It was… well, Stiles didn’t know what it was. It floated at about eye level. It was gold, glowy, and amorphous -- sort of blobby.
Somehow, they had to figure out how to kill it. Deaton had given them some powder and seemed confident it would kill it. He seemed to know what it was, but he didn’t bother sharing with the class. But once Stiles could get close enough to throw the powder on it he wouldn’t have to learn its name.
If it would stop throwing glowy, gold balls of pain at them, that would be helpful.
Scott was darting and snarling with the rest of the pack, trying to draw the fire so Stiles could get in close enough for the killing blow, and Stiles was especially grateful for the distraction because he didn’t heal quite as fast as the rest of them. He’d already earned a burn the size of a fist on his left pectoral -- just above the heart, thanks -- and it stung. A lot.
Finally the ducking and weaving worked out and Stiles fiybd his opening. He darted in, took a deep breath, and blew the dark, chunky powder out of his hand.
Deaton forgot to mention how it would trigger a massive explosion.
When he struggled back to consciousness, his ears rang and several worried faces blinked in and out of darkness just above him.
“Stiles! Are you ok? Can you feel everything?”
Stiles took a moment to make sure he could, in fact, feel everything.
“You don’t have a twin you never told me about, do you? Like, right next to you?”
“We should take him to the hospital.” Scott sighed, his forehead creased with worry. “My mom’s going to kill me.”
Several uncomfortable tests later, Scott drove him back to their apartment from the hospital. He wasn’t concussed, but he was definitely sore from being thrown through the air and into what he was told was a very solid tree. Scott was nice enough to drive Stiles’s jeep from the godforsaken woods where evil things always happened to pop up.
Stiles thanked Scott and limped his way into his bedroom. He was surprised by a familiar, mopey figure lurking like just another dark shadow in the corner.
“Derek? Dude, you should wear neon. And reflective gear. The all-black ensemble makes you look major league creepy in the shadows.”
Derek stepped into the dim light of Stiles’s desk lamp, somehow managing to scowl at Stiles and still look slightly embarrassed.
“You’re hurt,” he said simply, his eyes darting down Stiles’s body.
“But alive,” Stiles sat heavily on his bed, “I suppose. Getting real tired of the punching bag role, though. If it weren’t for that nasty possibility of sudden and painful death, I might actually ask you guys for the bite.” That wasn’t strictly true. Most of the time he was fine with being human as long as he wasn’t the convenient, and bloody, hostage for the latest big bad.
Derek looked at him quietly for a minute before he stepped closer. He knelt by Stiles’s bed and touched his hand. Stiles was all levels of weirded out and ready to make an uncomfortable feelings joke when a warm, numb sensation spread from his arm up to each part of his injured body.
“Woah,” he whispered, a little stunned and drunk off the feeling of sudden relief and weightlessness. “Thanks, dude.”
Derek stared at him for a moment before rising back to his feet, clenching and unclenching his hand. Black veins bulged and then disappeared up his forearm.
“Does that hurt?” Stiles wondered. The initial buzz was starting to fade, but it was definitely still an improvement.
“A little,” Derek’s eyes glowed faintly red before cooling into that light color Stiles could never put his finger on. Was it green? Blue? Grey? Some combination? Was Stiles actually staring at Derek’s eyes for this long without saying anything?
“What color are your eyes?” Stiles blurted, to his own surprise. He was about to kick himself (subtly, in the shin) to try to sober up a little bit when a slight smile touched one corner of Derek’s mouth.
“Green. I think.”
“Cool. They’re, like, a great green though. I’d paint a room Hale Green. Very calming.” If Stiles didn’t shut up soon, he was going to have to claim the influence of very strong pain meds from the hospital the next time he saw Derek, and the fucker would probably sniff that lie out the moment it left his lips.
Derek lifted one eyebrow and cleared his throat softly.
“I’ll see you at the pack meeting.”
“Yeah. See you.” Stiles watched Derek walk to his window and very coolly and impossibly drop out. Stiles had never actually seen Derek do it before, he always just managed to appear and disappear, and now that he had he could say definitively that it was unfair. Stupid wolves.
“Thanks!” Stiles called, knowing Derek would hear him.
Stiles opened his eyes to an unfamiliar sight. The bed he was in was not the one he went to sleep in and definitely didn’t smell like his bed at home -- it smelled well-cleaned, for one, and also a little like those sexy, expensive perfumes Lydia might wear. That is, if she liked the spicy cologne version because it was definitely a manly smell.
Which begged the question: why was Stiles sleeping in a bed that smelled like someone else’s cologne?
Stiles slowly sat up and rubbed at his eyes, the sleep-drug-derek-pain-sucking fog clearing from his head on its own sweet time. As his eyes blinked into focus he realized his sleeping place was more familiar than he’d thought -- it was the loft.
Derek had redecorated. There were actual plants. And colorful shit, like a soft-looking maroon rug covering the span of the floor with the couch and TV, and a big impressionistic painting of the ocean on one wall.
Stiles silently screamed internally as he realized he was naked-ish. Which… was a little strange. This definitely qualified for out-loud screaming. And he wanted to do that. Sort of. There was one part of him that was definitely panicking over this weird situation that he did not remember getting into and, oh yeah, the whole nudity thing in Derek’s bed which he was so not going to be happy about if he ever found out, and then... and then… there was another totally fine side of Stiles that was still sleepy and comfortable and steering his totally fine body in the direction of the bathroom.
That, by itself, was reason for more panic.
Stiles tried to lift his hand up and touch his face, but it stayed relaxed at his side. His body checked out his reflection in the mirror, which confirmed yes, whatever weird magic was going on he was still in his body. It was just moving without his consent. He watched himself run his fingers through his crazy hair until it was all going in the same direction and squeeze some toothpaste on a toothbrush that, hey, was one of two? In the bathroom? Gross. Apparently this body stole other people’s toothbrushes.
He also watched himself try to sing Aerosmith around his toothbrush, which, admittedly he probably would have done anyway if he wasn’t freaking out.
The shower felt both normal and bizarre, like the hands cleaning him were both his and someone else’s. Afterwards, he actually stole Derek’s weirdly fitting clothes out of a dresser by the bed, all while acting like it was no big deal to just rummage around in Derek’s clothing. Even clothing such as his underwear.
God, he was dead when this was fixed.
Which, now that Stiles had the time to finish panicking and start trying to figure out what was actually going on, it wasn’t a hop, skip, and a jump to land on the glowy ball of doom that exploded all over him and its unknown powers. Still, all Stiles could conclusively determine was that something screwy was going on and it involved him and possibly Derek and, tragically, his taste in decorating his apartment.
It was a good thing that his body was done eating breakfast, which also came from Derek’s fridge good lord , and getting ready to head out of the apartment. Or not good. He’d have to just see what this body was up to and pray he wasn’t about to go off and murder someone for some satanic ritual or whatever bodysnatchers did these days.
Turns out he drove a slightly upgraded version of his jeep to… the library. Which was an incredibly boring choice for an evil bodysnatcher. Not that libraries were boring -- Stiles loved a good library more than he loved most other things -- just that they fell far short of his murdering serial killer fears. Thank god.
He parked in staff parking and entered through the back with a key. And said hi to several people in the back. And then. Like. Entered his work time into the front desk computer.
And then started… shelving books.
What the fuck kind of magic even was this? And where was the dark, nefarious purpose that inevitably popped up whenever something of this creepiness level happened in his life? Nogistune fears had been quietly growing in the back of his mind, but now he was really nervous. And Stiles wasn’t convinced. He was going to do something evil. Eventually. Maybe during his lunch break.
By the time his lunch break rolled around and no one died, Stiles had a working hypothesis that calmed him somewhat: prescience. Whatever whammy the golden blob had put on him had catapulted his mind into the future where he was subletting Derek’s loft (definitely subletting rather than renting, as he would have a lot more comic book paraphernalia lying around if he really lived there), somehow gotten a job as a librarian (despite his degree in criminal justice), and really liked eating sprouts on his salad. That part he really couldn’t understand, but his body wouldn’t lie to him -- it enjoyed the sprouts, even if it was in a sort of grudging way.
Hoping beyond all hope that his theory was right and he wasn’t about to surprise murder someone, he relaxed somewhat into his body and started worrying about how he was going to fix this when he had no hands and no voice under his control. At this point, his best, if somewhat desperate hope, was that it would either fade off on its own or his friends would figure it out in the past and rescue him from this thankfully benign future body trap.
The rest of the work day passed in a surprisingly calm and quiet fashion. He only helped one teenager find Twilight, and a host of other people with a variety of interests -- fishing, Dostoyevsky's bibliography, some videos on the lifespan of different bugs. It was actually kind of fun. He did love research, after all, especially when it wasn’t under life-or-death circumstances.
The only other thing that really stayed in his mind was the two toothbrushes. He didn’t think he would just keep an extra toothbrush lying around, which meant that he was in an at least semi-serious relationship with… someone. Or, somewhat more realistically, he had a roommate -- though he hadn’t seen another bed. Maybe it was Scott crashing with him while he moved or something. They might share a bed under such circumstances. And a bed like that was nice and big, very Derek-esque.
By the time he headed home in his slightly less crappy jeep he wasn’t as horribly worried about fixing this problem as he had been around lunch. His dad called just as he was pulling into the parking lot near the loft.
“Yo, dad.” Stiles grinned into the phone. “How’s the back feeling?”
“A little better. Think you could pick me up a couple of steaks?” The familiar hopeful note in his dad’s voice warmed Stiles considerably.
“I will bring you salad,” future Stiles said firmly. Present Stiles agreed wholeheartedly. He heard his father sigh through the line.
“I thought you loved me.”
“It’s a complicated feeling.”
“Fine, salad. If I wasn’t completely paralyzed on a couch, though…”
“Melissa brought you lunch today, right? You should have called me if you were hungry,” Stiles accused as present Stiles freaked out. Paralyzed? That better be an over dramatization.
“She took good care of me. She’s just at work.”
“Right, night shift today. I’ll be there in a few minutes, hold tight.”
Stiles took the stairs two at a time, humming to himself as he went. He fumbled with his keys at the door, and a delicious smell hit his nose. His body moaned and Stiles definitely agreed.
“Damn, that smells good,” Stiles announced as he walked into the apartment. If Stiles had any control over his body his heart would have been racing, as whoever was cooking was obviously his roommate or romantic partner. Hopefully the latter… Stiles hadn’t been in a relationship in a while, and as weird as it was in this body, it would be nice to have that feeling again.
His expectations crashed: roommate. Though, a strange choice for roommates. Stiles definitely didn’t think his Derek in the present tolerated him well enough to live with him in the future, though Stiles did find their back and forth charming. Stiles hoped he wasn’t in for threatening or wall-slamming or whatever else, but his body didn’t feel tensed for a fight or anxious. It felt relaxed, as it had all day.
Derek was standing at the stove, flipping some pasta-vegetable concoction in a pan and looking very focused. He was wearing brighter colors than Stiles was used to and his hair was different, more sweepy than spiky. Stiles couldn’t recall seeing his Derek in anything but black, white, leather, and dark, broody colors.
Stiles’s body crossed the space between them and. A kiss. On Derek’s cheek. Like it was nothing?
“Ok, dad might like that,” Stiles’s body peered at the pasta while his brain froze. “And it has vegetables. Score. Can you put some in a to-go container for me? I’m going to run it over to him.”
“You want me to come with you? We could all eat there.”
“No, then he’d rope us into watching football. You know how I feel about football,” Stiles groaned. “Better to hit and run tonight. There’s that… like… world cup or whatever going on that he’s been talking about. We could be stuck there for hours.”
Derek chuckled like Stiles had gotten something wrong. He didn’t bother correcting him.
“I’ll watch it with him tonight if you want.”
Stiles’s body smiled at Derek -- a long, unabashed smile. Stiles’s brain was immediately embarrassed for his body. Derek caught his smile and smiled back, if smaller, before wrapping an arm around Stiles’s waist and reeling him in.
Stiles’s brain pretty much imploded when Derek’s lips pressed against his.
So, definitely not roommates.
Stiles’s body pulled back and patted Derek’s chest, warmth filling up his own. He was trying to figure out how he got to here with fucking Derek. He had so many questions. Also, he wasn’t gay -- his longstanding crush on Lydia was proof enough of that -- so what the hell ? Because he was so into this? His body was liquid warmth, and he was… happy. Super happy. Ridiculously. Happy. Damn it.
“Forgot you played in high school.”
“For like a semester.” Derek shrugged and shooed him away with a hand gesture, concentrating on his cooking again. Stiles’ body leaned against the island and watched.
“Still, you understand what’s going on. I just yell when dad yells.”
“That’s all you really need to do.” Derek stifled another smile. In this tiny segment of time Stiles had seen Derek smile more than he could remember in the past year.
“No, there’s questions. And witty banter. And you know my witty banter is sub-par if I’m not an expert on the subject,” Stiles pointed out to Derek’s eyeroll. “Well, don’t stay long if you’re tired. I’ll check up on him tomorrow before work.”
Derek nodded, scooping some of the pasta into a bowl and silently handing it over to Stiles with a fork. It was mouthwatering. How could Derek be such a good cook? He’d spent half his life living in burnt out houses and abandoned train cars and empty lofts. How was any of this fucking possible ?
After Derek left, Stiles’s unnervingly relaxed body settled on the couch in sweatpants and a t-shirt with a book from the library. It wasn’t long before he passed out.
When Stiles opened his eyes again, it was to his own bed, in his own apartment that he shared with Scott, smelling like it hadn’t been washed in weeks -- as it should.
He sighed in relief as he found that his fingers, toes, hands, arms, feet and legs all responded to his signals for flailing. He touched a hand to his face and then scrambled to the mirror just to be sure that, yep, he was back in the right body. Or his past body. Present. Whatever.
“Scott!” Stiles bellowed before darting from the room and running to pound on Scott’s door.
“Dude! Stop,” Scott moaned from behind the door. “It’s Saturday. Have mercy.”
“DUDE! I TIME TRAVELED LAST NIGHT!”
A few agonizing moments later, Scott’s face appeared through a crack in the door, his hair a mess and his eyes barely open. He definitely wasn’t a morning person.
“What did I tell you about eating too many of those brownies?” he yawned, blearily scowling at Stiles.
“More like the glowy blob infected me somehow,” Stiles corrected him quickly. “Seriously. This was an honest-to-god premonition. I’m almost positive.”
“Wait. Really?” Scott’s eyes cleared a little. “What the hell happened?”
“It was super boring, actually. I woke up in my body, but I couldn’t move it or anything; it was moving on its own. And I was a librarian, and I think my dad had a back injury or something, though they weren’t acting like it was serious, and…” Stiles thought about Derek kissing him. And making him dinner. Oh, yeah, and obviously living with him and definitely not in the way Scott was living with him. “And it was pretty basic and mundane, but still -- premonition!”
“A librarian? That doesn’t make any sense. Don’t you need a degree in library science to be a librarian?”
Stiles shrugged. He’d wondered the same thing.
“I don’t know, but I’m totally doing it. And in the recent future, too, because I didn’t look that old. I looked about the same.” Which meant that he and Derek were close to some mystery romantic breakthrough. What the hell? There was absolutely no foreshadowing in their relationship for that. Unless snarking counted as flirting. Which. Ok. Maybe that was as good as Stiles got to successfully flirting.
Scott didn’t look convinced.
“We should talk to Deaton right away and you should tell us everything you remember because this stuff always seems to blow up in our faces. We’ve gotta start working on it right away.”
“Yeah, you’re right. Definitely.” Stiles chewed the inside of this lip. He hadn’t thought beyond telling Scott, but dang, now he had to tell Deaton. Which made sense that they should do, but he wasn’t exactly worried about this. He woke up in his own body and he felt totally fine, and he was sort of… curious about this new ability. He was curious about this future, especially finding out more about how the hell he and Derek ended up together and so, well, happy together. Also, he was worried about his dad and his “paralysis”, and frankly he needed to find out more about that before they messed with this new ability. Maybe he could stop it if it turned out to be something serious. Hopefully Deaton didn’t have a speedy solution and Stiles would get to go back in at least one more time.
When they got to Deaton’s they waited in the lobby until he came out of his exam room with a customer who was stroking her nervous-looking cat. Stiles’s knees bounced while he waited for Deaton to charge the girl and give her a pill bottle with instructions. Finally, Deaton turned to them with slight exasperation.
“I thought I got rid of you two yesterday when we solved that... problem.”
“So, not quite.” Stiles frowned and pulled Deaton back into his exam room with Scott trailing close behind. Once the door was shut, Stiles rounded on Deaton. “You didn’t tell me that when I threw that stuff it would explode! Like, all over me! I had gold sparkly stuff on my pillow when I woke up. Also, ow.” Stiles gestured wildly. “I had to get checked for a freaking concussion. What I’m saying is, a little heads up would have been nice.”
“It exploded on you?” Deaton combed his eyes over Stiles’s body. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize. That’s why you’re limping?”
“Oh, it’s way more than that,” Stiles gestured at his head, “I’ve got, like, prescient abilities now. I dreamt the technicolor, boring future last night. And it was weird. I’m a librarian.”
“The future?” Deaton narrowed his eyes further, one of his few expressions of interest. He wasn’t really a guy who gave a lot away in his face, Stiles had noticed. “You’re sure it was the future?”
“What?” Stiles blinked. “I don’t know what else it could have been. I was me, in my own body and everything, I just didn’t control it. It was like I was just observing from inside my body as my future self… or other self or whatever… went through their day. And then I woke up, totally fine, this morning in this body, which I have no trouble controlling. More than I usually do, anyway. I guess things were different in this dream-thing. A lot of things were different. I mean, similar people, same town and everything, but there were differences.”
“Different how? What else?”
Stiles chewed his lower lip.
“Uh, I live with Derek,” he admitted, which had Scott staring at him in quiet betrayal.
“You didn’t mention that,” he accused. Stiles shrugged helplessly.
“Ok. What else?” Deaton asked, moving around his examination table and pulling a book from a shelf that held some of his medical supplies. Stiles recognized it from when Deaton had created that powder for them.
“Well, my jeep had all these upgrades. I don’t know how I managed that on a librarian’s salary, but whatever.” Stiles chewed his lip again, pretending like he was trying to remember more things. The biggest change was something Stiles didn’t feel like sharing yet -- especially considering how easily it could, no would , get back to Derek. “That was the noticeable stuff. I only went through one day, and it wasn’t the most eventful day. It’s not like I could ask anyone any questions or anything, I just had to walk through the motions with my body.”
Deaton eyed him a moment longer before he flipped through the book and set it on the examination table.
“A tempus intercapedo belua.”
“A... what now?” Scott squinted at him.
Deaton pointed at the page, which showed an old ink drawing of the thing they’d fought off last night.
“A time and space creature, which you hopefully defeated yesterday. It’s shown up throughout history in many different cultures, but only the ancient Romans speculated on what it actually was. Something similar happened then as what’s happening to you -- only, the person afflicted described dreaming of another version of himself in another version of this world rather than the future. It was the modern equivalent of an ‘alternate universe’.”
“Oh.” Stiles swallowed hard as a knot formed in his stomach. “Not the future, then?”
“Not if the same thing has happened to you.” Deaton paused, his eyes raking over Stiles in intense scrutiny. “This is largely beyond my field, but it is possible… you see, time and space are interconnected. Your consciousness could be traveling through time rather than space.”
Weirdly, his heart leapt. Stiles chose to ignore that reaction for the moment.
“So it could still be the future?”
“You want to be a librarian that bad?” Scott’s eyebrows twisted. Stiles laughed weakly, his gut still twisting anxiously.
“It’s certainly possible. As I said, I’m no expert in physics, but the two are interrelated. I would look for clues as to which you’re experiencing if it happens again tonight. If you are looking into the future, that could be potentially dangerous for you as well as for us. We aren’t meant to know the future -- we are meant to go into the unknown. Anything beyond that may disturb the balance of nature. From a druid’s perspective, I believe viewing an alternate universe would be... safer. Something to let run its course.”
“Ok, so what should I do? What can I do?”
“For now, we wait and see. What’s described in this book is the ‘illness’ fading away with time. If you start to notice it affecting you negatively come to me right away, but otherwise it should dissipate on its own.”
“Oh good,” Scott breathed from his side, grabbing Stiles’s shoulder in a firm grip. “I love when there’s an easy, non-fatal answer.”
As they left Deaton’s clinic, Scott fiddled with his phone before looking up at Stiles.
“Pack meeting tonight. Derek asked you to fill everyone in.”
“Of course he did,” Stiles sighed. It wasn’t like there was some giant, embarrassing secret in the middle of all this that he wanted to keep from a pack of lie detectors and, oh yeah, Derek.
Derek was just standing there -- arms crossed, eyebrows low and serious, dressed in his broody, angry colored clothes -- while Stiles babbled on about everything other than the other version of him from his dream. It was incredibly unnerving; last time he’d been around Derek, he’d been cooking him dinner and kissing him. Now, he had what Stiles could only describe as serial killer eyes.
Derek had always been hot. Stiles had never thought that hard about it until then. It was like thinking the sky was blue, or a rock was hard. A seagull would find him hot; it was a quintessential part of his being, his hotness, and it transcended gender and species and anything else. It was just… Derek. Stiles had taken it in stride, but now that he really considered it… it wasn’t the straightest thought to have every time you saw someone of the same gender.
Now that he’d had Derek pressed up against him, wanting him back, every little detail of his stupidly attractive body came screaming out at Stiles -- the hunch of his biceps as his arms flexed with movement, the perfect shape of his beard outlined in recently shaved stubble, the slim build of his hips, the cords of muscle along his neck that highlighted how he was strong enough to pick Stiles up and slam him against a wall and…
Stiles realized that he’d stopped talking mid-sentence when Derek lifted his eyebrows at him and Scott cleared his throat. Stiles tore his eyes away from Derek’s pecks. He’d been talking about… what again? Oh, he was describing his jeep and the upgrades. Right.
When Stiles finished talking, Derek grunted and then scanned the rest of the pack.
“Did anyone else experience something like that? Was anyone else standing too close when that thing exploded?”
Slowly the werewolves shook their heads no. Derek nodded before turning his eyes back on Stiles.
“I want you to check in with me every morning. I want to know what else you learn. Write it down as soon as you wake up so you don’t lose it.”
Scott looked unimpressed and like he was going to say something pointlessly argumentative, so Stiles answered quickly.
“That’s fine. Yeah, I can do that.”
“If anything goes wrong, you let me know.”
“That makes you and Deaton.” Stiles nodded. “Consider me on high alert.”
“Scott, can you also make a report on Stiles at least once a day?” Derek directed this more gently to Scott, who, despite his look of irritation, nodded. “I don’t like anything messing with your mind,” Derek growled at Stiles. He looked as intimidating as ever, eyes a faint red.
Stiles had to agree. He felt a tremor go through his body as fears of the nogitsune resurfaced. Suddenly this didn’t seem so innocent and fun.
“Yeah. It’s supposed to fade away soon.” Stiles’s hands continued to tremble as flashbacks from the nogitsune possession invaded his thoughts. He crossed his arms and tucked them close so over attentive werewolf eyes couldn’t see.
The second time Stiles woke up in Derek’s apartment, he wasn’t nearly so disoriented. His job from the pack was to take notes and observe. As law enforcement, it was a comfortable mindset for him.
The first thing he noticed as his body went through the motions of getting ready for work was how integrated his and Derek’s stuff was in the apartment. Last time he was there he’d noticed the splashes of color in the usually somber apartment, but now he looked for the details. Somehow, their two different styles meshed into something pleasing. He recognized his comic books on a small bookshelf near the bed, tucked in among martial arts books and a variety of DVDs. He also noticed his lamp, some collector’s items that were definitely his, magic cards, actual magic spell books and ancient-looking history books, and some shiny pots and pans hanging above the stove that looked cared for but well used. The kitchen had been renovated, too. Maybe their combined incomes made it possible for Stiles to have nice things like jeep upgrades and fancy pots and pans.
The paintings and photographs on the wall weren’t something Stiles could see either of them buying, though he liked them well enough. The photographs were mostly black and white with faint colors, like candid nature shots. They reminded him of the kind of photographs his mom used to take.
When his body finished dressing itself and started on breakfast, Stiles still hadn’t found any clues as to what Derek did and why he wasn’t there in the morning when Stiles woke up. He spotted several pairs of work boots that he couldn’t picture himself wearing and wondered if they were Derek’s and if he did something that required manual labor.
Work was… interesting. It was a Monday, which apparently meant that all the children in the area crammed themselves into the library to listen to storytime and play games all day. It was quite a different pace from his job at the station with his dad.
At lunch, however, he finally got a chance to see his father and confirm that his back problem was temporary.
“You’d think a strained muscle would heal faster.” Stiles plopped down on the couch with him and handed him the turkey and tomato sandwich he’d made for him that morning.
His dad glanced at him from under the heap of blankets. He looked grumpy but comfortable.
“I think the Chargers losing slowed the process considerably.”
“You didn’t injure yourself jeering did you?” Stiles chided him.
“Just my pride.”
“Good.” He nudged his father’s knee to a slight smile.
As they talked, Stiles couldn’t help but notice how his house looked different. The curtains from his childhood were still strung along the windows -- the lacy ones his mom put up. Also, part of the living room was a gym now, which, what the hell? There were more art pieces on the walls of this house, too.
“I’ll bring dinner tonight.”
“Derek coming?” his dad asked. It sounded… hopeful. Stiles felt an unexpected pang at that. So his dad liked Derek in this dream. Definitely points to the alternate universe theory.
Stiles’s body, on the other hand, laughed.
“He didn’t come home until late last night, so I’m not sure. You know he has work early in the morning.”
“But the playoffs…”
“I thought your team lost.” Stiles cocked an eyebrow.
“The Rams made it through, though.”
“Exactly, dad. He’s gotta get to sleep at a reasonable hour.”
The Sheriff huffed and frowned at him. Stiles unhelpfully patted his knee again.
“If he comes, we’re out by eight. I want your word.”
“Sure.” His dad smiled innocently at him and Stiles didn’t believe it at all. It was a pleasant, familiar feeling, reminiscent of his life outside the dream.
When he got back to the library some of the child madness had died down, but families were still meandering through the building so he had his hands full for the rest of the afternoon. He barely noticed the time passing until the announcement overhead that the library would be closing in fifteen minutes. He helped close up, and then he was in his jeep, headed back to the loft. It unnerved him to be so nervous in his head while his body was completely unfazed and unreactive to the emotion.
Whatever was waiting for him at home was new territory. He almost felt like he was violating his Derek, the one from his time or world or whatever, who had no idea what he was up to in this dream. He shook that thought off with the counterpoint that he also had no choice in this, that this experience in this body was up to the other Stiles. It absolved most of his guilt, but the fact remained that his Derek had no clue about their relationship and that was within his power to disclose.
Derek was making something with vegetables again, and Stiles realized it was probably for the benefit of his father, which was so sweet. Disgustingly sweet. Again, Stiles felt the absence of a pang in his chest he expected to accompany the conflicting emotions at the realization.
“It’s Monday, right?” Derek glanced at him, looking over his clothes. The slight smile at the edge of his lips had none of the irony and sarcasm Stiles was used to with his Derek. It was honest, sweet. Stiles noticed that Derek was wearing light colors again, a pastel yellow long sleeved t-shirt with dark green stripes. “Nobody threw up on you today?”
“A tiny miracle.” Stiles took off his coat and collapsed on the couch. “Wow, you know that feeling when you have no idea how tired you are until you sit down? I’m floating over here.” He sighed. “I don’t think I sat down once today.”
Stiles couldn’t help scoffing at his other self. His job at the police station routinely wore him out inside and out. Compared to that, he might as well have taken a bubble bath all day.
Derek smiled at him and Stiles was again struck by how easily Derek smiled in this dream place. He was so much softer than the Derek back home. There was no evidence of the hard lines of anger in his face, the rigid set of his shoulders that was so familiar to Stiles. Could their relationship really have cleared all of that from his body and heart? Was Stiles so powerful? Or was there something else that had happened to Derek here to change him like this?
Derek tossed a dish towel over his shoulder and walked over to the couch, crouching in front of Stiles and starting to untie one shoe.
“I can get it,” Stiles said, making no movement to help.
Derek shot him a small smile again and Stiles was startled by how young he looked minus the constant brooding. He actually looked like he was in his twenties. Strange.
He carefully gathered Stiles’s shoes and placed them next to the couch before pulling Stiles’s feet up with him onto the couch and depositing them in his lap. Then. Then he started massaging Stiles’s feet.
And Stiles started to groan. Loudly.
Again, that disjointed feeling of panicking in his head while his body grew ever more relaxed only contributed to Stiles’s growing anxiety. It was downright unnatural, this whole body-riding thing. Also, Derek had moved to massage his calves and the underside of his thighs and he was starting to feel… things. In other areas of his body. And his body was currently looking at Derek like he was feeling… things… in other areas.
When Derek noticed, he looked startled at first, then slightly amused. But definitely reciprocal.
Oh man. Oh shit.
“The food?” Stiles asked, sounding too breathless. Derek’s expression had darkened into something hungry, his hands traveling further up Stiles’s legs to rest on the tops of his thighs. Stiles had never seen that expression on him, and certainly not directed at himself.
“I should finish,” Derek admitted, looking disappointed. “But after.”
“After.” Stiles’s body grinned at him while his brain flipped into full-fledged panicking because this was exactly the kind of thing he was worried about in the car; it was the last thing he wanted to report to his Derek when he woke up in the morning. Shit. Shit shit shit.
Stiles’s body settled, completely loose, back into the couch while Stiles continued to curse in his mind.
Luckily, “after” turned out to be way after, like after they packed dinner in to-go containers and drove it to his dad’s house.
Then came the bizarre experience of watching Derek and his father actually get along -- as in, nobody arrested anyone, and instead they spent the whole evening trading jokes and high-fiving over Stiles. Derek propped his father’s head up with more pillows and adjusted the comforter, and even though his dad looked embarrassed, it was a happy embarrassed, like it was actually ok for Derek to do it. Stiles felt like he was watching a surreal movie, one that his life wasn’t allowed to stray into -- the content family life that he could barely remember from his childhood when his mom was still alive.
His dad was clearly fighting for Derek to stay, and Stiles was cheering for him in his head because this was nice and when they got home it would really be “after”, but Derek drew a firm line when they arrived: one hour of football while they ate and then they had to head home. That bastard actually smoothly stuck to it. One moment he and the Sheriff were laughing about some football thing and the next moment Derek was standing and stretching and insisting that they leave in this terribly polite way like he was actually sad to go. Somehow, magically, Stiles and Derek were out the door by 7:05 with minimal guilt.
Stiles was fine until they got to the Camaro and Derek pressed him against the door with a full-bodied, steamy kiss that caught Stiles off-guard. His body was slow to react too, grunting in surprise before sinking completely into Derek’s soft lips and stubbly chin and hands that traveled comfortably to the small of his back.
“Home. Home now,” Stiles broke off, nodding frantically and pushing Derek weakly away. Derek nipped at his neck before standing back, his expression almost playful.
Derek crossed around to the other side of the car, his eyebrows jumping in a distinctly mischievous way before he slid into the driver’s seat.
Stiles had a feeling in that moment that even though he was forced into this ride, he would have signed up for it if he had the option. He hoped he was watching his own future play out and not some other Stiles in a far-off universe.
The moment they got home, Stiles started stripping clothes off. He ripped two layers of shirts off in one go to a laugh from Derek, who stripped his own shirt off with more grace. Stiles was out of his pants in another second and then he ran and leapt on Derek. He seemed to easily catch him, though he had to pull his hands away from his fly to do it.
“Bed me,” Stiles grinned at him. Stiles mentally cringed at… what the hell was that?
“Ok. Not as sexy as you think.” Derek voiced his thoughts outloud. He took it much better than Stiles would and pressed a kiss to his lips. “Remember what we agreed? I’m responsible for dirty talk.” And... that. That was almost too much for Stiles to process. Derek? Really? Derek was the better dirty talker between the two of them? Derek?
Derek walked them over to their bed and deposited Stiles with a bounce that had Stiles laughing. Stiles immediately sat back up and distracted Derek’s efforts to unzip his fly by kissing along his nipples.
“Jesus,” Derek groaned, watching him with heat. Stiles smiled up at him innocently while simultaneously rolling one nipple between his teeth. Derek shuddered and pushed his jeans and boxers down before climbing on the bed with Stiles.
Stiles, meanwhile, had to look where his body looked -- and his body was looking, appreciating what Derek had to offer between his legs, as he crawled up over Stiles. Stiles was grateful when Derek captured his body’s attention with another kiss, pressing him down into the bed with force. His own dick was hard and throbbing in his boxers just at the sight of Derek’s heavy cock.
Stiles squirmed away to hastily unearth lube from a bedside table. Then Stiles’s body flipped Derek onto his back and climbed over Derek’s bare hips, grinding down against him with a breathless grin. Derek’s hands were touching every part of Stiles he could reach, rubbing along his thighs and then securing at his waist and urging him to grind more. Then Derek maneuvered Stiles’s boxers off and the heat of their bodies met skin and Stiles… Stiles was sure his brain was going to implode at any moment. His body was just excited, though -- excited, aroused, and ready for this to happen if the amount of lube he was pouring all over his hands was any indication.
Stiles gathered them both in hand and stroked, watching with rapture as Derek groaned and tilted his chin back. As he did, all the plains of his pale body tightened and lengthened for Stiles’s greedy eyes. Stiles leaned forward and caught another rosy nipple in his mouth as he started a rhythm with his hand on their cocks.
His body mostly watched Derek’s face, with occasional detours down his gorgeous chest to where they slid against each other. Stiles completely understood the fascination -- Derek’s expressions, the way he gasped and moaned and writhed under Stiles’s hands, were intoxicating. The knowledge that Stiles could make him lose control like this gave Stiles such a rush of exhilaration.
Before long, Stiles stopped processing and lost himself in the sensation of them moving together, pressing kisses and breathing wordless praise against each other’s skin. Stiles came watching Derek come, the sounds Derek made as he spilled between their bodies in particular tipping stiles over the edge only a few moments after him.
They lay panting in the mess for a few breathless moments. Stiles pressed his ear against Derek’s chest and listened to the pounding of his heart.
Waking up was whiplash.
One moment he was safe and comfortable and warm in Derek’s arms, the next he was shivering into consciousness and realizing he’d thrown all his bedding onto the floor sometime during the night.
He lay there taking in what felt like the first breaths of air after breaking the surface of a long, cold dive. He re-adjusted to his body by flexing his hands and sitting up against the headboard.
A heaviness settled into his chest that he hadn’t noticed before but suddenly realized had always been there. After spending so much time in someone else’s body, the flaws in his own were readily apparent; the mild ache in his temples from coffee addiction, the tension in his shoulders, the grumbling in his stomach that reminded him he’d forgotten to eat dinner the night before. Usually his dinners were quick, whatever he could put together in ten minutes after a long shift at the station. Scott worked evenings at the hospital so he was never around for dinner, which meant Stiles ate alone in front of the TV most nights. That had never bothered him before.
All the little aches and pains in this body lit up when he finally pulled himself out of bed and got dressed. They were nothing normally, just part of the life he had grown so used to, but now they felt magnified and unbearable.
Isaac was lurking in the living room, managing to look both bored and semi-concerned on his couch.
“Oh good, you’re awake.” He set his magazine down and once-over’d Stiles. “You look ok, but not what I would call… good.”
“I’m fine,” Stiles said a little sharper than he intended. “You here to report to Derek? I can just call him.”
“He wanted a… visual inspection,” Isaac admitted, looking apologetic.
“What’s Scott’s job, chopped liver?”
“Two werewolves are better than one. Scott’s got night, I’ve got morning.” He shrugged.
“Tell Derek to quit the overkill.” Stiles growled as he started the electric tea kettle and searched the cabinets for his instant coffee. “I’m fine.”
“Ok, but remember when you were possessed and it was terrible?”
“I’m fine,” Stiles snapped. Honestly, it was a good point.
Isaac sighed but didn’t fight him. He watched Stiles create his sub-par coffee without another word and Stiles was grateful for the silence. He managed to pull a neutral expression out as he turned back to Isaac and started his report.
“So, Derek and I live together.” He closed his eyes as a memory of Derek touching him surfaced quick and hot in his mind. He pushed it away and continued. “In the loft. My dad’s not paralyzed, he just strained a muscle or something. I didn’t learn anything else. Nothing about the pack, nothing about anything else. I still have no idea if it’s the future or another world.”
Isaac nodded, looking wary, and stood.
“Ok, I’ll pass it along.”
“I’m calling him next time.”
“You can tell him that yourself.” Isaac rolled his eyes. “I’m not fighting him over that.”
“I will.” Stiles stirred his coffee viciously, watching the brown water swirl.
Stiles was glad when Isaac left and it was just him and his sad cup of coffee. He tried to get a handle on himself, chill out before his shift started, but the caffein didn’t help as much as it usually did.
Down at the station, Stiles went through the motions. Luckily for him it was a paperwork day; he would have been terrible in the field given his mood. He swallowed as his dad knocked on his tiny office door with that face -- the face that said --
“We’ve got trouble,” he breathed, closing the door behind him and tucking one of his hands in a pocket.
“Someone’s dead,” Stiles guessed. It was a terrible guess. It was also usually right.
“Supernaturally dead,” his dad confirmed. “Most likely, anyway. A girl -- young, high school age. She was found drowned in that creepy forest. No sign of the cause of death in the autopsy.”
“Right.” Stiles hoped beyond hope that their fight with the glowy, gold thing wasn’t responsible, but it seemed too big a coincidence. “We fought something there the other night. It definitely wasn’t a young girl, though.”
“Maybe it transformed when you killed it?” His father tilted his head in a way that distinctly asked if Stiles had fucked things up. “You did... kill it, right?”
“We think so. It was hard to tell exactly what it was.”
“Ok, well we’ve hit a wall with what we can do. Think you kids can take over from here?” The Sheriff slid the girl’s file onto his desk.
“I’ll let the supernatural squad know.” Stiles nodded.
When his father left, Stiles closed his eyes and pretended he was back in the library surrounded by children instead of looking through reports of dead girls.
Stiles called Derek first.
“You ok?” Derek demanded.
“I’m fine. We have a hit down at the station that I need you to check out. Bring backup and let the rest of the pack know where you’re going. If it’s that thing we fought, Deaton said it can mess with time and space.”
“Time and space. Great, that’s just everything in the world.”
“Right.” Stiles chuckled. “Thus, the backup. And the high alert. They found a girl floating in the river with no signs of death.”
“Did they try drowning?” Derek asked dryly.
“No fluid in the lungs.” Stiles skimmed the coroner’s report. “Something else killed her.”
“You’re sure you’re alright?”
“Fine,” Stiles repeated tiredly. “Stop sending Isaac over. Scott lives with me, he can do the visual inspection or whatever.”
“No,” Derek had a stubborn note in his voice that meant no matter how long they argued Stiles wasn’t going to win.
“How about a video chat?” Stiles rubbed his eyes. He wasn’t really up for video chatting Derek first thing in the morning after sex with his other self, but it was mildly better than waking up to a bored Isaac.
Derek was quiet for a while like he was thinking it over. Stiles even thought he’d won.
“I’ll just come myself.”
“No,” Stiles said quickly.
“I need to be able to smell you,” Derek admitted, sounding angry about it. “To make sure.”
“Ugh.” Stiles closed his eyes again. Of course he’d found a way to make the situation worse.
Waking up the next day was just as uncomfortable as the morning before. He was cold again. His bed was also considerably bumpier and stiffer than Derek’s. The worst part by far was Derek standing next to his bed, watching him.
“Oh, you’re kidding me.” Stiles curled in on himself and rolled so his back was facing Derek.
“It makes you sick to wake up. See, this is why I wanted to see you. I knew you’d leave things out,” Derek said quietly, sounding pissed off as usual. Stiles had an urge to shake him until all that pent-up irritation fell out of him and he could unearth the soft, chewy center in the Derek that he’d fallen asleep next to minutes ago.
“You haven’t pulled this shit in years. It’s still just as creepy, fyi,” Stiles groaned, fighting against the magnified pains and aches in his body.
“This has happened every time?” Derek asked, ignoring him.
“No.” Stiles grumbled, “Just today.”
“You’re lying,” Derek accused.
“A little bit yesterday. The first time I was fine,” Stiles relented.
Derek crossed his arms over his chest and huffed something that sounded wolf-like and not at all like english. Stiles stared at him, the familiar pout of his lips, and suddenly more memories came rushing back to him.
He’d fallen asleep in the other reality with a buttplug and an ass full of Derek’s come after the kinkiest sex he’d ever had outside his own imagination.
Stiles could actually feel his face heat up in a raging blush. He couldn’t stop looking at Derek, even though Derek obviously noticed his reaction. Confusion crossed his features -- his beautiful, sexy features.
“This is so…” Stiles couldn't lie. That was a dead giveaway. Modified truth it was. “Fucking embarrassing.”
Derek looked more confused, even uncrossing his stupidly muscled arms.
“Dude. You’ve gotta get out of here. I didn’t expect you to hover over me like this. And I have… I have things to take care of. Can’t help it. Has to be done. Thought you’d learned how to be a human and knock, anyway.”
“I’m not a human,” Derek huffed, but he took the hint and headed for the door. Stiles thought he saw the tips of Derek’s ears looking pinker than usual as he did. “But I need keep to checking up on you before you wake up, so…” Derek didn’t finish his sentence before he closed the door. Stiles was more turned on than he’d ever been in his life, so he couldn’t think too much about it. Or at all, really.
Stiles buried his face in his pillow in hot shame as he felt in his boxers for his straining erection.
Echoes of how the other Derek had moaned while watching Stiles fuck himself on a dildo the night before seemed to reverberate around in his skull with no exit point. Stiles groaned in frustration to himself and humped into his hand at the memory, the way Derek’s eyes had looked like molten lava as he watched him, the way he’d stripped his own cock to the sight of Stiles coming all over their sheets with the silicone cock stuffed deep.
Then Derek had pulled it out and fucked Stiles all over again, and plugged him to keep it in while they slept because the weirdo liked the “smell” of it in Stiles. He kept dragging his nose down Stiles’s shoulder blades and groaning while Stiles was trying to fall asleep, his clawed hands massaging Stiles’s hips and drifting down to tap against the plug, just to remind Stiles it was still there.
Weird, unfairly hot werewolf. Who apparently knew all about his exhibitionism kink and… and...
Stiles spilled into his palm, his hand shaking.
Stiles had thought kinky sex with Derek was the worst the other universe could throw at him. He was sorely mistaken.
“Hey, little bro.” She smiled at Stiles from the doorway, tucking keys to their apartment that she obviously owned into her coat pocket. Stiles realized after a beat that she was talking to him -- he was “little bro” in this dream world. “Derek around?”
Stiles’s body finished chewing his toast before he answered. “He leaves for work around 6 these days. You missed him by an hour.”
“Aw. That’s ok. And how are you, cutie?” Laura smiled brightly at him, stealing his other piece of toast and crunching it loudly.
“I’m gaining weight,” Stiles mused sleepily, looking down at his stomach. “I’m becoming a sumo wrestler.”
She snorted and reached over the island counter to poke him in the stomach. “You’re cute at all sizes.”
“But sumo wrestling. You think I can get big enough for it?” Stiles pressed, smiling.
Laura wrinkled her nose in a “bitch, please” look.
“Tell him it’s family dinner tomorrow night.” Laura pointed at him before checking her phone. “He’s not responding to my texts. Shit, I gotta go. Love you.”
“He’s been busy with my dad, sorry. We’ll be there.” Stiles’s body waved as Laura flounced from the room, closing the door before Stiles’s brain could really even process her presence.
By the end of the workday, Stiles had considered all possibilities and come to two conclusions: either Laura pulled a Peter and rose from the dead in his timeline, or he was in another universe.
That night when Derek wrapped his arms around him to sleep, Stiles found himself praying for the first one.
Waking up was uncomfortable and groggy and irritating. He sat up with a glare ready on his face, angry at this reality for simply existing. Derek was standing next to his bed with his arms crossed stiffly, watching him.
He glared at Derek a moment longer before memories of Laura rushed back to him and he lost all steam. Derek noticed the change and his returning glare shifted to concern.
“What is it?”
Stiles closed his eyes, a small headache starting in his temples. He reached blindly, without thinking, until he found Derek’s hand. When he opened his eyes again Derek was looking at their hands with confusion. The difference between him and the other Derek was striking. He really didn’t want to hurt this Derek anymore than he’d already been hurt. Derek sank next to him on the bed as Stiles’s silence went on.
“Laura was alive.”
Derek’s expression went blank, his eyes widening.
“She came to visit me.” Stiles’s chest was tight, the heaviness pressing down. “She was looking for you in the apartment we share. She looked… healthy.”
“Another universe.” Derek’s throat bobbed on a swallow, his eyes shutting down again from that open wonder. “You’re in another universe, then.”
“But Peter --”
“Peter was a theurge,” Derek interrupted him, eyes hard. “Laura’s gone.”
Derek tried to pull away, but Stiles held on. He wanted to pull him closer, wrap his arms around those stiff shoulders, just the way they’d fallen asleep together moments before. Instead, he held onto Derek’s tense hand while Derek refused to meet his eyes.
Stiles was plummeting lower, lower. The heaviness in his chest felt suffocating. If it really was another universe, that meant...
There had to be a way to make it possible, some way it could still be a future in this world.
“What if it was me?” Stiles asked, his voice thin. “He’s stronger than I am here. I can feel the spark burning in his chest. Someone’s been training him, better than Deaton trained me.”
Derek stared at him. Stiles held on; he couldn’t let go if he tried. But Derek’s hand was cold in his, clammy.
“You really think you could do that?”
“She seemed…” Stiles took another breath, “almost grateful to me for something. We were close there.”
“That doesn’t mean you brought her back,” Derek said slowly, like it hurt him to say it.
“It doesn’t.” Stiles suddenly hated himself for even bringing it up, for giving Derek hope when he was trying so hard not to have it. But he needed the hope for himself, too. It was harder to see a route from the Derek he knew here to the Derek in his dreams. “You’re right.”
The rest of the day was shit after that. Someone’s house was ransacked and a domestic violence call came his way after lunch that ripped into him. Derek called to tell him that they found nothing in the forest, not even a whiff of something evil. The only bright spot was dinner at his dad’s house. Melissa cooked and Scott dropped by halfway through. Stiles felt much better surrounded by them, his family in this universe. They were a little cracked, a little more exhausted and stressed out than the people in the other universe, but they were his.
Scott seemed to pick up more easily on Stiles’s mood and sat next to him on the couch after dinner. He bumped their shoulders together and silently watched reruns of I Love Lucy while the Sheriff finished the dishes. Melissa plopped bowls of ice cream in their laps like they were kids again.
Stiles told Scott in low tones about Laura then. Scott listened and dropped an arm around his shoulder, squeezing.
“Do you really think you could do something like that?” Scott asked when Stiles told him what he’d said to Derek. “Bring someone back from the dead, like Peter? She’s been gone a long time.”
Stiles looked at his feet. Guilt surged through his gut and he clenched his hands together.
“No,” Stiles admitted. “I think I just wish I could. I shouldn’t have said anything to Derek. I’m an ass.”
Scott looked at him strangely.
“Why do you wish that?”
“It’s not the future... but I want it to be.” As he said it, Stiles felt the truth of it. He wanted everything the other Stiles had, but Laura’s existence meant it couldn’t be his future. It was some other lucky bastard version of Stiles who just happened to be born in the right universe. Stiles had been doing just fine with his own life before he found out about all the possibilities he was missing out on.
Stiles leaned into Scott as tears pricked his eyes.
Stiles went to sleep as soon as he got home. He stared at his ceiling in the dark, willing himself to fall unconscious. It was early still, but he couldn’t wait to escape to the other world.
One moment he was staring at a dark ceiling and the next he was blinking awake to the loft, filled with natural light. Derek was gone next to him, but there was a note by the bed telling him Derek would meet him at the Hale house that night.
Stiles figured out while he was brushing his teeth that the Hale house was probably the very same charred remains that Derek hid out in when he first returned to town. So it was either rebuilt… or it had never burned down at all. If that was the case, Stiles really didn’t know what he was going to do with that information. He couldn’t imagine how his Derek would feel if he heard his whole family was alive in this universe.
A text interrupted his fretting over this newest problem on the way to his work. It was his dad telling him he was feeling better and would be at work today, which Stiles figured meant no more cute moments between Derek and his dad in the foreseeable future. Instead, he would be interacting with Derek’s family, whatever it consisted of, at the apparently livable Hale house.
Somehow, work was a welcome distraction from all this, especially given that he couldn’t do a damn thing about it. Tuesday was Tea Day, so the library was filled with people over 50 who moved at a leisurely pace and a few young hipsters with bottle glasses and mismatched clothes. They were all a delight with excellent taste in books, to his relief.
Lunch he spent actually eating with his co workers, who were also mostly pleasant. He’d even learned their names at this point -- Holly, Jennifer, Tim, and a young intern named Bridget. None of them seemed supernatural or had covertly spoken to him about supernatural things as of yet, so Stiles assumed he was the lone magician in this library. The realization was somewhat of a relief. The library was a sanctuary for him from supernatural problems, whereas in his own universe he acted as a supernatural buffer for the police at the station.
Somehow it was time to drive to the Hale house, and it was, indeed, where the burned down husk used to be and it was … beautiful. It was aqua with pine trimming, the colors so well-blended with the woods it almost looked like it had grown from the ground along with the forest. Cars were scattered in the yard -- Stiles counted five -- and Stiles both feared and hoped for what he would find inside. If Laura was alive, did that mean Peter had never killed her? Had he never set off the chain of events that led to Derek killing him? Just how many Hales were alive in that house?
A lot; Stiles could hear the noise from outside. Before he had even reached the door a child threw open the door and ran at him with a shout of, “Uncle Stiles!” Stiles swooped the little girl up easily and nodded along carefully to her sudden burst of speech.
“I’m so happy to see you! No one else likes how much I talk, they say I’m too noisy to be a wolf, I must be a coyote. But you don’t, Uncle Stiles, because you talk almost as much as I do! It’s great! Mommy and I missed library day yesterday but she says we’re going next week, ok?”
“Ok, I’ll look for you.”
“You’re going to read again, right? I like how you tell stories. You do all the sound effects the best. Ok, that other girl does really great sound effects too, but you’re my uncle so you’re the best.”
She had green eyes and light brown hair and Stiles could see parts of Derek in her nose and the shape of her eyebrows -- finer and lighter, but just as expressive. He felt a pang of wistfulness and suddenly wished he could ask her name and figure out who she belonged to.
The house had at least eight adults. Four of them looked like they were Derek’s age, and then there was Peter, who was smiling and laughing (somehow, in a not creepy way) on a comfortable looking couch in the living room. A woman his age sat next to him. Two older adults that Stiles assumed were Derek’s parents greeted him with hugs and kisses and fussing over how tired he looked. Laura kissed the girl in his arms before kissing his cheek.
“Derek’s in the kitchen, somewhere. I think mom buried him in potatoes.”
“If I hold on to Kaylee, do you think I can avoid all that business?”
Laura smacked him lightly as Kaylee giggled.
“Don’t teach her to avoid chores!” Then to Kaylee, “Uncle Stiles is going back to help Uncle Derek out right now.”
“What about you?”
“I have to hold Kaylee.” Laura winked at him as she pulled Kaylee from his arms. “Aunty hasn’t seen you in far too long, baby girl.”
“Like three whole days!” Kaylee hugged her neck tightly and unironically as Stiles threw Laura a dirty look. He walked through the house to the kitchen where Derek was half done peeling a truly enormous pile of potatoes.
“Need help?” Stiles offered unenthusiastically.
“Werewolves eat way too much,” Derek muttered as they exchanged a quick kiss and Stiles sat next to him, searching for a potato peeler of his own.
“Ok, catch me up. Is there any drama I need to avoid?”
“Cora and Laura are actually getting along,” Derek reported, peeling a potato faster than Stiles thought fair. “Peter’s… Peter. Bryson and Nick are Bryson and Nick. Mara seems fine.”
“Thanks, that was very informative. You should write a book about your family for me.”
“You can just see for yourself what’s going on.”
“C’mon! You’ve gotta help me make a good impression. I’m still the boyfriend. ”
“Stiles, they’ve known you for years. Impression made, for better or worse,” Derek said dismissively.
“Ah ah, but boyfriends are expendable; they come and go. Until I’m officially family and they have to tolerate me, you should provide me with cheats I can use to make them like me.”
“You’re not expendable,” Derek said softly, glancing up from his potato almost shyly. Stiles was more amazed than his body seemed to be. He had never, in a million years, pictured Derek saying something like that to him, and definitely not like that.
Stiles’s body glared at Derek’s hands.
“Jesus, am I helping at all? I’ve peeled one in the time it took you to peel five. I want to play with Kaylee,” he complained loudly.
“Stay with me,” Derek said simply. “I missed you.”
“Seriously? You missed this guy? Derek, you’re killing me today.”
“Ok, stop it. I’m going to overload,” Stiles said sternly.
“Right.” Derek chuckled, and then the sappiest interaction Stiles had ever witnessed in his life -- and he’d dealt with Scott and Allison -- faded into mushy, happy silence. Derek would glance at him and Stiles would glance back and then they would both smile and Stiles didn’t know how they could possibly be this thing so far removed from his own relationship with Derek.
It was then that it hit him that they really weren’t the same people. This Derek grew up with his family; he never fled with his sister and lived on the run for years; he finished high school; he never found his sister dead; he never killed his uncle. All those events had shaped and hardened Derek into the person in his world. This Derek was softer because his life was softer.
And Stiles… Stiles in this universe had Derek, and apparently Derek’s whole family, to stabilize him and bring a level of calm to his life that Stiles didn’t even recognize from his world. In his own body he’d never had his ADD under control enough to enjoy a laid-back job at a library, and maybe a big part of that was because his personal life was so stressful and unstable.
Stiles was surprised at how much the realization hurt him. How different their lives had turned out, especially in the way they expressed themselves and talked to each other. The fact that they’d been open enough to acknowledge this… thing… between them in this universe said a lot about the importance of Derek’s family.
Potato peeling finished up in quiet silence. Then Derek expertly sliced them into tiny chunks and upended them in a giant pot of boiling water. They hid out in the kitchen, talking in hushed tones, until Kaylee dragged them into the living room to play with her while the potatoes finished cooking.
“Dude. Unicorns in the forest. It was sweet,” Laura started as they all sat down to dinner.
“They’re migrating this time of year.” Stiles strained his memory for Derek’s mother’s name, coming up with… Talia. This was Talia. “Don’t get too close to the babies or the mom will chase you, Laura.”
“Yeah, Laura.” Peter grinned at Laura, who grinned back fiercely. It was really more of a bearing of teeth, honestly.
“I caught a scent -- foreign. Smelled like an omega, but I can’t be sure. Probably nothing.” One of the two men sitting next to Derek’s sisters said, directing his words to Talia and sobering the tone in the room.
“Laura and I will check it out this weekend. Where?” Talia’s eyes sharpened at the information.
“North of here. I was out running.”
“Mom, I can come on patrol too. Nick’s home this weekend so he can watch Kaylee,” Cora piped up. Kaylee was sitting next to her, so Stiles had assumed she was Cora’s daughter, but he was glad she confirmed it.
Stiles’s attention also caught on patrol. It was a police word, implying routine -- protection. The Hales were still the supernatural buffer for this town, then. Stiles wondered how many lives, his own included, had been impacted by their survival. Had Scott even been bitten? He hadn’t spoken of or seen his best friend the whole time he’d spent in this world. Had Stiles had… a normal life in high school? And if Scott wasn’t bitten, how had he ended up with Derek?
Stiles tried to follow the thread throughout dinner, but there were too many unknowns and he didn’t have the power to ask questions so he was forced to let it be and hope for answers to come in time. As he heard stories over dinner, it became clear that the Hales filled the role Derek’s pack took up back in their world of protecting the Beacon Hills territory. They must have shielded the town from much of the bloodshed and trauma that had occurred over the years, and done it better than the ragtag group of malfunctioning teenagers had managed given how many of them seemed to still be alive. The strength of family, and possibly of Talia, was never clearer to Stiles than when he watched them laugh over their stories of taking down supernatural creatures.
Stiles felt almost smothered in kisses and hugs, and rubs of faces against necks in one case, by the time he finished saying goodbye and escaped back to his car. Derek followed him back home, and luckily, they were both too exhausted from the night that they fell asleep immediately, fingers touching under the covers.
When Stiles shuddered into awareness, Derek was there. This Derek was a different Derek from the one that smiled at him at the dinner table, taking his hand where no one could see it. This Derek was distant and irritated as he watched Stiles struggle into consciousness.
“I’ve got Deaton working on a cure. This can’t go on, Stiles.” Derek’s hands came down on Stiles’s shoulders and stabilized him with werewolf pain-sapping as Stiles shook in the too-cold air and shuddered through a breath. “No more,” Derek growled, his eyes combing over Stiles’s trembling body.
“I’m ok,” Stiles gasped as his body finally settled and he could breathe again. The werewolf powers definitely helped the process along. “Oh god, I’m fine. I’m ok.” Stiles sat up immediately, falling back against his headboard. It was almost like being in the other body for a moment, watching his hands reach out for Derek and grab at his arms, pulling him closer. Derek looked startled and then confused, but he came, sitting on the bed closer to Stiles. It finally dawned on Stiles that the differences in Derek were deeper than how he appeared, and that this was not the Derek who would comfort him like this. He pulled his hands back to himself.
“What’s going on?” Derek asked, looking fearful. “What’s wrong? What happened over there?”
“I--” Stiles wondered if he could, or should , do it -- tell Derek his whole family was alive and happy and far more successful at protecting Beacon Hills than they were. “I can’t,” he finally arrived at, closing his eyes and cursing this universe for putting such a terrible responsibility on him. He briefly imagined keeping this too from Derek, and lo and behold, that option was actually worse. “Oh god. Ok. Derek, I’m here for you, ok? I’m here for whatever you need.”
“What, Stiles?” Stiles saw Derek’s fear grow, his hands clenching on his thighs, and knew it was now or never.
“Your family.” Stiles made himself look him in the eye. “They’re alive. All of them.”
Derek seemed to freeze before his fear morphed to confusion. Then came pain, swiftly washing the other emotions away.
“Your mother, Talia.” Stiles made himself keep talking, hoping something he could say would help Derek through this. “She and your father live in the Hale house, the one you grew up in. Your two sisters live here in Beacon Hills. They’re both married, I think, and Cora has a kid. Her name is Kaylee. She has brown hair and green eyes and she talks as much as I do.”
Derek’s mouth opened just barely and then closed again, his eyes searching Stiles’s.
“You’re happy there,” Stiles manages. He can feel tears sting the edges of his eyes, but it isn’t his right or his time for that -- it’s Derek’s, so he tries to get a hold of himself. “We had dinner with them.”
“You came?” Derek asked finally, his voice rough like it hadn’t been used in a while even though Stiles had just heard him speak.
“I came with you to dinner.” Stiles nodded and groped for Derek’s hand, just like the morning before when he’d told him about Laura. He couldn’t stand to not touch him when he looked like that, shattered again and again by this stupid universe. The worst part was that this time Stiles was the one doing the shattering. “Uncle Stiles.”
“Uncle?” Derek’s eyebrows twisted between pain and confusion and Stiles realized his mistake.
“I think,” Stiles amended quickly, “she’s just confused. Kaylee.”
“Oh.” Derek cleared his throat, looking down at his feet in silence. He left his hand for Stiles to hold in the silence. “Kaylee.”
“I wish I could… take pictures or something for you. I can try to describe them to you, if it would help. They told stories at dinner, and I could repeat them as well as I remember them. They protect Beacon Hills. I think… I think they’re why we’re all so much better off over there.”
“Yeah,” Derek said softly, still looking at his feet. “They would be.” He cleared his throat and looked up at the wall in front of him. His face closed off. “Tell me.”
Stiles talked, repeating everything he could remember from dinner. He described Kaylee’s laugh, the husbands, Derek’s father’s appetite for pecan pie, the massive pile of potatoes they peeled before dinner, how Peter seemed so not crazy. Gradually the lines of tension faded from Derek’s face and small smiles started to appear as Stiles repeated the jokes and the way the sisters teased each other. Stiles forgot about the hand he was holding until Derek’s thumb started to move, slowly, over his skin. Stiles’s breath caught in his throat in the middle of repeating a story about a herd of gnomes that tried to settle in the forest before Peter and Mara chased them off. When he looked down, though, Derek’s thumb was still again and Stiles wondered if he’d imagined it.
Stiles dragged himself to work, but only barely. Coffee wasn’t doing as good of a job of slaying his morning headache anymore, so he popped some aspirin and prayed for the strength to get through the day. He was ready to fall asleep again before lunch even arrived, and the day only crawled on slower after that.
He did, however, force himself to stop by the loft on his way home from work. He was aching to crawl into his bed and wake up next to a Derek that loved him, but he had to make sure the Derek in this universe was ok too, or as ok as he could be with everything Stiles had told him.
Derek answered the door before Stiles got to it, looking tense.
“Yes?” he asked crisply as Stiles stopped in front of him. “Something wrong?”
“I just wanted… can I… dude, I brought you Chinese. Your favorite.” Stiles held the takeout bag up and weakly shook it. “As a sorry for dropping that shit on you this morning.”
“Oh.” Derek softened somewhat and stepped back, letting Stiles into the apartment. “You… I’m glad you told me.”
“Glad?” It was strange, seeing the loft like this again after spending so much time in the other universe. It was grayer, almost drab, in comparison. Stiles remembered he used to think the sparse, impersonal style looked so cool when he was a teenager, but now it just felt… empty. He could almost feel all the spaces where his stuff went in the other universe.
“To know that they’re happy somewhere, that’s a gift, not a curse.” Derek sighed, looking resolutely away from Stiles. Stiles slumped at the words because he hadn’t even considered that. It was such a… selfless way to think about it. He wasn’t sure if he would be capable of thinking that way if he was in Derek’s shoes. “It’s more than I thought I would get.”
“Still, I’m a shithead,” Stiles admitted because it was true. “Eat this food so I feel better about myself, ok?”
Derek snorted lightly and rifled through the plastic bags, opening boxes of different types of food and placing them neatly on the counter. He gave Stiles a plate and a fork before he started fishing out food with chopsticks.
“Deaton says the cure will take some time. I’m sorry you’re going through this,” Derek said as he sat down with his food. Stiles shrugged one shoulder. Deaton could take all the time he needed -- Stiles wasn’t taking any cure until he was damn well finished. Not that he would announce that to his paranoid, overprotective alpha.
“The waking up is really… it’s over quick, you know? But being there… it’s like, the heap of messed up crap that I didn’t even realize I’ve been carrying around with me all these years just lifts away. It’s so happy and relaxed.”
Derek considered him silently, picking up a potsticker and dipping it in soy sauce.
“So if my family’s alive and taking care of the supernatural, how did we meet?”
Stiles stopped with his fork halfway to his mouth. The way Derek asked… it almost sounded like…
“I have no idea.” Stiles couldn’t lie because he really didn’t know. He’d been wondering the same thing. “Maybe Cora? I haven’t even seen Scott in that world yet. We’re definitely not as close as we are here. You’re… we’re tight, over there.”
“Is that why you keep grabbing me when you wake up?” Derek huffed, sounding amused. It was a little too close of a line of questioning for Stiles to take with a sense of humor. “We’re tight?”
Instead of answering with something that could be a lie, Stiles forced a quick laugh and scarfed down more food. Derek eyed him a moment longer, probably catching his weird laugh, before he continued eating too.
“You prefer that world to this one?” Derek asked.
“Of course,” Stiles said immediately. “I mean, I miss Scott and I hope he shows up sometime. Considering the trend, he’s probably happily married to Allison and living in Spain or something. But yeah, I do. Wouldn’t you?”
“My family’s alive there,” Derek said simply, matter-of-fact.
“Right. Automatic win for that universe, right?”
“Is it just not dealing with the supernatural?” Derek asked, pausing as he scooped rice onto his plate. “I’m sorry it’s been such a burden.”
“It’s not just that. You’re like my best friend there and you’re supernatural, so I guess that doesn’t change even in another universe. It’s more… all the chaos and the bloodshed. Your family is really talented at keeping that at bay and preventing shit from getting crazy out of control. They’re way better at it than we are, anyway.”
“And my job,” Stiles admitted after a pause, “it’s always been kind of hard, but I grew up with my dad and it seemed important and meaningful. Right now it just feels… sad. I don’t think I ever considered not doing this. And I don’t want to stop. I just want to remember how it used to feel.” Stiles caught himself. “Damn, here I’m going off about my problems when you found out… see what I’m talking about? Shithead.” He pointed at himself.
“You’re not that bad,” Derek said, sort of off-hand. It sounded pleasantly familiar. Stiles looked up in confusion, expecting to see the other Derek -- the one that smiled -- and instead his Derek was picking through the containers for more mushu pork. Stiles shook the feeling off as best as he could and put more broccoli in his mouth.
“We should be, like, actual friends. We’re really good at it in the other universe,” Stiles announced after he finished chewing. “You listen when I talk about comic books. It’s astounding.”
“That just sounds unrealistic.”
“No, I swear. Read my heartbeat: I tell no lies.”
“He sounds like a different person,” Derek said. He probably meant for it to sound teasing, but it just came out sad. Stiles immediately felt guilty for thinking the exact same thing.
“I mean, I thought so too at first, but you guys have a lot of similarities. You know, same genetics and all.”
“Totally different upbringing.”
“Not totally,” Stiles fought back. He was definitely guilty of comparing the two of them, but this Derek had a lot of good qualities. Returning his feelings just wasn’t one of the many, and that was a pretty big one for Stiles.
Derek dropped it, settling into silence as they ate. Eating together like this was nice for Stiles, but still paled to the ease of the other universe. He had yet to find something that didn’t -- except Derek himself. While Stiles couldn’t help but notice the differences between the two of them, he felt the same when he looked at them. It was a sort of a regrettable fondness. If only their relationship were different, it could be as good as the other universe. Maybe better if it fit all their particular grooves and cracks.
“I don’t know. You’d have to forgive me for a lot of shit.”
“What?” Stiles snapped back from his thoughts.
“If we’re going to be… friends.”
Stiles laughed before he thought better of it.
“ I have to forgive you ? We both had a rough start with each other. It was definitely mutual.”
“You saved my life, though.” Derek's face pinched as though that was something he really didn't like admitting.
“So did you.”
“You did it a lot.”
“Yeah, so?” Stiles shrugged, failing to see the point. “Let’s just call it all even and start fresh, ok? Cool?”
Derek huffed again and it was close enough to a laugh that Stiles liked it.
Stiles went through the motions for a week before the headache became so pronounced he couldn’t ignore it or hide it anymore. Scott was the first to call him on it.
“I’m going to see Deaton. That’s the fourth aspirin I’ve seen you take today. You know that can, like, puncture your stomach or something right? Don’t you dare overdose on aspirin, Stiles.” He was obviously distracted as he searched for a second sock in the pile of laundry.
“Puncture my...? You’re a nurse. Jesus.” Stiles wondered aloud at the ridiculousness before he swallowed the pill with water and collapsed back onto the couch in their apartment. “Where the heck is Kira to take you away? I need some peace and quiet for my creepy dreaming.”
Scott frowned at him from over a basket of laundry. It was hard to take him seriously when he was covered in statick-y bits of clothing and lint.
“No. I haven’t seen you this week. Tonight we’re hanging out. You sleep the second you get home from work. Did you even eat tonight? Or last night? This is bullshit.” Scott pushed his feet off the couch and deposited the laundry basket next to him. Then he fussed around in the kitchen for a few minutes before he forced a cup of noodles into his hands. “No fucking sleeping. Sit here and watch TV with me like a normal roommate.”
“I did forget to eat, I guess,” Stiles mumbled, a little ashamed. He’d forgotten the night before too. Damn. It didn’t bother him when he was sleeping, though. He couldn’t feel his body when he was in the other universe.
Scott stared at him before shaking his head and finding something on TV they could both enjoy. Stiles was asleep before the first commercial break.
He woke to the other body mid-argument with Derek. Apparently, the other Stiles wanted to move the couch closer to the kitchen, but the other Derek wanted it to stay where it was. It was almost a relief to see them argue like normal people. So they weren’t just secretly androids who complemented each other all the time after all.
It even morphed into Derek accusing Stiles of not doing the dishes enough. Stiles secretly agreed; Stiles was shit at dishes no matter the universe. The other Stiles was way too fired up to admit to that, though, and somehow morphed that into an accusation that Derek hated having his stuff in the apartment instead. The argument went on until Stiles's body actually started clearing his stuff off shelves and into boxes and Derek left with (to his credit, a small) door slam. The moment the door closed, Stiles’s body stopped its idiocy and collapsed onto the ground.
Derek reappeared almost instantly.
“Go away!” Stiles growled, batting an aggressive hand at him.
“What’s wrong with you?” Derek squinted at him and it reminded Stiles of his Derek when he would wake up in the morning in pain.
“My head is killing me,” the other Stiles admitted grudgingly.
“Is that it,” Derek said, crossing his arms in front of him. “Get up. I’ll make you some tea.”
“No. Go away.” Stiles’s body stubbornly remained on the floor. Then Derek was scooping him up and depositing him on the couch through Stiles’s angry protests.
“We’ll discuss this more later.”
Stiles scoffed loudly but still accepted the tea Derek handed to him a few minutes later and didn’t fuss about Derek sitting down next to him on the couch.
“How long have you felt like this?”
“Ugh, I don’t know. It’s been growing for a few days. Maybe a week?” Stiles had just escaped a pounding headache of his own in his universe, but it was definitely alive and well in this body too.
Derek’s nostrils flared.
“You didn’t think to mention it to me? You could be sick. We need to go a doctor.” Derek reached for him, but Stiles batted his hands away.
“Don’t you dare try to suck my pain out of my head! I’m still pissed. And stop sniffing at me! I’m fine.”
Derek rolled his eyes in irritation, but didn’t try to touch him again. He did continue to smell him almost delicately.
“Fine, be miserable. You don’t smell sick, so you’re probably fine.”
“I will. Thanks.”
Derek growled and Stiles glared at him over his tea.
“I have to go to work.” Derek glanced at him. “Are you calling in sick?”
“No.” Stiles frowned. “Just taking some advil.”
“Of course.” Derek sighed. “If this doesn’t clear up by tomorrow, you’re going to a doctor.”
“Maybe if someone doesn’t wake me up at the crack of dawn…”
“Oh, excuse me for blowing you.” Derek glared daggers at him while he plucked a set of keys out of the bowl by the door. Stiles actually felt embarrassed for the other Stiles for shooting himself in the foot like that. No way would he complain about Derek waking him up for a blowjob, anytime anywhere.
As the other Stiles stumbled through his day at the library, Stiles thought about their connecting headaches and came to the uneasy conclusion that he should probably start thinking about that cure Deaton was working on. Apparently it wasn’t easy on either of them to have Stiles riding around in his brain all day long.
When the other Stiles got home, he actually skyped with Scott. Stiles was beyond ecstatic to see his friend on the screen, albeit with a terrible haircut that never would have gotten Stiles’s approval in his own universe.
While they talked, Stiles gleaned that Scott was indeed galavanting off with Allison in Canada, of all places. Allison even popped up on the screen for a minute and chatted with him about her rusty french skills and all of the cool music festivals they’d been to in Vancouver. Stiles had missed her cheerful face more than he realized and soaked up every minute of it.
Scott asked Stiles about life with Derek, and finally, finally someone was asking the right questions.
“So how’s living together? You two getting along?”
“Most of the time. We fought over couch positioning this morning, but otherwise we’ve been good.”
“Couch positioning.” Scott quirked a very judgmental eyebrow at him. “Ok. Well, if that's… important to you, I guess. What about Derek’s job with the park?”
Oh, score. Thank you Scott. So, Derek worked with the park, whatever that meant.
“Of course he’s like employee of the month or something. They love him. It would be hard to find someone who likes running around in the woods as much as he does, or someone who’s better at it. But I will say, it’s a good thing his family’s independently wealthy because shit this apartment costs a lot.”
“Yeah, it’s kind of a bachelor pad.” Scott peered around him. “Are you guys planning on moving somewhere… cozier?”
“You know, it’s really grown on me. I’m not in a rush to move anywhere.”
“Ok, but you know your mom is going to keep giving you art until you move. How much wall space do you have left? She thinks the whole thing feels cold and impersonal. That’s a quote, by the way.”
While Stiles’s body laughed, a shock of pain and horror went through Stiles’s consciousness. Your mom. If he was talking about Melissa, he would have at least said our mom.
He wasn't talking about Melissa.
“Yeah, she’s still on a trip to Kenya right now to check out some tribal art. She has basically no service so I haven’t heard from her. I’m not sure how Derek would feel about tribal art, I’ll have to ask him. Otherwise, we should probably move before she gets back.” Stiles laughed to himself. “Dang, I need to check with the gallery too to make sure all the orders came in on time, thanks for the reminder. She would kill me if I forgot to do that.”
Stiles drew inside himself for the rest of the conversation, doing his best to ignore everything. He didn’t want to know anymore. He didn’t want one single piece of information more. His universe was obviously some sort of hell dimension where everyone died and nothing good happened.
“Dude, I have to go. I have a killer headache. I’ll catch up with you next week, k?”
Stiles hung up the call and clutched at his head. His body stumbled into the bathroom and swallowed down two Advil before retreating to the bed.
Almost the moment Stiles’s body hit the bed in the other universe Stiles gasped into consciousness in his own body.
It was still dark in his bedroom. The usual pains magnified in his body along with a terrible pressure filling his throat. He drew a ragged breath that came out a sob.
He curled into himself for a long time. Tears wet his cheeks as he shivered in the dark. He didn’t even have the will to pick his blankets off the floor.
Eventually the door opened and he heard Derek hiss. Hands moved him roughly into a solid body, seeping away the surface aches and pains. Stiles's tears lasted even after most of the physical pain disappeared into Derek’s hands.
Derek sat there silently while Stiles quieted, pulling him a little tighter against his strong chest. Stiles felt weak and easily broken and Derek’s hold was suffocating. This Derek was obviously unaccustomed to comforting people like this. His movements were awkward and strange, but they helped Stiles more than anything could have.
“I hate this place,” Stiles finally whispered.
“I know.” Derek rested his chin on the top of Stiles head.
Derek laid down on his back next to Stiles in his bed, enough space between them for another person to fit. Stiles closed his eyes and repeated the information in his head before he started to speak.
“My… mother… is alive. Allison too.” Stiles sniffed loudly. “I guess we do live in some sort of hell dimension.”
Derek was quiet in response. He reached out like Stiles had for him before and took Stiles’s hand. They lay there together while the room brightened from darkness to morning. Derek broke the silence with a question.
“You want me to call in to the station for you?”
Stiles considered how sad and pathetic that would look for a moment.
Derek took his phone from his pocket and dialed the Sheriff. He explained in low tones that Stiles was out for the day and that he would call him later. He assuaged his father’s concern with murmurs of “no, I’ll stay with him,” “that’s ok,” and, “I’ll make sure he calls you.”
Stiles pulled Derek’s hand closer, looking at it. It was the same as the other Derek’s hand, the same pattern of hair and square fingernails. They even had similar callouses. Stiles thought of them as both same person and different people, and couldn’t find a way to reconcile the two ideas.
“When the nogitsune possessed me, I thought… I thought it might be possible that my mom’s illness wasn’t natural. I guess now I know. She’d be alive. I didn’t even get to see her -- she’s off on a long trip. We were just talking about her.”
Derek looked down at their hands. His thumb moved over Stiles’s skin. They both watched silently.
“You should talk to someone. A counselor.”
“What?” Stiles blinked at him.
“I started seeing someone a few years ago. I never saw anyone after my family died, and talking to her has been a relief. It might help you with this situation.”
“How am I going to talk to someone about all this supernatural bullshit?” Stiles asked, expecting to stump Derek. He looked unfazed, though.
“She’s a druid friend of Deaton’s. We talk over skype.”
“Are you kidding me? Skype counseling?”
“It works,” Derek said sternly. “And as your alpha, I’m ordering you to do it too.”
“Oh my god.” Stiles pulled his hand free of Derek’s touch. He scrubbed both hands over his eyes. “You want to play the alpha card? For this?”
“Yes,” Derek said. “Whether you can see it or not, this is destroying you. Deaton’s working on a cure, but I don’t know when it will be ready.”
“I’m…” Stiles tried to say he was fine, but Derek was right. The physical pain he could handle, but the emotional whiplash was too much. He didn’t know what good talking about it would do, though. “Alright.”
“Good. I’ll set it up for you. All you have to do is answer.”
“Fine,” Stiles sighed.
Derek actually stayed with him that day. They watched TV and played stupid shooting games and ate mac and cheese from a box while Derek bitterly complained about the lack of “adult food” in their apartment.
For the two hours Derek left the apartment, Stiles slept dreamlessly. He woke up with a diminished headache, his mood greatly improved. He even managed to crack a few jokes at Derek.
“Ok, so I know you have a job as, like, a manager or something, but the other Derek works for either the local or national park system and is apparently really good at it. So.”
Derek eyed him from his place on the floor. He'd gotten comfortable over the course of the day and now he looked unbearably sexy with his feet bare and his hair unsettled, his knees drawn comfortably up to the circle of his arms. He was wearing lighter, but still subdued, tones. Stiles felt like their guards were down, like they could see each other, and he wanted it to stay like that.
“You’d be able to run wolfy and free,” Stiles pointed out with an small smile.
Derek rolled his yes, but he smiled a little in return.
“I’ll look into it.”
“You should. Because they’re doing everything right over there.” No one’s dying. Tears threatened to cloud his eyes again but Stiles fought them off with another breath. “Ok, time to answer questions. I’m bored.”
“Is this another one of your ‘friend’ exercises?” Derek asked dryly.
“Question 1: favorite movie? Then book, then food, yadda yadda. You know the drill.”
Derek shifted on the floor and said nothing.
“Get to talking, mister. I’ve known you for seven years now and I still don’t have any of this vital information. You’re not really a chatty Kathy.”
Derek stared at him.
“V for Vendetta,” he said slowly. “Maybe the Jungle Book.”
“Oh man.” Stiles snapped his fingers dramatically. “I was hoping for Animorphs.”
Derek did not look impressed.
“Roast beef sandwich.”
“What? Your favorite food is a type of sandwich? Come on. Seriously?”
Derek narrowed his eyes at Stiles until he threw his arms up.
“Fine! You love sandwiches. My favorite food is some jewish dessert I’m shit at pronouncing. Grandma always used to make for us when we would visit her. Uh, movie? Damn, that’s rough. There’s too many great movies. Crash? I watched that when I was going through undergrad and it’s stuck with me. It’s a good reminder of how easy it is to be a terrible cop.”
“Ok, you have to keep going. I still know next to nothing.”
Derek readjusted, leaning back on one arm and stretching a leg in front of him. He looked comfortable and relaxed and Stiles had the sudden urge to slide into his lap.
“Favorite gay man.” Stiles grinned. Derek rolled his eyes. “Ok, favorite author. But good to know where you stand on the whole… author’s sexual preferences thing.”
Derek frowned at him in confusion. Stiles didn’t blame him.
“Actually, some think Whitman was bi, did you know that?” Stiles was edging towards something he wasn’t sure he was allowed to enter into… but keeping quiet wasn’t Stiles’s strong point. “Pretty interesting, bi authors. How would you… what do you think about that?”
“It’s fine.” Derek shrugged, his expression opening into more confusion.
“Oh, good. It’s fine. That’s good.” Stiles nodded enthusiastically. “Good to know you think it’s fine.”
“Do you… what?” Derek blinked at him. “What are you asking?”
“I’m just wondering…” Stiles froze. “Never mind. We’re probably not good enough friends for that yet.”
“For what?” Derek pressed, still confused.
“Do you like men?” Stiles blurted out. Derek’s eyes widened and his posture went stiff. “I mean, I know you like women. I’ve witnessed that. But the other Derek… well, as your… roommate … I mean…”
“I like men, sure,” Derek answered, his eyes on the floor, his expression more neutral. “Is that a problem?”
Stiles let a breath go. So it was true in this universe too -- he could catch at least one break. And maybe if the Derek in the other universe was attracted to him he could possibly...
“Opposite of a problem, actually. I’m in the same camp.”
Derek nodded and said nothing. Stiles could actually feel his heartbeat in his ears and he missed the disconnect of his body from his emotions for a brief moment. If he could hear it, Derek could too. Derek let the silence go on a little longer before he spoke.
“Uh, definitely Hugh Jackman. Wolverine.”
Derek cocked an eyebrow at him.
“Crush?” he asked easily. Stiles’s heartbeat spiked again.
“Interesting.” Derek smirked at him. “Is that your type?”
“Wolverine’s everyone’s type,” Stiles scoffed.
“Ok, so what’s yours?” Stiles challenged, his heartbeat climbing.
Derek pursed his lips together and shifted into a cross-legged position. He considered Stiles for a moment.
“That’s your type? Is that a rapper I’m not cool enough to know?”
“No, you can’t just get out of it like that.” Stiles grinned, feeling a little exhilarated. Were they actually flirting? Was this the right universe? Had Stiles fallen asleep unwittingly?
“I can’t think of anyone.”
“Bullshit. I call bullshit. I need a name.”
“Cucumber.” Bastard actually smirked at him.
“Oh come on. This is so unfair.” Stiles groaned and fell back into the couch.
“I hate you right now.”
“Oh, should I stop then? Are we done being friends?”
“Damn you.” Stiles sighed. “Favorite fruit… ok, definitely the kiwi.”
Derek left just before Stiles went to sleep. They made spaghetti and Derek somehow figured out how to make meatballs out of the horror that was their fridge. It was a nice ending to a surprisingly nice day, especially given how it started.
The day in the other universe went well, too. The other Stiles had the day off from the library, so he cleaned the apartment and read some mystery book with a lot of southern slang, and curled up in the blankets of their bed with tea. The headache persisted, but the other Stiles drowned it out with some serious Advil action.
Stiles got up and made sandwiches at about twenty to four, and at four Derek walked through the door. He eyed Stiles, glaring somewhat, until he noticed what Stiles had on the counter behind him.
“Is that a roast beef sandwich?” Derek sniffed the air, looking between Stiles and the counter.
“Forgive my craziness?” Stiles asked sheepishly. Derek actually grinned, looking wolfish, and immediately pulled him closer to nuzzle his neck. Stiles’s neck tingled wonderfully at the feeling and Stiles closed his eyes to enjoy it until Derek let him go to pick up his sandwich.
“You’re so easy.” Stiles laughed, leaning against the counter. “You’d think you’d like something more complicated.” It was almost a carbon copy response to Stiles’s own thoughts on the matter. Huh.
Derek dug into the sandwich, smiling with full cheeks.
“Wolves.” Stiles rolled his eyes fondly.
“Headache?” Derek asked, more seriously.
“A little better.” Stiles winced. “But still there.”
“Ok, we’re going in, then.”
“Ugh.” Stiles groaned. “Fine.”
His phone chose that moment to ring.
“Son? Hey. I got a text from your mother. She has service again, and she said she’s catching an early flight home. She misses us.”
“Oh, score,” his body said into the phone. “Should we get her some flowers or something? She’s been gone for forever. That might be cute.”
“Yeah. She’ll be here tomorrow, late.”
“Ok. Derek’s making me go to the doctor, so I’ll be sure to schedule in the morning so we don’t have to worry about time conflicts.”
“Headache. It’s probably nothing. You know how Derek gets.”
“I’m glad he does,” his dad said. Stiles glanced at Derek, who was grinning smugly at the validation.
“Alright, I’m going before you both gang up on me. Love you.”
“Love you too. I’ll text you the time.”
Stiles hung up and looked back at Derek reluctantly.
“Fine, I’ll call the doctor. Ugh, I hate you sometimes.”
“No you don’t.” Derek bit into his sandwich.
Derek was already lying next to him when he woke up, watching him. Stiles almost thought he was in the other universe because of their position, but they had very different faces; different expressions; different lines. His Derek was impossible to confuse.
Stiles barely shivered through the aftermath. Derek held his hand and seeped the pain from his body as it arrived. Tears still clouded his eyes, though, as he remembered.
“She’s coming. I get to see her again.” Stiles coughed a little on the labor of breathing. “I can’t believe it.”
Derek brushed his face, wiping a tear away.
“I haven’t seen her in sixteen years.” He closed his eyes. “I remember her smell, the way her hands feel. I don’t remember her face anymore, or her voice. Pictures aren’t the same.”
“I know.” Derek sighed. His hand was still gently stroking along Stiles’s cheekbone.
“How do I make this not hurt so much?” Stiles swallowed. “How do you do it?”
“Gratitude,” Derek said after a moment. “Death usually means never getting to see them again. Now you have that chance. It will hurt to let go, but when I think about it that way I’m happy for them.”
“God, you’re a way better person than I am. I’m not sure I can do that.” Stiles fought to control his body again, get a handle on the chaos of his feelings through the dull headache even Derek couldn’t completely diminish. He felt sluggish and clouded.
“I’m not.” It was simple, like stating a fact. Sad. “I’m not a good person at all.”
“Not true. Good people don’t want their friends to wake up in pain.” Stiles managed a small smile. “Which I appreciate right now.”
Derek’s seriousness didn’t lighten at his words, however, and even seemed to deepen. They both waited patiently until Stiles could sit up against the bed frame and take deep, satiating breaths.
“Uh. Fuck this,” Stiles groaned. “Fuck all of this. This is some twisted form of torture. I must have been a murderer in a past life to deserve this.”
Derek sat up next to him, their shoulders brushing. Stiles’s bed was a full, so it was just big enough for two people, but not roomy by any means. He would definitely have to look into at least a queen size after this.
“I have… there are things I think you need to know. About me. About why my family died,” Derek breathed after a long moment. Stiles, rubbing his temples and ruing the day he was born, caught at his somber tone and looked over.
Then Derek told him about Kate.
Stiles had felt a sort of distant dislike of Kate before, almost like he would for a movie villain. He knew she was bad and that she’d caused a lot of reckless destruction before she went down, including kidnapping and torturing Derek, and some of that had even ricocheted and come around Stiles’s way. But it was never so personal as when he heard Derek’s voice crack and stumble over her name.
He felt a new emotion as Derek spoke: hate. He hated her. He wished he could go back and kill her a second time. Dead wasn’t enough for what she’d done to Derek, to his family -- to this whole goddamn town.
His newfound hate peaked when Derek finished with, “So, this is all my fault. The reason this universe is terrible… is because I didn’t recognize her for what she was.”
Stiles let a slow breath go before he could organize his furious thoughts into something coherent.
“This is her fault. She molested a fifteen-year-old, a child who didn’t know any better. You want to know what I was like when I was fifteen? I guarantee I would have fallen for her bullshit and more. I could barely order pizza without hurting myself, ok? Not an exaggeration.” Derek’s miserable expression lifted into a slight smile for a moment and it was like sunshine to Stiles. “God, I wish I could arrest her and throw her in prison for life. She burned your family and killed countless others by destroying the protection they gave. She’s the reason my mother is dead, just as much as your family is the reason my mom’s alive there. I’m sure of it.”
Derek’s throat bobbed as he swallowed. He licked his lips, dry and cracked. The morning light was just starting to brighten Stiles’s boring room up with a soft blue glow, outlining Derek’s profile. Stiles had the strongest urge to protect this vulnerable human next to him. Derek had always seemed so driven and strong; now he looked fragile.
“When the nogitsune possessed me, the guilt of what it had used my body for… but we have to put the blame where it belongs, ok? We were both used by evil. Don’t give it more power for destruction by giving in to that guilt. Don’t let it win like that.”
Derek crossed his hands together carefully. He studied the inside of his palms before he nodded once, sharp.
“Good.” Stiles sat back. He felt exhausted, like he hadn’t just slept for ten hours. He needed another twenty to recover from all this. “How exactly is that cure coming?”
“Deaton got the last ingredient yesterday. It had to be shipped from Brazil. It should be ready soon.”
“Ok. Just.” Stiles let his head fall back. His chest felt hollowed out. “Let me see her.”
Stiles spent his lunch break in the weirdest counseling session of his life. The druid he talked to lived in Italy and had a strong accent when she spoke. Her eyes were deep and almost purple if Stiles looked close enough, and her hair was streaked through with gold and red. He was so tired that he told her… everything. It just spilled out of his mouth. She listened and asked the occasional question and wrote things down on a notepad she showed him at the beginning of the session.
When Stiles finally finished with her and got around to eating his salad, his dad knocked on his door.
“Someone’s dead,” Stiles guessed tiredly.
“Again. Supernaturally dead.” His dad threw a file on his desk. “Same place, those creepy woods. This time it was a man, over 60, dressed like he was hiking. No C.O.D that the coroner could figure out.”
“Jesus. We didn’t find anything. Derek took a pack of super sniffers up there and everything -- nothing.”
The sheriff shook his head and blew a gust of air.
“I’ll tell them to go back and look.”
“You ok? You look exhausted. Terrible, really.”
“I’m tired,” Stiles admitted. His dad scrutinized his face, looking from eye to eye.
“Why? What’s going on?”
“I’m dealing with a… supernatural bug right now. Nothing serious. Deaton’s got a cure thing going on.”
His dad came around and touched a hand to his forehead, looking for a fever like he would when Stiles was a kid. Stiles almost sighed into the contact. His dad’s hand felt familiar and comfortable. The Sheriff hesitated.
“Dad, if you could see mom again… what would you say to her?”
“I’d just tell her I love her and miss her,” he breathed, resting a hand on Stiles’s shoulder. “And then I’d tell her all about how great you turned out.”
His dad smiled at him and ruffled his hair before he left.
“Get some extra sleep tonight.”
“I will,” Stiles whispered after he’d left.
Stiles knocked on Derek’s door that night. It said something, Stiles didn’t know what, that Derek even let him knock. He opened the door a moment later, his eyes somewhat guarded.
Stiles held up a roast beef sandwich and a blu-ray copy of V for Vendetta. Derek’s mouth opened slightly looking at them. He stepped back to let Stiles in. He was barefoot again, looking comfortable in washed out jeans and black sleeveless shirt. Unlike the other Derek, his Derek took the sandwich from him and put it in the fridge. Then they both dusted off Derek’s TV and tried to figure out how to hook up the blu-ray player.
“Jesus. We need to work on your human skills. Humans watch TV. You’ve got to blend in with us, Derek.”
“Not in my own home,” Derek scoffed as he plugged a blue wire into a red hole. Stiles fixed it with a huff.
“Oh my god , Derek. It’s color coded.” He reached for the other wires, his fingers stumbling over Derek’s. A jolt shot through his arm at the brush of their skin and Stiles almost drew his hands back in embarrassment over his heart-stuttering-breath-catching reaction. Derek glanced at him but mercifully didn’t comment on anything. Stiles tried to get some of his composure back by demanding, “Let me do it.”
Derek grumbled something incoherent and went to sit on the couch. When Stiles was satisfied he sat next to Derek on the couch. Despite his nerves, it was strangely comfortable; he’d gotten more and more comfortable with Derek’s presence around him lately.
“How has Isaac never fixed this before? He’s always over here.” Stiles wondered, fidgeting with the remote.
“I didn’t let him.”
“That’s…” Stiles cracked up. “So unnecessary. You like torturing him?”
“It’s my house,” Derek muttered. Stiles smiled and accidentally looked down the tight planes of Derek’s chest. The details were painfully visible through the thin covering of the sleeveless shirt. He looked away, catching himself as Derek’s eyes bored into him.
“So why not just throw it out if you hate it so much?”
Derek glared at him in response and Stiles moved into a more relaxed position while he tried to refocus on the movie and navigate the menu. Derek crossed his arms over his chest and glared at the screen. Stiles couldn’t help glancing back at him and smiling at his irritation.
“Dude, we don’t have to watch this. We could do something else.”
Derek turned his glare back on Stiles. He cocked an eyebrow.
Stiles had ideas. He definitely had ideas. But he wasn’t sure if Derek was down for any of those ideas. Stiles’s mouth fell open to say something, anything, as the silence went on. His eyes got caught on Derek’s lips, then the top of his shirt where there were the curves of his collarbones, then briefly south of there before Stiles tore himself away and looked at the couch instead. When he glanced back up, Derek’s eyes were softening with realization and Stiles could tell that he was finally being unravelled. Yet he still couldn’t say a goddamn word.
Stiles sat up and moved to stare at his hands. Derek knew. He was sure of it. It’s not like Stiles was capable of subtle, and Derek’s goddamn werewolf senses meant Derek had undoubtedly figured him out. And Derek wasn’t saying anything and he wasn’t doing anything. Stiles’s throat clogged with fear.
He cleared it.
“Maybe I should just go,” his voice wavered on the words as nerves thrilled through him.
Derek cleared his throat too. The silence between them was tense and thick and Stiles worried that if he moved at all he’d officially cross the line they were hovering around.
“No.” Derek stood up. He offered a hand out to Stiles, and Stiles took it after a moment of hesitation.
He followed Derek, heart thumping in his ears, over to his bed. He didn’t quite believe it when Derek sat on the edge of it and watched Stiles carefully as he drew Stiles in by his hand until he was standing between Derek’s legs. Derek’s arms came to circle around his waist and Stiles sighed in relief as Derek pressed his nose against Stiles’s stomach, making his intentions clear.
It was quieter than Stiles had imagined. In the other universe, they were loud -- grunts and moans and laughter as they bumped into each other. In this universe, Derek silently stripped their clothes off and Stiles watched with awe as he laid back on the bed and offered himself to him. Stiles joined him after a long moment of fear and excitement and guilt tearing through his gut. Then Derek started to touch himself while watching Stiles and lust won out over all of those other emotions. Stiles eagerly spread out next to Derek and moved his hand to replace Derek’s with a gentle caress. Derek let him, their fingers tangling for a brief moment before he relented.
“Do you know… what you like?” Stiles asked, hand tentatively stroking Derek’s cock. He couldn’t take his eyes off of Derek’s face, watching him intently. He looked so focused, so opposite of the other Derek who lost control when Stiles touched him.
“I’ll like what you like,” Derek answered softly, his eyes darting down and then back up to rest on Stiles’s mouth. Stiles still wasn’t quite sure he was awake in his own body.
“Oh, that’s so not fair,” Stiles complained shakily because that opened up… so many possibilities. Stiles couldn’t sort through everything in his filthy imagination right now to settle on one thing, especially when he was actually touching Derek’s cock. Good lord. “You’ve gotta help me out.”
Derek just looked at him. His chest was slightly flushed, his skin looking satin soft in the low lighting. The curve of his chest and the contour of muscle along his abdomen had Stiles’s mouth watering.
“Ok. Then I’ll admit it -- I’ve totally been fantasizing about you topping the hell out of me.” Derek’s breath drew in quickly and his eyes widened. Stiles backtracked nervously. “But, I mean, handjobs are definitely cool with me too. Or blowjobs, god. Ah, I’m just psyched we’re doing this.”
“Stiles. Hush.” Derek sat up, and Stiles was surprised by Derek catching his lips in a kiss. It felt like Derek was trying to say something in the way he kissed him. Stiles didn’t know how to translate it, though. Derek pulled back, still looking at Stiles’s lips. “That’s fine.”
“Ok.” Stiles swallowed, his head spinning. “Ok. Yeah. Please.”
Derek kissed him a little more, sort of soft and unhurried. Stiles could feel how hard Derek was under his hands, straining. Then he leaned back and unearthed lube from the same bedside table they used in the other universe. Stiles felt dizzy at the sight of it.
“Get comfortable,” Derek told him, coating two fingers with lube. Stiles carefully propped his own hips up with a pillow.
Derek kissed his shoulders and his hips and his fingertips and for all the anger Stiles knew Derek held inside himself, he didn’t feel any of it in his gentle touch. Derek seemed almost peaceful as he opened Stiles up, touching his lips to Stiles’s ears and whispering encouragement as he moved slowly.
Derek fingered him carefully, searching on each thrust until Stiles let out a groan that let him know he’d found what he was looking for. Derek started massaging him more intently, pressing heavier kisses to the edge of Stiles’s open lips like he wanted to swallow up Stiles’s noises.
Stiles got impatient, pushing his hips in time with Derek’s thrusts and burrowing his face in Derek’s comfortable bedding to muffle some of the sounds being pulled from his throat.
Derek pulled him taught against his chest, arching one of Stiles’s legs back over his hips and replacing his fingers almost seamlessly with his cock.
Stiles gasped at the new fullness, larger and thicker than the fingers that had stretched him, more filthy when Derek pressed biting caresses to the back of his neck. Stiles groaned, melting back into Derek’s movements to give him access to anything he could want.
His head was still throbbing, his vision a little blurry if he could be honest with himself, but the ecstasy of finally having this erased all of that from the front of his mind. Derek had siphoned most of the pain from his head on the first touch, and he’d been floating since then.
As he listened to Derek’s breathing, Stiles thought maybe he’d wanted this for a lot longer than he’d let himself think. Every heated argument flashed through his head, every angry touch and snappy comeback, an image of Derek licking his lips and telling him he was impossible, and finally them sitting together on his bed with Derek’s hand quietly sapping the pain from his body. Sudden clarity that it was all a ruse covering up the desire for this flashed through him.
Stiles pulled him closer until Derek was covering him, reaching to anchor at the swell of Derek’s ass and urge him on. Derek responded with enthusiasm, holding Stiles tighter and biting down Stiles’s neck to the most sensitive meeting of his shoulder. The sensation of Derek pushing into him, deeper and harder, punctuated by Derek saying his name into his skin had Stiles squeezing his eyes shut and praying that he would always remember just how he felt then -- safe and warm and wanted. All, somehow, in the right universe.
When Derek came, it was with a soft sound of pleasure, his arms locking around Stiles. Stiles had blown along the bed long before, but loved the feeling of Derek fucking into him when he was so loose from his own orgasm.
Stiles passed out as Derek lay above him, murmuring something quietly next to his ear and touching a thumb gently to his lips.
Stiles blinked awake to the glow of the morning light filtering through the loft’s giant windows. He yawned and pushed back into the other Derek, warm skin against most of his backside. For once, he was too lost in remembering his own universe to appreciate this one.
He hadn’t quite believed that the Derek he knew in this universe was still inside his Derek, buried under all the pain of losing his family and struggling through the bloody path Beacon Hills had taken. Somehow, Stiles had found him last night.
His body turned to face Derek. He was still sleeping soundly, molded to the shape of Stiles’s form. Stiles studied him -- his long lashes, sweeping cheekbones, and the tint of his light skin. Derek completely vulnerable and relaxed, the lines of his forehead smoothed in sleep, was still a new sight to him. He hoped he could see it in his own Derek when he woke up.
His body watched the dip and rise of Derek’s chest under the covers for a long while. Stiles was happy to oblige. He couldn’t agree more with the other Stiles -- Derek was a piece of art, one he’d longed to touch and admire. Now both universes offered him the opportunity.
Stiles’s body was reaching out to trace his stubble when Derek finally stirred. He blinked awake sleepily, eyes focusing on Stiles. A small smile lit his handsome face. Stiles’s body reacted just the way Stiles wanted by scooting closer and knocking the tips of their noses together.
“Morning,” Derek sighed, closing his eyes briefly, his nostrils flaring. “I like the smell of you here.”
“Same, big guy.”
Derek smiled again and pressed the few inches closer to kiss Stiles. Stiles briefly thought about the possibility of morning breath before he caved and kissed Derek back, who didn’t seem to mind whatever his breath smelled like.
Derek’s hands skimmed his sides, tracing patterns into the skin of his back while they lay there quietly soaking each other in. Stiles’s body returned the fascination, dipping just under the tops of his boxers and resting his hands on the upper swell of Derek’s ass. It was innocent enough, just touching for touching’s sake, that Stiles didn’t even get hard. He felt at peace, in both his body and his heart, as he usually did in this universe. Even his headache diminished and he felt more refreshed than he had since the glowy, blobby thing hit him with its magical hell dust. Well, as was apparent by the situation he found himself in now, it was really more like heaven.
“You want breakfast? I think I have some eggs.” Derek broke the sweet silence.
“Don’t you have to be at the park? Is it your day off?” Stiles found himself asking on a yawn and another stretch. Derek seemed to still next to him.
Stiles turned back to Derek to see his expression rapidly cooling and shutting off in a way that was very familiar. Too familiar. Suddenly Stiles realized his mistake -- even the sheets were different, darker colors than the other universe. Panicking at the look on Derek’s face, Stiles sat up, kicking himself for not realizing earlier that his body was in tune with his desires.
“I know what you thought.” Derek’s voice was hard as he sat up too, his chest naked but his eyes shut off. “What the hell did it mean?”
Stiles’s mouth opened and shut as his happy, floaty feelings quickly evaporated.
“We’re sort of a… thing… in the other universe.”
“Uncle Stiles.” Derek frowned. “I figured.”
“Oh.” All the air rushed out of Stiles’s lungs in his surprise. “You knew?”
“Family dinners were just family.” Derek looked away from Stiles and down at the bed sheets between them.
“Shit, you’ve known since then?” Stiles gaped at him, his whole body shivering with the realization.
“I suspected.” Derek’s lips went thin. “Now I know.” He seemed to hesitate, expression storming before he got out, “You thought I was him.”
“You are the same person,” Stiles defended himself somewhat ironically. Derek’s features darkened even further at Stiles’s lighthearted comment.
“No, we’re not,” Derek bit out. His hand clenched on the bedspread and he leaned farther away from Stiles. “I thought you knew that.”
“Derek, come on.” Stiles despairingly watched Derek shrink away from him. “It was just a mistake. I’m used to waking up there,” Stiles paused, “but I woke up here. Which means… it’s gone. It faded away.” Adrenaline sent his heartbeat skyrocketing and he leapt up from the bed, grabbing painfully at his hair in his fear. “Shit. Fuck! I missed it. I missed her.”
He was pulling his pants on before he could think twice, grabbing a shirt, whoever’s shirt, and throwing it over his head. He glanced back at Derek, barely taking him in, and called an apology over his shoulder as he rushed from the apartment.
It couldn’t just dry up right before he got to see his mother for the first time in fifteen years. He had to fix this. He had to go back in, if just once, to see her.
He got in his jeep and drove to Deaton’s, his foot heavy on the gas. Deaton was just unlocking the clinic when Stiles pulled into the driveway, his car skidding and screeching to a stop even as Stiles jumped from the door.
Deaton paused in half-open door, watching Stiles sprint to him.
“It’s gone,” Stiles started haltingly while he wobbled to a stop. “I need it back. Just temporarily. Please.”
Deaton’s eyebrows met and his lips turned downward. He studied Stiles for way too long.
“Come inside, Stiles. Sit down.”
“You can do it, right? I’ll miss her.”
Deaton took a deep breath, his eyes dropping away.
“Yes.” Stiles swallowed, his mouth dry. His head was spinning.
He turned away from Stiles then. Stiles was forced to follow him into the clinic. He wanted to grab Deaton and shake an answer out of him, but he knew the druid would clam up even more. He needed to stay focused: all that mattered was getting to see his mother again, whatever it took to get Deaton to do it.
Deaton hung up his coat, pausing next to the door while Stiles shifted uneasily from foot to foot, his heartbeat still in his ears. Deaton finally turned to face him, his expression neutral and serious, unreadable as always. He waved for Stiles to follow him into the exam room and Stiles swallowed down his irritation.
As Stiles stepped past him into the exam room, Deaton grabbed his arm quicker than Stiles thought capable. He felt a prick at the bend of his arm. Stiles looked down to see a syringe sticking out of his skin, Deaton pushing the plunger to the barrel.
“I’m sorry, Stiles.”
Everything dissolved into blackness.
When Stiles woke up he was on his bed in his apartment, his headache back in full swing. He stared at the dull-looking ceiling for a few moments trying to remember how he’d ended up there. Drawing a blank, he sat up and massaged his temples to try to ease the pain in his head.
Scott stood in the doorway with a troubled look on his face. Stiles blinked at him, taking in his serious expression with confusion -- Scott’s resting face was usually happy-go-lucky.
Then he remembered the syringe in his arm. Deaton.
“Oh what the fuck is going on,” Stiles groaned, glaring at his best friend who glared right back.
“You’re sick, that’s what.” Scott chewed the inside of his lip before adding more quietly, “We don’t know what you’ll do.”
“I’m sick? Deaton just went Dexter on me! He knocked me out with a shot!”
“I know. I picked you up from the clinic. Deaton told me the whole thing.”
“What the hell?” His head was really killing him; everything was sluggish and blurry again. “What do you mean you know? What is going on?”
“Stiles, you’re sick from that blobby thing.” Scott waved his arms in some sort of frenzied reference to the thing that exploded on Stiles. “The other druid lady that you talked to, she’s a specialist in time-space distortion. She said…” Scott stopped and bit his lip. “She said we need to keep a close eye on you. That thing messed with your head, bad, and now you’re… you don’t know what you’re doing. I’m sorry, buddy.”
“Scott. I’m fine. And I thought counselors weren’t supposed to tell other people your secrets. If she even was a counselor… I knew that skype business was skeevy,” Stiles growled, feeling powerless and a little humiliated by the pity in his friend’s eyes. He wondered what she had shared with them if they were knocking him out with shots.
“Normally they can’t, but she thought you might be, well, dangerous -- to yourself, mostly.”
“Dangerous?” Stiles rocked back in shock. “I’m not… I’m fine! Look at me!”
Scott’s eyes skimmed over him, softening into what was undeniably pity. Ok, it wasn’t a well-thought through defense. Maybe Stiles didn’t look that great lately, he could admit that, but that didn’t mean he was dangerous.
“Stiles, you’re clinically exhausted from zapping back and forth between the dimensions. You haven’t been dreaming right, and your brain needs to dream otherwise toxins build up and they make you… crazy. Which, honestly, you’ve already been a little bit lately. But this is no joke. You literally could have died if this had gone on much longer.”
Stiles’s mouth dropped to argue, but Scott cut him off by surging ahead.
“That thing was evil, like we thought. It disrupted the balance of nature Deaton’s always going off about, ok? It…”
“What, Scott? Just spit it out.”
“Deaton said there are infinite universes, and it opened the door to the universe you most wanted. People affected by this thing get lost there. It’s a wasting disease. They don’t want the dreams to stop and they sleep all the time until they… just wither away. Look at yourself -- you’ve lost at least ten pounds, if not more, since this started. Do you remember eating? Drinking? Even with the connection to the other universe gone, the effects of the sleep deprivation… it isn’t good. You need a few nights of uninterrupted sleep to recover. Once you’ve gotten sleep, it won’t be so bad, Stiles. Everything will get better.”
“Scott. Please. I just…” Stiles swallowed hard, dim understanding muddying in the pressing need to be in the other universe. “Just one more time. I just need to see her.”
Scott’s face spasmed with worry and he backed into the doorway.
“I’m so sorry, Stiles. You can’t go back. That’s what’s been killing the people in the forest -- somewhere near where that thing exploded is a rip in time-space that’s connected to you. Every time you open that door, if someone in another universe is too close to the rip they get sucked in and pulled to our dimension. It could be anyone, and it’s always deadly. We can’t risk opening it again, not even once.” Scott softened, his hand on the door. “Try to get some sleep. I’ll give you food in a few hours. I promise everything will be better if you just get some rest and try to recover.”
Stiles stared in disbelief as the door shut and locked from the outside.
After cursing silently at the door Scott locked behind him, Stiles fell back on his bed and tore at his hair in frustration.
He needed back into that universe. He had to. He couldn’t explain it, but he knew Scott was wrong about this; Stiles felt it in his very bones. Besides, opening the rip didn’t mean death, necessarily -- they’d only found two bodies in all the time he'd been dreaming of the other universe, so the odds were good that everything would be fine. But Deaton obviously wouldn’t be any help, so Stiles was going to have to figure it out for himself.
He tried the internet first, but it was disconnected and the router was out in the living room. His phone was gone -- Scott must have lifted it from him while he was knocked out.
He went to his bookshelf and took out the old spell book he kept for emergencies. He wasn’t skilled in using his spark, it was kind of a last resort actually, but he had to try to throw something together if it was his only shot at getting back to the other universe.
Stiles spent the next few hours looking for something, anything, in the cracked pages of the ancient book. He ended up passed out on the floor, his face pressed to the paper.
When he woke up again, it was dark outside his window. The alarm clock next to his bed glowed brightly in announcing the late hour of the night.
Stiles carefully smoothed the wrinkled page of the spell book and glared down at his shaking hands in the dim light. The same strong determination refueled him as he rubbed his eyes free of sleep.
He relocated to his bed and flipped on his bedside lamp. He opened the book to the page he’d slept on and kept reading.
It wasn’t until early morning when he set the book down next to him in dismay that something sparkly caught his eye. Then he remembered he hadn’t changed his sheets since the night of the incident.
He scrambled off the bed and carefully lifted the pillow. Sure enough, a few sparkling particles were scattered on the bedspread nearest to his head. He’d forgotten to clean them up.
He gathered as many as he could in a tiny pile in the middle of his palm. Excitement coursed through him as he moved back onto the bed, looking intently at the pile of sparkling dust in the tiny dish.
He willed the dust to be alive, to be what it once was. He accessed that tiny, burning part of him and fanned it with as much power as he could muster, focusing it all on the dust pile in his hand.
The pile seemed to flare brighter in the dim lighting. Stiles felt his heart quicken with excitement and he whispered a “holy shit, yes,” under his breath.
The door creaked open.
Stiles looked up and froze under Derek’s pale eyes. Derek's eyes locked on Stiles’s hand and the sparkling powder. Stiles saw realization dawn in Derek’s face and scrambled to toss the dust onto himself.
But a body was hurtling over him, so fast all Stiles saw was a blur. Stiles flew back into the headboard, his vision going technicolor for a few seconds after the impact.
When he could refocus again on his surroundings, a heavy weight lay motionless in his lap: Derek. His open eyes stared up at the ceiling, his body twisted in the same position it had fallen in. Horror flooded through Stiles’s system at the lifelessness of his face and Stiles lurched to feel for a pulse in his neck.
He relaxed somewhat when he felt it, course and strong, under his fingers. He found himself shaking Derek’s shoulders and yelling his name in the irrational hope that he could break whatever spell the dust had put him under.
“Shit. Shit, I hope I looked like this too when I first got hit. Shit,” Stiles cursed to himself just as Scott came busting through the open door still dressed in his pajamas.
“What are you doing -- Derek? What happened?”
“Derek-- he got in the way and I -- I needed to go back, just one more time, Scott --”
Scott’s expression darkened as he took in Derek lying motionless on the bed. The sight of Scott’s reaction refreshed Stiles’s horror and he felt his throat pinch tight.
“What did you do to him?”
“I had some of that dust left-- I nudged it with my spark... and he… he got in the way.”
Scott looked at him once, disappointment clear, and then moved to Derek’s side, phone already out and dialing. Stiles choked on his fear as his gaze caught on Derek’s unseeing eyes and shame crushed him from the inside out.
Stiles listened with a tornado raging through his chest as Deaton examined Derek and informed them that Derek was asleep, as Stiles had been. Scott sighed, his whole shoulders slumping, before he shook his head at Stiles and sank into a chair.
Stiles relaxed somewhat. At least Derek was in the other universe and he would wake up soon enough. Stiles wished he was in the other universe right then, away from Scott’s judgmental looks and the stiff way Deaton turned his back on him like he expected Stiles to jump him if he didn’t watch his every move.
Stiles let them chain him to an exposed pipe in Deaton’s back room as long as he could stay near Derek and keep watch for when he would wake up. He nodded off into a dreamless, uncomfortable sleep, his neck cramping at odd angles as his head hung on his shoulders. He jerked awake throughout the day, his eyes searching and finding Derek’s still figure on the exam table before he settled back into restless sleep.
He tried not to think about the fact that Derek may have stolen his only chance to get back to the other universe and his only chance to see his mother again. As long as Derek was ok Stiles could keep searching for a way back. He could pick up the pieces of glitter off the floor and try again, but first he needed to make sure that Derek did wake up.
Stiles was afraid that he was dead wrong about this, about everything, and that Derek was never going to wake up. The silent treatment from Scott and Deaton was only reinforcing that fear.
Every time he jolted awake to the sight of Derek’s still body, he felt a little more desperate and sick with himself.
By nightfall, Stiles felt really sick. He was both shivering and sweating, alternating between chills and heat flashes, and Derek was still lying on the exam table unmoving.
Deaton gave him juice and an ice pack for his migraine without saying a word, checking Derek’s pulse before retreating to the other exam room for a long while. Eventually he came back with his coat on.
“Isaac’s on his way,” Deaton said coolly, surveying Stiles with what was clearly pity. “You need to sleep in a bed tonight.”
“Am I allowed back in my room?” Stiles asked bitterly. He felt like shit; he was allowed to be bitter.
“No.” Deaton frowned deeply at him. “Scott’s room.”
Stiles looked back at Derek.
“I’m not leaving him.”
“Isaac will watch him.”
Stiles bit his lower lip then dropped his head with a shake. He was pretty sure his insides were trying to claw their way out of his body.
Deaton paused for a moment before he disappeared from the room. He returned with a felt blanket and a pile of coats.
Stiles found that he could sleep on the floor with some discomfort over the way his chained hand pressed at an odd angle and hung inches from the floor. He stared at the top of Derek’s shoulder, which he could just barely see over the exam table from his place on the floor, and tried to ignore everything wrong with his body until he finally drifted into the aching emptiness that was his sleep now.
The next time he woke up it was morning and his body felt a thousand times better. Isaac was curled up in a chair above him. Stiles sat up sleepily and immediately checked for Derek -- who was in the same position Stiles had seen him in the night before. Stiles’s heart skipped with fear and he edged into the chair next to Isaac to shake the werewolf’s shoulders. Isaac woke with a low growl and flash of yellow.
“Unlock this handcuff. I need to check on Derek.”
“I just checked on him a few hours ago. He’s ok; I can hear his heartbeat.”
“He’s not…” Stiles swallowed down his panic. “He’s not waking up. He’s not ok.”
Isaac screwed up his face with another growl that twisted into a yawn.
“I’ll call Deaton, ok? You can’t do anything.”
“We need to wake him up,” Stiles muttered, clenching his cuffed hand and sinking back into a chair to stare at Derek. “Try to wake him up.”
Isaac rose stiffly and stood next to Derek. He leaned down and shook him by the shoulders gently, his voice quiet as he called his name. Derek lay limp and unmoving without a hint of a response.
“He’s stuck. He’s stuck in the other world.” Stiles realized, his surface calm breaking with the rising panic in his gut. “Call Deaton, Isaac, and unlock me now. I promise, I just want to help him, ok?” Stiles choked as he thought of all the ways this could end badly.
Isaac frowned at him, but he did what Stiles asked. Stiles placed a hand on Derek’s wrist, memorizing his relaxed face. His body felt warm, right, but again when Stiles called his name he saw no sign of a response.
When Deaton got there, he took Derek’s vitals and swept silently from the room. Stiles stood by, feeling jumpy, and waited.
When Deaton reappeared he was holding a syringe in one hand. Stiles froze at the sight.
“It’s the cure we were working on for you,” Deaton explained over him, his gaze steely and hard. “It’s our best shot at waking him.”
“Ok.” Stiles breathed. “Ok, ok, ok... “ he repeated to himself, trying to calm his rabbit heart.
Stiles watched the needle slide under Derek’s skin and Deaton’s practiced delivery of the orange-red substance into Derek’s veins. Deaton and Isaac stood next to the table with Stiles. The air settled as they all focused on Derek and waited in silence.
Derek turned his head first. Then his eyes fluttered. His mouth opened in a silent “o” and he brought a hand to his forehead like it hurt.
Isaac visibly relaxed and leaned into his alpha, a hand on his knee. Stiles stumbled closer to Derek’s side, taking hold of Derek’s forearm and holding tight. Derek was still blinking, one hand to his head, and his mouth turned down in a deep frown.
“You saw it,” Stiles breathed, leaning closer to catch a glimpse of those pale, beautiful eyes finally opening. “You know now. You understand.”
Derek groaned and sat up, his knees drawing up too as he buried his face in his hands. His shoulders rose and fell shakily with each breath. When he finally slid from the exam table to the floor, he pushed Stiles’s hand away. He left without another word, without looking at any of them.
When Stiles followed him out the door to the clinic he was gone. Deaton looked at Stiles with that same pity Scott had looked at him with as Stiles retreated back inside. Stiles didn’t really know what to do with himself then. He was achy, still sick from the night before, and beyond confused by Derek’s reaction. He stood in the waiting room of the clinic until Isaac touched his shoulder gently.
“He’ll be ok. You know Derek -- he needs to disappear from time to time.”
“Right,” Stiles agreed. That was true. “I forgot how much I hate that.”
Deaton opened his mouth hesitantly, looking between the two of them.
“I’m going to recommend that you stay home from work today and get some rest. I’ll pass that recommendation along to the pack. I think you’re over the worst of the withdrawals, and you should start to feel much better than you have been now that your brain is resting again.” Deaton paused. “You will continue to need constant supervision.”
“We’re locking him in Scott’s room,” Isaac supplied helpfully. Stiles rolled his eyes.
“Learning from your mistakes, I see.”
Stiles spent the rest of the day drifting in and out of sleep and thinking about Derek and what he could have seen in the other universe, what he likely experienced, and why he reacted the way he did. He saw himself, that Stiles could confirm -- he saw who he was in the other universe. He very likely saw Stiles and what they were like together, but he knew that already in theory, even if he hadn’t felt it in another body. Had he seen his family? Given how Derek had reacted to learning his family was alive and healthy, Stiles hoped so. It might have given him closure and peace. All of these seemed to Stiles like good potential experiences. With some luck, Derek would come to find him when he adjusted, as much could be expected, to this universe again. He may even want to help Stiles travel back to see his mother. They just had to find a way that wouldn’t endanger anyone, if what Scott claimed about people being sucked through the portal was true.
The day came and went with the night, and by the next day Stiles felt like a human again rather than the walking dead. He actually started to hum in the shower, which he couldn’t remember doing… since he was in high school. Wow.
Derek didn’t come to him right away, so Stiles decided to visit as soon as the Scott felt comfortable leaving him to himself. He waited patiently while Scott sniffed at him and Deaton prodded at him and Melissa shined lights in his eyes and everyone declared him physically fine again. Scott let Stiles back into his own room and sent him back to the Sheriff with the equivalent of a signed note for his absence. His dad welcomed him back to the station but warned that he better stay clear of any funny business for a while since he couldn’t professionally cover his butt anymore without favoritism being declared.
The only thing left was a psych eval by that damn Skype therapist. Stiles was not happy to see her, but he knew the pack wouldn’t ease up fully until she gave the all-clear, so he forced himself to talk.
“How do you feel about this universe now?” she asked him, her big moon eyes infuriating. She was wearing green lipstick this time, her multicolored dreadlocks twisted into a knot on her head to show off the range of piercings along the shells of her ears.
“It sucks,” Stiles managed eloquently. “Of course I miss the other universe -- a lot of people I love are still alive over there. That seems pretty normal to me. Does that make me dangerous? You going to report me to the pack?” he challenged.
“No,” she eyed him, “unless you’re planning on opening the portal again, despite the deadly risks to other people.”
“I don’t want to hurt anyone,” Stiles admitted glumly.
“Good.” She arched an eyebrow. “So you agree that when you tried to edge it back open it was stupid and reckless and you won’t try it again? That is, given you say you’re in your right state of mind.”
“Alright, I will give you that one for sleep deprivation,” Stiles conceded after chewing his lip and allowing himself to hate her and the fact that she was right for a few moments. “I won’t try that way again.”
“You won’t try to open the portal again,” she stated clearly. She tilted her head to the side in Stiles’s silence. “Yeah, I know all about how clever you are, Stiles Stilinski. I got a mouthful from your alpha when I told him to keep you under a close eye. He also told me you wouldn’t intentionally hurt someone to get what you want.”
Stiles shifted, uncomfortable. Derek never complimented him to his face. It was hard to imagine.
“My mother’s alive there.”
“So you will.” Both eyebrows went up.
“I’m going to keep looking for a way in that won’t hurt anyone,” Stiles argued, his hackles rising.
“You won’t find it,” the druid said. “I’ve been looking for years.”
“What?” Stiles snapped to attention. She looked wistful, sad. Her dewy eyes fluttered shut briefly.
“Someone I loved was dragged through a rip in space years ago.” She opened her eyes. “I’ve been studying them ever since, and how to open and close them. The problem is this: nature demands balance, and there’s always too high a price to pay for using that kind of energy. What you encountered in the woods… they are harbingers, destroyers. They suck in energy and use it to traverse time and space, leaving trails of bodies and death in their wake. Their disease is one they suffer from themselves -- the idea that there’s always a better universe to chase after. Nothing is ever good enough for them.”
Stiles found that his mouth had dried up when he tried to swallow. She waited patiently for him to respond before letting a breath go and continuing.
“That is why we must learn to accept what has happened and what we are not meant to have.”
“Why?” Stiles croaked finally. It felt like a useless, hopeless question, but she seemed to have the answers to so many other things that Stiles didn’t.
She shrugged. It seemed a callous response to the raw feelings plunging through Stiles’s veins.
“Make the best of what you have here. There must be things you appreciate; focus on them. Cultivate the relationships in this universe that are important to you. Grow those things rather than pining over what cannot be changed.” Then, more softly, “Let her go. Let whatever you saw there become a fond memory and bring your attention back to what’s real, here and now.”
Stiles ground his teeth together, guilt and longing and fear competing for dominance in his chest. An echo of his mother’s smell filtered through his nose. He thought about Derek, both Dereks, and the family there. Finally, he nodded. Stiles hated her, but she oddly reminded him of Lydia in how she always seemed to be right.
“I’ll recommend your supervision be lifted if you agree to weekly meetings with me.”
“For how long?”
Stiles didn’t have much of a choice but to grudgingly agree.
He hadn’t spent a lot of time looking at the door to Derek’s loft, mostly because Derek always opened it all nervous and jumpy with his “what is it who died” face right as Stiles was coming up the stairs. Now Stiles had time to stare at it, look at the fine scrapes in the unpainted metal. It didn’t bode well for what he would find inside that Derek let him stand there staring at his door.
Stiles didn’t bother knocking. Derek either knew he was there or he was gone. He tried the handle; it gave, the door silently opening into the loft. Only a few lights were on, one up on the second floor and one in the kitchen. The rest of the loft was filled with shadow from the late hour.
Stiles made it halfway up the stairs before Derek appeared at the top. His closed-off expression was achingly familiar. It had started to chip away recently, but it looked like Derek had taken this time away from Stiles to repair and strengthen it.
“I’m guessing you don’t actually want to see me but you also don’t want to throw me out,” Stiles ventured, clinging to the railing for some sense of stability. This wasn’t how he expected Derek to act at all. He couldn’t see the reasoning behind this; Derek should be happy, or at least happy with Stiles for taking him to what was essentially heaven.
“I don’t want to see you,” Derek repeated Stiles’s words calmly. Then after a moment’s thought. “I’m still considering the second one.”
“What the hell, man?” Stiles tried, somewhat weakly.
Derek’s eyes narrowed and the corners of his mouth sharpened.
“You saw it,” Stiles breathed, feeling like he was telling Derek a secret. “You know what it was like. I’m sorry I sent you there that way, but I’m not sorry you went.” Stiles ran a hand through his hair as Derek’s expression remained unchanging. “I mean, are you pissed at me because you got in my way?”
“Your reckless, stupid --”
“Yeah, alright. It was dangerous. I got it. I’m not going to try again,” Stiles cut him off. He’d had his ass handed to him by enough people over this particular issue already. Derek bristled at his interruption.
“Yeah, I saw what you saw. Exactly what you saw,” Derek muttered, growling through his chest on “exactly”.
“Ok. Explain to me the bad in this situation. Why haven’t you tried to see me? Especially after…” Stiles stopped, remembering their night together. It had been a bright spot in the haze that was the last few weeks -- a big one. One of the best things to happen to Stiles, actually.
“Everything’s better over there, isn’t it?” Derek scoffed, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “Everything.”
“Right,” Stiles said cautiously, reading the spike in the lines of tension that made up Derek’s body and still not understanding why. “Ok, everything’s better. I agree.”
Derek just glared at him for a few moments and Stiles got the sense that he was supposed to catch on to something. Stiles bit the inside of his lip, trying to put the pieces together. Derek was pissed because everything was better. Everything. Maybe he was having a hard time readjusting to this universe, the way that Stiles had?
“It sucks, I know. To see what you could have had,” Stiles tried.
Derek shook his head, his shoulders slumping. Stiles idly wished they would move from the stairwell. It felt uneven and uncomfortable, like they weren’t really having this conversation, and it was one that was obviously important to Derek.
Derek’s mask of anger slipped and for a moment Stiles saw the same vulnerability he’d admired so much when he’d woken up next to him. A flicker of pain came through and Stiles rocked back on the stairwell. Derek’s eyes darted away as the anger returned swiftly.
“I’m not him, Stiles. I never will be.” His voice was even and low, but the words hit Stiles like they were shouted at him.
“I know,” Stiles said quickly, scrambling as the pieces finally fit together. Derek was jealous of the other Derek. Worse -- he thought Stiles was trying to use him as a substitute.
“No, you don’t,” Derek said carefully, looking over his shoulder and not in his eyes. He took a deep breath and held it. Then he let it out. “And I don’t want to deal with it.”
Stiles swallowed hard at that because that was… Derek pushing him away. Hard. Definitive.
“Look,” Stiles licked his lips, his voice wavering, “I just want you, ok? My feelings for you are real. I know that.”
“And I know the image you have in your head now. Intimately.” Derek’s lip curled, but his eyes didn’t match the aggression; they just looked sad. “I’m not wired like that, not anymore. So don’t expect anything from me.”
“You’re ending this.” Stiles’s lower lip shook on the words and his throat clogged. He blinked and the next second his vision was swimming. “We didn’t even start. We didn’t even try.”
“I want you out,” Derek growled, his eyes flaring red. The anger in his expression was real now. “Don’t come to me again.”
“Out?” Hot tears spilled over his lashes. “From here… or from the pack?”
Derek didn’t answer, his eyes still a smoldering red. He turned and left Stiles there on the staircase.
Stiles sank down, landing hard on the step.
Stiles didn’t really remember getting from Derek’s apartment to his own. Somehow he stumbled into his bed and passed out into another aching, dreamless sleep with nothing but darkness.
Scott woke him up by shaking him the next morning. Stiles shoved him away and buried his head back in his pillows.
“You can’t miss any more work. Your dad will literally be forced to fire you, Stiles. Get the hell up.”
Stiles was silently pondering whether it would matter all that much if he was fired. Of course, rationally, it did; it was just hard to remember why exactly at that moment. And his bed was comfortable.
Scott left and Stiles squeezed his eyes shut, trying to find the energy to get up. It wasn’t there. He was empty and exhausted. He felt Scott sink back onto the bed with him.
“If I couldn’t smell how depressed you are right now, you would so be getting a bucket full of ice water over your head.”
“Not even a witty retort. Seriously, buddy.” Scott sighed. “I made you toast. Sit up and eat it.”
Stiles grunted again.
“I’m not going to nurse you,” Scott said patiently.
“You did make me toast,” Stiles pointed out.
“There he is.” Scott sounded pleased. “Now put all the energy you have for sarcasm into sitting up and eating breakfast.”
Stiles painfully dragged himself out from under his pillows and into a sitting position. It was obviously light outside, and Stiles had no idea what time it was -- he’d forgotten to set an alarm last night. He could be late to work already.
Stiles ate the toast slowly while Scott sat there in silence and eyebrowed him. Stiles finally huffed and asked, “What?”
“You were better. A lot better.” Scott tilted his head in a way that always reminded Stiles of a dog. “What happened?”
Stiles took another bite of toast and chewed it. Damn Scott, but it was good. He didn’t regret sitting up anymore.
Scott opened his mouth and then closed it. He tilted his head again.
“You smell like Derek.”
There was a lot in the way he said that. It was really more of a question. Stiles didn’t know what Scott was asking and how much he knew and how much Stiles even wanted to tell him so he opted for the easiest route -- feigning ignorance.
“You saw him yesterday,” Scott said, patient again. “What happened?”
Stiles finished off his toast and swallowed to give himself time to make the decision of how much to tell Scott. There was one thing his best friend would definitely find out about.
“I think he kicked me out of the pack.”
Scott’s face immediately twisted into outrage.
“What? Why? He wouldn’t do that. He couldn’t do that -- too many of us would walk without you.”
“He absolutely can.” Stiles set his plate on his bedside table and the white plate against the black wood reminded him oddly of the moon. He almost laughed at how much werewolves had come to dominate his every thought. His life with wolves had shaped his perspective and defined him up until that point. He didn't even know what to do with himself now. “I’m a human so my pack bond is weak. I lift right out without Derek’s support.”
“What happened to you wasn’t your fault. You were infected. Also, you weren’t that bad -- none of that even comes close to warranting -- jesus, what the hell is he thinking?” Scott mumbled. “Even for Derek, this is.. completely disproportionate. Maybe something’s wrong with him like there was with you? Leftover from the spell?”
Stiles chewed his tongue. There was so much he hadn’t told Scott. He couldn’t explain it all this morning and he wasn’t sure that's what he wanted, or needed. If Derek wanted him out, he was out. There was nothing Scott could really do about that.
“You’ve done so much for the pack. Everyone will fight this, and if he doesn’t let you back in then I’m out too.”
“Yeah, you’re out and then back in like every other month, Scotty. That doesn’t really sway him anymore.”
“Not this time. This time it’s for real.”
“You need a pack,” Stiles said softly. “I don’t. It might be better if I’m not formally involved anymore, anyway. Maybe someday…” But Stiles didn’t think that was true so he stopped there and just shrugged. Scott stared at him.
“I better go. At least my dad hasn’t disowned me yet. I owe him this much.”
Going back to work actually provided him with a distraction. He made it on time by some miracle (named Scott) and found himself with a pile of desk work. His dad had demoted him somewhat during his period of illness, and Stiles was actually grateful to him for it. Fieldwork would have been too dangerous for him when he wasn’t in his right state of mind. Now that he was rested, he could recognize the extreme levels of exhaustion he reached when he was dimension hopping.
Working through paperwork felt almost surreal. In the back of his head, Derek’s red eyes and his voice saying, “I want you out,” haunted him and kept him from truly focusing.
There was no denying that living in the other universe and then facing Derek’s rejection had left him depressed. For the next few days, he did what was necessary at work and nothing more before coming home to curl up in front of the TV.
He didn’t know where he fit -- with the pack, but also in his job, which was partially a cover for unearthing supernatural crimes to report back to the pack. That mantel might have to pass to his father again, but Stiles was meant to replace the Sheriff in that role since he was nearing retirement. Somehow, over the past seven years of werewolf mayhem and sinking into the supernatural blackhole, Derek had become a permanent and central fixture in the mess of his life. Removing him, and removing himself from Derek’s life, was going to be even messier, but it was what Derek had demanded of him.
Stiles was sure now that he was in love with Derek. But Derek had decided that Stiles was using him, and Stiles didn’t want to live with that kind of accusation. Still, he wasn’t sure how to, or even if he could, get over him. If Derek would just talk to him and give him a chance to explain, Stiles wondered if he could get Derek to see things from his perspective. Derek had made it abundantly clear that he wasn’t ready to listen, though, and Stiles dreaded the real possibility that he may never be.
Stiles wasn’t good at giving people space. He was also absolutely terrible at letting go. Stiles realized that both were essential for this situation if he was going to get through it without Derek hating him. Unfortunately, that meant that he didn’t know what to do with himself when he had the urge to call Derek or knock on his door twenty times a day. So, instead, he did a lot of nothing. Scott chose to call it “moping”.
“I resent that,” Stiles called from under two blankets. A bag of chips was hidden somewhere under it with him.
“Stop eating junk. I bought onions today, and garlic. Eat something with a vegetable in it.”
“I guess I could make something really smelly.”
“You said we were out.”
“Smelly is good.” Stiles watched a cheetah chase down and then devour an antelope on the screen.
“You know Animal Planet depresses you even more.” Scott frowned at him, coming into Stiles’s limited view from under his blankets.
“It’s my therapy,” Stiles argued without any heat. The cheetah was feeding her cubs now and teaching them how to hunt. It weirdly made Stiles think of Derek. Ok, so linoleum made Stiles think of Derek because Stiles was just wired to think of Derek. Stupid, beautiful, frustrating Derek who hated him.
Scott eventually left for his late shift and Stiles drifted into his room. He’d been wearing the same pair of sweats after work for days, and they were definitely at their expiration point.
He was rummaging around in his dresser for a pair of clean ones when he looked up into the mirror by chance and his world came crashing down around him. Looking back at him from the glass was unmistakably his mother’s face.
“You… are not who I expected,” she said lightly. One eyebrow lifted as she looked Stiles up and down. Her voice sounded echo-y and almost tinny, like it was traveling through a long tunnel before it reached Stiles’s ears. She looked like Stiles in a lot of ways, except blonder and with even more moles. Stiles couldn’t believe how much he’d missed her. It rocketed through his chest and he suddenly couldn’t breathe.
“Sorry to give you a fright,” she waved a little and gestured around her. The rest of the mirror did not reflect his bedroom back to him, but whatever room his mother was sitting in. “In my defense, you spooked me first.”
Stiles could only stare. The shape of her jaw surprised him, as did the streaks of grey starting at her temples and blooming out through her wavy blonde hair. She was wearing a deep green shirt. She had a quirk to her smile that Stiles recognized in his own smile.
“You are much quieter than my Stiles. You can still speak in that dimension, right?” she asked eventually, her eyebrows tweaking with concern.
Stiles cleared his throat. It felt like years since he’d used it last.
“Yes,” he rasped.
“Oh good. My ASL is in worse shape than my magic.” She laughed at that and Stiles marveled at the sound of it, like stepping into a warm house after spending too long out in the cold. He closed his eyes briefly as tears of wonder sprang to his eyes.
“Are you alright?” his mom asked next, her tone more subdued than the playful way she’d been speaking to him. Stiles nodded immediately. He was better than alright.
“I’m sorry… it’s just so good to see you.”
His mother’s expression dimmed with understanding.
“I’m sorry,” Stiles amended quickly. What would it be like to realize you were dead in another dimension?
“I’m sorry,” she replied shaking her head. “For not being there.”
Stiles’s throat caught and his mouth glued shut at the words that went straight through him.
“Oh dear.” She looked like she wanted to reach through the mirror. “Don’t cry, sweetie. Let’s talk about something else.”
“Ok,” Stiles agreed. The words were thick on his tongue. His mother’s soft eyes turned forcedly cheerful as she changed the subject.
“I believe you were riding around in your counterpart in this dimension for quite a while. You left a residue on him that I spotted the moment I saw him at the airport. Worried me quite a bit, but it took me a while to find the right spell to trace the residue back to you.”
“Yeah, I-- I was cursed by something here. We fixed it, though, before either of our heads exploded.”
“Yeah, no kidding. I’m glad you’re both in one piece. When I saw that someone had been possessing him, I nearly lost it myself.” She gestured to the mirror frame she was situated in. “I’m glad it was just another version of him.”
Stiles sighed. He tried to surreptitiously wipe the drying tears from his eyes. “Sorry for being such a creeper. Wasn’t intentional.”
“That’s alright. I think he’ll be quite pleased to find out it was just himself. And so will Derek, geez. See anything good?”
Stiles’s throat caught again. He was really talking to his mother.
“You didn’t see me before,” she teased lightly.
Stiles wasn’t sure if this was the sort of thing he should talk about with his mother because he hadn’t had a mother in so long. Melissa was close, but it was the sort of thing that couldn’t be replaced.
“Can you tell me about… me and Derek?”
His mother sat up a little straighter, her eyes shining.
“Do you have a Derek?”
“I wish.” Stiles tried for joking, but it came out longing instead. His mother’s eyes softened and she leaned forward, obviously waiting for him to explain. He took a deep breath and started at the beginning.
Claudia listened and nodded along, never saying a word, as Stiles recounted how he’d ended up exiled from Derek’s friends list and possibly officially cut off from the pack. At the end of it, she sat back and thought for a moment. Her eyes seemed to sparkle when she thought. She was wiry like him, even in her older age, and Stiles realized with a jolt that they shared the same mouth as she touched her finger to her lips in thought. He’d known it before in an abstract way from looking at photographs, but now in life it was almost like looking into a mirror. Hah.
“Your Derek has some serious trust issues,” she eventually surmised.
“Understatement.” He hadn’t disclosed what Derek had told him about Kate; it wasn’t his secret to tell.
“So that’s your way in.” She pointed at him. “Trust. How can you convince him you’re still worthy of it?”
“I don’t even know if he’ll let me near him again, so.”
“You’re both going to have to be a little uncomfortable if you’re going to give it another shot. That means pushing his boundaries somewhat, and yours. Yours more than his because you’re the one who needs to apologize.”
“What should I do?”
“That’s going to take some thinking. What did he trust you with? How did he show that to you? Is there anything you’ve done in the past that he responded to well? If you’re going to go to him again, you need to keep his attention before he can shut you down. You’ve got to make some kind of gesture. He’s a fast runner, you know. He won’t stick around anywhere he doesn’t want to be.” Her lips quirked in humor and Stiles felt another warm wave of love for her.
“The easiest way to let someone know they can trust you is showing your own vulnerability.” Claudia noted, leaning easily back against her chair. Stiles considered that. It was a terrifying suggestion.
“Thanks.” Stiles smiled. “Mom.”
“You’re welcome, kid.” She smiled back, big and beautiful and genuine. Stiles’s heart both ached and rejoiced.
“I know… you’re not her, but my dad here… he would want me to tell you that he loves you.”
“Oh, I know that, sweetie. Don’t worry. I’m sure your dad would make that abundantly clear in any dimension.” She waved her hand, easing the tension. “In fact, you got his streak for big gestures. Though Derek probably won’t like quite the same things as I do… well, I have faith that you can come up with something that will win your Derek over in no time.”
“That makes one of us.”
“Look,” She smiled again. “You always seem to underestimate how Derek feels about you. I have a feeling that you guys can make it any dimension too. Try, ok? Promise me that. He might surprise you.”
Stiles wiped tears from his eyes again and sniffed. He nodded.
“I can’t stand making you sad,” she lamented with a big sigh, her smile dropping into worry. “And I’ve got to go to dinner with, well, you. And Derek. You want me to give him a hard time for you?”
“Mom,” Stiles laughed, eyes still watery. “That’s not fair. Well.” Stiles considered it. “Maybe.”
She laughed too. They both grinned at each other until Claudia heaved another sigh.
“You want me to check back in with you sometime? Or should we say our goodbyes?”
Stiles shuddered at the thought. His first instinct was a resounding yes, but... was it better to see her again, or was it exactly what the druid had warned him about -- pining over an image of what he could never truly have?
“How are you doing this?” Stiles found himself asking. “Does it hurt you?”
“I’ve cleared a window into your dimension. Not technically space travel, so it doesn’t require massive amounts of energy. I’ll be tired after this, but I won’t, well,” she made a croaking sound and laughed again. Stiles didn’t find that joke quite as funny.
“If… if it isn’t too much. If you're sure it isn't dangerous to you, then yes, I want to see you again.” Stiles gave in, his feet feeling like they were falling out from under him at the admission. Relief, rather than guilt, settled in his gut.
“Then this isn’t goodbye,” she said cheerfully. “So don’t cry, ok?”
“Bye, mom,” Stiles whispered.
She waved. Then the mirror dissolved into an image of his face, red and puffy with some combination of ecstasy and misery. He was left to look in the mirror at himself for a long time.
Stiles drove over to Derek’s place before he lost his nerve. He stood next to his car for a solid minute, looking at the loft’s high windows, steeling himself for whatever Derek’s reaction might be. He finally wiped his sweaty palms against his jeans and trudged up the stairs of the cold building. Stiles was struck by how it was less of a place for people to live than one for things to exist inside.
The door was predictably locked because Derek’s wolf ears always knew when Stiles was coming. Stiles sat down just outside the door and wrapped his arms around his knees as if he could protect himself from what he was about to do. He stared at the metal of the door, memorizing the many imperfections. His heart pounded. He felt like his body was floating and he could barely feel his hands.
“When I was eight,” Stiles started, his heartbeat paradoxically slowing, as though the words released him, “my mom started showing symptoms of frontotemporal dementia. It’s very unusual in people under forty. She presented with symptoms similar to what happened to me with the nogitsune.” Stiles smoothed his hands down his calves, the rough feeling of his jeans on his fingers grounding him somehow. “She… declined rapidly. My dad eventually had to institutionalize her because he couldn’t take care of both of us at home. I think now… it was also because he was afraid she might hurt me.”
“We went to visit her almost everyday after school got out and my dad finished with work. I remember playing in the hospital, drawing pictures with my mom, and bringing her flowers. She was different but she was still my mom. She remembered who I was most of the time.”
“I got used to bringing her things, so when she asked me to bring her a peanut butter cookie I didn’t even think about it. After school, I walked from the bus to a convenience store and bought her a cookie with part of my allowance. It was kind of a shitty one, truth be told. I’m surprised they actually put real peanut butter in it.” Stiles stared hard at his knees. He was floating off the ground now, he was sure of it. “I didn’t tell my dad because she asked for it to be a secret between the two of us. I was eight, so I thought… you know, I thought it was like how dad wouldn’t let me have too many cookies. I gave it to her secretly when my dad wasn’t paying attention.”
“She was severely allergic to peanut butter. I don’t know how I never… never knew that growing up. My dad didn’t blame me. Somehow, he never blamed me. He said that mom just decided it was time.” Stiles cleared his throat. “That I was her angel. Didn’t feel like it.”
The door swung open in front of him. Derek stood there looking a little wrecked. Stiles swallowed.
“I couldn’t even tell Scott, I was so ashamed,” Stiles said. He was hypnotized by the shock and secondhand sorrow in Derek’s face. Did he look like that too? Stiles fought to keep talking, the calm breaking in the sea of emotions he kept under wraps most of the time. He choked out the words, “I still feel like I killed her.”
Derek sat down in front of him, his legs spread on either side of Stiles’s bent ones, and pulled their foreheads together over his knees. His firm hand on the back of Stiles’s neck steadied the world swirling around him, like he was an anchor for Stiles to draw from.
Stiles closed his eyes, a few tears spilling out as he did. He let the warmth of Derek’s presence bring him back down until he could feel the ground under him again.
“You get it.” Stiles was still choking on his words, but he could get them out if he tried. “In more ways than one, you understand. Who we are in the other dimension… I can never be that Stiles with that Derek. I just want to be what we can be. It may not be as bright and shiny and disgustingly sappy, but honestly I don’t think I can want that anymore. I thought I did at first, when I was just watching, because who wouldn’t? But in my own life, my own skin? You said you’re not wired that way anymore; I’m not either. Maybe our version can be good too, though. I want to try... with you.”
Derek nodded, his forehead still pressed to Stiles’s. Stiles moved to feel the heat of his skin as his arms encircled Stiles’s shoulders, pressing against the firm muscle of Derek’s forearms.
“Come inside,” Derek whispered.
When Stiles woke up the next morning, he knew exactly where he was. The sheets were dark, the loft was sparse -- even the light shifting through the windows was blue-tinged.
Derek was curled next to him, tangled in the comforter like he’d fought with it during the night. Black stubble painted his cheeks and throat, and if Stiles looked closely he could see the fine lines of worry carved under Derek’s eyes and around his mouth.
He was perfect.
“What?” Derek hadn’t even opened his eyes and already his mouth was twisting down into a frown.
“Hmm,” Stiles hummed noncommittally. Derek’s nose twitched like he was irritated. Stiles knew he wasn’t.
“It’s my hair, isn’t it? It looks ridiculous in the morning.”
Stiles laughed before he could help himself.
“I had no idea you worried about your bed head.”
Derek grunted and tried to turn away from him. Stiles grabbed for him quickly and manhandled him back into facing him. Then he leaned in and kissed him before he could move.
“I’m learning new things about you. It’s nice.”
Derek grunted again, but this time he pressed closer rather than away. It reminded Stiles with a jolt of their first morning together -- and how terribly it had ended. Now that he looked back on it, he was horribly reckless with Derek when they were in a fragile position with each other.
“I’m really sorry. I was… a sleep-deprived dick to you. Like, a lot.”
Derek sighed, his thumb coming up to sweep over Stiles’s cheek as he cupped his hand along Stiles’s jaw.
“I guess you’re forgiven.”
“Shit. What do I have to do to make that more of a firm commitment?”
“Breakfast might help.”
Stiles grinned, leaning over Derek to check his alarm clock. It was sleek and black and Stiles thought a little impractical for actually telling the time since the hands of the clock were also a dark, hard-to-make out color. But, it looked cool. Very Derek-like.
“You’re in luck. I somehow don’t have to rush off to the station. Pancakes?”
“Hell.” Derek yawned, stretching. “Yes.”
Stiles felt a thrill as he moved around Derek’s kitchen like he belonged there, unearthing the pans and discovering where and what kind of ingredients Derek kept on hand. It mostly turned out to be a lot of protein powder. Helpful.
“You want protein flavored pancakes?” Stiles asked sarcastically as he heated up the skillet and drizzled in batter. “Or blueberry? I found some frozen ones, thank god.”
Derek emerged dressed from the bathroom and leaned against the counter to watch him silently. It was comforting, actually. Stiles was starting to appreciate Derek’s silent presence.
“So am I going to learn all of your weird little quirks from painful experience or are you going to give me a heads-up first?” Stiles asked.
“What are you talking about?” Derek tilted his head at him.
“Dude, you are obviously really nitpicky about your stuff. Everything is so fucking clean. I don’t think Scott’s and my apartment’s ever been this clean, even when we moved in and there was nothing in it.”
Derek snorted and edged a little closer to watch Stiles arrange the blueberries in the shape of a smiley face in the pancake.
“If you cook, I’ll clean up,” Derek offered with the quirk of an eyebrow. Stiles smiled and leaned in to seal the deal with a kiss. Derek easily gave in, opening his mouth a little to let Stiles delve deeper.
When the pancakes were piled on their dishes, they sat down across from each other at the counter to eat. Derek only took a few bites before he set his fork down and crossed his hands in front of him.
“I saw them, my family,” Derek said softly, staring intently at his hands. They both took a moment to appreciate what that meant. “I still haven’t… it doesn’t feel real.” Stiles reached instinctively, and this time Derek met his hand halfway across the table, intertwining their fingers. He smiled at Stiles and Stiles was a little floored by it. “It made me realize I need to do things differently here. I have to make a lot of changes to get the pack to where it’s supposed to be, to where it could be. If we can do that, we might be able to prevent things before they happen rather than scrambling to stop the bleeding after the fact.”
Stiles was a little stunned. For years Derek had stubbornly fought with Scott over every little change in rank and direction, and now he was openly admitting that they had to seriously reform.
Stiles blew out air on a smile. “Whatever I can do to help.”
“I think…” Derek looked at him deeply. “I’d like you to consider training to be an emissary. And help me with Scott, of course.”
“Of course.” Stiles grinned and Derek actually smiled back. Stiles’s smile faded with a thought.
“I saw my mother too. She initiated it -- opened a window to talk to me. It wasn’t dangerous like the portal.” Stiles hummed to himself as a thought occurred to him. “She said she would check back in with me… and maybe she could give you a chance to talk to your family over there, too. You could learn from them about how to build and run the pack the way they do.”
Derek swallowed and squeezed Stiles’s hand.
“It’s not dangerous.”
“No, I’ll even double check with that stupid Skype therapist… but no, I don’t think so. That’s what my mom said. And she might not even throw a hissy fit about it since I’m still ‘building up my relationships in this universe’.”
“That would be…”
“I know.” Stiles grinned at him.
Derek sighed, his thumb rubbing over the back of Stiles’s hand.
“Maybe this universe won’t be so bad after all,” Stiles said, hoping it would come out lighter than he felt. It didn’t. But Derek just smiled at him and scooped up a bite of pancake.
“We can try.”