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The day after the witch reveal, Allison makes a point of avoiding Stiles at school. He can’t say he’s surprised, but it is hard on Scott—poor guy’s been bouncing between them like a really confused pinball all day. Take now, for example—he was outside eating lunch with Allison, last Stiles knew, but here he is, charging into the cafeteria like he can’t help himself.

“Stiles!”

“Yes, Scott?”

“Allison’s—Allison’s grandfather is named Gerard!”

“That he is. Or was, I guess.”

“Oh, crap. So he actually is—he’s that Gerard?”

“Okay, here’s the thing: I don’t know for sure. I mean, he is that Gerard, but their family is where the timeline gets really different. For starters, and I guess Allison didn’t mention this, Gerard has been dead for years in this timeline. I don’t know if he was evil or not. Of course, Argents tended to be extremely hard to kill in my timeline, so…I’m a little suspicious of how dead he really is.”

Scott shakes his head incredulously. “Dude, your life.”

“Dude. I know.”

“Stiles,” Lydia Martin says out of nowhere, striding purposefully up to their table like this is a thing that happens normally. “I have questions for you.”

And a knife to put to his throat if he doesn’t answer them, from the sound of it. Ah, nostalgia. “…You do?”

“Yes. I do. Allison asked me for an interesting favor this morning.”

“Oh,” Stiles breathes, sinking low in his crappy lunchroom chair.

“I believe you said—promised, in fact—that you wouldn’t mention my translating abilities to anyone.”

“Well, yeah, but…this was important?”

“It was a bestiary, Stiles. How important could it be?”

Scott is making a very familiar appalled/amused face, and Stiles knows what’s coming before he whispers, “Doesn’t she mean—”

“No, she does not, oh my God, Scott, seriously? A bestiary is a book of mythical creatures. Shut up or I swear I will end you.”

Scott subsides, offended. Lydia raises a perfect but tragically unimpressed eyebrow.

“It actually is important,” Stiles tells her apologetically.

She folds her arms. “Explain.”

“…Do you really want to have this talk here?”

“Fine.” She fishes around in her bag and pulls out a notepad, slapping it down in front of Stiles with a pen. “Write down your address. I’ll be there at four o’clock on Saturday. And I expect a truly amazing explanation, Stiles, and quite possibly another dress as well.”

Stiles hadn’t realized, before, how much his Lydia had been held back by her own…what, fear, denial, reluctance to actually figure out what was going on? Her trauma.

This Lydia isn’t traumatized or conflicted at all, and Lydia with clear purpose is a force of nature. Stiles knew that, but he hadn’t thought it through in this context. Werewolves and witches, run for your lives.

In view of that, he obediently writes down his address. Lydia nods in satisfaction and marches back to her own table. Scott is staring at Stiles like he’s an alien creature that just fell from the sky.

“I can’t believe Lydia actually talks to you now,” he says, incredulous to a pretty unflattering degree.

“It’s because I have something she wants for the first time ever,” Stiles explains. “And also because I’ve given up on ever having a chance with her. I’ve embraced platonic devotion and romantic indifference.”

“So, what, indifferent is a good look on you?”

“Indifferent is a good look on everyone, Scott, and desperation is the most unattractive thing in the world. It’s one of the horrible catch-22s of romance.”

“I thought you had a ten-year plan to make Lydia fall in love with you,” Scott says, eyeing him in worry.

“Oh, your Stiles, too? Figures. And yeah, I did, but…I guess I’m learning to give up on things. That’s a skill I’ve never had before, so I’m very proud.” He’s horrified, actually, but no need to get into that; it’s not like Scott can tell when he’s lying anymore. “All it takes is dying, and you too can learn to let go!”

Scott wavers between shock and exasperation for a while before settling on exasperation, and that right there, that is why he and Stiles are friends. “You’re seriously telling Lydia about the werewolf stuff?”

“I kind of have to? She’s a woman on a mission, Scott. If I don’t tell her, she’ll just figure it out on her own and then hate me for not telling her.” They’re so right about hindsight. “Hey, you and Allison should come.”

“…Why?”

“You can ask questions, too. Yeah, I know you have questions. I worry I’m being all accidentally cryptic on you, like I’m turning into Deaton, Jr. or something. That would suck.”

“Why would Allison have questions?”

“Allison found out I can do magic and now she’s half-convinced I’m going to murder everyone in town.”

What?

“She was raised by bigoted douchebags, Scott. I told you.”

“But she knows you.”

“Bigotry doesn’t make sense, that’s kind of a defining trait it has. Anyway, I think she’s trying to fight it? Vaguely? Or possibly she’s trying to fight against the impulse to fight it; I don’t pretend to understand her. You should bring her over, though. Um, shake her down for weapons first. Check her shoes. I’m serious—she wears boots for a reason. And if you could give her a pep talk on the theme of can’t we all just get along, that would be awesome.”

Scott sighs and hides his face in his hands. “Great,” he says. “This is just great.”

So that’s one problem dealt with, or at least successfully foisted onto Scott. Now all Stiles has to worry about are the ominous texts he’s suddenly getting from Derek. Because ominous texts from Derek, that never ends in disaster.

* * *

“Did you just say cut in half?” Stiles demands incredulously.

A normal person, Derek thinks, would probably be scared about now. Stiles mostly sounds outraged. Derek needs to stop comparing Stiles to theoretical normal people, because that is a huge waste of time. “Right.”

“Of course. We’ve got hunters. Because that’s what we needed.” Stiles starts pacing around the kitchen and clutching at his hair. “On the other hand, the omegas are nuts, so…do we care that they’re cutting them in half? Do we care? Does your mom care?” He pauses and stares at Derek, like Derek has the answers.

Derek really wishes the rest of the family wasn’t out doing cleanup right now, because he hates it when people look at him like that. It’s generally his cue to foist them off onto Laura or someone else in charge. This time, though, he’s stuck. “Normal hunters wouldn’t have left the body like that,” he points out. “That was a message.”

“Wonderful,” Stiles groans, resuming his pacing. “A message to whoever’s controlling the omegas? Because that would be creepy and wrong, but not necessarily our problem. Or a message to you? Because that would be a huge, huge problem, and, crap, this means I need to talk to Chris again.”

“Chris…?”

“Argent.”

Derek rubs his forehead, hoping to ward off the confusion-based headache he can feel building. “I thought you said you said you don’t trust the Argents.”

“I don’t. Chris is the best of a bad lot, though, and I’ve been trying to get him to keep a leash on his more crazed relatives.”

Derek wonders how that conversation went. Or maybe he doesn’t want to know. No, he definitely doesn’t want to know. “I should come with you when you talk to him. Pack representative.”

“Nah, it’s cool. It’s not worth—I’ll be happier if he never figures out who you guys are. I’ll handle it.”

“Okay,” Derek agrees reluctantly. He doesn’t like the idea of Stiles on his own with hunters, but he has survived talking to Argent so far. And he’s definitely a better diplomat than Derek. Everyone is.

Stiles pauses, though, and turns very slowly to face him. “You’re…a really trusting guy, aren’t you?”

Derek shrugs. He’s known Stiles for months, and Stiles hasn’t done anything untrustworthy. Why not trust him?

“Sure. Why wouldn’t you be?” Stiles goes on in a tone of awful realization. “Your family is awesome; they’ve never lied to you. Your friends or acquaintances or whatever are normal. Nothing bad ever happens to you.”

“I wouldn’t say nothing bad—”

“No, shut up, trust me. Nothing seriously bad has ever happened to you.”

Derek reflects on the way Stiles smells whenever he thinks about his old pack. It’s true that Derek has nothing that compares. He tips his head to the side, allowing the point.

“But Derek…at the risk of sounding like a total mom, that doesn’t mean nothing bad’s ever going to happen. So maybe you should—oh God, I can’t even believe I’m saying this to you—maybe you should be more, um. Careful? You hardly know me, and let’s face it, I am seriously shady. You shouldn’t just be going along with whatever I tell you.”

Derek raises an eyebrow. “You’re saying you’re not trustworthy?”

“I’m saying you don’t know me well enough to know whether I’m trustworthy or not. I could be a serial killer.”

“You’re young for it.”

“Not unheard of! I have actually met a serial killer my age. Take that, statistics.”

Okay, that’s…incredibly disturbing and something to be pursued at a later date. “You never smell like blood. Or killing rage. Or lust at weird times.”

“I could be keeping it all under wraps because I’m setting you up. I could be running a long con on you personally, Derek Hale.”

“Are you?”

“What? No!”

“There you go.”

No, there I do not go! You can’t just take my word for it, oh my God, what is wrong with you? You trust way too easily, and someday, somebody is gonna…holy crap, this is opposites world. Next Scott’s going to be telling me to stop mooning about my love life. My head hurts.”

“You have a love life?”

“Okay, seriously not the point.”

“I’ll take that as a no.”

“Haha, you’re hilarious. Fine. Fall for the first pretty face you see, find out too late that she’s a psycho hunter, die a horrible death. See if I care.”

Derek has a sudden, terrible suspicion that he knows what happened to Stiles’s pack. “Stiles…”

“What? Oh my god, you’re giving me a pity face, I didn’t even know your face could do that, what does it mean?”

“It just means…you do know you can trust us, don’t you? I don’t know what happened to you before, but. You can trust us.”

“You’re killing me with this, dude.”

“I’m serious!”

“I know you’re serious, that’s why this is so—that lecture was actually to your address, okay? I am capable of trust, I do trust you guys, this is not about me. This is about you, and the fact that you probably trust the ice cream man just because he gives you ice cream. All I’m saying is, sometimes the ice cream man is a child molester.”

This is getting really scary. “…Were you molested?

Stiles gives a stifled scream of frustration and throws up his hands. “Every time I warn you about something, I am not secretly talking about my own tragic past! Gah! This explains so much about you!”

“What? No, it doesn’t.”

“It totally does! Ugh, I feel old.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Yeah, well, clearly you never do.”

Derek’s had about all of this conversation he can handle, and Stiles has, too—he smells miserable. Derek hates that and it needs to stop. “Whatever. When are you talking to the Argents?”

Stiles sighs, but the misery tamps down a little. Derek feels an irrational sense of pride. “This weekend, I guess. Oh, also this weekend, I promised I’d explain my recent weird behavior to a friend. Is it okay if I tell her about werewolves?”

Derek shrugs. “I don’t see why not.”

Stiles sighs and rubs his eyes. “Of course you don’t. How about I call and double-check that with Talia, who actually has a sense of self-preservation?”

“Whatever makes you happy.” Stiles can say what he wants about not having trust issues, but the evidence is damning.

“If anything awful happens, you’ll let me know, right? Or someone will? Philip, Laura?”

“You talk to Philip?” Derek demands. It takes him an embarrassingly long time to identify what he’s feeling as jealousy.

Thank God Laura is out clearing away dead omegas.

“Sure,” Stiles says, apparently pleased and surprised, for some mysterious reason. “Your brother makes the best wards ever, just saying. He’s my magic bro.” Derek’s face is obviously too easy to read, because after a second Stiles says, “Not that you aren’t my bro! You and Laura, you guys are my, I don’t know, life-threatening situations bros. It’s not like I’m dumping you for Philip or anything.”

“I didn’t think you were dumping us for Philip, Stiles,” Derek lies, rolling his eyes.

“Uh huh.” Stiles smirks at him.

Derek really doesn’t want to send Stiles to talk to hunters on his own. But it’s not his call.

* * *

The explanations meeting starts out just as awkward as Stiles would’ve expected if he’d let himself think about it, which he didn’t, because he knew he’d never go through with it if he did.

Scott walks into Stiles’s room towing Allison behind him. He waves at Stiles and sprawls comfortably across the bed. Allison perches nervously beside him, shooting suspicious glares around the room. Checking for bat wings and cat entrails, probably. Lydia follows them in, sits at the desk, and jumps on Stiles’s computer, shamelessly poking around. It’s enough to make a guy sickeningly nervous.

“Okay,” Stiles says, clapping his hands together and trying not to pace nervously or think about what Lydia could be dredging up from the depths of his hard drive. “I guess…well, you could just start asking me questions. What do you guys want to know?”

“I want to know what caused your fondness for angry housewife country,” Lydia announces, now scrolling through his current playlist.

“Not relevant,” Stiles declares. “And I do not listen to angry housewife country.”

“No?” She blinks at him. “Goodbye Earl.”

“Classic revenge song. Also, hilarious.”

“Mhmm. Okay, explain this one: Did I Shave My Legs For This?

Allison giggles; Allison is a traitor. But at least it’s better than the death glares. Is that what Lydia’s after with this? “It’s a funny song,” Stiles insists.

“Stiles, it’s a sad song. It’s a sad, horrible song about a sad, empty relationship.”

Taken metaphorically, it’s weirdly relevant to my life is not an argument that’s going to take him anywhere he wants to go. “Whatever. Two doesn’t make a pattern.”

Independence Day by Martina McBride.”

“Also classic revenge!”

“Really? Or is it more, hm, classic murder-suicide for your classic angry housewife?”

“I notice you know what all these songs are about. What does that say about you, huh?”

“My mother had an angry housewife phase,” Lydia says dismissively. “And that’s part of what makes this so strange: I recognize all of these because you don’t even have any new angry housewife country. It’s like you’re an angry housewife from the ‘90s.”

Stiles’s mother used to play those songs for her friends when they had bad breakups. The worse the breakup, the more ridiculous and over the top the angry country song. They would sit together on the couch in the living room drinking and singing along and cracking up, sometimes through tears. It’s a good memory, and it was a relief to find that other!Stiles had all those songs, too. Mom was a good friend.

And Stiles has no plans to explain any of that to anyone, even Lydia. “I listen to other stuff!”

“But the rest of it is so predictable. The angry housewife country is interesting.”

“Can we talk about werewolves now?” Scott begs.

Please God,” Stiles agrees.

“Werewolves,” Lydia says, successfully distracted from Stiles’s computer, bless Scott’s little heart. “You haven’t given me anything to translate about werewolves.”

“That’s because I already know about werewolves.” And when he doesn’t, he can just check in with the werewolves down the road. So convenient. “It’s everything else I need help with.”

“Yes, about that,” Lydia says. “Why?

Stiles looks to Allison for help. Allison raises an eyebrow expressive of both this was your idea and also I refuse to help you because you’re secretly a murderous witch.

Stiles should probably be grateful she didn’t express any of that by means of an arrow to his face. He sighs, resigned. “For starters, I asked you to translate the stuff on how to kill pixies because I actually…need to figure out how to kill some pixies.”

“Oh my God,” Scott moans. “There are pixies now? What the hell, dude. Are they evil?”

“Mostly just annoying,” Allison says distantly.

“Oh, sure,” Stiles agrees. “I find small, flying, toxic creatures to be annoying also.”

“They hardly ever kill anyone,” Allison tells him, unimpressed.

“Rattlesnakes hardly ever kill anyone, and yet I wouldn’t be happy if they started flying around!”

“Is this some kind of joke?” Lydia demands with cold ferocity.

“Go on, Stiles,” Allison says, smiling dangerously. “Prove it to her.”

“Scott told you that story, huh?” Stiles casts Scott a betrayed look, but Scott just shrugs, like, my hot girlfriend asked a question, what would you have me do? The more things change… “Okay. Demonstration time, then.”

Except he doesn’t want to set anything on fire inside the house, and that’s the flashiest trick he knows. He’s great at defense, but that’s…not exciting to look at. There’s nothing thrilling about, ‘Now you can’t go over there! Aha!’ Not that it needs to be exciting, it’s just. God, apparently he still has some lingering, vestigial need to impress Lydia. This is so sad.

He makes it as exciting as he can, anyway. He kills the lights (not hard—even lizard Jackson could swing that) and activates his panic wards—the ones that nobody can cross. They glow; it’s suitably dramatic. Stiles is pleased. “Okay, Lydia. Try to cross the line.”

“What the hell is going on?!”

“I’ll explain in a second, just, try to cross the line.”

Try?” She jumps out of the chair and marches toward the wards nearest the door, hitting them pretty hard before Stiles has a chance to tell her to slow down. “What is this?” she demands, voice climbing in volume and pitch. “Are we trapped in here?”

Lydia’s apparently a little claustrophobic. Good to know. Stiles hastily drops the wards before he can freak her out any more.

And again with the warnings he should’ve given, because she stumbles forward, barely catching herself on the doorframe. She must’ve still been pushing. Of course she was. The only way this could’ve gone better is if Stiles had actually managed to knock her out against the wall in front of Allison. Jesus.

He pulls the lights back up and starts babbling hasty damage control. “Sorry! I’m sorry, I should’ve warned you I was dropping those, I just, you sounded kind of panicked? I didn’t want you to panic; I didn’t actually mean to trap you in here, it’s just, I just. That’s, I can do stuff like that. So it’s my responsibility to kill things like pixies. So, there you go. Explanation.”

Lydia stares at him like she’s never seen him before. “I was not panicking,” she says after an uncomfortable few seconds.

She’s lying, but Stiles respects the effort. “Oh. Well, I thought you were, so that’s why I did that.”

“You can ‘do stuff like that’?” Lydia repeats, eyeing him warily. “Stuff like what, exactly?”

“Magic,” Allison says in an extremely unfriendly tone, excuse her. “Stiles could probably burn the whole house down with a thought.”

“Whoa, hey,” Stiles says, throwing his hands up defensively. “I don’t know what kind of witchy propaganda you’ve been buying into, but that’s just, no. I definitely couldn’t. Magic takes energy, and energy has to come from somewhere. By which I mean, it comes from me. Even setting Scott’s lacrosse stick on fire wore me out—I had to eat all kinds of high-calorie food afterward and then I slept for ten hours that night. I could maybe, at a stretch, burn a house down, but then my organs would fail and I’d die. It’d be way easier to do it the classic matches and gasoline way. Just like any other human could. If they were inclined to. Which most people aren’t.”

Allison scowls, but doesn’t counter. Argument delayed, but not won. Which is too bad, because Stiles is already very tired of this argument. Also they’re worrying Scott. What a mess.

Lydia, though, is back at Stiles’s desk, gazing into the middle distance with her eyes narrowed, like she’s running complex mental calculations. Then she blinks and gives Stiles her equation: solved! face. “Could I learn?” she asks.

God bless Lydia Martin.

“Lydia, no,” Allison gasps in horror.

“Actually, yes,” Stiles corrects, rolling his eyes. “But before you go down that road, you should be aware that Allison is not the only person in the world who doesn’t approve of magic. Or werewolves. Or any number of other creatures of the night. There are some paramilitary groups dedicated to wiping them out, in fact. And while they’re supposed to follow a moral code—”

Allison flinches and looks away. Is that a win? It doesn’t feel like a win.

“—a lot of them don’t bother, in practice. They’re more like, ‘Yikes, it’s scary, kill it.’”

“That’s not true,” Allison insists.

“Really? Why do you think I got into magic in the first place, huh? It was after a few too many, ‘Yikes, he associates with scary things, kill him,’ experiences, okay?”

“You could’ve just stopped associating with them.”

That’s what you took away from that?”

“They’re dangerous, Stiles!”

You’re dangerous, Allison! Your dad is dangerous, my dad is dangerous, even Scott, under the right circumstances, can be dangerous. And Lydia knows how to make a self-igniting Molotov cocktail. Just off the top of her head.”

“How do you know that?” Lydia hisses.

“What do you mean, even Scott?” Scott demands.

And Allison…Allison laughs for a second before clapping a hand over her mouth and looking horrified at herself.

That is a definite win.

“To recap,” Stiles says, not making anything of Allison laughing for fear she’ll never do it again, “I’m magic, everyone here is scary, and we need to figure out how to get rid of some pixies. Pixies don’t usually bother normal humans because they only feed off of magical instability, but this whole area is unstable right now, so they could turn up anywhere and attack people out of fear. And, let’s see, other creepy stuff…”

“I looked into my grandfather’s death, like you asked,” Allison cuts in. “My dad won’t talk about it. Like, not at all. And Kate…she’s so strange on the whole subject of Gerard, I’m afraid to even mention it to her. The newspapers are really…vague. I would even say, well. Suspiciously vague.”

“Vague like it was a supernatural cover-up, or vague like he isn’t actually dead?” Stiles asks, feeling exhausted.

“I can’t tell.” Allison shrugs. “I’ll try my dad again. But he really…he’s not even subtle about changing the subject.”

“Never mind,” Stiles sighs. “I’ll try your dad. I need to talk to him anyway, and besides, you he wants to protect, but me? He doesn’t care about me.”

“…Right. I’ve been meaning to ask, Stiles—how exactly do you know my dad?”

“From another life,” Stiles tells her earnestly. She rolls her eyes and drops it. And that is why being a sarcastic asshole is such a blessing: you don’t even have to lie, and they still won’t believe you.

“Is that literal?” Lydia asks suspiciously.

They won’t believe you unless they’re Lydia Martin, that is, and she will only believe you at the most inconvenient moments possible. “Why would I admit it if it were literal?”

Lydia scowls at him, but lets it go. For the moment.

“Last big problem for today is the omegas, I guess,” Stiles goes on, relieved.

“Omegas?” Lydia demands.

“Omega werewolves,” Allison explains. “Lone wolves. They’re usually dangerous, and these are actually feral. They’re killing anyone they come into contact with.”

“Not exactly feral,” Stiles corrects. “They’re being mind-controlled. It’s pretty fricking creepy.”

“Who’s controlling them?” Allison asks, alarmed.

“It’s a mystery,” Stiles sighs. “The bad kind of mystery, you know, where if we don’t figure it out fast enough, lots of people die.” He considers telling them about the chopped up omega in the woods, then decides he’s already hit Scott and Lydia with enough freaky shit for one day. He’ll save that for Chris.

“How can we help?” Scott asks, because Scott is awesome.

“Lydia can translate the rest of the bestiary for us—if that’s okay with you, Lydia?”

Lydia shrugs like it doesn’t matter one way or another. It’s as close to enthusiastic agreement as she gets.

“Scott, you have your human-related assignment.”

“That’s gonna help?” Scott asks dubiously.

“It’s going to keep bad things from happening in the future. It’s preventative maintenance, and someone has to do it. Oh, and speaking of that, you’re keeping an eye on Matt, right?”

“I guess?”

“Do not guess. Potential serial killing psycho.”

Fine,” Scott sighs, put-upon. He’s getting a little jaded, is Scott. Stiles may need to tell him about the Allison element in that story. (Actually, this Allison would shoot Matt in the dick the instant he started weirding her out, but luckily that won’t occur to Scott.)

“How do you know this?” Lydia mutters unhappily, but since she’s muttering it at Stiles’s computer, he counts the question as rhetorical and ignores it.

“Allison, I get that you guys are retired, so I don’t expect anything from you except, I don’t know, a heads up if something weird jumps out at you. Or if you remember anything about people mind-controlling werewolves. We cool?”

Allison smiles faintly. “For a given value of cool,” she says. Stiles smiles back at her. He’s totally winning.

“Other than watch out for pixies, is there anything we can do to, oh, not die?” Scott asks.

“Good point,” Stiles allows. “Stay out of the woods, mostly. At least until we get this crap figured out.”

“Dude, I am not going in those woods,” Scott says indignantly. “There are werewolves in there.” He pauses to consider. “Also meth labs.”

“The meth labs never stopped you before,” Stiles points out.

“Yeah, but once you have werewolves and meth labs? That crosses the line.”

That is actually a fair argument.

“So are we done for today?” Allison asks, and look at her, that was borderline polite.

“Yeah, sure. I mean, unless you guys have more questions.”

They don’t seem to. On the other hand, apart from Allison, they don’t seem to want to leave his room either. Maybe they’ve decided it’s the safest place to be. He pretty much has to herd them downstairs, at which point Allison manages to drag Scott out the door and into her car.

Lydia, though, lingers on the porch until Scott and Allison drive off, then she spins to face Stiles. “Danny’s wildest conspiracy theories about you aren’t wild enough,” she says.

Stiles blinks. “Danny has conspiracy theories about me?”

“So many conspiracy theories. He has charts. And some of his theories are surprisingly close to the truth, but as I say, not wild enough.”

“He told you about this?”

“Of course not. I borrowed his computer for a project.”

And trolled through it looking for ammunition. At least Stiles isn’t the only one she does that to. “What, um. What do you think he’ll do if he figures it out?” Because this is Danny; he will figure it out. Danny is a minor deity of information collection.

“Do?” Lydia’s eyebrows arch in surprise. “Nothing.”

“Won’t he tell Jackson?”

“Of course not. He just likes knowing things for the sake of knowing them. And he wouldn’t tell Jackson anyway, for the same reason I’m not going to. Right now Jackson just thinks you’ve finally lost your mind, and that’s fine.”

Finally. Stiles likes that finally.

“But if he knew about this supernatural stuff, he’d want to become some kind of supernatural creature himself, and I can’t imagine how badly that would turn out.”

“I can,” Stiles sighs.

“You can,” Lydia says quietly. “But you don’t need to, do you?”

Stiles stares.

“I was right,” she hisses triumphantly, grinning. This may be the first time Stiles has ever seen her honestly grin. It is truly scary. “Multiple realities! Now all I have to do is prove it. This is it; this is what’s going to make me famous. Thank you, Stiles.”

And she strides purposefully off, leaving Stiles standing on the porch with his mouth hanging open.

* * *

“You gave me fifty-to-one odds,” Derek hears Peter insist as he walks past the door to the living room. He pauses and looks in, because Peter is a terrible winner and it’s always fun to watch.

“Don’t start. I would never give fifty-to-one odds on anything to do with Stiles,” Mom counters, folding her arms stubbornly.

“What was the bet?” Derek asks, and they both turn and smile at him in a way that means this is pack leader business and he should stay out of it. And normally he’d be fine with that, but…Stiles.

“No, really,” Laura says, leaning in over Derek’s shoulder. “What was it? Is there a Stiles story involved? We deserve a Stiles story! We’re his favorites.”

“I think we all know that Derek is his favorite,” Peter says, rolling his eyes. Derek doesn’t want to know what he’s implying with that. And he also wishes Laura would stop snickering.

“We promised not to mention it,” Mom says, shrugging unapologetically. “I think he doesn’t want you know because you’re his favorites. Maybe he’s embarrassed.”

Stiles?” Stiles and embarrassment don’t seem like concepts that should coexist.

“He’s only seventeen, Derek.” Mom gives him a severe look that he doesn’t deserve at all because he has done nothing. “Of course he still gets embarrassed.”

Not that Derek’s noticed. Then again, Stiles’s scent and heart rate and breathing are such an insane, erratic mess, it’s possible that Stiles is always embarrassed and Derek just doesn’t recognize it when he sees it. “He’s going to talk to the Argents about the omega who was cut in half, by the way. He said he was going to call you about it, and about some friend of his?”

“He did call,” Mom says, frowning unhappily. “I don’t like him talking to the Argents on his own.”

Derek nods, feeling vindicated. So he should’ve argued about that. Of course, Stiles would probably have decided that meant Derek didn’t trust him, or whatever asinine thing. Which reminds him. “He gave me a lecture on trusting people too much and how that leads to hunters burning houses down. Is that…do you think that’s what happened to his old pack?”

Mom and Peter exchange a sad, almost worried look that Derek doesn’t understand. (Laura doesn’t seem to understand it either, though, so that’s something.) “It’s possible,” Mom says.

“But who was his pack?” Laura bursts out before Derek can. “Where were they from? Where did they live? There are no other packs around and he’s lived here all his life!”

“And you know this…how, exactly?” Peter asks, amused.

“Maybe I asked,” Laura huffs, tossing her hair over her shoulder the way she did when she was a teenager. It’s hilarious.

“Mm. Or maybe you’re abusing your work privileges. Again.”

“Maybe you can’t prove it either way.”

“Stop, for the love of God,” Mom groans. “And I can’t answer those questions; you know that. He asked us not to tell you, which means if you want to know, you’ll have to ask him yourselves. And you’ll have to be patient. He’s been through too much, and while I don’t agree with his reasons for not wanting to tell you, I do understand them. Give him time to decide he’s sure of you.”

“He said he trusts us,” Derek insists.

“He trusts you with his life. It doesn’t mean he trusts you with his heart. Be patient.” Then she smirks at them because she’s a mean woman who has no mercy. Of all the kids, Derek and Laura are the worst at being patient.

“I think you’ll find there’s plenty to keep you busy in the meantime,” Peter points out after a brief, sullen silence. “Aren’t you supposed to be finding those hunters? Maybe Stiles will tell us those bodies really are a threatening message, and much good it’ll do us if we can’t locate the people who left it.”

“We’re on it,” Laura sighs, grabbing Derek by the sleeve and dragging him off. To hunt the hunters.

It would be interesting—probably nightmare-inducing, but interesting—to know what happened to the hunters who killed Stiles’s pack. Derek would bet they didn’t survive a week.

* * *

“Chris!” Stiles says brightly when the door opens.

“Allison’s out,” Chris growls. Not even pretending to be friendly anymore, huh? Just like old times.

“Yes. I know that.”

“And I think you and I are done talking.”

“Yeah, I wish we were? But we’re really not. Do you know anything about the omega who got cut in half in the woods last week?”

Chris sighs deeply and walks into the house, leaving the door open behind him. It’s as close to an invitation as Stiles is gonna get, so he takes it. By the time he’s closed the door behind him, Chris is in a chair in the living room opening one beer and setting another on the table in front of him. At least he’s not hitting the hard liquor?

“No,” Chris says as Stiles sits on the couch across from him. “I didn’t cut that omega in half.”

“I didn’t think you did!” Stiles says, holding his hands up defensively. “I just wondered if you’d heard who did it. Or even if you know why somebody would do that, because my wolf buddies have no clue. Is this a hunter custom?”

Chris sighs again and slumps in his chair. Stiles doesn’t think he’s ever seen Chris slump. It’s freaking him out a little. “My father,” Chris says, “used to leave werewolves like that. Cut in half, on the pack’s land. As a warning. Correct your behavior or suffer the same.”

“Huh.” So, yeah, that’s exactly what Stiles was afraid of. “Your allegedly dead father.”

“He’s dead, Stiles.”

“…Okay. Allison says witches got him—sorry for stirring up bad memories with my presence, by the way. Promise I’ve never killed anybody who wasn’t actively trying to kill me or my loved ones at the time. Anyway, Allison also says reports of Gerard’s death are seriously incomplete.”

“Allison’s told you a lot.” He sounds extremely unhappy about that. Stiles feels a little guilty about the loose-lips-sink-ships conversation that’s no doubt in Allison’s future.

“I’m pretty persistent,” he admits.

Chris raises an eyebrow and takes a swig of beer. “I’d never have guessed.”

“Speaking of which, what exactly happened with Gerard?” Stiles presses, leaning forward.

Chris slumps more and stares hatefully at Stiles. “Why do you want to know?”

“I don’t know, how about so we don’t all die?

“How—” Chris shakes his head and cuts himself off, straightening up to swap out his already empty first beer for the second one. “He made a mistake. He found evidence of someone casting spells in Beacon Hills—nasty things, ugly, and easy to miss because they could’ve been natural. Infertility, blood clots, cancer, things like that. He thought it was a young woman—he’d traced it back to her bloodline. But it was her mother.”

“But he only figured that out after he killed the daughter. Oh, man.” This is officially the first time Stiles has ever felt even sort of bad for Gerard. But enraged, evil, witchy mothers, ouch. “Did he end up a fine, gooey mist across the landscape?”

“No,” Chris says, scowling. “She wanted to drag it out. At first we didn’t know anything was wrong. Then a few days after the daughter died, he started having trouble walking, then he couldn’t keep food down, then he started losing his vision—rapid deterioration. It took us a week to work out what was wrong, and another to hunt the witch down and kill her. But it was too late by then.”

“Meaning…?”

“His internal organs were shutting down, he’d lost most of his muscle mass, his memory was going, and she’d horribly disfigured his face for some reason—spite, I imagine. We took him to a hospital, and they pronounced him dead.”

“Did you bury him?”

“…No. No, we…well. He had a few hunters who worked directly for him, not family. They were devoted to him, it was almost…cult-like at times. We always assumed they’d taken the body.”

This again. Cult-like. Or Darach-like, maybe? Stiles really hated this the first time, for the record. “Great,” he mutters. “So the best case scenario is that Gerard’s fan club is ripping off his style to, what, warn the local pack to stop killing zombie omegas? By killing a zombie omega? I seriously question the sanity of these people. And you know what else it means, if they’re Gerard fans? It means they definitely hate witches. Oh God, this is gonna turn into a literal witch hunt, isn’t it? With the stakes and the fire and the whole thing. I feel very hunted right now. I hate it when I know they’re out to get me.”

“No one is out to get you, Stiles,” Chris insists, rubbing the bridge of his nose and looking tired.

Stiles tries to remember the last time he actually believed that. He quickly stops trying because it’s way too depressing. “…Right. Sure. Anyway, worst case scenario is that Gerard isn’t actually dead.”

“He’s dead, Stiles.”

“Historically speaking, he’s a hard man to kill.”

Historically speaking? What does that mean?”

“You don’t question me about Allison, but you do about this? Don’t question me about this, dude; I know what I’m talking about. Gerard is a survivor in the creepiest possible sense of the term.” Or, no, maybe Peter wins that particular crown. Meh, Stiles is calling it a tie. “I’m not believing he’s dead this time until I cut him in half and set him on fire myself.”

Chris is giving Stiles a seriously disturbed look now. Awesome. Stiles’s life has attained a low so low that he is actually freaking Chris Argent out. He would like an award of some kind.

“Just kidding,” he says hastily. “I’d believe you if you said you’d done it.”

From the look on Chris’s face, that didn’t address the correct problem. Whatever, Stiles isn’t in the business of making Chris happy. “Anyway. If it’s just imitators, I won’t bug you about it—we’ll handle it on our own. But if it’s Gerard…I’m guessing you’ll want to know.”

“I would want to know if it were Gerard,” Chris agrees slowly. “But Stiles, Gerard is dead.”

“I really, really hope you’re right about that. You wouldn’t believe how sick I am of that guy.”

“He died before you were born,” Chris points out, scowling again.

“Yeah, I know. So! I’m off, to…do stuff. And hopefully you’ll never have to see me again. Sorry about the whole—yeah, leaving now.”

The last thing Stiles sees as he heads out the door is Chris pulling another beer from the fridge. He should probably mention this behavior to Allison. Sometimes dads need to be directed toward better coping mechanisms.

* * *

Stiles has somehow talked Derek and Laura into bringing a cartload of books over to his house—alarmingly, they’re about healing magical injuries or faking death, depending on the book. Derek has no idea why they keep giving in to Stiles’s crazy requests. For one thing, he should just come over and pick up the damn books himself, and for another, they shouldn’t be lending him these books at all. These books have disaster written all over them.

“Your room smells like strangers,” Derek growls unhappily, thumping the books down beside Stiles’s desk.

Stiles, of course, just looks up from his place on the floor in the center of a book fortress and smirks. “Jealous?”

Derek scowls and Laura bursts out laughing. Stiles smiles and rubs the back of his head, belatedly sheepish. “Sorry. I had some people over—the friend, remember? And Scott and…his girlfriend. I feel like—I mean, I have you guys, and I have Scott and Dad, and you’re all awesome, but, I don’t know. I’d kind of like to have…more backup?”

“A bigger pack,” Derek suggests quietly, and Stiles’s eyes dart over to him, soft and sad.

“Yeah,” he says. “A bigger pack.”

“But you didn’t bring Argent here.”

“Uh…oh, you mean—no! I wouldn’t let him in my house, jeez. I’m not crazy.”

Derek thinks that’s highly debatable. “You didn’t have to talk to him alone, you know.”

Stiles sighs and rubs his eyes. He’s so tired all the time. Derek would like to shake him until he promises to take care of himself, but Laura insists that isn’t how it works. “Yeah. I know.”

“Thank you for doing that for us, Stiles,” Laura says.

Stiles, predictably, waves that away. “It’s not just for you. Anyway, glad to help, whatever.”

“Right,” Laura agrees cautiously. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Um, sure?” Stiles looks wary about this, but not as wary as he should. “You kind of just did, but I’m guessing you mean another question. What do you want to know?”

Laura has enough decency to be nervous about asking, but not enough to refrain. “What happened to your old pack?”

Stiles breathes out slowly, and Derek whimpers under the weight of his misery before he can get himself under control. Laura’s not doing much better; she has tears in her eyes. “Stiles,” she whispers.

“Not a fun story,” he says, and his voice is the same as it was when Derek brought this up all those months ago. Emotionless. Distant. “And it doesn’t, you know, reflect well on me, so if you’re wondering if it’ll make you trust me less, I can just tell you: yeah. Probably.”

Derek thinks not. Stiles must have loved his pack with everything he had and more to still be feeling the loss of them this strongly. But then, the loss of your pack, your family—of course that isn’t something you’d ever get over. Derek can’t imagine what he’d be like if that had happened to him. Nowhere near as stable as Stiles, that’s for damn sure.

“We do trust you, Stiles,” Laura insists. “Of course we do. I’m just worried about what it’s doing to you not to tell anyone.”

He won’t like that, Derek thinks just as Stiles’s scent switches from misery to fury. Yeah. He didn’t like that at all. Stiles doesn’t deal well with being reminded that he worries people.

“Fine,” Stiles snaps. “If you really want to know, I’ll tell you. So this? This whole, what, reality, timeline, whatever you want to call it? It’s not mine. It’s not mine. I stole it. The Stiles who belongs here died in a car crash on the last full moon of October, and I took his body, because mine was ripped apart beyond the magic’s ability to heal it. So this pendant I used, this fucking pendant that I used without really knowing what it would do—it shipped me here, because, I guess, this Stiles had just died and his was the nearest compatible body the magic could fix.

“Because in my world? I’m dead. I crashed my car into Peter Hale, and if I was reading his look right, he was planning to eat me afterward. And no one was there to stop him, because Derek was dead, because Scott and I weren’t there when—”

He chokes, stops for a moment, breathes. This whole monologue is completely insane, but it’s obvious that Stiles believes every word. Derek has no idea what to feel, but Laura’s crying. And she should be, because Stiles is telling them this to punish them for asking. She must know that.

“Scott and the betas were on the run,” Stiles goes on, eerily calm again. “So was I, so was everybody, because Peter was on a killing spree and he was only part of our problem. At least what he was doing made sense. He’d killed everyone else responsible for the fire, and Derek, Derek let the enemy in the gates.

“See, there was this crazy hunter named Kate Argent—she definitely isn’t the same kind of crazy in this timeline, which is why this whole song and dance didn’t happen—and she seduced Derek when he was, like, sixteen. She must’ve been early twenties.” He pauses and glares at Laura. “I always wondered where the fuck your timeline twin was for this, Laura. Seriously? Didn’t notice her baby brother’s cradle-robbing, homicidal girlfriend? Fail.” He takes a breath and looks away. “Anyway. Derek thought he was in love, didn’t know Kate was a hunter, told her about the werewolf thing. And she waited until Derek and Laura were at school but everyone else was home, she surrounded the house with mountain ash, and she burned the place down.

“No one survived.” He pauses, expressionless, waiting patiently for Laura to stop interrupting the flow of his story with her crying. Then he goes on. “Except you two, and Cora. And Peter, but he was so burned it took him six years to recover, and by then he was nuts. He killed Laura to become the alpha, and he left half of her body as bait for Derek. He bit Scott. He ripped Kate Argent’s throat out. And, long story short, we managed to keep him from going on any further killing sprees until…until October. And then it all went to hell, with evil Argents and rogue omegas and pixies and Peter freaking Hale. And I couldn’t stop it.” Deep breath, visible self-loathing. “I didn’t even try. I tried to run.”

As if a human unwilling to go up against a feral werewolf was an object of scorn.

“And that’s. That’s why you shouldn’t trust me.” He raises his chin defiantly, but he doesn’t meet their eyes.

This explains so much. Stiles’s mysterious pack, his fear of Peter, the fireproofing wards, his research into the pendant. Why he always smells like pain. Of course, it’s still Stiles, so the explanation raises almost as many questions as it settles.

He just told us his life story without telling us anything about his life.

Whatever Stiles was expecting the response to that story to be, he definitely wasn’t expecting Laura to knock over a bunch of books, grab him in a desperate hug, and cry into his shoulder. He wasn’t expecting Derek to crawl over and prop his forehead against Stiles’s back to try to bleed off the pain. (Pointless gesture. You can’t bleed off emotional pain.) He holds still for it, though. He holds still for ages, longer than Derek’s ever seen him be still and quiet before. That’s probably a bad sign.

“Have you told your father?” Laura asks once she’s managed to stop crying, unnervingly quiet.

“What, that his son is dead and I hijacked his body? No, Laura. No, I haven’t told him that.”

“It’s really amazing you aren’t crazy,” she whispers, like a loud voice might be the thing that finally breaks him.

“Newsflash,” Stiles says at normal volume. “I am crazy.”

“Well,” Laura says gamely, “more crazy, then. I mean, you are functional. More or less.”

“My life is full of werewolf comedians,” Stiles complains. “Why.”

“I’m so curious now,” Laura carries on, trying desperately for lighthearted. “But I’m afraid to ask anything. What if I ask you the wrong question and make you cry? I’d feel like bad alpha material.”

“What do you want to know?” Stiles asks again, resigned.

“Mostly…I want to know what’s different between our world and yours. I mean, obviously I see the big picture differences, but the little things. What about the little things, Stiles? It’s going to drive me nuts.”

“You’re gonna be so sorry you asked,” Stiles declares. “Because now I’m telling you every time something’s weird. You will regret this within thirty seconds.”

“What’s weird about me?” Laura asks.

“You’re alive.”

“You mean you never even met me?”

“I dug up half your body one time, does that count?”

“…I’m starting to see what you mean about regretting it.”

“It was the top half, FYI. So I’ve seen your boobs, which is weird. I mean, they were kind of rotting at the time, but still—”

I’m so sorry I asked, my God, you win! Stop.”

“What’s weird about me?” Derek cuts in, afraid of the answer, unable to stop himself from asking.

Everything,” Stiles announces, pulling away from Laura to twist and face Derek. “You use your face. You smile all the time; it’s plain unnatural. You don’t threaten me with death every time you see me, including the times you have just saved me from death. Violence is not always the answer with you. You don’t lurk all over the place like a creeper. You aren’t a massive ball of self-loathing and abandonment issues. You trust people and it freaks me out. You trust me and it freaks me out. You wear colors. You have no stubble and no tattoos. You drive a blue Honda. I hardly even recognize you as you some days. I could go on, do you want me to go on?”

No,” Derek says, appalled.

“Go on, Stiles,” Laura murmurs. “Do it for Auntie Laura.”

Stiles narrows his eyes dangerously. Apparently it’s okay for Stiles to joke about this, but not anyone else. “He eats meat.”

“What? Your Derek was a vegetarian werewolf?”

“Not exactly…but close. He couldn’t deal with the smell of cooking meat. For obvious reasons.”

And that successfully kills that line of questioning.

“Anything else you wanted to know?” Stiles asks flatly.

Derek understands that that is a firm invitation to stop asking questions before they’re made to suffer (more) for it—life with the twins has taught him that much—but he can’t help himself. “Can we see your tattoo?”

Stiles blinks. “You haven’t seen it?”

“Stiles,” Laura drawls, “I didn’t even know you had a tattoo.”

“Oh. Yeah, I mean. Sure. You can see it. Um, you probably should.” He shrugs uncomfortably and turns his back to them, pulling his shirt off before Derek can tell him he doesn’t have to go through with this. That it’s probably a bad idea to go through with this, because Stiles pulls his shirt off, and even in the midst of the angst fest that this is, Derek looks at the lean muscle under that shirt and thinks wildly moment inappropriate things that Laura will know about instantly and judge him for just as fast.

It’s not a problem for long, though, because one good look at that tattoo is enough to kill anyone’s libido.

Stiles’s tattoo is one of the weirdest, most upsetting things Derek has ever seen, and he’s dismembered day-old corpses. He’s not even sure what’s so awful about it—it’s just a person tied to a tree. But there’s something—as simple and stylized as the person is, every line of the body suggests agony. Even the tree looks twisted and in pain. And the ropes seem alive, in a grotesque, snakelike way.

“Is this a binding?” Laura asks, hushed and horrified.

Stiles shrugs again like it’s no big deal. “Yeah.”

“This is a lifelong commitment, Stiles!”

“Funny you should say that! Because I already outlived one. So hey, life is cheaper than you’d think.”

Laura makes a wordless sound of protest, and Derek reaches out to touch the frayed end of one rope, morbidly drawn to it. And the second he touches it, there’s…feedback, of some kind. Not unpleasant, just…strange. Like diving into warm water on a hot day.

“Yeah,” Stiles says roughly, shifting in place. “That’s you.”

“Oh,” Laura whispers. “Does that mean—”

“You’re the one above him,” Stiles says.

Stiles.” Laura’s panicking. Derek doesn’t understand why, but then, he doesn’t know much about binding tattoos. “You said you’d never even met me. Why would you…?”

“Sorry, did I not make this clear?” Stiles asks mildly, and then his voice shifts down to something harder and a lot less sane. “You’re mine.”

Okay, so Laura’s panic is starting to make more sense.

“But…” Laura reaches out to the tattoo, but draws back before she makes contact. “This binding only goes one way. Right? Am I reading it right?”

“Well, yeah. That’s how they work. And even if it were possible, which as far as I know it isn’t, it would’ve been seriously skeevy of me to bind you guys to me without consent,” Stiles says, sounding pretty weirded out. “What kind of creep do you think I am?”

“…The kind that wants to know what I’m feeling and whether or not I’m telling the truth at all times?” Laura suggests, but she’s joking again. The worst is over, and Derek relaxes in response. Or at least, he does until he works out what this means about Stiles’s knowledge of what Derek thinks of him. Then he’s mortified enough that it might actually lead to death.

“Um, what did you just say to me, werewolf lady?” Stiles demands. And Derek has to admit, grudgingly, that his argument is valid.

“When you say we’re yours,” Laura presses, “what do you mean by that?”

“What do you mean, what do I mean?” Stiles asks, honestly puzzled. “I mean it’s my job to make sure you don’t get your idiot werewolf selves killed. What did you think I meant?”

So they have a self-appointed, human knight errant. Derek’s not sure whether to laugh or cry.

Laura reaches out and touches her piece of rope.

* * *

Stiles is standing in a quiet, calm room, all earth tones and soft surfaces. He’s safe here; no one can get to him.

And he can’t get out, either.

One of the walls is floor-to-ceiling glass, and he knows it’s bullet- and wolf-proof without having to check. On the other side of the glass is a street in Microcentro in Buenos Aires, a place Stiles has only ever seen in pictures. It’s the neighborhood he was supposed to meet Scott and Dad and the betas in, once upon a time. He’d picked it because pack law is weird, there’s no werewolf extradition treaty with Argentina, and Stiles had gotten to be internet BFFs with the local alpha. It would’ve been a good place.

Scott is there waiting for him. Not this world’s Scott, but his Scott, painfully familiar and perfect and Scott, even if he is wolfed out in broad daylight in the middle of a crowded sidewalk, the idiot.

Stiles bangs on the glass, but Scott can’t see him, can’t smell him, can’t hear him yelling that there’s someone acting weird in the crowd behind him, someone’s eyes turning red, someone running toward him. Scott turns, but it’s not in time, not in time.

The strange alpha takes Scott down, two more run in to hold him, pedestrians shriek and scatter, and Stiles throws himself as hard as he can against the glass, but it doesn’t even bend. He screams until he’s hoarse, beats on the glass until his hands bruise and the skin splits and bleeds, and it’s useless. He has to stand there and watch as Scott gets torn apart on a street in a city Stiles promised him would be safe, and there’s nothing he can do.

Once they’re done, once Scott is nothing but a bloody pile of meat on the sidewalk, another alpha wanders over, and they wait. Stiles scrubs the tears from his eyes and hysterically wonders what they think they’re doing, because Scott can’t get any more dead than he already is.

Then Dad comes out of an alley across the street, walking to where he was probably supposed to meet Scott, watching the traffic, not paying attention, walking right into the middle of a death trap

Someone grabs Stiles by the arm, and he’s hit the floor on the far side of his bed and pulled out the knife he keeps under it before he realizes where he is. That that whole thing was a dream—and the relief is so sudden and intense he feels almost sick with it. Or at least, it had better have been a dream, because if it was a fucking vision, Stiles is going to find whoever runs the universe, and he’s going to take that son of a bitch down.

Aaaaand there’s Dad (now Dad, not then Dad) standing on the other side of the bed, totally shocked and horrified. So that’s who grabbed his arm. Awk-ward.

“Oh. Hi, Dad,” Stiles gasps. Man, the hyperventilating is not helping his cause, here.

“Stiles,” Dad replies. And the look on his face, the way he feels…wow, this is not going to be a fun conversation.

“What, uh. What brings you here?”

“You were screaming, Stiles. Like you were being slowly murdered.”

“Ah.” Shit. “It’s kind of…not a good idea to touch me when I’m dreaming about being slowly murdered.” Not that he’d have woken Dad up screaming if it’d been him getting murdered. He tends to take that pretty philosophically in dreams.

“I can see that,” Dad says in a very calm and even tone. A talking-down-the-tripping-suspect tone. He doesn’t know that Stiles can feel exactly how calm he isn’t. “Son. Put the knife down, please.”

Stiles would really prefer not to put the knife down. Logically, he understands that it’s just him and Dad in this room—if anything had gotten through the wards, Stiles would know about it. But that’s logic. Instinct says that something scared him really badly and therefore it’s a good idea to be armed and on high alert for at least an hour. Better safe than sorry.

But Dad asked, and at this point, Stiles needs to be doing as much of what Dad wants as he possibly can. He looks at his fingers and orders them to let go of the knife. They aren’t inclined to listen. He gets serious and forces them open. The knife drops to the carpet with a soft thump. He tries really hard not to freak out.

“Stiles,” Dad says, still with that sheriff-on-duty false calm, “what just happened?”

“Um.” Oddly, this situation is more incriminating than any of the times his own dad found him skulking around crime scenes. “I’ve had a really bad month?”

Not good; Dad’s not buying that line. “This isn’t the kind of thing that happens because you’ve had a bad month, Stiles,” he says. “This is the kind of thing that happens because you’ve had three tours in Iraq, and since I know that’s not the case here, you understand that I’m really concerned.”

If Dad could manage to be a little less perceptive, that would make Stiles’s life much easier. The trouble is, he hasn’t had time to wear this version of Dad down. Last timeline, the freaky stuff started relatively small, and by the time it had gotten this bad, Dad was just, he was tired. He was tired and defeated, and half the time he didn’t even bother to ask because he knew Stiles would lie and he couldn’t take it anymore. This version of Dad, though? He hasn’t given up. He’s still got energy, hope, faith in Stiles.

And Stiles doesn’t want to take that from him. He hadn’t realized how much he’d stolen from his Dad until he switched timelines and saw it all put back. He doesn’t have it in him to steal it again. Not when it didn’t do any good the first time. Though, God, this explanation is going to be so much worse than just, hey, werewolves are real.

“It’s a long story,” Stiles hears himself say. “And you’re really going to hate me by the end of it.”

“Stiles,” Dad whispers, devastated. “I won’t hate you.”

He will, though, and then he’ll hate himself for doing it. Stiles is a life ruiner.

“Come here, son,” Dad says, reaching out but not coming closer. Because he’s treating Stiles like a traumatized war veteran now, this is just, this is great. “Come here.”

Stiles does manage to make himself straighten up, eventually. And once he’s done that, it’s surprisingly easy to pick up speed in Dad’s direction until he half-tackles him in a hug, holding on with everything he’s got. Like it’s the last time, and maybe it is.

He doesn’t see a lot of hugs in his future once Dad knows what he’s done.

* * *

Derek doesn’t want to know what a 3am phone call from Stiles means. He doesn’t want to know, and he’s not answering that phone. If he answers, Stiles will just say something that’ll give him nightmares, and that’s a thing he doesn’t need in his life. He’s had enough Stiles-related trauma for one week. So he’s not answering. He’s not.

“What the fuck, Stiles,” he growls into the phone, hating himself a little.

“Hey, Derek!” Stiles gasps, sounding seconds away from a meltdown. “Oh, crap, I guess I didn’t—I forgot what time it—I’ll just—”

“Shut up,” Derek sighs, dragging himself out of bed and hunting for clothes. Phone call’s going exactly as expected so far. “I can be there in fifteen minutes. Do you want Laura to come?”

“Oh. Uh, yeah.” Stiles pauses, forcing his breathing to slow. In the relative quiet, Derek can make out someone else breathing in the background. Scott? The sheriff? “Yeah,” Stiles repeats eventually, steadier. “That’d be good. If she’s up. Because I thought. It’s up to you guys, but. There’s some stuff that I should definitely tell Dad. Or, there’s some stuff he figured out? And now he’s freaking out, so. I should, I need—”

“Okay,” Derek interrupts. So it is the sheriff; this just gets better and better. “Tell him whatever you need to.”

What? Just like that?!”

Yes, Stiles, just like that.” Laura’s standing in the doorway to Derek’s room now, already dressed, chewing her lower lip unhappily. She’s probably heard everything. “He’s your father. If he’s half as trustworthy as you are, we have nothing to worry about.”

“Or maybe you’re stupidly trusting,” Stiles wails. Laura reaches out and takes the phone from Derek. He heaves a sigh of relief and focuses on finding pants.

Laura starts in with a constant stream of soothing words, very few of which actually mean anything, and she barely lets Stiles speak at all. She keeps it up as Derek gets dressed, as she hands him her keys, as they run into their parents standing, worried, in the front hall.

“We’ll be awake,” Mom tells Derek, pulling him down to kiss him on the forehead. “If you need anything, or if the sheriff wants to talk to us, call.”

“The kid isn’t alone here,” Dad says gruffly. “Remind him.”

Derek nods, unsurprised by these instructions, and Laura, still talking, grabs his sleeve and tows him to the car.

“Stiles,” Laura says as she climbs in the passenger side. “Did you ever have this conversation with…with your father? From your old timeline?”

“Ha! No,” Stiles chokes out with a sick laugh. “No, I’m not repeating my mistakes. These? These are brand new mistakes.”

“I do believe in your endless creativity,” Laura murmurs, and Stiles’s laugh in response is a little less awful. “So. I know you won’t have told him about us. How much does he know about you?”

“Nothing.”

“What do you mean, nothing?”

“I mean literally nothing beyond slightly morbid kid with ADHD.”

“Not even the magic?”

“Laura, nothing means nothing. I was having a nightmare, he tried to wake me up, and I jumped out of bed and almost stabbed him with the knife I keep under it. What he knows is that that is not normal behavior for a high school student.”

“Wow, Stiles.”

“Shut up! I didn’t think I’d be around long enough to have to deal with this, okay?” he hisses quietly, so the sheriff won’t hear.

Laura turns to Derek with wide eyes, and they’ve never understood each other so well.

He’s leaving us.

Of course. Of course he wants to leave. Why wouldn’t he? This isn’t his world. He’s leaving. He has no reason to stay.

Laura shakes her head and refocuses. She’s always been the practical one: one catastrophe at a time. “Well, it looks like you’re still here. You’d better let me talk to him.”

“Is that really—”

“Don’t argue with me, Stiles. I’m alpha material.”

Stiles mutters something that had better not include the words everything that’s wrong with Derek, but he does pass the phone over, and Laura starts her reassuring routine on the sheriff. Lots of words, very little content. Soothing.

Derek tries for a second to imagine this happening in Stiles’s world. What he’d have done if Stiles had called up panicking, but Derek’s parents weren’t there for advice and Laura wasn’t there to talk.

He’s more amazed every day that the other Derek survived long enough for Stiles to meet him. It’s no surprise he got himself killed; no surprise he lost Stiles. After all, even with all the help anyone could want, Derek’s going to lose Stiles in this world, too.

* * *

John is not having a good day. But he’s got a lot of perspective on this kind of thing; it’s not like it’s the worst day of his life.

Definitely in the bottom ten, though.

Stiles is still panicking so hard he looks like he’s about to fly apart, and John has no idea what to do about it. After that first desperate hug, Stiles hasn’t let him within touching distance. On the plus side, though, he hasn’t gone for the knife again. Small favors.

Of course, a dad might like to know where the hell that knife came from. And how Stiles learned to use it, because he clearly knows how to use it. John’s seen a few knife fights, and Stiles held that knife like an expert, like the knife was an extension of his arm. Like he was prepared to fight to the death with it.

What kind of father misses something like that? That’s what’s killing him, here, because this isn’t a situation that grew up overnight. You don’t react to a touch on the arm by instinctively diving for a weapon unless you’ve gone through months or years of really needing a weapon at night, of confidently assuming that every unexpected touch is an attack. He’s had deputies like that, and he knows.

He would swear Stiles hasn’t had time for that. He’s been sleeping here every night he wasn’t at Scott’s. (He was at Scott’s, wasn’t he?) His grades have been fine. No one’s been breaking in except Derek Hale, and he’s not the problem, because he was the first and only person Stiles called tonight. John’s inclined to think the Hales are more symptom than cause—maybe even more cure than cause.

Laura claims this will all make sense once she explains it. John has serious doubts about that, but at least it gives him some hope, however false.

Laura and Derek show up surprisingly quickly, and Stiles marches toward them the instant John lets them in and just keeps going until he walks bodily into Derek, hitting him with an audible thump. John didn’t see that one coming, but apparently Derek and Laura did, since they don’t react at all. Well, not beyond Derek throwing an absent arm around Stiles’s shoulders and Laura crowding in to lean against them.

And again. When did this happen?

No, John decides, it doesn’t matter. It’s the least of the weird things that’ve happened tonight. He’s going to tackle the diving out of bed for a knife first, and work outward from there. The Hale group hug? It might not even make the agenda.

“Hi, Sheriff,” Laura says with brittle cheer. “I was thinking we should start with the easy stuff. What do you say?”

“…Sounds good,” John agrees tentatively.

“Okay.” Laura nods. “Step one: werewolves.”

Stiles whispers, “Oh my God,” and gives an unhinged giggle. Derek thumps him gently on the head.

“Werewolves?” John repeats blankly.

“Right,” Laura agrees. And then her eyes go yellow and her teeth go pointy and her face goes generally strange, and if John had thought this night was weird before, he’d clearly underestimated Stiles.

And Laura’s not wrong: it only gets weirder from there. Apparently most of the Hale family is composed of werewolves, and the Argents have a habit of hunting werewolves, and this has made Stiles’s relationship with Allison fraught, what with family history and Stiles’s evidently unshakeable loyalty to the Hales. Also, they tell him Stiles is magical. Strangely, this is the easiest thing to believe so far.

Finally and most insanely, Stiles? Is apparently not Stiles. Or he is Stiles, but Stiles from an alternate universe, which explains his loyalty to the Hales—he was won over by alternate universe Hales during a werewolf vs. werewolf hunter war, which Laura describes very briefly.

And that, seemingly, is where she plans to wind down and leave John hanging.

Of course, maybe that’s all she knows. No one is more aware than John of how bad Stiles is at sharing hard truths. Assuming that’s also the case with this Stiles. It looks like it is. He’s moved away from Derek now, and is on his own in what John recognizes as a classic facing the music stance.

So, as expected, most of Laura’s explanation didn’t make sense. Okay. No. None of it made any sense, but the werewolf thing, at least, came with visual evidence attached, so it must be true.

What they’re telling him is that the supernatural world is real, and Stiles is behaving like a different person because he is a different person, and has been for months. They’re telling him his son is dead, and this Stiles is a stranger.

This Stiles, whose face is a careful blank, whose eyes are a little too bright, whose body is being forced to perfect, abnormal stillness. If he’s a stranger, how does John know that this is what he looks like when he’s bracing himself against terrible, inevitable pain?

You’re really going to hate me.

Stiles is obviously waiting for John to kick him out. He’s waiting to be blamed, just like he was always waiting to be blamed for his mother’s death (and never believed he wasn’t responsible, even when the accusation never came). Deep down, he’s holding himself guilty of the death of John’s Stiles. He may know it was a car crash, but he’s never, in his heart, going to believe that.

If this isn’t John’s son, how does John know him so well?

“Did your mother die?” he asks, as gently as he can make it.

Stiles nods, clears his throat. Stares into John’s eyes like he’s punishing himself by doing it. “When I was ten.”

“Same as my Stiles.”

“Yeah, I. I think our timelines were mostly the same until the start of sophomore year, when my Scott got bitten. There was some little stuff before that, just kickback from your Hales being alive. Not too much; you guys didn’t hang out with them. But. Yeah. Otherwise the same. And I spot-checked the news—same current events, as far as I can tell. Same history.”

“You’ve been trying to protect me.” In an incredibly stupid and painfully Stiles kind of way. “By keeping this from me.”

“I didn’t want—” He cuts himself off and rubs a miserable hand over his face, under the impression that John won’t notice he’s wiping away tears. Just like John’s Stiles. “I didn’t want you to know. You were so happy when you thought he’d survived, and I. How could I tell you? How could I say, oh, sorry, your son is actually dead, but you’ve got this lying, crazy, fucked up version to take his place! I couldn’t—”

He stops talking this time because John’s grabbed him and pulled him into a fierce hug, and he’d have to talk into John’s shirt. He doesn’t try—John thinks he might actually have been shocked silent.

Over Stiles’s shoulder, John sees Laura discreetly shooing her brother toward the door. He’s staggeringly relieved that they, at least, have been watching out for Stiles. He owes their family a lifetime supply of grateful fruit baskets. If werewolves eat fruit. Do werewolves eat fruit?

“Do werewolves eat fruit?” he asks Stiles once the door shuts behind the Hales, since the expert is right here in his arms.

Stiles gives a weak laugh. “They can hear you,” he mumbles, pulling back a little. “But yeah. Werewolf Scott still hated citrus, though, and he told me he didn’t need it because he was a werewolf and superpowers and super healing and whatever, he couldn’t get scurvy. I was still trying to convince Derek to tell him scurvy was the only disease werewolves weren’t immune to, when.”

When Derek died and Scott ran and Stiles ended up in another universe. Right.

Stiles tries to escape the hug. John doesn’t let him. Stiles laughs again, almost hysterical. “Why are you taking this so well? There should be freakouts! Even Mrs. McCall freaked out a little, and she was basically world’s awesomest mom about the whole thing.”

“How did your dad react?” John asks.

“I…didn’t actually tell him.”

John smacks him upside the head; Stiles yelps. “You didn’t tell him? There were werewolves and hunters running around having death feuds in the county he was sworn to protect, and you never told him?

“He figured it out eventually! When, uh, when everyone had pretty much figured it out because the town was, like, total chaos. But I. I didn’t want him getting himself killed by being involved before he had to be involved.”

“Because he’d have taken it so well if you, having gotten involved, got yourself killed.”

Stiles chokes and grabs desperately onto his shirt, and good going, John, that wasn’t an outrageously sensitive subject at all. “Sorry,” he murmurs. “Sorry, son. I’m so sorry.”

“That’s why I told you,” he whispers, and John feels even more like a terrible human being than he did already. “And I’m not. I’m not actually your son.”

“You’re not? I must’ve gotten confused, what with all this monitoring my diet and lying to me to protect me and having all the same family memories I do—”

“Dad!”

He has no idea how much he just conceded. John wins. “Yeah, son?”

“No, but, they’re not the—it’s not the same. I’m not the same.”

“You’re not the same,” John allows. “And I’m going to miss my Stiles for the rest of my life. I hope you’ll let me have at least one night to be really drunk and miserable and cry myself to sleep, in the good, manly tradition of grieving Stilinskis everywhere.” It’s going to be more than one night. It’ll be a lot more than one night, and Stiles knows it; he makes an indecipherable noise and clutches at John’s shirt again. “But if I can’t have my Stiles—and I don’t blame you for that, okay? I don’t blame you—then I’m grateful, I am so grateful not to be alone. I’m glad I have you. And I’m glad you have me, since you don’t have your own dad. I’m glad you’re not alone, because you may not be my Stiles, but I’ve been finding you just as easy to love.”

Stiles breathes out shakily and loosens his death grip on John’s shirt. “…You’re pretty easy to love, too.”

“I know.”

Stiles snorts. “Shut up.”

“There’s my boy.”

Stiles laughs, and for the first time tonight, it actually sounds like a laugh. They settle down some after that, John releasing Stiles, Stiles finally looking like he doesn’t feel the need to bolt out of the house, flee to Mexico, and change his name to Juan. Which is something he’s actually threatened to do before.

Or at least, it’s something John’s Stiles has threatened to do. He’ll have to ask this Stiles if he ever has.

“I miss him,” Stiles admits eventually, watching John carefully for a reaction.

“I know you do.”

“I miss them all. I was supposed to keep them safe, I told Derek I’d—I sent Scott off alone, and he’s, God, you know how freaking helpless he can be. What if he’s dead? He’s probably dead, Dad. He’s probably dead, they’re probably all dead, because I had this stupid pendant and I used it and I didn’t think—”

My God, he’s been carrying this around for months, and I barely noticed. “Stiles, if you hadn’t used that pendant, you’d be dead. Right?”

“…Right.”

“You couldn’t help them if you were dead, either.”

“But at least that wouldn’t be my fault.”

“The scariest thing is that I almost followed that logic. But no, Stiles. No. You can’t help not being in that world anymore. You’d be gone one way or another because you sustained fatal injuries trying to protect them—you’d given them everything you had. It’s not your fault just because you’re alive to worry about it. You tried to stay with them, didn’t you? You even tried that pendant, not knowing what it would do, because you wanted to stay.”

“But—”

“Your mother wanted to stay, too.”

Stiles’s breath stops, which answers that question. He and his father must’ve talked about Claudia exactly as much as John and his Stiles did, which is to say, not at all.

“Do you blame her,” John asks, “because she couldn’t?”

“No,” Stiles whispers. And of course he doesn’t; he blames himself.

This is the problem with only children, John decides, exhausted. They think they’re the center of the universe, and that doesn’t mean they feel special, it just means they think everything is their fault. And with Stiles being all magical, well, he’s got more of a basis for that delusion than most.

“They don’t blame you for going, either, Stiles. They don’t blame you any more than you blame her.”

Stiles puts a hand over his mouth and looks away, and John knows better than to press it at this point. He’ll go back to chipping away at Stiles’s mountain of pointless guilt when they’re both a little less frayed.

Because John, yeah, he’s not actually dealing with this anywhere near as well as he’s lead Stiles to believe. He is, in fact, going to head over to the Hale’s at some point soon to have a good old-fashioned breakdown in the presence of adults.

He’s never letting any of it touch Stiles, though. This Stiles, even more than John’s Stiles, has been through enough. John refuses to add to it. He refuses, because even though his son is dead, his son is standing in front of him.

He has no idea how to feel about any of this. But he is not, he is not letting it touch Stiles.

* * *

Stiles knows how his dad feels, and he is pretty freaking amazed by how well the guy is handling this. He’s confused and sad (who wouldn’t be?) and a little panicky (fair enough) and really, really guilty (seriously, why?), but the disgust, the anger, the hatred that Stiles expected—none of that’s there at all. Not yet, anyway.

…It would probably make it easier on both of them if it were. If this Dad were less awesome than Stiles’s Dad, Stiles could get some, whatever, emotional distance. If this Dad had managed to get his Stiles more mentally separated from the current Stiles, he could actually grieve, let go, start over.

As it is, it’s gonna be a horror show for both of them. It’s not an easy thing to grieve for the person you currently live with. Not that there are studies on the psychological effects of that, obviously. Maybe Stiles should be looking into how parents who lose one twin deal, but even that isn’t quite right. No, the Stilinskis have managed to be more messed up than that.

He shakes his head and spontaneously decides the best way out is through. “So. Further to the werewolf stuff.”

“Oh, God. I’ve learned my lesson; I’m sitting down for this.” Dad marches over to the kitchen table, pulls out a chair, and sits. Like, with emphasis. Stiles wanders over to sit opposite him, still prepared to run screaming from the house at any moment. Even now, there are a lot of ways this could go bad.

“There’s kind of…um, we have an issue.”

“A werewolf issue.”

“A supernatural issue, anyway. Because, okay. Remember that time I warned you about the pixies?”

Dad gets up and beelines for the whiskey. Stiles isn’t saying a thing about it—if ever there was a conversation that called for whiskey, this is it. “So pixies are real, too,” Dad says.

“Sadly, yes.”

“What did you say? Flies like a hummingbird, bites like a…?”

“Komodo dragon.”

“But if I shoot one, it’ll die?”

“Yeah. The pixies, not the werewolves—you need wolfsbane for that. I have a lot of wolfsbane, though, just so you know. And that’s another thing—we’ve got these mind-controlled omegas wandering around attacking people.”

“Omegas…the lowest in the pack?”

“No, um. Lone wolves.”

“What are Derek and Laura?”

“Betas. But Laura’s alpha material. I’m kind of impressed she got through that whole talk with you without mentioning that once. That’s like serious personal growth for her.”

“But wasn’t Derek your alpha?”

Oh, man. This question. “Yeah, he was, but…okay, Dad, I feel kind of traitorous saying this? But he was never meant to be the alpha, and he was really bad at it. So bad, you don’t even—not that it’s all his fault! Like, watching the Hales now? I can’t believe the way they treat the guy. It’s like they’ve never even thought about what would happen if he ended up on his own, it’s unbelievably—”

“He is part of a huge family, Stiles,” Dad cuts in, rolling his eyes. “It’s perfectly reasonable that they assumed they wouldn’t all die. How did they all die, by the way?”

“Hunters trapped them in their house and burned them alive. Which brings us to part three of our current supernatural disaster: hunters.”

“Right, the Argents. Because apparently they hunt werewolves.”

“They hunt anything they don’t like the look of, basically. Sometimes including witches.”

Dad is instantly horrified, and that’s…Stiles knows he shouldn’t keep testing this, but it’s such an unbelievable relief. Apparently he’s really, truly, honest-to-god not going to lose his dad over this. Or, well, other!Stiles’s dad. But the less he thinks about that, the better.

You’re a witch,” Dad says, panicking to a backhandedly awesome extent.

“Yeah, but I have a…truce? Armistice? Pact of mutual antipathy and neglect? With the Argents.”

“Well, that sounds friendly. Did Scott know about all this when he started dating Allison?” Dad demands. Great, now he’s getting pissed at Scott. Can’t have that.

“He did, but be fair, I basically set them up. They were dating in my world, too, except that there, Scott was a werewolf, remember. So, Tristan and Isolde, Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story, the whole thing. It was ridiculous. Like, they went on their first date, and later that night Chris shot Scott with a crossbow. I’m not even joking.”

“Chris Argent shoots children with crossbows?” Dad asks coldly.

“Well, not to death. Hang on, am I defending Chris Argent right now? What the hell is my life? That’s not the point, anyway! The point is, we’re worried that a hunter might be the one mind-controlling the omegas and, uh. Other bad stuff. And the hunter might be Chris’s dad, who’s supposed to be dead.”

“But you think he isn’t.”

“He was seriously hard to kill in my world.” Stiles is so into this reckless full disclosure mode that he almost slips and mentions the basement, but luckily catches himself in time. How crazy would it make Dad that Stiles had gotten beaten up by somebody in another world that Dad could never get to? So crazy.

And the man’s looking worried enough as it is. “Please tell me you’re leaving this mostly up to the Hales.”

“I’m…mostly leaving it up to the Hales?”

“Somehow I’m not completely reassured. I want their phone numbers.”

“Fair.”

“And for you to tell me if anything changes.”

“…Sure.”

“I mean it, Stiles! God. To think I actually believed life couldn’t get weirder than that summer you stole Ricky Garcia’s iguana and tried to convince me to ship it to the tropics.”

“Excuse me, I liberated that iguana. I was just trying to send it home.”

“So you’ve always claimed,” Dad says absently, heaving himself out of his chair. “I’m making popcorn, then you’re giving me those numbers.”

“No butter, no salt!”

“Yeah, yeah. Suck all the joy out of it.”

So you’ve always claimed, he said, and he didn’t even notice. Stiles gives himself until the popcorn finishes popping to feel guilty and sick and confused. But when the microwave beeps, he buries all that, picks up his phone, and starts pulling up numbers for other!Stiles’s dad.

Who he’s apparently stolen, because stealing the guy’s body wasn’t bad enough.

* * *

Derek is innocently sitting at the kitchen table reading a book on PTSD when Philip walks in and glares at him like everything in the world is his fault. Derek’s used to this look from Laura, but Philip? He doesn’t usually get anything worse than amused tolerance from Philip. Also there should be some comment on the book, and it’s troubling that there isn’t.

“About Stiles,” Philip says accusingly. And suddenly it all makes sense.

“Stiles isn’t my fault,” Derek argues preemptively.

“On a normal day, he sends me maybe five texts with questions about wards, but this, this is a new low. He’s sent me twenty texts this morning. This morning, Derek. Ten of them are about, I kid you not, the mating habits of pixies. Five of them are about the Argents and Stiles’s belief that this whole disaster is being engineered by one of their undead hunters. And five of them are about you, for no apparent reason.”

Derek desperately wants to ask what the texts about him said, but in this mood, Philip would probably respond by lining the kitchen with mountain ash and leaving Derek there. “He still isn’t my fault,” Derek maintains.

“He is your responsibility, though, little brother.” It’s always a bad sign when Philip calls him little brother. “And he tells me the undead Argent has been sighted around town. He’s asking permission for one of us to meet with the other Argents so that we can, quote, ‘Kill the son of a bitch together like one big, happy family.’”

Derek has no idea what kind of response Philip’s looking for, here.

“Is he insane, Derek?” Philip asks in despair. “I know you and Laura like him, but you’d tell me, wouldn’t you? You’d smell the crazy on him and you’d tell me, right?”

“You can’t smell crazy. Well. Sometimes you can. Some types of chemical—”

Derek.”

“I don’t know what you want me to say!”

“Is there really an undead Argent in town?”

“If Stiles says there is, then there must be. It’s no weirder than the mind-controlled omegas, is it? Maybe they’re being mind-controlled by the undead Argent.”

“Derek, you’re starting to talk like him.”

“I am not!” Is he? “Anyway, so what if he is crazy? We’ll go check this out, it’ll turn out to be nothing, no harm done.”

“Except that the Argents will know who we are.”

“…Stiles says they’re retired.” Stiles has also said he doesn’t want the Argents to know the Hales are werewolves, so meeting with them must be an unavoidable show of good faith. Philip doesn’t seem in the mood to hear that, though. Why isn’t he having this conversation with Mom, anyway? Mom’s the alpha.

“I’m sure that makes all the difference in the world,” Philip says sourly. “I assume you and Laura are going.”

“If that’s what Mom wants.”

“It’s what Stiles will want. And Mom’s been going along with whatever Stiles wants for a while now, for reasons I really don’t—” Philip’s phone dings with an incoming text, and he pulls it out of his pocket, resigned. “Now he’s complaining that he has to tell Allison Argent about the whole alternate universe thing,” Philip reports. “What alternate universe thing?”

“Uh, Mom didn’t tell you about that?”

“No, Derek, she didn’t.”

“Oh.” Great. That means Derek has to tell him. This whole conversation seems very unfair. “He’s leaving.” Wait, that wasn’t where he meant to start.

Philip drops his phone and stares at Derek with terrible pity. “What?

“He’s not…from here. Remember when he asked you about your pendant?”

“Oh. Oh God, he already used the pendant! That’s why he…oh, he’s trying to get back.” Philip now has the upset and conflicted expression that Laura calls his Horrified on Behalf of Everyone face. “No wonder we couldn’t work out who his old pack was. Were we his old pack?”

“Kind of.” You were dead, Derek thinks, guilty and depressed. You were all dead, there was just me and Cora, and I was exactly as useless as everyone always said I would be. “You should have Mom tell you about it.”

“But she’s busy—”

“Then have Laura tell you.”

Philip stops short and studies Derek’s face, openly concerned. Not that he needs to be. Derek doesn’t want to talk about it, that’s all—it’s embarrassing. And yeah, that Derek wasn’t him, but…

It could’ve been him. It’s only luck that it wasn’t.

* * *

Talia decides to send Derek and Laura to meet with Allison and, if necessary, Chris. She agrees it needs to happen. Stiles tries to argue that for a while, but Talia points out that it was his idea in the first place, which…yeah, it was. He was just kind of hoping she’d shoot him down.

This is going to be a terrible, awful, no-good meeting, and it was Stiles’s idea, which means it’s his fault.

Derek and Laura show up first. Allison arrives a few minutes later, dragging Scott and Lydia along with her, which—why? Does she think Stiles is less likely to kill her if she has Scott and Lydia as buffers? Did she bring Scott for moral support? Did Lydia blackmail her way into coming as research for her forthcoming dissertation on multiple realities? Is Talia going to be really pissed that Lydia knows about them?

Is it way too late to worry about all this? Yes, and he needs to stop.

What this means, though, is that Stiles has most of his favorite people in one room, and in a way, that’s really cool. It’s just too bad he’s uncomfortable with half of them being able to identify the other half and is actively praying for no bloodshed. Fuck his life.

“Okay. Thanks for showing up,” he says. “I know this sucks. But Gerard’s definitely alive; people have been seeing him and his goons around town, like, grocery shopping and stuff.”

“Why wouldn’t he hide?” Allison demands stiffly. She can’t argue, though—it was her dad’s connections and stalker equipment that found Gerard. Stiles is so glad he bullied Scott into telling her the alternate universe story. No way could he have dealt with the hostile, suspicious faces she’d have made if he’d been the one to tell her.

“I doubt he thinks anyone’s looking for him after all these years.”

She nods unhappily, conceding that.

“So Gerard’s alive,” Stiles goes on, “but he was almost dead at one point. So close to dead that it would’ve taken something supernatural to save him.”

“He couldn’t have!” Allison insists.

“Not and stay with your family, he couldn’t,” Stiles agrees. “Which, I’m guessing, is why he let you guys think he was dead.”

Allison looks horrified, but it’s nothing on that time her granddad sicced a lizard on her, so Stiles ignores it.

“No one supernatural would’ve helped him,” Laura points out. “Not if they knew who he was.”

“He’s a schemer, though,” Stiles says. “Has all these plans. Maybe he blackmailed somebody into helping him. Or maybe one of his cult of hunters was actually an evil Druid, because that’s what happened in my world.”

“Then why is he doing whatever he’s doing now?” Derek asks. “It’s drawing a lot of attention—he can’t want that.”

“Because he was diagnosed with terminal cancer a couple of years ago,” Stiles explains, feeling the same exhaustion he’s felt since he first got confirmation that Gerard was alive. “I’m betting that’s the same in both universes. The cancer. And he must’ve tried to get something supernatural to fix it really quietly, since he’s playing dead and, yeah, wouldn’t want attention. But it didn’t work, or it only worked for a while, so he’s gone with this whole zombie omega plan. Again.” It’s been all Gerard all the time. If only Stiles had had this epiphany back in his home universe, but no, he was determined to believe the omegas were a separate problem, that they were just being driven insane by the instability. He never figured out they were mind-controlled, and that’s why the pack split their attention and their focus and died wholesale. Because he wasn’t thinking. “Of course, here, the omegas have already been around for a year, which makes no sense. Unless he wanted his omega army in place before he started? Last time he had his Darach buddy sacrificing humans to rip holes in magic and unbalance it, and that’s actually one of the less flashy ways to do it. Could be he wanted everything prepared in advance, so he could get done fast and get out.”

“Darach?” Lydia doesn’t approve of the existence of words she doesn’t know.

“Druids gone wrong,” Stiles explains.

“Ah. Well, your idea would make sense, except that, according to you, we already have unstable magic, and I…think we would’ve noticed human sacrifices.”

“And we definitely would’ve noticed anything more dramatic than that,” Allison says.

Stiles agrees. So how did Gerard unbalance local magic badly enough to end up with pixies and Stiles and every other crazy thing without anyone noticing? Because there should’ve been some kind of—

Oh.

“Oh, crap, it’s me. I punched right through the fabric of this reality coming over here, and that—that definitely could’ve caused magical instability.”

Holy shit, he hates that pendant. He’s not a symptom, he’s the cause. The pixies didn’t show up here until after he did—this is on him.

“And if you hadn’t caused it,” Laura interrupts his thoughts sternly, “they’d have been sacrificing humans for the same results. Yes? No?”

“Oh,” Stiles says, disoriented by the abrupt derailing of his personal guilt train. “Yeah. Probably.” So…apparently he prevented human sacrifices just by existing? That’s cool. And yet it feels seriously gross to be happy about doing favors for Gerard Argent. “So I guess Gerard just took the hole I made and…kept it open? He could do that without being flashy. It’s way easier to keep magic unstable than it is to destabilize it in the first place.”

Lydia’s taking notes.

“What good will unstable magic do him?” Allison asks, narrowing her eyes.

“Power. If you rip a hole in magic, that’s…that’s an insane amount of power. Almost too insane—hard to channel and hard to control—not quite as bad as trying to power a flashlight with a nuke, but, you know. Close. But if you put that together with the omegas…I’m guessing he’s using them as a magic filter. I think that’s a thing you can do with magical creatures. Or maybe they’re just a distraction. Or both—Gerard is a multitasker. Anyway, hopefully it’ll take him a while to finish setting this up, because we seriously need to kill him before he’s done. But hey, if we’re lucky, he’ll blow himself up trying.”

“We’re not gonna be lucky, are we?” Scott asks sadly.

“We never are, buddy.”

“What did you do about Gerard last time?” Lydia wants to know.

“Last time he eventually got to our Peter, who was practically an omega and really mentally unstable anyway, and at that point we, uh. Died horribly? So yeah, can’t help you there.”

Everyone goes silent in shocked sympathy.

“Really, Stiles?” Everyone except Lydia, who has no patience for other people’s trauma—or even her own. “No ideas at all? Did you actually die and learn nothing from it? You’re supposed to be the expert, here.”

“Kill them all?” Stiles suggests. He’s irritated when that meets with a bunch of glares and a “No, Stiles,” from Derek freaking Hale, of all people.

“Derek just said no to ‘kill them all,’” Stiles complains to Laura. “That’s how I know the world is wrong.”

“That’s not normal?”

“Not where I come from.”

Derek rolls his eyes.

“That aside,” Stiles goes on, “what I’d like to know is why no one ever likes ‘kill the problem’ as a plan of action. Because I’m telling you, it’s a winning strategy.” He pauses, then points at Derek. “Unless it’s your strategy, but that’s because once an idea passes through your brain, it magically becomes bad. It’s your superpower. Your other superpower, aside from the claws and fangs and whatever.”

“It’s not my job to be the ideas guy,” Derek points out, unoffended.

“True,” Stiles agrees thoughtfully. “Congratulations on living in this timeline, I guess.”

“Is this what our pack meetings were like?” Scott groans.

“No,” Stiles assures him. “If this were one of our pack meetings, Allison would’ve stormed off by now, Lydia would’ve set something on fire out of boredom, and Derek would’ve thrown me into a wall.”

“Congratulations to all of us on living in this timeline, then,” Laura murmurs. “And speaking of packs, we really need to go to mine with this. Assuming your family is willing to let us handle it, Allison?”

“We’re willing to let you try,” Allison says, formal. “But if something goes wrong—Gerard is family. We get the next shot at him.”

“That’s reasonable,” Laura allows. “I’ll call my alpha.”

“Can we actually stand back and let the adults handle it?” Stiles asks in an awed whisper. “Is that an option in this world? Because if it is, that is seriously the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me. Oh my God, Peter isn’t even insane. Make him handle it. Solved!” Stiles throws his arms up triumphantly and then collapses back into his chair, propping his feet up on the family-sized box of wolfsbane in front of him. “I love this side of the rainbow.”

“…I thought you’d want to be involved,” Derek says warily, eyeballing the wolfsbane. Maybe he’s developing a sense of self-preservation after all. Stiles is pleased to see it happening without fire and death being involved.

“You thought wrong. I am so over that phase in my life. What I want is for you guys and Dad to not die. If I can arrange for you to not die by sending random other people out to protect you for me? Awesome. So awesome. I will sit here and bake them congratulatory cookies if they survive. And maybe place some bets, because you guys are the gamblingest family I’ve ever met. Maybe I’ll make it to eighteen without any new scars! How crazy would that be?”

“So you don’t…care if our parents die?” Laura asks cautiously.

“Sure, I care. Our lives would instantly get way harder if they did. Plus, I like your parents. But they’re not, I don’t know, they’re not my problem.”

“He’s kind of a sociopath, isn’t he?” Lydia asks the room at large.

“It shouldn’t be as surprising as it is,” Scott remarks. “It’s just easy to forget because he loves us.”

Stiles is mildly offended by that, but not offended enough to actually waste time arguing about it.

“How would you feel if Peter died?” Laura asks, apparently in the spirit of scientific inquiry.

“Uh…I’d be very…sad?”

The werewolves give him the we’re-disappointed-you-even-tried-that look. Actually, Lydia and Scott are also giving him that look.

“Although,” Derek says after a long, judgmental silence, “that wasn’t really a fair question. Considering the whole thing with the other Peter.”

“What thing with the other Peter?” Scott asks, alarmed.

“Stiles,” Laura sighs, “we need to talk about your…how shall I put this?…inability to tell the whole truth about anything ever.”

“We don’t,” Stiles assures her. “We really, really don’t.”

“I’m bored,” Lydia throws in, “and may yet set something on fire.”

“I’m calling my alpha,” Laura announces.

She does call Talia, and just like that, it’s all out of Stiles’s hands except the advice-giving. Gerard Argent is…not his problem.

Perversely, that’s making him nervous, because talk about too good to be true. Assuming it’s even going to work, of course. From what he’s overhearing, it sounds like Talia thinks killing Gerard and handing the other hunters and the Darach over to the Argents will be good enough.

Stiles thinks nothing is ever that easy. If Gerard is perpetuating the instability Stiles caused, then yeah, it should heal itself when Gerard dies, and that means the pixies should go, too. But the Darach? Stiles isn’t totally confident Chris can handle him. Chris isn’t, what, ruthless enough? Plus there are the omegas. What’s that mind-control been doing to them? If Gerard dies, do they just go back to normal? Or do they die? Or did he actually break their minds, in which case they’ll still be staggering around all befanged and trying to make Gerard happy, which—

“Stiles,” Laura says. “She wants to talk to you.”

Stiles greedily seizes the phone and treats Talia to a rundown of all of his worst case scenarios. She doesn’t seem as grateful as he thinks she ought to be.

* * *

Derek finds it easy to believe that Stiles only cares about a handful of people, because he cares about them to a completely insane extent, and there’s no way he could manage it for a crowd. Derek may not think much of his counterpart, but he is grateful to him for somehow persuading Stiles to count Derek as important.

Like an idiot, though, Derek thought the clannish attitude meant Stiles wouldn’t get too upset over tonight’s fight, since he has all his people under his eye. Derek was wrong. Stiles refuses to believe they’ll be able to wrap this up cleanly, and he’s spent the entire evening frantically predicting the worst and trying to plan for every possible fallout.

“You told your dad to stay in tonight, yeah?” Stiles asks Allison for at least the third time. “Because I know Gerard’s technically family, but he’s a freak, and he won’t act like family.”

Your Gerard didn’t act like family,” Allison counters, unimpressed.

Your Gerard faked his own death and is currently keeping a hole open in the magical fabric of reality,” Stiles hisses. “I think he’s basically the same flavor of evil!”

“Stiles,” the sheriff cuts in before this can go any further south. “Allison called her father; I heard her. Okay? I think everybody’s as safe as you can make them.”

“I don’t understand why Philip has to be out there,” Stiles grumbles, chewing nervously on a nail. He’s like a general unwillingly forced back from the front; it’s ridiculous.

“Because his wards are a thing of beauty and joy forever, I hear,” Laura sighs. “I should be out there, too, but Derek and I have been detailed to babysit you guys.”

Stiles snorts. “Please. This house is the safest place in Beacon Hills and Talia knows it. She just doesn’t want her babies getting hurt. I’m surprised she didn’t send the twins and Peter’s kids and Erica here, too.”

“Our house is pretty safe, too, Stiles,” Laura reminds him gently. “You made it that way, remember?”

Stiles shrugs and rubs his arms nervously. Derek gives the sheriff a pleading look, but he just shakes his head. Apparently there’s nothing to be done when Stiles is like this. “Philip’s wards are a thing of beauty, but the guy’s got no power to speak of,” Stiles complains. “I should be out there.”

No,” the sheriff, Derek, and Laura order in synch.

“Fiiiiine,” Stiles groans. “Thea came back to town to play, though, right?”

“She doesn’t like to miss out on fights,” Laura says, rolling her eyes. Derek snorts, because Laura hates missing fights just as much as Nana Thea. More.

“Thea is the most awesome,” Stiles allows. “Okay. So…Talia, Kevin, Peter, Felicia, Thea, Philip. They can handle it, can’t they?”

Yes, Stiles,” Laura insists.

“Stiles, I swear to God, if you don’t stop fidgeting around like you’re thinking of darting off into the night, I will tie you to a chair,” the sheriff says abruptly.

“Can’t tie him to a chair yet, Sheriff,” Scott says, wandering in from the living room where he and Lydia have been inexplicably marathoning The Twilight Zone. “He’s making us dinner.”

“Hey, no, I don’t have time for—I have things—”

“You promised me dinner, dude, and it’s eight already. I’m starving. First you trapped me in your house and now you’re not even feeding me, this is totally—”

Fine, dinner, Jesus. Wouldn’t want you to die on an empty stomach.”

“No one’s going to die, Stiles,” Derek says, feeling the need to step in here.

“Oh God,” Stiles breathes, giving Derek a look of betrayed horror. “Are you an optimist?

“Dinner, Stiles,” Scott repeats, herding him toward the kitchen. Stiles continues staring wide-eyed at Derek over his shoulder the whole way. Obviously Scott’s calming techniques are a thousand times more effective than Derek’s.

By the end of dinner, Stiles seems to have worn himself down a little, enough that Scott’s content to go back to his Twilight Zone marathon with Lydia and now Allison. The sheriff and Laura are washing dishes together. It leaves Derek free to sit at the dining room table with Stiles, who’s staring fixedly at a book on magical instability, though he doesn’t seem to be reading it. He blinks and looks up when Derek sits next to him, raising a curious eyebrow. He must think Derek has a question.

In a way, that’s true. Derek has a thousand questions, most of which it would be a very bad idea to ask. He sifts through them carefully before deciding on one that’s at least borderline innocent and not embarrassingly needy.

“You had scars?” he asks quietly, hoping no one will overhear. Well, no one but Laura—Laura eavesdrops on everything.

“So many scars, dude,” Stiles agrees gamely, holding his hands out in front of him and turning them speculatively over and back again. “You have no idea.”

“You almost sound like you miss them.” Which can’t be possible because it’s insane. Right?

“I kind of do.”

Wrong. Of course. This is Stiles.

“But at the same time, I kind of don’t? I mean, this year, the first time I woke up and saw frost on the windows? I cringed, Derek, I cowered, it was the opposite of tough. I didn’t want to get out of bed because I knew I’d be hobbling like an old guy all day and I just didn’t want to start. But then, hey—I got up and nothing hurt. Like, at all. I’ve basically hit the physical reset on every mistake I’ve ever made, because one serious car accident doesn’t add up to a couple of years of bi-monthly death-defying shenanigans. So that’s pretty sweet, even if I do miss the scars. The look of them, anyway.”

Derek’s appalled. Beacon Hills has always been so peaceful and his family’s always been so healthy, he’s never even considered the problem of long-term physical damage in humans. “Didn’t your alpha” —who was Derek, God, that will never stop being weird— “teach you to fight?”

Stiles shrugs. “A little? There was a lot of learn-by-doing. He was pretty busy teaching the betas to fight—mostly he wanted me to stay the hell out of it.”

And if he hadn’t been a complete moron, he would’ve known that wouldn’t work, Derek thinks viciously. But then he gives it a little more thought, and he can’t help feeling bad for his counterpart. He must’ve built his pack from scratch after Laura died, no idea what he was doing, surrounded by out of control hunters…and then Stiles, on top of that. That’s too much for anyone to handle. Stiles is almost too much for Derek all on his own.

“Did…do you still hurt? From the crash?”

Stiles shrugs, refusing to meet Derek’s eyes. “Not really.”

“You do know I can tell when you’re lying.”

“Yeah, but you’re not supposed to call me out on it. God.”

Of course. Derek knew Stiles felt that way, but he never thought it through. Is that…is that what Stiles has been doing for Derek? Has he known about Derek’s embarrassing crush all along? (Is it still a crush when you’re in your twenties, or is it something uglier? Fixation, obsession, infatuation.) Has he known, and pretended not to as a courtesy?

And if so, is that the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for Derek, or the cruelest?

Stiles is studying him, catching God knows what feelings off of him, and Derek has never hated that tattoo the way he hates it right now. He thinks he’s starting to understand what humans dislike so much about werewolves. It’s not the extra senses and super strength per se. It’s the cultural differences in what you’re allowed to do with them.

Stiles takes this moment to reach out with a faint smile and run his fingers lightly across the inside of Derek’s left wrist, and just for a second, Derek could swear he smells desire on Stiles, too. Just for a second, before it’s ruthlessly suppressed (or maybe Derek was imagining it).

And then Stiles stands and wanders off to the kitchen and his father, leaving Derek in the dining room, reeling and confused and tentatively happy. Or panicked. Or both. He’s leaving, Derek reminds himself viciously, but it’s a hard idea to keep hold of when Stiles doesn’t act at all like someone planning to leave. Nothing makes sense anymore.

Laura leaves the kitchen to come sit next to Derek, the better to laugh at him up close. He’s so baffled he can’t even work up the energy to get pissed at her for it. She eventually feels bad enough herself to pull him into a sympathetic hug, which—well, he’s not always sorry he’s related to her. In fact, the idea of her dying and leaving him has been giving him nightmares. Nothing like perspective.

They finally get a call from Mom three hours later, just before Stiles has an actual nervous breakdown. They put her on speaker so the humans can hear.

“Gerard is dead,” she says right off the bat, because Mom is a believer in good news first. “We cut him in half and Philip magically burned him to ash, then we threw the ashes in the river. Is that thorough enough for you, Stiles?”

“I’m very happy,” Stiles says brightly. “A for execution. See what I did there?”

Laura snorts, Derek rolls his eyes, and the sheriff laughs a little hysterically and pinches the bridge of his nose.

“Oh my God, Stiles,” Allison groans, sounding very big sister-like, so apparently Stiles is making progress on that front. Although…this is Allison’s grandfather they’re talking about dismembering. Shouldn’t she be upset?

Derek will never understand hunters.

“You were right about the pixies, by the way,” Peter cuts in, stealing the phone from Mom. “They scattered the instant Gerard and his Darach friend died. You don’t know how much it pains me, Stiles, that you were right about that.”

“And it’s gonna pain you more, because this means you owe me free pizza on demand for a month. I told you that was a sucker bet.”

“Peter thinks the instability is almost healed by now,” Mom says, stealing the phone back from Peter before the conversation becomes completely ridiculous. “Which should leave us with no more pixies than anyone else. And with Gerard dead, the omegas seem to be mostly back to normal—just very confused. Philip says to tell you they were being used to filter the magic, Stiles.”

Stiles throws his arms in the air triumphantly, and the sheriff smiles at him.

“That’s the good news. The bad news is that Mom got shot. We had access to wolfsbane—” By which Derek assumes she means they rifled through the pockets of dead hunters. “—so she’s fine. But she will be completely impossible about it for weeks, so everyone, I don’t know. Brace yourselves.

“And as you know, Philip insisted on coming along, and he also got himself shot by a hunter. He’s in the hospital, but he’ll be fine. Eventually.”

“Uncle Peter,” Laura says, “you owe me ten bucks, a meal, and a favor of my choice.”

“I told him to stay at the treeline!” Peter insists.

“He still got shot, and a bet’s a bet,” Laura informs him.

“The rest of the bad news,” Mom says, firmly retaking control of the conversation, “is that a few of Gerard’s hunters escaped. Normal hunters—we did kill the Darach. Argent says he’ll have them blacklisted, but…well. We’ll see how effective that turns out to be.”

Stiles is nervously chewing on the pad of his thumb now. Who does that?

“Everyone should stay in a safe place tonight in case the escapees are out for revenge. Sheriff, do you mind if your group stays there for the night?”

“No problem,” the sheriff says, obviously relieved that things aren’t worse.

“Then I’ll see you all in the morning,” Mom says, and hangs up.

This is the way the Hales expect fights to go, so Laura and Derek just smile at each other, pleased. The newcomers shuffle off to bed, ignorant of any reason not to be completely relieved. Allison seems conflicted and staggers a little when she stands, but she lets Scott guide her to the pull-out couch.

Stiles clearly can’t believe it’s this easy. He stares at the phone fixedly after Mom hangs up, breathless, still waiting for the trick, for the lie, for the moment it all goes wrong. Laura sits beside him and rubs his back for a while, until the sheriff pulls him to his feet and steers him toward the stairs and his room, murmuring reassurances while Stiles nods mechanically.

He wouldn’t normally do this because it’s both creepy and exhausting, but that night Derek listens to Stiles sleeping. Just for the night. He listens, and Stiles wakes them both up three times with his pounding heart and bitten-off screams. The only reason it’s not more than that is because after the third time Stiles gives up on sleep and just watches movies on his computer until the sun comes up.

Derek would really like to travel to Stiles’s world and kill everyone in it for the things they allowed to happen to him. The idea of Stiles going back there makes him feel physically sick.

But it’s not his decision to make.

* * *

“So everything’s cool now, right?” Scott asks a week after the Gerard Showdown of Great Anticlimax.

It’s twenty minutes after school, and pretty much everybody else is gone. Stiles and Scott are sitting on the front steps, Scott keeping Stiles company until Derek gets there—after which Scott’s going home to Isaac, who practically lives at the McCall’s now. Stiles is very proud.

They’re waiting for Derek because Derek is taking Stiles out to the preserve to train when he gets off work. He hasn’t been very communicative about why, exactly, but Stiles doesn’t care. It’ll be useful, and even if it isn’t, it’s fun to hang around with Derek.

“It’s cool for now,” Stiles agrees.

“You fixed everything,” Scott presses.

“Um, no? Talia fixed everything. I wasn’t even there.”

Scott rolls his eyes, exasperated. “Dude, you told them what was happening and where to go and what to do and—whatever, that isn’t even the point. You know what went wrong in your world now, that’s what I’m saying.”

“Yeah,” Stiles sighs. “Guess I do.” Gerard fucking Argent. Why hadn’t they set him on fire when they had him down the first time? Fail.

“Then.” Scott stops and picks nervously at a shoelace. “Does that mean you’re, uh. Going back?”

Going back. It figures Scott knew he was planning on that. But he still hasn’t figured out how, or even if there is a way. He’s hardly been trying, the last few months. He’s been so busy with this Gerard thing and getting everyone where they belong and staring at Derek’s perfect cheekbones that it’s just…he’s let a lot of things slide. Used to be he never let anything slide.

And maybe Deaton has a point.

“I’m not going anywhere, Scott,” Stiles admits for the first time, to Scott, to himself, to anyone. “I don’t know how to get back, and even if I figure out a way, by now…I’m too scared to find out what I’d be going back to. What if you and Dad are dead? What the hell would I do there without you? But here and now, you guys are alive, and I can help you.” A second chance. Maybe he’ll even get to see everyone grow up this time. He has a weird fascination with the idea of Derek’s pack as adults, probably because he never believed any of them would live that long.

Scott nudges him, the constant, low-level vibe of grief and anxiety he’s always giving off around Stiles disappearing, relief and contentment taking its place. And that, yeah, that’s worth fighting for.

“So,” Scott says in the tone of a man determined to ruin the moment, “are you secretly sleeping with Derek Hale?”

Oh, it is on. “Not yet.”

Scott blinks, alarmed. “Not yet?

“Come on, Scott, you know my ass isn’t legal for another two months.”

Laura takes this moment to drop down at Stiles’s side and say, “Aha. I’d wondered what you were waiting for.”

Scott jumps a foot, because werewolf sneakiness. Stiles could’ve told him they had Laura incoming, but Scott lost that privilege when he decided to be a moment-ruining dick.

“No one likes being charged with statutory rape,” Stiles informs Laura. “And this would be especially awkward, what with my dad being who he is. I can wait. I am a long-term planner.”

“Does Derek know about your long-term plan?” Laura asks, amused.

No. I find it’s best to give him as little time as possible to have thoughts. My strategy is more, I’ll jump him at my birthday party and see what happens.” Heather-style. Hey, Heather’s still alive here! He’ll have to go say hi, God. Wow. Wait, though…if…did he lose his virginity to Heather in this world? He’ll have to ask Scott, because Heather can see right through him, and this could potentially be crazy awkward.

But he likes the idea of the Heather approach. It’s something he could never have pulled off in his own world, because he’d have spazzed out and made an ass of himself in public for sure. But here? There’s some subconscious part of his brain that doesn’t count this world as real, and he feels like he can do anything. It’ll definitely get him in all kinds of trouble at some point, so he should make the most of the upsides.

“What if he throws you across the room?” Laura wants to know.

“Wouldn’t be the first time.”

“Don’t conflate your Dereks.”

“Point still stands.”

Laura hums thoughtfully, gazing into the middle distance. Stiles recognizes this as a danger sign right around the time she asks, “Did you love your Derek?”

Stiles isn’t sure she understands how cruel some of her questions are. Scott understands, though, because he’s staring at her with eyes so horrified anyone would think she’d just killed a kitten in front of him.

Stiles kicks Scott’s shoe gently in gratitude, then deals with Laura. “My Derek is dead.”

“I know. Not what I asked.”

He’s starting to think she does know what this line of questioning is doing to him, and she’s asking anyway, grimly determined. Why?

Don’t conflate your Dereks.

Oh. This is some basic family defense, right here. Okay.

“I didn’t love him yet,” Stiles says, bracing himself. “Maybe I would’ve. Eventually. But my Derek was a lot more broken than yours, I wasn’t even sure I liked him most of the time, and it would’ve taken actual years to work him around to the idea that we could be a thing without anyone getting killed or maimed—and I couldn’t have even started until I was legal, for reasons I’m not rehashing. I hadn’t had time to decide whether or not I was up for it.” He’s had time since then, though, and he thinks he’d have gone for it eventually, if they’d both lived long enough. Scott was being pulled in a lot of directions and just didn’t have as much time for Stiles as he used to, and Derek…Derek was really attractive, Derek needed him, and Stiles…Stiles likes being needed. Of course, Derek resented needing people, and Stiles resents being resented. Not to mention the probable boatload of Kate Argent-related triggers Derek would refuse to talk about and Stiles would constantly be tripping over until they were both nervous wrecks. He has no idea how Ms. Blake handled that so well, but seriously, respect. Maybe she and Derek had complementary flavors of madness going, he doesn’t know. As for him, though, God, he can see the five-act tragedy playing out in his mind’s eye right now.

And if part of him still thinks it sounds like a fun challenge, that’s just, that’s a sign of damage, is what that is. “I would’ve been signing up to be a boyfriend, war advisor, and 24/7 therapist, all at the same time. It would’ve been a total disaster.”

“I think you’d have been good at it,” Laura says thoughtfully.

Stiles shrugs. He thinks she underestimates how fucked up the situation really was.

“So you’re saying your relationship with my Derek is completely different.”

“Yes, concerned family member, that is correct. I’m not…settling, or projecting, or whatever it is you think I’m doing.” Though he may, at some level, be trying to make sure this Derek never becomes his Derek. But he’s not bringing it up if Laura’s not.

“I had to check,” she says, as close to an apology as he’s likely to get.

“Yeah, I know,” he sighs. “But enough about me. Scott, it’s your turn. Let’s talk about your love life.”

“What? Why?!” Scott yelps. “There’s nothing to talk about! It’s good, we’re good. It’s really good.” He trails off into a haze of lust and happiness. “…Really good.”

Stiles beams at Laura, who rolls her eyes. “Okay, now you,” he tells her. “I don’t know a thing about your romantic prospects, Laura Hale. How did I let that slide? Any lucky guys and/or ladies you want me to interrogate for you in the spirit of familial duty? Because Philip isn’t mean enough, the twins are too mean, and Derek…gah. No. So? Is there anyone?”

Laura blushes. Stiles was not even aware she knew how to blush. This is the best moment of their entire acquaintance. Stiles can feel the maniacal smile taking over his face and he doesn’t even try to stop it. Scott elbows him and he elbows Scott back, and oh yeah, they’re going to use this knowledge for evil and not good.

“I hate you both,” Laura informs them.

“Not as much as you’re going to,” Scott assures her.

Derek takes this moment to drive up, and Laura leaps to her feet, smiling like she thinks she’s saved (she’s so wrong). She waves to Derek and runs off into the woods at super-speed. Werewolves. Sigh.

“A werewolf is picking you up at school and driving you into the woods to train with you,” Scott says, watching Derek lean over to push the Honda’s passenger door open. “Life is weird.”

Stiles thinks back to a very similar scene with a black Camaro and a much more stubbly and leather-clad Derek, and he has to agree. “But at least we’re not bored?” he tries.

“Definitely not bored.” Scott grins at him and heads for his bike, waving to Derek as he goes.

As for Stiles, he climbs into the Honda with the werewolf. The weirdest part is that the Honda is the only thing that seems off.

“What were you guys talking about?” Derek asks suspiciously. “Why was Laura here?”

“I think she couldn’t stand any more hours spent not making fun of me, so she had to make the trip.” In view of their chat, Stiles is almost positive Laura was in fact visiting her would-be significant other. (It will be hilarious if Laura has a thing for a teacher, but please God, let it not be Morrell. Or Finstock. Stiles may have to stage an intervention if it’s Finstock.) Stiles can’t rat her out yet, though; he’s saving that up for the moment when it will most horribly embarrass her. He is a long-term planner. “And we were talking about the fact that I’m staying.”

Derek blinks. “Staying. Here? With us?”

“Right.”

“…Forever?”

“Until death do us part, Derek.” That kicks up an interesting tangle of emotion. Oh yeah, Stiles can wait. Stiles can demonstrably last for years on nothing but a wish and a prayer; he could probably wait forever for a sure thing. Though he’s really glad he won’t have to.

“Won’t you…” And suddenly Derek’s panicking. What. “Won’t you miss them?”

Oh. “Of course I’ll miss them.”

“Then why would you stay?”

“Because I’d miss you, too, idiot. I lose no matter what I do, now. And you’re the ones I’ve got right here in front of me. Alive.” It’s a good thing Stiles is finally figuring out how to let go, though, because this is going to suck for a very long time. But eventually, he knows, even the worst pain wears itself out, and in the end all that’s left is a sore spot you try not to touch. He’s looking forward to that. Too bad it’ll take years.

“You’re really staying?” Derek asks, bewildered.

“I’m really staying,” Stiles promises. “Derek. I’m not going anywhere.”

Derek slowly picks up confidence in that statement until he’s feeling this absolutely insane happiness that Stiles has never felt from any Derek, ever, at any time. And that, Stiles thinks, that might even have been worth dying for.

“Good,” is all Derek says, because Derek fails words. Stiles smirks and leans over to thump him on the shoulder.

He’s going to miss his world every day of his life, he knows that. He knows he’s looking at years of screaming nightmares and self-flagellation and panic-stricken second-guessing. He knows, but this is still the best option.

Possibly the thing Stiles hates most about himself is the way he’s always felt a sense of…what, impending loss? Even when he was a kid, even when things were so good, so perfect, when he had no reason to doubt they’d always be perfect, he’d been waiting. Waiting to lose it all. He was the world’s most paranoid eight-year-old, and that was before he started being proven right.

Stiles was wildly bitter by twelve, and a bitter little kid? That’s just unattractive.

Bottom line: he’s never surprised by loss, and he’s always suspicious of his own happiness. He’s fucking broken inside, always has been. And this world he’s in, where he’s got everything and nothing at the same time? Where none of it really belongs to him and he’ll always feel like a thief? He thinks he might actually manage to be content here. Like he’s paid his dues, somehow. It’s not all bad, fatalism.

“Whatever you’re thinking about,” Derek growls suspiciously, “stop.”

Stiles beams at him, because yeah. He can live with this. He can.

And anyway, he’s made his choice.