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once and again

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The problem with the multiverse, is that there are infinite possibilities. Stiles is tired. He’s been at this for a long, long time. It took years to master the power to traverse universes, and Stiles is putting a lot of faith in that he’ll find Derek again– a year of his life per shot, as is. 

And Stiles does find Derek. His first universe travel attempt; he finds Derek as a history professor at UC Berkeley who listens to Stiles’ story with an understanding nod. He hugs Stiles back, laughs when Stiles makes fun of the elbow patches on his suit jacket. 

“So you’ll come back with me? I love you. I miss you, so much,” Stiles says. 

“I love you too, Stiles. Sorry, I–” and Derek’s cell phone is ringing. He turns the screen towards Stiles with a sheepish smile, and Stiles looks at his own face on the caller ID. “I have to get home– you– er, my Stiles just finished making dinner, I’m pretty sure. I hope you find your Derek.” 

The next universe Derek works in a coffeeshop, and mistakes Stiles for– you guessed it– Stiles. Apparently he’s been working up the courage to ask Stiles out, and Stiles’ heart flutters and he remembers everything he’s ever loved about Derek. And then his heart breaks again, but he can’t– he can’t do this tohimself. He leaves. 

In one universe, Derek’s a movie star, happily wedded to– Stiles. They were celebrating their fifth anniversary when Stiles showed up in a blaze of crackling light, and well– he stayed for a few hours in that universe at their enthusiastic invitation, until he started to feel like a third wheel. 

And so it goes. Everytime Stiles breaks through another wall to go to a new universe, it costs him another year of his life. It’s the price of the magic– he doesn’t think the original creator of the spell expected anyone to use it more than once. 

Sometimes the universe has magic, sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes Derek is a werewolf and sometimes he isn’t; but in every universe that he finds a Derek, there’s also a Stiles. Either they’re already together or about to be together and sometimes Stiles does a bit of matchmaking and helps it along.

Stiles forgets how long he’s been doing this; his reflection looks the same but he feels centuries older. This is the last time, he thinks to himself. He stopped keeping count of how many times he’s jumped universes, but knows if he stayed in one spot he should have a good forty or fifty years to live. He’s not the foolhardy twenty five year old he was when he started this journey, when he would just burn through his life’s magic like it was nothing. His heart tells him another jump would be sure to kill him. It’s this universe or nothing.

The spell spits him out on some sunny beach. There’s a cottage, a cute thing on the edge of the bluffs, and Stiles can see someone diligently working away in the garden. The wind carries with it the scent of salt and the churning rhythm of the waves is soothing; the kind of place Stiles once talked about living with his Derek.

His heart aches. He’s so, so tired. 

Stiles sees Derek first; he’s older here, graying at the temples but no less handsome, pulling weeds. He exhales, wipes his brow and looks up.

He’s wearing a wedding ring.

Stiles’ heart sinks. 

Derek’s eyes meet his, and something new and strange happens; not once has Derek’s eyes ever widened like they are now, and then Derek stutters out in disbelief, “Stiles?”

“Yeah, it’s me,” Stiles says, throwing his usual I-just-arrived-from-another-universe speech out the window and trying something else. “I’m not from here, though. Just… passing through. Wanted to say hi.”

“I’m dreaming,” Derek announces, mostly to himself. “This is…” he looks around, but there’s no one behind them, nothing but the sea. “Stiles?” he asks again, a little helplessly. “How…?”

“Magic,” Stiles says, wiggling his fingers a little and willing a bit of light to spark and glow. “I’m from another universe. Kind of doing the rounds.” 

Derek swallows. “Oh.”

It takes a minute or so to get Derek situated– as it usually does in universes that don’t have magic in them. Derek is a retired author here, eking out a quiet seaside existence. He invites Stiles into the cottage and brews him a cup of tea. 

Stiles sits down at the sturdy table and smiles; the view out the window is lovely, as is the view inside, the lines of Derek’s broad back showing through his tank top. Derek puts honey and lemon in the tea, just like how Stiles likes it. 

They talk for a bit, about the differences in their universes, and Stiles can see the photos of married life between him and Derek here– they’re well traveled. Happy. They have two children, both in college right now. Derek shows Stiles pictures, and Stiles gazes longingly at the family photo, the twins in their high school graduation gown. A boy and a girl. He and his Derek didn’t even have the chance to settle down and raise children together.

Stiles sets down his cup of tea and stands up. “I should get going,” he says. “But thank you for the tea and the talk. It’s always good seeing you again, Derek.”

“Do you have somewhere you need to be? A magical quest or something important like that?” 

Stiles shakes his head. “No, I just–”

He can’t handle his heart breaking again. It always happens, and the longer he spends with Derek, the more he aches to love him again. And then he’ll have to leave. He always has to leave. It’s better sooner than later. 

“Your husband will be home soon, and I don’t want to intrude,” Stiles finally says. 

Derek reaches for him, takes his hand. Hesitantly curls his fingers around Stiles’ own. “My husband died six years ago,” he says quietly. “I thought it was a dream, when I saw you walking towards me earlier. I’m not entirely certain I’m still awake. It’s been–” Derek takes a deep breath. “You’re still you, you know? Just talking to you, I– it feels the same.” 

Derek shudders, exhaling with great effort, and when he blinks, a lonely tear falls down his cheek. “If you don’t have to be anywhere, would you– would you stay?”

Stiles takes a deep breath and steps forward, brushing away Derek’s tears. “I will stay for as long as you’ll have me.”