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I Stay Caught Up in What Could Have Been (So Tell Me, How Is This Life Not the Dream?)

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If there was one thing Stiles Stilinski could do, it was talk. He could talk about virtually any topic, at length. He could even, after one particular misadventure whilst conducting research for an Economics paper, talk knowledgeably and with what some might consider unwarranted enuthsiasm about the history of male circumcision.

As he stood at the front door of his home, however, staring at Derek Hale, he found that his vast arsenal of information had abandoned him entirely. His lips flapped uselessly several times in a row, and he tilted his head to the side, watching Derek mirror the action.

It was too early for him to have to come up with something brilliant and distracting. He’d already had to defend Laura’s presence to his dad this morning. He was tapped out. Finite. Done. Fresh out of gas.

His problem was not helped by how put together Derek looked. The guy had a slight furrow to his brow, but his cheeks were clean-shaven, his leather jacket had nary a bullet hole, his shoulders were straight and broad.

Stiles didn’t know what to do with this version of Derek, even though he had been imagining what he would be like only last night. He supposed picturing someone in a certain way was different from seeing him in person, or even having a vivid sort-of vision about him. So far, he had yet to run into this issue with Laura, but then, he had never gotten to know her in the vision, except as far as someone can know a person after getting up close and personal with her corpse. Half of it, anyway. And thoughts like that would never not be horrifying, and wow, he totally needed to stop now.

“Oh my gosh, you’re both useless,” Laura huffed, making Stiles jump. He hadn’t even heard her coming up behind him. “Stiles, stop gaping at my brother and let him in. Derek, stop – I don’t know. Looming.”

That, at least, got both young men to react. They squawked and scowled at her, respectively, and then Stiles moved out of the way, waving Derek in. Giving Laura a look, he noted, “Well, you certainly seem to be feeling at home.”

She batted her lashes at him. “Isn’t that what you wanted?”

“Laura,” Derek cut in, “what are we doing here?”

”I’m looking into getting the house rebuilt. You’re supposed to be in New York right now. Which is where you’ll be headed in a few hours, because I’m not going to let you miss the start of the semester.”

Shaking his head dismissively, Derek reminded her, “Classes don’t start back for another three weeks. And since when are we rebuilding the house?”

“Since forever? We were always going to come back here, Derek. I thought you knew.”

“You never said anything.”

“I didn’t realize I had to.” She stepped closer to her brother, wrapping her hands around his wrists. “Can’t you feel it? The pull to the land? Our land?”

“You still should have said something.”

Stiles snorted, in spite of himself. Both Hales turned to peer at him with twin looks of irritated confusion. “I’m sorry,” he said, shrugging. “It’s just, you’re not exactly the poster child for ‘Sharing is caring’.”

Suspicious, now, Derek asked, “And you would know this how?”

“Laura and I are bros. She tells me everything.”

It was Derek’s turn to snort. “He calls you his ‘bro’? Who is this kid, anyway?”

“Stiles Stilinski. But seriously, Der, why are you here?”

“I got a call from a number with a Beacon Hills extension. I thought it was you, and that you were in trouble, so I got on a plane and came here, and then I tracked you to this address.”

At this, Laura turned to look at Stiles. “Oh, what? How was I supposed to know that calling him would make him come all the way here?”

She sighed, exasperated. “Didn’t you tell me yesterday that emissaries were supposed to be wise?”

“Yeah, exactly. Wise, not all-knowing. Give me a break. I was a little freaked out at the time.”

“Wait,” Derek said, “emissary? Him? He’s a child.”

“Excuse you,” Stiles objected. It wasn’t as though he was unaware that Derek saw him that way. He’d heard from Scott about the little diatribe Derek had spewed back when he was first dating Allison. Even so, it stung to hear someone he cared about think so little of him. (It wasn’t real. None of what had happened in his vision was real. So why could his feelings not leave him alone?)

Rolling her eyes, Laura told Derek, “Just because you were an immature little snot your sophomore year of high school doesn’t mean everyone around that age is. Besides, I’ve seen what he can do, and it’s pretty frickin’ impressive, if you ask me.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be rude, but I think I have a right to know what’s going on here, especially if you’re living under my roof, and it involves my son.”

As one, the three of them whirled to face the sheriff, each with varying degrees of anxiety and guilt on their faces.

---

Stiles wound up eating a bowl of oatmeal and leaving all of the food he’d originally made for the others, feeling too nauseated for bacon and eggs after having to explain werewolves to his dad for what felt like the second time in his life. Thankfully, no one fainted or failed to shift this time, which Stiles was going to consider a win. Even so, it still felt like an enormous risk, bringing his dad in on the supernatural secret so soon.

Then again, everything felt like a risk.

They left the truth about Peter’s murder out, and when Laura and Stiles spoke of anything involving Peter in Stiles’s vision, they simply referred to him as, ‘the rogue alpha’. There was no need to make his dad grapple with his morals and his duty as the sheriff so soon in the game, especially when there would almost definitely be times when such occasions would arise later on. They kept things much briefer this time around, considering that Stiles still had school, and his dad still had to go in to work.

When Stiles and Laura were finished explaining as much as they felt comfortable with, the other two men sitting at the table sat in silence, contemplating their empty plates.

Stiles wondered who was having a harder time right now. His dad’s entire understanding of the world had just changed irrevocably, but he’d had physical proof to back everything up. Derek had learned that a teenage boy was meant to be his sister’s emissary, and that if things had been different, Laura would be dead by now, leaving him virtually alone until Cora came back.

Eventually, the sheriff broke the stillness of the room, telling Stiles, “You’d better go finish getting ready for school. I think you’re already running a bit late.” He pointed at Stiles seriously. “And don’t even think of speeding on the way there to make up for lost time. If you have to stay late for detention, it’s not the end of the world.”

Nodding, Stiles bit his lip and then asked, “But, uh, Laura can still stay here, right? I mean, you’re not gonna kick her out just ‘cause she gets a little hairy and howls at the moon once a month.”

Laura jerked her head up and wrinkled her nose at him. “Shut up, squirt. You know that’s not how it works.”

“You shut up. I’m defending your wolfy honor!” Then he wrinkled his nose right back. “And ‘squirt’? Really? You couldn’t have come up with anything else?”

“Oh, I can think of a few things.”

Derek covered his face with his hands. “Both of you need to shut up if you want the sheriff to actually think about letting you stay here.”

That got them quiet.

“Thank you, Derek,” the sheriff said with some asperity. “Now, in answer to your question, Stiles, no, I am not going to ask Laura to leave. And Derek, son, you should stay, too. We’ll pull the couch apart and you can sleep down here in the living room. If the hunters,” his face screwed up at the terminology, but he continued on, “really are here, then I don’t want any of you too far away.” He stared at the three of them somberly in turn. “I expect each of you to keep your phones on and fully charged at all times, and to call me if something goes wrong. Do you understand me?”

There were various words of assent around the kitchen table, and then Stiles caught a look at the clock above the oven. He yelped. “You weren’t kidding.” He glanced around at the room and general and announced, “I gotta go.”

He shot up and out of his chair, racing upstairs to change into school-appropriate clothes. He brushed his teeth a little too vigorously, feeling the pressure of the minutes ticking by, and then he swooped into his room to scoop up his keys and his backpack before flying back down the stairs and out the front door.

There might have been a little – or a lot – of speeding involved in his journey from home to the high school, but what his dad did not know would not get him grounded. He’d simply tell him, if asked, that all the lights had been changed in his favor. Granted, there were only a few lights between his house and the school, but one of them seemed like the longest light in all of creation, so it could be reason enough, he thought.

He arrived in the school parking lot with enough time to park and then sprint to the building, making it to his first class of the day with seconds to spare before the tardy bell rang. He sat in his chair and dropped his backpack down, looking around until his eyes found his best friend’s. Grinning, he pumped his fist in triumph, and watched Scott smile gamely back.

‘What happened?’ Scott mouthed.

Stiles shrugged. ‘Father-son bonding, I guess.’

It didn’t look like Scott understood what Stiles had been trying to say. Either way, it did not matter, as their teacher stood up from the desk at the front of the room and began to speak on the syllabus and Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Ah, yes, Stiles had ignored this lecture before. He glanced out the window and caught sight of Allison.

She was alive.

She was alive.

He felt that this bared repeating, since in the last parts of the vision, she had been dead. He’d felt the loss of her. The gaping hole losing one of his friends left behind. The guilt that he’d had a hand in her death, however unintentionally. The hope that maybe defeating the nogitsune would mean killing himself, too, because then he wouldn’t have to keep living with everything that had happened.

None of that mattered anymore, except for the fact that it mattered more than anything. He knew what it felt like to lose Allison, and he refused to ever feel like that again. The two of them had never been terribly close, but that did not matter. They both cared (would care?) about Scott more than almost anyone. And that was something that tied them together more than their sacrifice to the nemeton ever could.

Chewing his lip, he looked between Scott and his dream girl. He’d kept Scott from getting the bite last night, which meant no lacrosse, and no freaky musical chairs type thing with the nemeton. That didn’t necessarily have to mean no girl. It shouldn’t mean no girl. So it wouldn’t.

He ripped a piece of paper out of his notebook and wrote, ‘New girl coming to class. Give her a pen.’

Abruptly, he doubled over and started making retching noises, forcing the teacher to stop droning about details for the semester his students were perfectly able to read for themselves and ask in a bored tone, “Mr. Stilinski? Is there a problem?”

He threw in a few more retching noises for effect, and then panted, “I don’t think what I ate this morning is gonna stay down, sir.”

Frowning in alarmed distaste, the teacher told him, “To the nurse’s office, Mr. Stilinski.”

Groaning a little theatrically, he lurched out of his seat, pausing to sway and place the hand holding the piece of paper on his best friend’s desk. He let it stay there, and then he tottered out of the classroom and down towards the nurse’s office, where he spun her a tale of his dad’s horrible cooking, and was instructed to lie down on one of the hard, plastic cots.

At least he wasn’t stuck in sophomore English, going through the weirdest case of déjà vu ever.

Behind the curtain which separated the cots from the rest of the nurse’s office, he found a familiar face.

“Erica? What are you doing here?”

She raised an unplucked eyebrow, showing a small hint of that fire she would have if she got the bite. Which she would, if Laura didn’t change her mind. “What do you think I’m doing here?” she asked weakly.

Making a sympathetic noise at the back of his throat, he said, “On the first day back? And we’re not even doing anything today, we’re just listening to the teachers talk so they can enjoy the sound of their own voices. That sucks, dude. I’m sorry.” He didn't remember whether Erica had had a seizure on the first day back in his vision or not. Then again, he had been more worried about what was going on with Scott at the time, so he supposed he wouldn't have noticed even if she had. That was going to change. Starting now. He had a whole group of people he needed to think about, instead of a small handful, and he needed to do his level best to remember that.

For a moment, her lips tilted up in a smile, but then she frowned in confusion. “Why do you even care?”

“Dude, I always cared. I just didn’t think you wanted anyone to talk to you.”

“So what’s different about today?”

Stiles shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe food poisoning has given me a different perspective on the world. Like people who see things differently after a near-death experience.”

“I don’t think it works that way.”

“Does it actually matter? We’ve spent too long not being friends, and I want to change that. Why not start now?”

She looked like she was almost desperate to believe him, but she still said, “If this whole being nice to me thing is some kind of trick-“

“It’s not,” he hurried to assure her. “I swear it’s not.” Glancing at the curtain, he said, “Look, if you let me, I’m gonna put my number in your phone, okay? So you text me with your room number if you want some company at the hospital after school, and I’ll be there.”

Eyeing him nervously, she eventually gave in and dug into her backpack, pulling out her phone. Tossing it to him, she waited while he put his number in, and then leaned across their cots to hand it back.

“You seem remarkably recovered from the pathetic person who came in here a few minutes ago,” Erica remarked lowly.

His words even softer, he said, “Yeah, well, Wells might like to listen to himself talk, but I don’t.”

Her lips twitched. “The sheriff’s kid? Faking it?”

“Maybe. You gonna rat me out?”

She shook her head. “Em-em.” The both heard sirens approaching in the distance, and Erica sighed. “There’s my ride.”

“Hey, we have a few classes together. I could get you copies of the syllabi and bring them to you, if you want.”

“Yeah? Are you sure that won’t interfere with your crippling case of salmonella?” she asked wryly.

“Yeah. I mean, it’s like you said. I’m making a remarkable recovery.”

Her smile was brilliant, even without bold red lipstick to draw the eyes of everyone in a room. Stiles thought he preferred it this way. Maybe he’d tell her that one day. “Thanks, Stiles.”

“I’ll see you later,” he promised, as the nurse’s footsteps came their way.

---

He remained supine in the nurse’s office until thirty minutes before he was scheduled for lunch, when he told her he was starting to feel much better.

She checked him for fever and then gave him a packet of saltines, ordering him to eat those before he tried to eat anything else. Armed with a note from her excusing his tardiness, he headed to his current class, walking in twenty-five minutes before the bell would ring for lunch.

Scott gave him a worried look, but then he turned his gaze back toward Allison, who was also in this class.

That was completely fine and to be expected, and Stiles would put up with any amount of lovey-dovey moony nonsense with as much grace and enthusiasm as he could muster, because it all served as a reminder that Allison was alive, and that she was going to stay that way for a very long time.

Sitting back in his desk, Stiles tried to pretend like he was paying attention to another discussion of a different syllabus. He requested two, as promised, because Erica normally sat a few rows behind him, and he explained that she was absent due to a seizure when the teacher asked why.

Jackson leaned over his desk and asked, “Got a little crush on the freak, Stilinski?”

Suppressing an entirely human growl, Stiles tilted his head back and murmured, “Nah. But I’m starting to have a little thing for you. Tell me, how does Lydia feel about threesomes?”

He could feel the daggers Jackson was glaring into his back, and he smirked.

“I’m going to crush you on the field today, Stilinski.”

“No, you won’t.”

“Oh, yeah? What’s gonna stop me? Your little boyfriend, McCall?”

“Nah. I’m not going.” He was going to sign up for baseball, instead. He’d decided that dreaming about his sad future in lacrosse was more than enough motivation for him to take up something he knew he was good at. So what if baseball wasn’t the popular sport around here? At least he’d actually get to be on the field, and possibly have the chance to earn a sports scholarship while he was at it.

“Yeah, right,” Jackson scoffed. “You and McCall are attached at the hip. No way are you going to let him humiliate himself alone.”

“Gentlemen, is there a problem here?” their teacher demanded austerely.

They both gave her innocent looks. “No, ma’am.”

She eyed them with stark disapproval. “All right. Make sure it stays that way.” Turning to the room at large, she began, “Now, as I was saying-“

The lunch bell rang, and everyone sprang up out of their seats, eager to get out as quickly as possible. Here, the early bird didn’t get the worm; it got the warmest slice of pizza.

Stiles dutifully noshed on the saltines the nurse had given him as he walked through the hall towards the cafeteria.

“Dude, are you okay? And” his best friend exclaimed quietly, “how did you know about Allison?”

“Yeah, Scotty. I’m fine. And I saw Allison through the window, talking on her phone. Then the principal came up. I knew I’d never seen her around before, so I figured she was new.”

“Okay, but how did you know she would be coming to our class, and why did you tell me to give her a pen?”

“I dunno, Scotty. I just kind of knew. Haven’t you ever known something without being able to explain why?”

Scott gave him a look. “I know that you’re lying to me right now. Does that count?”

“Lying is such a strong word.”

“Okay, then,” Scott said patiently. “What would you call it?”

“Gently misdirecting you, while still telling you most of the truth?”

Raising his eyebrows, Scott sighed and then acknowledged, “Yeah that sounds like you.”

Stiles only felt a little guilty about lying to his best friend. After all, he was doing it out of love, and he fully expected it to pay off for Scott sooner or later. To that end, he said, “And hey, I heard there was a party at Lydia’s on Friday. You should totally ask the new girl to go.”

Scott boggled. There was no other word for it. “Okay, first of all, you’ve been in the nurse’s office since first period, so you shouldn’t even know about that, and second of all, what makes you think that a girl like Allison would ever go out with a guy like me?”

Ignoring the first part, Stiles slung his saltine-free arm around his best friend’s shoulders. “Scott, do you like this girl?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you want this girl?”

“Like, beyond belief,” Scott breathed, a besotted smile on his lips.

“Then go get her.” He glanced over at where Allison was walking with Lydia and Jackson and winced. “Except, maybe not right now.”

Following his gaze, Scott sighed, “Yeah. Definitely not now.”

As much as it sucked that Scott understood without Stiles having to explain the situation, it was also a blessing. He scowled at Jackson’s profile, silently vowing to do whatever it took to keep him away from all of the Hale pack’s business. It would be difficult if Laura went through with offering Lydia the bite, but they would tell Lydia everything this time, which would hopefully mean that she would be on their side. He planned to tell Lydia about the vision, even, though after her, he didn’t think he would share that with anyone else. If too many people knew about it, the pack would lose its advantage, and then what would be the point of everything? The only reason he thought he should tell Lydia at all was that she would probably figure it out on her own eventually, and he couldn’t afford for her to tell someone – such as Allison – her suspicions.

He and Scott were quiet the rest of the way to the cafeteria, and all through the lunch line. Stiles decided that if things were going to be weird, they might as well be super weird, and he redirected them over to Boyd’s table, reaching out and snagging Isaac’s sleeve, saying, “Come on, Lahey,” on the way. He wasn’t wasting any of the precious time that had been given to him. He was going to get things done.

Scott, Boyd, and Isaac watched it all happen with startled eyes. Well, Scott and Isaac looked startled. Boyd simply looked piqued. Stiles nodded at him. “Vernon.”

Grimacing, Boyd asked, “What are you doing here, Stilinski?”

“Gathering forces,” Stiles declared promptly.

“To do what, exactly?”

“How does world domination sound to you?”

For once, Boyd appeared faintly amused by him, rather than annoyed. “Like a lot of work with no reward.”

Shrugging, Stiles acknowledged, “Fair enough. I’ll settle for just expanding each of our social circles.”

“You want us to be friends?” Boyd asked flatly.

“Pretty much.”

Boyd scrutinized him at length, his expression unreadable, but then he nodded. “Fine.”

“Okay, then. Awesome. It looks like my nefarious plot is working.”

“Stiles?” Scott said, sounding pained.

“Yeah, buddy?”

“Don’t say ‘nefarious plot’. It’s weird.”

”We’re weird.”

Scott blinked twice and then nodded. “Yeah, true.”

“Um,” Isaac started, raising his hand, “is anyone gonna tell me what I’m doing here?”

“Expanding your social circle, man. Keep up.” It was obvious that Isaac had not yet grasped the idea that this goal applied to him, too. Stiles intended to change that.

“That doesn’t involve, like, hanging out, does it?” Stiles felt his heart clench. He had a feeling he knew exactly why the thought of hanging out made Isaac sound so anxious, and as ambivalent as he was about the kid on a personal level, he still couldn’t stand Isaac’s father for everything he’d done. The main thing to remember, though, was that Stiles was going to fix it.

“Right now, it involves eating lunch together and bonding over a meal the way our ancestors did. We’ll get to the hanging out part later.”

“Pretty sure our ancestors never bonded over greasy cardboard masquerading as pizza,” Boyd pointed out mildly.

“Well, I didn’t have time to go out to forage and take down a deer, Vernon. Sorry if the fare isn’t authentic enough for your scholarly sensibilities.”

“Boyd, Stilinski,” he said, sounding longsuffering. “Call me Boyd.”

“Only if you agree to let us sit with you, dude.”

Boyd said nothing, which Stiles took as acceptance.

The other three boys eyed each other skeptically, but they all sat down, and eventually, Scott cleared his throat and asked, “So are you guys trying out for lacrosse?”

Isaac nodded. “I am.”

Boyd shook his head, and Stiles asked, “Why not, dude? You’re built like a friggin’ brick house. The team could totally do with someone like you.”

“I’m not much of a team player.”

“Well, maybe you should try out anyway,” Scott suggested. “You might decide you like it.” He glanced around and then said, “Besides, we’ll all be there.”

Stiles coughed. “Actually, Scotty, I’m not gonna do it, this year.”

“What?” Scott asked, sounding bewildered. “You love lacrosse.”

“Dude, you love lacrosse,” Stiles told him gently. “I love that you love it, and I wanted to be able to do the whole sports thing with you, but I also really want to play something where I have more than a snowball’s chance of playing on the field. And I mean, look at me. I’m not gonna be put on the field for lacrosse any time soon.”

“But you’ll still come to the games, right?” Scott asked, his big brown eyes staring at him woefully.

“Yeah, totally. Every single one. I’ll be there.” He grinned. “I’ll be the one screaming my head off every time Coach lets you play.” Looking at Boyd and Isaac, he added, “Any of you. And you’d better come to the baseball games and do the same for me.”

“Baseball, huh?” Boyd asked, sounding thoughtful.

“Yep. I used to be in little league, actually. And, wait, weren’t you and I on the same team for a while?”

Nodding, Boyd said slowly, “I could do baseball.”

“Oh,” Stiles blinked before smiling. “Cool. So, it’s settled, then? Scott and Isaac will try out for lacrosse, and you and I will play baseball?”

The others all agreed, and Stiles took his first bite of pizza. It was cold now, but he was several steps ahead in his plan to get the pack together, so he considered it a worthy sacrifice. He winced at the phrasing, and decided to excise it from his vocabulary. He knew he would probably have to deal with Jennifer Blake somewhere down the road, but the less he had to think of her for now, the better.

---

The rest of the day passed uneventfully, until it was time to let Coach Finstock know that Stiles would not be trying out for the lacrosse team, and go talk to the baseball coach. Finstock took the news fairly well, saying, “You always did suck at lacrosse, Bilinski. I hope, for Warner’s sake, you suck a whole lot less at baseball.”

Boyd, who was with him so that they could talk to the baseball coach together, snorted quietly. That got Finstock’s attention. His eyes lit up when he actually took a good look at Boyd, and he asked, “Are you here to try out for the team?”

“No, sir,” Boyd replied. He side-eyed Stiles and said, “I’m here for… moral support.”

Squinting, Finstock looked between the two boys and asked, “Are you two seeing each other, or something?”

Stiles choked and scrubbed a hand over his face. “No, Coach. We’re just friends. Of the friendly, bro variety.”

“Because it’s fine if you are. Our goalie, Danny, is gay.”

Wheezing, Stiles stuffed part of his baseball glove in his mouth, and Boyd snagged a handful of his shirt, dragging him out of Finstock’s office and calling an uncertain, “Thanks, Coach.”

Boyd dragged him all the way to the baseball locker rooms and to Coach Warner’s office, and then he let Stiles go. Stiles finally spat his glove out and straightened up, getting himself under control before Boyd reached out to rap on the door to the office.

---

The bizarre meeting with Finstock and the subsequent one with the baseball coach were worth it when Stiles and Boyd both made the baseball team. Afterward, Stiles offered to drive Boyd home, since he’d missed the bus.

“Or,” he said, “you could come meet someone with me, and then I could take you home.”

“Is this another one of your attempts to make a new friend, Stilinski?”

“Nope. This is me trying to help you make a new friend. I’ve already been successful.”

Boyd looked at Stiles’s backpack, which was overflowing with twice the normal amount of syllabi, and he started to look interested. “We’re going to see Erica Reyes?”

“Dude, does everybody know about that?”

Shrugging, Boyd tried to sound nonchalant when he said, “They all think you’re dating.” Wow. Had Boyd carried a torch for Erica since before they both took the bite? Or, well, since before now? That might explain some of Boyd’s disdain for Stiles, since Erica had apparently had a thing for him, once upon a time. It was strange to see all of these social nuances that he had been blind to before having his vision, because now it was almost like he couldn’t ignore them.

It was starting to look like Stiles was on his way to becoming not only an emissary, but a match maker, as well. He could work with that.

First, he had some things to clear up. “Well, we’re not together. And I’ve had a thing for Lydia Martin for years, so how does me doing one nice thing for another girl make everyone think that’s suddenly over?”

“Maybe because you haven’t tried to hit on Martin once today?”

“What? No, I’ve totally –“ Except that, thinking back on the day, he hadn’t. He had spent all of his time focusing on basically everyone else, and he had forgotten to dote on Lydia. That one question he’d asked Jackson had been the first and last time he’d so much as mentioned her name until a minute ago. He supposed, given all of that, he could see how other people would come to the conclusion that he and Erica were dating. Even so, he had no intention of doing anything of the sort, and he needed to kill that rumor while it was still young. “Well, whatever. I’m not dating Erica, and I don’t plan to. She’s great, she’s just not the one for me.”

“Who is?” Boyd asked, sounding reluctantly curious.

And that was a can of worms Stiles was all-too-happy to leave unopened, so instead, he said, “Lita Ford.”

His brow furrowing, Boyd told him, “No one in our class goes by that name.”

Stiles gasped, clutching at his chest. “You did not.”

“What?” Boyd asked, genuinely bewildered.

“Okay, I’ve just found my next mission: teaching you about women who rock.”

They listened to The Runaways all the way to the hospital.

---

Erica was incredibly confused when Boyd walked in after Stiles.

“Did I miss something? Is it Reach Out to a Nerd Day, and nobody told me?”

“If that were it, wouldn’t we all be getting bugged by people who are actually popular?” Stiles asked before getting the stack of different packets he’d collected for her throughout the day.

She accepted them gingerly, examining the stack and then said, “I thought you were only getting the syllabuses from the classes we share.”

Stiles shrugged, unrepentant. “I lied. And I’m pretty sure the plural form of syllabus ends in –i, not –uses.”

“Does it matter? People say it either way,” Boyd said, joining the conversation with a self-conscious air, as though he was unsure of his welcome.

Holding up a hand, Erica said, “Wait. I’ve got this.” She plucked her phone off of the bedside table and pulled up a search engine, typing in ‘syllabus’. The link for dictionary.com was at the top of the search results, and she read triumphantly, “’Noun, plural syllabuses, syllabi’. There. Boyd’s right. It can go either way.” She shot him an appreciative grin, and he ducked his head.

Stiles had a feeling he wouldn’t have to put much effort into making this particular match, and he grinned, too. “I’m finding both of you incredibly attractive right now.”

“Why? Because we proved you wrong?” Erica asked.

“Absolutely.”

At first Erica simply looked amused, and then she looked like she was having an epiphany. “It’s her brain, isn’t it?”

“Whose brain?”

“Lydia Martin’s. All this time, I thought you were attracted to her breasts, because it’s not like she does anything to hide those, but it’s actually her brain.”

“Well, yeah,” Stiles admitted easily. “I mean, brains are sexy. Her everything else is pretty attractive too, though.”

“Okay, but you can’t have sex with a brain.”

Holding up his index finger, Stiles told her, “Actually, the pleasure center is located in the brain, so it’s more like you can’t have sex without it. Or, you know, you could. You just wouldn’t enjoy it.”

Her face scrunched up, and she informed him, “You are so weird.” She sounded rather fond, though, so Stiles wasn’t about to take offense.

“What else is new?” Boyd asked.

That, though. Stiles could take offense to that.

---

They stayed at the hospital for about an hour, and then they had to leave, because Stiles needed to cook dinner and see how Laura and Derek were getting on.

He drove Boyd home, and when the other boy got out, he paused and said, “Whatever’s gotten into you, Stilinski? Keep it up.”

“Stiles,” he said. “If this whole friendship thing is gonna work out, dude, you’ve got to call me Stiles.” And it was going to work out. Stiles was determined to prevent any interludes like the one in his vision, wherein Boyd informed him coolly that they were not friends, from ever becoming a reality.

Nodding, Boyd shut the passenger door of the jeep and then patted it before lifting his hand in goodbye. He’d never promised to call him Stiles, but then, Boyd always had been one to speak sparingly.

Stiles pulled away from the curb and headed toward home, half expecting Laura and Derek to be gone when he got there. Instead, they were curled up together on the living room couch, with Derek’s head on Laura’s lap, talking softly to each other.

With a wave, Stiles went upstairs to drop off his backpack and then he went back down, making his way toward the kitchen.

Once there, he got out all of the ingredients for stuffed bell peppers and then got to work.

After getting the stuffed peppers in the oven and setting the timer, he headed back to the living room, taking a seat in his dad’s easy chair.

Laura lifted her nose and sniffed blatantly. “You smell like new people.”

Deciding to let the obvious invasion of privacy slide, because if he didn’t start trying to get used to it now, he never would, Stiles said, “Well, yeah. I mean, it was the first day back, and I go to school with several hundred kids. I’m bound to smell like some of them.”

“No,” she said slowly. “That’s not what it is. It’s like you’ve touched people you wouldn’t normally.”

“Oh. Yeah.” He had been planning on telling her about this anyway, so he went ahead and told her, “I’ve been working on getting all of your future betas to bond with each other.”

She blinked and sounded impressed when she noted, “That was fast.”

“Yeah, I don’t know. I’ve just been feeling this pressure to get all of our ducks in a row. Like if we don’t get a move on things, we’re going to lose our chance to make a difference. Does that make sense?”

“Yeah, of course it does,” Laura assured him. “But Peter’s gone. I’m here. Your dad knows. We’ve already made a difference. Maybe you should take a little time to try and enjoy it.”

When Derek failed to react to his sister casually mentioning Peter’s death beyond a faint tightening around his eyes and lips, Stiles knew that she had spent at least part of the day filling in the gaps in the information they’d given Derek and his dad that morning. He wondered how that had gone. Taking into account all of the cuddling the two siblings were doing, it probably had not gone all that well.

Shaking his head, Stiles told Laura, “It’s not enough. We know the alpha pack will be coming at some point, now that you’re back in town, and we may not have Chris Argent on our side this time. We need to start getting ready for them now and we need to do it better.”

“Don’t worry, Stiles. Once I start rebuilding this pack, there’s no way I’ll let anyone tear it apart.”

“All I ever do is worry.”

“Then maybe you need to work on that,” she told him gently. “We’re going to be fine.”

As nice as her confidence was, Stiles thought it lacked a dose of reality. Deucalion was smart. More than that, though, he was cunning and manipulative. He liked to take people with the best of intentions and twist them to fit his purposes. He got to them at their most vulnerable. Appealed to their best qualities and then abused them.

Thinking about all of this, Stiles put his head in his hands and mumbled, “Maybe you shouldn’t bite Scott after all. At least not any time soon.”

“What? Why not? I thought you said he had the best control.”

Raising his head, he told her, “He does – or will. Whatever. But that’s not the point. He’s also the one who has the potential to become a true alpha. Can we really afford to have that going on while the alpha pack is here?”

“And if it doesn’t happen while they’re here,” she countered, “it may not happen at all. Is that really what you want?”

“Kinda, yeah,” he admitted, and then he felt the pressure to explain himself. “He’s sixteen. He was barely seventeen when it happened in my vision. Can you honestly tell me that you think having a teenage alpha in your territory is a good idea?”

Lifting his head from his sister’s lap, Derek asked, “Is that really your choice to make, though? You may be an emissary, but you’re not a god. You can’t control every aspect of each pack member’s future.”

Stiles swallowed back the sick feeling that rose in his gut. “Is that what you think I’m doing?” He’d been trying to protect everyone and make their lives easier. To find some way to see them all through the coming storms mostly unharmed. Was that so bad?

“Maybe not intentionally,” Derek allowed. “But if you aren’t careful, that’s what all of this will become.”

“So,” Laura started, trying to diffuse the tension, “I’m still offering to bite Scott?”

“Yeah,” Stiles croaked. “Yeah, go ahead.” And if things fell apart because of it, at least Stiles would know that he’d tried.

---

For the next few weeks, Stiles focused all of his energy on getting his classmates to become friends, avoiding Chris and Victoria, and working at Deaton’s when Scott wasn’t on shift. After all, Laura had made some valid points. He should learn as much as he could about what being an emissary entailed, and Deaton was his best source of information, since he wasn’t about to go to Morrell. Not unless he was desperate. Which, for the time being, he wasn’t.

Scott helped Allison with the wounded dog she brought to the clinic even without his werewolfitude making the entire process a million times easier, he and successfully asked her to Lydia’s party, which went considerably better than it had in Stiles’s vision.

Instead of crashing Lydia’s party, Stiles, Laura, and Derek spent that night watching old horror flicks and eating junk food with their phones all sitting together on the coffee table in the living room, because the sheriff was out on duty for the night. According to him, all the crazies came out on the full moon. Laura had snorted when he mentioned that little tidbit, and the sheriff ducked his head when he realized his faux pas. She waved it off and told him to have a safe shift. (“Call me if anything looks suspicious, sir.” “And me,” Stiles added. The sheriff pointed at Laura. “You I’ll call.” “What? Dad!”)

The day after the full moon, Scott introduced Allison to Stiles, and he offered to let her sit in the stands with him, along with Boyd and Erica, during the lacrosse games. Allison accepted, as long as she could bring Lydia. Since that worked with his plans beautifully, Stiles agreed. (“If Lydia will deign to be seen with us in public, she’s more than welcome to share our spot in the stands.”)

She did deign to sit with them. Granted, she made Allison sit toward the end of the row, and she took the spot closest to the edge so that she only had to sit beside Allison, but it was progress. Stiles would take it. With Scott benched by his asthma, and with Jackson avoiding the dislocation of his shoulder by that same virtue, Jackson remained the star of the lacrosse team, and he eked out a victory by a slim margin over the opposing team. Stiles was okay with this turn of events. The happier Jackson was, the less trouble he would cause for him and his friends.

Besides, Stiles and Boyd were doing pretty well on the baseball team. It was small, since most of the boys at their school wanted to play lacrosse, and that gave them both considerably more chances to play on the field. It felt good, being able to play a game he knew he was good at, and to have his friends, including Laura and Derek, come and watch him doing so well. The sheriff was pretty pleased about it, as well, and he spent a lot of time shouting, “That’s my son!” whenever Stiles ran a home run or pitched a set that forced a player from the opposing team to strike out and go back to the dugout.

That part was a little embarrassing, but he wouldn’t trade his dad’s approval for anything. He still remembered how strained things could have become, if he’d never had his vision, and he truly had dragged his best friend out to search for Laura’s body in the woods. He loved his dad more than anyone, and he couldn’t imagine going through that for real, so he could put up with blushing and feeling a little awkward about the dumb things the man did sometimes.

Eventually, Derek had to leave and go back to New York for the start of his final semester. In the days leading up to his departure, he and Laura were extra clingy, with each other, and, surprisingly, with Stiles. Up until that point, Stiles had been under the impression that Derek put up with him for his sister’s sake, but based on all of the scenting Derek did every time Stiles was home, he had been wrong.

He asked Laura about it the day before Derek had to leave, while the two of them were driving to meet with the contractor from the construction company they had chosen to rebuild the Hale house. Laura smiled, taking her eyes off of the road to glance at him briefly, and then looking forward again. “Oh, he likes you, all right. He might actually like you a little too much.”

“What? No,” because that sounded like Derek had feelings for him, and “Derek wouldn’t-“

“Sneak your old lacrosse jersey out of your room and keep it hidden in his pillow case? Stick his nose in your neck every time you walk through the front door? Hang on to every word you say? No. No, it doesn’t sound like he likes you at all.”

Stiles blinked. “He sleeps with my jersey?” He hadn’t even noticed that his freshman lacrosse jersey had gone missing. He supposed he should feel more creeped out by the whole thing, but he’d grown too used to living with lycanthropic quirks after sharing a house with two of them for a few weeks for it to have much of an impact.

“Yeah. And he thinks I don’t know about it, so don’t tell him that I said anything, okay?”

Shaking his head, Stiles said, “It’s cute that he still thinks he can hide things from you. How has he not figured out that you’re completely diabolical?”

She shrugged. “He’s always had a bit of a blind spot when it comes to the people he loves.”

The mood in the Camaro dropped sharply, and they both winced. The truth about Kate was still a sore point for Laura, and always would be. For that matter, Stiles was pretty mad about it as well. It would be a contest to see who could kill her first if Kate Argent ever showed her face in this town again, provided that they could not get the charges they hoped to bring against her to stick and send her to jail for the rest of ever.

“Well, anyway,” Stiles said after beat, “I won’t say anything.”

“Good.” And that was that. They drove the rest of the way in silence, and then they met with the contractor. He gave them an estimate of six months, and then listed a price that made Stiles feel faint. Laura accepted it without batting an eye, though, and they walked away from the meeting with the promise that everything would be done as close to the original house had been as possible.

When they got back into the Camaro, Laura chuckled. “I thought you were going to die in there.”

“One million dollars,” Stiles gasped feelingly. “How could you just sit there and let him bill you for one million dollars?”

She shrugged. “I told you I’d been careful with my family’s money.”

“Yeah, but – I just,” he gestured with his hands wordlessly, unable to express exactly how little he could grasp her calm acceptance of what, to him, seemed like highway robbery.

“Stiles,” she said patiently, starting the car, “it was a big house. Rebuilding something that had six bedrooms and three bathrooms was never going to be cheap.”

He tried to wrap his head around a home that big. The way the house was now, it didn’t look like it could ever have had that many bedrooms. Then again, he supposed it would have had to, since most of the Hale pack had lived in it together, once upon a time.

“Well, great. Now we’re going to have this huge house, and we just have to build a pack to put in it. Is there even any money left over to furnish this place once it’s done?”

Laura rolled her eyes. “Yes, Stiles.”

“Oh. Good.”

Huffing, Laura begged him, “Please take my brother and go on a run when we get home," resuming their earlier conversation. "At this rate, you’re both going to drive me crazy if you don’t do something.”

When they walked through the front door, Derek was doing pushups in the living room, wearing only his boxers. Stiles felt all of the blood stop flowing to his brain, muttering, “Nope. Nu-uh. No. I can’t deal with that,” as he fled up to his room to change into sweats and a pair of running shoes.

Laura’s laughter chased him up the stairs.

---

He and Derek did go running together, but Stiles couldn’t bring himself to look at the other guy, his ears and cheeks already pink – and not from the exertion. Eventually, Derek asked, “Did I do something to you?”

Stiles tripped on a slightly raised part of the pavement, which he should have been able to see coming. He fell forward, and would have gone skidding, shredding the skin of his palms, if Derek had not caught him and helped get him steady on his feet.

At the back of his mind, Stiles groaned at his own inability to look like anything other than a damsel in distress, but he still found himself staring up at Derek like every clichéd heroine in a romance novel, until he was able to pull away from him and stand up straight, bringing himself back up to Derek’s eye level. He cleared his throat and then turned, starting to run again.

Derek caught up to him without effort, and he told him, “You didn’t answer my question.”

“Running here, buddy. Kind of hard to do that and talk at the same time.” It wasn’t a lie, and even if it had been, his heartbeat was already elevated because of the exercise.

Even so, Derek said, “Don’t lie to me.”

“Not lying.”

“Evading, then.” He reached out and grasped Stiles’s shoulder, bringing them both to a halt. “Would you just tell me what’s going on with you?”

“Can’t you just take a good whiff of me and figure it out?” Stiles demanded, done with the whole discussion. He had been trying to keep his word to Laura and not bring up Derek’s feelings, but he couldn’t exactly do anything if Derek brought up his own.

“You’re attracted to me.” He said it flatly, as though it was a fact of life he didn’t have to like but that he’d learned to accept, and how was that in any way fair? It wasn’t like Stiles had asked for his feelings or ever tried to do anything about them. And if Laura was to be believed, it wasn’t as though Stiles was the only guilty party, here. So what was Derek’s deal? He could have feelings for Stiles, but Stiles wasn’t allowed to feel anything back?

He bit back the words, saying instead, “It doesn’t matter, all right? I’m not going let my feelings leak all over you, or anything, and you’re going back to New York tomorrow, so it’s not like you’ll have to worry about it for another few months anyway.” He'd been doing such a good job of keeping them to himself until now. Why did Derek have to go and call him on it right before he had to leave? Why couldn't they have kept on avoiding the issue?

“Your feelings?” Derek asked blankly.

“Yes, Derek. My feelings. Those things you have when you like someone. What did you think we were talking about?”

For the first time, Derek looked uncertain. “I thought it was just teenage hormones, and that you would get over it when you met someone your age.”

“Yeah, well, it doesn’t work that way for me. I’m attracted to people, not just their bodies. Not that there’s anything wrong with people who are, just. I’m not one of them.”

Derek swallowed before nodding and letting go of Stiles’s shoulder. “I’m not bothered by you having feelings.” Although he totally was bothered by it, considering that he couldn’t even bring himself to say ‘for me’.

Stiles decided to let it go, for now, not wanting to push his luck. This whole thing could have ended quite differently, and he was too glad that it had gone as well as it had to try for anything else. They finished their run in a silence that was more companionable than the one in which they had started, but there was still a tension between the two of them brought on by knowledge that neither of them were ready to do anything about.

When they got back to the house, Laura sniffed, looking up at the two of them from her spot on the couch, and then she snorted. She went back to whatever she was doing on her laptop after that, leaving them to their own devices.

---

The next morning, Laura, Stiles and the sheriff all went to the airport with Derek to see him off. Laura gave her brother a long, painful looking bear hug, and the sheriff shook his hand. Stiles shuffled awkwardly when it was time for him to say goodbye, and then handed Derek a weighty, tellingly rectangular package. He’d wrapped it in maroon wrapping paper, because it reminded him of that single bright Henley Stiles had seen Derek wear in his vision, and he was the only one who had to know.

Derek took the gift hesitantly, his fingers wrapping around it as though he wasn’t sure what to do with someone other than his sister giving him something. Come to think of it, he probably wasn’t. To help him out, Stiles told him, “Well, go on. Open it.”

Slowly, Derek began to peel back the paper, revealing that it was, indeed a book. Stiles had wanted to give Derek something he could read on the flight back to New York, figuring he would probably get bored of being on a plane pretty quickly. Derek looked at the cover and softly read the title aloud. “A History of Ancient Britain.” Raising his head, he tilted it at Stiles questioningly.

“I uh, I looked it up, and the name ‘Hale’ is definitely British in origin, and I thought since you were majoring in history, you might like to know a bit more about your own. Um, but it was probably really-“

“Stiles,” Derek said, reached out with his free hand to hold one of Stiles’s wrists, stilling his anxious movements. “Thank you.”

“Oh. Yeah, sure. Of course.”

The announcement for Derek’s flight went over the internal announcement system, and he squeezed Stiles’s wrist carefully before letting it go and leaning down to grab his carry-on bag. “Bye,” he called softly, backing away. Stiles wrapped his own hand around the wrist Derek had been holding, and nodded back dumbly.

Under his breath, his dad muttered, “Oh, boy.”

Stiles said nothing, watching Derek, who was still walking backward and watching him right back, until he turned a corner and disappeared.