Actions

Work Header

Play It Again

Chapter Text

Stiles is driving.

Stiles is driving.

Stiles is driving like the hounds of hell are chasing him, because, yeah, they basically are.

Stiles is driving like an idiot, and he knows it, but he was supposed to pick Scott up twenty minutes ago.

If by ‘hounds of hell’ you mean ‘Peter Hale.’ Maybe that’s generous. Maybe Peter doesn’t rate that kind of respect.

If he’s any later, he’s going to have to hand in his best friend card. Scott will make the disappointed-but-not-surprised face. It’ll be the candle on the cake of awful this year has been.

This is all Derek’s fault. It shouldn’t take a genius to work out that an undead uncle who killed your sister isn’t the kind of guy you should hang around with. Seriously, Derek?

This is all Dad’s fault. If he hadn’t decided the time for the safety-in-the-woods lecture was now, Stiles would’ve left on time, and would not be speeding. Seriously, Dad?

Of course, Derek is dead now. No point being mad at a dead guy. Fuck, Derek is dead.

Of course, Dad has found like three dead bodies in the woods this month. It’s fair to be worried. That’s a freaking lot of corpses, all of sudden.

He’s starting to think he’s gotten away clean when Peter runs in front of the car out of nowhere. He slams on the brakes, but he knows he’s screwed. He slaps his hand over his heart and activates the rune on the pendant there, untested and untried, for use in last resort only. He has no idea what’s going to happen; this is such a Derek plan. But it’s definitely last resort time, because Peter is grinning and reaching for the car.

He’s starting to think he won’t be more than half an hour late when a deer runs in front of the car out of nowhere. He swerves to miss it and slams on the brakes, but then he sees the tree and he knows he’s screwed. He has a split second to realize that he’s going to die. And that that is going to kill Dad.

The car crashes.

The car crashes.

* * *

And everything goes black.

* * *

Stiles wakes up in the hospital, and he knows everything is wrong before he even opens his eyes. He can’t feel anyone nearby, and it’s terrifying. He can’t remember the last time he was left alone in this much pain. There should be a werewolf on either side of him doing their awesome pain removal thing—he knows his rights.

Instead, there’s only Dad, asleep in a chair beside the bed. And hey, not that Dad isn’t awesome, he’s totally awesome, just. Not great with the magical morphine skills. Stiles is really confused for a second before it all starts coming back. He quickly decides he liked confusion better.

Of course he’s alone. Derek is dead, Peter’s on a rampage, Scott is hopefully halfway to Argentina by now—nobody knows where Stiles is. He’s supposed to be meeting up with Scott and the (surviving) betas in a couple of days.

…And in fact, so is Dad. Why is Dad here? And why can’t Stiles sense him at all?

He looks around for his backpack. It’s on the floor next to him; it’ll be kind of a reach. Plus he’ll have to work around the IV, gleck. No matter how many times this happens, it never gets less weird that that thing is actually in his vein, seriously inside his circulatory system, that is just, that is freaky. On the other hand, he only has five leads hooking him up to his heart monitor, so despite all the stabbing chest pain he has going on, they apparently don’t think he’s in danger of cardiac arrest. (If they did, there’d be twelve leads; he kind of hates that he knows that). He navigates his way around the IV and heart monitor leads and leans over. He doesn’t die. Excellent.

He fishes his phone out of his bag, and the day once again takes a turn for the weird, because this is his old phone. Like, two phones ago old. Uneasy, he turns it on and scrolls through the contacts. Scott’s number is for his old phone. Danny’s number is for a phone Stiles doesn’t recognize. Derek’s not in his contacts at all. And, taking it from the top, neither are Allison, Boyd, Cora, Erica, Isaac, Jackson, Lydia, any of the crowd from the Jungle…but there are a few names he doesn’t recognize, or only vaguely recognizes.

He checks the pictures and is terrified to find he has no memory of taking any of them. There are strangers in most of them. These pictures in no way reflect the life he remembers living.

Also? His scars are gone. All of them, and by now, he’s managed to get himself seriously be-scarred. The ones on his hands are the ones he…misses most? Is misses the right word? It freaks him out the most that they’re gone, anyway, because that shit hurt. He earned those alpha-inflicted scars. Also, oddly, they brought up happy memories, mostly because they’d made Derek freak out unproductively on Stiles’s behalf for three solid days. Plus, they were kind of cool-looking once they’d healed. They ran along the tendons in nice, almost surgically-straight lines. It had made him feel Wolverine-like and badass. But now they’re gone.

His tattoo must be gone, too. That would explain why he feels all alone, even though Dad’s sitting right next to him.

Okay, so. That pendant. Now might be a good time to work out exactly what that pendant did, because it seems like he’s seriously over the rainbow, here. Or else he’s gone completely insane, which, also a possibility. The good news is that he can see the pendant stuffed in his backpack, so at least he didn’t hallucinate everything, right?

He calls Scott, because thems the rules. If in doubt, call Scott. Even if Scott fails to answer, it’s backhandedly reassuring. Scott fail: universal constant.

But Scott does answer this time, sounding confused, young, and three-quarters asleep. “Stiles? What time is—what are you—oh my God, are you calling from the hospital? You’re awake!”

“Yep, I’m awake.”

“That’s awesome! I’m, I can be over there in—”

“Hey, Scott?”

“Yeah, on my way, just gotta find shoes. I have the car because Mom’s still—”

“Scott!”

“Uh, yeah?”

“Werewolves are still a thing, right?”

“…Werewolves?”

“Don’t do this to me, buddy. Don’t say it like that.”

“Stiles, what the hell? What do you mean, are they a thing?

“I mean, are they a thing? Do we know any? Are you one? That kind of thing!”

“They promised you wouldn’t have brain damage, oh my God.”

“Do you think I’m brain damaged because you are a werewolf or because you aren’t one?”

“Oh my—”

“Scott!”

“Because werewolves aren’t real, Stiles! Jesus!”

Oh, shit. “See you soon, Scott,” he says absently, and hangs up on the sound of Scott’s panicked babble.

Seriously, seriously over the rainbow. Or else seriously, seriously crazy. He’s not sure which he’d prefer. And he doesn’t get a lot of time to think about it, because the night nurse takes this moment to clue in to the fact that he’s awake, and the room gets invaded, she wakes up Dad, she prods and pokes and medicates Stiles, it’s a parade.

“Hey, son,” Dad says once the nurse strides off, satisfied that Stiles still has a mind, isn’t likely to die anytime soon, and can safely wait until morning to see a doctor. “How’re you feeling?”

“Surprisingly not terrible?” Give or take the state of his mental health. “Hey. Um. What happened?”

Post-trauma amnesia isn’t particularly upsetting or unusual. He can play that card as hard as he wants, and it shouldn’t worry Dad any more than the simple fact of his being in the hospital. Because, judging from Scott, this version of Dad can’t be used to Stiles being hospitalized.

“You were in a car accident.” Dad has that grimly-holding-it-together look, crap. “A deer ran out into the road.”

A deer, huh? Okay, that’s hilarious. What is with all the suicidal deer? Seriously, how is the species not extinct? “They’re sure it was a deer?”

“Yeah, it was still there. Dead. Because you managed to hit both the deer and a tree, Stiles.”

“Ah.” Did Peter chase the deer to the scene of the crime? Is that a relevant question? Does Peter even exist in this universe?

“When I warned you about animal attacks, this wasn’t the kind of attack I had in mind,” Dad says, sense of humor creeping out from hiding. Stiles must not look too awful, then.

And, um. Animal attacks? “What kind of animal attack did you have in mind?”

“Oh, the usual. Biting, clawing. I didn’t realize we needed to fear the deer.”

Oh, shit.

“Deer are vicious creatures,” Stiles says brightly, trying to keep the panic internal. “Those antlers? Not for show.”

“We know that now,” Dad says, smiling with relief. No half-hidden terror, no uncertainty. Apparently the Stiles of this universe isn’t the kind of asshole who lies to his dad all the time. Dad’s smile fades, though, as his eye moves over all the machines and crap Stiles is hooked up to. “You scared me, kid,” he breathes, reaching out to grab Stiles’s arm, make sure he’s real. “Your heart actually stopped beating for thirty seconds. Don’t do that to me again.”

“Not planning on it,” Stiles answers, voice wavering, but not for the reason Dad thinks.

This Stiles? This Stiles died. This Stiles died, and unlike Stiles Prime, he didn’t have an escape route hanging around his neck. So Stiles, what, stole his body? And…jump-started it? How does that even work?

That pendant: officially fucking creepy now. But at least it seems like he himself did not kill anyStiles or kick anyStiles out of his rightful body, so that’s. That’s something. On the other hand, he feels a slimy Peter Hale vibe about his life right now. Speaking of whom.

“Hey, I hit my head pretty hard, right?” He can tell he did. Aches like a bitch. “So…can it be random question time? Head-injury-induced question extravaganza? Fun for the whole family!”

Dad laughs helplessly, waving fatalistic permission.

“Great! Okay, so: the Hale family. Give me like a family summary, even stuff you think I already know. Go.”

“Have to hand it to you, Stiles,” Dad mutters, “when you say random, you mean random. But…okay, I guess. Hope you’re not disappointed; I don’t know them that well.”

Stiles notes that them. If there were any werewolves in the room, the sudden jump in his heart rate would weird them out.

“Kevin Hale is a fireman, and he’s married to Talia Hale, who works as a CPA. Kevin’s brother Peter and his wife, Felicia, live in that big house with them. I think they’re both professors at the college? And they’ve got a little daughter and an even younger son…whose names I can’t remember. Then there are Kevin and Talia’s kids: Philip, Laura, Derek, and the twins, Rachel and Cora, and I know you know the twins, because they’re in your class. Being menaces, from what I hear. I think Talia’s mother lives with them part-time, too. I have no idea how all those in-laws can spend that much time together without bloodshed. It’s impressive; we’ve always been impressed. There. Do I pass?”

“You’re awesome, Dad,” Stiles answers, dazed.

So. Definitely an alternate universe, then. Which means that rune is basically useless, because the whole point of Stiles surviving was so that he could keep Scott and Dad alive. If he’s alive on his own in some alternate universe, what the hell good is that? He might as well be dead.

“Son?” Dad asks, frowning in new worry. “You okay?”

Then again, this version of Dad…if Stiles weren’t here, he’d be crying over a corpse right now. If Stiles is living a lie, it’s a white one. He’ll try to find his way back to his own world, but in the meantime? This is the world he’s got. And these guys have “animal attacks” they don’t know how to deal with. Stiles can help them. All it takes is lying about everything to everyone.

And hey, he’s had a lot of practice with that.

“Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, Dad, I’m fine. Just loopy. What kind of drugs do they have me on?”

Dad smiles faintly. “A lot. I kind of lost track, tell you the truth.”

“Aw, yeah.” Probably hardcore pain killers, blood thinners, maybe antibiotics, but going by his increasing focus issues, skipping the Adderall. Is there such a thing as IV Adderall? He has no idea. How does he not know this? “Oh, yeah. Scott said he’d stop by.”

“What, now?

“No time like the present.”

“It’s one o’clock in the morning, Stiles.”

“Oh.” That explains so much about that phone call. “He didn’t mention that. And this room has no windows. It could’ve been like ten!”

“Which would still be past visiting hours.”

“And yet I notice you’re here. Anyway, Scott’s got connections.”

Scott, with his usual perfect timing, takes this moment to crash though the door, trip over his own feet, and fall face-first onto the floor at the foot of Stiles’s bed.

“My knight in shining,” Stiles sighs. “Hey, maybe we should call a nurse. They might want to admit this guy, too.”

Scott crawls his way upright and scowls at Stiles from the end of the bed. Dad laughs.

Stiles can do this. Yeah, he can roll with this. He can.

It’s not like he has much of a choice.

* * *

“I believe we’re witnessing the end of an era,” Peter says. “Our empire has grown fat and lazy, decadent, ripe to be overthrown. We’re the Sassanid Empire just before it was conquered by the Muslims. The Romans overrun by Germanic barbarians. The British post-World War II.”

“Peter,” Mom sighs, long-suffering. “That’s not helpful.”

“You’re all making something out of nothing,” Dad insists, and Derek agrees with him. Silently, though, because he doesn’t actually want to get dragged into this. “So we’ve had a few more omegas than usual. So what? We’ll move them along or kill them, same as always.”

“Dad,” Laura drawls. “We’ve had five times more omegas than usual. And they’ve all been murderous, crazy omegas. That’s not normal. Something bigger is definitely going on.”

“Decadence, idleness,” Peter murmurs. “Inevitable decay.”

Everyone ignores him.

“It could be part of a cycle,” Aunt Felicia suggests. “That should be easy enough to find out. Or it could be caused by something specific. But what?”

“When did it start?” Nana Thea asks.

“Last year,” says Mom. “That’s when the omegas started coming through in unusually high numbers. And they’ve been getting wilder.”

“I have always wanted to deal with whole flocks of crazed omegas,” Philip declares, refusing to look up from his book. “Next we’ll be getting pixies. I hate pixies.”

“Felicia, you’ll look into this?” Mom asks, and Aunt Felicia nods. “Otherwise…we’ll have to wait and see.”

“The decline,” Peter whispers gleefully. “And the fall.”

Dad leans over and punches him in the side.

* * *

The Hale house is beautiful. Stiles hadn’t remembered that. He’s not sure he ever knew. All he remembers about the Hales is that they were older, that they were freakishly pretty as a family, and that they were all home-schooled until they were in high school.

And then that they were all dead except for Derek and Laura, and the fact that Stiles had some idea what that must feel like meant he tried not to think about them at all after that.

Now, though. All the lights are on and there are people moving around behind the windows. There’s fresh, white paint on the siding and tiny blue handprints all over the wall by a little vegetable garden. There’s a much bigger flower garden on the other side, and a half-built trellis climbing the wall behind it. It smells like pasta sauce and garlic and baking bread, and Stiles can hear kids laughing.

The Hale house is the furthest thing from creepy. It is, in fact, a ridiculous poster-home for all that is wholesome and good in the world, and it makes Stiles want to go back in time and eviscerate Kate Argent with his own, bare hands. Because Peter? Did not make the most of that opportunity.

He can’t do that, though—or at least, he doesn’t think he can—and anyway, it’s not a productive line of thought. What he can do is make damn sure nothing like it happens again. Even if he has to do it alone.

He’s going to make sure.

* * *

“The kid is back,” Laura says, peering between the curtains.

“I know,” Derek grumbles. The kid’s scent is familiar to all of them by now (boy and stress and drugs and pain), which makes it increasingly weird that they don’t even know his name. “Can I call the cops on him this time?”

No. Derek!”

Laura wants to lure the kid in with food and kindness and make a pet of him, like a feral cat. Derek wants to have him arrested for stalking. They’re at an impasse. (And the rest of the family is staying emphatically out of it in a way that suggests bets have been placed.)

“Let’s go talk to him,” Laura says.

“He bolted the last three times you tried.” Bolted may be generous. Hobbled quickly is more like it. Derek doesn’t know what’s wrong with the kid, but it’s taking its sweet time getting better.

“Then you go talk to him.”

Me?

“Yeah, you. What? I’m alpha material; I’m scarier than you are.”

“Not to a human, you’re not.”

“Get your ass out there, or I will tell the twins what happened to their Twilight shrine.”

Derek is out the door before Laura’s even finished the sentence, but he regrets it immediately. The kid levers himself to his feet when he hears the door—but then he clocks Derek and freezes. He freezes, and even from the porch, Derek can smell a dozen emotions from him that no one should be having about a total stranger. Which means the kid knows him, and that means he is a stalker and Laura should totally have let Derek call the cops.

He sighs and goes to face down his adolescent stalker. Laura has spoken; there’s no getting out of it now. He keeps walking until he’s practically toe-to-toe with the kid, which humans aren’t comfortable with, according to everyone. But the kid doesn’t back down. He just stares at Derek.

“What are you doing here?” Derek demands. “This is private property.”

And the kid laughs. Not a happy laugh, but desperate, almost hysterical. It’s about the last reaction Derek expected. And he just—he just keeps laughing. He laughs until his legs fold under him and he’s sprawled on the ground. Where he continues laughing until he’s wheezing and breathless, clutching at his chest, heart beating out of control.

Derek turns back to the window and throws his hands out to communicate what the fuck? Laura comes to stand beside him and watch the kid laugh. It is a spectacle.

“Sorry,” the kid gasps eventually, pulling himself upright. “Sorry, sorry, I just—you just—” He bites the inside of his lip so hard he draws blood—Derek can smell it. So the kid is, in fact, a masochistic stalker. Better and better. “You reminded me of someone,” he continues eventually.

“I remind you of someone? Is that why you creep around my house all the goddamn time?” Derek demands, ignoring Laura’s sharp kick to his leg.

The kid, though, just snickers and drops his head onto his knee, mumbling, “The irony, it burns.” Which makes no fucking sense.

“Who are you?”

“Me?” The kid looks up, wide-eyed, surprised…what, hurt? “Um, I’m Stiles. Stilinski. My dad’s the sheriff?”

“So you’re familiar with the concept of stalking.”

So familiar,” he says earnestly. Derek’s ninety percent sure he’s being made fun of, but he has no idea why.

“Shut up,” he says on principle.

“Oh, come on,” Stiles complains. “You live in a freaking Thomas Kinkade painting, what the hell do you have to be so growly about?”

Derek scowls, but Laura giggles. “He’s squishy on the inside,” she announces because she’s evil. “Promise. You just have to ignore everything he says and watch what he does.”

Stiles seems dubious. Derek scowls harder. Who the hell is this asshole anyway, to lurk around his house and then criticize his personality? It’s bullshit.

“Anyway, Stiles,” Laura says in her soothing-feral-animals voice. “I’m Laura. This is Derek. I’m glad we caught you. You’re completely welcome to spend as much time here as you want, of course—” This is news to Derek. “—but, well. You do spend a lot of time here. Why is that?”

“Ah.” Stiles looks wildly to Derek, like he expects help. Derek shrugs. There’s no escape from Laura in interrogation mode, and anyway, Derek doesn’t owe Stiles anything. Except possibly a restraining order. “Um…you have a really nice house? It’s beautiful, and your family seems cool. Not that I’m looking in your windows or anything! Because that would be beyond creepy. But I can hear you guys laughing from here, and I can smell your cooking, and it’s…soothing, I guess.” He rubs a hand awkwardly over his head. “Sorry if that’s weird. I mean, I know it’s weird. Sorry.”

Stiles doesn’t know it, but Laura’s heart just broke into a thousand pieces over that little sob story. “Oh, Stiles, sweetie. Are you not happy at your own home?”

Stiles’s head jerks up, and he looks completely horrified. “What? No! I mean, yes! I mean, oh my God, I totally just made myself sound like Isaa—like an abused kid. That’s not, no, my Dad is awesome, it’s just. I don’t know, it’s just the two of us, and he has to work a lot—because it’s important and also so we can eat, which, definitely a key thing in life, and he takes me with him when he can—but yeah. We’ve never had the huge family like this. Nobody’s fault. I love my family, it’s just, you know, small.”

He’s telling the truth. Derek is irritated to note that what he feels about that is relief.

“Good,” Laura declares. “You do seem to be in pain, though. Why is that?”

“Oh.” Stiles seems startled. Did he honestly think he was hiding it? “Um, I was in a car crash a couple weeks ago? I kind of, yeah, broke some small bones, squashed a few internal organs. Apparently I’m gonna live, though, so. No big deal.”

No big deal. Derek has no idea how humans ever survive to adulthood.

“I see,” Laura says. “Do you want to have dinner with us?”

“…Do I want to what?

“Dinner,” Laura repeats briskly. “You should have dinner with us.”

Stiles stares at her for a while with his mouth open. Then he turns his incredulous face to Derek, apparently looking, once again, for support.

“She’s decided you belong to her,” Derek explains. “Your future is grim.”

“Oh,” Stiles says, blinking in surprise. “Wow. Um, thanks for the offer? But I actually do need to be home for dinner. Left to his own devices, my dad would eat nothing but hamburgers and curly fries, and then he’d die at fifty of an incredibly avoidable heart attack. And that kind of thing? Not allowed.”

“Okay, then,” Laura agrees, smiling fondly. “See you soon.”

“Yeah, see you. And, uh, nice to meet you. Laura. Derek.”

“Nice to meet you, too, Stiles,” Laura coos. Once he’s out of earshot, she turns on Derek with a malicious grin. “He likes you.”

“What?” Derek yelps. “He doesn’t even know me! And he’s twelve.”

“Baby brother, he’s at least seventeen. Give it a couple years, and it’ll hardly be creepy at all! Congratulations.”

“What is wrong with you?” Derek demands, despairing. “Just. Why.”

Laura cackles and runs off to spread her crazy to the twins. Derek’s life is ruined.

* * *

So that’s Laura Hale.

The rest of the Hales have been ignoring the fact that Stiles has been lurking in their shrubbery—polite of them or weird of them? He can’t decide. He knows they’ve known he was there—but Laura’s been hunting him down with, like, aggressive welcome in her heart. He’s been avoiding her, though, because…well, what did he know about her? Nothing, except that she didn’t pick up on the whole Kate Argent thing, and also that she got herself killed by Peter. It wasn’t what you might call a flattering picture.

Turns out it wasn’t a fair picture, either, because Laura is awesome. Also, meeting her clears up so much about Stiles’s Derek. Because seriously, that dude must’ve gotten bossed around every second of his life until Laura died, and then what the hell was he supposed to do? Twenty-odd years, and he’d never been allowed to think for himself.

It’s making Stiles feel bad for his Derek. Not that his post-mortem pity does anyone any good.

As for this Derek, he’s bizarrely…soft. Like, Stiles has an unholy impulse to follow him around town and make sure no one’s picking on him. He doesn’t look like he should be allowed out at night. Not that Stiles’s Derek should’ve been allowed out at night, either, but that was because he might’ve killed someone in an ill-considered moment of panic. This Derek? This Derek looks like a squishy little victim. Stiles can totally see what Kate saw in him, except it makes Stiles want to roll him up in a blanket burrito and hide him under the bed, whereas it apparently made Kate want to murder his entire family. Argents, what are you even.

Stiles has been wondering how involved he wants to get with the Hales. Originally, he was planning to fireproof their place and bail, but now he’s feeling like he should do more. He likes them, and, more importantly, they’re a rock as far as supernatural stability goes. He wasn’t sure at first, but now, seeing Laura, he’s convinced they’re the ones who keep getting rid of the omegas before he has a chance to find them. They’re the local supernatural police. Lack of Hales is clearly a big part of what’s wrong with Stiles’s Beacon Hills.

Which means the easiest way to keep this world’s Dad and Scott safe after Stiles is gone is to make sure the Hales live forever. So Stiles needs to protect them like they’re Dad and Scott, because it amounts to the same thing. Noted.

Next on the agenda is figuring out school, and that’s turning out to be way more of a pain in the ass than anticipated. His first week back—two weeks post-crash—he discovered to his dismay that other!Stiles had a…surprisingly complex school life. Pre-werewolf business, Stiles pretty much only talked to Scott. Sure, he was acquainted with half the school, but only Scott felt like he could march up to Stiles and start talking, and Stiles liked it that way. Looks like changes were destined to happen even without the werewolf thing, because all kinds of people have been giving Stiles smirks and meaningful nods. All kinds of, not to put too fine a point on it, shady-ass people.

Other!Stiles, he thinks, warily returning Jordan-the-purveyor-of-illegal-crap’s nod when they pass each other in the hall, what have you gotten us into?

Then Veronica-the-sociopathic-hater-of-humanity smirks at him, and just, wow. In his world, he’d managed to skate all the way to his death without Veronica even realizing he existed. Frankly, he is disappointed in other!Stiles.

Then there are the problems he’s brought entirely on himself, such as Cora and Rachel Hale, terrifying werewolf twins of doom, who’ve decided to take an interest in him now that he’s talking to Derek and Laura. He’s not sure yet what the fallout from their interest is going to be—thus far it’s just staring, whispering, and giggling. He knows better than to think it’ll stop there, but that’s all he knows. He thought he had a pretty good handle on Cora, back in his world, but it turns out that Cora of Cora-and-Rachel is a very different person, and he has no clue what to expect from this one. It’s freaking him out and depressing him at the same time.

And adding insult to those injuries, there is clearly something weird going on with Scott. And Stiles gets the impression that, for a change, it’s not in any way Scott’s fault.

They’re fooling around on the lacrosse field after school in November, about a month post-crash, when Scott finally snaps. Stiles is impressed he lasted this long. He was really hoping to be gone before this moment came, though, so he wouldn’t have to deal with problems he didn’t have any hand in creating. Oh well.

“So,” Scott says, aggressive mode engaged, “you know Dr. Deaton? My boss?”

“Yes, Scott, I know who your boss is.”

“Yeah…that’s kind of the thing. He wants you to stop by sometime.”

“Oh, crap.” Stiles hasn’t gone to see Deaton because he hasn’t been planning to stick around, so why open that can of worms? Same reason he never said anything to Scott. Then again, given the speed at which his research is (not) progressing, it’s probably a good idea to check in, explain himself, get a few things. Deaton can sell him some stuff that he’d really, really like, actually, even if he’s only gonna be here another couple weeks.

What?” Scott hisses. “You—Stiles, you don’t even know him, do you? Why would you know him? Why would you not tell me if you knew him?”

“We have a mystical connection. Awkward to explain.”

“You and Dr. Deaton?”

“Bonded on the astral plane.”

“Stiles…” Scott sighs and fiddles with his lacrosse stick. “I don’t—I don’t get you anymore, dude. I seriously don’t know what’s going on with you. First you—you avoided me half of last year, then you’re calling me in the middle of the night from the hospital talking crazy and freaking me and your dad out, then suddenly you know the Hales and you won’t say why, and now this thing with Dr. Deaton? What is going on with you?”

I feel like I’m losing you. It’s what he’s not saying, but he’s saying it louder than anything. And Stiles—Stiles can’t even remember what Stiles-standard behavior was, back before the werewolf clusterfuck that ate his life. Literally. And because he can’t remember, he can’t imitate it, so he’s acting…off. Just a little bit off. And that is scaring the shit out of Scott, as well it should. (Also, avoided me half of last year? What is that about, other!Stiles?)

It’s easy to remember what Scott was like pre-wolves, probably because that’s what Stiles is looking at every day, so this isn’t as weird for Stiles. But if it were Scott being…Scott but not? Suddenly and for no apparent reason? Stiles would freak. He would freak the hell out.

Which, yeah, is exactly what Scott’s doing. Stiles sighs and studies his hands, front and back. Still no Wolverine scars. Still strange that they’re gone.

“This is a complicated story,” he says. “And you’re going to think I’m out of my fricking mind by the end of it. I can’t tell you about the Hales, though, because that’s—I haven’t even told them what I know, yet. They just think I’m a weirdly affectionate stalker. Anyway, it’s not my secret to tell.”

“Oh-kay…tell you the truth? You already sound like you’re out of your mind.”

“And Scott, buddy old pal, it is all downhill from here. So far down. Like jumping off a cliff. You still want to hear it?”

“Yeah. Yes, I do.”

“Promise not to have me committed?”

“Can’t make that promise, dude.”

“Wonderful. That’s just, that’s exactly what I wanted to hear.” But he tells the story anyway. Or, well, he tells the less psychologically damaging parts, ignoring Scott’s horrified expression when he starts with the words, So I come from a world like this, but slightly different, in the sense that you got bitten by a werewolf at the beginning of sophomore year.

It’s a good yarn, though, the story of his life. By the end, while he’s pretty sure Scott doesn’t believe him at all, he is at least entertained. Stiles refers to Peter as the crazy alpha and Derek as my alpha, but doesn’t name any Hales or any of the betas. He does explain Lydia and Jackson, though, since the circumstances don’t apply here and it doesn’t seem like it’ll hurt anything. He also throws in the whole tragic, star-crossed romance, Argent family angle, because firstly, it’s a story about Scott pulling a hot girl (awesome), and secondly, Allison isn’t at school yet (or at all? Do the Argents even exist?) so no harm will come of Scott knowing. Not yet, anyway.

The main point, obviously, is that something weird was going on with the supernatural in Stiles’s world, and that’s also true in this world. That’s the big problem facing them. It’s what he wants Scott to pay the most attention to, since it’s the thing that might put him in danger.

Scott pays no attention to that. Of course he doesn’t.

“So, according to you…you’re not my Stiles.”

“Right.”

“You’re still a Stiles, though.”

“Obviously.”

“Who runs around with, with werewolves. And witches and kanimas.”

“Oh my! Well, ran with. Past tense. Apparently.”

“You actually expect me to believe all this?”

“Nah, not really.”

“Then…”

“I can prove some of it to you.”

“Which part?”

“This part.” Stiles checks for any Jacksons lurking in the bleachers, Dereks lurking at the tree line, or twins lurking in general, but no one’s around. Then he looks at Scott’s lacrosse stick and firmly wills the mesh to catch fire. Obligingly, it does.

God, Stiles has missed the Scott Yelp. His Scott had finally outgrown it. Tragic.

“What the hell, dude?” Scott shouts, grinding the stick into the dirt. Not necessary, actually. Stiles already told it to stop burning.

“Sorry. I’ll restring that for you.”

“Not the point, oh my God! How did you do that?!”

“Hey, I told you I’m magic.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t think you were seriously magic!”

“I know, you thought I was crazy. This is why you should listen to me when I tell you things, Scott. I feel we’ve had this talk.”

“Oh my God. Oh my God, you’re seriously—you mean I don’t even know you?!”

“You kind of do? Until last year, I think your Stiles and I were pretty much the same person. You almost know me.”

“I almost—no, okay, start over. Tell me everything again.”

“Scott, no.”

Yes. Sit down and just, just start at the beginning.” He himself sits down in the middle of the field and looks expectantly up at Stiles, like, See how I’m sitting down? I am setting a good example.

“I just got to the end, Scott.”

“Yeah, but this time I’ll know you’re not crazy, and that’s huge, okay. It’s a whole different mindset. Start over.”

Stiles groans, but collapses onto the muddy field next to Scott anyway, defeated. He begins at the beginning.

* * *

It’s ten o’clock at night and Stiles is a daytime phenomenon, so it seems oddly wrong for Derek to be opening the door to a man who smells so much like Stiles. This must be Stiles’s dad, the sheriff. He looks a lot more normal and a lot less wild-eyed than Derek would’ve expected.

“Hi,” he says, friendly. “Are you…Derek Hale? Philip Hale?”

“Derek,” he confirms, wondering if this has something to do with Stiles, or if it’s more, say, some evidence linking the family to a dead omega somewhere. That could get unpleasant.

“I’m Sheriff Stilinski,” he says, and Derek nods, because he knows. “I’m sorry to bother you, but we’ve had a few reports that a fugitive ran into the woods near here…I just wanted to ask your permission to check that he’s not hiding in your garage or any of your outlying buildings. Do you mind?”

Derek shrugs, relieved. “Go ahead,” he says. “I didn’t hear anyone, though.”

“Just to be safe,” the sheriff says. They must be looking for that last omega—he ran around town for a while before Mom and Dad caught up with him. Mom’ll be embarrassed about this. She’ll say, “If we’d killed him faster, he wouldn’t have wasted police time.” She never seems to notice the irony in statements like that.

The sheriff is waving two of his deputies to search the buildings and one to join him when Laura comes bounding down the stairs. “Who’s this, Derek?” she asks like she doesn’t know.

“Sheriff Stilinski,” Derek tells her, rolling his eyes. “He’s checking the garage for fugitives.”

“Sheriff Stilinski?” Laura repeats, excited. “Stiles’s dad?”

The sheriff turns back to stare at Laura. “…You know my son?”

“Of course!” And then, before Derek can stop her, “He’s over here all the time!”

Derek barely restrains himself from beating his head against the doorframe. It’s like Laura doesn’t remember being a teenager at all.

“Is he, now,” says the sheriff, sounding dangerously calm, but smelling worried. “He’s never mentioned that to me.”

Derek tries to evolve a way to say Your son is jealous of our family without making it sound like an accusation. He fails.

“He’s sort of addicted to my mom’s cooking,” Laura confides. Laura’s always been better at lying than Derek. This, for example, sounds plausible, but the truth is, Stiles has never set foot in the house, despite Laura’s best efforts. Sometimes he even smells like he’s afraid of the invitation. “I think we lured him in with the smell of meatloaf.”

“Are you telling me that he’s been at your house begging for food?” The sheriff asks, looking like the question is causing him physical pain.

“No! No, he was just…”

“Lurking in the woods looking pathetic,” Derek mutters. Laura elbows him savagely. He bares his teeth at her. “I still say we should’ve gone with the restraining order, but Laura’s always liked having pets.”

The sheriff covers his eyes with his hand, and the deputy, who’s made it to the porch by now, tries to choke back a laugh. Derek feels vaguely bad, but only vaguely. This man is, after all, partially responsible for whatever made Stiles…Stiles.

“I invited him,” Laura snaps. “I invited him to eat with us. He resisted. I couldn’t be having with that.”

Laura’s treating the sheriff like a wolf; lying to him without lying to him. That’s…interesting. “It is pretty hard to argue with Laura once she decides something,” Derek admits, playing along.

“Ah.” The sheriff looks up at them again, bracing himself. “He’s not causing you any trouble, is he? Because I can talk him into leaving you alone, if you’d like.”

Derek seriously doubts that’s true. Laura, meanwhile, is vigorously insisting that Stiles is their joy, their light, their shining star, and his continued presence is desperately important for their happiness. The sheriff turns dubious eyes on Derek, who shrugs. “He’s never boring,” he allows grudgingly.

The sheriff laughs, and his deputy smiles off to the side. “Yeah,” the sheriff agrees, “he never is that. Okay, well, leaving the whole, uh, Stiles question aside for now—we’ll finish checking around here, and then we’ll clear off your property and leave you all to go to bed. Sorry for the disturbance.”

“We appreciate your going to the effort,” Laura says politely.

Nice that the sheriff’s conscientious, Derek guesses, even if it is a waste of time in this case. He won’t find his fugitive omega here, seeing as the omega’s probably in the digestive tracts of various scavengers in the mountains to the south.

Because that’s where Derek dumped the pieces of him.

* * *

Having finally talked himself into heading over to Deaton’s, Stiles pauses outside the front door and thinks about trying to mess with the guy, just a little, for great justice. Then he buries that thought deep down in a lower circle of stupid idea hell, where it belongs. He values his life most of the time, yes he does.

“Hey,” he says, strolling into the animal clinic exactly the way he used to back when Deaton actually knew him.

“…Can I help you?” Deaton asks suspiciously, which could mean he doesn’t recognize Stiles, or it could mean he knows exactly who Stiles is and still suspects him of being a homicidal maniac.

“Scott said you wanted to see me,” Stiles tells him. “And I figure I’ve probably been weirding you out, but check it out! I can explain.” He fishes the pendant from under his shirt and dangles it between them. “This rune.”

By the time he’s done studying the pendant, Deaton’s eyebrows are practically reaching Derek levels of independent communication. “I see,” he says. “You must be Stiles. And yes, that does explain it.” He pauses, suspicion making a comeback. “This is a Hale family heirloom.”

“It is,” Stiles agrees.

“It looks like it’s been burned.”

“It has.”

“I could’ve sworn I saw Philip Hale wearing it last week.”

“He probably was. He’s probably wearing it today. And my Philip? Was probably wearing it seven years ago when he died in a fire.” Assuming he did die in that fire. Maybe he didn’t. Maybe he used the pendant thinking it would send him somewhere he could get help, but instead it stranded him in an alternate reality and left his body behind to burn with his family. Or would the pendant be gone if that had happened? Does it travel with you or just duplicate itself?

Whatever, Stiles will never know.

“…I see.”

“The problem here is that I listened to Derek, and Derek is always wrong.”

“Derek Hale?”

“Yeah. You know Derek, right?”

“Indirectly, yes.”

“Okay, so picture this: everyone in the Hale family dies, leaving Derek all alone to be the alpha. Are you picturing this?”

“I’m…trying not to.”

Exactly. But anyway, point is, he gave this to me and told me to use it as a last resort if I thought I was going to die. So I did. I listened to him, and I used it, and that was stupid. Because this thing stole another Stiles’s body and dumped me inside it—although, give it credit, I’m pretty sure this Stiles was already dead at the time. But now I don’t know how to get back.”

“There’s no guarantee that you can,” Deaton announces in that amazingly unhelpful way of his.

“Okay, that? Not a winning attitude. Try again.”

Deaton sighs pityingly and shakes his head. “All right,” he says. “It would seem that the logical place to start would be with the Hales—that pendant is something their family created, after all. And Felicia Hale keeps the most extensive magical library I know of on this continent. Perhaps it’s fortunate that you turned up here.”

“Yeah, maybe.” And why hadn’t he thought of that himself, huh? Hale family heirloom, he should’ve guessed it would be smart to ask the Hales about it.

Maybe it’s just that he keeps forgetting the Hales are real people he can actually talk to. Or maybe it’s that he didn’t want to deal with all the uncomfortable explanations that would involve. Looks like he’s gonna have to man up and own the awkward, though. “Hey, Dr. Deaton? I kind of…need a few things. I can pay you back in wards, if you want. Apparently I’m better at defensive stuff than you are.”

Deaton smiles faintly and starts messing around with boxes of cotton balls, sorting them into glass jars by size for no apparent reason. So this Deaton has the same inability to keep his hands still as the other Deaton. Huh. “That seems fair. What would you like in exchange?”

Stiles takes a breath and pulls out his list. “Okay. All of this. I can wait a while for most of it—maybe I’ll even get out of here before I need it, optimism!—but there are a couple of things I’d like to have, you know, yesterday. Like this.” He points to line item 1, knife, and the long list of runes he wants worked into the blade. He’s been making do with a kitchen knife with a few runes scratched in with a nail. Shady DIY, definitely not awesome.

“You can’t do this yourself?” Deaton asks.

“Maybe? But I’d have to get the tools, I’d have to buy the knife—awkward, my dad is the sheriff—and you’re better at offensive stuff than I am.”

Deaton nods absently, setting the cotton balls aside and running his eye over the rest of the list. Stiles can tell when he gets to the bottom, because his eyebrows climb again. “I assume the tattoo is the other thing you’ll want soon.”

“Yeah. Really soon. Today, if you can.”

“It’s not all advantages for you, Stiles. It’s a binding. You do understand that you will be…bound. And it won’t be reciprocal.”

“I know. I’ve had this tattoo for a year—or I had it, until I stole this guy’s body. I miss it. I want it back.”

“It’s quite a commitment for one so young.”

“Funny how you don’t feel all that young when there are pretty good odds you’ll die within the year.”

And this is what Stiles likes best about Deaton: he just nods at that, like, yeah, fair. “If I’m understanding correctly, this essentially makes you part of the pack, yes?”

“And it levels the playing field a little. I can tell where they are if they’re close, I can tell the basics of what they’re feeling, whether they’re lying, when they’re hurt and trying to hide it, that kind of thing. It’s not as intense as actually being a werewolf, and it only works for my people—pack—whatever. But it comes in handy.”

“Have you informed the families you’re binding yourself to?”

“No. Why? Do I need to? Is this unethical without permission or something?”

“Unethical, no. Unwise, perhaps. But I suppose you do have unusually good reason to trust these people. I won’t stop you.”

Damn right, he wouldn’t. If Deaton hadn’t agreed, Stiles would’ve done it himself. Not that that would’ve ended well. Stiles is no artist, and self-tattooing, blech. There’d have been blood and vomit everywhere by the time he was done. “Thanks.”

“Mm. I’ll even do it after hours today, provided you tell me everything you can remember about your own timeline.”

“Why, what would that prove?”

“Choices become easier the clearer your understanding of all the options is.”

…Whatever that means. “Okay. Um, deal, I guess. I’ll probably faint, by the way.” Seems like he should give the guy some warning.

“At least we can be sure you’ll hold still,” Deaton replies, smiling pleasantly. Because that’s not terrifying at all. “So. What can you tell me?”

Stiles is reminded of all the times his Deaton knew incredibly important stuff and didn’t tell anyone. He thinks he might even have ended up in this mess because Deaton didn’t feel like telling him shit. And now this Deaton wants Stiles to give him information. Why should he?

He takes a deep breath and starts to talk anyway. Revenge never did anybody any favors. Not even the petty kind of revenge.

* * *

It was creepy enough when Derek thought Stiles was just lurking. He was willing to forgive that, since the kid was clearly some kind of emotional and physical wreck. Besides, he seemed harmless.

But this? This is not harmless.

“What are they?” he demands, glaring at one of the many trees near the house that now has freaky magical carvings in it.

“Nothing to worry about,” Philip reassures him absently. “All good things. He must really like our family, for some reason.”

“Oh.” Well. That makes it…weirder but significantly less creepy. “So he’s, what? Doodling good wishes or something?”

“Derek. No.” Philip traces a gentle finger over the mark on the tree. “This is…the amount of energy that went into this, I just—there are very few people who could’ve built all this and survived. I couldn’t have.”

Okay, what? Why? What have they ever done for Stiles? Nothing. They’ve done nothing for Stiles, and there’s no reason in hell for him to exhaust himself trying to protect them. This is coming back around to creepy again.

“How long did you say he’s been hanging around out here?” Philip asks.

Derek shrugs. He doesn’t know why everyone thinks he’s the kid’s keeper. “A month, maybe more. Laura talks to him more than I do, ask her.”

Philip gives him a really annoying side-eye-and-smirk, but he doesn’t, thank God, comment. “Right. Well, I’m not an expert on this kind of ward, but I do know that this is a sort of general protection. Almost like a good luck charm. Except for one thing—fire. There are so many fireproofing wards, I can’t even count them. I think somebody could napalm our house, and all that would happen is the place would smell weird.” He spreads a palm over one of the designs on the bark, almost reverent. “I wonder why he’s so worried about fire in particular.”

“I want to know why he’s so worried about us in particular,” Derek insists.

He’s treated to another side-eye-and-smirk. He’s seriously considering fratricide.

“I also have to wonder who trained him,” Philip goes on, thankfully not giving Derek crap. For now. “He’s local, right? So Alan should’ve trained him, but he’s never been to the clinic, as far as I know.”

And Philip would know; he works at the clinic sometimes. “Could someone passing through have taught him?”

“I doubt it.” Philip frowns. “This isn’t something you could teach quickly. It should’ve taken months, and anyone here for months with this level of training—we would’ve noticed.”

“Could he have taught himself?” It seems like the kind of harebrained thing Stiles might try.

“Mm…not at his age, I wouldn’t think. Teaching yourself takes time because you have to sort out what’s true and what’s myth. No, to know this much this young? He must know an expert.”

“…The kind of expert who might understand what’s going on with the rogue omegas?” Derek asks thoughtfully.

“You have to wonder,” Philip murmurs in agreement, pulling his hand back from the carving and leaning absently against Derek. “And if so, you also have to wonder if that knowledge is why Stiles felt the need to ward the hell out of our house.”

Derek sighs in frustration and Philip nudges his shoulder, amused. This is Stiles all over. Five new questions about him come up every day, and nothing ever, ever gets answered. It’s like he was created specifically to make Derek tear his hair out.

And it doesn’t help that everyone else seems so fond of him.

* * *

“Stiles,” John calls out as his son walks in the door. “Come here for a second. Have a seat.”

Stiles pauses in the doorway, eyeing him with extreme wariness. Fair. They haven’t had a sit-down chat for a while, and it generally doesn’t bode well for Stiles when they do. He makes his way over obediently enough, though, and sits. “…Okay. Hey, Dad.”

“Hey, son. So I had an interesting conversation with the Hales a few days ago.” And they’ve been on conflicting schedules ever since. John is dying of curiosity by now. “They mentioned how often you’re over there.”

He lets that percolate. Stiles cringes slightly. “Ah,” he says eventually. “About that.”

And then he…stops. Stiles Stilinski stops talking. John wasn’t particularly worried before, but he’s worrying now. “Laura tried to convince me that you’d smelled her mother’s meatloaf and wandered in from the woods.” Leaving aside what Derek had to say.

“Her mother does make some delicious-smelling meatloaf,” Stiles agrees helpfully.

“Except that the Hale house is miles from anywhere you have any reason to be. Why were you close enough to smell meatloaf, Stiles?”

“Yeeeeah. I was…” he trails off, eyes wandering toward the window. It’s becoming less likely by the second that the next thing to come out of his mouth will actually be the truth. “You know that fugitive?”

John can feel the headache coming on already. “Yeah, I’m familiar.”

“I, ah. Kind of thought I might know where he was hiding?”

Stiles.” Oh God, this had better be the truth, because if this is the lie that Stiles thinks is better than the truth, John’s going to die of a Stiles-induced heart attack. Forget the curly fries.

“I know!” Stiles says, waving his hands around wildly. “It was a terrible idea! What would I have done if I’d been right, right? But I just—I thought I knew and I had to see, and, yeah. Turns out I didn’t know, and that was probably lucky. And on the way back, I basically ran into the Hale place. Have you seen their place?”

“Their place is ridiculous,” John allows, because it is. It looks like it belongs in a miniature model village in someone’s garage.

“Yeah, so I was kind of, um, hanging around staring at it in a way that might’ve been construed as stalkerish.”

“And you got caught.” This explains Derek’s attitude, at least.

“I blamed the meatloaf.”

“Did anyone actually believe that?”

“They pretended to?”

“Great, so now they think you’re homeless. Or abused.”

“I made a serious effort to talk them down from that assumption!”

John sighs and puts his head in his hands. “Don’t you have homework to do?”

“Yeah, yep, I will get on that right now. Night, Dad!”

“Night, son. Love you.”

“Love you!”

He dashes upstairs like a small herd of elephants. It’s comforting, familiar. Stiles is fine. Still reckless and prone to minor yet embarrassing trouble, as always, but fine.

Or at least, he is if John buys his story, which John isn’t entirely sure he does. It sounds plausible. It sounds plausible. Just bad enough to be believable.

Precisely calculated to sound bad enough to be believable?

John sighs again and pulls out the file on the fugitive. If he’s going to be in cop brain mode, he might as well use it for his paying job. As for Stiles…

He thinks he’ll be keeping a closer eye on Stiles from now on.

* * *

Stiles heads over to the Hale’s the day after the terrible Dad talk, because, clearly, he needs to get out of here sooner rather than later. He hasn’t even finished the semester and already Dad knows something’s rotten.

He doesn’t want to have to start up the whole lying to Dad habit again. He’d just barely gotten to stop with that in his last universe. He’d really enjoyed getting to stop with that in his last universe. No backsliding, please God.

He knocks on the door, and Derek is the one who comes to answer it. Derek is totally the errand boy of the Hale family, isn’t he? Learning that is enough to brighten Stiles’s day all on its own.

“Derek!” Stiles says cheerfully, totally ignoring the scowl, because he now knows for a fact that the scowl is just covering the fact that Derek’s happy to see him and confused about why; it is so nice to have his tattoo back. (Besides, this Derek’s scowling doesn’t hold a candle to Stiles’s Derek’s scowling.) “So, hey, I was wondering if I could see your family’s library?”

This Derek has also introduced Stiles to a brand new Derek face: his eyebrows do this crazy tilty thing and his mouth curls down on one side and it’s like his whole face is yelling, What the fuck, Stiles? Stiles likes it; it’s his favorite Derek face.

“Our library,” Derek repeats blankly.

“Yeah. Deaton says it’s the best on the continent.”

“You know Deaton?

“Sure.” As of this week, he knows multiple Deatons.

“Really?” Derek demands incredulously. “This is how you’re doing this? No explanation, you just walk up here one day like, ‘Hi, I’m a witch, I want access to your magical library’?”

“I guess? Why, is there some etiquette to it that I’m messing up? I figured you knew, anyway. I did ward your whole place; you had to notice. And I’m pretty sure there’s nobody else hanging around your house all the time. Although maybe I’m wrong, and if I am…dude, what is it about you guys?”

Derek now looks like he really wants to grab Stiles and smack his head into something, but this Derek, unlike Stiles’s Derek, is too well-socialized to actually do that. Which makes messing with him like ten times more fun, poor guy.

“You’re in pain again,” Derek growls resentfully. Only Derek could swing resentful fretting. And God, no wonder the Argents figured him out—he is bad at this whole hiding-the-truth shtick. Does he actually think normal people can smell pain?

“I had Deaton give me a tattoo a couple days ago,” Stiles explains. “It’ll take a while to heal. Don’t worry about it.”

“Aren’t you too young for that? Let me see it.”

“What? No! Wait until it heals, jeez. Then we can have a tattoo-off. Frankly, I think mine is cooler than yours.” It’s certainly creepier. And…pretty likely to upset this Derek, come to think of it. Uh oh.

“What? I don’t have a tattoo. Why would you think I have a tattoo?”

Well, crap. “Uh, you seem like a tattoo kind of guy?”

Derek scrunches up his face. It’s a perplexed Derek face. Stiles fondly adds it to his ever-growing list. “I do?”

He really doesn’t, now that Stiles thinks about it. Or at least, not the kind of tattoo Stiles’s Derek had. The kind that says you’re trying desperately to hold on to something, and inking a symbol of it into your skin is the only way you know how. “Never mind. Hey, I hear you guys met my dad.”

“He mentioned that?”

“We had a whole uncomfortable chat about it, yeah. It was great. Thanks a lot.”

Derek rolls his eyes. “I tried to explain to Laura why you wouldn’t want him to know. She didn’t understand. I think she’s refusing to understand. Deliberately.”

“Uh huh.” Laura Hale, made of gleeful spite. Stiles knew he liked her. “Okay…well, anyway. Back to the point, which is: your library.”

Derek heaves a sigh like someone’s asking him to cut an arm off, but he backs away, letting Stiles in.

It’s weird, but Stiles hasn’t ever been inside the house before. Not the pre-burned house, anyway. Turns out the inside is just as unrealistically homey and nice as the outside. Unfortunately, there are also family members inside. Derek and Laura, fine, but Stiles seriously does not want to run into Peter, Cora confuses him badly, and the rest of the Hales are strangers to him. Strangers make him tired. Especially strangers he’s supposed to know, such as Rachel, so of course she and Cora appear in the entryway the instant Derek lets him in.

“Oh,” says Rachel, who has slightly wider eyes and lower cheekbones than Cora, which makes her look just a little wrong to Stiles’s eyes. “It’s you.”

“You smell different,” says Cora. “Like you, but not you.”

“Are you saying I smell?” Stiles asks. Because he doesn’t know what game they’re playing, but he’s still playing like he doesn’t know they’re werewolves.

“You don’t smell like you,” Rachel clarifies, rolling her eyes.

“That’s why we didn’t recognize you when you were sneaking around the house,” Cora informs him. “You smelled like a different person.”

This conversation would be seriously freaking him out if he didn’t know they were wolves. “Huh,” he says. “I guess that actually makes a weird kind of sense.”

“No, it doesn’t,” the twins say together. He wonders if they practice that trick. He knows for a fact that they’re cracking themselves up right now, because the tattoo spell runs on bloodlines, and Deaton could only limit it so much. Stiles can now emotionally eavesdrop on Dad, Scott, Derek, and Laura (according to plan), but also on Philip, the twins, and Peter’s kids, whose names Stiles still doesn’t even know. It’s a generational-by-family thing, apparently. Maybe. Deaton tried to explain it like five times and it still didn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Stiles used to have Dad, Scott, and Derek, and also Erica, Isaac, Boyd, Lydia, and, randomly, all of Boyd’s siblings and Lydia’s sister. He was just thinking about adding Allison when he crashed his car into Peter. Maybe he’ll add them all back again, someday. If he’s stuck here long enough. If they end up involved.

“Is that Stiles?” Philip asks, appearing in a doorway and beaming at him like they know each other. Which they don’t—this version of Stiles isn’t supposed to know Philip, either. He checked. “Derek, you managed to get him in the house! How much does Laura owe you?”

Stiles turns to stare incredulously at Derek. Who squirms. The twins laugh at him, and Stiles has to fight pretty hard not to join them. “You wanted me in the house?” Stiles asks, weirdly flattered. “Dude, you could’ve just asked.”

“You always said no when Laura asked,” Derek mumbles.

“Well, yeah, but—” But he wouldn’t have said no if Derek had asked, because, you know, he knows Derek. Also for other reasons he’s not allowed to think about because werewolves can smell that shit on you. And try explaining any of that in a way that doesn’t sound completely crazy and slightly alarming.

Philip, meanwhile, has read way too much into Stiles’s non-answer, and now he’s laughing harder than the twins.

“He wants the library,” Derek growls unhappily, pushing past Stiles and his laughing siblings and darting to the stairs. “You show him. You’re the nerd.”

Stiles would feel worse about this, but Derek isn’t really hurt, he’s just hideously embarrassed. That, Stiles knows from extensive, bitter experience, you get over. He puts Derek’s problems aside as minor and cuts through the ongoing laughter. “So you’re the library guide? Philip, right? Guide me to the library, please. I could definitely use guidance.” So much guidance. More than one wolf could possibly give him, but every little bit helps.

“Of course,” Philip says, eyeing him with unsettling interest. “It’s this way. And you should be doing homework, you two.”

“But—” Rachel starts.

“Mom will be home in an hour,” Philip reminds her. Both twins slump and skulk off to do their homework. Wow. So Mom’s the scary enforcer/probable alpha, huh? All Stiles has seen of her is an old picture from another world, but thinking back on it, it’s true that she didn’t look like somebody you’d want to mess with. Not that that was where Stiles’s focus had been at the time.

“Stiles?” Philip’s concerned. Stiles isn’t sure what emotion he smells like right now, but he really wishes Philip couldn’t smell it. God, they must all think he’s nuts.

“I’m fine,” he insists in defiance of the evidence. “I’m cool, I’m good. I am study-ready.”

Philip gives him a weird look, but doesn’t argue, just leads him downstairs to the library. Which is ridiculous, much like the rest of the house. It should be creepy because it’s in the basement, but it’s all warm cherry wood and mismatched, squishy chairs and soft light and books on books. There’s even a ladder going up to a little balcony that runs around a sort of second floor—second tier? Whatever. It’s only when Philip laughs at him that Stiles realizes he’s humming ‘Just You Wait, Henry Higgins.’

It’s surprisingly easy to find the book that goes with the rune because Philip is the best library assistant ever. It’s more a pamphlet than a book, actually—handwritten by some Hale ancestor specifically for this one pendant she made herself. Kind of a how-to guide. At least this explains why no one could tell Stiles anything about it once the pamphlet was lost in the fire—there was nothing else like it in the world. The Hale ancestor was the first werewolf to ever bind this rune to this metal and make this particular magic happen. But yeah, good news: the answer to Stiles’s question is easy to find.

Bad news: the answer is that there is no answer.

When the caster is dying and touches the pendant, the magic runs a kind of triage and decides whether or not it can repair the caster’s body. If it can’t, it sends the caster to the nearest compatible body that’s unoccupied and can be repaired. There are a lot of other things that factor into how the other body’s chosen, but the handwriting is cramped and Stiles doesn’t much care, so his eye skips over most of it, cutting to the chase.

Which is that there’s no way back.

The caster can’t send himself into a world with no compatible body. And Stiles’s body? His body’s broken, or else he’d be in it right now. Besides, it’s been a long time. Even if he came up with a way to fix really serious physical damage, he doesn’t think there’s any known way to fix, God, the fact that whatever parts of him Peter didn’t eat are either burned to ash or six feet under and rotting.

He’s trapped here. He’s stuck. He’s never going home, he’ll never see his dad again, he’ll never see his Scott again, he’ll never know if anyone survived

“Stiles?” Philip appears next to the table, frowning in worry. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” he breathes, a lie that’s going to be painfully obvious to the werewolf standing next to him. (Assuming Philip is a werewolf. Is Philip a werewolf?) “Yeah, it’s just. I was hoping there’d be an easy fix to a problem I’m having. Turns out there isn’t. Maybe there’s no fix at all. Maybe I’m just screwed.”

Philip feels sad for him to an extent that is very weird. “I’m sorry.”

How are you even related to Derek? That’s what Stiles would like to know. “Not your fault. You actually helped me out, so. Kind of the opposite of your fault, dude.”

Philip rolls his eyes, exasperated. “I mean I’m sorry that you’re upset. You and Derek are so alike sometimes.”

“Hey!” Stiles is offended by that.

“Definitely alike,” Philip insists, smiling.

“No, because for one thing, I know how to use words.”

“Yes, but you don’t really use them for their intended purposes, do you?”

“You just met me; you don’t get to be all insightful. It’s creepy.”

Philip shakes his head and laughs, successfully distracted. Win. Stiles is once again free to brood about the fact that this world may very well be the prison he’s going to die in, and he might eventually have to find a way to explain that to Dad.

On second thought, no, he’s not dealing with this right now. Or ever, by preference. Yeah, he’d really like to curl into a ball in the corner and cry, obviously he would, but he hasn’t got time for that. The pendant may be useless, but that doesn’t mean there’s no way back. Maybe he can bring this body along somehow. He’ll keep looking. It’s not over until he gives up, and he never gives up. He may be diagnosably crazy that way.

So in the meantime, he’s got to pull it together and adjust to the idea that he may be around for a while. Meaning he’d better get at least a little invested in what’s going on. Well, invested beyond basic self-defense and making sure psycho werewolves can’t bite Scott, nobody can burn down the Hale house, and nothing screws with Dad. Invested, like as in, actually working out why it is that everything supernatural is going nuts around here.

“Ssso…Philip,” he says, trying for casual. “What’s with all these crazy omegas, lately?”

Philip’s eyes fly wide. “You’ve noticed that?”

“Well. Yeah.”

How did you notice that?”

“Are animal attacks ever just animal attacks in this town? Ever?”

Philip’s lips twitch. “Not in my experience.”

“There you go. So, the omegas. What’s up with that?”

“Well.” Philip hesitates, a little cautious. “We’re not sure yet. It started about a year ago.”

Yeah, that’s when it all started going to hell in Stiles’s world, too. Coincidence? Probably not.

“I’m not the family expert,” Philip explains apologetically. “Peter and Felicia are the ones looking into it. You should talk to them. They only update me when they have something they want me to research for them, but they’d have told me if they’d made any real progress. Do you…want me to keep you updated? Or you could just talk to Peter and Felicia.”

“You’re easier to find,” Stiles says casually, because that’s totally the issue; it has nothing to do with his irrational fear of Peter. Ha ha. “Here, give me your number. I’ll text you for updates, like, constantly. You’re going to regret this so hard.”

“I don’t think I will,” Philip disagrees, smiling.

Stiles thinks it’s cute that he’s so optimistic. And also wrong, so very, very wrong.

* * *

“What did he want?” Derek demands.

“Derek,” Philip says absently, not looking up from the pamphlet he’s flipping through. “It’s nice to see you wandering down here among the books every so often. Maybe you’ll learn through proximity. Osmosis.”

Philip.”

Philip meets his eyes and smiles sweetly. “You could just ask him yourself, you know.”

Derek snarls, frustrated. “He lies.”

Philip sighs, smile fading. “You’ve got a point,” he allows. “He was looking for this.” And he holds up the pamphlet.

Derek grabs it and pages through, trying to make sense of what he’s seeing. The more he reads, the less sense it makes. “Isn’t this…this is your pendant, right?”

Philip pulls it out from under his shirt and shows it to Derek in confirmation.

“So did he ask you for the pendant?” Derek asks, confused.

“No. He didn’t even ask where he could find it. This pendant is basically a family secret, so I’m not sure how he knew about it in the first place. And why ask for the pamphlet instead of the pendant? It makes no sense.”

It’s comforting that Philip’s just as lost on this as Derek is, if only because that never happens. “Why would he…is he worried he’s going to die? But if that was it…”

“…Why didn’t he ask me for the pendant? Exactly.”

“And why would he be worried about dying in the first place?”

“Well.” Philip frowns. “He did ask what was causing all the rogue omegas.”

“He knows about that? How?”

“He wasn’t very forthcoming about how.”

“…Does he know we’re werewolves? Because he kind of acts like he does.”

“He wasn’t very forthcoming about that, either. To be fair, I didn’t ask.”

“Yeah, it’s not an easy thing to bring up. So, what, he thinks a rogue omega is going to kill him?”

“Or someone? Because remember, he showed no interest in the pendant itself. Just in how to use it.”

“So is he going to try to recreate the pendant?”

“He can’t carve the same rune and have it work the same way—it has to be carved by. By a werewolf. Oh.” Philip trails off, staring into the middle distance.

“Oh?” Derek repeats impatiently.

“He said there might not be a solution to his problem. He seemed…very upset.”

Derek and Philip stare at each other, one as confused as the other, and fun and new as that is for Derek, the novelty is quickly wearing off. It sounds like Stiles wanted to recreate an escape route, found out he couldn’t because he wasn’t a werewolf, and then wandered off in despair.

Is he worried that someone’s going to die? “Can witches see the future?”

“Not reliably,” Philip says, troubled. “And those who can…it’s usually their only skill. It should be impossible to set wards that strong and see the future.”

“He makes no sense,” Derek grumbles unhappily.

“True,” Philip agrees, smiling again. “I see why you like him.”

I do not like him.”

Philip’s smile becomes a smirk. Not for the first time, Derek really wishes Philip could smell killing rage. Humans cheat.

* * *

By the time Stiles gets back home, he’s decided that since he has to suck it up and deal with the inherited supernatural drama, he might as well suck it up and deal with the inherited high school drama, too. He’s even less enthused about the high school drama, though. Curse other!Stiles and all of his terrible life choices.

He implements his plan to find out what kind of trouble he’s in the next day at school, and yeah, he regrets it almost instantly.

“Hey Scott? I’ve been meaning to ask about this, but, uh…why does Veronica keep smirking at me like she knows me?” And has something on me?

Scott’s jaw drops. He slams his locker shut and turns to give Stiles his full attention. That doesn’t bode well. “Seriously?

“No, I’m asking to exercise my lungs. Yes, seriously!”

“You asked her to prom last year!”

Stiles has to take a moment to mentally work through the sheer, unmitigated stupidity of that before he can begin to form a response. “And you let me?

“I couldn’t stop you!” Scott insists, flailing desperately. “You didn’t warn me you were gonna do it! I’d have locked you up, dude, if I’d known. I’d have locked you up and drugged you, I swear to God.”

He’s not lying about that: Scott is a true friend. “Okay, okay. Jesus, what was other!Stiles on?

“He was really mad at Lydia about something.”

“…And yet Lydia doesn’t know I exist yet, yes? No?”

“Yes.”

“So basically this whole prom thing was like failing a class deliberately because you think it’ll somehow punish the teacher. That’s not how I roll, Scott. When teachers hate me, I am flawless in their classes. I ace everything. I force them to give me an A and then I rub their noses in that A. This behavior? This makes no sense.”

“And yet it happened. But I’m telling you, man, I had nothing to do with it.”

“Oh my God. Oh. My God. So, okay. What was the method she used to destroy me?”

“Public. Very public. Also pretty, uh. Loud.”

“…This is like a nightmare. Not my nightmares, you understand, but a nightmare a character might have in a made-for-TV movie about high school angst.”

“You told me you were working social politics. Didn’t look like that to me. Maybe like they were working you.”

“No, no way, not possible. I avoid social politics like the plague. They’re boring, they upset me, and half the time I don’t understand the point of them. Other!Stiles was lying to you.”

“What about?”

“I don’t know yet. Something, though. Something he thought you were better off not knowing about.”

“Maybe he just didn’t want me messing it up for him.”

“Yeah, no, I promise there is no Stiles anywhere whose primary concern is not to protect you. And Dad. You enormous goof.”

“Huh.” Scott grins and then tries to hide it, embarrassed. He’s stupidly adorable sometimes. “Well, I guess it doesn’t matter. Now that I know he was lying, I can just grill him when he gets back, right?”

Oh. Oh, and that’s a slam right in the solar plexus. Has Stiles really not made the state of affairs clear to Scott? Obviously not; he is officially a failure. No wonder Scott’s been taking this so superhumanly well. He doesn’t get it.

“No, Scott,” Stiles says gently, grabbing him and dragging him away from the lockers and through the milling crowd to the other side of the hallway, pulling him down to sit. They need to be seated for this, definitely. “Your Stiles—his heart stopped beating. They told you that, right?”

“Yeah,” Scott says warily, face turned half away in unconscious self-defense. “So?”

“So…he died in that crash, Scott. The only reason I’m alive in this body is because the magic that sent me here patched it up. But your Stiles…he was already gone by then.”

Scott is wearing his terrified/belligerent face, the one he wore for months after his dad left, and it turns out that the emotions under it are just as awful as Stiles had always suspected. Shit, shit. Stiles isn’t supposed to be the one who does this to Scott. Stiles is supposed to protect Scott from feeling this.

“Maybe my Stiles is just in your body,” Scott argues mulishly.

Stiles closes his eyes for a second, then forces them back open. He owes it to Scott to do this with his eyes open. “Scott. There wasn’t enough left of my body to heal. That’s why the rune kicked me out of it.” And even if that body had been fine, he doesn’t say, your poor, unprepared Stiles would’ve been dead in minutes.

Scott’s ensuing asthma and/or panic attack isn’t a surprise at all.

* * *

Scott’s pulling air in as hard as he can, but it’s not doing any good; his lungs feel like a mess of knots in his chest. He’s not totally sure he wants the air anyway. Maybe this’ll be easier to deal with if he blacks out for a while.

The worst thing about this, Scott thinks, the very worst thing is that, in a way, he likes this Stiles better.

And that makes him the most terrible human being on the planet, oh God. It wasn’t so bad when he thought his Stiles was still alive somewhere, that he’d be back. That this Stiles was like the cool, older cousin who visits for a while and then heads home. It was okay to be kind of dazzled by him then.

Now, though? Now it’s like, worst best friend betrayal ever, because his Stiles isn’t just on extended alternate universe vacation, he’s dead. Scott should be mourning (he is, he is mourning), and he should definitely not be seeing any bright side to this. There is no bright side to this! But he can’t help it. This Stiles—it’s like he’s been burned down to bare essentials or something. He seems, just, older and calmer and more in control. More aware of what’s important to him. And the list of important things? Scott’s way up at the top of it again. He hasn’t seen Stiles look at him like this since they were little kids and Scott used to get beaten up. (That was a long time ago. Everybody figured out pretty fast that Scott’s best friend was a tiny ball of rage with no sense of self-preservation, and once they’d figured that out, they decided the smart thing was to leave them both the hell alone.)

God, and it’s basically impossible to believe Stiles is dead when Scott’s looking right at him. It’s hard not to feel lucky when this Stiles is like all the best things about his Stiles, concentrated.

Scott’s pretty sure he’s never going to forgive himself.

But—crap, there’s no way this Stiles is going to stay. No way. Because he’s Stiles, and if Scott is the top of his priorities, that’s only because his Scott is the real top, and that means he’ll do any crazy thing to get back to him. Which means Scott’s lost his Stiles and can’t even keep this one. So basically he’s fucked.

He lets out a breath and seriously considers not bothering trying to take another one. Breathing is sometimes more trouble than it’s worth.

Stiles shoves his inhaler into his hand, guides it up to his mouth. “Breathe,” he says.

Scott’s been giving in to Stiles way too long to stop now. He breathes.

* * *

Derek should’ve argued harder when Laura told him to meet Stiles at school. He wouldn’t have won, but he’d feel better about himself as a person right now if he’d at least given it a serious try. As it stands, he’s skulking around a high school parking lot waiting to accost a teenager and feeling like a pedophile. It’s made worse by the fact that he’s always forgetting Stiles is actually in high school. He seems so much older than that. But he isn’t. He really isn’t. A fact which Derek should always keep in the forefront of his mind.

Every thirty seconds or so, he considers leaving. Then he remembers what Laura would do to him if he left, and he stays. Rinse and repeat. He’s on about the twentieth round of that cycle when the final bell rings and kids come pouring out the doors. Stiles shows up in one of the last waves, talking to some dark-haired kid. Everything about their body language says family, but they both smell of anxiety and sadness. The kid gets on his bike and Stiles watches until he’s out of sight, biting his lip uneasily.

Then he turns to his Jeep, sees Derek leaning against it, and he—he beams, the sadness abruptly buried. Like having Derek loom menacingly by his car is a gift.

Stiles Stilinski. Kid makes no fucking sense at all.

Once Stiles gets close enough, Derek grabs him and shoves him against his car with the vague idea of knocking explanations out of him, of getting that damn smile off his face, of getting any kind of logical reaction. But no. Of course not.

Stiles laughs.

“What the hell are you laughing at?” Derek demands, baffled.

“Sorry, dude. Sorry,” Stiles gasps, patting at Derek’s chest in what he seems to mean as reassurance. “I just—I used to know this guy, and like, our whole relationship revolved around me saving his ass and him shoving me up against vertical surfaces and growling at me. Like, sometimes with actual fangs.” Pause. Quick glance up through his eyelashes. Confirming what the family suspected. “You reminded me of him for a second. Nostalgia, good times.”

“Where is he now?” Derek asks, curious about the werewolves Stiles has apparently known.

He’s not prepared for the absolute riptide of grief.

Very upset, Philip had said. Jesus Christ, understatement of the century. Not that Philip could’ve known—it’s impossible to guess the depth of the problem if you only have Stiles’s face to go on. He goes a little blank, that’s all, and looks away. Like he’s remembering someone else’s sad story. But the smell of him, God. Rage and fear and guilt and sorrow, so sudden and tearing that Derek flinches from the force of it, and it’s not even his.

“Yeah,” Stiles says, dry and emotionless, a terrifying contrast to what he’s feeling. “I guess I always knew there’d be a day I couldn’t get there in time.” An awful little pause. “He was your age. Weird coincidence, huh?”

Derek lets Stiles go and backs off, torn between staying and trying to fix this, and just running the hell away. Running, because Stiles walked up to him grinning like a maniac and now he smells like his world is ending, and it’s all Derek’s fault. His mother is going to find out about this from the twins, and then she’s going to kill him. “I’m sorry,” he says. Because he fails at words, as Laura likes to point out.

Amazingly, though, it seems to work. That suffocating grief recedes a little; he and Stiles both take a breath. “You don’t have to be sorry,” Stiles says. “It’s not like you killed him.”

“Still—”

“And to be honest, it’s kind of freaky seeing you apologize. Like, did you hurt something doing that? Because it seems like it must’ve hurt.”

“Shut up,” Derek snaps unthinkingly, because he’s heard this or something similar from all of his siblings, and that’s his standard response.

Stiles just laughs again, and the last of the grief dissipates like mist in sunlight. If logic and Stiles existed in the same universe, Derek might wonder why Stiles knows how rarely he apologizes. But they don’t, so there’s no point asking.

He decides to push his luck a different way, hoping like hell he won’t bring up anything dangerous. “My age. If he was my age—you’re seventeen, Stiles. He should’ve been protecting you.”

“Yeah, well. Some people are weirdly old by the time they’re seventeen. Bad luck, I guess.” He frowns thoughtfully, but doesn’t seem upset. “And I mean, he saved me, too. We saved each other. And the rest of the time, he didn’t trust me and I didn’t like him. It was a whole thing.”

“That sounds incredibly stupid.”

“It really, really was.” But he’s smiling, sad and fond. “Anyway! You came here for a reason, I’m assuming. A reason other than to slam me into my car, much though you obviously enjoy doing that. What was that reason?”

“My parents want to talk to you.”

“Your parents,” Stiles squeaks, flailing a little. “Um, why? I don’t know your parents! Why would they want to talk to me?!”

And this is the kid who brazenly marched up to their door and demanded to use the library. This is the kid who laughed when Derek slammed him into a car. “I don’t know,” Derek drawls. “Maybe they want to talk about why you know so much more about our family than you should? Or the fact that you don’t seem to remember the twins all of a sudden, and they say you smell strange? Or possibly the way you’re warding our house against the apocalypse?

“I’d be happy with a simple thank you,” Stiles insists. “You don’t have to take me home with you. It’s, it’s too much, really.”

“Why are you warding our house against the apocalypse, Stiles?”

“…I like your house? As is, you know. Much less attractive as a charred skeleton of itself.”

“Okay. Why our house in particular?”

“It’s my favorite.”

It’s like beating your head against a brick wall, swear to God. Derek sighs and gives up on wringing sense out of Stiles. “Come on. Follow me home.”

“I can’t believe you just said that. But no, really, I’m good here—”

Stiles.”

“Okay, jeez, don’t wolf out right here in the parking lot. God.”

* * *

Derek not only drags Stiles to the house against his will, but also dumps him in a room with scary elder Hales, says, “He told me not to wolf out in the parking lot,” and then abandons him there.

Stiles had almost forgotten why he spent so much time daydreaming about punching his Derek in the face, but it’s all coming back to him now.

It’s Stiles’s first visit to the living room. It’s…somehow beautiful and scary at the same time? Like, the house’s entryway is all light and bright and airy, but this room has lots of dark wood and red carpet and wall-hangings, indirect lighting, dramatic woodland photographs. Very tasteful. Also very quiet, possibly even soundproofed. Probably you could murder someone in this room without anyone hearing, and, bonus, the blood wouldn’t show up on the dark red carpet.

Yeah. Not a helpful train of thought.

Kevin and Talia Hale are sitting together on a dark brown and gold couch across from the ridiculous wing-backed chair Derek dumped Stiles in. Thea, Talia’s mom, is standing behind the couch, smirking. It feels like a freaking tribunal.

“So,” says Talia, smiling pleasantly in a way that Stiles does not trust, “you do know we’re werewolves. We were almost sure, but not quite. You’re quite an enigma, Stiles.”

Kevin just sits and glowers at him silently. So that’s where Derek got that from. Meanwhile, Thea is silently laughing at him. He wants to know why he can’t just be having this conversation with Thea, since she is clearly a) where Laura gets it from, and b) by far the coolest member of her family. She’s not the alpha, though. Stiles can’t figure out whether Kevin or Talia is the alpha, or if they’re, like, co-alpha, but it’s obvious that pack business doesn’t happen without them. Which is a crying shame, because they scare the crap out of Stiles.

“Sorry?” Stiles tries at random. It seems like a safe place to start.

“What for?” Talia asks curiously. So. Not safe, then.

“Uh, confusing you? I guess.”

“You’re a lot more afraid of us than you are of Derek,” Talia points out. “That’s…different.”

“Yeah, well, I know Derek. Nothing scary about him.” Except the strength of his more idiotic convictions, but he’s not saying that to the woman who raised the guy.

“But there’s something scary about us? I’m an accountant. And Kevin’s human, you know.”

He didn’t. Doesn’t matter. “Yeah, but he’s from a werewolf family, right? Because Peter. And anyway, humans can be incredibly scary, thank you very much.” Unhappy memories of getting his ass handed to him by Grandpa Argent dance before his mind’s eye. “Also I’m terrified of the whole idea of accounting, so. And see, the thing about Derek is that he doesn’t know how to use what he’s got. You two obviously do.” Which pisses him off, when he thinks about it. “About that, why is that? He’s your kid, aren’t you supposed to raise him to be able to take care of himself? I know you’re not training him to be the alpha or whatever, but for the love of God, he needs to be able to survive on his own. What if you all die, huh? He’d be helpless, trust me on this one. We’re talking disaster. And it’s because of this thing you guys do, where you boss him around and treat him like the baby even though he’s a grown freaking man. You don’t treat the twins like that. I don’t get you at all. It’s like you’re deliberately setting him up to fail at life.”

There’s a long, painful silence, during which Stiles reflects on the fact that he is definitely going to talk himself into an early grave someday, and that day might be today. Also, Thea should go ahead and laugh out loud. She’s gonna hurt herself trying to hold in it like that.

“Thank you for that…thoughtful critique of our child-rearing methods, Stiles,” Talia says eventually, sounding a little dazed. Stiles has that effect on people sometimes; he’s awesome like that. Kevin, meanwhile, is baring his teeth in a way he must’ve picked up from his lupine relatives, but Stiles isn’t impressed. He hasn’t even been slammed into any walls yet this conversation; he can safely annoy them much more than this.

“And now he isn’t afraid at all,” Thea murmurs. “He’s…irritated.” Thea, on the other hand, seems basically delighted. Stiles likes her, he decides. They can be friends. “Why are you warding our house, child?”

“A little extra protection never hurt.”

“True,” Thea allows, smiling. “And yet not an answer.”

“…There’s. Philip says you’ve been noticing all the omegas.”

Kevin abruptly leans forward, looking interested for the first time. “We have. Do you know what it means?”

“Not exactly. But I don’t like what it implies about the future, so I want you guys safe. I want you safe and whole and happy for as long as I can have you, because if the omegas are just a sign of something worse to come—and that is always how my life works, fair warning—I don’t want to have to handle that alone. And if they are a sign of something worse? Then that something is going to try to take you down first. As far as I know, you’re the only stable supernatural force around.”

“There’s Alan Deaton,” Talia points out.

“Just one guy,” Stiles argues. “Also? Way too big a fan of sitting back and letting things take their natural course for my taste.”

Thea snickers and Stiles smiles at her. “I like Alan!” Talia says defensively, but she’s smiling, too.

“Why are you so worried about fire?” Kevin asks. And he’s a fireman, isn’t he? Oh God, Kate was going for irony points. Stiles has to tip his imaginary hat to her for gleeful evil done right.

“What do you mean?” he stalls.

“Philip tells us you’ve put up ten times as many fireproofing wards as general ones. Why?”

Stiles sighs and slumps down, rubbing his face with his hands. “Bad memories, I guess. I can’t handle that happening again.”

Kevin nods thoughtfully and sits back. Stiles loves him a little for not asking for clarification.

“You’ve spoken to Alan about the omegas?” Talia asks.

“Yeah. He pretended not to know anything. Doesn’t mean he actually doesn’t know anything, obviously, because he’s Deaton, but there’s no getting information out of the guy when he doesn’t want to give it. For whatever freaky reason.”

“I see you know him well,” Thea says drily.

“Yes and no.” It’s the only way to answer without lying.

“Well, that’s more than we can say,” Kevin sighs, sounding weirdly like Dad for a second. “He’s refused to talk to anyone but Talia and Philip since 1987. Something about arrogant wolves who never listen to reason?”

“I blame you, Peter,” Talia says fondly. And yes, that is Peter, skulking in the shadows in the corner of the room. Fucking werewolves.

And now all the werewolves in the room are staring at Stiles. Yeah, he doesn’t know what his heart did just then, but he bets it was dramatic.

“Different Peter,” he explains. It’s basically true. “Sorry. Awkward trauma.” He killed me and ate me. Doesn’t get more awkward than that.

Kevin looks very…protective and worried and pissed off on Stiles’s behalf, all of a sudden. So that’s where Derek gets that, too, aw. Peter, though—Peter just looks interested. Typical.

“Single trauma, or long-term?” he asks.

Stiles shrugs. “Long-term.”

“PTSD?”

“Maybe. Didn’t think it would prove anything to get diagnosed.” And anyway, you can’t tell if it’s post-traumatic unless the trauma actually stops at some point.

“I would never have guessed until a trigger was right in front of you,” Peter murmurs. “You already seem calm again, too, which should be impossible. Hiding something like that from werewolves—you must have enormous self-awareness. And almost dangerous self-control.”

“Thanks?” Stiles is kind of at a loss, here.

“Mm. And when exactly were you at war, Stiles?” Peter asks mildly. But his eyes are intent in a way that is just…sickeningly familiar.

You’re the clever one, aren’t you, Stiles?

His heart feels like it’s trying to beat its way out of his chest; he can tell he’s freaking the wolves out again. He takes a few deep breaths and decides it’s time to flee the scene before he has a full-on panic attack, because that would be ridiculous. He hasn’t had one in years; he’s not going to have one over the wrong Peter Hale.

“Stiles,” Talia says, her voice so soothing and grounding that she knocks Stiles back from the edge just with that one word. Must be an alpha thing. “It’s all right. We won’t ask if you don’t want us to know.”

“It’s not that,” Stiles says, mostly honestly. Honestly enough. “It’s just…I don’t want to think about it, you know?”

“That’s fine,” Talia soothes. “It’s fine, Stiles. We all have things we’d rather not think about.”

Stiles wonders if she got shot in this universe, too. Either way, it’s pretty obvious that lack of Argents hasn’t made life a werewolf cakewalk. She knows what she’s talking about—more than her Derek would, anyway, that soft asshole.

“We didn’t call you here to interrogate you,” she goes on. Could’ve fooled him. “We actually had a request. Given all these wards you’ve put up, we thought you might be able to help us handle something.”

“…What something?” Stiles asks suspiciously, carefully keeping his eyes away from Peter to prevent further embarrassing freakouts.

“Pixies.”

“What the—we have pixies now?” This is so unfair. “I hate pixies! I hate them like, like, like I don’t even have a simile for it because there’s nothing else that combines that level of insanely annoying and incredibly dangerous!”

From the looks on everybody’s faces, they are with him a hundred percent on this one. “Exactly,” Kevin says. “So we’ll handle the omegas, you handle the pixies.”

“Oh, come on! You think I don’t know who’s getting shafted in this deal? How about I handle the omegas and you handle the pixies.”

“Pack law states that it is the responsibility of the local alpha to rein in rogue omegas,” Talia says piously, though Thea kind of undercuts it by snickering maliciously off to the side.

“Oh my God,” Stiles says incredulously. “I hate you all.”

* * *

“Fun fact!” Laura carols, bounding into Derek’s room and onto his bed, arranging herself cross-legged in the middle with a grin. “Stiles is terrified of Uncle Peter.”

Derek spins his desk chair to face her. “Of Peter? Why?”

“Oh, of course he told me the whole story. Because Stiles is so forthcoming with information. Haha! Ha. No. Actually, I wasn’t there for the show, but Mom says he apologized and claimed he was reacting to the wrong person. I don’t understand him. He knows we can hear lying.”

Derek is pretty sure that’s the point. “Exactly. We know he’s lying, so it doesn’t count as lying. It’s his way of telling you to mind your own business without actually telling you to mind your own business.”

“Gosh,” Laura drawls, amused. “Someone’s paying attention.”

Derek glares.

“Nana Thea loves him, though,” Laura continues, unmoved. “She wants to adopt him and bite him and keep him for our own, which, I think you’ll find, is what I said right from the start.”

“Because you and Nana are the same person.”

“We are not! We disagree sometimes!”

“Over what? Milk or dark chocolate?”

“Among other things!”

“What did he say about the wards, anyway?”

Laura looks down and picks at a loose thread on Derek’s comforter. “I guess…it sounds like he lost friends—his old pack maybe?—to fire.”

Derek sucks air in through his teeth, imagining that despite himself, sickened with the imagining of it.

“I know,” Laura agrees quietly. “Peter says he acts like he’s been through a war.”

“But…he’s the sheriff’s son. They must have lived here for years, right?”

“You’d think so.” Laura scowls in confusion. “I can find out. Are his parents divorced? Maybe he was living with his mother.”

“Maybe.” Laura works at the County Clerk’s office, and the number of things she can find out about people is terrifying. Also largely illegal, but that doesn’t seem to bother her when she’s curious.

“Peter says Stiles is worried about the omegas, too. Apparently we’re the most stable supernatural power in the area, so he wants us to stick around. He’s preparing for something.”

“For what?”

“Mom says he doesn’t seem sure. She’s worried.”

“She was worried before.”

“Yeah, well, now she’s really worried. Oh! And she’s giving Stiles chores.”

Derek has to grin at that, despite the general grimness of the conversation. “Chores?”

“Yeah. She’s making him get rid of the pixies.”

“Oh, that’s not even fair.”

“Yeah, that’s pretty much what Stiles said.”

Derek snorts and shakes his head, thinking over the mess of confusion their lives have become this year. “Are they giving Stiles the pixies because the pixies have something to do with the omegas?”

“I’d think so,” Laura says thoughtfully. “Seems a waste of him, otherwise. Maybe they want independent confirmation that they’re related?”

Derek sighs and rubs a hand over his face. “What the hell is going on, Laura?”

“Well, baby brother, we have no clue. That’s kind of the problem.”

* * *

Stiles really, really hates pixies. He has just cause, too—he’s run the gamut of bad pixie experiences. In fact, in the last month of his life-before-here, he probably spent more mental energy hating pixies than he did worrying about Peter, Gerard, the alphas, and even the end of the world as he knew it. Mostly because death by pixie would make such a stupid obituary.

The kicker is that pixies are really easy to kill individually. But hey, so are cockroaches, and they’re still around. This Beacon Hills also having a pixie infestation is maybe the most unfair thing that’s happened to Stiles so far.

But whatever, he still needs to look into it. Eventually. Tonight, his biggest worries are his high school social problems and how to get himself home. (If he could manage to get home before he had to deal with the pixie thing? That would be fantastic, and he wouldn’t feel remotely guilty. Yes, he’s a terrible person; no, he doesn’t care.)

So, okay. High school drama. From the look of the unhappy emails, other!Stiles was being blackmailed. Over porn. Stiles is increasingly unimpressed with other!Stiles.

He can see how it happened, though. Oh yes he can, he can see it bigger than life. Sometimes he falls into a line of research, see, and then he has to know. At least fifty percent of the time, once he knows, he’s sorry he ever asked, but that never slows him down. That’s why he knows about Spanish Inquisition torture techniques, the gory details of Ebola (with visual aids), and the complete history of male circumcision. He’s positive this fiasco fits into that category.

Other!Stiles probably stumbled across something that referenced, who knew, bondage techniques, maybe, and then felt insanely compelled to learn everything about it. Picking through the remaining emails, it looks like he was determined to own a specific 1974 Japanese illustrated magazine that never made it online—not on any English-speaking websites anyway—and was the first of its kind or something. And Jordan is, unfortunately, the only person Stiles knows who would have access to that kind of thing in hard copy. Since there’s no sign of the magazine in any of the usual hiding places, it must’ve freaked other!Stiles out so much that he destroyed it, probably with fire. (And what he’s gathered here is that no version of himself ever learns.)

The emails are missing for the next part, but going by the later ones, Jordan must’ve said he could prove that the sheriff’s son had been in possession of this shady shit, or maybe he threatened to plant more, which would be exactly why it was unwise to get on Jordan’s radar in the first place. So, blackmail. Not for money, seemingly, but just as leverage to make other!Stiles run embarrassing and/or borderline illegal errands and go through with a lot of outrageously stupid hazing-type shit in front of all of Jordan’s creepy friends, which at least explains the asking-Veronica-to-prom debacle. Honestly, the lack of creativity is disappointing. Stiles is disappointed.

And saddest of all, in response to the blackmailing, other!Stiles appears to have freaked the hell out, cut off most of his contact with Scott to minimize collateral damage, and then folded like a house of cards. Wow.

Great! So it’s not that other!Stiles wasn’t lying to Dad, it’s just that he was doing a better job. Though, being fair, blackmail: much easier to hide than full-on supernatural warfare. Stiles did the best he could.

He’d like to judge his universe twin harshly for this, but sadly, he does get how it happened. And blackmail was clearly the worst thing going in other!Stiles’s life at the time. He lacked perspective.

Well, unfortunately for them, these blackmailing assholes are dealing with a new, more damaged Stiles now, and they have no idea what they’ve let themselves in for. They’re lucky they haven’t tried anything on him personally yet, and also that Stiles doesn’t have the time to get very invested in this. If he had time, he knows he’d take it way too far, just to burn off excess energy.

But in view of the time crunch, he limits himself to going shopping, buying a lot of steak, magically inducing said steaks to stay warm and bleed constantly for the next week, wrapping them all in plastic, and mailing them to everyone involved with a pleasant little note on the subject of why they should leave him alone. In blood. Oh yeah. He may cackle a little while he’s doing it.

Aaaand problem solved. This trick wouldn’t work on someone like his Peter, but these are high school losers, not legitimate psychopaths. They’ll almost definitely be weirded out enough by this to stop. And if they’re not? Stiles wouldn’t mind escalating. If that’s how they want to play it.

So that’s the easy problem down. Now on to the life and death problems, always more complicated, never as fun to solve.

He pulls out a few books he snaked from the Hales when they weren’t paying attention and proceeds to beat his head against them for the next five hours. By then he has learned nothing about anything that would cause omegas to go crazy, nothing about universe jumping, and nothing about compatible bodies at all, let alone universe jumping with one.

Also nothing about pixie-eradication, but that, at least, is no surprise, because Stiles is pretty sure pixies are the most resilient species on earth.

It’s always nice when he puts in insane amounts of effort for what turns out to be a total waste of time.

On the upside, he finds when he gets back to school that the bloody steaks seem to have fixed his Jordan problem like…well. Like magic.

“Dude,” Scott says as they walk toward the locker room for lacrosse practice and Brandon-with-rage-issues bolts into a classroom to avoid them. “Did you see that? That’s like the third person today who’s taken one look at you and run the other way.”

“So it is, Scott. So it is.”

“It’s like they’re terrified of you!”

“And they should be. I am a lot crazier than your regularly scheduled Stiles.”

“What did you do to them?”

“Nothing too bad, don’t worry. No high school students were harmed in the making of this life lesson! C’mon, we’re gonna be late for practice.”

“Stiles—”

“Scott.”

Stiles, what did you do?

“I figured out why your Stiles was avoiding you. And then I retaliated. Problem solved.”

“O…kay, that tells me absolutely nothing.”

“Seriously, don’t worry about it. I can tell when I’ve gone too far, and I haven’t. It’s cool.”

Scott, the traitor, seems dubious about that. “How do you know when you’ve gone too far?”

Stiles gives that serious consideration; it’s a fair question. “I guess…I figure, if this would make Scott cry, it’s going too far.”

“…Because if it would make me cry, it would be wrong.”

Well. Technically, no. Because if it would make Scott cry, it would make Scott cry, and that is to be avoided. End of story. But saying things like that out loud is incriminating. “Sure.”

“You’re lying.”

“More often than not, yeah.”

“Stiles. Am I, like, your entire moral compass or something?”

“No!”

“Really?”

“…Dad helps?”

Scott shakes his head incredulously. He needs to not get worked up about this, though, because people with overly flexible morality are definitely drawn to him. Stiles, Isaac, Derek. Allison. Oh God, so much Allison. It’s not impossible that they were all using Scott as a moral compass. And the fact that he doesn’t understand the need for that is part of what makes him a good person.

Fortunately the conversation is interrupted at this point by their arrival in the locker room with all kinds of people who might want to participate in said conversation, which, Stiles has learned the hard way, never ends well.

Stiles has learned that, but apparently Scott hasn’t, because the silence only lasts until Stiles starts to pull his shirt off.

“Where the hell did you get that?!” Scott hisses loudly, and Stiles jerks his shirt back down in a panic before anybody looks over and starts asking incredibly awkward questions. God, he hadn’t realized how spoiled he was—his Scott had his own not-open-for-discussion tattoos, and would never have done this to Stiles.

“Deaton,” Stiles sighs.

Dr. Deaton gave you that?” Knowing that doesn’t seem to be making Scott feel any better.

“Yeah.”

Why?

“It’s, you know, magical.”

“It’s creepy, dude. It’s the creepiest thing I’ve ever seen. Ever. Including the maggot thing.”

“It is not as creepy as the maggot thing.”

“…Yeah, okay, nothing is as creepy as the maggot thing. But it’s close!”

The tattoo starts between Stiles’s shoulder blades and goes halfway down his spine; it’s a stylized image of a person blindfolded, gagged, and bound with ropes—one rope for each family line the tattooed person is bound to, the frayed ends of the ropes corresponding to the individuals. This Deaton chose a person tied to an old tree, Norse mythology style. Stiles’s Deaton had gone with the Christian cross. But technically one story contributed to the other, right? Maybe if Stiles jumps universes again, he’ll end up with a Deaton who likes Prometheus and a tattoo of a guy tied to a rock. Get some actual variety up in here.

“What is it for?” Scott wants to know. Or, no, he doesn’t want to know—he just feels like he has to ask.

“Nothing, just—you know, keeping an eye on my favorite people.”

“…Am I one of your favorite people?”

Yes, Scott.”

“So that means you’re keeping an eye on me? With the creepy tattoo? You’re keeping a creepy tattoo on me? Wait—”

“Stop. Stop before you hurt yourself. And, I guess…kind of? Not a literal eye. It’s more just…I have a feel for how you’re doing.” And he’s also bound, which means he’s helpless against everyone he’s bound to, unable to fight back physically or magically even if they decide to kill him. Not that he’s planning on advertising that.

He can still fight back verbally, though, and since that’s the only way he’d ever fight against these people anyway, he’s good with it.

Scott, because he’s Scott, just shakes his head like he’s trying to shake this whole conversation out of it, and starts deliberately pulling out his gear and putting it on. This is all too bizarre to deal with right now, so he’s dropping it. “You’re still coming over after practice, right?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, feeling kind of dopey with fondness for his goof of a best friend. “Definitely. Got a couple things to do first, but I should be over around five?”

“Cool.”

The way Scott can reduce nightmarishly disturbing information down to a minor personal inconvenience is possibly Stiles’s favorite thing about him.

* * *

Derek is once again lurking in the high school parking lot, not feeling a lot better about himself than the last time. At least Stiles has practice today, so the only kids coming out of the school and staring at him are the athletes. Smaller number of stares, but on the other hand, longer stares, because there’s less going on to distract them. On second thought, no, this still sucks.

It was Laura’s idea again. Of course it was. Derek should make a list of all the ways in which Laura’s existence ruins his life. It would be a long list. So very long.

Stiles appears eventually, the same dark-haired kid as last time walking next to him. He waves the kid off and strolls happily over to Derek, smiling. A group of kids with lacrosse sticks stare at them, whispering. Stiles spins to watch them for a second, then turns back, shaking his head. “They think you’re cool,” he whispers, aware that Derek can hear him.

“That’s why they’re staring at me?” Derek demands, incredulous.

“I know, right?” Stiles agrees. “Your cool guy reputation is a mystery to me, also. Surprisingly hilarious, though.”

Derek laughs, because it’s always been hilarious to him, but it’s rare for other people to see the humor in it. It’s like—these people have clearly never seen him with his mom. Or his sisters, for that matter.

Stiles beams at him, disproportionately pleased. “Right? You’ve got the look, I guess—although you could use more stubble—”

“Laura doesn’t approve of stubble.”

“Proving my point, which is: you don’t walk the walk, man. You don’t even try. How do you swing this alleged coolness? Is it just the pretty face? It’s totally the face, isn’t it.”

Derek shrugs. It may, in fact, be the face.

“Oh my god, were you popular in high school?” Stiles presses, highly entertained, maybe a little horrified.

“I guess.”

“So…where are your high school friends now?”

“Around, I don’t know. They went to college, but I just started working. I see some of them around town, but I lost touch with most of them. They didn’t know anything about me, anyway.”

“Oh,” Stiles says, nodding wisely. “You were the lonely popular kid.”

Like that’s even a thing. “What.”

“The lonely popular kid! Everybody liked you because of the face and your freaky werewolf skills, but nobody knew you were a werewolf. Nobody knew the real you. You were a living after school special.” He smiles faintly and mutters, “You always are.” It’s not clear if he still remembers that Derek can hear him.

“It’s not like I was actually lonely,” Derek insists, indignant. “I didn’t need them. I have my pack. Why would I need anybody else?”

Stiles is staring at him like that’s the saddest thing he’s ever heard. What the fuck? “What?

Stiles twitches and shakes himself out of the mood. “Nothing! Nothing, just, uh. Nothing. Um, why are you here, by the way? Not that I’m not glad to see you, because I am, plus you’re improving my cool factor just by standing next to me, oh the delicious irony, but…yeah. Why?”

“Laura,” Derek sighs.

Stiles raises his eyebrows expectantly. “…And is there a follow-up to that, or is that all you’ve got? Because Laura has her reasons, even if they’re reasons of which reason knows nothing.”

That’s a quote from something. Derek knows because he’s heard Peter say it. It just…really seems like Stiles and Peter should get along. Weird that they don’t. “She wants me to talk you into coming with us the next time we catch an omega.” It’s the stupidest thing Derek’s ever heard.

So of course Stiles shrugs and says, “Yeah, sure.”

Yeah, sure?” Derek repeats incredulously.

“Um, yes? Did I say it wrong? Is this like the witchy etiquette thing I didn’t know about?”

“You’re human! Do you know how dangerous this is going to be for a human?!”

“Yeahhh, I thought you were supposed to be talking me into it, not out of it.”

“No, Laura wants to talk you into it. I only agreed to mention it to you because I was sure you’d say no. But why would I even think that? It’s not like you’ve ever shown an ounce of common sense.” Stiles doesn’t reply to that because he’s too busy intently tracking a brown-haired kid with a camera across the parking lot. “Stiles. Stiles.”

The kid glances their way and Stiles’s eyes narrow. “Hey, Derek…what are your thoughts on determinism and free will?”

What?

“Never mind. Sorry. You were saying?”

“You can’t come with us to catch this omega.”

“Then…why did you invite me? You only invited me because you thought I’d say no? That’s hurtful, Derek! A guy could get a complex. I’m telling Laura on you.”

Derek growls in frustration, wishing Stiles were a wolf so Derek could slam his head into the side of his car a few times without worrying about the consequences.

This is all Laura’s fault.

* * *

Danny likes to think of himself as fairly observant. His sister says he’s freakishly observant, blowing right past unsettling and landing firmly in the realm of the totally creepy, but that’s just because he can always tell when she’s had sex, and whatever she chooses to believe, it doesn’t take a genius.

Anyway, yeah, he has good basic observation skills. And what he’s observing right now is that Stiles Stilinski has had, like, an honest to God personality switch. Which wouldn’t be that big of a deal, except that it’s a scary personality switch, and it’s starting to affect Danny’s life.

He was walking down the hall behind Lydia and Jackson maybe a month ago, and they passed Scott and Stiles going the other way. Stiles looked up and said, “Hey, Lydia.” No big deal, though he seemed more absentminded and less desperately hopeful about it than usual. No, that wasn’t the weird part.

The weird part was when he continued, in the same breath and with only a little less familiarity, “Danny, Jackson.”

And then he just kept walking. Like it was nothing. Like there’d never been an outrageous blowup with Jackson in fifth grade that ended with blood pouring from Jackson’s nose, Stiles with two black eyes, Danny vowing never to speak to Stiles again, and Scott vowing never to speak to Jackson again.

Of course it’s stupid. It was fifth grade. Jackson had just been told he was adopted, Stiles’s mom had just died, and no thinking teacher should’ve allowed them on the same playground because it was bound to end in tears and blood. So yeah, at this late date, it makes no sense, but it’s habit. Habit enough that, if Stiles had suddenly decided to be over it, he would’ve made some kind of gesture to let them know. Also, Jackson would’ve had to do something at least symbolically nice for Scott. Danny knows Stiles pretty well, after all these years.

This, like he’s suddenly forgotten they aren’t on speaking terms? This isn’t normal. Even Scott looked like he was about to freak out right there in the hallway, but Stiles? Stiles didn’t notice anything was wrong. He was out of earshot before Jackson pulled himself together enough to demand to know what the hell that was about.

And that was just the beginning.

Stiles had pretty obviously gotten himself involved in something stupid with Jordan, Veronica, and company last year. He was completely under their thumbs; Danny almost felt bad. The public humiliation was just gratuitous.

This year, Jordan is jumping at small noises and Lydia reports that Veronica is locking herself in the bathroom for daily hysterical crying jags, and Stiles seems…weirdly detached from school. He spent all of junior year looking stressed and out of his depth. Now he looks, God, bored, annoyed, distantly amused.

Stiles Stilinski suddenly looks like someone it is not wise to mess with. Not that it was ever wise to mess with him, because he always did fight back like a berserker, and strength doesn’t count for much against the willingness to do absolutely anything to win. It’s more than that now, though. Now it’s like…he might wait, if you made him mad. He might wait until you were alone, kill you, and make it look like an accident. And then he’d forget you ever existed.

Danny starts reading the Beacon Hills crime blotter with religious attention. Other than the animal attacks, though, nothing seems too weird.

Unless those are more, say, “animal attacks.”

Stiles has also started hanging around with the Hales. Not the twins, which would make sense—same class and all—but the older Hales. Laura and Derek. Who are adults. And scary adults, too—not that the twins aren’t scary. The Hales in general are scary. Like they know something you don’t. Like they’re afraid of nothing. Like the whole world is their personal in-joke.

Theirs and Stiles’s, apparently.

In less frightening but more upsetting news, if the ridiculously gorgeous Derek Hale pins Stiles to his car one more time, Danny is going to pop an artery in whatever part of the brain it is that controls lust. It’s just unfair. Today, for example, Stiles is leaning back against his car with Derek practically between his legs, and there’s not a flail or an awkward laugh in sight. Like he thinks that’s where Derek belongs. Among other distressing things, that kind of confidence looks appallingly good on Stiles, and Danny isn’t used to thinking anything looks good on Stiles.

(Okay, that may be a lie, but the point is, it used to be a convincing lie, and now Danny can’t even pretend to believe it.)

And the way Stiles smirks at Danny like he can read his mind from across the parking lot? That’s not okay, either. The bastard used to fake being straight; he shouldn’t be allowed to pull someone like Derek Hale.

* * *

“So…” Scott says slowly, trying to kill Stiles onscreen while pondering all the new information that’s been thrown at him today. “Your werewolf friend asked you to hunt crazy omega werewolves with him, but he doesn’t actually want you to go, he’s just totally whipped by his sister?”

“So whipped,” Stiles breathes gleefully. “So unbelievably whipped. It is the most hilarious thing since Jackson slipped on mud and face-planted into a cactus that time.”

“Was he whipped in your, uh, world?”

“No, his sister was dead.”

“…Oh.”

“Like, everyone was dead. There was just, there was a lot of death. He only had one living relative in the end, and that guy was shady as fuck.”

“How many living relatives does he have now?”

“Um, eleven? Is that right? I think that’s right.”

“Whoa. That’s a lot of dead people.”

“Yeah, this crazy hunter lady locked them in the basement and burned the house down. Oh! She’s Allison’s aunt.”

Scott drops the controls, which leads to Stiles’s instant and shameless victory. Who drops the controls? Only the weak.

My Allison?” Scott demands, horrified.

“Yep,” Stiles confirms, throwing his arms up for victory jazz hands before turning to Scott and pretending to take shit seriously. “I did mention her whole family was made of crazy hunters, didn’t I?”

“You said crazy, but I didn’t think you meant setting people on fire crazy!”

“We’ve talked about how you need to listen when I talk.”

“It seemed safe to assume I wouldn’t, I don’t know, date somebody from a family of freaking serial killers!”

“Scott, as Finstock has so often told us, assuming makes an ass out of you and both of us.”

“Never quote Finstock again.”

“Fair.”

“Thank you.”

“Anyway, she was technically a mass murderer, not a serial killer. With serial killers, there’s a cooling off period, plus she—”

“Stiles!”

“Yep, shutting up.”

Cue Scott’s refusal to talk about anything but games and the horrors of pre-calc for the rest of the night. Stiles isn’t bothered. Scott often needs a few hours to process.

Which is why it isn’t surprising when he begins the next morning by accosting Stiles in the parking lot and saying, “Did Allison know about her aunt?”

Oh, Scott. Hasn’t even met Allison yet, and already so predictable. “No. No, she did not, and she was pretty messed up about it once she did know. Timeline is like: she started dating you, she found out werewolves were real and her family hunted them, she found out you were a werewolf, her aunt tried to kill you, a werewolf ripped her aunt’s throat out, you saved her life, she started having sex with you, a werewolf bit her mom who then killed herself over it…you know what? Looking back on it, that whole homicidal fugue state thing she did is no surprise at all.”

“Homicidal fugue state?” Scott repeats weakly.

“It’s cool,” Stiles reassures him. “She never tried to kill you. Well, not seriously.”

“Not seri—” Scott breaks off and waves a hand around, relegating those freaky thoughts to a later date. “Whatever. The omega thing. Are you seriously going?”

“Sure.”

“Why sure?

“I want to see them, Scott. Something’s really wrong with them, but I can’t tell what it is until I see one myself. It could be related to…some other things, and it’s my job to find out. My duty, if you will.”

“I…won’t, actually. Your duty? How is it your duty?

“Someone I like asked for help. You know how I get.”

Scott heaves an exasperated sigh, but he doesn’t argue because he does know how Stiles gets. He knows in detail. “How can I help?”

Scott is kind of the best. “With the supernatural stuff? You can’t. But I am dragging you into doing a whole bunch of human stuff for me. Don’t worry, buddy, you will be used.”

“Awesome,” Scott mutters, side-eyeing Stiles.

“You know who I really could use right now for the supernatural stuff, though?”

“Who?”

“Vernon Boyd and Erica Reyes.”

“Boyd? Erica? The—why? She has seizures, Stiles. It would be a very bad idea to drag her into this. You could get her killed! And anyway, why?

“Because she doesn’t look it, but she’s secretly badass. She never gives up, she’s, like, suicidally brave, and she’s got the world’s craziest pain tolerance.”

“Just so you know? High pain tolerance isn’t something most people look for in friends.”

“I realize that. Hey, but she’s also awesome at investigating stuff? And she scares me, but we could work around that.”

“But—”

“That is the nicest thing anyone’s ever said about me,” Erica says softly from where she’s standing directly behind them, holy shit. She really shouldn’t be allowed to pull crap like that without her wolfy superpowers. Stiles may jump and flail slightly. Restrained jumping and flailing. “Despite the part where I scare you—which, what, really? I didn’t even think you knew my name, Stiles.”

“Ah,” Stiles says cleverly, because he is the clever one. “Turns out I do?”

“You think I’m brave?” she asks, looking…God, so confused, and also like she suspects this is an awful joke at her expense.

“You are brave,” Stiles informs her. What? She is. Brave and scary and maybe a little power crazed under the influence of werewolfiness, but hey, no one’s perfect.

She takes a step closer and stares. It’s kind of painful to look at her, because Stiles knows what she looks like when she has, what, hope? Some expectation that things will get better, anyway. But this Erica…she’s given up. She’s getting by, but she doesn’t see anything better on the horizon. She figures her life is over, and she’s only seventeen.

Of course, Stiles also knows what she looks like when her life is actually over by seventeen.

“You want my help?” she asks hesitantly. “Doing what?”

“No, look—it’s crazy dangerous, the thing I want help with. Like, insanely dangerous. People getting locked up in basements and tortured dangerous, to pick a non-random example. And yeah, your help would be awesome, but I don’t want…I don’t want to drag you down with me, alright? I don’t want to be responsible for that.”

“Oh, but you’re fine dragging me down with you?” Scott demands indignantly.

“Hey, don’t even with me. You made me tell you, dude. You dragged yourself. Besides, it’s not like I’m making you do the dirty work.”

“I want to know,” Erica says stubbornly.

Why?” Stiles asks, despairing a little. “Why would you—you don’t owe me anything. Who am I to you? I’ve never done a thing for you. And you don’t have to prove yourself to me, because I already know how badass you can be. You’ve got nothing to gain here, and so much sanity and personal safety to lose. So much. I am not messing around. This ends in tears and blood and people running screaming into the night. And I don’t mean that metaphorically.”

“I want to know,” she repeats.

“Oh my God, you’re not listening to me at all.” He turns to Scott. “I forgot, downside: she’s a lousy listener.”

“I didn’t say I’d help,” she snaps impatiently. “I just said I want to know so I can make an educated decision. Is that all right with you? Am I allowed to make my own choices based on facts?”

Stiles smiles at her despite himself, despite how secretly sad her determination is. This goes a long way toward explaining how she got herself into the whole werewolf mess the first time around—she’s thinking, anything’s better than this. It’s a dangerous attitude to have. Also inaccurate. Just because you can’t imagine anything worse? Does not mean it can’t get any worse.

“The part I told Scott,” Stiles sighs, giving up, “was my secret to tell. The part I’d want to tell you, that’s somebody else’s secret. So I’ll have to talk to them first. If they say it’s okay, I can…God, drive you out to an undisclosed location to talk to strangers, I guess. And that’s not even what makes this a terrible idea.”

Erica raises a clearly unimpressed eyebrow. Stiles sighs again and mentally prepares himself for a really strained chat with the Alpha Hales. “Fine.”

“You’re sweet,” Erica says insincerely, tapping her fist on the hood of the Jeep and wandering off. So familiar. Apparently annoyed Erica is annoyed Erica regardless of debilitating health issues. This is going to end so badly. Although hopefully not as badly as it did the last time, holy crap.

“Well, that was a disaster. Oh!” Stiles snaps his fingers. “That reminds me. Scott, your first mission, should you choose to accept it: adopt Isaac Lahey.”

Seems like Scott can’t decide whether to be worried or just very confused. “Who?”

“Isaac Lahey! Come on, dude, he plays lacrosse. I know you know him.”

“…I do?”

“Well, you should. And you will. And then you’ll adopt him, because I say so and I am always right. And because his dad is an abusive dickwad, and no one cried when he got torn apart by a giant lizard. How’s that for an epitaph?”

“That is…one hell of an epitaph. Wait. Wait, was the lizard Jackson?

“You do listen! Yes, the lizard was Jackson. Oh, also, we should start having lunch with Boyd.”

“Are you making Boyd help?”

“Maybe. But even if I don’t, we should still have lunch with him.”

“Why?”

“General principles. We like him.”

“We do?”

“We could. He’s cool. Level-headed in a crisis.”

“…High pain tolerance?”

“That too.”

“Uh huh. How do we feel about Matt? Because you watch him all the time, so I figure we have some feelings.”

“We hate Matt.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously. Matt…okay, Matt shot you one time, and that was the least of the creepy things he did that day.”

“Holy shit.”

“We’re going to watch Matt very closely, Scott. And if he starts doing anything, you know, serial-killer-like, we’re taking him down.”

“We didn’t…uh. We didn’t kill him or anything, did we?”

“Nope.”

“Oh. Good.”

“Gerard did.”

“Oh. Do we like Gerard?”

“Gerard once dragged me into his family’s basement and beat the crap out of me.” It feels weird saying that out loud. Stiles never told his own Scott about the Gerard beating. Obviously he didn’t—he never told anybody, because his body is not a billboard for crazy old men to write messages on. It’s nice that he can get away with telling this Scott, though. That it’s safe to tell him, that he doesn’t get the significance. “Also he stabbed you.”

“So,” Scott says, wide-eyed, blessedly free of understanding. “Not big fans, then.”

“Not so much, no. Eventually you poisoned him, though. I was proud.” Mostly. Aside from the part with the unnecessary lying.

“I really don’t think I have it in me to poison someone.”

“Scott, my man, I promise that you do. When you need to.”

Scott shudders and goes quiet. It’s dangerous when Scott goes quiet; it means he’s actually thinking things through. He can be scarily perceptive when he stops to think things through. The world is lucky it happens so rarely. “Hey Stiles?”

“Yeah?”

“Um. Don’t get mad, but…my Stiles was a lot more. I don’t know. Possessive? Not—not in a bad way, just. He wasn’t big on other people, uh, taking up my time.”

Scott feels under-loved because Stiles is not behaving like a jealous loon. Jesus. “And I know exactly how your Stiles felt.” He does, too, that’s the sad truth. “The thing is, though, when you and your Stiles set up the terms of your friendship? It was on the understanding that you were both equally likely to die. Yeah? You were equally likely to hit that deer. That made it fair, see. Same with me and my Scott. He was as likely to get cut in half by hunters as I was to get ripped apart by werewolves.”

“Okay. So?”

“So you and me? This isn’t a fair situation. I am a thousand times more likely to die than you.”

“Stiles—”

“No, shut up, I prefer it this way. But it’s not fair on you; you’re the one who probably gets left behind here. So you need other people. You need people who aren’t going to, oh, run unarmed toward rabid werewolves. I don’t actually want you to hang around with Isaac, but I need you to, so that when I get myself killed in some stupid way—” or when he ditches everyone for his old universe, not that he’s admitting to that “—you won’t be left alone.”

Scott frowns at him. “I’m not cool with you doing all this crazy stuff on your own. I mean, it actually killed you before.”

“I’m not even your Stiles,” Stiles reminds him.

There’s a spike of misery and, oddly, guilt from Scott in response to that, but he bulls on past it. “So? You’re the only Stiles I’ve got.”

Stiles hates it when Scott comes out with stuff that sounds stupid and yet makes inarguable, perfect sense. Now he really feels like a dick about the whole universe-jumping plan.

“Fine. Fine! I promise not to do crazy stuff on my own,” he sighs. “I’ve got, you know. Werewolf friends. They’re tough. Much harder to kill than human asthmatics.”

Scott nods thoughtfully. “The Hales, right?”

“What? No.”

Scott rolls his eyes. Rolls his eyes! “Dude. Did you think I wouldn’t notice that all of a sudden you’re hanging out with Derek Hale all the time? Because I totally noticed. Everybody noticed.”

“When you say everybody…” Stiles mumbles, wincing.

“I mean you are hot gossip in a good way for basically the first time ever. Congratulations, I guess.”

“No, this is definitely a condolences occasion, Scott. Crap, this is the last thing they need—more attention.”

“Whatever, it’s not like anybody sees you hanging around with him and thinks, ‘Oh, he must be a werewolf.’ Everybody looks at you and him and thinks, uh. Other things.” Shifty eyes. Great. Just great, because that particular type of shiftiness can only mean one thing.

“Things like statutory rape?” Stiles demands in a strangled shout.

“…Maybe?”

Oh, God. So this explains Derek’s awkward face whenever he meets Stiles at school, because if people are talking about it, Derek can hear it. This also puts a whole different spin on the Danny looks Stiles has been fielding, because he’s been stuck in a whole Miguel/stripping/hacking mindset and forgot that, of course, that never happened here, so when Danny gives them those looks, he isn’t thinking about Derek shirtless, he’s thinking, he thinks—

Wow. Stiles would make the worst spy ever.

“Bell’s ringing,” Scott points out. “Class, Stiles. Stiles. Stiles, we have to get to class. Seriously, dude, think this through in class, come on!”

Sure. He can think it through in class. And then he can think about the talk he needs to have with Derek’s parents about turning teenaged humans into werewolves, thank you, Erica. He’s sure that won’t be miserably uncomfortable at all.

Ha ha.