to know.
He doesn’t ever want to go to a world where Stiles doesn’t exist.
“Do you love him?”
“I can’t love him,” the priest says, and he looks up, at Derek, anguish in his eyes.
It strikes him suddenly, that in a place like this--a priest wouldn’t have a confessional.
No one he could go to and confess his attraction to a boy in his parish.
“Loving him does not make you like Kate,” Derek says, softly, tasting the words for the first time, and watches as the Father’s eyes go wide and hurt. “It doesn’t make you anything but human.”
“I’m not human, Derek,” the priest says. “I’m an alpha werewolf anointed by God to spread his word. Loving Stiles--there is no room for that in my life.”
Derek thinks about the burn out shell of his home, the loft that smelt of Stiles even when Derek pushed the boy away.
“If life has taught me anything, Father, it’s that Stiles doesn’t give a shit if there’s room for him--he’ll make room for himself.
“This isn’t your world, though,” the priest says. “And what Stiles means here--it can’t be what he was to you.”
Derek’s lips twist, and he stands. “Father, you have no idea what Stiles is to me.”
It’s only when he’s lying on the small couch, under a musty blanket, that he realizes--he said is.
His dreams are troublesome and disjoined, flashing in and out, places and people he doesn’t know. One moment he’s flying and the next he’s choking on water, and a moment later, he’s rolling over into Stiles’ arms.
He wakes when the world shifts back into focus and he finds himself holding Stiles’ limp, bloody body. He wakes choking on a scream, and pain burning in his gut, yanking at him.
He breathes harsh and fast, and it smells too much like the priest and his incense.
He rolls to his feet after a moment, pads into the hallway, slipping out of the little house and into the night.
A hot dry night and the dark is almost suffocating as he pads along. He doesn’t shift, although the itch for it is just under his skin, tugging at him.
He likes this world. He likes this version of himself, could even see himself in it. The reticiant priest and the pining boy was almost familiar--close enough that it tugged at Derek’s heart.
He frowns. That’s the problem, though, isn’t it.
They aren’t together.
As good as this world is, and Derek thinks that it is very good, maybe the best kind of life a person like him gets to have--they aren’t together. Stiles is still not his .
For all the scars and shadows in his eyes at college, and torture and blood on his hands as a human hunter--in those worlds, Stiles belonged to him, and there was a rightness to it.
The voice is almost expected, and Derek has a moment to realize--Stiles doesn’t know.
“Stiles,” he murmurs, and Stiles steps a little closer, the dark clinging to him like a lover. “What are you doing out?”
“Couldn’t sleep. You?”
Derek hums a non committal answer that the boy doesn’t seem too worried about and follows as Stiles twists and leads them down the street.
He’s talking, about school and his father, about graduation and what he wants to do, and Derek listens attentively, because Stiles has always fascinated him, and this pale boy with long hair and hopeful eyes and an innocence his Stiles never matched--this Stiles is no exception.
He wonders, idly, how often Stiles and the priest do this, because nothing about his boy’s demeanor says this is unusual or even surprising.
“Are you mad at me?” Stiles asks, abruptly, and Derek blinks at him.
“Should I be?”
“What I said, today, in confession--”
Derek pauses, and puts a hand on Stiles’ shoulder. “I’m not your priest, right now. I’m your friend. And what was said in that confessional--unless you’re interested in sharing it with your friend--has no place here.”
Stiles blinks at him, and Derek thinks he’s beautiful. The moon is weak and pale but it still turns his skin almost silver, and his eyelashes cast long, curving shadows on his cheeks. “What if I did want to share it with my friend?”
He thinks--this is wrong
He thinks--I want this.
He thinks--so does he. He does, he wants this.
He thinks--maybe never in my world. But maybe, here, they can be happy.
Derek stares at Stiles, and he doesn’t think.
Stiles leans in and Derek closes his eyes, sways, a tiny bit closer and hears the boy’s gasp, startled and hopeful and heartbreaking, a moment before dry, plush lips brush his.
He’s quiet, still, waiting, as Stiles kisses him, chastely. Once. Again. A third time, and this time he nips at Derek’s lip and the wolf snarls, hands on the boy’s hips and shoving his tongue in Stiles’ mouth as Stiles whimpers and opens for it, head falling back to expose his throat, needy noises spilling, muffled, from his mouth as Derek takes .
He kisses Stiles, and he doesn’t know if it’s for his priestly counterpart, or the achingly hopeful boy in his arms, or the boy he left behind that he will never kiss.
All he knows is that Stiles is here, pliant and willing and whining in his arms, fingers scratching at Derek’s hair as they kiss, and it draws a rumbling growl from him, something that makes Stiles gasp and arch into him.
He presses the boy back. “No.”
“Derek,” Stiles gasps, pleading.
“Stiles, not tonight. Ok? I’m not saying no to you. I’m saying not tonight.” The boy looks near tears, and Derek huffs, dragging him to a nearby rock and sitting them down next to it.
Stiles is quiet, and then. “He will, you know.”
Derek goes still and Stiles smiles at him, shifts to sit in his lap, curling there and catching his hand to play with his fingers.
“I know you’re--I don’t know what you are, actually, but you aren’t my priest. You aren’t my Derek.”
“No,” Derek whispers. “I’m not.”
“I’m not your Stiles,” he adds, fiercely, and Derek smiles
“You could have been, in another life,” he says.
“I won’t let him go,” Stiles whispers, after a while, his head on Derek’s shoulder as dawn streaks the sky. “Not after tonight.”
Derek nods and presses his lips into the boy’s hair. “I know.”
When he slips into the rectory, the priest is up, nibbling on dry toast, and he sees the flare of red, of rage, in his own eyes, before the priest controls it.
“You shouldn’t have touched him.”
“Maybe not,” Derek says. “Or maybe I’m here, because you and him should be together. Maybe that’s why I’m going to these worlds--to make sure that every other Derek and Stiles have their chance together.”
Father Hale stares at him, his face pale and Derek sighs. “That boy loves you. And he is the kind of special that doesn’t come along often, Derek. He’s better than we deserve, but if he picked us, and he deserves everything in life that he wants--”
“I can’t,” Derek says, small and hopeless.
“You don’t have to,” Derek says, smiling. “I kissed him. If you think Stiles will ever let you go now, you’re a helluva a lot stupider than I always gave myself credit for.”
He crawls back into his nest of blankets on the couch and listens as the priest bangs about before he leaves, and he falls asleep, finally, the sun beaming into his eyes.
Distantly, he can hear Stiles laughing.
And then the nest of blankets is empty, and he’s gone again.
He wakes up in the preserve. Even without opening his eyes, he knows exactly where he is. He thinks he will always recognize the preserve, the way the air moves, the scent of it, the way the dirt feels under his fingers.
This is home and something in his soul will always recognize it.
He sits up slowly and sniffs at the air, trying to catalogue the scents, trying to place where the actual hell he is.
Derek isn’t stupid enough to think he’s in his preserve, in his world.
The air is thicker, full of scents that he can’t quite parse out and the one--he grins, and scrambles to his feet, following his nose.
Stiles smells the same in this universe, like coffee and Downy and a windswept meadow. He trots along the paths in the preserve, and is absurdly pleased to find Stiles’ trundling along in his jeep toward the Hale house.
They know each other, then. Good. He wonders if that is true in every universe.
Stiles slows to a stop and leans his head out, “Want a ride or are you working on your marathon time, big bad?”
Derek doesn’t answer, and doesn’t quite grin either--just circles the jeep and slips into the front seat.
It smells...familiar….but not just the familiar that’s Stiles and himself.
It smells almost like Cora.
He sniffs again, a frown forming and Stiles drums his fingers against the steering wheel. “Not that I don’t love seeing you, big guy, but what are you doing in town? Where is Nora?”
Stares at Stiles, his eyes wide and scared. “What?”
Stiles frowns back. “Nora? We’ve got a project--Hey! Derek!”
He runs. Because it makes sense, suddenly, the familiar scent that he can't quite place, the way it sends a pang of longing and familiarity through him.
It's the scent of pack, so familiar here that even after all the years since the fire, he recognized it.
He runs. Because he has been in three worlds that are equally impossible and if impossible is the only thing these worlds have in common, maybe-- maybe --he skids into the clearing knows like he knows his own face, the wide open yard where the pack children play and he would wrestle with Cora and Nora, where Laura would tackle him to the ground with a wild cry and wilder giggles, while his mother laughed and his uncle smirked.
He skids into the clearing and he pales, because the Hale House stretches up above him, three stories of imposing gothic facade that is spooky and comforting and he has missed this so much it hurts.
The Jeep comes to a stop behind him, and Stiles spills out, his hand catching on Derek's shoulder as he murmurs, “You ok, dude?”
He isn't. He isn't ok at all.
And he can hear the twins, and he shakes his head stumbling back a step.
“I can't--Stiles. I can't. ”
Whiskey warm eyes narrow and he nods. “Go to the house. Mom won't ask questions. I'll be home in an hour, ok?”
Derek chokes down his questions and nods, standing and slipping into the woods.
He'd thought about it.
Right after the fire, he hadn’t been able to stop thinking about it.
He’d dreamt about it, about what life would be like, if they were still alive. Eventually, the dreams turned into nightmares, and he stopped dreaming altogether.
But he always thought about it.
He always wanted it.
Laura said that it had to exist--that if their world was the one where their family died, there had to be at least one universe where they survived.
Where they were happy and Derek didn’t carry guilt and Laura’s eyes weren’t red.
She believed it, so fiercely, he couldn’t help but believe it with her.
She would be so fucking happy to know she was right.
He laughs, and it sounds hysterical even to himself, and he has to stop for a second, breathing because the world is fucking spinning and his family is alive and he feels like he’s going to throw up.
He breathes, the steady scent of his family and the preserve settling and ratcheting up his nerves, and he finally makes himself move.
He needs the familiar scent of Stiles to ground him, to make the panic recede, and he knows exactly where to find that.
The boy’s bedroom looks--exactly the same, and Derek would laugh if he weren’t so close to losing his shit. He falls through the window and crawls onto Stiles bed, wrapping the blanket around his shoulder and dragging the pillow up to press between his face and knees, inhaling the scent, until he’s so surrounded by Stiles he can’t smell the family he has no fucking clue what to do with.
He looks around, at the familiar posters, the murder board that’s--covered in pictures and strings and date ideas? In this world, Stiles plots dates, and not murders. Interesting. Probably good--he thinks that would be better for Stiles, honestly.
But the lacrosse gear is the same, the posters on the wall are the same, the scent of sex and lube is still the same. It’s still Stiles. That’s reassuring and he lets himself drift on that, until he hears an unfamiliar heartbeat on the stairs and a tap on the door.
“Derek, honey, do you need anything?”
“Stiles text me, sweetie. Said you’d be here. Can I get you anything? Do you need your pack?”
“No!” he shouts, and there’s a beat of silence, and he closes his eyes. “I just--I need to talk to Stiles.”
“He’ll be home soon, ok? Do you want to just wait there?”
He nods and then, “Yes, please.”
“Ok, honey. If you need anything, just come down, ok?”
He doesn’t answer, but she retreats and he closes his eyes, and exhales slowly.
Stiles’ voice wakes him and Derek jerks upright, his heart pounding as he hears the front door slam. There’s low, indistinct voices and then footsteps on the stairs and he shoves himself out of the blankets a second before Stiles spills into the room.
He gives Stiles the most innocent look he can muster and the boy huffs, unimpressed. “Ok, puppy. You’re lucky I’m used to your weird scent shit when you get home from college.”
He tosses his bag down and toes off his shoes, before stretching and padding over to the bed, crawling up to sit cross legged across from Derek. “What’s going on, dude? You freaked me out a little, today.”
“Can I borrow your phone?” he asks, instead of answering Stiles. The younger man gives him a confused look but obligingly slides it out. Derek scrolls and almost laughs when he finds himself. Big Bad Floof.
He dials and puts it on speaker. It takes two rings, and then, “Hey, baby, what’s up?”
Stiles freezes and Derek glares at him, waving a hand to make him talk. It takes all of three seconds, making the Derek on the phone say, voice heavy with concern, “Stiles?”
“Hey! Hi. Hey. Um. Where are you?”
“On my way to my lecture? Why, did you need something?”
“ No! Nope, nothing. Just wanted to say I love you.”
Derek sways a little at that and Stiles narrows his eyes at him.
“You’re ridiculous, Stiles,” Derek says but he can hear himself, can hear the pleased blush in his own fucking voice, and it makes him want to hide.
What even is this world.
“Yeah, but you love me.”
“I really do.” There’s a sigh and then, softly. “I gotta go, Stiles. Call me tonight?”
“Kay. Bye, baby.”
Stiles kills the call and then stares at the phone and then Derek, then back at the phone before he finally bursts out, “What the fuck is going on?”
It’s easier to explain. Maybe because it’s the third time he’s explained. Maybe because he’s too emotionally exhausted to care about cushioning his blows, now.
Stiles is pale and shaking when he’s finally done, when he’s explained his world and the others and ends with, “I’m dead and I don’t know why the hell I’m here but I know that I can’t face them.”
“Especially though ,” Derek says, fiercely. He can’t. He can’t see his family, because if he does--he won’t leave.
He has no idea what’s pulling him through worlds, why this is happening, but he’s beginning to think part of it is his desire to go. None of the worlds he’s been in has been his , or held anything but Stiles, and each Stiles is wrong .
This world, with his family and Stiles watching him with concern and Claudia alive and humming and--god, she’s fucking making cookies downstairs--this world makes him ache to stay.
And he can’t.
“What’s it like, there?”
They’re sitting on his bed, an empty plate of cookies between them while Stiles does his homework. And Stiles asks, not looking at him, like he knows not to look at Derek while he asks such an important question.
“None of the others asked me that,” he says, quietly. Stiles steals a glance at him, and he sighs. “Hard. It’s hard. I’m alone--Cora went back to South America and she’s happy but Peter--things with him are difficult. For a lot of reasons.”
“You have me,” Stiles says, reaching over to lace their fingers together. Derek squeezes, involuntarily.
And he doesn’t.
“Do you think you’ll go back there?” Stiles asks, and Derek closes his eyes, a longing for Stiles, for his Stiles swarming in him, so strong the world goes distant and foggy for a moment. “I want to,” he whispers. His voice is thick and wet and Stiles makes a low hurt noise and curls tighter into the side. And it’s not his, it’s not, Stiles isn’t his --but he takes the comfort anyway.
Stiles shows him pictures, of the family he can’t bring himself to see. Laura is beautiful, so alive it hurts, and he traces her face gently, tears standing in his eyes.
Nora and Cora grin, bright eyed smirks that remind him too much of Peter, and he says, softly, “Nora didn’t survive, in my world.”
Stiles talks about her. About the boyfriend she brought home and how she got the lead in Grease. About how she gives Lydia a run for her money for valedictorian and how Cora is her athletic counterpart, the track team star, a gymnast, about dating Kira Yukimura and how both of them adored their big brother.
He talks about Noah, the brother a year older than Laura, who was going to be her Left Hand, and how he works with Peter now.
He talks about Talia, about how close she was to Claudia and how the pack had adopted the Stilinskis when Stiles and Derek started dating.
“How long,” he asks, and Stiles laughs.
“You made us wait until I was sixteen. So two years, officially? But there was no one else for either of us, after first period my freshman year.”
Derek raises his eyebrows. “What happened?”
Stiles blushes, scarlet and beautiful and he wants to kiss that flustered look off his face.
“I was running late and had no idea where I was going and ran into you,” he mumbles, running his finger over his knee. “With a green tea smoothie that got all over your white henley. I think that’s when you gave up color, honestly.”
“And I gave you a chance after that?” Derek teases.
Stiles bristles, all furious indignation. “Hey, mister. You adore me.”
He wants to say--I do.
He wants to say--thank you
He wants to say--let me stay. Let me stay.
He smiles, and says nothing.
I need you. C’mon, Der, don’t do this.
Don’t leave me.
He jerks awake and realizes abruptly where he is. Stiles is cuddled into his side, sprawled out and snoring, and there is--
“Uncle Peter,” he breathes.
“You aren’t my nephew. And the boy in your arms does not belong to you. Tell me, why shouldn’t I pull your guts out right now?”
Peter says it without ever looking away from the research paper he’s marking up on Stiles desk.
Peter is helping Stiles with his homework.
“This world is so fucking weird,” Derek mutters, and that makes Peter’s head lift, slowly.
“ This world?”
“Not our Derek,” Stiles mumbles. “Travely dead Derek. Be nice, P’ter. Needs nice things.”
“Sleeping boys shouldn’t talk so much, little one,” Peter says, all fond exasperation.
“Do you love him in every universe?” Derek asks, realizing suddenly that Peter does. Even his Peter was inordinately fond of Stiles.
“Do you?” Peter challenges, and Derek thinks, yes. Of course. Yes.
“Course you do,” Stiles slurs, lips distractingly close to his throat. “I’m loveable as fuck.”
Peter laughs at that, and Derek stares at Stiles. “Do you think this is the most I’ll ever get with him?” he asks, the question he’s refused to let himself ask.
It feels selfish to want more, and yet he’s impossibly jealous--of himself, which even Derek knows is ridiculous.
“How many worlds has it been?” Peter asks, and Derek looks up at him. “And what did they have in common.”
“Four. And Stiles,” Derek says, promptly.
In every world, he is drawn, irresistibly, to Stiles. He thinks he always will be.
“There you have it, then,” Peter says, his expression soft. Stiles is sleeping again, snoring softly, and Derek looks at him, and feels that deep familiar yearning.
He wants this. He wants to keep this.
“I don’t understand,” he says.
Peter says something--he can see his mouth moving, feels Stiles flailing against him, and he struggles to cling to them, to this world where their families are alive and Stiles is warm sleeping against his chest.
The hook digs into his chest and he’s yanked into nothingness.
So I'm back. Life got out of hand and then there was some travel. But I'm back and regular updates will resume. I hope you enjoyed this one. <3
Chapter 6: The Ocean
The black void that yanks him from Stiles always feels like floating but right now he can see and it’s not black and he is actually floating. He twists, and it feels strange--slow, and the weight of his body is off.
Derek glances down, irritated and screams.
And promptly chokes, because screaming underwater is a good way to choke. He coughs a few times, flailing gracelessly through the warm blue water, and then he just--floats.
It’s getting a little ridiculous, this tour through other worlds.
He could have gone his whole life without knowing there was a version of himself that was a goddamn merman. He can feel the flutter of skin at his throat, and he feels at them, the strange portrutions, the way water slips along them. Gills.
He has motherfucking gills.
Dere isn’t sure what the hell he’s doing, taking a tour of other universes--but he is very sure this is the strangest by far.
But beyond the otherworldly sensation of gills and the floppy sensation of his tail-- jesus christ-- propelling him through the water--
There is that.
The water is endless, a shimmering blue brightened by the sunlight, and darkening into a terrifying black the deeper he peers. There are schools of fish, swarming and darting around him, a lazily swimming stingray. The water is warm, almost unnaturally so, and he twists and turns through it, testing the strength of his flipper fin as he swims, absurdly pleased to realize he’s fast . A shark swims by, darting away when Derek angles toward him and he laughs, a burble of pleased bubbles spilling out.
So fucking weird.
Stiles would love this.
He freezes, the thought spilling over him and turns, almost panicked now.
Where the fuck is Stiles?
Swimming is hard, after a while.
He wanders aimlessly because this hasn't happened before.
In each world before this, Stiles has almost fallen into his lap, and this--this is different.
So he swims, and he watches.
He watches a school of angelfish darting by, and a pod of dolphins darting along the surface, sleek and beautiful.
He watches the cloud of jellyfish, ethereal and otherworldly and wonders what Stiles would say about them.
He watches sharks, heavy in the water, deadly and fast, prowling through the coral.
He watches crabs and seahorses, watches manatees and tiny fish, bright and beautiful, swarming in the coral reef.
He watches and he swims and when the sun sets, and he still hasn't found Stiles--he begins to wonder.
Maybe Stiles isn't *here. Maybe this world is broken, or maybe this is what he was headed to the entire time.
He finds a small dip in the rocks and he curls there, wraps his large black fin around himself, and tries to sleep as the ocean dips into darkness.
It's not restful. The underwater world is loud, and there are too many questions, too many things he doesn't know, pressing on him, to sleep well.
When the water ripples and the whole reef goes eerily still and silent--Derek looks up carefully and sees them.
A pod of merfolk.
It's the first he's seen in all the hours he's spent here, and he almost darts up, but then--
Peter is leading them.
He would recognize his uncle anywhere, even like this, his body sleek and graceful in the water, body propelled by a giant blue tail. He has a ridge of spines on his back that are curved and sharp, and the others--there are others--look just as deadly.
Derek sees himself, cold and black and touched with green that shimmers in the darkness, the way his fingers curve into claws, and when the other Derek smiles, he sees rows of sharp shark teeth.
The reef is quiet and still because they're afraid, he realizes, suddenly.
That--that pod of merfolk, his pod, is dangerous.
He feels his stomach lurch and he has to fight the urge to scream, but he does. He keeps still and quiet, and he watches.
The attack happens, so fast Derek can barely process it. Something like a scream rips through the water, a concussive wave that knocks the pod of merfolk off course.
Five thin, brightly colored mermen spring from the sands, darting through the chaos and throwing--spears, jesus, they were throwing spears.
The scream comes again, and Derek claps his hands over his ears the scream takes on a shrill, knife like edge, the wave turning cutting.
He almost shouts, because there . There is Stiles.
He follows quietly. The battle had descended into chaotic madness, screaming sirens and stabbing spears, and he thinks the only reason he didn't lose sight of Stiles is because he had spent so fucking long looking for him.
Stiles' pod was attacking his, and it wasn't a surprise, not even a little bit of a surprise, when Derek watched the small pale merman wrap an arm around his waist.
Derek had been injured, and he thinks he'd be more surprised if Stiles had left him behind.
He follows them, watching the way Stiles flounders under the weight of the bigger merman, struggling and sometimes sinking before he rallies and pushes himself up and on.
He wants, almost desperately, to go to Stiles.
To help him, to hold him up and take some of the weight of his counterpart.
And he thinks that Stiles would lose his shit. He still hasn't figured out how to communicate here, and he's wary of the long wickedly curved knife hanging on Stiles waist, so he keeps his distance and follows silently as they swim.
Stiles at least knows where he's going, his body straining under the weight but determined as he pushes along.
He's beautiful. His skin is so pale it shines in the dark water, and his tail is a bright crimson that fades into almost black. There's splashes of red on his neck and ribs--his gills, Derek realizes--and startling dots of black on his red tail. The delicate fan of fins on his back though--that was what truly captivated Derek. When he swam hard and fast, they pinned back, sleek and tight, but when he paused, when he struggled to catch his breath and hold up Derek--then they flared, impossibly big, almost obscuring the boy, a bright red hood that made Derek's heart pound.
When Nora was eight, she begged and pleaded until Noah bought her a tiny tank and a bright blue betta fish. Within a week, she'd lost all interest, and the fish was moved to Derek's room, because Nora might not care--but he was fascinated by the little guy.
By the way he'd dart about his tank happily, the way he'd angrily flare his fins when someone tapped on his tank. The way he sometimes followed the claw Derek traced over the side of the tank, bobbing happily.
Derek especially loved when he'd come home and find the fish sprawled on his leaf hammock, fins uncurled and lazy as he dozed near his bubble nest.
Stiles reminds him of that tiny blue fish, beautiful and mesmerizing and he knows--he knows Stiles is dangerous.
But he can't bring himself to look away.
They swim for what feels like hours, a long time that feels endless--in the endless dark ocean, time passes slowly. There’s only long stretches of black water speckled with starlight, and the flickering red hood of Stiles, bobbing in front of him.
The world is beautiful--almost absurdly so, and Derek wants to explore it, in a way that he didn’t want to in the previous worlds he’d visited. It was beautiful and alien and he wants, desperately, to tell Stiles about it.
He wants to show him this world that is exotic and alien and still, watching Stiles struggling stubbornly under Derek’s weight, familiar.
For a moment, he’s back in that pool in the school, helpless and clinging to someone he had no reason to trust, and he did.
He has no idea when he started trusting Stiles, but he knows that he does.
And he thinks--whatever world he’s in, he can trust Stiles.
Stiles carries Derek to a cave.
He loses sight of them for a few minutes, as he winds his way into the depth of the rocks. He breaks the water and blinks as he realizes that he’s actually on the surface.
The cave is covered in bioluminescent algae, and it glows brilliant and almost blinding after the darkness of the water, Derek dips down in the water as he takes in the tiny cave, the little lip of rock where Stiles has pulled Derek. His fins are wound around the injured merman, and it makes Derek anxious, because he saw Derek’s teeth, and he saw the way they fought.
There’s blood on Derek’s shoulder though, and Stiles is bent over it, cooing, his voice musical and soothing and Derek--
Derek forgets. He bobs closer, and his tail splashes into the water.
Both of the mermen react, Stiles hissing and spinning, his fins flaring aggressively as he searches the cave, Derek growling, rolling away from Stiles and pulling himself up and in front of the smaller merman.
He laughs, because even here, even when they’re fighting--they are togther.
Derek snarls from Stiles side, jerking his thoughts back and Derek blurts out, “No, I’m not--I’m not going to hurt him.”
Stiles makes a high noise with a questioning lilt, and Derek huffs.
Of fucking course. They’re mermen. They live in a goddamn waterworld.
Why would they know his language?
“I’m not--I just wanted to see you,” he says, and the Derek in front of Stiles snarls again, a wet, angry noise that makes his hackles rise.
The predator in him wants to react, wants to challenge himself.
But there is the way that Derek is braced in front of Stiles, his eyes panicked and angry, and there is the way that Stiles is trembling with exhaustion, from carrying him to safety, and he--he can’t. He can’t interfere between them, not when he knows how precious it is, to have each other.
Not when he still feels the sting of want for that. He gives Stiles, beautiful and panting a little, one last look.
Then he twists and vanishes under the water, into the dark black of it.
The last thing he hears is Stiles, chittering questions.
He’s just swam clear of the rocks, when a concussive wave slams into him, and he can see her, beautiful and deadly, her hair floating red behind her, mouth stretched in a scream, fury and fear in her eyes.
He slams into the rocks, and a bright orange finned merman darts forward, and the sharp hook in his gut isn’t metaphorical, it isn’t the universe ripping him away, it’s a real fucking hook, and it’s really in his gut.
He has a moment to scream, and then Lydia does, and he slams against the rocks again, and he lets the black swallow him up.
Chapter 7: The Dahler Estate, Northern California
This is not a super fun chapter, friends. Mind the tags.
The Dahler Estate, Northern California
He wakes up gasping and in pain, soaking wet but--he wakes up.
Derek blinks and then snarls, a noise that should sound more threatening, as someone kicks him. “Get up, dog!”
He jerks away, a snarl in his throat that sounds too human, and he realizes abruptly that he feels too human.
“Get in line ,” a low voice hisses, and he jerks. Stares wide eyed at the pale face of Isaac.
Something cracks and Isaac flinches, his head dropping and shoulder curling in, and Derek chances a look around.
He and Isaac stand with some twenty other men, all lined up in a dark stone corridor that reeks--even to his human nose--of piss and rot. There are heavy shackles on his feet, tying him to the others. He glances around, and Isaac snarls, “Stop it!”
He has no idea why they’re here, or why Isaac sounds so terrified, but he lets his head drop back down, and he follows meekly when the line of chained men starts moving.
They’re loaded into a crowded, dirty truck, and Derek is a little startled when Isaac immediately slumps against him, and starts snoring.
He wants to ask what the fuck is happening--why they’re in chains and where they’re going, but he keeps his mouth shut, and listens to the men around him drifting to sleep.
They drive for almost thirty minutes, bumping over rough roads and Derek isn’t sure how the others can sleep--except that they’re all so fucking thin and exhaustion clings to them like an old, dirty coat, so maybe he can.
He touches his side, where the spear had pierced him, and it’s smooth, but too thin and his stomach rumbles, almost like his touch reminded him that he’s starving.
When the truck lurches to a stop, the men around him jerk awake, scrambling out of the van so quickly he’s a little perplexed, but he lets them pull him along.
They spill out into a hellscape.
He can feel a whine in his throat, and he chokes it down, because now isn’t the time.
The preserve has been gutted.
The trees, the massive beautiful trees as ancient as the land, have been methodically cut down. The air is full of shouting and clanging iron, the thick twack of axes cutting into wood, the air of fresh cut trees pungent even to his human nose. The underbrush where he’d hidden with his sisters has been ripped away and is burning, an ashy pile in one section of the ruin. He gapes at it for a long moment, stumbling when the line of chained--jesus christ they were slaves.
His stomach lurches and he almost throws up, as he takes it in.
The clearing teams with men chained to each other, dragging massive logs. Others are moving along freshly felled trees, chopping off the branches, while still others work long crosscut saws to bring the trees down.
And among them, others wander, watching with sharp disinterest, hands filled with coffee and food and whips.
He’s a slave, and those--those are his masters. He stumbles, and Isaac slows, just enough that Derek slams into him instead of the ground, and he squeezes Isaac’s arm in thanks.
They’re unchained, and a scanner runs over his wrist, blinking twice, before the guard waves him on.
He stares at it blankly, until he sees a slave dragging a pile of sticks and limbs to the fire. His right hand--the hand where Derek’s wrist is scanned--is gone, a bloody towel wrapped around the stump.
He feels sick.
It makes sense. In the work field, not all of the slaves can be chained and each work with deadly tools--and there has to be a way to bring them to their knees, if necessary.
It’s gruesome and brutal and by the way the slaves are plodding through the field--it’s effective.
“You’re off today,” Isaac murmurs.
“I’m fine,” Derek grits out and Isaac huffs.
“Zero and Eighteen,” one of the foreman shouts, and Isaac nudges Derek into motion. He stumbles away from his line of slaves, and into--
His breath catches and he almost hits his knees. “Boyd,” he breathes.
The other man’s eyes widen a little, but he turns and leads Derek toward the pile of crosscut saws. Derek follows, dazed and stumbling.
They work in silence.
He forgot, how silent Boyd is, how much he valued that quiet. He basks in it now, grateful for the reprieve. There’s only the curious stares and the sound of the saw and the occasional shout from the workpit.
A rustle in the trees makes Derek freeze, and Boy huffs, glancing over as Derek crawls out of the bushes.
Boyd studies them, and Derek stares at himself for a long moment before finally, Boyd hufs.
“Just one quiet day, Hale. That's all I want.”
“Shut up,” they hiss and he rolls his eyes.
“Someone cut the damn tree down with me and explain what the hell is happening.”
“I couldn’t get into the dormers last night,” Derek mumbles. He’s pale and thin, muscular but underweight and there are shadows under his eyes.
Derek remembers when he looked like that, right after the fire, when he was sure they’d die, that hunters were chasing them.
Eventually, he learned to breath, to eat and live and sleep. He never lost the conviction that the other shoe was going to drop, but he wasn’t living to die.
This Derek--he looks like he’s one step away from dying.
And Derek hates it for him.
“I must have been there,” Derek mumbles. “I--I woke up there.”
“Who are you?” Derek demands, his brows drawn down into a scowl that would be impressive if he didn’t look like he was about to fall over.
Derek stands and takes his place on the far side of the saw and says, “I’m you. From a different world.”
Boyd sighs. “Of fucking course you are.”
He tells the story, in sweeping strokes. He doesn’t linger on good things that aren’t in this world, or what he came from, or even his death.
There’s too much misery here to bring more. Derek watches him like he knows that Derek is hiding something, but he doesn’t push and Derek is grateful.
But telling the story reinforces--”Where is Stiles?”
Derek and Boyd both freeze and then, breathless and desperate, Derek demands, “What do you know about him?”
Derek thinks of the constants, the things that no universe can change and the way Derek is watching him, desperately.
“I know he’s here, and I know you love him.”
“Because you love Stiles, in your world?”
Derek nods, and he lets go a sigh, slumping in the shrubs and dirt. “He’s a house slave. Serves at Master Dahler’s pleasure.” He makes a face, “Dahler is trying to get Stiles to serve his pleasure, but so far, he’s been able to keep Dahler bedding him.”
There’s a thin undercurrent of fear in his voice and Derek wants to chase it, wants to know why Derek is afraid for Stiles.
“Is he who you were with, last night?” he asks instead, and glances over at his counterpart.
He knows himself, and he knows the flush in his cheeks, what it means. Nods to himself. “You know, if the Master is trying to fuck him, he won’t take it well if he catches you in Stiles’ bed.”
“I know,” Derek says. “He’ll kill me.”
Derek arches an eyebrow. “That doesn’t bother you?”
“I’ve been a slave since birth. I’ve always know I’d die because Master wished it, or worked me to death. If I can make Stiles smile before then--if I can spend one hour happy in his arms--it’s worth it.”
Derek thinks of the devastation on Stiles’ face, as Derek ordered him away. He thinks of the way Stiles will react, when he realizes Derek is dead.
And he thinks that his counterpart’s logic is selfish.
“Who will take care of him, when you’re gone?” he murmurs and Derek’s eyes widen, fear flickering there. “Don’t throw your life away because you think it’s worthless-- he is worth more than that.”
He doesn’t see Stiles for another three hours. Derek is sleeping in the underbrush while he and Boyd bring down the giant tree, and it’s only when he’s wiping his face, after the damn thing has been brought down, that he looks around and realizes the clearing has gone quiet.
Matt Dahler is walking through the workpit, dressed immaculately as he listens to one of the foreman.
Trailing him, held close by a shining silver chain, is Stiles. He’s quiet, still in a way that Derek isn’t used to seeing in Stiles, and beautiful, his lips red and his skin pale, and loosely clad in pale green linen that clings to his lithe form when he moves.
He’s beautiful, and he watches the slaves with blatant longing in his eyes, and Derek feels his stomach twist.
He misses Stiles.
He misses his Stiles.
“Are you with him?” Boyd asks, and in the underbrush, Derek peers out, his eyes curious. “In your world, are you and Stiles together?”
“No,” Derek says. “No--there was too many reasons. People, trying to kill us and he was so young. I’m so fucking broken.” He laughs, and it’s wet and bitter, and across the dirty clearing, Stiles looks at him, his eyes bright and familiar.
“When you get back to him,” Derek murmurs from the bushes. “You tell him. Tell him that you love him.”
Derek closes his eyes, and thinks, yes.
He dreams, and the dreams are twisted, uncertain. He remembers too many worlds, too many lives that aren’t his and they tumble over each other, a mix of memories and places and Stiles, smiling at him, in every world.
He wakes, gasping, as the door to the dormers slam open, and Isaac reels back, scrambling into Derek as guards rush the room.
Matt walks between them, and his eyes glitter with a strange kind of madness, as he watches Derek, his lips twisted bitterly.
“Did you think I wouldn’t notice?” he says, staring down at Derek. “That you could use what’s mine and I wouldn’t see ?”
Derek shifts, coming up on the balls of his feet and ignoring Isaac whimpering behind him. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Matt laughs, an ugly noise that echoes in the room, and nods at the guards. Derek tenses as they drag Stiles in. He’s naked and his lip is bleeding and he can see what Matt meant.
There are bruises, beautiful and dark, shockingly so against his pale skin, on Stiles hips and the crease of his groin, where it would be impossible to miss if he was naked.
There are no mistaking those bruises, no mistaking how Stiles got them.
Derek thinks that his counterpart is a romantic idiot, and if Dahler kills them--
He straightens his shoulders. “He isn’t yours. You can’t take what he gave me. And that’s what pisses you off, isn’t it?”
Dahler’s expression goes ugly, and he hears Stiles scream, before the electricity slams into him, and rips him under.
He wakes up in a black room, too dark to see anything, and he feels panic clawing at him--he scrambles up and there’s a choked noise, a whispered, “ Derek.”
All the fight drains out of him, and he collapses, scrambling across the room to where the voice came from, scooping Stiles into his arms.
“Did he hurt you? Stiles, did he--”
“No, no, I’m fine, goddess, Der, have some fucking self-preservation,” Stiles laughs, but it’s choked and bitter, and his heart is a frantic drumbeat under Derek’s hand.
“What’s going to happen?” Derek asks.
“They--Derek, they’re going to kill you. In the morning, they’re going to take your head,” he sniffles, rubs his nose on Derek’s shirt. “I got him to be that lenient. How fucking twisted is that?”
“Stiles,” Derek says, that almost euphoric sense of right settling over him again. “What will they do with you, when they come for me?”
“Will they leave you here?” he demands, and Stiles is quiet and still in the darkness.
Somewhere beyond these walls, Derek’s counterpart must be going mad with worry.
Will you be alone?” he demands, and Stiles nods.
“Just--one guard will watch me, but Dahler won’t want me there. Why, Derek? Why does it matter?”
His voice is shaking but furious, biting and familiar and Derek presses his lips to Stiles’ forehead.
He has no idea what the hell he’s doing, why he’s being ripped through the worlds, but maybe--maybe he can do this.
Maybe he can give them this.
“Sweetheart,” he murmurs and Stiles whimpers. “I need you to listen.”
They don’t sleep. Stiles curls around him, and listens to Derek tell him stories about the other worlds he’s been to. Listens to Derek talk about his Stiles.
When gray light creeps along the floor below the door, Stiles whispers, “I’m afraid.”
“Don’t be,” he murmurs.
He isn’t. Maybe he should be--but he isn’t. If dying will keep Stiles and his counterpart safe and buy them time to run--Derek will happily go to the gallows.
“I don’t want you to die,” Stiles says, and Derek closes his eyes.
“Sweetheart, I already am dead.”
Stiles stills against him, and Derek can hear, abruptly, voices, feet and rattling keys beyond their little prison. “Promise me you’ll run. That you’ll be happy.”
“ Promise me,” Derek demands and Stiles chokes out the promise, his voice thick with tears, and Derek smiles.
He leans in, and kisses Stiles, a soft, sweet thing and bites back the three words crowding behind his teeth.
Because Stiles-- his Stiles--deserves those. “Be happy, sweetheart,” he murmurs instead as the door opens and rough hands rip them apart.
He drifts as they whip him.
He’s glad Matt has them whip him. More time for Stiles to escape.
He wishes he knew when they were gone.
He closes his eyes.
Derek, god, please.
He listens to the wind whistle through what remains of the preserve and when a howl--weak and too human and dying out sharply--fills the air, he smiles.
Derek, please come back.
He did it.
They’re together, and they’re running. It’s not as much as he might wish--but it’s all he can give them. He looks out at the few remaining trees, strong and reaching for the sky and hopes it’s enough.
You have to come back.
“Do it,” Dahler snaps and he exhales as the whip is dropped, bloody, at his side.
He hears the murmur go through the slaves, and the sharp ache in his gut and then a whistling noise and thinks, Stiles.
The black sucks him under.
Chapter 8: Beacon Hills, California
Beacon Hills, California
It’s different, this time. The black is alive, and he spins through worlds too fast to land. There are hundreds, he realizes, some so close to his own he can barely see a difference, some so starkly different it makes him want to scream.
There’s a fire world, and he isn’t sure how anything can survive it, until he sees the draconian creatures walking through the flames.
There’s a world of ice and snow and fragile blue flowers that Stiles is plucking.
There is a forest world, and Derek runs through it, a fox, his other self running alongside.
There are more worlds than he can fathom, and he spins through them like a comet through the stars, for so long he begins to think he’ll do this forever, that he’ll get glimpses of Stiles but never a life with him and the idea of that is so fucking hellish he screams in the void, screams rage and fear and lost lonely sad, and the endless possible universes dumps him into a living room.
The change is so startling, he doesn’t actually understand what’s happening. He stares around, wide-eyed and panting.
The room is dark, lit by a kitchen light, but he can see the tastefully framed posters--Lord of the Rings, an old Star Wars poster, Spiderman and Batman. He smiles.
The bookcase is overflowing, and there’s a stack of DVDs, a gaming console that looks like it was only half put away.
There is, too, a charcoal portrait of the Sheriff, one he doesn’t recognize, with a little girl in his arms.
Everything--the trip through the black, the almost dying, the constant tension from being thrown into a new world--crashes down on him and Derek looks around.
It’s safe, here. And dark and quiet, and he can hear heartbeats down the hall, deep and steady and even.
He pulls a blanket from where it’s crumpled at the end of couch, tugs it until it’s settled over him, and his face is pressed into a pillow that smells not quite like Stiles, but close enough that when he closes his eyes and inhales, he can convince himself it is Stiles.
Something soft pokes him. “Wake up.”
Derek grumbles and swats at the soft--it’s a pillow, and he snags it, drawing it to his face with a low growling warning.
“That would be more threatening if you weren’t snuggling my girlfriend’s throw pillow. Get up.”
That processes slowly, and the voice, eerily similar to Laura’s, sinks in and both make Derek sit up.
There’s a young woman standing at the end of the couch, her eyebrows furrowed in a thoughtful frown. She’s pretty, curvy with a narrow waist and delicate little wrists. Her dark hair is messy and her hazel eyes are narrowed and he stares at her because, “What the fuck?”
“You’re the stranger asleep on my girlfriend’s couch. Don’t think you get to ask what the fuck.” She points a claw at Derek, “The only reason I haven’t gone for your throat is you smell like pack. So who the hell are you?”
Her expression goes a little bit darker, the scowl growing and Derek almost giggles because Stiles will be ecstatic to know he glares even as a female.
“Holy shit, you’re a girl,” he babbles. “I mean. That’s fine? I’m not attached to being male. But like--what the hell, I thought the last world was weird.”
He does giggle. He hears it and sees her eyes widen and thinks, this is it.
This is where I break.
“Stiles says use an interrogatory tone. He says it’s polite,” Derek says, muffled by his hand, and tears prick his eyelids. “I miss him.”
“Him?” she demands, and Derek stares at her.
At this girl who he knows is himself.
“What’s your name?” he asks, and she carefully edges closer to the couch. He can see her claws sinking into the Captain America throw pillow and thinks Stiles will be pissed.
“Derric. Derric Hale,” She says, and Derek nods.
Derric Hale listens to him. He tells her--everything. About dying, about the many worldss he’s been to, the worlds he spun through after he was executed. About helping his other selves find their way to Stiles.
About his own Stiles, beautiful and fiercely loyal, about the terror in Stiles’ eyes when Derek sent him away.
“I shouldn’t have,” he mumbles, and Derric stirs. She’s been silent the entire time he’s talked, and he feels--tired, wrung out, raw. She’s watching him, her eyes narrow and considering. “Did the fire happen there?” she asks, quietly and he flinches.
He had hoped.
“So we aren’t that different,” she murmurs, and he snorts.
“The boobs are different,” he says and she smirks.
It’s strange, but familiar, an expression he makes all the time, but distorted by the feminine features.
“Was it--was it Kate?” he asks, hoarsely, and her expression goes tight and slightly haunted.
“Kade,” she says. “His name here is Kade. And yes. It was him.”
He doesn’t ask for details. He knows enough that details don’t matter.
Footsteps clatter up the stairs and Derric shifts, standing, as a familiar heartbeat fills up his ears.
Stiles spills into the apartment, already shouting for Derric and freezes when she sees them.
She’s pale and lithe and beautiful, wide doe eyes and a shaggy pixie cut around her elfin face and upturned nose, her lips pink and plush and parted.
She blinks at them while Derek stares, drinking her in. She’s exquisite.
“Do we have another witch in town?” she finally demands, and Derric cracks a smile.
Derek listens to Derric explain, watching Stiles stealing glances at him, her gaze curious and speculative and so fucking smart it made him want to scream.
She was Stiles, but she wasn’t. She wasn’t his, wasn’t even the same fucking gender as his, and maybe that’s why.
Every world before, Derek could convince himself it was close enough. That it wasn’t that different than the boy he loved with moles and a smart mouth.
But this girl.
This girl is different. She lounges in Derric’s arms, unashamed, legs long and pale in a pair of short denim shorts, and a bisexual pride tank top. She’s blatantly sexy, and seems all too aware of the way Derek watches her.
“Were you and Stiles together?” she asks, interrupting Derric. He blinks at her and she stirs, impatiently. “That look--it’s the way she looked at me before we got together. You aren’t with yours, are you?”
He shakes his head, swallows.
All the reasons he’d built so carefully seem very stupid now, and he feels very alone. “No,” he says, because he doesn’t think he could explain.
“Damn,” Stiles says, her voice regretful.
“Baby?” Derric murmurs and Stiles tilts her a wicked smile.
“I mean, if they were, I’d totally tap that. I could get fucked by boy and girl Derric? Yes, please.”
Derek and Derric blink at her, and Stiles cackles. “Oh my god, your faces.”
Derric snarls and drags Stiles, giggling back into her lap, and Derek feels some of the grief relaxing it’s hold.
He follows Stiles into the kitchen and watches as she cooks. It feels familiar--there are so many nights doing research that Stiles would drag him downstairs to cook while Derek sat quietly watching.
It’s only when the food is in front of him that he realizes how hungry he really is, and he tears into it, manners and memories and longing set aside as he eats through three plates of eggs and most of the bacon. Derric gets up and brings more to the table about half way through and he grunts a thanks, and Stiles murmurs, “How long has it been since you ate?”
He can’t remember. There was food with the priest, he remembers that, and Claudia left food for him in one world, but he didn’t eat it--”Too long,” he mumbles, and she’s frowning when he looks up.
Not like she’s mad. But like she’s worried, like Derek needs to take better care of himself.
He almost laughs, because he knows damn well that he needs to take better care of himself. He just isn’t sure how.
“I--Dad left some clothes here,” Stiles says. “If you want to shower.”
Derek nods, doesn’t comment or ask about the Sheriff being male. Maybe not everyone is the opposite gender here.
He takes a long shower, and he doesn’t bother stretching to hear what Derric and Stiles are whispering about. He doesn’t want to know.
He likes this world, but the glaring differences in it and his own make it something bittersweet and he--he doesn’t want to think about them.
He doesn’t want to know that their parents are the same, but their friends are not, that Derric took Stiles to prom and that she got the apartment the week after Stiles’ eighteenth birthday. He doesn’t want to know what they do or how they live, he just--
He wants to go home.
He wants this, quiet comfortable domesticity, with his Stiles, in his world.
And Derek is beginning to think he won’t ever get back there.
When Derek emerges from the bathroom, Stiles is cleaning, vacuuming of all things--he’s pretty sure his Stiles didn’t own a vacuum--and Derric is in the kitchen, putting together a roast.
Derek gives her a questioning look and she flicks an amused glance at her girlfriend. “It’s Sunday. Family dinner.”
His stomach plunges at that, and he takes a step back. Derric levels a firm look at him. “You need to stay--she wants you to, and I think there’s someone you need to talk to.”
Stomach twisting, he settles back into his seat.
He freezes when Scott tumbles into the room, a wide smile on his face that falters when he sees Derek. John Stilinski follows him and his blood runs cold, and he throws Derric an betrayed glared.
“Well,” purrs Peter, snapping Derek’s gaze back to his uncle where’s pressed against the Sheriff’s back. “This is interesting. Niece. Care to explain why I’ve suddenly acquired a nephew?”
“ What?” Scott yelps and Stiles snorts. John just stares, and Derek--Derek struggles not to flinch or squirm under his heavy gaze.
“Leave the boy alone, Peter, at least until we sit down to eat.”
Peter hums and presses a kiss to the Sheriff’s temple. “Yes, darling.”
“Peter, what did we say about being creepy?” Stiles says sweetly and he detaches himself from the sheriff to pull the young woman into a hug, scenting her briefly before murmuring, “Apologies, sweetheart. I do try. ”
“I don’t need to be a werewolf to know that’s a lie,” she says dryly.
“Dude!” Scott says sharply and waves an indignant hand at Derek. “What is this?”
“Rude,” Stiles says, waspish and it warms him a little--Stiles defending him from Scott would never fail to make him preen.
“I’m from a different universe. And I don’t know why I’m here,” he says, abruptly, stilling conversation completely. “And I don’t know how long I’ll be here.”
Peter hums quietly, consideringly, and Derek stares at his uncle, hope building in his chest.
“Dinner,” Derric says abruptly, and the moment is shattered.
When dinner is finished, Peter pulls him into the kitchen to help him clean, leaving Stiles with her father and best, Derric trailing them into the kitchen.
“Tell me about your death. Exactly what happened.”
He blinks. “I--um. A berserker, it stabbed me, a few times. Kate--your Kade--was controlling them. She’d stripped me of my power, a ritual--there wasn’t enough time to heal, not with as slowly as I was healing.” He shifts, “Do you know why this is happening?”
“There’s--no. I don’t know .”
The edge of the room blurs a little, the noise of water running and Stiles happy chatter stretching and black welling. He grits his teeth and clings. “Peter, tell me. What the fuck is this.”
His eyes widen. “A legend. There’s magic involved, but if a shifter dies without control of their shift, if they die with enough undone and with enough longing--they’ll be pulled back.”
Peter says something but the black shoves up, roaring, and all he can hear is Stiles, high and frightened, shouting his name as she pauses in the doorway to the kitchen, all he can see is her face, pale and scared, and he thinks, Stiles, I’m so sorry.
He thinks, I want to go home.
The black hooks in his gut and yanks.
Chapter 9: Paradise, AZ
Derek blinks. He’s been deposited on a bench in a park, and he takes a moment to look around, to get his bearings--but there is nothing about the small park that tells him anything. It’s spring and this could be any town in any part of America. The air has a quiet, slow feel to it, something that makes him anxious.
A little girl runs by, chased by her brother, her giggles high and happy, and Derek smiles, watching her.
Her brother watches him as they dart past and Derek offers a small smile, little and unthreatening, and the boy smirks, before he focuses on his sister.
He takes a breath.
The last world--Stiles and Derric--had been...It had been shocking but it had been good , almost achingly so, and he had relaxed there, even as he felt the ache of longing for his own world, for his Stiles.
He remembers, suddenly, Peter’s words.
There’s magic involved, but if a shifter dies without control of their shift, if they die with enough undone and with enough longing--they’ll be pulled back .
He got pulled away, before he could find out what caused this, what was pulling him.
He had ideas--his own opinion--but he wanted to know what Peter knew, and what the hell he could do to stop this hellish trip through worlds that weren’t his.
He wants to know what waits at the end--if it’s another chance, a life to get it right. Or if he’s just going to die in the dirt of La Iglesia.
He stands up, and starts walking--Peter Hale won’t find him in a lonely park with two children playing cops and robbers.
He wanders through Paradise, Arizona slowly. It’s a quiet has been town, full of boarded up buildings and shops that are empty, proprietors staring at him from behind plate glass with big dead eyes.
It’s a dying town and he doesn’t recognize it.
He doesn’t know why he’s here but the more he wanders through the town, the more dread gathers in his belly. He stops at the diner and the woman, a pretty older woman, clucks at him. “Should be at your shop, Derek.”
Derek blinks at her. “Ma’am?”
“You’ll get heatstroke, wandering through town like this. Just sit on down, the Sheriff will be by for his lunch soon, can take you back.”
Derek lets himself be fussed, pushed into a booth and plied with a icy glass of tea and a light sandwich. He eats with small, neat bites, and smiles his thanks when she drops a plate of crisp golden fries next to him.
He’s half done with the fries when the door opens and a rush of dry hot air sighs in.
“Found you somethin’” Betty grunts and Derek twists.
The Sheriff looks the same as he ever has, the first familiar thing he’s seen in this world and and his weathered face, his warm blue eyes and familiar brown uniform--it makes all the tension run out of Derek.
“Derek,” he says, a startled smile on his lips. “What are you doing here?”
“Eating lunch,” Betty says. “And then you can take him back to the shop. Wanderin’ around in the heat. I swear, that boy of yours has all the sense in their courtship.”
Derek bites down on the questions that jump in his throat, bite down on the eager demands, and tries to remind himself that these people think he’s their Derek.
John Stilinski studies him for a moment and then shrugs. “I can give you a ride home, son.”
They’re silent as the Sheriff eats, and Derek thinks he should probably say something about the double bacon burger and onion rings he’s putting away, but John doesn’t say anything defensive, so maybe this Derek doesn’t mind Stiles’ incessant bitching when his dad breaks his diet.
Derek doesn’t know enough about this place to say anything, so he keeps his mouth shut, and sits quietly. “C’mon,” John says, eventually, wiping his mouth and draining his coffee before he stands. “Let’s get you back to the garage.”
Derek follows along, docile enough, flashing a tiny smile at Betty as he goes, and get a snort for his trouble. The Sheriff is quiet, seemingly content to let quiet companionship stretch out between them, and Derek matches that silence.
He doesn’t want to tell the Sheriff.
He wants to linger in this quiet, sticky warm afternoon, belly full and leaning towards sleepy.
“Derek,” the sheriff says, pulling up to a small garage. Hale’s Auto Shop, it says. He feels a flutter of recognition--Laura had talked about it, before the fire, getting a garage and working together. She loved working on cars, something Derek learned to love because of her.
Owning a garage feels right in a way he doesn’t expect.
“Wanna tell me why you’re here?”
Derek freezes and twists to look at the Sheriff. John is staring at his phone a tiny frown on his face. “Because,” he continues, easily, “I like to think you didn’t lie when you told me on Sunday that you’d be at Stiles’ all week. I like to think the picture he sent me this morning wasn’t a lie. I like to think if you and he broke up, you’d have the decency to tell me, son.”
Derek laughs, and it sounds hollow. “It’d be a helluva a lot easier to explain if it was that simple,” he says and John gives him an arched eyebrow, patently unimpressed.
“I’m from a different universe,” Derek starts, and begin explaining. Again.
John Stilinski is quiet and patient, listening as Derek talks.
He tells him about the other worlds, about Stiles and loving him in every world.
He tells him about dying, about sending Stiles away to save Scott while he bled out in the dirt and sees John’s gaze tighten.
He tells him how tired he is. About the constant pulling, the way every world felt familiar but not his .
“Can you stop it?”
“If I can, I sure as hell don’t know how,” Dere says. “Peter does--I need to talk to him.”
“Peter?” the sheriff says, startled, and Derek pauses, looking at him. John looks pained. “Kid, you haven’t--you stopped talking to Peter after the accident.”
The world lurches, and he thinks, inanely, that he wants to go home. “But--he’s--”
“He can’t help you, here. I don’t know what he was like in your world. But Peter here--he’s not in a place he can help.”
“But if he doesn’t--who does? Who can tell me how to get home?”
John is quiet for a moment, and then, carefully. “Have you considered, Derek, that you can’t go home?”
He stares at John for a long moment, and then lurches up out of the car, falling onto the hard, hot asphalt to be thoroughly and messily sick.
John takes him home, to an unfamiliar house in an unfamiliar city, and it smells like Stiles, but not like home.
“He left, didn’t he,” Derek says, his voice empty and John hesitates, for a moment, before he nods. “I didn’t go with him.”
“He didn’t leave you,” John says, gently. “He just couldn’t stay in Paradise.”
Derek doesn’t say it feels like he’s been abandoned.
“You two make it work. It’s been almost three years, and you’re still with him. He loves you, Derek. It’s why he comes back. Why he won’t move away from LA.”
“Is that where I am?” he asks, dully and John nods. He doesn’t ask further. He doesn’t want to be the reason a story is ruined.
He wants to go home.
“Go lay down, son. I’ll bring up some dinner later.”
Derek doesn’t argue. He goes, blindly stumbling through the house, tugged by Stiles’ scent until he finds the right bedroom and he curls up on the bed, his eyes closing as he inhales the scent of Stiles on the sheets.
He lays still, his heart pounding as he inhales the comforting scent, and tries to calm his pounding heart, tries to rein in his shift.
He wants to sleep for a thousand years, wake up for a snack and do it again.
He closes his eyes, and he dreams.
Nightmares are part of who he is now.
They’re how he survives, how he survived killing Peter and losing his pack, and every hellish thing that came after. He remembers a time when he wasn’t trapped in a hellscape when he slept--but he can’t remember the last time it happened. He thinks, here will be no different.
Nightmares, he’s found, never lose their sharp edge of terror.
They still make him jolt awake, a scream trapped in his throat and tears pouring down his face, pooling in his ears and making him shake. His claws dig into his thighs and he--god he wants to go home.
He wants to go home, wants Stiles, wants the last few moments of life with the boy he never was going to get to keep.
This world--it’s not even bad. There have been worse. He’s safe, and fed, and they’re together here.
But Stiles left .
Stiles loved Derek, enough to be with him--but not enough to stay.
He wonders if this is how it felt, when he left Beacon Hills? If pain had gnawed at Stiles, hard to pinpoint, making guilt curdle in is gut. If he had been so fucking happy and proud of Derek for leaving, even as he cried and woke shaking from nightmares, because Derek was gone.
He’d never thought about it--never let himself think about it.
But now, in a world where they are happy and separate in their togetherness--he can’t help but think about it.
He left Beacon Hills because he needed to--but how much had that leaving cost the boy he left behind?
He doesn’t let himself think about what it will do to Stiles, if he dies.
He doesn’t let himself think about what it is already doing.
He clings to the loneliness that feels like a sharp aching emptiness, and swears to Stiles, to his Stiles, that he’s coming home.
In the middle of the night, when he can hear the Sheriff snoring and Paradise is still and silent, he calls Peter. The number his uncle has always had--even knowing it’s a long shot, that there is no reason this world’s Peter would have the same number, he calls.
It rings. On and on and on, coldly impersonal, until he finally hangs up.
A single text is waiting, when he lowers his phone.
Don’t call me again, nephew.
He squeezes his eyes closed, and waits for the sunrise, and in all the world's he’s been shoved into, and all the empty space he’s been ripped through--here in Stiles’ bedroom with his father down the hall, Derek feels more alone than he ever has before.
When a stabbing hook in his gut yanks him from sleep and this world he hates without any real cause--he surrenders to it, lets himself be yanked into nothing without fighting, and closes his eyes as he focuses on Stiles.
Soon he whispers.
He doesn’t know how long he can do this, ow many worlds he can live through, before he cracks, before he curls sobbing in an empty corner, begging for a boy he’s afraid he will never see again.
Soon , he thinks, a prayer and a plea and a vow.
It has to be soon.
Beacon Hills, California
The world he’s dumped into--and he thinks it says something, that it doesn’t even make his stomach churn to find himself stumbling down a shady street--is...surprisingly normal.
He inhales and it’s easy to catch the familiar scent of Beacon Hills, and layer deep and nearby--Stiles. He turns his head, and there--
There is a house, something that blends in with the suburban neighborhood around him, but the familiar jeep and the familiar scent--he knows it’s Stiles, and that makes the normal, non-descript house all the more interesting.
He licks his lips and takes a half step toward it.
There is a part of him that aches to go into that house, to find Stiles and bury himself in the younger man.
But there is this too--the ache of leaving, the undeniable wrong of holding a Stiles that is not his.
He hesitates, and he almost-- almost-- turns away.
But then the Sheriff’s cruiser pulls into the drive, and Derek freezes, knowing John will call out to him.
But it isn’t John who climbs out.
He blinks at the man. He’s older and broad, with gray at his temples and in his beard and a softness to his belly and arms that he doesn’t recognize, not after so many years of working out and running for his life.
He stares at himself, at the tiny lines around his eyes, and he whispers, “Holy shit.”
Derek Hale stares at him across the lawn for long enough that Derek huffs and shifts.
“Come inside,” he says, and his voice isn’t nearly as gruff as Derek is used to. “Before the neighbors talk.”
He thinks he should protest, but he’s too tired to bother, so he follows along obediently, and glances around as he’s led deeper inside. The kitchen is clean and big, and there is a comfortable looking couch and oversized recliners that smell like DerekandStiles . There are pictures hung, of the pack and John, of Stiles and some of him and Stiles.
One catches his eye, and he stares at it for a long moment, while his other self strips off his utility belt and boots.
Derek follows his gaze to the picture, and a smile curves up his lips. “About eight years now. After Stiles finished his Masters.”
His Masters. Jesus. That’s--Derek sways and his counterpart makes a quietly alarmed noise. Fifteen years, give or take. They’re fifteen years into the future, and he--he--
“Hey, come on, man. Breathe. Shit.” Derek feels the other man shifting, and he grabs his hand, squeezes it hard.
“Don’t--I’m--let me calm down before I see him.”
It makes him still, but he’s patently unhappy. Still--the way Derek strokes his back and hums quietly is something he would never do, never even think of, and he thinks it says something, about the man he grows into, that this one does.
When Derek doesn’t feel like one wrong word will shatter him to pieces, his older self rises and disappears down a hallway.
He can hear Stiles, his voice sleepy and the sound of kisses and bedsheets rustling.
He can hear himself, soothing and coaxing, the rhythm of it familiar, like they do this often.
It makes him ache with want, and he breathes through it and wanders along the walls, looking at pictures before he comes to an open doorway.
The room is painted a pale green and cheery yellow, not painted particularly well but done with obvious enthusiasm and love and it makes Derek smile because he can picture it--him and Stiles, paint splattered and laughing as they paint the room. There are birds and trees stenciled against one wall, rabbits and flowers and one deer. There’s a figure, features obscured by a deep red hood that makes him snort softly, and he wonders who did that.
The crib smells fresh, and like him, and he stares at it, at the strong wood carved with careful precision, the way there are nicks and imperfections, but nothing that would compromise the integrity of the crib.
There are carefully stacked diapers on the changing table, and clothes stacked on the dresser and a faded bear sits in the corner of the dresser.
It’s a room that smells of hope and happiness and love and Derek can barely breath, at the sight of it.
“The twins will be here next week,” a familiar voice says and Derek turns.
Stiles--Stiles is bare chested and beautiful. He’s grown up, grown into the promise Derek saw in him--the broad shoulders and powerful hands, the sculpted chest dusted with hair and eyes that are older, settled, sleepy as they watch him now.
He’s beautiful, and Derek wants him.
Derek wants this.
He sees his counterpart, hovering anxious a few steps behind Stiles, and he sighs, exhaustion washing over him. “I suppose you want to know the story.”
Derek cooks and Stiles wraps himself almost bodily around his cup of coffee and regards Derek with sleepy bright eyes.
And Derek tells them.
Everything. Slow, exhaustion dragging at his words, he tells them. About dying and spinning through the black and every world since.
“What about your Stiles?” Derek ask, once, and he shakes his head. Quietly.
“We--we’re not together.”
Derek’s eyes narrow as he puts a plate of eggs and beef hash in front of him. “It’s about six months too soon,” he says, flicking a glance at Stiles. “Remember--Mexico and then--” Stiles clears his throat and Derek nods, going quiet.
“It’s--our lives aren’t the same,” Derek says to them, thinking of the worlds he’s been to, of how different they were. “So it doesn’t--”
“No, I get that--but there has to be a universe where things are and we’re only separated by like, time or whatever, right? Because lemme tell you, dude,” Stiles says, “you--you’re the man I fell in love with fifteen years ago.”
“I think,” Derek says, later, when they’ve shown him to the guest room and his other self has excused himself to shower, “the hardest part isn’t leaving. It’s explaining to you, over and over, that I’m not yours and knowing that you aren’t mine.”
“Do you think the fact that you’re always brought to me matters?” Stiles murmurs and Derek presses himself deeper into the pillows, exhaustion thick hand pulling him down.
“Yes,” he murmurs.
When he wakes up, they’re sprawled in the living room, Derek half-asleep as he slouches over Stiles. Who smiles, bright and pleased as Derek stumbles out of the guest room. “Dude, good timing. Dinner will be here in about five minutes.”
Derek blinks at them, blearily and then nods, turning to go splash some water and hopefully some sense, into his face.
In the kitchen, he watches as they move around each other, communicating easy and effortless, the way he thinks he and Stiles do, but only when someone is about to die.
He wonders what it would be like to have that when they’re both happy. When the world doesn’t feel like it’s ending.
“Uh. I did a thing,” Stiles says and he still flushes, when he’s flustered. Derek does not think it’s adorable. “You--I thought, it’d be easier if you didn’t have to explain it every time? You look tired, man.”
His heart does an embarrassing lurch and he stares at the papers in wide eyed shock. The story is neatly written down, carefully typed and Stiles taps it. “I left a little room, so you can add if you keep going. I just--”
“Thank you,” Derek says, hoarsely. The idea that he wouldn't have to explain this over and over and over--it made him want to sob, and hug the younger man.
“Yeah, babe.” Stiles says, softly and it makes Derek’s head jerk up. He’s a little pink, but his gaze is steady and Derek is steadily ignoring them as he opens a bottle of wine, but he doesn’t--he isn’t angry.
Derek swallows thickly and smiles.
“Are you happy?” he asks, once, over a dinner of spicy pad Thai and noodles, over garlic chicken and vegetables and crispy egg rolls.
Stiles looks at Derek, and his eyes are bright, his heartbeat steady, when he says, simply, “Yes.”
They wind up in the living room, and Derek is a little shocked when Stiles drops down next to him, pressing close and sighing. “You’ve been doing this for god knows how long, Der, you need pack cuddles. Just let me.”
Derek gives his other self a helpless look and an older, fonder smile reflects back at him. “Don’t fight him. He’s usually right.”
“About this or in general,” Derek asks, quietly and the other man sobers. His gaze is patient and almost sad and it makes Derek want to squirm away from Stiles and them, makes him want to run.
“Tell me how this happened,” he says instead, desperately, and Derek smiles.
They were right--this world is painfully similar to Derek’s. They have the same story. Scott and Peter, the betas and kanima and the alpha pack. And then Mexico happened and when it was over--nothing changed.
Derek came back to Beacon Hills and started working a the Sheriff department. Stiles finished school and went to college, and they were friends.
They were good friends, but it wasn’t until Stiles’ sophomore year that Derek finally kissed him.
They didn’t date. They didn’t need to. They had a whole relationship built on trust and love and family and kissing Stiles on Thanksgiving over pumpkin pie while the Sheriff grumbled about his pie allotment--it felt natural. It felt easy.
And it was.
They fought sometimes, and Derek got protective and possessive--but they were happy and it was easy.
They got married after Stiles finished his Masters, in a ceremony Kira and Lydia planned, and Stiles taught at BHU and Derek ran for Sheriff when John retired and they were happy.
Adopting the twins--Stiles show him ultrasounds, a giddy smile on his lips--was the last piece to their puzzle.
It was so…
It was everything. Everything he’d ever wanted with Stiles, in a world close enough to his own that he could almost taste it, this kind of happiness.
“Did you ever wish you’d done something different?” he asks, once, and Derek smiles, fondly.
“I wish I had told him I loved him, sooner.”
Stiles smiles at him, and nods, eyes bright.
This--this is what he could have.
If he ever gets home, gets back to his Stiles--this is what he could have.
He wants it, so badly it aches in his gut and he closes his eyes against the pain of longing.
“We called Peter, but he won’t be back til morning,” Stiles says, apologetically and Derek nods. Stiles is leaning against the door of the guest room, pale and lovely in a tshirt and sleep pants, and Derek wants him.
He wants him, and the Stiles he saved from slavery and the merman and his Stiles, dusty and terrified in La Iglesia.
“Do you think I’ll get home?” he asks, and Stiles nods.
“If I know myself at all, you will. Even if Peter can’t help--he’ll die before he gives up on you.”
He smiles, sadly. “Sound pretty sure of yourself.”
“I am--and I know he loves you.”
He takes a step into the room, and his scent floods Derek’s nose as he presses a chaste kiss to the corner of Derek’s mouth.
“Get some sleep, big guy. Peter will be here with answers in the morning.”
Derek curls up with Stiles’ papers clutched in his hand, and sleeps with the taste and touch of his boy lingering on his skin, and the promise of his uncle and answers in the morning.
He wakes up in a cold cell and the warm future he could have feels very very far away.
Apologies for the lack of update last week--I've been sick and real life has been a little overwhelming. I think I'm back on course now. <3
He does understand, a little.
It’s a lesson.
All of this--it’s meant to be teaching him...something.
The only thing is--he doesn’t understand what .
And he wants, almost desperately, to go home.
He wakes in a cold cell, back pressed to hard stone, and body aching. There’s a moment of disorientation, a moment where he wants to shout for Stiles, for the other him that was comforting and hopeful--and then it crashes around him, the reality of this place.
It stinks, the smell of unwashed human and werewolves, the stench of blood and piss and shit all mixing together with fear into a misma that’s choking.
For a moment, all he does is breath, trying not to throw up. He remembers the soft warmth of the bed Stiles had made for him, how clean and safe it had felt and how very far away.
He falls asleep like that, pressed against the stone wall, shivering and aching for something he was beginning to think he would never have.
A foot digs into his thigh, prodding, and Derek bats at it sleepily, a low growl in his throat.
“Wake up,” someone rasps, the foot pulling away. “We’ll be late.”
He blinks sleepily, staring up at the other man who glares back impatiently. “Get up. I don’t care what I promised Stiles, I will leave you here.”
That however, sets Derek in motion, and he scrambles upright, swaying a little. He aches , his body sore and tender in ways he isn’t used to.
It’s a distant concern though--he follows the other man out of their cell, a little surprised that it’s not locked. There are others milling in a dirty stone courtyard, and he catches sight of guards on the periphery, watching them with almost bored indifference.
A hand catches at the back of his throat, and yanks him along, into a line of men waiting for food.
They’re all dressed the same--a thin linen shift with a thick belt and oiled pouch, leather sandals and vambraces, a leather cup to protect his groin. Derek shoves the papers, clutched tight in one hand, into the pouch and follows the others, watching as he goes.
On two walls, there is an array of weapons, blunted and waiting for use and it clicks in suddenly.
“Shit,” he mutters, and follows his cellmate to get food.
The ludus--and it is, he figures it out quickly, all those summers spent buried in a history book paying off for once--takes care of their gladiators.
They’re well fed and a doctor wanders through their midst, tending injuries and still healing wounds.
But there is something... off... about the gladiators, a kind of tension that sets Derek’s teeth on edge.
He doesn’t like this place.
Then another door opens, on the far side of the courtyard, and another group files in.
They walk sedately, and they’re dressed differently--in dark red tunics and long red stolas covered by thin robes, their heads covered by sheer cloth, faces lowered to the ground, and yet--they move with almost musical grace, and Derek watches as they slip into the milling gladiators, moving effortlessly to a specific gladiator.
He isn’t surprised, at all, when he looks at the red-clad acolyte at his side.
Stiles looks beautiful in red.
It’s a ludicrous thought, and still the first and only thought he has.
“I thought you were leaving,” Stiles says, his voice biting and oh.
Oh, he is angry.
“We should talk,” Derek says, softly.
Stiles snorts. “I wanted to talk and you told me to go away. Maybe I’m tired of your empty words, berserker.”
“Stiles,” Derek murmurs, and the younger man hisses at him.
“Come,” Liam says gently, taking Stiles by the elbow and pulling him away.
“You pissed off your praemium again?” his cellmate asks, a smile in his voice that is a little too cutting. Derek shifts, toward where Stiles is sitting, straight backed and angry next to Liam.
“Give him some time. You know how the praemium are. He’ll be fine by this afternoon.”
Derek watches Stiles but lets the other man draw him away. He thinks that whatever the other praemium are like--Stiles won’t get over his anger with a few hours of sulking.
When the gladiators and praemium have finished eating, the praemium move to stand near their gladiators, and Derek fights the urge to turn into Stiles. There is a line of distance between them that Stiles is very careful to maintain--but he smells like Derek, below the scent of oil and incense.
He smells like Derek.
For the first time since he woke up in that damn cell, he wonders where his counterpart is.
“We have to talk,” Derek murmurs.
“First you have to keep me, gladiator,” Stiles says, his voice low and tense, and his gaze skirts over Derek--too sharp and knowing. “Stay away from Aiden. Fight Ennis--you can beat him. Take the gladius. He’ll go for the mace. And if you don’t beat him, I will cut your throat in your sleep, do you understand, my love?”
It’s said with such a gentle smile it chases a shiver down Derek’s spine and he nods. “Yes. I understand.”
Stiles smiles, then, and it’s sharp and real. “May the gods bless you, gladiator.”
They watch three matches, and Derek’s gut churns as each match ends. The winner can choose between the praeium, and he watches the fury in his cellmate’s eyes when he’s defeated.
“Shit,” Stiles breathes.
Liam is quiet, but he keeps glancing at the defeated gladiator as he takes his place next to the winner. “Theo’s kept Liam safe for almost three moons,” Stiles whispers. “And Donovan has been trying for just as long to get his hands on Liam.”
“What will happen to him?” Derek murmurs, and Stiles looks sick, but doesn’t answer.
Then his name is shouted.
His eyes flick over the other gladiators, over Stiles where he stands in a small stone circle.
“Ennis,” he says softly. “Natural weapons.”
There's a murmur and he can feel Stiles, the spike of worry and anger, but he pushes that aside.
He can win against Ennis. He's done it before.
“I'm going to enjoy taking your pretty praemium, omega,” Ennis snarls and Derek lets out a slow breath.
“No killing wounds,” the lanista says lazily and the trainer nods, eyeing the weres before the gong clangs.
Ennis rushes him, roaring, his eyes gleaming blue and Derek snarls, rolling to avoid his charge and slashing at his hamstrings as he comes to his feet behind Ennis.
Ennis bellows as he staggers, striking blindly. They circle each other for a long moment and then Ennis charges him, slams into him headlong, fangs long and snapping at his throat. His claws rake through Derek's shoulder and Derek bites back a groan as he latches onto the other man's arm and swings himself up and around slamming his knees into the back of Ennis’ back.
He goes down, hard and Derek rides him to the ground, knees digging into the were's back and claws sinking into Ennis’ neck. He roars, shaking under Derek and Derek roars back, fighting the urge to go for his throat.
Then the gong changes and he blinks, the killing rage sharp in him.
“Gladiator Hale,” the trainer shouts and he drags himself upright, staggering a little as he reaches for Stiles. The praemium breaks ranks, darting from the stone circle and into Derek's arms.
“Idiot,” he mumbles and Derek smiles as Stiles helps him away.
Stiles lowers him carefully to the bed. The praemium's room is sparse but comfortable and the bed is soft under his back and for just a moment, lying there he forgets he's supposed to talk to Stiles. Then he gets smacked in the face with a wet rag and he peers one eye up to glare.
“I said gladius.”
“And that would have ended with me on my back in the sand real quick since I've never held one,” Derek snaps back. That makes Stiles pause and he scoffs. “You know damn well who I'm not.”
Stiles’ lips press together, and he tugs his headscarf off, revealing long, curling brown hair. “You aren’t my gladiator. But you look like him and you answer to the same name--so who are you?
Derek closes his eyes, and digs out the papers he’s had tucked in his pouch. He hesitates, and looks at Stiles. “Can you read?”
Stiles rolls his eyes. “I’m a praemium, not an idiot,” he grumbles, snatching the pages from Derek and unfolding them.
Then he flushes. “This isn’t Latin.”
Derek sighs and gently plucks the papers from Stiles, tugging the praemium back until they’re reclining.
“This was the idea of a friend,” he murmurs, almost into Stiles’ hair, and then he begins to read.
Stiles is quiet the entire time, and like this, Derek can almost pretend it's something that happened to someone else, a twisted fairytale story that isn’t his.
It helps, some.
It hurts, a low ache in his gut when Stiles squirms, when he leans against Derek like he belongs here, and Derek remembers how far from home, from his Stiles he is.
“So you’re dead?”
Derek shrugs. “Do you--is my uncle here?”
Stiles shakes his head. “He bought his freedom two years ago. Derek hears from him, occasionally, but he’s out--we don’t expect much from him.”
“And where am I?” Derek asks, addressing the question he hasn’t until now. They’re fighting--he knows that whatever the answer is, the question will only infuriate Stiles.
Predictably, Stiles’ expression goes dark and he pulls away from Derek completely.
“He went to a Triumph.”
Derek sits up, watching Stiles. “I know you’re angry, Stiles. But explain to me what this means.”
Stiles frowns at him, and then huffs. He rubs a hand through his hair, and says, “A gladiator--they’re brought into the ludus, but they’re brought with a praemium. Sometimes--like Theo and Liam, they come here together. With me and Derek--we just fit. I was bought to pay my mother’s debts, and arrived a few weeks before Derek. And then he was here, and he won me in his first match and I’ve been with him ever since.”
“Why? What is the purpose of a praemium?” Derek asks and his voice shakes.
Because he has an idea, and it makes him want to scream, makes him desperate to take Stiles from this place.
“It’s in the name, Derek. We’re a reward. A good gladiator--a gladiator who wins--keeps his praemium. A bad one? Loses his. And all the benefits that come with us.”
“Sex,” Derek spits, and Stiles shrugs.
“Sometimes? But companionship, too. We take care of our gladiators. A good praemium knows how to their gladiator win, in the ludus and in the arena. My eavesdropping is how we knew what Derek would face in the last games. It’s why we won.” There’s a hint of pride in his voice, a proprietary air, and it clicks suddenly.
This is a pretty trap.
“Why are you angry at Derek?”
Stiles pauses, and laughs. It’s empty and wooden, and his smile is mocking. “I forget you’re him. You’re just as smart as he is.”
“Stiles,” Derek says.
“He left the ludus for a Triumph . And we swore--if he won his purchase price--he would get out. He wouldn’t stay for me.”
“Can’t he buy your freedom later?”
Stiles shakes his head. “How do you think they trap us--gladiators win their purchase price all the time. But praemium--we’re given this ,” he waves at the room, “luxuries and education and every finery that could entice the patrons in the arena.”
Derek’s stomach turns. “And that--”
“Costs money,” Stiles finishes bitterly. “Derek could fight his whole life and never win enough to purchase me from the ludus. And he’s too fucking stupid to leave me.”
“He loves you,” Derek says, and Stiles glares at him.
“Do you think I don’t know that? Of course he loves me. But I love him too--and I have to watch him almost die, every damn time he walks on to the sands. Do you think that’s easy?”
Derek stares at him helplessly, and the other man shakes his head. “He went to a fight in a Triumph where he could be killed because of the purse. And if he dies--does he think that will help? I’ll be free and alone--that isn’t what I agreed to,” Stiles says, fiercely.
Derek stares at him, at the blazing love and terrible fear in his eyes, and thinks, in every world--your loyalty is the best and most beautiful thing about you.
“What if--what if I could help?” he says, licking his lips.
Stiles blinks at him and Derek smiles.
He stays in Stiles’ room until the praemium finally crawls into bed and falls asleep. His sparse room makes more sense, now--it’s stripped of everything but what is essential. Even Stiles’ robes and headscarf are tattered, a little worn through.
It makes sense--especially since Derek risked his life to pay for every one of Stiles’ indulgences.
He rises, pressing a gentle kiss to Stiles’ hair before he slips out, and goes back to the courtyard.
Boyd is there--he’d seen him earlier, with Erica perched in his lap, and it’s not hard to find them now.
“I need your help,” he says, praying that in this world, like his own, they care about him.
“Anything, Alpha,” Boyd answers, and his eye shine, beta bright, for a heartbeat.
Derek lets out his breath.
Boyd arranges it.
The messages goes by way of Isaac, a quiet kitchen boy who promises to deliver the message by morning.
He leaves his last wishes with Deaton, who eyes him with open concern. “It doesn’t do to go into the arena expecting to fail, Derek,” the older man cautions.
“Maybe. But I won’t go without assuring my praemium is cared for, in the event I do fail.”
Deaton nods, bowing to his wishes, and Derek let’s out his breath.
And then he goes to his cell and waits.
The door opens, and the lanista steps into view.
Derek’s only a little surprised to see Scott’s father, his face scarred and ugly as he watches Derek.
“You know that you can buy your freedom. Right now, without this match.”
“I know,” Derek says. “I could buy mine and maybe half of Stiles’. And that’s not enough.”
Raphael sighs. “You are facing a sphinx, Derek. You’ll die. Even you cannot win against that.”
Derek’s heart is pounding, and he can feel Theo watching him, curious and wary. “Then my praemium will be free.”
Raphael’s face crunches in thought and displeasure, but he sighs and leaves.
“You’re going to get yourself killed to buy his freedom,” Theo says, his voice low.
“I’m going to fix things,” Derek says, and it settles his pounding heartbeat.
There is a moment, when he is oiled and fit in his hard leather armor, when he is waiting with his gladius and a fucking spear of all things, that he thinks--he’ll get away with this.
Stiles will never know.
Or maybe--Stiles won’t know in time.
And then the door clangs open and over the reek of sweat and blood and pungent oil, he can smell Stiles , bright and clean and familiar. He catches the praemium as Stiles launches himself into Derek’s arms, holding him impossibly tight while Stiles shakes.
“I hate you,” he snarls, and Derek nods. Tips his head up and thumbs over his cheeks, rubbing away his tears.
“I know,” he murmurs, and in another world, it would make Stiles smile.
Instead, Stiles’ breath catches on a sob and he leans in, kissing him gently, almost chastely, and softly, hidden there in the shadows and the roar of the arena he murmurs, “Your Derek is waiting. Meet him at the shoreline--Boyd will tell you where.”
“ No,” Stiles gasps.
“I love you, Stiles,” Derek whispers, and the gong sounds behind them--he’s ripped away and the last thing he sees is Stiles’, tears streaming down his face, red robes rippling in the wind.
He thinks--if another Derek found his Stiles. He’d want them to take care of him.
He thinks--they deserve this chance at happiness.
He thinks--it’s a good way to die.
Then the sphinx screams and burning claws rip into him, and he can’t think at all.
It’s not a fight.
Derek manages to land two blows, before the sphinx is screaming and ripping him to pieces, and it hurts , it hurts so fucking bad, it’s like the fire and La Iglesia and slowly drowning next to Stiles all in one, and it’s worse because he can hear Stiles, can hear him screaming and he thinks--this is for you. This is for you.
I would do anything for you.
It’s teeth are in his belly, and he coughs, blood frothing on his lips and he hears, very far away, a gong sounding.
He gasps, and the pain is an all consuming thing, choking off his breath and he can’t even scream with it. He’s dying.
He’s been close to dying often enough to know what it feels like. He’s dying, and Stiles is on his knees, his robes blood soaked and dark around them. He’s sobbing, his eyes big and terrified, and he is beautiful.
Beautiful, beautiful, and he wants desperately to stay.
“Be happy, sweetheart,” he gasps. Smiles, and it feels like that moment in the dirt of La Iglesia, “Be happy on the shore.”
He touches Stiles face, his fingers leaving bloody trails before they drop to the stone.
It’s the last thing he hears.
The black feels deeper .
Thick with screams and unshed tears, with whispered pleas and cries and all of them clamor around him, echoing and echoing and all of it is his name.
All of it is Stiles begging for him to come back.
He wants to say-- I’m trying.
He wants to say-- bring me home.
He wants to say-- I love you.
But he can’t. He’s trapped in thick black emptiness and he thinks that maybe this is hell.
Maybe seeing what he can never have--so very close to what he wants--over and over, in so many different ways--maybe this is hell.
He deserves it.
Chapter 12: Eden, Montana
He comes to with a scream, the shout trapped in his throat almost choking him, and for a minute--he has no idea where he is.
He has no idea what's happening.
He can feel hot sand and Stiles hand, cool water and Stiles chitters, a hot windy street in a quiet dying town, can feel the echoes of more worlds than he can count, all of them *pressing on him.
For a moment, it's too much, and he doesn't move. Can't.
His whole body hurts, and he's tired, achingly tired. A sob catches in his throat, and he curls on his side, fist pressed to his mouth as he cries, because he knows.
He *knows he isn't home.
And he can't bear to face another world that isn't his own.
He falls asleep in that big bed with tear tracks on his cheeks and when he wakes, darkness is settling over the house, over the mountain view beyond the window vistas.
He seriously considers staying in the big bed until the universe pulls him away or some other version of himself finds him, but instead, he drags himself upright and staggers through the quiet, empty house.
It feels familiar, maybe because he's always wanted a place like this.
He wanders through the house, looking for he isn't even sure what.
There's nothing here, though--it's empty, and smells stale--like it's been that way for a while. But there's electricity and water, so eventually he digs out some clothes and climbs into the shower, letting the hot water and amazing water pressure wash away the phantom feel of blood and sand that still clings to his skin.
It shouldn't feel like he's tender and flayed open, but he thinks maybe that's just a ghost of the world he just came from, and will fade in time. He felt a sharp pain in his side when he woke from the water world, and a sore throat after he was beheaded.
Not for the first time, he wonders what those other versions of himself are doing now. If they remember him, if his brief stint in their world did anything to help them--or if he's just a ghost a wisp of memory that made no difference or impact.
He hopes he made an impact. He wants, so badly, to believe that Stiles is free of the ludus, and living by the seaside with his gladiator lover.
He needs to believe that is true.
It’s near dark when he finds the office.
It's a comfortable room, filled with dusty bookshelves and an old desk with a wide, scuffed top, like it had been used often and well.
He wonders why it's so obviously deserted, wonders where this universe's Derek is.
Maybe it's like Paradise, and he's away, traveling with Stiles. It's a very pretty thought, even if he doesn't fully believe it. The universe is cold and cruel and he thinks it fucks Derek Hale over far more than it gives him happiness.
But he sits at that wide desk, in a quiet empty house that looks out on the mountains, and he hopes that he's wrong.
His knee bumps the desk and the door swings open--and he freezes.
Becuase for the first time since he woke up here--he can smell Stiles.
He reaches out, his hand trembling, and grasps the stack of papers, all neatly ordered and stacked together. His scent is on them, these thin papers he's handled so often--but so is Stiles.
He should put them away.
Derek *knows he should put them away. These letters are meant for the Derek of this universe--not him.
he picks up the first letter, his fingers trembling just a little.
This is a school assignment. Which is weird. I’m not sure what to say--Dad says that’s a first, which is just rude.
I don't talk nearly as much as he likes to think I do---he just doesn't talk at all.
Ok so what about me is interesting? I know you aren't going to write back. No one writes letters anymore--that's the whole point of this, right? That we're supposed to be doing this lost art thing? Something about waiting for good things, but like--how do you know it's good? How do I know you're even going to respond?
Two of my classmates aren't even going to write the letter, and I thought about blowing it off--but I wanted to try.
And if you don't write, well ok.
But if you do.
I'm an only child. My dad is a deputy and I worry about him a lot more than I probably should--according to him anyway, but he's ridiculous and doesn't know what he's talking about. My best friend is Scotty and I suck at lacrosse and I want to go into Expo when I'm old enough.
There's this girl in my class, Lydia? She's going to be a real life rocket scientist, dude. She's gonna rewrite everything we know about Travel, and I'm gonna use that shit to get up there. I can't wait.
Anyway--I hope you do write back. But if you don't--thanks for reading this far.
He puts it together slowly, reading through their letters.
The story of how they began as strangers, slowly building into something deeper, a friendship that makes him ache.
Derek here was a solitary creature, content to stay alone in his quiet home, and go on assignments in space.
And Stiles wrote him.
When he was gone, and when he was home. There was a folder with emails and texts, but the letters are what really captivated Derek.
“You would love this so much,” he mumbles, to the memory of his own Stiles. “It’s so ridiculous and you.”
He reads and the sun sets, and he falls in love with them, reading their stories.
I told him.
I think I shouldn’t have been as worried as I was. I know you said it would be ok--that Dad would love me through anything, but it’s a big thing. I just--I want him to be proud of me.
I know that I’ve ffucked up a lot, especially right after mom died, but I’ve always wanted him to be proud of me.
Thanks. You didn’t really sign up for helping some spastic kid figure out his sexual identity but I couldn’t have done this without you. So thanks, for listening. For always being there.
Do you remember the first letter I sent you? I don’t think I really expected a response. I expect you to chuck it because it was just some stupid assignment.
But you didn’t. And it’s been so long now--I don’t know what my life would even look like, if you hadn’t answered that damn letter.
I guess I’m trying to say--thanks. There’s not a lot of people I care about. There’s Dad and Scotty and Melissa.
His hands tremble, the paper shaking in his grasp.
I love you.
I know you aren’t ready to say it to me, that maybe you won’t ever be ready. I know you’re about to leave for a three year Expo and we won’t meet for another five. I know that I’m just the kid you befriend for gods know what fucking reasons. But I know this too.
I love you.
I love your shitty taste in movies and your love of books that are older than both of us. I love your stories of Expo and the way you look when I vid you first thing in the morning, all soft and grumpy.
I love that you always have time for me and that when you’re on Expo, you send me letters and little bits of shit from Other. I have a whole bookcase of Other stuff, did you know that? I don’t think I ever told you, but I do--Dad thinks it’s ridiculous.
I love that you get exasperated when I call you dude and that you still keep Cora’s teddy bear, and that your uncle is the only person with keys to the house.
I love that you hate people but like me and that you don’t like spicy food and that you drink cups of sugar and call them coffee and about a million other things.
But Derek--this is important, ok, listen. I love you.
I love you for loving me. For being broken and real and always always there. I love you for being an asshole and being a fluffy marshmallow and for always hearing what I say and letting me hear what you don’t say.
I love you.
And I don’t care how long it takes, I’ll wait for you.
He’s awakened by another heartbeat, and it jolts him upright with how painfully familiar it is. He scrambles out of the blankets he nested in and downstairs.
Peter looks at him. He’s wearing a dark black suit and his face is pale and scarred and his eyes are narrow as he watches Derek, assessing.
“You aren’t my nephew,” he says, and Derek feels his stomach lurch.
He wants to be.
God he wants to go home.
“Where--where are they?” he asks, his voice small and plaintaive, and he hates how much it hurts.
“Why don’t we start with who the hell you are, hmm?”
Derek nods, and inches down the stairs to push the little bundle of paper at Peter, and then sits on the staircase and waits.
He watches Peter as he reads, watches the way his fingers tighten around the paper before he relaxes. He took the time to write down the last two universes he’d ben thrust into before he explored the house, and he sees the wild hurt look Peter gives him as he nears the end. He smiles, small and reassuring.
Peter finally huffs and shoves the papers back at Derek. “I brought food. And I’m sure you have questions.”
Derek nods, and comes down the last few steps carefully as Peter turns away. He pauses a moment, and squeezes the back of Derek’s neck. “I’m sorry, Derek.”
He nods, and tears burn in his eyes--too tired and emotionally wrung out to fight them. Peter hums softly and steers him toward the kitchen by the hand on his neck.
"You have questions," Peter says, making it a statment while he puts two bowls of thin fragrent soup and thick heavy bread on the table for them. He nods at it and Derek falls on his food like he's starving. He might be, he realizes.
"Where are they," he asks.
Peter's gaze goes distant, longing and far away for a moment. "Expo. Derek is on his fourth tour--he's alpha of his own pack now. And Stiles qualified to go with him--Derek waited. He passed three promotions to stay grounded until Stiles qualified to fly. And as soon as he was--I couldn't have kept them grounded even if I wanted to."
"But you didn't want to," Derek says, softly.
Peter shrugs. "Earth doesn't hold much for either of us, anymore, and after his father died, it held just as little for Stiles. Space--it's good for them." He sips at his soup and his lips do something complicated, and it feels like he's looking at Peter from past world, overlaid on this one, and his own Peter, shining like a weak beacon through them all.
"But you miss them."
Peter blinks at him.
"I do. I don't have any family left and as much I would never begrudge Derek his own happiness--I do miss my nephew when he wander through the cosmos."
"But they are happy?" Derek presses and Peter softens, his lips ticking up in a gentle smile.
"They are very happy, Derek. Stiles has loved your other self since before he truly understood what love was. And Derek is devoted to him. They are exactly as they should be. Together."
"Does that make being left behind easier?"
Peter shrugs, and stirs his soup, something tired and very melancholy settling over him. "I don't suppose that ever grows easier. We aren't creature meant to be alone."
"But you could find someone," Derek says, tentatively, and Peter laughs. It's a soft, and bitter thing, edged with mocking.
"Do you really think so? Because I say that this," he gestured at his face and it's more resigned than angry, "tells a different story."
"I'm sorry," Derek says, softly, and Peter smiles at him, and for the first time, it's just that.
A genuine smile, no hidden sadness, no bitter edge, no mocking. Just his uncle, smiling at his favorite nephew.
Derek wishes, suddenly, for his own uncle. For the Peter of his world, with all his faults and ego and everything that has kept them apart over the years.
How lonely must he be, Derek wonders.
"Come," Peter says, standing. "Let's see what we can do about getting you to your own boy, hmm?"
Peter settles at a wide table, mythology spread around him and slaps Derek’s hands away whenever he tries to help. Annoyed and amused in equal measure, Derek wanders to the bookcases and peruses them with idle interest. “What happened to Stiles’ father?”
“He drank himself to death, after Claudia died. It took a good decade, and the official cause of death was a gunshot to the head during a robbery he attempted to stop. Stiles was devastated, but he was also finally free. I think he felt guilty for how relieved he was.”
It sounded right. Stiles was a dichotomy--he always had been.
“Tell me about Expo?”
Peter flicks a look up at him, and smiles.
He tells the story in fits and starts, between mumbling at the books on the tables.
There was a war. It destroyed enough of the world that exploring space wasn’t a distant idea--it was a necessity.
Werewolves were ideal for Expo--stronger, more capable of withstanding the rigors of space.
Expo colonized new planets--and more than that, they brought those things back to Earth. Food grown on massive hydrodomes on the Moon, minerals mined on Neptune and Mars.
They revolutionized life on earth and built new lives on far flung planets.
“It’s competitive--not everyone who wants to go into Expo can. We can’t exactly abandon Earth, but everyone in the world wants into space. Derek is good at it, though--he’s always been good at it, even when he was just the beta. Now that he’s an alpha--there’s no telling what Expo will do or discover.” His gaze goes fond. “Especially with Stiles at his side.”
I'm taking my placement this week.
I know, I've commed you a thousand times about it since Wednesday. But I miss this part of what we are, sometimes, don't you? And if I pass--we agreed, right? We meet, if I pass and place into Expo. We see past the paper and the comms and even the vidchats--we get to met.
I think that has me more nervous than actually testing. I want you here, Derek. I want you in my space, I want to hear you laughing and telling me to shut up when I annoy you, but I know you won't mean it. I want to see the stars, I want to go up there--but I want it with you. And if I can't have it with you, I don't want to see it at all.
Is that stupid?
It probably is. I've wanted Expo since before I knew you existed. it's the only thing I want longer than I wanted you. But it's true. I want you with me, I want to explore the universe together, or I don't want to do it.
I take my test in few hours--when I wake up, and then we'll see what the future holds.
Either way, though. If I make it to the stars tomorrow or two years from now or never--I know that my future is you. I don't ever doubt that.
He wakes up without realizing he'd slept, to a rough jostle against his elbow, and Peter's face, bright and triumphant.
"I figured it out," he says, softly.
For a moment--for one heart stopping moment, Derek thinks he'll be ripped away, that he won't get to stay. But the world doesn't shift.
It stays exactly as it was, Peter staring down expectant and pleased.
"What is it?" he murmurs.
"Sometimes--there's legends of a werewolf dying with unfinished business. It's rare--legend only mentions three cases, born wolves with unfinished business and tragic loss. They die, before their time--and they get pulled back."
"By a strong anchor," Peter says. He looks so pleased it makes Derek want to laugh. "You're being pulled to your anchor. Every world you go to--that's what you find."
"Not always," Derek says. "Stiles isn't even *on this planet."
"Maybe it wasn't so much Stiles as what Stiles loves. He isn't here, he can't draw you--but you were drawn by where he was happiest, where he was loved. Where *you loved him."
"What's the point?"
"The point is learning. You died with with business so unfinished, it threw the universes out of alignment. That inbalance brought you back. And every world--you're supposed to learn something."
"And then I can go home?" Derek asks, small and plaintive.
Peter softens, and his eyes are warm and fond. "Yes, pup. And then you go home."
When he dreams, he dreams of Stiles.
Not as he knew Stiles, but as he thinks Stiles must be now. He dreams of what he left behind.
Of dirt and tears and La Iglesia and Stiles screaming.
He dreams of Braeden, blank faced and disbelieving next to him and Scott standing awkward and Peter crouched behind Stiles, tears on his face, his hand on the boy's shoulder.
He dreams of Stiles, screaming and devastated, tears and snot ugly on his face, clinging to Derek and sobbing.
"No. Derek, no. It's not fair . This isn't fair! You can't leave me!"
There is a part of him that doesn't believe it. That doesn't believe Stiles could be this broken by his death.
And there is a part of him that knows it's real.
That this mad, reckless grief is real .
I'm trying, he thinks. Sweetheart, I'm trying to come back to you.
Chapter 13: Beacon Hills, California
Sorry!!! I totally didn't mean to take a little hiatus. Life and the holidays got away from me. But I'm back! And regularly scheduled posting will resume now. :) Happy New Year, friends!
He comes to in a start of rushing water and a half choked scream. He can still taste the sour fear of his dreams, of Stiles' blinding grief and rage, and for a moment, standing under the icy water, he can't understand where he is or why Stiles would be so furiously broken.
He scrambles for the knobs of the shower, twisting them to off, and stands there in the ensuing silence, panting as water drips off his nose.
"Derek!" a voice shouts, achingly familiar and strange, and he gasps, staring at the shower curtain. "Hurry up, bunny, we gotta leave in five minutes!"
He scrambles out of the shower, and freezes again, because there in the mirror, is a boy that is only vaguely familiar.
Derek stares, and his stomach drops, because this--this is not something he's ready for.
"Shit," he gasps, and his voice comes out far too high. "Motherfucking shit .
Puberty and high school were hell the first time around.
They were even shitty when Kate sent him careening back into them a few months ago, and even though he hasn't spent a lot of time dwelling on it--too busy staying alive and trying to figure out what the hell is wrong with his werewolf powers to dwell and isn't *that* the story of his life--he's self-aware enough to recognize there was something humiliating and shitty about being a younger version of himself.
And yet, here he is, staring into a mirror at a face he hasn't seen since he was sixteen and petulant and angry.
He wonders, idly, shoving his legs into a pair of too tight jeans, if this is what Laura meant about them and their mortality, when they ran from the fire and hunters, all those years ago.
If being immortal really just meant living the same life a thousand times, and a thousand lives over again.
A fist bangs on the door and Derek jumps.
He could always ask her, he thinks.
"Der!" she shouts and he takes a deep breath before yanking the door open.
Laura stands there.
In black skinny jeans, and a band tshirt she stole from their dad, a tight black leather jacket, her hair a mess of curls around her shoulders and her eyes bright and impatient.
She looks...beautiful. Vibrantly alive, and Derek makes a coked noise before he darts forward and burrows into her arms.
"Whoa. Derek--" she says, and her voice dips, cautious as her arms come around him.
He can't hear her heartbeat, can't smell her, and it makes him whine in distress, press closer to her as she wraps her arms around him. "Derek, what the fuck," she murmurs, holding him close and petting a hand over his hair. "I know I snapped when you got up late, but damn, kid."
He laughs, wet against her throat and forces himself. "I missed you," he says, and his voice wobbles.
She always teased him for that damn wobble, but she always held him when he cried, so he never minded. Her gaze is soft, confused but warm as she hugs him tight against. "Damn, bunny. Did you have a nightmare again?"
He laughs. "Sometimes I think everything since July twenty fifth has been a nightmare."
Laura arches an eyebrow at that, and frowns. "You're being weirder than normal, Der. What's going on?"
Derek shakes his head, because he knows that at some point he is going to pop out of wherever the hell he's gotten off to, and he doesn't have the time or patience to deal with Laura's protective fury, not right now. Instead he leans forward, presses a kiss to Laura's cheek and darts out. "I'll see you later, Lo."
She shouts at his back, but Derek doesn't pause to listen.
He'll stay, if he listens.
And he can't stay.
He goes to the Sheriff's house, because when he's looking for Stiles, that's the best place to start.
But the house is quiet, and he scowls irritably, before he turns toward the school, jogging along quietly.
The neighborhood is remarkably the same. He wonders what that means. What it means that the only thing that has changed is Derek.
And he wonders where Stiles is.
If he'll see him, this life. He didn't last time, and it aches under his skin, the need to see the boy and reassure himself that Stiles is ok.
He's almost seven years younger--which means, Stiles must be ten.
Shit. When Stiles was ten, Claudia died.
His speed inches up and he's panting now, because being human is the actual worst, and that's when he hears it.
The Jeep sounds like it always has, like it's one wrong turn and a bolt away from falling apart, and Stiles smiles at him from the driver seat and Derek's stomach plunges.
Because Stiles isn't ten.
"Motherfucking shit ," he whispers.
"Derek," Stiles says, stopping the Jeep and pushing the door open and Derek takes a step back. Stiles pauses. "You--come on, kid. Get in the car. We need to talk."
Fear skitters down Derek's spine. "Why?"
Stiles gives him a wry smile. "I feel like that little bombshell from Friday needs to be addressed before it gets worse, don't you?"
He really really doesn't.
But then, he really really doesn't know what Stiles is talking about. He glances longingly toward school and Stiles taps a rhythm on the door of the Jeep. "Come on, I'll get you a peanut butter shake."
Derek glares at Stiles, but from the smile he gets, it doesn't work the way he wants it to.
He huffs, and climbs into the Jeep and it's only when Stiles settles into his seat and shifts into first, the Jeep rattling down the road, that he says, "I want onion rings too."
Stiles smirks, "Whatever you want, kid."
It's...strange. Stiles is quieter. There's still something restless and constant about the way he moves, his fingers twitching packets of sugar straight, the way he taps a pattern on the tabletop, but he's quieter, not babbling at Derek, and aside from his fingers fidgeting across the table, he's still. Watching Derek as he picks at his onion rings and sips his shakes.
Derek wonders if his Stiles will be this settled when he's in his twenties, or if it's just a this universe thing.
"You gonna explain, kid?" Stiles asks, and that. That right there is strange. Because Stiles sounds so fond , so warm and Stiles--it doesn't sound right on Stiles.
There's no sharp barbs and cutting sarcasm and impatient affection, none of the usual I-can't-believe-your-bullshit that Derek was used to and it was freaking him out.
"Before I do," Derek says, and scowls at the pitchy voice that still sounds wrong, "I need to tell you something."
Stiles frowns, and Derek smiles. "You won't believe me. But I need you to try to, ok?"
"I'm twenty four and the last time I saw you, you were two weeks away from turning seventeen, and about to save Scott from a psychotic bitch, and I was dying," Derek says and Stiles' stops.
Blinks at him. Derek gives him a careful grin, and digs in his pocket for the slightly damp pages he came to clutching. He shoves them at Stiles. "Read."
"Kid, you know we have to talk about it," Stiles says gently, and Derek rolls his eyes.
"Whatever the hell my other self did or said--you deal with that later. I'll even smack some sense into him, if you want. But I need you to listen to me now."
Stiles studies him for a long minute and then sighs.
"I'm only doing this because I've never known you to be a liar, Derek," he says and it's on the tip of his tongue to ask how long they've known each other--and how. He swallows the questions and leans back, watching Stiles' whiskey gaze scanning the pages.
He doesn't know what he's supposed to do if Stiles doesn't believe him, but he thinks he's about to find out. They're human--both of them--and he's young and apparently stupid enough to do something that makes Stiles cautious around him. Stiles has no reason to believe him.
He knows that, and it settles like a weight in his belly as he watches Stiles reading, watches the way his lips and eyes tighten.
He's always known, Stiles would grow up beautiful. It's infuriating and impossible to ignore. But seeing it sit across from him, casually self-assured and impossibly beautiful--that's a special kind of hell Derek hadn't anticipated.
"So. Universe hopping. And werewolves," Stiles drawls, finally and Derek feels his ears and cheeks heat.
"I know it's a lot--"
" Stop calling me that," Derek snarls and Stiles frowns. Leans back. "I'm not--Stiles, I'm fucking twenty four. Ok, I'm not a kid."
"And yet you are in fact sixteen and I used to babysit you, so I hope you'll understand where I'm coming from."
Jesus. Could this get any more awkward.
"Derek," Stiles says, carefully, "I know you don't want to talk about Friday--but you really didn't have to go through all of this."
"Jesus Christ, what happened Friday?" Derek snaps.
Color floods Stiles cheeks and it's distracting and beautiful and Derek has a moment to think, shit before Stiless grits out, "Well, Der, you kissed me and told me you were in love with me, so I mean. Nothing too important."
Apparently, it can get more awkward.
"Shit," Derek mutters, with feeling, and Stiles kind of snorts his agreement on the far side of the booth.
"Can we pretend that never happened?" Derek asks, not even a little bit hopeful and Stiles gives him a disbelieving stare.
"I'm not really sure how because it's illegal , and I'm a fucking deputy," Stiles says, sharply.
Derek huffs. He understands, suddenly, just how frustrating he must have been to Stiles for the past few years.
And how maybe--maybe--when (if) he gets home, it's not the biggest obstacle.
"Stiles, we can talk about it. Later. Right now--I just want to go home."
Stiles stares at him for a long time and then signals for the check. "You actually believe it, don't you? That you're floating through other universes, and that this isn't your world."
Derek laughs, a low, unamused sound that makes Stiles' eyes widen. "In my world, my family died in a house fire when I was sixteen, your mother died when you were ten, and most of the time we spend together is blood soaked and trying to survive. But we always do," he adds, smiling a little. "This--it's nice, Stiles. I'm glad you and Derek get a good life, get your families. You're gonna be a fantastic deputy. But this isn't my world. And you aren't my Stiles."
"Your Stiles is a lot younger than you," he says, and there's a hint of censure in his voice that makes Derek bristle.
"I know. Believe me--I get where you're coming from--"
"Do you? Because I am not gonna be the one to fuck up a good thing, because I want to fuck you," Stiles says, his voice low and harsh. "I'm an adult , Derek, and you're a child."
Derek closes his eyes.
"When I was fifteen, the girl I was in love with got attacked. She died in my arms--and I don't know if I ever really got over that. Because a few months later, a substitute took interest in me. And she was kind, and warm, and she didn't look at me like I was just the boyfriend of a dead girl--she looked at me like I was a person."
Stiles is staring at him, his gaze shadowed, and it makes Derek's lips twist. "Kate--she was sweet. She listened to me when I talked, took me out when I needed to get away from my family or the kids at school. She was my friend. And when I fell into bed with her--it felt like I was adding to a friendship. It felt like a good thing, because I knew she loved me."
"Der," Stiles says, hoarse.
"And then, she burned my house down, with my entire family inside. Peter and Laura and I survived--and Peter didn't, not really, not the way he is now. She did that--she fucked a child and let that child love her and ruined him. So when you say, I don't know, Stiles? You're wrong. I fucking get it."
He shoves out of the little booth before he can say anything else, his skin tight and tears burning in his eyes, and Stiles--
Stiles lets him go.
He goes to the Preserve.
When he was a boy, and running these woods with Laura, his dad told them that the land was special. That it would always call them home, that it could soothe and settle them, even in the worst of times.
Derek wasn't sure he believed that--then or now--but he does know that it's helpful to sit in the shadows of the trees, to listen to the wind in the leaves and close his eyes.
"Thought I might find you here," a familiar voice says and he cracks his eyes open. Looks at Laura, and ignores the sharp stab of pain in his chest.
"I don't want to do this, Lo," he says.
"Too bad," she says cheerfully and nudges him to the side on the rock.
Derek gives way grudgingly and leans into her without really thinking about it. God, he missed her.
"Stiles call you?"
"Did he tell you?"
She shakes her head, and he tenses. "Just said you were having a shitty day and needed a friend." She jostles him. "Did you finally tell him?"
Derek bites his lip. "Do you believe in soulmates?"
It's not what he meant to ask, but it slips out and feels...right.
What else can he call it, if every fucking world he visits, Stiles and Derek orbit each other.
"Yes," she says, promptly and he startles, looking up at her. She smiles. "How else do you explain Mom and Dad?"
Derek laughs a little at that, a fond ache in his gut.
"You know--just because right now isn't right, doesn't mean it's always going to be wrong," Laura says, and Derek leans his head back down on her shoulder and listens to the wind and her breathing, quiet and easy and matching his own.
"I know," he says.
He doesn't go home with Laura, and he can feel the way she watches him as he walks away, but he doesn't look back.
Somewhere in this tiny city, his other self is wandering around and Derek doesn't really want to fuck up his life any more than he already has.
He isn't really surprised when he finds himself at the Sheriff's house, and is even less surprised when Stiles comes to sit next to him on the porch.
They're silent for a long time, and then, "I'm sorry, Derek."
Derek smiles, a little. "You know, you're the only one who ever figured it out. Even Laura never did. But you--you figured it out within a few months and never hesitated to call me out on my shitty decisions about Kate."
Stiles makes a pained noise and Derek grins at him. "She wasn't my only shitty significant other. Stiles had...some objections."
"Does he love you?" Stiles asks, and Derek breathes, slowly.
"Yes," he says softly.
Stiles is quiet, and then, "Do you love him?"
"Yes," he says, secret soft.
Stiles turns him, and his eyes are bright in the fading sunlight, and soft and warm. The kiss is gentle, and chaste, a careful press of dry lips before Stiles breathes, "Be braver than I am, kay?"
Derek blinks at him as he steps back and the sunlight is too bright, and edged in darkness. He makes a low protesting noise, and the last thing he sees as the darkness closes in and the familiar yanking pulls him away, is Stiles' warm steady gaze, bright and loving.
Chapter 14: Undisclosed War Zone
I AM SO SORRY!
Ok, so look, I have an excuse. Real life kicked me in the teeth. That's it. That's my excuse. But I'm back, and updates will resume the weekly schedule. <3
Undisclosed War Zone
There’s dust in his mouth, when he takes a gasping breath, and his back aches. Distantly, he can hear the sound of--Derek frowns and shifts into an upright position, and let’s the details trickle in.
The cot he’s lying on is thin, and compact, a sandy brown that makes his eyes narrow. He’s in a building, but there’s dust sweeping in along under the door, and the room has--five cots, with rusacks and trunks at the end. There’s a body in the cot next to him, and Derek glances at the sleeping form curiously before he hears the rythmic thumping again.
He shoves his feet into boots and clumps out with them untied, shading his eyes with a hand as he blinks against the glare.
There’s a helicopter taking off nearby, throwing sand and sunrays at it pulls away from the sandy ground, and he catches sight of someone very familiar before the chopper banks hard right and peels away.
Derek stands in the middle of an army camp and thinks, shit.
It takes less than ten minutes to find Stiles.
And maybe it's that it happens the other way--Derek is wandering around the base, trying to figure out where the hell he was, and what they were doing--fighting seemed obvious but a little on the nose--when Stiles comes strolling up.
He makes Derek's mouth go dry. He's wearing fatigues, his shirt unbuttoned and hang down around his sweaty chest. A soaked tanktop hides very little--certainly not the muscles that always seemed so lithe and sleek, and now just look *powerful.
"Soldier," Stiles drawls. "Wanna tell me why you weren't on that chopper."
Derek swallows, and glances around. They're alone for the moment, but Derek isn't stupid enough to think that'll last.
"Um. We--we need to talk."
Stiles arches an eyebrow but shrugs and leads Derek back to the tent he woke up in. The cot next to his is empty now and Stiles drops on the one across from his and gives Derek expectant eyes.
Derek clears his throat. "I'm--Derek is on that chopper. I watched him fly away."
"And you are" Stiles asks, and Derek shrugs, digging in his pocket to draw out the papers.
"Difficult to explain," he says, weakly.
Stiles gaze narrows a little, but he obediently takes the proffered papers and reads them quietly, his expression going still and blank as he does.
Finally he drops them and huffs. "Goddamn werewolves," he mutters and Derek's heart does a funny little jerk. "I can't just--" he flails a little, "handwave your existence, man. We're in field. We're on a mission."
Derek nods, and says, "Then use me.”
Stiles eyes narrows, but then he nods, and smiles tightly. “Don’t make me regret this.”
Sergeant Stilinski is nothing like Derek's Stiles. He's hard and abrupt, moving through the camp with quick efficiency. He gives orders like an alpha--and the werewolves around them follow them. No one asks about Derek's presence at Stiles' side, even though he knows they have to smell the difference in him, and he can see the curious looks that are flicked in his direction before they return their attention to Sergeant Stilinski, attentive and obedient.
"We get in, we get the target, we get out. Clean and quick, people. Hale, you're in charge of the target once we've acquired it. Make sure we get the package out whole and undamaged, or I'll have your ass, got it?"
He nods, and Stiles' eyes narrow just a little. "Good. Everyone got their gear? We're out in five."
The unit breaks into motion, and Derek watches, a little bemused as they scurry, wondering how the hell Stiles thinks they'll actually be leaving within that time frame.
"Take this. And do what I say, in field, you go it?"
Derek nods, and Stiles sighs. "It's not a hard mission. That's why I sent my Derek to HQ. But I'm glad we've got your skill set."
Derek doesn't know what to say to that, and then the pack--unit--are congregating around them and Stiles gives them a quick glance before he nods. "Move out!"
Derek is a little startled to find it's been only four and half minutes.
Stiles is right.
The fight is barely that. Scott and Isaac are the vanguard and bring down the watchmen as Stiles and Erica creep into the camp under the quiet and dark. Derek lies on a ridge half a mile away, listening to Boyd breathing and providing sniper cover, and Stiles' breathing harsh in his ear.
There's one moment when his heart stops, when the sound of Stiles cursing cuts under the burst of firefight and then Erica is shouting and he can hear them running, and the distant sound of Scott snarling and a triumphant howl from Isaac cuts through the comms and across the night sky.
"Hale!" Stiles snarls over the comms and he bolts from his spot at Boyd's back, racing across the open desert to meet Stiles, and--there's a child in his arms, a big blue eyed blond boy clinging to Stiles like a demented kola, and Stiles thrusts the kid in Derek's arm. "Do your baby whisper thing," he grumbles, and shouts for the team to pick up the pace.
Derek stares bemusedly at the child in his arms. He did say for Stiles to use him. He cradles the kid a little closer and listens to the pup--it's a werewolf, a young one, gods his pack has to be losing their minds--whines and presses deeper into Derek's chest.
"C'mon, pup," he murmurs, ignoring the unit around him, "Let's get you home, huh?"
The boy whines and he hums quietly as they jog through the night, back to the base camp. He wonders if all of their missions are like this.
He's a little jealous, if they are.
The unit has questions. Derek can see it in their eyes as they watch him with the kid, watch Stiles barking orders and ignoring Derek as much as possible. The pup doesn’t like his loud voice, digs claws into Derek’s shoulders whenever there’s a burst of gunfire in the night, and Derek wonders where they’re taking the kid, and why he was stolen.
He doesn’t ask. If the unit can swallow their questions, he can too.
“We’ve got extraction in thirty,” Stiles says as they hit base camp. “Stay alert and on the kid until then.”
The unit--the pack, Derek’s mind whispers--settles in around him and the kid, and Scott smiles at the boy. “Do you wanna hear a story about a princess?” he asks, and Erica groans.
“Jesus, the kid’s been through hell, Scott. Don’t torture him with tales about how perfect Allison is,” she whines and Derek smiles, holding the pup close as the pack bickers and the stars wheel overhead.
It’s not a bad world, as they go, he thinks.
It’s not a bad world--until it all goes to hell.
There’s this moment. When a high shrieking whistle cuts through the air, and Stiles’ gaze cuts through the camp, and Derek thinks, fuck , and then Erica is shouting and the world is exploding, and there’s a sharp, screaming pain in his chest.
Liam is howling in his arms, fighting to stay close as Boyd pulls him away and Derek thinks, distantly, that he’s ok.
The kid is ok.
“Yeah, big guy,” Stiles huffs. “Kid is great. You’re the one I’m worried about.”
Derek tries to answer, but he gets caught on a cough, and ends up spitting blood.
“Shit,” Stiles breathes, and Derek smiles.
“It’s ok,” he says, whispery under the gunfire.
There’s dust under his fingers, and he can see the same look on Stiles face that he saw on his own Stiles’ face, in that churchyard.
It hurts here, just as much as it had there.
“I miss you,” he says, and Stiles’ expression, fierce and furious, crumples into something tragic and hurt, and he makes a soft, broken noise almost lost in the sound of the battle.
His lips are dusty and bloody, and soft, when Stiles kisses him. “You’re going to be ok,” he whispers, a promise Derek knows he can’t keep. “I’m gonna fix this.”
Derek doesn’t argue with him--he can feel the sharp hook in his gut, and the edges of reality fading to black. He clings to Stiles, kisses him again, a fierce hard thing, that tastes like desperation and blood, and it’s perfect .
He can hear someone screaming, his name echoing and echoing and echoing, can hear the sound of a jaguar roaring over the whistling wind, and he can hear Stiles, this Stiles, shouting, screaming his name, and it all blends into one--his Stiles and this Stiles, and every single one he’s seen between, and then the world falls aways and agonizing black races up to catch him and yank him away.