It started with a book. Not an old and dusty book, not crumbling and leather-bound. The book was made of Xeroxed acid-free pages, fronted with a nondescript sheet of blue plastic, held together with three brass studs, the kind with two prongs.
Derek weighed the book in his hands, nose wrinkling at the hot-ink smell of it.
"Yeah, I was expecting something cooler-looking too," Stiles said.
"She just gave this to you?" Derek asked as he thumbed through the table of contents. Chapter One: Incantations, Chapter Two: Summonings, and so on. "Why would your guidance counselor have something like this?"
Stiles shrugged. "I don't know. She tells most kids to major in business; me, I get a witch handbook." His face scrunched up in distaste. "I don't want to be a witch when I grow up," he said in a pathetic whine.
Derek hunched further into the battered subway seat, his boots kicked up on the crooked handrail in front of him. He was glad Stiles had brought this to him; it confirmed that Deaton and Morrell were—something. A secret society, maybe a network of hunters with roots in some other part of the world. Watchers or scribes. Whoever they were, they knew about magic. And they knew Stiles knew, too, which was less than ideal.
"You're not a witch," Derek said, quiet and off-hand as he leafed through the book. "Most spells are total bullshit anyway. Just fairy tales to make humans feel safe when—" He turned another crisp page. His eyes widened and his heart skipped twice.
Stiles looked up from where he was hanging off an overhead railing, his long arms extended into parallel lines. "When what?" he asked. "Hey, you okay?"
Derek read the heading at the top of the page again, blinking rapidly. "Yeah. Fine."
His voice must have betrayed something, because Stiles swung down beside him and peered over his shoulder. Derek slapped the book shut. "Can you get into the police records at the station and see if they have anything on Morrell? We need to know what her angle is."
"I can try," Stiles said, glancing down at the book in Derek's lap before launching into a long and meandering explanation of what breaking into the station's computers would entail.
Derek half-listened. And told himself to stop thinking about Chapter Eight, section 4: To Change the Course of Time.
"I don't know." Derek kept his eyes trained on Morrell's dark apartment complex. They'd agreed to stake out her place in an effort to get a fingerprint that Stiles could run through the police database, since her name had turned up exactly nothing. But Morrell wasn't leaving her apartment, and so far she hadn't taken out the trash.
Stiles slurped loudly from his Big Gulp of cherry cola. "Do you think there's, like, a 50/50 chance or...?"
"The love spells never work," Derek said, sharp and hushed, "so I wouldn't bother casting one on Lydia if I were you."
Stiles' ridiculous mouth dropped open, releasing his straw. "Wha— I wasn't gonna—"
Derek reached across the front seat and grabbed a handful of Stiles' flannel shirt, holding up a finger in a gesture for quiet. He listened carefully to the sounds inside the apartment building, concentrating on the eerie vibrations coming from Morrell's floor, but then a loud ding told him it was only a spin cycle. He released Stiles and pulled himself back. "Nevermind. Thought I heard something."
The heavy stare from the driver's seat weighed on Derek's shoulders, but he didn't look over at Stiles, not even when he spoke again. "Jesus, you really think I would do something like that? Use magic to make Lydia—to force her into something she didn't want?"
Derek took a deep breath of the wind coming through his rolled-down window. "I think you're a lovestruck teenager," Derek said. "And lovestruck teenagers do stupid things."
"Oh yeah?" Stiles curled his lip; Derek could see it in the side mirror. "I guess Teen Derek was a quiet, brooding loner who never did a single stupid thing when it came to girls."
Derek steeled his jaw. "Shut up," he said. And amazingly, Stiles did.
"How?" he barked. "Did you see who took him? Can you track him better than I can?"
"Don't flip your shit, I just mean," Stiles glanced between Derek and Scott. "I know a spell that can help."
"Not this magic shit again," Derek groaned. He needed to find his Beta, not waste time on a wild goose chase. He paced through the abandoned train depot, grabbing his jacket from its hook. "I'll take another look around town."
Scott broke in with a firm, "Look, I want to find Isaac just as badly as you. If Stiles says this can help, why not give it a shot?"
"Because Stiles doesn't know what the fuck he's doing!"
Stiles' mouth twitched around, but he said nothing, just pulled a wrinkled road map from his back pocket and spread it on the dusty floor. He produced a bag of sharp-smelling herbs and said, "Go if you want. But I'm going to try."
Scott shot Derek a pleading look, and Derek squared his jaw. He shouldn't be putting his trust in these boys or their magic tricks. But Isaac was trapped somewhere, possibly hurt. And Derek needed him back. He crouched next to Stiles' map with a scowl.
"How does it work?"
Stiles mumbled something under his breath—Latin?—and sprinkled the herbs over the roads and boundary lines marked out on the paper. Then he took a cheap green lighter out of his jacket pocket and sparked it up. "I need something of Isaac's." He held out his free hand.
Derek had a scrap of Isaac's shirt; he'd found it in the woods when he was trying to track his scent. He dug it out of his pocket and handed it over with only a small pang of hesitation; if this didn't work, that was the last bit of Isaac he had left.
Stiles lit the fabric and waited for it to catch before dropping it to the map. The paper burst into flame all at once, red sparks shooting into the air. Scott stepped back and shielded his eyes, but Stiles didn't move, didn't blink, and Derek didn't either.
"There." Stiles pointed. Every inch of the map had burned away except one little square. "The rink."
Derek didn't even remember the car ride downtown, but he must have broken every speed limit and run every light, because he was there in minutes with a dazed, scared, but otherwise unharmed Isaac in his arms.
"The hunters," Isaac said. "They wanted me to tell them where you were. I didn't say anything."
"You did good," Derek whispered between his fangs. "You're safe now." He didn't remember shifting. But the wolf often came out when the pack needed protecting. He looked up to see Stiles standing over them; right, he'd come along for the ride.
The fangs receded. "Thank you," he said.
Stiles shrugged. "Just a day in the life of Beacon Hills' own Harry Potter."
Derek blinked, not wanting to think of what might have happened to Isaac if Stiles hadn't worked that spell. He'd lost too much already. Isaac sniffed along his throat, getting his bearings. Derek let him and pretended it didn't ground him as well.
"I think I know why you freaked about that one spell in the book." Stiles gestured at the mound of dirt at Derek's feet with his elbow, his hands mashed deep into the pockets of his hoodie. "You were thinking about going back to the night she died. To stop it from happening."
"No," Derek said, not looking up from his contemplation of the dirt where he'd drawn a series of intersecting triskeles. "Not that night."
Stiles breathed in hard pants. Derek could hear his heart hammering away, beating the next question out of him. "Then when?"
Derek tipped his head back and lifted his gaze to the burnt ruins of his childhood home. The splintered timbers and charred facade stood silent in the night air, a place for crickets and singing insects now.
"I'd go back farther," he said, "I'd stop it all. Stop the fire. Stop everything. Save my whole family."
Stiles shuddered; Derek heard the rattling of his bones. "How? Would you...stop Kate Argent?"
The question he was really asking: Would you kill her? That wasn't something Stiles would be a part of, Derek knew. Derek wouldn't need to kill her, just stop her from finding out about the Hales. But he couldn't bring himself to tell Stiles exactly how much he had figured into Kate's plans. It was something he could never tell anyone; he'd decided that long ago.
"No one would need to die," he promised. "I know how she did it. I could stop it now that I'm stronger."
"And then Peter would never have gone into his coma, and Laura would never have been killed in the woods six years later."
The scuffed toe of Stiles' sneaker entered Derek's field of vision. It kicked half-heartedly at a stone, which rolled away into a shadow.
"I could do it, you know," Stiles said. "I could send you back." His words hung in winter-steam at his lips.
Derek looked up sharply. "You worked one location spell last week. But this spell is advanced. Complicated. Even if it really worked, it's not something a novice could handle."
"Good thing I'm not a novice, then," Stiles shot back.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean." Stiles brushed his palm back and forth over his buzzed hair several times in quick succession, looking into the forest as if he was worried something was listening. "I've done more than cast one little location spell."
Images of Stiles hunched over his photocopied spellbook surrounded by a ridiculous number of candles flashed through Derek's mind. The look on his face must've shown his incredulity, because Stiles said, "I'll show you if you don't believe me."
Derek knew it was an idiotic move. But as he looked down at Laura's unmarked grave, he realized soon he would smell only dirt here, and his sister's scent would be gone for good.
"All right. Show me."
"Chalk," Stiles said when he noticed Derek staring at the circles. "It helps, uh, concentrate the energy. See?" He picked up a shallow silver dish, the kind used to serve bread at Thanksgiving dinners, from his bedside table. He stood in the innermost circle with the bowl cradled to his chest. "This was the first spell I tried. Figured if it went wrong, no harm done, I'd just look like an idiot holding a bowl of water." He dipped his fingers into the dish and sprinkled a few drops on the floor.
"What does it do?" Derek asked, still hanging back in the doorway.
"Wait for it," Stiles said. He whispered some words under his breath. Derek didn't recognize the language.
A shimmer of light reflected off the surface of the liquid in the dish, casting waving shadows on the ceiling above their heads. Stiles looked down into the bowl and grinned. "Take a look," he said, holding the bowl out to Derek.
Derek peered over the fluted rim and saw a picture moving through the water: muted and dream-like, the shapes flowing over themselves until they coalesced into something familiar. No, someone.
He saw Sheriff Stilinski sitting at his desk at the police station, writing something on a form. If Derek listened closely, he could hear the scratch of pen on paper. There was a clock on the wall behind the sheriff, and the time matched the 5:32 on Stiles' bedside alarm clock.
"I don't understand," he said.
"It's called a Watchful Eye," Stiles explained, pride evident in his wide smile. "That's what my dad's doing right now in, like, real time."
"You can see anyone?"
"Well, no." Stiles juggled the bowl against his hip and dug into his jeans pocket, producing a small leather bag that stank of weeds. "Only people who have one of these babies on them. I enchanted them myself. Snuck it into my dad's jacket lining. Now when I want to check up on him," he tapped his fingernail against the side of the silver bowl, "I just tune in to Witchcraft TV."
Derek wrinkled his nose at the bag in Stiles' hand. "You put a hex bag on your father so you could spy on him?"
Stiles frowned and shoved the bag back into his pocket. "You make it sound so creepy. I just—I like to know he's okay when I'm not around." This last was finished quietly, and Derek bit his tongue.
"I can do other spells, too," Stiles said, upbeat again. "I had fire coming from my palms last night. Fire! It was awesome!" He placed the bowl down on his desk and flipped through a well-worn notebook. "What else did I—? Uh, I had a prophetic dream! I made that happen. It was boring, I just foresaw that Scott would sleep through History. It came true, though. I'm still working on the levitation stuff. Do you know how hard it is to find meadowsweet?"
"Stiles." Derek laid a hand next to Stiles' on the crinkled notebook paper, forcing Stiles to swing his wild gaze up to meet his eyes. "Do you really think you can send me back?"
"Yeah," Stiles breathed. "I—I already got the things I need. Always be prepared and all that."
"So let's do it," Derek said.
Stiles blinked at him, long lashes throwing shadows on his cheeks. "Oh, um— Now?"
"Yeah." Derek shrugged out of his leather jacket and laid it aside on Stiles' bed. If he was going back to the exact date he had in mind, he wouldn't need it. The air would be warm. He shivered just thinking about it. "I'm ready. I don't want to wait any longer. If you have what you need, let's go ahead and do it."
"Uh." Stiles' mouth opened and closed a few times. He brought a hand up to scratch the back of his head. "Sure. Okay. But on one condition."
Derek stiffened, his jaw tightening at the words. He should have known Stiles would expect a favor in return. He didn't like being beholden to anyone. Even scrawny little proto-witches.
"What?" he grated out.
"You have this on you." Stiles dug into his pocket again and held up the hex bag. "At all times. I need to be able to see what you're doing. If anything happens— If it all goes to shit, I have to know. So I can get you back home."
Derek stared at the fragrant leather pouch and tried not to let his surprise show. "That's all?"
"Yeah, just keep it in your pocket and I'll be able to—"
"No. I mean." Derek reached out and took the hex bag, rolling it between his palms. "Why are you helping me? We're not exactly best friends. What's in it for you?" He looked up and caught those huge amber eyes in an unblinking stare.
"Well." Stiles crossed his lanky arms over his chest and leaned back against his window sill. "If you manage to pull this off, all the shit that happened this year is gone." He shrugged. "Scott will never get bitten, because we'll never be in the woods that night looking for your sister's body, because your sister won't be dead. All this insane best-friend-turned-wolf stuff? Done, over with, never happened. Everyone's happy." Stiles passed a hand over his face. "You and I never even meet. But that's what you want, right? Your family back, everything fine?"
"Right." Derek stared at the hex bag in his hand. The idea of never knowing Stiles, of passing him at the grocery store without a second thought, was a strange one that knotted his stomach. But if that's what it took to set things right, well. Derek was willing to sacrifice a lot of things to erase his mistakes. "So. What do we need to do?"
Stiles began pulling open some desk drawers and shuffling through their contents. "Stand in the center circle. I'll get everything together."
The ingredients ended up piled at Derek's feet: orange zinnia flowers dried up in brittle, fat globes ("They're just a baseline, good for concentration," Stiles explained); yellow buds of witch hazel ("For purpose."); a long string of hemp rope, frayed into two pieces ("This symbolizes fate, which we're breaking."); a splinter of white wood from a poplar tree ("It represents time, so...self-explanatory."); and finally, a sprig of rosemary.
"Remembrance," Stiles said quietly, placing the needled branch in front of Derek's left boot. "Both for those we seek to save, and ourselves, so we might find our way." He glanced up to meet Derek's gaze.
Derek felt something rise in his throat. Then Stiles looked away and rubbed his palms on his thighs, and the moment was gone. "It's, um, part of the incantation. Okay. So, just stand there. That's good. You know the exact date we should be aiming for?"
"July 28th, 2005," Derek answered without hesitation.
Stiles balked at that. Derek could hear his heart stutter in his chest. "But I thought the Hale house burned down in the fall. Like, around October."
"It did. But I need to go back to July." Derek watched Stiles' face contort into various shapes of disbelief. "That's when it all started. Believe me, I know."
July 28th: his mother's birthday. He had left her party early, slipped out the back door between ice cream cake and the pinata shaped like a sheep, eager to be away from the laughter and the showering candy and the drab familiarity of his family. He'd met Kate behind that abandoned gas station and listened to her whisper what turned out to be lies about loving him and needing him. He'd let her skim him out of his jeans while she asked him roundabout questions, prodded at him for having no visible scars, for having an uncut cock. It was the day he'd said, "Maybe you should sit down. I have to tell you something, and it's going to sound crazy." The day he'd said, for the very first time out loud, "I come from a long line of werewolves."
It was the one clear-cut moment he needed to excise from history, like a cancer.
"Why do I feel like you're not telling me everything?" Stiles said slowly.
Derek felt for the hex bag in his pocket. "I guess you'll see for yourself in your silver bowl, won't you?" He was glad the mirror only went one way; he didn't want to see Stiles' face when he realized this had all been Derek's fault.
Stiles stared at him for a long moment, eerily still when his was usually in constant motion. But finally he sighed and said, "All right. Close your eyes. Concentrate on July 28th, 2005. Not your memory of that day, just the date itself." Derek watched as Stiles dragged the giant photocopied spellbook into his hands before squeezing his eyes shut and doing as he was told. Stiles' voice was a low chant, mumbling over unfamiliar syllables like water. And then, heat and light. His stomach lurched as if he was falling from a great height. Then nothing.
This was Stiles' room. The way it had been in the summer of 2005.
Derek rubbed the back of his aching head and examined one of the new (no, old) photographs. A slight woman with dark hair and a wide smile stood in front of the Grand Canyon with her arm slung around a wire-thin boy with a shaggy head of hair and cheeks stained pink. In the corner, in a child's cursive, was written Best trip ever! Derek looked away quickly. He knew Stiles' mother had died of cancer; everyone knew. But he hadn't known what she looked like, or her name. He'd never asked, and Stiles never offered.
It occurred to Derek that, even if Stiles could go back in time, he could never save her. And Derek had been given the chance to save not just his mother, but his father, sister, cousins, aunts, and uncles. It didn't seem fair.
The hex bag crinkled in his pocket. He glanced up at the unseen eyeball he knew would be watching him. "I— Sorry," he managed, though he knew Stiles probably wouldn't hear.
Derek spun around at the sound of footsteps on the staircase: small feet stepping lightly. He had no desire to be found by a very young and probably very freaked Stiles, so he popped open the window and crawled out as fast as he could.
He needed to find himself—his 15-year-old idiot self—and stop him from making the biggest mistake of his life.
Derek found a spot far enough away from the house, but not near the highway, and sat on a rock to wait.
He nearly lost his breath when he saw his younger self turn the corner from behind a stand of trees. He hadn't remembered being so goddamn young. The boy's jaw was smooth, his forehead unlined, his hair thick and unruly. He was dressed in sneakers and a green tee shirt because (Derek could remember) Kate had said it brought out his eyes. His hands were too big and his shoulders were too thin. Derek was struck with a painful nostalgia for this kid, as if he were a character in a book Derek had read and not Derek himself.
Young-Derek stopped short at the sight of him sitting on the boulder. His nose twitched, and Derek knew he was trying to catch his scent. It was futile, of course. They had the same smell, so to each other, they smelled like nothing at all. It was very disconcerting, even to Derek, who had been expecting it.
"Who are you?" he asked. His voice was high and clear.
"I'm you," Derek said.
He watched as his younger self's face flashed through a series of unguarded emotions: confusion and wariness, foremost.
"You know it's true," Derek pressed. "Look at me. Smell me. You know."
The boy approached with caution, his black Converses not making a sound on the forest floor. He stopped a few inches from Derek, close enough to share body heat. The top of his head barely came up to Derek's shoulder. Derek looked down at him, then offered his neck, bending his knees slightly so that this other-Derek could sniff at his skin.
The boy inhaled deeply, his face scrunched like he'd swallowed a fly. He studied Derek's face. "I don't understand. How?"
"It's a long story," Derek said. "But you need to listen to me: turn around. Go back to the house. Don't see Kate tonight. Don't see her ever."
"Just trust me."
He watched as this distorted version of his face fell into a slow frown. "I don't know what the hell is going on," the younger Derek said, "but I would never leave Kate." He shook his head back and forth, back and forth.
"You're confused," Derek insisted. "You think this is love, but it's not anything close to—"
"Fuck you," the boy said with venom. "There's no way you could be me, or else you'd never say that! You would never forget what this feels like." He beat his chest with his fists, curling them over his heart.
"Listen to me," Derek snarled. He leaned in, looming over the boy he used to be. "Kate isn't who you think she is. She's a liar."
"You're wrong," the boy returned, just as stubborn.
And he spat out what he'd wanted to say to himself for six years: "For Christ's sake, she's a hunter!"
The words sank in slowly. He could see the moment his own eyes filled with the spark of understanding. His younger self's mouth went slack, his gaze darting to the ground. Derek took a breath; at last, the dumb kid was getting it.
Then that dumb kid looked up again, his jaw steeled. "So what?"
Derek drew back as if burned. "What do you mean, so what?"
"If it's true, I don't care. I see why she would keep it from me. She thinks I'm just some normal guy. That's the best thing about her: she treats me like I'm normal."
"Are you hearing yourself?" Derek heard his voice rising. Panic. That was what panic sounded like. The boy looked like he was about to bolt, so Derek grabbed hold of his wrist, so small in his hand. "She's hunting you, you stupid fucking child!"
That shut him up. Big, wide eyes, sheened with tears, and Derek thought idly, This is what a broken heart looks like on me.
"N-no, that makes no sense, she—"
"She is." Derek shook his arm for emphasis. "She's using you to hunt down mom, and dad, and Uncle Peter, and Aunt Beth, and Max and Kay and—"
"Stop it!" the boy shouted. "We haven't done anything! Hunters only hunt killers; they have rules; Kate wouldn't break the rules."
"Look at you," Derek growled, his eyes raking over the lean body he used to inhabit. "You're fifteen. You think she cares about rules?"
For one moment, it looked like Derek's work was done. The color drained from his younger self's face, the tears in his eyes replaced with what looked like resolve. Derek released his arm.
"Turn around," he said in a low voice. "Go home."
The eyes that looked up at him now gleamed an icy blue. "No," the boy growled. "This is crazy. It's a trick. Who put you up to this? My dad? Is this another lesson he wants to teach me?" His fangs sharpened and grew at the word lesson, making it hiss from his mouth.
"Derek—" It felt so strange to be calling himself by his own name; it made his head pound.
"Step. Aside." The boy flared his hands, claws out.
Derek had less than a second to react before his younger self moved to slash wildly at his throat. In that moment, he saw what he had to do: draw back (the points of those smaller claws nearly catching his collarbone); duck under the next blow; tackle the kid to the ground, arms wrapped around his waist; take his thick head between his hands; smash it to the ground.
He managed, at the last eyeblink, to hold back his strength; he needed to knock the boy out, not kill him. Derek saw his younger self's eyes widen, felt the flash of his own eyes gone red, and then it was done.
Derek stared down at the boy underneath him, his heart pounding with residual adrenaline. He rose to his feet. His head swam. He needed to think, he needed a plan. He hadn't thought convincing his past self would be so impossible. He'd thought—he'd dreamt of the moment when he would see it, he would grow up, he would understand that Kate didn't want him. It was all so obvious, wasn't it?
Derek shook himself from his thoughts and looked north toward the highway. Kate would be waiting. He'd take care of her himself.
He left the fifteen-year-old lying in the dirt and made for the crest of the hill.
She looked so different from the way Derek remembered her. The flowing dark blonde hair was there, yes, and the powerful shoulders bared in her tight tank top. She was still beautiful and strong and smelled of clean sweat. But now Derek could see the lines at the corners of her mouth, the dark circles under her eyes. She had seemed like a goddess to him when he was fifteen. Now she just looked tired.
"What are you, the older brother? One of the cousins?" She flicked a minute amount of ash at the ground. "He seems to have a million of them."
"Four, actually," Derek said. His voice was tight and low. Their names rang in his head: Max. Kay. Lillian. And Jules. A mantra for the dead.
"Hm." Kate circled in a wide arc, keeping him on her right. She looked him up and down. "And which one are you?"
Derek didn't answer. "Leave town," Derek ground out between lengthening fangs. "Tonight."
"Oh, I get it," she said, her eyes lighting up. "You're his Alpha." She sucked another mouthful from her cigarette and then tossed it into the gravel behind her. "How old was he when you turned him? Must've been tender, that little white neck between your jaws."
"Shut your mouth," he hissed. The memory of her lips, hot and sticky with sweat and dragging across his nape, flashed through his brain.
"What's the matter? Don't like other people touching your stuff?"
He moved faster than she could see. "Just leave. Him. Alone," he snarled into her face.
"No. Fucking. Way," she mocked. Her face turned into something dark and ugly. "You don't scare me, wolf. You don't have the body count to back up your big threats. This is over when I say it is. And it's not over yet."
"When, then?" Derek heard the pleading note enter his voice, and he hated it. "Our pack has never harmed a human. So why did you come here? Why now? Why me?"
"Oh, sweetheart," Kate sighed. The old pet name stung Derek like an insect. "It's not about you. I don't even know you. Sometimes," she reached under her jacket, "a girl's just got to bag herself an Alpha." A flash of a barrel. The staccato of a gunshot.
The bullet grazed Derek's arm, but he was already in motion, lunging at Kate and knocking the gun away. Red clouded his vision. His claws were at her jugular. He could feel the pulse of her life under his fingertips. Her hands, now empty, beat weakly at his arms.
"Go to hell," he heard himself say. Her throat ripped like wet cardboard. Her last puff of breath escaped through his fingers in a fine red mist. She crumpled to the ground, eyes open and blank.
Derek stared down at her body, hands clenched into blood-soaked fists, heart hammering in his chest. This wasn't the plan. This wasn't what he'd promised Stiles.
"Stiles—" he murmured to the empty air, as if Stiles could hear him across six years and through his silver reflection. As if Stiles could tell him what to do.
He never got a chance to see if Stiles' magic could work such a miracle. A loud screeching buzz filled Derek's head, making him press his bloody palms to his ears. He went down on one knee under the pain of it. The world went white. And then?
And saw the shadowy figure of Stiles standing over him with a shotgun pointed directly in his face.
"Who the fuck are you?" Stiles said. "How did you get in here?"
"What—?" Derek managed to gasp before the pain knifed through his brain again. It was like a freight train slammed into his mind at eighty miles an hour: an onslaught of thoughts, images that made no sense, a deluge of blackness and horror. He saw broken bodies and graves and his family dying again, not in a fire this time, but horrifically and brutally and right in front of him when he could do nothing to stop it. It was every nightmare he'd ever had and some new ones that were worse.
Surviving one day to the next, broken bones knitting slower and slower, allies dwindling. And soldiering on because he didn't know what else to do.
He saw Kate's body on the ground again, but she smelled of rot and decay. Crying on his knees next to her, howling at nothing, no one believing him when he told the story of the stranger in the woods who attacked him that day. The stranger he'd become.
"Oh god," he bit out between clenched teeth. He curled into a ball on Stiles' carpet, whimpering like a kicked dog. His claws extended on instinct. His body's only defense against the pain was to wolf out. "Jesus, what's happening to me?"
"Cut the crap, wolf!" Distantly, Derek heard the shotgun chambering its rounds. The barrel pressed against his forehead, a circle of cool metal between his eyebrows. "Talk. Or I'm blowing your furry head off."
"Stiles, it's me! Derek." He held his palms up in a gesture of surrender. The pain ebbed and he pried his eyes open enough to squint up at Stiles. "Your hair," he whispered.
A shaggy-haired Stiles stared down at him with a sneer. "Yeah, what about it?"
"It was short when I left," Derek said. His tongue felt numb in his mouth.
"What are you babbling about? You get wolfsbaned by the hunter faction? How'd you get past my sigils?" Stiles demanded.
"Your what? Are the hunters—? Stiles, what the hell is going on!?" Derek levered himself up on his elbows only to meet the resistance of Stiles' shotgun. "This isn't funny!"
"I'm not laughing," Stiles said. And it was true: his face was a complete blank, no hint of the nervous laughter Derek had come to know. He was like a different person. It was more than the long hair curling around his ears. It was the way he held himself, like a soldier. Like he'd aged a decade since Derek had left.
Derek glanced down at himself and saw he had changed as well. Instead of the black shirt and jeans he'd been wearing minutes prior, he was now shirtless, streaked in mud and grease, and clad in worn blue jeans that looked like they'd been put through the garbage disposal.
Stiles' bedroom, too, was different. There was no snowboarder decal, no posters or photos, just maps tacked up in neat formations, bristling with pins. Above the window, some strange symbol was painted in black ink. Otherwise, the room was like a cell, dingy and devoid of personal effects.
"Stiles," Derek said quietly, pleadingly, "put the gun away. And let me explain."
For the longest of moments, Stiles' finger stayed firmly on the trigger. Then he shifted on his socked feet and asked, "Why are you acting like you know me?"
"Because I do. I did. In another life. I—" Derek curled his hand around the cold barrel of the shotgun as it nudged closer, gasping as it dug into his skull. In one long breathless rush, he said, "You've had a crush on Lydia Martin since the third grade, you're scared of clowns, you can roll your tongue into a weird shape, you learned to swim when you were seven, your favorite fries are curly, you're not a killer and I know you." Stiles stared down at him, pale and wide-eyed. "Please," Derek said more quietly. "Don't do this."
Stiles sighed deeply and swung the shotgun onto his shoulder with a scowl. "You've got five minutes."
Derek started talking. Fast.
"Helps what?" Derek asked.
"In the war effort." Stiles cocked his head. "But you don't know what I'm talking about, do you? Damn, Dorothy, you really did fall out of the sky."
"So you believe me? About the—" It sounded so stupid when he said it out loud. "—time travel?" He'd left out the part about the affair, but he'd confessed to murdering Kate to save his family, and everything leading up to that.
Stiles puffed a long breath through his lips and quirked an eyebrow at Derek, still seated on the floor where Stiles had told him to stay. "The things I've seen? This ain't the craziest."
"What do you mean? What's going on?"
"What's going on?" Stiles laughed, bitter and metallic. "What's going on, Derek, is that you really messed up this whole changing history thing. Killing Kate Argent?" His chin jutted out in a parody of deep thinking. "Not the smartest move. When her body was found six years ago, hunters swarmed this town. They swore the Hale pack had gutted her, but the Hales denied it across the board. So what do you think happened, genius?"
Derek blinked. "I—I don't know."
"Chaos," Stiles said. "All-out war. A bunch of wolf packs came to stand with the Hales. Other hunters came to take the Argents' side. Shots were fired. Claws came out. The hunters got to the point where they didn't even pretend they were investigating animal attacks anymore. Lots of people died. On both sides."
Derek swallowed. This seemed to confirm all the memories that had flooded into him when he'd arrived in this time. The images in his head flashed again: new memories of this darker world. The bodies of his cousins, of his parents. Of Laura protecting him, and paying for it. "My family?" he asked, hoping he was wrong.
Stiles shrugged. "Like I said. Lots of people died." He scratched the back of his head. "I don't know you or your pack personally; I try to stay out of werewolf business. But yeah."
Derek stared ahead blankly. He hadn't stopped anything. The fire had never happened, but his family was still dead and buried. Derek placed a hand over his face, rubbing at his stinging eyes. He wished he wasn't sitting with this stranger-Stiles, who had nothing in common with the Stiles he knew save his scent. He didn't like looking vulnerable in front of him.
"It's been going on for six years," Stiles continued, clearing his throat. "Beacon Hills has been wiped off the map. Some other faction—we call them the Shadows, we don't know what the fuck their game is—they swooped in and locked down the whole town. Cut us off from the outside world. No communication, no way to go in or out. I think they want the factions to just annihilate each other."
"And which faction do you belong to?" Derek asked dully.
"The human one," Stiles said. "I don't care who wins this war. I'm just trying to keep my dad and me alive. He's on a supply run right now; rumor was, the school had some canned goods stocked in the basement."
Derek had so many questions for this other Stiles, but the first one that tripped across his tongue was, "And Scott?"
For the first time since Derek's arrival, Stiles' icy demeanor cracked just a hair. Derek heard his heart speed up, saw his hand shake as it lifted to wipe his brow. "Scott's dead," he said to the floor.
"What? How—?" Derek clamped his mouth shut. If this was a war, it stood to reason Scott had been caught in the crossfire.
Stiles must have seen the thought in his eyes, because he scoffed and said, "It's funny. Shootouts every fucking week, bombs going off, neighbor turning against neighbor: all that shit, Scott lived through it." He picked at the frayed cuff of his oversized cargo pants. "Couple of months ago, he gets a motherfucking asthma attack. He had an inhaler; I'd stolen a whole bag of them for his stupid ass but he couldn't get—" He took a shuddering breath. "He couldn't get any air. And he just—died."
Derek sat, stunned. He and Scott had rarely seen eye-to-eye, but to think of that kid lying dead on the floor for Stiles to find made Derek's heart clench.
"You seem surprised," Stiles said in a monotone.
"Yeah. I am."
"So. In your reality, timeline, whatever...Scott is alive?" Stiles asked. "How is that possible? I mean, it seems to me like the big takeaway here is that some things never change: your family died anyway, even when you took their killer out of the equation. Scott always had asthma, right? So what went differently for your Scott? Why isn't he dead in Bizarro World?"
"He's—" Derek steeled himself. "He's a werewolf."
Stiles sat stock-still, then lifted his shotgun a fraction of an inch. "Want to repeat that?"
"He was bitten by my uncle. It was an accident, wrong place, wrong time."
"You're telling me," Stiles rose to his feet, "that in your fucked-up universe, my best friend is a wolf?"
"He's alive," Derek stressed. "Stiles, the bite cured him. If you send me back, I could fix it, Scott would be—"
"Yeah, okay, sure, and how do I know you're not just bullshitting your way through this, exactly?" Stiles asked. "You could be a lying sack of shit for all I—" He stopped. Stared down at Derek's lap. Derek shifted under his gaze.
"What's that in your pocket?" Stiles pointed with the barrel of his gun.
Derek reached into his jeans pocket, leaning back enough to work his hand inside. He pulled out the hex bag. "Stiles—my Stiles—uh, he made me carry this. Said it let him see what was happening to me. I don't know if it's still working, now that I'm here."
Stiles regarded the small leather bag in Derek's hand. After a long moment, he lifted the muzzle of his shotgun to his temple and used it to scratch at his long hair. Derek watched, muscles tensed. Finally, the gun swung back down against the side of his leg. "Are we fucking in your timeline or something?" Stiles bit out.
Derek struggled to his feet and squinted at Stiles in bewilderment. "What?"
"Are you and Bizarro-Stiles fucking?" he enunciated, taking slow steps toward Derek. Derek backed up against the wall, staring down at Stiles in disbelief as he crowded closer. "Because I got to tell you, that spell? With the hex bag and the all-seeing mirror in the bowl? You can't just cast that kind of spell on just anybody." He licked his lips like he was working up to say what came next. "It's a spell of protection. For loved ones."
Derek shook his head from side to side in a slow, pained way. "No, we..." He cleared his throat and spoke more loudly. "We're not together."
Stiles stared into his face as if searching out the truth there. Apparently he found what he was looking before, because he sighed, "But this Stiles trusts you, at least. He has to, or else you wouldn't have that." He tipped his chin down at the hex bag.
Derek looked at the tiny bag in his palm as if it might bite him.
"So I guess what I'm saying," Stiles said slowly, "is that I already trust you, kind of. I mean, the world can't get much shittier than it is now, right?" He flicked a long lock of hair out of his eyes and shuffled back a step. Derek let out a breath he had been holding.
Then Stiles was right back in his face, startling Derek so much that he nearly tore a map from the wall behind his back. "You sure we haven't fucked?"
"Because if I send you back and you change things, this is, what? My last night on earth? Do I just go up in a puff of smoke, like I never existed?" He walked his long fingers up the center of Derek's chest. "Take pity on a dead man, Derek." His hands planted on the wall, hemming him in.
His eyes flashed with the kind humor the Stiles in Derek's time had shown, but something about it was off. Even his smell, familiar and warm, was marred by the stink of gun oil and bitter blood. It would be easy to take what was offered, but it wouldn't be right. "I don't even know you," Derek said, glancing warily at the shrinking space between their bodies. "I'm sorry."
"Huh." Stiles' lips stopped just inches from his mouth. They quirked into a sardonic smile. "I can see why he likes you."
And just as fast as he'd come, he was gone, across the room and drawing his finger down the labels on a stack of boxes. "Maybe there are infinite worlds, each one tweaked juuuuuust a little, and you leaving won't actually make this all go away. Who knows? Time is a fucking bitch to wrap your head around. I ain't gonna try. But I will send you back to where you started. If there are infinite worlds," he glanced up with a cocky smile, "then yours deserves a chance at being slightly less fucked-up."
"Thank you," Derek said. He relaxed a little against the wall.
Stiles edged a box from the pile and opened it, rummaging through its contents. "Rosemary, right? I'll have to make due with dried. We don't have a lot of fresh options in town these days." He moved to the window and stooped to flip a dingy piece of carpet back, revealing three concentric circles drawn in chalk.
"You know the drill," the other Stiles said. "Stand in the middle, click your heels three times, and say 'there's no place like two thousand-five.'"
He breathed deep, wondering if that future he'd just visited was all some kind of dream. Then he opened his eyes: Pictures on the walls. Stiles' mother. Cartoon characters. Summer.
He was back in the same past. Except—he glanced at Stiles' clock—it was about forty minutes later. He rushed to the window, which was still open, curtains wafting in the warm breeze. His bare chest prickled into goosebumps; he'd been the one to open this window minutes before.
"Stiles?" he heard the sheriff call from downstairs. No time to waste, Derek jumped and hit the ground running.
The sun hung low in the sky, casting long shadows between the trees. Derek ran half-blind, branches whipping across his face as he followed the path he'd taken (it seemed) mere hours ago. He could still see his own bootprints in the soft dirt. His new steps stamped them out.
Derek heard them shouting long before he reached them.
"Look at you!" his own voice, colder and more angry than he remembered it being, echoed through the woods. "You're fifteen. You think she cares about—?"
Derek's foot crunched down in a pile of brittle leaves, and he swept into view with both figures already staring in his direction. It was so surreal, seeing his teenage self standing there with his not-quite-present self. A queasy feeling not unlike deja vu overtook his stomach.
"Okay," he began. He held his hands up in a gesture for patience. "This is a little confusing, so just let me explain."
He should have known they wouldn't follow his orders. His older self was on him in an instant, peering into his eyes and sniffing for his scent. Derek sighed, turned his head, and bared his neck for inspection. The other-Derek pressed his nose under his jaw, causing a strange frisson to pass through their shared senses.
"He smells like nothing too," other-Derek called to their younger self. Derek waited, frozen, while the teenager approached and took his turn scenting him.
"Where the hell are you from?" the boy asked. He glanced at Derek's bare torso. "Someplace with a shirt shortage?"
Derek nodded at his older self. "I'm from your future. Listen, you have to stop what you're doing, because it's just going to make it worse."
"This is crazy," his younger self said. "Who put you two up to this? My dad? Is this—?"
"Shut up!" Derek and his older self shouted in unison. They turned back to each other, ignoring the boy.
"What do you mean? I'm trying to save—" Derek watched himself say.
He shook his head and gripped his twin by the elbow, guiding him a few steps away from their teenaged self. He would still hear them, of course, but they needed distance. This was too delicate to have out in the open.
"He won't listen," Derek whispered to his other self. "There's nothing you can say that will make him believe you."
Other-Derek blinked, shocked, a carbon copy of how Derek had reacted hours ago. "But—"
"Trust me, I tried."
The other-Derek grew quiet, his jaw steeling and brow furrowing. "Then we go find her. Run her out of town."
"Tried that too. It goes bad. Very, very bad," Derek said.
Their teenaged version craned his neck and took a step towards them, concern etched on his face. But Derek growled low in his throat, warning him away, and he froze.
Other-Derek raised his brows in question. "You...finished it, then?"
A hasty nod from Derek. "But I shouldn't have. I saw the future, what happens to us all after. Everyone dies anyway; more people die."
"Stiles didn't even know me," Derek answered without pausing to think why that question was so important. His other self seemed to realize the slip as well, shifting on his feet uncomfortably. Derek sighed; backburner. There were more important things.
"We can't make the same mistake twice," he said. His hand gripped his twin's arm tighter, a firm reminder.
"Then what?" his doppelganger returned. "We just let it happen like it always did?"
Derek floundered for words. It went against everything in him to admit defeat like this, but what choice did they have? "It's better than the alternative."
"No. There must be another way." Other-Derek's eyes danced along the ground as if the answer was hidden among the dead leaves. "There has to be."
"If there is, I don't see it," Derek said.
Derek's twin straightened suddenly, looking over his shoulder at their teenaged self, who was digging the toe of his sneaker into the dirt and watching them warily. Other-Derek pulled back his lips to reveal his fangs.
"I do," he growled.
Derek realized what he meant the moment he took a step toward the boy. "No!" he shouted, hand outstretched, but this other-him was already out of reach, shoving the kid back against the boulder in the middle of the path, teeth at his throat, snarling for blood.
But Derek was Alpha-fast too, and he pulled his twin off the boy in an eyeblink. He put himself between them, one hand groping blindly behind him to keep the teenager in place. His hand landed on a shaking rib cage.
"Don't try to run," he said. "He's faster than you. Stay behind me."
"What the hell are you—?" the boy gasped.
"Step aside," his other-self said. His eyes burned red in the evening light.
"Are you insane?" Derek said. "You can't kill him!"
"This is the only way we can save everyone." His twin changed before their eyes, hairy and primal. "Don't you get it? It's my fault, it's always going to be my fault!"
"If he dies, you die too," Derek bit out between clenched teeth.
"Good!" his other self shouted. "Then I won't have to live through it all!"
Derek froze at that, the idea of not existing. There would be no pain, no guilt. The things he had done would never have happened, and even if bad things came down the pike anyway, he wouldn't be there to suffer. Something traitorous whispered in the back of his head: this makes sense, this isn't a bad idea.
But then the boy's hand landed on his shoulder, a light, fearful touch. "Don't— Don't let him. Please. I don't know what's going on but please—"
"He's just a child," Derek whispered, not taking his eyes from his bloodlusty other-self.
"He'd thank me if he knew," other-Derek hissed.
"Wait." The voice rang through the trees from the north. Derek had been so focused on himself, he hadn't even heard the approaching footsteps crunching through the undergrowth. But he heard them now, alongside a familiar pulsing heartbeat. "Just stop for one minute."
Stiles stepped out from behind a tree—the real Stiles, buzzed hair and slouchy jeans and the tee shirt with a muffin on it. Derek's eyes widened. Was this a dream?
Then he noticed Stiles wasn't alone. He held a tiny hand in his, and when he tugged on it, a small boy followed him into view. The boy from the photo at the Grand Canyon, the boy with the shaggy hair and the big eyes. Stiles as a child.
"You know you'd create a paradox if you killed him, right?" Stiles said to Derek's twin. "How can you grow up to kill yourself if you're already dead? Congratulations, you almost destroyed time and space."
"What—?" the teen behind Derek began.
"Don't pay attention to me. This is all a bad dream," Stiles told him. He walked a few paces closer, still holding his younger self's hand. As they neared, Derek saw the little boy's eyes were red and raw, his nose steadily dripping with snot.
"Thanks for holding down the fort," Stiles said under his breath to Derek. "Where's your shirt?"
"I think I left it in an apocalyptic future," Derek managed to say. Stiles grinned. "I'm glad to see you," Derek said before he could stop himself. "But how—? What are you doing here?"
"Fixing things. I think. I hope." Stiles glanced back at other-Derek, who was rooted to the ground in shock, his fangs and claws retracted. "I'll deal with you in a minute, okay? Bad wolf. Very bad wolf," Stiles said with a shake of his finger.
"But I—" the other Derek tried to find his words, but ended up snapping his mouth shut. Derek knew the feeling: he himself was ashamed that Stiles had witnessed even a hint of doubt when it came to protecting his teenage self. He could imagine how miserable this other Derek felt.
"Can you guys give us a second? We have something to discuss," Stiles said, gesturing to the Derek in sneakers and a green shirt, panting against the boulder. Derek stepped back, but still stood between the boys and his other self. The two of them shared an uneasy glance. Stiles ignored them in favor of teenaged-Derek.
"Hey, sorry about the twins over there." He hooked a thumb over his shoulder. "They can get a little carried away sometimes."
"I don't understand," Derek's younger self said, eyes darting to everyone present. "Who are you? What's going on? First this guy says he's me, then he tries to tear my throat out, then you—"
"You know, I thought you'd be taller," Stiles interrupted, eyeballing the teenager's whipcord-thin body. At Stiles' side, a much younger Stiles stifled a sob.
"Oh right." Stiles tugged the kid forward. "Derek, I'd like you to meet someone. This is Stiles. He was lost in the woods."
"Hi," Derek said slowly. The little kid looked at him through watery eyes and said nothing. "What's wrong with him?"
"He's, uh." Stiles ducked his head and stared down at the boy. "He's going through a really hard time right now. Can you do me a favor? See, I've got to deal with these two doofuses," he jerked his chin towards Derek and his doppelganger, "and I really need someone to take Stiles home. His dad is, like, freaking out."
Derek watched his younger self's eyes war with confusion and disappointment. "Well— It's just that I'm supposed to be somewhere in a few minutes, and—"
"It won't take very long, I promise," Stiles said. "He lives on Stonecrop, at the very end of the lane. You know it?"
"Yeah, but I really—"
"Please." Stiles took Derek by the wrist and slid his younger self's hand into Derek's, then clasped them together. "Things are rough for him, and—and I have to tell you, they're going to get worse before they get better." His voice caught on the last word. "He could really use someone like you. Okay?"
"Yeah. Okay." Derek held the the little boy's palm in his. "I'll make sure he gets home."
"Thank you," Stiles said, breathing a ragged sigh. "Better get a move on. Getting dark."
"Sure." Derek pushed away from the rock he'd been leaning against and tugged at Stiles' small hand.
"Oh, and Derek?" Stiles dug something out of his pocket.
The boy turned. "Yeah?"
"Try to forget this whole mess," Stiles said in a whisper, and blew a light gray powder from his hand into Derek's face. The boy blinked, coughed, then kept walking with a glassy stare, still guiding the younger Stiles over fallen branches and dips in the ground.
Stiles watched them go with his hands on his hips. "Hope that works," he muttered.
"Works how?" Derek's other self asked. "What do you think that will accomplish? Derek—I mean, me—I'll still go to Kate." His face burned red even as he admitted it.
"Maybe." Stiles shrugged. "Probably. But some things can't be stopped." He pointed to Derek. "This guy knows what I'm talking about."
"You really think this will change anything?" Derek said quietly, still watching the two boys walk over the crest of the hill.
Stiles sighed and ambled over to the two werewolves. "Dunno. Not for sure. It's just a feeling I have. At the very worst, everything will happen just as it did. Which is better than what could happen." He raised a very suggestive eyebrow in Derek's direction. "My magic mirror got a little foggy. Was the other future really that bad?"
"It was terrible," Derek said. "Your hair looked really stupid."
"What happens now?" the other Derek broke in.
"Now we go home." Stiles pulled out a length of hemp rope from his pocket, fingering the fraying end. "You two coalesce into one big giant ball of self-loathing, because there's only room for one Derek Hale in the present day. We see what's changed. We move on. We promise never to fuck with time ever again." Two high spots of color rose in Stiles' cheeks. "I can't believe I thought I could do this. Stupid, fucking—"
"Stiles, it's not your fault," Derek's other self interjected before Derek could open his mouth. "I—we—pushed you into this."
"Nah, I should have—" Stiles shook his head, a small smirk growing on his lips. "Well. Like I said, some things you just can't change." He looked up at them both. "You ready?"
Derek reached out a hand, an abortive movement that stopped the minute he realized what he was doing. But his other half caught his eye and nodded once. Derek mustered up his courage and stepped forward with his twin, flanking Stiles between their chests.
"Uh." Stiles looked up at their shuttered faces.
"I hit my head when I got here," other-Derek grumbled. He latched his hands onto Derek's shoulders, holding Stiles between them. "It's a bumpy ride."
Derek didn't add anything, just rested a hand on Stiles' sharp hipbone.
"Right. Yeah. That's true. Not complaining. Wolfy roll-cage, got it." Stiles picked apart the hemp with his fingernails. "See you on the other side, I guess."
"Stiles," Derek croaked, but he couldn't think of what exactly to say. He settled on, "Thank you."
Stiles smiled up at him, leaning back against Derek's twin, arms and legs akimbo. "Hey, my pleasure," he said. He ripped the rope and the world went white. Derek held onto him, face buried in the crook of his neck, his mirror image holding Stiles just as tightly.
He immediately took stock of the walls from his position on the carpet. The snowboarder decal was back, and so were the photos. Except—he squinted at the framed picture on the wall opposite—was that him with his arm slung over Stiles' shoulders, with Stiles decked out in his lacrosse gear, grinning at the camera?
"Ngh, god. Time travel hangovers are the worst," the bundle in Derek's arms moaned.
"Stiles!" Derek's arms tightened instinctively, cradling Stiles against his chest. "You okay?"
"Yeah, I think—" Stiles picked his head off Derek's chest and blinked up at him.
"Whoa," they both said in unison. Derek was busy staring at Stiles' hair, which was now longer than its usual buzzcut but not the shaggy mess from that dark future. It was just—a little rockabilly in the front, or something. Derek raised a hand—not to touch it—just to, god, he wasn't sure, just to make sure Stiles was uninjured, maybe. But Stiles cut him off with a loud, "What are you wearing?"
Derek looked down at himself. It was hard to get a good look with Stiles laying on top of him, but it looked like he was dressed in a uniform. A khaki BHPD uniform. With a little brass tag on his chest that said HALE.
"I—" Derek began, but then the searing pain tore through his brain. He groaned, clutching at Stiles' shoulders as the images flooded through him. He heard Stiles gasp in horror and knew it was happening to him too.
"What the hell—?"
"New memories," Derek ground out. "Got them when I went forward last time."
"Y-you mean you have three sets of—? Oh god, Derek, it burns," Stiles panted against his chest, his eyes scrunched shut in pain. "It won't all fit!"
"It's okay, it'll pass, just—" Derek bit his lip as another wave washed through him, his spine bowing off the floor. His hand came up to hold the back of Stiles' head, in case he threw him to the ground. "Just breathe," he said, more to himself than Stiles.
They curled up on the floor together. And they remembered.
They remembered everything.
"Stiles!" he cried. He went to his knees, hugging his boy to him, tears already running down his face.
Derek let go of the small, sweaty palm and backed off a step. He glanced at the setting sun; Kate was waiting.
"Thank you," the sheriff said between kisses to the top of his son's tousled head. "For finding him."
"I didn't—" But Derek couldn't really remember what had happened. Something niggled at the back of his mind. He had been in the woods. Right? "It was nothing."
"Go on inside, wash your face. I love you," the sheriff said to Stiles, and the boy nodded without a word. He slumped into the house like a ghost. The sheriff watched him, then looked back at Derek. "His mom—" He cleared his throat. "We lost her yesterday."
"I'm sorry," Derek said, because he didn't know what else to do.
The sheriff nodded because he probably didn't know what to do either. He closed the door with one last thankful nod, and Derek climbed down the porch steps, already considering which way would be the quickest to the abandoned gas station.
"Gonna cry again?" one of the bigger kids sneered.
"Hey!" Derek pulled them off of Stiles with barely a thought. "Leave him alone. Or I'll punch your fucking lights out."
The boys scattered. Derek felt a surge of pride for all of three seconds.
"They were right," Stiles said in a small voice, slumped against the fence. "I am gonna cry again." The tears were already bulging at the corners of his eyes. He wiped them away furiously.
Derek thought about Kate. He wanted to see her, to make sure nothing had changed since he told her his big secret last week. But the kid was a mess, and Derek knew where he lived, so.
"Come on." He put a hand on Stiles' shoulder and levered him upright. "I'll walk you home."
"Why? To scare off those jerks?" Stiles shook his head. "What am I supposed to do about them tomorrow? And next week? You can't be around to save me every time." He shoved his way past Derek with more strength than his slight frame seemed to possess. "Go away. I can handle myself."
Derek followed him all the way home, always staying a dozen or so yards behind. "God, quit it!" Stiles kept shouting over his shoulder. But Derek didn't listen.
Derek didn't feel like going home, and he hadn't heard from Kate, so he shrugged and followed the sheriff inside. Their house was cozy and warm and smelled of cedar, and even though the sheriff over cooked the pasta, it was nice to sit at their table and listen to them chatter.
"Are you sure?" He picked up the clippers and tested the on button. Bzzzzzt. "Is your dad okay with this?"
Stiles didn't answer the question, just let his eyes drift over to the pile of boxes that now dominated one corner of the garage. Each one was labeled with his mother's name in big block letters: JENNIFER.
"Hair is dumb, anyway," Stiles said in a quiet voice. And Derek imagined he was just repeating something he'd heard. Still, it was his hair, his decision. He flicked on the clippers and went to work.
Derek stood at the edge of the Hale property with Laura's arms wrapped around his shoulders. She shook and cried but didn't make a sound. The heat and ash were still swirling through the air. Through the crush of firefighters and police officers and EMT's and sirens and flashing lights, Derek caught a glimpse of dark blonde hair, a hint of a crazed smile thrown over a strong shoulder. One ambulance left with their uncle inside, but the EMT had told them it didn't look good.
"We'll find them, Derek," Laura whispered into his ear. "Whoever did this, I'll hunt them down. And I will rip their hearts out."
"Hey." A heavy weight settled on Derek's shoulders: a woolen blanket, scratchy and smelling of blood. Derek looked up to find the sheriff standing over them. "Derek, I'm sorry, I— Why don't you kids come with me?"
Laura looked back at the burning husk of their home, her eyes flashing red. Derek sucked in a breath and hoped the sheriff thought it was just a reflection of the blaze. "But—" Laura said.
"There's nothing we can do here," the sheriff said as he herded them toward his patrol car. "Do you kids have any family you can stay with while we—?"
"That was our family," Laura snapped. "All of it."
The sheriff's face fell, and Derek looked away from the pity he saw there. He didn't deserve it, couldn't take it.
Laura, though, seemed to have realized her error. She backpedaled, "I mean, we have some distant...family friends. In New York. I'll call them, I'm sure they'll—"
The sheriff frowned and opened the door for them to climb into the backseat. "We'll work something out. You'll be okay, I promise."
"But what about you?" Derek croaked. He didn't speak much in those days, couldn't seem to force words out of his throat. It burned all the time.
"I'll stay there too, until I turn eighteen. Not long now," Laura said. She extended her Alpha-sized claws. "I need to spend some time with other packs, learn how to control my wolf. Then I can hunt the hunters."
So Derek was ushered into the Stilinski house with his one plastic bag filled with charity clothes. Stiles led Laura to her new room on the second floor.
"It's right next to mine, so you can shout if you need anything," he said with an eagerness Derek had never seen.
"Thank you, Stiles," Laura said, rubbing her palm over his buzzed head. "You're the best."
"Derek, you can stay in dad's office over— Derek?" But Derek was already tromping down the stairs and through the kitchen, where he yanked open the basement door. He heard Stiles' footfalls pounding down the steps behind him. "Derek, we have another room," Stiles called into the dark basement. "You don't have to— I mean, we figured you wouldn't want to—"
To stay in a basement much like the one where his family had burned alive.
Derek liked it down there, though. It was where he deserved to be. Buried. He found a box of old moth-eaten afghans and piled them in a corner.
"This is fine," he grated out. Stiles stood midway on the stairs, watching him. Then he nodded like he understood and left Derek down in the dark.
One night, Derek let the tears come. They weren't for his mom or dad or cousins or anyone but himself, and it felt like a fire inside of him, to cry for Kate and what he'd thought was love and his own stupid, stupid soul. He didn't make a sound, or maybe he did without realizing it, because Stiles came down the steps with his Batman flashlight and crawled under the blankets with him without saying a word.
How pathetic, Derek thought. Pity from a boy who'd watched his mother die a slow and miserable death through no fault of anyone's. He hated himself even more for that, for taking this kindness from the Stilinskis.
"It's all right," Stiles said as Derek choked on a new sob. He was a small, warm weight at his side. "It's not all right, but it's all right. You know what I mean?"
Derek didn't know, but he would. In time.
Derek picked up his head and glanced through the kitchen window. Stiles and Laura were in the backyard, raking up leaves. Well, kicking through leaves, more like it. Their giggles rang through the air.
"It takes his mind off other things," the sheriff explained.
Derek took a sip of his juice and considered this.
"So thank you. For being here. You and Laura. You're welcome for, well, as long as you need." The sheriff nodded to himself and turned to dump the pan into the sink. And Derek wondered if it was just Stiles who needed the distraction.
Stiles insisted Derek come up from the basement to look at the tree, which they'd trimmed earlier that week in popcorn garlands and glass orbs. Derek had grumbled the whole time about Christian tradition, and Stiles had pulled a face and called him a grinch.
They sat in the chilly family room, lit only by the rainbow Christmas lights while a Boston Pops CD played carols on the stereo. Derek wrapped a hand around his mug and watched his marshmallows melt slowly into the cocoa. Stiles had given him four. The mug was stuffed to overflowing.
"See? This isn't so bad," Stiles said, slurping down his own cocoa.
It occurred to Derek that this wasn't just his first Christmas without his family; this was Stiles' first Christmas without his mother. It had been Jennifer Stilinski who must have taught Stiles how to thread popcorn on a needle, how to make cocoa, how to sing all the words to We Three Kings. And now Stiles was teaching Derek. He swallowed down a lump in his throat at the thought.
"Hey, want to do presents now?" Stiles asked.
"Your dad's not here," Derek pointed out.
"Yeah, but he might not be home until late tomorrow. Just one? We always used to do just one on Christmas Eve," Stiles pleaded.
Derek couldn't say no to that. He padded downstairs and retrieved the slim package he'd wrapped in newspaper and hidden behind the hot water heater. Stiles beamed at the sight when he returned to the sofa.
"For me?" he gasped, making grabby hands for it. "Whoa! What is it?"
"Open it and see, idiot."
Derek tried to keep the fond smile from creeping across his face, but it wasn't easy when Stiles was ripping open the paper and making high-pitched noises.
"A lacrosse stick?" Stiles yelped as he tore away the last of the paper to reveal the smooth white Warrior Joker. "How did you know?"
"You and your friend Scott wouldn't shut up about that game you saw last month," Derek said. He'd filed that chatter away in his head, just in case he stayed with the Stilinskis long enough to put it to use.
"Wow. Thanks, Derek. This is—" Stiles hefted the stick in his hands, giving it an experimental swoosh through the air. Derek saved the vase on the side table at the last moment. Stiles laughed. "Here, this is from me," he said, and pulled a flat rectangular wrapped in shiny snowman paper from behind a throw pillow.
"It's a CD," Derek said without opening it.
Stiles rolled his eyes. "What are you, a detective? Open it and see what kind of CD, genius."
Derek smirked despite himself and picked the scotch tape apart with his fingernails. He could see it was driving Stiles crazy, this methodical unwrapping. It always made Laura mad, too.
He slid the CD case from its wrapping and turned it over. It was a blank case, clear plastic, with no insert. He cracked it open and saw the tracks and band names were written on the disc itself in a very precise, sloping handwriting. He recognized that handwriting, and it wasn't Stiles'.
"Laura helped me," Stiles said. "She writes neater than I can. But I picked out all the songs."
Derek read the list closely: Fall Out Boy, The Killers, all the songs he cranked on the radio while he was lifting his weights in the basement.
Stiles shifted on the couch, the lacrosse stick laid over his thighs. "It's kind of cheap, I know. But I didn't have a ton of cash to spend. And dad—I didn't want to ask dad."
"No, it's great," Derek said quickly. Laura had inherited the family money along with several life insurance policies, so they weren't hurting. But the Stilinskis had medical bills to pay off, and Derek didn't want Stiles to feel self-conscious about that. "I love it."
"Really?" Stiles grinned at the tree, at his mug of cocoa, at the stereo, everywhere but at Derek. "Cool. I'm glad."
Derek pulled a worn afghan from the back of the sofa and arranged it over their laps. "Merry Christmas, Stiles."
"Mazel tov, Derek."
And if Derek let Stiles fall asleep against his shoulder, what of it? He sat there on the couch and watched the Christmas lights twinkle until he, too, drifted off pressed against the lost boy he'd found.
Stiles and Derek had pooled their money and surprised the sheriff with tickets to a Giants game. It was a beautiful warm afternoon, and the Giants had beaten the Tigers all around the diamond. Stiles ate a metric ton of cotton candy and turned his whole mouth acid blue, and Derek snorted at the picture he made in the stands, eyes shaded by his battered cap. It was a good day.
On the way home from the stadium, an overturned trailer caused a traffic jam miles long. The sheriff sighed and settled in his seat. "Looks like this could be awhile," he said.
It was a full moon that night. Derek had thought he'd have enough time to get home before the change came and he had to run riot in the woods behind the Stilinski house. But the clock on the dash ticked away an hour, then two as Derek watched from the backseat with increasing anxiety. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end. His fingers and toes were on fire. His pulse pounded in his temples. The cars didn't move.
"Derek?" Stiles' voice sounded far away even though he was just sitting in the front seat. "You okay, buddy?"
"Fine," he bit out. His teeth lengthed another half-inch. He curled his lip over them.
Nine thirty-two, the clock blinked. He could see the moon above them, hovering like a beacon. He plastered a palm over his cheek to cover the bristling hair there. It was happening and there was nothing he could do to stop it. He was going to wolf out in the car in front of Stiles and the sheriff.
His eyes glinted ice-blue in the rearview mirror. No, he decided. He'd die before he hurt them. They were his protectors, his shelter. They were pack without even knowing it.
He popped open the car door and stumbled out into the thick June air, panting for breath. Darting between the other vehicles, he headed for the woods on the side of the road even as he felt his claws sharpen and shift from his fingertips. He groaned low in his throat.
Dimly, he heard footsteps behind him. "Derek?"
Derek threw a glance over his shoulder at Stiles, who stood stockstill in the shadow of a huge truck, his eyes wide and disbelieving.
Derek gave a snarl, dropped to all fours, and loped into the forest. His last human thought that night was a silent apology to Stiles; he shouldn't have seen him like that.
When Derek woke, he was naked and covered in damp leaves. The sun was a watery light in the morning sky. He picked himself off the ground and checked his fingernails: no blood. Good. He sniffed at the air, gauged the sun once more, and set off in the direction of home.
No. No longer home. He would sneak in through the back door of the Stilinski house, grab what possessions he could, and run. He'd call Laura; she was supposed to be back in town this week. She'd know what to do.
God. She was going to be so disappointed in him.
Derek finally reached the house a little after noon, a ratty hunter's jacket he'd found in the brush wrapped around his waist. He cracked open the back door carefully, though he expected the sheriff to be at work and Stiles to be at school.
They weren't. They were sitting there at the kitchen table with Laura, all staring at him. Laura was wearing her wolf's face. She shifted back to human as Derek watched.
"I told them," she said.
Derek swallowed. "Even—?"
"She told us about the hunters and the fire and— God, Derek." The sheriff stood and took three steps toward him, and for a moment Derek thought he was going to push him out the door. But instead, the sheriff wrapped him in his arms and squeezed him tight.
"I am so sorry for what you had to go through." He huffed a sigh into Derek's hair. "And alone, too."
Stiles' chair scraped against the floor, and suddenly he was pressed up against Derek too, all long limbs and clean skin. "I'm glad you're home," he said.
"Y-you're not," Derek swallowed, "scared?"
"Of you?" Stiles laughed on his bare shoulder. "I think it's awesome!"
"It's a—well—it's a shock," the sheriff added, stepping back and holding Derek at arm's length. "But it doesn't change anything. You're still Derek and Laura, and you're still welcome in my house."
Now Laura was getting in on the group hug, crushing all three of them to her with just a smidgen of her Alpha strength. "I love you guys," she said in a broken voice.
Derek was speechless. He stood in the tangle of their arms, swaying, hoping this wasn't a dream. How could they still want him around, knowing what he was? How could they not care?
Caught between the heat of love and the cold grip of shame, Derek stood in the middle of their circle and said nothing.
"Do you have x-ray vision?"
"Do you have, like, Wolverine senses?"
"Can you tell what I'm thinking right now?"
"Right, got it. No more wolfy questions."
"Fuck off! This is between her and me!" the guy yelled.
"Now it's between us," Derek snarled and smashed the back of his head against the asphalt. No blood, not enough force to kill. Maybe a concussion. Maybe. The guy was out cold.
Derek looked up to find Stiles standing over him, mouth open. "Whoa."
The sheriff draped his jacket over the woman's shaking shoulders, his eyes pinned on Derek too.
"I'm didn't mean to—" Derek stuttered.
"That was good work," the sheriff said. "Damn good work." Stiles smiled, and Derek fought the urge to grin. Mostly because he was pretty sure his teeth were lengthened into points.
Her final birthday, Derek hadn't even wanted to be around her. It still hurt to think about.
Stiles snuggled closer and hummed. "Maybe." He smelled of grass from lacrosse practice.
Derek slept deeply, an arm thrown around Stiles' waist.
Sheriff Stilinski craned his neck to look over Derek's shoulder while he poured himself a cup of coffee. Derek could smell the reek of disappointment over the dark roast.
"One bedrooms, huh?" the sheriff drawled, trying for casual.
Derek stared down at the newspaper. "Yeah."
The sheriff took a seat across the table and took a long sip from his mug. "There aren't any friends you want to room with? Split the bills, that sort of thing?"
"Derek doesn't have any friends," Laura said from her end of the table. She licked her forefinger and turned the page in her copy of Guns & Ammo.
Derek wrinkled his nose at his sister, and the sheriff said, "Oh, hey now—"
Stiles piped up from where he sat munching on cereal next to Derek. "Derek has friends. What am I, chopped liver?"
"I mean friends his own age," Laura clarified, nose-deep in her magazine. "The man is right, Derek. You haven't played any sports, joined any clubs, gone to any parties, nothing. How do you think that looks?"
Derek's eyes narrowed. He knew what Laura meant: how do you think that looks to the humans? "I don't care what they think," he said.
"Well, maybe you should." She held up Guns & Ammo and blocked him from her sight.
The sheriff caught Stiles' eyes, which were bouncing their brows in frustration, and sighed. Derek looked between them. "What?"
The sheriff sighed and pulled a folded glossy pamphlet from his back pocket. "I was going to save this until after your birthday. But maybe now's the time." He tossed it next to Derek's hand. Big bold letters on the cover spelled out 'Law Enforcement: Is It The Career For You?'
Derek frowned up at the sheriff. "Are you serious?"
He shrugged. "You have natural reflexes, instincts...you could stay here, save your money, commute to the Academy and apply to the BHPD without a college degree, if you don't want to get one. And I can guarantee your boss would let you have full-moon shifts off." He winked.
"But," Derek stared down at the pamphlet, "I can't be a cop."
"Why not?" Stiles asked. "You have superpowers, sort of. Why not use them for the public good?"
Derek looked to Laura with pleading eyes, but one glance and he could see she wasn't going to be any help. "Be practical, Derek. Our inheritance won't last forever. And if you can establish yourself here as a police officer, no hunter would dare touch you."
"You're a good kid," the sheriff said. He took a long sip of his coffee. "Sorry. A good man. And we need those on the force."
"Just think about it," Stiles said with a mouth full of cereal. "It could be pretty cool."
Derek stared into his mug and thought.
"Because Derek is a growing werewolf, dad. And you have high cholesterol and Laura would kill me if she found out I was letting you eat it. Now, is the patrol car gassed up? Can you drop Derek off at the state park after dinner? Full moon tonight."
"I know. I got the calendar reminder." The sheriff frowned across the dinner table. Derek hid his smile with another bite of steak.
"I can handle it," Derek promised. He had just gotten off a shift, his uniform unbuttoned to reveal his white undershirt. His off-duty look, Stiles called it.
Derek was the only one around who could watch him. Laura wasn't in town much anymore; everything was the hunt, she told Derek. Everything was about finding the truth.
Still, Derek hadn't told her what had happened when he was fifteen. He couldn't.
But he could press a new bowl of broth into Stiles' sweaty hands and return his grin. "Shouldn't be here," Stiles slurred. The pills made him drowsy. "I'll get you sick too."
"I don't get sick." Derek pulled a chair up to the side of the bed.
Stiles sipped at his broth and hummed. "'s true. Never even get the sniffles. You got some sort of super-immunity?"
Derek scratched the back of his neck. "Something like that. Drink."
Stiles drank, watching Derek over the rim of his mug. When he was done gulping the broth, he opened his mouth as if to pursue the topic further, but Derek distracted him by running a hand through his damp hair.
"Getting long," he said.
Stiles purred and pushed his head into Derek's hand like a cat. "Mmm hm."
"Want me to buzz it for you later?" He had taken up the task of cutting Stiles' hair every couple of weeks. Stiles said he couldn't do the back himself, and Derek didn't mind.
"Dunno," Stiles murmured. He peeked up at Derek through his thick eyelashes. "What do you think?"
"I think," Derek said slowly, "that it looks pretty good like this." He tugged at the tuft of hair at the crown of Stiles' head, forming it into an almost-mohawk.
"Maybe I'll keep it for a while." Stiles lifted a hand to his hair, smoothing down the back. "See how I like it."
Derek was standing at the kitchen sink, rinsing the last dinner plate while the sheriff checked his messages. The voicemail crackled through the line, clear as a bell to Derek's ears.
It was Laura. "Sheriff, I'm onto something," she said in the message. "It was a woman, like you said. The teacher mentioned a necklace. I'm going to look into it after—" A long, low howl in the background. "Oh my god," she whispered. Then a fumbling sound, her ringing snarl, then silence.
End of new messages.
"I'll drive," the sheriff said, jockeying with Derek to get out the door. Stiles was right behind them. "Hey! What the—?"
"It's Laura," Derek growled. He and the sheriff were already out the door and flinging open the patrol car's doors.
"I'm coming too," Stiles said behind him.
"No, you're not."
"I'm either coming with you or I'm following on foot, which would you rather?"
Stiles rode in the back.
The woods seemed darker and alien, though Derek had run through every inch of them. He smelled the air and tasted bile in the back of his throat.
"Can you pinpoint her?" the sheriff asked, steering the car down the twisting road.
"No," Derek said quietly. "Her scent. It's both to the north and the west."
"Well, what does that mean?" Stiles said with his lips pressed to the grate.
"I don't know," he snapped.
The scanner buzzed. All units, all units. They'd found a body. Half of one, waist down. Female. North of the state road.
The sheriff must have pulled over, because Derek was in the dead leaves, forcing down the urge to vomit. Running west. Half-crazed with the idea that maybe it wasn't Laura. Maybe it was Kate, and Laura had finally tracked her down and done what Derek should have a long time ago. (A thought niggled: Or maybe not, maybe this was always meant to happen.)
Her hair looked like black oil against the brown leaves. She was naked, dumped on her stomach, her eyes open and staring. Derek couldn't stop himself. He knelt next to her and rested a hand in her warm hair.
"Laura," he sobbed. When had he started crying? "Oh god, no."
"Hey hey hey." Cedar-strong scent of the sheriff behind him, his hands pulling at Derek. "We can't touch her, we need to preserve the evidence."
"My fault," he said. Over and over. "My fault, this is my fault. She died because of me."
"That's not true." Stiles. Grass and skin and Stiles-smell. Tugging at his arm. "Derek, focus. Someone killed her. Not you. Someone else. Can you pick up a scent? Anything?"
Three scents he didn't know: two human and gun-oiled, one...sick and smelling of decay.
"I—" Derek choked. "I don't know. It's confusing."
"I'm calling this in." The sheriff lifted his shoulder radio to his mouth.
"No!" Derek cried. Stiles and the sheriff stared at him. "We can't report this. Please."
"Derek—" the sheriff began, gentle.
"No, dad, he's right. Look at her throat." Stiles pointed, tears running down his flushed face. "Someone cut her throat, and it bled. A lot. But when they— Oh my god." He turned away.
Derek saw what he meant. "Minimal bleeding at her waist. She was already dead." His hand turned from proprietary to clinical, touching her slashed throat. "Claws did this."
"Some other pack?" the sheriff asked.
"Or an Omega who wanted to become an Alpha." Derek hung his head. "A wolf murdered her. Hunters sliced her in half."
"Why?" Stiles gagged. "Why would they do that?"
"To confuse the wolves who came looking for her," Derek said in a strangely steady monotone. "It's an old trick."
"Dear god." The sheriff sat back on his heels in the leaves.
"They're looking for Derek, dad. If we do this by the book, they will find him," Stiles said. "The BHPD is not equipped to handle supernatural crimes! This is on us."
For a long moment, the sheriff just stared down at Laura, then he reached over and closed her eyelids. "What do we do?" he asked.
"Bury her. Protect her grave so no one finds her."
"Wolfsbane," Derek whispered. "I'll need some wolfsbane."
The sheriff got the shovels. They moved her together and took turns digging a hole in the earth. Derek felt tears running down his face, collecting on the point of his chin, dropping to the dirt, where they soaked and faded into nothing.
Stiles called Scott and told him, whatever he did, stay inside tonight. "What else would I be doing?" Scott answered. Derek kept digging until Stiles stopped him with a silent touch to his shoulder and took the shovel from his hand so he could take his turn.
"What are you doing with a spellbook?" he demanded.
Stiles shrugged. "Hunters, werewolves, things that go bump in the night. Most of the Hale-Stilinski household comes equipped with claws or a gun. I can barely open pickle jars. Don't you think I should have a trick or two up my sleeve?"
Derek scowled. "Magic is mostly bullshit, anyway."
"You'll thank me later," Stiles said.
Peter ripped out Kate's throat before their very eyes, like a magic trick. Derek clutched at the bullet wound in his chest and tried not to be jealous. Then Peter was turning on him, fangs bared. And the sheriff was stepping between them, gun raised even though he had to know it wouldn't be enough to stop an Alpha.
"No," Derek said under his breath, reaching to knock him out of the way. Pack. Family. His.
Stiles beat him to it. He lifted his hand and conjured molten fire into Peter's wolfish face. He was engulfed in flames in less than an eyeblink, screaming tortured howls to the night sky. The Alpha stumbled outside to writhe in his death throes. Derek stared at Stiles, who was staring at his own hand like it was brand new.
Stiles caught his eyes and shrugged. "Thank me later," he said.
There was no joy in Derek's heart when he sliced open his uncle's throat and inherited his family's power. His eyes glowed red in the darkness, but they also brimmed with tears: Stiles and the sheriff had heard Peter's final, taunting words. They knew what Derek had done, what he'd done for Kate. This was the end of his false family, surely. They would turn him away like they should have years ago.
Chris Argent's revolver pressed against the back of his head. Derek didn't move to stop him.
"Hey!" Grass and skin and Stiles-smell, right behind them. The click of a second revolver in Argent's free hand.
"Wait your turn, pyro," he sneered.
No, not Stiles. Derek tensed, ready to fight even if it meant his life.
The familiar sht-sht of the sheriff's shotgun echoed across the overgrown lawn of the Hale house. Derek looked up to find the sheriff with blood streaming from his temple, his gun aimed straight at Argent's heart.
"Don't threaten my son," he said. "Either of them."
A long pause where violence hung suspended by a thread, and then Argent was backing off, hands in the air. The sheriff suggested he move along to some other town. "Your sister is about to get quite the reputation as a murderer," he said.
Stiles was on the phone upstairs, listening to Scott lament about how the new girl was already moving away before he'd mustered the courage to talk to her. When the call ended, Stiles' footfalls came down the staircase to the living room. He perched on the sofa arm, then slid liquid-like onto the cushions, forcing Derek back so they both fit face-to-face.
"You're getting too old for this," Derek muttered.
"Maybe." Stiles wriggled closer. "Want to tell me what's going on? You haven't moved in, like, hours."
"It's nothing." Stiles gave him a look, and he sighed. "I killed my last living relative, Stiles. I'm an Alpha without a pack."
"You think you're useless?" Stiles supplied.
Derek's mouth twitched, a barely-there gesture that said, Well, yeah.
"Derek," Stiles began, slowly, carefully, so unlike him that Derek's heart lurched in concern. "I know my dad and I can't ever replace your family. But you have people who love you no matter what you've done, or how you were born. I just—" He pressed his cheek further into the cushion. "I wish that was enough."
Family. Pack. Stiles. Three things that were so mixed up in Derek's head, he couldn't begin to explain why Stiles was and was not those things. "I wish it was too," he whispered. Stiles' face crumpled, and Derek cursed inwardly. He'd meant he wished he could be better, that he could learn to live with all that Stiles and the sheriff had given him without wanting—
Without wanting something he couldn't even name.
"Stiles, it's not—"
The doorbell rang.
"Hold that thought," Stiles sighed. He levered himself off the couch and answered the door.
"Delivery for Stiles Stilinski," a strange voice said, and Derek was intrigued enough to prop himself up on an elbow to glance over the back of the sofa. It was the local florist, handing Stiles a huge rosemary plant tamed into a delicate spire in a terracotta pot.
"Uh," Stiles said. "Me? Are you sure?"
"Really sure," the delivery man said. "We've had this order on the books forever."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, we've waited six years to give this to you. Some people have reminders set up, but never this far in advance. You graduating or something?"
"Um, no. I'll just," Stiles grabbed the potted plant, shifting its ungainly weight in his arms, "take that then." He juggled the pot while he signed the man's clipboard, then shut the door.
"Who's it from?" Derek asked from the couch.
"No clue. Honestly." Stiles stared at the rosemary plant like it was an alien lifeform.
"Well, I'm no detective, but maybe read the card?" Derek pointed to the little white envelope slotted between the prongs of a plastic stick that protruded from the potting soil.
"Oh! Yeah. Right." Stiles set the pot on the side table and tore open the card, flinging himself gracelessly on the sofa to read it. Derek scooted closer to read over his shoulder.
You have to convince Scott to accept the bite from Derek Hale. If he doesn't turn into a werewolf, his asthma will end up killing him. Soon. Derek is (I hope) the guy who brought you home that one time after mom died. Please tell me you still know him. Otherwise, this is all going to sound really weird.
PS: To prove it's really me, the nutmeg when you were nine. I remember, dude.
"Nutmeg?" Derek asked.
Stiles did a full body flip-out at him. "That's the part you have questions about!?"
It took longer to convince Derek to turn Stiles' goofy best friend. "My future self seemed to know what he was talking about," Stiles said.
"That doesn't even make any sense," Derek growled.
"Does any of this? You said you were an Alpha without a pack, right? Well, here's the start of your pack."
It was a fair point.
They did it in the basement while the sheriff was on a night shift. Not that it was some kind of secret they needed to keep from him, but Derek felt more comfortable with just the three of them. He gentled his teeth around Scott's forearm, waiting for his heart rate to slow. Scott cried. A lot. Stiles threaded their fingers together and told him, "Don't worry, Derek's got this. It'll heal right away. It won't hurt for long, I read up on it."
When Derek finally bit down (a full two counts before Scott said go), Scott screamed. He soothed him the only way he knew, letting Scott smell him and hear his heartbeat the way his father had described in his stories. It was strange, the three of them sitting huddled together in that dark basement for such a long time, damp with sweat and tears.
It was almost like giving birth, in a way.
In the morning, Derek woke up with Scott draped and drooling over his chest. He heard Stiles' footsteps squeak on the floor and saw his thin silhouette heading away from them.
"Hey," he whispered so as not to wake Scott. "Where are you going?"
"Well, I just figured you two had, uh," Stiles whispered in return, gesturing to them vaguely, "werewolf stuff to do. Bonding or whatever. Probably don't want some pink, lame human hanging around, ruining your cool wolf vibe." His voice tried for light and joking, but he just sounded sad.
Derek looked down at Scott and carefully eased himself out from under the sleeping boy, then slid off the bed (a real one, the sheriff had insisted years ago) and padded over the Stiles.
"You don't...want the bite too, do you?" he asked.
"What?" Stiles' mouth worked into confused shapes. "Wha—? No. Not that there's anything wrong with— It's just not for me." He pursed his lips, then said. "You guys need someone who can walk past mountain ash and dig out wolfsbane bullets and be human. So no. I don't want the bite. I just don't want to mess up your new pack."
A frisson of fear snaked through Derek's heart. How could he explain? Stiles was his pack, had been for years. "I've never done this before," he said, letting a little of his anxiety seep into his words. "The only thing I have to go on is the stuff my parents told me when I was a kid. Scott is going to be frightened and confused and I—" His hand found Stiles'. "I could really use you around."
Stiles' fingers tightened around his.
"Ugggggh, is it time for breakfast?" Scott moaned into his pillow. "I'm starving."
Stiles grinned into the dark, something only Derek could see. "Okay. I'll hang around. Because you asked so nicely."
"Derek," he said into Derek's uniform shirt. "You parents, Laura, fuck, I'm so sorry, it didn't work—"
"Shh. You were with me this time. You were there." The words tumbled out of him. "Before, I was alone. But you gave me— God, Stiles."
A place to live, a bed to sleep in, food to eat. Warmth to turn to. A shoulder to lean on. A family to protect. Scott, his firstborn. Stiles had given him everything worth having.
"Stiles, you saved me," Derek whispered in realization. His lips brushed the thick waves of Stiles' hair as he spoke.
"What?" Stiles lifted his head, and Derek could see the warring memories in his eyes. "No, I—" His shaking hand came to rest on Derek's stubbled jaw. "Other way around, Grumpy." He swallowed. "I don't have to lie to my dad now, not with you here. And my mom—for some reason, thinking of her doesn't hurt like it did. And, Jesus, a million other things." He stroked his hand down Derek's neck, as if the strength needed to keep it on his jaw had failed him.
Derek stared at Stiles' face: his too-long lashes, his warm eyes, his mussed hair, his mole-dotted skin. An old feeling—the feeling he'd had before, in that other life—curled through his stomach. But there was a new feeling beside it, one of familiarity and intimacy.
He'd watched this boy grow into a man. He'd been there for skinned knees and schoolyard fights and the time in sixth grade when Stiles had declared Lydia Martin was a shithead and he didn't like her anymore because she wasn't ever going to be nice to him. This thing between him and Stiles had grown so gradually and over so many years that it seemed like natural brotherhood. Now, with his added memories, he knew he wasn't looking at Stiles like a brother should.
His thumb came up to rest against Stiles' full lower lip. It parted under his touch. "Stiles—" he began. Stiles' eyes searched his face. He had to tell him, he couldn't waste any more time. "I think I—"
"Are we in love with each other?" Stiles blurted out. He sat up hastily, dragging a stunned Derek with him. "Oh my god, we are. We're in love, somehow, in this timeline. I mean, maybe we were before—or at least, maybe I was, I couldn't tell with you—or we were headed that way. But here everything got mixed up and, and I can remember the way you looked at me, when we were kids. Like you thought I was—I don't know, gold or something. Did I just dream that all up? Did—?"
"Precious," Derek mumbled.
"Not gold." Gold was worthless to him. "Precious. You were..." Derek pulled Stiles to him, chest to chest, feeling his heart thudding against his ribs. "You are. To me. Very precious."
Stiles rose to his knees and leaned impossibly close. Their noses brushed. "Derek." His name breathed against his cheek.
Derek squeezed his eyes shut. "You're family, Stiles. We shouldn't." It sounded very feeble.
"We will." Stiles' mouth touched his, not a kiss exactly. Just a scrape of lips. "Please."
This kid was going to be the death of him. He nodded, swallowing thickly. Stiles' hand cupped under his ear, and he nodded again.
Derek tilted his head and let their mouths fall together, a slow, wet meeting of lips and tongues and teeth. Then Stiles surged into him, running ahead at breakneck speed like always. It had been so long since Derek had touched someone like this, had let himself be touched, but it felt like the most natural, inevitable thing in the world for it to be Stiles. He smelled of grass and skin and tasted the way he smelled. He kissed like he was dying, and maybe he was.
They broke apart, panting. Stiles' lips were stained red. He licked them, unaware. Derek growled.
"Don't do that."
"What?" Stiles looked startled.
"Oh." Stiles licked his lips again, deliberately this time. "Sorry."
"Hey guys?" Scott knocked his fist against the doorframe.
Derek jumped, but not as much as Stiles did. He must have been really far gone if he hadn't noticed Scott's footsteps approaching in the hallway. They stared up at Scott, still clutching at each other on the floor, eyes wide.
This is my Beta, Derek thought. Images of his previous Betas, who were now just strangers, flashed through his mind.
"Why are you hugging?" Scott asked.
"W-we're just, uh." Stiles petted at Derek's uniform shirt, smoothing out the wrinkles on his chest. "Just really happy to see each other, is all."
Scott's face quirked into a frown of confusion. "But you just saw each other at lunch," he said slowly.
"Right. Well." Stiles gave Derek one last squeeze and stumbled to his feet, wobbling a little as he went. Derek followed suit more sedately. "Seize the day, you know. Tactile pack stuff!" Stiles opened his arms in Scott's direction, and Scott laughed, stepping into the bear hug and returning it just as hard.
"Whatever, weirdos. Hey, Derek, where are we going tonight?" Scott said.
"Tonight?" Derek searched his new memories for a hint of what Scott meant. Right, Scott's training: Derek had been taking him on runs through the woods, testing his new senses, walking him through his shifts. He was lucky Scott was such a new wolf; he hadn't even noticed the faint scent of arousal in Stiles' bedroom.
Or maybe it always smelled like that when Derek was around. The thought made him feel warm. He looked over at Stiles, and from the way Stiles' cheeks pinkened, he could tell he was thinking along the same lines.
"Yeah, tonight. Come on, you promised," Scott whined. "Rabbits, remember?"
"Right. I'm sorry, Scott." Derek laid a hand on his shoulder. The gesture felt normal, but it was also strange to remember the other Scott in his first timeline, who would've never allowed Derek this kind of paternal touch. "Can we do it tomorrow instead? I just—something's come up."
"Tomorrow's the lacrosse game. Tuesday?"
Scott let himself out with his own house key, and Stiles heaved a relieved sigh. "We'll have The Talk with him later. Maybe not about time travel. I don't want him to know about Allison. Though if given the choice, he'd choose to keep her mom alive, don't you think?" Stiles quirked his lips at the thought, then shook his head. "But I believe I heard something's come up?" He tugged the tails of Derek's shirt free from his uniform pants.
"Yes, and stop that." Derek smacked his hands away. "I remembered something from before, the other timeline. I need to take care of it."
"Isaac," Derek said. "I may not offer him the bite this time, but I sure as hell need to arrest his father."
"Oh shit, you're right." Stiles chewed on his lower lip. "Want me to come along? Play the calming human-slash-magic wielder?"
"No. Not tonight. This has to be official business, at least at first." Derek ran his thumb along the brass badge on his chest.
"Deputy Hale. Of course." Stiles nodded, tight-lipped. Derek could see the carefully concealed disappointment on his face, because after six years, there wasn't a lot Stiles could hide from him.
"This is what it's going to be like, you know. All the time." Derek tucked his shirt tails back into his pants. "It's going to be dangerous and uncertain and we're never going to have enough time alone. Are you sure you're up for that? Because we can just chalk all this," he gestured between them, "up to time travel insanity. If you want."
Stiles reached out and captured Derek's hand in his. He used it and Derek's arm like a tether to reel him closer until they stood toe-to-toe and face-to-face.
"Of course I'm up for it," he said, staring into Derek's eyes. "I've been up for it for years now." He pressed a kiss, quick and close-mouthed, to Derek's lips. "Now go save Isaac Lahey. Drag him back here if you have to. Our casa es his casa."
"Always more room for strays," Derek whispered against Stiles' cheek. He felt Stiles' answering grin against his neck.
"You're not a stray," he said. "You're home."
Some day soon, Derek would have a talk with Stiles about anchors and lifemates, and a talk with the sheriff about—well—a lot of things. But for tonight, he could only kiss Stiles for a fraction of the time he wanted, fast and bruising, before he was gone.
Epilogue: Six Months Later
He and Stiles had tried to do the right thing a few days ago, sitting the sheriff down at the kitchen table with a mug of coffee and a full breakfast on his plate. He'd immediately been suspicious. "Did you boys get into some kind of trouble?"
"No!" Stiles had said. "I mean, not really. It's not trouble. It's, uh, okay, listen: this is probably going to sound very strange to you. And your first instinct might be to freak out. But—"
The sheriff had speared a piece of turkey sausage on his fork and took a huge bite. "If this is about you and Derek," he'd said as he chewed, "I don't wanna know."
Derek had kept his mouth from hanging open in shock by sheer force of will.
"Talk to me in two months when I'm not complicit in some serious underage romance scandal." He'd patted his mouth with his paper napkin, eyes on his plate. "Don't be stupid. Don't rush into anything. And if there's a fight," he'd glanced between them quickly, "well, don't make me choose a side."
Derek had swallowed. "Understood, sir."
So even though the sheriff was not completely against it, Derek made sure he was sound asleep before creeping down the hall and opening the door to Stiles' room.
Stiles slept sprawled out on his back, arms flung above his head. The blankets had fallen to his waist, revealing the oversized tee shirt he was wearing. Derek's, most likely. Derek smiled to himself in the dark and stripped off his uniform. He dropped the clothes in a pile on the floor and slid under the covers. Stiles made a low noise in his sleep and curled closer to Derek's side.
That never changed: the way Stiles sought out his body heat. Derek looped an arm under his neck and held him close, already drifting off.
"Hello, officer," Stiles mumbled into his shoulder.
"Go back to sleep."
"Ngh, can't now." Stiles' long-fingered hand slipped down Derek's flank, eliciting shivers in its wake. "'s a werewolf in my bed. I'm too scared to sleep." His hand slipped under the waistband of Derek's boxer briefs.
"Stiles." A sharp inhale through his nose. A lift of his hips. He considered stopping this, plucking Stiles' hand away and telling him firmly, no. But Derek didn't stop him. He lay there, still and quiet, while Stiles explored the shape and weight of him in his hand.
They had touched each other, yes, but only over clothing, quick, furtive pawings between kisses and licks. Derek had wanted to go slow, to be careful. This was more than just Stiles' first relationship, it was the both of them stepping into unknown territory. There was too much to lose.
But Stiles' hand was warm and gentle, and Derek couldn't find the strength to push it away. It cupped his heavy balls, ran light fingertips along his foreskin, circled his wet head and thumbed at his slit.
"Feel so good," Stiles whispered into his ear. "Can I see?"
Derek nodded, kicking off the bedclothes and letting Stiles tug off his underwear. He lay there on his back, hands fisted at his sides while Stiles propped up on an elbow and looked him over. His hand still jacked at Derek's stiffening cock experimentally, like they had all the time in the world. Outside, snow puffed against the window. But their room was filled with heat.
"You don't look real," Stiles said in a low voice. "Do you have any idea?"
Derek dodged the question by tugging at his stolen tee shirt. "I don't like being the only one naked here."
Stiles wriggled out of his shirt and boxers like it was a race. He was so pale in the dark, his freckled skin like artwork, eyes huge and shining. He stretched along Derek's body with his hands fluttering at Derek's hips.
"Too skinny," he laughed when he saw Derek staring.
It was true that Stiles was lanky and lean, his hipbones and ribs jutting. But for some reason, seeing that hint of vulnerability in an otherwise unstoppable force just made Derek love him more.
"Stop," he said, and kissed him. They pressed together, chest to chest, legs tangled and ankles locked. Their cocks slid together in their own wetness. Rubbing, hard, an ache that shot through Derek's stomach and into his lungs. He gasped into Stiles' mouth.
"Damn. So good," Stiles panted on the verge of a chuckle. "I could— Would it be okay if I—fuck, Derek—you'll make me come like this."
Derek rolled them so that Stiles was on his back, staring up at him, mouth wide open. His hips didn't stop their thrusts. "That's okay, that's fine," he whispered. He brought his hands up to hold Stiles' face, sharp cheekbones and milky skin bracketed by his calloused hands.
Stiles rubbed up against him, hands still tripping over Derek's body, touching every part he could reach: his arms, his sweat-dotted shoulders, the valley of his back. His hard cock slipped behind Derek's, trapped between their stomachs, surrounding him with Stiles-skin and Stiles-smell.
"Will you?" Stiles looked up into his face. "Come with me?"
Derek kissed him in answer. Maybe he should have held on a little longer, but he didn't want to. He wanted his come on Stiles' body, their scents mingling and pooling in Stiles' navel, a salt-bitter nectar for Derek to drink. And was there anything in the world more perfect than Stiles, his face contorting into a thousand different emotions, his spine bowing off the mattress, his soft skin pressing against Derek everywhere?
It took Stiles many minutes to catch his breath. Derek lapped at his navel and waited while Stiles' hand carded through his hair.
"Was that illegal?" Stiles finally asked.
"Oh yeah," Derek hummed against his flank.
"Don't care. Let's break the law, like, every day."
Derek rested his head on Stiles' chest and grinned up at him.
"Huh. A real smile. That brings my personal tally to four, I think." Stiles cupped his jaw, stretching the corner of his mouth until his grin unveiled a fang. "Getting wolfy over me now?"
"Just feeling relaxed. Sorry." Derek retracted them.
"Don't be. It's cute." Stiles laughed. "What is my life? I think your tearing, gnashing fangs are cute."
"Right, yeah. Come up here," Stiles said in a hushed voice, dragging Derek next to him. Derek pulled the covers up over them. The snow kept falling outside. Derek pressed his face into the curve of Stiles' neck and slept.
For maybe an hour or two.
The sun was just rising when Isaac and Scott came bounding in, leaping on top them with a whoop. Derek was awake instantly, but Stiles just batted at the boys with a flailing hand.
"Go 'way," he mumbled sleepily.
"Waffles," Isaac said, perched on the foot of the bed. "Scott said there's waffles on the weekend."
"I just worked eighteen straight hours," Derek grumbled.
"So you must be hungry. For waffles," Scott needled.
Derek shoved a pillow over his face and, for a brief moment, regretted giving Isaac the bite. He and Scott were terrors when they were together. Like hyperactive puppies. But at least Isaac was coming out of his shell, and Scott did benefit from having someone to look after.
Still. He wished he could teach them to respect boundaries.
"Scott," he sighed, muffled into his pillow.
Scott held up his hands, glancing down at Stiles' bare chest. "Okay, here's the deal. You guys shower, get less naked, and come downstairs when you're ready. And Isaac and I will make the waffles."
"No. Bad idea. The worst." Stiles' hand groped along the floor before finally finding his boxers. "You set the microwave on fire last week."
"Barely," Isaac said.
"Go. Get the eggs and batter out," Stiles said with a curt gesture at the door. Scott and Isaac tumbled down the hall, laughing under their breath. "Your kids are crazy," he told Derek once they were mostly out of earshot.
"My kids? They got the waffle cravings from you," Derek muttered.
"Whatever." Stiles laughed and leaned over, kissing him on the cheek. "You've got wolf-breath. Come on. Let's shower." He caught the thoughtful look that clouded Derek's eyes. "What?"
"I was just thinking," Derek ran his thumb over the back of Stiles' hand, mashed into their pillow, "things could have been so different. I could have lost this. I could have lost you."
"Idiot." Stiles kissed him again, this time on the mouth despite the morning breath. "Some things don't ever change. I'd have found you, one way or another." He smiled. "Right?"
"Right." Derek leaned in for one last, lingering kiss before they headed for the shower.