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an awful curse

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Derek doesn't have a lot of practical experience with hospitals. He's never woken up in one before.

Isaac is asleep in a chair. The angle of his neck makes Derek wince in sympathy.

"Isaac," Derek says.

Isaac snaps awake immediately.


"Where's Stiles?"

"Stiles?" Isaac asks.

Jesus. It's not like they know more than one.

Derek pulls out an IV line, yanks plastic tubing out of his nose. It's unpleasant. Standing isn't great, his legs feel shaky from disuse.

"Where's Stiles?" He asks again.

Isaac stands up, cracks his neck, points out the door. "Down the hall," he says, "Room 304. Are you-"

Derek ignores him. There's a thin bathrobe hanging over a hook by the door to the bathroom. Derek puts it on before he heads out of the room.

304 is four doors down on the left, Derek finds it half by sight, half by smell. He can hear Stiles' heartbeat: steady, strong.

Scott is slumped over by the bed, his position worse than Isaac's. Derek shakes him awake and he blinks up, slow, disbelieving.

"Is he-" Derek starts. "Is he-"

Stiles bolts awake, sitting up, eyes wide and panicked. He says, "Derek-"

Derek doesn't let him finish the thought, just climbs onto the small hospital bed and grabs Stiles' face, one hand on either side of his head.

He says, "Stiles. Stiles. It's ok. You're awake now."

Stiles looks at him: relieved, confused, unsure.

Derek says, "The first thing I ever said to you was, 'This is private property.'“

“Yeah,” Stiles says, voice hoarse, “I remember.”

Derek says, “This is real."

Stiles echoes, "This is real."

Derek tilts his head forward, touching their foreheads together. They stay that way, eyes closed, just breathing for a long time, until Scott says, "What the hell is going on?"

Stiles is watching a dumb commercial selling an ugly necklace when he sits up suddenly, spine stiff. He asks, "How did we meet?"

"What?" Derek asks, "What do you mean? We-" But he stops. He doesn't have an answer.

Stiles says, "You can't remember either."

Derek can remember lots of things, but some things are hazy, indistinct.

Stiles asks, "How did your parents die?" Derek shakes his head, mind blank. "Laura? I don't think you ever told me."

Derek can feel their absence like an open, aching wound, but the answer doesn't come.

Stiles says, "I remember my mom dying but I don't remember sophomore year of high school. Honestly, most of high school. Did I go to graduation? Were you there?"

Stiles turns off the TV, stands up, and walks to the kitchen, not meeting Derek’s eyes. Derek follows him, grabs his arm, makes him turn and look at Derek.

Derek asks, "What’s going on?"

Stiles squirms out his grasp, moves behind the kitchen island, away. He says, "Something is very wrong here. Tell me you feel it, too.”

Twenty minutes ago, Derek wasn't thinking about much more than getting a couple steaks out of the freezer to thaw, but now.

Derek nods.

Stiles slumps forward onto the butcher block, relieved.

Stiles is seventeen. Seventeen.

(They just celebrated Stiles’ twenty-third birthday last week. Derek had gotten him a cake shaped like an X-wing and a birthday balloon with dinosaurs on it. The woman at the store had given him a strange look when he'd said they were for his boyfriend. Stiles had laughed when Derek told him about it after, had said, “Oh man, making yourself look like a pedophile is like, half the gift, it's perfect.”)

Melissa McCall doesn’t like or trust Derek, likes and trusts him less now that she’s pulled him off of a twin bed with a teenage boy. Any other nurse would have called the cops, Derek is grateful she just kicked him out of the room.

“I get that you’ve been through a traumatic experience together,” she says, “But you have to understand how it looks to people who don’t know the, um, the circumstances.”

Derek looks down the hospital hallway, away.

Ms. McCall pushes a strand of hair off of her forehead and blows out a deep breath. She says, “You need to remember that he’s still just a kid, ok?”

Ms. McCall looks at him and it’s the same hard, wary expression he gets from Scott all the damn time.

“It won’t happen again,” Derek says.

(Stiles says, "Honey, I'm home." He does that a lot; it stopped being cute years ago. Derek hasn't told him, yet.

Derek says, "We're having frozen pizza, I don't feel like cooking."

"Sounds good to me," Stiles says. He comes up behind Derek, plants a noisy kiss on the back of his neck. He drops Derek's house keys onto the counter, to the right of where Derek's wrestling a frozen pizza out of the plastic wrap.

Stiles says, "Left those in the door again. Someday an axe murderer is just gonna waltz in here and kill us all."

Stiles reaches over, grabs a frozen pepperoni off the pizza.

"Don't do that," Derek says. Stiles smiles, unapologetic.)

Derek is standing in the hall, awkward, avoiding Scott and the sheriff and the hospital staff, when Boyd arrives with a cup of bad coffee and a newspaper.

On some level, Derek remembers the fight that landed them here, but it was a long time ago. The details are fuzzy. He doesn’t know what happened after Stiles lost consciousness, after Derek followed.

"You went down, Erica ripped the witch’s throat out, but neither of you would wake up," Boyd says, "We didn't know what to do. Deaton said to bring you here."

"It's ok," Derek says, "You did the right thing."

"It's been three months," Boyd says. He taps the dateline on the newspaper as proof.

Derek's face feels scratchy when he runs his hand over it, but he doesn't have a beard. They'd shaved Peter regularly, the nurses at Beacon’s Crossing. Cut his hair. It was standard practice for residents. Derek had always thought it was creepy, but he appreciates it now.

(Stiles pumps his fist in the air, nearly knocking his laptop off the arm of the couch. He says, “Ha! You’re so totally wrong, he slipped and hit his head during a snow-storm. He didn’t die of a heart attack. I was right, you were wrong.”

Derek says, “Fine. You win.”

Stiles says, “It’s a good thing you’re pretty.”)

Stiles glances up at him, scratching at the Band-Aid on the back of his hand. He says, “I heard you ripped yourself out like Neo in the Matrix.”

“No,” Derek says. Whatever Isaac told him is probably more impressive than how it actually happened.

Stiles rolls his eyes, says, “Always gotta be the badass.”

Stiles' hair isn’t long, but it’s longer than he usually keeps it. Derek can’t stop looking at it, it looks wrong.

"The nurses, uh, thought it was cute like this. I don't like it," Stiles says, tugging on a lock behind his ear.

Derek says, "I can-" He stops himself. He forgot that he doesn't own clippers.

Stiles exhales noisily, says, "Jesus Christ this is weird. This is so fucked up."

It really is. Derek wants, badly, to reach out and touch Stiles, something that was second nature yesterday, and now seems wildly inappropriate.

"I don't know what to do with you,” Stiles says, “You're both, you know, the guy who tried to kill Lydia and the guy who put me on his Costco membership."

Derek breathes, tries not to think too hard about anything. “It was a spell,” he says, "It wasn't real."

"You think I don't know that?" Stiles says, "Fuck, I still have to finish high school."

(Stiles had been ecstatic after he'd gotten his bachelor's degree, spent hours bouncing on his heels, and shouting "Magna cum laude, bitches!" at anyone who would listen. When Derek had said, “Well someone in this family had to be good at something,” Stiles had leered at him, said, “You're good at lots of things." Then he'd thrown up on Derek's shoes.)

Derek says, "You were valedictorian last time, you'll do fine."

Stiles half-smiles. "Great," he says, "Now I have to live up to myself."

(Derek says, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Stiles says, “When it comes to nondeterminism, I promise I don’t know what I’m talking about, either.” Stiles rolls his eyes, gestures to the book on his lap. “But I have to get at least an 87 on this test.”

If he gets straight As this semester, he gets new tires for the jeep. The sheriff’s idea. It’s been a surprisingly effective motivator.

“Ok,” Derek says, “Then tell me again about the-” Derek looks down at the chicken-scratch notes in his hand, says, “The Cook-Levin theorem.”)

Ms. McCall comes back through on her rounds. She doesn’t look surprised to find Derek there, just sighs and takes Stiles’ vitals down on a piece of paper.

Stiles looks up at her nervously, says, “Can we walk around? I don’t want to get, like, deep vein thrombosis.”

Ms. McCall rolls her eyes and says, “Fine, but if the doctor sees you out of bed, it was your idea.”

Stiles takes his first few steps like Bambi on the ice, but he gets better at it quickly. He’s always been stronger than he looks.

“I used to think, like, all the time, ‘How did I get so lucky?’” Stiles says after a while, looking anywhere but at Derek directly. “I didn't think the answer would be evil witches."

Derek says, "No one expects evil witches." His tone is off; it's not really funny anyway.

"You’re the best thing that ever happened to me,” Stiles says, suddenly.

Derek says, "I'm not-"

Stiles waits for him to finish, but Derek isn’t sure what he’s trying to say. Stiles isn’t talking about Derek – not the Derek Hale who’s walking through the long term care ward of Beacon Hills General, the alpha of the Hale pack. The person he’s talking about wasn’t a werewolf, hadn’t spent the majority of his adult life making the wrong decision.

Derek says, "I'm not the best thing that happened to anyone."

Stiles is looking at him, calculating. He says, "No, I guess not."

"They weren't-" Derek starts, doesn't know how to finish, ends up muttering, "We're not them."

"Yeah," Stiles says. Derek knows that voice; usually he'd reach out, pull Stiles in. But. Seventeen. Nothing about this makes any God damn sense.

"Maybe we should try to… forget," Derek says, “We should forget.”

Stiles stop walking, looks down, scuffs his toe against the hospital linoleum, and Derek has lost any right he once had to try and interpret that gesture.

“Probably,” Stiles says.

(Stiles does a thing a lot where he switches words or just says the wrong one. Month instead of year, tiger instead of lion, foot instead of shoe; small things. Derek doesn’t usually notice, but Stiles gets frustrated and some things make it worse: stress, caffeine, lack of sleep.

It takes him four tries to get through an explanation of the build problems they’ve been seeing at work and finally he gives up and says, “Fuck it, it doesn’t matter anyway.” He mumbles to himself, “I hate my stupid broken brain.”

Derek wasn’t really paying attention, but he says, “I like your broken brain.” Stiles isn’t always coherent, but he’s never boring. Derek likes that, always has, he thought Stiles knew that.

Stiles goes 100% still, mouth hanging open. He says, “You-”

“I what?”

“Nothing, never mind,” he says, but his face is flushed, cheeks pink. It was obviously something.)

They run a battery of tests on Derek, on Stiles. Cognition. Blood work. Urinalysis. The doctors didn't know what was wrong with them before, they don't know what's right with them now.

Half the town comes by at one point or another: Derek's pack, most of the Sheriff's department, Lydia, the entire high school lacrosse team. An endless parade of people who were worried, who bring flowers and casseroles.

Stiles looks at Scott, asks, "Allison?"

"She's home with strep," Scott says, "I've been over there, like, a bunch of times, but we thought it wouldn't be a good idea for her to come here."

Stiles makes a sympathetic face, says, "I had that a couple years ago, it sucked."

(Stiles was miserable the whole time he was sick. He didn't like being alone, but his skin was over-sensitive and he didn't want Derek touching him either. Derek had spent a week saying, "It'll get better, you should get some rest, I'll bring you more ginger ale," and carefully not laying his hand on Stiles face, his shoulder, the back of his neck. It had been hard on both of them.)

Scott looks confused. He says, "You've never had strep throat."

Stiles won't meet Derek's eyes. "You're right," he says, "Ignore me, I don't know what I was thinking."

(“How have you never had a cold before?” Stiles asks, shaking out the thermometer.  “How is that possible?”

“I don’t know,” Derek says.  His voice sounds weird.  He says, “I just don’t remember ever having one as a kid.”

“Well,” Stiles says, “I’ll make you chicken noodle soup.  Family recipe.  Family recipe plus kale, kale is good for you, we should eat more kale.”)

The hospital discharges them in the morning, Stiles looks at Derek like he wants to say something the whole time, but he lets his father pack him quietly into the back of a patrol car.

Erica picks Derek up in a Lexus SUV that he doesn't recognize.

She asks, "Did you miss me?"

(They hadn't lived completely in a bubble; they'd had friends. Stiles did Geeks Who Drink Wednesday nights, Derek went to happy hours with coworkers, but they’d lived cut off from Stiles' high school friends, Derek's pack. Stiles had remembered Lydia a little, Scott a little less. Anyone that would have made them remember or see the wrongness of the situation had been edited out, surgically removed. In order to miss her, Derek would have had to have been aware of her existence. He missed her, anyway.)

"Yes," he says.

"Good," she says, "Because I missed the shit out of you." She pops her gum and smirks and Derek is glad to be awake, for once.

“You’re smiling,” she says, “It’s freaking me out.”

“Get used to it,” Derek says, scowling.

Erica laughs, says, “Now that’s the alpha I know.”

(Derek says, “You don’t have to – you say it every time. It’s like you think you have to.”

"I don't know," Stiles says, "It's a habit."

Derek says, "It's a weird habit."

"Fine. It's a weird habit. You've got me,” Stiles says. He shrugs. “But I yelled at my mom before I left the hospital once and I woke up in the middle of the night terrified it would be the last thing I ever said to her. I made my dad drive me back at like three A.M. so I could see her. What If I get hit by a bus? What if the last thing I ever said to you was, I don’t know, ‘pick up some more ice?’ That would fucking suck, man.")

Derek has an apartment, comes home to a neat stack of grocery circulars, junk mail, water and electric bills all marked 'PAID' in Boyd’s neat, blocky penmanship. His plants have been watered and the basil on the kitchen sink is getting big enough that it should probably be re-potted.

(Stiles couldn’t keep a cactus alive. Derek had to travel for a month-long work project in Lakewood, Florida and when he came back Stiles looked guilty and said, “Please tell me you didn’t have a lot of emotional attachment to that rubber plant.”)

He doesn’t go into the bedroom because he knows that it’ll be clean, tidy: no crumpled receipts on the nightstand, no ancient, ugly afghan draped haphazardly on the bed, no pile of dirty laundry shoved into the corner.

He falls asleep on the couch.

"I don't think anything is real," Stiles says.

Derek wants to think he's crazy, it'd be easier to understand that way.

Derek says, "You seem pretty real to me."

Stiles smiles, picks up Derek's hand and presses a small kiss against Derek's knuckles.

"Yeah," he says, "But everything else…"

Derek says, "Yeah."

He spent all day watching his coworkers. They never did a single unexpected thing. It was like watching a video on repeat. A loop.

Stiles shows up on his doorstep the next day, backpack slung over one shoulder. He says, “Can I come in?”

It's a bad idea.

Derek shrugs, says, “Knock yourself out.”

Stiles helps himself to a bottle of mineral water from the fridge.

“What you doin’?” he asks.

Derek says, “Peter thinks it’s a good idea if we set up a file server.” What he’d actually said was something about putting his supernatural reference materials in 'the cloud;' it had made Derek’s eye twitch.

Stiles stares over Derek's shoulder at the command prompt while Derek types. Derek can't understand why Stiles is interested, it's boring even to Derek.

"Before," Stiles says, "I would never have guessed you knew Linux."

Derek sighs, pushes a hand through his hair in frustration. He says, "I don't know where you got this idea where I've been living in the woods my whole life. I went to-"

"CUNY, I know, I remember. I was listening," Stiles says.

(Derek's CIS degree was an old argument, no, not an argument. More like a running joke. Stiles said, "Have you tried turning it off and on again?" in a British accent a lot. Stiles thought he was hot shit because he had a 'real' CS degree, but that just meant that they both got bull-headed and snippy trying to troubleshoot problems with the printer, the router, Stiles' phone: constantly grabbing back and forth, hissing, "No, no, that's a stupid idea, let me try.")

Stiles kind of starts laughing, says, "You hate Macs! Oh God, I thought, you know, you always looked like Peter's laptop was going to bite you - I didn't know it was because of your weird Steve Jobs issues."

Derek rolls his eyes, says, "I don't have Steve Jobs issues-"

Stiles is full-on laughing now, silent, his shoulders heaving.

"I just don't know what he has against buttons. I can't do everything using a damn spinning wheel," Derek finishes. Stiles wipes tears away from the corner of his eyes. His face is red, blotchy, but he looks. Derek hasn't seen him really smile since they woke up.

Stiles says, "Never fucking change, man."

Stiles' heartbeat is fast, tripping over itself, though Derek doesn't understand why. He hitches his backpack strap higher, says, "Yeah, I'm gonna, um, I'm gonna head out."

After he's gone, Derek doesn’t know why he came by in the first place.

(Stiles always does his taxes on April 14th, has filed for an extension twice in the last five years, but Derek likes to get it over with as soon as he gets his W-2s.

He's halfway through itemizing his charitable donations when Stiles sits down too close, makes large gestures opening his laptop, settling into the couch. He types obnoxiously loud and Derek finally looks over at him, exasperated.

“What the hell are you-” Derek starts, confused. “Why are you googling ‘mariachi pants?’”

Stiles cracks up laughing, bent nearly in half. He says, in short, hiccupy pants, “Just to see your face.”

Derek rolls his eyes, shoves Stiles off the couch.)

Stiles comes by again the next day, too. He says, “Can I hang out here? Scott and Allison are doing a thing.”

“Fine,” Derek says. He shouldn’t be encouraging this, but he doesn’t actually want Stiles to leave.

For a long time they don’t even talk. Stiles does his homework, fucks around on Derek’s wi-fi while Derek watches college football. Penn State beats Illinois; it’s not a very interesting game.

Derek switches off the TV and when the silence gets uncomfortable, Stiles says, “It's weird being a virgin again.” This is something Derek has actively tried not to think about. “Or, I mean, I don't think it counts - I'm not unsullied. I've been sullied. Thoroughly."

"Stiles," Derek says, in the tone of voice where Stiles is synonymous with stop.

"Ok and this is the part where you say it wasn't real. Let's skip it, I'm tired,” Stiles says, waves his hand between them. “Do you remember who won the World Series in 2013? I could put a bet on it now, like in Back to the Future II."

Derek sighs. He says, “We didn’t time travel, it doesn’t work like that.”

The oven timer goes off, a reminder he set earlier, before Stiles came over. He was supposed to do something.

Stiles says, "Laundry.”

Derek looks at Stiles, confused, and Stiles says, "It's Saturday." He shrugs.

Derek, yeah, he has to go down to the basement, move his clothes into the drier. He never remembers, once left a load of t-shirts in a washing machine long enough that they started to smell sour.

Stiles says, “Don’t forget a drier sheet. And quarters! They’re in the closet by the door.”

(The Mets won the World Series in 2013. They won it every year. He should have taken that as a sign; the Mets are terrible.)

(“I thought you had it,” Stiles says.

“No, I don’t. You always remind me to grab it and you didn’t this time, so I forgot,” Derek says.

“How are you making this my fault?” Stiles asks. He looks sideways at Derek, disbelieving, angry. He says, “It’s in no way my fault that you have a shitty memory.”

Derek says, “You’re better in the mornings than I am, we both know that.”

“I have bad days sometimes, I was up too late last night, I thought you’d remember.”

Derek says, “It’s not important, I don’t want to fight about this.”

Stiles looks like he has more to say, but he lets it go. It’s fine.)

Derek doesn’t check who it is when there’s a knock on the door. Stiles doesn’t bother to ask permission to come inside, says instead, "Mrs. Mayes from downstairs was our sub in Econ today. I almost hugged her. It was awful."

Derek knows logically that the witch built what she did from their combined subconscious, but it's unnerving when he runs into people he recognizes – Anthony from work; Mona, Stiles' friend from his trivia team; Jose the remarkably nosy pharmacist. They're not the people Derek knows; she just borrowed their faces, their voices, how they walked.

Derek says, "It will get easier."

Stiles quirks an eyebrow at him, says, "You sure about that?"

It has to.

"You could always move after you graduate,” Derek says, “Somewhere you haven’t been before.”

"Did she make up Chez Panisse?" Stiles asks, "Or is it gonna really be there?"

Derek clears his throat. "It's real. I ate there a long time ago."

Stiles pumps a fist in the air. He says, "See? You can go home again."

(They went there a few times – Derek’s promotion, Stiles’ graduation, after Mona had the baby – it was too expensive to make a habit of it, but Stiles had liked it. Talked about it. They met Alice Waters at a book signing once and Stiles almost knocked over a display of decorative teacups.)

Stiles says, quietly, "I only applied to Berkeley."

Scott is going to the local community college, Isaac too. Erica applied to UCLA, Riverside, Davis, most of California and Boyd's going where she's going. Jackson and Lydia are taking their melodrama to the east coast and Derek will be glad to see the back of them, honestly. Derek didn’t want to ask what Stiles’ plans were.

"What?" Stiles says, indignant under Derek’s scrutiny. He says, "I already know my way around the campus."

Derek doesn't say what a bad idea it is. It's not like Stiles listens to him anyway.

(Stiles shoves a couple files into a backpack, pours coffee into a travel mug, and says to himself, "I love my job. I love my job. I love my-"

Derek glares and mutters, "You could try loving it less."

Stiles makes a pinched face but doesn't say anything. They have this fight all the time, he knows how Derek feels.

Stiles perches on the arm of the couch, Derek attempts to be very invested in the NFL pregame show he's nominally watching. The 49ers are going to be good this year, apparently. They drafted that running back from Cal , Derek had liked watching him play last year.

"We can try that place you were talking about tonight,” Stiles says, and Derek can tell he’s stalling, he won’t leave if Derek is actively mad at him. “Um. The one with the Vietnamese sandwiches?”

"Sure," Derek says. He turns away from the TV, those guys are idiots anyway. He says, "Go on, go, it’s fine. Try not to stay too late."

Stiles brightens. He says, "Text me if Kaepernick throws an interception - I have the Seahawks’ defense." He smiles and kisses Derek goodbye and says, "I love you," and leaves.

The 49ers win easily, 31-10. The Seahawks' defense sucks.)

Derek isn’t thinking, answers the door shirtless – he’d been doing pull-ups, sweating – and he’s overwhelmed by the smell of Stiles, the strong odor of want.

(They'd had - Stiles called it married sex. Derek went to bed early most nights, Stiles worked all hours and came home tired. It wasn't urgent or all the time - not like when Stiles was nineteen and wanted to try everything twice.)

Stiles, seventeen-year-old Stiles smells eager, ready, good-to-go every time he's around Derek. The rest of the pack politely ignores it, but it's harder for Derek. Before, he'd had dulled, human senses. He only knew Stiles wanted him because Stiles told him, curved his body into Derek's hands. He doesn't do that now, but it's worse this way, hearing his heart beating fast, catching his scent on Isaac's lacrosse uniform.

Stiles looks embarrassed, says, "I'm sorry. You look, I mean, you know what you look like." He doesn’t ask to come inside.

(“Is that your-” Anthony asks.

Derek looks up, Stiles is parallel parked outside of the bar, sitting against the hood of the jeep, kicking his feet. He looks twelve, not twenty.

“Yeah,” Derek says.

Anthony says, “I pictured something different.” Derek glances over at him. “I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.”

Stiles always says he’s unconventionally handsome, that it’s his winning personality that brings all the boys to the yard, but Derek just sees Stiles.

“Hey drunky,” Stiles calls out and Anthony cracks up laughing. Stiles asks, “Need a ride?”)

Stiles turns eighteen and Derek isn’t very surprised when he shows up drunk at Derek’s door.

"So," Stiles says, "So this is kind of bullshit. I'm in love with you. Why are you pretending it didn't happen?"

(Stiles smells like lime juice and tequila. He smells like the trip they took to Mexico in December of 2016, the one where Derek got food poisoning and Stiles called him a dumbass for ordering ceviche in the first place.)

"Because it didn't," Derek says. It's pretty much that simple. "You're not in love with me."

Stiles was in love with a normal guy, a sysadmin at a medium-sized tech company who spent too much time on Reddit. That guy had never hurt anyone, never had blood or ash or graveyard dirt on his hands.

Derek says, "You have to let him go."  He says, “Go home, Stiles.”

The look Stiles gives him is familiar: angry and stubborn. He says, "Fine."

(“You order stupid mixed drinks all the time,” Derek says.

Stiles rolls his eyes, says, “I have like, one every three months.”

Derek frowns, that doesn’t sound right. “You used to have them all the time,” he says, “You have them every time we go out.”

“I have them when we go to nice places,” Stiles says, “Which we don’t do anymore. Remember when you used to try and impress me?”

“Never happened.”

Stiles smiles, leans into him, laughs, the corners of his eyes crinkling, slightly. He takes a sip of his drink – Wild Turkey on the rocks, nothing Derek can make fun of – and raises an eyebrow in challenge.

Derek’s breath catches in his throat; he has to look away.)

“This is really good,” Erica says, “Where’d you get the recipe?”

Derek looks down at his hands, away from her.

Erica swallows loudly, says, “Never mind.”

(Contrary to popular belief, Derek did cook.  He grilled a couple bison steaks every Wednesday, roasted Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes.  He just didn’t like to make the elaborate, twelve-ingredient, soak overnight kind of recipes Stiles liked.)

Isaac helps with the dishes, and then Boyd and Isaac leave. Boyd’s shift at the ice rink starts at seven, Isaac has plans that make him shy, embarrassed. Erica hangs back, puts her hand inside the crook of Derek’s elbow to make him stand still.

“He's not like, seeing anybody," Erica says, "He doesn't even flirt." She sounds disappointed.

Derek says, "Why are you telling me this."

Erica says, "Don't you miss him?"

"I see him all the time."

She looks at him, pitying.

When he chose her it was in part because she'd seemed mature, older than her years. Strong. Determined. Things that make her a good werewolf, a good friend, make her unpredictable and stubborn. He should have picked someone dumber, easier to control. But that's what Peter had thought about Scott and look where that got him.

She says, "You know him. You know he'll wait forever."

"He's waiting for someone that doesn't exist."

Erica says, "No, dumbass, he's waiting for you."

Same thing.

It almost doesn't matter if Derek thinks something's wrong too. He knows that once Stiles gets an idea in his head, he's going to run with it until he runs out of road. Derek can tell already that Stiles' mind is made up, so either Derek goes with him or Stiles goes it alone and Derek can't let that happen.

"I haven't seen a good movie since the last Batman," Stiles says, "I mean that. I haven't seen a movie in years that I didn't think, 'I could have written that myself.'"

Derek nods. Fashion trends haven't changed much. Food trucks are popular. People at work still talk about craft beer, mixology. All the trivial shit that Derek never bothered to pay attention to, to care about, it hasn't changed. He keeps upgrading the servers at work to new versions of Red Hat, Weblogic, Java, but there hasn't been a new breakthrough tech since Twitter. The more Derek picks at the seams, the more it starts to unravel.

“It’s like a dream,” Stiles says, "We need to wake up."

They could stay. It's not terrible here.

"Yes," Derek says, "I think we do."

Stiles says, "I have an idea." He says, "I think-"

Derek interrupts, says, "I've seen Inception. I can see where this is going."

Stiles hiccups a sick laugh, says, "Please don't remind me about your thing for Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Oh God."

When Derek is hit with unexpected memories at odd times, it's always the good things. The first time Stiles got really, really drunk on whiskey cocktails and they’d fucked, uninhibited, Stiles pulling his hair so hard it hurt. Leaving a catered, black-tie event and Stiles saying, "Damn, I'm hungry, want to get Wendy's?" Sprinting through the bitter fucking cold, laughing, to get to the library right before they locked the doors, Stiles' sad eyes charming the student assistant into letting them in.

But it wasn't perfect. They fought, sometimes. Derek hated Stiles' job, how much time it took, how they didn't respect him there. Derek got sick of being the only who ever put gas in the car, got the tires rotated, the oil changed. Stiles didn't like that Derek's wasn't better at saying important things; said, more than once, "You make me feel like I'm alone in this," and Derek never knew what to do when he got like that, usually he didn't say anything, just felt angry and helpless.

Derek doesn't ask where the gun came from. Probably Stiles' dad, probably without permission. Illegal firearms possession is, at this point, the least of their problems.

Stiles says, "Dude, you're way too fucking zen about this."

"Don't call me dude," Derek says, automatic. He says, "I feel like this isn't that bad, that we've seen worse. Don't you?”

"Yeah," Stiles says, "And that's what's freaking me out." Stiles looks pensive. He says, "What if we're, I don't know, serial killers. Mass murders. Slobodan Milosevic. Worse. Do we want to know?"

Derek says, "You're not a mass murderer, Stiles. You break for rabbits."

Stiles snorts, rolls his eyes. He says, "What if we don't know each other? What if we don't like each other? We've got a good thing going here."

This is the part in the movie where the hero says, "I’ll find you," or, "Every me loves every you, no matter what." Derek doesn't say anything. Stiles knows how he feels about him.

Stiles stares down at the gun for a while, looks up at Derek over the kitchen island.

"Why does this feel so damn familiar?" He asks, eyes wide. Scared. "Maybe we shouldn't do this, if this is the kind of thing we're used to."

Derek asks, "Do you want to spend the rest of your life not knowing what's real?"

Stiles shakes his head. He says, "Ok. Ok. I'll do it. I'll do it."

Stiles picks up the gun and stares at it. It looks heavy, large in his inexpert grip. Derek is grateful he volunteered.

Stiles looks up, meets Derek's eyes.

"Look, honestly, I don't think I can do this," he says. Derek lays one hand against his chest, high up where his collarbone meets the start of his neck.

Derek says, "Yes, you can."

Stiles is strong enough for the both of them. Derek knows this, even though he knows nothing else, anymore.

"I'll be right there,” Stiles says, “I love you."

Derek wakes up.

Derek comes out of the bathroom and Stiles is sitting on the couch, staring down at his hands. He wasn’t there when Derek went into the bathroom, usually he calls or knocks on the door; he’s never just let himself in.

"What are you-"

Stiles says, "You left your keys in the door."

"I - what?"

Stiles holds up his hand, Derek's house-keys dangling, hooked around his middle finger. The keychain is a Chinese fish, Erica's idea, bright orange and blue. She'd said, "Maybe if you can see it from space you won't forget so much." But it hadn't worked. Obviously.

"You did it all the time. It used to drive me crazy. I came here because, you know what, I don't remember. It doesn't matter. We weren't different people. I saw your keys and I thought, 'Ugh, again? He's gonna get us killed.' Just like I did when you did it last month."

Stiles sighs, runs a hand over his newly-buzzed hair.

He says again, "We weren't different people."

Whatever restraint has been keeping him calm, quiet snaps.

"And this," he says, jumping to his feet and grabbing an empty bottle off the counter. "The recycling bin is literally two feet away. It's actually more work to put it in the wrong place, but you do it anyway!"

Derek really doesn't know what's happening right now.

"You lectured me all the time about putting my shit away, but I was always the one who hung up your jacket so you'd find it in the morning. I bet you can never remember where you left it anymore." Stiles chucks the bottle into the bin and throws his hands up. Derek can see his leather jacket where he threw it over a chair last night. He'd spent 10 minutes looking for it yesterday before finding it in the backseat of the Camaro.

"Stiles, what are you-"

Stiles makes an impatient noise, lurches forward and kisses Derek. How they got from Stiles enumerating Derek's shitty habits to this? Derek is lost. But, Jesus, Stiles. He can't help but kiss back, it's almost automatic.

"See?" Stiles says, lips brushing against Derek's mouth as he talks, "You do that the same, too."

"What are you-” Derek starts, cuts off, frustrated, confused. He says, “Stiles, we talked about this. It wasn't real."

"The situation wasn't real," Stiles clarifies. He looks really meaningfully into Derek's eyes before pressing Derek's keys into his hands. "The people we were when we were in that situation? That was real. That was us. And I was thinking, you know, if the bad things about you are still exactly the same, if the shit that drove me crazy is 100% pure, unadulterated Derek fucking Hale, then why not the good stuff, too?"

Derek says, "I’m not-"

“Yes, you are,” Stiles says. He sounds so sure about it. “I know you.”

Derek looks down at their hands joined over the stupid-bright fish keychain.

"Oh," he says.

"Yeah, oh," Stiles says, mocking, but he's smiling. "You are such a fucking dumbass, but I have a wealth of compelling evidence that you and me could be really good together. Wanna give it a shot?"

Derek is getting really sick of looking for his keys, his jacket. He's getting really sick of not finding Stiles where he's supposed to be, either.

Derek says, “Sure.”