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"Maybe there’s a universe out there — happening now — where we end up together and when I close my eyes at night, I’m not dreaming the way a normal person would. Instead I’m seeing flashes of our lives in the multiverse."

*

This first time it happens it’s not on purpose.

There’s a rogue alpha in town and he catches Stiles alone one Thursday night because if there’s one skill he’s managed to hone in the last five years it’s his ability to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

He leaves Stiles banged up and bruised and with no memory of the actual fight. This is exactly what leads him to be sitting in an ice bath in Deaton’s examination room, trying in vain to stop his teeth from chattering while Deaton explains the procedure to him. Not like he even needs to be told - he was there when they did this to Isaac the first time and he’s been there every other time since.

“Memory retrieval is a complex thing,” Deaton is saying but Stiles is more focused on the numb feeling that’s slowly starting to spread through the lower half of his body.

For a brief moment it reminds him of the Kanima and paralyses and the school swimming pool and Derek. He shoves the thought away though; he needs to clear his head in order for this to work and all thinking about Derek will accomplish is tying his mind up in complicated knots.

 

Scott’s hands are on his shoulders, firm but comforting, a silent reminder saying “Hey I’m here, and I’m not leaving.” It’s soothing; Scott knows how much Stiles hates being underwater for longer than a few seconds. Deaton said once that anchors are interchangeable for humans, you can have more than one and they can change depending on the situation. So though he knows logically that Scott anchors Allison, he’s always been Stiles’ anchor when he needs it. It’s settling.

“Are you ready Stiles?” Deaton asks, speaking in that calm, measured voice he always uses in an attempt to put them at ease – he usually has the opposite effect.

Stiles tips his head back and shares a look with Scott, who gives his shoulders a gentle squeeze and gives him an encouraging smile. He looks back to Deaton and nods on a heavy exhale, watching the vet walk around the side of the bath to hold Stiles’ legs down as Scott slowly starts to push his shoulders down.

Once he breaches the water and goes under there’s exactly five seconds of still and then he starts to panic, legs involuntarily thrashing against Deaton’s vice-like grip, coughing and spluttering as he tries to reach the surface. But Scott’s hold doesn’t let up and Stiles stays under.

With water rushing in his ears and black spots in his vision he feels his back connect with the base of the tub. He uses it to focus himself, zeroing in on the way he can feel the cool steel through the fabric of his t-shirt and the way Scott’s hands curl over the balls of his shoulders.

Eventually his brain starts to go fuzzy and the burn in his lungs eases.

And all of a sudden, everything goes quiet and darkness settles around him.


 

“Scott I’m telling you, that movie sucks. You just like it because it reminds you of you and Allison.”

“That’s not it, Stiles!” Scott protests, shooting him an offended look. “Their love is so pure and true, you’re just being a cynic-“

Stiles rolls his eyes exasperatedly, secretly fond of Scott’s penchant for true love, but he’ll be damned if he actually admits that. He has a reputation to uphold; a pessimistic, unfeeling one that he’s quite proud of, thank you very much.

Scott’s still waffling on about the movie and Stiles is mentally gathering all the reasons why he’s wrong when someone bumps into them.

It makes Stiles double-take as he feels a jolt, like an electric current that starts in his shoulder and explodes all across his veins. He whirls around to see the guy he ran into staring straight back at him, absent-mindedly walking backwards. He comes to a complete stop when Stiles meets his gaze.

And it’s like…a power circuit blowing. It’s sparks flying and it’s something to be afraid of but Stiles has never felt less afraid in his life.

Scott’s noticed he’s stopped walking by now and is paused a few steps away. Stiles can vaguely hear him calling his name but he doesn’t hear much else above his own pulse thundering in his ears.

The guy’s mouth is dropped open in a silent “o” and he looks like he’s been hit by a freight train and suddenly Stiles knows what this is.

He’s read about it.

He’s seen countless Hollywood movies about it.

It’s fate, or destiny, or his soulmate, or whatever other word there is for it.

It feels like a ten tonne weight has just been dropped on his chest and his mind is reeling, his thoughts running a mile a minute and too jumbled up to make any sense of. Scott’s still trying to call him but then the guy – his soulmate holy shit – smiles; a small quirk of his lips and suddenly everything just stops.

 

His name is Derek and he’s beautiful.

His fingers fit perfectly in the gaps between Stiles’ and the flames rolling under Stiles’ skin every time they touch make him feel dizzy.

They talk for hours and after hearing Derek laugh for the first time Stiles wants to kiss him so bad he has to sit on his hands to stop himself from reaching across the table separating them in the hole-in-the-wall diner they’re sitting in.

He’s shy with wit drier than the Sahara desert and sometimes he stumbles over his words, pausing in awkward places like he’s not sure how much he wants to divulge. But the longer they sit together Stiles watches barrier after barrier come down and each new layer of Derek is more enchanting to him than the last.

They stumble into Stiles’ apartment in the early hours of the morning, dawn just starting to peek out from behind the clouds and Stiles can’t remember the last time he talked this long with anyone besides Scott.

They’re not talking anymore though. Derek is a line of heat against his back with insistent hands teasing under the hem of Stiles’ shirt and against his skin as he fumbles with getting the door open.

They kiss and it’s like the world cracks open.

They trip and laugh their way through the room and down the hall, lips never leaving each other for very long and there’s so many emotions whirring around in Stiles he feels fit to burst but they fall onto the bed and Derek stops to look at him and Stiles swears his heart stops beating.

His heart stops beating and then it reboots again so it can beat in time with Derek’s.

It sends the room spiralling into something soft.

Desperate touches turn languid, kisses are unhurried, gazes linger and it would be overwhelming if it weren’t for the hazy comfort underlying every touch and look. It feels familiar, which it shouldn’t, but Stiles is pretty sure soulmates are meant to defy the impossible.

Derek curls himself around Stiles like he could meld their bones together if he pressed close enough. He kisses every bump and crevice of Stiles and brushes his nose over the shell of his ear, under his jaw, down his neck.

He leaves out soft, punctured noises every time Stiles’ fingers trail over the planes of his body, his pulse quickening under Stiles’ lips and he whispers nonsensical things into his skin.

Having Derek beneath him is like having everything come into sharp focus.

The thin sheet whispering over his lower back is a strong yet somehow still light sensation, the light filtering in through his window makes the dust particles in the air look like crystals and the sounds of their breaths mingled together is deafening in the silence of the room.

Derek’s hands trail down his back, digging in briefly as he rolls them over. Tipping their foreheads together, Derek exhales a shuddering breath and leans in until their mouths are close enough to almost touch, the anticipation of the phantom brush of their lips making Stiles’ heart rate spike again.

His eyes flick up to meet Stiles’ once, difficult to see with how close they are, but he murmurs, “I can’t believe I found you,” and then he’s prying Stiles’ lips apart with his own and Stiles feels like he’s caught in the middle of a hurricane.


 

Stiles comes back up for air with a gasp, eyes flying open and heart thumping rapidly in his chest.

He blinks a few times, coughing and heaving until his vision clears and he feels a hand on his shoulder.

He’s in the animal clinic.

In a bath of half melted ice-cubes.

Scott’s staring at him concernedly while Deaton watches him with a composed look from a few paces away. The light overhead is flickering and Stiles’ pulse is racing and he and Derek- they were- what.

“Stiles!” Scott cries and judging from the sound of his voice it’s not the first time he’s said it. Stiles looks at him, feels slightly like he’s been gutted and releases a shaky breath. “Are you okay?” Scott presses.

He nods weakly, accepts Scott’s assistance in climbing out of the tub and the towel Deaton hands him. “I’m fine,” he croaks, wrapping the towel tight around himself and falling into the desk chair.

“Did you see?” Scott asks, chewing on his lip in a rare nervous habit. “Did you get a look at the alpha?”

Stiles sags in his seat, mind working over the dream he just had. Derek was- he and Derek were- they didn’t know each other. They were kissing. They were…

“Stiles?” Scott says gently, hand returning to his shoulder again and effectively bringing him back to the present. Stiles looks at Deaton for a moment, watches the unwavering carefully blank expression on his face and his shrewd eyes, before reverting his gaze to Scott.

“No, buddy, sorry. I didn’t see anything.”

*

Stiles feels off-balance for the whole ride home, Scott’s driving the jeep since he couldn’t get his hands to stop shaking. Scott thinks it’s still just tremors from the ice bath but Stiles honestly doesn’t even really feel cold anymore. He’s too stuck on his dream.

It doesn’t make any sense.

He was supposed to see the alpha, Deaton was supposed to guide his subconscious so he could get a good look at the guy and they could figure out who he was. But Stiles can’t even remember hearing Deaton’s voice while he was under.

And Derek. How did he- how did that even happen and what the hell is it supposed to mean?

“Did Deaton say anything to me while I was in the water?” Stiles asks. They’ve been driving in silence for too long and all it’s doing is making his head feel heavy and even more confused.

Scott takes his eyes off the road briefly to fix him with a worried look. “Yeah, man, he was talking to you the whole time but you wouldn’t respond.”

“I wouldn’t?” Stiles asks, quietly letting out a breath of relief. He doesn’t know what his dream meant but he’s absolutely sure he doesn’t want it broadcasted to Deaton or Scott.

“Nope,” Scott answers and Stiles can see the way his brow furrows even as he keeps his eyes facing the road in front of them. “I wanted to pull you back up but Deaton said it could make you go into shock. He was sure even if you weren’t responding you were still seeing something…” Scott trails off and Stiles feels him scrutinising him again.

Stiles just leans his head against the window and closes his eyes, he’s exhausted and drained and he really doesn’t know what he’s supposed to tell Scott right now. “I did have a dream,” he sighs eventually. “But it’s fuzzy, I can’t really remember any of it,” he lies, figuring his heartbeat is erratic enough at the moment that Scott won’t notice.

Scott’s hand lands on his arm and pats him comfortingly. “Hey it’s okay. We’ll find the guy some other way and you’re safe so that’s all that matters, right?”

Stiles cracks an eye open and smiles weakly. Scott really is the best person he’s ever known, blind optimism and all.

“You want me to stay with you until your dad gets home?” he asks when they pull into Stiles’ driveway.

“Nah, it’s fine. I think I’m just gonna crash anyway.” He yawns and hopes the sound is loud enough to drown out the slight uptick in his heartbeat.

Scott looks unsure but nods nonetheless. “Well, we’re coordinating with the station until we find this guy so Derek will be keeping an eye out tonight if anything happens.”

Stiles hums in response and pointedly ignores the way Scott is blatantly looking at his chest now. Stupid fucking werewolf ears.

Scott walks him to his door and Stiles is just about to make a quip about what a gentleman he is when Scott pulls him into a bone-crushing hug. Stiles freezes in surprise for a moment before lifting his arms and hugging back, just taking a second to breathe him in and ground himself again.

“I’m not gonna let him hurt you again,” Scott mumbles against his shoulder and oh god, Stiles can’t deal with guilty, self-sacrificing Scott. Guilty, self-sacrificing Scott needs ten thousand hugs and someone to play with his hair until he smiles again.

Stiles pulls away from their hug and clamps his hands on Scott’s shoulders, making sure to look him in the eye. “Listen to me; it’s not your fault I got hurt. You can’t be everywhere at once.”

“But-“

“But nothing, Scotty. I’m fine, I promise.”

Scott frowns, clearly wanting to argue his case further but not wanting to start a fight, before he eventually sighs. “Okay. Get some sleep, alright? I’ll call you in the morning.”

“Night, buddy.”

“Night.”

*

As soon as Stiles finishes showering he turns on his laptop and grabs every supernatural-related book on his shelf. His selection has accumulated over the years with Deaton finding copies of stuff for him and Lydia to study and Derek giving him copies of the files on Peter’s laptop a couple of years back.

The first thing he does is open a word document and write down everything he can remember about the dream – as if it’s not already seared into his memory and been playing on a constant loop for the past hour.

Soulmate.

That’s what his subconscious said when Dream Stiles met Dream Derek, that’s what he’d called him. His soulmate.

He can’t remember a single time in the last five years when soulmates came up. Ever. Anchors? Sure. True love? Duh, his best friend is Scott. But soulmates? No one’s ever mentioned it and he can’t ever recall coming across it in any book even accidentally.

Still, he knows better by now than to immediately write off stuff like this.

So he does what he usually does, he googles. Most of it’s bullshit or links to the YA fantasy section on Amazon but he’s gotten pretty good at sifting through the crap over the years and finding the odd nugget of relevance.

Apparently that’s not gonna be the case tonight though since nothing online seems even mildly related to the supernatural.

He looks to the pile of books stacked haphazardly on his bed and groans, going through them is gonna take forever. He briefly considers asking Deaton but when has he ever actually given a straight answer? Asking Peter is laughable and asking Derek is straight up out of the question, which doesn’t really leave him with many other options.

So he shoves his laptop off his lap and onto the bed beside him and grabs a book from the top of the pile.

It takes five books before he actually finds anything and even then it’s only a brief passage detailing the ancient Greek myth about humans being split apart at birth. He knows that story - everyone does - he’s not inclined to put much stock in it though.

He tries to widen his search to dreams and visions but he’s so tired of reading all the words start to blur together on the page and he doesn’t actually take anything in – not that any of it seems particularly relevant anyway. He eventually gives up around midnight, knowing his dad’s shift is over and he’ll be home any minute, Stiles really isn’t up for even more questions.

He shuts down his laptop with sigh, thankful he’d at least had the presence of mind to change into his pyjamas when he got out of the shower earlier, so all he really needs to do is shove all the books off his bed and crawl under the covers before he’s closing his eyes and sleep starts to drag him under.

He has the whole summer ahead of him to do nothing, he can try again tomorrow.

*

Tomorrow comes with a sharp knock on Stiles’ front door at a time way too early for his sleep-addled brain to handle. He stares at the clock on his bedside table and tries to work out how long he can stay in bed until the knocking wakes his dad. It’s another thirty seconds before he figures whoever it is isn’t going away and he’s groaning and throwing off the covers. He drags himself down the stairs to the hallway, struggling into a hoodie as he stumbles to the door.

He cracks the door open a fraction, rubbing sleep from his eyes, and whimpers internally when he sees Derek standing there. Just the person he didn’t want to see right now.

“What?” he whines, leaning against the door and closing his eyes, if he tries hard enough he can probably pretend his reluctance to see Derek has everything to do with the early morning and nothing to do with what transpired yesterday.

“Can I come in?” Derek asks expectantly, raising his eyebrows for good measure when Stiles chances a glance at him.

He sighs, long-suffering, but nods, opening the door fully to allow Derek to pass before closing it behind him.

“Keep it down,” Stiles murmurs, brushing past him on his way to the kitchen. “My dad’s on the late shift this week, he’s still asleep.”

“I know,” Derek replies quietly, taking a seat at Stiles’ kitchen table without waiting for an invitation. It’s still weird to Stiles that his dad and Derek are sort of friends now. With most of the pack away at college for the majority of the year Derek had to keep busy somehow and apparently working at the police station was the perfect fit. He’s not a cop - more of a consultant - but between his dad, Derek and Deputy Parrish they usually manage to keep a lid on the supernatural situation while the pack is otherwise occupied.

Still, it’s bizarre to come home and see Derek sitting with his dad at the table while they pore over case files, to see Derek wandering around the police station with the same familiarity and ease Stiles does, to know that he’s memorised his dad’s schedule.

“So,” Stiles begins, dropping down into an empty seat at the table and curling his hands around a mug of coffee. He should probably offer Derek some. Then again, it’s not like Derek wouldn’t just get it himself if he wanted some. Stiles is still only half-awake, his manners have a free pass. “What d’you want?”

“I want to talk to you about what you saw the other night.”

For a brief second Stiles panics before he realises Derek means the night the alpha attacked him and not what he saw last night in the ice bath.

So he arranges his face into something disgruntled and asks, “Didn’t Scott tell you the ice bath didn’t work?”

“He did,” Derek admits, giving Stiles an appraising look like he doesn’t entirely believe him. Shit. “But there has to be something we overlooked, these patrols have been a bust so far since the Alpha is masking his scent and you’re the only one who’s gotten even a glimpse besides his victims who, as you’re aware, are currently getting acquainted with the Beacon County morgue.”

“If this is your way of trying to scare me into realising how lucky I was to escape, my dad already did that so don’t bother,” Stiles retorts casually, ignoring the slight tremor in his hands at the reminder that others weren’t as lucky as him.

Derek stares at him for a second before sighing and reaching across the table. He pries the mug out of Stiles’ hands and takes a sip, he’s expecting Derek to make a displeased face – they usually take their coffee the same way but Stiles got into the habit of lacing his morning coffee with sugar in an attempt to stay awake in 9am lectures – but he only raises an eyebrow and sets the cup back down on the table.

“This is my way of asking for your help in tracking this guy down since you’re kind of my only shot right now,” Derek corrects him, levelling him with a look that he probably thinks is pleading but is really just slightly less stone-faced than normal.

Stiles takes a moment to mull it over. While of course, Scott and the rest of the pack will also be looking for the alpha Derek clearly wants to talk to him alone first. He’ll probably call Scott in later on so the three of them can strategize. Derek hasn’t been the alpha since they were in high school but with Scott over an hour away most of the year for college he’s pretty much given Derek free reign on taking charge of problems relating to any and all Monsters of the Week. Still, the three of them have always worked best as a team.

So while everything Derek’s asking of him right now is pretty par for the course there is the slight problem that Stiles’ stomach is doing a weird swooping thing just being around Derek right now and that his brain is turning to relative mush. It’s just- look, Stiles can admit over the years once he and Derek moved past blind hatred they sort of…clicked. Not in like a romantic way but as in, they tended to be in sync for a lot of things. They could have a conversation without talking, especially when it came to life or death situations, they worked well together when it came to fitting the puzzle pieces together on whatever mystery they were trying to solve. They just had a kind of understanding, different from the one Stiles has with Scott or Lydia. It’s different.

He and Derek have always been different.

And look, Stiles isn’t blind, okay? He knows objectively Derek is hot like the fucking sun but he’s just never really allowed himself to entertain those thoughts. Except now the only thing swirling around in Stiles’ mind is that dream playing over and over again and he doesn’t really know how to be around Derek until he gets to the bottom of it.

Still, the new Big Bad is probably more important than his existential crisis so he drags a hand down his face and nods wearily, “Okay, fine. What do you need me to do?”

*

Derek finally leaves a couple of hours later after unsuccessfully gleaning any helpful information. Stiles walks him to the door, expecting Derek to just take off now that Stiles has stopped being useful but he hesitates.

He has a closed off look on his face as he looks back at Stiles, pausing halfway down the porch steps. “Don’t feel bad about not remembering, okay?” he requests quietly. “We’re lucky you’re even still here to have this conversation so…” Derek trails off, shrugging helplessly and all Stiles can do in return is stare, dumbfounded.

Eventually he finds his voice again, stammering out a pathetic, “Thanks.”

Derek’s mouth curves up in some approximation of a smile and he heads to his car, calling out a casual, “See you later!”

As soon as Stiles closes the door he collapses against it and closes his eyes.

Okay so Derek has loosened up in recent years, has even come close to showing actual human emotions every now and again, but acknowledging the fact that he’s happy Stiles is safe? That doesn’t happen very often.

And it’s not helping Stiles’ current situation at all.

He tries researching some more that afternoon but anything he finds about soulmates is just the same Hallmark crap you find on the first few pages of Google and he can’t separate what could possibly be real and what’s just new age astrology or some shit.

He doesn’t want to ask Deaton – with his half-answers, vague explanations and unnervingly placid smile – but Stiles needs a starting point. He needs to know what direction he’s meant to be looking in. If any at all.

So Deaton it is then.

He drives to the clinic after it closes, when he knows for a fact Scott is gone – more than likely already at the Preserve with Jackson, Isaac and Boyd, organising their patrols for the night.

He comes in through the backdoor and Deaton looks up when he enters the examination room, appearing completely unsurprised to see him. “To what do I owe the pleasure, Mr Stilinski?” he asks benignly, not looking away from the test-tubes he’s organising on his desk.

“Uh I wanted to talk to you about the ice bath.”

At that Deaton deigns to look at him, appraising him silently before gesturing for him to take a seat. Stiles does, watching Deaton set one remaining test-tube in the rack before sitting down in the empty seat beside him. “I was wondering how long it’d take you to come visit me.”

Stiles raises an eyebrow because he’s pretty sure Deaton’s not actually psychic no matter what kind of power he does have. Deaton continues before he can say anything, answering his unspoken question.

“People don’t see "nothing" in those baths, Stiles. I know you saw something.”

Right well. That’s- okay so they’re cutting straight to the chase, aren’t they?

“I did see something,” Stiles confesses, staring steadfastly down at the files on Deaton’s desk and buying time while he figures out what he wants to say. “I was- it was like…an alternate universe, I guess? That’s probably the best way for me to explain it?”

Deaton nods, gesturing for him to keep going.

“And I uh- Derek and I- we were…” he trails off, unsure of how to proceed. Something stops him from saying the word out loud. Like saying the word will somehow make it real. Even though it was a dream and it’s not real so he doesn’t even know why he’s stressing so much-

“You were what, Stiles?” Deaton asks, cutting off his internal freak-out.

Soulmates,” he grinds out, twisting his hands in his lap and looking distractedly around his room.

Deaton actually looks taken aback at that, his eyebrows rising on his forehead and his mouth dropping open in surprise.

“I wanted to know if it means something,” Stiles mutters, scratching the back of his neck awkwardly, feeling more and more uncomfortable the longer the vet stays silent.

Deaton gets up without warning, stalking off to a corner of the room where Stiles knows he keeps his books. He pulls one seemingly randomly out of a drawer and returns to Stiles, flicking through the pages at a pace that’s far too leisurely for Stiles’ liking.

“Have you ever heard of Twin Souls, Stiles?” he questions, eyes perusing over whatever page he has open in the book.

“Uh not really?” Stiles hedges. He’d seen the phrase thrown around a bit in his research last night but nothing particularly jumped out at him. “Is it like that Greek myth?”

“Sort of, it does appear to stem from Plato but that myth pertains to the idea of a being split in half, this is more…two souls that are whole but linked.”

“Like a bond?”

“Precisely,” Deaton nods, setting the book on the table so Stiles can see. The top of the page has “Twin Flames/Twin Souls” printed in bold calligraphy and underneath appears to be a number of steps explaining how you would recognise your twin soul.

“Twin souls, or twin flames, in the earliest myths are said to be souls that were originally one but split. Where it differs from the Greek myth is that rather than being two halves of a whole, these souls are more about balancing each other out. Light and dark, yin and yang and the like.”

“Are you saying that’s what this is?” Stiles asks carefully, scrutinising the page in front of him, seeing words like “inseparable” and “divine purpose” and feeling slightly queasy.

“No,” Deaton replies with the shake of his head and wry smile. “This is a human interpretation and from what I know, has no proof but it’s one of the best ways I can think to explain what you probably experienced in that bath.”

Stiles stares at him blankly, blinking a couple of times and trying to register what Deaton even means. “Okay, you lost me, Doc.”

“There’s a legend among the druids,” Deaton begins, “it tells of two souls, Silvanus and Antheia, bound inextricably across universes. Two souls that are constantly colliding, not completing each other but-“

“Balancing,” Stiles says faintly, thinking back to all those times Morell talked to them about druids maintaining the balance.

“Mhm. Balance is imperative in our world, Stiles. The supernatural is a turbulent and unpredictable thing, without balance it would implode on itself.”

“So these two souls…”

“Were the bonding of the natural world and the supernatural one,” Deaton finishes for him. “It’s a creation myth essentially but it has ground. The insinuation is that every so often when descendants of the two walk the same earth at the same time they find themselves drawn to each other.”

“So what? Me and Derek are meant to be descendants of some ancient soulmates then?” Stiles scoffs derisively but Deaton only shrugs.

“I’m not saying the mythos is one hundred percent accurate, Stiles, I’m merely telling you where it originates from. There are stories – incredibly rare but existent nonetheless – of people, usually at least one of which in possession of supernatural power, who have been said to be spiritually bonded.”

Stiles makes a dubious face but doesn’t interrupt.

“It is said that these couples are bonded in every universe, constantly tied together by one thing or another-“

“And the ice bath?” Stiles cuts in, because he still doesn’t understand how that worked and everything Deaton’s saying is really doing nothing other than freaking him out honestly.

“The ice bath acts like a conduit,” Deaton explains. “It clears your mind, allows you to explore your subconscious-“

“So you’re saying that dream I had, it’s something from my memory? Like reincarnation?”

Deaton takes a moment to consider his answer before nodding slightly. “In a way, yes. If I had to make an educated guess I would say what you saw was indeed a different version of yourself, existing in a separate universe to our own but happening in parallel and that every version of you is linked back to one subconscious. The ice bath allows you to open your mind and therefore the memories of the other you that are usually suppressed become accessible.”

Stiles nods dazedly, though he barely hears a word Deaton says. His mind is reeling, what he saw, what he felt, all of that was real?

“Does this mean Derek and I are meant to end up together?” he asks suddenly. “That we don’t have a choice, no matter what happens we end this together?”

“Of course not,” Deaton dismisses. “You’ll orbit each other, yes, act as a counterbalance for each other but the link doesn’t necessarily have to be romantic. From what I can tell you and Derek already balance each other quite well, you’re good in battle together.”

Stiles inexplicably feels his cheeks heating, casting his mind back to what he’d thinking about earlier, of the way he and Derek manage to be in sync a lot of the time, the way they can silently read each other if the situation calls for it, the way they always seem to be the only two who wind up in life or death situations together and somehow make it out unscathed.

“Just because the versions of you you saw in your dream were entangled romantically doesn’t mean you and Derek will be, that choice is entirely up to you.”

Stiles nods again, feels his vision swim slightly as he pushes down the pang of irrational disappointment he feels in the pit of his stomach. It’s not that he…wants Derek like that. It’s just that the other version of him seemed so sure, so content wrapped up with Derek, he can’t help wondering if it’d feel the same for him in this universe.

“Does Derek know?” he asks quietly, only just realising Derek’s knowledge of the supernatural is pretty damn vast and there are plenty of times over the last couple of years where he could’ve figured this out and not said a word to Stiles.

“No, as far as I’m aware, he doesn’t know.”

Stiles closes his eyes, feels the phantom brush of Derek’s lips over his shoulder and shakes his head to get rid of it. He doesn’t need to dwell on this, he can move on with his life knowing this. It doesn’t have to change anything.

It’s not going to change anything.

*

Chapter Text

“You just found me in the wrong universe. That’s all. This is, as they say, the darkest timeline.”

*

They catch the alpha the following week. Scott and Isaac manage to pick up his scent in the Preserve on one of their patrols and they close in on him, ultimately handing him off to the hunters. Things have changed a lot since Stiles was a teenager; Chris and a few of his previous lackeys who are willing to follow Allison’s code work with them now in situations like this.

Derek refuses to let any of them have blood on their hands if they can help it and after too many battle scars from giving people the benefit of the doubt they can all recognise when a threat’s only way of neutralisation is by eliminating that threat altogether.

Some people are too far gone to save. Scott still struggles with it but he’s learning to come to terms with it. Stiles, ever the bitter pragmatist, has always been worryingly okay with doing whatever it takes to protect the people he loves.

The night ends with all of them a little bit roughed up and tired but whole. Once everyone’s accounted for, they pile into their cars with a silent agreement to follow each other to the loft.

It’s what they do now. They might spend half their pack meetings bickering over inane things but when it comes to nights like this sometimes they just need to be around each other for a while, make sure everyone’s safe and secure even if no one got seriously hurt.

Derek gets home first and is already pushing the two couches he has set up in his living area closer together when Stiles come through the door with Scott and Allison, Lydia and Jackson following closely behind. Erica seems to deem her work done as soon as she dumps a pile of blankets from the linen closet unceremoniously on one of the couches, flopping down next to them and kicking her boots off.

“Pizza or Chinese food?” Isaac asks, coming down the spiral staircase and running his hand through damp curls, clearly after taking the fastest shower known to man.

“Chinese!” Erica calls immediately from where she’s now making herself comfortable on Boyd’s lap.

“Is the Chinese place even open right now?” Lydia intones, toeing off her shoes and delicately folding her legs underneath her. “It’s past midnight.”

“Pizza Hut’s open ‘til two, right?” Allison asks, settling in between Scott’s legs and resting her head on his chest.

“I could go for pizza,” Scott pitches in, absentmindedly twirling one of Allison’s curls around his finger.

“Yeah but they stop deliveries at midnight on weeknights,” Boyd points out.

Derek just huffs – it’s a far more fond expression now than disapproving; Stiles doesn’t know when he started finding it cute – and announces, “I’ll go pick it up. Jackson, call in the order.”

Jackson gives him a thumb’s up from where he’s lying down with his head pillowed in Lydia’s lap - the only thing that suggests he’s actually even awake right now.

Derek raises his eyebrows but doesn’t comment. He grabs his keys off the coffee table, making his way to the door. “I’ll be back in twenty minutes.”

Stiles doesn’t know what possesses him to do it but just as Derek’s about to close the door he’s calling out an, “I’ll come too,” and running after him. Derek’s face blanks with surprise - something that Stiles pointedly ignores - before shrugging and holding the door open for him.

Sitting in the car with Derek is weird. They’re both always the drivers when it comes to pack outings which means they’re rarely travelling in the same car unless it’s just the two of them.

Like now.

And Stiles honestly has no idea why he thought this was a good idea because for all he’s been utilising his usual strategy of ignoring a problem until it goes away, his Derek-specific problem is still at the forefront of his mind no matter how hard he’s tried to squash it down.

“Why’d you want to come with me?” Derek asks curiously once they’ve been driving in silence for a few minutes.

Stiles shrugs and stares out the window, feeling way too aware of his own movements.

He’s sitting in the car with his soulmate right now. Derek is his soulmate. What’s he meant to do with that information?

…Pretend he never found out, right.

“Guess I just needed a bit of quiet for a few minutes,” he mumbles after a while, feeling immeasurably tired. It’s not just from the fight, he’s hardly been sleeping since the ice bath and his subconscious has been driving him insane for the better part of a week.

“You know everyone’s too tired to be noisy tonight, right?” Derek replies, almost sounding like he’s trying to comfort Stiles. “I guarantee at least half of them will be asleep by the time we get back.”

Stiles smiles half-heartedly, closing his eyes and just letting Derek’s voice wash over him for a second.

“Seriously, are you okay?” Derek asks when Stiles doesn’t reply. He sounds surprisingly earnest, almost intense. When Stiles’ eyes flicker open he sees Derek staring at the road in front of them with a frown on his face.

“I’m fine,” Stiles answers confusedly, sitting up properly in his seat.

Derek appraises him for a moment before eventually nodding and looking ahead again. Stiles sags back in his seat, thankful the interrogation has been cut short for now. He’s almost starting to feel relaxed when Derek’s hand is suddenly on his knee. It’s only for a second, a gentle, comforting squeeze and then it’s gone but Stiles still feels himself freeze in shock. Almost as soon as Derek’s hand returns to the steering wheel, Stiles’ heart starts speeding up.

He tries to ignore it, tries to subtly take deep breaths to calm himself down but it doesn’t stop the odd rush of adrenaline filling his veins and that’s- that’s new.

Derek doesn’t make him feel like this.

Derek’s not supposed to make him feel like this.

And if Stiles can hear his own heartbeat right now then Derek definitely can and god, he just doesn’t need this. He doesn’t need some stupid crush on Derek brought on by some romanticised notion of having your free will taken away from you that Deaton’s soulmate story concocted.

Whatever the hell he and Derek are, they’re not that, and Stiles refuses to turn them into that.

But he’d be lying if he said what Deaton had told him hadn’t fucked with him a bit.

He just- he can’t help looking at Derek a little differently now, y’know? Wondering why there’s a pull between them and whether it’s always been there and he’s just never noticed or if it’s a recent development.

And what if Derek knows? He could absolutely have figured it out without Deaton’s help. Derek could’ve figured all this out years ago and kept this bottled up the whole time because he would.

Stiles needs to find out what he knows.

*

Their order is waiting for them by the time they arrive at Pizza Hut and Stiles has every intention to start questioning Derek on the ride home except he’s a little busy  balancing like ten pizza boxes on his lap so conversation is mostly non-existent for the fifteen minutes it takes to get back to the loft.

The pack descends on them as soon as they come through the door and Stiles is very quickly left with just one pizza box in his hands. He and Derek share a look before Derek is shaking his head exasperatedly – that generally means he loves them but admitting it would be bad for his street cred – and making his way over to one of the very few spare seats around the coffee table.

Stiles squeezes in between Scott and Lydia because he’s had enough of Derek up close and personal tonight. Scott just gives him a bright smile around a slice of garlic bread and shuffles closer to Allison to make room.

Everyone’s mostly pretty quiet once they’ve eaten and Stiles knows at least Allison, Boyd and Jackson are all already asleep.

Conversations are muted and subdued, Stiles is honestly happy to just listen and let the quiet voices of his friends wash over him, making him feel a little bit put back together again.

It happens without him really realising it but somehow it ends up being just him and Derek as the last ones awake. Scott’s leaning heavily against his side, his cheek resting on top of Allison’s head where she’s curled against his side. Derek has Isaac’s legs pillowed in his lap and looks more fond than annoyed about it which is adorable and unfair and Stiles would like a refund because he so didn’t sign up for this.

“And then there were two,” Stiles murmurs, half-smiling at Derek across the coffee table.

Derek huffs out a quiet laugh and nods. “Always does seem to be us two left to clean up the mess, huh?”

“To be honest, I think we attract the mess,” Stiles muses.

Derek quirks his eyebrows in acknowledgment and Stiles can almost spot the hint of smile at the corner of his lips in the dim light. “I can honestly say I’ve never been in more life-endangering situations than when I’m with you.”

“Aww,” Stiles coos, covering his heart with his hand. “I feel privileged, Derek, truly.”

Derek scoffs, rolling his eyes, but he’s smiling for real now. Stiles counts it as a win.

“Do you ever think about that?” Stiles asks when the silence has stretched too long and his mind has naturally reverted back to his revelation from a week ago. “How we always end up together?” he clarifies.

Derek blinks in surprise but ultimately shrugs. “I mean in the early days me, you and Scott were the only ones who knew about the supernatural. And Scott was usually dealing with the hunter aspect of it all so…”

“Yeah but even now,” Stiles presses even though he tries not to.

Derek’s scrutinising look from the car is back and Stiles wants nothing more than to look away but he refuses to let himself break eye contact. “I guess you’re right,” he says slowly. “We attract the mess.”

Stiles hums and drops his head back against the couch cushion behind him, closing his eyes.

“Why? Why do you think we always end up together?”

Hearing Derek say it like that. The inevitability of it all. It makes something twist in his stomach and he’s not sure yet if it’s good or bad. He picks his head back up and meets Derek’s steady, inquisitive gaze.

“I don’t know,” he replies honestly. “I guess it’s just the way it’s meant to happen.”

Derek’s eyes narrow as he searches Stiles’ face. Stiles doesn’t know what he finds there but whatever it is, it has him nodding carefully and murmuring, “Maybe.”

Yeah. Maybe.

*

It’s another week before Stiles decides he has to go back into the ice bath.

He’s barely sleeping, constantly dreaming of what he saw the first time. He’s read the myth Deaton told him about a million times, he can barely stand to be around Derek without feeling like he’s going to combust and he needs some way to control this situation.

It’s not a fool proof plan. But he doesn’t know what else to do. If he goes back into the ice bath and sees another life, another version of them, then maybe he can try to figure out a way to come to terms with this.

Maybe he’ll find a way to reconcile the versions of themselves he saw in the dream and the people they are in real life.

Probably not.

But he still has to try.

Deaton is less than thrilled about the idea and tries everything to dissuade him but Stiles suspects his curiosity is just a tad higher than his moral compass on his list of priorities.

Thankfully that moral ambiguity lands Stiles in another ice bath three weeks after the first time. Everything in the office looks the same as before, even what Deaton is wearing. The only difference is that Scott isn’t here this time.

Stiles wants to tell him but he also has no fucking clue how to go about saying any of this out loud. Talking to Deaton to get some answers was brutal enough.

Deaton stands at his shoulders now instead of Scott, making a quip about how he’s, “not as strong as Mr McCall, Stiles, so please try not to struggle.” As if it’s that easy not to freak out when you’re essentially drowning yourself.

Still he takes a deep breath and tries to calm down.

Deaton’s hands on his shoulders make him flinch but he just bites his lips, balls his hands into fists and waits.

Deaton’s hands aren’t comforting like Scott’s are, they’re clinical, and Stiles has to physically force himself not to fight back when he goes underwater. He writhes uncomfortably for a minute even though he tries not to, but then he focuses himself. Remembers what he’s doing and why he’s doing it.

He thinks about what he needs to see and with that he closes his eyes, lets his back hit the base of the tub and thinks of Derek.


 

Stiles has a meeting with the orchestra coordinator and he’s late.

He’s got a still drying coffee stain on the sleeve of his shirt, his violin case keeps hitting off his side while he runs and he’s pretty sure it’s leaving a bruise, his pants legs are wet from stepping in a giant puddle as soon as he got out of the cab and to make this shitty day infinitely worse, the whole reason he’s meeting with the coordinator is because he wants him to compose a piece with Hale for their winter recital.

Hale.

What did Stiles do in a past life to deserve this, honestly?

He races into the practice room, skidding to a halt just inside the door as the coordinator and Hale look up from the sheet music they’d been examining. Hale is sat in his chair with his cello poised in front of him, giving him a not-so-subtle once over. Stiles can practically feel the disapproval rolling off him in waves. Mr Townsend, the coordinator, straightens from where he’d been leaning over the back of Hale’s chair to get a look at his notes and claps his hands together.

“Ah Stiles, so glad you’re finally here.” He smiles genially and gestures expansively at the room. “This should be to yours and Mr Hale’s liking, I hope. Consider this your home for the next six weeks until the winter show.”

Stiles smiles tightly, inclines his head in acknowledgment at Derek and nods along with Townsend’s introductions and explanations. He eventually leaves a few minutes later, wiggling his eyebrows as he tells them to “make some magic.” Stiles just about represses his derisive snort.

Silence descends as soon as he leaves the room and Stiles looks around awkwardly. Derek fiddles absentmindedly one of the tuning pegs on his cello before meeting his eyes again.

God this is already a nightmare.

Stiles knows Derek is talented, he knows. He’s seen his solo performances and worked with him as part of the orchestra but he also knows Derek is generally a total hardass, completely averse to fun and horribly socially awkward. They’ve hardly ever spoken more than two words to each other in the two years they’ve both worked here and even then it’s mostly just been something to do with whatever piece they’re rehearsing since they’re both the lead musicians in their respective sections.

The last thirty seconds aren’t doing much to alleviate Stiles’ fears.

“So,” he starts because the silence is becoming far too suffocating and Stiles has always been a little claustrophobic. “Do you have any ideas?

 

They barely play together for the first week. Mostly they work separately and then try to combine what they’ve come up with. It’s a lot of poring over sheet music and scribbling notes in the margins, playing brief tunes here and there to test what they’d sound like. Derek isn’t as bad as he’d been fearing, is mostly just quiet, but even Stiles isn’t so pompous to ignore the fact that he’s an immense talent.

 

The first time thy play together, really play together, is a Saturday. Stiles will never forget that day.

Because the first time they play together is when he realises.

As soon as his bow string aligns with Derek’s something clicks into place. It feels like cannons going off inside his lungs. He can’t explain it.

It doesn’t change the fact that he immediately knows what it means.

When Derek’s head snaps up, hand pulling the bow this way and that on autopilot, Stiles knows he feels it too.

The mark on the inside of his wrist is burning and he’d be willing to bet all the money in the world that Derek has a mark that lines up almost perfectly with his own that’s currently setting fire to his veins.

Their music is rushed, frantic, fingers plucking desperately at strings and bows pressing down just this side of too hard. They haven’t taken their eyes off each other in what feels like hours. They’re locked in a stalemate, building to a crescendo that’s making Stiles feel short of breath, like he can’t get air into his body fast enough.

It builds and it builds and it builds and then suddenly…

…It comes crashing down.

Their music slows, quietens, and becomes something soft and gentle even though this wasn’t planned.

This isn’t what either of them had written down on their music sheets. This isn’t how it was supposed to go. In this moment right now, Stiles can’t say he minds.

The music picks up again, swells and melds into something seamless, something that fits. He has the ridiculous desire to cry. His vision is blurring with tears he’s not sure he wants to shed yet and Derek is looking at him in a way that is no less intense than before but somehow still different. It’s familiarity and relief and disbelief and the smile etching at the corner of his mouth is worth a thousand solos to Stiles.

By some unspoken agreement they let the melody fade out as their hands still on their respective instruments. When the room is finally silent again Stiles feels like he’s just come down from an adrenaline rush.

They’re still staring at each other, still locked in their impasse.

Carefully Stiles sets his violin back in its case and stands up from the stool he’d been sitting on. He takes a few tentative steps forward, watches as Derek hesitantly sets his cello aside and stands up as well, his eyes never leaving Stiles the entire time he moves.

Derek stops in front of him, so close the tips of their shoes are almost touching and having him this near makes Stiles’ brain short-circuit.

“Can I…?” Derek whispers. His eyes flit down to Stiles’ wrist and Stiles knows what he’s asking. Wordlessly he lifts his left arm, holding out his hand and sliding back his coffee-stained sleeve.

Derek watches his face before lifting his own hand, his right one. He lines it up next to Stiles’, their proximity causing his knuckles to brush against Stiles’ stomach and pulls back his sleeve. There’s a brief moment where they pause and only focus on each other’s eyes because looking down suddenly seems too scary, too real.

Whatever’s on the inside of Derek’s wrist could alter Stiles’ life in every conceivable way.

“Count of three?” he murmurs, lips quirking up slightly.

Derek nods silently.

“One…Two…” Stiles takes a deep breath, closes his eyes for a fraction of a second, and whispers, “Three,” as he looks down.

He feels his breath catch in his throat when he sees their wrists lying side by side. The black, gently curving line that rounds off in small, filled-in circle stands stark against his pale skin. On Derek’s, an unravelling black spiral sits in the exact same spot. As carefully as he can manage Stiles slowly twines their fingers together, ignoring the burst of electricity under his skin as soon as they touch.

Their fingers fold together, locking in tightly until their wrists are pressed together and even though he can’t see it, Stiles knows what it is.

A treble clef.  That’s what their combined marks make.

Stiles has heard the rumours, knows that some people – some soulmates – have soul marks that tend to link up, that it sometimes takes something to kick-start the bond, meaning some even have marks that denote something special to the pair.

Something like music.

Stiles looks away from their joined hands and meets Derek’s gaze and then he does the most ridiculous thing. He laughs. A breathless, choked sort of thing that escapes without his permission. There are tears pushing at the corners of his eyes and Derek is staring at him with this sort of wide-eyed wonder like he can’t believe his luck and Stiles never knew he could feel like this.

“You’re…we’re…” Derek trails off, staring at their hands in disbelief and Stiles nods, smiling slightly and blinking back tears.

Derek catches his gaze again and the most remarkable thing happens. The incredulous look melts off his face and a smile softens his mouth and Stiles’ chest feels too full.

He wants to say something but his mind is completely, startlingly blank. It doesn’t matter anyway because as soon as he opens his mouth Derek is leaning forward and pressing their lips together. It’s chaste and gentle and unbearably cautious but Stiles couldn’t find it in himself to pick up the pace even if he wanted to.

Every brush of their mouths is achingly fragile, just like this moment, and he wants nothing more than to capture this and keep it forever.

“You’re my soulmate,” he murmurs in awe, between one breath and another. He feels a rush when he says it, like he’s careening down from the highest drop on a rollercoaster.

“And you’re mine.” Derek presses his reply into his lips as his hands navigate to Stiles’ hips and pull him closer. After that it’s all a bit hazy but Stiles remembers the parts that matter; like the feel of Derek’s mouth against his own, and the heat from the pads of Derek’s fingertips and their foreheads rolling together.

He remembers feeling like he was finally coming up for air after holding his breath under water for too long.


Stiles doesn’t panic as much when he comes back to consciousness this time.

He still feels a little bit like he’s been carved open though.

Deaton is waiting for him with a towel and an expectant look that does nothing but infuriate him.

“Well?” Deaton asks, sounding almost impatient, gripping Stiles arm and helping him out of the tub before throwing the towel around his shoulders.

“I saw us again,” Stiles mumbles around his chattering teeth, sagging into the desk chair and closing his eyes. He wants to cry, he feels like he has an emotional hangover, he can’t- why are his eyes burning?! It wasn’t real.

“And were you…”

“Soulmates?” Stiles scoffs hollowly and opens his eyes again. “Yeah. We both had some mark-“

“Soul marks,” Deaton supplies rather unhelpfully. Yeah, he’d gathered that much thanks.

“Right,” he continues. “Anyway it was pretty much the same as before. Except I think we kind of knew each other beforehand this time. Like when we realised we were- …it wasn’t the first time we met.” Stiles wraps the towel more securely around himself, feeling a little bit like curling up in a ball and hiding the way he used to do when he was younger and his anxiety would get the better of him and he wouldn’t know how else to react.

“Interesting,” Deaton hums cryptically and Stiles has the distinct feeling he’s being used for research purposes right now. “How did you two know each other?”

“We were musicians in an orchestra,” he mumbles, picking at the loose threads at the corner of the towel. “We uh- we realised it the first time we properly played together.”

“Fascinating,” Deaton breaths and if the little twitch his hand gives is anything to go by, he’s dying to write all this down. “I wonder what would happen if Derek went in the-“

“He’s not going in the ice bath,” Stiles says sharply, cutting him off. “Derek doesn’t need to know.” This entire experience has been nothing but gut-wrenching for him and he’s pretty sure Derek has been put through enough emotional trauma to last him a lifetime without finding out his soul is linked to Stiles.

“That’s not really your call to make, Mr Stilinski,” Deaton reminds him gently.

“Derek doesn’t need the burden,” Stiles tells him flatly. “I’m not gonna let you shatter his worldview just so you can poke and prod at him for the sake of updating your newest research paper.”

Deaton huffs a quiet laugh, pinning Stiles with a curious look. “Who says this would be a burden? What if he feels the same way?”

Stiles immediately begins to protest, “Who says I-“

“I’m willing to bet this is hashing up some confusing feelings for you, Stiles.”

He stares pointedly at the floor, feels weak and pathetic as he mumbles out a feeble, “I can’t tell what’s real and what’s not.”

“Oh, well it’s all real,” Deaton tells him magnanimously. “The things you’re feeling and thinking are your feelings and thoughts. They just might not be attached to this universe. So my earlier point still stands,” his voice becomes much softer as he takes the seat opposite Stiles and offers him a kind smile, “what if he feels the same way?”

“He doesn’t,” Stiles insists.

“How do you know?”

“Because he doesn’t,” Stiles huffs. “There’s no way he- …There’s just no way.”

*

Stiles feels shaken and drained by the time he gets home and the last thing he needs is to see Scott and Derek sitting on his porch waiting for him.

“What?” he complains, extremely close to whimpering. “If there’s another big bad in town I quit, okay? It’s summer, I’m off duty.”

Scott gives an easy laugh, Derek smiles and tries to hide it. (Stiles tries to wilfully erase it from his memory.)

“Relax,” Scott drawls casually, waving a hand. “We just need to follow up with your dad, make sure nothing will come back to us, y’know, protocol and all that.”

“Right, well,” he pauses to check the time on his phone, using the moment to give himself a second to somewhat regain his composure. “He should be home any minute so… I should probably get started on dinner. You guys staying?”

“Are you okay?” Scott asks, narrowing his eyes. Stiles is ninety-nine percent sure he’s being sniffed right now. Someone really should’ve taught werewolves it’s rude to scent other people’s emotions without their permission.

“I’m fine.” Even to himself it sounds like a lie. He doesn’t bother trying to cover it up.

“Why are you all damp?” Derek asks confusedly.

“Uh went for a run, got kinda sweaty,” Stiles shrugs, shouldering open the door and crossing the hall, trusting them both to follow.

“In your jeans?” Scott asks perplexedly.

“It was a spur of the moment kind of thing.”

Both of them seem to realise whatever it is that’s bothering Stiles, he doesn’t want to tell at least one of them so they drop it.

He’s just going to the freezer when his dad strolls through the door. “Boys, you found time to come over, good! Stiles leave that, I feel like firing up the barbeque tonight.”

Stiles lets out a quiet breath of relief before straightening and plastering a smile on his face to aim at his father. “Thanks, pops! I’m gonna take a shower. You three can sort through whatever official police stuff you need to do while I’m gone.”

“You’re willingly butting out of an investigation?” Scott asks amusedly.

“This is the paperwork side, Scotty,” Stiles says, clapping him on the shoulders as he passes and throwing him a wink. “The exciting part’s over.”

The last thing Stiles feels is Derek’s eyes boring into his back as he leaves the room.

*

The shower is a brief reprieve where he can get his thoughts in order and pull himself back together. It also helps stop the latent tremors he’d been feeling ever since coming out of the bath.

He just- he doesn’t know what being around Derek so soon after seeing that will do to him. How is he meant to be normal and not alert suspicion? He and Scott both already think something’s up and they don’t wait nearly as long to make Stiles talk about his problems as they used to. Boundaries within the pack were well and truly obliterated years ago.

But just the thought of Derek finding out makes him feel sick to his stomach.

Derek, who’s entire romantic life has basically been a lesson on the importance of consent, finding out that he and Stiles are fated or whatever wouldn’t be a happy relief…it’d be a prison sentence.

And Stiles isn’t going to do that to him.

Stiles isn’t going to let them turn into something out of some twisted sense of obligation. The things he’s feeling now are just as a result of the dreams. They’ll fade in a few weeks. He just needs to stay away from the ice baths.

Yeah, that’s what he’ll do. He just needs to stop researching, stop going back to Deaton, just stop everything and it’ll go back to normal.

He hopes.

*

When he comes back downstairs, everyone’s already in the back yard. His dad’s standing at the grill, four burgers sizzling away as chats amicably with Scott and Derek. They’re both stretched out on lawn chairs, beers held loosely in their hands and if you’d shown Stiles a picture of this five years ago he probably would’ve laughed in your face. But right now it makes something settle inside him.

He takes the empty chair between Scott and Derek and notes that the table’s already been set – the two of them probably beat each other up trying to one up each other with their manners. Stiles grins to himself at the thought.

“Shower make you feel better?” Derek asks quietly and Stiles’ head snaps up from where he’d been staring at the table top.

“Yeah, sorry I was kinda out of it earlier. Guess the run took it out of me.”

Derek knows he’s lying, Stiles can see it in his face. He doesn’t say anything though, just nods before gesturing to the beer bottle on the table. “We saved you one.”

“Yeah you looked like you could use it,” Scott intones softly, nudging Stiles’ side with his arm.

He looks between them both, momentarily glancing over at his dad only to see he’s not paying them any attention, before grabbing the beer and smiling gratefully. “Thanks.”

He pretends not to notice the look Scott and Derek share as he sits back in his chair and takes a sip of his beer. No doubt there’ll be a very serious conversation about Stiles’ behaviour as soon as they leave.

He’s saved from any more stilted conversation when his dad arrives at the table, setting down the plateful of burgers. “Alright boys, dig in.”

Despite the rocky start, it’s actually a nice evening. His dad settles into an easy conversation with Derek while he and Scott try and figure out the logistics of the pack actually managing to go up the coast for a long weekend at some point during the summer.

Every so often Stiles’ attention wanders over to Derek and his dad, noticing the way Derek preens under his attention and flushes happily every time he says something that clearly impresses the sheriff. He doesn’t miss the constant look of approval on his dad’s face either.

It tugs at something inside of him, seeing the way they get along so easily. He wonders if this is what it’s like for the other Stiles’ and other Derek’s in different universes. Lazy evenings in the back yard watching the sunset, and the two of them sitting together; a constant, comforting weight beside each other.

For a moment he honestly forgets, forgets his own world and the worries that have been plaguing him for almost a month now and just allows himself to enjoy this night for what it is. A brief moment of calm with some of the most important people in his life; his dad, his best friend and his…his Derek.

At some point Stiles must really zone out and stare too long because Derek looks over at him, raising an eyebrow in question. Stiles startles and hastily looks away but he still notices the small, amused smile tugging at Derek’s mouth.

God, he’s in way over his head.

*

Later that night he’s lying on top of his covers, trying to will his mind to quieten down so he might actually get to sleep eventually, when he hears his window slide open.

He cranes his head slightly, dropping it back onto the pillow when he sees it’s just Scott. “Hey, buddy,” he murmurs, staring up at the ceiling. He used to have glow in the dark stars up there when he was a kid. He kind of wants them back right now.

“Hey,” Scott says softly, bumping his side lightly with his fist until Stiles gets the hint and pushes over to make room for him on the bed.

Scott lies down next to him, folding his hands across his chest and rolling his head to the side to look at Stiles. “So are you gonna tell me what’s wrong or do I have to guess?”

Stiles sighs. He knows he should tell Scott. He doesn’t want to but fuck, he and Scott don’t lie to each other. They just don’t. And he needs- he kind of needs a hug, honestly, and Deaton sucks at comforting people. Scott’s a good listener and a good hugger. Maybe he can make Stiles feel like he’s not about to shake apart at any minute.

“I lied a few weeks ago. I saw something in the ice bath,” he answers quietly.

Scott doesn’t say anything for a minute, when he finally does there’s confusion in his voice. “Like…the alpha? But I thought- are you having nightmares again? Is that what’s happening?”

Stiles laughs thickly. Nightmares. He’s not totally wrong. “Not exactly. I- …when I went under it was like- like I was in a different world.”

“Okay,” Scott says slowly and Stiles suddenly feels a hand close around his own. Stiles looks at their joined hands and then at Scott’s face. He gives a reassuring smile and squeezes his hand.

“I- Me and Derek we were,” he pauses, swallows hard and forces the word out. “Soulmates.”

Scott’s eyes widen in shock, “Stiles-“

Stiles talks over him because he doesn’t want to hear the end of that sentence. “Apparently we’re like some descendants of these ancient druids or something.” He tries to laugh, tries to scoff and make it sound ridiculous even though the words feel like they’re strangling him.

“Do you- I mean, do you have feelings for Derek?” Scott asks tentatively.

Stiles screws his eyes shut, wants nothing more than to scrub away the tears that are threatening to spill over any moment. He settles for squeezing Scott’s hand as hard as he can.

“I don’t know,” he whispers miserably.

Scott doesn’t say anything else just rolls onto his side and pulls Stiles into him. Stiles goes willingly, isn’t afraid to admit that he clings a little bit, and lets the steady rise and fall of Scott’s chest lull him to sleep.

There’s moment, a quick as a flash nanosecond, when he’s straddling the line between sleep and awake that he thinks it’s Derek’s arms settling around him.

It’s terrifying.

*

Chapter Text

"Maybe there’s a universe where I’m the right person for you…A universe where you actually end up with someone who appreciates you…Where both of us can shed our baggage and curiosity and issues. A universe where we’re happy — without wondering if that happiness is some messed-up Jenga game ready to topple at the slightest quiver."

 *

Stiles doesn’t stay away from the ice baths.

He tries, he really does.  He talks to Scott even when the words feel like molten lava in his mouth. He spends half his time avoiding Derek and the other half seeking out his presence in a way that he fears is unbelievably needy and transparent. He even stops taking Deaton’s calls to check up on him in an attempt to take his mind off it.

But somewhere along the way he starts to crave another dream. Holding Derek at arm’s length while he replays the other versions of them over and over again in his head is killing him. He’s never been very good at leaving something alone once he latches on, he was always the kid who picked his scabs until his cuts started bleeding again, always the kid who wouldn’t stop until he got to the very tip-top of the tree where the branches were thin and ready to snap at any moment.

There’s no reason twenty-one-year-old Stiles should be any different.

He wants to see them. Every version of them. How they act, what they’re like, are they different to what they’re like in real life? Do they still fight like they do in this world? Stiles wants to know it all.

So he goes back to Deaton – ignoring Scott’s protests – and he sees them.

He sees them curled up like apostrophes with a baby monitor on the bedside table. He sees them as a one night stand turned dream come true. He sees them when their eyes lock across a crowded room and everything but each other fades to black. He sees them as childhood best friends and college sweethearts. He sees their life together a dozen times over and every one is like another nail in his coffin.

Scott begs him to talk to Derek and tell him what’s going on but the very thought of putting Derek through this kind of hell makes his throat close up.

He’s knows objectively whatever romantic feelings he has for Derek are nothing more than him projecting. The dreams are messing with his head, there’s no way he and Derek could ever fall in love. He’s sure of it.

Well, he’s mostly sure.

It’s just- he’s so confused. He can’t differentiate anymore. Can’t tell if his gaze is lingering a little longer because he’s imagining the Derek that kisses Stiles’ cheek and leans their foreheads together or because he’s finally starting to realise that his Derek has something in him that Stiles has always been searching for.

Because sometimes – sometimes - he’s with Derek and the only thought at the front of his mind is God, I could fall in love with you but he doesn’t want it to be because they’re soulmates or fated or because it was written in the stars or whatever other bullshit reasoning there is.

He wants it to be because he wants it, because Derek wants it, because the things he’s feeling are real, because when they want to, they can make a pretty good pair.

It’s three weeks of not sleeping, three weeks of feeling progressively numb about the whole thing, three weeks of ignoring Scott’s pleas to talk and Derek’s increasingly concerned and confused looks.

It’s three weeks before he snaps.


 

Later on, the rain is always the thing Stiles remembers.

It’s bucketing down, loud rumblings of thunder over his head, his clothes are heavy and plastered to his skin. The night around him is in chaos.

He still hears the scream though.

It’s instinct to run, to follow it, to seek it out. Roars and gunshots permeate the air, he barely hears them. At first he thinks it’s someone from his pack that’s hurt, it’s the only explanation he can think of for why he even heard the scream in the first place when whoever it is seems so far removed from the battle at hand.

It’s not until he rounds the corner of one of the buildings in the industrial estate they’re in that he figures out it’s someone from the other pack, the one they’re fighting.

He slows to a stop, staring for a minute at the crumpled figure on the ground. There’s a faint trail of blood leading to him but the rain is already starting to wash it away. The fighting sounds oddly distant over here, muffled over the rain and the building acting as a barrier.

He takes a hesitant step forward, eyes wary. This could be a trick, a way to lure him from the fray, a sneak attack, a simple cut to the throat and he’s eliminated. No one would even notice he was missing until the battle ended.

It doesn’t feel like that though.

He reaches the guy slumped over on the ground and carefully crouches down by his head. He’s curled into a foetal position and Stiles would honestly think he was dead if it wasn’t for the laboured rise and fall of his chest.

Stiles can’t see his face properly from where it’s shielded by his arms but he can see blood – lots of it, matted into the guy’s shirt. A pained groan startles him and he flicks his gaze back up to the man’s face. He’s lowered his arms a bit, allowing Stiles to meet distrustful hazel-green eyes. He can see a faint hint of electric blue around the edges – he’s guessing whoever this guy is, he’s trying to stop himself from shifting.

He pauses, trying to think. He doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t know whether he should he go back and join his friends or stay here and try to help.

He kind of wants to help.

He shouldn’t, this is the enemy, but nothing about this feels like a fight.

“Hey,” he says quietly, testing the word out on his tongue.

Hazel-eyes stares at him like he’s trying to figure out his angle but eventually replies with a heaved breath and a returned, “Hey.”

“I’m Stiles.”

The guy looks at him a little like he’s nuts but it’s fine, Stiles is used to that, before huffing a laugh and saying, “Derek.”

“Are you healing?” Stiles decides to ask because now is probably not the time for idle chitchat – even if this moment does feel oddly slow, like time’s been paused.

“I think so- I don’t-“ Derek makes a frustrated noise, expression tinged with pain, and tries to sit up so Stiles shuffles closer on his knees in an aborted attempt to help. It’s a good move since as soon as Derek is somewhat upright he ends up collapsing again with a choked off sob of pain. Stiles rushes forward just in time so he doesn’t hit his head on the concrete, catching Derek’s upper body in the pillow of his arms.

“It’s okay, buddy, I got you.” He manoeuvres them around a bit until he can support Derek comfortably and Derek just…lets him – which is honestly the most bizarre part of all of this.

When Stiles finally stops moving them around he looks down at Derek only to see him staring up at him, realisation plain as day on his face and mouth dropped open in awe.

“I found you,” Derek says softly, reverently, despite his voice sounding cracked and hoarse.

Stiles freezes as soon as the words sink in because- because he knows what Derek means. If he focuses he can feel it, feel the tug pulling them together.

He feels one instant of pure, unadulterated elation and then cold dread settles in his bones.

Derek is dying. Derek is his soulmate and he’s dying. He needs help, they need to get away, they need- “Derek?” he chokes out. “I- we need to get you help we can’t-“

“’M not healing,” he mumbles, eyes closing drowsily as he covers Stiles’ hand with his own. Stiles almost misses it with the rain and his own pulse thundering in his ears but the way Derek slumps against him is still indication enough.

“But you said-“

“I lied.” His eyes flicker open again and the half-smile that tugs at his mouth is the most heart-breaking thing Stiles has ever seen. “Thought you might’ve been a threat.”

“But you can’t- why aren’t you healing?” Stiles demands frantically, trying to cover some of the deeper claw marks near Derek’s heart with his hands.

“Stiles,” he whispers, patting Stiles’ hand absently. “I just found my soulmate. I don’t wanna spend the few minutes we have together with you lugging me around trying to get help…There’s no point…”

“But-“ Stiles is choking back tears. This can’t be- no. No he is not losing his soulmate as soon as he finds him, he’s not. “I can get help. I can- I can do something, let me do something Derek, please.”

“Just stay with me,” Derek requests weakly.

Stiles lets out an involuntary cry, clutches Derek closer as he buries his nose in his hair. “No. I’m not losing you yet. We just found each other, I-“

“Tell me about yourself,” Derek talks over him, eyes opening briefly. “I wanna know you.”

Stiles pulls him impossibly close, presses his tears into Derek’s hair. This is too much. This is too much. He takes a deep breath, trying to calm himself and keep his voice even.  “I- I’m part of the Beacon Hills pack…I like comic books…I have ADHD.” He cuts off, lifting one hand to wipe his eyes before immediately returning it to its place on Derek’s chest. “I have an attitude problem, apparently,” he adds with a thick scoff.

Derek smiles, even in the dim it lights up his whole face. “So do I.”

“We could’ve been really good together,” he whispers because who cares if it’s a lie or he couldn’t possibly tell. He knows.

“Probably,” Derek agrees, turning his face into the crook of Stiles’ elbow. His breathing is slowing down, Stiles can feel it. He can also feel a panic attack coming on but that’s the least of his worries right now.

He lifts one shaking hand, cards his fingers through Derek’s wet, matted hair and tries to imagine that this is all a dream. That he’ll wake up tomorrow and meet his soulmate walking down the street and everything will be perfect and just like the movies. That’s what they deserve, not this.

“Hey Stiles.” Derek’s voice is laboured now, every word is coming out on a heavy exhale. Probably not long to go. “Can you do me a favour?”

Stiles nods instantly, whispers, “Anything.”

“Kiss me?”

Stiles musters up a smile, blinks through his tears and jokes, “Think true love’s kiss can fix this?”

Derek laughs – it looks like it hurts him. Stiles hates himself for still thinking he looks beautiful. “I don’t know but you can try.”

Stiles smiles weakly, shifts Derek around awkwardly until his head is cradled in the crook of Stiles’ elbow, and then he leans in. Their foreheads connect first. Stiles runs his fingertips over Derek’s cheekbone, intending fully to savour this moment if it’s all he’s ever going to get, and then, ever-so-gently, tilts his head up and draws their lips together.

It’s slow and soft - Derek’s too exhausted to do much more but it’s perfect for Stiles.

He pulls away after a few seconds with a kiss to Derek’s cheek, swallowing hard around the lump in his throat. Derek has the ghost of a smile on his face and it just makes this situation feel even more devastating when he closes his eyes and whispers, “Thank you.”

The longer Stiles stares at him, the longer he feels like he’s about to ripped in half. This can’t be happening, they just found each other. Derek will heal and they can get to know each other and it’ll be amazing. That’s the way it’s supposed to go.

Derek reaching out to brush away a tear track on Stiles’ cheek startles him. He hadn’t even realised he’d opened his eyes again. When Stiles catches his gaze Derek gets a fierce look of concentration on his face and takes a deep breath before he starts talking again. “I wish we could’ve…” He pauses drawing in another breath and Stiles isn’t sure which one of them is shaking. “I wish we could’ve gotten the chance to…to fall in love.”

Stiles lets out a sob, gives into the devastation as he curls over Derek and presses his forehead against Derek’s temple. “This isn’t- this isn’t fair. We’re it- we’re supposed to be it for each other.”

“We are,” Derek reassures him and fuck, why is Derek comforting Stiles right now? This isn’t right. Does the universe hate him that much? Is he that despicable a human that this is how he’s meant to meet the love of his life?

“I don’t wanna lose you yet,” Stiles hiccups. “I just found you.”

“Make you a deal?” Derek asks even though he can hardly keep his eyes open anymore.

“Yeah,” he replies shakily.

“Meet you in another lifetime,” Derek promises and then his breath hitches and he’s turning into Stiles’ arms. He doesn’t open his eyes again and Stiles doesn’t know how long it takes him to go limp but the moment he realises it he feels like someone’s just taken a dagger to his chest.

Stiles feels the breath rush out of him as he presses his fingers over Derek’s neck, looking for a pulse. “Derek?” he demands desperately. “Derek?!”

It hits him all at once that this is it. The potential love of his life is lying in his arms and he’s never coming back. This one fleeting moment, this one moment in the pause between the flash of lightning and the roll of thunder. This is all they’ll ever have.

He doesn’t realises he’s screaming until Scott finds him. He stops a few feet away, gets close enough to snap Stiles out of his reverie but seems to instinctively know why Stiles is a mess and doesn’t come any closer.

He vaguely hears Scott whisper, “I’m so sorry,” in a horrified voice but that’s it.

Stiles looks straight through him, looks back down at Derek with tears brimming in his eyes all over again and leans down to touch his lips to his forehead.

For him, the only two people in the world right now are him and Derek. If this is their only moment, he’s not letting it go for as long as possible.


 

Stiles comes out of the water this time screaming Derek’s name.

Deaton jolts before rushing forward and gripping his shoulders. “Stiles?” he calls loudly, fingers digging into his skin in an attempt to get his attention.

Tremors are racking his body and he can’t tell if it’s water or tears on his face but all he does know is that he can’t breathe properly.

Deaton all but drags him out of the tub, shuffling him into the desk chair and wrapping the towel around him. Stiles is idly aware Deaton’s talking to him but he can’t hear him. It still feels like he’s underwater; Deaton’s voice distant and distorted, Stiles’ vision swimming.

When he eventually manages to focus again he sees Deaton staring at him concernedly. However once he realises Stiles is aware of himself he moves away, returning a moment later with a mug of tea – not Stiles’ particular brand of poison but it’s sweet relief right now, his throat feels like it’s on fire.

Stiles takes the mug gratefully, wrapping his frozen hands around it and inhaling the steam.

“Stiles?” Deaton asks cautiously.

Stiles sighs heavily, resists pressing his fingers into his temples to push away his nagging headache and meets his gaze again. “I don’t want to talk about it,” he says with finality, voice hoarse.

“But-“

“No.” He’s thankful he doesn’t stutter over it, he’s still freezing and more than a little emotionally drained.

Deaton looks regretful but nods. “Maybe you should take a break from the baths for a while,” he suggests cautiously. Hah. That’s not a bad idea considering Stiles is pretty certain he never wants to set foot in one of their alternate universes ever again.

“Yeah,” he agrees, exhaling wearily. “Yeah I think I might sleep this one off.”

He doesn’t say another word as he stands up and collects his spare change of clothes from the examination table and heads to the bathroom to dry off.

He does everything on autopilot, goes through the motions of towelling himself dry, changing his clothes, saying goodbye. He ignores Deaton’s attempts to talk to him, just moves straight for the driver side of his jeep and climbs in. Idly he’s aware that the numbness that’s settled over him isn’t healthy and he’s probably going to break down sooner rather than later.

For now though, he’ll take the numbness as a momentary reprieve.

*

Stiles doesn’t mean to drive to Derek’s place. He ends up there anyway.

His hands are still shaking from the ice bath, his breathing is ragged and his throat feels raw, like he’s just spent hours screaming and crying. One version of him has anyway.

He’s pretty sure he’s been staving off a panic attack since he came back to consciousness and he just- he really needs to see Derek right now.

He climbs the stairs in a daze, bangs on Derek’s door until it’s sliding open because his hand doesn’t tremble quite as much when it’s balled up in a fist. When Derek appears in the doorway, looking sleep-soft and ready for bed Stiles takes one look at him and stumbles forward, clutching him as tightly as he possibly can.

He can feel Derek freeze against him. “…Stiles?” he asks gently, and Stiles knows he’s probably freaking him out and he doesn’t mean to but, Jesus Christ, Derek died. Stiles held him in his arms while he died. So he just needs to feel Derek - bury his head in his chest and feel his heart beating and know he’s okay.

The tears he’s been holding back finally spill over and Stiles turns his face into the crook of Derek’s neck because nothing is close enough right now. Derek must feel it because his hands tentatively come up, one settling on the back of Stiles’ head, the other wrapping around his back.

And all of a sudden he’s hugging back tightly, dragging Stiles impossibly closer and god yes this is what he needs.

“Stiles, what happened?” Derek whispers, his voice is worried even if it’s incredibly soft and Stiles wants to tell him. He’s never wanted to tell him more than he does right now. Just blurt out “we’re soulmates,” fuck the consequences and hope to god Derek doesn’t push him away. But he can’t do that to him.

He won’t do that to him.

 

So he settles for drawing in a ragged breath and trying to calm himself. He doesn’t pull away because he can’t but he does manage to mumble out a broken and timid, “Can I stay here for a while?”

Derek freezes again but he recovers much quicker this time. “Yeah I-“ He tries to move back but when Stiles’ only reaction is to cling even harder he relents. “Yeah, okay come on.” His voice is soothing as he carefully shifts them around so Stiles is tucked under his arm as he leads them properly inside. Derek moves away for the briefest second to close the door and it takes everything not for his knees to give out.

He’s back in an instant though, wrapping an arm around Stiles and leading him over to his room. It’s sectioned off now, he put up walls a couple of years back so he could actually have his own space.

“Isaac is out with Boyd and Erica so he shouldn’t be home for a while,” Derek says quietly as they enter his room and if Stiles were in a less catatonic state right now he’d appreciate that Derek knows he doesn’t want an audience.

He forces himself to let go of Derek and sits down heavily on the edge of the bed, resting his elbows on his thighs and putting his head in his hands. The initial panic has subsided slightly but he still feels jittery and unsettled, still has the image of Derek dying seared into his memory like a brand.

“Do you wan-“

“Derek, I really don’t want to talk about it right now, can we please just lie down?” Stiles pleads, his voice hollow. His tears haven’t stopped. He’s still shaking, ugh why can’t he stop shaking?

“Okay,” Derek murmurs and then he just- he just walks around to the other side of the bed and climbs in. Sometimes Stiles forgets how open Derek can be now. How, if he trusts you, he’ll let his walls come down a little bit if you need them to. Opening himself up to Stiles like this, it isn’t just letting down his walls a bit, it’s sending them crumbling to the ground.

Stiles doesn’t know what to do with that.

At the moment all he really has the strength to do is kick off his shoes and scoot back so he can lie down properly next to Derek. Derek is on his side, watching him carefully and Stiles knows he wants to ask, knows he’s probably worried. At the very least he thinks Derek realises nobody’s hurt because Stiles would’ve said something by now.

Stiles eases onto his side, looks at where Derek’s hand is resting on the pillow between them and he wants nothing more than to reach out and hold it. “I can’t- …I can’t tell you what’s wrong right now,” he whispers. “But I- I just need-“ He cuts himself off when he feels himself choking up again and squeezes his eyes shut.

Derek seems to know exactly what he needs because he reaches forward, pulls Stiles in and curls his arms around him.

With his forehead pressed to the crook of Derek’s neck and his body caged in Derek’s arms, he lets out the first breath of relief he’s had in hours.

They lie like that for a few minutes until Derek slowly starts moving his hand up and down Stiles’ back. A gentle, lulling movement that has Stiles’ breathing slowing down and his eyes drooping shut.

It’s the first dreamless sleep he’s had in six weeks.

*

Stiles wakes up on pillows that aren’t his, in a bed that doesn’t smell like him. He inhales deeply, rolling onto his back and rubbing lazily at his eyes. When he finally cracks them open and realises he’s in Derek’s room last night comes flooding back to him.

He stills, warily turns his head to the side and breathes out a sigh of relief when he sees Derek isn’t lying next to him anymore. God he really fucked up last night, there’s no way in hell he’ll be able to lie himself out of this one.

Still, this is the first morning in a long time that he actually feels well-rested and not on the verge of collapsing under his own thoughts so yay for small victories at least. He spends a few minutes just lying in Derek’s bed, his bones still too heavy with sleep and making too convincing an argument for him to get up.

He likes Derek’s room. It’s tidy and everything has its place but it’s still lived-in. There’s still a pair of sweatpants hanging over the back of his desk chair and a book with a bookmark from the local library sticking out of it sitting on the nightstand. There’re pictures on the wall, a collage Stiles knows Erica made for Derek’s birthday last year. There’s two paw prints from the first time Derek taught Scott to shift into a full wolf and they both dipped their paws in ink and pressed them against the wall. There’s a faded Polaroid of Laura in a bar in New York pinned up next to picture of Cora in South America and Stiles feels a sudden warmth in his chest. Because, he can look around Derek’s room and see memories, see happiness and Jesus Christ, that’s all he ever wanted for Derek even when they hated each other. But also because Stiles can look around Derek’s room and he knows it, he knows the story behind everything, was there when most of these memories were made. He doesn’t feel like a stranger looking in, intruding on a space he doesn’t have the privilege to know, because some of these memories are his too, there are parts of Stiles in here.

And he’s never really thought about that before, the way their lives have intermingled so much in the last few years. He and Derek are inextricably linked now, this era of Derek’s life will always have Stiles in it no matter what happens in the future, no matter what happens when he walks out of this room in a minute. It’s a comforting thought.

He gives the room one more glance before he hauls himself out of Derek’s bed and shuffles out into the living room. It’s empty but he can hear someone puttering around in the kitchen so he follows the sound.

Derek is at the stove, frying what smells like bacon with his back turned – doesn’t mean he doesn’t know Stiles has been awake for the last ten minutes though.

“Morning,” he throws out timidly, climbing onto one of the stools sat at the breakfast bar.

Derek looks over his shoulder, smiles softly. “Hey. There’s coffee in the pot if you want some.”

There’s no sign of Isaac, Stiles figures he’s either still asleep or Derek told him to make himself scarce. Stiles nods, slips off the chair again and bumbles over to the coffee pot for lack of anything else to do.

They manoeuvre around the kitchen in silence but it’s not uncomfortable like Stiles expects it to be; it’s easy, settled. It feels like a routine, brushing past each other to pull cups out of cupboards and cutlery out of drawers, Derek unloading bacon onto two plates while Stiles makes coffee for both of them until they’re both back on the stools at the breakfast bar.

The silence remains while they eat but Stiles isn’t really in a rush to break it like he would be with others. He and Derek have never really needed to say much when they’re together, he’s only just noticing it now.

It’s after he swallows down his last strip of bacon that he gets the courage to talk. “Thank you,” he says somewhat bashfully, staring down at the coffee in his hands. “For last night, I- …I needed that.”

“It’s okay,” Derek murmurs after a few seconds. “Are you gonna tell me what happened?” His tone is unassuming, he’s giving Stiles an out, letting him make the call rather than forcing him to talk.

“I- It was…a nightmare.” It’s a cop out and he knows it’s not fair to keep the truth from Derek but is it really better to be honest when the truth could destroy him?

“Like-“

Stiles cuts him off before Derek can voice his worries about the nemeton regenerating. “Not- not like before, just a regular old nightmare.”

“Must’ve been pretty bad to send you over here,” Derek says. It’s a prod, a gentle one, a silent question.

Stiles sighs and sets down his cup, levelling Derek with a look. “You died.” His voice catches when he says it and makes him swallow hard but he keeps talking. “It was bad.”

Derek’s eyes are wide, his mouth parted slightly and Stiles doesn’t like the way he’s staring at him right now. He’s afraid Derek will pick up on the lie even though he technically didn’t lie at all. He just failed to admit that these dreams have a greater meaning.

“You know it was just a dream, right?” Derek says gently. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“I know. I just needed to remind myself of that last night.”

Derek looks- Derek looks kind of floored actually. Like he used to when they were younger, when Stiles would help him or tell him he’s not a monster even though they could barely tolerate each other’s presence. He always looked at Stiles like he was a puzzle he never could quite crack. Stiles hasn’t seen that look in a while.

Jesus, is the idea of him being upset at the thought of Derek dying really that improbable?

“If you-“ Derek starts then stops. He stares down at the table top and Stiles counts the second until he looks back up again. “If you need me- I mean, what happened last night…You know I’m always here, right? Like, if something happens or you just- if you need me you can always call.” He finishes on a loud exhale like it was exhausting to even get the words out.

“I always need you, Derek,” Stiles sighs wearily. It’s a moment of sheer vulnerability that he didn’t mean to let out but the slow dreaminess of this morning is making his brain fuzzy. He feels like he’s in one of their dreams but he’s not, he feels like this is one of the other Stiles-and-Dereks; the ones that are happy and open and honest with each other. He wonders if they could ever be like that.

In that moment Derek’s face is completely open, no hint of his walls, no effort to conceal himself in case Stiles accidentally catches a glimpse of what he’s feeling. He’s just looking at Stiles like he’s waiting for whatever comes next, and god if Stiles only knew this’d be a hell of a lot easier.

“We- I don’t have to try with you, y’know?” Stiles tries to explain. “Like once we stopped disagreeing just for the sake of disagreeing, it turned out we actually agreed on a lot of things.”

He catches the barest hint of a smile at the corner of Derek’s mouth and it makes him smile back. “It stopped being difficult between us when we stopped making it difficult and I don’t know about you, but I need that. I need someone who doesn’t expect anything of me, who calls me out on my shit but understands when I don’t wanna talk, someone who I can just sit in the silence with because sometimes my head can be a really loud place y’know?”

Derek nods but doesn’t move to speak, just lets Stiles keep going.

“Our friendship never came with any expectations because we never expected it to happen in the first place. Instead it’s just been this like, pleasant surprise I guess. And I don’t know when I started needing you around like I do Scott or my dad or Lydia but I do. And I like having you here.”

He has to look away as soon as he stops speaking because wow, he never meant to admit any of that but…it kinda feels nice, now that he’s said it.

It’s like saying it out loud made it clear in his head. He doesn’t know if he and Derek are meant to fall in love. He thinks they could, thinks he might already be starting to. But he does know that Deaton was right, he and Derek do balance each other out and keeping himself away from Derek like he has the last couple of weeks was stupid because he needs him. He needs him to fill in the gaps in Stiles’ life. They don’t need to fall into a relationship right now but Stiles is tired of acting like Derek isn’t as important to him as he is.

“I…I need you too, y’know?” Derek whispers. “Just- you’re right, we’ve kind of always been on the same wavelength. It’s- I like having you on my side,” he adds with a self-deprecating shrug.

Stiles smiles, feels it slowly creep up on him until it lights up his whole face and nods. “Well I think we’ve been sufficiently honest enough to last us the next six months so how about we insult each other and move on with our day?”

Derek huffs a laugh and drains his coffee. “Come on, asshole, you can help me with grocery shopping, the pack meeting tonight is gonna clean me out.”

“Ah see now you sound like yourself,” Stiles grins, hopping off his stool. He hesitates a moment before moving forward and wrapping Derek in a hug. Derek pauses but his arms still come up around Stiles and pull him in.

“I mean it,” Stiles murmurs, voice muffled by Derek’s shoulder. “Thank you.”

He feels Derek nod against him and he knows he should let go…

…Maybe just a few more seconds though.

*

Chapter Text

If you’re sad, do like I do and just think of the other ‘verses. The ones where I believe in love and where I don’t hate myself and where I never feel the need to kamikaze relationships. A universe where we can have nice things…Because you could have loved me forever. And maybe in another universe, I let you.”

*

Things don’t exactly get better but they don’t get worse either.

He and Derek don’t talk about that night anymore after the first time but he thinks Derek kind of understands him better now, even if it means Stiles is on the receiving end of a lot more  considering glances now. Stiles sticks to his guns and steers clear of the ice baths; though this time it’s more out of fear of what he will see rather than what he won’t.

Yeah those universes have a Derek that loves him but maybe- maybe his Derek could love him some day. Without any kind of cosmic interference or anything like that. Maybe they could heal their scars and maybe they could be the right people for each other simply because they understand, because all their jagged edges miraculously seem to fit together.

Stiles has pretty much come to terms with the fact that he has feelings for Derek now and whether they’ve been born out of what he saw or have been latent all this time, he knows they’re real.

Because he doesn’t crave the other Dereks. He craves this one – the one who can look at Stiles with haughty derision and get into verbal sparring match with him at the drop of a hat but can also be so careful and so soft in the quiet moments.

He wants Derek because he doesn’t treat Stiles with kid gloves but he also knows when to stop pushing and just be with Stiles. Stiles is erratic and hyperactive and downright contradictory most days, he knows he’s not easy to keep up with…Derek’s always managed though.

He doesn’t really know what Derek’s stance on all of this is. But right now, them being that little bit closer is enough.

*

They actually do make it up the coast for a long weekend at end of July. Stiles is so thankful for the normalcy he doesn’t even complain when Jackson gets chips all over his backseat.

The beach house they rented honestly looks more like a mansion – thank you, Derek and Jackson’s bank accounts – or well, the mansion version of a beach house at least.

It’s a nice change of scenery. Stiles’ life has been feeling progressively darker with every passing week for the last two months. Seeing the clear blue sky and breathing in the fresh air thick with the smell of the sea it feels like the fist that’s kept a tight grip on his heart is loosening slightly.

As soon as he dumps his bag in the room he’s commandeered for the next four days he changes into his swim shorts and a t-shirt, lips tugging up in a smile when Scott pokes his head around the door frame and tells him to hurry up because they’re planning a make-shift game of lacrosse on the beach. God of course Jackson stocked this place with lacrosse sticks. (Stiles kind of loves it anyway.)

They play three a side - how Isaac and Boyd roped Derek in, he’ll never know – while the girls stretch out on sun loungers to work on their tans and it’s fun. Stiles actually kind of misses lacrosse, he was never really that good but it was a way for him to get rid of all his excess energy, a way to switch his mind off for a while. He doesn’t really have that anymore.

But at least now, for today, he can run around the beach with his pack, think about nothing but how to get the ball and pretend his mind hasn’t been a warzone for weeks.

At some point Erica taps in for Derek and she pretty much wipes the floor with all of them – even her own teammates – and that kind of puts an end to that but Stiles still feels okay. It’s a good day for him, probably one of the nicest he’s had in a long, long time.

Having the sun warm his skin, his friends by his side, and having Derek at a close but safe distance is what he needs.

Derek and Allison take on the task of cooking dinner so Stiles sits with Scott on the deck, sipping a beer and idly watching them talk. Those two were tricky in the beginning; lots of family hostility that actually had nothing to with either of them - but had been ingrained nonetheless - clouding their judgement. Stiles doesn’t really know all the details but as far as he knows they bumped into each other at the cemetery one day when Allison was visiting her mom and Derek was visiting his family and they talked.

Nobody knows the whole story, not even Scott, but after that they struck up a tentative kind of friendship, one that sort of eludes the rest of them. They make each other laugh though and Stiles knows they talk to each other about things they don’t know how to talk about with anyone else so he thinks however their friendship works they’re good for each other.

Scott snaps him out of his mental soliloquy with a murmured, “How’re you feeling, bud?”

So maybe this trip wasn’t just a pack getaway but actually the result of Scott’s incessant need to protect him and make sure he got out of his own head. Stiles is still grateful either way. He looks around the deck to confirm no one with hyper-sensitive ears could be listening in but Jackson and Boyd are surfing and Erica, Isaac and Lydia are still down on the beach, talking about something that makes Erica cackle loudly. Derek’s close enough to listen if he wanted to but he and Allison are having a conversation of their own and with the noise of the grill Stiles thinks he should be okay. He looks over at Scott and gives a tremulous, albeit real smile and says, “I’m actually doing pretty good today.”

Scott’s smile lights up his whole face and god, Stiles feels so guilty for unloading this bomb on him and then refusing to do anything about it. He’s been trying so hard to help but even when Stiles talks to Scott he still feels too deep in his own head, can’t latch onto the life raft Scott has been tirelessly throwing him even when he tries.

“I’m really glad…I was starting to get pretty worried.”

Scott doesn’t know about the last dream Stiles had, he just knows Stiles has stopped going to Deaton. He’s happy about it even if he knows Stiles is keeping something from him but it was hard enough telling Derek and even then it was only a half-truth. If he told Scott, Scott would know the full implications of the dream and why it affected Stiles so much. He’s not quite ready to talk about that yet.

“’M sorry,” he mumbles, rolling his beer bottle in his hand. “This isn’t fair on you.”

“Hey,” Scott touches his hand, makes him look back up again. “I can’t even imagine where your head’s at right now, you get to be as selfish about this as you want to.”

Stiles just huffs a laugh and ignores the burn behind his eyes. He’s been so close to crying so many times this summer, he gives in a lot but not today. No, today is a nice day, he won’t spoil it.

“Any developments on the feelings front?” Scott asks and just the teasing lilt in his voice is enough to bring Stiles back from the brink. Because if he tries, he can pretend they’re normal and just talking about some stupid crush Stiles has. He likes the thought of that.

“Not really…” he trails off, watching Derek needlessly flip a burger and Allison rolling her eyes at him before elbowing him out of the way and sending him off to make salad. Stiles is smiling before he realises it.

“What about on your side?” Scott presses gently.

“I like him,” Stiles whispers. “In spite of everything…or maybe because of it, I don’t know. I just know this isn’t, like, it’s not just all in my head.”

When he looks away from Derek he sees Scott smiling knowingly at him. “I hope it works out.”

Stiles just nods faintly. He does too.

*

It’s a good night. Everyone’s laughing a lot. Even when Isaac is pulling out his guitar that he randomly learned to play last year because apparently his hipster look wasn’t complete and it makes everyone groan, somehow Stiles still has a warm feeling in the pit of his stomach.

There are s’mores and ridiculous ghost stories – some real; stories of what Derek and his sisters got up to as kids and others, silly concoctions Scott and Stiles made up as kids. And it feels like it does after a battle, when they huddle together and lick their wounds, except no one’s hurt this time, no one needs to worry. Stiles doesn’t want to lose this feeling.

People start to drop off in dribs and drabs until eventually they’re all back in the comfort of their rooms and the house is silent. Stiles can’t sleep though. That’s the one thing that hasn’t gotten better. He either takes hours to fall asleep or wakes up groggy and weighed down because of his dreams.

Right now he’ll take the former over the latter.

At some point past 2am he ventures back out onto the deck. He sits on one of the chairs with his blanket tucked around him and his knees pulled up to his chest. The breeze coming off the water is cold but his hoodie and the blanket block out the worst of it. It’s actually quite peaceful listening to the waves rolling; it gives him something to focus on.

He doesn’t know how long he’s out there when the patio door slides open. He tears his eyes away from the water and sees Derek gently closing the door behind himself. When he catches Stiles looking he shrugs sheepishly. “Couldn’t sleep either?” he asks, pulling a chair away from the table and sitting next to Stiles.

Stiles just shakes his head, watches Derek watch the ocean.

“Is everything okay?”

The question startles Stiles, he’d sort of started to drift off, mind wandering as he took in Derek’s profile. Derek turns his head to meet his gaze and that’s when Stiles realises he should probably answer.

“Yeah.” He doesn’t sound convincing even to his own ears but everything really is okay right now. In this moment, everything is fine. “Just- I don’t know. I know I’ve been kinda weird lately. Sorry.”

Derek snorts, says, “I’ve seen you weird, Stiles. This isn’t weird.” He’s teasing but he’s also probing – just a little bit.

“Everything really is okay,” Stiles replies quietly, even musters up a real smile and everything.

“So you’re just up in the middle of the night to wait for the sunrise?” Derek asks wryly.

“Obviously,” Stiles scoffs, rolling his eyes. He can’t hide his grin though. Derek can’t either.

“Mind if I join you then?”

Stiles raises an eyebrow, “The sun isn’t gonna rise for another two and a half hours at least.”

Derek only shrugs, “I can wait.”

So he stays and they talk. They talk a lot.

Stiles kind of loses track of the conversation honestly. It’s one of those ones that starts off as one thing before bleeding into another before you end up at a completely different point from where you started.

He can’t remember the last time they’ve done this – probably when they were stuck together somewhere while the Monster of the Week was circling them. But there’s no monster this time, just the two of them, a beach and an ocean ready to carry away all their secrets with the tide.

Derek talks about Cora and her internship in Boston and how she’s doing, it takes a while before he quietly admits that he misses her and he still worries like crazy if she misses his call even though she always calls him back less than an hour later.

Stiles mentions how he needs to replace the flowers at his mom’s grave once they get home, Derek says he needs to do the same with Laura’s and then the conversation becomes about their families for a while, about the members they lost. Stiles doesn’t talk about his mom with anyone really. Derek and Allison have always kind of been exceptions though, they know how he feels without him having to say it.

Somehow that conversation leads to a light-hearted argument about the accuracy of supernatural horror movies and then it’s just a lot of Twilight jokes on Stiles’ part and a lot of rolling of eyes on Derek’s.

For a while their conversation stops altogether and they just sit together. It’s calming, like being alone without being lonely.

Stiles is so close to falling asleep but then Derek nudges him and he forces his eyes to flicker open again. Derek nods his head in the direction of the sea and oh. The sun’s rising.

It’s weird. Watching the sky slowly turn from dark to red to orange to pink with little flecks of blue. It’s watching time pass even though this moment feels frozen. It’s still beautiful though and Derek has a soft smile on his face and his hair is fluffy from the breeze and he wishes time was frozen right now because this- this is what he wants.

He wants Derek next to him and he wants to make Derek smile like that and he’ll probably curse the moment he found out Derek was his soulmate until the day he dies but he’s also glad he knows. He’s glad it made him wake up and look at Derek like this, make him see all the ways he could want him, make him see what they could be someday.

Derek rolls his head to the side to look at him and suddenly that soft smile is directed at Stiles and his heart is thumping painfully in his chest. “So was it worth it?”

Stiles swallows, mouth suddenly feeling too dry. “Was what worth it?”

“Staying up for the sunrise?” Derek prompts.

“Yeah,” Stiles answers a little breathlessly. He’s not just talking about the sunrise.

*

The weekend passes quickly, too quickly, but it’s like coming up for air after being underwater for too long. It’s cathartic to do nothing but laze around on the beach and hang out with his friends.

Stiles can’t help but feel a little like he’s walking around with chains around his feet once he’s back in his own bedroom and back to reality.

*

He and Derek start taking midnight drives. They don’t really plan it.

One night Stiles is sitting on the hood of his car at the peak looking over the Preserve when Derek finds him, because sometimes – most of the time - sleep is still too hard to face. Derek doesn’t say what he’s doing there and Stiles doesn’t either and they just sit for a while.

After that it starts slowly. A carefully worded text from Stiles asking Derek if he’s awake. Derek offering to come pick him up. Driving around the silent streets for hours until Stiles falls asleep with his head against the glass of the passenger window.

Sometimes they drive to the lookout, the same place Derek first found him. Sometimes they stop at the crappy 24-hour diner for a greasy burger and a milkshake. Sometimes Derek just drives around the quiet streets of Beacon Hills while Stiles revels in the silence. It’s in those moments that Stiles comes so close to telling the truth.

But he’s been carrying this secret like a ten tonne weight on his shoulders for weeks now and he doesn’t even know how he’d go about explaining it.

Derek never asks questions – even when Stiles can tell he wants to – all he ever does is offer an understanding smile and give Stiles full rein of the radio. It’s just one more reason Stiles wants to tell him how he feels.

“Do we need to start worrying about your sleeping patterns again?” Derek asks him one night when they’ve been driving around to the lull of one of Derek’s old classic rock CDs for about an hour.

Stiles blinks in surprise because this is the first time Derek’s actively acknowledged the fact that Stiles hasn’t been sleeping. “Uh…no?” he replies hopefully.

Without a word, Derek pulls onto the shoulder of the road, letting the engine idle while he levels Stiles with a look.

“You weren’t supposed to ask questions,” Stiles grumbles, his neck suddenly feeling hot under the thin collar of his t-shirt.

“And I’ve tried not to,” Derek tells him. “Because I know you don’t want me to and I know you don’t wanna talk. But Stiles, if this is- …if this is like before-“

“It’s not!” Stiles interjects quickly. “It’s not, okay? It’s not the nemeton or anything supernatural,” not technically anyway, “It’s just- I can’t sleep,” he finished lamely.

“Okay,” Derek says slowly. “Why?”

Stiles…doesn’t have an answer for that. What’s he supposed to say? “I can’t sleep because we’re soulmates and every time I close my eyes I see the version of us that’s madly in love and gets to have a happy ending and that version will never be me and you”? Yeah. Not likely.

Looking at Derek now in the faint glow of the streetlights, his expression open and earnest, it’s so hard to lie. But Stiles’ self-preservation instinct has always been all too happy to kick in when it comes to his emotions.

“I don’t know.”

Derek can tell he’s lying, Stiles doesn’t even try to conceal it, can barely look him in the eye regardless.  But all Derek does is say, “Okay,” again and pull back out onto the road.

He doesn’t stop driving until Stiles is asleep.

*

Derek gets shot. Stiles is the one who finds him.

There’s been some unusual activity the past couple of days. Erica catches a faint, unfamiliar scent on Monday. The hunters notice some disturbances near the town perimeter in the following days so they split up into teams, start patrolling the Preserve and try to pick up on the scent Erica found. Stiles gets the short end of the stick tonight and is stuck with the 3am shift with Lydia and Boyd.

They’re supposed to be relieving Derek, Allison and Isaac but when they get to the rendezvous point Allison and Isaac are the only ones waiting.

“Where’s Derek?” Stiles asks probably too quickly.

Isaac raises an eyebrow but doesn’t comment, Allison shrugs and looks at the time on her phone. “We’re giving him another five minutes, if he’s not back by then we’ll go looking.”

“Can’t you hear him?” Stiles asks Isaac impatiently, he can feel himself starting to panic. Derek’s fine. If any of them can handle themselves alone in the woods, it’s Derek but…Stiles would really, really appreciate it if he could show up in the next thirty seconds.

Isaac huffs and grumbles about how, “The woods are pretty damn big, how am I supposed to hear him if he’s miles away?”

“Did you try calling him?” Lydia directs to Allison, eyeing Stiles calculatingly and he really doesn’t feel like being scrutinised right now.

Allison nods, “Last time I heard from him was about thirty minutes ago when we agreed to check in on each other. I tried him when we got back to the road and he wasn’t here but he never picked up.”

And Stiles’ blood pressure is definitely starting to rise, oh god. There’s an unidentified thing out there and Derek’s alone and-

“Okay, it’s been five minutes. Let’s go,” Boyd says decisively and Stiles wants to hug him for actually taking this seriously. (In reality, he’s probably just picking up on Stiles’ anxiety and thinking the sooner Derek gets back, the better.)

“He’s probably not that far anyway,” Allison agrees reasonably, turning back towards the treeline. “Maybe he just got held up on his way back.”

Stiles is supposed to go with Isaac while Lydia goes with Allison and Boyd takes another direction. He trudges along beside him, clinically scanning the area Isaac swears is the route Derek was meant to be taking. When they get to a fork in the clearing Stiles eyes both paths for all of ten seconds and tells him they need to split up.

“I don’t think me leaving you on your own in the woods in the middle of the night is gonna be very conducive to this search party,” Isaac remarks mildly.

Stiles makes a frustrated noise in the back of his throat and fixes him with a glare. “I’ll be fine, I have my bat. I’ll yell if I need you, just go find Derek.” With that, he sets off down the left path, light on his phone guiding his way and bat thumping steadily against his leg. It helps him maintain control of his breathing.

He’s not sure how long he’s been walking when he notices it.

It’s blood and it’s black. A few droplets smeared over the underbrush.

He stares at it for a moment before it actually sinks in what he’s seeing. “Derek,” he mumbles absently, eyes widening when he moves the light in his hand and sees a faint trail. “Derek!” he yells, running before he can think. He staggers through the branches, stumbling to a stop once he’s in the clear. The sight he’s greeted with makes his blood run cold.

Derek is slumped on the ground, curled in on himself and face sickly pale. No. No, this is too familiar. This isn’t happening. Not again.

“Derek!” His voice sounds raw already as he races over, skidding onto his knees and landing beside Derek. He rolls him over, feels relief briefly wash over him when Derek’s face contorts with pain. He’s still alive, thank god.

“Derek,” he says more quietly this time, voice watery and unnerved. His hand traces over Derek’s face, brushes hair away from his burning hot forehead. “Derek, can you hear me?”

Derek’s eyes flicker open and he takes a ragged breath, eyes focusing momentarily before clouding over again. “I think,” he heaves. “I think it was…w-wolf’s bane.” He coughs and Stiles doesn’t miss the blood colouring the inside of his lips. This is bad. This is really bad. “But not- …not the normal kind.”

“We’re gonna get you help, okay?” He smiles through his tears even though it physically pains him because he needs Derek to know everything is okay. The fact that he frantically screams for Isaac a moment later probably isn’t as reassuring.

It’s all a bit of a blur after that.

First Isaac comes rushing over, then Boyd, then Lydia and Allison.

He has vague memories of Allison calling her dad, is idly aware of Lydia ushering him into her car after Isaac and Boyd pry Derek from his arms and heft him into his own backseat.

Deaton, Scott and Chris Argent are waiting at the animal clinic when they get there and Stiles just about registers Scott telling Isaac and Boyd that he’s sent the others back out to the Preserve to try and catch whoever it was that hurt Derek. The two of them leave almost immediately after that, probably joining the search party.

Chris Argent has a frankly nauseatingly large supply of different brands of wolf’s bane bullets open on the counter and Deaton takes far longer than Stiles would like to choose one.

Stiles watches them deliberate for as long as he can before he snaps. “Just pick one!” he demands from his seat in the corner of the room.

Everyone pauses, Scott’s expression full of sympathy while Deaton gives him one of understanding. Chris, Allison and Lydia just look confused.

“If I use the wrong one it could kill him Stiles,” Deaton reminds gently. He looks down at Derek’s now bare chest, assessing the ravaged wound on his side and the black, spindly veins surrounding it before returning his gaze to Stiles.

“Can you come here for a minute?” he requests. Stiles isn’t sure he likes the edge to his voice.

Still, he gets up and walks over to examination table on shaky legs. Derek hasn’t been awake since Isaac found them.

Deaton gestures for him to sit, so he hops on the table, taking the empty space near Derek’s head.

“We might be able to find out what bullet it is,” he says, brows furrowed at Derek’s wound again.

“How?” Chris is the one who asks. Stiles had almost forgotten the others were there, eyes trained on Derek face, drained of colour.

When he eventually looks back up Deaton meets Stiles’ eyes and Stiles doesn’t know what he wants him to do but he nods anyway.

“It’s time to test the boundaries of your bond, Mr Stilinski.”

Stiles sucks in a breath, returns his stare to Derek’s pale, slackened face and nods. “What do I need to do?”

“What bond?” Lydia asks at the same time.

Scott, thankfully, interferes immediately. “We can talk about it later,” he delegates. “We’re running out of time.”

For once, Lydia doesn’t demand answers and just inclines her head in acceptance, Allison agreeing a moment later. “So what do we do then?” she asks.

Deaton regards Derek critically before meeting everyone’s gazes individually. “Allison, Lydia and Scott, start preparing an ice bath. Argent, take two bullets from each strand of wolf’s bane in your arsenal and lay them out on the counter over there. We need to move fast and be prepared for when Stiles comes back up.”

While everyone else sets to work Stiles chews on his lip, contemplating sitting on his hands so they’ll stop shaking.

“Stiles,” Deaton says lowly when everyone’s attention is away from them. “You might be able to reach Derek in your subconscious, determine what he’s been hit with.”

“But if he doesn’t know what kind of wolf’s bane it is, how will I?”

“If this works, you’ll be able to feel what he feels,” Deaton explains. “Which means if we apply the wolf’s bane to your skin instead of Derek’s-“

“I’ll be able to figure out which one works without hurting Derek in the process,” Stiles finishes faintly.

Deaton smiles approvingly. “Precisely.”

“Will I be able to talk to him?” Stiles asks before he can stop himself, fingers moving of their own accord to brush Derek’s hair back off his face.

“Probably not,” Deaton replies. “Bonding you empathetically will be difficult enough without bonding you intellectually as well.”

“How do I even do it? What’s stopping me from just going into another universe like usual?”

“Focus your mind. Imagine what you want. If your bond is as strong as I think it is, it’ll work.”

Stiles watches Derek for a minute – the slow, laboured rise and fall of his chest, his sluggish pulse under Stiles’ fingertips, the black blood oozing from just above his hip – and he doesn’t doubt it anymore. He loves Derek, he doesn’t care how or why right now, he just knows he loves him and he isn’t losing him.

He takes a deep breath, closes his eyes to stop them from watering and whispers, “Okay.”

*

Sitting in the bath with five pairs of eyes on him is unnerving. He thinks Scott briefly filled Lydia and Allison in on the whole soulmate thing – god, he’s not looking forward to the tongue-lashing Lydia’s gonna give him later for keeping it from her – because they seem to understand what’s going on now. Each one of them takes a point around the bath, Scott’s hands on his shoulders once again while Lydia and Allison each take a leg. Chris is standing with a table set between him and Derek, cracked open wolf’s bane bullets lined up in neat rows.

Deaton is standing near his head, ready to interrogate him. He gives Stiles a questioning look and when Stiles grits his teeth and pushes out an, “I’m ready,” he gives the others the go ahead.

He doesn’t writhe anymore, doesn’t push back against the water. He’s used to it by now.

He thinks of Derek, thinks of reaching him, of saving him, of taking away his pain, and he goes under. It’s almost sweet relief when his back hits the base of the tub.

*

He’s not aware of himself when he floats back to the surface. All he can feel is a white hot pain emanating from his side.  He wants to scream, wants to cry, but something’s pressing down on him.

He thinks he might be biting his lip to stop from crying out. He doesn’t think it’s working.

He can hear voices, slow and steady, asking him questions and something- something is dusting over the pain and for a moment, it stops. But then a flare of searing heat shoots up through his entire body.

He hears a blood-curdling scream, distantly he acknowledges it’s his own.

It happens again. And again and again. And again.

He feels raw and split open, feels like he’s on fire.

He hears shouting, like someone’s arguing. Too much is happening, he’s confused and he can’t- he can’t open his eyes.

And then…relief.

There’s the burning again but it eases, gradually until his side is numbed and the pain is gone.

Air rushes out of him in relief and water pours over his now soothed side. The fire is gone, he can breathe.

*

Stiles is talking before he even comes out of the water. “That one! It’s that one,” he splutters, scrambling to get out of the tub. Scott catches him before he goes careening towards the floor.

“Easy,” Scott soothes gently, taking the towel Allison hands him and wrapping it around Stiles once he’s shepherded him into a chair.

“It’s that one,” Stiles gasps again, fingers itching to scrape over the tender skin on his side even though he knows he won’t find anything there.

Deaton and Chris aren’t listening to him, already lighting the powder on fire and pressing it to Derek’s wound. Stiles flinches, still feeling the phantom ache of Derek’s pain.

He lasts all of thirty seconds huddled between Scott, Allison and Lydia before he’s bolting out of his chair and over to the examination table to grab Derek’s hand. Derek’s writhing on the table, eyes squeezed shut, claws extending out of the tips of his fingers. Stiles is absently aware Derek could rip his hand off right now and he should probably be more careful but he doesn’t care. He just holds onto Derek’s hand with both of his and squeezes.

After a minute or so Derek relaxes against the table top again, his breathing going back to a normal rate. Stiles doesn’t look away from him until someone approaches the other side of the table and he sees Scott’s familiar hands pressing over Derek’s hip, his veins turning black a moment later.

When Scott meets Stiles’ grateful look he just nods, smiling slightly. “He’s okay,” he whispers.

“He just needs to rest for a while,” Deaton cuts in. “Something you should probably all do,” he adds pointedly.

“I’m staying,” Stiles says flatly. He’s not going anywhere until Derek opens his eyes and even then he’ll probably have to be dragged out by the scruff of his neck.

“I need to catch up with the others,” Scott says, pressing down more firmly on Derek’s side before letting go. He gives Stiles a beseeching look, “You gonna be okay here on your own?”

“I can stay,” Lydia answers just as Stiles is about to reassure him. “I don’t mind.”

Scott looks between them but when Stiles only shrugs he lets it go.

“We need to let the rest of the hunters know what bullets are being used, make sure we have enough in stock in case anyone else gets hurt.” Allison, looking every bit like the leader she’s become, starts packing up Chris’ case, leaving some of the bullets with Deaton as a precaution. “Can you call a meeting?”

Even with his mind preoccupied, Stiles can see the pride in Chris’ expression as he takes the case from her. “I’ll send out the message on the way home.”

Scott and Allison both hug him tight before they leave, letting him go to say their goodbyes to Lydia. Chris follows them out and suddenly this room that had been too full, too chaotic, is blanketed in silence. Deaton keeps to himself, cleaning up around the place. Lydia helps him while Stiles sits back up on the examination table, carefully cradling Derek’s head until it’s pillowed in his lap.

He doesn’t know how long he sits there running his fingers through Derek’s hair until Lydia drags a chair over. “So,” she says heavily, letting the silence drag until Stiles hangs his head and starts speaking.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” he murmurs. “I didn’t tell anyone except Scott. Deaton was the one who helped me figure it out in the first place.”

He expects her to be mad, expects a lecture because they usually tease through all the supernatural shit together, instead all he gets is a look of realisation and a sad smile, “So he doesn’t-“

“No, Derek doesn’t know.”

“Why not?”

Stiles sighs, holds his hand over Derek’s heart and feels it thrumming steadily. “Because he doesn’t feel that way about me and I’m not going to guilt trip him into thinking he does.”

“Stiles,” Lydia says quietly, waiting to continue speaking until he looks at her. “How do you know how Derek feels?”

“I-“ he pauses, tries to think of the best way to explain it. “You know what kind of love life he’s had, Lydia. Do you honestly think after all the hell he’s been put through he’d want me? That he’d think I’d be good for him?”

“I don’t think we get much choice over who we fall in love with,” she replies softly. It’s weird having her treat him with kid gloves, she’s generally a lot more blunt. But kid gloves are about as much as he can handle right now so he’s grateful.

“I know that,” he answers. “And I don’t want to take away what little choice he does have by telling him we’re soulmates.”

Lydia frowns but doesn’t try to fight him on it and Stiles gives her a helpless shrug. He accepted his fate a long time ago, even if he knows what he feels for Derek is real, who’s to say Derek would ever feel the same way?

“Soulmates?” a voice that is decidedly not Lydia breaks the silence and Stiles freezes, dread settling like a lead weight in his stomach.

Slowly, he looks down and finds Derek’s hazel eyes half open and staring confusedly up at him.

Oh god.

“We’re soulmates?”

*

Chapter Text

“I didn’t fall in love with you. I walked into love with you, with my eyes wide open, choosing to take every step along the way. I do believe in fate and destiny, but I also believe we are only fated to do the things that we’d choose anyway. And I’d choose you; in a hundred lifetimes, in a hundred worlds, in any version of reality, I’d find you and I’d choose you.”

– Kiersten White

*

Stiles runs.

He doesn’t mean to, but he panics. So he runs. He hops down off the table after carefully resting Derek’s head against the flat surface again and he gets the hell out of there while Derek is still groggy and disorientated.

He practically throws himself into his jeep, pressing down on the accelerator as soon as it’s running. He’s guessing the only reason no one’s following him is because they’re probably still processing what just happened.

God he can’t believe- Derek knows.

Derek heard him and he knows. He’s never going to speak to Stiles again. He’s going to hate him forever. Fuck, fuck, fuck- he shouldn’t-

A noise of frustration rips its way out of his throat and Stiles pulls over on the side of the road, hits the steering wheel a few times before slumping back in his seat.

What’s he supposed to do now? Everything is going to fall apart. Every careful and precarious step forward he and Derek have made to forge their fragile little connection is going to collapse in on itself.

All because Stiles couldn’t tell him the truth. All because Stiles betrayed Derek’s trust like everyone else. All because they’re fucking soulmates.

*

He makes it home eventually, secretly thankful his dad is on the late night rotation again, he doesn’t know what he would say to him if he were here right now.

After dragging himself up the stairs he crawls into bed, just about managing to kick off his shoes before he buries his head in his pillow and closes his eyes.

He won’t cry. He won’t cry.

He’s not sure how long he’s spent lying in silence, trying to even his breathing, when he hears the window open. He freezes, already knowing it’s Derek.

Of course it’s Derek.

He tightens his grip on the pillow for a second, trying to draw some strength for what’s about to happen, before sitting up.

Sure enough Derek is standing in the middle of his room, arms crossed defensively over his chest. Normally it makes him looks imposing, right now he just seems vulnerable and unsure. He looks pale, the only indication that he’s still affected by the gunshot wound. His face is blank and it’s definitely on purpose but his eyes betray him, they always do.

“Hi,” Stiles attempts weakly. He feels like he should be standing up, put them on an even footing, he can’t bring himself to though. “Are you okay?”

“We’re soulmates.” If it had been five years ago Derek probably would’ve said it flatly, with no trace of emotion, this time his voice wavers, throat catching on the words.

Stiles can’t look him in the eye so he stares at his hands and nods his head.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

Stiles swallows hard and meets Derek’s eyes again, expression pleading. “I couldn’t- I didn’t want you to- Derek, I was so afraid, okay? I was afraid that you’d find out the truth and think that- that you had some sort of obligation to be with me and that’s not- I don’t expect that of you.”

That seems to bring Derek up short, his mouth parting slightly in surprise. It takes him a moment to recover before he says, “You still lied, Stiles.”

It’s true and Stiles doesn’t have a good response so he just stays silent.

When Derek starts speaking again Stiles feels the floor drop out from underneath him. “What about- what about us?”

“What about us?” Stiles asks because the uncertain expression on Derek’s face is making his heart clench.

“What about the way things are different between us now? Like…our feelings?”

“They’re not real,” Stiles replies hollowly and he wishes he were lying but Derek’s never- Derek can’t want him that way. It’s not possible.

Derek looks taken aback, then angry. “So you think what we’ve been- you think any feelings we have for each other are just because of the bond?” he demands incredulously.

Just hearing Derek say the word “feelings” makes Stiles’ heart thump heavily in his chest, god, he wants there to be feelings.

“I think you just went through a really traumatic experience and I helped save you and now you’re hearing that we’re magically destined. It wouldn’t be surprising if you were feeling confused right now,” Stiles says slowly, self-preservation instinct kicking in right on time.

“And before I got shot?” Derek asks expectantly.

“Nothing happened before you got shot…” Stiles mutters, avoiding his gaze.

Derek gives him a pained look, “Stiles. Something’s different between us and you know it.”

“Then why didn’t you say anything?” Stiles retorts defensively. He refuses to believe Derek’s had feelings for him this whole time. He can’t. This is just because he’s found out the truth. That’s the only reason.

“Because I was trying to give you space!” Derek explodes, scrubbing his hands over his face in frustration. “I knew something was wrong so I let you take what you needed and move at the pace you felt comfortable with.”

Stiles feels sick, feels dizzy at Derek’s words. His eyes are watering now but he doesn’t care anymore. “Don’t you see?” he pleads beseechingly. “You’ve been putting me first; you always put someone else first. You said it yourself; you let me take what I needed and didn’t care about what you wanted.”

“Stiles, that’s not-“

He shakes his head, cutting Derek off. “Derek, your whole life people have been taking advantage of you. And now you’re telling me I was doing the same thing when you didn’t even know the wider implications as to why?” He lifts a hand, wipes absentmindedly at a tear that managed to fall, and shake his head. “We can’t- we just can’t.”

“So that’s it?” Derek asks, jaw locked and eyes steely. He’s shoved his hands into his jacket pockets now. “You’ve just written us off before we even get a chance to try?”

“We did get a chance,” Stiles smiles sadly. “We got hundreds of chances, thousands even, in thousands of different universes…Just not in this one.”

Derek leaves. Stiles doesn’t stop him.

*

Stiles doesn’t get out of bed the next day. Scott shows up at some point and crawls under the covers with him and for a moment, it feels like their eight-years-old again, whispering about Scott’s parents fighting or Stiles’ mom not getting any better.

“Where’s your head at?” Scott asks quietly, his hand circled around Stiles’ wrist a comforting weight.

“I want him,” Stiles murmurs desolately. “I want him so bad. But Scott, he- you know what he’s like. How do I know the feelings are real on his end?”

“You don’t,” Scott acknowledges. “But you trust him, don’t you?”

“Yes…But what if he just thinks his feelings are real because they’re what I want? What if the bond is just some kind of emotional feedback loop?”

Scott’s quiet for a few minutes, taking his time to consider the question before he replies. “I guess you just have to decide if you believe him. I mean you weren’t sure in the beginning either. Doesn’t he deserve to work out his feelings too before you take away the chance of something more?”

“I guess,” Stiles mumbles, voice thick and heart heavy. He wants to believe Derek but how can he? When’s the last time Derek’s even been in love? How is supposed to know if these feelings are real if he’s never felt them before? Stiles won’t be added to the list of people who’ve hurt Derek. It would kill him.

There’s still a small voice in the back of his mind though, one that whispers to him when everything’s quiet, that tells him he’s using Derek’s past experiences as an excuse. That he’s the one who’s scared of his own feelings, that he’s the one who’s afraid of getting hurt.

He pretends it doesn’t make sense.

*

The world doesn’t stop turning even if Stiles wishes it would for a while.

Scott informs him it was a hunter and a witch that hurt Derek, working together to procure that particular blend of wolf’s bane. The hunter wanted the werewolves dead, the witch wanted the territory. Same shit but a different day.

Scott also informs him they’ve been taken care of and Stiles doesn’t ask him to elaborate.

Erica comes over and yells at him now the soulmate secret is out of the bag. After about ten minutes though, she just hugs him before kissing his cheek and telling him to get his head out of his ass. After that she puts on Spiderman and doesn’t say anything when Stiles rests his head on her shoulder halfway through.

He doesn’t hear from Derek.

*

It takes four days for Derek to come see him again.

Stiles lets him in without a word, moves through the house until they reach the patio out the back. It isn’t until they’re both sitting cross-legged on the grass, facing each other, that Derek starts speaking.

“I saw us,” he tells Stiles lowly and Stiles’ eyes widen. There’s only one way Derek could’ve seen them and that’s-

“Did you-“

Derek nods before he can finish his question. “Deaton helped,” he clarifies with a shrug.

And this, jesus, Stiles can only imagine what’s going through Derek’s head right now. He can still remember the first time he went under so vividly. Every single, miniscule detail has been etched into his brain for months now.

Derek doesn’t look half as broken as Stiles had been after it though. He looks sure.

“What did you see?” he asks, aiming for casual and missing it by a mile. It comes out strangled and cautious more than anything.

Something in Derek’s expression cracks, like he’s been trying to tamp down on the memory until Stiles brought it up.

“We were soldiers,” Derek answers, voice faraway. “Looked like it was around the 1940s, I don’t know…We were at some dance being thrown for the new recruits before they got shipped off.”

Stiles nods partially to show he’s listening and partly because he doesn’t know what to say. He’s had a few dreams set in different time periods - they were always more jarring somehow.

“Anyway, we were both outside, avoiding the well wishes and stuff. We were both terrified, I guess.” Derek almost huffs a laugh at that before his face turns wistful. “You called me soldier and said it was my duty to dance with you.”

The smiles on Derek’s face is something Stiles has never seen before. It’s soft around the edges, this quiet, bashful thing that Stiles never ever wants to disappear. “Uh and I did,” Derek continues clearing his throat. “After calling you a smartass, obviously. But uh, we danced behind the building, to the music filtering out through the windows and something just clicked, I guess.” He looks up from where he’d been staring at the ground now, offers Stiles a tentative smile and simply says, “We knew.”

“Derek-“

“We didn’t get to stay together very long,” Derek keeps going as if he hadn’t even spoken. “But you told me we’d see each other again soon. When I asked how you could possibly know that, you said, “I just know,”…and then- then we kissed.” He trips over the words, eyes darting away from Stiles as soon as he says them but it doesn’t stop Stiles from gasping softly.

Inexplicably, his eyes are shining with tears because why is it always so easy? Why does every other version of them just meet and they feel it? How come every other version of them doesn’t have to try? Doesn’t have to work through years of trauma and walls built to keep the world out? Why can’t this Stiles and this Derek have nice things?

“I know you’re going to tell me whatever I’m feeling isn’t real,” Derek says, penetrating Stiles’ bubble of denial. “And hell, maybe you’re right, I don’t know. All I know is, real or not, something about you always pulls me back in. Maybe it’s fate, maybe it’s destiny, maybe it’s just us but Stiles, we’ve been circling each other for years. Building up this tenuous sort of relationship where we rely on each other and trust each other and need each other without ever having to say it.”

Derek pauses to take a breath which is ironic since Stiles is ninety percent sure he’s not breathing at all right now.

“I know there’s a me and I know there’s a you and we’re fine on our own, we’re survivors, self-preservationists to our core, but we don’t have to be on our own. We could be an us…” Derek’s eyes are full, so, so full of longing and hope and Stiles just wants to kiss him. He wants to kiss him and forget everything else because this is all he’s ever wanted and now it’s sitting right in front of him and he doesn’t know what to do.

“I wanna believe you,” Stiles whispers tremulously. “I wanna believe you so bad, Derek.”

“Then do,” Derek interrupts, catching Stiles by surprise and taking his hands.

“But what if you’re wrong? What if we’re wrong? …What if we break each other?” Stiles’ hands are shaking in Derek’s and his pulse is going double-time and he’s never one to lose an argument but god, he wants Derek to prove him wrong right now.

In the end, Derek doesn’t come at him with any rebuttals, just shuffles forward until their knees are touching and carefully slips his hands out of Stiles’ to brush his fingers over Stiles’ jaw. “What if we don’t?” he replies simply.

There’s a single moment where neither of them move.

And that’s all Stiles can take before he’s tumbling forward, headfirst into a hurricane, and letting Derek’s lips touch his.

First kisses are meant to be fireworks, Stiles knows this, he also knows more often than not first kisses are usually just awkward and more about trying to figure out a good angle.

Kissing Derek though, kissing Derek isn’t an explosion. It’s the moment immediately after an explosion where there’s complete, earth-shattering silence. Where everything is paused because the world needs a second to catch up.

That’s what this feels like, like nothing else in the world is happening right now, like everything is stopped just for them.

Derek’s hands cradle his jaw and Stiles leans closer, drawn in by Derek’s warmth until he can fit his hands over Derek’s chest. The fabric crinkles under his fingers when he feels Derek’s heartbeat.

Derek’s lips catch on his when he presses in more insistently and Stiles feels a shaky exhale rush out of him. A laugh small and distant in the back of Derek’s throat makes him feel like he’s flying and then their lips align again and Stiles wants nothing more than to meld them together because he doesn’t want to wake up and for this to all have been a dream. He wants it to be real, he needs it to be real.

Derek must sense the urgency he suddenly infuses into the kiss because his thumb sweeps over the plane of Stiles’ cheek and he pulls away just enough to whisper, “I’m here, it’s okay.”

Stiles whimpers, eyes blinking open hazily and meeting Derek’s, Derek’s who shine with understanding and something else he can’t place.

And in that moment he just- he doesn’t think, he just pulls Derek forward into a bone-crushing hug. There’s no hesitation anymore, Derek hugs back, turning his face into the crook of Stiles’ neck, pressing his smile into his skin like a brand.

He found him.

“I found you,” Stiles whispers, squeezing his eyes shut and clinging with everything he has. He’s not letting him go.

*

They’re moving too quickly. Objectively, Stiles knows this. And yet he can’t stop himself from taking Derek’s hand and tugging him inside. He can’t find it in him to push Derek away when he pauses them on the stairs, pressing Stiles into the bannister as he trails kisses over his jaw. He can’t keep his hands from sliding under Derek’s Henley as Derek leads them into Stiles’ bedroom. He can’t stop and he doesn’t want to.

Once the door is closed it’s like their fates are sealed. The decision is made.

And maybe it should be awkward, or scary, or unnerving but all Derek has to do is step forward, fitting his hands to Stiles’ hips and it’s like every fear and misplaced thought he’s ever had just evaporates.

Derek noses his cheek, pulls him into another dizzying kiss all while grasping ineffectually at Stiles’ t-shirt and stumbling backwards. When the backs of his knees hit the mattress the momentum gets the better of them and they fall.

All Stiles can do is hold on.

It happens in flashes .

Derek leaning his forehead against Stiles’, eyes heavy-lidded and warm, and smiling in trepidation as he whispers, “Can I-“ His hand hovering over Stiles’ waist.

Stiles nodding as best he can in the proximity, turning his head to kiss Derek’s cheek, and guiding Derek’s hands to where his t-shirt’s rucked up.

Flash.

Delirious and nervous laughter as clothes get stuck around body parts. Stiles feeling his eyes crinkle in the corners at Derek’s huffy face with one leg of his jeans still trapping his foot. Derek’s self-deprecating chuckle as he covers Stiles’ body with his own again, his cheeks warm to the touch when Stiles trails his fingers over them.

“Are you blushing, Sourwolf?”

Derek neglecting to answer in favour of sensually dragging his lips against Stiles’.

Stiles forgetting what they were even talking about in the first place when Derek bites down on his bottom lip.

Flash.

Derek working him open like he’s made of porcelain, so, so gentle and so, so careful until Stiles gets frustrated and flips them over, taking control of the pace. A move that leaves them both breathless.

Flash.

Mingled breaths and wide eyes as Derek pushes in for the first time. Stiles’ fingers shaking where they’re twisted in Derek’s hair. Derek running the tip of his nose down the bridge of Stiles’ and murmuring, “I’ve got you,” before smudging a kiss on the corner of his mouth.

Flash.

The final moment where he falls over the edge, Derek following not long behind him. Their bodies clinging to each other, Derek’s face buried in his neck, feeling so close Stiles isn’t sure they’re two separate people right now.

Flash.

*

When Stiles wakes up later his covers are drawn up to his waist and Derek’s chest is hot against his back. The clock on his nightstand reads 4pm and he can’t remember what time he and Derek tumbled up here but he’s pretty sure it’s only been about twenty minutes since they’d cleaned up and tucked themselves back into bed.

Derek’s index finger idly drawing patterns on Stiles’ arm is what alerts him to the fact that he’s not the only one who’s awake.

Slowly he rolls onto his other side, Derek’s arms loosen to accommodate him until they’re face to face and then they tighten around his back again.

“Hi.”

“Hi,” Derek replies as he ducks in for a kiss. It’s brief, just a gentle press and yet Stiles still feels his pulse quickening.

They don’t talk right away, just shift around to get comfortable and allow themselves to wake up. It’s when Stiles is lying with his head pillowed on Derek’s chest, hands loosely clasped together that he actually says what he’s been thinking for the last ten minutes.

“We have stuff we need to talk about,” he ventures as casually as he possibly can.

Derek’s hand briefly stills in his hair before he continues his ministrations. “I know,” he says simply.

“This is…complicated,” Stiles says. “If we- we need to make sure we’re doing this for us. That it’s not- not just because of some bond or-“

“Stiles,” Derek cuts him off gently, urging him to sit up so they can look at each other. “It’s not because of the bond.”

Stiles takes in the contented look on Derek’s face, the openness in his eyes and he knows, knows a label like soulmates wouldn’t be the thing that makes Derek look like that. Derek looks like that because he trusts Stiles, trusts him enough to let his walls down. Stiles is never going to let himself break that trust.

“I know,” he answers, voice suddenly thick and betraying him.

Derek just smiles softly and tugs on his hand to get him to lie down again.

“I want to be with you,” Stiles says and for the first time he doesn’t feel scared to say it. “And it’s not because of any other reason than the fact that you make me happy and I feel…settled when I’m with you. That’s all, those are my reasons.”

“Pretty good reasons,” Derek hums and Stiles rolls his eyes but it doesn’t stop his smile.

“I want to be with you too,” Derek continues. “And despite what just happened, I don’t think taking things slow and figuring out what we want is the worst thing in the world.”

“Me either.” He punctuates his answer with a kiss to Derek’s chest, right over his heart. “Neither of us have the best dating histories, we should- I want us take our time.”

“There’s no one else I’d rather go slow with,” Derek says with a teasing lilt in his voice. Stiles grins, nipping lightly at his pec before leaning up on his elbow so he’s hovering over Derek, smirking as he says, “Me either.”

Derek snorts but then serious look washes over him, one hand carefully reaching up to cradle Stiles’ face and ease him into a sweet kiss. When they break apart, mouths only a hairsbreadth away and their smiles barely contained, Derek opens his eyes, searches Stiles’ face and ghosts a thumb over Stiles’ cheekbone. “Hey,” he murmurs quietly, hardly more than a whisper. “I think I could be falling in love with you.”

Stiles swallows hard, feels his breath hitch in his throat and replies, “I think I already am.”

*

4 months later.

Stiles is warm, warmer than he should be, considering it’s positively arctic outside and there’s always been a draft from his window. Except- oh right. He’s got a human furnace at his back.

Sighing contentedly, he lets his eyes droop shut again and snuggles closer to Derek. Coming home for Christmas is always nice, coming home for Christmas and finding Derek already waiting in his bed is even better.

“Morning,” Derek mumbles against his shoulder, he probably doesn’t even have his eyes open yet. “Sleep good?”

Stiles hums in answer, is too warm, too full up of happiness right now to offer him anything else.

He gets a few more minutes of dozing before Derek starts mouthing at the nape of his neck. It’s a ploy – a dirty, dirty ploy to make Stiles wake up and it’s so unfair.

Still he rolls over in Derek’s arms until they’re sharing one pillow and their faces are closer than they should be considering morning breath.

“I’m awake,” he huffs and Derek laughs lowly, craning his head to kiss Stiles’ forehead.

“Hey,” he pouts. If he’s awake he might as well get rewarded for it. “Kiss?”

Derek rolls his eyes but obliges, pecking him on the lips before they settle again.

The last few months have been…everything, really. Late-night phone calls, scheduled skype dates that Derek didn’t want to call dates because, “it sounds corny, Stiles, I know you agree. You’re just being difficult.” Weekend visits dedicated to learning about their bond and what it meant. Weekends visits dedicated to learning about each other and learning to ask for what they need. (They’ve both gotten pretty good at knowing what to do without having to ask.)

And now it’s been four months and they still fight, still work hard to keep from shutting each other out but Stiles feels happy, settled. Exactly what he’d told Derek on that one Thursday afternoon in August.

It’s taken them a long time to get where they are but where they are is where Stiles wants to be.

Getting to see Derek first thing in the morning or last thing at night or at 3am when Stiles can’t sleep. Having him warm and solid underneath him or around him. Getting to see his smile, the one only Stiles ever been lucky enough to see. Yeah, it’s better than any alternate universe Stiles could’ve ever imagined.

“I can smell breakfast,” Derek says, reminding Stiles that he’s in love with an idiot because of course Derek uses his super sniffer to figure out when Stiles’ dad is cooking bacon.

“Yeah, yeah, I can take a hint, big guy. Let’s go downstairs.”

Derek’s smile is the kind of combination of smug and bashful that makes Stiles’ heart melt – just a little bit. He allows Derek to drag himself out of bed and stumbles down the stairs wrapped around Derek like a koala, trusting him to lead the way.

Derek coming to their family meals are a thing now. Stiles always feels like he’s watching his future unfold when he sits down at the table and sees his dad and Derek joking together. It’s more than he ever could’ve hoped for.

More than he ever expected when he climbed into the ice bath that first day.

*

Derek’s birthday is on Christmas Day. Which was great when he was a kid and had a huge family to make him feel special – it wasn’t so great when he was alone and everyone was out to get him.

Stiles never wants him to feel that kind of loneliness – the kind Derek carefully confided in him about one night  - ever again.

So he has plans.

Derek stays at his Christmas Eve night so he opens presents with Stiles and his dad before breakfast the next morning and comes with them to the McCalls for dinner. They spend the evening with the pack at Scott’s, watching too many holiday movies and eating Derek’s birthday cake. At around 8pm though, Stiles wordlessly takes his hand and leads him outside to the jeep.

“Come on,” he gestures to the passenger door before he moves around to the driver’s side.

“Where are we going?” Derek asks but complies nonetheless.

“Gotta give you your birthday present, don’t I?” Stiles shrugs, flashing him a grin before starting the car.

The chatter aimlessly as they drive and Stiles knows Derek wants to ask but he won’t. When they get to the loft Derek raises his eyebrows but Stiles just mimes zipping his mouth shut and hops out of the car.

“Of course you would hide my birthday present in my house,” Derek is saying as they climb the stairs and Stiles barks a laugh.

“Well, you didn’t find it, did you?” he throws over his shoulder with a teasing grin.

“How do you know?” And god Derek is the worst liar, Stiles fucking loves him.

When they get to the door Stiles stops him with a hand on his arm. “I need you to wait here for a sec.”

“But-“

“Just a sec,” Stiles insist, pecking his lips before slipping inside and closing the door behind him. It doesn’t take long for him to get everything ready. Isaac had set up the lanterns with Erica and Boyd earlier before they’d arrived at Scott’s, Stiles just needs to turn them on. He does, smiling at the soft glow they plunge the room into. He darts into Derek’s room, digging through his wardrobe until he finds his owns hoodie and unfolds it to reveal the gift he’d painstakingly wrapped a couple of days ago.

Feeling suitably ready and ignoring the butterflies in his stomach he opens the door to let Derek in.

Derek rolls his eyes when the door opens, all ready to probably make some sarcastic comment until his gaze falls on the living room. Stiles bites his lips to stop from smiling, gently taking Derek’s hand and tugging him into the room, sliding the door shut behind him.

Derek follows him dazedly, eyes sparkling when they catch on the light from the lanterns strung up around the room. “Stiles this is-“

“Just wait,” Stiles pleads, pulling him down to sit on the couch with a nervous smile.

Derek just smiles back and says, “Okay.”

Once they’re sitting comfortably Stiles takes a deep breath and hands over the present, curling a hand around Derek’s neck and kissing his cheek. “Happy birthday, Derek,” he murmurs.

Derek meets his gaze for a minute, with a smile that touches his eyes, before looking back down at the present. He unwraps it carefully, slowly brushing the paper aside. He gasps when he turns the book over and sees the quote on the cover and Stiles can’t swallow the lump in his throat.

He’d found it in a hole-in-the-wall store at the mall in July. Even when he was still denying the truth with everything he had, the quote on the cover still made him pause, made a lump appear in his throat. He bought it and didn’t allow himself to think any further on it.

“”Our hearts are old friends…” Derek reads, looking at Stiles with wide eyes. “Stiles, what-“

“Open it,” Stiles whispers, feeling tears prick at his eyes when Derek lands on the first page.

“It’s us,” he explains, voice trembling. “All the versions of us that I saw. The dreams- I wrote them all down.”

Derek’s eyes are skimming the page, his mouth dropped open in awe. When he looks at Stiles again, there’s an expression of open vulnerability on his face. His eyes are shining and he looks- he looks floored. Stiles smiles tremulously because this is what he wanted. He wanted Derek to know he was loved. That despite all Stiles’ doubts and fears, despite the millions of times he’s pulled away from Derek the last few months, convinced it’s for the best, he loves him. So much. In every lifetime.

Derek scoots forward until their knees touch, leaning his forehead against Stiles’ while he exhales heavily. He pulls away a fraction, just enough to look him in the eye and says, with a kind of sincerity that leaves Stiles breathless, “I love you.”

Under any other circumstance Stiles would feel stupid for crying, instead he just laughs – tears be damned – and kisses Derek with everything he has. And just- is there anything in this world that feels better than your smile getting in the way of a kiss?

“I never thought we’d get to have this,” he admits quietly when they break apart. “Thought I’d mess it up somehow.”

“Stiles,” Derek mumbles, kissing his temple before leaning back against the couch cushions and shuffling them around until Stiles is tucked into his side. “I love you,” he repeats. “And maybe our timeline is the messy version. Maybe the other Stiles and Dereks get their fairytale endings the minute they lay eyes on each other. But I never wanted that. I want messy and broken and bent because that’s who I am.”

Stiles links their fingers together and squeezes.

“We’ve been through hell and I don’t care if it’s fate that’s pushing us to be together because I want us to be together and that’s enough for me. If we want a happy ending all we need to do is take it. Because fuck- we deserve it.”

Stiles is silent for a while, trying to collect his thoughts while he snuggles closer to Derek. Eventually he speaks up, eyes trained on where Derek’s thumb is sweeping over the back of his hand. “Sometimes I think ‘m gonna love you for the rest of my life,” he mumbles.

“And the one after that...” Derek adds, smile evident in his voice.

A grin breaks over Stiles’ face and he hides it in Derek’s chest. “And the one after that, and the one after that.”

In the end, it doesn’t matter how many lifetimes they have together, it doesn’t matter how many times they fall into each other in however many universes.

This. This is their happy ending.

*