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And We'll Be Complicated

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“You do realize—”

“That you’re a vet? Yes, Scott. I absolutely do.”

Stiles’s arm got stuck in his bloody T-shirt. He grunted, tugged at the sleeve with his free hand and wiggled in an attempt to get himself out of his T-shirt jail.

Scott batted his hand away. “Hold still, dude. You’re bleeding everywhere.”

“I’m not bleeding everywhere. I’m mostly just bleeding from my arm.”

“Don’t bleed, Stiles,” Allison said, peeking up from behind the couch. “It’s my week to do chores.”

“Oh, well, if that’s the case, I guess I’ll just stop.”

The rest of what he was going to say got muffled as Scott pulled his shirt over his head. There was a deep cut at the curve of his shoulder. It’d been stinging ever since the adrenaline wore off, and it was a bit bigger than he thought. He moved his arm experimentally and winced.

“You should see a doctor,” Scott said, even as he accepted the kit Allison came over with.

“You keep saying that, and I keep saying it gets awkward.” Stiles’s eyes went cross-eyed as he peered down at the cut. “If it helps, I’m not quite human.”

Scott looked up from the kit, his brows furrowed. “You’re human.”

“Scott. Scott-Scotty-Scott. I’m not, and that’s fine.”

“You just have magic, it doesn’t make you less human in anatomy.”

“No, but it does make me receptive to healing magic, so it’s not really as dire as you make it seem.”

“You got any stuff?” Allison cut off Scott’s indignant mutter.

Stiles nodded towards his discarded jacket, and she picked it up, searching the pockets.

“Sit still and I’ll clean it,” Scott said, and grabbed him around the wrist to hold him in place.

“How many pockets does this thing have? And why have I found three knives?”

Stiles turned as much as Scott’s hold allowed, and raised his eyebrow at Allison. “Because I lost the fourth.”

Snorting, Scott leaned over and pressed a wad of cotton against Stiles’s wound. With a slight flinch, Stiles worked to keep himself still even as it burned. The pain spread out from the cut and moved across his skin in sickening waves. He gritted his teeth, his jaw tight.

“How’d you get this?”

“The gnomes are evil,” Stiles got out.

Scott frowned, pausing for a moment. “I thought you went to Derek with that?”

“Huh?” Stiles said just as Allison found the vial of the healing serum he carried with him everywhere.

She put it down on the table and stood over the two of them, looking down at Scott’s careful hands. Allison knew as well as Stiles that Scott needed his pack close now that one of them was injured. The best would be if Isaac were here too, but who even knew where he was at the moment.

Stiles should probably call Lydia, though, at the very least.

“Derek,” Scott repeated. “You said you’d ask him about the gnomes. We figured you had. I mean…” Scott waved his hand in the way that meant ‘my werewolf sensibilities picked up on it but I’m too adult and discreet to bring it up.’

That whole subtle hand-wave was a newer development.

“I have no idea what you’re on about, Scott. The mysterious Mrs. B. is driving me nuts on this gnome case, especially with her roundabout communication methods, but there’s definitely no Derek.”

Allison and Scott exchanged a glance as Scott reached for the serum. He put the wad of cotton away now that the wound was cleaned, tipping some serum onto a new one.

“Derek Hale,” Allison said. “Tall, dark, fucked up everything he touched before he left and then came back a year ago?”

By the way Allison said it, it was beyond obvious that he was supposed to know who she was talking about.

“Oh, right,” he said, trying to keep his voice neutral. “Derek. Good old Derek.”

He hated those expressions. Loathed them, actually. He knew them well enough by now. It was their “oh, shit” faces. He had a Pavlovian gut-stabbing reaction to those.

“Which part of his body did Derek ask you to cut off?

Stiles searched Scott’s face for the joke. Frighteningly, he found none.

“He asked me to what? And you guys wanted me to talk to this guy? You’re certifiably nuts.”

“Oh, fucking hell,” Allison said, sinking down on the armrest of the chair nearby.

Scott had his head bowed, resigned. Every line of his body read, “here we go again.” The fun never stopped in Beacon Hills.

Once upon a time Stiles had been incredibly suspicious about all these shows and books where crazy shit seemed to happen around the clock, but that was before it had become the reality of his life. Now it just was, especially since crazy shit was his occupation of choice. He wasn’t really even batting an eye at the fact that he didn’t remember this truly charming-sounding Derek.

He was more concerned about getting home to have a proper dinner, in all honesty. Ever since the gnomes got truly bothersome, he hadn’t really been eating properly. Which meant he’d have to lie the next time his dad asked, “are you eating properly?” and that wouldn’t do.

They’d had a “no lies” policy ever since the whole “werewolves are real” debacle. And then, later on, it had been amended to a “no lies unless the truth is horrifying” policy after a few embarrassing incidents. The policy had reached a good balancing point that Stiles was loath to disturb.

His skin tingled, not unpleasant, but still a little strange, as the serum did its job. Scott sat back and watched, but his eyes had a distant look to them. If anything, Stiles felt bad that he’d clearly worried Scott and thereby also worried the rest of the pack by extension.

“Well, this seems to be going spiffingly.” Stiles nodded towards his steadily healing cut. “Thanks! I’ll just pop off and get myself some food.”

“Whoa,” Allison said, jumping up from her seat to push him back down. “You’re not going anywhere until we figure out what’s going on.”

“Well, in that case there’s a chance I’ll be living here until we’re all dead. I’ll be all up in your space while you raise my future nieces and nephews, mooching off of your meals for all eternity.”

He shrunk back a little when Allison gave him a piercing look. Those looks were the worst.

“Maybe you should be a little bit more concerned that someone has addled with your memory, Stiles. This is serious shit.”

He sighed, curling and uncurling his fingers on his injured hand.

“Stiles.”

“Allison,” he said, and smiled softly at her. “I just don’t think anyone has, not maliciously anyway. Who would it be?”

She didn’t seem entirely calmed by his smile, even if her expression softened. “It could be anyone. You’ve been fixing people’s magical problems for years. And those magical problems might not be all that happy with you.”

“Of course they’re not,” Stiles said. “But which of them have the power to do something like this? What I’ve been working with basically amounts to magical pest control.”

Scott hadn’t said anything, but he was definitely listening. His eyes were narrowed as he followed their conversation. Stiles had never liked when Scott went all observant on him. It was a newer development, one that came after Scott established himself as an alpha. And it really kind of creeped Stiles out.

“Allison, I’m glad you’re concerned, I really am, but I don’t think it’s a pressing thing.” He got up and picked his jacket from the floor.

“Stiles, seriously.”

“Let him go,” Scott said, and Stiles tried not to show his surprise.

He saluted them, and toed the door open. “I owe you guys one. Or several by now, probably.”

When he skipped down the steps, he could hear Allison nearly screech, “Have you lost your goddamn mind?”

***

Stiles’s house was on the outskirts of town. Before it was his, no one had wanted to live in it for years. It was a hub of magical energy, and had been overtaken by a rather impressive number of magical creatures. Most people didn’t realize this, of course, and the house had a long-standing reputation of being haunted.

It wasn’t. Stiles knew haunted, and this was not it.

He pushed the door open with his good shoulder, listening to the house creak slightly. A cupboard door slammed shut in the kitchen.

Everyone but him hated it. The pack more or less refused to hang out here, and his dad went pale whenever he stepped inside, but Stiles loved it. It stirred the magic inside him, making him feel alive. It kept him in tune.

Plus, it wasn’t like there were any magical creatures left. He got those out during the first three months through a combination of negotiation, threats and bargaining. But the house was still brimming with magical energy, and it, along with the garden, lived a life of its own.

He almost stumbled over Stark when he moved into the kitchen. She rubbed against his shins, twisting herself between his legs.

“I’m sorry, Stark,” he said, fumbling his way to the fridge with her circling him. “I know you’re angry with me.”

She meowed.

“It was the gnomes, you know. Pain in my ass. Been running me all around town for a week, at least. “

He kept telling her about the gnomes as he made dinner. It was crazy, probably, but Stark once belonged to a coven of witches, so he wasn’t entirely convinced she wasn’t magic in some sense. And where there was magic, there was always a possibility of some innate understanding.

Stark curled up next to him when he had dinner in front of the TV. He scratched her behind the ear and let his hand rest there.

“It’s impossible to explain to Scott and Allison, really, but I can’t really care about this whole memory thing,” he said, scratching her absent-mindedly. She purred. “It doesn’t feel like anything’s gone. There are no missing bits, you know? It doesn’t feel like anything’s broken. I don’t miss what I lost, because it doesn’t feel like I did lose anything. Does that make sense?”

He looked down at her, and she lifted her head. The scar running below her right eye nearly glowed white against her black fur. It had always made her look kind of badass. Stiles had a lot of theories about Stark.

“It probably doesn’t make sense. But honestly, I have other things to worry about. Have you seen Klaus today?”

Stark just blinked at him and he felt a bit stupid. It was mildly better when she head-butted him.

***

“It’s not even his week to choose the topping,” Isaac said, eyeing the pepperoni with disdain. “He chose two weeks ago.”

“I was assaulted. It was traumatic.” Stiles balanced the slice on his fingers. “Besides, you got to pick like three weeks in a row when you broke up with Becky.”

Isaac glared at him and flicked a piece of pepperoni from his slice. “You were mildly scratched. At worst.”

Granted, Isaac wasn’t wrong, but Stiles wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass him by.

He was about to bemoan the state of his (now nearly healed) wound again when he saw Lydia out of the corner of his eye.

“You sneaky little shit.”

“Relax,” she said, her thumb flicking over the screen of his phone. “There’s nothing horrifying on it. Yet.”

He leaned over Allison in his attempt to get to it, but Allison pushed him back. “If you’re not doing it yourself, we’re doing it for you.”

“Doing what?”

Lydia frowned at his phone. “There’s nothing. No recent texts. No pictures. No clue.”

“What the fuck are you guys talking about?” The cheese dripped onto his fingers, so hot that it burned. He jumped a little.

“Derek,” Lydia said without looking up. “Thought there might be a clue here about when you last talked to him. Or if you were talking to anyone suspicious.”

Stiles groaned, tipping his head back against the couch. “You guys seriously need to stop. It’s not important. We should be focusing on the new pack setting up down south, not why I can’t remember this guy we don’t even talk to.”

“We talk to Derek,” Isaac said, mouth full. He swallowed with difficulty. “When we have to.”

He didn’t like the way Lydia looked at him, all searching and troubled, nor did he like the way Scott basically hadn’t said anything about this yet. He just watched, expression neutral, when the topic came up. Scott not giving his opinion on something was pretty much unprecedented, and Stiles had no idea how to deal with that.

“I haven’t been talking to anyone,” he said, and shrugged. “Except you guys and Mrs. B., and you know she contacts me through Klaus.”

Allison wrapped her arms around her bent knees. “Are you sure? You might have forgotten them too. Maybe you did talk to someone, but when they did something to you they disappeared from your memory.”

It bugged Stiles that there was no way for him to deny that.

“We should be focusing on the other pack. And Kirk.”

“Don’t you dare bring Kirk into this,” Lydia said throwing his phone back at him.

It only nearly missed his head.

“I’m not bringing Kirk into this. I’m just saying we need to figure out how to tell your fiancée that we’re a pack of werewolves-slash-banshee-slash-magic person-slash-hunter.”

“No, we don’t have to do anything. That’s my problem.”

“Sure. If you let the whole Derek thing be mine.”

***

Lydia showed up at his house.

She winced when the house creaked, nearly shifting on its foundation as she entered. Upstairs, the piano started playing. She paled.

“The fact that I’m here,” she said, her voice low, “should tell you everything about how worried I am about you.”

He was still so caught off guard by Lydia standing in his house that he couldn’t quite focus. He couldn’t even remember the last time he got anyone to come here.

Stark appeared in the hallway, looking at them curiously.

“Oh,” Stiles said. “Lady Gaga.”

Lydia stared at him.

“The piano,” he clarified. “It’s playing Lady Gaga. Inspired choice.”

“For fuck’s sake, Stiles, this is serious.” She bumped into his shoulder forcefully when she moved further inside.

Her shoulders were tense, but she seemed to relax marginally when the house didn’t attack her. Not that it would. It was harmless, really. Most of the time. Stark, on the other hand, was a wildcard. She really hated Scott for reasons unknown, but seemed to not mind the others overly much.

He had half a mind to let Lydia stay inside, feeling uncomfortable. But he knew, deep down, that she was only worried.

“Let’s go out into the garden,” he said. It was magic too, but much less intense for the others. It was usually where he took his dad whenever he came over.

They sat on the swing set outside, watching the fireflies that shouldn’t be there dance around on the other side of the garden.

“Don’t worry so much, Lyds. I’m fine.”

“You’re not, though. I get that it doesn’t feel dramatic for you. Maybe. Or maybe I’m wrong about that too. But this is your memory we’re talking about.”

“This Derek guy, he hasn’t left any gaping holes. Nothing’s been missing. Everything feels like it always has.”

She shook her head, tucking her hands under her thighs.

“I’m not gonna sit here and say you and Derek are best friends, but Stiles, how do you know that nothing’s missing? If it’s been taken from your memory, then you won’t actually know. It’s gone.”

He didn’t say anything. The piano was still playing. He could hear it through his bedroom window that he’d left open this morning. It wasn’t Lady Gaga anymore. It was a familiar song, but he couldn’t place it.

“And what if it keeps going,” she said. “What if the next person you don’t remember is me. And then Scott. And your dad. Until nothing’s left anymore.”

It was like the temperature dropped, chilling him to the bone. He shivered.

“You know what, Stiles? I don’t think you’re brushing this off because everything feels great to you. Maybe that’s what you’re telling yourself.”

“Oh, spare me that whole thing.”

Lydia squared her jaw. “No. I won’t spare you anything. I think this does freak you out, on some level.”

He rolled his eyes.

“Yeah, sure, Stiles, don’t take this seriously. Fine. Even if every situation that Derek’s been a part of has probably been altered until the situation in your head is no longer the truth. Can you even trust any of your memories anymore, truly? Does that feel good to you?”

His chest felt tight, suddenly. Wrong. It felt wrong.

“Lydia,” he said, strangled. “Stop.”

By some miracle, she did.

When the swing started swinging of its own volition she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “I’m gonna go.”

Stark climbed up into the seat that Lydia left and they sat there in the garden that was much warmer than it should be.

***

It was Wednesday, about four days after Stiles had that impressively unsuccessful run-in with the gnomes, when Klaus showed up. Stiles was answering some consultations by email when there was a tap on the window, and it flew open immediately. The wind rushed in, making the pages in the bestiary shuffle and he lost his spot before he could slam his hand down on it. His papers flew off the table.

He groaned. The house had taken to Klaus immediately and would always accommodate him within seconds. It pretty much liked him better than it liked Stiles and Stark put together.

“Hey there,” Stiles said. He gathered up the pages that had leapt off the table and stuck them under the bestiary. “How’s it going, Klaus?”

Klaus tipped his head to the side and stretched his black-feathered wings. There was a letter tied to his leg, as usual, and Stiles gave him a treat from the bowl by the window before carefully untying the red string.

He rolled out the letter and leaned his hips against the windowsill as he read.

Dear Stiles,
I’m very sorry to hear that those terrible gnomes still refuse to vacant the house. The terms I’ve outlined in my negotiations are what I’m willing to give, and they can get more over my dead body. You can tell their leader that. The house belonged to my mother, and in turn belongs to me no matter what the gnomes feel on the matter.

I can’t believe they’re holding my heirlooms hostage.

As ever, thank you for your hard work,
Mrs. B.

Stiles drew his hand over his face and puffed his cheeks out.

It was all well and good that the house belonged to Mrs. B. and her mother, but the problem was that the land it was on had belonged to the clan of gnomes for centuries. It turned out that gnomes were fiercely protective of their possessions.

And vastly scarier than Stiles would’ve ever thought.

If Mrs. B. wouldn’t get him any more to bargain with, he truly was completely out of options. He was probably going to get hurt for real this time if he approached the gnomes with the same terms again. And it was quite unlikely that Mrs. B. would volunteer anything. She’d kept her cards notoriously close to her chest so far, and Stiles didn’t even really know much about her except the few details she’d shared about her mother and the house.

Stiles sat down by the table and tried to scribble down a hasty reply as Klaus waited patiently in the window. It wasn’t all that easy to find out what to say, though, as Mrs. B. was well on her way to putting him in an impossible situation.

He was on his third draft when his phone buzzed. Distractedly, he unlocked the screen and finished his sentence before glancing at it.

He dropped it as if it was burning through his skin.

Derek.

Stiles didn’t even realize he had Derek in his contacts. He hadn’t bothered to check.

The text said, We should talk about it. The use of proper punctuation and capitalization freaked him out almost more than the content.

Almost.

What was “it”? It was natural to assume Derek meant the whole “I don’t remember you” thing, but who’d told him? And “it” could mean any number of things that Stiles no longer remembered.

It was possible that Lydia was right. It appeared to bother him more than he realized. But Derek was real now. Earlier, he’d just been a story, a name. Now he was a text, accompanied by an “it” that needed to be talked about. It was a whole other level of something.

He called Scott. Klaus looked at him with poorly disguised disdain, which Stiles could absolutely understand considering Klaus had been waiting for his reply for half an hour already.

“Hey, what’s up?” Scott said. Stiles could hear him moving around and he belatedly realized Scott was probably at work.

“You busy?”

“I can talk.”

Stiles let out a relieved breath. “Dude, did you guys tell Derek?”

“Of course we didn’t,” Scott said.

“Are you absolutely sure? Like, swear on Allison’s grave kind of sure.”

“That’s really fucking morbid, Stiles.”

“Well. Desperate measures.”

“Lydia wanted to tell him, of course.” Scott paused for a bit. “Well, you know. Okay, you don’t actually know, I guess. Lydia has a better relationship with him than the rest of us. She was the first one who went to see him when he came back, and she’s usually our link with him.”

Stiles didn’t know what to make of that at all.

“It’s complicated. I can’t explain everything we’ve been through with Derek for you to properly understand.”

“I don’t care about that. I just… are you sure she didn’t tell him?”

The thought hurt a little. He trusted Lydia more than almost everyone else in his life.

“No one did. I made them swear to me. We talked about it, and the collective decided that it might just complicate things if Derek knew, and in any case it’s your decision.”

So they all swore to their alpha. There was no way they’d told him.

“What happened?” Scott said.

Stiles looked down at the phone, bringing the text up again. “Nothing.”

“Sure.” Scott’s voice was dry. “That’s why you’re calling me in a complete panic wondering whether Derek knows, when you haven’t mentioned this shit unless someone forces you to talk about it.”

“I was just curious, Scott, seriously. Have we met?”

“Yeah we have, and something happened.”

Stiles spread out over the table and sulked, resting his head on his outstretched arm.

“He texted me.”

“Oh, shit.”

“Yeah. He said we need to talk about ‘it’. And if he doesn’t know, then ‘it’ could be a million horrifying things. The only thing I know about him is that he once asked me to cut off a body part, so who knows, maybe he’s texting me to talk about which body part I should saw off.”

Scott laughed, the asshole.

“He’s not asking you to cut off a body part.”

“How the fuck do you know?”

“I just do,” Scott said. “Relax. Maybe he means the gnomes. I’m pretty sure you’ve asked him about it.”

“Is he magic too?”

“No, he’s a werewolf. But he was born one.”

Stiles sighed, trying to bury the urge to just curl up and sulk.

“I guess I’ll talk to him and find out what he wants.”

Scott hummed. “If you go talk to him he’ll definitely find out that you don’t remember him.”

“He’ll find out eventually anyway.”

“Our little Stiles, all grown up.”

“Shut up, oh my god.”

Klaus gave an impatient screech and Stiles jumped. He could hear Scott swear under his breath.

“What the fuck was that? It sounded like someone opened the gates of hell,” Scott said, breathless with laughter.

“Klaus is getting fed up with waiting on my reply.”

Stiles got up and handed Klaus another treat, which seemed to mollify him at least for the moment.

“Wanna come over for dinner?” Scott said.

“Sure, but I have a feeling I’ll have to talk to him first.”

“Alright. Just don’t kill him.”

“Is there a legitimate possibility of that happening?”

“A one in ten chance, probably.”

“Oh, god.”

Scott laughed when he hung up, and Stiles was even more freaked out than he was before he called.

He looked at the text again. He typed out a sure and it had honestly never taken him that long to type four letters. After he’d sent it, he crossed his arms on the table and rested his forehead against them.

Fucking shit.

It took another five minutes before the reply came.

I’ll come over.

That text was, if possible, even more puzzling than the last. Derek was coming here? Voluntarily?

to my house?, he sent back.

Where else? The reply was so unbothered by the thought of being in Stiles’s house that Stiles had to sit back down.

What the fuck?

Klaus screeched again and Stiles glared at him. “Yeah, relax, I’m finishing it. Don’t get your feathers all twisted.”

That bird was as demanding as its owner.

He sat down to write his fourth draft of the reply to Mrs. B., and he was halfway through it when the front door just opened wide. Stiles sat up, eyes wide. It never happened that the house let people in on Stiles’s behalf.

This was getting absolutely fucking ridiculous.

The piano started playing a soft, soothing tune that Stiles didn’t recognize, and then a guy in a leather jacket stood in the opening to his living room. He leaned against the wall, his expression serious. He kind of looked like a guy with a perpetually serious face, Stiles supposed.

Stiles had no idea what to do. He put his pen down, and watched in shock as the bookshelf spit out one of his books. It landed open on a dog-eared page on the couch behind him.

“Thanks, but I’m not here to read today,” Derek said to no one.

The book closed.

Stiles was pretty sure he was going crazy.

Derek jogged no memories. Nothing about him was familiar. Not his voice, or his eyes (which Stiles would’ve remembered because they were intense in a really uncomfortable way), or the stubble on his jaw. But the house definitely remembered him.

And that was disconcerting. Because Stiles had been operating under the assumption that Derek wasn’t anyone worth remembering.

“Never thought I’d be the first one to say we should talk,” Derek said and moved inside with familiar ease.

“You’re hilarious,” Stiles said drily. Because he may not have known Derek, but he did know himself and he recognized a jab when he heard one.

Derek sat down on the couch, sinking back into it with his knees spread casually.

“You wanted to talk,” Stiles said, picking his words carefully.

“Yeah. Don’t you?”

“I guess.”

Derek looked frustrated suddenly. He rubbed a hand across his cheek. “I know I’ve been avoiding you, but you’ve been avoiding me too.”

Confusion, thy name is Stiles. He wished himself a million miles away from this conversation. Holy fuck.

“I haven’t been avoiding you.”

The silence stretched as Stiles looked for the right words and frustration seemed to build in Derek until he was so tense he looked ready to snap.

“I don’t remember you,” Stiles said and made a face. “And I know how fucking weird that sounds, believe me.”

Derek’s jaw went slack, his face the picture of stunned surprise, until he suddenly looked terrifyingly angry. His expression was tense and cold, and Stiles fought back the urge to shrink back.

“What the fuck, Stiles. If you didn’t want to talk—“

“No,” Stiles said, hurried. “I really don’t remember you. You’re completely gone from my head. I only know your name because the others mentioned you. We don’t… I don’t know why.”

Derek seemed to be stunned into silence, and he just looked at Stiles, eyes wide.

“I thought it wouldn’t matter that I didn’t,” Stiles said, and felt monumentally stupid for having thought it. “But clearly, the house remembers you. And that’s not… usual.”

“Been helping you with the gnomes.” Derek sounded a bit like he’d forgotten how to speak. His face was unreadable. “Spent some time here researching.”

“You didn’t come to talk about the gnomes.”

Derek looked like he wanted to object, but they both knew there was no way he could claim he’d come to talk about the gnomes. He looked towards the window, avoiding eye-contact with Stiles.

“I’m not going to talk to you about this if you don’t remember,” he said, eventually.

Stiles wanted to punch his way through a number of things, especially Derek’s face. He closed his eyes and thought of Iron Man. He could do this.

“Look, clearly it’s important and I should know. If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t have come here to talk. You obviously wanted to talk.”

“No, Stiles,” Derek said so loudly that both Stark and Klaus jumped. “I’m not doing this if you don’t remember.”

“We don’t even need to have a long conversation about it. I don’t need to know every excruciating detail, but at this point any kind of detail would be nice.”

Derek’s jaw clenched, and he looked down at his hands, not saying a word.

“Did we have an argument?” Stiles tried.

“Yes,” Derek said, too quickly.

It might have been the truth, but it could just as easily be a lie.

“What about?”

“Something stupid.”

“Derek, for fuck’s sake.”

Stiles tried to stop Derek from leaving, but he was too slow. Derek’s expression was tense when he shot up from the couch and stalked out of the house, slamming the door behind him.

The piano stopped playing, and Stiles was left sitting in silence. He went over and picked up the book from the couch. It was clear that Derek had been reading it the last time he was here, or his bookshelf wouldn’t have thrown it at him quite so enthusiastically.

It was Good Omens. Clearly not a book about gnomes.

***

“Thank fuck,” Lydia had said when he called her, admitting that maybe (possibly) they should work on getting his memory back.

“Do you think it’d help being around him? Maybe it’d trigger something.”

She hummed. “I don’t know. It doesn’t really have any documented effect on amnesia patients, but then you’re not really an amnesia patient.”

“I just don’t know what else I could be doing, except for keeping an eye out for people who seem like they might want to steal my memories or something.”

Lydia went very quiet on the other end and his heart picked up.

“Oh shit,” he said, palms going sweaty. “You don’t think anyone’s trying to steal them?”

“I don’t know.” She seemed distracted when she said, “I really don’t know.”

“If they did, they have every tiny, ridiculous thought I’ve ever had about Derek, because it’s all gone.”

“I’ll find out.” Her voice was sure and steady. “I’ll ask around. I’ll research. I’ll figure it out.”

Stiles nodded even if she couldn’t see him, rubbing his palms on his jeans.

“And in the meantime you should probably talk to Derek. He needs to know what’s going on.”

“I doubt he’ll want to listen. He more or less threw a tantrum on the way out the door.”

“He’ll listen,” Lydia said, in that ‘no-arguments’ tone of hers that he’d long since learned to heed. “He always listens. It’s just that he doesn’t always do anything with what he listened to.”

“Fantastic.”

“Hey, see, this is a good thing! You get to experience the magic of Derek Hale all over again.”

“I’m every kind of excited,” he said, voice flat. “My body is ready.”

“Don’t let Scott and the others fool you,” she said. “They have their reasons for not being that close to him, but you and I have… well, we’ve had more contact.”

Stiles stretched his feet out on the couch, looking over at where Stark was twisted up on the floor in what looked like an incredibly uncomfortable position. “Scott said you had, but he said nothing about me.”

“Probably because Scott’s observational skills need a lot of work.”

Stiles laughed, tipping his head back.

“I mean, he tries, but I don’t give out awards for trying.”

“Please let me be there when you tell him that,” he said, imagining Scott’s constipated offended face.

Lydia scoffed. “I’ve said worse. He knows where he stands with me. He’s my alpha, warts and all.”

He cooed at that, and said, “You guys are adorable,” only half-joking.

“Just text him, Stiles.”

***

He didn’t text Derek right away. Instead, he went out to Mrs. B.’s house, located on the other side of town and some ways into the woods. The road was bumpy and overgrown, and Stiles wondered, not for the first time, why Mrs. B. was so set on her terms with the gnomes considering she didn’t really take care of it. She effortlessly dodged that question whenever he brought it up.

The house came into view as the trees grew sparser. It was a pretty magnificent building. The white painting on the wood had faded a little, but it still looked grand with its large front porch and the subtle details around the windows. Still, there was something about it that seemed off. It was beautiful in a way that was also unsettling.

It was more of a feeling of something wrong than any rational flaws he could find. The house looked like a house, and nothing else, but it always made him feel strange whenever he pulled up to it. Like it wasn’t completely natural, or shouldn’t be there at all.

“Oh, you again,” someone said when he got out of the car.

He tucked the protective rune pendant into his shirt, throwing the car door shut with a cocky grin.

“Not quite as easy to get rid of as you think, Hugo,” Stiles said.

He kept his distance, because he learned that lesson quite effectively last time. Hugo sat on the porch, hands supporting his head as he swung back and forth on the swing.

“Stiles, Stiles, Stiles.” Hugo made an odd clucking sound. “If you hadn’t snuck in the house, the whole nasty business with Greg and the knife would’ve never happened.”

Stiles blinked. He couldn’t even remember having gone in the house. That whole night was a little fuzzy around the edges.

“Well, I’m sure you can understand why I keep my distance,” Stiles said brightly. “I’m only here to let you know Mrs. B. is unwilling to change her terms.”

Hugo spat onto the wooden floor of the porch. “Foolish human. Then everything is as it has been and will be.”

“I’ve already told you humans have an ownership to houses. It’s her possession, you can’t expect her to let it go easily.”

“And I’ve already told you,” Hugo said, his small eyes shrewd, “that gnomes have an ownership to land.”

Stiles pushed back the urge to stomp his feet like a three year old. He’d dealt with many magical creatures over the past few years, but this was a whole new level of frustration. Gnomes were nothing like the seemingly harmless things he’d heard of in stories.

They were sneaky and backhanded, and stubborn as anything.

Stiles was going to write a really successful gnome novel and smear their good reputation.

He absolutely was. It was going to be one of those dystopian ones that everyone inhaled these days. Dystopian gnome novels, yep. That was what he was going to do.

“You can tell your human that she’ll change her mind if she wants her house.”

“Great,” Stiles said, voice flat.

“Good to see you too, Stiles!” Hugo called after him when he got back into the car.

Stiles held his phone in his hand, thinking, as he glared at Hugo. He was sitting there all smug on the front porch, holding up a pipe he’d gotten out of his jacket. As Stiles watched, he puffed on it and let out a series of perfect smoke rings.

Smug bastard.

still need help w/ gnomes.

He sent the text to Derek before he could change his mind and backed up. Hugo was gone from the front porch when he peered up at the mirror.

***

Derek was at his house when he got back, looking all too comfortable sitting on the couch reading Good Omens. His jacket was slung across the armrest, and his elbow rested on top of it. His brows were furrowed as he read, eyes intensely focused.

Stiles didn’t quite know what to do.

“Stiles,” Derek said before he could even make up his mind.

Fucking werewolf senses.

Stiles dropped his jacket by his desk. “Make yourself at home.”

“Already have, thanks.”

Turning his eyes heavenward, Stiles tried to gather strength.

“So, Lydia and I were talking. Apparently, they’ve been working on this behind my back.”

Derek snorted. “Did you expect Lydia to sit around and do nothing?”

“Of course not,” Stiles said, crossing his arms over his chest. “I’m not a total moron.”

“Debatable.”

“Ha-fucking-ha.”

Derek just smirked. Stiles was getting second-thoughts about the whole wanting to remember thing.

“We realized I don’t actually know where the fuck my memories went. Someone might’ve stolen them.”

Finally looking up from the book, Derek rested it against his chest. “Why would they?”

“I don’t know.” Stiles threw his arms out, frustrated. “You tell me. You’re the one who’s gone from my head. Why would someone want my memories of you?”

Staying quiet, Derek looked at him, face serious. Stiles refused to be the first to break eye-contact.

“There’s no reason anyone would go after your memories of me if they were up to something. They’d go after your memories of Scott. He’s the alpha. He’s the one they’d want.”

“What if this was the test?”

Derek shrugged. “They would’ve struck again by now if that was the case.”

Perching himself on his desk, Stiles kicked his legs. “You seem ridiculously sure of this. A little too sure. Are you always this cocky?”

“Yes.”

“I can respect that,” Stiles said.

Derek gave him a look full of doubt. “Maybe there’s an advantage or two to the fact that you don’t remember me.”

“See!” Stiles grinned. “You’re a silver-lining kind of guy. Wolf. Silver-lining Wolf.”

“I regret this,” Derek said, voice flat.

“Of course you do. Everyone regrets things around me, it’s how shit works.”

Folding the corner of the book down, Derek threw it to the side. “You said you needed help with the gnomes.”

“Oh.” Stiles’s shoulders hunched and he gripped the edge of the desk. “You said you’d been helping me. And I was there earlier, but Mrs. B. doesn’t want to change the terms, so I’m at a standstill more or less. And I don’t —”

“—want to hurt them, I know.”

Stiles stilled. “Dude, this is really creepy, can you at least pretend we haven’t had this conversation before?”

“Either you have to somehow get Mrs. B. to negotiate or you have to trick them,” Derek said, as if Stiles hadn’t said a word.

“Had we made any plans about this?”

“Sort of. I think you’d settled on trying to steal something from the house to unsettle them and have them come to you.”

“Huh.” Stiles cocked his head to the side. “That’s not a bad idea. Or I guess it was, because it totally explains why one of them attacked me with a knife.”

Derek’s eyes went wide. “What?

“Greg, that fucker, cut up my shoulder. Scott fixed me up, though.”

“You could’ve said something.”

Stiles raised his eyebrow at him, just as the window started swinging back and forth. “Stop that,” he said, and the window came to a near standstill, only swaying slightly.

“How was I supposed to know I had to say something to you?” Stiles shrugged. “If I’d known I should’ve, we wouldn’t really be in this mess, would we?”

“I should go with you next time,” Derek said, and Stiles didn’t even know what to say to that, because no, absolutely not.

The house was abnormally quiet. There was no creaking, no piano, no running faucets. Derek looked out the window, the line of his neck tense. His hand reached for the book, seemingly without conscious thought, and his fingers curled around the spine.

There was something Stiles felt like he should remember. It was right there, outside of his grasp. His fingers could almost graze it. Maybe if he reached in, he could touch it just enough.

“What did we argue about?”

He knew it’d catch Derek off guard, and it did. Derek shook his head.

“Nothing,” he said.

“But you said—”

“I know what I said.”

The corner of Stiles’s mouth lifted. “I’m sure we argued about something. It feels like we’d argue a lot. Probably violently. Maybe you throw me around a little, you know, and I use my magic voodoo on you.”

He waved his fingers.

There was a slight quirk of Derek’s lips that caught Stiles so off guard his heart forgot to beat for a second. “Stiles, we argue all the damn time.”

“See, I believe that. I’m learning.” Stiles tapped his temple with one finger. “I’m one smart cookie. The smartest of everyone, pretty much, even though Lydia likes to pretend she’s the smartest, and I let her because it makes her feel better.”

Derek closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

“Really, it makes all the difference when she gets to boost her confidence a bit, you know. Just what she needs.” Stiles ran so fast down the sidetrack that he could pretty much feel the wind rush past his ears.

“Stiles, for crying out loud.”

“Sorry, still here.”

Derek shook his head.

“I want to remember,” Stiles said when the silence had stretched way too long for comfort. “I thought maybe it’d be fine if I didn’t, but it’s not. And I think maybe it’ll help if we hang… Hang out, yeah.”

There was a whole slideshow of emotions that seemed to pass over Derek’s face, and Stiles would laugh if he didn’t feel so damn exposed.

“Sure,” Derek said, his fingers whitening on his thigh. “We can hang out.”

“I’ll come by your place tomorrow. With food. Whatever you like.”

Derek nodded, and Stiles hated that Derek didn’t answer. It just left everything so awkward.

“You can come here whenever too,” he said to fill the gap. “The house tolerates you.”

That was a slight understatement. He was a little bitter about the way the house seemed to fit itself around Derek as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

Derek snorted. “The first time I came around it threw mugs at me.”

“That sounds a lot more like it.”

***

Derek lived in an apartment in one of the newer complexes in Beacon Hills. They were expensive, modern, and made Stiles wonder what Derek even did for a living. Stiles felt ridiculously out of place. He was half-expecting a doorman, but thank fuck, it hadn’t gone quite that far.

“Hey, Wolfman,” he said when he snuck past Derek. “Nice place.”

That was a bit of an understatement. There were windows from floor to ceiling on one wall in the living room, giving them a spectacular view of the town. The apartment was open, airy and basically taken straight out of a lifestyle magazine.

“Yeah, it’s alright.”

Derek looked strangely relaxed in sweatpants and a T-shirt, and Stiles had to admit he’d kind of pictured Derek lounging around in his leather jacket at all times.

“This is what constitutes ‘alright’ for you?” Stiles said, giving him a wide-eyed look as he put the bag with Indian takeaway on the kitchen table.

Derek ran his fingers along his jaw, scratching a little underneath. He looked almost sheepish. “I liked my other one better, but I sold it when I left.”

“What was so special about the other one?”

“It had a hole in the wall.”

Stiles stopped emptying the bag and looked up, trying to figure out if Derek was being a gigantic troll.

“You’re not joking, are you?”

Opening the fridge to get drinks, Derek just smirked.

“Are you? You’re not. Wait, you have to be.”

Derek ignored him studiously as he got two bottles of beer from the top shelf and pushed the door shut with his knee.

“Derek,” Stiles said, gripping one of the containers. “Derek.” He drew the last syllable out until Derek started laughing, his face splitting into a wide row of teeth and crinkling eyes.

Stiles was a little hypnotized. So much so that he forgot what he was whining about in the first place.

They took the food to the couch to watch Derek’s gigantic TV. Derek didn’t even bother to answer when Stiles asked why he even needed a TV that big. Stiles honestly didn’t even know where to look first. Besides, the curved ones were better anyway.

“This show used to be so much better,” Stiles said, holding his fork in mid-air. “I mean, you can only go so long with no character development before it gets really boring.”

Derek shook his head. “As if you care about character development. Your favorite show for a while was The Vampire Diaries.”

“Excuse you, that had plenty of character development, thanks. And vampires.”

They sat close enough for Derek’s knee to brush against his. It seemed entirely casual, but it kept happening, and it kept making Stiles’s breath get stuck in his throat.

“You’re just being a judgmental judgey person.”

“I just don’t get your fascination with vampires. You know real vampires. You of all people should know how boring they are.”

“Humans are boring too,” Stiles said, waving his fork for emphasis. “Like, really boring. Doesn’t stop me from mainlining old episodes of The O.C.”

The look Derek gave him was so disappointed that Stiles started laughing with his mouth full of food. He held his hand up to his mouth, trying to get a grip.

Derek picked the container from his hands, his fingers brushing Stiles’s skin and Stiles suddenly didn’t feel like laughing anymore. He was getting really, really confused. Isaac and Scott had made it seem like they barely talked to Derek, but being around Derek was easy. Which was fair enough on Stiles’s end, because he’d forgotten all of their history, but Derek was at ease too.

His house acted like Derek was a natural part of it, which could only mean that the magic had accepted him and Derek had seemed to accept it. And Stiles… Stiles found it hard to ignore the feeling he got when Derek was close.

“I’ll be right back,” he said, and pushed himself up from the couch. “Bathroom?”

“Connected to the bedroom, up the stairs.”

He climbed the stairs up to the bedroom and stopped by the bed instead of going into the bathroom. Getting his phone out, he started typing before he sat down on it. He gave it a few bounces. God, it was kind of heavenly. He almost wanted to lie back and snuggle down into the covers.

do i have romantic history w/ derek he sent to Scott.

He immediately got a what?!!! NO in return. He probably should’ve thought that through. Quickly, he sent another one back if only to distract Scott from the first one (did derek’s old apt have a hole in the wall).

Maybe it would throw Scott off the scent: make it seem like he and Derek were just playing some strange game of two truths and a lie.

He rolled his eyes when Scott’s answer read “yes”. Of course Derek’s old place had a hole in the wall. Jesus.

Giving into temptation, he flopped back onto the bed and sighed. It seemed to mold itself after his shape and fuck, this bed was everything. His own bed had thrown him out in the middle of the night only last week. That shit was unfair.

Letting out a frustrated breath, he went back to his first message to Scott and forwarded it to Lydia. honey, said her reply, and he rolled his eyes. It was followed by, i’ve given up on keeping up with your love life but for what it’s worth i wouldn’t be surprised.

Of course. Of-fucking-course he was romantically involved with the guy he’d forgotten. He should’ve known from the start. It was how his life worked, and fucking Jesus fucking hell Derek would be able to smell him on the sheets, why had he lain down on the bed like an idiot?

He jumped up, having to push down the really persistent urge to bang his head against the wall.

He found a certain calm in taking several deep breaths, and he focused on each inhale and exhale, counting down and up again, until he felt centered enough to go back down. Derek’s face was oddly relaxed, his entire focus on the TV until Stiles let himself fall back onto the couch again.

He spread out, willfully ignoring that he’d been gone for ages.

Derek did no such thing. “Did you get lost on your way back?”

The answer burst out of Stiles before he could even begin to stop it, completely helpless to the fact that he couldn’t stop thinking about it.

“We’re in a relationship, aren’t we?”

Derek went completely still. He even seemed to stop breathing.

“I mean, you know.” Stiles tried to backtrack, but there wasn’t really any track to back up on. “My house. And us, this… us. I don’t remember you, but I know what’s happening now.”

“Stiles.”

“You just seem to fit into my life, you know. That’s the thing. I don’t even remember you, and I thought everything was fine without those memories, but you just fit in, even when they’re gone.”

“Stiles,” Derek said, his voice breaking slightly. “We had sex.”

Stiles looked at him, eyebrows raised, and waved his hands between them. “Yeah, that’s what I’m kind of discussing here.”

“No, I mean, we had sex. Once. And then we avoided each other. When I came to talk to you about it, you told me you barely even remembered my name.”

And shit.

There had been a lot of awkward moments in Stiles’s life, and a few had probably gone down the drain with the Derek-memories, but this was the gold medal of awkward moments.

“Oh,” he said, because what else was there even to say at this point?

He’d gone on and on about Derek fitting into his life. He’d basically admitted way too much, more than he was ready to even think about, let alone talk about.

And how could this possibly get any worse?

“Sometimes I think…” Derek looked away, his shoulders tense. “Sometimes I think it’s better that you don’t remember.”

Oh, hey, there it was! This was just excellent. Stiles felt like a million bucks. Something inside him burst, painfully and abruptly, and he sat up so fast he got dizzy.

“You know what, Derek? Fuck you.”

Derek’s eyes snapped back to him at that, wide and surprised.

“You’re the one who left me guessing what we’re even supposed to be. Scott and Isaac claim we’re barely friends, Lydia says I know you better than that, and you obviously came around to tell me something but you wouldn’t even tell me what. So I’m left here to just guess, and make assumptions on our history when I don’t remember a single bit of it.”

It didn’t even bother him at this point if everything turned to shit. It was already shit. He was already a stranger in his own head. His head was a place full of half-truths and manipulated memories.

“You don’t think it’d be kind of relevant to mention that we had sex? I don’t even fucking care if you were avoiding me, and I was avoiding you, and it was a mistake or what the fuck ever, Derek. Something’s been messing with my head. Someone just took chunks of my life from me and you’ve been letting me fumble through this bullshit on my own.”

Derek didn’t say a single word as Stiles ranted his way towards the door, the bubbling anger making it impossible to stop the endless stream of frustration pouring out of him. There was no room for Derek to speak even if he wanted to. But when Stiles slammed the door shut, there was a loud crash from inside the apartment, and the sound of glass shattering into a million pieces.

***

“The thing is,” Lydia said as she climbed over the back of the couch and slid into place next to Isaac, “there are no records of anyone being able to tamper with memories this way where the only thing gone is a single element, removed from years of memories.”

Allison passed the popcorn to Scott. “Dad’s never heard of it happening either.”

“So where does that even leave us?” Scott said.

“I’m 98% sure it’s not something a human being did.”

“Well, that narrows it down,” Scott said, raising his eyebrow at Lydia. “Only leaves most of the bestiary.”

“Better than nothing.” Lydia ran her hand through her hair, sweeping it to one side until it tumbled over her shoulder. “I don’t see you contributing anything brilliant.”

“What about the—”

“No,” everyone said in unison before Isaac could even get the words out. They all knew where he was going and that was not happening. Not again.

Well, Stiles didn’t really say anything. He was mostly focusing on his phone burning a hole in his pocket and the fact that he hadn’t talked to Derek since he slammed the door to his apartment shut. There was a deafening silence on Derek’s end, and it was a silence so loud that Stiles wouldn’t have gotten the hint quicker if Derek had screamed in his face.

“What does your dad think?” Scott asked, grabbing a handful of popcorn.

“He doesn’t think a single thing. I haven’t told him.”

Scott was about to say something, and Stiles couldn’t have that. He threw a piece of popcorn that hit Scott on the nose.

“There’s no need. And no, I’m not really lying unless he outright asks me if I remember Derek, and why would he?”

“I agree with Stiles,” Allison said. “There’s no need to worry him when it’s only contained to Derek. It’s not like it really matters.”

He picked at the skin on his thumb, trying to ignore how uncomfortable it was to hear that it didn’t matter. He couldn’t even blame Allison for thinking it because he’d thought it too, only a couple of weeks ago. And maybe she was right after all.

Lydia looked at him, eyes narrowed, and he belatedly remembered he’d asked her about his romantic history via text. Fucking dammit.

“Allison and I’ve found some ideas for solutions, but honestly…”

“Not keen on trying most of them,” Allison finished. “Half of them are kind of horrible.”

“And the other half would be useless.”

Scott frowned, looking over at Lydia. “Why useless?”

“Because they’re for amnesia patients, and this isn’t any kind of amnesia I’ve ever heard of.” Lydia shrugged. “Plus, as far as anyone knows there’s no way to cure amnesia anyway. Sometimes it comes back, sometimes it doesn’t.”

“But Stiles’s memory loss isn’t natural.”

“Exactly, Scott. Good boy.”

The withering glare Scott sent her didn’t seem to faze Lydia in the slightest.

Stiles flopped back in his chair, curling up into a Stiles-shaped ball. “Can we please stop talking about this? Like, I would literally talk about anything else right now. Any single one of your boring problems. Even your werewolf sex problems.”

“Please don’t,” Isaac said, whimpering slightly. “Not even I want to hear about werewolf sex problems. Scott’s my alpha.”

“So?” Allison made a face at him. “It’s not like that makes him your dad.”

“It’s just awkward, Al. I don’t need to know about my alpha’s mating troubles. Ew.”

“Are you twelve?”

“Children!” Scott yelled, his voice going comically high.

Lydia and Stiles exchanged glances, which was enough for both of them to start laughing helplessly. It was so easy to derail these people that Stiles was almost disappointed.

***

Stark curled up in the hollow space between his knees and his stomach as Stiles lay on his side, buried under the blanket. It was late. Or it had been the last time he’d allowed himself to check his phone, anyway. He wouldn’t let himself check too often, because he only got angry when it hadn’t been nearly as long as he thought it had.

When Stiles couldn’t sleep, he tried just about everything. He tried drinking relaxing teas, he tried counting sheep, he tried meditating. His mother had always told him to think about pleasant things, so he did that too. It rarely helped.

What he didn’t do was hit the sleeping serums he had available. He only used those if the nightmares got too bad. They weren’t something to play around with, and he’d learned the hard way that they were too easy to abuse.

It was really rather pathetic how much he managed to think about Derek considering how few memories he had of him. One would think that, by this point, Stiles had circled through every available thought he had about Derek, but apparently not.

It just drove him to the brink of insanity that Derek knew what had happened, what they’d done. Derek knew his own reasons for why he’d done it and the reasons why he’d ignored it afterwards, but Stiles had no clue.

While Stiles had been getting a fairly good idea as to why it happened in the first place, he didn’t understand why he’d avoided Derek afterwards. He didn’t know why it was a secret. He didn’t even fully understand how they’d reached the point they were at now.

It was important for Stiles to know things. That was the one thing he’d always cared about. No matter what else Stiles had been or done, he’d always known things. And if he didn’t, he’d always sought to find out.

He finally allowed himself to look at the time again. It was only three. Groaning, he buried his face into the pillow and let out a long, frustrated growl. When he looked up, Stark was staring at him with wide eyes.

“Sorry,” he said, tossing the blanket aside.

When he closed the door to the medicine cabinet in the bathroom, he looked at himself in the mirror and said, “Sorry,” again before tipping back the bitter contents of the sleeping serum.

***

Derek was standing on his front porch, looking like a particularly large, wet dog. His hair was plastered to his forehead, face shiny with rain, and his mouth was downturned into a pouty grimace.

“I’ll help you with your fucking gnomes,” he said and pushed his way into the house.

Stiles stood in the doorway, looking out at the pouring rain.

“Okay?” he said to no one in particular.

Somewhere inside, Derek and the house were making a strange symphony of mutual movement and co-existence. Stiles smiled and shook his head, turning to walk back inside and close the door to the miserable weather.

“It’s about time you decided to actually help with the gnomes.” Stiles looked pointedly at the water dripping from Derek and onto his carpet. “Yesterday, they sent me a letter in a language I can’t even find anything about. It’s just a series of dots and festive-looking scribbles.”

The fact that Derek wasn’t saying anything unnerved him. Derek was just looking at him, and Stiles was sure he could hear the squeaky wheels turn in his head. They were undoubtedly hamster wheels.

“I’m all for letter correspondence, it’s so novel in this day and age,” Stiles said, rubbing his palms on his jeans. “But Mrs. B. is so lucky she’s paying me a fortune for this.”

Stark sauntered into the room, and rubbed herself gleefully against Derek’s shins. He didn’t even seem to notice, which Stark always took great offense to. She scampered off again, shaking water from her fur.

“Derek, what—nghfph.”

Whatever words Stiles had been trying to get out were muffled by the hard press of Derek’s lips as Stiles was pushed back into the wall. Pain sprung from the back of his head in waves, but it seemed dulled under the heavy pressure of Derek pinning him down.

It was almost on the wrong side of uncomfortable, but most of all it was awesome.

Stiles fought his arms free and slid them up over Derek’s shoulders, following the line of his neck to bury them in his damp hair. He threaded his fingers into the slick strands, and rubbed his fingers in soothing circles. The hardness of the kiss eased as Stiles responded with soft, languid slides of his lips. Tension seeped out of Derek’s body, making him feel even heavier.

Stiles was not complaining.

He brought one hand down to brush his thumb across Derek’s jaw, stubble prickling his skin. There had been something desperate, but stiff, about Derek’s first kiss, but now he was placing short, open-mouthed kisses on Stiles’s lips. They were almost sweet, even if there was still something raw and terrifying between them.

Because it really was as terrifying as it was awesome. Stiles didn’t know if that was because it was all new to him, but he had a feeling Derek was just as scared as he was.

Curling his hand into Derek’s hair, Stiles opened his mouth against Derek’s, determined to drown out the crippling sense of unease. This was the first time he could truly feel that something was missing from his head. There was something that he should remember, something that had been just like this, but different, and he could feel it there – the void of it.

The edges of it were sharp and painful, reminding him of everything he didn’t know anymore about the guy currently licking at his upper lip. It made him press even closer to Derek, open his lips so wide his jaw ached and lick into Derek’s mouth until he felt that little bit of closeness.

Because at least this was real – the burn of the stubble on his skin, the smoothness of Derek’s tongue and the racing beat of Stiles’s heart. And even if the other things were gone, this wasn’t. He was suddenly desperate to have this, to remember it this time.

He angled his head to the side until the kiss was broken and Derek’s lips were open against his cheek, his breath hot and wet. Stiles shivered slightly, and closed his eyes when the tip of Derek’s tongue licked at the corner of his mouth.

Stiles fisted his hands into Derek’s jacket and pushed them both from the wall. The wall was fun and all, but he had a desperate need to do this in a bed. Dragging Derek along, he couldn’t stop himself from leaning in to mouth at a spot below his jaw. He slanted his lips down the still damp skin of Derek’s neck as he stumbled backwards, nearly falling on his ass when they reached the bottom of the stairs.

Derek’s arm wrapped around him to hold them steady, and there was a huff that might have been annoyance or laughter. It was hard to tell. Derek took the main job of getting them up the stairs, more or less holding Stiles up with the arm around his waist. He probably would’ve objected to that if it wasn’t for the goal in sight.

They stumbled into the wall, missing the doorway into the bedroom, and Stiles started laughing as Derek buried his face into Stiles’s neck. His eyes fluttered shut when Derek’s lips opened over the curve of his collarbone, the warmth of them brushing along his skin.

“D’rek,” Stiles said with difficulty. “Didn’t tackle the stairs just to get to ‘nother wall.”

Derek answered by pushing even closer, licking a path up to his ear. The roll of his hips caught Stiles off guard, and he clung to Derek’s shoulders, biting back a whimper.

“Stiles,” Derek said against his cheek. “I wasn’t going to—”

“Please stop talking. Immediately.”

Stiles did his best to block out what Derek said next since he obviously didn’t know how to shut up. He still caught something about advantage and God, fuck that.

“You’re not taking advantage.” Stiles dug his fingers into Derek’s back. “I lost part of my memory, not my entire decision-making ability.” He hitched his hips. “Or my dick.”

Derek huffed, raising goose bumps on Stiles’s skin, and the fact that he was about to say something was completely obvious even for someone with no werewolf senses. So Stiles cupped his face between his hands and covered his parted lips with his mouth, going in all tongue and filth.

It surprised a moan out of Derek that went straight to his cock.

Stiles had no idea if it was this frantic the last time they did this. He imagined it was. They probably fumbled just as much getting out of their clothes, too busy touching each other to figure out the logistics. When Derek got fed up and almost tore Stiles’s jeans off, Stiles started laughing, but it died in his throat when Derek was suddenly naked.

It couldn’t really be healthy in the long run, the way it downright hurt to look at Derek. His hotness was an offense. Stiles’s cock twitched in the most unsubtle of ways.

“Take off your boxers and turn around,” Derek said, and yeah, Stiles could do that.

His hands shook a little as he managed to get out of his boxers and his socks. Part of him wanted to give Derek a bit of a fight before he obeyed, but he figured it was probably in his best interest to do as he was told for once. There was bound to be good things.

Very good things.

Stiles turned around, lying flat on his stomach on the bed. “Like this?” He wiggled a little in place.

“On your knees.”

Derek’s voice seemed connected to the nerve-endings in his skin, and there were prickles of pleasure along his spine as he obeyed almost automatically. The bed dipped and creaked under the combined weight of them. Stiles closed his eyes, suddenly noticing the stillness of the house.

It was almost like it was holding its breath.

When Derek finally touched him, running his hand up Stiles’s thigh, Stiles let out a long, shuddering moan. He felt electrified – buzzing with pent-up tension. He had no idea what the next move was, and he was struck, for a moment, with how he’d obeyed with no second thought – no real hesitation. As it was, he was pretty much offering himself up.

Stiles closed his eyes as Derek’s hand reached the bend of his hip, fingers running lightly over his skin in a way that was too fleeting and teasing for what Stiles needed right now. But he wasn’t going to beg. He wasn’t. Derek placed both hands on the swell of his ass, sliding them upwards a bit to rub at the small of his back, before coming back down to press into the flesh.

The muscles in his stomach quivered when Derek spread him open, leaving him excruciatingly exposed. Derek’s fingers dug into his skin, one thumb sliding so close to the rim of his hole. Suddenly there was a puff of air against it and Stiles jerked, swearing.

Derek laughed. He laughed. Of course, this was the thing he’d laugh about, all unrestrained and free in a way that had Stiles’s stomach in knots.

But then he didn’t have time to think about Derek laughing anymore, because there was the tip of Derek’s tongue at the rim of his hole, punching the breath out of him. His arms shook, buckling, and he leaned down on his elbows, hanging his head between his shoulders.

Derek didn’t give him any time to get himself together. He ran the flat of his tongue over the hole, turning Stiles’s bones to liquid. The feeling of it spread over his skin, making it feel too tight. Stiles was already ready to burst apart.

Derek’s stubble rubbed against the swell of his ass, and the feeling of it was so foreign and perfectly odd. Squeezing his eyes shut, he tried to control his racing pulse as Derek lapped at him, the contrast of the softness of his tongue and the harsh burn of his stubble driving Stiles out of his mind.

Twisting his fingers into the sheets, Stiles let out a shaky breath and pushed himself back against Derek’s tongue. He wanted, desperately, to rub himself against Derek’s face and bring himself off. His cheeks were burning and he pressed into the cool sheets, trying to keep his head focused enough to not miss out on anything.

When his hole opened around the tip of Derek’s tongue, Stiles sobbed into the sheets. He rocked back into Derek shamelessly, his thighs shaking as Derek fucked him open with it. Pre-come leaked from the tip of his cock, leaving wet streaks on his stomach whenever it bounced against it in time with the movement of his hips.

There was no way Stiles was going to last past this. He was already wound so tight he was shaking from it, and digging his hands into the sheets as he rocked his hips. When Derek pulled back a little, licking at the rim with soft little flicks of his tongue, Stiles lost control over the moans building in his throat. They spilled out of him in an endless string.

The moans morphed into words when Derek circled his fingers around Stiles’s cock. He had no idea what he was saying, although Derek’s name might have been a part of it. The pressure of Derek’s fingers on his cock, tight and hot, made the tension coil in his stomach.

Derek jerked him fast, circling his cock in the tight ring of his fist and every time Stiles moved his hips, he’d slide into that perfect hold. And when Derek once again pushed the tip of his tongue past the rim, fucking Stiles with it, Stiles trembled and cried out.

He spilled all over the sheets as he pushed his face down, groaning brokenly. The muscles in his stomach jumped and everything in him seemed to burst, sending his pulse rocketing until he could only hear his own heartbeat.

He didn’t manage to avoid his own come when he slipped forwards, no longer able to keep himself on his knees. It was sticky and uncomfortable against his stomach, but he couldn’t get himself to care. All he managed to focus on was slowly coming back to his surroundings.

The first thing he noticed was Derek’s hitching breath, and then the hand still on his ass. There was the slick sound of skin. He smiled and arched his ass upwards into Derek’s touch, listening to the little moans he gave. He heard that Derek was coming before he felt him spill over the small of his back. Derek let out a long moan, painting Stiles’s ass with come.

The house slowly came back to life as they lay side by side, Stiles still on his stomach and Derek on his back. The magic hummed through the wooden walls, pumping like blood, giving life to the building. Stiles relaxed as he felt the magic filling the air with warmth and something that almost smelled of cinnamon.

The bed dipped as Derek slid out of it, and Stiles would move his head to see what was going on, but that took effort and he had no room for effort. He didn’t even move when Derek returned. He turned his face into the sheets, slightly overwhelmed, when Derek wiped him clean with a damp cloth.

Derek rolled him over and Stiles squeaked. He was pushed out of the wet patch on the sheets, lying on his back in the middle of the bed. He blinked, trying to make sense of his head. It had been thoroughly scrambled. Derek came around to the other side again (the one that wasn’t a complete mess), and sat down on the edge.

Stiles let his eyes follow the broadness of his shoulders and the curve of his back that Stiles wanted to lick his way down.

The piano was playing softly in the room across the hall, and Stiles could hear the melody clearer now. It was the same one that it had been playing off and on for a while, the one that was eerily familiar but impossible to pin down.

“What song is this even?” Stiles said. He grabbed the cloth Derek had discarded on the bed and ran it down his stomach.

“Mine.”

“Hm?” Stiles looked up, and his fingers twisted in the cloth. He was probably still a little sex-drunk.

“’s mine.” Derek shrugged, and bent down to pick up his boxers. “I composed it once, ages ago, and played it on your piano.”

Stiles’s mouth snapped shut, and followed Derek with wide eyes. That song had been playing off and on for weeks, and fuck if Stiles knew what that meant. If anything at all. And he hadn’t remembered it, but it had seemed like something he should know. Like it was sitting on the tip of his tongue.

He swallowed, and said, “What if I never remember?”

He didn’t know if he’d even meant to say it. It hadn’t been something he’d even considered until very recently, let alone said out loud.

Derek paused for a moment, his t-shirt held loosely in his hand, his jeans unbuttoned.

“It’ll be a fresh start,” Derek said eventually.

“But it won’t be. It won’t be fresh at all, because it’ll all still be there even if I don’t remember.”

“And what are you going to do about that, exactly?”

“I didn’t say I was going to do anything, dude.”

“If you don’t remember, you don’t remember.” Derek shrugged again. He pulled his shirt on, his hair sticking up slightly. “Honestly, Stiles. Do you want to drop all contact if you don’t remember? I can go somewhere. I’ll stay with Cora.”

“Oh my God.” Stiles threw his arm over his eyes. “How did you even make this into something that you have to fix? It’s not your fault!”

Derek looked a little sheepish when Stiles sat up and rested his elbows on his bent knees.

“I realize it’s not my fault.”

“Somehow,” Stiles said, suppressing a smile, “I get the strange feeling that I’ll never hear you say that again.”

Derek rolled his eyes, which really only meant that Stiles was probably right.

“Where you going?” Stiles said, rubbing at the corner of his eye.

“I really did come to help you with the gnomes.”

Stiles stared at Derek walking out of the bedroom as if Stiles wasn’t sitting there stark naked.

“Hey!” Stiles called after him. “You can’t just fuck my brains into a scrambled mess and expect me to do research!”

Somehow, he ended up having to do it anyway. He wouldn’t claim it was the weirdest round of research he’d ever done, because that was a tall order. Still, he was sitting on the couch, cross-legged and fucked out, wearing nothing but his boxers and a clean, black T-shirt.

And when Derek licked his lips, Stiles immediately had a flashback that made him blush uncomfortably hot. He shifted a little, gripping the edges of the book he’d been flipping through. Derek, that little shit, was smirking down into his book, all knowing and obnoxious.

Stiles’s eyes were drawn to Derek too many times to be practical. Research was undeniably slow when his eyes went involuntarily to the movement of Derek’s fingers as he flipped the page, to the sharp cut of his jaw and the soft bow of his lip. He noticed other things too, like the shadow under his eyes and the lines between his eyebrows that no longer went away even when he wasn’t frowning.

He wondered how long he’d known Derek. Maybe they’d grown up together, pushing each other around at school. Maybe Stiles had felt like the world had come unhinged when he found out Derek was a werewolf.

When Derek looked up and met his eyes, Stiles refused to feel all apologetic and bashful about staring. Derek had willingly licked his lips, it was all fair game from there. Stiles looked back, his eyebrow raised.

“As far as I can find,” Derek said, and rubbed his thumb across the page, “no one’s ever gotten gnomes to give up part of their land.”

Stiles nodded. “It shouldn’t even really be possible to build anything on it. I have no idea how they managed.”

“Mrs. B.’s mother might not have been as innocent as Mrs. B. thinks in all this. I think it’d take some fairly powerful magic to circumvent the boundaries I’ve been reading about in this book.”

“Possibly not entirely harmless magic either,” Stiles said, resting his elbow on his knee and resting his chin in his hand.

“Maybe Mrs. B. is the one you should be working on. I honestly don’t know if it’s right to ask the gnomes to return something that was forcibly put on their land.”

Stiles sighed. He didn’t even want to think about that, even if it was probably true. With the amount of money Mrs. B. had already paid him, he had a feeling she’d be royally pissed off if he turned the tables on her.

“Why does she even want it back, and why now?” Derek said when Stiles kept quiet.

Stiles snorted, and rolled his shoulders to release some of the tension on them. “God only knows. She’s not exactly forth coming with the details. But she seemed sincere enough, so I decided to help. I think they’ve been trying to find a solution for a while, ever since her mother died.”

“Was her mother a witch, then?”

“Probably. From what I could find out from her letters, Mrs. B. is familiar with magic, but not proficient enough in it to deal with this on her own.”

“So she’s in way over her head.”

Stiles mulled over his options while he slowly, and indulgently, undressed Derek with his eyes, lingering on the curve of his shoulders, his waist, the bare skin of his arms. It wasn’t entirely easy to figure out where they stood right now. He didn’t know if he was allowed to climb over the table and kiss him. He didn’t know if this was a thing now.

It was something. But he didn’t know what kind of something.

“Stop doing that,” Derek said, head bent.

“Doing what?”

“Staring at me like that.”

“Why?” Stiles was in no hurry to stop.

“Because it’s distracting.”

“Really?”

Derek rolled his eyes when Stiles beamed. “Remember the gnomes?”

“Not right now, I don’t.”

“Stiles.”

“What, you don’t want to anymore?” Stiles said, and cringed at how it missed the mark on flippant and came out all insecure.

Derek closed the book in his lap. “Did it look like I didn’t want to when I stuck my tongue up your ass?”

“Well, no, but that was then and this is now.”

“God, you’re a fucking moron.”

“So I’ve been told, and if I remembered it I’m sure you would’ve added to that count several times.”

“I don’t know, I’ve been trying to give you a wide variation of insu—ow.” Something hit Derek in the head and landed at his feet.

Stiles looked at him wide-eyed for a moment and then laughter seemed to explode out of him so violently that he couldn’t even catch his breath.

“Did your house just throw lube at me?”

The book dropped from Stiles’s lap as he tipped sideways on the couch, laughing helplessly. “Oh my god,” he wheezed into the cushion. Derek still looked completely stricken, and the look on his face just made Stiles laugh harder.

“Shut up, Stiles.”

Stiles did no such thing. Not until Derek kissed him, sitting on his knees by the couch. Even then, a few puffs of laughter were swallowed by the kiss, and Derek smiled against his lips.

Pushing himself up again, he let Derek have a seat next to him before he straddled Derek’s hips. He leaned in, resting both of his arms on the back of the couch, bracketing Derek’s head. They seemed to breathe in tandem for a few moments, each rise and fall following each other. Stiles bent his head, taking Derek’s lips in a searching kiss, more curious and patient than before.

It didn’t really matter that Stiles didn’t remember all of it, because he forgot pretty much everything except Derek’s fingers when Derek thrust them in and up. They spread wide, opening and slicking him, and Stiles pushed back into his hand, rocking his hips as his mouth fell open.

He loved the way they moved inside him as he hitched his hips, sliding inside him rather easily, but still leaving a burn that made Stiles more acutely aware of the fact that he was riding Derek’s fingers.

Derek mouthed against his neck, breath hot and wet as his lips brushed softly over Stiles’s skin. When Derek gave a hard thrust of his fingers, he sucked a bruise into his neck, blunt teeth scraping against his skin, and Stiles’s cock twitched against his stomach.

Riding Derek’s dick made Stiles’s insides turn into a quivering mess. He rocked down on it, fingers clenching around the cushion behind Derek’s shoulders. Locking eyes with him, he pushed himself up before sinking down slowly to feel Derek’s cock spreading him open inch by inch. He whimpered, biting his lip and Derek’s hands tightened on his hips.

Derek lost patience first. The fingers at Stiles’s hips pressed into his skin so hard Stiles was sure they’d bruise and then Derek was dragging him down on his cock, so hard and fast that Stiles got dizzy. He cried out, and pre-come leaked from his cock as he let Derek guide him into a rhythm that was almost too much.

“Fucking hell, Derek.” His voice shook as he was filled over and over, the muscles in his stomach tightening.

When Derek reached one hand down to jerk his cock hard and fast as Stiles rode down on him, Stiles was lost. And he kind of understood why Derek had wanted to hold back, because it was confusing, it was complicated. He didn’t remember, and he didn’t know if he’d ever remember. And he wanted to. Maybe it’d destroy them if he never remembered, or maybe it’d destroy them if he did, and both of those thoughts seemed unbearable when Derek’s face went slack and beautifully blissful.

***

“This is the worst.”

“I tried to stop you,” Allison said, looking unfairly fresh-faced and unfazed.

Stiles glared at her and slouched forwards onto the table, cursing himself for his poor life choices. At least Scott looked about as ready to die as he did, and Isaac was groaning on the couch. Lydia was sitting across from him, a glass of cold water pressed to her cheek.

“You’re supposed to drink that,” he said.

She rolled her eyes and moved the glass to rest against her temple. “I blame you for this.”

“Me? It was Scott’s birthday!”

“Yeah, and who brought the vodka?”

“Yeah!” Scott just about fell into the chair, splaying out. “You told me you’d gotten me everything I ever wanted, which turned out to be a bottle of vodka and wolfsbane. And then asked me what more I could possibly want.”

“Yes, thank you, Scott,” Stiles said, voice flat. “I remember. I was there.”

Scott waved his hand. “It’s hard to keep track these days.”

“I wish I could forget the vodka-tinged memories of last night.”

Lydia laughed, the water in her glass nearly sloshing over the edge. “We’re just getting too old for this.”

Stiles looked at her, blinking rapidly a few times. He wanted to say something, but it seemed to die on the tip of his tongue.

“Speak for yourself,” Scott said. “I was on fire last night.”

“Nowhere near your usual game.” Isaac’s voice was muffled into the couch.

His heart beat too fast. Stiles could almost hear it in his ears. He cut into Scott’s indignant reply as he wiped his sweaty palms on his jeans. “I don’t remember last night.”

The room went unnaturally silent. Allison made an aborted movement towards him, her eyes wide.

Jesus.

“You just said you wish you could forget,” Lydia said.

“Jesus, did I?”

“Yeah, you did.” Allison pressed her fingers against her lips, her eyebrows pulled together.

“That has to be it,” Lydia said, looking over at Scott. “It’s a trigger.”

“You should test it,” Isaac said, his voice gravelly.

Scott glared at him. “Are you crazy? He can’t mess with this any further.”

“Just on something small. I’m not an idiot, Scott. If he tries it on something small that doesn’t matter, we’ll know for sure if that’s it.”

“But something small can mess up bigger things,” Allison said. “We have to be sure.”

Ever since this thing had come into his life, he’d never felt quite as terrified of it as he did now. The fact that it could spread, that he could forget things just by saying the wrong thing, was kind of a catastrophe because Stiles was widely known for saying the wrong things far too often.

His mouth went drier and drier as the others argued about whether or not it was a good idea. But he needed to know. If he knew the trigger, he was one step closer to finding out how to fix it. At least he wanted to think that was the case.

“I wish I could forget Harris.”

The discussion stopped abruptly, and Scott started laughing. It was slightly hysterical. Allison’s mouth twitched too.

“You would,” she said.

“Stiles.” Lydia leaned forwards on her elbows, cutting into Scott and Isaac’s laughter. “Who was our chem teacher in high school?”

He knew he should remember this. He knew he must have had a million chemistry classes in high school, but they were all gone, as if chemistry was something that he’d never even done.

“That might’ve been a bad idea,” he said, rubbing his hand against his head. “So many hours of my life missing right now.”

No one said anything. Not until Allison seemed to snap out of it. “No more wishing you don’t remember things. Don’t even think it.”

“Do you think I’m an idiot? I should probably stop talking all together.”

“Scott, get me the book.” Lydia took the book from Scott and flipped it open, furrowing her brows. “I can probably find out what kind of magic operates on triggers. It should at least narrow it down a lot.”

“I need to tell Derek.”

And shit. He did need to tell Derek. Which was going to be horrifying and terrible. Oh hey, Derek, you see the thing is I forgot all about you because apparently I told someone I wanted to forget.

He crossed his arms in front of him on the table and rested his forehead against them, Fuck, he should just wish to forget all about the forgetting. Maybe it’d cancel each other out. And oh, God, he probably shouldn’t even think that.

He stilled, waiting. But no. He still remembered forgetting.

“On the bright side, thinking it doesn’t seem to do anything,” he said.

“Stiles,” Allison said, her voice sharp.

“It wasn’t on purpose!”

Lydia pursed her lips, not looking up from the book. “Go talk to Derek. You’re doing no good here.”

“Thanks.”

“Scoot.”

“I hate you.”

She looked up, then, and beamed at him. And he really didn’t hate her at all. Maybe someday he’d slip up in anger and wish he could forget her, and then he’d forget everything he’d been through with Lydia – his awkward high school obsession, the darkness, growing up and becoming friends.

“Go,” she said, softer.

Because maybe she was the only one who truly understood that he really needed to talk to Derek.

***

The fact that he did need to talk to him didn’t really make it any easier to face. The drive over felt like going to his doom, and the genuine smile spreading over Derek’s face when he opened the door made Stiles want to smash his head against the doorway.

He had no idea what his past self had been thinking, or what he’d said, but he rather hated himself for it.

“Can I come in?”

He’d thought about it, and going in seemed mildly better than putting on a show for the neighbors.

“Do you want to grab a pizza or something?” Derek said when he closed the door behind them. He looked all adorable and earnest about it, and Stiles closed his eyes.

“I just need to tell you something,” he said, refusing to open his eyes again. “The magic has a trigger. We found it.”

“Stiles.”

“Derek, just let me talk, okay?”

“I don’t want you to tell me.”

“Fuck that, there are already too many unknowns in this equation.”

“You can’t even look at me. Telling me isn’t going to bring anything good with it.”

That made a frightening lot of sense, but Stiles couldn’t handle any more of the unknown and the secrecy. He couldn’t carry that around with him if he and Derek were going to be anything.

“It happens if I say it out loud. If I wish that I could forget,” he said before Derek could stop him. He opened his eyes just in time to see Derek close his. “I’m sorry. Like, you have no idea. I have no idea what the fuck was wrong with past me. I want to punch past me in the face.”

“I think you’d understand where past you was coming from,” Derek said. Stiles really couldn’t take the expression on his face, or how defeated he sounded. “If you remembered, you’d get it.”

“I don’t care.”

“You should care.”

Stiles moved forwards and twisted his fingers into Derek’s shirt. Maybe that was true. Maybe Stiles was making promises he couldn’t keep. For all he knew, Derek could’ve done terrible things. But Stiles also knew how their world worked. Stiles, too, had done terrible things that he’d do anything to take back if it was at all possible.

And he couldn’t picture Derek doing horrible, unforgivable things for no good reason. Which he realized was stupid because he’d technically only known Derek for a few weeks, but he also knew that wasn’t true. There was a feeling there, a feeling of knowing Derek on some other level that went past memory and into something else.

He leaned in, pulling on the shirt to bring Derek closer, and pressed a soft kiss to Derek’s lips.

“I know it matters what I used to think, but doesn’t it matter what I think now?”

Derek sighed, and finally opened his eyes. “You only have 10% of the story, Stiles.”

“Maybe so. But maybe I see things even clearer because I don’t have to deal with all the history.”

He’d started to believe that at some point, especially considering the way Derek fit into the magic in his life with little to no effort. Since Stiles knew nothing about their past, he saw everything that happened now outside of the shadows of their mutual history.

“You shouldn’t make any decisions until you remember everything.”

“Really. And where does that leave us if I never remember anything?”

Derek turned his head, shaking it slightly. “I don’t know.”

“See, I did tell you it’s not a fresh start.”

“I’m sorry.”

Stiles laughed, disbelieving. “I can’t believe you’re the one apologizing to me.”

Derek smiled, but it was weak, barely a lift at the corner. More than anything he looked sad. “Go work on the gnomes, Stiles.”

***

He hadn’t had to deal with the good old Telluric Currents in a while. The map was stashed in between his books, kept safe until they needed it once in a while when things got crazy around Beacon Hills, and the currents might actually give them some sort of clue.

It was a complete coincidence that led him to it this time. Stark had pulled it onto the floor and pushed it around until he got annoyed enough to check what she was up to. And now he had it spread out on the floor with his finger following the lines.

“Shit,” he said, pressing his finger to the spot he’d been looking for.

Mrs. B.’s house stood in the cross-section between no less than three currents.

He looked up at Stark who was blinking serenely at him, her head inclined.

Maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that he found the map at all.

***

The eerie feeling he’d had around Mrs. B.’s house suddenly made a lot of sense. As he pulled up to it, yet again a little overcome with the strangeness of it, he tried not to think about the amount of power that thrummed beneath the house. He had no idea why any of this hadn’t clicked before. It should have, because it certainly explained why the gnomes were so protective of it too.

The gnomes stood lined up on the porch, looking like a bizarre gang of very beardy criminals.

“This is a magical center, isn’t it?” Stiles said, taking no time for politeness.

“Took him long enough,” Greg muttered, and Hans scoffed, bouncing on the balls of his feet.

“Humans,” Hugo said, and shrugged.

If he hadn’t been assaulted by them once already, Stiles would’ve thrown himself at the entire lot of them. He threw his arms out, and sighed. “Why didn’t you just tell me?”

The gnomes looked at each other, some of them muttering among themselves.

“We do not volunteer information to humans,” Hugo said. “Maybe if you had asked. Besides, did you not get our letter?”

Stiles pressed his hand to his forehead. Jesus Christ.

“You realize we could’ve been done with this literally months ago?”

“Gnomes do not have your illogical sense of time, Stiles.”

“Of course you don’t.”

“Talk to your human,” Hugo said, and glared at Greg who was snickering behind him. “Leave the house in our possession and we will tell you how to remember.”

Stiles stilled, eyes going wide. The gnomes just looked back at him, completely calm, as if they hadn’t just blown the field wide open.

“You fucking assholes,” he said, shoulders sagging.

“If that’s the way you want to look at it.”

“I hate you.”

“Feelings are such messy things. You may keep them in your human sphere.”

Stiles drove off with a headache pressing at his temple. They had known the entire time. Not only could they have spared all of them the whole debacle of negotiating over the house, but Stiles could’ve had his memory back from the very fucking start.

If he never saw a gnome again, it’d be too soon.

He’d face Gerard again before he took on another group of gnomes.

***

Stiles had to wait for Klaus to appear again before he could contact Mrs. B. If there was anything about this case that he was going to miss, he supposed it was Klaus who always seemed to make his house much more pleasant for a few days. Not that the house was generally unpleasant, just a tiny bit unruly.

It was difficult to explain the case to Mrs. B. in a way that would make her understand what kind of catastrophe that could occur if she were left to her own devices with the house. And as much as Stiles hated the gnomes and their cesspool of deceit, he was in no doubt that they knew what they were doing in this case.

He couldn’t even fathom why anyone would use dark magic to erect a house on gnome owned land, in the cross-section of three currents. The house was a ticking bomb of untapped energy, probably leaking into places where it shouldn’t leak.

He could only hope Mrs. B. would be as terrified of this as she should be.

When Klaus showed up, he’d finished the letter after three discarded drafts, and he only let Klaus rest for an hour before sending him back.

There was a slight feeling of unease as he sent it off, because he hadn’t bothered to sugarcoat anything. But if she wanted her money back, then so be it. He’d find a way. He couldn’t in good conscience hand off something as unstable as that house to someone who didn’t have the competence to handle it.

***

Stiles texted Derek the day after he sent Klaus off. The wait was killing him. It made him antsy and frustrated, and he needed to tell someone. He’d even tried going for a run to get his mind off it, something he hadn’t actually done in years. It didn’t work.

He knew that he wasn’t even technically talking to Derek at the moment. They’d seem to agree on some unspoken vow of silence, where everything unsettled between them served as a buffer. But someone needed to know, and Derek was the one who’d been working on it too. He was the natural one to contact. Stiles didn’t really want to worry the pack about this now, it didn’t seem like there’d be any point since they didn’t really know the details of the case anyway.

It was late afternoon when the reply came.

You better hope she has the sense to back off.

That about summed it up, really.

And Stiles could do nothing but wait.

***

Dear Stiles,
It’s hard to believe that my mother’s house is a powerhouse of dark magic. I had no idea, and I never thought it was forced into existence in such a way. She loved it so, and looking back, I suppose I should have known. I should have understood there was something more behind those looks she’d give me whenever I promised to take care of it. She would smile at me and kiss my temple, and she must have known that it was impossible, in the end.

My mother was an accomplished witch, but my older sister, who has since passed on, was the one who inherited her powers. I only know enough to dabble, just the slightest, and anyone would have to be crazy to think I could control a magical center of dark magic. And while my mother was a lot of things, she was never crazy.

It appears our roads diverge here, Stiles. Please make sure the house is well taken care of, as it still means a great deal to me and the peace of my mother’s spirit.

Yours,
Mrs. B.

***

Stiles jumped in the car and took off towards the site immediately. He was every kind of ready to get this case out of his life. And if this meant that the gnomes were willing to help him get his memory back, then that was only an extra relief.

If they’d been lying about that, he would kill them all. And not even mercifully.

For once, the gnomes weren’t waiting for him when he pulled up at the large, white house in the middle of nowhere. It stood as haunting and oddly captivating as usual. In the afternoon sun it looked almost normal for a moment, but he knew better. He didn’t step up on the porch, not taking any chances.

“I talked to my human!” he yelled, and he’d barely blinked before the gnomes were standing on the porch.

One of them was holding something wrapped up in a blanket, and the others looked at him with rapt attention. They were waiting for his move.

“She said she didn’t know the house had been put up on your ground forcibly, and that she doesn’t have the means to care for a house placed at a magical center.”

Hugo inclined his head, his short fingers combing through his beard. “So the human will leave us be?”

“As long as you promise to take care of the house, she will leave you be.”

Greg bristled. “Of course we take care of the house.”

“Good. I’ll be checking.”

He wouldn’t, if he could help it. But they didn’t exactly need to know that. Least of all Greg. That fucker.

Nobody said anything and Stiles shuffled in place, squinting slightly against the sun. Part of him was almost ashamed to ask this from the gnomes of all people.

“You said you could help me remember.”

“Rod,” Hugo said, and the gnome holding the folded blanket looked at him. “The jewelry box.”

Rod fiddled with the blanket a little and then threw the bundle at the ground in front of Stiles. The blanket spread to the sides and revealed a little box sitting in the middle of it. Something in Stiles jolted at the closeness of it and he took a step back.

“You tried to steal this,” Hugo said. “Foolishly.”

“Enough with the shaming, thank you.”

“It’s cursed. And now, so are you.”

Stiles swore. Of course he was cursed. The power of the house leaked into whatever was in it. It was probably ripe with horrifying curses and spells. He’d gone into a house built on a magical center and touched things. Because he was an idiot. And because the gnomes were petty assholes who wouldn’t tell people anything.

“How do I fix it?”

“A simple cleansing spell should do it.” Hugo paused, narrowing his eyes. “Before you blow it up. It’ll work better if you keep it close to the center.”

Stiles crouched down and pulled on the edge of the blanket, looking at the innocent little box in the middle.

“Thank you.”

“We don’t deal with thank yous.”

“Of course you don’t.”

Apparently, they didn’t deal with goodbyes either, because when he looked up they were gone.

It was almost hard to believe that the box in front of him was the source of everything. It glittered in the sunlight, looking deceivingly inconspicuous. But there wasn’t much to do about it now, in any case. He couldn’t go back and tell himself to not steal the box, and if this actually worked, things would be back to normal.

Oh, shit. Would he forget everything that had happened since? Or would he still remember everything?

He didn’t know if… Shit. What if he lost all the memories he’d made since the curse happened?

Fumbling for his phone, he thumbed through it with shaking fingers and hovered his finger over Derek’s name. Taking a deep breath, he pushed down on it and puffed his cheeks out. He looked around him as the phone rang. The area was oddly quiet, and he wondered why he’d never noticed before.

When Derek picked up, Stiles had almost forgotten he’d called. He’d been too preoccupied with the box and wondering about the consequences.

He nearly jumped when Derek said, “Stiles, you okay?”

“Yeah,” he said, distracted. “Can’t a guy just call to talk?”

“Stiles.”

“I found it.”

“Found what?”

“It was a cursed jewelry box. I tried to steal it from the house. I only need to destroy it and the curse will be broken.” He paused, tipping his head to the side. “Or, well, that’s what they tell me.”

“Can you?”

“Yeah.” Stiles gripped the phone so tightly it creaked under the pressure. “It’s just that… what if getting my old memories back means the new ones are erased?”

“It won’t,” Derek said, and Stiles really wished he had werewolf senses. He didn’t know if Derek was really sure or if he was just bullshitting.

“But what if it does?”

“Then it does. It’ll be fine.”

“Derek. Promise me you’ll find me and tell me what happened if I don’t come find you.”

Nothing but silence came through from the other end.

“Derek, I swear to god.” His heart beat too fast in his chest. “You’re the only one who knows what’s happened. Believe it or not, I didn’t exactly let the others in on my sex adventures. Promise me you’ll tell me.”

There was a deep exhale from the other end. Stiles closed his eyes. He didn’t know what Derek was thinking, and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to know either.

“I promise,” Derek said, his voice cracking slightly.

Stiles wiped a sweaty palm on his jeans.

“If you break that promise, and I ever find out, I’ll tear you apart with every spell I know.”

He hung up before Derek could even say anything. There was no way he could do this with Derek breathing into his ear, being distracting and Dereky.

For a brief moment he wondered if his new memories were worth giving up for the ones he’d lost, if it came to that. His new memories seemed happier, and less complicated. But then, could he really live the rest of his life not knowing? Especially when whatever was in their past was holding Derek back.

He squeezed his eyes and held his palms out, muttering the strongest cleansing spell he could remember. The lid rattled, banging against the rest of the box, and when he opened his eyes again it was glowing golden before fading. The box looked duller now, even with the sunlight reflecting in its stone.

Stepping back, Stiles took the final decision and flicked his hands, saying the harsh syllables of the only spell he knew for destroying anything of this magnitude. The ground shook under him and he stumbled, holding his arm up to shield himself from the impact. Dust from the ground whirled up around him.

He knew the box was destroyed even though he couldn’t see anything, because his memories snapped in place within him as if they’d never been gone. They didn’t come trickling back, one by one. It all just pushed into him, making space where there was none.

It was so overwhelming that he fell to his knees, gasping. Dust filled his lungs and he coughed, gripping his thighs to anchor himself as it simply felt like there wasn’t any space for all these things.

Where there had been an uncomplicated want for Derek, there were now so many years of history and confusion that Stiles didn’t know which way to look. He tried to pull back the feeling he’d had before he destroyed the box, but there was no use.

Nothing would be simple anymore. He couldn’t get that back.

The air cleared as the dust settled and he opened his eyes slowly. With sudden clarity, he remembered the first time they’d had sex. He’d assumed it had been rough and desperate, but all he could remember was Derek’s hands lingering on his skin, running up his sides with a patience that had made Stiles lazy and content.

He’d been pushed into the bed, fucked from behind, but Derek had been pressed to his back, rocking into him. It was slow and close and intimate in a way that, even now, terrified him a little.

Stiles let out a breath, and then he started laughing, delirious.

He pushed himself on shaking legs and stumbled to the car, aware that he probably shouldn’t be driving since he could barely stand. But he wasn’t going to stick around here any longer than he had to.

The house loomed behind as he drove off, his hands shaking on the steering wheel, and he didn’t quite understand how he’d ever found it beautiful. It was too haunting for that.

The drive gave him the time to get used to the memories that had pushed their way back into him again. Where there had been a simple little bubble of thoughts and emotions labeled Derek, there was now a whole web of strings and knots. It was heavy and significant in there, coloring everything else in a way it hadn’t when it was all gone.

He started laughing again, nearly swerving off the road.

He’d thought everything would be so fucking complicated with his memories returned, and the hilarious thing was that it was complicated, but it made everything so easy.

When he reached Derek’s building, he left the car parked haphazardly in what was probably not even a parking spot, and ran up to the door. He slammed his hand against all the bells on one side, waiting until someone buzzed him in and tore the door open.

Derek’s door was locked, and he hammered his hand against it, not even finding the patience to stand still and act like a normal human being. His breath came out too fast, and he was teetering on the edge of panic, too overwhelmed to sort one emotion from another.

When Derek opened the door wide, though, looking panicked and wide-eyed, Stiles’s heart stopped for a tenth of a second and then fell into an oddly calm rhythm.

He beamed at Derek and jumped at him, forcing Derek to catch him as he wrapped his legs around Derek’s hips. They staggered a little as Stiles pushed the door closed, and stared down at Derek’s face.

Fucking gorgeous Derek who was the biggest idiot in the world, who’d made Stiles’s life infinitely more difficult and infuriating. Stupid, self-sacrificing Derek whose entire family was dead except for a sister who couldn’t stand being in Beacon Hills. Derek, who was such a big part of his life that the web of Derek related memories weighed him down and anchored him, connecting everything else in his life together.

“I was terrified,” he said, and Derek’s arms tightened around him. “Dude, we had slow feeling-sex. And then we ignored each other. And I was rambling alone in the car after being knifed by Greg. I wished I’d never even met you because I didn’t know how to deal with everything.”

Derek’s eyebrows pulled together, deepening those ever-present lines.

“You kissed the mole behind my ear, for fuck’s sake. And then you held my hand above my head and threaded our fingers together, like it meant something special to you.”

Stiles was planning to keep going, but Derek didn’t let him. Stiles was pretty happy to kiss him instead.

“I guess I don’t need to keep my promise,” Derek said, his cheek pressed to Stiles’s.

“As if you were going to keep that promise anyway, you self-sacrificing asshole.”

Derek pulled back and met his eyes. “I wouldn’t break a promise.”

“I know,” Stiles said, slipping his hand into Derek’s hair. “I know you.”