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here you are (again)

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He’s gently nudged into consciousness, and when he flops over in the bed and blearily blinks his eyes open, it’s a sharp stab in the heart. His mom is leaning down over him, her warm brown eyes gazing at him. Her dark hair spills down over one shoulder, a tendril curling familiarly by her left ear. She looks how he remembered her to be when he was eight years old, and yet, there’s something slightly different about her that he can’t quite put his finger on.

She’s beautiful, and she seems so, so real. It’s the cruelest of dreams.

“Stiles, sweetheart,” she says, and her voice hits him right in the gut. It’s been so long since he has heard her voice. If it wasn’t for old fuzzy home videos, he doesn’t know that he would even be able to recall it at all. She reaches out and squeezes his shoulder, and for a moment, he would swear that he actually felt it. “You need to get up, you’re going to be late for school.”

“Mom,” he croaks, scrambling for her hand, and he holds it as tightly as he can.

There’s flour dusting her knuckles and she laughs, running her free hand through his messy mop of hair. “Let’s go,” she says, moving to pull away, but he tightens his grip. He doesn’t want to let go of her, he doesn’t want to wake up.

He hasn’t dreamed of her in years.

When he was young and the grief was still fresh, she had haunted every dream. Bedtime became a source of anxiety, and he would scream and bite and kick as his dad tried to wrestle him into bed. Eventually, his dad gave up and would just bring him into his own bed, holding Stiles down until they both fell asleep.

Sleeping never got easier, but eventually as he got older, he learned clever ways to stay awake and how to sleep in his own room again. He would drink copious amounts of energy drinks, or play video games until his eyesight went fuzzy. When he would finally need to crash, he would swig down a mouthful of Nyquil and sleep for fourteen hours straight, dreamless.

“I love you,” he says, because it’s so important that she knows that.

He never got the chance to tell her that before she died. He had been dug so firmly deep in denial and childhood innocence, even though he spent hours sitting on the edge of her bed, holding her weakening hand. She was sick, but she would be okay. She had to be, he didn’t see any other option. She was a mom, and moms didn’t die. Nobody else that he knew had a dead mom, so clearly, his would be okay.

Stiles lost his mother and his childlike faith in one fell swoop that day.

She laughs again, and it sounds so familiar that tears suddenly prick his eyes. “I love you, too, but that’s not changing my mind,” she says, and her voice dips sterner. “Now get up!”

“I’m up, I’m up,” Stiles says, pushing himself into a sitting position. She straightens up as he does, giving him a small smile before she heads towards his door. He wants to call her back, wants to hear her voice one more time before he wakes up. He lets her go, though, and exhales slowly once the door closes behind her. He flops back down on to his back and closes his eyes, ignoring the lone tear that seeps out of the corner of his eye.

It had been so good to see her again.

“Stiles! Get up!”

He wakes with a jerk and flies upwards. His dad is standing in the doorway, one hand on his hip, the other pressed against the doorframe. He’s in his uniform, which means he’s on day shift and is probably late.

“I’m awake,” he gasps, rubbing his heart where it’s pounding furiously beneath his skin. “Dad, I saw – ”

He breaks off, unsure if he should continue. It’s almost something private, his memories of her. In the beginning, when he was hurting and confused, all he wanted was to talk about her. His father, though, had been the opposite, and had told him stop every single time. By the time his dad was ready, Stiles had closed that part of his heart off and they only spoke of her in brief moments.

“What did you see?” His father’s frown deepens. Stiles hates all the worrying he has caused his dad. For the amount that he fusses over what his dad consumes, Stiles has certainly put more strain on his heart than his diet.

“Mom, I dreamed of Mom,” he says in a rush. His chest clenches tightly on the word and he has to force himself to suck in a breath and exhale slowly. He’s skirting on the verge of another anxiety attack.

“I should hope so, considering she already tried to get you up,” his dad says, rolling his eyes.

Wait – what?

“What?” Stiles says blankly.

“You’re lucky I forgot some files and had to come home,” his dad says, raising an eyebrow. “She already left for work. Let’s go, kiddo. I’ll drive you to school.”

Stiles gapes at his dad for a minute before John slams his hand against the doorframe for emphasis. Stiles hurries from the bed and begins to dress, his mind racing the entire time. His dad hadn’t even acted shocked at the mention of her, in fact – he had seemed completely normal. It’s almost cruel, the way his dad has taken his dream and twisted it into a false reality.

What the fuck is going on?

He brushes his teeth in record time and snags his backpack by the front door on his way out. He remains silent in the police cruiser, feeling angrier and angrier by the minute at how carelessly his dad had treated the dream, how he had taken a rare precious moment and turned it into a mockery. He slams the door on his dad mid-sentence and stomps inside the school.

The first person he seeks out is Scott, because they talk about everything weird and abnormal. That normally concerns werewolves and other various elements of the supernatural, but this definitely counts. Even if Scott doesn’t have any more of an idea why Stiles’ dad is being a dick, he’ll at least be supportive about Stiles’ anger.

He finds Scott at his locker and he flops against it, knocking his head against the metal. “Ouch,” he says, dropping his bag to the floor. “Okay, fuck me. This has been the weirdest day yet. I mean, probably not the weirdest, because there have been a whole lot weirder things, but this is still pretty weird.”

Scott slowly turns to look at him, blinking owlishly. “Sorry?” He says with a wheezy breath. “Is everything okay?”

“Everything is most certainly not okay,” Stiles says.

Out of the corner of his eye, he notices a group of girls standing a few lockers away. They’re huddled in a group, staring at him, and of course – Stiles is a weird freak again. He’s positive that eventually the student population of Beacon Hills High School would realize that there’s no redemption for him and move on, but apparently not. However, they suddenly all break out in high giggles and wave at him, coyly brushing their hair back over their shoulders in union. It’s…creepy, but kind of cool?

Stiles hesitantly waves back.

“Is there something I can help you with?” Scott asks, hitching his backpack over his shoulder. He’s not even looking at Stiles, though. He’s looking over Stiles’ shoulder to where… Allison is standing across the hall, slipping a book into her bag.

“What the fuck,” Stiles says dumbly. “Allison’s dead.”

“What – how – why would you even say that?” Scott hisses, his cheeks turning a blotchy dark red. “Don’t joke about that, it’s mean.”

“I wasn’t joking,” Stiles says quietly. He knows that Allison is dead, as much as everyone says otherwise, he knows that he’s responsible for her death. Seeing her standing there, eyes bright with life fade away, makes his chest ache all over again. “I saw her die, Scott. I… was there when she died.”

Nothing is making sense.

“Stop,” Scott demands, his breathing becoming raspier. “You’re being really mean today, your jokes aren’t funny. You’re not funny!”

Stiles isn’t given a chance to reply because his ass is suddenly stinging. He whips around, only for… Jackson to slide into view, grinning widely. He’s carrying his lacrosse stick and he swipes out again, this time catching Stiles in the side. It only stings briefly, but the fact that he’s back without telling anyone is enough to get Stiles’ blood boiling.

“The fuck is your problem?” He shouts, lunging forward.

“Easy, Stilinski!” Jackson says, and he hasn’t lost the grin. He moves in and wraps his arm around Stiles’ neck, drawing him closer. “Calm your shit, you spaz. You ready for the game tomorrow?”

“What?” Stiles pulls away and looks at Scott, but Scott’s gaze has dropped to the chipped linoleum and he isn’t saying a word. None of this makes any sense; he’s had issues with Jackson, mainly saving his life, but Jackson isn’t the type to return without fanfare, nor willingly embrace Stiles in front of everyone. “I don’t understand.”

“You know what I don’t understand?” Jackson says before he focuses his gaze on Scott, his eyes narrowing into a glare and he hits the locker beside Scott’s head with a rattle. “What I don’t understand is why McCall is still standing here, thinking we give two shits about him!”

“Hey!” Stiles says sharply, because nobody talks to Stiles’ best friend like that.

“Stiles, it’s okay,” Scott whispers, giving him a small, uneasy smile before he turns and walks away, fumbling in his backpack for his inhaler.

Wait – his inhaler? Scott hasn’t needed his inhaler since he was bitten, all of his asthma issues disappeared after that. His breathing had been wheezy when Stiles had first approached him, and had only gotten worse. It doesn’t make any sense – in fact, nothing about today has made any sense.

“I’ve got to go,” Stiles says, taking off down the hallway after Scott. He rounds the corner Scott had disappeared around, but the hallway is now empty and the final warning bell is ringing.

Regretfully, Stiles goes to his first class, English Literature with Mrs. Bartschat, who all the kids still call Barfchat. It’s good to see something is still normal.

He doesn’t get a chance to see Scott again until lunch time. He plops down at the empty spot beside Scott, in fact, the whole table Scott is sitting at is empty. Stiles glances around for their friends – for Lydia, Kira, Liam, anyone. Scott looks around as well, a worried look on his face. Stiles narrows his gaze at the look on Scott’s face, because if something odd is going to go down, he’d like to have a head’s up. Everything seems normal, though – people are crowded around their tables like usual, although it does seem like there are more eyes on them than usual.

Stiles chalks it up to everything about today being weird.

He’s barely gotten three bites into his BLT when he spots a familiar flare of red. He chews as fast as he can, ducking his head down, because the last thing he needs is for Lydia to see him with bread gunk between his teeth. He’s mostly over his obsession with her, but there will always be that hint of something there. He’s barely had time to wipe the mayo from his chin before she’s sliding into the chair beside him, an anxious and hopeful look on her face.

He wonders if she’s seen Jackson yet.

“Hi Stiles,” she chirps, her hair falling into her face. She drags her hand though it, leaving strands drifting to the table top. Stiles wrinkles his nose.

“Hey,” he says. His heart twitches in his chest, it doesn’t matter how much time passes; he will always be the elementary kid whose heart jumped whenever she spoke to him. “What’s up?”

“Not much,” she says, and her eyes have narrowed like they do when she’s focused on a plan. “I was hoping we could go out sometime.”

“Lydia,” Scott reproaches, his voice hard.

Stiles kind of forgot he was even there. Scott has never been the biggest Lydia fan, too many years spent being protective of Stiles when she treated him like garbage, but he’s never spoken so disrespectfully to her before.

Stiles looks between them, feeling unsure. “Is this about Jackson?” he finally says, because he’s not going to be used as a pawn between their games. Stiles is bisexual, although he had thought it had been a lot more gay than straight, but he’s not going to turn Lydia down if she’s sincere.

“Jackson has nothing to do with it,” Lydia assures him, ignoring Scott completely.

“Then okay,” Stiles says, although it comes out hesitantly, and more like a question than an answer.

Scott groans and thumps his head down on the table. “Are you guys going through a rough patch? You never have a rough patch. You’re supposed to be invincible!”

Stiles blinks at him, because he has absolutely no idea what Scott is babbling about. He turns to Lydia, but her cheeks are flushed red and she’s determinedly avoiding his gaze, staring down at her thumbnail. Clearly, he’s missing some important development.

“I think we’re fine,” he says, before repeating himself more firmly, because a date with Lydia is literally one of the few things he has ever wanted in his entire life. “We’re absolutely fine.”

“Thank you,” Lydia says, reaching out and she brushes her fingers against his, before yanking back like Stiles’ skin is hot as fire. “I’ll give you my number.”

Stiles laughs at that, because he clearly remembers the day that Lydia grudgingly gave him her number and he had saved it so carefully in his contacts. Now texting her is the same as texting anyone else in the pack. “I’m pretty sure I have it.”

“Just in case,” she says, reaching into her pocket and she slides a piece of paper towards him. Her number is written in solid blue ink, with a small heart drawn over the i in her name. It’s so unlike her that he snorts and shoves it inside his pocket.

Lydia gives him a final smile before she stands and saunters away, her red hair flowing behind her. Stiles watches it for a moment before pain registers and he jumps away from Scott, who is gearing up for a second punch in the arm. It’s not as bad is it could have been, given Scott’s werewolf strength. In fact, it’s pretty weak, but Stiles still doesn’t want a second hit.

“What?” He demands, rubbing his arm. It’s more for show than anything else. “What’s your problem? A date with Lydia? It’s like Merry fucking Christmas to younger me! You know, before I had personal growth and all that.”

“She’s so desperate,” Scott says snidely, folding his arms across his chest. “I don’t know why you agreed to her pathetic date. He’s not going to like it. If you’re broken up, you should have told me. I need to know these kind of things!”

“Who won’t like it?” Stiles asks bewilderingly, because he is once again so lost.

“Exactly,” Scott says firmly, and then fall silence because Jackson is sliding into the chair where Lydia had been sitting.

Of course! Jackson won’t like it if Stiles is dating Lydia, not when he’s so newly returned and she’s clearly ignoring him. To be fair, he was gone for a couple of years, surely he didn’t expect Lydia to wait for him, even if it was her true love that brought him back to life.

“It’s just one date,” Stiles says quickly to him, because he doesn’t want to violate bro code unknowingly.

“What?” Jackson gives him a weird look. “Did you forget about the meeting?”

“With Lydia, it’s just one date!” Stiles says before he frowns. “Wait, what meeting?”

“Lacrosse team meeting,” Jackson says, nudging their shoulders together. This whole sense of camaraderie between them is unsettling. “And I don’t give two fucks if you date Lydia, we broke up ages ago. I didn’t realize you were single, though.”

“Of course I’m single,” Stiles huffs impatiently. Besides a brief blip in time where he was more caretaker than boyfriend to Malia, he’s always rolled solo. “And what about lacrosse?”

“Team meeting,” Jackson repeats, nudging their shoulders together again.

“I don’t remember hearing about a meeting,” Scott says suspiciously, narrowing his gaze.

“You weren’t invited, dumbass,” Jackson sneers. “This meeting is for first line only.”

“I’m first line?” Stiles exclaims, whipping his head around to look at Jackson. “Since when?”

“Since pretty much day one, captain,” Jackson laughs, shoving his shoulder good naturedly. “You’re not with it today, are you?”

Stiles feels like cold water has been doused over him, he feels horribly sick. His stomach is churning and there is a piercing pain in his temple. He’s coming down with influenza or something, because he is sick. This is beyond an anxiety attack, he’s never felt like this before.

“I have to go,” he says, jumping to his feet and he grabs his bag. “Sorry, have it without me. Better yet, take Scott. He’s a better captain than I’ll ever be!”

“Nice try, Stilinski,” Jackson says, grabbing him by the strap of his backpack and he drags him out of the cafeteria. He’s still wrestling to get away when Coach steps out of a classroom and nods his head towards the locker room.

“Stilinski! Whittemore! Let’s go,” he shouts, pushing the locker door open and holding it for them. Jackson drags Stiles inside the locker room and the door slams behind them.
Huffing out an exasperated breath, Stiles takes a seat on the bench. He can nap after school and perhaps when he wakes up, everything will make sense – or better yet, be back to normal.

The rest of the school day goes by pretty easily, and when school lets out, Stiles finds Scott and promptly invites himself over to Scott’s place. The look on Scott’s face when he asks if he can come over is odd, but it’s been a weird enough day that Stiles doesn’t care. He needs to sit down with Scott and hash everything out so they can try to make sense of it.

Scott sucks back on his inhaler and finally nods his head, saying that his mom is at work, but he has pizza bites that they can snack on. Stiles watches the inhaler with a frown. If Scott’s asthma is coming back again, that’s going to be a problem. Is there such a thing as a defective werewolf?

They should probably lay everything out on the table and then go see Deaton and speak to him, he usually has a good idea of what’s happening, even if his responses are always vague and cryptic. They’re walking over to Scott’s bike when Scott draws to a stop and Stiles stumbles beside him. He glances up and feels the blood flood his face, because holy shit, it’s Derek.

Derek!

“When the hell did he come back?” Stiles asks, amazed.

Scott remains silent, stepping back behind Stiles a little. Derek looks the same as Stiles had remembered, although he seems… happier. There’s a light in his eyes, an ease in his stance, that was never there before. He’s got a half smile curving his lips up, and Stiles had forgotten just how devastatingly handsome Derek really was.

“You should go talk to him,” Scott finally says in a low voice.

“Why do I have to talk to him?” Stiles demands. Sure, he had originally thought that he had experienced some… moments with Derek, but Derek had turned and walked away from Beacon Hills, from Stiles, and had never looked back. Clearly, there had never been any moments at all.

“Hey,” Derek says, and he’s suddenly standing right in front of them, his hands jammed into the pockets of his leather jacket.

“Hi, Derek,” Scott says quietly, taking another step back behind Stiles.

That’s all Derek can say? He leaves them to fend for themselves, leaves with hardly saying goodbye, and they haven’t heard from him in months¸ and suddenly he’s back and all he can say is hey?

“Hi, Sourwolf,” Stiles says sarcastically, because fuck Derek for thinking he can just walk out of Stiles’ life and then waltz right back in when it pleases him. He chose a pretty terrible day to so, it’s already been so weird, and – Derek’s arm is suddenly sliding around Stiles’ waist, and he’s pressing their lips together.

Derek Hale is kissing him, and Stiles can’t breathe.

He wrenches back, shoving Derek as hard as he can. “What the fuck,” he spits out, because Derek can’t leave and then come back to kiss him. That’s not how it works, that’s not how Stiles ever imagined it to be. Not that he spent countless hours dreaming of Derek’s return, or anything.

Derek freezes, stepping back, and there’s a look on his face that Stiles has never seen before. He looks hurt, wounded even. Derek rarely had feelings, he had worn a mask of indifference and rage, the two combined into something familiar and reliable. Stiles isn’t used to seeing Derek vulnerable. It looks so out of place on his face that it brings Stiles to a stop.

“I don’t understand,” Derek whispers, reaching out once more for Stiles.

Stiles jerks his arm back out of reach. “Is this some new werewolf thing I don’t know about?” He hisses, lowering his voice so the entire school population doesn’t hear him. He had thought he had done all the research possible on werewolves but perhaps he overlooked something. “You think you can disappear for months with nothing but radio silence, and then suddenly waltz back into my life, and do whatever you want to me? Well, too bad for you! That’s not how this works, Derek!”

“Are you sick?” Derek asks, reaching for him again. He manages to avoid Stiles’ flailing limbs and is able to put his palm against Stiles’ forehead. His touch is cool, but it still heats Stiles down to the tips of his toes. “I can make you soup.”

“Oh my god, I’m not sick,” Stiles says, wrenching himself away. He remembers how terrible he had suddenly felt, the piercing pain in his skull, the knot in his throat until he gagged. “At least, I don’t think I’m sick.”

On cue, his head begins to hurt again.

“Did you guys break up?” Scott asks, a thread of anxiety woven in his voice. He fumbles in the pocket of his bag and pulls out his inhaler, sucking in a greedy gulp. “You didn’t tell me you broke up!”

“We didn’t break up,” Derek says incredulously.

“We’re not together?” Stiles says, but it comes out a lot more like a question than the firm statement he had intended.

Scott looks anxiously between them, the sleeve of his shirt brushing against Stiles’ bare forearm. Derek’s face crumples and he turns his head away, staring down at the ground. Stiles is just about to speak when Derek turns to face him, his composure regained, his face as hard as carved granite. He looks much more like himself, but Stiles is too caught up on the fact that Derek think they're together to appreciate the familiarity.

"I suppose that's your way of breaking up with me, then," Derek says flatly, and he swallows hard, his Adam's apple bobbing in his throat. Stiles tracks the movement with his eyes before he wrenches his gaze away. "Thanks for telling me, Stiles."

"I didn't know we were together!" Stiles exclaims, throwing his arms out in frustration. "You've been gone for months, and suddenly you're back, and we're dating? This entire day has been a cluster fuck of nothing making sense."

"I haven't gone anywhere!" Derek shouts before he falls silent, pinching his nose with a sigh. "Look, can you just please get into the car? I'd rather not have this discussion in front of your entire school."

"Fine," Stiles says, because he doesn't really want to fight in front of anyone else either. "Scott's coming, though."

"No, I can't," Scott says, sounding panicked. "I have homework!"

"Get in the car," Stiles snaps impatiently, dragging Scott behind him towards the Camero. Scott reluctantly climbs into the backseat as Stiles claims shotgun for himself, buckling himself up. He leans back against the cool leather and exhales slowly. The car turns over with a quiet purr, and Derek pulls away from the school, his hand resting on the gear shift. Stiles glances down, and is tempted to trace his fingertips along Derek's knuckles.

He forces the thought from his mind.

"Why don't you explain to me what's all happened today," Derek says softly. "I'm clearly missing something."

Stiles would not normally choose Derek to confide in. They've been through hell and back, together and separately, and have saved each other's lives half a dozen of times, but they're not friends. They're allies in necessary times, they're not comrades, they're not confidantes. Derek is usually the last resort they seek out, typically because he's an adult and is supposed to know more about the world than they do.

There's something about Derek though, whether it's from being gone from Beacon Hills long enough to develop a full set of emotions, or whether it's just that Stiles is desperate for an explanation, there's something about Derek that Stiles just trusts. It goes beyond the crush and obsession he had developed on Derek, it goes down to the fact that in the end, Derek will save Stiles' life, every single time. The guy is hardwired to save and protect.

Somewhere along the way, it became written on Stiles' bones to trust Derek.

"I woke up, and my mom was alive," he finally says, staring down at the foot well of the car, because he's unable to meet anyone's gaze. "Scott needs his inhaler again. I'm friends with Jackson, who has also returned, and I'm suddenly captain of lacrosse. I mean, I've been trying to practice here and there, but lacrosse isn't really a priority anymore. Survival is. Also, Lydia asked me out on a date. Lydia asked me out."

Derek growls warningly.

"I can't forget about you," Stiles says, and the palm of his hands are suddenly sweaty. He wipes them on the thighs of his jeans. "You've returned from where ever you went, and I'm suddenly dating the hottest werewolf I know. Sorry, Scott."

"Why are you sorry?" Scott says with a laugh. "I'm straight!"

"I'm sorry because you're not the hottest werewolf I know," Stiles says, determinedly avoiding the steady stare of Derek.

"I'm not a werewolf," Scott says and - and holy fuck.

"Stop the car," Stiles rasps, and Derek must be able to sense just how close he is to losing control, because he pulls over to the curb and puts the car in park.

"I don't understand," he says, his eyebrows pinched together. "Why on earth would you think Scott is a werewolf? No offense, Scott."

"He's a werewolf," Stiles snaps, and that's definitely panic rising in his voice. Shit, he's so close to an anxiety attack, but he can't bring himself down from the ledge. "Peter bit him, and turned him into a werewolf. Your fucking, crazy uncle bit Scott back when we were sixteen! Lydia also never gave me the time of day, no matter what I tried. We're friends, yes, but she would never want to date me. And neither would you, you hate me. You hate all of us, and that's why you left me!”

Derek sucks in a sharp breath.

“Left us, I mean,” he amends. “You left, you just fucking left when I needed you," his voice is catching so hard but he can't stop, it just keeps spilling out. "My mom woke me up today. I haven't seen my mom since I was eight years old, because she's dead, Derek. She's dead, but I saw her today, and we talked together, and it felt so real."

"That's because it is real, Stiles," Derek says, putting his hand on Stiles' thigh, and he doesn't even have the strength to push him away. That's how far he's gone. "I don't know what to tell you about a lot of this, but I do know your mom is alive. I've met her countless times."

"No," Stiles chokes out, and how embarrassing that he's almost crying. His breath is coming in big, hitching gulps, but he can't control himself. Nothing makes any sense. "It's not real, Der. I wanted it to be real for so many years, but it's not. I know she's dead, I buried her with my dad. None of this is real."

"Your mom isn't dead," Scott says softly, sliding his hand from the backseat to gently touch Stiles' arm. Despite the fact that he's apparently dating Derek, it's Scott's familiarity that soothes him right now. He grabs hold of his hand and grips it tightly. "I think we should go see a doctor if you're having hallucinations."

"I am not going to die of frontotemperal dementia!" Stiles says in a high-pitched voice. "I've been tested, I'm not going through this again! I'm not going to die like she did!"

"Your mom didn't die of front... whatever," Scott says, squeezing his hand. "I mean, they thought she might have it, since it's in your family's genetics, but the tests came back negative. It was just an aneurysm, but they caught it in time and did surgery. She's fine, Stiles. Your mom is totally fine."

"She's dead," Stiles says, shaking his head, because he can handle Jackson returning, and Lydia asking him out, and even Derek Hale kissing him. The hardest thing today has been hearing his mother's voice again and knowing that it's not real.

"We need to see a doctor," Scott says, nudging Derek with his free hand.

That's it. They do need to see someone in the medical field, but it's not a doctor, or even Melissa. Clearly, whatever is happening is of supernatural origins here, and there's someone that should be able to shed some light on what is happening. Or at least provide them with some cryptic bullshit, until they figure it for themselves.

He’s a little embarrassed he didn’t think of this sooner.

"We need to go see Alan," Stiles says decisively. "He'll know what to do, or at least have an idea. He might even have a book that explains everything!"

"Who's Alan?" Derek asks, wrinkling his nose. He still hasn't taken his hand off of Stiles' knee, his palm slowly feeding warmth until Stiles feels hot all over.

"Alan Deaton," Stiles says impatiently, twisting around to look at Scott. "He'll know."

"My boss?" Scott says dubiously, his eyebrows raised. "I don't think a veterinarian will be able to help you, Stiles. Do you want to call your mom? I think we should take you to a real doctor."

“He’s not just a vet,” Stiles says grimly, settling back in his seat. “Come on, let’s go. Alan is an emissary, and he should be able to help.”

“I know what he is, he’s my family emissary,” Derek finally says, putting the car back into drive and he shoulder checks before pulling away from the curb. “I didn’t realize that you meant him. How have you even met him?”

“Alan and I go way back,” Stiles says, because he’s not about to get into anymore details here, not when things are still so confusing. “I know he dealt with your family when they were still here.”

“Were?” Scott says.

“What do you mean?” Derek frowns, his knuckles tightening on the steering wheel. “My family hasn’t gone anywhere.”

“Your family is – ” Stiles breaks off, because he doesn’t want to be responsible for breaking Derek’s world view. He has a sinking suspicious in his gut, but he doesn’t want to voice it. Not yet, not until he’s positive.

Derek carries over his stumble, paying it no mind. “You’ve met them countless times, my mom invites you over for supper constantly because she thinks you’re too skinny. You’ve also met my Uncle Peter, the fucking crazy one, as you so kindly put it. You actually get on really well with him.”

“I would never get along with Peter,” Stiles disagrees venomously. “He bit Scott, he started a whole world of pain for us.”

“He didn’t bite me,” Scott protests from the backseat. “I’ve never even met him, although you’ve talked about him enough.”

“You did meet him,” Stiles says firmly, because he isn’t about to budge on this. Not when he knows he’s right, not when he remembers the past three years as being a complete shit show, with losing Allison, and Ethan, and countless others. “He found us in the woods, he bit you, and he changed our lives. So… shut up, Scott.”

Scott shuts up.

The rest of the car ride is silent. Derek finally pulls up in front of the vet clinic, his brows pinched into a frown. He hesitates before he shuts the car off and steps out. Stiles clambers out of the car eagerly, and rushes into the clinic, skidding on the floor that is wet, knocking over the warning sign.

Derek grabs him by the shoulder to steady him as he says, “I need to see Deaton immediately. It’s an emergency!”

“What sort of girl is it?” The girl asks, peering over the counter, but she brightens up when her eyes land on Scott. “Hey, you’re not scheduled to work today.”

“I know,” Scott replies, nodding his head in Stiles’ direction. “But like he said, it’s an emergency. Alan around?”

“What’s going on, Scott?” It’s Deaton, coming around the corner, and he’s drying his hands on a yellow towel. Everyone else so far today has been drastically different, so Stiles can only desperately, desperately hope that this Deaton is the same wonderful, magical Deaton that he’s familiar with.

Otherwise, he’s truly fucked.

“I need to speak to you privately,” Stiles says, and Deaton leads them to his backroom, shutting the door behind them. Scott clambers up on a steel stool, and after a moment of hesitation, so does Derek. Stiles chooses to pace the floor nervously, his stomach in a knot.

“What can I help with?” Deaton asks, raising his eyebrows. “This is all very cloak and dagger, and I’m just a veterinary, Stiles.”

“Bullshit,” Stiles says, because he’s done playing games, and he’s done trying to figure things out. “You’re the Hale emissary, and you’re magical as fuck, dude. You’re the one that helps us with our problems. Don’t play dumb with me, not when I know what I do.”

“So what can I specifically help with, then?” Deaton asks, and Stiles doesn’t miss the way he doesn’t refute any of the claims Stiles made against him.

“I’m not myself,” Stiles says, because he doesn’t even know how to properly explain what today is. “I mean, I’m not the me they know. I’m a different me, I think, if that makes any sense.”

“It does a little,” Deaton frowns, and takes a step closer, his eyes sweeping over Stiles’ frame. Stiles resists the urge to fidget until the scrutiny. “Can you try being more specific?”

“I woke up this morning in a world where my mother is still alive,” Stiles says very carefully. His hands are beginning to shake. “I’m suddenly popular, and I’m dating Derek. Lydia wants to date me, Scott isn’t a werewolf. I keep getting these piercing headaches, it feels like a knife is being wedged into my temple.”

“Everything that you listed, none of that is considered normal for you?”

“No!” His chest is heaving hard with his uneven breaths, and he feels like screaming. He forces himself to exhale slowly like his therapist taught him, until his breath is regulated. “I mean, no, not at all. My mom died when I was eight. Scott was bitten when we were sixteen. Derek hates me, Derek hates everyone, actually, and has left Beacon Hills for good. I’m… I’ve become this monster.”

Derek makes a choking noise behind him, but the look on Deaton’s face is one of understanding, and Stiles is suddenly filled with hope. Deaton will know how to fix this, he’ll be able to do a little magic trick and everything will go back to normal. He misses his life, his regular life. He has a slight niggling in the back of his mind, an explanation as to what is happening, but he’s already endured so much craziness that he can’t believe this is one more to add to the stack.

Surely Deaton will say it’s something else.

“It would appear that you’re in an alternate universe, then,” Deaton says calmly, dashing Stiles’ hopes and confirming exactly what he had feared. He puts his fingertips against Stiles’ temples, rubbing gently. It eases the dull pain. “Or so it would seem, judging from what you’ve said.”

“Yeah, that’s what I think, too,” Stiles says grimly.

“How did this happen?” Derek asks, sliding off the stool so he can push forward and brush his fingers over Stiles’ shoulder.

“That’s a harder question for me to answer,” Deaton says regretfully, dropping his hand from Stiles’ body. He immediately misses the soothing touch. “Take a seat, Stiles. I want to hear everything that’s been going on in the life that you know.”

Stiles sits abruptly down on the stool Derek had vacated and, without hesitation, begins to spill everything that has happened to him within the past few years. He stares down at the floor as he talks about how they found a body in the woods – Laura – and how Scott was bit that night. How Derek has been alone, but tries to help them the best he can. How Derek carved out a new pack for himself, and how Boyd and Erica died. How Stiles became someone else and killed people – killed Allison – and how Scott had turned Liam. He talks about how Derek left, right when Stiles – or the pack, still needed him.

Their pack has grown and changed, and Stiles doesn’t know who he is anymore in the regular world, let alone this one.

Deaton listens carefully, writing notes as fast as he can; Stiles can hear the scribble of the pen and the ripping of the paper as he turns the sheets over. He has Stiles repeat information that he misses the first time around, clarifying sometimes even three times to ensure he has all the details correct. Derek growls low behind him, pacing back and forth, punching the wall once. Scott doesn’t say anything.

His chest aches by the time he’s finished, and it’s not from talking so much. Having it down on paper makes it look so much worse, but Stiles doesn’t care. He’d give anything to go back to that reality, because at least he understood how he got to feeling so lost. It doesn’t make any sense here. He sucks in a ragged breath, pushing his hand through his messy hair. His voice is almost hoarse, and the headache is getting to the point of being unbearable. There’s a light touch on his back, and he can feel the warmth curl through him as Derek draws out his pain.

“Thanks,” he says softly.

“I’m going to need some time to go through all this information, and try to find something,” Deaton says, frowning down at the sheets of paper. “I will be honest, though. There isn’t much to go off of, despite the overwhelming amount of information you’ve shared.”

“What do we do in the meantime?” Derek asks, stepping forward. There’s something comforting in the way that he groups them together, that he uses a plural pronoun, so Stiles knows that he isn’t alone in this.

“You act as normal as possible,” Deaton says, finally glancing up. “You go to school, treasure the moments you have with your mother. You try to live as normal as possible for this Stiles, and hopefully we’ll be able to sort everything out soon enough.”

“Live a life where I can go one day without something trying to kill me? That sounds amazing,” Stiles says, pushing himself to his feet. He sways for a moment before he regains his balance.

“It’s imperative that you try to follow Stiles’ life here,” Deaton says, his features drawn into a grave expression. “Until I am sure how you ended up here and the causes and effects, changing even the smallest detail could have the biggest ramifications.”

“As normal as possible,” Stiles agrees. “Thanks, Deaton.”

“Come on, I’ll take you home,” Derek says, digging his keys out of the pocket of his jeans.

Deaton promises to call the moment he figures anything out, even if it’s something miniscule, and tells Stiles to call him if the pain increases. He presses a couple of lavender coloured pills into Stiles’ palm with the instruction to take one every twelve hours, and he should notice the pain fading. He doesn’t say what the pills are, and Stiles doesn’t ask.

He trusts Alan Deaton, regardless of whatever universe he’s living in.

They drop Scott off, and he’s ashen-faced as he exits the car. He mumbles a promise to text Stiles later before he runs up the driveway and disappears into his house. Stiles hates letting him leave like that, but he knows Scott will be okay. His life hasn’t changed very much, and as long as he can still be a friend to Stiles, it will be fine. Other Scott, Regular Scott, that is, would be downright jealous of how easy this Scott has it.

Derek pulls up in front of Stiles’ house and turns the engine off. His hands are trembling slightly, and his breathing has increased just enough for Stiles to notice. He’s clearly trying to gather the courage to say something, but Stiles doesn’t want to sit here and wait for Derek to fumble out a sentence. The lights are on his house and there’s a shadow moving behind the living room curtain.

His mom is inside, living, and he’s desperate to spend as much time as he can with her.

“Thanks for the ride,” he says, grabbing the strap of his bag and he reaches for the door handle. Derek’s hand shoots out, clamping around his thigh before he can leave.

“Wait,” he says, low and gritty. His hand is trembling against Stiles’ jeans. “Aren’t I going to see you tonight?”

“Why would you?” Stiles asks softly.

He’s not trying to be a dick, but he’s not dating Derek, and it’s important to stress that. The Stiles that Derek knows has momentarily disappeared, just like the Derek Stiles knows actually did disappear. They can’t blur any lines here, it’ll just makes things harder on Stiles when it finally all gets sorted out.

Besides, he finally has the chance to go on a date with Lydia, and it would be a disservice to his younger self to pass the opportunity up.

“Because we’re dating,” Derek says firmly. “Alan said to act as normal as possible, which means you and I are together. Everyone knows, it would be weird if we stopped spending time together. Your parents love me.”

“No, he doesn’t,” Stiles says automatically, because his dad doesn’t like Derek. He grudgingly relies on him when absolutely necessary, but he will never fully trust Derek Hale, whose past is shrouded in murder and mystery. There will always be a part of John Stilinski that won’t forget Derek is a predator.

Derek frowns at that and removes his hand from Stiles’ leg. “We’ll talk later once you’ve calmed down,” he says.

“I’m not upset,” Stiles retorts, rolling his eyes. “I get that we’re supposed to act normal, but there is no world where we are together, Derek. I can’t fathom any universe in which you would agree to dating me. Like… why?”

“Because I’m in love with you,” Derek says, as if it’s the simplest thing in the world.

And maybe to him, in this universe, it is. But it isn’t to Stiles, not by a long shot. Derek left, Derek turned his back on Beacon Hills, on the pack, and most specifically, on Stiles. Derek dropped out of all communication, besides one text he had replied to, and all he had bothered to say was ‘lol’.

Derek Hale has been making Stiles question, and then determine, his sexuality. There was often sexual tension between them, or at least what Stiles deemed sexual tension. Stiles jerked off countless times to thoughts of Derek saying such things to him, to fantasies of Derek’s hands being on Stiles’ body. But now that it’s actually happening, now that it’s suddenly real, it doesn’t feel right.

It feels very, very wrong – mostly because he’s not the Stiles that Derek is actually in love with.

“No, you’re not,” he finally says, very quietly, wrenching the door open and he climbs out. “You’re in love with somebody else.”

He slams the door shut and runs into his house before Derek can reply. He hates this, he absolutely hates this. He always wondered, in his multitude of fantasies of Derek Hale, how it would feel to have Derek say those words to him. In reality, in this reality, at any rate, it’s not wonderful. It’s awkward, and terrible, and Stiles just feels… homesick.

He wants to go home to where everything makes sense, even that means leaving behind Derek who loves him and… Jesus, leaving his mom.

He bangs the front door shut louder than he meant to in his frustration, and she’s suddenly in the hallway, the light from the kitchen casting a golden glow around her. Her dark hair is piled on top of her head in a messy bun, chopsticks peeking out. There’s a wet spot on the hem of her shirt, probably from where she leaned against the sink.

She looks so familiar that Stiles’ heart begins to hurt once more.

“Is something wrong?” She asks, cocking her left eyebrow like she always did. Stiles has been copying that since she died. “Did you have a fight with Derek, sweetheart?”

“Yes,” he says automatically, because it’ll be the perfect cover story as to why he’s avoiding Derek. He can just pretend they’re on a break, and once Other Him shows back up, he can make up with Derek. And Stiles, this Stiles, will be back in his own world where Derek can’t stand him.

Everything will be back to normal.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” she says, stepping forward to fold him into a hug. She smells like vanilla – a combination of actual baking and her perfume. “I made butterscotch cookies, do you want to come talk about it?”

“It’s not that big of a deal,” Stiles dismisses, because concocting a lie will be too much work right now. “He’s just being a jerk right now, that’s all.”

“You won’t mean that tomorrow,” she says knowingly, rubbing his back before she moves away and heads back into the kitchen.

Helplessly, Stiles is drawn to her, and follows her, nearly stepping on the back of her ankles in his haste to remain close to her. He’s on borrowed time, and he’ll follow Deaton’s advice the best he can – soak up as much time as he can with her before she’s gone again.

She raises her eyebrow at him again, and he slides up on a kitchen stool to stay out of her way. “I probably will,” he warns, because the less he has to see Derek in this universe, the better for both of them. “It was a pretty big fight.”

“The pair of you better make up,” she says, frowning at him. “Derek’s been good for you.”

Stiles laughs, although it comes out choked and strangled, because he can’t ever imagine any universe where his parents, deceased or not, would say that Derek has been beneficial for Stiles’ wellbeing.

Derek is dangerous, Derek is a walking disaster that destroys everything he touches, incidentally or not.

“I’m serious,” she says, reaching into the cupboard by the sink and pulls out the red ceramic teapot that’s chipped on the handle.

It had been her favourite kitchen gadget when Stiles was young, they drank countless cups of tea together, even if he hated tea. After she had died, he had been filled with so much longing for something familiar that he had tried to stand on his tip toes and reach the pot, only to bring it down upon his head, shattering the entire thing. Perhaps Derek isn’t the only one that destroys everything.

“Well, maybe,” he concedes, as she fills it with water and sets it on the stove to boil. “Enough about him, though. Tell me about your day.”

“My day was great!” She says with a bright smile, setting two polka dot mugs down on the counter. She keeps the purple one for herself and pushes the blue one towards him. “Someone in our office brought left over birthday cake. It was slightly stale, I think their birthday had actually been last week, but it’s the thought that counts, I suppose. Either way, we all forced it down with a smile!”

It’s simple, mundane to the point of boring, but to Stiles, it’s perfect.

Chapter Text

Later that night, something wakes him, and he's not quite sure what it is. It had taken him a little while to fall asleep, because while he was in his room, it still felt incredibly different. There were parts of his life in this room that didn't fit him, and with all the events that had transpired today, his mind wouldn't shut off until he had taken two Adderall from an expired blister pack.

Rolling over, he snaps his lamp on and glances at his alarm clock. It's just past one in the morning, and his bedroom window, which had been firmly shut when he went to sleep, is open. Swallowing hard, Stiles pushes himself into a sitting position, only to spot Derek at the foot of the bed. He jerks hard in surprise, letting out a noise that he will later insist is completely manly, and yanks the covers up higher around his body.

"Jesus!" He exclaims. His heart is pounding so loudly against his ribs that Derek wouldn't even have to use his werewolf powers to be able to sense it. "Needless to say, you scared me. Why are you breaking and entering my bedroom ? I thought I told you to stay away."

"I can't just stay away," Derek admits with a rueful grin. "I want to help you figure out what's going on. You have to remember, I have an invested stake in this as well."

"Deaton hasn't called me yet," Stiles says, waving his hand towards the phone that sits on the edge of the desk. "And stop watching Twilight!"

Derek rises gracefully from the bed and strides across the room to grab it, swiping his thumb across the screen. His smile turns into a frown and he thumbs again, pressing hard before he exhales harshly. "Probably because the battery is dead," he says, rifling through the papers on the desk until he finds a skinny black cord and plugs it in. It lights up with two missed calls and fifteen texts. "None of them are from Deaton," Derek says, tossing the phone back down on the desk. "Just Scott and... Lydia."

Derek's upper lip curls back at that, and Stiles feels a bolt of excitement rush through him. He shouldn't torment Derek with Lydia, because it's not fair to this Derek, who is genuinely in love with Stiles. However, it's Lydia, and it's everything he ever wanted at one point. (Well, almost. The first was having his mom back)

"Okay, well, nothing is going to be solved in the middle of the night," Stiles says through a yawn. It's a grossly untrue statement, considering majority of the time their adventures happen at night. However, life in this Beacon Hills seems relatively tame, and so Stiles is counting on a full eight hours of sleep. He can't remember the last time that happened.

"It's so strange," Derek says softly, sitting back down on the edge of the bed, but he's a lot closer to Stiles than before. "You look exactly like him."

Stiles begins to feel distinctly uncomfortable, and pushes his hand through his hair as he tries to remind himself why it wouldn't be right to kiss this Derek. All of his fantasies could be explored right now, if only he would let himself. It wouldn't be fair though, not only to this Derek, but it wouldn't be fair to the Derek that Stiles actually knows and loves. He hasn't made any sort of advance towards Stiles, in fact - he left Beacon Hills, left Stiles. That alone is a pretty big indication that he doesn't feel anything for him, and to take advantage of an alternate him just to satisfy his own teenager hormones would be despicable.

"Well, I'm not him," he finally settles on saying, biting his bottom lip. "I'm sorry."

"I know, I wasn't meaning..." Derek trails off, closing his eyes and inhaling through his nose, his nostrils flaring. "Now that I know, I can tell by your scent . You smell similar, but there's enough of a difference."

"Stop smelling me," Stiles says, making a face. It's always bothered him that if Derek focuses his attention of Stiles enough, he can tell exactly what Stiles is feeling, simply through scent. It's mostly uncomfortable because whenever Derek is around, Stiles is usually sexually confused and then aroused.

"You still smell good," Derek assures him, before he suddenly grins. "What am I like? I mean, in your other world. You're a lot more sarcastic and mouthy now."

Stiles knows that his mother's death shaped him into the person he is today; her death carved out his core and molded him anew, using sarcasm and cynicism as a defense, because otherwise there would be days where all he would do is cry. He couldn't always afford to be so vulnerable, not when his dad was struggling so much to find his way, lost just as much as Stiles was.

John Stilinski had found his relief in the bottom of a whiskey bottle, while Stiles had gone into panics trying to find his own.

He pushes the thought away though, and appraises Derek carefully. He's unsure of how much he should divulge. Derek seems a lot happier in this world, probably because he's in a seemingly healthy relationship and his entire family hasn’t been murdered. He's also a lot more communicative here, which is nice. Sometimes the glares get really difficult to decipher, and Stiles always mixes up the 'I'm going to rip your throat out' glare with the 'pass the ketchup' one.

"You're angry," he says honestly, because Derek deserves to know partial bits of the truth. "It's understandable, though. I mean, you kind of have a hard life."

"Oh," Derek visibly deflates in front of him, picking at a thumbnail. "That's not good. So, I hate you and everyone else?"

"I don't know if it's hate," Stiles shrugs his shoulders. It's hard to describe Derek, because nobody ever really knows what he's thinking, unless he's pissed off. Then everyone knows. "You find me annoying, most of the time. I'm usually the only human that hangs around, and I think your tolerance for me is kind of low."

"Impossible," Derek says, shaking his head vehemently. "I love that you're human. You have a different perspective on things. You balance me, Stiles."

"What, I complete you?" Stiles tries to aim for joking, willing himself not to blush, because not real, it's not real. This Derek doesn't belong to him, and he doesn't have any right to take pleasure from any compliments. He looks down at his bedding; the sheets are the exact same colour as his regular ones, which is kind of weird.

"Sorry," Derek murmurs.

"Hey, you're cool, no need to apologize," Stiles waves his hand. "I mean, you're just doing you, right? I'm the abnormality here. Hopefully Deaton can figure everything out soon enough, and you can get your regular Stiles back."

"I wonder what caused this," Derek muses, his brows furrowing slightly. "I mean, life really is quiet around here for the most part. Occasionally, something happens and we see something more serious, like a rogue omega, but for the most part, it's quiet."

"Back home, Beacon Hills is a shit show," Stiles says, and almost laughs at how wistful his tone is. He never thought he'd miss the drama. "Every day it seems like someone is dying. It's a really great community advertisement."

"Maybe it has more to do with your world than ours," Derek suggests. "What's the last thing you can remember?"

"I actually hung out with Scott for awhile, and we didn't discuss anything serious. We just played Xbox. Once he left, I went online for a bit to do some research, and then went to bed. The last thing I remember is falling asleep," Stiles says, carefully omitting the part where he had jerked off to thoughts of Derek beforehand.

"Sounds like an average evening then," Derek says dryly, setting on the bed and he leans his back against the wall. "You guys do that here as well, except I'm usually there. I can beat both your asses at any game we play. It's my werewolf ninja skills, as you like to say."

"I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around any of this," Stiles says, shoving the blankets down and he climbs out of bed. He's wearing a Batman t-shirt and a pair of flannel pajama pants, but he still feels naked. He moves over to the desk where he had found the Adderall earlier, and pops another one into his mouth. They're expired, and not quite as potent, so he doesn't feel bad about taking more than the recommended dose. It's weird that they're expired though, surely this Stiles should be just as hyperactive as he is.

"Hey," Derek snaps, jerking forward on the bed. "What are you doing? You already smell like that, why are you taking more? You can't take more than the recommended dosage! You hardly even take it anymore."

"I take it on a daily basis, I'll be fine," Stiles says, picking up the phone and he skims through the messages quickly. There's a couple from Lydia, and he scrolls through them, until his eyes land on one that she sent at 12:37 am.

I'm really looking forward to our date, Stiles. I promise it will be the best night of your life.

He snorts, closing out without replying, and setting the phone down. He wants Deaton to figure out a solution as soon as possible, but there's a small part of him that is curious enough to hope that he's able to make his date first. He always imagined what Lydia would be like on a date, how she would lower her walls, be unabashedly open and vulnerable. How soft her lips would feel pressed against his own, how she might even let him feel how soft the rest of her is as well.

"I wish you wouldn't," Derek says lowly, and it takes Stiles a minute to realize he's still on the Adderall, and has no idea what Lydia's text had said. "You... I mean, my Stiles, doesn't really take it anymore."

"Well, I'm guessing my life is a lot harder, and so yeah, I take it on a daily basis. I appreciate the concern, though," he says sarcastically. "You should go, though. It's the middle of the night, and I'm tired."

"Sorry," Derek says, pushing himself to his feet, and he heads for the window. He's got one leg out before he stops, straddling the sill. "Can we at least be friends, then? I'd like to make sure everything works out for you. You're still a form of Stiles, and my wolf recognizes that."

Of course, it's never simple when it comes to wolves. Stiles rolls his eyes, but there's a sudden furl of warmth inside his chest that wasn't there before. "Sure, I can handle friendship," he says magnanimously. He tries to picture a world where Scott woke up one day and wanted nothing to do with him, and can only imagine how frustrating - and hurtful - that would be. "I'm still going on that date with Lydia, though. This is probably the only chance I'll ever get."

"She's been chasing you since the third grade. She doesn't love you, she doesn't even know you. She has this envision of what you should be, and that's what she loves," Derek says, his upper lip curling in disgust.

It startles laughter out of Stiles' mouth, because it's always been the other way around.

Stiles has been chasing Lydia his entire life, basically. He had built her personality up in his mind, until he was sure that he knew exactly who she was. And, much like everyone else, he had gotten it completely wrong and underestimated her completely. They're friends now, credit going to the supernatural activities happening around them, but without it, in a regular world, Lydia would have absolutely nothing to do with him.

"Well, perhaps it's time she caught me," he teases, feeling amused over the whole irony of it. He's still grinning when he catches the look on Derek's face, and his smile fades away. Derek's face is radiating distress, his eyes suddenly wet. Stiles is actually witnessing the miracle of Derek Hale tearing up. It's not anything to gloat over, not when it means that Derek is hurting and Stiles is responsible for it, but he never thought he'd get such a reaction out of him. "Derek - "

"Sleep well, Stiles," Derek says, sliding the rest out of the way out of the window. He drops down from the roof, and is just a figure disappearing into the lining of trees across the street by the time Stiles makes it across the room to the ledge.

Swearing, Stiles slams the window shut, and locks it for good measure.

***

The next morning he sets his alarm early and has breakfast with his mom. She makes pancakes and sausage links, drowning the sausage in syrup, just the way he likes. His dad is just getting home from the station, and stops to eat with them. It's strangely domesticated, something that Stiles and his dad haven't really had in a long time. For the first time in awhile, Stiles remembers the feeling of family.

He drags his feet, wanting to spend as much time as he can with her, but she eventually nudges him out the front door so he's not late for school. He picks Scott up, and then promptly drives past the high school and heads out to the Preserve. He parks the Jeep on the side of the dirt road and they hike deep into the woods, right to where Stiles is certain that Laura was found and Scott was bitten.

"It happened right here... or near here, at any rate," he says, shoving his hands into the pockets of his jeans. He looks over at Scott and raises an eyebrow. "Are you sure you're not a werewolf?"

Scott doesn't look spooked or curious, instead he looks vaguely confused, and even slightly sulky. "I'm not a werewolf! I don't know what you think happened, but nothing happened in this universe. I'm missing an English test for this bullshit right now."

"Who cares about school," Stiles scoffs, kicking a pile of leaves with the toe of his Converse. "It won't even mean anything in a few years. You're a True Alpha, you're the protector of Beacon Hills. You're not going to need English."

"I can't protect anything, Stiles!" Scott shouts, his voice echoing through the trees. "Don't you get it? I'm normal, I'm just an ordinary kid, and I need school! I want to go to college and become a vet! So yeah, I need English!"

"Funny, you'd make a good vet in my world too," Stiles says, gnawing on his thumb's hangnail.

"Stiles, can we please go back to school?" Scott huffs, rubbing his chest. "I don't like being out here, it's trespassing. This is Hale land."

"It certainly is," a voice says from behind them.

Stiles turns to see Derek leaning against a tree, wearing a pair of dark washed jeans and a green Henley that brings out the gold in his eyes very nicely. Still, creepy, lurking Derek seems to have returned, despite the weird hiccup in their relationship last night.

This is a lot more like it!

"You again," he says, aiming for teasing but it falls flat. "Don't you have anything better to do than follow us around? I hope you have a job in this reality."

"You really scared me, Derek," Scott says reproachfully, his chest heaving harder than it had been previously, his breathing labored.

"Contrary to what you believe, it's not all about you, Stiles," Derek says, ignoring Scott completely as he bypasses him and walks closer to Stiles.

"Considering I'm the one that has been uprooted from my life and dropped into a different universe, I would say that yeah, it is actually all about me," Stiles counters, his hands twitching at his side as Derek gets closer.

"He's got you there," Scott says loyally.

"This is my land, I have more right to be here than you do!" Derek exclaims. "You're lucky I'm the one that found you trespassing and not somebody else!"

"Oh, is your family going to hurt me? I'm supposed to be your boyfriend," Stiles sneers, hoping Derek will ignore the way his voice cracks over the world. "Does your family hate me or something?"

"Of course they don't hate you," Derek stops, his eyes widening. "My family loves you, Stiles. You come to dinner every Friday night."

"That's tomorrow," Scott says helpfully .

"Enough about tomorrow," Stiles says impatiently. "How did you know we were out here, Derek?"

"I followed you," Derek finally admits, and he doesn't even look ashamed of the fact.

Cheeky bastard.

"You followed me," Stiles echoes, feeling distinctly unimpressed as he folds his arms over his chest. "You mean stalked me."

"I wanted to make sure you stayed safe," Derek argues, his mouth dipping down into a frown. "If Deaton is right, whatever has caused this probably has something to do with your world. You're here for a reason. It's not out of the realm of possibility that whatever caused you to come here, might have followed you."

"Huh," Stiles says, the fight going out of him. "You're not entirely wrong, that is certainly possible." He frowns at the thought, because if something is happening in his world, he hopes his dad and the pack are being safe.

"I know you don't like me," Derek says softly, and he has that forlorn look on his face again.

"Oh, it's not that I don't like you," Stiles interrupts, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly. Really, if anything, he likes Derek too much. "It's just... I want to respect what you have with this Stiles, and respect what I have with other Derek."

"Are you dating him in that world too?" Scott says incredulously. "Some people have all the luck!"

Stiles laughs at that and ruefully shakes his head. "I wish," he says, before he clears his throat and amends, "I mean, no. Derek moved away from Beacon Hills."

"I left Beacon Hills?" Derek says sharply. "How is that possible? This is my territory!"

"You gave it up," Stiles says quietly, shrugging his shoulders. "I don't think Beacon Hills mattered much to you anymore. With your family gone, and Peter in Eichen, I think you wanted to put the bad memories behind you, and you couldn't do that without leaving."

"Peter is in Eichen?" Scott marvels.

"How could I leave you, though?" Derek frowns. "I understand wanting to leave bad memories, but you're my mate."

Stiles barks out laughter and rubs his eyes. His headache is back. "I don't know what to tell you, dude, but I am definitely not your mate in the regular world."

"Why is Peter in Eichen?" Scott presses. "That's like... really scary."

"I'm sure he is scared," Stiles says, although he has no idea if it's true or not. He doesn't really know what Peter is thinking. He doesn't think anyone knows the werewolf, not even Peter himself. The fire burned almost everything good out of him, but Stiles likes to think there are still some redeeming qualities left hidden. He hopes Eichen will bring them out, draw them to the surface, and Peter will leave anew.

"Yeah, why is Peter in Eichen? That's for the insane," Derek echoes, narrowing his gaze and his nostrils flare. "There's something you're not telling me."

"Peter is insane, or at least, he was," Stiles says quietly, and he's unable to meet Derek's eyes. "I told you - in my world, you have a hard life," Stiles says carefully. "I don't think you want to hear the details."

"Well, I do," Derek says. Stiles doesn't have to be a werewolf to see the way his body tenses at the lie.

"Peter... was in a fire, and I think it burnt the majority of his sanity out of him," Stiles grudgingly says. "He became the alpha, and went on a slight murder spree. We killed him, it was a group effort, actually. We put him back in the ground, but he didn't stay there for long. He came back from the dead and now... he's a work in progress."

"Jesus," Derek says, his eyes wide. "I don't understand how this happened. How did my mother allow him to do any of that? How did Peter even get any alpha powers? Peter is a beta."

Stiles winces and chews on his bottom lip. "That's something that you and I have common, in my universe," he says softly, glancing up to watch Derek's reaction. "Your mother... your mom isn't alive in my world. She died in the same fire that injured Peter. Your... your whole family died, besides Laura, Cora, and you."

"My family's dead?" Derek asks, and his voice breaks. He looks so much younger in his grief, and Stiles recognizes the look on his face now. How did he ever miss Derek's suffering before? He had thought Derek creepy and obsessive, he had been too young to realize that Derek himself was hurting and lost just as much as the rest of them. He was supposed to lead the way, when he had nobody to guide him.

Stiles' throat aches, and he nods his head. "I'm sorry. Laura died after the fire. She became the alpha, and Peter, in his insanity, killed her for her powers so he could take revenge for your family's murder."

"Murder?" Derek says blankly, and his legs tremble before giving out and he sits roughly down on a fallen log. "My family was murdered?"

"Kate Argent murdered them," Stiles says, and he's not going to tell Derek how a grown woman seduced him as a teenager and drew all his secrets out of him, only so she could use them to destroy him and everything he held dear. There are some truths that Derek doesn't need to know, living them through once is enough.

"The Argents and my family don't get along, but we respect each other and keep our distance," Derek says slowly. "I suppose that didn't happen in your world."

"No, that didn't happen," Stiles confirms. "Chris Argent, though, is a good guy. He's saved my life, he's saved all of our lives before."

"I don't know what I'm supposed to do with any of this information," Derek says blankly, looking up at Stiles.

"Put it out of your mind," Stiles says firmly. "None of that happened here, so don't dwell on it. Focus on the good, that's what I've been trying to do since I've gotten here."

"Right, focus on the good," Derek nods his head. "My family is alive in my world, and Peter isn't insane. In fact, Peter is awesome. You love him."

"I don't even know him," Stiles huffs, but he gives a tentative smile, to show Derek that it's okay, that they can put this gruesome tale behind them and move on. Perhaps that's why Derek did leave Beacon Hills, perhaps that's the only way he could move on.

Stiles still misses him fiercely, though.

"You'll see tomorrow night," Derek says. "You have to come for family dinner. Now more than ever!"

"Oh, I am not going to family supper," Stiles shakes his head furiously. "Absolutely not. They're going to know I'm a fraud!"

"Nobody is going to smell you that carefully," Derek dismisses. "You have to come, Deaton said we have to act as normal as possible. You can either come peacefully for dinner, or I'll just lurk outside your house. I want to ensure your safety."

"I don't know why you care so much," Stiles mutters.

"The sooner we realize why this happened, the sooner we can fix it," Derek says steadily. "The sooner that happens, the sooner I'll get my mate back. So I won't apologize for having an invested stake in this."

"Fine! You have a point," Stiles concedes. "But if tomorrow night is a complete fucking disaster, remember this moment. Remember how I'm going to blame you."

"It'll be fine!"

"Can we please go to school now?" Scott interjects, a thread of whining curled into his voice. "I really can't afford to fail English!"

***

By the next night, Deaton still doesn't have any answers for him, and so Stiles is forced to endure dinner with the entire Hale family. Derek picks him up like it's 1940, and even comes inside to say hello to Stiles' parents. Derek hadn't been lying before - his parents love Derek. His mother kisses his cheeks and tells him she's so pleased that he made up with Derek, causing Derek and Stiles to both blush.

“You have to come for dinner tomorrow, Derek,” Claudia says, beaming up at him. “It won’t be anything fancy, but you should come all the same!”

“I’m out tomorrow night, Mom,” Stiles says, avoiding Derek’s gaze. He can feel Derek tensing beside him, though, so he quickly adds, “But come Sunday, Derek? Please?”

“I’d love to,” Derek says, his eyes softening as he glances at Stiles.

“Perfect!” Claudia exclaims, clapping her hands together. “John, let’s get Chinese!”

It's awkward and unfair all around, because Stiles thinks his mom would have really liked Derek. She would have seen the vulnerable side of him that everyone else missed in the beginning, she would have known that he was just as lost, and she would have brought him into their family. His mom loved adopting various animals - and while there is a dog joke in there - Stiles knows that she would have welcomed Derek with open arms. Stiles hurries them out of there, as fast as he can, because it's just too painful otherwise.

However, the quicker he has hurried them out of the house, the sooner they are to arriving at the Hale house, where Stiles will have to meet Derek's family, the family that is supposed to be dead and gone.

"I can't do this," he says bleakly, gripping the shoulder strap of his seatbelt so tightly that his knuckles begin to turn white. "Why are you making me do this?"

"It's tradition, and Deaton told us to act normal," Derek says patiently. "Besides, aren't you curious to meet my family? I mean... other me doesn't have a family."

"I am curious," Stiles admits, before a new thought crosses his mind and he stiffens in the seat again. "Oh god. What if they completely hate me?"

"They're not going to hate you, they already know and love you," Derek laughs. The car pulls to a stop outside of the Hale house, and Stiles gasps.

The Hale house isn't the broken, burnt out shell that Stiles remembers it as. Instead, it stands tall and proud, gleaming in the dappled sunlight through the trees. There's a fresh paint of coat, the white shining bright, with a light blue accenting the trim. A window on the second floor is open, gauzy white curtains fluttering in the breeze. There's a porch swing on the deck, warm red and orange cushions. The house looks warm and inviting, it's a family home and suddenly, Stiles can picture himself living there. He pushes the thought out of his mind.

"They're going to find out," Stiles says.

"We're not going to tell them anything," Derek assures him quickly, unbuckling Stiles' seatbelt and he nudges his shoulder. "Let's go."

"But the scent - " Stiles protests.

"They're not going to scent you that carefully," Derek says, before he blushes and ducks his head. "I may have, uh - reacted poorly the first time it happened. So it doesn't anymore. Happen, that is."

"Oh my god," Stiles says, rolling his eyes. "You're so overbearing!"

"Of course I am, I'm a werewolf, and I'm your boyfriend. I'm supposed to be protective," Derek counters, before tacking on a fond, "Dumbass."

"You know, I think I almost prefer other you," Stiles says, forcing himself to get out of the car, his legs wobbling like jelly. "Other you is a lot less mouthy. Lot less talkative altogether, actually."

"If it's any consolation, I like other you better too. I get to blow that one," Derek says cheerfully.

"Jesus," Stiles exclaims, tripping over a rock and he feels the back of his neck burning. "You can't say things like that!"

"I didn't say anything," Derek says innocently, before he grins and bounds up the wooden steps. "Come on, I can smell the food from here. We're having roast beef!"

Stiles huffs out a sigh and follows him up the steps and inside the house. The moment he's in the entryway, he stares around at the painted walls that have pictures hung, thick carpet at his feet, hooks by the door where jackets hang. The staircase isn't dusty and rotting floorboards, it shines bright, a pair of shoes sitting on the bottom step. It's so homey.

The Hale home is bursting with life, and it makes Stiles want to burst into tears. There's a sitting room to his left, but it's not stuffy and formal. Instead, a stuffed rabbit sits on the floor beside a doll, books strewn on the sofa. He can hear voices chattering, someone laughs from further inside the house. The house is teeming with vitality, and it makes Stiles so happy for Derek, to know that he got to have this joy in at least one universe.

He walks around a corner, and runs directly into a solid chest that lets out an irritated grunt at the contact. Springing back, he tips his head back to see Peter looking down at him with an eyebrow raised. Stiles stumbles backwards, tripping over his own feet, and he smashes into the wall, knocking a frame down. Peter reaches out and steadies him as the frame clatters at their feet.

"Sorry," Stiles gasps, forcing himself not to flinch away from the contact.

He's positive that Peter can smell the fear and anxiety on him, he must reek of it, but he can't help himself. For all that he's said about Peter being a work in progress, he's still a predator in Stiles' mind, and he has a healthy fear of him. There's a part of Stiles that will never forget Peter offering him the bite, and being uncertain that Peter would respect his word. Peter is supposed to be mentally stable in this world, he's a wonderful person that Stiles apparently loves. Stiles is having trouble believing any of that.

"You all right?" Peter asks, releasing his grip on Stiles' arm, and he bends down to pick up the frame. He checks it carefully for any cracks before he hangs it back up on the wall.

It's a picture of Peter and Derek swimming in a lake, Derek looking around ten years old and clinging to Peter's tanned shoulders with a huge grin on his young face. It's so fucking adorable to see him so happy that Stiles reaches out to touch the frozen image, before he remembers and pulls his hand back.

Derek is suddenly behind him, his hand curling over Stiles' shoulder. "Are you okay? Your heartbeat - "

"I'm fine!" He chirps, pasting a wide smile on his face. "I'm completely fine! I'm Stiles! Sorry, you know that already! We've met many, many times already!"

Derek groans, and his grip tightens on Stiles. There's a prick of claws that has Stiles wincing slightly, and Derek releases him. "Hey, Uncle Peter."

"We haven't, actually," Peter says mildly, leaning his shoulder against the wall and he folds his arms across his chest. He studies Stiles intently with a narrowed gaze. "Met, that is. You're not the Stiles I know."

Stiles' mouth drops open in shock, and he whirls around to face Derek, who looks just as surprised. Stiles turns back around, emotions scrambling around in his chest for dominance. Curiosity, unsurprisingly, wins out. "You know? How do you know?" He demands.

"Of course I know," Peter laughs. "Any werewolf with a decent sense of smell would be able to tell the difference. I'm not sure who you are, exactly, but you're not our Stiles."

Stiles' heartbeat ratchets up a notch and he shifts uncomfortably on his feet. Peter is supposed to be decent in this universe, but he's still a werewolf, and he's still unpredictable. "I'm still Stiles," he says uncertainly.

"You don't need to be afraid of me, Stiles," Peter says gently, although he leans forward and inhales deeply through his nose. "I'm not going to hurt you."

"I have a perfectly adequate sense of smell, " Derek grouses, pulling Stiles behind him, and he bares his teeth. "He's still mine, Peter, so back off."

"Hey, not a piece of property!" Stiles interjects, grabbing Derek by the arm. "Cool it! This is exactly what I mean by overbearing!"

"I'm not insulting you, Derek," Peter rolls his eyes. "However, I do hope that you noticed he wasn't Stiles right away, otherwise I'm worried about your ability to defend yourself."

"Of course I noticed!" Derek exclaims.

Stiles snorts, and against his better judgment, leans around Derek to waggle his eyebrows at Peter. "He totally didn't. He kissed me."

"Shut up, Stiles," Derek growls under his breath. "He's still Stiles, just a different one. He woke up here a couple of days ago."

"What happened to you that you had to come here?" Peter asks curiously. "It must have been pretty severe. Are you hurt? Are you a mage then?"

"I - well - I don't know," Stiles says, drawing up short. "I don't think anything happened to me, last I remember are some pretty mundane events. I'm definitely not a mage. I'm an untapped spark, according to Deaton. It's not really anything special, though."

"Don't say that," Derek interrupts, his hand resting on Stiles' shoulder again, although this time his touch is gentle. "You're special."

The house suddenly feels a lot hotter than it did a few minutes ago.

"People don't get tossed into parallel universes for fun," Peter observes critically, pursing his lips. "I thought you were supposed to be smart. You're a human dating a werewolf. He's not with you for your body."

"My body is perfectly acceptable, thank you," Stiles says stiffly, suddenly feeling self conscious until Peter's roving gaze. The fear is back, trickling back up through his veins to curl around his heart, squeezing it until it's hard to breathe. He's in a house full of werewolves and none of them know him. He doesn't trust them either, not even Derek.

They're all strangers.

"Peter!"

"I'm extremely smart. I've saved your life before, you know," Stiles says, his voice shaking slightly. He's ended Peter's life as well, but he's not about to bring that up. "And I don't date werewolves."

"Are you our pet, then?" Peter asks, and it's very clear that he's completely serious.

"No! Oh my god, you are such an asshole. It's good to see some things didn't change," Stiles snaps, ducking away from Derek's touch. "I may run with wolves, but that's because of Scott. He's my best friend; we're a package deal."

"That's sweet," Peter says. He turns to Derek and raises a single brow. "Looks like your charms don't extend to other universes, pup."

"You're not that great yourself, so I would watch what you say," Stiles says warningly, feeling oddly protective of Derek. "Derek might not be my biggest fan in the regular world, but he's still pack. So fucking drop it."

"My, such language from you, Stiles," a voice says from behind them, and Stiles whirls around to see a tall woman with dark hair and eyes as green as the forest.

"Mrs. Hale," he says stupidly, because he can't stop staring at her. He's only seen her once, in a photograph, but it had been dark and grainy. Seeing her alive, hearing her, he knows now that Derek is the spitting image of her. She's Talia Hale, and she's beautiful.

"Now, Stiles, I've told you not to call me that - " she breaks off, inhaling deeply. Her eyes narrow and she takes a step back. "No, I don't believe I have ever told you that," she says slowly.

"Mom, stop, it's okay," Derek reassures her, hauling Stiles closer.

"You said nobody would scent me," Stiles mutters, but he's glad to take the refuge that Derek is offering. He doesn't trust any of them, but Derek considers Stiles to be his mate, and hopefully that will extend to him as well if it means safety and protection.

"See what I mean? His scent is obvious to anyone with a nose," Peter says with a grin at Derek. "Peaked at twenty-two, how tragic."

Derek growls, but there's no heat in it.

"Who are you?" Talia demands, bringing Stiles' attention back round to her. "Derek, why would you bring this stranger into our home?"

"It's Stiles, Mom," Derek says forcefully, his grip tightening on Stiles' wrist and he winces. "You know Stiles."

"I'm Stiles," he says, even though it seems redundant at this point. "A different Stiles then you're used to, though. I woke up in this world, and I don't know how I got here."

"I believe something traumatizing has happened in his world," Peter offers. "That's my educated guess, anyway. I suspected at first he was a powerful mage and sent himself here, but speak to the boy for two minutes and you'll realize that's not possible."

"Hey!" Stiles exclaims, turning to glare at Peter over his shoulder. "I'm not a mage, but I'm still a spark!"

"So you did do this," Talia says.

"No, I'm an untapped spark, it's nothing special. I'm literally a regular run of the mill human. I'm not a threat, I promise," Stiles whispers, meeting Talia's eyes.

"Do you know anyone magical?" She asks, giving him a soft smile.

Stiles relaxes marginally, feeling more and more reassured that she's not going to rip his throat out. Derek must feel the same because his grip loosens enough that Stiles can ease away. "I know Alan Deaton, he's got powers in my world."

"Our emissary?" Talia raises her eyebrows. "You know our family emissary? We should phone him then, get his input on the situation."

"I've already spoken to him," Stiles says. "I went to him the first day. He's not sure what happened either, but he's looking into it. I haven't heard from him yet."

"I'll phone him and discuss the matter with him," Talia decides. She turns and walks away from them, towards the kitchen, calling over her shoulder, "Come on, you might as well eat. I can smell your hunger from here, Stiles."

"See, that wasn't so bad," Derek says with a small smile, nudging him. "Now come on, dinner is almost ready. Everyone's sitting up."

Stiles follows Derek and Peter down the hallway and into the dining room. A long, oak table takes up most of the room, with twelve chairs sitting around it. Majority of those chairs are filled, with people that have been long and gone in Stiles' world. Laura and Cora sit side by side, whispering something together, and they glance up the moment he enters the room. There's a woman that Stiles has never seen before sitting in a chair, and beside her, Malia.

Stiles jerks to a stop, staring at a girl that he used to love. What is she doing here? Yeah, she's Peter's daughter, technically, but she was a Tate, she didn't even know that she was a Hale. And yet, here she is, and Peter is kissing the woman beside her before sliding into his seat.

"Who is that?" Malia scoffs, narrowing her gaze at Stiles.

Derek rolls his eyes and sits down in a chair, pulling the one out beside him, and Stiles gratefully slides in beside him. "It's Stiles," Derek says. "We all know Stiles."

"That is not Stiles," Malia said, tilting her head. "Oh, he wears the same face as him, I'll give him that, but that doesn't smell like Stiles."

"He's temporarily visiting," Peter says, and then chuckles.

"Stiles is from an alternative reality," Derek says.

"Alternate," Stiles corrects him.

"Whatever," Derek rolls his eyes again. "Point is, Stiles is visiting for some time. I don't know how long he'll be here, or how long it will be until our real Stiles returns. All we know is that Deaton told us to keep acting normal while he tries to figure everything out."

"Deaton still doesn't have any answers," Talia says, walking into the room and she's carrying a large platter that holds enough meat to feed an army. She sets it down at the centre of the table, and focuses her smile on Stiles. "He's deep in research, though. We'll figure this out, Stiles."

A tall, dark haired man enters the room, juggling a bowl of mashed potatoes in one hand, and a bowl of steaming vegetables in the other. "Dinner is ready! Cora, grab the gravy from the kitchen, would you?" He sets, carefully setting the bowls down. "I'll avoid the whole who is this debacle, because Talia filled me in briefly already. Welcome to the Hale family, Stiles. I hope you're prepared for some questions!"

"That's my dad," Derek says under his breath, leaning over slightly. "His name is James."

"Thanks," Stiles says, glancing over to the woman that's sitting beside Peter and seems wholly unaffected by the entire turn of events, and is instead focusing on the wine glass in her hand. "And that is?"

"That's Aunt Corrine, Uncle Peter's wife," Derek says. "That's their daughter, Malia, and I don't know where the boys are."

"The boys?" Stiles echoes, trying to be discreet in his newfound interest in the woman beside Peter. She had looked familiar to him, but now that he knows she's the Desert Wolf, he's having a hard time looking away from her. She had tried to murder Malia, she had tried to take her powers back, and now she's sitting at the Hale family table.

"Yes, my twin sons, Leon and Cale," Peter says proudly, before he tips his head back and roars.

Stiles jumps so hard he bangs his knee underneath the table. There's a slamming of a door from upstairs, then thundering on the stairs before two identical twin boys who look to be around eleven or twelve skid into the room.

"You're late," Peter admonishes.

"Jesus, Peter," Corrine mutters, passing the wine bottle across the table to Talia. "You've scared the new boy."

"I'm fine," Stiles says, trying to regulate his heartbeat. "I didn't realize you had more children."

"Ah, yes! Alternate reality! I'll admit, I'm a little curious - "

"Peter," Talia says warningly, and Peter falls silent. She sits down at the head of the table and surveys everyone. Stiles forces himself not to flinch under her gaze. She's been nothing but kind to him, really, but there's something steely about her that reminds Stiles she really is the alpha of the Hale pack.

"What's going on, Dad?" One of the twins asks , wrinkling his nose at Stiles. "He smells weird."

"Stiles is experiencing some supernatural events," Talia says smoothly before Peter is able to even open his mouth. "Stiles here, is not the one we know and love. This Stiles is from an alternate reality. We're not sure why he has come to our world, but Deaton is looking into it. In the meantime, while he is here, we will treat Stiles like we usually do - with love and trust. He is not to be badgered, and he is not to be exploited. Stiles is, and always will be, pack."

Warmth curls in his chest again, and without thinking, he reaches out and curls his fingers around Derek's underneath the table. If only the Hale family had survived, if only Derek could have brought him home and openly expressed that Stiles was his mate. If only this universe was the real one, because so far, it's a lot better than anything else.

Perhaps it'll take Deaton awhile to figure everything out, perhaps Stiles doesn't have to go home just yet.

"Can we ask questions?" Peter asks, and there's a hint of something in his voice. Perhaps this Peter isn't quite so different from the Peter that Stiles is familiar with.

"I'm not sure, can you?" Talia cocks an eyebrow, dishing some carrots and beans on to her plate before passing it to her left. "That would depend on the nature of the question, and on Stiles' comfortableness."

"I don't mind answering some questions, but you have to remember that my world isn't this one," Stile says carefully, because nothing good can come out of the Hales being curious. There's not that much to tell them, not when most of them are nothing but ash. "Trust me, some things are better left unknown."

"But you didn't realize I had children," Peter presses.

"I knew you had Malia," Stiles says, glancing over at the girl he lost his virginity to, the girl who had grounded him when everything was going to shit. They haven't been together in awhile, but he has nothing but fond memories of his time with her. "But no, you don't have any other children. Your marriage... uh, it didn't last."

That's an understatement.

"Almost didn't last in this one too," Corrine suddenly says, swishing her wine around in the glass. "These boys are the glue that kept us together."

Peter's eyes flash gold for a minute before he looks away from Stiles and remains silent.

"Now, despite everything new that is suddenly happening, your father and I are still going away next weekend. We have a pack meeting with the Peterson pack up north. Aunt Corrine will be joining as well," Talia says.

"Are you sure you don't wish for me to come along?" Peter asks, but Stiles is unsure whether he's asking Corrine or Talia.

"For the last time, Peter, I said no!" Talia snaps. "Only the four of us will be attending, I need you here to look after the children."

Peter's upper lip curls at that, but he doesn't say anything. The only one who expresses emotion at that is Laura, who throws herself back in her chair with a loud scuff. She slams her palms down on the table, hard enough that the glasses tremble.

"I don't want to go! It's stupid!"

"Laura, sweetheart, we are not having this discussion again, and especially not in front of company," Talia says, turning to Stiles. "Stiles, would you like some wine? Or just soda?"

"Soda, please," Stiles says quietly, realizing he's still holding hands with Derek and he quickly pulls his hand away. "Just soda is fine, thank you."

"Leon, pass Stiles the soda," Talia says, pouring gravy over her food before passing gravy boat to James. "Laura, as the next Hale alpha, it's vital you attend."

"But Mom, it's Emily's bridal shower, and I promised I would go!"

"Sweetheart, again, we're not discussing this at the table in front of company."

"Stiles isn't company," Laura sneers, before she quickly schools her features into something kinder. "Sorry, Stiles. I mean, you're pack. You're usually used to this."

"It's fine," Stiles says quickly. "Don't worry about it."

"If Laura wants to bypass such an opportunity to attend a bridal shower, then I'm more than happy to go in her stead," Peter says again. "Randy Peterson and I go way back. If Corrine is attending, then as her mate, I should also go."

Talia's eyes flash red, and Stiles flinches in his seat again. "I won't speak of this again. It's decided, for once and for all. Laura, you will attend and we will be leaving Thursday morning sharp. Peter, you will not be attending, you will be staying here to look after the rest. We will return Sunday evening."

"Mom, I don't mind looking after the boys," Derek says cautiously. "If Peter really wants to go, I promise we'll be okay. Stiles can stay over and help. Between him and Cora, we'll be fine with the twins."

"Sweetheart, I appreciate your offer," Talia says, her eyes softening. "You're a good boy, and I have absolute faith that everything would be fine, but I really need Peter to stay here, okay?"

"Okay," Derek says, shrugging his shoulder before he digs into his meal.

It's not what Stiles expected from a Hale family supper. He hadn't really thought about them that much, too focused on trying to survive himself, but now that he sees them alive and interacting, he can see parts of Derek in all of them.

"Now, we are going to let that subject go," Talia shoots Peter a look. "And we are going to focus on how Malia had two exams today. What subjects were they again?"

"Chemistry and Advanced Math," Malia says, spearing a bean with her fork. "I totally aced both of them."

"Of course you would, you're a fucking genius," Peter says.

Stiles swallows the bout of laughter that threatens to bubble up, because he remembers so vividly steering Malia into math class, doing their homework on his bed, patiently teaching her how to be civil. And yet, here she is, a functioning citizen of society that is totally acing high school.

"Language," Corrine snaps, nodding her head towards the twins.

"Mom, we know what swears are," one says, rolling his eyes. "It's not like we don't say them at school."

"You shouldn't say them at school where the teachers can hear you," Peter warns.

"How about saying they shouldn't swear at all because they're young, rather than try to find the sneakiest way around it?" Corrine challenges, her eyes flashing. "Jesus, Peter. You could at least try to be a good father!"

"That's enough," Talia says, and her smile has tightened. "Let's try to make our meal with Stiles as enjoyable as possible."

"I'm fine," Stiles says quickly again, because he doesn't want to draw any more attention to himself. It's fascinating instead to watch them.

The rest of dinner passes quietly enough, which means no one is fighting, but there’s certainly enough chattering between everyone that Stiles has a headache for a whole different reason. He rubs his temple just once before Derek is raising his hand, gently pressing his fingers against his skin as he leeches the pain away.

“Thanks,” Stiles whispers.

Once everyone has been dismissed from the table, with Malia and Cora reluctantly given dish duty, Stiles finds himself following Derek down the hallway and out into the backyard. It's not overgrown with weeds, the grass is neatly trimmed and there's a large fire pit in the centre, with various chairs pulled around it. Derek starts a fire quickly in it, and then they sit in the chairs and watch the flames lick the metal grate.

"This is nice," Stiles says quietly, leaning his head back to look up at the stars. "This is actually really nice, Derek. You have no idea how glad it makes me to see you got this in at least one lifetime."

"I wish I had gotten it in more," Derek muses, shifting closer to the arms of their chairs are pressed together.

Stiles is surprised to find that he doesn't mind the closeness. "It's unfair, you know. The Derek I know... it's just all so unfair, everything he's gone through. He doesn't deserve any of it. He's this amazing guy, but nobody knows that because his life has been so difficult."

"You seem to really care about him," Derek says, raising an eyebrow.

"I do," Stiles admits, because in his obsession with Derek, he had found that his concern went further than just making sure Derek was all right. He wanted Derek happy.

"You should tell him," Derek says. "That's something he should know, especially if his life is so hard. He should know that there's somebody like you out there for him."

"Derek knows where I am," Stiles says shortly, glaring at the flames. "He left anyway."

"It might not have been personal," Derek cautions. "If he had known, absolutely known, then he might not have left. If he's anything like me, then he's probably really insecure."

"Derek has nothing to be insecure over," Stiles dismisses, although he knows that it's not only not true, but not that easy. Derek has a lot to be insecure over, the biggest being the fact that he was seduced by an older woman and unwillingly led his entire family to slaughter.

"Stiles," Derek says, and there's a fond, exasperated look on his face.

"Derek," Stiles imitates, although he can't stop his face from feeling warm. They must be sitting too close to the fire pit.

"Tell him," Derek whispers, leaning in a bit closer. "Tell him, Stiles."

Holy shit, Derek is going to kiss him. Again, that is, since they already shared a kiss at the school, but Stiles doesn't really count that because he had been completely unaware that he was supposedly involved in a relationship with him.

"Is that the time?" Stiles exclaims, tripping his way out of the chair. He nearly tips face first into the fire, but Derek grabs him by the hip and spins him away, spinning him directly towards him, and Stiles stumbles again and this time, before he's even aware of it, he's sitting in Derek's lap.

"Um," he says blankly.

"Stiles," Derek whispers, leaning in closer and he presses his nose against the curve of Stiles' jaw, breathing in deeply.

On instinct, Stiles tips his neck to the side, giving Derek more access to his skin. His hands shakily rest on Derek's shoulder, his fingers curling into the material of his shirt. He needs to pull away, he needs to leave. It's not fair to Stiles to do this, and it's not fair to what he has with Derek. Derek's made his position very clear, he would be furious, and embarrassed, if he knew Stiles was getting to know him intimately like this.

"I can't," he says softly, turning his head away completely. "Please let me up."

"Of course," Derek says, helping him to his feet and he stands as well. "Do you want me to take you home, Stiles?"

Stiles shivers, probably because of the cool breeze in the woods, and whispers, "Yes please."

Chapter Text

Saturday night finds Stiles freshly showered and in the nicest casual clothes he owns, parking his Jeep outside of Lydia's house and nervously ringing the doorbell. It's time for their date, and he's thought so carefully about where they should go and what they should do. He used to have a list of everything he wanted to experience with Lydia, but none of that seems applicable in this world.

Every time he thinks of Lydia, he keeps seeing Derek in the back of his mind.

"Stiles!" Lydia's thrown the door open and thrown her arms around him, hugging her tightly. Her perfume is cloying thick and sweet, overpowering his senses. He can only imagine how much it would bother Derek if he was here.

And okay, that's the last time he's going to think of Derek tonight, honestly.

"Hey," he says, gently untangling himself and he tilts his head towards his Jeep. "You ready to go? I thought we could go for dinner and then maybe - "

"Go somewhere we can make out," Lydia suggests with a wink, her heels clacking on the pavement as she heads towards the passenger side of the Jeep.

Stiles frowns, and then quickly wipes the look off his face. He wants to enjoy this date, but he already misses regular Lydia, the smart, no nonsense woman that she is. She's fiercely loyal and brave, she's a fucking genius, and she's such a good friend to Stiles. They've been through together so much, along with Scott, they're all that remains of the original pack.

"Stiles! Let's go!" She says, more impatiently this time, and she sounds a lot more like her regular self, so he hastens to obey.

"Right, right, here I am," he says, sliding into the driver's side and the Jeep turns over with an irritated whine.

"After we're done high school, please tell me that you're going to get a new vehicle," she says, gingerly buckling up.

"Absolutely not," Stiles scoffs, rubbing the dashboard. "This is my ride or die."

"It sounds like it's going to die," Lydia says, and then squeals loudly as Stiles pulls away from her house with a lurch, first gear grinding.

"Hey, no smack talk against Roscoe," Stiles warns, waggling his finger at her. "Or I'll drop you right back off at home."

He's only half joking.

The conversation is stilted on the way to the diner, but eventually they get into a flow of things, especially when Stiles begins to grill Lydia to ask about their classmates. It's the perfect way to find out what's different in this universe, even for the most mundane things. He just wants to know everything he can, because the more prepared he is knowledge-wise, the more in control he feels.

When they pull into the parking lot, Lydia finally wrenches her gaze away from Stiles’ face and stares at the diner, her glossy mouth dropping open. “We’re eating here?” She screeches.

“Yep,” Stiles says, because it was always on his list of places to take Lydia. The diner was his favorite place to eat, he had almost grown up eating here for a little bit after his mom died and before Stiles got the hang of cooking. It had always been his first place to introduce Lydia to all of his favorite things.

“It’s a diner!” She says, folding her arms over her breasts. “I’m not eating there!”

“Well, feel free to sit there and go hungry then,” Stiles says cheerfully, unbuckling and shutting the Jeep off. “Come on, Lyds! Don’t be such a stick in the mud.”

“Can’t we go somewhere nicer?” She pouts, running a nail up his thigh.

Stiles rolls his eyes and hops out, slamming the door behind him. “I’m getting curly fries, come on!”

At first he’s not sure that she’ll come, he wouldn’t put it past her to sit in the Jeep all night to make a point. Apparently this Lydia is a lot more willing to hang out with Stiles, though, because she slides out of the Jeep and scurries to his side, grabbing his hand.

“Do you think they have salads?”

“Atta girl,” he says, leading her inside and they snag a booth towards the back. He orders a cheeseburger and curly fries, along with a strawberry milkshake. Lydia frowns, scanning the menu before she orders a water and grilled chicken breast, with the vegetable medley for a side.

“That probably wasn’t the wisest idea,” Stiles says once the waitress has walked away. “They’re going to be drowning in some weird liquid.”

“If we had gone somewhere nicer, this wouldn’t be a problem!” Lydia snaps.

“Let it go,” he says, shaking his head. “We’re eating here, and that’s it. It shouldn’t be where you are, it’s who you’re with.”

“No one can see that I’m with you, though!” Lydia whines. “I wanted everyone to see us together.”

“I think you have the wrong idea what this is,” Stiles finally says, because he’s beginning to realize what Derek and Scott meant. This Lydia is completely different than the one in his world, and it feels unnatural and wrong to consider this anything more than just friends. He should have never asked her out. “This is just two friends going out for a meal together. I’m in a relationship.”

“I don’t want to talk about Derek,” Lydia grouses, scowling down at the table. “He’s obnoxious.”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Stiles says, rolling his eyes. “He seems perfectly nice.”

“He isn’t,” Lydia insists, but at the raise of Stiles’ eyebrow, she lets it go and they turn the subject matter on to something else.

By the time the food has arrived, they’ve settled back into a routine of talking about their classmates, and by the time it comes to pay, Stiles is more than ready to drop Lydia back off at her house. He should have never come on this date. Lydia in his world had seemed self-absorbed, shallow, and dumb. That had all been an act, though. For this Lydia, though, it’s unfortunately not an act. It’s who she is and Stiles is more than ready to say goodbye to this fantasy.

“Let’s go somewhere private,” she says, once they get back into the Jeep.

“I can’t,” Stiles says, pulling an extra sad face for her benefit. “My parents need me at home, so I said I’d be right over.”

“You’re kidding me, right?”

“Nope,” he says, swallowing his smile away. “I feel bad, but what can you do, right? I’m just a lowly high school student, and my dad is the Sherriff. I have to listen to him!”

“Unbelievable,” she huffs, snapping her seatbelt into place.

Stiles doesn’t reply, there’s nothing to say, and so the drive to her house is a quiet one. When he pulls up to her front door, she wrenches the seatbelt loose and storms out of the vehicle, refusing to even meet his gaze. She stalks into the house, the front door slamming shut. With a grin, Stiles pulls away and pulls out his phone, dialing carefully.

“Hello?”

“Hey,” Stiles says quietly, something warm blooming in his chest. “You wanna go for a drive?”

“Sure,” Derek says, his tone soft and gentle. “Want me to pick you up?”

“I’ll come get you,” Stiles says, since he’s already headed out towards the Preserve. “See you soon, big guy.”

The drive out to the Preserve is committed to his memory, regardless of what universe he’s in, and it’s not long before he’s pulling up to the Hale house. It’s still weird to see it standing proudly, but he’s quickly distracted when Derek bounds down the steps, wearing tight dark jeans and an honest to god cashmere sweater.

He’s fucking adorable.

“Hey,” Stiles says, clearing his throat as Derek gets in. “Did I bother you? I didn’t even ask if you were busy.”

“I’m never too busy for you.” It’s a cliché line, but Derek says it so sincerely as he buckles up his seatbelt and then smiles softly at Stiles. “Is everything okay?”

“Everything’s fine,” Stiles says, shrugging his shoulders. “I mean, the date was over, and I didn’t feel like going home yet, so I thought I’d see what you were up to.”

“How was the date?” Derek asks curiously as Stiles pulls away. His tone isn’t quite hostile, but Stiles knows he’s not asking in an innocent, supportive bro way.

“Terrible,” Stiles is glad to tell him. “Everything that Lydia pretended to be in my world, she actually is in this world. It’s horrible.”

There’s a smug smile on Derek’s face now. “I could have told you that. In fact, I think I did!”

“Yeah, yeah,” Stiles rolls his eyes, steering the Jeep further past the Hale house and deeper into the Preserve. “One point to you.”

“I’d say I’m sorry the date didn’t go well, but my momma raised me not to lie,” Derek teases, before he leans forward, resting his hands against the dashboard. “Are we going out to the creek?”

“Yeah, I thought we could sit by the water and hang out,” Stiles says, because on a separate list he has, a list for Derek Hale, sitting out in the Preserve under the stars is on there. Of course, he doesn’t mean it romantically here, because he can’t, he just thought it would be… nice.

“We do that all the time!” Derek says enthusiastically, shifting closer so their shoulders brush. Stiles is going to believe that it’s a coincidence.

“Other Derek and I have never done that,” Stiles admits, shifting gears as they drive over a couple of bumpy rocks. “Although, we haven’t really done much together, besides save each other’s lives.”

Derek is quiet until they’ve reached the creek and are sitting on the grass. “You can tell me to mind my own business, but I kind of get the impression that you have feelings for him.”

Stiles leans back and stares up at the dark, starry sky. “I mean, when we first met, I was terrified of him. I was convinced he was a murderer. I didn’t realize that he was grieving the loss of his family. I didn’t realize he was just as lost as I was.”

“The fire,” Derek says quietly. “He must have felt guilty for surviving the fire when the majority of his family didn’t.”

That’s not the half of it, Stiles knows, but Derek doesn’t need to know. He can keep his innocence in this world. Derek and Stiles are both healthier in this world, it would seem. Beacon Hills hasn’t witnessed much of the destruction that it normally has, which Stiles almost finds unfair. Why wasn’t he born into this world? Why wasn’t he given a chance to grow up with his mom, why wasn’t Derek given the opportunity to keep his family?

“Yeah, I think so,” Stiles says quietly, shifting as Derek lays down beside him. Their shoulders and arms are touching again, but Stiles can’t find it in himself to pull away.

"And you've saved each other's lives," Derek says.

Stiles thinks back to almost drowning in a pool, just to ensure that Derek would live, and he thinks to a trip to Mexico where saving Derek was his single priority. They've worked hard to keep each other alive, but whether it's down to coincidence or because Derek harbors secret feelings for him, Stiles doesn't know. He doubts he ever will, because Derek left with Braeden and Stiles knows he won't come back.

"Yes, but that doesn't translate into romance," he argues. "We're tentative friends, I would even say that we're allies to a degree. But we're not a romance."

"You could be," Derek suggests, his pinky finger brushing against the back of Stiles' hand. "It worked in this universe."

"How did it happen?" Stiles rolls over on to his side, bringing them even closer, but he's not about to start complaining. The air is... chilly, and Derek is warm. That's it.

"How did what happen? Us falling in love?"

"Yeah," Stiles says, his voice cracking like he's thirteen all over again. "That."

"I saw you playing lacrosse," Derek says, rolling on to his side and he props his face up with his hand. He has long eyelashes that brush against his skin when he blinks, and Stiles finds it oddly mesmerizing. "I used to play, back when I was high school, and I couldn't help but admire your form. I offered to give you a few tips, and then it kind of just went from there."

"I bet," Stiles teases with a grin, wriggling his hips in the grass a little bit, because the idea of Derek, his Derek, admiring Stiles for anything is kind of laughable. He also finds it kind of humorous that they fell in love in such a normal way, with lacrosse of all things.

"Not like that," Derek laughs, but the way his eyes scan Stiles' body tells a different story. "I mean, not at first. I really did just admire your athletic ability. Once I got to know you, though, it was easy to fall in love the rest of the way."

"Stiles here must be a lot cooler here than I am," Stiles says ruefully. "I don't think anybody has ever been in love with me."

"Not even Lydia?" Derek raises an eyebrow, his eyes warm in the moonlight.

"No, she never loved me in my world, at least not in that sense," Stiles shakes his head, thinking of Jackson and how they had all seen true love there. "I've dated. Okay, well, I've had one relationship, and it was with Malia of all people, if you can believe that."

"My cousin Malia?" Derek's other eyebrow shoots up.

"Yeah, we met each other when we were both doing a stint in Eichen House..." Stiles trails off, because now that he looks back and reflects on it, the whole way that he had started up with Malia was probably a lot questionable.

"Does everyone stay at Eichen House?" Derek frowns at him. "Eichen House is reserved for the mentally insane. It's not a hotel here."

"Well, just another way that our worlds are different," Stiles says, because Derek is completely right. They were too quick to use Eichen House to solve their problems, it only caused them to grow in ways they couldn't hope to contain.

"Should I be worried about you?" Derek asks, turning his head to gaze up into Stiles' eyes. "Maybe if things are so bad in your world, you shouldn't go."

"I'm not sure it works like that," Stiles says, his voice catching in his throat. Derek's eyelashes catch his attention, there's a stray one on his cheekbone, and Stiles doesn't stop to think before he's lifting his thumb and gently brushing it away.

"Well, there has to be something we can do," Derek says stubbornly. "You can't go back there, it sounds like a complete disaster! I'm sending you back to your death!"

Stiles would huff out a breath of laughter and tell Derek he's being overdramatic, but he's not entirely certain that he is. There's been enough close calls that Stiles is cautious to believe he will ever graduate high school, let alone live long enough to fall in love with someone and have his happily ever after.

"You can't keep me here, because that means you don't get your Stiles back," he says. "I'm pretty sure you want him back."

"Of course I want him back, he's my mate," Derek rolls his eyes. "I still don't like the idea of you going back to a dangerous world, though."

"Every world is dangerous," Stiles says, because it's true, isn't it? The world is plenty scary enough without adding supernatural elements into it. There are worse monsters than werewolves.

Stiles has seen a world where a young boy lost his mother entirely too soon, and that's dangerous too, isn't it? His father had turned to alcohol to cope, and Stiles had to learn how to rely on himself. If it hadn't been for Scott and Melissa McCall, Stiles thinks he would have grown up a lot harder than he did, a lot more cynical. He would be cruel instead of sarcastic, and that's dangerous too.

"The world is only as dangerous as the people in it," Derek says, shrugging his shoulders. "I think that it's possible to have a peaceful world, if everyone worked together."

Stiles finds that highly impossible, but this Derek is naive and innocent, Stiles isn't going to burst his bubble any more than he has to. If Derek wants to believe that, then Stiles isn't going to do anything to disrupt that. Just the fact that he is here altogether is disruptive, and he doesn't know what kind of after-effect there will be. Will Derek even remember that there was a blip in time and he had a different version of Stiles? Will other him remember where he's been, and if so, what sort of stories will he have to tell?

"I like your idealism," he settles on saying, and nudges their arms together. "Maybe if more people thought like you did, the world wouldn't be in the state it is."

"I still think we should figure something out, because I'm not about to send you back, just to have you die," Derek says.

"Don't tempt me, Frodo," Stiles sarcastically, but it's true. Derek shouldn't be filling his head with ideas on staying, because this isn't his world and it's unbalanced. He needs to go home, the people he loves aren't in this world, not really. They're just different versions of who Stiles knows them as, and it's not realistic to stay behind for a second hand version.

Even if it means he would get to see his mom grow old.

His breath hitches in his chest at that thought. She never got to see Stiles grow up. Towards the end, she only remembered him as a baby, and then as a monster. Stiles had hated both, because he wasn't a baby, and it had been such a personal slight every time she had called him that. Throughout her sickness, everyone commented how young he was, and it had made him mad each time. He wasn't a baby! He understood what was happening around him, and he had shouted at her when she forgot and thought of him as little.

He hates those memories, and he hates the child he had been. He shouldn't have ever yelled at her, because it had never been her fault. Even when she had screamed at him, and clawed his face, it hadn't been her fault. It was the disease, but he hadn't known that then. He had just known that she wasn't the person he loved, and rather than have her, he wished she would go away.

And then she did, and Stiles hated himself even more.

"Stiles?" Derek cups his cheek, his worried face swimming into vision. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," Stiles says, even as he realizes that his eyes are wet. "I'm just... it's hard, you know? There's a lot in this world that I wish was in my own."

"Your mother," Derek says quietly, and his hand doesn't leave Stiles' face. "You said that she died when you were eight."

"Yeah," Stiles' voice cracks on the word. "She was sick for a couple of years before that, though. The last time my mom was really healthy was when I was six, the last two years of her life were a lot more difficult."

"Did she have cancer?" Derek's voice is cautious. "You don't have to talk about this if it's painful."

"No, it's okay." Stiles swallows hard and shifts on the grass, a rock is jabbing into his back and he digs around with his left arm until he's able to find it. "She had frontotemporal dementia, and wasn't herself. She had a lot of hallucinations and didn't remember who I was."

"That must have been hard for a kid," Derek says, and his eyes are suddenly closer than they previously were. "I'm sorry, Stiles."

"It's no one's fault, it's just shitty genetics, you know?" Stiles tries to aim for dismissive, but the way his voice snags in his throat, he thinks Derek, without even using his werewolf powers, can tell that he's lying.

"I'm sorry that you were hurting," Derek says lowly, and his eyelashes are so long. "I don't like the thought of you in pain."

"It's a fact of life," Stiles says, swallowing thickly. "I'm okay."

"You are," Derek affirms. "You're so much stronger than you realize, Stiles."

It's everything he wishes that Derek would say to him, that Derek would acknowledge his strength, that Derek would admire him, or even just notice him. Stiles makes a soft noise in the back of his throat before he's leaning over and tentatively brushing their lips together. Derek freezes momentarily, before he's carefully reaching around with his free arm to draw Stiles even closer, his other hand still cupping the curve of Stiles' jaw.

The kiss is careful at first, before it grows into something more urgent, something a little more desperate. Stiles doesn't know how long he has here, and perhaps it's disrespectful to not only Derek, but to his other self, but he doesn't care right now. In this moment, Derek is being kind to him, and Stiles loves him so much that it's an ache in his chest.

Derek tastes like mint, his teeth little and blunt. Stiles carefully drags his tongue over Derek's teeth, wondering how much sharper his fangs would feel. There's a low growl in Derek's throat, and he's suddenly rolling Stiles on to his back, following with him so he's blanketing his form. Stiles breaks away with a gasp, a laugh caught in his throat as he gazes up at Derek, who is suddenly viewing him much like prey.

"Derek," he whispers, unable to ask for more, since he's denied Derek so far.

"It's okay, Stiles. It's okay," Derek says, leaning down to give him another kiss, and this time, Stiles relaxes against the grass and accepts it for what it is. Maybe it's not fair to Derek, but right now, he doesn't care. Derek never even has to know about it. This whole experience, the whole alternate universe, can be like a dream when he gets back home.

Nobody has to know all the details.

Derek pulls back eventually, once their lips are swollen and tender. He brushes his hand down Stiles' jaw, the look in his eyes so loving that it makes Stiles' entire chest seize up. He carefully rolls off of him, and then helps Stiles to his feet. They take turns brushing the grass and wooden sticks off of each other, before they head towards the Jeep, their fingers unconsciously entwined.

***

The following evening has Derek showing up promptly at five o'clock at the front door, complete with a bottle of sparkling apple juice and flowers in his hand. He hands the bottle to Stiles' mom, and the flowers to Stiles with a shy smile. Stiles feels his own face heat up, he doesn't think that anyone has ever given him flowers before.

"I'm so glad you could join us for dinner!" Claudia exclaims, spinning the bottle in her hands. Stiles has forgotten just how many nervous ticks she had, just like he does. She could never sit still either. "This is wonderful, thank you!"

"It's nothing fancy," John warns, setting two bags down on the kitchen counter and he begins to unload carton after carton of Chinese. "I mean, we slaved away all day on this, don't get us wrong."

Derek laughs, wide and bright. "I love Chinese," he says, winking at Stiles.

I love you, Stiles thinks, his heart tripping over itself at the open, beautiful expression on Derek's face. Jesus, he always knew that Derek was attractive, but to see him so carefree and joyful? He's goddamn gorgeous. Derek raises an eyebrow, probably able to hear the change in Stiles' heartbeat, but he simply waves him off. There's nothing he could possibly say to explain it.

"I mean, it's no feast your mom made," Stiles teases, tossing the fortune cookies into the center of the table.

"I don't care," Derek insists, his cheeks flushing. "I love coming here, it's so much quieter than my house."

"I think that's the first time someone has said Stiles is quiet," John laughs, cupping the back of Stiles' neck in a gentle squeeze. "I told you this boy was a keeper, son."

Stiles rolls his eyes indulgently, but he understands what Derek means. After spending one evening at the Hale home, it was clear to anyone who had eyes and ears that there was a lot going on there. He had found the Hales fascinating, if not a little sad. He thinks of his Derek, who sat in his empty family home, and then a deserted train station, and finally a cold and empty loft, sitting always alone, alone, alone.

Derek would probably do anything to have his pack back.

"He's not so loud," Derek says loyally, and Stiles gives him a bright grin.

Stiles and Derek had both made the decision that although the Hale family was aware that Stiles was not himself, Stiles' parents weren't going to be let in on the secret. According to Derek, they believed there to be something 'odd' about Derek originally, but had grown to believe he was just awkward. In time, they had come to accept him completely, and considered him a good fit for Stiles. They were completely unaware of the supernatural world, and this time, Stiles intended to keep it that way.

"Now that is true love," Claudia says, plopping down on the wooden chair, tucking a leg up underneath herself. She pulls a pair of chopsticks out of the bun in her hair, her dark hair spilling down around her shoulders. She digs them into a carton and begins to dish rice out on to her plate. "How's your family?"

Stiles wrinkles his nose at his mother's behaviour, he had forgotten just how odd she could be, even without the disease. However, love wins out every time, and with borrowed time, he just drinks it all in. He passes Derek a carton of noodles.

"They're good," Derek says, forking a mouthful of noodles into his mouth. Sauce drips down on his chin, and Stiles has to force himself to remain seated. He wants to lean over the rickety table and drag his tongue along Derek's face, cleaning him, just so he could make him filthy once more.

Derek raises an eyebrow at him, and Stiles flushes, dropping his gaze down to the chipped table. He knows that Derek can probably tell by his scent what he had been thinking. It's been a battle since last night, warring inside of his mind. It had felt good to kiss Derek, but it had been so wrong. The more he spends time with him, though, and the more he thinks about it, he can't help but want it. Why shouldn't he use this as an opportunity to see what it would be like? It's what he's done so far with everything else, why should Derek be any different?

He had gone on a date with Lydia for the experience. It had turned out to be a complete disaster, but he had still used her for the opportunity, and he hadn't felt guilty over that. He had felt guilty that it had upset Derek, but he had never brought Lydia's, his real Lydia's, feelings into consideration. Younger Stiles would have been thrilled at the way she had thrown herself at him, but overall, he had learned that some things were better left unknown, especially if they weren't real.

He spends time with his mother, probably more than other him has all year. He spends almost every waking moment with her, memorizing her, trying to pick out the details that feel familiar, and learning the ones that would have been real, if only she had been given more time. He doesn't feel guilty about that, if anything, it's one of the reasons that is causing him to resist the idea of returning home.

He'll go home the moment he's able to figure out how, because he knows he can't stay here forever. But why shouldn't he get to experience his hidden desires with Derek while he waits? Derek would never have to find out, and then at least Stiles would know. He's going to miss the easy, open look on Derek's face, the way he's able to communicate so freely... the way he laughs, he doesn't hesitate in finding the joy in life at all.

He's especially going to miss the little smiles that Derek always seems to save, just for Stiles.

Unable to resist temptation any longer, he reaches out with his thumb and carefully wipes the drip from Derek's face. Their eyes lock as Stiles brings his thumb to his mouth and licks his thumb clean. He keeps his gaze on Derek the entire time, and it twists something low in his gut to see the way Derek's face burns.

"That is quite enough of that!" His mother exclaims, reaching over to swat him over the back of his head, but there's no heat in her swing. "The dinner table is for eating! Not... for that!"

"Sorry," Stiles says quickly, shame dampening the ignition of arousal in his gut, but not completely extinguishing it.

There's silence, and then suddenly John snorts so hard that he cups his face in his hands, silent laughter shaking his shoulders. Stiles stares at his mother before swinging his gaze back around to his father, who is so much happier in this world. He even has less wrinkles. Claudia stares at him, before her eyes widen with understanding, and then she's giggling so hard that she's snorting through her nose.

"What?" Stiles demands, his gaze going back and forth between his parents. "What's so funny?"

"Just an old memory," John finally says, lifting his head, his eyes still shimmering with mirth.

"And what a memory," Claudia exhales with a gusty sigh, dropping a wink at John.

Stiles turns to look at Derek, who is wrinkling his nose slightly. It hits Stiles then that Derek can probably smell the arousal from his parents right now.

"Oh, gross!" He exclaims, setting them both off into peals of laughter once more. "That's disgusting! You guys are... adults! You're parents!"

They only laugh harder at that, Claudia managing to squeak out, "Someday you'll understand," before she dissolves into laughter once more.

"Gross," he repeats, pushing himself away from the table and standing up from his chair. "Come on, Derek. Let's go upstairs and leave them alone."

"Finish your meal," his mother cajoles, her mouth wobbling. "I promise we're done."

"I've lost my appetite," Stiles says, rolling his eyes. "Come on, Der."

Derek slurps one last bite of noodles before he pushes his chair back and follows Stiles up the stairs to his bedroom. He's quiet as Stiles shuts the door, folding himself down on the edge of the bed, his brows furrowed.

"I wasn't done eating," he finally says, picking at a dried noodle on the collar of his shirt.

"Well, we can eat later, and everyone knows that Chinese food is better leftover, anyway," Stiles says, collapsing down on the bed beside him, so hard that the entire frame trembles. "I had to pretend to make a moral outrage at the idea of parents being intimate," he explains, even though that hadn't been the reason he had lost his appetite at all.

It had hurt, more than he had ever imagined it would, to see his parents so happy together. Of course he has the odd memory of them being happy as a family, but he doesn't really remember recognizing as a young child the joy his parents found in their marriage. This universe gives him the chance to see who his father would have been, if he hadn't lost his wife and been forced to raise a hyperactive child on his own.

Derek doesn't say anything, Stiles is sure he can smell the change in Stiles' mood, because he wriggles his way until he's lying beside Stiles. He carefully wraps an arm around Stiles' waist and tucks him in close against his chest. He presses his lips against Stiles' temple and just remains still, providing him comfort in a way that Stiles hasn't received in a very long time.

"Thank you," Stiles finally says, once he's confident he can speak without his voice breaking.

"I wish I could tell you that everything would be okay," Derek whispers, and the distress is evident in his tone.

"Everything will be okay," Stiles says, forcing my confidence into his voice than he feels. There's no other option than for everything to be okay. It seems, for the most part, that no matter how close calls they receive, something always works out for them.

"I like your idealism," Derek teases, leaning over Stiles, and he kisses the laughter right off his lips.

Chapter Text

When Monday morning rolls around, Stiles wakes up actually excited for school. He’s been here in this alternative universe for a couple of days now, enough where he feels comfortable with the changes. There is so much more he has to learn and discover from this world. His regular world is filled with nothing but terrifying adrenaline as he fights to stay alive and deep, all-consuming grief as he mourns the ones who weren’t so fortunate. He wants to see the good this world has to offer and he definitely wants to spend more time with his mother. He wants to see what she is actually like now that he’s not a child.

He has lacrosse practice today, but he’s totally planning on skipping that. He’s not going to be able to match this Stiles’ skill level, and it would just be embarrassing to try. Plus, the less he has to interact with Jackson the better. There will never be a universe where Stiles is fond of the guy, regardless of what this timeline says.

However, when he grabs the pancakes that are wrapped up in foil from the counter and scoots out of the house, Derek is leaning against the Camero that’s parked in the driveway. His arms are folded across his chest, a dark green Henley stretched across his shoulders and black jeans that are so tight they appear painted on. Stiles instantly loses his breath and has to force himself not to drool right there on his front porch.

He will never get used to dating Derek Hale.

“Hey stud,” he calls out, jogging down the steps as his heart rate immediately ratchets. “What do I owe the pleasure?”

“I wanted to check if you wanted to skip school,” Derek admits, his cheeks flushing. “I know we’re on borrowed time, so I thought we could maybe review anything you have questions about.”

Stiles knows there is a lot of other things they could probably do besides an impromptu Q&A session. However, there’s a mid-term exam in Chemistry today, and he actually studied for it. “I shouldn’t skip, got a big test. We could get together after school, though? I could come out to your house.”

Derek arches an eyebrow. “You want to risk that again? I thought you were scared of my family.”

“I’m not scared of them,” Stiles scoffs, thankful that Derek is too much of a gentleman in this universe to point out his lying heartbeat. “I actually want to study them.”

“My family is not your science project,” Derek says with a roll of his eyes. “They’re just your average werewolf family.”

“Uh, yeah, I think even by werewolf standards your family isn’t exactly average,” Stiles says, and then flushes when he realizes how that probably comes across. “I mean, they’re great and everything, obviously.”

“Nice recovery,” Derek snorts.

“What if I skip out after chem?” Stiles offers as a compromise.

“Does it really matter if you miss a day of classes?” Derek asks, stepping away from his car and closer towards Stiles. He’s close enough that Stiles can see the gold flecks in his green eyes. “You’d think that hanging out with me and finding out how to return to your normal world would be more of a priority.”

“I actually studied for the chemistry exam, and I don’t want to mess things up for other me. That kind of sounds like a colossal dick move,” Stiles says, licking his lips as he tries to remember the valid reasons he has for not dragging Derek into the house and into his bed.

“Speaking of dicks,” Derek mutters before falling silent, his eyebrows furrowing into a scowl as Scott pedals up to the house.

“Be nice,” Stiles instructs, nudging Derek in the side. “He’s my best friend.”

“Not in this universe,” Derek swiftly counters, folding his arms across his chest to paint the most intimidating picture he can. His glare at Scott intensifies. “What do you want?”

Scott immediately wilts under the infamous Derek scowl and Stiles has to stifle a laugh. In his normal world, Scott would be puffing out his chest, and he’d have some sort of pissing match with Derek until someone was declared the temporary winner.

“Derek,” he murmurs under his breath.

“I just wanted to see if everything was okay,” Scott says, offering Stiles a hesitant smile. “I didn’t know if things were back to normal or not.”

“Clearly not back to normal, otherwise he wouldn’t be speaking to you,” Derek grumbles.

“Nope, still an alien in this world,” Stiles says, smiling brightly at Scott, who happily returns it.

A look of relief floods over Scott’s face. “I mean, that’s good, isn’t it?”

Stiles doesn’t know if it’s good or not. On one hand, he desperately wants to get back to a world that makes sense, back to the world where he belongs. But on the other hand, he’s been given these opportunities to be with his mother, to be with Derek… it will be tough to give that up. He only hopes that when it does happen, he’ll be given the chance to say goodbye.

“How is that good?” Derek’s resorted to arguing during Stiles’ lapse of silence.

“Oh, I’m sorry, do you want me to leave?” Stiles teases, nudging Derek again. “Although, you probably would like that, since you can sex other me up.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re here,” Scott says, his eyes darting over towards Derek and then back at Stiles. “It’s been nice having you here, since you actually acknowledge that we’re friends. I mean, we grew up together and were best friends as kids. I know we’ve drifted since getting older, but… I miss you.”

That’s the huge glaring thing that doesn’t make the most sense here in this world, even more than Derek and Stiles having a relationship. He just can’t fathom a world where Scott isn’t his best friend. They have gone through some truly terrible things together, things that no child should have to go through like the death of a parent or the abandonment of another. They’ve also gone through a lot of other things – betrayal and mistrust but Stiles loves Scott deep at the core, that’s something unshakeable.

“I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that other me has missed you too. Once he’s back, you should really start that friendship back up,” Stiles says, loping past Derek so he’s able to throw his arms around Scott. He ignores the rumble he hears behind him. “I really need you, okay? It doesn’t matter what universe we’re in. We’re a team and that’s never going to change. If I’m being a stubborn asshole, then force me to pull my head out of my ass.”

“Deal,” Scott agrees with a chuckle.

“Now come on, we’ve got school,” Stiles says, clapping Scott on the back and stepping back from him. He turns to face Derek. “I’ll see you after Chem class, big guy.”

“Can I get a ride with you?” Scott asks, the hopefulness evident in his tone. “My asthma is feeling really bad today.”

“How convenient,” Derek mutters.

Stiles shoots him a glare, but there’s no heat in it. He kind of likes the fact that Derek is possessive of him, that he matters to Derek. In the other world, his regular world, he’s nothing more than a hindrance and a distant memory to Derek.

“Sure, just park your bike by the garage,” he says.

Scott begins to wheel his bike over towards the garage and Stiles turns back to Derek, tentatively sliding an arm around him. He’s not sure of the liberties he’s allowed to take, leaving him cautious and uncertain. Derek immediately hauls him closer, pressing his nose against the curve of Stiles’ neck and he breathes in deeply. Stiles, who believes it’s ridiculous that Derek needs to lay his scent over Scott’s until it’s gone, merely tilts his head back to give him further access.

“I’ll see you later,” he says, his breath caught in his throat, his skin breaking out in goosebumps at the lightest touch.

“You bet, I’ll pick you up after third period,” Derek murmurs against his skin before he pulls back. He lopes back to his vehicle and offers Stiles on last wave before he climbs inside and turns the ignition over with a purr.

Stiles watches him go before he shakes his head and climbs inside the jeep. It starts with a reluctant whine and grinds as he backs out of the driveway. He pats the dashboard and buckles up with one hand, easing the jeep into first gear as he pulls away. Scott watches Derek from his window and flinches when Derek catches his gaze. Stiles resists the urge to laugh.

He doesn’t need Derek and Scott to be best friends in this universe. Of course it would be nice, but it’s not necessary. He just needs to ace this quiz, because it doesn’t matter what universe he’s in – Stiles is always going to strive to do well with his schoolwork. He’ll finish the quiz and then ditch school so he can find Derek and… learn more about this world. Yeah, that’s totally it.

Stiles has always been a big fan of learning.

***

The pop quiz is even easier than he expected it to be. Stiles slips Scott his keys between classes and Scott promises to return the jeep to the house after school. Then, feeling guilt free, Stiles bails out a side door and hurries to the parking lot where the Camaro is rumbling, waiting patiently for him.

Stiles slides into the passenger seat and lets out a soft, surprised noise as Derek leans over to kiss him gently. “Hello to you.”

“How was the exam?” Derek asks as he eases the car into drive and they peel out of the parking lot, the tires burning rubber as they make a break for their freedom.

Stiles chokes on his laughter as he clips his seat belt into place. “It was actually really good, way easier than I expected it to be.”

“You probably didn’t even need to go then,” Derek says, reproach evident in his tone, and Stiles rolls his eyes.

“You’ll survive being deprived of my company for a couple of hours,” he says, even as his stomach flips.

It’s stupid to be getting attached, because this isn’t even Derek. This is a fantasy, a dream world that he can’t wake up from. It’s not real, though, and he would be an absolute fool to start believing that Derek cares about him. If he actually ran into the real Derek, he’d probably furrow his brows into that impressive scowl he was always sporting, and he’d walk away from Stiles all over again.

Derek made his choice, and he didn’t choose Stiles.

He clears his throat, pushing thoughts of Derek to the back of his mind. Deaton is trying to figure out what’s happening here, and until he does, Stiles just has to sit back and catch his breath. He has a moment in time and space to just enjoy what his life could have been like, and he’s not going to waste it by having his mind dwell on Derek.

“Where are we heading?” He asks as Derek takes a turn on to a dirt road and Beacon Hills begins to fade into the background behind them.

“This is just a back way out to the Preserve,” Derek says, reaching into the console between the front seats and sliding a pair of sunglasses on to his face. He looks even more handsome. “You had mentioned wanting to go out to my house, so I thought we could go visit with Peter before the kids are out of school.”

“Won’t Peter care that I’m skipping school?” Stiles asks, arching an eyebrow. He doesn’t even wait for Derek to respond before he continues, shaking his head. “Scratch that, it’s Peter. He probably thinks it’s a moral rite of passage or something.”

“Something like that,” Derek agrees, the corner of his lip quirking up into a smirk and Stiles aches to kiss him.

Instead, he focuses his gaze out the window and watches the trees pass by them as Derek drives down a road that isn’t well kept – weeds grow on the edges of the dirt, threatening to take back the path. The back of the Hale house finally looms in the distance, and Derek eases the car down a side path that is more grass than dirt and pulls up to a stop behind the house.

Stiles gets out and stretches his legs, groaning as he reaches his fingertips to the sky, his spine cracking with a satisfying pop. He follows Derek up the back porch steps and through the screen door. It leads immediately into the kitchen, dirty dishes still piled in the sink and a pan on the stove top.

“Peter?” Derek calls, opening the fridge and he pulls out two bottles of water, passing one to Stiles, who cracks it open and takes an appreciated guzzle.

There’s silence for a moment and then Peter comes strolling into the kitchen, dressed in loose trousers and a turtleneck. He has his hands in his pockets, and he cocks his head when his eyes land on Stiles. “What do I owe this pleasure?” He asks.

“Stiles thought it would be wise to use some of his time while he’s here to talk to you,” Derek says, leaning against the edge of the counter. “I think he has some questions.”

“He’s not a science experiment,” Stiles mutters, the back of his neck heating up as Peter casts a speculative eye over him.

“Oh, please, I’d love to be one,” Peter drawls and then gestures for them to follow him. He leads them down the hallway towards the front door, where there is a study off to the side. It’s filled with books and comfortable seating, and Stiles doesn’t hesitate to sit down in the loveseat, Derek sitting beside him. Peter lowers himself gracefully down into the arm chair that’s sitting next to the crackling fireplace, and he raises one eyebrow. “All right, Stiles. You have piqued my interest.”

“I want to talk to you about your life here,” Stiles says. There’s a buzzing in the back of his skull, and he lifts a hand to scratch idly behind his ear. There is such a distinction between the Peter Hale he knows, and the man sitting across from him. It’s hard to reconcile the two together. “You are… extremely different than what I know.”

“I’d like to know what you know of me in your world,” Peter asks, settling back in his chair. “You were surprised by my sons at dinner the other night.”

“Like I said earlier, your marriage didn’t last,” Stiles replies, jiggling his left leg nervously. “I mean, you didn’t really even have a marriage. I’m not entirely sure how you knew Malia’s mom, but it… wasn’t a good situation.”

Peter raises an eyebrow. “Domestic violence, I presume?”

“Yeah, on her end,” Stiles admits. “She’s known as the Desert Wolf in my world, and she’s dead now. She tried to kill Malia to steal her powers from her.”

Derek makes a small noise beside him. “Aunt Corinne would never.”

Peter scoffs. “Wouldn’t she? She might be my wife but there’s no denying there is a certain ruthlessness to her.”

Derek hums beside him, still unsure but he doesn’t protest any further, so Stiles continues. “Malia was actually abandoned. None of us really know why you didn’t have a say in her childhood. She wasn’t a part of the family even before the fire. I have my suspicions, but I don’t have any proof.”

Peter narrows his gaze. “I’d like to hear those suspicions, and I will be the judge on whether there is any merit to them.”

“How much do you know of the fire?” Stiles asks curiously, because he feels like if he was Peter, that would be the biggest question he’d have.

“Very little. I’ve gathered from what you’ve said that there was a fire, and it was rather… devastating,” Peter assesses.

“That’s a bit of an understatement,” Stiles says, glancing over at Derek who is worrying his bottom lip between his teeth. He doesn’t want to give Derek the full details, because he’s already told him too much, but there’s something about Peter that has Stiles wanting to open up. “Hey Derek, can you give us a minute?”

Derek’s eyebrows shoot skyward. “You want me to leave?”

“I want to talk about the fire and I don’t think it’s something you need to hear,” Stiles replies. Derek can handle a lot of things, like the news of his entire pack perishing, but Stiles isn’t going to tell him that it was Derek’s fault they all burned.

“I can handle whatever it is,” Derek insists, his brows furrowing now into his altogether too familiar scowl. “Whatever you can say to Peter, you can say to me.”

Stiles exchanges a look with Peter, who simply nods his head. Stiles huffs out a breath. “All right, but don’t say I didn’t warn you when you’re kept up at night with bad dreams.”

Derek swallows thickly, his throat working. “It’s not real, whatever you’re going to say. It might have happened in your world, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen in mine.”

“Perhaps not,” Stiles agrees and then turns his focus back towards Peter. He leans forward in his seat, resting his forearms against his knees. “What do you know about the Argents?”

Peter’s eyes widen, just a fraction, just enough for Stiles to know there’s a story there that he might not get to hear. He clears his throat and lifts one shoulder in a careless shrug. “I know the same about them as anyone else in this town,” he says, his voice clipped and measure. “They’re well respected enough, I suppose.”

Derek makes a small noise of disbelief. “Uncle Peter, that’s not true.”

“I think you know more of the Argents than you’re telling me,” Stiles says. It’s not really important that he finds out all of Peter’s secrets, but how is Stiles supposed to know whether or not the Argents are the key here? Allison is still alive, so they’re clearly important somehow. He just wishes he could figure out how, yet.

“Derek, maybe you should give us a minute,” Peter finally says, nodding his head towards the study door.

Derek’s brows deepen even further into a scowl. “I’m not leaving.”

Stiles thinks for a moment before he leans back in his seat, resting a hand on the top of Derek’s thigh. The muscle underneath his hand is taut and firm. “Okay, but I want you to understand that my world is very different from the one here, and the choices you’ve made in my world doesn’t reflect on who you are here.”

Derek flinches. “That makes me sound like a bad person.”

“You’re not a bad person,” Stiles is quick to assure him. “In fact, you’re a great person. You work so hard to make sure everyone stays safe. It’s just… you were young and innocent. It wasn’t your fault someone took advantage of that.”

The color that normally resides in Derek’s face drains, leaving him pale. “I think you better start at the beginning, Stiles.”

Stiles heaves out a sigh but he knows that Derek is right. In order for them to figure out why Stiles has wound up here and what needs to happen in order for him to go back, then perhaps Derek does need to know the full story, including the grisly details about Kate.

“The Argents lived in Beacon Hills, just like they do now, but they operated differently in my world,” Stiles begins. He rubs the back of his neck, feeling the weight of Peter and Derek’s eyes on him. “You see, the supernatural world is hidden where I come from. It’s something feared and it’s something majority of people aren’t aware that it exists. The ones who do know about it either help protect it or help take it down.”

Peter huffs out a breath. “I am going to guess that the Argents were the latter.”

Stiles nods his head. “The Argent family has a four-hundred-year history when it comes to being werewolf hunters. They are supposed to follow a Code, but Kate was a different breed altogether and she didn’t follow it.”

“Even Kate in this world is a different breed,” Peter says, shaking his head. “She has never liked me, even though I have never given her a valid reason not to.”

“She doesn’t need a reason,” Stiles says. “It’s in her very nature to dislike you simply because you’re a werewolf. She was the one that trapped the Hale family inside their home and set it on fire.”

“That seems impossible to believe,” Peter murmurs, his speculative gaze sweeping over Stiles. “Even in this world we are not immune to people taking a dislike to us. We have plans in place, we have contingencies to ensure that we never end up in a vulnerable position. I have to believe that in another world, that is true as well.”

“That was true… except Kate found out about those plans.” Stiles shifts away from Derek on the loveseat, putting space between their bodies. He doesn’t want to do this, he doesn’t want to be the one to tell Derek how he sold his entire family for a scrap of love that wasn’t even real in the end.

Derek starts beside him. “Those plans are sacred. I mean, you’re my mate in this world, and I haven’t even told you everything.”

You’re learning, Stiles thinks, and he reaches out to clasp his hand on the curve of Derek’s shoulder, giving him a gentle squeeze. “Nor should you,” he says softly. “I’m sure that the other me in this universe is trust worthy, but after the life I have watched you live, I want you to keep your guard up.”

“So Kate found out about the plans and then what? How did that lead to the fire?” Peter demands, leaning forward in his seat. The flickering flames cast a shadow against his skin, and Stiles shivers.

“I want to know how Kate found out about the plans,” Derek says, casting his eyes towards Peter. “I bet Chris knew about them.”

Peter flushes dark red. “I am sure nothing like that happened in Stiles’ world.”

“I think you and Chris were bound to happen, no matter the universe,” Derek replies. He turns to look at Stiles. “Peter and Chris Argent used to date.”

“So an Argent is always drawn to a Hale, then,” Stiles murmurs, shaking his head. “It seems like history really does have a way of repeating itself, regardless of the universe.”

“What do you mean?”

Stiles licks his dry lips. “It wasn’t Chris that knew about the plans, it was Kate. She was the one who seduced Derek when he was a teenager, promising that she loved him and she wanted to be with him. He told her everything and she used it against him.”

Derek stumbles away from him, bracing himself on the back of the loveseat. His face is pale. “I’m the one responsible for the fire?”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t want to tell you,” Stiles whispers. “You were young and impressionable, and she took advantage of that. It wasn’t your fault, Derek. She was an adult and you were just a teenager – you were just a kid.”

“That’s disgusting,” Peter sneers. “I’m not surprised she would stoop to such lengths.”

“Derek, it wasn’t your fault,” Stiles repeats, standing up from the loveseat and he crosses over to where Derek is standing. He slides his arms around his waist, drawing their bodies close together and he leans his head against Derek’s chest, listening to the comforting thump of his heartbeat. “It wasn’t your fault.”

Derek hugs him close. “It’s just hard to hear that I’m responsible for something, even if it wasn’t actually me.”

“She told you that she loved you, and you weren’t wrong to believe her,” Stiles says, pulling back a little so he can look into Derek’s eyes. “She was the one who made the choice to block the tunnels with mountain ash and trap your family inside. You were a teenager, you can’t be responsible for that.”

Peter snarls and rises from the chair to pace by the fireplace. “Who’s to say that she won’t try something like that in this world?”

“She won’t,” Stiles says, mustering more confidence into his voice than he actually believes. “She preyed on Derek when he was young and innocent. He’s older now, he’s an adult. She’s lost that window of opportunity and I don’t think she’d try it. She would find a different avenue.”

“Did Chris never ask you for our family secrets?” Derek asks.

Peter swallows hard. “I don’t like to talk about that.”

“I think you should,” Stiles says, leading Derek back over to the loveseat and he prompts for him to sit down. “I feel like we all need to tell the full stories here, because we don’t know what the key to unlocking the mystery is.”

Peter is silent for a moment before he wheels around and sits heavily down in the armchair. His fingers dance along the arms of the chair as he exhales out a slow breath. “It’s certainly hard to discuss, even though it has been almost twenty years. It’s something I’ve kept close to my chest for obvious reasons.”

“How long were you guys together?” Stiles asks.

Peter closes his eyes. “Almost a year, but it felt much longer. It felt like… a lifetime. We were young and stupid, dumb enough to believe that our love could surpass any hurdle presented to us. We quickly learned that was not the case.”

“It wasn’t Mom’s fault,” Derek shoots out, shaking his head. “You can’t blame her for the break up.”

“No, I don’t blame Talia for the break up,” Peter says, a bitter twist to his lips. “I lay that blame at the feet of Gerard Argent. He was the one who was furious when he found out and made sure that our relationship came to an abrupt end. My parents didn’t handle it well either, they didn’t understand how a Hale boy could love another boy. They didn’t care that it was Chris Argent, they just didn’t understand back then that I could love someone like me.”

“But Gerard cared that it was Peter Hale,” Stiles says, because he knows that even if Gerard is homophobic, his hatred for the supernatural world far out succeeds that.

“Yes, Gerard cared very much that it was a Hale,” Peter says, his gaze going out the window where the afternoon sunlight streams in. “We were just about to graduate high school when he ended our relationship. We took the summer apart because neither of our parents were allowing us to see each other. I thought perhaps I could talk to him and we could go to university together, get away from our parents and get a chance to be together.”

“What happened?”

Peter’s lips twist with a rueful expression. “By the time I managed to see Chris in August, he was already married to Victoria.”

“Damn,” Stiles says, because he can only imagine the pain Peter must have felt.

“My parents matched me to Corinne shortly after, and we hadn’t been dating long before she was pregnant with Malia. My mother insisted that we get married, and we have managed to find ourselves a happy family, the five of us. It’s not the life that I had envisioned for myself as a teenager, but… it’s been all right.”

“I’m sorry,” Derek says softly. “I never knew how rough it was for you.”

“Don’t be sorry for me,” Peter says with a bracing smile. “I have a beautiful daughter and twin boys that mean the world to me. I am a lucky man.”

“Do you ever see Chris Argent?” Stiles wonders.

“Sometimes in town, every now and then.” Peter shrugs one shoulder. “We rarely speak. His family still does not care for mine, but they have remained respectful so far. Kate is known around town as being a little gun hungry, but overall the Argents are admired for their military background and their love for keeping America safe.”

“Do you ever speak to Kate?” Stiles asks, turning towards Derek. When he closes his eyes, he can still see how Kate tortured Derek, and how much it had turned her on.

Derek presses his lips thinly together. “No, I’ve never even said a single word to her.”

“That’s good,” Stiles exhales out a breath of relief. “I’m glad to hear that.”

“Now Stiles, you had mentioned that you had a theory, and I’d like to hear it. We have certainly discussed the events in this universe enough, but I am still curious to hear about the events from where you come from.”

“All I have a theory, and it’s a pretty untested one,” Stiles admits. “I don’t have any proof or anything.”

“That’s fine, I’m still interested in hearing it,” Peter remarks. “You said that in your world, Malia was abandoned and that her mother dies.”

“Malia’s mother doesn’t die until Malia is a teenager,” Stiles says. “Malia is about seventeen when her mother dies. She was raised by a human family though, she was adopted by the Tate family has a baby. I don’t know why Corinne gave her up for adoption, but I do suspect why you weren’t involved.”

Peter’s eyes are practically glowing as he leans forward, the leather of his seat creaking underneath the motion. “Tell me.”

“I think Talia ripped the memories from your mind,” Stiles says bluntly. “I think she dug her claws inside your brain and pulled it clean out of you. I think she did it to protect Malia from you and Corinne both.”

Peter is silent for a moment before he settles back into his chair. He steeples his fingers together under his chin and then meets Stiles’ eyes. “You know, Stiles,” he says. “I think you might be right. I think you might be exactly right.”

Chapter Text

The Thursday afternoon sun is still hanging high in the sky by the time Stiles makes it home from school. The front door is unlocked when he heads inside, and so he toes his shoes off and sets off in search of his mother. He finds her sitting in the living room, the curtains pulled shut and the lights off. She’s sitting on the couch, her cell phone gripped tightly in her hand as she stares off into the distance.

The hair on the back of his neck stands straight up. “Mom?” He asks softly, stepping inside the room. “Are you okay?”

She jerks, clearly startled and then forces a bright smile on to her face but it doesn’t reach her eyes. “Oh, hi honey! I didn’t realize school was done already.”

“Is everything all right?” Stiles flicks on the lamp that sits on the end table and the room is bathed in a pale, warm light.

She flinches and lifts a hand to shield her eyes. “Sorry honey, I just have a bit of a headache.”

Stiles swallows hard. A headache is not a big deal. A heartache is not worth having a panic attack over. He clicks the lamp off. “Did you take any medicine?”

“Yes, but it hasn’t done much to touch it, unfortunately. I think we have crossed into migraine territory,” she huffs out a breath and sets her phone down on the couch cushion beside her. “This is the third one I’ve had this week.”

Warning bells go off in Stiles’ head once more. “Don’t you think that’s something to be concerned about?” He demands, because he can’t handle losing her in this universe as well.

“I booked a doctor’s appointment,” she says, nodding her head towards the phone that sits beside her. “I’ll meet with the doctor and see if he can get me some medication.”

“Medication? I think we need to do some other exams like an MRI,” Stiles insists because he doesn’t want this to go unchecked.

He was young when his mother had first originally gotten sick but he remembers that for weeks she had headaches. He would come home from school and would find her either curled up on the couch with the lights off or tucked away in her bed. She would moan when he tried telling her about his day, and roll over to present her back to him. He didn’t understand then that the disease was taking over her mind. He didn’t understand that she still loved him but she was in excruciating pain.

All he knew is that he needed her and she wasn’t there.

His mother blinks at him and then bursts into laughter. “You are such a dramatic little creature, aren’t you?”

Anger skids down his spine before he can stop it. “I’m not going to apologize for caring about you.”

She hoots with laughter. “Sweetheart, you’re very kind, but I promise that it’s just a headache.”

“You don’t know that!” He exclaims, stepping further into the room. “It could be something really serious!”

She giggles again. “I appreciate the concern, but I promise the doctor is going to tell me that it’s just hormonal and I’ll be just fine.”

Stop laughing at me!” Stiles shouts, slamming the palm of his hand against the wall.

Her laughter cuts off and she blinks at him. “I wasn’t meaning to laugh at you, Stiles. There’s no need to be so angry.”

“Don’t tell me that I can’t be angry,” he spits out, his mouth running faster than his mind. “You’re not my mom!”

She frowns and pushes herself to her feet, although she wavers and has to reach out to grab the end table to catch her balance. “Stiles, that is a horrible thing to say. What on earth would have you say such a thing?”

Stiles stops and swallows hard. She is his mother, but she isn’t. She’s not the mother that he knows and loved, the one that he lost when he was still too young to process it. This woman here is just a caricature of her, a glimpse of what she could have been.

“I just think you need to take this more seriously,” Stiles says, forcing himself to keep his voice calm. “There could be a lot of other causes for the migraines and I think you should take it seriously.”

His mother narrows her eyes at him. “I booked a doctor’s appointment, Stiles. I don’t know what more you want from me! It’s just a goddamn headache!”

“It’s not just a headache!” Stiles can’t contain the anger and the fear anymore and it comes bursting out of him. “It’s frontotemporal dementia and you’re going to die from it!”

She stares at him before she bursts into tears. “What’s the matter with you? Who even are you to be speaking so meanly towards me?”

The back door opens before he can respond and his dad walks in, setting his lunch kit down on the table. He looks at Stiles and then looks at Claudia, raising an eyebrow. “Why’s everyone in the dark?”

“It’s nothing,” Claudia retorts, and she brushes past Stiles without saying anything further to him. “I’m just about to get dinner on.”

“You don’t need to cook if you’re not feeling well,” Stiles says, reaching to catch her by her elbow. “Go lay down, Mom. I’ll make us something.”

She snorts and pulls herself free from his grasp. “Sorry, I don’t feel like eating cereal for dinner.”

Stiles’ jaw drops. “I can cook lots of things!”

His dad snorts out laughter and slaps him on the back, nearly sending Stiles flying into the wall. “That’s a good one, son. You can’t cook worth shit but we love you, anyway.”

It’s just another stark reminder that this world is not his own. Of course Stiles doesn’t know how to cook here – he’s a teenage boy who has probably never had to fend for himself except to make hot pockets in the microwave. This Stiles has a loving mother and father who care for him. This Stiles isn’t nine years old, trying to figure out how to do laundry while his father sits upstairs, drinking himself to sleep.

“I’ll make some grilled cheese,” his mother says, opening a cupboard and pulling out a frying pan.

His father steps close towards her so he’s able to wrap an arm around her waist and press his lips against her temple, murmuring something into her ear that Stiles isn’t able to catch. Stiles swallows hard and looks away, unable to watch their love anymore. Worry is gnawing in the back of his mind, and he’s worried that he is destined to lose his mother in every universe.

He also hates fighting with her. He has such a brief moment of time with her, how could he have been so foolish to lose his temper on her? He could disappear from this world any moment since he still has no idea why he wound up here. He arrived here without notice and could be taken away just as easily. He doesn’t want his last words to his mother to be a fight… not again.

Stiles is eight years old and hates the smell of hospital rooms. The bleach and disinfectant burns his nose. Plus, the hospital is boring. The vending machine stopped being fun weeks ago, he’s already picked off all his favorites and now there are just granola bars with raisins left.

He’s sitting on the chair that resides beside his mother’s bed. She’s sleeping, her eyes closed and her hair fanned out over the white, starched pillow. She must be dreaming though because her eyes are flickering beneath her lids, and Stiles watches her curiously.
He wants her to wake up so she can hear about his day at school.

There was a secret leader in the class, someone the teacher picked because she knew they would be a good student all day and today was the day Stiles was picked! Considering he is more often getting in trouble, Stiles is ecstatic that he was chosen! He swings his feet, the toe of his shoe hitting the frame of the bed and it jerks a little. His mother makes a soft noise but continues sleeping.

Stiles swings his foot out further this time, his whole foot hitting the bed and rattles a little. He gives it one more solid kick and then his mother is stirring in the bed, slowly blinking her eyes open.

“Mom!” He exclaims, hopping out of his chair and he brandishes the new pencil he had won as his prize in front of her eyes. “Look at my new pencil! I won it because I was the secret leader today! Miss Frith chose me!”

She stares at him groggily. “What?”

Stiles waves the pencil further in her face. It’s a sparkly blue with red stripes. It reminds him of Spider-man, his ultimate hero right now in the comic books, the only books that can keep his interest right now. “I won it!”

His mother shoves his arm away, and in the surprise the pencil goes flying from his grip. It clatters to the floor and rolls under the bed. She stares at him, her upper lip curled. “Who the fuck are you?”

Stiles blinks. “Mom, it’s me.”

“Stop calling me that!” She shouts, reaching out to push him but Stiles scrambles back in time. “I am not your mother!”

“Mommy, it’s me, it’s Stiles,” he pleads, tears welling up in his eyes. He blinks and they spill down over his eyelids. “You’re sick, but don’t you remember me?”

“I am not your mother!” She screams, thrashing in the bed and there’s a beeping alarm as she rips out the IV from the back of her hand. “I don’t even know you! Get out of my sight, you ugly boy!”

He bursts into hiccupping sobs as two nurses and a doctor spill into the room. The doctor is immediately by his mother’s side, speaking to her in a low, calm manner as the nurse behind him preps a needle. The second nurse wraps her arm around Stiles’ small shoulders and tries to usher him from the room.

“Come on, honey, your momma just needs some medicine and then she’ll be okay,” the nurse says.

Stiles plants his feet, watching the woman in the bed kick and spit, howling up at the ceiling. He doesn’t recognize this woman anymore, for that is not his mother. A fresh wave of tears hit him and he lets the nurse lead him out of the hospital room, the pencil laying forgotten under the bed.

“Where the hell is your dad?” The nurse mutters under her breath but Stiles hears it anyway.

He sinks down to the floor beside the nurses station as the panic claws at his throat, sucking his lungs dry of all his breath. His dad is at work, like always. His dad is always at work, and it’s always just been Stiles and his momma. He doesn’t know that woman in the hospital bed any longer, though, and soon it’s just going to be Stiles.

He’s going to be all alone.

He’s sitting on the hallway floor, the panic clawing at his throat once more. Dark spots swim in his vision as he opens and closes his mouth like a fish, desperately trying to suck some air into his lungs. There’s thudding footsteps and then his dad is kneeling down beside him, an arm around his shoulders.

“Breathe, Stiles, it’s okay,” he murmurs, his grasp around Stiles strong and sturdy, a reliable force that he’s always had. “I’ve got you.”

It takes a little bit of time, but eventually the darkness recedes out of him and he is able to take a deep, slow breath. His dad sits with him the whole time, rubbing his back and murmuring comforting words that Stiles clings to, no matter what universe he’s in. By the time he is able to push himself shakily to his feet, his mother has joined them in the hallway, although she stands back, her arms folded over her chest.

“Are you all right?” She asks, her brows furrowed. “I have never seen you have a panic attack before.”

Stiles has always wished lived in a world where he didn’t have panic attacks. After his mother died, it felt like the darkness was winning every day.

“I’m sorry I yelled at you,” he blurts out and rushes over to her, throwing his arms around her waist. He buries his face into her neck and breathes in the comforting scent of her perfume, a scent he has almost forgotten over the years.

She doesn’t hesitate before she wraps her arms around him and presses a kiss against his cheek. “I love you, sweetheart. I appreciate you looking out for me and I promise you the doctor is going to tell you that it’s just a migraine. I’m all right, I promise.”

It’s a promise she shouldn’t make and more importantly, it’s a promise she can’t keep. However, Stiles has had enough of the fighting, and so instead he simply nods his head, giving her a final squeeze before he steps back.

“I’m going to go lay down, I’m not really hungry,” he says.

His parents don’t argue, they wave him off before retreating back towards the kitchen and Stiles knows it’s because they want to discuss what happened. His dad will want to know about the fight and he’s going to be so disappointed when he hears what Stiles said. However, his dad has forgiven him for worse, and Stiles can only hope that extends into this universe as well.

He opens his bedroom door and nearly has a second panic attack by the figure that’s sitting on his bed. It takes him a second before he realizes that it’s Derek, and he scowls at him.

“You scared me.”

“What’s wrong?” Derek rises from the bed, an anxious look on his face which always makes him appear younger. “I was in town and I just got this overwhelming sense that something was wrong. I could tell you were having a panic attack when I got here.”

Stiles softens and shakes his head. “It’s nothing, honestly. I was just… triggered I guess.”

Derek wraps his arms around Stiles and gives him a brief kiss before he leads him to the bed and prompts him to sit down, keeping him close all the while. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“Mom had a headache and that brought back a lot of worries from my world. You have to remember that my mom died when I was a child, and her sickness started out with headaches. I just got this overwhelming sense of panic that I was bound to lose her the same way, no matter which universe I’m in. Then I worried that perhaps everything is inevitable, and all the bad things that I’ve tried to forget are going to happen here.” He shudders, leaning against Derek’s chest. “I don’t want you to leave me as well.”

“I am never going to leave you,” Derek promises, ducking his head down and capturing Stiles’ lips in a hard, determined kiss.

“No, I’m the one that’s probably going to leave you,” Stiles murmurs against his mouth and Derek shakes his head.

“Don’t think about that right now,” Derek says. “Just think about me and the time that we have here together. Think about this.”

He kisses Stiles again, this time with a renewed passion, and slowly lowers him down on the bed, following him down so his large frame encompasses Stiles’ frame completely. Derek cups his face, holding his jaw like he’s something precious, like he is something valuable that might break. His tongue slowly slides against the seam of Stiles’ lips and he drops his mouth open in a gasp, letting Derek inside.

His entire body is lit up like fireworks. He clenches his eyes shut, kissing Derek as slowly and deeply as he can, letting his tongue curl around his own. His toes curl as pleasure skids down his spine, and when Derek trails his lips down Stiles’ jaw, he sees the universe burst to life behind his eyelids.

Chapter Text

The couch cushion underneath his body is firm but soft. Stiles sinks further into the material with a soft sigh. The living room of the Hale house is bathed in the pale afternoon sun, dappled sunbeams dancing across the hardwood floor and then disappearing into the grey floor rug. Stiles watches the stream of light and that’s when he realizes it.

There’s quiet and then there is silence.

Stiles knows that a person doesn’t recognize the difference until it’s too late. He closes his book and slides it on to the coffee table, swinging his feet to the floor with a thump. His body tenses up.

Derek, who had been curled up on the couch beside him, lifts his head up from his own book with a frown. “What’s wrong? You smell nervous.”

“It’s quiet,” Stiles says, pushing himself to his feet and he tilts his head as he strains to listen. He can’t hear anything, but he’s not the one with werewolf hearing. How can he determine the danger before Derek even knows it’s happening? “Listen. Tell me what you hear.”

“I don’t hear anything,” Derek says, sliding his own book on to the coffee table and he reaches for Stiles. “Everything’s fine. Come lay back down and relax. My parents are gone, let’s take advantage of the alone time that we have.”

“Everything is not okay,” Stiles says, twisting out of his reach. He heads out of the library and goes straight for the front door.

Behind him, he can hear Derek huffing out an annoyed breath as he follows him out the front door and they clatter down the front steps. “I don’t know what you think is happening,” Derek grumbles.

The sun is shining brightly, hanging high in the sky. The leaves on the trees flutter in the light breeze, but the world around them, even the birds, are silent. It’s unnatural and the hairs on the back of Stiles’ neck stand straight up.

“Where’s Cora and the twins?” Stiles demands, scanning the tree line for motion.

“They’re probably down by the creek. The boys love to go down there and muck around,” Derek replies, kicking a rock with the toe of his shoe. “Can we go back inside?”

“Jesus, Derek,” Stiles mutters, pushing his hand through his hair as his eyes continue to dart around the still and silent world around them. Something doesn’t feel right and Stiles hasn’t survived this long by ignoring his instincts.

That’s when it hits him.

Derek doesn’t realize something is wrong because in his world, something rarely is. He’s complacent in this world, he’s been coddled his entire life. He feels safe in his home, in Beacon Hills because he has never been given a reason not to be. He doesn’t realize that the enemy can come right to your front door.

The Derek that Stiles knows would have already thrown himself into the fight.

“We need to find Cora and the twins now,” Stiles says.

Derek rolls his eyes but obliges him, cupping his hands around his mouth and calling out, “Cora!” There’s nothing but silence for a reply. He waits a minute before he tips his head back and his eyes gleam yellow as he roars.

There’s an echo of a reply before it’s cut off, followed by a pained yelp. Then there’s a high pitch scream of, “Derek! Derek, run! Run!”

“Holy fuck,” Derek breathes, and before Stiles can even blink, he’s wolfed out and is racing towards the creek. Stiles runs after him, grabbing the axe that is sitting by the wood pile on his way past. It’s not his trusty bat, but it’s better than nothing.

When they reach the clearing next to the creek, it seems like even the water itself is standing still. Cora lies on the ground, blood pumping freely from the slashes in her throat and chest. Her eyes stare unseeingly at the sky. Derek lets out a pained whine, dropping to his knees beside her body, his hands hovering over her body.

“Don’t touch her!” Stiles warns, looking rapidly around.

To his right, further downstream, he sees four grey lumps that are bent over the ground. Underneath them, a jeaned leg twitches and then falls still. Stiles knows that it’s too late for whichever twin that was. He grabs Derek by the back of his shirt and yanks, hauling him to his feet.

“Cora,” Derek whispers, his eyes wet. “Cora, Cora, Cora.”

“Derek, listen to me,” Stiles says, because the grey masses have noticed them and have risen from the ground. “Derek, you need to roar for Peter. Do you hear me? Roar for Peter and then we’re going to run.”

Derek nods jerkily, his body trembling. He tips his head back and roars loudly, his eyes flashing yellow and hair begins to sprout along his jaw as he half-shifts. The branches around them shake with the weight of his grief. Stiles tangles their fingers together and pulls at him, dragging him away from the creek and back towards the house as fast as they can move. Derek keeps up with him, his grip tight against Stiles’ hand, and his breathing is heavy.

Stiles turns to look backwards and wishes that he hadn’t. Whatever those things are, they’re following them. They’re shaped like humans, but their colour is a dark grey, a misty apparition that doesn’t look solid to the touch. Black hair hangs in long, greasy ropes off their heads, flapping in the breeze behind them as they give chase. They float above the ground without their feet brushing against the dirt. Stiles isn’t even sure if they have feet. The hem of their dark robes are stained with black blood and yellow teeth snap at them, red eyes glowing.

They might have been human once, but they’re certainly not anymore.

Clattering up the front of the deck stairs, Stiles wrenches the front door open, shouting, “Peter!” as they stumble inside and lock the door behind them. He has no idea if that will hold them off, but he’s willing to try anything at this point. He keeps a firm grip on the axe still, and that gives him an idea. They need fire, perhaps they can burn them or smoke them off. He heads for the library where they had left a cheerily crackling fire in the fireplace.

Fire in the Hale house once more. Stiles fears that this house was always bound to burn, regardless of the universe.

He yanks off his flannel shirt so he’s left in just his t-shirt and wraps the flannel shirt around the head of the axe. He shoves it into the fire, holding it until the flames catch hold of the material. There’s a thump, and Stiles would swear the entire foundation of the house trembles as Peter storms through the back door. Stiles holds his torch and meets him in the hallway, forcing himself not to flinch.

Peter is completely wolfed out, his eyes glowing blue. “What’s going on?” He demands, baring his teeth.

“We’re under attack,” Stiles says, staring him steadily in the eyes, even as his heartbeat races furiously underneath his t-shirt. “I don’t know what’s attacking us, but they’re not completely human.”

“Stiles, they’re on the deck!” Derek shouts, jerking back from a window. “What do we do?”

The front door shimmers slightly and then crackles and curls, the paint blackening as the four beings float their way through the solid wood. Jesus, Stiles underestimated them. He was wrong – he doesn’t miss the drama of his regular world. The peace and quiet he’s been given for the past six days has been amazing.

He’s forgotten what it’s like to live without fear.

“Get behind me,” Stiles instructs Derek, brandishing his torch out in front of himself. “I don’t know what you are or what you want, but you are not welcome here!”

The largest one floats forward, the hem of her robe grazing along the carpet and it leaves a wet stain wherever it touches. She ignores Stiles completely, instead lifting a hand to point a long finger at Peter. Her nail is black, dripping with Cora’s blood. “You,” she breathes, her eyes widening. “You!

“Me,” Peter snarls, stepping up beside Stiles. “I warned you once.”

“You should have joined us when you had the chance!” She hisses, wavering in the air. “We promised revenge!”

“I swore to you that if you came near me again, I would destroy you,” Peter says. The words are a bit garbled around his fangs, but he is clearly getting his point across. The… spirits, Stiles would suppose they are, are restlessly huddled together. They clearly know Peter and seem to fear him, although Stiles hasn’t worked out the how and why yet.

“How do you know them?” Derek demands, his gaze focused on the spirits. He’s still partially shifted, his eyebrows gone from their usual furrow. “They killed Cora and Leon!”

Peter sags at the news, just for a moment, but it’s enough for one of the spirits to barrel forward. She reaches out with her claws, aiming for Peter’s throat, but Stiles shoves the torch right in her face. Rather than go through her like he had feared it would, she lets out a piercing shriek as the fire catches hold.

She’s writhing in the air, becoming more and more defined, until she hits the ground with a solid thump. She smells like charred, rotted meat. Black liquid oozes sluggishly down her chin as she falls silent. Stiles wrenches the axe back and she falls backwards, a hole literally burnt through her face. She turns into grey ash as she hits the floor, fading away until she’s a mere whisp and then no more.

“One down, three to go,” Stiles says grimly, tightening his grip on the shaft of the axe. “Where’s the other boy?”

“We killed him too,” the leader sneers, her fingers twitching. “I killed him myself, and I loved it. I told you I would come back for you, Peter. You should have joined us when you had the chance!”

“I wasn’t dead!” Peter shouts.

“You were! You were as good as dead and your family brought you back, instead of giving you to us! You would have been our leader but instead you turned your back on us!”

“I have a family,” Peter says, very quietly. “My soul would not give that up so easily.”

“And now you have none,” she says with a wicked smile, her red eyes gleaming in satisfaction. “We killed them and drank their blood. All you have left is that bitch of a wife and we both know that she doesn’t love you.”

“Don’t listen to them, Peter,” Stiles says urgently, jabbing the torch at one of the forms that comes too close and it quickly shrinks back. “They just want to make you angry!”

“We feed off his rage and his pain,” she murmurs, moving closer so she can slide a misty hand up Peter’s jaw. “Look at how magnificent you are, my master.”

“You are ripe for the plucking,” another croons, curling up on the other side of Peter. “We waited and waited for you, we couldn’t take you against all the Hales. This moment, this vulnerability, was fate.”

“You’ve been spying on us?” Derek demands, rolling his shoulders out as he takes a step forward. “You dare to trespass on Hale land?”

“This was the only opportunity we had!” One hisses, black spittle flying from his lips. “You two are the only ones holding Beacon Hills safe with the rest of your pack is away! Our moment to strike is now!”

“And if they had not been here?” Stiles commands, something niggling in the back of his mind. His head is beginning to ache again. “What if all the Hales had gone away? What if there were no Hales left in Beacon Hills?”

“Then we would raze Beacon Hills to the ground,” the leader whispers, her eyes flashing with pride. “We would decimate everyone.”

“But instead you stole that from us!” The other one says, baring its misty teeth at Peter. “So now we have come for you. Join us and we will have our reward!”

“You can help us destroy this town,” the leader croons. “You can destroy your sister and become the alpha you desire to be, step into the role you were born for.”

“I wasn’t born to be the alpha,” Peter says uncertainly. “I was born a beta. I respect Talia, I would never betray her!”

“She restrains you,” the one in the back, the one that has been silent until now, suddenly speaks. “She keeps you from your full potential. You died once and instead of letting you take your proper place among us, she brought you back! You don’t deserve to live like you didn’t die. You deserve to be with us and have your revenge.”

“Join us, join us,” they chant lowly, spending shivers down Stiles’ spine.

“You could be one of us,” a voice says from the back. It’s one of Peters sons, still dripping in blood. He floats forward, a misty figure that isn’t solid to the touch. “Join us, Father. Be our leader.”

“Leon,” Peter murmurs, staring in horror at the spirit that used to be his son.

“What are they?” Derek demands, grabbing the fire poker that sits beside the fire place and he swings it furiously at the one closest to him. It goes right through her. Stiles turns and shoves his torch into the back of her head. She screams much like the first one did, and disappears within moments.

Leon snarls at Stiles, moving closer towards him. “You should not have done that, human.”

“Come any closer and I’ll do it to you, too,” Stiles warns, brandishing the torch forward.

“No!” Peter shouts, grabbing Stiles by the shoulder and his claws dig painfully into his skin. Stiles swallows the gasp that wants to slip out, but it’s enough for Peter to retract his hand and take a couple of steps backwards. “I mean, no. Stiles, that’s my son. Please.”

“That isn’t your son,” Stiles says grimly, because he can’t afford to coddle anyone in this universe. He’s fighting not only for his life, but for Derek’s as well. Derek has not yet learned the cruelties of this world.

“We will see you burn before we will let you escape again,” Cora says, crawling through the window, her eyes glowing red. She licks her lips, blood dripping down her chin, her skin a gray pallor that it never was when she was fully alive. “We will feast on your innards, Derek.”

Derek shifts restlessly behind Stiles at the threat, growling low in his throat. “What do we do, Stiles?”

“Destroy them,” Stiles says firmly. He grabs the fire poker from Derek and stabs it through a pillow that’s sitting on the loveseat. It’s been hardly any time since Derek’s head was resting on it as he carded his fingers slowly through Stiles’ hair as they had read. He shoves it in the fireplace, holding it until it’s aflame, and then he stabs the one closest to Peter in the face with it. “We have to destroy them, Peter!”

Her scream is the most horrific. He feels like his ears are bleeding from the pained sound of her torment, and he feels cold all over. His adrenaline has kicked in now and it’s like muscle memory coming into play. His body knows how to defend himself on autopilot. They have an advantage now, though, and they would be foolish to give it up. They know how to kill them, they’ve found the weakness and Stiles will not rest until they’re all dead.

Peter roars and lunges forward, his claws slashing through the chest of what used to be son. His claws go straight through, though, for Leon is more mist than boy. He is caught between the two worlds of life and death, trapped for all of eternity like this, and this is the life they wish for Peter. It’s no life at all and he must know it, for he reaches for a burning log and smashes Leon over the head with it. It lights him on fire, his small, boyish form burning brightly as he writhes, the fire licking at the hardwood floors.

Stiles pulls his torch out of a face and advances towards the leader, confident that once they bring her down, the rest will fall. She’s distracted by Peter, who she was so sure would be easily convinced. She’s still pleading with him to join them and that gives Stiles the opportunity to slip up behind her. He thrusts the torch into her back, setting her alight and then jumps out of the way. Peter grabs another burning log with his bare hands, roaring in pain as he presses it firmly into her face, even though she has already begun to scream and thrash.

Derek delivers the final blow, having found a throw blanket from the loveseat and it’s burning brightly. He wraps it around her throat and pulls tight, the flames licking and blistering his hands and arms, burning and healing rapidly over and over. He pulls as hard as he can, the muscles in his arms bulging through the thin t-shirt material, tightening it around her throat until she gasps out a final wail and her head explodes in a spray of ash.

Stiles’ hunch was correct; it goes quickly once she’s gone. The rest burn easily, disorientated and confused at the loss of their leader. They disappear like smoke, floating up the chimney so there’s no evidence left behind of the attack, nothing that would even indicate anything had gone awry. The house has suffered though, smelling of charred flesh and of heavy, sickly smoke. Coughing violently, Stiles stumbles outside to suck in deep gulps of the fresh forest air, Peter and Derek following him.

He whirls around to face Peter. “When did you almost die?” He demands, his voice hoarse from the smoke. “They came here for you because you almost died. You’ve never died in this world.”

“I almost did, it wasn’t that long ago,” Peter rasps, the skin of his hands blistered and pink as they heal. “I ran across a hunter. He left me for dead, thinking that his job was done. Some poor hiker found my body and they took me to the hospital to place me in a medically induced coma as they tried to figure out how to heal me.”

“The doctors probably had no clue what happened to you. You’re lucky you didn’t wind up at Eichen House,” Stiles says.

Peter frowns at him. “Eichen House is for the insane, I would have never ended up there.”

Stiles opens his mouth and then closes it. It’s not worth arguing about. “What happened in the hospital?”

“I laid in that coma for two days, my body fighting to heal itself. In that time, I was conscious but couldn’t speak. It was absolutely… horrific to understand everything around me but not having the function to respond. I thought I was hallucinating, because I kept seeing these grey spirits. They kept trying to convince me to come with them.”

“What made you stay?” Derek asks softly. “You’ve never told me about this before.”

“I haven’t told anyone. I thought they were just a figment of my imagination, a reaction to perhaps the medication I was on. I thought my body was rebelling as it was trying to heal. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that they were real.”

“So what made you stay?” Stiles prompts.

“Talia came to my rescue, actually. She tried for hours as my alpha to get through to me, but it wasn’t until she dragged Malia into the hospital room and snapped her arm that I woke up.”

“She did what?!” Stiles yelps.

“I know it sounds barbaric but it saved my life. Malia’s arm began to heal the moment it broke, but her scream of pain is what kickstarted my soul to remember that I have a family I love very much. I couldn’t follow the spirits just yet.”

“How many years ago was that?” Stiles asks, his head beginning to pound even more. Derek must be able to smell his pain because he steps up behind him, cupping the back of his neck gently as he takes his pain. Gratefully, Stiles sags against him. “How many years, Peter?”

“Eight years ago,” Peter grits out.

“Holy shit,” Stiles breathes, stiffening ram-rod straight. It’s been eight years since Peter first burned in the fire and almost died. “We need to call Deaton right now!”

He sees mist again and opens his mouth to warn them. That’s when he realizes that the mist is in his vision and he can’t breathe. His vision is tunneling into blackness and his legs give out completely. Derek tightens his hold on him, keeping him pressed so close against his body that Stiles can feel his warmth.

He wants to cry out, he wants to grab Derek and tell him he loves him, but there’s no oxygen in his lungs and the entire world tilts sideways. The last thing he hears before he blacks out is the pained sound of Derek screaming his name.

Chapter Text

“Derek!”

He wakes with a gasp, his heart pounding inside of his chest. Scott’s leaning over him, concern written all over his face. Behind Scott, his dad and Lydia hover. The room is thick with tension, it’s like he walked into a conversation mid-sentence. He eases Scott away from him so he’s able to sit up, although Scott takes him by the elbow and helps the process.

“What’s going on?” He asks, studying Scott intently. He has no idea if he’s still in this new world or if he’s been thrown back into his old universe.

“You’ve been… catatonic,” his dad replies, rubbing the back of his neck. “Jesus, kiddo. You scared the shit out of me.”

Stiles has a horrible, sinking feeling. “For how long?” He demands. “How long was I out?”

“Six days,” Scott says, his eyes bright with worry. Now that Stiles takes a closer look at him, there’s a wisdom and maturity in Scott that was lacking in the other version of him, the one that had never been bitten. This is the real Scott, the one who has dealt with horrors and has seen loss. “We didn’t know what was going on. You were originally at the hospital but then you started to smell like smoke. You kept setting the smoke detectors off so Mom helped us smuggle you here to the clinic.”

The clinic – that means he’s at Deaton’s veterinary clinic. That’s a relief to know and he hopes that Deaton is close by. He has a lot of questions for the man.

“I was somewhere else,” Stiles admits, leaning against Scott for support. He had liked the other version of Scott he had met, but they didn’t have the bond that they do here, and he’s missed his best friend. He breathes in the comforting scent of Scott’s aftershave and closes his eyes.

“You were,” a voice says and Stiles’ eyes fly open to see Deaton walking into the room. “I was the one who sent you there.”

“You!” Stiles exclaims, his jaw dropping a little. He had known that Deaton had a couple of extraordinary tricks up his sleeve every now and then when they were really desperate, but to do something as powerful as sending Stiles to an alternate universe?

“I trust that you learned a few things,” Deaton says, meeting his gaze. There’s a seriousness to his eyes that makes Stiles sit up a little straighter. “I didn’t do this on a whim, it came at a great personal cost. I trust that you know what must be done.”

His mouth feels dry as he nods his head. Yes, Stiles has learned a few things. The most important is that there’s a war coming to Beacon Hills, a war that they’re unprepared for. In order to win this war, in order to save Beacon Hills and everyone that calls it home, they’re going to need the Hales.

Beacon Hills must have Hale blood defending the territory, otherwise it’s vulnerable and ripe for the plucking.

Stiles has also learned something else, something equally important. He’s learned to count Derek’s eyelashes as he sleeps beside him. He learned how Derek likes his toast in the morning, and how delightfully funny he is when he lowers his guard and lets you inside. He’s fiercely loyal and intelligent beyond belief. He had come to learn Derek as a person, to see who Derek would have been without the fire.

He had learned to love Derek, to truly love him and not the fantasy of him.

“I learned everything,” he says, meeting Deaton’s gaze evenly. “I know what needs to be done.”

“What do you mean?” Scott demands, looking at Deaton before swinging his eyes wildly back over towards Stiles. “What’s happening?”

“There’s a war coming to Beacon Hills,” Stiles says, shifting on the table. There’s an ache in his back from laying prone for so many days and Scott is immediately beside him, bracing a hand low on his back and taking his pain. “It’s going to happen soon.”

“What do you need us to do, Stiles?” It’s the first time Lydia has spoken since he woke up, but he’s not surprised that her first instinct is to trust him. All the times that Scott has doubted him, Lydia has always had his back.

Scott’s eyes dart towards Lydia and then back at Stiles, and he nods his head decisively. “I’ll call Liam. I’ll even call Argent, I’m sure having Chris here will help even the odds. We’ve got this, Stiles, whatever it is.”

“This isn’t something you can fight on your own.” Stiles shakes his head. He swings his legs off the table and breathes deeply, feeling the oxygen fill and expand his lungs before he exhales in a slow whoosh of breath.

“What do you need, son?” His dad is frowning, his eyebrows furrowed. “Do you want me to call Parrish and warn him of a supernatural situation?”

“Yeah, Stiles, what do you need?” Scott asks, his dark eyes searching Stiles’ face for clues.

“Derek,” he replies, his voice cracking on the name. The back of his neck feels hot under Lydia’s speculative stare. He clears his throat, speaking more firmly this time as he looks at Deaton and nods his head. “We need Derek and Peter back, even Cora if we can find her. Beacon Hills needs as many Hales as we can get.”

“Derek?” His dad stops short, his face puzzled. “He left ages ago.”

Peter?” Scott exclaims, the outrage evident in his tone. “We do not need him back! He’s absolutely psycho, Stiles! He’ll finish killing us all off if we give him the chance! What on earth are you thinking, Stiles?”

“I can track down Cora,” Lydia says, and her voice brings everyone to a stop.

Stiles looks at her, overwhelmed with gratefulness for the friendship he shares with this Lydia, how they have learned to trust each other. She had been dubious of him in the beginning and he had been so obsessed with her. They’ve worked past all of that now, though, and if he says he needs something, she doesn’t question him.

“Thank you, Lyds. That would be amazing,” he says, letting out a breath he didn’t realize he had been holding. “First thing tomorrow morning, I’m going to go and see him.”

“Don’t call me Lyds,” she says, pulling her phone out of her back pocket and her fingers fly over the screen as she types out a message.

“Stiles, you don’t even know where Derek is!” Scott protests. “You can’t just leave if there’s a war coming!”

“He’ll never come back to Beacon Hills if we text him,” Stiles says, because he knows how stubborn Derek can be. “I need to see him face to face and explain everything that’s happened. I know he’ll come back once I talk to him.”

“What about Peter?” His dad asks, still frowning. “I don’t like the idea of that man walking freely back in my town.”

“He’s a necessary evil,” Stiles says, his lips thinning out. “We can’t have one without the other. We have to have both Derek and Peter back. Trust me, he’s the most important part of this puzzle.”

“What puzzle?” Scott exclaims. “You’re not making any sense!”

“He’s making perfect sense,” Lydia retorts, her hand on her hip. Her fingertips brush against the edge of her ribs, stroking over the spot almost unconsciously. Stiles knows it’s a tick that she has, a treat left behind from Peter. It’s the same reason why he constantly drums his fingers against things and counts each tap to ensure there’s only five.

“We need to have the Hales defending Beacon Hills,” Stiles says, huffing out a breath. “We need Peter, Derek, and Cora back. We especially need Peter. It’s not pleasant, I know. I’m not a fan of him, no matter what other universes might say!”

“Other universes?” His dad swings his gaze to Deaton and narrows his eyes even further. “What the hell is my kid talking about?”

“I sent Stiles to an alternate universe,” Deaton says simply, leaning against the counter, although the motion takes him a step further back from John. “Beacon Hills had the same war come to that universe. Beacon Hills has this war in every universe it exists in. I needed Stiles to realize what needed to be done to ensure our survival.”

“You should have sent me, I’m the alpha,” Scott blurts out, the hurt evident in his voice. “Stiles is human, what if he had gotten hurt over there?”

“He had excellent protection in that world,” Deaton says, arching an eyebrow at Stiles, who simply flushes and looks away.

“I’m still the alpha,” Scott insists. “If you were going to risk one of my pack members, I should have at least been informed. I should have still been the one who went.”

“It wouldn’t have made any sense for you to have gone to this world,” Stiles replies before Deaton can, weariness deep in his bones and he fights to keep his eyelids open. He can’t afford to sleep, not when he knows they have such a threat headed their way and there’s still so much to do. “You had nothing to do with the Hales in this world.”

“What, and you did?” Scott scoffs. “You only know Derek because Peter bit me.”

“Peter never bit you in this world,” Stiles says, and he grins at the look of confusion on Scott’s face. “You were one hundred percent human, Scotty. Trust me, playing lacrosse against you was amazing.”

“How did you know the Hales then?” Scott asks, his face still puzzled.

“Cora replied to me, she’s on her way back but it will take a bit of time for her to get here,” Lydia says, interrupting the conversation and Stiles has never been more relieved.
There’s some things he doesn’t want to share, like the gentle way Derek cupped his face when he kissed him, and the way he breathed Stiles’ name like it was a prayer.

“Where is she?”

“She’s in Brazil,” Lydia says, tucking her phone away into her back pocket. “She’s a little confused but she said if it’s important enough that Stiles is asking for her, she’ll come.”

“Wow,” Stiles says dumbly. He’s stunned, he didn’t know that his words held such weight within their mismatched pack, that people would trust him so much.

“You’re the brains,” Scott says, clapping him on the back. When the motion nearly sends Stiles flying, he winces and pats him gently. “Sorry.”

“I’m not the brains, that’s Lydia,” Stiles dismisses. “I’m the research guy.”

“If this week without you has proven anything, it’s shown us that you’re the heart, Stiles,” Lydia says earnestly, and she pins Stiles in place with one look. “You’re the core of our group. Don’t under-estimate what you do for us, Stiles. This week without you was really hard.”

“Yeah, man, we all really missed you,” Scott agrees, his hand gripping Stiles’ shoulder. “So many times I wanted to ask your opinion on something and I couldn’t. It kind of felt like I was missing a bit of a limb.”

“I don’t plan on leaving again, not if I can help it,” Stiles assures them, even if his heart trips at the lie. “Lydia, can you ask Cora if she knows where Derek is?”

“Of course.” Lydia pulls her phone back out and her fingers fly over the screen once more.

“Peter is in Eichen House,” Stiles says grimly, looking up at his dad. “You might want to step out of the room for the next bit of my plan, Dad.”

His dad sighs, rubbing the crease between his eyes. “Aw, hell kid. Let me guess – you’re going to break Peter out of Eichen.”

Scott starts laughing and then abruptly stops when he looks over. “Stiles!”

“We’re going to break Peter out,” Stiles confirms, nodding his head. “Trust me, I know it’s not ideal. But I also know that none of this can work without him. Whether we like it or not, we need Peter in order to survive.”

“Perhaps Parrish and I can get him released the proper way,” his dad suggests. “I can look into work related stuff, see if there’s a limitation on how long they can keep someone.”

“How long is that going to take?” Stiles asks, because he doesn’t know how much time they have before those god-awful spirits come rolling back over Beacon Hills, ready to raze it to the ground.

“A couple of days, if I’m lucky?” His dad shrugs at him. “I can’t really give you a better answer, kid. I don’t think something like this has really been done before. I’m not sure the courts really care if Peter Hale rots in Eichen House or not.”

“Make them care,” Stiles says firmly. “Exploit his past if you need to. He’s a victim of the Hale fire, Kate Argent destroyed his life. Convince them that he deserves better than to stay locked up in a mental institution when he’s not even dangerous.”

Scott snorts out a disbelieving laugh and Stiles rolls his eyes. He knows that Scott will never like Peter, he will never trust him. Stiles doesn’t blame him, because in this universe he doesn’t trust Peter either. He’s only doing this to save Beacon Hills, not because he actually cares if Peter is happy in Eichen or not.

“I’ll go in and talk to Peter,” Stiles says, even as a fissure of fear runs down his spine.

He hates talking to Peter.

“I’ll come with you,” Scott says loyally, and Stiles shoots him a grateful smile. He appreciates the support, even if Scott is still wary of the plan.

“Cora says that Derek is living in a little town called Red Lodge. It’s way up north in Montana,” Lydia says, looking up from her phone. “I’ve forwarded you the address she sent me. Are you really going to go to Montana, Stiles?”

“Road trip, bro!” Scott exclaims, high-fiving Stiles, and Stiles can’t stop the excited grin that breaks out over his face. He’s giddy at the thought of seeing Derek again.

“Guess we’re headed for Montana,” he says, unable to meet Deaton’s knowing gaze. “Dad, why don’t you work on getting Peter set free while we’re gone? We’ll be back in three days, I promise. If you haven’t gotten anywhere by the time we return, then we’ll break Peter out ourselves.”

“Sounds like a deal, although you’re not taking that hunk of metal you call a Jeep to Montana. You’ll get stranded in the middle of nowhere and I’m not letting you take any more risks with your life. You can fly like normal human beings.”

“We’ll fly and rent a car,” Stiles agrees, half relieved that Scott is coming with him and half annoyed. He doesn’t know how he’s going to react when he sees Derek again, not when he knows what it feels like to kiss him now.

He pushes the thought firmly from his mind. The Derek he knew and loved in the other universe is gone, and he’s not real to Stiles anymore. He needs to focus his attention on saving Beacon Hills, and accepting that Derek will leave him once more when the war is over.

He’s a fool if he believes anything else will happen.