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No Place Like Idaho

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* * *

“Remind me why we’re doing this?” Stiles stares at his pile of clean boxers for a minute before grabbing all but one pair—better to leave some behind in case his bag is destroyed somewhere along the way.

A decade-old lacrosse ball thuds against the ceiling above Stiles’s bed, then thunks down into Scott’s palm. “Derek thinks it’s a good idea,” Scott says.

“How many times do I have to remind you that you’re the alpha, Scott?” A week of t-shirts, a couple of hoodies. He leaves a single pair of socks sitting with the single pair of boxers. “You don’t have to do everything Derek thinks is a good idea.”

Thud. Thunk. “Yeah, but it is a good idea this time. His mom was friends with the McLean alpha, and we don’t have any official allies up there.”

“I wonder why,” Stiles mutters. Maybe because up there is North Bumfuck, Idaho, and as far as he’s concerned, any wolves interested in living that far from civilization can keep that part of the country to themselves. But it’s worse than that—he looked online and found there is virtually nothing by the way of entertainment where they’re going, which means he’s in for an entire week in the middle of nowhere with Derek. Derek Hale, who is hotter and sexier and even more amazing every time Stiles sees him. And forever unattainable. He sighs to himself. “Tell me again why I have to go with you?”

 “Look, man, if you really don’t want to go, you don’t have to. Derek will understand, I’m sure.”

“Derek.” Stiles turns to Scott. “What does Derek—?”

“Hey, look at the time.” Scott hops off the bed. “If you’re coming, get a move on.” Snatching Stiles’s bag out of his hand, he stuffs random handfuls of clothing into it. “Train to catch.”

Stiles is this close to wishing Scott, Kira, and Derek bon voyage, but he knows how disappointed Scott would be. “Fine, fine.” Rolling his eyes and muttering under his breath about best friends, man, he drops to his knees in front of his desk and keys in the code to his bottom desk drawer. “Hey, has Chris restocked you guys lately? I’m a little light.” He pushes around the boxes of ammo before picking two.

Scott peers over his shoulder. “Uh, we’re not going to war, dude. We’re going to Idaho.

“And how many times have you been to Idaho?”

“None?”

“Exactly.” Stiles chooses his favorite blessed blade, a thank you from some fairies a few years back. At his touch it glows a satisfying green. Perhaps, inadvisably, his favorite gun joins the two boxes of aconite bullets in his backpack with his wallet and keys. He should get a thigh holster. “Who the hell knows what kind of creatures go bump in the Idahoan night, Scotty.” He claps Scott on the shoulder and grabs his bag. “Ready, oh fearless leader?”

Scott is already halfway down the hall when Stiles pauses at his doorway to grab his old aluminum bat, now reinforced with bands of cold iron and rowan, tiny spikes of silver. It’s served him well for years; he’s not about to leave it behind now.

* * *

Bypassing Kira and Scott, already hopelessly tangled, Stiles drops into to the empty aisle seat next to Derek. It’s not that there aren’t other open seats—the whole train seems empty. Giving Derek a quick once-over, Stiles still hasn’t figured out exactly what Peter meant all those years ago about werewolf aging, but he’s pretty sure Derek looks the same now as he did when Stiles was sixteen. Stiles’s libido sure as hell thinks so. Stiles knocks Derek’s knee with his own. “A train, Derek, really?”

“Legroom.” Derek stretches his legs, heavy black boots reaching to the facing seats. His knee presses momentarily into Stiles’s. “It’s scenic,” he adds, eyes still on his book. “And Alpha McLean recommended it.”

Stiles forces his gaze away from where it’s been trained on Derek’s long legs and incredible thighs. God, he can’t even make it through the first two minutes on the train without dwelling on shit he really should have tried harder to outgrow years ago. He focuses on his tried-and-true diversion tactic: pestering. “We just got on board. How are you already lost in a book?”

Derek shrugs.

Quickly enough that Derek doesn’t have a chance to pull away, Stiles flips his book cover. “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” he reads out. The cover is old, worn, a little torn at the bottom. He blinks at it as Derek bats away his hand. “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz?”

Derek looks at him, all judgmentally furrowed eyebrows and supermodel glare—and with the fondness Stiles is sure Derek feels . . . way, way deep down. “It’s a classic.”

“Yeah, no, I know. My, uh, mom loved it. She had the whole series in hardback.” Stiles shifts awkwardly in his seat. “She used to read them to me. For bedtime stories.”

Derek stares at the book cover, his thumb rubbing a dog-eared corner. “Laura kept it in her locker to read during study hall.”

Stiles’s jaw drops open, then snaps shut. He takes a minute to stare out the window, watching as they roll through the outskirts of Beacon Hills. His mom had loved the movie, too; they’d watched it every year on Thanksgiving. Maybe Derek used to watch it with his sisters.

Humming if I only had a brain, he glances back at Derek. Who is . . . smirking at him, his entire persona conveying if only.

“Right, uh, read your awesome book.” He pats Derek’s arm, going for normal. They have eons to go before they’re even out of California. No need to use up all his mortifying moments in the first five minutes. “If I have to spend my spring break playing happy packs, I’m catching up on sleep.” He makes a show of putting in his earbuds and getting comfortable. He’s surprised to find the gentle vibrations of the moving train are lulling, soothing.

By the time Scott pokes his head over the top of the seats to check on them, Stiles is aware of little more than the hum of music in his ears and the warm press of Derek’s thigh to his own. He thinks Scott says his name, but he’s too comfy, hunkered down in his roomy seat, to get involved in the conversation. Maybe he and the other academy cadets hadn’t celebrated their upcoming weeklong break like he bets Liam’s frat did (in Tahoe, not Idaho), but his class is just wrapping up the heaviest physical component of their training, and Stiles is still recovering from the fifteen miles they had to run yesterday afternoon. And he probably won’t be admitting it anytime soon, not to anyone, but the familiar rumbles of Scott’s and Derek’s voices disarm his vigilance completely, leaves him feeling warm and safe.

They haven’t been on board more than fifteen minutes when he’s out like a light.

* * *

Stiles is jolted awake by the painful slam of his knee against the train car floor. He has zero time to catch himself before a hand twists into his collar and yanks him upright. The train shudders alarmingly, and he’s thrown hard toward the windows—only to crash into Derek rather than metal and glass.

He gasps, air squeezed out of his lungs. “What the—”

Slam.

Both he and Derek are sprawled across the narrow aisle running the length of the car, Derek twisting at the last minute so Stiles lands mostly on top of him. Derek grips Stiles’s head and pulls it down. “A flash of light, like a flashbang but bigger.” Derek’s breath is hot on Stiles’s ear. “We hit something, maybe derailed, but kept moving.”

The car is shaking around them. Stiles doesn’t try to get up.

“Fuck,” Derek grunts a second before wrapping both arms tight around Stiles’s shoulders and rolling them over.

All Stiles can see is the wide expanse of one of Derek’s shoulders, but his eyes are wide open when purple-tinted lightning fills the cabin, whiting out everything for a moment, including Derek’s face. Stiles’s whole body tenses at the smell. “Magic,” he gasps.

Derek stubble rasps against his forehead. “Yeah.”

“Scott?” Stiles calls, trying to struggle up. He needs to find Scott, but Derek won’t release him.

“He and Kira went down to the food car awhile ago.”

Another jolt. Stiles’s head bounces off the seat across the aisle from theirs. He ignores the pain, the flashes of light, and focuses on the sensation of gradually decreasing motion. The train slows to the point where it feels like it’s stopped. He struggles again, trying to get a hand under himself to push up, but Derek apparently doesn’t agree with that idea, holding Stiles tight to the ground.

“Derek, we gotta find them.”

A sudden awful screech of metal on metal all but drowns out his last two words. Derek tenses.

Rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat.

Stiles’s brain applies assault rifle to the sound as Derek’s hands clutch at the back of his head. Tiny bits of shattered glass sting against his hands.

“What the—” he starts, but something flying through the air catches his attention. A silver cylinder drops a few feet away from his face and starts spewing a dark gray smoke. Fuck.

Before he can do anything about it, he gets a lungful of the smoke, and yeah, now he’s extra horrified.

“Wolfsbane,” he breathes.

The air starts to feel heavy, darkening by the moment. He pulls Derek’s face to his neck, holding it there with all his academy-gym earned strength. It’s not like wolfsbane isn’t poisonous to humans, too, but it’ll only nauseate him—it won’t shut down his whole nervous system.

Down the car, there’s another rat-a-tat-tat of assault rifle fire, followed by a screech of metal. He hears the door being wrenched open, and for a moment, there’s nothing but Derek’s wheezy breaths, but then Stiles hears the distinct clomp of footsteps as someone boards the train. Multiple someones, based on what he’s hearing.

“We’ve gotta move,” Stiles says in Derek’s ear. If the smoke is wolfsbane-infused, whoever just got on the train is prepared to battle werewolves, and no matter how in-shape he is now, without his bat or gun he’s no match for hunters with automatic weapons—particularly not if he has to watch out for Derek, too.

Derek nods against his neck.

Hand holding tight to Derek’s nape, Stiles is halfway up, pushing Derek with him, when one of the voices says into the quiet, “I only hear two.” It’s a guy, the disembodied voice. He’s closer than Stiles realized. “Where are the others?”

Stiles pauses—the voice is familiar but kind of far away. He can’t quite place it.

“I’ll check the other cars,” someone else says, confirming there are at least two hunters. Footsteps jog away from them. Another squeal of metal, and the footsteps retreat out of Stiles’s hearing range.

Stiles shoves at Derek’s shoulder. “Up, up!”

Derek isn’t more than a couple feet off the ground, still crouching over Stiles, when the first voice barks, Stay down. Don’t move.”

Even as Stiles is lowering himself all the way back down the ground—is that an outline of a rifle he can see through the burning smoke?—he’s mumbling, “No, no, no,” because this isn’t happening. Not now, not after all these years. Not on his back in a train car, not with Derek Hale finally on top of him after what feels like a lifetime of painfully unsubtle non-seduction. Stiles didn’t even say goodbye to his dad this morning.

Eyes closed against the burn of smoke, he kicks out his legs, braces one against the seat across the aisle in preparation to heave himself and Derek both off the ground, but something smacks his foot away before he can do anything.

“I said, stay down.

Stiles’s limited breath whooshes out of him. He knows that voice. It’s Derek’s. Only it can’t be because Derek is right here, half on top of him.

“Got ’em,” the second voice calls from the direction it disappeared. “C’mon, move it.”

Stiles hears stumbling footsteps that are quickly followed by a familiar gasp. Kira. This time it’s Derek who tries to throw himself upward and Stiles who has to pull him down. Stiles is sure Kira is being held at gunpoint, and wolfsbane smoke means poisoned bullets. So.

“Get over there,” the second voice says, and Stiles’s non-wolfy hackles rise. Because that voice is familiar, too. It’s been years, but the images behind his eyelids are full of blonde hair and a smug smile.

The feeling in Stiles’s chest that he long ago identified as the pack bond is thrumming hard. A second later, the weight of a body crashes into his side and lands half on top of his and Derek’s legs. Something else—someone else—drops hard to the ground right next to him, choking. Scott.

And dammit, how’s Stiles supposed to keep Scott’s face covered, too? Scott answers the question by rolling into Stiles and pressing his face to Stiles’s shoulder.

“What now?” the second voice—the Erica Reyes voice-alike—asks.

“We wait for her,” the Derek-voice answers. Both voices are slightly muffled, like maybe they’re wearing something over their faces to protect them from the thinning smoke.

“They didn’t tell us—”

“No.”

“It’s really—”

The Derek-voice responds with a disgruntled-sounding grunt.

“How are we supposed to shoot them?” Erica-voice sighs. “They didn’t tell us they’d look like them.

Footsteps move a few steps closer, then retreat.

“I don’t think we were supposed to get this close,” the Derek-impersonator finally says. “Where is she? They’re not gonna stay down.”

They sure as hell aren’t. The longer they lie here, the less panicked Stiles feels. His head is aching less, he’s thinking more clearly, and he’s more certain with each passing minute that he and the other three can take the two shape-shifting skin-walking leviathan things, guns or not. He cracks an eye and finds the smoke has cleared even more. It’s thin enough that the wolves will be okay if they try to run. Derek’s already started to shift to the side so when they make a break for it, their legs shouldn’t get too tangled. Stiles hopes.

He’s halfway through concocting their getaway when a brand new female voice says, “Remember, don’t believe everything you see.”

Stiles inhales sharply, eyes flying open. Through the remaining fog he can make out a dark shape that’s getting closer. Her footsteps are silent on the thinly carpeted aisle. Stiles has goose bumps. His chest feels like there’s an elephant on it. Because not only has he not heard this voice since he was nine, but flickers of purple surround her. Magefire. So now he knows they’re really fucked and in exactly what way, because magefire is unpredictable, hereditary and increasingly rare—and it’ll kill anyone and everything except someone else who can wield it. To Deaton’s shock, Stiles has an affinity for it. Which leaves him the pack’s only chance of getting out of here.

“We can’t trust anything but one another,” the woman continues, growing closer.

Stiles cannot, cannot, listen to that voice say anything else. It’ll kill him. He jumps to his feet, slamming his palms together as he shouts, “Claro!”

The lingering smoke vanishes. Muted sunlight pours through the windows.

Directly in front of him stand Fake Erica and fucking Fake Derek, what the hell. Yeah, it looks like Erica, but she’s older, significantly older than she would be right now if she had lived. The fake Derek is aged the same way—as he tugs down the bandanna that was covering his nose and mouth, even from a few feet away, Stiles can see gray at his hairline, deep, dark circles under his eyes, a jagged scar transecting his cheek and beard. The eyes are the same, but he knows it’s not really Derek or Erica—only monsters with their faces.

“Shoot them!” the mage cries. She’s behind them, shrouded in a long cloak, a dark cowl hiding her face But the not-Derek and Erica make a critical mistake: they hesitate.

This is Stiles’s moment. Light purple fire flickers along his nail beds. Fake Derek’s eyes go wide—just like they did the first time Stiles conjured magefire. As it rolls along his fingers, Stiles is dimly aware, his hands heating dangerously, that the woman’s raised hands are echoing his, her own flame a deeper purple than Stiles’s—the purple of a mage with strong, matured power.

“If you’re not going to do anything, move,” she says.

The Fakes share another look, But they step back.

The woman all but floats into the space they’ve abandoned. Her hands rise higher; her wide sleeves fall back. Her fire is so hot Stiles can feel it over the heat of his own.

But he’s distracted by the glint from the mage’s thin wrist. On a bracelet of chunky silver links, a little dragon dangles against her pale skin. Stiles blinks a couple times, because he must be imagining things, but no—he knows that bracelet, and it floods his head with memories.

Daddy took me to the store, but I picked it out myself! Do you like it? I named it Snarls.

Snarls?

Because dragons snarl, Mommy! Snarl and growl and breathe fire!

Snarls is perfect, sweetheart. I love it. I’ll put it on and never take it off.

And she hadn’t. She’d died wearing it, gone into the ground with it still fastened around her right wrist. More than once in the years since she died, Stiles has wished he kept it like his dad kept her engagement ring.

It’s bogus, it has to be, just like the people in front of him. Nothing about this is real. For all Stiles knows, this is nothing but a fucked up dream. Maybe the train really did derail and he hit his head.

His magefire gains power, flickering violet along his hands. His fingers twitch and—

—he can’t do it. He just . . . he can’t do it.

His hands fall to his sides, magefire winking out. It’s hard to breathe, painful like he’s being suffocated. He can’t take his eyes off the tiny dragon.

Everything around them is still and quiet, like the entire world is holding its breath along with Stiles. Which makes it feel like the loudest sound in the world, booming, crushing, when he rasps out, “Mom?”

* * *

All the air is gone from the train. He’s choking, lungs useless although his chest keeps heaving.

“Hey, hey,” Derek murmurs. His chest is pressed hard to Stiles’s back, one of his hands big and warm over Stiles’s heart, but Stiles can’t focus on any of it at all, because the mage is slowly lowering her hood.

Stiles stares. His eyes are burning, and he knows he’s embarrassing himself because this isn’t real but he can’t seem to convey that to his brain.

He hasn’t spent much time imagining what his mom would look like had she had the chance to grow older, but if he had, the woman standing in front of him would be it. The same thick hair she always had—now with very noticeable streaks of gray—his own brown eyes, and a nose that looks much better on her face than his.

“What the fuck,” Stiles croaks.

“Holy shit,” Scott mumbles from his side.

“Language, boys,” the woman says even as confusion ripples over her face and her expression blanks. And yeah, that’s something he heard a few times growing up, even though he’d been young. That’s the kind of thing that happened when your dad was a cop and you spent a lot of time in a station full of them.

“What?” Stiles demands. He wants to reach out to her, wants to reach out and touch her so badly. “Who are you? What are you?”

“Who are we?” Fake Derek demands, gun jabbing dangerously. “Who the hell are you? How do you smell like—” He cuts himself off with a growl and angry-blue flash of eyes.

“More importantly, how is it snowing?” Kira mumbles.

All the heads in the train turn, even Stiles’s.

It is . . . definitely snowing outside, big fat flakes like Stiles hasn’t very often seen. Off in to the right stretch fields of white, edged by dark smudges that Stiles assumes to be trees. On the left, the forest is much closer, running thick not too far from the train tracks.

“Uh, it’s winter in Idaho,” Fake Erica says, “of course it’s snowing,” and Stiles really has to hand it to whatever monster conjured up these three, because damn if they aren’t perfect.

“It’s not winter,” Scott says. “It’s spring break. It’s March.

“Idaho?” Stiles says. He looks back at Derek. “How long was I asleep?”

Derek shakes his head slowly. “Thirty minutes, maybe forty. We’re still in California. We have to be.”

“You aren’t,” Fake Derek says.

“We aren’t,” Stiles agrees, staring out the window. “The terrain has changed too much, and the train wasn’t headed through any of the areas that have snow this heavy in March. So unless we freaking teleported . . .” He flails his hands around.

Fake Erica snorts. “Whoever they are, they get an A for authentic.”

“You mean whatever they are,” Fake Derek says. “They’re just things—”

The woman cuts him off with a sharp, “Enough!”

You don’t,” Stiles blurts, looking at Erica. “None of you does.” He waves his hands at the three of them. “You’re all too old, for one thing. And you . . .” Keeping a tight lid on his emotions, he points at her. “She never would have snapped like that, not even at Growly McGrowlerson. And this one’s got a scar? Please. He’s a born, so no scars.” He spreads his hands. Ta da.

Fake Derek looks startled for a fleeting moment before his eyebrows angrily collapse. “Try a wolfsbane-coated blade and a blowtorch, jackass, see what happens.”

Stiles holds back a cringe. Real Derek twitches against his back. “Well, that sounds . . . terrible.”

“See?” Erica crosses her arms. “This one’s a little shit, too. A+ performance, would watch again.”

“There is no this one, Erica,” Fake Derek snarls. “He’s no one.

“Enough,” the woman says again, softer this time. “We don’t have a lot of time.” The look she casts the Fakes is reproving—and achingly familiar. Stiles literally aches with it, his heart twinging and stuttering and generally being a mess in his chest. Holding up a hand, she walks toward him, the little dragon swinging side to side as she stops right in front of Stiles.

“Don’t have a lot of time for what?” He can’t look her directly in the eyes, so he focuses on the constellation of Cassiopeia-shaped freckles above her right eyebrow. In turn, he can feel her scrutiny like it’s a physical touch on his skin. And then it is when she reaches up and presses a fingertip to his jaw. She hums.

“What?” Scott asks.

“No scar,” she says.

“Scar?” Stiles has a lot of scars, but he’s never had one on that side of his face.

“Unfortunate incident with a skateboard on the front steps of the library.” With two fingers, she turns Stiles back to face her. “The day before picture day freshman year.” Her tone is very pointed. If Stiles didn’t know better—if weaponized wolfsbane and magefire and machine guns weren’t all things of very recent happening—he’d describe her expression as fondly amused, pretty much his mom’s default expression when it came to Scott and Stiles.

Scott shifts from foot to foot next to him. “We haven’t been on skateboards since we were nine. After you—after Stiles’s mom—” He clears his throat. “My mom confiscated them.”

“Melissa wouldn’t let us ride,” Stiles says. “One too many banged up posers in the ER.”

If anything, the mage’s expression becomes even more amused. Fonder. “Mel always used to have a hard time letting boys be boys.”

“Yeah,” Scott says quietly. “She, uh, was always worried about my asthma.”

“Mmhmm.” The mage drops her hand and takes a step back. “Nothing a little lycanthropy couldn’t fix right up. Now, Derek, tell me what you smell.”

Fake Derek blinks a few times, looking wary. “Uh.” Behind him, he hears Real Derek inhale quietly. Stiles wonders what he’s getting from these three.

She waves at Stiles. “Tell me what Stiles smells like.”

Hearing his name in that voice kills Stiles a little inside, so he focuses on wondering why what he smells has to do with anything at all.

Very unsurprisingly, Fake Derek’s eyebrows make an attempt to fuse together. He looks on the verge of giving an adamant and growly No until the mage gives him a quelling mom-look and his face smooths right out. He takes a step closer to Stiles, despite being obviously unhappy about it, before declaring, “Ozone.”

“Duh.” Stiles wiggles his fingers. He knows what magic smells like.

With a glare, the massive fake adds, “Marshmallow.”

At Stiles’s cringe, Scott elbows him with a murmured, “Stay Puft.”

“Earth. Sunbaked earth. And—” Fake Derek drags pointy-looking fingers through his hair. “Is that enough? I already said he smells just like him.”

The mage turns to Fake Erica. “Do you remember the brownies on Beltane five years ago?”

Fake Erica, who’s been lounging against one of the seats, nods. “Of course. Rude little bitches.”

“And remember the . . . form they conjured?”

The Fakes appear to remember this in tandem, and they both nod, frowning.

“And you remember the leviathan from 2015?”

Stiles stands up straighter. “Real leviathan? We’ve never had leviathan.” This might damage his theory that these things are leviathan.

Erica snorts. “Be glad, dork. They were fucking awful.

“And,” the mage continues, “you remember the skinwalkers at the high school in Mendocino?”

Twin nods.

“I remember those,” Kira says from next to Scott. “It was just you two and Isaac, right?” She glances over at Scott and Derek. “There were like ten of them or something. Isaac said it sucked.”

Scott nods. “We had to recruit one of the students to lay a circle to help us trap them because Stiles was at school and Deaton was out of town.”

“That is not what happened,” Fake Derek says.

“Uh, yeah it is,” Scott says. “But I don’t remember any brownies conjuring anything . . . do I?”

Stiles grins at Scott. “Only those special ones my roommate made.”

“We don’t have a lot of time,” the mage says, voice quiet again, “before they come looking for us, and we need to make a decision. I made you go through that exercise, Derek, because I want you to remember that any time we’ve encountered a creature wearing a familiar face, you’ve been able to tell.” She taps the side of her nose. “Haven’t you?”

After only a moment’s pause, he nods. “Yeah.”

“They can’t be real,” Erica protests. “They’re . . .” She waves her hands around very Stiles-like. “And I don’t even know who that one is.” She points to Kira.

“Yeah, I don’t know you either,” Kira says, chewing on her lip. She’s tucked under Scott’s arm, and he pulls her closer.

Erica blinks in surprise. “Really?”

“Mmhmm, but if I had to guess, you’re Erica, right?”

Stiles knows there are a few photos around Isaac’s apartment that Kira would have seen, and she’s certainly heard enough stories .

“Right,” Erica says, but she’s frowning now.

The mage looks contemplative but not altogether surprised. She turns to Stiles. “What year is it, sweetheart?”

The way she says sweetheart, so exactly how Stiles remembers it, creates a lump in his throat. His lips move, but he can’t even remember her question.

Scott answers for him. “It’s 2019. March 2019.” He glances toward the snow outside. “Isn’t it?”

“I’m afraid not.” The mage spreads her hands wide, corner of her mouth curled up impishly. Ta da. It’s like looking in a really jacked-up funhouse mirror. “Welcome to 2029.”

* * *

They’re standing on the edge of the forest, the train car safely in the distance, and even without wolfy senses, Stiles can tell the wolves are marginally more relaxed outside the confinement of the train.

It’s eerily silent. The snow, still coming down in huge sticky flakes, mutes everything. They’re standing in a loose line in front of the . . . mage. Stiles needs a bit more proof, a bit more logic, before he calls her anything else. Stiles is shoulder-to-shoulder with Scott. Kira stands on Scott’s other side, her katana loose in her grip. The Dereks are a few steps to Stiles’s left, trading sneers that would be intimidating if the situation weren’t so surreal. Stiles has never seen two people who appear to trust each other less. Erica, looking as bored as she ever did at sixteen, is lounging against a nearby tree.

“Where were you headed?” the mage asks.

“To Sandpoint to visit the McLean Pack,” Scott answers warily. “We’re working on an alliance.”

Fake Derek growls at that. “The McLeans.

Real Derek crosses his arms over his chest. He’s scowling up a storm, and the snowflakes stuck to his beard are making him look somewhat less intimidating, but no less attractive. “My mother was friends with the alpha. They’ve invited us to stay for a week at their ranch.”

“You mean their compound? Where they house the darkest coven in America plus three out of the five most wanted werewolves?”

Most wanted werewolves?” Stiles scoffs at Fake Derek. “What the hell are you talking about? Have you been watching those crazy crime shows again?”

Neither Derek spares him a look, but both snap, “Shut up, Stiles.”

And Stiles does, remarkably—not because the power of two annoyed Derek glares is too much to withstand—but because, for the first time, they look like the same person, even if one’s a little older. It freaks Stiles the fuck out.

“The McLeans are a troubled pack,” the mage says. “Between border skirmishes and attacks, both biological and military, by hunters, the pack’s numbers have been decimated over the years. When Marilyn McLean, the alpha, lost her last remaining child, she went on a rampage and formed a new pack by force. Among those she bit was the head of the Sayer Coven. The mage survived the bite and decided to move her coven to Idaho.”

Stiles has no idea where this story is going, no idea how it ties to whatever the hell’s going on right now, but he knows of the Sayer Coven from Boston.

“You’re talking about Selwyn Sayer,” he says.

The mage nods.

“Lydia went to school with her. They were really good friends.” Stiles looks over at Scott, who nods. They both visited Lydia out in Boston more than once. “Selwyn wouldn’t condone this.”

“Maybe her priorities changed after her parents were killed by a feral wolf,” the mage says.

“Shit,” Stiles mumbles. He hates unexpected enemies.

“It’s how they knew who to go to,” Fake Erica spits at him, and wow, she went from aloof to pissed off even faster than she used to. Faster than real Erica used to. “Lydia’s little . . . whatever with the witch is how they knew about Claudia and our Stiles. How they knew how to target them. We’d actually managed to keep that information wrapped up tight, but Lydia goes and—” She’s visibly vibrating. “It’s why we’re fucking here.

“Erica,” the mage mom-voices, “enough. None of this is Lydia’s fault. They would have eventually come after us no matter what. I don’t think Stiles’s magic is as secret as we’d like to think.” She turns back to Stiles. “Marilyn considers her husband’s death to be the start of everything that’s gone wrong. On the day of his death, she believes she would have saved him if not for the visiting pack.”

“Us,” Stiles says. Some things are starting to click.

The mage nods. “You.”

“So, she . . . what, yanked us into the future?”

“It looks that way.”

“But . . . but not our own future, because . . . uh, two Dereks and . . . an Erica and . . .” He rubs the back of his head. He thinks maybe the mage knows that his mom is dead, but he’s not going to be the first person to say it out loud. He waves in her general direction instead. “What’s up with that? It couldn’t have been easy to bring us here. Couldn’t she have just gone back in her own time?” Apparently he’s now discussing time travel and universe hopping like it’s a real thing.

The mage gives him a small, familiar, I’m-very-proud-of-you smile.

He aches.

“From the little we’ve heard, Marilyn is concerned if she goes into her own past that either she won’t be able to effect change or she’ll make things worse—”

“Worse?” Scott sounds incredulous. “How would she manage that?”

The mage smiles at Scott. “Things can always be worse, Scott.”

“How does she know our world won’t be worse? I’m, um, pretty sure it’s worse for us.” Stiles really has no idea, there’s almost nothing he knows for sure, but in a world where his mom lives to at least sixty and Derek to forty? And Erica out of her teens? Those are all amazing things. Their world is shit in comparison.

“I don’t know for sure,” the mage says, “but I believe Marilyn has spent the past several months sending out scouts of a sort to find the best option. There have been some rumors of an imbalance in this part of the country.”

“Right, sure, she’s just Doctor Who-ing it up all over the universe. Universes.”

Stiles could be wrong, but he swears, out of the corner of his eye, he catches Fake Derek almost smiling.

“What now?” Fake Erica waves at Stiles and company. “She wanted us to kill them, which we obviously haven’t.”

Real Derek speaks up. “Alpha McClean blames our visit for her husband’s death. She thinks by stopping the visit, she’ll stop her husband from being killed.”

“The start of all her troubles,” Stiles says to him.

Derek nods.

“And then with my help—” the mage says.

“And Stiles’s help,” Fake Derek says rather emphatically, which confirms that this universe’s Stiles is alive.

“I believe she plans to cross from our time into yours and assume the life of her other self,” the mage says.

“And just like voila, life is good again?”

“So she believes.”

“So, I hate to ask this because I don’t want you to think I’m judging you or anything, but, uh, why the hell are you helping her? Don’t we have a general policy on not helping serial killers? Haven’t we kind of learned?” Stiles casts the Dereks an extremely un-subtle eyebrow-raise. While he’s expecting the feisty glare he gets from Real Derek, Fake Derek’s blank look is confusing.

“You’ve noticed, of course, that there are only three of us,” the mage says, suddenly much more serious than she’s been.

Stiles glances at Scott, who looks back at him worriedly. “Yeah,” Stiles finally says. “I’m kind of afraid to ask.”

“We’ll keep the details to only what’s necessary,” she says. “That might be easiest on all of us.” She smiles warmly at Stiles before continuing. “We were traveling through Washington on our way to the Pacific Northwest Super-Con, when—”

“Whoa, what? The Pacific Northwest Super-what? That sounds awes—”

“Stiles.” The mage waits for him to fake-zip his lips shut. “We were attacked at a rest stop. They took us to the compound in Sandpoint, where they split us up and then made some creative threats.”

“The other four are being held while we do this,” Fake Derek says. “They promised to release them if we took out the people on your train. She told us they were the pack responsible for the attacks on her pack, and she gave us guns because she said it would be faster, in and out, but . . .” Fake Derek looks at the gun in his hand with great distaste. Stiles isn’t sure how good of an alpha Alpha McLean can be if she doesn’t know better than to try arming wolves with human weapons.

“She also wanted Stiles’s and my help with sending her back to your time,” the mage says, nodding toward Stiles and company. “I don’t think she trusts that Selwyn can do it.”

“So that’s the whole pack?” Real Derek asks abruptly, eyes fixed firmly on god knows what off in the distance. “You three and the four being held?”

Stiles looks around. These four plus other Stiles . . . If things go like he’s thinking he’s pretty sure he’ll be finding out firsthand, but the math isn’t looking good. Is the mage officially pack? If she is, then his dad would be, right? Because there’s no way his dad isn’t still kicking around in 2029, so that’s Erica, Derek, the mage, his dad, the other Stiles, and only two more. Two. Scott and Lydia? Isaac? Is Liam in this world? What about Parrish? Malia?

Only two.

Maybe this world is not better.

But then Erica laughs. Scoffs, really, obnoxious. “What? No. That’s not even half. Hell, that’s not even a quarter. The others are back at home, in Beacon Hills. The fuckers at the compound took our phones as soon as they jumped us, and we were already too far away to just . . .” She tips back her head and howls.

Real Derek, standing close enough for Stiles to feel his body heat, lets out the quietest, smallest, saddest sound Stiles has ever heard. Like a former alpha might upon hearing the howl of a lost beta. That’s when it clicks for Stiles that this is all real.

This is happening. They’re somehow in 2029, somewhere in the middle of Idaho. Standing in front of him is not only fierce, beautiful Erica, but also his mother. His mom. Maybe she isn’t the one he grew up with, the one he watched die, but she married some version of his dad, raised some version of him—probably taught him magic, cut his hair, talked with him about boys . . .

Stiles barely holds back his own pathetic noise.

He looks at Claudia, and she’s staring back at him, brown eyes wide, kind, like she understands exactly what’s going through his head, exactly how close he is to throwing himself at her.

Erica abruptly cuts off, and Stiles’s thoughts fade away with her echoing howl, because as soon as the sound has vanished from the heavy winter air, Stiles hears another howl, faint, obviously far away.

“Who’s that?” he asks, but he thinks he might have an idea given the tangible panic suddenly in the air.

“Oh shit,” Erica gasps. “Shit, that was so stupid. I forgot you weren’t—” Her eyes are wide as they flick between Stiles and Scott. “I forgot.

Fake Derek has snapped to attention and is staring off into the forest. “They’re coming.”

“I hear someone.” Scott drops into a half-crouch, ears already elongating.

“All right,” Claudia—his mom—says briskly. She’s pulled her cowl back over her head. “Enough of that. We have thirty seconds to plan. Let’s see what we can do. We have a pack to rescue.”

When the Dereks take steps toward the distant howls, Stiles has to physically pull both back into the huddle. They resist for a moment, but neither pulls away. Gesturing sharply to make a point, Fake Derek leans closer, and Stiles welcomes the minor distraction of the warm body so close.

“So,” Claudia begins, “first we’ll . . .”

Ninety seconds later, they have a plan. It’s not a very good one—Stiles thinks maybe they’re all gonna get their asses kicked, maybe kicked all the way to dead—but they’ve worked and won with worse.

* * *

The car the McLeans loaned the Fakes isn’t going to fit them all, but they need to get closer to the compound, a ten-minute drive away. Since magedom doesn’t come with wolf-like superpowers, Stiles and Claudia (Stiles thinks that’s safer, and less confusing, than Mom) have to go in the car.

“You said it’s right through the woods,” Real Derek says, “there’s a trail, how hard can it be?”

Fake Derek gets right up in his face. “I know the way, I drove it earlier. I’ll drive them.”

“No, you lead them through the woods. You have the strongest nose.”

Fake Derek looks two seconds from wolfing out. “Erica is our best tracker. She’ll be able to evade the other pack easily.”

“Hey, guys,” Stiles jumps in. “How about you both run and I drive?”

“No.” Fake Derek takes a swipe at Real Derek’s chest, claws out, and when Real Derek ducks, trying to go in low, Fake Derek neatly sidesteps and tugs open the car door. “Get in,” he barks at Stiles over his shoulder before dropping into the driver’s seat.

“Stiles.” Real Derek grabs his arm as Stiles jogs past. “Be careful,” he says quietly. “I don’t trust him.”

Stiles sighs. “Not surprising . . .” He’s about to get in the car, but there’s something in the way Derek’s watching him so intently that has him turning back. “Hey, it’ll be okay. We’ll be back together in like ten minutes, and you may not trust him, but I do.”

“You don’t even know him.”

“Sure I do.” Stiles takes a step backward, toward the car. “He’s you. Go.”

Several minutes into the car ride, after Stiles has loaded his gun and shoved it into his waistband, he turns in the passenger seat so he can see both Fake Derek and Claudia. “I know we’re trying to avoid exchanging too many details, but we should probably know who we’re going in to save. Just in case it’s someone we don’t know.”

“Scott, John, Boyd,” Derek says, tone clipped and tight. His eyes flick to the right. “Stiles.”

Yes, his dad. And— “Boyd! That’s awesome.”

Claudia opens her mouth but closes it again. After a moment, she clears her throat. “We’re almost there.”

Stiles nods. “One more thing. Scott is still the alpha, right? Is he going to freak out when he smells unfamiliar pack?”

“You’re not unfamiliar.” Derek swerves the car under a copse of firs next to the road. Their three wolves emerge from the woods at the same time. “Even Kira smells like our pack. And yes, Scott is one of our alphas.” He pushes himself out of the car and slams the door before Stiles can react. Kira and Claudia are out before Stiles has even released his seatbelt.

“Whoa, ‘one of’? What does that mean?” Stiles asks the empty car. He quickly scrambles out, slipping as his sneaker hits ice; he catches himself with his bat and nearly earns a palmful of silver spikes. “What do you mean one of your alphas? You have more than one? And it’s not you? Who’s the other?”

Fake Derek gives him a sharp, disbelieving look.

“Sssh.” Scott’s staring into the forest.

“They’re almost here,” Real Derek says. “Go, Stiles. Scott, go.”

Stiles hates this plan—nothing good ever comes of splitting up—but he knows there’s no other way. Some of them need to stall the first wave from the McLean Pack so the rest of them can make an attempt at freeing the others. That doesn’t stop him from pausing at the edge of the tree line and turning back to watch as Real Derek and Erica, already wolfed out, fan out around Kira and her katana.

“We should stay,” Stiles says. “Seven is better than three—we’ll take out the wolves and all hit the compound together.”

Real Derek’s bright blue eyes turn on him. “No, you should go.” He glances toward the forest—even Stiles can hear the approaching wolves now. “We’ll be right behind you.”

Scott is already calling for him, hollering his name from the woods. Fake Derek and Claudia have followed him in.

Stiles takes an unwilling step. “Right behind us.”

“Promise,” Derek says. “Go.”

As he’s jogging deeper into the woods, he swears he hears the words be safe float after him. “You, too,” he murmurs. He knows Derek will hear him.

* * *

Sometimes Stiles thinks it’s a miracle they’ve all survived as long as they have. Given Gerard, Kate, Peter, Meredith, the darach and oni and nogitsune and alpha pack, the golem and redcaps and merpeople and that one demon back in 2016—he doesn’t know how they haven’t lost more people than they have. Because when it comes right down to it, they’re all dumb. Really freaking dumb. The kind of dumb where no one expects the enemy to be lying in wait at the compound. But that’s exactly what happens.

So now Stiles, Claudia, Scott, and Fake Derek are on their knees in front of what is tantamount to a firing squad. They might be facing claws and magic rather than guns, but he knows the result will be the same: deadness. Lots and lots of deadness. Because of dumbness. Lots and lots of dumbness. Particularly since the first thing the alpha did when Stiles and the others dropped into her yard was snap magic-blocking iron bracelets on him and Claudia. Stiles keeps tugging at his, looking for a weak seam, but he knows it’s fruitless—he’s used enough of these on enemy mages to know it won’t come off without a physical key or the touch of an unblocked mage.

Alpha McLean looks the part—she’s as tall as Derek, with broad shoulders and thick arms, and her eyes have been a muddy red since Stiles leapt the wall and landed practically in her arms. The five betas she has with her, plus the three mages, all stiffen any time she gets near them or even looks in their direction. If any of the wolves are the three of the five most wanted werewolves, Stiles couldn’t be less impressed.

“I thought we made a deal.” Alpha McLean is crouched low in front of Claudia. “And I was very clear, wasn’t I? About what would happen if you failed to complete your half of the deal?” She flicks out a single claw right in Claudia’s face before dragging it down her cheek.

Stiles is already on his feet as the first drop of blood wells thick and red on Claudia’s skin. Not more than two steps into his kamikaze mission, something slams into his head. A boot, he considers vaguely, his head snapping back as he drops to the ground.

“What the fuck, Stiles?” someone growls close to him, but he doesn’t care. Someone was hurting his mom. What was he supposed to do? Let it go? Nope. He thinks not.

He’s being dragged through the snow, and then someone presses on his shoulder, forcing him to stay on the ground, flat on his back. The person don’t let up even when he struggles. “Stay down.

Stiles rolls his head to the side. The pain flares bright but then fades into a dull throb, though he’s not sure why everything’s so fuzzy. Probably another concussion. Awesome. A Derek-shaped smudge is glaring blurrily at him from above. “Mom?” he asks. He flails up a hand to touch the deep long-healed gash on Derek’s cheek. He’s been wanting to do that for ages now. Derek’s skin is warm, the groove surprisingly smooth.

Derek’s hand tightens on his shoulder. “She’s fine.”

But then a dark shape looms into his view. A few blinks of his heavy eyelids, and it resolves into Alpha McLean. She’s sneering down at them, more than a hint of fang showing. “As grating as I find your impertinence, and that of your counterpart, it’s validating to discover fundamental similarities between the worlds. But that doesn’t make your foolhardiness any less of a liability.”

Alpha McLean has him all the way off the ground before he even sees her move, her fist gripping the front of his hoodie. Stiles struggles, but his heels scrabble uselessly at the slick ground. He tries to claw her back but he might as well be digging his fingernails into a tree trunk.

“Let Stiles go,” Scott says, his voice overriding Derek’s snarled Stiles.

“You should really learn to control your pack, Mr. McCall. You’re not going to make alliances this way.” Alpha McLean’s sideburns looms close, and then Stiles is flying through the air and crashing hard into something warm and solid. “Control the human, Mr. Hale, since Mr. McCall can’t.”

Stiles looks up and right into the eyes of Fake Derek.

“To be honest, I’m not all that concerned with the alliances we won’t be making,” Scott says. “I’m pretty sure the other Scott isn’t either.”

Stiles loses the thread of dialogue at that point. His head is pounding. He’s soaked from the heavily falling snow, his freezing pants are getting uncomfortable, and Derek’s chest is warm, and even if his henley got partially shredded at some point, the shirt is super-soft under Stiles’s cheek, like it’s been washed a thousand times. It probably has—he doubts there’s any Derek in any universe who has a varied wardrobe. So it’s not Stiles’s fault if he burrows in a little more. How often does he get a chance to cuddle the guy like this?

But then he sees the tear over Derek’s bicep, revealing a lot of skin and some black ink. Through the hole he can read the letters zem written on Derek’s skin.

He hooks a finger in the hole and pulls it wider open: zemysła

Stiles knows a lot of random shit, and it just so happens that Polish orthography is one of those things. And even if it weren’t, he’d sure as fuck recognize half of his own name.

He pushes up enough that he can see Fake Derek’s face. “Uh, is that my name on your arm, dude?”

Derek’s eyes narrow slightly before his whole face gets caught up in a scowl. He drags Stiles down to his chest so hard that Stiles thinks maybe he’ll have a new bruise to add to the quickly blossoming collection. This is also when he realizes that Alpha McLean is still arguing with Scott.

“—seem to forget I have your pack, Mr. McCall. Maybe they’re not exactly yours, but I doubt Scott McCall, the most just alpha on the west coast, would be willing to forsake any of his pack, anywhere. And since their other alpha isn’t here and doesn’t even know where they are, they’re all your responsibility.” She pauses. Stiles imagines the evil-villainess face she’s making. “All it would take is a single howl and . . .”

It’s pretty clear where she’s going with that, and Stiles sobers up fast. The palpable tension is almost enough to make him forget Derek’s curious tattoo.

Her words are met with silence. There’s a car-like rumble off in the far, far distance and some birds somewhere nearby raising a racket, but other than that—silence.

“What do you want?” Scott finally asks.

Alpha McLean laughs. It’s an unpleasant sound, too animalistic and feral. “You keep your pack in line, Mr. McCall. In exchange, I will let you all be together while the Stilinskis perform the final spell. And if everyone behaves, if no one gives me any trouble, my pack will let you all go. All of you. I’m not quite sure what you’ll do about having two of some of you roaming around, but you’ll figure it out.”

Stiles jerks himself upright. Because his dad. He’s not leaving his dad back in 2019 alone. “Whoa, you can’t do—” He’s yanked backward, Derek’s hand clamped over his mouth. He drags Derek’s hand away, but then Alpha McLean is in his face, crouched down so they’re at eye level and staring at one another.

“You’ll find I can do exactly what I like,” she says. Her breath is hot and fetid; Stiles almost gags when it washes over his face. The snick of her claws flicking out is loud—they’re darker, more jagged than Scott’s and painful when she digs them into his jaw. The feeling when she twists her fingers, digs in and hits bone, has him a breath away from heaving all over her, but he swallows it down. There’s a look in her eyes as they flicker back and forth between his, fiery bright and glassy. “You think I’m going to risk letting any of your pack return to 2019? You think I’m stupid enough to believe you won’t come after me?” The air around them is charged, sizzling. Instinctively, Stiles reaches for his magic, but the iron bracelet only burns around his wrist. “Your mother made a grave mistake when she didn’t follow through on the train, and she’s going to regret it forever.”

The sound of her nails pulling from his skin is wet and sucking. Derek presses a sleeve hard to Stiles’s wounds as Alpha McLean unfolds herself, stretching to her full height above them.

It’s not just her eyes and hands that are wolfy now, but her face is shifting as dark fur ripples up her neck. All the wolves ringed around them are growling, low level rumbles that vibrate right through Stiles. From the corner of his eyes, he can see one of the mages rolling a yellow flame along her fingers—not magefire, but almost as bad.

“You may not be precisely hers,” she says, her voice an octave lower through her half-wolfed throat, “but I bet you’re close enough. And trust me when I say that watching your child die is the most awful thing a parent can experience. Hold him still, Mr. Hale.”

Except that’s not what Derek does—a second later, Stiles is facedown in the snow, pushed there by Derek, Derek covering him. He doesn’t even have time to yell at Derek for his stupidity—he’s going to get them both killed—before Derek’s weight is gone from his back and Alpha McLean is hauling Stiles to his knees.

He glares at Derek, who’s being wrestled to his feet by two of the betas. There’s blood on his forehead, even if the wound is already healing.

“Stop it, jackass,” Stiles hisses. “You need to take care of the others. You need to make sure they get back to my dad.”

Stiles’s gaze darts from Derek to Claudia. Across the clearing, Claudia is scrabbling at the iron bracelet on her wrist, eyes wide and panicked. Scott has a hand on her arm, and Stiles wonders if it’s to keep Claudia from being as brash as Derek or to keep himself from jumping Alpha McLean. He shakes his head when his eyes meet Claudia’s.

Maybe . . . maybe it won’t be so bad if she doesn’t actually see it happen.

“Definitely more trouble than you’re worth.” The alpha’s teeth elongate as she raises a hand that’s already half paw.

Stiles’s eyes track the hand as it slashes through the air—right up until it stops about six inches from his face, a long, black arrow punched through it.

In the moment of stunned pause, Real Derek dives away from the betas, jerking Stiles back and to the side right as another arrow buries itself in the alpha’s chest. They roll once, twice, narrowly avoiding her body when it crashes to the ground.

“Stiles!”

He looks up just as Allison lobs an object through the air, and he catches it reflexively. He takes half a second to look at the rugged hunting knife now in his hand before he’s rolling onto his knees. Lunging forward, Stiles slams the knife into Alpha McLean’s neck and pulls. Pulls back so hard he can feel her spinal cord as it gives a single moment of useless resistance. Then he’s on his ass, a dripping knife in his hand, a dead alpha soaking the snow with her blood, and utter chaos exploding around him.

He rolls out of the way, half pulled by Fake Derek dragging him by the back of his hoodie, as he tries to figure out what the fuck just happened.

He picks out Scott fighting with one of the McLean betas, and that’s about the time his brain clicks and screams at him, ALLISON.

Allison. “Holy shit,” he gasps looking around wildly. She’s still on top of the stone wall, her hands a blur as she unloads arrow after arrow into the fray, precise and sure. Standing a few feet to her side is an unfamiliar dark-haired guy also sporting a compound bow that he’s wielding with Argent-like accuracy. The guy grins when Stiles catches his eye, and then he looks at Derek and hollers, “Derek, c’mon. I think we can make it to the main house in case they need backup.”

Derek drags Stiles to his feet yet again, and then he’s pushing, saying, “Go, go,” and they’re following the guy with the bow as he leaps from the wall and takes off toward the center of the compound.

“Scott!” Stiles shouts over his shoulder, trying to look back.

“Go, Stiles! We’ll be right behind you.”

Well, Stiles has heard that before, and he still doesn’t know where Derek, Kira, and Erica are, but he goes, sprinting along with Fake Derek. If he trusts anyone with his mom, it’s Scott. For a second he thinks someone might be trying to follow them, but then there’s a high-pitched whine and a heavy thud, and they’re alone as they run through the snow, sounds of the fight fading in the distance.

“What’s the plan?” he gasps, lungs already starting to burn, both from the exertion of the sprint and the frigid air. “Because I don’t think the three of us are gonna be able to free the others by ourselves.”

“Won’t have to,” Derek grunts. “Move faster, Stiles.” Asshole isn’t even out of breath.

“Can’t, dude—human.

“Aren’t you a cop or something?” Allison’s friend says over his shoulder, not even missing a step as he basically runs blind. Show-off. “I thought you could run a mile in six minutes.”

“Yeah, but not—” Stiles’s foot slips as his body passes through what feels like a patch of hot air. He goes down hard, hands and knees skidding over the bumpy ground. “Fuck,” he grunts, and he rolls over, trying to get a look at whatever the hell he just ran through, but Derek’s already hauling him up by the neck, muttering jesus christ and making the angriest of angry faces.

The other guy is laughing as he leads them toward the big house that’s now only a couple lacrosse field lengths away, but he quiets abruptly, arrow nocked as he slides to a stop. “I think I hear—”

Stiles has the knife up, ready to throw, before he recognizes the wolves that burst out of the forest—Erica and Scott, Kira close on their heels. He mumbles a quick thank god before hollering, “What the hell took you guys so long? You almost came back to a shredded Stiles.”

“Ambushed,” Real Derek, gloriously real, snaps as he skids to a stop in front of them, eyes scanning up and down Stiles and the knife he’s gripping. A burst of warmth flood Stiles when Derek grips his shoulders. “What happened?” He tips Stiles’s head to the side to glare at the claw punctures, then looks around at the others. “Are you o—” The whoosh of breath leaving Derek’s lungs is audible, and his eyes widen as his mouth falls open. The look on his face is so startled that Stiles is already sliding his arms around Derek as he scans for an attacker. He didn’t hear a gunshot, but that doesn’t mean anything. “Patrick?” Derek chokes out.

Patrick? Oh hell, Stiles recognizes that tone.

Letting his arms fall from around Derek, Stiles turns to see the guy with the bow grinning brightly. “This is pretty fucked up, huh? Do I get to call you little brother now?”

Derek takes a halting step forward. “Patrick.

Stiles’s heart is slowly breaking, cracking under the pressure of this fucking day and not only the look on Derek’s face but the one slowing sliding across Patrick’s features (visibly recognizable as Hale, now that Stiles is paying attention—the dark hair, the heterochromic eyes, even the stubble). Even Fake Derek looks sad.

“Ah hell, really?” Patrick says. “That sucks. Maybe I should have taken the bite, huh?”

Stiles doubts Derek will tell him it wouldn’t have made a difference.

Derek’s labored breathing is loud—it’s all Stiles can hear. For a minute he’s worried Derek’s actually going to have a panic attack, but then Erica bumps Derek’s shoulder with hers. “Let’s go,” she says with surprising gentleness. “You can hug it out later, okay? Who knows what shit plan Scott and Stiles have concocted in there.”

Derek nods slowly, although his eyes haven’t left his brother. Kira slips around them to rub her cheek on Stiles’s shoulder. “Okay?” she asks. She looks a little worse for wear—her ponytail is all crazy and her hoodie is missing an entire sleeve—but she’s still carrying the katana and she doesn’t have any visible wounds.

“Uh, maybe? What happened?”

Before Kira can respond, a long howl breaks the muted atmosphere.

They all startle, heads whipping toward the huge house a hundred yards away. Stiles doesn’t recognize it, although Real Derek lets out a pained whimper. “Who was—”

Another howl reverberates through the air. That one he does know. “Scott,” Stiles says, already taking off at a run.

The rest of them catch up but let him lead as he charges for the front door. It bangs open, nearly clocking Stiles on the rebound, but he keeps going, down a long, dark hall, weaving right around a big statue, then left down an even darker, longer hallway. Momentum almost sends him face-first down a set of concrete steps, but a fist in the back of his hoodie catches him.

“They’re down here,” Stiles whispers, hand wrapped tight around the railing.

One of the Dereks growls assent. “Go. Slowly, Stiles.”

Below, he can hear the sounds of fighting. Growling. A couple of muted shouts.

At the bottom of the stairs, he gapes at the flickering torch stuck in a sconce on the stone wall. “What the fuck? I thought we went forward in time.”

From ahead and around the corner comes the unmistakable sound of running feet. Stiles is missing his bat—and his magic—or anything bigger and scarier than this knife, but that’s all he has right now so it’ll have to do. Except the guy who hurtles around the corner and nearly crashes into him isn’t his enemy.

His own wide eyes stare back at him for a long moment, not seeming nearly as surprised as they should, before they’re roving over all the people behind him. “Finally, the cavalry,” he says. “Were you waiting for an invitation?”

Stiles is pretty happy to see he’s lookin’ good for thirty-four, healthy and a little bulky in the shoulders, but then someone pushes past him in the narrow hallway. It’s fucking weird watching his own face light up, smile pulling wide, when Fake Derek grabs the other Stiles’s shoulder and then basically pats him down, looking for injuries. They’re completely silent yet focused intensely on one another as Derek’s hands slide slowly over Stiles’s body and the other Stiles wipes blood off Derek’s face. Stiles’s eyes are drawn to that rip over Fake Derek’s bicep. He can still see hints of black ink as Derek’s arm moves.

When he chances a look over his shoulder, it’s to find Real Derek laser-focused, eyebrows halfway up his forehead as he stares at their doubles. For a moment, Stiles is dying to know what’s on Derek’s mind, but then Derek looks up and focuses on Stiles, and with the set of his jaw, the slight parting of his lips, and the way his whole body seems to lean toward Stiles . . . Stiles’s breath catches in his chest. He has to look away.

He makes himself peek around the corner and sees an open door at the end the hall. He’s pretty sure that’s the source of the growls and thuds. His throat feels thick as he says, “Uh, guys, I’m thinking we should help—you wanna maybe catch up later?”

“Just go. They’ll be at this all day.” Patrick grabs his arm as he jogs past.

Stiles glances back at himself—but he can’t really handle the mix of jealousy and awe at the way Fake Derek is now pressed all up along the other Stiles as his hands pull up the back of Stiles’s shirts and slide under, so he follows Patrick.

He has to step over two partially shifted wolves to enter the room. Scott’s back is easily recognizable where he’s crouched in front of a woman—Selwyn Sayer, Stiles thinks, bound in iron and looking incredibly pissed about life. He’s relieved to see that the entire room has been neutralized—though he honestly has no idea how.

Stiles keeps looking around, skipping past a dark-haired woman who looks familiar and—

A hand clamps down on his shoulder. “Good to see you, kiddo. We were wondering when you’d get here.”

He whirls to find his dad smiling at him tiredly. He knows it’s not his dad, not really, but he still throws his arms around him. “Shit, you’re real.”

“That I am.” His dad chuckles. “You doing okay? Anyone hurt?” He slowly releases Stiles, looking over his shoulder. “Derek, you okay, son?”

“I’m fine. It’s good to see you, Sheriff,” Derek says from behind Stiles, gruff as ever.

Dad laughs. “Not sheriff anymore. I gave that up to Jordan half a decade ago.”

“So why does no one seem surprised by this?” Stiles waves at himself. “There’s, like, two of me now and everyone’s all, ‘Hey, how about those Mets, did you notice it’s snowing, what’s for lunch?’ And where did they all come from, anyway?”

“Turns out their mage had some second thoughts about helping McLean drag her rein of terror to another universe.” Dad nods toward Selwyn Sayer, who’s now being watched by not only Scott but also Boyd. Jesus, Boyd. Who’s looking even bigger and tougher than ever. And much, much more alive.

Stiles looks back to see how Derek’s handling this, but Derek isn’t looking at Boyd. He’s staring at the woman Stiles skipped over a minute ago. She’s squatting next to Scott now, but as if she can feel Derek’s laser eyes burning up her shoulder, she half-turns, rising to her feet. And then her face lights up, too, eyes flickering scarlet for just a second as she jogs over to them.

“Jesus, Derek.” Her arms wrap around Derek—Real Derek, the wrong Derek, Stiles thinks—and Derek is making weird noises, kind of . . . choking? What? Because . . . Stiles takes a good, long look at the woman—pretty and dark-haired, she's a few inches shorter than Derek, but there’s power and grace in the way she holds herself—and it clicks, years’ old memories of half a woman and pieces of photos floating together in his mind. This is Laura, of course—this is Laura.

“Uh.” Stiles smiles apologetically at his dad, who’s watching the clutch of Hales worriedly. “A lot of things are different in our world.” He looks back to see Patrick enter the room and immediately head for his brother and sister, his real brother Derek following close behind.

And then it’s only a moment before the rest of the pack are flooding the room—Stiles can’t even keep up, but he spots freshly rescued Scott hugging Allison while Real Scott hovers awkwardly nearby, and Erica and Boyd pushing each other around before Erica jumps on Boyd, and then Stiles’s mom is smothering his dad, and Stiles has to take a step back. A couple steps. A bunch. When his back is against the stone wall, he slides down, down, down until his ass is on the cold ground.

Completely overloaded, he sits there alone until a still-familiar face hunkers down in front of him. “You okay?” Boyd asks.

Stiles sits up a little straighter. “I don’t know? I think so. How are you? You guys all okay?”

Boyd shrugs. “We’re fine. You know you’re bleeding?” He taps his own jaw.

When Stiles drags his fingers across his skin, punctures tugging against his fingertips, they come away bloody. An uneasy feeling rises in his throat as he stares at the blood, but he distracts himself with the iron on his wrist—or maybe it distracts him. Now that he has a minute to focus on it, he’s aware of the bracelet’s pull on his strength and how it’s zapping his energy, unsettling his entire body. “This is kind of giving me a headache,” he says, holding up his arm. “My m—Claudia has one on, too.”

Boyd’s hot fingers brush Stiles’s hand as he leans in to examine the bracelet. “Yeah, they put one on our Stiles after he finished the big spell. Hang on.” Boyd gets the key from Laura, and after Stiles insists he help Claudia first, Boyd has the bracelet off Stiles’s wrist a, and the nausea vanishes with it.

Stiles sighs in relief. “Thanks, dude.” With his palm flipped up, he frees his magic, letting it shoot out tiny red sparks that clear the drying blood from his hand. “Much better.”

Boyd looks amused. “When you’re ready, Scott thinks they have the spell that will send you back.”

“Your Scott or my Scott?” Stiles asks. He looks over at the Scotts, who are standing in a cluster with Allison, Erica, and Kira. He should really be over there, hugging the crap out of Allison. Apologizing to her face for killing her.

Boyd shrugs as he gets to his feet. “I can’t see much difference.”

Stiles shoves to his feet and grabs Boyd’s arm before he can walk away. “Hey, uh.” He steps closer, lowers his voice. “What’s the deal with them?” He nods toward other Stiles and Fake Derek. They’re standing side by side, talking with Laura. He notices how tired the other him looks. There are dark circles under his eyes, and Derek has an arm around his waist like he’s supporting some of Stiles’s weight. That’s . . . cozy. “Derek has my name, like, my real one, tattooed . . .” Stiles wiggles his fingers at his own bicep.

“Oh, uh-uh.” Boyd takes a slow step backward. “No. I learned years ago to stay out of that. You’re on your own.” He turns and walks away, muttering something about the Stiles and Derek show.

“What? Hey, that’s not fair,” Stiles calls after Boyd, but Boyd only raises a hand and keeps going, as useful as ever. Stiles and Derek show, what does that even mean?

Christ, he is so over this day.

* * *

Stiles drags a hand through his soaked hair. It’s still snowing. He enjoys the occasional winter weather, but he’s ready to be back home in sunny Beacon Hills. “You’re sure you can do this?”

“Yeah.” Scott adds, “If it’s too much, we can find another way. Wait for Deaton, maybe? He said he could be here tomorrow.”

“Nah, we’ve got it, Scotty,” the other Stiles says. Scott had indeed found the right book, and other Stiles remembered enough that he and Claudia were certain they could pull it off. So now they’re out in the compound’s courtyard . Other Stiles rolls his head back and forth a few times, knuckles cracking as he flexes his fingers. “I’m like eighty-five percent. Eighty-five percent of the way home is good enough, right?”

Claudia gives other Stiles a look, fond and exasperated. “We’ll be fine, Scott, thank you.”

“All right, so . . . this is it?” Stiles looks around at everyone. He’s not sure he’s ever felt this conflicted in his life. He wants to go back—needs to go back to make sure their absence hasn’t fucked up anything irrevocably, and he has to get back to his dad. But he’s barely had a moment to talk to Erica and Boyd. He hugged Allison long enough for it to feel awkward, but he hasn’t had a chance to see pictures of the two little Argent-McCalls he keeps hearing about. Derek’s tattoo is driving him mad—Stiles needs him to explain it. He really wants to get to know Laura and Patrick and even the other Derek. And his mom . . . how’s he just supposed to leave her here?

Digging his nails into his palms to distract himself, he takes a couple deep breaths. It’s fine. He’s fine.

Claudia comes up to him. “The longer you’re gone from where you belong, the harder it will be to send you back.”

He nods helplessly. “I know.”

She squeezes his arm. “Come with me for a moment, please.”

Claudia leads him off to the side of the courtyard, around a couple of small trees, to a bench that’s concealed by some tall shrubs. He dusts snow off the bench for both of them, then sits next to her. “How’d you know this was here?”

“Talia used to be good friends with Marilyn, before her husband died. Your father and I came up a couple of times with her and Aaron.”

Marilyn, the alpha he just killed. Right. “Aaron?” he asks.

She picks up Stiles’s hand, holds it between both of hers. He stares at it for a moment—it’s so much smaller than it was the last time she did the same thing. “Aaron is Derek’s father. You don’t know him?”

Stiles shakes his head. “No.” He clears his throat. “He’s dead, and Derek doesn’t talk about his family very much.” Voice lowered to account for pesky eavesdroppers, he asks, “Are they all alive here? Talia and Aaron and Cora and . . .” And he doesn’t know who else. He remembers seeing the full list of deceased in his father’s case files once, but he’s long since forgotten the names. More than once he’s contemplated digging it up, but even the idea has always felt too much like an invasion of Derek’s privacy.

“Cora, yes, she’s back in Beacon Hills, but Talia and Aaron died about ten years ago in a car accident. That’s when Laura became alpha.”

“A car accident?” Stiles blinks at her. A car accident is so mundane.

“They were run off the road by hunters.”

Stiles has questions, so very, very many of them, but he bites them all back. He loves (hates) the idea of this Derek having more time with his parents, with Laura probably being much better prepared to become alpha than she had in the real world. It’s probably better not to dwell on it—it’s not like they can stay or like anything that happens here will change what happens back at home. Knowing more will do more damage than good. He’s already worried how Derek’s going to handle leaving Laura and Patrick.

“How long has it been, sweetheart?”

Stiles looks up at Claudia, startled out of his thoughts. “What?”

“How long has it been since your mom died?” She squeezes his hand.

His breath hitches. “Fifteen years.”

Wordlessly, she pulls him into his arms, and he sinks into it, sinks into the feeling of being in his mom’s arms for the first time in so long. “What happened?” she asks, rocking him slowly.

“Frontotemporal dementia,” he mumbles against her shoulder.

She sighs quietly. “Like my babcia.”

“Yeah.”

She pulls back suddenly, hands holding tightly to the sides of his face. “But you’re okay, aren’t you?” She appears to be trying to peer into his brain.

“Yeah, I’m okay. There was a, a scare sort of thing back in high school, and now Melissa and Dad make me go every couple years for tests. All clear as of last summer.”

She looks so relieved, Stiles feels burning pressure at the back of his eyes, and she pulls him back into a hug. “How’s your father?” she asks quietly.

Stiles decides to skip right over those years directly following Claudia’s death. It’ll only make her worry. “He’s good. Great. He’s sheriff in Beacon Hills, has been for almost twelve years. He jokes about retiring, but it’ll never happen.” Except maybe it will if it happened here. Stiles rubs his cheek slowly on Claudia’s shoulder.

“You used to do that when you were little, too.” She laughs quietly. “You were like a puppy, the way you snuggled up to us. Derek likes to hear those stories. He says you were scent marking us.”

Stiles groans. “I really hope he can’t hear us now. I’ll never hear the end of it.”

Claudia hums quietly.

“He still misses you—her,” Stiles corrects. “I do, too.”

“But he’s living his life, isn’t he? He’s not . . . being destructive, is he?”

He closes his eyes. “Not anymore.”

She sighs and holds him tighter.

“Not in years,” he adds. “He’s actually, uh, dating a little finally.” And how awkward is this? He has to laugh at himself, and when Claudia pulls back, she’s smiling, too.

“Let me guess . . .” She frowns thoughtfully, and even before she’s opened her mouth, he call tell by the twinkle in her eye that she already knows. “Melissa McCall?”

“Okay, so I do not want to know what was going on back then that she’s your first guess. Nope, don’t want to hear a word.”

Claudia throws her head back in laughter, and Stiles is instantly, immediately, mesmerized. The photos Dad has of her scattered around the house, the albums he keeps under the couch, they do absolutely nothing to capture his mom’s beauty.

It takes her a minute to calm down. When she does, she smiles at him gently, and he already knows what’s coming. “You know you can’t stay, sweetheart.”

His hands twitch restlessly in his lap. “Maybe—”

“And you know you can’t come back here.”

Fuck. He’d only just begun to have that idea, of maybe bringing his dad back through with him to see her once more, see how healthy she is. He licks his lips. “Are you sure?”

She scoots a little closer so she can put an arm around his shoulders and pick up one of his hands. “I fear Marilyn already did irreparable damage to this world when she sent her scouts out to find the most compatible alternate reality. There are thin places around here where the air doesn’t feel quite right. Have you felt them?”

He thinks about the weird disturbance of air he ran through when Patrick was leading them to the house. “Yeah,” he says.

“There’s a fine line between a tiny tear in reality and mass destruction. We’d do our best to avoid even getting close.”

“You sound like Deaton.”

“He was my mentor, so that makes sense.”

“Yeah, mine, too.” Stiles swallows thickly. Do she and her Stiles do magic together? “I don’t think my mom had magic. If she did, Dad and I never knew about it. We thought my magic was an anomaly, not inherited like it usually is.”

Her thumb is sweeping back and forth over the back of his hand. It’s soothing—as much as anything can be right now, when he’s about two seconds from losing his shit on an epic scale. “Babcia didn’t have magic either,” she says quietly, “and I always wondered if maybe it was because she was sick. Or if maybe she got sick because something wasn’t right with her magic.”

Stiles’s mouth falls open a little. He’d toyed with the idea, of course, in the years after he found out about the supernatural, that maybe it had played some part in her death. But he’d never considered this—that the magic he loves so much could have killed her.

“No, stop that.” Claudia shakes him gently. “Don’t taint it like that. What’s done is done, and think about it this way: if there is a link, all those tests you’ve been getting are probably pointless.”

“Dad’ll be happy to hear that.” He sighs. What a fucking confusing day.

She pulls his head to her shoulder, a small warm hand on the back of his neck. “Yes, he will be, sweetheart.”

They remain like that for a few more minutes, and Stiles chooses not to say anything else, not to ask questions, to just let it all go. It’s maybe the hardest thing he’s ever done.

On the way back to the others, Claudia’s arm looped through his, she leans in close. “He’s stubborn, you know.”

“Dad? Of course he is—it’s a defining Stilinski characteristic.”

“No, not your father, although that’s certainly true.” The look she gives him is half disapproving, half fond. “I’m talking about Derek Hale.” When Stiles frowns down at her, at the little quirk in her grin, she shrugs. “It’s just merely a comment, an observation, if you will. Do with it as you please.” They reach the center of the courtyard, where everyone is milling about. She pulls him down for what he suspects is their last hug. “I love you, sweetheart. Take care of your father. Tell him to take care of you.”

“Always,” he mumbles. “Take care of, uh, Dad and me.” They both laugh, but on Stiles’s side, it’s with a heavy heart and tight throat.

They hold on for another long minute; Stiles dares anyone to comment on how they’re clinging to each other. He finally forces himself to loosen his hold and take a step back. “I don’t know how I’m gonna tell Dad about this. He’s going to be . . .” Stiles doesn’t know if there’s even a word for it, for how disbelieving his father will be.

“He’s just going to be happy you got a chance to see me,” Claudia says without hesitation.

Stiles stares up into the snow for a few moments, blinking rapidly to keep back the tears.

“Hey, uh.” Real Scott is suddenly at his side. “You have your phone, man?”

As thanks for Scott’s lack of commentary on how Stiles wipes his eyes, he pulls his miraculously intact phone from his pocket. Scott plucks it from his hand and thumbs open the screen. “All right.” He waves Stiles and Claudia together. Stiles gets what he’s doing about a second before he hears the fake click of the shutter. “And another. Smile, Stilinskis.”

Before Stiles can review the photos, Erica appears out of nowhere and snatches the phone out of his hand. “Come here.” Arm wrapped around Stiles’s neck, she a dozen photos—of the two of them, of the Dereks across the courtyard, of tiny Kira talking with enormous Boyd. She returns his phone with a hug, and then she jogs off to gather with the others.

“Hey.” There’s a tap on his shoulder. His own face looms into his view. “What? No goodbye for me?”

Stiles scratches at the back of his neck while he stares at not-his face. His body aches from top to bottom, he’s hungry, and he’s concerned he might lose a toe or two to frostbite. But none of the physical discomforts compare to the fucking weirdness of seeing his own face—and knowing it’s him inside, not a psychotic Japanese demon. “It’s too bad we didn’t get a chance to talk.”

“I think everyone else might be relieved.” Other Stiles jerks a thumb over his shoulder to where the Dereks are standing on the other side of the courtyard, watching them suspiciously.

Stiles chuckles. “How can you be so distrustful of yourself?” There’s a good four or five feet between the Dereks, their arms are crossed in a classic defensive offensive posture, and they’re side-eyeing each other as much as the Stileses.

“If anyone can, it’s Derek.” With a sharp glance at the Dereks that gets him a glare in return, other Stiles steps closer. Up close, Stiles can see a thin scar down the side of his neck, some unfamiliar wrinkles next to his eyes. Other Stiles chews on his thumb for a second. “So, one thing before you go.” He turns his back on everyone in the courtyard. For a long second, he stares off at nothing, but he seems to steel himself. “He’ll wait forever,” he finally says, voice low and eyes locked on Stiles’s, “but don’t let him.”

“Who will?” The words catches in his throat.

Other Stiles narrows his eyes. “You know who. And”—he cuts off the protest Stiles was about to raise with a hard poke to the shoulder—“that’s all the advice you get. No details. Except that it’ll be worth it.”

“Advice? You call that advice? That’s more like—hey, get back here.” He stares in exasperated silence as the other him jogs away without another word. Asshole.

* * *

The four of them are standing in a little circle, bags over their shoulders. “Don’t forget to put your arms around each other,” Claudia says. “We don’t want anyone being splinched.” She moves around the little group, hugging Kira, kissing Derek’s and Scott’s cheeks, giving Stiles a lingering hug he never wants to end.

“Be good, sweetheart,” she whispers.

He buries his face deep in her hair; he doesn’t want to forget her scent. “Always am, Mom.”

“Mmhmm, I’m sure.” She backs away, not bothering to wipe her damp cheeks.

They stand quietly, ringed by the other pack, as other Stiles lays down some sort of rune circle and Claudia murmurs perfectly inflected Latin.

“All right, everyone holding on tight?” Claudia asks.

Stiles tightens his arms around Derek and Kira. If he leans a little into Derek’s warmth and solid body, well, he’s sure Derek will keep his thoughts about it to himself.

A soft purple glow surrounds Claudia where she’s standing just behind Real Scott. “Ready, Stiles? Remember, steady and slow and think of your destination.”

“Got it. Don’t wanna end up in the middle of the ocean.” Stiles smiles at her—or tries to, at least. His skin feels tight and hot; he hopes he’s not grimacing.

“Not this time of year.”

In the end, their return to 2019 is much less exciting than the trip forward. There’s some shaking and jolting and purple light, but one minute Stiles is staring at his mother’s smile and murmuring his part of the spell, and the next he’s in the clearing that used to be the Hale house.

They end up in a pile of dizzy limbs and bags. He thinks there’s a boot under his ass and a rock under his shoulder, but he’s having trouble caring. The mid-March air is cool and crisp, dry and snappy. Nothing like what they just left. He’s never been so happy about California’s relatively bland weather.

Scott clears his throat. “So.”

“So,” Stiles repeats.

“That trip didn’t go quite like I expected.”

Stiles snorts. “No?”

“Sorry my mom was friends with a psycho,” Derek says.

Stiles flails out a hand until he finds what he thinks is Derek’s arm. He pats a couple times, then squeezes. Yup, definitely Derek’s muscles. “No worries, big guy. I could say the same. Turns out my mom and dad used to go up there to visit the pack with your mom and dad. So . . .” So. Now his head is filled with all of this information—faces and voices and people he didn’t even know existed. He doesn’t know what to do with it, how to categorize it. Because it happened, he was there, but at the same time it’s already starting to feel a bit unreal, like it was all a particularly lucid dream.

“So, what’s the story?” Scott asks.

Stiles presses his fingers to his eyes. Right, another story. “I think,” he says, breathing slowly, deliberately, “that I can’t tell my dad.”

“Dude.” Scott looms above him, and Stiles finally pushes himself to his feet. “Really? You don’t think he’d want to know?”

“Oh, he’d love to know. Are you kidding? But, dude, I think it’d . . . do more harm than good. Kill him, kinda.” He rubs his eyes. Secrets suck—they almost never stay that way for long, and they tend to cause more damage when they come out than they would have in the first place, but . . . It wasn’t really my mom. It looked like her and talked like her and smelled like her, but she had magic and was never sick and she raised a kid with magic and . . . she’s just not the same person. Dad . . . I don’t want him to obsess about it. He doesn’t need that.”

Scott nods slowly. Derek is staring at something behind Stiles—maybe the memorial trees the pack planted. “All right. Need to know basis, then?” He looks around at all of them. “Because we should probably check in on the McLeans, and everyone’s gonna want to know why.”

Stiles nods. Maybe after a good night’s sleep he’ll feel differently about it. Right now, he wants to put it behind him. He glances at Derek, who’s bending to pick up their bags. Well, all except one bit that he’s pretty sure he couldn’t forget about if he tried.

“Hey, everyone’s okay, right?” Scott asks.

Derek nods. Kira kisses Scott’s cheek. Stiles thumbs the wounds on his jaw. Everything hurts, but they’re home, and he’ll call his dad soon to make sure he’s okay. Reaching out to grab his bag from Derek, he lets his fingers linger against Derek’s longer than necessary. “Doing okay, Scotty.”

* * *

A call to the station gets them a free ride to their cars from Parrish. “Later,” Parrish says, pointing at Stiles. “The whole story.”

“In excruciating detail,” Stiles says, thinking maybe someday and deeply thankful when Parrish doesn’t press the issue.

Since Scott and Kira are headed back to Scott’s tonight and Derek drove Kira to the train station, Stiles cajoles Derek into giving him a ride home. “I’m thinking I should probably heal up a bit before letting my dad see me,” he says after they’ve pulled onto the main road.

“Okay,” Derek says.

“You still have that guest room?”

Derek nods.

Stiles chooses to take his silence as an enthusiastic invitation to use it.

They don’t speak the rest of the way to the loft. As they’re passing through downtown Beacon Hills, Stiles contemplates demanding a stop at the diner for burgers and much-needed fries, but there’s a tension radiating from Derek that Stiles doubts will make him very restaurant-friendly.

By the time they’re riding the elevator to Derek’s apartment, Stiles is wondering if this is a good idea. Maybe he and Derek could both use some time to decompress, think about the day, mourn it or celebrate it, and put it behind them. As tough as it was to see his mom and everyone else, he thinks Derek’s probably feeling it even more. Maybe he can wait until tomorrow morning to bring them up, but—no, probably not.

Derek waves toward the guest room as soon as the loft door is closed behind them. “You know where it is. You can use the shower first.” He heads toward the spiral staircase in the corner.

“Hey, hold up.”

Derek turns slowly back. It’s probably a good sign when he drops his bag at his feet. “Something on your mind, Stiles?”

“Uh.” Stiles stops in front of him, a few feet away. “So you know those two, the other Derek and Stiles, were probably . . .” Stiles starts a creative hand gesture but ends up scratching at his jaw when Derek’s blank expression somehow becomes even stonier. Maybe this isn’t the right time—they’re already too emotional; it would make sense to wait. Or maybe just . . .

“Derek had my name tattooed on his arm,” Stiles says, trying for aloof.

There’s nothing for one, two, three, then Derek’s eyebrows slowly rise. “He had Stiles tattooed on his arm?”

“Hey, no need to make it sound so horrible. S is a very attractive letter. All sinuous and . . .” He curves a hand through the air. “And . . . manly.” He rolls his eyes. “No, my real name.”

Derek stares at him for what feels like an hour before he stiffly says. “I don’t even know your first name.”

Duh. Stiles has worked hard to keep it buried deep, deep down where no one will ever find it. Even his high school and college diplomas had “Stiles” on them. “Uh, yeah, that’s because it’s awful. It’d be fine if we lived in Poland, but we don’t, so.”

Derek’s lips press into a thin line.

“Only my dad knows it. And Scott, although I’m hoping by now he’s forgotten it. Oh, and Melissa might know it. I’m pretty sure she knows everything.”

Derek looks away, takes a step back like he’s going to spring upstairs. But then he sighs, fingers scrubbing through his heavy scruff. “I don’t know your name,” he says very slowly.

“Yeah, I heard you the first . . . oh.” Oh. He shifts his weight back and forth a couple times; he doesn’t even remember the last time he said his name out loud. He has to clear his throat a couple times. “It’s Przemysław.” He pauses, waits for Derek to digest it. “Good tattoo material, right?”

Derek give a little maybe–maybe not shrug. “It’s your name.”

“Just don’t tell anyone.”

“I won’t.”

Stiles feels a little better; Derek’s a wolf of his word. “Okay, well—”

“You know there’s no way it can be the same, right? That whatever happened to them doesn’t really apply to us.” Derek pushes off the banister. 

Stiles’s heart sinks straight through his stomach. “No, I know that. Obviously.”

Derek takes a step toward Stiles. “Your dad told me to be patient.” His hands are shoved into his pockets—he could be out for a stroll.

“He—what? When did you talk to my dad?”

“Your 2029 dad,” Derek says. “He said, ‘Be patient with my son; he’ll eventually get his head out of his ass.’”

“Uh, be patient about what?” He watches Derek take another step closer.

They’re the same height now, have been for years, and he can’t tear his eyes away from Derek’s as Derek lifts a hand. The touch against the mangled side of his jaw is light, just a brush, but the sting instantly fades.

Stiles has to strongly resist pressing his whole face against Derek’s warm palm. “You don’t have to do that. It’s not bad.”

Derek makes a small, considering noise. “How’s your head?”

Stiles’s eyes snap open. God, he’s gonna fall asleep on his feet. “Huh?”

“Scott said one of the wolves kicked you. How does it feel?”

Stiles looks down at the hand—not his—that’s now on his waist. He nearly stumbles when Derek pulls him gently forward. “Uh?” He’s not really sure what’s going on here, but that’s definitely Derek’s chest against his own and those are definitely Derek’s fingers in his hair, sliding lightly around. He can’t keep from wincing when Derek hits a tender place on the back of his head—and then he melts, collapsing into Derek’s chest when the pain slides away, replaced by a warm floatiness.

“Okay?”

“Yeah. Mmm.” He presses his face against Derek’s shoulder. “Thanks.” They stand there, and it’s only natural for Stiles to wrap his arms around Derek’s waist so he doesn’t fall on his ass. He’s exhausted. 

“Hey.” Derek’s hand presses into his lower back. “Shower, food, sleep? I’ll call the diner that delivers.”

“Yes,” he mumbles. “You’re a prince.”

Derek hums something that could be agreement. “I can’t order the food unless you let go.”

“Oh. Right.” But he still doesn’t unclench his fingers from the back of Derek’s shirt. Derek is here and warm and there’s no crazy person hovering above them.

“Wake up. Shower and food first, remember? Then sleep,” Derek says, voice dipping low. Maybe Stiles imagines it, but he’s pretty sure that’s Derek’s nose tracing his ear. And the way he said sleep . . . “You’re not going to make me wait, are you?”

It’s the low voice that does it. Stiles lifts his head to find Derek’s face inches from his, and when his eyes slide up to meet Derek’s, Derek’s stare is intense—and it grows even more so as it breaks away to focus on Stiles’s lips. Stiles licks at them self-consciously—they’re chapped, sore from Idaho’s frigid weather, and yet he finds himself whispering, “Maybe you’ve been patient long enough.”

“Maybe,” Derek murmurs, and then his mouth is on Stiles’s. Soft lips, as warm and firm as the rest of him—they press in once, twice, and Stiles clutches at him even harder when Derek tips his head just enough to nudge their noses together. He tries not to grin as their lips slide and move, tugging gently, trading top and bottom.

There’s a moment’s pause and Stiles almost pulls back, but then tongue, and Stiles is going to die. Not from evil witches, but from Derek Hale’s amazing mouth.

A couple minutes later, hot all over and embarrassingly winded, Stiles lifts his mouth from Derek’s. “Just make me one promise,” he murmurs.

“Okay,” Derek says, but he sounds wary. That’s good—self-preservation, Stiles likes it.

“Never make me go back to Idaho, all right?”

Derek laughs quietly in his ear. “There’s no place like home.”

~ fin ~