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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.

Chapter Text

Derek comes home from work, climbs the stairs, and finds all of his siblings and cousins at the top, sprawled facedown in the hallway with their ears pressed to the floor, or in the case of the humans, with cups pressed to the floor to amplify sound. And he was so sure they’d outgrown this.

“Oh my God,” Cora breathes. “Did he really just tell Dad to use his words?

“He really did,” Rachel confirms. “Best day ever.”

Everyone laughs quietly, but they quickly hush each other and settle again, listening. Derek thinks about acting like an adult and walking past them to his bedroom the way he’d planned. He thinks about it for almost a minute. Then he drops down next to Laura and puts his ear to the floor. She throws an arm over his shoulders and smirks at him.

“…faith in me is amazing,” Stiles is saying in the almost-but-not-quite soundproofed room below. “No, oh my God, I’m not starting my own werewolf army.” Pause. “Although that would be pretty awesome.”

The twins giggle. Philip glares them into silence. Laura nudges Derek and grins. It feels exactly like being ten years old again. Actually, Derek’s pretty sure that was the last time they did this—when he was ten. Stiles is making them regress.

Well, Cat and Cal haven’t gotten to do this before. Cat’s definitely enjoying it, though Cal’s so little, he probably won’t even remember. But right now he’s having so much fun he can hardly stand it, so that’s something.

“All I’m asking is, is it safer for people to be bitten young? Are they more likely to live through it? Also, is it psychologically better that way—to be bitten young, to have more time to adjust? Or, flipside, is it morally wrong to ask if people want the bite that young, seeing as your average teenager has no freaking clue what they want?”

Derek’s never thought about any of this. Of course, he’s never really known anyone bitten. It must be confusing for them. He can’t imagine.

“It’s a balance,” Mom tells Stiles. “We try not to take anyone before seventeen or after twenty, but we make exceptions for people who are dying anyway, from injuries or illness. And we’ll sometimes take very adaptable adults, as long as they understand the risks.”

“Huh.”

“And when I say ‘we,’ I mean other packs, because the Hale pack hasn’t bitten anyone in generations. It’s complicated, and there hasn’t been any need.”

Uncle Peter hits the top of the stairs at this point, and everyone cringes. Peter’s always been good at sneaking up on them—at home, anyway, where everything smells like all of them all the time.

He runs a stern eye over them, frowning at Philip, who looks away guiltily. Then he frowns at Laura, who shrugs unrepentantly.

And then he drops down between Cat and Cal and puts his ear to the floor. There’s another wave of giggles and hissed demands for quiet, and Cal climbs happily onto Peter’s back and curls into a ball. It’s almost offensively cute.

“So I know this girl who has seizures, and some people can roll with that, but it’s basically destroying her,” Stiles is saying. “And there’s this guy—he’s kind of a loner, but he’s got a solid sense of responsibility. I think they’d be, I don’t know, happier in themselves if they were werewolves, and definitely if they had a pack. Although Erica’s gonna need some serious lecture time on why it’s wrong to take out your rage against the bullies by becoming a bully, if you know what I mean.”

“Well,” Aunt Felicia says, appearing from nowhere and making everyone jump—she’s the only one sneakier than Uncle Peter. “You are adorable, I have to admit. But I will tattle on you if you keep this up. I will do it without a second’s hesitation or a moment of remorse. Come on, up, all of you.”

They get up, guilty and resentful in equal parts. Except for Peter, who swings Cal into his arms and shamelessly saunters over to Aunt Felicia, leading Cat by the hand, smiling his sweetest smile, like he’s saying, You wouldn’t yell at your dear husband and innocent children, would you? Aunt Felicia rolls her eyes, but she lets Peter reel her in with his free arm, lets Cal grab onto her shirt while Cat bounces beside them, chattering about how fun it was.

Everyone else silently blesses Peter for the distraction and scurries away to their rooms before Felicia remembers they exist.

Derek wonders what Stiles is saying now.

* * *

The day after the, wow, seriously off-putting chat with the senior Hales, Stiles catches Erica in the parking lot on the way out of school. All these life-altering conversations happening in the parking lot lately; Stiles really needs a more sedentary life. His next life-altering conversation is happening in the cafeteria, dammit. “If you want to talk to them,” he says, “they’ll talk to you. If you repeat what they tell you to the wrong people, though, they’ll kill you. FYI.”

Erica rolls her eyes. “Very funny.”

“No, no, it isn’t, because I’m actually being deathly serious right now. I know it’s confusing because it’s so rare, but I am as serious as I’ve ever been. They will really, truly kill you dead. They will feel they have no choice, and I can’t even say they’d be wrong. Do you really want to know about this?”

Erica settles, looking frail and sick, maybe, but also determined enough to ride through hell. “Stiles, you said you needed my help. Do you know when someone last needed me for anything? Never, Stiles. Never. No one has ever needed me. So if you actually need me for something, I have to at least find out why. I have to. Do you get that?”

Stiles sighs, lets his head fall back, and stares at the sky like it has the answers. It doesn’t seem to. “Yeah, I get that.” And when she puts it that way, he can’t even bring himself to feel too guilty about it.

He wonders if she’ll take the bite this time. He wonders if Laura will let her wear the crazy werewolf vamp clothes if she does. Somehow he’s thinking no. “Right. So do you want to go now?”

Erica blinks. Apparently she wasn’t expecting right now. “I…guess?”

“You need to call home and say you’ll be late?”

“No. My mom is working late tonight.”

Damn, it’s like she doesn’t even care if he drives her into the woods and kills her. Maybe she doesn’t. Stiles already feels so good about the way this is going, Jesus. “Climb in, then.”

She climbs in. It’s a quiet ride out to the Preserve. Erica seems to have a lot on her mind, and Stiles is first busy worrying that he won’t be able to find the clearing Talia told him to go to, and then weirding himself out by thinking the ruined Hale house would be a good place to meet before realizing it doesn’t exist.

His mind is still chasing itself in circles on that theme when they get to the clearing. He introduces Erica and Talia (the only wolf there, interestingly), and stands back while Talia gives Erica the whole werewolf speech and Erica fails to flip out over it to an extent that is either very cool or very upsetting. Next, Talia gives all the warnings about hunters and the current unsettled supernatural situation and the sliding odds of the bite killing you and a lot of things Stiles doesn’t remember Derek ever going into in any detail. It makes Stiles wander off into strangely fond thoughts about his Derek’s ineptitude, and he doesn’t tune in again until Erica asks if they’re actually offering her the bite.

“We are,” Talia says gently. “But if you decide to go through with it, we’ll need to talk with your parents.”

“My parents?” Erica asks, horrified. “Why?

“Because they’re still feeding and housing you, Erica. Unless they’re somehow abusive—are they?”

Erica shakes her head, but Stiles—and Talia, he sees—notices that she doesn’t seem too sure about that.

“They deserve to have a vote,” Talia concludes anyway. “It could cure your medical problems, but it could also kill you.”

“It won’t,” Stiles murmurs.

Talia eyes him with extreme suspicion. “Why do you say that?”

“No reason!” he counters hastily. Crap. He really needs to remember who he’s admitted what to, or he’s gonna end up dumped in the woods with broken legs to be eaten by pixies.

“Hm,” is all Talia says, ominously. “The other thing, Erica, is that once you’re bitten, we’ll need to train you. To train you, we’ll need to pull you out of school for at least a year. So you won’t graduate until next year.”

“Wait, what?” Stiles demands before Erica gets a chance to.

“That’s the way it has to be, Stiles. It’s not an easy adjustment. To bond with the pack, we’ll need to isolate her from everyone who isn’t pack or family for the first two months, and then we need to keep her away from anyone who might upset her and cause an accidental change for another two after that. The last eight months are for training, for learning control and our history. How did your alpha handle this?”

Ah. She’s figured out he was in a pack, then. Well, he probably does have a vibe. Whatever.

“Badly,” Stiles says, and while this is not news to him, he’d never understood how badly until just now. “So very, very badly.”

You had an alpha?” Erica demands.

“Once upon a time, yeah. Not that I’m a wolf or anything. You know what? This is a very awful story; let’s not talk about it.”

“Erica?” Talia asks softly.

“Why is it an awful story?” Erica persists, because she’s not stupid, which in this case is too bad.

“Because it’s a rocks fall, everyone dies kind of story, okay?”

“Oh. I didn’t know, I’m—Stiles, I didn’t mean, I didn’t know—”

Stiles cuts her off and waves blanket forgiveness. He can’t handle sincere apologies or other people’s guilt in general. He should always be the guilty one; that is the correct order of things.

Erica avoids everyone’s eyes for a while, but Talia just waits her out. She recovers pretty quickly; she’s always been tough. “How much more dangerous is it to be a werewolf than a human?”

“In this town?” Stiles snorts. “Not much. You may even be less likely to die than the squishy humans. Well, unless you go omega, which is stupid and to be avoided.”

“What do you think, Erica?” Talia asks, voice polite and devoid of any kind of pressure. And this is somehow Derek’s mom.

Erica looks totally overwhelmed; she looks small and confused and terrified. But still determined. “I want to do it,” she says firmly. “We can…we should talk to my parents.”

“I’ll give you a week to change your mind, first,” Talia informs her, no-nonsense. “Use it to spend time with my kids, because if you like them, they’ll be your new pack. If not, we’ll find you another pack. Once you’ve chosen a pack, then we’ll talk to your parents.”

That whole process will take at least a month, then it’ll probably take another month to talk Erica’s parents around. And then Erica will be at werewolf camp and talking to no one for another two months after that. Stiles will be gone by then.

It’s kind of looking like he just helped Erica get a new life and lost her anyway.

Not that this is about him. This is definitely not about him; this is about making Erica less miserable. God, he seriously needs to get a grip, here, because for some reason, Erica’s looking at him like his opinion counts for something with her.

“Go crazy, Catwoman,” he says.

It’s a reference she shouldn’t catch, but she grins anyway.

* * *

“Who lives at 255 Cedar?”

“Derek! I love you too, little brother. It’s good to hear from you. I hope you’re having a nice evening as well. Are you on your way home from work?”

Laura.”

“You are such a—this is an abuse of power! You’re going to get me fired someday, and then I’m going to make you buy all my food and shoes and clothes and—dum, da da dum, dum dum dum—the McCalls. 255 Cedar, home to Melissa and Scott McCall. Why?”

Derek rubs his forehead and leans against a warded tree. “Because there are some really familiar wards all around their house.”

“Stiles?”

“Probably. Scott’s a friend of his. And…there’s mountain ash, too.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“For us, or…?”

“Who else would it be for?”

“Well, I don’t know, Derek. Who does Stiles think is planning to burn our house down? We don’t know. Plus, rogue omegas everywhere.”

“Maybe he just doesn’t trust us.”

“I doubt that. Go check the Stilinski place, see if there’s mountain ash there.”

“Why should I? I’m going home.”

“Or you could shut up and do what I tell you.”

“…Or that.”

Derek needs to learn to say no to Laura. He’s definitely going to learn someday. Apparently not today, but someday.

It turns out that the Stilinski house is warded to the limits of sanity and possibly beyond…but there’s no mountain ash. Derek walks right up to the wall and touches it. If there were mountain ash around the foundation, he’d feel the effects of it from here, but there’s nothing.

So Stiles does trust them. But he doesn’t want werewolves around Scott McCall.

Derek looks up at the nearest lighted window and catches a glimpse of Stiles moving around up there. Must be his room. Derek really wants to ask why there’s mountain ash at the McCalls’, and there Stiles is, right there.

Without thinking it through much beyond that, Derek jumps up to the first floor roof, then swings himself over to the window and in.

And that’s when it hits him that he’s just climbed, uninvited, into a teenager’s bedroom. Laura is going to laugh at his face and then punch him in it.

Stiles, though, seems only mildly surprised. “Hey, Derek. Since you’re here, you can help me find something that kills pixies, because your mom put this on me, and they’re like impossible to kill in any numbers, and I’m just, I am done with their whole species. They’re mystical, magical, poisonous cockroaches; I can’t deal.”

He chucks a book onto his bed. Presumably that’s where he expects Derek to sit and read about pixies. Fucking Stiles Stilinski. “You’ve got mountain ash around Scott McCall’s house,” Derek says, ignoring the book.

Stiles abruptly stops moving. “Why were you at Scott’s?”

“I wasn’t.” This is confirming every suspicion Derek has. “I was coming home from work and felt the wards, so I stopped. Then I noticed the ash.”

“Oh.” Stiles goes limp with relief, then says, “Sorry. Sorry, I just—I don’t want him more involved than he already is, you know? Like, he’s a good friend and a good employee and a decent student, but that’s all he can handle. If he became a werewolf, too? His grades would tank for at least a year, he’d show up late for work when he showed up at all, and things like me being chained up in a basement somewhere would slip his mind. And if he had a love life on top of that, oh my God, don’t even get me started. The love life is the worst.”

“You think we’d bite him?”

“What? No!” Stiles gives Derek a scandalized look. “Of course not! I mean, unless he asked, but in that case, he’d prance right over to your house and I couldn’t stop him. And I wouldn’t—that would be his call. I’m not worried about you guys. It’s just, all the crazy omegas lately, right? They could kill him. And who’s to say we won’t have crazy alphas coming through? And Scott’s like—if there’s a way to pitch headfirst into danger, Scott is there. Oh! That’s why you—I was only worried you were at his house because I figured you wouldn’t be there without a reason, and any reason you’d have for going there would mean he was already neck-deep in something bad that he wasn’t telling me about. It wasn’t about you. You totally have my blessing to talk to Scott as much as you want, if you want. Although, honestly? I don’t think you’d get along.”

Derek would like to know how it’s possible to talk that much and still have time to breathe.

And he should probably apologize. No, he knows he should; he was being suspicious of Stiles for no reason. Not that Stiles seems offended. He should still apologize. He can practically hear Laura nagging him about it.

He’s not great at apologies, so he just grabs the nearest pixie book and settles back to flip through it: apology through labor. He doesn’t know what Stiles thinks he’s going to learn from these books that isn’t already common knowledge, but whatever. That’s not the point. The point is that Stiles smells…content, now. So that’s good. It would be even better if Derek could actually focus on the damn book instead of Stiles, because this is helping no one.

He always seems to be doing at least three things simultaneously, Stiles, and the amazing thing is that he never loses track of any of them. He goes from one to the other to the other and back around, smooth and endless, no apparent confusion. It’s either impressive or terrifying; Derek can’t decide.

At the moment, Stiles is doing math homework, college applications, pixie research, and…some other kind of research, Derek isn’t sure what. It’s supernatural, that much is obvious; he’s busily sticking newspaper clippings between the pages of a giant tome on runes and curses that he probably stole from Philip. Derek’s not sure if the clippings are for cross-referencing purposes or just bookmarks. Or both.

With enormous force of will, Derek tears his mind away from Stiles and forces himself to focus on the pixie book. Which, as he suspected, contains nothing useful. Which is what he tells Stiles every five minutes, because that’s how often Stiles interrupts him.

“Anything new on pixies?”

“Stiles. I just started reading.”

Five minutes later: “So what kind of work do you do? When you’re not running around the woods catching omegas or sniffing out Scott’s house.”

Derek rolls his eyes. “I work at the gym.”

“Oh my God, that is so perfect it’s ridiculous.”

“Shut up.”

“No, it is, it’s so, so perfect. You seriously just made my day, dude.”

“Don’t make me kill you.”

“Yeesh. Touchy.”

Five minutes later: “So…pixies? Progress?”

Stiles.”

Really, Derek’s sure there’s nothing to learn on the subject of pixies. They’re a fucking menace, yes, but everyone’s known that since Fenrir, and in all that time, no one’s cooked up a magical equivalent to Pixie Off. If they had, everyone would know about it. He’s being set up to fail, here. Well, him and Stiles both.

An hour into the futile studying, Laura calls. Derek’s amazed she lasted that long, and also amazed to find he wants a break badly enough to actually want to talk to her. “…Hi.”

“Hi there, Derek. And…where are you, exactly? Because you’re not home. Everyone is sort of wondering why it is that you’re not home, actually.”

“Ah.” He’s not sure where to go from there, but it doesn’t matter, because Stiles takes that moment to put his foot in it.

“Is that Laura?” he asks, and then, without waiting for an answer, “Gimme the phone, I want to ask her something.” When Derek just stares at him, he beckons imperiously. Derek hands over the phone. What the hell.

“Laura! I have all the questions about pixies, but Derek’s specialty is definitely not research wizardry. I don’t mean to hurt your family pride or anything—he has other strengths!—but he hasn’t told me how to exterminate pixies yet, which is what I need at the moment, so I’m asking you. Thoughts?”

Laura laughs. “Derek’s at your house right now? Oh my God. Did you catch him sneaking around your yard and invite him in or something?”

“Hm? No, he climbed in my window. Why?”

“He what?

“I know, right? I’ve given up on training him out of it.”

“You mean he’s climbed in your window before?!”

“No, no! No, this is the first time. I just meant—social skills. Generally. I’ve given up on them.”

Derek would be offended under normal circumstances, but there are no normal circumstances with Stiles, and he’s more confused than anything. Because when Stiles said, This is the first time, he was lying.

Except that Derek has definitely never climbed in any non-family member’s window before. Which either means that he’s got all of Stiles’s tells wrong, or—

Or what?

…Derek reminds Stiles of someone, he’s said it more than once. How much does Derek remind him of this person? This person who slammed Stiles into things and claimed not to trust him and had some kind of mutual life-saving arrangement with him. This person who very possibly used to climb into Stiles’s bedroom window to help him with research.

It makes no sense. According to Laura, Stiles has lived in this house in Beacon Hills all his life. If there was another pack hanging around close enough to spend time at the Stilinski house, the Hales would have known. Besides, Derek can’t smell another werewolf here. He can smell tiny hints of Stiles’s mother’s perfume, years old now, but no wolf. And that grief Stiles feels—that’s new.

Stiles acts like pack. Stiles worries and defends and organizes; he never shows weakness except as a ploy. He acts like…like a human alpha. He clearly had his own pack once—but where are they now? Where did he meet them? How did he lose them? Why is he so guilty and devastated about them? Derek wants to know everything, and that’s a strange feeling for him. He doesn’t dare ask, though. He won’t risk making Stiles feel that loss again.

Stiles abruptly tosses the phone back to Derek. “Here you go. Laura’s going to come over bearing pixie books,” he says happily. “I think she wants to bitch you out for the whole window-climbing thing.”

“He’s right,” Laura says as Derek brings the phone to his ear. “What the hell is wrong with you? He’s seventeen! He’s the sheriff’s underage son! You climbed into the sheriff’s underage son’s bedroom window, Derek! Do you have any idea how much Mom is going to yell at you?”

“Don’t tell Mom!” Derek yelps, thereby earning himself a really weird look from Stiles.

“Too late,” Laura declares, devoid of sympathy. “She’s been listening. I’ll see you soon, baby brother.”

And because this evening hasn’t had enough fun at Derek’s expense yet, he no sooner hangs up on that impending disaster than Stiles’s dad, the sheriff, knocks briefly and throws the door open. He looks about as happy to find Derek in his underage son’s bedroom as Laura figured he would.

“Dad!” Stiles says, panic-bright. “Fancy meeting you here, in our, um, house…you know Derek Hale, right?”

The sheriff narrows his eyes suspiciously at Derek. “We’ve met. Gave up on that idea about a restraining order against my son, did you, Derek?”

“Ah…”

“Dude, you were going to get a restraining order against me?” Stiles laughs, apparently forgetting how incredibly awkward this situation is. “That would’ve been hilarious. Also? Wouldn’t be the first time I tried to help somebody out and ended up with a restraining order.”

“Excuse me?” the sheriff demands.

“Kidding! Obviously, no restraining orders here. Which you would know, because you’re the sheriff. You’d have to know if there were any restraining orders against me, right? Of course right. I’m restraining order free. Ha ha.”

He’s lying again. What.

The sheriff, probably wisely, shakes his head and ignores his son. “Derek. Why are you here?”

Derek scrabbles for a response consisting of something other than frantic, nonspecific denials.

“He’s helping me with a research project,” Stiles cuts in. “History class. We’ve got a mythology unit, and his Aunt Felicia is all about mythology. Seriously, their library is the best. Plus, I get to write a paper on pixies. How cool is that?”

The sheriff is smiling reluctantly, almost despite himself. Derek knows the feeling. “Uh huh. And what have you learned about pixies?”

“That despite all the Disneyfication they’ve gone through? Original pixies were freaking evil, Dad. Also venomous. Neurotoxins in their venom. Flies like a hummingbird, bites like a komodo dragon. And they breed like rabbits. They’re blue and hand-sized, and you should avoid them, that’s my newly expert advice. Shoot them in the face and run if you have to, but as a general rule? Avoid.”

“I’ll bear that in mind,” the sheriff says patiently. “If pixies ever become real, I will avoid them. Remind me how Derek’s contributing to this effort?”

“Mostly I cart books around,” Derek says. It’s true often enough that it sounds convincing. It may even become true for Stiles in the near future, if Philip has his way.

“He’s the Hale family gofer,” Stiles explains. “Sad, really.” Derek glowers at him. Stiles is unmoved.

The sheriff seems to accept all this as being within the bounds of normal behavior for Stiles’s friends. “Right,” he sighs. “Well, don’t stay up late. You have a lacrosse game tomorrow, remember.”

“Oh. Right.”

“Stiles!”

“Bed early! Totally early. Promise. Oh! Laura’s coming by in a minute with more books. I guess she can pick up Derek then?”

“All right, sounds good. Have a safe drive home, Derek.”

“Thanks.”

“Goodnight, Stiles. Love you.”

“Love you, Dad. Night.”

He closes the door, and Stiles spins to point at Derek accusingly. “What the hell, dude?” he hisses. “What do you think your freaky werewolf senses are for?

Derek scowls back. “I didn’t know I was supposed to be listening for your dad!”

Stiles’s hand drops and he frowns in confusion. “You didn’t know you were supposed to—what, you just had your hearing turned off?”

“No, human kid, I—you can’t constantly pay attention to everything! You’d go crazy. The only time I’m that on is when I’m actively in danger. Nobody can be that keyed up all the time unless they’re, I don’t know—”

“Hypervigilant,” Stiles interrupts, looking and smelling…very strange, all of a sudden. “Suffering from the persistent feeling of being under threat.”

“…Yeah.”

“Okay. That explains a lot.”

“About what?” Derek demands, fed up with Stiles’s everything.

“You,” he replies nonsensically. “Anyway, Laura. We should go downstairs and wait for her.”

Derek despairs of anything in his life making sense ever again.

* * *

Stiles had figured there would be some good, old-fashioned mockery when Laura arrived, but he hadn’t anticipated the actual freakout that occurred. Maybe Stiles is just desensitized, but he doesn’t get what the big deal is. His Derek did way worse things all the time (which…yeah, okay, maybe not the strongest argument). Not that it mattered what Stiles thought—he was definitely not consulted.

No, it went like this: Laura dropped the books off, chatted politely with Stiles about them, and then dragged Derek out by the ear, scolding viciously all the way. RIP, buddy.

One of the books Laura dropped off is in Archaic Latin. She asked if that would be a problem, Stiles blithely claimed it wouldn’t, and it’s taken an hour to hit him that his former source for reliable Latin translations (Archaic, Classical, whatever) either doesn’t know his name or is pretending very firmly not to.

So that…makes things weirder. But it can’t be helped—how many people in Beacon Hills are likely to know Archaic Latin? Yeah. He’s just gonna have to suck it up and deal.

And with that rallying cry in mind, he heads to school the next day, preemptively kissing his temporary, tentative cool factor goodbye. And then he fails to find a chance to talk to Lydia all morning, which kills his momentum. Life never has any respect for Stiles’s sense of timing.

“I see Erica’s hanging around with the Hale twins all of a sudden,” Scott says accusingly when they sit down for lunch (still no Lydia in sight).

“Is she?” Stiles asks, innocent as the day is long, pure as the driven snow.

Stiles.”

“Hey, it’s not like everything to do with the Hales has something to do with me.”

“Maybe not, but this does. Come on. You’ve been talking to Erica, you’ve been talking to the Hales, suddenly they’re talking to each other? This has you written all over it.”

Lydia arrives in the cafeteria. Finally. She sits with Jackson and Danny, but their satellite minions haven’t shown up yet. This is as close to alone as Stiles is ever going to get her. The time is now!

“Are you ignoring me?” Scott asks, affronted. “You can’t ignore me, I’m being serious. What’re you up to with Erica?”

“Hold that thought, okay? I’ve gotta go ask Lydia for something.”

Scott’s eyes go saucer-wide. “You’re…you’re asking Lydia for something?”

“Uh, yeah? What, dude, what’s with that face?”

“You can’t just go talk to Lydia! You never do that! She doesn’t know who you are, remember?!”

“Can’t be helped. Biting the bullet. It’s been nice knowing you, Scott, but I’m off to have my dignity eviscerated in public. Stand aside.”

Scott is reluctant to stand aside, so Stiles puts a hand on the table and vaults over it, scurrying Lydia-wards before Scott can catch him. This is a major bonus to a non-werewolf Scott, Stiles has to admit.

He was lying about his dignity, anyway; it’s not like he actually has any left. He’s walking around in the wrong world wearing a dead kid’s body while lying to Dad about his identity and personal history. There’s nothing Lydia can say to him that’s worse than what he’s already said to himself. Loudly. Several times.

“Lydia! Hi. I’m Stiles, I sit behind you in—it doesn’t matter.” She’s bored. She’s mentally absent. She’s wondering why this sub-species creature is talking to her. Stiles has definitely not missed any of these facial expressions on her. “I need you to translate something for me.”

And we’re in business. Now showing on Lydia’s face: surprise, alarm, reluctant interest. “…What?”

“I have this book, okay, in Archaic Latin, and I don’t know anybody else who can translate it. Please?”

She’s now giving him the only slightly hostile you’re an alien look. Now that, that’s a comfortingly familiar look. “Walk with me,” she says, standing abruptly and marching toward the door. Stiles flees the Jackson glare of doom and the Danny incredulous stare and trails after her, noting Scott’s horrified averted eyes as he goes. He also notes Cora Hale passing Rachel Hale ten bucks while Erica (who is indeed hanging out with them) giggles, but since he doesn’t know what the terms of the bet were, he doesn’t know who to frown disapprovingly at. Both Hales feel amused and slightly smug. He decides to ignore them; he’s starting to suspect that’s always the safer option.

“Why do you think I can read Archaic Latin?” Lydia demands, reaching the lockers and spinning to glare at him suspiciously.

“A reliable source informed me you got bored with Classical Latin,” he says. It’s even true, for all that Allison doesn’t seem to exist here. Or maybe she’s just not here yet.

“A reliable source,” Lydia repeats, eyes narrowing dangerously. “And who might that be?”

“…I protect my sources.”

“Your source was wrong.”

“She really wasn’t.”

“She?”

“Lydia, look—I won’t tell anyone you’re secretly a genius and a future winner of the Field’s Medal if you will just translate this one thing for me. You can keep pulling the whole airhead act for as long as you want, and I won’t say a thing. I’ll just admire your sneaky genius silently and from afar. And! I’ll buy your dress for the winter formal.”

Now she’s giving him almost exactly the same shocked look she had when he told her he knew how smart she was in his last timeline. After a good, long study and a hastily-hidden smile, though, she pulls herself together, scrapes up some disdain. “I’m not going with you to the winter formal.”

“No, of course not. You’re going with Jackson; he’s your boyfriend. And hey, I may not understand your taste, like, at all, but to each her own. I’m just buying the dress. As long as you do this translation for me.”

She frowns at him, which is fair. His current behavior is definitely not within spec. “The dress may be…quite expensive.”

“Trust me,” he sighs, “I know.”

“This translation must be really important to you,” she muses, tipping her head to the side and eyeing him with that wonderful, familiar, cold speculation.

“It is, but I’m not telling you why.”

Her eyes widen mockingly. “Very mysterious.”

“Maybe. Or, hey, maybe it’s just embarrassing!”

She shakes her head, dismissing all of his nonsense, and holds out a hand. “Book.”

He digs around in his backpack and pulls out the book, passes it over. “If you could translate from the first post-it to the second one—the end of the chapter—that’d be great.”

“Fine.”

“How long do you think…?”

“Hm. Mythology?” She flips through the text. “How urgent is it?”

“As…as soon as possible. Really, sooner is better.”

“Of course. Medieval mythology is always so urgent. I suppose I can get it back to you tomorrow.”

She’s translating twenty pages of obscure, closely written Archaic Latin on methods for killing pixies overnight. On top of homework. “Lydia Martin, you are made of rainbows and awesome.”

“Yes,” she says, smiling at him briefly. “I am.” She turns on her heel and walks off, calling, “This dress will cost more than your car!” over her shoulder.

Stiles waits until she’s out of sight, then laughs and gleefully punches the air. That’s right. The band is back together, and no one’s even died!

…Well, except for him. Technically, he died. Twice. Oh, well. Omelet, broken eggs, whatever. Making the magic happen. Forward momentum.

“You survived?” Scott asks incredulously when Stiles comes back to the table. The Jackson death glare, meanwhile, is reaching epic, if not kanima, proportions. Stiles thinks about smirking at him just to see what would happen, but decides that would mostly make Lydia’s life difficult, so he goes with ignoring Jackson, as usual.

Poor Danny is actually scowling in confusion. Stiles feels bad about that; he didn’t know Danny was capable of looking that off-balance. He doesn’t even look that off-balance when he’s just been paralyzed by a giant lizard.

“Ye of little faith,” Stiles says to Scott, trying to forget about the Danny situation he’s accidentally created. “Yeah, I survived. She even agreed to translate something for me; I win all the marbles. Next I’m planning to talk her into helping me figure out why the pixies are going nuts around here. It’ll be like old times!”

“You guys used to research together?!”

“We did, yes. It was a whole ’nother world. Literally.”

“Oh.” Scott takes a moment to digest that with a disturbed look on his face. Why is that disturbing to him? Why? “Anyway,” he says eventually, waving the Lydia distraction away. “Erica.”

Sometimes Stiles wishes Scott had a touch of the old ADHD. “Can’t you just let that go?”

“No.”

Stiles sighs. “Fine. Okay. The Hales can do things for Erica. Things that, among other things, will get rid of her seizures.”

“Things like turn her into a werewolf?” Scott demands in a shocked whisper.

“She’s going in with her eyes open,” Stiles says with a shrug. “Don’t tell anyone, though, because if you do, hunters might find out, and if hunters find out, everyone dies.”

“Oh my God,” Scott hisses, horrified.

“Let’s talk about you and Isaac Lahey,” Stiles counters brightly. “Your budding friendship. How is that going?”

“I hate you so much sometimes,” Scott groans, putting his head down on the cafeteria table. Poor choice, Scott. Unsanitary.

* * *

“Isaac.”

Isaac looks up hesitantly from his lunch tray, ready to abandon it and run if necessary—but it’s just Erica, and he breathes out in relief. Erica’s on his side, as much as anyone can be said to be on his side. (Even if she has been hanging out with the Hale twins for the past couple of weeks—what is that about?) “Hey.”

“So.” She sits down across from him and stares fixedly his way, more focused than he’s ever seen her. Usually Erica looks like she’s living inside a glass box, but today it’s more like a shell. A shell she’s thinking about breaking.

Isaac’s getting a little weirded out. “So?”

Her mouth tilts down guiltily on one side. “So I’m…I’ll be out of school for the rest of the year.”

Which means Isaac is going to be alone. That explains the guilt, anyway. Wait, this means she won’t graduate this year. “What…why?” She doesn’t look more sick, but. “Are you okay?!”

She pushes back her tangle of hair and looks away. “Yeah? I mean. I will be, maybe. There’s this…this treatment they’re going to try. Experimental. It’ll take like a year, and I won’t be up for school. Or, um. Visitors outside of family, I guess.”

“A year?” Isaac breathes, horrified. And then, because the horror is coming from all directions at once, “Experimental? How experimental? Is this dangerous?”

Erica shrugs. “Worst case, it kills me. Best case, I stop having seizures.”

“And…did anyone give you the odds on this?”

She shakes her head. “Experimental,” she says. Jesus.

Not that Isaac doesn’t understand the appeal of just going for it. He gets that. He doesn’t want to, but he gets it. At least she won’t have to live in between anymore. “A year,” he repeats sadly.

“A year.” They stare unhappily at each other. There’s no solution to this problem. If Erica goes, Isaac might actually be crazy by graduation. If she doesn’t go, she’ll probably be crazy within a few years. Isaac’s problems are external, but Erica? Erica carries hers around inside her all the time. It’s worse, Isaac thinks.

“You should hang around with Scott McCall while I’m gone,” Erica announces abruptly.

“What.”

“I hear he’s nice.”

“Who did you—what are you talking about? I don’t even know Scott McCall.” Except that he’s starting to, because lately Scott’s been popping up everywhere and smiling at him and asking how his day’s going and it’s been seriously freaky. Isaac assumed it was some kind of long-term prank, but if it were, there’s no way Erica would be in on it. He’s sure of that much.

“Oh, well. I told Stiles I was worried about you being alone, and he said, um, he recommended Scott. As friend material. And Boyd.”

He’s not even touching most of what’s wrong with that statement right now. “You’re talking to Stiles?” Erica has never talked to Stiles. Erica didn’t even talk to Stiles when she had a life-ruining crush on him freshman year, possibly having learned from Isaac’s terrible Lydia Martin mistake.

She shrugs and smiles vaguely into the middle distance. “We have mutual friends.”

“The Hales,” Isaac guesses. “Except they weren’t your friends until, like, two weeks ago.”

“They’ve had family go through this treatment I’m going to try, so, you know.” She holds up crossed fingers. “We’ve bonded.”

“…Did their family member survive?”

“Yes. I doubt we’d have bonded otherwise.”

Fair point. “When…when are you, when is this going to start?”

“Friday’s my last day at school,” she says, losing her smile and looking down at the table.

“Oh.” We should have a going away party or something, he means to say, but what comes out is, “What should we do?”

“We should eat lunch,” Erica says, forcibly recovering her optimism. “I’ll get food. You go sit with Boyd.”

“But I’m—”

“You’re sitting with Boyd.” She gives him a dead-eyed look he hadn’t even known she was capable of. It’s terrifying. “Go.”

He goes. He goes slowly and reluctantly, dragging his feet, but he does go. Because he is a tool like that. Isaac Lahey, folds for skinny, sickly girls. His dad would be…unsurprised.

“Hey,” Boyd says, studying Isaac with extreme wariness. Isaac can’t blame him.

“Hey. Um, how are you?” Oh God, he sounds like Scott McCall.

“Curious,” Boyd replies.

“…About?”

“About why you’re sitting at my table.”

“Yeah.” Isaac looks over at the lunch line. Erica gives him a firm thumbs up and then turns away to pay, ignoring the social disaster she’s engineered. “Apparently it has something to do with experimental medical treatments and Stiles Stilinski. I’m not sure.”

“Erica’s making you sit with me.”

“Yeah.”

“Because of medicine and Stiles Stilinski.”

“I guess?”

“Is this some kind of joke?”

Great, now he looks pissed. Boyd is…Boyd could probably crush Isaac’s head with one hand if he felt like it. He’s not the kind of guy you want to see looking pissed.

“If it is,” Isaac sighs, resigned, “I’m pretty sure the joke’s on me, not you.”

“It’s not a joke on anyone,” Erica insists, dropping her tray on the table and settling firmly next to Boyd, much to his obvious confusion. “I’m going to be out of school for a while, so I asked Stiles who Isaac should hang around with while I’m gone, and he suggested you, Boyd. And Scott, obviously.”

“Stiles Stilinski?” Boyd asks. “He doesn’t know anything about me.”

Erica raises an eyebrow at him. “Sure, you think that. I thought he didn’t know anything about me, either, and then he gave me a disturbingly accurate summary of my entire personality. Don’t assume you know what he knows. I think he has everyone’s phones tapped or something, the giant freak.”

She looks strangely happy about that possibility.

“I don’t know anything about you,” Isaac offers Boyd by way of comfort.

Boyd heaves a put-upon sigh, but he does push his fries toward Isaac. Isaac’s had worse responses to overtures of friendship.

There’s a thump to Isaac’s right, and he jumps and turns to see that Stiles has manhandled Scott McCall into the seat next to Isaac and across from Erica, and is now giving the whole table a satisfied look, like he’s successfully herded all his chicks into a safe corner.

“Um, hey, guys,” Scott says, waving sheepishly.

“Boyd, Erica, Isaac,” Stiles says, nodding at everyone. “I’m trusting you to take care of Scott for me for the rest of the day, okay? You wouldn’t believe the crap he gets himself into when he’s on his own.”

“Oh my God, this coming from you,” Scott complains. And he has a point.

“What the hell is going on?” Boyd demands.

“Aren’t you eating with us, Stiles?” Erica asks.

“I need to cut out early,” Stiles says vaguely. “I’ve got a…thing. With some people.” About some stuff, presumably.

“Omegas?” Scott asks. Isaac would guess video game, but Scott looks way too worried for that.

“That’s the one,” Stiles agrees. “Anyway. See you tomorrow.”

He waves cheerfully and ducks out of the cafeteria. “Be careful!” Scott shouts after him. It makes about as much sense as anything else has today.

Awkward silence descends on the table.

“Sooo,” Scott says eventually, glancing around with an embarrassed smile. “Who else feels uncomfortably manipulated by Stiles Stilinski right now?”

Isaac cracks up.

* * *

Derek always said it was a bad idea to take Stiles along on an omega hunt. He said it to everyone, no one listened, and that’s why this is happening. He tells Laura as much over the growling of the five omegas surrounding them.

And they’re not just feral omegas who’ve lost control to the wolf, oh no. They’re filthy, thin, spattered with old blood. They’re not right. Their eyes are glazed and they move as a unit, not a pack. Like they’re being controlled by someone. Someone who doesn’t much care if they survive.

“No one expects zombies,” Laura snaps at him.

“S’true, dude,” Stiles agrees. “Although I don’t think they totally count? In that they’re not dead. Then again, there are various zombie definitions, and if you’re going with ‘mindless horde,’ can’t argue with you there.”

They’ve got Stiles tucked between them, but Derek seriously doubts they’ll be able to protect him from five omegas on their own. And they are on their own, they’re totally on their own, because Laura didn’t clear Stiles with their parents. She said it was better to ask forgiveness than permission. One day Derek is just going to kill both of them himself and spare everyone the drawn-out agony.

Stiles doesn’t smell particularly afraid, though. Nervous, but not afraid. Stiles is a genuinely insane person. Derek knew that, but he didn’t fully appreciate the extent until now.

“So…” Stiles says quietly. “They’re um. Closing in.”

“So they are,” Laura agrees as she and Derek back away, dragging Stiles with them.

“And your plan is?”

“My plan revolved around there being one omega, Stiles.”

“Right. Mine too. But things always go wrong, so, you know, backup plans. Okay, just, don’t breathe for a second, yeah? Cover your noses.” And he pulls a bottle of peppermint extract out of his bag, uncaps it, and throws it on the ground.

The omegas howl (Derek doesn’t blame them; even making an effort not to breathe, the peppermint burns), and Stiles swings himself onto Derek’s back with what seems to be the ease of long practice (what the hell?). He says, “My house is closest,” and obnoxiously points the way over Derek’s shoulder. Nobody has any better ideas, so Derek and Laura go that way, and the omegas take a minute to pull themselves together before they seriously start the chase.

So far so good. Laura and Derek are part of a huge pack; they’re much stronger and faster than omegas, even with Derek carrying a human. (A human who seems to be having fun, for Christ’s sake.) But they can’t keep going forever, and it’s obvious the omegas will continue running until they literally die of it—whatever’s controlling them must’ve stripped away their sense of self-preservation. So this is a run with a time limit.

It’s lucky they don’t have more time to think, i.e., argue, because Derek and Laura would’ve argued against using the Stilinskis’ house as a base of operations, and that would’ve been a mistake. Because it turns out that Stiles has an almost complete ring of mountain ash around the house (he drops from Derek’s back and closes it as soon as they cross the property line) and a positive supernatural arsenal inside. Derek has no idea how they’ve gone this long without smelling the wolfsbane—Stiles probably has enough to kill every wolf in North America. Holy shit.

“The bad news,” Stiles whispers once they’re (relatively) safely inside, peering out between the curtains in the living room, “is that I have no clue what kind of weird magic can control omegas like that. And I don’t know if it works on betas and alphas, and yeah, I don’t know jack, basically, and it seems like you guys don’t either.”

Laura and Derek just pace the living room in glum silence, because they don’t know jack, that is correct.

“The good news,” Stiles goes on after a fruitless pause, “is that they don’t seem to have any strategy left in them, so…oh, wait. In the words of Clint Barton: scratch that. No good news. Everything sucks.”

“I thought you were a DC guy,” Laura murmurs as she and Derek come to stand at the window with Stiles.

“Sometimes I stray,” Stiles admits, and he actually seems to feel guilty about it. He’s so weird.

He’s right about the lack of good news, though. The omegas have spaced themselves out evenly around the house, each within sight of at least two others, far enough away not to look like they’re obviously watching the place, but close enough that no one could get out without their noticing. They may not have strategy left in them, but the one controlling them obviously does.

“So if you’re being mind-controlled, do you count as a zombie?” Stiles asks idly.

“Interesting question,” Laura says. “But not actually useful.”

“Let’s just leave them there for an hour, see if they get bored and go away,” Stiles suggests. “I mean, why would they be after us in particular?”

“Because my parents have been killing them?”

“Yeah, but we haven’t. Maybe the zombie omegas will smell your mom and wander off.”

“…What would we do for an hour?” Laura asks, bemused.

Stiles shrugs and drops the curtain, turning to wander deeper into the house. “I dunno. I could make pancakes or something?”

“Right,” Laura says blankly, staring after him. “Pancakes.”

He does make pancakes. He actually makes them fucking pancakes. And they’re good.

“This day isn’t turning out at all the way I expected,” Laura complains around a mouthful of pancake, squinting in confusion at Stiles as he washes the dishes.

Derek, meanwhile, is struggling not to dwell on the sense-memory of Stiles on his back, limbs wrapped tight around him. Because Stiles is only seventeen, and Derek spends way too much time thinking about him as it is. He shouldn’t be encouraging himself.

“Well, like you said,” Stiles says to Laura, leaning back against the counter while he dries a mixing bowl, “no one expects zombies. I’m kind of bummed by the fact that they’re still lurking out there, though. Maybe there are other ones after your mom and we’re just, I don’t know, collateral.”

“God,” Laura groans, dropping her fork. “Now what we do?”

“Well, the omegas can’t get in as long as no one breaks the mountain ash line, and I can’t see their controller bothering to break cover for the sake of collateral. It’s good to be nonessential!” Stiles decisively plunks the bowl down on the counter.

“That’s…do you ever joke about things that don’t secretly make you angry? Because I’ve never met anyone who makes as many bitter jokes as you do.” Laura gives Stiles an uneasy grimace.

“Then you’ve been running with the wrong crowd,” Stiles tells her earnestly, “and Erica will be good for you. God, I wish I had projectile weapons in the house—I really should, I know, but they’re tough to explain to a dad, particularly a dad in law enforcement. And you guys can’t get past the mountain ash either, and I only have so much pancake batter. Looks bad around here.”

“You mean we’re trapped here?” Laura asks, appalled. “Stiles! For how long?”

“Hey, so far today I’ve saved your werewolf asses and made you pancakes. Back off the Stiles.”

“I’m sorry,” Laura says immediately, ashamed. “You’re right.”

Stiles frowns at her, obviously thrown by the quick agreement. Not for the first time, Derek wonders what the hell was wrong with Stiles’s old pack, that they apparently took him completely for granted. “Not that we don’t need to come up with a plan,” Stiles goes on, because apparently if Laura isn’t nagging him he has to nag himself. “Because we do. Because my dad is coming home in six hours, and we have omegas circling the house. Which…huh.”

“What?” Derek asks.

“‘Pack law states that it is the responsibility of the local alpha to rein in rogue omegas,’” Stiles quotes, starting to grin. “I’m calling your mom. Because this is provably not my responsibility, yes!” He punches the air.

“There’s going to be a lot of yelling in our futures,” Laura sighs, but she’s not disagreeing, which is good, because Derek would have to kill her if she did.

“Why would there be?” Stiles asks, scrolling through the contacts on his phone. “We were cornered in the woods by zombie omegas. How is that our fault?”

“We were out in the woods looking for an omega, Stiles,” Laura reminds him.

“Well, yeah, but it’s not like I’m mentioning that part,” he says blithely and like the tiny sociopath he apparently is. “Hey, Mrs. Hale? Yeah, this is Stiles. I have an omega problem. No, wait, you have an omega problem, because I’m just the pixie guy, remember. So Derek and Laura and I were in the woods, and suddenly we were surrounded and then chased—exciting times—by five omegas that seemed to be mind-controlled by someone. It’s pretty freaky. And now they’re hanging around my house, and yeah, they can’t get past the mountain ash, but Laura and Derek can’t either. I’m just saying, I haven’t been grocery shopping with a siege in mind.”

No, he’s only been weapon shopping with a siege in mind. Or maybe not, since he doesn’t have projectile weapons. Which means he has…close-range weapons? Does this mean he’s been shopping with assassination in mind?

Derek is suddenly reconsidering his decision to eat this kid’s pancakes.

* * *

It’s too good to be true, and Stiles knows it. The Alpha Hales show up, growl for a while, make some threatening gestures, and the omegas just…go away. Easy as that.

That is not how things work in the world of Stiles. Not unless it’s some kind of setup. So yeah, after he sends the Hales home with extra pancakes, staggers through the rest of the school week, and spends the entire weekend trailing around after Dad and putting newer and nastier wards all over the house, he’s not really surprised to go to school on Monday and find Allison Argent walking into his classroom first period. Because of course. The other shoe had to drop, and it turns out the other shoe belongs to an Argent. Awesome.

On top of that, Allison walks in the door, and Scott is, wow, instantly lost to sanity. Bam, gone, RIP, Scott’s common sense. It was good while it lasted.

Stiles isn’t a total bastard, though, and he does enjoy his secondhand true love, supernatural bullshit aside. Plus, this time, the Argents haven’t murdered the entire Hale family—maybe they’re only a little evil. So he elbows Scott and says, “That’s Allison. She’ll probably need a pen.”

“…Huh?” Scott asks, lost, dazed, dancing in distant mental fields. Stiles finds it pretty funny that, confronted with Allison’s face, Scott seems to have completely forgotten their homicidal fugue state conversation. Same old Scott.

“A pen! When she sits down, offer her a pen, dumbass.”

“…Oh. Okay.”

Stiles has no faith. But his lack of faith is misplaced, because Scott does manage to pull himself together enough to offer her the pen she does not, in fact, have. She smiles the exact same confused smile she smiled the last time.

Interesting that she’s a whole year and a semester late, and yet this part of the story stays the same. Maybe Allison’s a compulsive pen-forgetter. Maybe she has unreliable pen habits. Maybe she secretly prefers pencils and forgets her pens in a quasi-deliberate act of aggression against them. Maybe it’s all a sign of her fear of and/or unfamiliarity with permanence and commitment.

Maybe Stiles needs to stop thinking about pens and their possible metaphorical meanings now, right now, this instant.

The main thing about this Allison, though, is that she reminds Stiles of himself. Everyone else in this reality, they just, they’re so innocent, they wear Stiles out. They’re not remotely prepared for what’s coming, and it’s terrifying.

Not so, Allison. She’s clearly been dragged through hell by the heel, just like his Allison. He doesn’t know the details, but he doesn’t need to. He knows the look. And it probably makes him a terrible person, but he’s relieved to see it. Now he feels less like the only lunatic in a world of sane people.

He wonders what Allison sees in him, if anything.

The following week goes almost exactly the way it went the first time, but with less running around in the woods and attendant werewolf crises. Should Scott ask her out? Would she shoot him down completely? Are Lydia and Jackson brainwashing her with their evil evilness? Omigod Stiles you can’t be serious that she went out with me before because she is way too hot to ever date somebody like me omigod omigod.

Okay, that last one is kind of new. And yet old in spirit.

Much like last time, it only takes Scott the one week to get his shit together enough to ask her out. There’s no animal cruelty involved this time, so Stiles doesn’t know what the tipping point was, and he aggressively doesn’t care. There was one, that’s what matters, and Scott asked her to a party, same as last time.

“She said yes!” Scott announces, panicked.

“And…this is a bad thing why?” It can’t be because her dad was shooting at Scott this time, so really, where’s the problem.

“I have work on Friday!”

Oh, man. This Scott. “What are you even—that is not a problem.”

How is that not a problem?!”

“I can cover for you at work, okay? Yeah, Deaton knows me, so call him and ask. Solved.”

“Really? Wait, don’t you want to go?”

“Nah, I probably wasn’t going anyway.”

“So I can take Allison to the party?”

“So you can totally take Allison to the party.”

“Stiles…dude, since when are you my fairy godmother?”

“I’ve always been your fairy godmother, Scott. Pay attention.” Would that everyone’s problems could be so easily solved, Jesus. Stiles thinks he’s actually killed people for his own Scott without rating this level of gratitude.

Then again, his Scott also killed people for him, and he didn’t make a big deal of it either. All in what you’re used to, probably.

“Oh, that’s the other thing I was gonna tell you,” Scott says, eyes flying earnest-wide. “Allison’s mom died last year.”

“Well, that’s a relief.”

Stiles!

“Though admittedly terrible for Allison! How’d she die?”

“I don’t know, it’s not like she gave me the gory details. You’ll have to ask her yourself. I’m not asking her.”

“Fair.” Second verse, same as the first? Did she try to kill Allison’s other werewolf boyfriend and end up accidentally bitten by his alpha friend? Is that a thing likely to happen in multiple universes? No. No, it is not. It was pretty unlikely to happen in one universe, let alone two. “Her dad’s alive, though, right?”

“Yeah. I guess they’re pretty close.”

Okay. Well that’s…tentatively good? “So no other relatives she spends a lot of time with? No grandparents, no aunts or uncles…?”

“There’s an aunt,” Scott says, squinting like he does when he’s trying to remember something and the pesky memories are refusing to surface. It always makes Stiles want to pinch his cheeks and mess up his hair. “I don’t think she lives here. But Allison really loves her.”

“Aunt Kate,” Stiles sighs. That is tentatively very bad. “Yeah, Allison loved her in my timeline, too. Only thing was, our timeline’s Kate was the one who burned down the Hale house. While most of the family was inside it.”

Kate’s the setting-people-on-fire aunt?!”

“Yep, that’s the one. But obviously, here, the Hales are still alive. So does that mean this Kate’s not a murdering nutjob? Or does it just mean she hasn’t had the opportunity? If we’re lucky, it’s option one.”

“What about if we’re unlucky?”

“Oh, you know.” Stiles waves his hands around. “The death, the blood, the screaming.”

“Yeah, about that,” Scott says. “I’ve been meaning to ask: how much do bulletproof vests cost?”

* * *

Ever since the Hale pack took in Erica Reyes, Stiles has shown up at their door every Saturday morning to check up on her, on top of his now habitual Wednesday night research. Mom was worried at first—she was afraid he’d try to sneak in and find Erica, probably—but it’s like he’s never even thought about it. He just shows up, asks how she’s doing, asks how her parents are coping, sometimes drops off food (why?), and then…leaves. Without setting foot inside.

Laura says she can’t tell if it’s cute or the weirdest thing she’s ever seen a human do. Derek can actually think of weirder things Stiles himself has done, but decides not to mess with her mind by pointing that out.

What it comes down to is that Derek expects to open the door on Saturdays to an immediate barrage of Erica-related questions. So it’s very unsettling when he opens the door one Saturday and Stiles says, “Derek, hey. I need to talk to your parents. Is that cool? They at home for humanity?”

“They’re at home for you.” Derek steps back and lets Stiles in, concerned. “What’s wrong?”

“Why does something have to be wrong?” Stiles asks breezily, brushing past Derek and taking a few steps toward the living room, like he can smell that Mom and Dad are in there. Which he can’t; humans can’t do things like that. Right? “Maybe I just miss them.”

“What’s wrong?” Derek repeats. Sometimes you can wear Stiles down with repetition.

“Probably nothing. I’m just, you know, being paranoid.”

Derek remembers that the last time Stiles displayed his paranoia, it saved them from being killed by mind-controlled omegas. He reserves the right to be worried if Stiles is worried. “Paranoid about what?”

“How about you come with me when I tell your parents? Then I can just get this out of my system all at once without having to repeat it over and over to everyone, feeling crazier every time. Fair?”

Derek shrugs agreement.

“You too, Laura!” Stiles shouts up the stairs to…yeah, exactly where Laura is. How is he doing that?

Laura obediently comes downstairs, looking uneasy. But then, she was there for the omega thing, too.

“Philip’s already with your parents?” Stiles asks.

“Yes. Nana Thea, too,” Laura says.

Stiles nods and goes to the living room, Laura and Derek trailing behind him.

“How did he know they were in the living room?” Laura whispers.

“No idea,” Derek murmurs back. “Magic thing?”

“Hm. Maybe.”

Mom and Dad look surprised to see Stiles. It’s a nice thing about him—as much as he throws Derek into terminal confusion every time he shows up, he at least has the decency to have that effect on everyone.

“Stiles,” Mom says, startled but pleased. “You don’t normally visit us. What brought this on?”

“There are Argents in town,” Stiles tells her, visibly unhappy.

“That’s fine,” Mom soothes. “The Argents follow the code.”

“Oh. Right. But—okay, do they actually follow the code? Or do they just talk about it a lot while, in fact, doing whatever the hell psycho thing they want?”

“You’ve had bad experiences with hunters, I take it,” Dad says, worried about Stiles. Derek can’t blame him. Stiles is worry-inducing.

“That—yeah, understatement.”

“As far as we know,” Nana Thea says, “the Argents actually do follow the code. Of course, we’ve had our fair share of unhappy experiences with hunters, too.” Everyone glances at Mom. “So feel free to watch them as closely as you like, if it’ll make you feel better.”

“Oh, yeah, I was gonna do that anyway. But thanks for official permission, I guess?”

Dad and Philip rub their temples, Mom’s eyebrows fly up, and Nana laughs. Derek isn’t even surprised.

“Don’t do anything stupid, Stiles,” Laura says sternly.

Stiles gives her a sardonic look. He has a real gift with those. “I’m a seventeen-year-old boy,” he says. “I’m pretty sure I’m legally obligated to do stupid shit.”

“Bravado,” Mom says, disappointed. “You don’t have to prove anything to us, Stiles. You can tell us when you’re afraid.”

“Oh no, hey, I am afraid pretty much constantly,” Stiles admits easily. “And I don’t feel bad about it, because my life is a genuine nightmare. Also, I have gone dress-shopping with Lydia Martin not once, but twice. I know fear. Keeping an eye on the Argents isn’t scary, it’s just…I don’t know. Annoying, sometimes painful, always frustrating. Don’t worry about it.”

They’re worrying. They are all worrying now.

“You have history with the Argents in particular?” Philip asks in alarm.

“Sort of? Not these Argents. Or at least, not exactly these Argents. Some of the Argents I knew were seriously evil, though, so I’m…prejudiced, I guess.”

“And watching your evil Argents was…annoying and frustrating?” Nana Thea asks, gleeful the way she always is when people are being entertainingly crazy around her.

“So annoying,” Stiles sighs. He just missed the entire point of that question.

“Stiles…” Mom’s hesitating. Mom never hesitates. This is the final proof of how confusing Stiles is. “How about this? If you’re keeping an eye on the Argents, that’s…well, it’s for our benefit as much as yours. So if you run into any trouble, please call us.”

“No, it’s cool,” Stiles insists. “I can handle it.”

“It’s not a question of whether or not you can handle it,” Mom tells him. “It’s a question of whether or not it’s your sole responsibility. And it isn’t. It’s our responsibility, too, and if you run into trouble, we have a duty to help.”

“We divided up omegas and pixies, though,” Stiles points out, clearly confused. He’s starting to give Derek a headache. It looks like he’s even starting to give Mom a headache.

“And if we ever get multiple families of hunters, we’ll divide them up, too,” Mom says, struggling to work around Stiles logic. “Until then, the Argents are all we have, so we’re sharing.”

Stiles chews on a fingernail briefly, then nods, apparently satisfied. “Okay. It’s a plan.” He looks up and meets Mom’s eyes with a smile. “So! How’s Erica doing?”

The room fills with groans and laughter.

* * *

Working with Deaton is weirder than Stiles had expected. He figured he’d worked with Deaton before, right? Except no. Before, he’d learned stuff from Deaton, and it turns out that’s a whole different ball of twine. Apparently when Deaton’s paying you? He takes it as license to mess with you even more than usual. Which shouldn’t be possible, but there it is.

“Can I move yet?” Stiles asks plaintively.

“Not yet,” Deaton murmurs, fishing for foxtails in an unconscious dog’s ear while Stiles stands perfectly still at a seemingly random spot in the room. For no apparent reason. For half an hour and counting.

“I’m willing to do anything, by the way, if that’s the problem here,” Stiles announces. “I will clean cat cages. I will even clean puppy cages! And I have it on good authority that those are the worst. But I’ll tell you what I’m not awesome at: standing still for a long time doing nothing. That’s not among my skills. Let me clean cat cages. Help me out here, please God.”

Deaton looks up and gives Stiles an amused but kindly smile, the sort of smile that really shouldn’t be found on the face of a rampant sadist. “I…could have you clean the cat cages, I suppose, but I think it might be a better use of your talents if you’d refresh the wards instead. I was hoping you’d get a feel for them if you stood there. That’s the center of the matrix.”

Stiles just stares because he has no idea what to do with Deaton and what passes for his sense of humor.

“Unless you’d rather clean cat cages,” Deaton goes on, still smiling.

“Wards sound good,” Stiles answers, baffled. “Awesome. I love me some wards.”

“Well then,” Deaton says, doing a complicated eyebrow thing. “You’d better get started.”

And to think that Scott—both Scotts!—have worked with this guy for years. If Stiles had worked with Deaton for years, he’d be holding one-sided conversations with the walls of his padded cell by now.

That said, the man’s wards are really cool. Much cooler than Stiles’s Deaton’s wards. (Why?) They’re just, they’re layered and they’re sneaky and they make cool geometric shapes when they activate and if you piss them off they will fry you to ash. Stiles has a total magical geek-crush on them.

“These wards are the coolest thing ever,” he informs Deaton, because hey, credit where it’s due.

“Philip Hale designed them for me,” Deaton says, and yeah, that explains everything. “You were right—I am better at offensive spells than defensive. And Philip—well. As you can see, he has a gift for design.”

Philip Hale is a goddamn ward-making genius is what he is, and he doesn’t realize it, but he’s about to start spending a lot more quality time with Stiles. They will be magical bros. Stiles will make this so. Philip was already stupid enough to give Stiles his number.

“You pick your assistants well,” Stiles tells Deaton, running his hand over the central anchor and barely resisting the urge to coo at it.

“But I missed you, somehow,” Deaton points out, unreadable.

Stiles shrugs. “I wasn’t actively doing magic.”

“When did we meet in your timeline?”

“I was sixteen. Scott got bitten, and he brought me here to…I don’t remember now. There was a kanima, it was a whole thing.”

“And I knew then.”

“Yeah. Not that you told me then. You just handed me mountain ash and said, ‘Be the spark.’ What the hell kind of mentoring is that?”

“Did it work?” Deaton asks, interested.

“Well, yeah, but—” Stiles glances over his shoulder and catches Deaton looking smug. “Don’t even make that face. It was luck!”

“Hm,” Deaton says, turning back to the dog. Stiles shakes his head and turns back to the wards. A surprisingly peaceful silence falls.

“Nothing comes for free, Stiles,” Deaton says quietly and out of the blue.

“Yeah, I know,” Stiles replies, confused.

“Do you?”

Okay, there’s clearly more going on in this conversation than meets the eye. Stiles turns his back on the wards—he should probably keep an eye on Deaton for this talk. “I…yeah. Magic is just a shortcut, I get that. The price is still as high as if you’d done it by hand.”

“If not higher.”

“If not higher,” Stiles agrees. He figured that one out the unpleasant way, oh yes. “Extra charge for fast service.”

“To come to this world, you had to lose yours.”

“…Right.”

“You lost everything. It was only worth the risk because, at that point, you had virtually nothing to lose. And even so, you don’t seem entirely happy with the outcome.”

Stiles wishes to God there were some way to derail Deaton once he gets going. There isn’t, though. You just have to sit there and take it.

“My point, Stiles, is that if you were to make a similar bargain now, you’d be making it from a far worse bargaining position. You have everything to lose, and potentially nothing to gain. Every trade from here on out is liable—even likely—to be a trade down.”

Ah. So this is that talk. “You’re saying I should stay in this world.”

Deaton shrugs. “I’m saying you need to consider how miserable you’re likely to make yourself if you manage to leave. To say nothing of how miserable you’ll certainly make everyone you leave behind.”

The man plays dirty.

“The longer I stay, the harder it’ll be on everyone if I go,” Stiles points out.

“You’ve already stayed too long,” Deaton counters. “If this were the first week, you’d have an argument, Stiles. But it’s been three months.”

Shit. It has. Three fricking months. How did that happen?

“At this point,” Deaton goes on, “everyone would feel abandoned if you left. It would feel, to them, like the death of a friend.”

It basically would be the death of a friend. Stiles would—he’d just drop dead or disappear, and Scott and Deaton would be the only ones who knew why.

Assuming he did drop dead or disappear. What if he didn’t? There’s nothing technically wrong with this body anymore. What if he left without it and it just kept going? Would it wander around, mindless? Would it fall into a coma and never wake up? Would Dad actually lose it if it did? Stiles has been so focused on his own Dad and Scott…he’s never let himself think about any of this before.

And he’s not thinking about it now. Not with Deaton watching.

“I meant to ask,” Stiles says, eyes and attention straying back to the wards. “Can I take my payment for today in projectile weapons?”

Deaton sighs and shakes his head, like dealing with Stiles is a trial.

Whatever. Turnabout is fair.

* * *

Erica Reyes is taking to being a werewolf with speed, grace, and absolute glee. Stiles was right about her. She’s incredibly fun to train, because she’s so delighted with every new thing she learns—every skill, every sense, every strength. Just watching her discover herself makes you happier to be a werewolf.

This has led to some really stupid pack infighting. Derek thought he was going to manage to stay out of it, but no, no such luck.

“I just wanted to take her to buy clothes that fit,” Derek…whines, it is a whine, he is actually whining. This is all Laura’s fault.

“Well, you can’t, because I called dibs on shopping,” Laura says firmly. They’re in Erica’s room, and Laura’s sitting next to Erica on her bed, a possessive arm flung across her shoulders. Erica seems to be enjoying it. “I’m taking her as soon as I’m sure she won’t accidentally maim anyone who bumps into her. Oh, and the twins called dibs on teaching her to hunt and fight. Philip is helping Mom teach her all the history stuff. You’re slow, Derek. I don’t even know what you have to offer at this point, unless you two want to moon about Stiles together.”

“I do not moon about Stiles!” Derek and Erica insist in synch, then turn to stare at each other.

“I love it when I’m right,” Laura coos, insufferable. “And I’m so often right. Alpha material!”

“You can’t make this into a love triangle,” Derek informs her severely. “We just have to figure out whether Stiles is gay or straight, and it’s game over.”

“Oh, baby brother, I’m almost sure Stiles is bi, because he absolutely lives to make my life hilarious. This can be a love triangle and a wooing contest and a romantic deathmatch and basically hours and hours of entertainment for me and the twins and Nana Thea and, unless I’m much mistaken, Stiles, too. Go forth and entertain me!” She leaps to her feet and points at them for a dramatic moment before bounding away upstairs, cackling insanely.

“We’re not actually related,” Derek informs Erica after a moment of stunned silence. “She was left on the porch in a basket as a baby. Mom thought she was too pitiful not to take in.”

“I heard that!” Laura shouts from the hallway, and Erica laughs.

“I don’t really have a crush on Stiles anymore,” she tells Derek once Laura’s probably out of earshot. “I got over him, like, sophomore year.”

How?” Derek asks, probably pitifully, going by the gleeful/sympathetic look on Erica’s face.

She shrugs. “I don’t know. It helped that I had no chance with him. He was so hung up on Lydia Martin, just like everybody was…I didn’t even think he knew I existed until he all of a sudden started asking me if I wanted to be a werewolf.”

“He just asked?” Derek is appalled. And feeling kind of betrayed, actually.

“No, no!” Erica reassures him. “I mean, looking back on it, I can see that’s what he was doing. At the time, I just…I don’t know what I thought was going on. Mostly I figured at least one of us was crazy.”

“Bet on Stiles,” Derek tells her. “If one of you is crazy, it’s Stiles. I promise.”

“Well, he wasn’t crazy about the werewolf thing,” Erica points out. “And I would have been pretty confident about my bet on that one.”

There’s a terrifying idea. What if all of Stiles’s weird behavior doesn’t mean he’s crazy? What if it just means he knows a lot more than Derek does? Derek plans to run crying to Philip with this horrible thought at the earliest opportunity.

“Hey,” Erica says, “tell me about your family?”

“What?” Derek asks, startled from his Stiles-related freakout. “Aren’t Mom and Philip supposed to be doing that?”

“They’re teaching me about, I don’t know, werewolf history in general. I just…I don’t know anything about your family history. And it’s…it’s kind of my family too, now. Um, isn’t it? I mean—”

“Yeah,” Derek reassures her hastily. God, she’s so worried about being alone. It must be awful to be human. “We’re your family. So…what do you want to know? How my parents met, stuff like that?” He’s not much of a talker, but family stories are easy. He’s heard them told so often, he’s memorized how they’re supposed to go.

“Everything!” Erica says, leaning forward, intent. “And no more lies. I don’t believe Laura really got left on the porch.”

“It would be better if it were true,” Derek grumbles.

Erica laughs, bright and loud and unafraid. Derek can’t help but be grateful to Stiles for this. Grateful that he gave Erica to them, them to Erica. Despite the fact that he’s pretty sure he’s screwed when it comes to Stiles, who’s the sheriff’s underage son, and may not even find him attractive.

“I’m starting with all of Laura’s embarrassing childhood stories,” Derek says, because it’s only right.

* * *

Peter walks into the library on a Wednesday evening to find the mysterious Stiles down there alone, studying away. Just as if it’s his house.

Which, in a manner of speaking, it is. If Stiles thinks Peter and Felicia haven’t noticed his little binding spell, he’s tragically mistaken, and that does give him a foothold in the pack. It’s also set him up for trouble, because without it, Peter would’ve avoided him out of respect for his apparent trauma flashbacks. Not now, though. Not now that Stiles has chosen to bind himself to the Hale children, and most importantly Peter’s own children. He really should’ve known there would be consequences. One of them being that Peter would, necessarily, take a personal interest in his motives.

“Stiles,” Peter says, waiting for and receiving the expected response: a polite nod on the surface, and beneath that, fear followed by anger followed by impatience, presumably with himself for all of the above. “What brings you here today?”

“Oh, just. You know.” He waves vaguely at the books. “Research.”

“I see.” Stiles is very good at answering a question without answering the question—Peter will just have to work out the answer for himself. He moves closer to the table, running an eye over Stiles’s materials. There’s a laptop squeezed between stacks of books and notebooks—pixie-related books in one pile, multiverse theory books in another (he must’ve brought those in himself; Peter doesn’t remember owning them), and a final disorganized pile on, what, change, generally? Seasonal shifts, moon phases, solstices, star alignments, and their respective, alleged influences on the supernatural. Including one book on star charts that Felicia couldn’t find last night. He must be looking into why the omegas are running wild.

“Why pixies?” Peter asks idly.

“…Because Talia made me? Plus pixies, you know, they feed on magical instability. So: related,” Stiles answers impatiently, typing up notes from a book in the multiverse stack.

“I didn’t know. Why do you?”

“Because I hate them and I want them gone. If you want something gone, you need to know why it’s there. And it turns out, pixies like magical instability. Meaning they’re probably part of this wider problem we’ve got going, and they might just be a symptom, but. I don’t know. I’ve got a feeling about them.”

“Or maybe you just hate them,” Peter suggests.

“Or that. Or both!”

Peter pulls up a chair and makes himself comfortable. It is his library, after all. “Why so concerned about multiple realities?”

“Instability,” Stiles lies. Blatantly lies. Peter’s a little disappointed; he knows the boy can do better than that. Peter’s seen him do better. But he’ll let it slide for the moment.

“You think all of our problems come back to the instability.”

“Right.”

Interesting. That does change the research approach slightly; instead of looking for violent seasons, he and Felicia should, perhaps, be looking for unstable seasons. “Any guesses as to what caused it?”

Stiles heaves a sigh and sits back in his chair, nervously flipping a pencil between his fingers. Interesting how his coordination improves with anger or frustration. “Nope. No idea. But I really hope someone’s causing it and it’s not an alignment of the stars or whatever, because if it’s someone, we can do something about it. Stars, not so much.”

“Stars move,” Peter points out.

“Yeah. And sometimes it takes a day to get them out of alignment and other times it takes ten thousand years. You see where I’m going with this.”

“Mm. I suppose it would be awkward to try to destroy a star,” Peter allows.

“Even the Death Star could only do planets.”

“Don’t you like a challenge?”

“Dude, NASA’s funding is getting seriously cut right now. We barely have space travel at all; we definitely do not rate a Death Star.”

“We have you. I hear you’re magical.”

“Haha! Right! Only no, I can’t fly independently into space and blow up a star, and even if I could? I’m tempted to think the unintended consequences would be pretty freaking dire, and I don’t want to be responsible for them. Whatever, hopefully it’s just a person—people can rip holes in magic, did you know that? That’s a thing. Or, hey, maybe it’s some pissed off chaos-making creature. Like a kitsune. That might even be fun.”

Stiles has something of the kitsune about him, come to think of it. “That’s our problem, isn’t it? Anything could be causing this. We need to narrow the field.”

“Trying.”

“Also trying,” Peter sighs. “And yet, failing.”

“…I’m actually starting to like you,” Stiles mutters resentfully.

Hm. “Do you want me to apologize for being likable?”

“I want you to not be likable,” Stiles informs him, aggrieved. “It’s really confusing, okay?”

Peter has a series of answers lined up for that piece of inanity, but his eye catches on something that distracts him. It’s a handwritten pamphlet shoved in at the bottom of the multiverse stack, as though Stiles was trying to hide it from casual inspection. Peter pulls it out, and yes, it’s that pamphlet. He looks up to find Stiles staring back at him in horror.

There’s a chain around Stiles’s neck. Peter’s taken note of it before, because Stiles doesn’t strike him as the type to wear jewelry, and yet. He reaches out and hooks a finger around the chain, dragging the pendant out from under the boy’s shirt. The blackened, burned, partially melted pendant, but still recognizable. And once he’s seen that, he hardly needs the visceral terror pouring off of Stiles to help him put the rest of the pieces together.

“It’s confusing to like me,” he says thoughtfully, “because I killed you. Is that accurate?”

“And ate me.” Stiles sneers, defiant even in the face of…this. “You killed me and ate me, if we’re getting technical about it. And that was just our grand finale.” He stops abruptly and frowns, suddenly guilty. “I mean, it wasn’t really you. Not you you. Just. The guy you could’ve been if all that stuff had happened.”

Peter drops the pendant and sits back, putting some much-needed distance between them. He tries to imagine what might drive a person, what might drive him, to kill and eat someone like Stiles—someone talented and brave and strange. But then he remembers that, after all, there are myths about magical creatures and transference of power. Eat the heart, inherit the courage, and so on. He thinks about how much he must have lost to consider that a good idea. He thinks about the state of that pendant, Philip’s pendant, blackened and burned.

And then he very carefully stops thinking. “Felicia,” he hears himself say distantly over the howling of the wolf. “I need you.”

* * *

Stiles is actually feeling bad for Peter Hale, who is wolfing out this very second, holy fuck. Stiles has backed all the way across the room, putting the maximum possible amount of furniture between them, and is thinking seriously about pulling a knife. And yet he still feels bad.

Because the thing is, this is the wrong Peter. This Peter’s never done a thing to Stiles, and it was all kinds of fucked up and unfair to even say anything about that to him. Stiles is a dick. But at least he didn’t mention Laura. That would’ve been Jackson Whittemore levels of dickishness.

“What did you do to him?” Felicia snarls, swooping in like an angel of death. And, oh yeah, Stiles recognizes that crazed, murderously protective look on her face. He recognizes it from the mirror.

He’s gonna die. Again. But hey, at least this time he’ll have it coming.

Felicia ignores him for now, though. She’s too busy running over and dropping to her knees in front of Peter, which is brave, because he’s not looking very sane.

Well. More sane than Stiles’s Peter, for what that’s worth. Which is nothing.

“Peter,” Felicia whispers, cupping his face in her hands, not afraid at all. “I’m here. I’m safe. Cat is safe, she’s upstairs playing with Cal. Cal is safe, he’s making Cat’s life a Lego-filled misery. You can hear them, can’t you? Listen. We’re all here; we’re all safe. We’re here, Peter. We’re here.”

So Peter’s anchor is his family. Not his pack, not his extended family. Just his wife and kids—or kid, at the time.

And they burned to death. Right.

Peter’s settling now, coming back to himself, not wolfy at all. As far as Stiles has seen him go the other way, he’s never known what it looks like when Peter pulls himself together. It’s not like Derek; Derek is all flash and melodrama all the time, but with Peter, it’s…he’s just more steady. Same guy, similar expression, but somehow he’s gone from being almost the Peter Stiles knew to being, he guesses, the Peter Derek and Laura loved.

It’s good to see the difference laid out in front of him like that. He thinks he can stop freaking out over the wrong Peter now.

“What happened?” Felicia demands sharply, hands still on Peter’s face, glaring over her shoulder at Stiles.

“It’s not his fault,” Peter soothes, reaching up to put his hands over Felicia’s. “He was just the messenger. And you know what they say about shooting the messenger.”

“I’ve never seen why not,” Felicia complains, reluctantly letting Peter go.

Peter brightens. “It’s a question of holding the importance of information over the importance of any individual’s feelings about that information. The dragomans of the Ottoman Empire—”

Peter.”

“…He’s from another universe. Isn’t that right, Stiles?”

Stiles nods, fascinated by the freaky dynamic these two have going.

Felicia closes her eyes and rubs her temples, like it’s all too much. “What?”

“In his universe, he apparently got his hands on Philip’s pendant. How did that happen, by the way?”

“Derek gave it to me,” Stiles says.

Did he.” Peter and Felicia both turn to give Stiles the exact same narrow-eyed stare. Yikes. “And how did he come to have it to give away?”

See, and this, this is why Stiles had planned never to admit to any of this. “Everybody else was dead.”

Felicia gasps, but Peter just frowns thoughtfully. “Everybody but me.”

Him and Cora, but that’s complicated and Stiles refuses to go there. “Well, you were, uh. Catatonic for a while. And burned all over—you know what? This isn’t relevant to our lives right now. Let’s just say, your body got better, but your mind was still toast as far as I could tell. And I think your anchor was revenge.”

“Derek was the alpha?” Peter asks, and of course that’s what he’d take away from that.

“Yeah.”

Derek was the alpha?

“Shut up about it, okay? You were the alpha for a while, too, and you sucked at it a lot more than Derek did.”

Peter dismissively waves this away. “Yes, yes, but I was insane.”

“Yeah, well, it’s not like Derek was firing on all cylinders.”

“Hm.”

“Have you told anyone else about this?” Felicia asks, clearly unhappy. Not that Stiles is happy with this, either, okay, Stiles is the least happy.

“No, I haven’t. It’s a really uncomfortable topic for me.”

“We should tell Talia and Kevin,” Felicia murmurs to Peter.

“Don’t tell them,” Stiles insists, pointing at Peter in horrified demonstration. “Look what happens when you tell people! It won’t prove anything; it’ll just make everyone hate me. I’m sorry I told Peter.”

“Technically, you didn’t. I figured it out on my own,” Peter says smugly. So, good, he’s recovering nicely from the idea of Stiles’s brutal murder at his claws.

“Good for you,” Stiles mutters resentfully. “How about giving everyone else a chance to work it out on their own, huh?”

“What’s it like?” Peter asks, intrigued. “Being familiar with an alternate reality? Having an educated guess about the possible future?”

“It’s like playing three-dimensional chess with all the pieces making up their own rules,” Stiles tells him. “By which I mean it sucks, and I’m tired of it.”

“Technically,” Felicia says, “you shouldn’t have been sent here unless you had something to contribute. That’s how the magic works, in theory. It tries to send the user to the nearest available body from which that user can be of use to the Hale family.”

Stiles is 90% sure she just made that up to freak him out. Then again, maybe skimming over the fine print in that pamphlet was a mistake. “So no pressure, then.”

“We should tell Talia and Kevin,” Felicia says again.

“What would that prove?” Stiles demands. “This is—it’s like the pixie thing, right? It’s not really a werewolf thing, it’s just, I don’t know. A side issue.”

“You think you’re a symptom,” Peter declares in a tone of gleeful revelation. “Instability, you said. Pixies are a symptom. And here you are, from another world. You do, don’t you? You think you’re a symptom of the problem.”

“Yes, okay? Yes,” Stiles snaps. “I think I’m a symptom. And by the way, I take it back: I don’t like you at all.”

“You are not a side issue,” Felicia cuts in impatiently. “That pendant means you’re very clearly a Hale family issue. I’m telling Talia.”

Fine.” Stiles buries his face in his hands. “Tell her, whatever, knock yourself out. But you don’t have to tell the kids, right? Because I don’t even know what Laura would do. And Derek’ll make this face if he knows, and I can’t deal with his face when it gets like that.”

“I’ll only tell my alpha,” Felicia concedes.

“Derek again,” Peter murmurs happily. “Derek, Derek, Derek.”

“Shut up, he was my alpha.”

“Of course.” Peter smirks at him.

I set you on fire once, Stiles thinks. And I’m not sorry.

* * *

Stiles runs up the stairs from the library and almost crashes right into Derek, which would be alarming on its own—Stiles always seems to know where everyone is; he’s never this oblivious to his surroundings. At the moment, though, that’s the least worrying thing.

Stiles smells like Peter and Felicia, and he’s practically melting with guilt and stress and anger. Seriously, what the hell is going on with Stiles and Peter?

“What’s wrong with you?” Derek demands, alarmed.

“What are Peter’s kids even named?” Stiles Stilinski: king of the non-sequitur. “Cat and Cal?”

“Caterina and Caligula,” Derek sighs. Those kids’ high school years are going to be hell.

Stiles blinks. “I thought I had it bad. He named his kid Caligula?

“Stiles isn’t that bad.”

“Yeah, well, Stiles also isn’t my name. But Caligula? Really?”

“He says no one messed with Caligula.”

“Caligula was assassinated, dude. He was assassinated really young. They made a movie about it and everything.”

“I guess…no one messed with him until he was assassinated? Don’t look at me. I didn’t name him.”

“So what’s the story on Caterina?”

“Felicia picked that one. Caterina’s human, so Felicia said she needed to be named after someone tough. Caterina Sforza. Look her up. No one messed with her, either.”

“The way no one messed with Caligula?”

“No, people really didn’t mess with her. Not and live to talk about it, anyway. She tortured enemies for fun and killed everyone who pissed her off and led armies into battle while pregnant. This was all in the 1400s, maybe? I think she murdered a pope or something. Then she got bored with politics, became a nun, and eventually died of pneumonia. In a convent.”

“Under a new pope, huh? Okay, yeah, you have to love that. Caligula, though. Just, no. Not well thought-out.”

Derek isn’t sure when it happened, but Stiles isn’t a mess of unhappy emotions anymore. He’s…centered, maybe. The way he should be. Derek doesn’t get why making fun of his cousins’ names would have that effect, but whatever, he’s glad. “What’s your name?” He’s curious now.

“What?” Stiles asks, heartbeat speeding up for no apparent reason. Stiles’s heartbeat is forever speeding up for no apparent reason; Derek’s trying to make himself stop worrying about it.

“Your real name,” he repeats. “You said it wasn’t Stiles.”

“It isn’t.”

“Then what is your name?”

“I’m named after my mom’s dad.”

“And his name was…?”

“Why do you care? He’s dead.”

Stiles.”

“What?”

Derek gives up.

“Hey,” Stiles says quietly after a moment, strangely hesitant. “Uh. Thanks.” He reaches out and grips Derek’s shoulder briefly, either for Derek’s comfort or his own. And then he turns and leaves, just like that, in a tangle of conflicting signals and confusing smells.

Derek isn’t even sure he wants Stiles to make sense anymore.

* * *

After the near-disaster with Peter, Stiles was really hoping he’d, whatever, get the rest of the week off or something. He doesn’t know why he still bothers to hope for crap like that, because obviously it never happens. And it’s usually his own fault.

He wouldn’t say he’s stalking the Argents, exactly. Not stalking per se. But he is keeping a very close eye on them, up to and including cyber…stalking. Yeah, okay, he’s owning that word: cyberstalking. It’s worth the effort and illegality, though, because it means he knows how worrying Allison Argent’s internet habits are.

Allison has a problem. A werewolf obsession and a weapon obsession and some extremely unsettling online friends and a problem.

Stiles was really hoping to avoid this this time, but it looks like it’s not happening. It’s the Allison Problem, Take Two. Hopefully they’ll handle it more gracefully than they did the last time (but he’s not holding his breath).

Stiles has one advantage this time around, at least: he already understands Allison. He knows that she wants to be a good person, but she’s also a born killer. She smiles when she shoots people. She tries to make sure she’s only shooting the bad guys, but her definition of ‘bad guy’ gets scarily flexible when she’s looking to inflict pain on someone. She’s a closet sadist.

Not that that’s a surprise or anything. You don’t even have to have the nature vs. nurture argument about it because it’s clearly both.

In view of that, though, Allison needs someone to keep an eye on her so she doesn’t go off half-cocked and kill everybody who irritates her. Stiles can’t take on that job—he’s got enough to worry about with his dad and Scott and the Hales. So he’ll have to leave this one up to Scott (oh God, he does not want to have to talk about this with Scott), and…Chris. Last sane Argent standing.

Which means he needs to talk to Chris, too. This is not going to be fun at all. He may even end up running for his life depending on how Chris decides to take the conversation. But it has to be done.

“Mr. Argent!” Stiles says brightly when the door opens (to the same house, should it really be the same house? Is that weird? Would the apartment be weirder?) “Hi. I’m, um. Stiles Stilinski.”

“You’re here for Allison,” Chris decides, trying to look friendly and welcoming. It isn’t a look that sits very comfortably on his face.

“Actually, I’m here for you.”

Chris’s expression veers into suspicious with a hint of threat, i.e., his normal expression. Stiles finds it backhandedly reassuring. “Really.”

“Really. Just wondering what brought the Argents to town. Because, you know, I was under the impression that the local pack had Beacon Hills covered as far as supernatural threats go, so…”

Chris grabs Stiles by the back of the neck and drags him inside, slamming the door behind him and then slamming him into the door. Ah, this old, familiar place. Chris is such a molester sometimes.

“Who is the local pack?” Chris demands.

“Why would you think there was even an off-chance I’d tell you that?” Stiles asks incredulously.

Chris bares his teeth. He who fights monsters, huh? “What the hell are you?”

“Just a human kid who knows too much for his own good.”

“I doubt that.”

“And that’s your prerogative. Doesn’t really matter, though, so would you just answer my question?”

It’s terrible, but Stiles is secretly enjoying baiting Chris. He’s been kind of lonely without the mistrustful bastards in his life. Clearly there’s something wrong with him.

“I’m retired,” Chris says grudgingly after a second, easing up on Stiles a little. “The fact that Beacon Hills was under control was part of the appeal. I’ve been finding it more supernaturally active than I’d hoped.”

“So, what, old instincts just jumped up and bit you right now? That’s your excuse?”

Chris slams him back against the door. Argent family tolerance for smart remarks: very limited. Stiles should’ve remembered that about them.

“Okay, fine! Fine, not questioning it, jeez. So you’re saying you moved to Beacon Hills for a quiet life?” The mind boggles, wow. “Um, I think you’re gonna be disappointed? Because first it’s a kanima and a few rogue omegas, then it’s pixies and alpha packs and human sacrifices, and then the next thing you know, supernatural apocalypse, doom doom doom.”

“That’s what you’re predicting?”

“That’s what I know.”

“How?”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s an alternate timeline thing.”

“…So you see the future.”

Stiles shrugs. He doesn’t remotely see the future, but he has a policy about letting other people’s assumptions stand until it’s in his best interest to correct them.

“You’re a witch!” Chris accuses.

“Oh my god, I live in a Monty Python sketch,” Stiles groans. “Can we not, right now? Please? Because I need to be having a sane conversation with you about real problems, not battling your attack of the paranoid crazies. Okay?”

“So you’re claiming not to be a witch.”

“No, I’m saying it doesn’t matter, and also you’re a pain in my ass.”

Chris does the threatening-finger-in-the-face thing. Someday Stiles is going to bite that finger. “If you’re coming here asking for favors from my family, I don’t think it’s a wise choice to antagonize me more than you already have.”

“I’m not asking you for favors,” Stiles insists, stung. “I’m warning you about something.”

“So you’re threatening me.”

“Dude, you have so many issues. No. No, I’m not threatening you, I’m not asking you for a favor, and I’m not gonna rat anybody else out. I’m warning you about something outside all of us so you can be prepared. I think it’d be nice if you were prepared. It might help me out, and even if it doesn’t, it doesn’t do any harm to tell you.”

For the first time, Chris looks like he might actually have touched down in the Land of Reason. So of course it can’t last. Allison has to take that moment to call out from upstairs, voice high and shocked. “Dad? What are you doing?”

“Oh, just assaulting a minor in the entryway,” Stiles mutters, sneering at Chris, who lets him go and steps away, sneering back with interest. “Must be Tuesday.”

Stiles?” Allison’s voice rises to a near-shout.

“It’s okay, Allison,” Stiles calls up to her, trying to make her look less worried and pale, because in his experience, a worried and pale Allison can quickly morph into a vengeful and homicidal Allison. “Your dad just worked out that I’m kind of magic and was overcome by a fit of bigoted douchebaggery, but I think he’s mostly over it now. We’re cool.”

“For some definition of cool,” Chris mutters.

“Did you just say magic?” Allison demands. “Does Scott know about this?!”

This chat is going exactly the way Stiles was afraid it would. “Yeah, Scott knows.”

“Does he know about werewolves?”

“Yes.”

“Does he know any werewolves?!”

“I think, statistically speaking, most people know a werewolf or two? Seems to have about the same genetic frequency as red hair. Of course, you might not realize it since you can’t see the werewolf on people, and there’s no percentage in sharing it around, because that might get them shot. Whereas nobody shoots redheads…although they are kind of weird about them in the UK. Possibly because the English have the whole Irish racism thing going on? Not sure. Anyway, not applicable in California. Go redheads.”

Allison appears to have lost the thread of whatever argument she was trying to make, so that’s all win. Chris looks like he wants to beat his head against the wall; arguably that is also all win. People give Stiles crap about the babbling, but that’s because they don’t realize what an awesome weapon it can be. And if he tells himself it’s deliberate more often than it actually is, no one has to know.

“Hey, Allison?” he barrels on, since no one’s stopping him. “You mind if I talk to your dad for a second? Then you can do the twenty questions or whatever.”

“Oh-kayyy,” Allison says dubiously, fading silently back from the railing like a ninja. Stiles would like to learn that trick. Allison, so effortlessly badass.

And terrifying. Also terrifying, which is the whole point of this visit. Right. “So. Chris. Basically, it’s like this: there’s some kind of magical instability going on right now, we’re trying to figure out why and squish it, but in the meantime, things are going to be weird.”

“You want help fighting the…symptoms?” Chris guesses.

“You always guess wrong,” Stiles informs him. “No. Or I guess, I don’t care, whatever, if you want. Take pot shots at as many pixies as you feel like, but I thought you were retired. No, I just want you to keep an eye on Allison.”

“She’s my daughter,” Chris snaps.

“Yeah, exactly. She’s your daughter. And you and I both know what the rest of your family’s like, and what I’m saying is—hey, Allison’s awesome and all? But if she gets the idea that she’s right and somebody else is wrong, she has no limits. In a way that is profoundly scary and dangerous for everyone, including you. And her.”

“You’re saying my own daughter would turn on me.”

“Not…exactly? It’s not like she’d kill her loved ones. Just, uh. Her casual acquaintances.”

“You’ve seen this in your visions.”

“I’ve lived this, okay? And she shot a hunter because she thought he was wrong, and then later she shot the shit out of a couple of teenaged werewolves because she didn’t like their alpha. I’m just saying watch her, because she’s great in a lot of ways, but she’s still related to Gerard.”

I’m related to Gerard,” Chris growls.

“I know, and I have no idea how the backsplash evil mostly missed you, but congratulations. Is he alive, by the way?”

“Gerard? No.”

“Oh, good. I mean, sorry for your loss. Anyway, what I’m saying is, Kate could potentially burn a house down with an entire family trapped inside, Allison could potentially shoot innocent teenagers to death, but you, you actually follow your code. The point of my visit is to say: brainwash Allison with as much honor the code stuff as you can. Indoctrinate her right this time. It’ll make all of our lives so much easier.”

“And what will you do if I can’t control her?” Chris demands, because he still thinks this is a threatening talk. Sigh.

“Me? Nothing,” Stiles says, rolling his eyes. “I mean, I’ll do my best to keep her from killing anybody I like, but the thing is, I like her, too. Anyway, it’s not my job to police hunters. That’s your problem.”

“I don’t understand you,” Chris says, eyes narrowed.

Stiles nods placidly. “I get that a lot.”

* * *

There’s a knock at the door, and Stiles tentatively sticks his head in, eyebrows raised in question. “Can I come in?”

He doesn’t look any different than he did yesterday. Why would he, though? Apparently he was a witch yesterday, too, even though he’s never looked anything other than sarcastic and stressed out and fragile. There’s nothing about him that suggests he could kill everyone in a room with a thought.

But then, Allison looks harmless, too.

“Sure,” she says. “Come in.”

He sidles in—or as close as Stiles gets to sidling—and studies her. “Are you gonna be weird about this?”

“Probably,” she admits. There doesn’t seem to be any point in lying when he’ll find out soon enough.

“Okay.” He eyes her warily, unnervingly quiet for Stiles. “So does that mean…how likely are you to shoot me with a crossbow? Just so I know.”

What? I wouldn’t! Not as long as you don’t hurt anybody. Anyway, we’re retired.”

“Are you sure? Because you’re kind of rocking your justifiable homicide face.”

“Stiles! Look, I’m never going to like that you’re a witch, but that doesn’t mean I’ll kill you for it. Even though you chose that. It’s not like—like werewolves, who don’t always get to choose, and can’t change their minds later either way.”

“Well, Allison, I’m never going to like that you’re a hunter, which is something you chose, but I do like you personally. It’s like when your friend has an evil girlfriend, and you really wish he’d dump her, but you don’t hate him for it. You worry about him.”

She narrows her eyes. “Am I the evil girlfriend in this analogy?”

“Um, I think Scott was the evil girlfriend? Metaphorically? No, hang on, hunting was the evil girlfriend. Wait, now I’m just confused.”

He’s just so…Stiles. “Then that makes two of us.”

“Yeah, well. Oh! Random, but, uh…your Aunt Kate’s philosophy on hunting: lay it on me.”

“Um…why?”

“Because I’m interested? Because I asked, okay! What, is it classified or something?”

Allison rolls her eyes and wonders, not for the first time, if Scott has secret techniques for dealing with Stiles when he’s like this. “It’s not classified, but it shouldn’t matter. She’ll never come here.”

“Why not?” Stiles asks with a level of interest that is frankly suspicious.

“She hates Beacon Hills. She won’t talk about why.”

“Uh huh.”

“I think…I think she took it pretty hard when my grandfather—her dad—died. He died in Beacon Hills, and she just. It’s like she thinks he abandoned her. She was only sixteen.”

Stiles nods thoughtfully, steepling his fingers and tapping them against his lips. “How much younger is Kate than your dad?”

“Why are you asking me this? Because this is strange, Stiles. This is a suspicious line of questioning.” From a witch, especially.

“I’m easily obsessed; you know this about me. Anyway, your dad trained you, right? So if your grandpa died when Kate was that young—who trained her?”

“My grandfather did, at first. But then I guess Dad and, and Mom took over. She lived with us for a long time. Her hunting philosophy is a lot like ours, except she won’t hunt anything but werewolves. And she’s very picky about who she’ll hunt. She has to have absolute proof. She’s…fanatical about it.” Allison loves Kate, God knows, but she’s getting weirder and more hermit-like every year. Allison doesn’t understand her anymore.

Stiles seems to, though, because he drops his hands and nods like it all makes sense now. “Rebelling against Gerard,” he says.

“Why do you know my grandfather’s name?” Allison demands coldly, trying not to panic. “Why do you know Kate’s name?”

Stiles just shrugs like it isn’t in any way scary or invasive. “Argents. Famous. Or maybe infamous, if we’re talking Gerard—there was something seriously not right about that guy. Not like your dad. People respect Chris—he follows his code, you know? But Kate I don’t know much about.”

“Well, she’s not here,” Allison reminds him brusquely. “So I don’t see why you need to worry about her.”

“Because I worry?” He frowns. “It’s kind of my thing. My identity. Stiles Stilinski, worrier. Hey, do you know how Gerard died?”

He asked for it. “Witches killed him.”

“Oh.” He blinks. “Awkward.”

“Very.”

“Why did witches kill him? How did they kill him? Where is he buried?”

Wow. She just gave him a pretty cast-iron reason for never trusting him, and he’s responding with twenty questions. That’s so…

Allison firmly tells herself she’s not remotely charmed by the sheer gall of him. “I have no idea. And even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you, Stiles.”

“Cold!” Stiles cries, clutching at his chest. “I just want to know for sure that he’s actually, honest-to-god dead.”

“He’s dead,” Allison insists. “He’s been dead for years.”

“Right. Or at least that’s what they want you to think.”

Allison closes her eyes briefly and prays for patience. “I’ll look into it. Happy? Any other sketchy things you want to know about my family history? Little favors I can do for you, maybe? Because I love helping witches out; it’s a hobby of mine.”

“Awesome,” Stiles says, and if he’s aware of her sarcasm, he’s hiding it well. “Because I’d really like a copy of your family’s bestiary.”

He wants what? “I think you mean—”

Oh my God, no. Why? Why here, too? You’re humorless!Allison, you shouldn’t even—I mean bestiary. It’s a book on mythical creatures, you should know this, I am embarrassed for you. Because I know you have one. In Archaic Latin, inconveniently.”

“…You should probably ask my dad, then.”

“Yeah, your dad? Not my biggest fan. How about you ask your dad?”

“I’m not your biggest fan either. And Dad’ll want to know why I want it.”

“To study up, obviously. Easier if you have your own copy. Allison Argent: Superhunter!”

“We’re retired.”

“Whatever, old soldiers never die.”

“What would I do with a book in Archaic Latin, anyway?”

“You’re friends with Lydia Martin, look at you, and she totally knows Archaic Latin.”

“She does?”

“Yep.”

“Exactly how smart is she?”

“I know, right?” And he instantly goes shiny-eyed with admiration. He’s making it really hard not to like him. “She’s a genius. Also somehow too smart to fall in love with me, but not smart enough not to fall in love with Jackson? It seriously confuses me, I’m not gonna lie. Couldn’t she have gone for, I don’t know, Rodriguez? Someone who is not the scum of the earth, I’m just saying. It’d be so much easier to make my peace with that.”

Allison finds herself close to laughter despite her principles, her training, and her better judgment. “Stiles. Jackson is not the scum of the earth.”

“He kind of is, though. It’s just that he’s sometimes awesome on alternating Thursdays; it muddies the water. Maybe that’s what he and Lydia have going for them. The attraction of the mutually confusing. Wait, why are we even talking about this? Bestiary! We’re talking about the bestiary.”

“Fine,” she sighs, knowing she’ll regret it even as she gives in. “I’ll get you a copy of the bestiary. And I’ll ask Lydia to translate it. And when she asks me a lot of uncomfortable questions, I’m sending her to you.”

“Fair,” Stiles agrees, nodding earnestly. “Totally fair. Allison, you’re the coolest.”

She suspects that what she is, in fact, is the most gullible, but it’s a little late to be worrying about that now.

Chapter Text

The day after the witch reveal, Allison makes a point of avoiding Stiles at school. He can’t say he’s surprised, but it is hard on Scott—poor guy’s been bouncing between them like a really confused pinball all day. Take now, for example—he was outside eating lunch with Allison, last Stiles knew, but here he is, charging into the cafeteria like he can’t help himself.

“Stiles!”

“Yes, Scott?”

“Allison’s—Allison’s grandfather is named Gerard!”

“That he is. Or was, I guess.”

“Oh, crap. So he actually is—he’s that Gerard?”

“Okay, here’s the thing: I don’t know for sure. I mean, he is that Gerard, but their family is where the timeline gets really different. For starters, and I guess Allison didn’t mention this, Gerard has been dead for years in this timeline. I don’t know if he was evil or not. Of course, Argents tended to be extremely hard to kill in my timeline, so…I’m a little suspicious of how dead he really is.”

Scott shakes his head incredulously. “Dude, your life.”

“Dude. I know.”

“Stiles,” Lydia Martin says out of nowhere, striding purposefully up to their table like this is a thing that happens normally. “I have questions for you.”

And a knife to put to his throat if he doesn’t answer them, from the sound of it. Ah, nostalgia. “…You do?”

“Yes. I do. Allison asked me for an interesting favor this morning.”

“Oh,” Stiles breathes, sinking low in his crappy lunchroom chair.

“I believe you said—promised, in fact—that you wouldn’t mention my translating abilities to anyone.”

“Well, yeah, but…this was important?”

“It was a bestiary, Stiles. How important could it be?”

Scott is making a very familiar appalled/amused face, and Stiles knows what’s coming before he whispers, “Doesn’t she mean—”

“No, she does not, oh my God, Scott, seriously? A bestiary is a book of mythical creatures. Shut up or I swear I will end you.”

Scott subsides, offended. Lydia raises a perfect but tragically unimpressed eyebrow.

“It actually is important,” Stiles tells her apologetically.

She folds her arms. “Explain.”

“…Do you really want to have this talk here?”

“Fine.” She fishes around in her bag and pulls out a notepad, slapping it down in front of Stiles with a pen. “Write down your address. I’ll be there at four o’clock on Saturday. And I expect a truly amazing explanation, Stiles, and quite possibly another dress as well.”

Stiles hadn’t realized, before, how much his Lydia had been held back by her own…what, fear, denial, reluctance to actually figure out what was going on? Her trauma.

This Lydia isn’t traumatized or conflicted at all, and Lydia with clear purpose is a force of nature. Stiles knew that, but he hadn’t thought it through in this context. Werewolves and witches, run for your lives.

In view of that, he obediently writes down his address. Lydia nods in satisfaction and marches back to her own table. Scott is staring at Stiles like he’s an alien creature that just fell from the sky.

“I can’t believe Lydia actually talks to you now,” he says, incredulous to a pretty unflattering degree.

“It’s because I have something she wants for the first time ever,” Stiles explains. “And also because I’ve given up on ever having a chance with her. I’ve embraced platonic devotion and romantic indifference.”

“So, what, indifferent is a good look on you?”

“Indifferent is a good look on everyone, Scott, and desperation is the most unattractive thing in the world. It’s one of the horrible catch-22s of romance.”

“I thought you had a ten-year plan to make Lydia fall in love with you,” Scott says, eyeing him in worry.

“Oh, your Stiles, too? Figures. And yeah, I did, but…I guess I’m learning to give up on things. That’s a skill I’ve never had before, so I’m very proud.” He’s horrified, actually, but no need to get into that; it’s not like Scott can tell when he’s lying anymore. “All it takes is dying, and you too can learn to let go!”

Scott wavers between shock and exasperation for a while before settling on exasperation, and that right there, that is why he and Stiles are friends. “You’re seriously telling Lydia about the werewolf stuff?”

“I kind of have to? She’s a woman on a mission, Scott. If I don’t tell her, she’ll just figure it out on her own and then hate me for not telling her.” They’re so right about hindsight. “Hey, you and Allison should come.”

“…Why?”

“You can ask questions, too. Yeah, I know you have questions. I worry I’m being all accidentally cryptic on you, like I’m turning into Deaton, Jr. or something. That would suck.”

“Why would Allison have questions?”

“Allison found out I can do magic and now she’s half-convinced I’m going to murder everyone in town.”

What?

“She was raised by bigoted douchebags, Scott. I told you.”

“But she knows you.”

“Bigotry doesn’t make sense, that’s kind of a defining trait it has. Anyway, I think she’s trying to fight it? Vaguely? Or possibly she’s trying to fight against the impulse to fight it; I don’t pretend to understand her. You should bring her over, though. Um, shake her down for weapons first. Check her shoes. I’m serious—she wears boots for a reason. And if you could give her a pep talk on the theme of can’t we all just get along, that would be awesome.”

Scott sighs and hides his face in his hands. “Great,” he says. “This is just great.”

So that’s one problem dealt with, or at least successfully foisted onto Scott. Now all Stiles has to worry about are the ominous texts he’s suddenly getting from Derek. Because ominous texts from Derek, that never ends in disaster.

* * *

“Did you just say cut in half?” Stiles demands incredulously.

A normal person, Derek thinks, would probably be scared about now. Stiles mostly sounds outraged. Derek needs to stop comparing Stiles to theoretical normal people, because that is a huge waste of time. “Right.”

“Of course. We’ve got hunters. Because that’s what we needed.” Stiles starts pacing around the kitchen and clutching at his hair. “On the other hand, the omegas are nuts, so…do we care that they’re cutting them in half? Do we care? Does your mom care?” He pauses and stares at Derek, like Derek has the answers.

Derek really wishes the rest of the family wasn’t out doing cleanup right now, because he hates it when people look at him like that. It’s generally his cue to foist them off onto Laura or someone else in charge. This time, though, he’s stuck. “Normal hunters wouldn’t have left the body like that,” he points out. “That was a message.”

“Wonderful,” Stiles groans, resuming his pacing. “A message to whoever’s controlling the omegas? Because that would be creepy and wrong, but not necessarily our problem. Or a message to you? Because that would be a huge, huge problem, and, crap, this means I need to talk to Chris again.”

“Chris…?”

“Argent.”

Derek rubs his forehead, hoping to ward off the confusion-based headache he can feel building. “I thought you said you said you don’t trust the Argents.”

“I don’t. Chris is the best of a bad lot, though, and I’ve been trying to get him to keep a leash on his more crazed relatives.”

Derek wonders how that conversation went. Or maybe he doesn’t want to know. No, he definitely doesn’t want to know. “I should come with you when you talk to him. Pack representative.”

“Nah, it’s cool. It’s not worth—I’ll be happier if he never figures out who you guys are. I’ll handle it.”

“Okay,” Derek agrees reluctantly. He doesn’t like the idea of Stiles on his own with hunters, but he has survived talking to Argent so far. And he’s definitely a better diplomat than Derek. Everyone is.

Stiles pauses, though, and turns very slowly to face him. “You’re…a really trusting guy, aren’t you?”

Derek shrugs. He’s known Stiles for months, and Stiles hasn’t done anything untrustworthy. Why not trust him?

“Sure. Why wouldn’t you be?” Stiles goes on in a tone of awful realization. “Your family is awesome; they’ve never lied to you. Your friends or acquaintances or whatever are normal. Nothing bad ever happens to you.”

“I wouldn’t say nothing bad—”

“No, shut up, trust me. Nothing seriously bad has ever happened to you.”

Derek reflects on the way Stiles smells whenever he thinks about his old pack. It’s true that Derek has nothing that compares. He tips his head to the side, allowing the point.

“But Derek…at the risk of sounding like a total mom, that doesn’t mean nothing bad’s ever going to happen. So maybe you should—oh God, I can’t even believe I’m saying this to you—maybe you should be more, um. Careful? You hardly know me, and let’s face it, I am seriously shady. You shouldn’t just be going along with whatever I tell you.”

Derek raises an eyebrow. “You’re saying you’re not trustworthy?”

“I’m saying you don’t know me well enough to know whether I’m trustworthy or not. I could be a serial killer.”

“You’re young for it.”

“Not unheard of! I have actually met a serial killer my age. Take that, statistics.”

Okay, that’s…incredibly disturbing and something to be pursued at a later date. “You never smell like blood. Or killing rage. Or lust at weird times.”

“I could be keeping it all under wraps because I’m setting you up. I could be running a long con on you personally, Derek Hale.”

“Are you?”

“What? No!”

“There you go.”

No, there I do not go! You can’t just take my word for it, oh my God, what is wrong with you? You trust way too easily, and someday, somebody is gonna…holy crap, this is opposites world. Next Scott’s going to be telling me to stop mooning about my love life. My head hurts.”

“You have a love life?”

“Okay, seriously not the point.”

“I’ll take that as a no.”

“Haha, you’re hilarious. Fine. Fall for the first pretty face you see, find out too late that she’s a psycho hunter, die a horrible death. See if I care.”

Derek has a sudden, terrible suspicion that he knows what happened to Stiles’s pack. “Stiles…”

“What? Oh my god, you’re giving me a pity face, I didn’t even know your face could do that, what does it mean?”

“It just means…you do know you can trust us, don’t you? I don’t know what happened to you before, but. You can trust us.”

“You’re killing me with this, dude.”

“I’m serious!”

“I know you’re serious, that’s why this is so—that lecture was actually to your address, okay? I am capable of trust, I do trust you guys, this is not about me. This is about you, and the fact that you probably trust the ice cream man just because he gives you ice cream. All I’m saying is, sometimes the ice cream man is a child molester.”

This is getting really scary. “…Were you molested?

Stiles gives a stifled scream of frustration and throws up his hands. “Every time I warn you about something, I am not secretly talking about my own tragic past! Gah! This explains so much about you!”

“What? No, it doesn’t.”

“It totally does! Ugh, I feel old.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Yeah, well, clearly you never do.”

Derek’s had about all of this conversation he can handle, and Stiles has, too—he smells miserable. Derek hates that and it needs to stop. “Whatever. When are you talking to the Argents?”

Stiles sighs, but the misery tamps down a little. Derek feels an irrational sense of pride. “This weekend, I guess. Oh, also this weekend, I promised I’d explain my recent weird behavior to a friend. Is it okay if I tell her about werewolves?”

Derek shrugs. “I don’t see why not.”

Stiles sighs and rubs his eyes. “Of course you don’t. How about I call and double-check that with Talia, who actually has a sense of self-preservation?”

“Whatever makes you happy.” Stiles can say what he wants about not having trust issues, but the evidence is damning.

“If anything awful happens, you’ll let me know, right? Or someone will? Philip, Laura?”

“You talk to Philip?” Derek demands. It takes him an embarrassingly long time to identify what he’s feeling as jealousy.

Thank God Laura is out clearing away dead omegas.

“Sure,” Stiles says, apparently pleased and surprised, for some mysterious reason. “Your brother makes the best wards ever, just saying. He’s my magic bro.” Derek’s face is obviously too easy to read, because after a second Stiles says, “Not that you aren’t my bro! You and Laura, you guys are my, I don’t know, life-threatening situations bros. It’s not like I’m dumping you for Philip or anything.”

“I didn’t think you were dumping us for Philip, Stiles,” Derek lies, rolling his eyes.

“Uh huh.” Stiles smirks at him.

Derek really doesn’t want to send Stiles to talk to hunters on his own. But it’s not his call.

* * *

The explanations meeting starts out just as awkward as Stiles would’ve expected if he’d let himself think about it, which he didn’t, because he knew he’d never go through with it if he did.

Scott walks into Stiles’s room towing Allison behind him. He waves at Stiles and sprawls comfortably across the bed. Allison perches nervously beside him, shooting suspicious glares around the room. Checking for bat wings and cat entrails, probably. Lydia follows them in, sits at the desk, and jumps on Stiles’s computer, shamelessly poking around. It’s enough to make a guy sickeningly nervous.

“Okay,” Stiles says, clapping his hands together and trying not to pace nervously or think about what Lydia could be dredging up from the depths of his hard drive. “I guess…well, you could just start asking me questions. What do you guys want to know?”

“I want to know what caused your fondness for angry housewife country,” Lydia announces, now scrolling through his current playlist.

“Not relevant,” Stiles declares. “And I do not listen to angry housewife country.”

“No?” She blinks at him. “Goodbye Earl.”

“Classic revenge song. Also, hilarious.”

“Mhmm. Okay, explain this one: Did I Shave My Legs For This?

Allison giggles; Allison is a traitor. But at least it’s better than the death glares. Is that what Lydia’s after with this? “It’s a funny song,” Stiles insists.

“Stiles, it’s a sad song. It’s a sad, horrible song about a sad, empty relationship.”

Taken metaphorically, it’s weirdly relevant to my life is not an argument that’s going to take him anywhere he wants to go. “Whatever. Two doesn’t make a pattern.”

Independence Day by Martina McBride.”

“Also classic revenge!”

“Really? Or is it more, hm, classic murder-suicide for your classic angry housewife?”

“I notice you know what all these songs are about. What does that say about you, huh?”

“My mother had an angry housewife phase,” Lydia says dismissively. “And that’s part of what makes this so strange: I recognize all of these because you don’t even have any new angry housewife country. It’s like you’re an angry housewife from the ‘90s.”

Stiles’s mother used to play those songs for her friends when they had bad breakups. The worse the breakup, the more ridiculous and over the top the angry country song. They would sit together on the couch in the living room drinking and singing along and cracking up, sometimes through tears. It’s a good memory, and it was a relief to find that other!Stiles had all those songs, too. Mom was a good friend.

And Stiles has no plans to explain any of that to anyone, even Lydia. “I listen to other stuff!”

“But the rest of it is so predictable. The angry housewife country is interesting.”

“Can we talk about werewolves now?” Scott begs.

Please God,” Stiles agrees.

“Werewolves,” Lydia says, successfully distracted from Stiles’s computer, bless Scott’s little heart. “You haven’t given me anything to translate about werewolves.”

“That’s because I already know about werewolves.” And when he doesn’t, he can just check in with the werewolves down the road. So convenient. “It’s everything else I need help with.”

“Yes, about that,” Lydia says. “Why?

Stiles looks to Allison for help. Allison raises an eyebrow expressive of both this was your idea and also I refuse to help you because you’re secretly a murderous witch.

Stiles should probably be grateful she didn’t express any of that by means of an arrow to his face. He sighs, resigned. “For starters, I asked you to translate the stuff on how to kill pixies because I actually…need to figure out how to kill some pixies.”

“Oh my God,” Scott moans. “There are pixies now? What the hell, dude. Are they evil?”

“Mostly just annoying,” Allison says distantly.

“Oh, sure,” Stiles agrees. “I find small, flying, toxic creatures to be annoying also.”

“They hardly ever kill anyone,” Allison tells him, unimpressed.

“Rattlesnakes hardly ever kill anyone, and yet I wouldn’t be happy if they started flying around!”

“Is this some kind of joke?” Lydia demands with cold ferocity.

“Go on, Stiles,” Allison says, smiling dangerously. “Prove it to her.”

“Scott told you that story, huh?” Stiles casts Scott a betrayed look, but Scott just shrugs, like, my hot girlfriend asked a question, what would you have me do? The more things change… “Okay. Demonstration time, then.”

Except he doesn’t want to set anything on fire inside the house, and that’s the flashiest trick he knows. He’s great at defense, but that’s…not exciting to look at. There’s nothing thrilling about, ‘Now you can’t go over there! Aha!’ Not that it needs to be exciting, it’s just. God, apparently he still has some lingering, vestigial need to impress Lydia. This is so sad.

He makes it as exciting as he can, anyway. He kills the lights (not hard—even lizard Jackson could swing that) and activates his panic wards—the ones that nobody can cross. They glow; it’s suitably dramatic. Stiles is pleased. “Okay, Lydia. Try to cross the line.”

“What the hell is going on?!”

“I’ll explain in a second, just, try to cross the line.”

Try?” She jumps out of the chair and marches toward the wards nearest the door, hitting them pretty hard before Stiles has a chance to tell her to slow down. “What is this?” she demands, voice climbing in volume and pitch. “Are we trapped in here?”

Lydia’s apparently a little claustrophobic. Good to know. Stiles hastily drops the wards before he can freak her out any more.

And again with the warnings he should’ve given, because she stumbles forward, barely catching herself on the doorframe. She must’ve still been pushing. Of course she was. The only way this could’ve gone better is if Stiles had actually managed to knock her out against the wall in front of Allison. Jesus.

He pulls the lights back up and starts babbling hasty damage control. “Sorry! I’m sorry, I should’ve warned you I was dropping those, I just, you sounded kind of panicked? I didn’t want you to panic; I didn’t actually mean to trap you in here, it’s just, I just. That’s, I can do stuff like that. So it’s my responsibility to kill things like pixies. So, there you go. Explanation.”

Lydia stares at him like she’s never seen him before. “I was not panicking,” she says after an uncomfortable few seconds.

She’s lying, but Stiles respects the effort. “Oh. Well, I thought you were, so that’s why I did that.”

“You can ‘do stuff like that’?” Lydia repeats, eyeing him warily. “Stuff like what, exactly?”

“Magic,” Allison says in an extremely unfriendly tone, excuse her. “Stiles could probably burn the whole house down with a thought.”

“Whoa, hey,” Stiles says, throwing his hands up defensively. “I don’t know what kind of witchy propaganda you’ve been buying into, but that’s just, no. I definitely couldn’t. Magic takes energy, and energy has to come from somewhere. By which I mean, it comes from me. Even setting Scott’s lacrosse stick on fire wore me out—I had to eat all kinds of high-calorie food afterward and then I slept for ten hours that night. I could maybe, at a stretch, burn a house down, but then my organs would fail and I’d die. It’d be way easier to do it the classic matches and gasoline way. Just like any other human could. If they were inclined to. Which most people aren’t.”

Allison scowls, but doesn’t counter. Argument delayed, but not won. Which is too bad, because Stiles is already very tired of this argument. Also they’re worrying Scott. What a mess.

Lydia, though, is back at Stiles’s desk, gazing into the middle distance with her eyes narrowed, like she’s running complex mental calculations. Then she blinks and gives Stiles her equation: solved! face. “Could I learn?” she asks.

God bless Lydia Martin.

“Lydia, no,” Allison gasps in horror.

“Actually, yes,” Stiles corrects, rolling his eyes. “But before you go down that road, you should be aware that Allison is not the only person in the world who doesn’t approve of magic. Or werewolves. Or any number of other creatures of the night. There are some paramilitary groups dedicated to wiping them out, in fact. And while they’re supposed to follow a moral code—”

Allison flinches and looks away. Is that a win? It doesn’t feel like a win.

“—a lot of them don’t bother, in practice. They’re more like, ‘Yikes, it’s scary, kill it.’”

“That’s not true,” Allison insists.

“Really? Why do you think I got into magic in the first place, huh? It was after a few too many, ‘Yikes, he associates with scary things, kill him,’ experiences, okay?”

“You could’ve just stopped associating with them.”

That’s what you took away from that?”

“They’re dangerous, Stiles!”

You’re dangerous, Allison! Your dad is dangerous, my dad is dangerous, even Scott, under the right circumstances, can be dangerous. And Lydia knows how to make a self-igniting Molotov cocktail. Just off the top of her head.”

“How do you know that?” Lydia hisses.

“What do you mean, even Scott?” Scott demands.

And Allison…Allison laughs for a second before clapping a hand over her mouth and looking horrified at herself.

That is a definite win.

“To recap,” Stiles says, not making anything of Allison laughing for fear she’ll never do it again, “I’m magic, everyone here is scary, and we need to figure out how to get rid of some pixies. Pixies don’t usually bother normal humans because they only feed off of magical instability, but this whole area is unstable right now, so they could turn up anywhere and attack people out of fear. And, let’s see, other creepy stuff…”

“I looked into my grandfather’s death, like you asked,” Allison cuts in. “My dad won’t talk about it. Like, not at all. And Kate…she’s so strange on the whole subject of Gerard, I’m afraid to even mention it to her. The newspapers are really…vague. I would even say, well. Suspiciously vague.”

“Vague like it was a supernatural cover-up, or vague like he isn’t actually dead?” Stiles asks, feeling exhausted.

“I can’t tell.” Allison shrugs. “I’ll try my dad again. But he really…he’s not even subtle about changing the subject.”

“Never mind,” Stiles sighs. “I’ll try your dad. I need to talk to him anyway, and besides, you he wants to protect, but me? He doesn’t care about me.”

“…Right. I’ve been meaning to ask, Stiles—how exactly do you know my dad?”

“From another life,” Stiles tells her earnestly. She rolls her eyes and drops it. And that is why being a sarcastic asshole is such a blessing: you don’t even have to lie, and they still won’t believe you.

“Is that literal?” Lydia asks suspiciously.

They won’t believe you unless they’re Lydia Martin, that is, and she will only believe you at the most inconvenient moments possible. “Why would I admit it if it were literal?”

Lydia scowls at him, but lets it go. For the moment.

“Last big problem for today is the omegas, I guess,” Stiles goes on, relieved.

“Omegas?” Lydia demands.

“Omega werewolves,” Allison explains. “Lone wolves. They’re usually dangerous, and these are actually feral. They’re killing anyone they come into contact with.”

“Not exactly feral,” Stiles corrects. “They’re being mind-controlled. It’s pretty fricking creepy.”

“Who’s controlling them?” Allison asks, alarmed.

“It’s a mystery,” Stiles sighs. “The bad kind of mystery, you know, where if we don’t figure it out fast enough, lots of people die.” He considers telling them about the chopped up omega in the woods, then decides he’s already hit Scott and Lydia with enough freaky shit for one day. He’ll save that for Chris.

“How can we help?” Scott asks, because Scott is awesome.

“Lydia can translate the rest of the bestiary for us—if that’s okay with you, Lydia?”

Lydia shrugs like it doesn’t matter one way or another. It’s as close to enthusiastic agreement as she gets.

“Scott, you have your human-related assignment.”

“That’s gonna help?” Scott asks dubiously.

“It’s going to keep bad things from happening in the future. It’s preventative maintenance, and someone has to do it. Oh, and speaking of that, you’re keeping an eye on Matt, right?”

“I guess?”

“Do not guess. Potential serial killing psycho.”

Fine,” Scott sighs, put-upon. He’s getting a little jaded, is Scott. Stiles may need to tell him about the Allison element in that story. (Actually, this Allison would shoot Matt in the dick the instant he started weirding her out, but luckily that won’t occur to Scott.)

“How do you know this?” Lydia mutters unhappily, but since she’s muttering it at Stiles’s computer, he counts the question as rhetorical and ignores it.

“Allison, I get that you guys are retired, so I don’t expect anything from you except, I don’t know, a heads up if something weird jumps out at you. Or if you remember anything about people mind-controlling werewolves. We cool?”

Allison smiles faintly. “For a given value of cool,” she says. Stiles smiles back at her. He’s totally winning.

“Other than watch out for pixies, is there anything we can do to, oh, not die?” Scott asks.

“Good point,” Stiles allows. “Stay out of the woods, mostly. At least until we get this crap figured out.”

“Dude, I am not going in those woods,” Scott says indignantly. “There are werewolves in there.” He pauses to consider. “Also meth labs.”

“The meth labs never stopped you before,” Stiles points out.

“Yeah, but once you have werewolves and meth labs? That crosses the line.”

That is actually a fair argument.

“So are we done for today?” Allison asks, and look at her, that was borderline polite.

“Yeah, sure. I mean, unless you guys have more questions.”

They don’t seem to. On the other hand, apart from Allison, they don’t seem to want to leave his room either. Maybe they’ve decided it’s the safest place to be. He pretty much has to herd them downstairs, at which point Allison manages to drag Scott out the door and into her car.

Lydia, though, lingers on the porch until Scott and Allison drive off, then she spins to face Stiles. “Danny’s wildest conspiracy theories about you aren’t wild enough,” she says.

Stiles blinks. “Danny has conspiracy theories about me?”

“So many conspiracy theories. He has charts. And some of his theories are surprisingly close to the truth, but as I say, not wild enough.”

“He told you about this?”

“Of course not. I borrowed his computer for a project.”

And trolled through it looking for ammunition. At least Stiles isn’t the only one she does that to. “What, um. What do you think he’ll do if he figures it out?” Because this is Danny; he will figure it out. Danny is a minor deity of information collection.

“Do?” Lydia’s eyebrows arch in surprise. “Nothing.”

“Won’t he tell Jackson?”

“Of course not. He just likes knowing things for the sake of knowing them. And he wouldn’t tell Jackson anyway, for the same reason I’m not going to. Right now Jackson just thinks you’ve finally lost your mind, and that’s fine.”

Finally. Stiles likes that finally.

“But if he knew about this supernatural stuff, he’d want to become some kind of supernatural creature himself, and I can’t imagine how badly that would turn out.”

“I can,” Stiles sighs.

“You can,” Lydia says quietly. “But you don’t need to, do you?”

Stiles stares.

“I was right,” she hisses triumphantly, grinning. This may be the first time Stiles has ever seen her honestly grin. It is truly scary. “Multiple realities! Now all I have to do is prove it. This is it; this is what’s going to make me famous. Thank you, Stiles.”

And she strides purposefully off, leaving Stiles standing on the porch with his mouth hanging open.

* * *

“You gave me fifty-to-one odds,” Derek hears Peter insist as he walks past the door to the living room. He pauses and looks in, because Peter is a terrible winner and it’s always fun to watch.

“Don’t start. I would never give fifty-to-one odds on anything to do with Stiles,” Mom counters, folding her arms stubbornly.

“What was the bet?” Derek asks, and they both turn and smile at him in a way that means this is pack leader business and he should stay out of it. And normally he’d be fine with that, but…Stiles.

“No, really,” Laura says, leaning in over Derek’s shoulder. “What was it? Is there a Stiles story involved? We deserve a Stiles story! We’re his favorites.”

“I think we all know that Derek is his favorite,” Peter says, rolling his eyes. Derek doesn’t want to know what he’s implying with that. And he also wishes Laura would stop snickering.

“We promised not to mention it,” Mom says, shrugging unapologetically. “I think he doesn’t want you know because you’re his favorites. Maybe he’s embarrassed.”

Stiles?” Stiles and embarrassment don’t seem like concepts that should coexist.

“He’s only seventeen, Derek.” Mom gives him a severe look that he doesn’t deserve at all because he has done nothing. “Of course he still gets embarrassed.”

Not that Derek’s noticed. Then again, Stiles’s scent and heart rate and breathing are such an insane, erratic mess, it’s possible that Stiles is always embarrassed and Derek just doesn’t recognize it when he sees it. “He’s going to talk to the Argents about the omega who was cut in half, by the way. He said he was going to call you about it, and about some friend of his?”

“He did call,” Mom says, frowning unhappily. “I don’t like him talking to the Argents on his own.”

Derek nods, feeling vindicated. So he should’ve argued about that. Of course, Stiles would probably have decided that meant Derek didn’t trust him, or whatever asinine thing. Which reminds him. “He gave me a lecture on trusting people too much and how that leads to hunters burning houses down. Is that…do you think that’s what happened to his old pack?”

Mom and Peter exchange a sad, almost worried look that Derek doesn’t understand. (Laura doesn’t seem to understand it either, though, so that’s something.) “It’s possible,” Mom says.

“But who was his pack?” Laura bursts out before Derek can. “Where were they from? Where did they live? There are no other packs around and he’s lived here all his life!”

“And you know this…how, exactly?” Peter asks, amused.

“Maybe I asked,” Laura huffs, tossing her hair over her shoulder the way she did when she was a teenager. It’s hilarious.

“Mm. Or maybe you’re abusing your work privileges. Again.”

“Maybe you can’t prove it either way.”

“Stop, for the love of God,” Mom groans. “And I can’t answer those questions; you know that. He asked us not to tell you, which means if you want to know, you’ll have to ask him yourselves. And you’ll have to be patient. He’s been through too much, and while I don’t agree with his reasons for not wanting to tell you, I do understand them. Give him time to decide he’s sure of you.”

“He said he trusts us,” Derek insists.

“He trusts you with his life. It doesn’t mean he trusts you with his heart. Be patient.” Then she smirks at them because she’s a mean woman who has no mercy. Of all the kids, Derek and Laura are the worst at being patient.

“I think you’ll find there’s plenty to keep you busy in the meantime,” Peter points out after a brief, sullen silence. “Aren’t you supposed to be finding those hunters? Maybe Stiles will tell us those bodies really are a threatening message, and much good it’ll do us if we can’t locate the people who left it.”

“We’re on it,” Laura sighs, grabbing Derek by the sleeve and dragging him off. To hunt the hunters.

It would be interesting—probably nightmare-inducing, but interesting—to know what happened to the hunters who killed Stiles’s pack. Derek would bet they didn’t survive a week.

* * *

“Chris!” Stiles says brightly when the door opens.

“Allison’s out,” Chris growls. Not even pretending to be friendly anymore, huh? Just like old times.

“Yes. I know that.”

“And I think you and I are done talking.”

“Yeah, I wish we were? But we’re really not. Do you know anything about the omega who got cut in half in the woods last week?”

Chris sighs deeply and walks into the house, leaving the door open behind him. It’s as close to an invitation as Stiles is gonna get, so he takes it. By the time he’s closed the door behind him, Chris is in a chair in the living room opening one beer and setting another on the table in front of him. At least he’s not hitting the hard liquor?

“No,” Chris says as Stiles sits on the couch across from him. “I didn’t cut that omega in half.”

“I didn’t think you did!” Stiles says, holding his hands up defensively. “I just wondered if you’d heard who did it. Or even if you know why somebody would do that, because my wolf buddies have no clue. Is this a hunter custom?”

Chris sighs again and slumps in his chair. Stiles doesn’t think he’s ever seen Chris slump. It’s freaking him out a little. “My father,” Chris says, “used to leave werewolves like that. Cut in half, on the pack’s land. As a warning. Correct your behavior or suffer the same.”

“Huh.” So, yeah, that’s exactly what Stiles was afraid of. “Your allegedly dead father.”

“He’s dead, Stiles.”

“…Okay. Allison says witches got him—sorry for stirring up bad memories with my presence, by the way. Promise I’ve never killed anybody who wasn’t actively trying to kill me or my loved ones at the time. Anyway, Allison also says reports of Gerard’s death are seriously incomplete.”

“Allison’s told you a lot.” He sounds extremely unhappy about that. Stiles feels a little guilty about the loose-lips-sink-ships conversation that’s no doubt in Allison’s future.

“I’m pretty persistent,” he admits.

Chris raises an eyebrow and takes a swig of beer. “I’d never have guessed.”

“Speaking of which, what exactly happened with Gerard?” Stiles presses, leaning forward.

Chris slumps more and stares hatefully at Stiles. “Why do you want to know?”

“I don’t know, how about so we don’t all die?

“How—” Chris shakes his head and cuts himself off, straightening up to swap out his already empty first beer for the second one. “He made a mistake. He found evidence of someone casting spells in Beacon Hills—nasty things, ugly, and easy to miss because they could’ve been natural. Infertility, blood clots, cancer, things like that. He thought it was a young woman—he’d traced it back to her bloodline. But it was her mother.”

“But he only figured that out after he killed the daughter. Oh, man.” This is officially the first time Stiles has ever felt even sort of bad for Gerard. But enraged, evil, witchy mothers, ouch. “Did he end up a fine, gooey mist across the landscape?”

“No,” Chris says, scowling. “She wanted to drag it out. At first we didn’t know anything was wrong. Then a few days after the daughter died, he started having trouble walking, then he couldn’t keep food down, then he started losing his vision—rapid deterioration. It took us a week to work out what was wrong, and another to hunt the witch down and kill her. But it was too late by then.”

“Meaning…?”

“His internal organs were shutting down, he’d lost most of his muscle mass, his memory was going, and she’d horribly disfigured his face for some reason—spite, I imagine. We took him to a hospital, and they pronounced him dead.”

“Did you bury him?”

“…No. No, we…well. He had a few hunters who worked directly for him, not family. They were devoted to him, it was almost…cult-like at times. We always assumed they’d taken the body.”

This again. Cult-like. Or Darach-like, maybe? Stiles really hated this the first time, for the record. “Great,” he mutters. “So the best case scenario is that Gerard’s fan club is ripping off his style to, what, warn the local pack to stop killing zombie omegas? By killing a zombie omega? I seriously question the sanity of these people. And you know what else it means, if they’re Gerard fans? It means they definitely hate witches. Oh God, this is gonna turn into a literal witch hunt, isn’t it? With the stakes and the fire and the whole thing. I feel very hunted right now. I hate it when I know they’re out to get me.”

“No one is out to get you, Stiles,” Chris insists, rubbing the bridge of his nose and looking tired.

Stiles tries to remember the last time he actually believed that. He quickly stops trying because it’s way too depressing. “…Right. Sure. Anyway, worst case scenario is that Gerard isn’t actually dead.”

“He’s dead, Stiles.”

“Historically speaking, he’s a hard man to kill.”

Historically speaking? What does that mean?”

“You don’t question me about Allison, but you do about this? Don’t question me about this, dude; I know what I’m talking about. Gerard is a survivor in the creepiest possible sense of the term.” Or, no, maybe Peter wins that particular crown. Meh, Stiles is calling it a tie. “I’m not believing he’s dead this time until I cut him in half and set him on fire myself.”

Chris is giving Stiles a seriously disturbed look now. Awesome. Stiles’s life has attained a low so low that he is actually freaking Chris Argent out. He would like an award of some kind.

“Just kidding,” he says hastily. “I’d believe you if you said you’d done it.”

From the look on Chris’s face, that didn’t address the correct problem. Whatever, Stiles isn’t in the business of making Chris happy. “Anyway. If it’s just imitators, I won’t bug you about it—we’ll handle it on our own. But if it’s Gerard…I’m guessing you’ll want to know.”

“I would want to know if it were Gerard,” Chris agrees slowly. “But Stiles, Gerard is dead.”

“I really, really hope you’re right about that. You wouldn’t believe how sick I am of that guy.”

“He died before you were born,” Chris points out, scowling again.

“Yeah, I know. So! I’m off, to…do stuff. And hopefully you’ll never have to see me again. Sorry about the whole—yeah, leaving now.”

The last thing Stiles sees as he heads out the door is Chris pulling another beer from the fridge. He should probably mention this behavior to Allison. Sometimes dads need to be directed toward better coping mechanisms.

* * *

Stiles has somehow talked Derek and Laura into bringing a cartload of books over to his house—alarmingly, they’re about healing magical injuries or faking death, depending on the book. Derek has no idea why they keep giving in to Stiles’s crazy requests. For one thing, he should just come over and pick up the damn books himself, and for another, they shouldn’t be lending him these books at all. These books have disaster written all over them.

“Your room smells like strangers,” Derek growls unhappily, thumping the books down beside Stiles’s desk.

Stiles, of course, just looks up from his place on the floor in the center of a book fortress and smirks. “Jealous?”

Derek scowls and Laura bursts out laughing. Stiles smiles and rubs the back of his head, belatedly sheepish. “Sorry. I had some people over—the friend, remember? And Scott and…his girlfriend. I feel like—I mean, I have you guys, and I have Scott and Dad, and you’re all awesome, but, I don’t know. I’d kind of like to have…more backup?”

“A bigger pack,” Derek suggests quietly, and Stiles’s eyes dart over to him, soft and sad.

“Yeah,” he says. “A bigger pack.”

“But you didn’t bring Argent here.”

“Uh…oh, you mean—no! I wouldn’t let him in my house, jeez. I’m not crazy.”

Derek thinks that’s highly debatable. “You didn’t have to talk to him alone, you know.”

Stiles sighs and rubs his eyes. He’s so tired all the time. Derek would like to shake him until he promises to take care of himself, but Laura insists that isn’t how it works. “Yeah. I know.”

“Thank you for doing that for us, Stiles,” Laura says.

Stiles, predictably, waves that away. “It’s not just for you. Anyway, glad to help, whatever.”

“Right,” Laura agrees cautiously. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Um, sure?” Stiles looks wary about this, but not as wary as he should. “You kind of just did, but I’m guessing you mean another question. What do you want to know?”

Laura has enough decency to be nervous about asking, but not enough to refrain. “What happened to your old pack?”

Stiles breathes out slowly, and Derek whimpers under the weight of his misery before he can get himself under control. Laura’s not doing much better; she has tears in her eyes. “Stiles,” she whispers.

“Not a fun story,” he says, and his voice is the same as it was when Derek brought this up all those months ago. Emotionless. Distant. “And it doesn’t, you know, reflect well on me, so if you’re wondering if it’ll make you trust me less, I can just tell you: yeah. Probably.”

Derek thinks not. Stiles must have loved his pack with everything he had and more to still be feeling the loss of them this strongly. But then, the loss of your pack, your family—of course that isn’t something you’d ever get over. Derek can’t imagine what he’d be like if that had happened to him. Nowhere near as stable as Stiles, that’s for damn sure.

“We do trust you, Stiles,” Laura insists. “Of course we do. I’m just worried about what it’s doing to you not to tell anyone.”

He won’t like that, Derek thinks just as Stiles’s scent switches from misery to fury. Yeah. He didn’t like that at all. Stiles doesn’t deal well with being reminded that he worries people.

“Fine,” Stiles snaps. “If you really want to know, I’ll tell you. So this? This whole, what, reality, timeline, whatever you want to call it? It’s not mine. It’s not mine. I stole it. The Stiles who belongs here died in a car crash on the last full moon of October, and I took his body, because mine was ripped apart beyond the magic’s ability to heal it. So this pendant I used, this fucking pendant that I used without really knowing what it would do—it shipped me here, because, I guess, this Stiles had just died and his was the nearest compatible body the magic could fix.

“Because in my world? I’m dead. I crashed my car into Peter Hale, and if I was reading his look right, he was planning to eat me afterward. And no one was there to stop him, because Derek was dead, because Scott and I weren’t there when—”

He chokes, stops for a moment, breathes. This whole monologue is completely insane, but it’s obvious that Stiles believes every word. Derek has no idea what to feel, but Laura’s crying. And she should be, because Stiles is telling them this to punish them for asking. She must know that.

“Scott and the betas were on the run,” Stiles goes on, eerily calm again. “So was I, so was everybody, because Peter was on a killing spree and he was only part of our problem. At least what he was doing made sense. He’d killed everyone else responsible for the fire, and Derek, Derek let the enemy in the gates.

“See, there was this crazy hunter named Kate Argent—she definitely isn’t the same kind of crazy in this timeline, which is why this whole song and dance didn’t happen—and she seduced Derek when he was, like, sixteen. She must’ve been early twenties.” He pauses and glares at Laura. “I always wondered where the fuck your timeline twin was for this, Laura. Seriously? Didn’t notice her baby brother’s cradle-robbing, homicidal girlfriend? Fail.” He takes a breath and looks away. “Anyway. Derek thought he was in love, didn’t know Kate was a hunter, told her about the werewolf thing. And she waited until Derek and Laura were at school but everyone else was home, she surrounded the house with mountain ash, and she burned the place down.

“No one survived.” He pauses, expressionless, waiting patiently for Laura to stop interrupting the flow of his story with her crying. Then he goes on. “Except you two, and Cora. And Peter, but he was so burned it took him six years to recover, and by then he was nuts. He killed Laura to become the alpha, and he left half of her body as bait for Derek. He bit Scott. He ripped Kate Argent’s throat out. And, long story short, we managed to keep him from going on any further killing sprees until…until October. And then it all went to hell, with evil Argents and rogue omegas and pixies and Peter freaking Hale. And I couldn’t stop it.” Deep breath, visible self-loathing. “I didn’t even try. I tried to run.”

As if a human unwilling to go up against a feral werewolf was an object of scorn.

“And that’s. That’s why you shouldn’t trust me.” He raises his chin defiantly, but he doesn’t meet their eyes.

This explains so much. Stiles’s mysterious pack, his fear of Peter, the fireproofing wards, his research into the pendant. Why he always smells like pain. Of course, it’s still Stiles, so the explanation raises almost as many questions as it settles.

He just told us his life story without telling us anything about his life.

Whatever Stiles was expecting the response to that story to be, he definitely wasn’t expecting Laura to knock over a bunch of books, grab him in a desperate hug, and cry into his shoulder. He wasn’t expecting Derek to crawl over and prop his forehead against Stiles’s back to try to bleed off the pain. (Pointless gesture. You can’t bleed off emotional pain.) He holds still for it, though. He holds still for ages, longer than Derek’s ever seen him be still and quiet before. That’s probably a bad sign.

“Have you told your father?” Laura asks once she’s managed to stop crying, unnervingly quiet.

“What, that his son is dead and I hijacked his body? No, Laura. No, I haven’t told him that.”

“It’s really amazing you aren’t crazy,” she whispers, like a loud voice might be the thing that finally breaks him.

“Newsflash,” Stiles says at normal volume. “I am crazy.”

“Well,” Laura says gamely, “more crazy, then. I mean, you are functional. More or less.”

“My life is full of werewolf comedians,” Stiles complains. “Why.”

“I’m so curious now,” Laura carries on, trying desperately for lighthearted. “But I’m afraid to ask anything. What if I ask you the wrong question and make you cry? I’d feel like bad alpha material.”

“What do you want to know?” Stiles asks again, resigned.

“Mostly…I want to know what’s different between our world and yours. I mean, obviously I see the big picture differences, but the little things. What about the little things, Stiles? It’s going to drive me nuts.”

“You’re gonna be so sorry you asked,” Stiles declares. “Because now I’m telling you every time something’s weird. You will regret this within thirty seconds.”

“What’s weird about me?” Laura asks.

“You’re alive.”

“You mean you never even met me?”

“I dug up half your body one time, does that count?”

“…I’m starting to see what you mean about regretting it.”

“It was the top half, FYI. So I’ve seen your boobs, which is weird. I mean, they were kind of rotting at the time, but still—”

I’m so sorry I asked, my God, you win! Stop.”

“What’s weird about me?” Derek cuts in, afraid of the answer, unable to stop himself from asking.

Everything,” Stiles announces, pulling away from Laura to twist and face Derek. “You use your face. You smile all the time; it’s plain unnatural. You don’t threaten me with death every time you see me, including the times you have just saved me from death. Violence is not always the answer with you. You don’t lurk all over the place like a creeper. You aren’t a massive ball of self-loathing and abandonment issues. You trust people and it freaks me out. You trust me and it freaks me out. You wear colors. You have no stubble and no tattoos. You drive a blue Honda. I hardly even recognize you as you some days. I could go on, do you want me to go on?”

No,” Derek says, appalled.

“Go on, Stiles,” Laura murmurs. “Do it for Auntie Laura.”

Stiles narrows his eyes dangerously. Apparently it’s okay for Stiles to joke about this, but not anyone else. “He eats meat.”

“What? Your Derek was a vegetarian werewolf?”

“Not exactly…but close. He couldn’t deal with the smell of cooking meat. For obvious reasons.”

And that successfully kills that line of questioning.

“Anything else you wanted to know?” Stiles asks flatly.

Derek understands that that is a firm invitation to stop asking questions before they’re made to suffer (more) for it—life with the twins has taught him that much—but he can’t help himself. “Can we see your tattoo?”

Stiles blinks. “You haven’t seen it?”

“Stiles,” Laura drawls, “I didn’t even know you had a tattoo.”

“Oh. Yeah, I mean. Sure. You can see it. Um, you probably should.” He shrugs uncomfortably and turns his back to them, pulling his shirt off before Derek can tell him he doesn’t have to go through with this. That it’s probably a bad idea to go through with this, because Stiles pulls his shirt off, and even in the midst of the angst fest that this is, Derek looks at the lean muscle under that shirt and thinks wildly moment inappropriate things that Laura will know about instantly and judge him for just as fast.

It’s not a problem for long, though, because one good look at that tattoo is enough to kill anyone’s libido.

Stiles’s tattoo is one of the weirdest, most upsetting things Derek has ever seen, and he’s dismembered day-old corpses. He’s not even sure what’s so awful about it—it’s just a person tied to a tree. But there’s something—as simple and stylized as the person is, every line of the body suggests agony. Even the tree looks twisted and in pain. And the ropes seem alive, in a grotesque, snakelike way.

“Is this a binding?” Laura asks, hushed and horrified.

Stiles shrugs again like it’s no big deal. “Yeah.”

“This is a lifelong commitment, Stiles!”

“Funny you should say that! Because I already outlived one. So hey, life is cheaper than you’d think.”

Laura makes a wordless sound of protest, and Derek reaches out to touch the frayed end of one rope, morbidly drawn to it. And the second he touches it, there’s…feedback, of some kind. Not unpleasant, just…strange. Like diving into warm water on a hot day.

“Yeah,” Stiles says roughly, shifting in place. “That’s you.”

“Oh,” Laura whispers. “Does that mean—”

“You’re the one above him,” Stiles says.

Stiles.” Laura’s panicking. Derek doesn’t understand why, but then, he doesn’t know much about binding tattoos. “You said you’d never even met me. Why would you…?”

“Sorry, did I not make this clear?” Stiles asks mildly, and then his voice shifts down to something harder and a lot less sane. “You’re mine.”

Okay, so Laura’s panic is starting to make more sense.

“But…” Laura reaches out to the tattoo, but draws back before she makes contact. “This binding only goes one way. Right? Am I reading it right?”

“Well, yeah. That’s how they work. And even if it were possible, which as far as I know it isn’t, it would’ve been seriously skeevy of me to bind you guys to me without consent,” Stiles says, sounding pretty weirded out. “What kind of creep do you think I am?”

“…The kind that wants to know what I’m feeling and whether or not I’m telling the truth at all times?” Laura suggests, but she’s joking again. The worst is over, and Derek relaxes in response. Or at least, he does until he works out what this means about Stiles’s knowledge of what Derek thinks of him. Then he’s mortified enough that it might actually lead to death.

“Um, what did you just say to me, werewolf lady?” Stiles demands. And Derek has to admit, grudgingly, that his argument is valid.

“When you say we’re yours,” Laura presses, “what do you mean by that?”

“What do you mean, what do I mean?” Stiles asks, honestly puzzled. “I mean it’s my job to make sure you don’t get your idiot werewolf selves killed. What did you think I meant?”

So they have a self-appointed, human knight errant. Derek’s not sure whether to laugh or cry.

Laura reaches out and touches her piece of rope.

* * *

Stiles is standing in a quiet, calm room, all earth tones and soft surfaces. He’s safe here; no one can get to him.

And he can’t get out, either.

One of the walls is floor-to-ceiling glass, and he knows it’s bullet- and wolf-proof without having to check. On the other side of the glass is a street in Microcentro in Buenos Aires, a place Stiles has only ever seen in pictures. It’s the neighborhood he was supposed to meet Scott and Dad and the betas in, once upon a time. He’d picked it because pack law is weird, there’s no werewolf extradition treaty with Argentina, and Stiles had gotten to be internet BFFs with the local alpha. It would’ve been a good place.

Scott is there waiting for him. Not this world’s Scott, but his Scott, painfully familiar and perfect and Scott, even if he is wolfed out in broad daylight in the middle of a crowded sidewalk, the idiot.

Stiles bangs on the glass, but Scott can’t see him, can’t smell him, can’t hear him yelling that there’s someone acting weird in the crowd behind him, someone’s eyes turning red, someone running toward him. Scott turns, but it’s not in time, not in time.

The strange alpha takes Scott down, two more run in to hold him, pedestrians shriek and scatter, and Stiles throws himself as hard as he can against the glass, but it doesn’t even bend. He screams until he’s hoarse, beats on the glass until his hands bruise and the skin splits and bleeds, and it’s useless. He has to stand there and watch as Scott gets torn apart on a street in a city Stiles promised him would be safe, and there’s nothing he can do.

Once they’re done, once Scott is nothing but a bloody pile of meat on the sidewalk, another alpha wanders over, and they wait. Stiles scrubs the tears from his eyes and hysterically wonders what they think they’re doing, because Scott can’t get any more dead than he already is.

Then Dad comes out of an alley across the street, walking to where he was probably supposed to meet Scott, watching the traffic, not paying attention, walking right into the middle of a death trap

Someone grabs Stiles by the arm, and he’s hit the floor on the far side of his bed and pulled out the knife he keeps under it before he realizes where he is. That that whole thing was a dream—and the relief is so sudden and intense he feels almost sick with it. Or at least, it had better have been a dream, because if it was a fucking vision, Stiles is going to find whoever runs the universe, and he’s going to take that son of a bitch down.

Aaaaand there’s Dad (now Dad, not then Dad) standing on the other side of the bed, totally shocked and horrified. So that’s who grabbed his arm. Awk-ward.

“Oh. Hi, Dad,” Stiles gasps. Man, the hyperventilating is not helping his cause, here.

“Stiles,” Dad replies. And the look on his face, the way he feels…wow, this is not going to be a fun conversation.

“What, uh. What brings you here?”

“You were screaming, Stiles. Like you were being slowly murdered.”

“Ah.” Shit. “It’s kind of…not a good idea to touch me when I’m dreaming about being slowly murdered.” Not that he’d have woken Dad up screaming if it’d been him getting murdered. He tends to take that pretty philosophically in dreams.

“I can see that,” Dad says in a very calm and even tone. A talking-down-the-tripping-suspect tone. He doesn’t know that Stiles can feel exactly how calm he isn’t. “Son. Put the knife down, please.”

Stiles would really prefer not to put the knife down. Logically, he understands that it’s just him and Dad in this room—if anything had gotten through the wards, Stiles would know about it. But that’s logic. Instinct says that something scared him really badly and therefore it’s a good idea to be armed and on high alert for at least an hour. Better safe than sorry.

But Dad asked, and at this point, Stiles needs to be doing as much of what Dad wants as he possibly can. He looks at his fingers and orders them to let go of the knife. They aren’t inclined to listen. He gets serious and forces them open. The knife drops to the carpet with a soft thump. He tries really hard not to freak out.

“Stiles,” Dad says, still with that sheriff-on-duty false calm, “what just happened?”

“Um.” Oddly, this situation is more incriminating than any of the times his own dad found him skulking around crime scenes. “I’ve had a really bad month?”

Not good; Dad’s not buying that line. “This isn’t the kind of thing that happens because you’ve had a bad month, Stiles,” he says. “This is the kind of thing that happens because you’ve had three tours in Iraq, and since I know that’s not the case here, you understand that I’m really concerned.”

If Dad could manage to be a little less perceptive, that would make Stiles’s life much easier. The trouble is, he hasn’t had time to wear this version of Dad down. Last timeline, the freaky stuff started relatively small, and by the time it had gotten this bad, Dad was just, he was tired. He was tired and defeated, and half the time he didn’t even bother to ask because he knew Stiles would lie and he couldn’t take it anymore. This version of Dad, though? He hasn’t given up. He’s still got energy, hope, faith in Stiles.

And Stiles doesn’t want to take that from him. He hadn’t realized how much he’d stolen from his Dad until he switched timelines and saw it all put back. He doesn’t have it in him to steal it again. Not when it didn’t do any good the first time. Though, God, this explanation is going to be so much worse than just, hey, werewolves are real.

“It’s a long story,” Stiles hears himself say. “And you’re really going to hate me by the end of it.”

“Stiles,” Dad whispers, devastated. “I won’t hate you.”

He will, though, and then he’ll hate himself for doing it. Stiles is a life ruiner.

“Come here, son,” Dad says, reaching out but not coming closer. Because he’s treating Stiles like a traumatized war veteran now, this is just, this is great. “Come here.”

Stiles does manage to make himself straighten up, eventually. And once he’s done that, it’s surprisingly easy to pick up speed in Dad’s direction until he half-tackles him in a hug, holding on with everything he’s got. Like it’s the last time, and maybe it is.

He doesn’t see a lot of hugs in his future once Dad knows what he’s done.

* * *

Derek doesn’t want to know what a 3am phone call from Stiles means. He doesn’t want to know, and he’s not answering that phone. If he answers, Stiles will just say something that’ll give him nightmares, and that’s a thing he doesn’t need in his life. He’s had enough Stiles-related trauma for one week. So he’s not answering. He’s not.

“What the fuck, Stiles,” he growls into the phone, hating himself a little.

“Hey, Derek!” Stiles gasps, sounding seconds away from a meltdown. “Oh, crap, I guess I didn’t—I forgot what time it—I’ll just—”

“Shut up,” Derek sighs, dragging himself out of bed and hunting for clothes. Phone call’s going exactly as expected so far. “I can be there in fifteen minutes. Do you want Laura to come?”

“Oh. Uh, yeah.” Stiles pauses, forcing his breathing to slow. In the relative quiet, Derek can make out someone else breathing in the background. Scott? The sheriff? “Yeah,” Stiles repeats eventually, steadier. “That’d be good. If she’s up. Because I thought. It’s up to you guys, but. There’s some stuff that I should definitely tell Dad. Or, there’s some stuff he figured out? And now he’s freaking out, so. I should, I need—”

“Okay,” Derek interrupts. So it is the sheriff; this just gets better and better. “Tell him whatever you need to.”

What? Just like that?!”

Yes, Stiles, just like that.” Laura’s standing in the doorway to Derek’s room now, already dressed, chewing her lower lip unhappily. She’s probably heard everything. “He’s your father. If he’s half as trustworthy as you are, we have nothing to worry about.”

“Or maybe you’re stupidly trusting,” Stiles wails. Laura reaches out and takes the phone from Derek. He heaves a sigh of relief and focuses on finding pants.

Laura starts in with a constant stream of soothing words, very few of which actually mean anything, and she barely lets Stiles speak at all. She keeps it up as Derek gets dressed, as she hands him her keys, as they run into their parents standing, worried, in the front hall.

“We’ll be awake,” Mom tells Derek, pulling him down to kiss him on the forehead. “If you need anything, or if the sheriff wants to talk to us, call.”

“The kid isn’t alone here,” Dad says gruffly. “Remind him.”

Derek nods, unsurprised by these instructions, and Laura, still talking, grabs his sleeve and tows him to the car.

“Stiles,” Laura says as she climbs in the passenger side. “Did you ever have this conversation with…with your father? From your old timeline?”

“Ha! No,” Stiles chokes out with a sick laugh. “No, I’m not repeating my mistakes. These? These are brand new mistakes.”

“I do believe in your endless creativity,” Laura murmurs, and Stiles’s laugh in response is a little less awful. “So. I know you won’t have told him about us. How much does he know about you?”

“Nothing.”

“What do you mean, nothing?”

“I mean literally nothing beyond slightly morbid kid with ADHD.”

“Not even the magic?”

“Laura, nothing means nothing. I was having a nightmare, he tried to wake me up, and I jumped out of bed and almost stabbed him with the knife I keep under it. What he knows is that that is not normal behavior for a high school student.”

“Wow, Stiles.”

“Shut up! I didn’t think I’d be around long enough to have to deal with this, okay?” he hisses quietly, so the sheriff won’t hear.

Laura turns to Derek with wide eyes, and they’ve never understood each other so well.

He’s leaving us.

Of course. Of course he wants to leave. Why wouldn’t he? This isn’t his world. He’s leaving. He has no reason to stay.

Laura shakes her head and refocuses. She’s always been the practical one: one catastrophe at a time. “Well, it looks like you’re still here. You’d better let me talk to him.”

“Is that really—”

“Don’t argue with me, Stiles. I’m alpha material.”

Stiles mutters something that had better not include the words everything that’s wrong with Derek, but he does pass the phone over, and Laura starts her reassuring routine on the sheriff. Lots of words, very little content. Soothing.

Derek tries for a second to imagine this happening in Stiles’s world. What he’d have done if Stiles had called up panicking, but Derek’s parents weren’t there for advice and Laura wasn’t there to talk.

He’s more amazed every day that the other Derek survived long enough for Stiles to meet him. It’s no surprise he got himself killed; no surprise he lost Stiles. After all, even with all the help anyone could want, Derek’s going to lose Stiles in this world, too.

* * *

John is not having a good day. But he’s got a lot of perspective on this kind of thing; it’s not like it’s the worst day of his life.

Definitely in the bottom ten, though.

Stiles is still panicking so hard he looks like he’s about to fly apart, and John has no idea what to do about it. After that first desperate hug, Stiles hasn’t let him within touching distance. On the plus side, though, he hasn’t gone for the knife again. Small favors.

Of course, a dad might like to know where the hell that knife came from. And how Stiles learned to use it, because he clearly knows how to use it. John’s seen a few knife fights, and Stiles held that knife like an expert, like the knife was an extension of his arm. Like he was prepared to fight to the death with it.

What kind of father misses something like that? That’s what’s killing him, here, because this isn’t a situation that grew up overnight. You don’t react to a touch on the arm by instinctively diving for a weapon unless you’ve gone through months or years of really needing a weapon at night, of confidently assuming that every unexpected touch is an attack. He’s had deputies like that, and he knows.

He would swear Stiles hasn’t had time for that. He’s been sleeping here every night he wasn’t at Scott’s. (He was at Scott’s, wasn’t he?) His grades have been fine. No one’s been breaking in except Derek Hale, and he’s not the problem, because he was the first and only person Stiles called tonight. John’s inclined to think the Hales are more symptom than cause—maybe even more cure than cause.

Laura claims this will all make sense once she explains it. John has serious doubts about that, but at least it gives him some hope, however false.

Laura and Derek show up surprisingly quickly, and Stiles marches toward them the instant John lets them in and just keeps going until he walks bodily into Derek, hitting him with an audible thump. John didn’t see that one coming, but apparently Derek and Laura did, since they don’t react at all. Well, not beyond Derek throwing an absent arm around Stiles’s shoulders and Laura crowding in to lean against them.

And again. When did this happen?

No, John decides, it doesn’t matter. It’s the least of the weird things that’ve happened tonight. He’s going to tackle the diving out of bed for a knife first, and work outward from there. The Hale group hug? It might not even make the agenda.

“Hi, Sheriff,” Laura says with brittle cheer. “I was thinking we should start with the easy stuff. What do you say?”

“…Sounds good,” John agrees tentatively.

“Okay.” Laura nods. “Step one: werewolves.”

Stiles whispers, “Oh my God,” and gives an unhinged giggle. Derek thumps him gently on the head.

“Werewolves?” John repeats blankly.

“Right,” Laura agrees. And then her eyes go yellow and her teeth go pointy and her face goes generally strange, and if John had thought this night was weird before, he’d clearly underestimated Stiles.

And Laura’s not wrong: it only gets weirder from there. Apparently most of the Hale family is composed of werewolves, and the Argents have a habit of hunting werewolves, and this has made Stiles’s relationship with Allison fraught, what with family history and Stiles’s evidently unshakeable loyalty to the Hales. Also, they tell him Stiles is magical. Strangely, this is the easiest thing to believe so far.

Finally and most insanely, Stiles? Is apparently not Stiles. Or he is Stiles, but Stiles from an alternate universe, which explains his loyalty to the Hales—he was won over by alternate universe Hales during a werewolf vs. werewolf hunter war, which Laura describes very briefly.

And that, seemingly, is where she plans to wind down and leave John hanging.

Of course, maybe that’s all she knows. No one is more aware than John of how bad Stiles is at sharing hard truths. Assuming that’s also the case with this Stiles. It looks like it is. He’s moved away from Derek now, and is on his own in what John recognizes as a classic facing the music stance.

So, as expected, most of Laura’s explanation didn’t make sense. Okay. No. None of it made any sense, but the werewolf thing, at least, came with visual evidence attached, so it must be true.

What they’re telling him is that the supernatural world is real, and Stiles is behaving like a different person because he is a different person, and has been for months. They’re telling him his son is dead, and this Stiles is a stranger.

This Stiles, whose face is a careful blank, whose eyes are a little too bright, whose body is being forced to perfect, abnormal stillness. If he’s a stranger, how does John know that this is what he looks like when he’s bracing himself against terrible, inevitable pain?

You’re really going to hate me.

Stiles is obviously waiting for John to kick him out. He’s waiting to be blamed, just like he was always waiting to be blamed for his mother’s death (and never believed he wasn’t responsible, even when the accusation never came). Deep down, he’s holding himself guilty of the death of John’s Stiles. He may know it was a car crash, but he’s never, in his heart, going to believe that.

If this isn’t John’s son, how does John know him so well?

“Did your mother die?” he asks, as gently as he can make it.

Stiles nods, clears his throat. Stares into John’s eyes like he’s punishing himself by doing it. “When I was ten.”

“Same as my Stiles.”

“Yeah, I. I think our timelines were mostly the same until the start of sophomore year, when my Scott got bitten. There was some little stuff before that, just kickback from your Hales being alive. Not too much; you guys didn’t hang out with them. But. Yeah. Otherwise the same. And I spot-checked the news—same current events, as far as I can tell. Same history.”

“You’ve been trying to protect me.” In an incredibly stupid and painfully Stiles kind of way. “By keeping this from me.”

“I didn’t want—” He cuts himself off and rubs a miserable hand over his face, under the impression that John won’t notice he’s wiping away tears. Just like John’s Stiles. “I didn’t want you to know. You were so happy when you thought he’d survived, and I. How could I tell you? How could I say, oh, sorry, your son is actually dead, but you’ve got this lying, crazy, fucked up version to take his place! I couldn’t—”

He stops talking this time because John’s grabbed him and pulled him into a fierce hug, and he’d have to talk into John’s shirt. He doesn’t try—John thinks he might actually have been shocked silent.

Over Stiles’s shoulder, John sees Laura discreetly shooing her brother toward the door. He’s staggeringly relieved that they, at least, have been watching out for Stiles. He owes their family a lifetime supply of grateful fruit baskets. If werewolves eat fruit. Do werewolves eat fruit?

“Do werewolves eat fruit?” he asks Stiles once the door shuts behind the Hales, since the expert is right here in his arms.

Stiles gives a weak laugh. “They can hear you,” he mumbles, pulling back a little. “But yeah. Werewolf Scott still hated citrus, though, and he told me he didn’t need it because he was a werewolf and superpowers and super healing and whatever, he couldn’t get scurvy. I was still trying to convince Derek to tell him scurvy was the only disease werewolves weren’t immune to, when.”

When Derek died and Scott ran and Stiles ended up in another universe. Right.

Stiles tries to escape the hug. John doesn’t let him. Stiles laughs again, almost hysterical. “Why are you taking this so well? There should be freakouts! Even Mrs. McCall freaked out a little, and she was basically world’s awesomest mom about the whole thing.”

“How did your dad react?” John asks.

“I…didn’t actually tell him.”

John smacks him upside the head; Stiles yelps. “You didn’t tell him? There were werewolves and hunters running around having death feuds in the county he was sworn to protect, and you never told him?

“He figured it out eventually! When, uh, when everyone had pretty much figured it out because the town was, like, total chaos. But I. I didn’t want him getting himself killed by being involved before he had to be involved.”

“Because he’d have taken it so well if you, having gotten involved, got yourself killed.”

Stiles chokes and grabs desperately onto his shirt, and good going, John, that wasn’t an outrageously sensitive subject at all. “Sorry,” he murmurs. “Sorry, son. I’m so sorry.”

“That’s why I told you,” he whispers, and John feels even more like a terrible human being than he did already. “And I’m not. I’m not actually your son.”

“You’re not? I must’ve gotten confused, what with all this monitoring my diet and lying to me to protect me and having all the same family memories I do—”

“Dad!”

He has no idea how much he just conceded. John wins. “Yeah, son?”

“No, but, they’re not the—it’s not the same. I’m not the same.”

“You’re not the same,” John allows. “And I’m going to miss my Stiles for the rest of my life. I hope you’ll let me have at least one night to be really drunk and miserable and cry myself to sleep, in the good, manly tradition of grieving Stilinskis everywhere.” It’s going to be more than one night. It’ll be a lot more than one night, and Stiles knows it; he makes an indecipherable noise and clutches at John’s shirt again. “But if I can’t have my Stiles—and I don’t blame you for that, okay? I don’t blame you—then I’m grateful, I am so grateful not to be alone. I’m glad I have you. And I’m glad you have me, since you don’t have your own dad. I’m glad you’re not alone, because you may not be my Stiles, but I’ve been finding you just as easy to love.”

Stiles breathes out shakily and loosens his death grip on John’s shirt. “…You’re pretty easy to love, too.”

“I know.”

Stiles snorts. “Shut up.”

“There’s my boy.”

Stiles laughs, and for the first time tonight, it actually sounds like a laugh. They settle down some after that, John releasing Stiles, Stiles finally looking like he doesn’t feel the need to bolt out of the house, flee to Mexico, and change his name to Juan. Which is something he’s actually threatened to do before.

Or at least, it’s something John’s Stiles has threatened to do. He’ll have to ask this Stiles if he ever has.

“I miss him,” Stiles admits eventually, watching John carefully for a reaction.

“I know you do.”

“I miss them all. I was supposed to keep them safe, I told Derek I’d—I sent Scott off alone, and he’s, God, you know how freaking helpless he can be. What if he’s dead? He’s probably dead, Dad. He’s probably dead, they’re probably all dead, because I had this stupid pendant and I used it and I didn’t think—”

My God, he’s been carrying this around for months, and I barely noticed. “Stiles, if you hadn’t used that pendant, you’d be dead. Right?”

“…Right.”

“You couldn’t help them if you were dead, either.”

“But at least that wouldn’t be my fault.”

“The scariest thing is that I almost followed that logic. But no, Stiles. No. You can’t help not being in that world anymore. You’d be gone one way or another because you sustained fatal injuries trying to protect them—you’d given them everything you had. It’s not your fault just because you’re alive to worry about it. You tried to stay with them, didn’t you? You even tried that pendant, not knowing what it would do, because you wanted to stay.”

“But—”

“Your mother wanted to stay, too.”

Stiles’s breath stops, which answers that question. He and his father must’ve talked about Claudia exactly as much as John and his Stiles did, which is to say, not at all.

“Do you blame her,” John asks, “because she couldn’t?”

“No,” Stiles whispers. And of course he doesn’t; he blames himself.

This is the problem with only children, John decides, exhausted. They think they’re the center of the universe, and that doesn’t mean they feel special, it just means they think everything is their fault. And with Stiles being all magical, well, he’s got more of a basis for that delusion than most.

“They don’t blame you for going, either, Stiles. They don’t blame you any more than you blame her.”

Stiles puts a hand over his mouth and looks away, and John knows better than to press it at this point. He’ll go back to chipping away at Stiles’s mountain of pointless guilt when they’re both a little less frayed.

Because John, yeah, he’s not actually dealing with this anywhere near as well as he’s lead Stiles to believe. He is, in fact, going to head over to the Hale’s at some point soon to have a good old-fashioned breakdown in the presence of adults.

He’s never letting any of it touch Stiles, though. This Stiles, even more than John’s Stiles, has been through enough. John refuses to add to it. He refuses, because even though his son is dead, his son is standing in front of him.

He has no idea how to feel about any of this. But he is not, he is not letting it touch Stiles.

* * *

Stiles knows how his dad feels, and he is pretty freaking amazed by how well the guy is handling this. He’s confused and sad (who wouldn’t be?) and a little panicky (fair enough) and really, really guilty (seriously, why?), but the disgust, the anger, the hatred that Stiles expected—none of that’s there at all. Not yet, anyway.

…It would probably make it easier on both of them if it were. If this Dad were less awesome than Stiles’s Dad, Stiles could get some, whatever, emotional distance. If this Dad had managed to get his Stiles more mentally separated from the current Stiles, he could actually grieve, let go, start over.

As it is, it’s gonna be a horror show for both of them. It’s not an easy thing to grieve for the person you currently live with. Not that there are studies on the psychological effects of that, obviously. Maybe Stiles should be looking into how parents who lose one twin deal, but even that isn’t quite right. No, the Stilinskis have managed to be more messed up than that.

He shakes his head and spontaneously decides the best way out is through. “So. Further to the werewolf stuff.”

“Oh, God. I’ve learned my lesson; I’m sitting down for this.” Dad marches over to the kitchen table, pulls out a chair, and sits. Like, with emphasis. Stiles wanders over to sit opposite him, still prepared to run screaming from the house at any moment. Even now, there are a lot of ways this could go bad.

“There’s kind of…um, we have an issue.”

“A werewolf issue.”

“A supernatural issue, anyway. Because, okay. Remember that time I warned you about the pixies?”

Dad gets up and beelines for the whiskey. Stiles isn’t saying a thing about it—if ever there was a conversation that called for whiskey, this is it. “So pixies are real, too,” Dad says.

“Sadly, yes.”

“What did you say? Flies like a hummingbird, bites like a…?”

“Komodo dragon.”

“But if I shoot one, it’ll die?”

“Yeah. The pixies, not the werewolves—you need wolfsbane for that. I have a lot of wolfsbane, though, just so you know. And that’s another thing—we’ve got these mind-controlled omegas wandering around attacking people.”

“Omegas…the lowest in the pack?”

“No, um. Lone wolves.”

“What are Derek and Laura?”

“Betas. But Laura’s alpha material. I’m kind of impressed she got through that whole talk with you without mentioning that once. That’s like serious personal growth for her.”

“But wasn’t Derek your alpha?”

Oh, man. This question. “Yeah, he was, but…okay, Dad, I feel kind of traitorous saying this? But he was never meant to be the alpha, and he was really bad at it. So bad, you don’t even—not that it’s all his fault! Like, watching the Hales now? I can’t believe the way they treat the guy. It’s like they’ve never even thought about what would happen if he ended up on his own, it’s unbelievably—”

“He is part of a huge family, Stiles,” Dad cuts in, rolling his eyes. “It’s perfectly reasonable that they assumed they wouldn’t all die. How did they all die, by the way?”

“Hunters trapped them in their house and burned them alive. Which brings us to part three of our current supernatural disaster: hunters.”

“Right, the Argents. Because apparently they hunt werewolves.”

“They hunt anything they don’t like the look of, basically. Sometimes including witches.”

Dad is instantly horrified, and that’s…Stiles knows he shouldn’t keep testing this, but it’s such an unbelievable relief. Apparently he’s really, truly, honest-to-god not going to lose his dad over this. Or, well, other!Stiles’s dad. But the less he thinks about that, the better.

You’re a witch,” Dad says, panicking to a backhandedly awesome extent.

“Yeah, but I have a…truce? Armistice? Pact of mutual antipathy and neglect? With the Argents.”

“Well, that sounds friendly. Did Scott know about all this when he started dating Allison?” Dad demands. Great, now he’s getting pissed at Scott. Can’t have that.

“He did, but be fair, I basically set them up. They were dating in my world, too, except that there, Scott was a werewolf, remember. So, Tristan and Isolde, Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story, the whole thing. It was ridiculous. Like, they went on their first date, and later that night Chris shot Scott with a crossbow. I’m not even joking.”

“Chris Argent shoots children with crossbows?” Dad asks coldly.

“Well, not to death. Hang on, am I defending Chris Argent right now? What the hell is my life? That’s not the point, anyway! The point is, we’re worried that a hunter might be the one mind-controlling the omegas and, uh. Other bad stuff. And the hunter might be Chris’s dad, who’s supposed to be dead.”

“But you think he isn’t.”

“He was seriously hard to kill in my world.” Stiles is so into this reckless full disclosure mode that he almost slips and mentions the basement, but luckily catches himself in time. How crazy would it make Dad that Stiles had gotten beaten up by somebody in another world that Dad could never get to? So crazy.

And the man’s looking worried enough as it is. “Please tell me you’re leaving this mostly up to the Hales.”

“I’m…mostly leaving it up to the Hales?”

“Somehow I’m not completely reassured. I want their phone numbers.”

“Fair.”

“And for you to tell me if anything changes.”

“…Sure.”

“I mean it, Stiles! God. To think I actually believed life couldn’t get weirder than that summer you stole Ricky Garcia’s iguana and tried to convince me to ship it to the tropics.”

“Excuse me, I liberated that iguana. I was just trying to send it home.”

“So you’ve always claimed,” Dad says absently, heaving himself out of his chair. “I’m making popcorn, then you’re giving me those numbers.”

“No butter, no salt!”

“Yeah, yeah. Suck all the joy out of it.”

So you’ve always claimed, he said, and he didn’t even notice. Stiles gives himself until the popcorn finishes popping to feel guilty and sick and confused. But when the microwave beeps, he buries all that, picks up his phone, and starts pulling up numbers for other!Stiles’s dad.

Who he’s apparently stolen, because stealing the guy’s body wasn’t bad enough.

* * *

Derek is innocently sitting at the kitchen table reading a book on PTSD when Philip walks in and glares at him like everything in the world is his fault. Derek’s used to this look from Laura, but Philip? He doesn’t usually get anything worse than amused tolerance from Philip. Also there should be some comment on the book, and it’s troubling that there isn’t.

“About Stiles,” Philip says accusingly. And suddenly it all makes sense.

“Stiles isn’t my fault,” Derek argues preemptively.

“On a normal day, he sends me maybe five texts with questions about wards, but this, this is a new low. He’s sent me twenty texts this morning. This morning, Derek. Ten of them are about, I kid you not, the mating habits of pixies. Five of them are about the Argents and Stiles’s belief that this whole disaster is being engineered by one of their undead hunters. And five of them are about you, for no apparent reason.”

Derek desperately wants to ask what the texts about him said, but in this mood, Philip would probably respond by lining the kitchen with mountain ash and leaving Derek there. “He still isn’t my fault,” Derek maintains.

“He is your responsibility, though, little brother.” It’s always a bad sign when Philip calls him little brother. “And he tells me the undead Argent has been sighted around town. He’s asking permission for one of us to meet with the other Argents so that we can, quote, ‘Kill the son of a bitch together like one big, happy family.’”

Derek has no idea what kind of response Philip’s looking for, here.

“Is he insane, Derek?” Philip asks in despair. “I know you and Laura like him, but you’d tell me, wouldn’t you? You’d smell the crazy on him and you’d tell me, right?”

“You can’t smell crazy. Well. Sometimes you can. Some types of chemical—”

Derek.”

“I don’t know what you want me to say!”

“Is there really an undead Argent in town?”

“If Stiles says there is, then there must be. It’s no weirder than the mind-controlled omegas, is it? Maybe they’re being mind-controlled by the undead Argent.”

“Derek, you’re starting to talk like him.”

“I am not!” Is he? “Anyway, so what if he is crazy? We’ll go check this out, it’ll turn out to be nothing, no harm done.”

“Except that the Argents will know who we are.”

“…Stiles says they’re retired.” Stiles has also said he doesn’t want the Argents to know the Hales are werewolves, so meeting with them must be an unavoidable show of good faith. Philip doesn’t seem in the mood to hear that, though. Why isn’t he having this conversation with Mom, anyway? Mom’s the alpha.

“I’m sure that makes all the difference in the world,” Philip says sourly. “I assume you and Laura are going.”

“If that’s what Mom wants.”

“It’s what Stiles will want. And Mom’s been going along with whatever Stiles wants for a while now, for reasons I really don’t—” Philip’s phone dings with an incoming text, and he pulls it out of his pocket, resigned. “Now he’s complaining that he has to tell Allison Argent about the whole alternate universe thing,” Philip reports. “What alternate universe thing?”

“Uh, Mom didn’t tell you about that?”

“No, Derek, she didn’t.”

“Oh.” Great. That means Derek has to tell him. This whole conversation seems very unfair. “He’s leaving.” Wait, that wasn’t where he meant to start.

Philip drops his phone and stares at Derek with terrible pity. “What?

“He’s not…from here. Remember when he asked you about your pendant?”

“Oh. Oh God, he already used the pendant! That’s why he…oh, he’s trying to get back.” Philip now has the upset and conflicted expression that Laura calls his Horrified on Behalf of Everyone face. “No wonder we couldn’t work out who his old pack was. Were we his old pack?”

“Kind of.” You were dead, Derek thinks, guilty and depressed. You were all dead, there was just me and Cora, and I was exactly as useless as everyone always said I would be. “You should have Mom tell you about it.”

“But she’s busy—”

“Then have Laura tell you.”

Philip stops short and studies Derek’s face, openly concerned. Not that he needs to be. Derek doesn’t want to talk about it, that’s all—it’s embarrassing. And yeah, that Derek wasn’t him, but…

It could’ve been him. It’s only luck that it wasn’t.

* * *

Talia decides to send Derek and Laura to meet with Allison and, if necessary, Chris. She agrees it needs to happen. Stiles tries to argue that for a while, but Talia points out that it was his idea in the first place, which…yeah, it was. He was just kind of hoping she’d shoot him down.

This is going to be a terrible, awful, no-good meeting, and it was Stiles’s idea, which means it’s his fault.

Derek and Laura show up first. Allison arrives a few minutes later, dragging Scott and Lydia along with her, which—why? Does she think Stiles is less likely to kill her if she has Scott and Lydia as buffers? Did she bring Scott for moral support? Did Lydia blackmail her way into coming as research for her forthcoming dissertation on multiple realities? Is Talia going to be really pissed that Lydia knows about them?

Is it way too late to worry about all this? Yes, and he needs to stop.

What this means, though, is that Stiles has most of his favorite people in one room, and in a way, that’s really cool. It’s just too bad he’s uncomfortable with half of them being able to identify the other half and is actively praying for no bloodshed. Fuck his life.

“Okay. Thanks for showing up,” he says. “I know this sucks. But Gerard’s definitely alive; people have been seeing him and his goons around town, like, grocery shopping and stuff.”

“Why wouldn’t he hide?” Allison demands stiffly. She can’t argue, though—it was her dad’s connections and stalker equipment that found Gerard. Stiles is so glad he bullied Scott into telling her the alternate universe story. No way could he have dealt with the hostile, suspicious faces she’d have made if he’d been the one to tell her.

“I doubt he thinks anyone’s looking for him after all these years.”

She nods unhappily, conceding that.

“So Gerard’s alive,” Stiles goes on, “but he was almost dead at one point. So close to dead that it would’ve taken something supernatural to save him.”

“He couldn’t have!” Allison insists.

“Not and stay with your family, he couldn’t,” Stiles agrees. “Which, I’m guessing, is why he let you guys think he was dead.”

Allison looks horrified, but it’s nothing on that time her granddad sicced a lizard on her, so Stiles ignores it.

“No one supernatural would’ve helped him,” Laura points out. “Not if they knew who he was.”

“He’s a schemer, though,” Stiles says. “Has all these plans. Maybe he blackmailed somebody into helping him. Or maybe one of his cult of hunters was actually an evil Druid, because that’s what happened in my world.”

“Then why is he doing whatever he’s doing now?” Derek asks. “It’s drawing a lot of attention—he can’t want that.”

“Because he was diagnosed with terminal cancer a couple of years ago,” Stiles explains, feeling the same exhaustion he’s felt since he first got confirmation that Gerard was alive. “I’m betting that’s the same in both universes. The cancer. And he must’ve tried to get something supernatural to fix it really quietly, since he’s playing dead and, yeah, wouldn’t want attention. But it didn’t work, or it only worked for a while, so he’s gone with this whole zombie omega plan. Again.” It’s been all Gerard all the time. If only Stiles had had this epiphany back in his home universe, but no, he was determined to believe the omegas were a separate problem, that they were just being driven insane by the instability. He never figured out they were mind-controlled, and that’s why the pack split their attention and their focus and died wholesale. Because he wasn’t thinking. “Of course, here, the omegas have already been around for a year, which makes no sense. Unless he wanted his omega army in place before he started? Last time he had his Darach buddy sacrificing humans to rip holes in magic and unbalance it, and that’s actually one of the less flashy ways to do it. Could be he wanted everything prepared in advance, so he could get done fast and get out.”

“Darach?” Lydia doesn’t approve of the existence of words she doesn’t know.

“Druids gone wrong,” Stiles explains.

“Ah. Well, your idea would make sense, except that, according to you, we already have unstable magic, and I…think we would’ve noticed human sacrifices.”

“And we definitely would’ve noticed anything more dramatic than that,” Allison says.

Stiles agrees. So how did Gerard unbalance local magic badly enough to end up with pixies and Stiles and every other crazy thing without anyone noticing? Because there should’ve been some kind of—

Oh.

“Oh, crap, it’s me. I punched right through the fabric of this reality coming over here, and that—that definitely could’ve caused magical instability.”

Holy shit, he hates that pendant. He’s not a symptom, he’s the cause. The pixies didn’t show up here until after he did—this is on him.

“And if you hadn’t caused it,” Laura interrupts his thoughts sternly, “they’d have been sacrificing humans for the same results. Yes? No?”

“Oh,” Stiles says, disoriented by the abrupt derailing of his personal guilt train. “Yeah. Probably.” So…apparently he prevented human sacrifices just by existing? That’s cool. And yet it feels seriously gross to be happy about doing favors for Gerard Argent. “So I guess Gerard just took the hole I made and…kept it open? He could do that without being flashy. It’s way easier to keep magic unstable than it is to destabilize it in the first place.”

Lydia’s taking notes.

“What good will unstable magic do him?” Allison asks, narrowing her eyes.

“Power. If you rip a hole in magic, that’s…that’s an insane amount of power. Almost too insane—hard to channel and hard to control—not quite as bad as trying to power a flashlight with a nuke, but, you know. Close. But if you put that together with the omegas…I’m guessing he’s using them as a magic filter. I think that’s a thing you can do with magical creatures. Or maybe they’re just a distraction. Or both—Gerard is a multitasker. Anyway, hopefully it’ll take him a while to finish setting this up, because we seriously need to kill him before he’s done. But hey, if we’re lucky, he’ll blow himself up trying.”

“We’re not gonna be lucky, are we?” Scott asks sadly.

“We never are, buddy.”

“What did you do about Gerard last time?” Lydia wants to know.

“Last time he eventually got to our Peter, who was practically an omega and really mentally unstable anyway, and at that point we, uh. Died horribly? So yeah, can’t help you there.”

Everyone goes silent in shocked sympathy.

“Really, Stiles?” Everyone except Lydia, who has no patience for other people’s trauma—or even her own. “No ideas at all? Did you actually die and learn nothing from it? You’re supposed to be the expert, here.”

“Kill them all?” Stiles suggests. He’s irritated when that meets with a bunch of glares and a “No, Stiles,” from Derek freaking Hale, of all people.

“Derek just said no to ‘kill them all,’” Stiles complains to Laura. “That’s how I know the world is wrong.”

“That’s not normal?”

“Not where I come from.”

Derek rolls his eyes.

“That aside,” Stiles goes on, “what I’d like to know is why no one ever likes ‘kill the problem’ as a plan of action. Because I’m telling you, it’s a winning strategy.” He pauses, then points at Derek. “Unless it’s your strategy, but that’s because once an idea passes through your brain, it magically becomes bad. It’s your superpower. Your other superpower, aside from the claws and fangs and whatever.”

“It’s not my job to be the ideas guy,” Derek points out, unoffended.

“True,” Stiles agrees thoughtfully. “Congratulations on living in this timeline, I guess.”

“Is this what our pack meetings were like?” Scott groans.

“No,” Stiles assures him. “If this were one of our pack meetings, Allison would’ve stormed off by now, Lydia would’ve set something on fire out of boredom, and Derek would’ve thrown me into a wall.”

“Congratulations to all of us on living in this timeline, then,” Laura murmurs. “And speaking of packs, we really need to go to mine with this. Assuming your family is willing to let us handle it, Allison?”

“We’re willing to let you try,” Allison says, formal. “But if something goes wrong—Gerard is family. We get the next shot at him.”

“That’s reasonable,” Laura allows. “I’ll call my alpha.”

“Can we actually stand back and let the adults handle it?” Stiles asks in an awed whisper. “Is that an option in this world? Because if it is, that is seriously the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me. Oh my God, Peter isn’t even insane. Make him handle it. Solved!” Stiles throws his arms up triumphantly and then collapses back into his chair, propping his feet up on the family-sized box of wolfsbane in front of him. “I love this side of the rainbow.”

“…I thought you’d want to be involved,” Derek says warily, eyeballing the wolfsbane. Maybe he’s developing a sense of self-preservation after all. Stiles is pleased to see it happening without fire and death being involved.

“You thought wrong. I am so over that phase in my life. What I want is for you guys and Dad to not die. If I can arrange for you to not die by sending random other people out to protect you for me? Awesome. So awesome. I will sit here and bake them congratulatory cookies if they survive. And maybe place some bets, because you guys are the gamblingest family I’ve ever met. Maybe I’ll make it to eighteen without any new scars! How crazy would that be?”

“So you don’t…care if our parents die?” Laura asks cautiously.

“Sure, I care. Our lives would instantly get way harder if they did. Plus, I like your parents. But they’re not, I don’t know, they’re not my problem.”

“He’s kind of a sociopath, isn’t he?” Lydia asks the room at large.

“It shouldn’t be as surprising as it is,” Scott remarks. “It’s just easy to forget because he loves us.”

Stiles is mildly offended by that, but not offended enough to actually waste time arguing about it.

“How would you feel if Peter died?” Laura asks, apparently in the spirit of scientific inquiry.

“Uh…I’d be very…sad?”

The werewolves give him the we’re-disappointed-you-even-tried-that look. Actually, Lydia and Scott are also giving him that look.

“Although,” Derek says after a long, judgmental silence, “that wasn’t really a fair question. Considering the whole thing with the other Peter.”

“What thing with the other Peter?” Scott asks, alarmed.

“Stiles,” Laura sighs, “we need to talk about your…how shall I put this?…inability to tell the whole truth about anything ever.”

“We don’t,” Stiles assures her. “We really, really don’t.”

“I’m bored,” Lydia throws in, “and may yet set something on fire.”

“I’m calling my alpha,” Laura announces.

She does call Talia, and just like that, it’s all out of Stiles’s hands except the advice-giving. Gerard Argent is…not his problem.

Perversely, that’s making him nervous, because talk about too good to be true. Assuming it’s even going to work, of course. From what he’s overhearing, it sounds like Talia thinks killing Gerard and handing the other hunters and the Darach over to the Argents will be good enough.

Stiles thinks nothing is ever that easy. If Gerard is perpetuating the instability Stiles caused, then yeah, it should heal itself when Gerard dies, and that means the pixies should go, too. But the Darach? Stiles isn’t totally confident Chris can handle him. Chris isn’t, what, ruthless enough? Plus there are the omegas. What’s that mind-control been doing to them? If Gerard dies, do they just go back to normal? Or do they die? Or did he actually break their minds, in which case they’ll still be staggering around all befanged and trying to make Gerard happy, which—

“Stiles,” Laura says. “She wants to talk to you.”

Stiles greedily seizes the phone and treats Talia to a rundown of all of his worst case scenarios. She doesn’t seem as grateful as he thinks she ought to be.

* * *

Derek finds it easy to believe that Stiles only cares about a handful of people, because he cares about them to a completely insane extent, and there’s no way he could manage it for a crowd. Derek may not think much of his counterpart, but he is grateful to him for somehow persuading Stiles to count Derek as important.

Like an idiot, though, Derek thought the clannish attitude meant Stiles wouldn’t get too upset over tonight’s fight, since he has all his people under his eye. Derek was wrong. Stiles refuses to believe they’ll be able to wrap this up cleanly, and he’s spent the entire evening frantically predicting the worst and trying to plan for every possible fallout.

“You told your dad to stay in tonight, yeah?” Stiles asks Allison for at least the third time. “Because I know Gerard’s technically family, but he’s a freak, and he won’t act like family.”

Your Gerard didn’t act like family,” Allison counters, unimpressed.

Your Gerard faked his own death and is currently keeping a hole open in the magical fabric of reality,” Stiles hisses. “I think he’s basically the same flavor of evil!”

“Stiles,” the sheriff cuts in before this can go any further south. “Allison called her father; I heard her. Okay? I think everybody’s as safe as you can make them.”

“I don’t understand why Philip has to be out there,” Stiles grumbles, chewing nervously on a nail. He’s like a general unwillingly forced back from the front; it’s ridiculous.

“Because his wards are a thing of beauty and joy forever, I hear,” Laura sighs. “I should be out there, too, but Derek and I have been detailed to babysit you guys.”

Stiles snorts. “Please. This house is the safest place in Beacon Hills and Talia knows it. She just doesn’t want her babies getting hurt. I’m surprised she didn’t send the twins and Peter’s kids and Erica here, too.”

“Our house is pretty safe, too, Stiles,” Laura reminds him gently. “You made it that way, remember?”

Stiles shrugs and rubs his arms nervously. Derek gives the sheriff a pleading look, but he just shakes his head. Apparently there’s nothing to be done when Stiles is like this. “Philip’s wards are a thing of beauty, but the guy’s got no power to speak of,” Stiles complains. “I should be out there.”

No,” the sheriff, Derek, and Laura order in synch.

“Fiiiiine,” Stiles groans. “Thea came back to town to play, though, right?”

“She doesn’t like to miss out on fights,” Laura says, rolling her eyes. Derek snorts, because Laura hates missing fights just as much as Nana Thea. More.

“Thea is the most awesome,” Stiles allows. “Okay. So…Talia, Kevin, Peter, Felicia, Thea, Philip. They can handle it, can’t they?”

Yes, Stiles,” Laura insists.

“Stiles, I swear to God, if you don’t stop fidgeting around like you’re thinking of darting off into the night, I will tie you to a chair,” the sheriff says abruptly.

“Can’t tie him to a chair yet, Sheriff,” Scott says, wandering in from the living room where he and Lydia have been inexplicably marathoning The Twilight Zone. “He’s making us dinner.”

“Hey, no, I don’t have time for—I have things—”

“You promised me dinner, dude, and it’s eight already. I’m starving. First you trapped me in your house and now you’re not even feeding me, this is totally—”

Fine, dinner, Jesus. Wouldn’t want you to die on an empty stomach.”

“No one’s going to die, Stiles,” Derek says, feeling the need to step in here.

“Oh God,” Stiles breathes, giving Derek a look of betrayed horror. “Are you an optimist?

“Dinner, Stiles,” Scott repeats, herding him toward the kitchen. Stiles continues staring wide-eyed at Derek over his shoulder the whole way. Obviously Scott’s calming techniques are a thousand times more effective than Derek’s.

By the end of dinner, Stiles seems to have worn himself down a little, enough that Scott’s content to go back to his Twilight Zone marathon with Lydia and now Allison. The sheriff and Laura are washing dishes together. It leaves Derek free to sit at the dining room table with Stiles, who’s staring fixedly at a book on magical instability, though he doesn’t seem to be reading it. He blinks and looks up when Derek sits next to him, raising a curious eyebrow. He must think Derek has a question.

In a way, that’s true. Derek has a thousand questions, most of which it would be a very bad idea to ask. He sifts through them carefully before deciding on one that’s at least borderline innocent and not embarrassingly needy.

“You had scars?” he asks quietly, hoping no one will overhear. Well, no one but Laura—Laura eavesdrops on everything.

“So many scars, dude,” Stiles agrees gamely, holding his hands out in front of him and turning them speculatively over and back again. “You have no idea.”

“You almost sound like you miss them.” Which can’t be possible because it’s insane. Right?

“I kind of do.”

Wrong. Of course. This is Stiles.

“But at the same time, I kind of don’t? I mean, this year, the first time I woke up and saw frost on the windows? I cringed, Derek, I cowered, it was the opposite of tough. I didn’t want to get out of bed because I knew I’d be hobbling like an old guy all day and I just didn’t want to start. But then, hey—I got up and nothing hurt. Like, at all. I’ve basically hit the physical reset on every mistake I’ve ever made, because one serious car accident doesn’t add up to a couple of years of bi-monthly death-defying shenanigans. So that’s pretty sweet, even if I do miss the scars. The look of them, anyway.”

Derek’s appalled. Beacon Hills has always been so peaceful and his family’s always been so healthy, he’s never even considered the problem of long-term physical damage in humans. “Didn’t your alpha” —who was Derek, God, that will never stop being weird— “teach you to fight?”

Stiles shrugs. “A little? There was a lot of learn-by-doing. He was pretty busy teaching the betas to fight—mostly he wanted me to stay the hell out of it.”

And if he hadn’t been a complete moron, he would’ve known that wouldn’t work, Derek thinks viciously. But then he gives it a little more thought, and he can’t help feeling bad for his counterpart. He must’ve built his pack from scratch after Laura died, no idea what he was doing, surrounded by out of control hunters…and then Stiles, on top of that. That’s too much for anyone to handle. Stiles is almost too much for Derek all on his own.

“Did…do you still hurt? From the crash?”

Stiles shrugs, refusing to meet Derek’s eyes. “Not really.”

“You do know I can tell when you’re lying.”

“Yeah, but you’re not supposed to call me out on it. God.”

Of course. Derek knew Stiles felt that way, but he never thought it through. Is that…is that what Stiles has been doing for Derek? Has he known about Derek’s embarrassing crush all along? (Is it still a crush when you’re in your twenties, or is it something uglier? Fixation, obsession, infatuation.) Has he known, and pretended not to as a courtesy?

And if so, is that the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for Derek, or the cruelest?

Stiles is studying him, catching God knows what feelings off of him, and Derek has never hated that tattoo the way he hates it right now. He thinks he’s starting to understand what humans dislike so much about werewolves. It’s not the extra senses and super strength per se. It’s the cultural differences in what you’re allowed to do with them.

Stiles takes this moment to reach out with a faint smile and run his fingers lightly across the inside of Derek’s left wrist, and just for a second, Derek could swear he smells desire on Stiles, too. Just for a second, before it’s ruthlessly suppressed (or maybe Derek was imagining it).

And then Stiles stands and wanders off to the kitchen and his father, leaving Derek in the dining room, reeling and confused and tentatively happy. Or panicked. Or both. He’s leaving, Derek reminds himself viciously, but it’s a hard idea to keep hold of when Stiles doesn’t act at all like someone planning to leave. Nothing makes sense anymore.

Laura leaves the kitchen to come sit next to Derek, the better to laugh at him up close. He’s so baffled he can’t even work up the energy to get pissed at her for it. She eventually feels bad enough herself to pull him into a sympathetic hug, which—well, he’s not always sorry he’s related to her. In fact, the idea of her dying and leaving him has been giving him nightmares. Nothing like perspective.

They finally get a call from Mom three hours later, just before Stiles has an actual nervous breakdown. They put her on speaker so the humans can hear.

“Gerard is dead,” she says right off the bat, because Mom is a believer in good news first. “We cut him in half and Philip magically burned him to ash, then we threw the ashes in the river. Is that thorough enough for you, Stiles?”

“I’m very happy,” Stiles says brightly. “A for execution. See what I did there?”

Laura snorts, Derek rolls his eyes, and the sheriff laughs a little hysterically and pinches the bridge of his nose.

“Oh my God, Stiles,” Allison groans, sounding very big sister-like, so apparently Stiles is making progress on that front. Although…this is Allison’s grandfather they’re talking about dismembering. Shouldn’t she be upset?

Derek will never understand hunters.

“You were right about the pixies, by the way,” Peter cuts in, stealing the phone from Mom. “They scattered the instant Gerard and his Darach friend died. You don’t know how much it pains me, Stiles, that you were right about that.”

“And it’s gonna pain you more, because this means you owe me free pizza on demand for a month. I told you that was a sucker bet.”

“Peter thinks the instability is almost healed by now,” Mom says, stealing the phone back from Peter before the conversation becomes completely ridiculous. “Which should leave us with no more pixies than anyone else. And with Gerard dead, the omegas seem to be mostly back to normal—just very confused. Philip says to tell you they were being used to filter the magic, Stiles.”

Stiles throws his arms in the air triumphantly, and the sheriff smiles at him.

“That’s the good news. The bad news is that Mom got shot. We had access to wolfsbane—” By which Derek assumes she means they rifled through the pockets of dead hunters. “—so she’s fine. But she will be completely impossible about it for weeks, so everyone, I don’t know. Brace yourselves.

“And as you know, Philip insisted on coming along, and he also got himself shot by a hunter. He’s in the hospital, but he’ll be fine. Eventually.”

“Uncle Peter,” Laura says, “you owe me ten bucks, a meal, and a favor of my choice.”

“I told him to stay at the treeline!” Peter insists.

“He still got shot, and a bet’s a bet,” Laura informs him.

“The rest of the bad news,” Mom says, firmly retaking control of the conversation, “is that a few of Gerard’s hunters escaped. Normal hunters—we did kill the Darach. Argent says he’ll have them blacklisted, but…well. We’ll see how effective that turns out to be.”

Stiles is nervously chewing on the pad of his thumb now. Who does that?

“Everyone should stay in a safe place tonight in case the escapees are out for revenge. Sheriff, do you mind if your group stays there for the night?”

“No problem,” the sheriff says, obviously relieved that things aren’t worse.

“Then I’ll see you all in the morning,” Mom says, and hangs up.

This is the way the Hales expect fights to go, so Laura and Derek just smile at each other, pleased. The newcomers shuffle off to bed, ignorant of any reason not to be completely relieved. Allison seems conflicted and staggers a little when she stands, but she lets Scott guide her to the pull-out couch.

Stiles clearly can’t believe it’s this easy. He stares at the phone fixedly after Mom hangs up, breathless, still waiting for the trick, for the lie, for the moment it all goes wrong. Laura sits beside him and rubs his back for a while, until the sheriff pulls him to his feet and steers him toward the stairs and his room, murmuring reassurances while Stiles nods mechanically.

He wouldn’t normally do this because it’s both creepy and exhausting, but that night Derek listens to Stiles sleeping. Just for the night. He listens, and Stiles wakes them both up three times with his pounding heart and bitten-off screams. The only reason it’s not more than that is because after the third time Stiles gives up on sleep and just watches movies on his computer until the sun comes up.

Derek would really like to travel to Stiles’s world and kill everyone in it for the things they allowed to happen to him. The idea of Stiles going back there makes him feel physically sick.

But it’s not his decision to make.

* * *

“So everything’s cool now, right?” Scott asks a week after the Gerard Showdown of Great Anticlimax.

It’s twenty minutes after school, and pretty much everybody else is gone. Stiles and Scott are sitting on the front steps, Scott keeping Stiles company until Derek gets there—after which Scott’s going home to Isaac, who practically lives at the McCall’s now. Stiles is very proud.

They’re waiting for Derek because Derek is taking Stiles out to the preserve to train when he gets off work. He hasn’t been very communicative about why, exactly, but Stiles doesn’t care. It’ll be useful, and even if it isn’t, it’s fun to hang around with Derek.

“It’s cool for now,” Stiles agrees.

“You fixed everything,” Scott presses.

“Um, no? Talia fixed everything. I wasn’t even there.”

Scott rolls his eyes, exasperated. “Dude, you told them what was happening and where to go and what to do and—whatever, that isn’t even the point. You know what went wrong in your world now, that’s what I’m saying.”

“Yeah,” Stiles sighs. “Guess I do.” Gerard fucking Argent. Why hadn’t they set him on fire when they had him down the first time? Fail.

“Then.” Scott stops and picks nervously at a shoelace. “Does that mean you’re, uh. Going back?”

Going back. It figures Scott knew he was planning on that. But he still hasn’t figured out how, or even if there is a way. He’s hardly been trying, the last few months. He’s been so busy with this Gerard thing and getting everyone where they belong and staring at Derek’s perfect cheekbones that it’s just…he’s let a lot of things slide. Used to be he never let anything slide.

And maybe Deaton has a point.

“I’m not going anywhere, Scott,” Stiles admits for the first time, to Scott, to himself, to anyone. “I don’t know how to get back, and even if I figure out a way, by now…I’m too scared to find out what I’d be going back to. What if you and Dad are dead? What the hell would I do there without you? But here and now, you guys are alive, and I can help you.” A second chance. Maybe he’ll even get to see everyone grow up this time. He has a weird fascination with the idea of Derek’s pack as adults, probably because he never believed any of them would live that long.

Scott nudges him, the constant, low-level vibe of grief and anxiety he’s always giving off around Stiles disappearing, relief and contentment taking its place. And that, yeah, that’s worth fighting for.

“So,” Scott says in the tone of a man determined to ruin the moment, “are you secretly sleeping with Derek Hale?”

Oh, it is on. “Not yet.”

Scott blinks, alarmed. “Not yet?

“Come on, Scott, you know my ass isn’t legal for another two months.”

Laura takes this moment to drop down at Stiles’s side and say, “Aha. I’d wondered what you were waiting for.”

Scott jumps a foot, because werewolf sneakiness. Stiles could’ve told him they had Laura incoming, but Scott lost that privilege when he decided to be a moment-ruining dick.

“No one likes being charged with statutory rape,” Stiles informs Laura. “And this would be especially awkward, what with my dad being who he is. I can wait. I am a long-term planner.”

“Does Derek know about your long-term plan?” Laura asks, amused.

No. I find it’s best to give him as little time as possible to have thoughts. My strategy is more, I’ll jump him at my birthday party and see what happens.” Heather-style. Hey, Heather’s still alive here! He’ll have to go say hi, God. Wow. Wait, though…if…did he lose his virginity to Heather in this world? He’ll have to ask Scott, because Heather can see right through him, and this could potentially be crazy awkward.

But he likes the idea of the Heather approach. It’s something he could never have pulled off in his own world, because he’d have spazzed out and made an ass of himself in public for sure. But here? There’s some subconscious part of his brain that doesn’t count this world as real, and he feels like he can do anything. It’ll definitely get him in all kinds of trouble at some point, so he should make the most of the upsides.

“What if he throws you across the room?” Laura wants to know.

“Wouldn’t be the first time.”

“Don’t conflate your Dereks.”

“Point still stands.”

Laura hums thoughtfully, gazing into the middle distance. Stiles recognizes this as a danger sign right around the time she asks, “Did you love your Derek?”

Stiles isn’t sure she understands how cruel some of her questions are. Scott understands, though, because he’s staring at her with eyes so horrified anyone would think she’d just killed a kitten in front of him.

Stiles kicks Scott’s shoe gently in gratitude, then deals with Laura. “My Derek is dead.”

“I know. Not what I asked.”

He’s starting to think she does know what this line of questioning is doing to him, and she’s asking anyway, grimly determined. Why?

Don’t conflate your Dereks.

Oh. This is some basic family defense, right here. Okay.

“I didn’t love him yet,” Stiles says, bracing himself. “Maybe I would’ve. Eventually. But my Derek was a lot more broken than yours, I wasn’t even sure I liked him most of the time, and it would’ve taken actual years to work him around to the idea that we could be a thing without anyone getting killed or maimed—and I couldn’t have even started until I was legal, for reasons I’m not rehashing. I hadn’t had time to decide whether or not I was up for it.” He’s had time since then, though, and he thinks he’d have gone for it eventually, if they’d both lived long enough. Scott was being pulled in a lot of directions and just didn’t have as much time for Stiles as he used to, and Derek…Derek was really attractive, Derek needed him, and Stiles…Stiles likes being needed. Of course, Derek resented needing people, and Stiles resents being resented. Not to mention the probable boatload of Kate Argent-related triggers Derek would refuse to talk about and Stiles would constantly be tripping over until they were both nervous wrecks. He has no idea how Ms. Blake handled that so well, but seriously, respect. Maybe she and Derek had complementary flavors of madness going, he doesn’t know. As for him, though, God, he can see the five-act tragedy playing out in his mind’s eye right now.

And if part of him still thinks it sounds like a fun challenge, that’s just, that’s a sign of damage, is what that is. “I would’ve been signing up to be a boyfriend, war advisor, and 24/7 therapist, all at the same time. It would’ve been a total disaster.”

“I think you’d have been good at it,” Laura says thoughtfully.

Stiles shrugs. He thinks she underestimates how fucked up the situation really was.

“So you’re saying your relationship with my Derek is completely different.”

“Yes, concerned family member, that is correct. I’m not…settling, or projecting, or whatever it is you think I’m doing.” Though he may, at some level, be trying to make sure this Derek never becomes his Derek. But he’s not bringing it up if Laura’s not.

“I had to check,” she says, as close to an apology as he’s likely to get.

“Yeah, I know,” he sighs. “But enough about me. Scott, it’s your turn. Let’s talk about your love life.”

“What? Why?!” Scott yelps. “There’s nothing to talk about! It’s good, we’re good. It’s really good.” He trails off into a haze of lust and happiness. “…Really good.”

Stiles beams at Laura, who rolls her eyes. “Okay, now you,” he tells her. “I don’t know a thing about your romantic prospects, Laura Hale. How did I let that slide? Any lucky guys and/or ladies you want me to interrogate for you in the spirit of familial duty? Because Philip isn’t mean enough, the twins are too mean, and Derek…gah. No. So? Is there anyone?”

Laura blushes. Stiles was not even aware she knew how to blush. This is the best moment of their entire acquaintance. Stiles can feel the maniacal smile taking over his face and he doesn’t even try to stop it. Scott elbows him and he elbows Scott back, and oh yeah, they’re going to use this knowledge for evil and not good.

“I hate you both,” Laura informs them.

“Not as much as you’re going to,” Scott assures her.

Derek takes this moment to drive up, and Laura leaps to her feet, smiling like she thinks she’s saved (she’s so wrong). She waves to Derek and runs off into the woods at super-speed. Werewolves. Sigh.

“A werewolf is picking you up at school and driving you into the woods to train with you,” Scott says, watching Derek lean over to push the Honda’s passenger door open. “Life is weird.”

Stiles thinks back to a very similar scene with a black Camaro and a much more stubbly and leather-clad Derek, and he has to agree. “But at least we’re not bored?” he tries.

“Definitely not bored.” Scott grins at him and heads for his bike, waving to Derek as he goes.

As for Stiles, he climbs into the Honda with the werewolf. The weirdest part is that the Honda is the only thing that seems off.

“What were you guys talking about?” Derek asks suspiciously. “Why was Laura here?”

“I think she couldn’t stand any more hours spent not making fun of me, so she had to make the trip.” In view of their chat, Stiles is almost positive Laura was in fact visiting her would-be significant other. (It will be hilarious if Laura has a thing for a teacher, but please God, let it not be Morrell. Or Finstock. Stiles may have to stage an intervention if it’s Finstock.) Stiles can’t rat her out yet, though; he’s saving that up for the moment when it will most horribly embarrass her. He is a long-term planner. “And we were talking about the fact that I’m staying.”

Derek blinks. “Staying. Here? With us?”

“Right.”

“…Forever?”

“Until death do us part, Derek.” That kicks up an interesting tangle of emotion. Oh yeah, Stiles can wait. Stiles can demonstrably last for years on nothing but a wish and a prayer; he could probably wait forever for a sure thing. Though he’s really glad he won’t have to.

“Won’t you…” And suddenly Derek’s panicking. What. “Won’t you miss them?”

Oh. “Of course I’ll miss them.”

“Then why would you stay?”

“Because I’d miss you, too, idiot. I lose no matter what I do, now. And you’re the ones I’ve got right here in front of me. Alive.” It’s a good thing Stiles is finally figuring out how to let go, though, because this is going to suck for a very long time. But eventually, he knows, even the worst pain wears itself out, and in the end all that’s left is a sore spot you try not to touch. He’s looking forward to that. Too bad it’ll take years.

“You’re really staying?” Derek asks, bewildered.

“I’m really staying,” Stiles promises. “Derek. I’m not going anywhere.”

Derek slowly picks up confidence in that statement until he’s feeling this absolutely insane happiness that Stiles has never felt from any Derek, ever, at any time. And that, Stiles thinks, that might even have been worth dying for.

“Good,” is all Derek says, because Derek fails words. Stiles smirks and leans over to thump him on the shoulder.

He’s going to miss his world every day of his life, he knows that. He knows he’s looking at years of screaming nightmares and self-flagellation and panic-stricken second-guessing. He knows, but this is still the best option.

Possibly the thing Stiles hates most about himself is the way he’s always felt a sense of…what, impending loss? Even when he was a kid, even when things were so good, so perfect, when he had no reason to doubt they’d always be perfect, he’d been waiting. Waiting to lose it all. He was the world’s most paranoid eight-year-old, and that was before he started being proven right.

Stiles was wildly bitter by twelve, and a bitter little kid? That’s just unattractive.

Bottom line: he’s never surprised by loss, and he’s always suspicious of his own happiness. He’s fucking broken inside, always has been. And this world he’s in, where he’s got everything and nothing at the same time? Where none of it really belongs to him and he’ll always feel like a thief? He thinks he might actually manage to be content here. Like he’s paid his dues, somehow. It’s not all bad, fatalism.

“Whatever you’re thinking about,” Derek growls suspiciously, “stop.”

Stiles beams at him, because yeah. He can live with this. He can.

And anyway, he’s made his choice.