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: D :

It was still dark when Derek woke up. He rolled over, stretched his arm out to the other side of the bed and opened his eyes in confusion when it simply hit the cool mattress and bounced softly. He blinked at the dark room, wondering what the hell he’d been dreaming about that left him so disoriented and lonely when he woke up.

He vaguely remembered another person, maybe, lying next to him in bed like always. Except not, because he was single, had been single for a while, and no one else had graced his bed in that time. Meeting new people never worked well for him, he'd learned the hard way, 4/5 of the people he'd dated in the past had tried to kill him or ended up dead.

Not good odds under any circumstance.

Derek pushed himself up from his oddly expensive and scientific mattress and into his morning routine of coffee and reading the paper on his tablet. It was a good routine, steady and calm and unhurried, watching the windows gradually lighten as the sun rose.

Like every morning, he sipped his coffee, ate breakfast, read the comics, then got up to grab another mug from the cabinet. He stared at the mug in his hand—Bat Signal—wondering why the hell he'd even gotten it out, put it back, and sat back down at his coffee, glancing up at the empty chair across from him every once in a while out of some weird habit he couldn’t shake.

That morning he didn't have as much time to relax as he would've liked; the pack was back from school; they'd all rolled into town over the last few days, checked in by text, and today was the day they descended on Derek's apartment to catch up and empty his fridge like a plague of locusts. He was the only one in the pack who had a big enough apartment, which also meant that he had to go grocery shopping if he wanted to still have food to eat the next day.  

So he ran out and hauled back five grocery bags worth of food and drinks and distributed them to their appropriate places, double checking that he had everyone's preferences as he went. It wasn't anything special, remembering what everyone wanted; it was necessary. The last time anyone ignored preferences, a full on brawl had broken out over the last can of Coke. Because his pack was still a bunch of children.

Actually, Scott's pack. He was alpha, they were his responsibility. Derek didn't have to worry about it.

Except that he would always worry about it because they were his pack and he was a sucker for his pack, some voice deep in his mind reminded him, so he counted out cans of soda and beer and went down the mental checklist.

He had burger fixings for Scott, the weirdly specific ingredients for Lydia to some unknown dish she would prepare herself when she got there, Allison's thankfully basic turkey sandwich components, and Isaac's barbecue chicken. As well as everything to fill in the gaps and then some.  

He pulled out a bag of frozen curly fries to make in the oven, and didn't even realize he was holding them until he was about to toss them into the freezer. He stared down at the bag as he tried to remember why the hell he'd grabbed them. No one really liked fries to any abnormal extent, curly, waffle, or otherwise.

He shrugged, tossed the bag into the freezer, and shelved the six different kinds of soda and beer the pack required for a typical evening. They would all be paying him back for it, that much was certain, because he'd just spent $150 for one night and had to go to four different specialty stores to get all of Lydia's demands. Even Isaac was weirdly specific about the brand of barbecue chicken he got.

If Scott wouldn't hit him for it, he could kiss Allison for having such a basic and easy request. She hadn't even cared what kind of bread he got.

*

It wasn’t until everyone had been there for over an hour that Derek realized he still felt like he was waiting for someone else to come. Scott, Isaac, Allison, and Lydia, all present and accounted for, eating their high maintenance meals, bickering over beers, and catching up before they separated again for the holidays. And yet he still kept catching himself watching the door, expecting it to burst open any second.

“No way, curly fries?” Scott exclaimed from the kitchen, scooping up a handful from the baking pan and bringing them back to the couch. He batted Isaac’s hand away when he tried to take a few. Allison conspicuously took some, because even if they weren’t dating at the moment, he still let her get away with almost anything.

Isaac huffed, griping about preferential treatment, then brought the entire pan back for everyone. Even Lydia had a couple.

Derek didn’t even know why he’d even made the fries, and it was good they were eating them because otherwise they would have just gone soggy in the fridge for a few days, but it felt wrong that they were eating them. He couldn’t explain why, but there was some small urge deep inside to slap their hands away and save them for...someone.

He grimaced at the vague memory of someone shoving their mouth with fries in the most disgusting and unflattering manner, but he couldn’t remember who or when. Laura? No, she’d always eating fairly healthy, haughtily stating that being wolves didn’t mean they had to eat like them, thinking she was unendingly clever. Derek just hated that he’d picked up her noble eating habits, except he didn’t because cooking always made him think of her and the smug expression she would have on her face as she told him he was just like her.

His somewhat disgusting memories of curly fries were interrupted by Lydia standing abruptly and stalking over the armchair that was amazingly still empty, the four of them crushed in together on the couch while Derek had his own chair (perks of it being his apartment). The conversation died off as they all watched her kneel down to drag something out from underneath, and Derek’s stomach twisted when he realized what it was.

It was a hoodie; just an average, red, cheap hoodie. The same hoodie that always sat just out of view under that chair and had for as long as Derek could remember.

“What is this?” She demanded, lasering her focus in on Derek who was sitting the closest. “Where did this come from?”

He hesitated before confessing, “I don’t know.” 

“Derek, now is not the time to be mysterious.” She moved in on him, and he automatically stood to meet her. When confronted by Lydia, it was never a good idea to be sitting down. “Tell me where this came from.”

“I don’t know.”

Her heels clicked on the wood as she adjusted her stance for a better attack.

“I swear to god, Derek, if you don’t tell me—“

“He’s telling the truth,” Scott interrupted, also standing to step between them should the need arise and looking concerned. You could never tell with Lydia. “I listened, Lydia, he doesn’t know.”

“Then why is it in your apartment?”

“I don’t know how it got here, it’s just…there. All the time.” He should’ve thrown it out by now, had gone so far as to carry it to the trash, only to kick it back under the chair like whoever it belonged to would be back for it. It was a ridiculous little ritual that he wasn’t proud of and couldn’t explain no matter how many times he questioned himself on it.

It’s just there?” She was shaking the hoodie like it was an outlet for her rage. Why she was so mad, he had no idea. It was a sweatshirt. An enigma of a sweatshirt, but a sweatshirt all the same. “You’re a born werewolf, you expect me to believe someone else’s hoodie just appeared in your home and you didn’t notice? Even I can tell it smells like someone else!”

“It doesn’t,” Derek ground out, looking past her angry and slightly frantic expression. It was hard to admit, not knowing anything about the stupid hoodie but still feeling weirdly attached to it. Protective of it, almost. Like it was important. He wanted to grab it out of her hand and put it back where it belonged. “It smells like pack, and I don’t understand why.”

The room went silent. Scott grabbed the hoodie and held it closer to his nose.

“He’s right.” His eyebrows pulled down in confusion, and his head tilted, trying to place the underlying tones of the scent as Derek had done so many times.

“Then whose is it?” Lydia demanded, fixing everyone with a glare in turn. “Derek? Isaac? Scott?” No one owned up to it. “Well it has to be someone’s, hoodies don’t just appear out of nowhere.” Her heart was beating too fast as she worked herself up in frustration.

“Lydia, why are you so worried about this?” Allison stayed seated, avoiding a potentially confrontational atmosphere, but slipped her hand into her friend’s and squeezed. A hoodie shouldn't have been such a big deal, but they'd all learned to trust Lydia when she said something was off.

“Because I’ve been seeing this fucking hoodie out of the corner of my eye for months, and there’s never anyone there. And yes,” she stabbed a perfectly manicured finger into the air to cut off any questions, “it’s the same hoodie. I’m sure.”

“I recognize this,” Scott announced suddenly, still holding the hoodie to his face. “I know this scent. I remember it.”

“Okay, whose is it?” Lydia snapped impatiently when he didn’t continue. He smiled wistfully and a little sheepishly, already embarrassed. Lydia waved her hand for him to talk already.

“This is going to sound stupid, really stupid, but…I had this imaginary friend when I was little?”

“No,” Derek interrupted bluntly. That’s what he got for getting his hopes up. “Imaginary friends don’t have a scent—they’re imaginary.”

“He did. I remember it,” Scott insisted, then continued when no one looked convinced at all, “It’s like that one unique smell that everyone’s house has that you remember forever, and I know this.”

“Are you sure he was imaginary, Scott? Maybe he’s just a neighborhood kid you don’t remember well,” Allison suggested.

“Yes, my mom doesn’t remember him at all, but I do, I played with him every day. I remember going to his house—“ He cut himself off and frowned.

“His house,” Derek repeated. “Your imaginary friend’s house.” It was when Scott said things that like that Derek desperately wished for someone to share this burden with; someone who understood just how much he put up with on a regular basis and could commiserate. The pack was quick to run with half-formed ideas under the best of circumstances, and now Scott was getting worked up, Lydia was desperate for answers, and Derek felt like the only sane one.

“If he was real then why wouldn’t my mom remember him? He was at our house all the time, I remember breaking one of the living room windows with him! I had to go to the ER!” Now Scott was getting agitated too; Jesus, this was turning into a colossal pile of shit, fast. Why hadn’t he just thrown out the hoodie one of the countless times he’d tried? He could have avoided this whole thing completely.

“Real or not," Lydia cut in, "why does this hoodie smell like him? And why am I seeing it everywhere?”

Isaac, the only one sitting quietly and not hyped up about the damn hoodie, looked past Lydia to give Derek a pleading look. The agitation in the room was palpable and stressful, and it wasn't a particularly fun feeling for werewolves to pick up on and be completely surrounded by. Derek sighed and took his cue to step in and calm everyone down, as had somehow become his exhausting responsibility.

“Scott, you were little and you weren’t a werewolf then; you didn’t have such a developed sense of smell. You’re probably just projecting this onto your memories.”

“No, it was him! This was his hoodie, I remember him wearing this! I can picture his house—why can’t I see his face?”

Derek couldn't be happier to let Allison step in again. "Would anyone else you grew up with remember him? Another kid from the neighborhood?"

"No, there weren't any other kids in the neighborhood, just us...me." He corrected himself with a frown.

"You didn't have any other friends?" Isaac looked surprised by this; everyone did, Scott was a pretty social guy. It didn't make sense picturing him playing alone with an imaginary friend.

"No, I did," Scott insisted, "I wasn't a lonely kid, I was always playing video games with..." He gestured with his hand at the space his brain was supposed to insert the missing name, but nothing came.

"Maybe a kid from the hospital? Someone whose parent worked there too?" Allison directed him back to sit on the couch while he thought, shooting a worried glance to Derek and Lydia. Derek didn't know why she thought he might know something, he'd spent most of his life actively trying to repress childhood memories, not dig them back up again.

"Yes! I remember him from the hospital!" Scott finally exclaimed, staring at Allison like she held the key to his problem. "We broke a vending machine and hid in a supply closet until my mom found us. And we took naps in the break room, he was always there. Why wouldn't my mom remember him?"

"Scott, he might have been a patient," Isaac suggested quietly, reluctantly. He didn't need to suggest that the kid might have died, they were all thinking it with Lydia having some kind of connection to it all. "Or you might have been friends with the ghost of a dead child the entire time. You never know in this town," he added with a shrug in an attempt to lighten the mood. It didn't work.

"No, he wasn't a patient." Scott was still worked up, his eyebrows pulled together and his crooked jaw working in frustration. "He couldn't have been a patient, I never went to the pediatrics wing because my mom wanted me close by in case I had an asthma attack."

"You had asthma?" This was news to Derek, how had he not known that about Scott? He'd met Scott right after he'd been bitten, when they’d talked in the woods after that stupid party and were shot at by the Argents.

No.

No, he’d already known Scott at that point. That was when he first met Allison, and used her jacket to get Scott’s attention through his teenaged hormone haze to get him to realize what his life had become, but he’d already known the kid.

They met before that, when they…

It was happening to him too. Lydia, Scott, and now him. Once an incident, twice a coincidence, three times a pattern.

“Scott, how did we meet?” He interrupted, having no idea what anyone had been saying before that. Scott just looked at him, still frowning. He’d never seen Scott frown this much in his life.

“We met when you lured me out to the woods with Allison’s scent like a total creep.”

Allison apparently hadn’t heard about that; her head whipped around to give him a dangerous stare that demanded explanation. “That night you gave me a ride home? You took my jacket to get to Scott?”

“Have you ever tried to get his attention when he’s focused on a girl?” Derek countered and Isaac nodded from the couch like a man scarred by experience. Allison just shook her head with her mouth open in a kind of enraged half smile like she wanted to say too many things at once and didn't even know where to begin.

“And you wonder why you got arrested for murder,” Lydia sighed tiredly, pressing her fingertips against her temple like she had a headache from all the stupidity around her.

“I got arrested for murder because Scott accused me!”

"I accused you because you were stalking me and had half a body buried in your yard!"

"What," Isaac whispered.

"Which you had no business digging up!"

"You were really shady," Scott protested like it explained it all. "We thought we were catching a murderer."

"We?" Lydia cut in, immediately latching onto the same thing Derek had; he didn’t remember anyone else being involved, or at least he didn’t think so. But he remembered someone on the other side of the grate while he was cuffed in the back of a police cruiser, it wasn’t Scott, it was...

Scott's eyes widened as he tried to jump back into his thought process.

"Me and—" Scott stopped short, stared, then groaned in frustration. "It was right there!"

“Everybody stop!” Allison ordered, her voice cutting through everyone else clearly. “If this” she gestured to the hoodie being slightly punctured by Scott’s claws, “is actually something and not just bad memory and paranoia, we need to start with what we know and go from there.”

“Scott’s friend, who is imaginary,” Derek reminded them with a pointed eyebrow raise.

“Maybe not,” Allison corrected with a firm stare that told him he still wasn’t off the hook for the whole jacket thing. She sat next to Scott and ran her hand over his clawed fingers soothingly, trying to convince him to ease up on the poor hoodie. “Scott, you said you remember his house? Do you remember it well enough to find it?”

Scott took a few steadying breaths and let go of the fabric, which Allison handed off to Isaac. He held it slightly away from himself like it might jump him and compromise his composure as well.

“Maybe—I don’t think he lived far from me.” Scott stared at the floor with so much concentration his eyes started to bleed into the alpha red. This was really bothering him, it took a lot for Scott to lose control. “I think I remember walking there a lot.”

“Okay, let’s start at your house and see what happens.”

“I’ll go with him tomorrow,” Derek volunteered. “If this imaginary friend is actually real, it’s not going to do any good having all of us show up at his door.” He tried to keep the skepticism out of his voice, but a little bled in, because this was probably going to end up a long hunt across town for an imaginary friend.

: S :

Stiles ran.

There were howls in the distance, but he knew they weren’t wolves. They were never wolves. They were some approximation of wolves; fangs, claws, predatory eyes, fur, but it wasn’t right. They hunted him down on two legs, loomed over him, about to rip his throat out and kill him. And tonight was no different.

He ran through woods, blind in the darkness of night even with the light of a full moon, foliage and branches whipping past and tearing at his clothes, his skin. He never got very far, and like always, something huge and solid collided with his shoulder, throwing him to the side and crushing him to the ground with impossible weight.

Blue eyes stared into his, predatory, gleaming in the dark like that damn T-X from Terminator 3 bearing down on him. The monster leaned in, breathed in deep next to his ear, and...licked him?

"Gah! Destry!" Stiles jerked awake to the very fuzzy face of his very large German Shepherd looking very pleased with himself. Breakfast time.

His back popped and cracked loudly as he sat up and wiped the dog spit off his neck, and he wondered again why he had chosen such a stupidly soft mattress. His body was not made this kind of fluff, and he couldn’t for the life of him remember why he’d thought it was a good decision. It wasn't. At all.

Now that he was awake, Destry backed up to sit directly on Stiles' knees so he could properly give him the Breakfast Stare, huffing under his breath any time Stiles tried to lie back down and occasionally stamping his monster paws on his chest playfully when ignored. It had been cute when he was smaller; less so now that he was capable of leaving bruises.

"Fine, fine, get off me." He worked his legs out from under the large dog and stood while Destry jumped off the bed and ran across the studio apartment to the kitchen to wait impatiently next to the sealed metal bucket that held his food. It was the only kind of container he hadn't managed to chew through. He ate his food in the time it took Stiles to pour grounds into the coffee maker and spent the rest of Stiles’ breakfast with his head on the table next to his elbow like he hadn’t been fed in weeks, sighing for effect. What a ham.

With Destry fed and walked and giving his best ‘don’t leave me’ eyes, Stiles left for his first lecture of the day. He kicked ass in a discussion in his anthropology class, drew something truly hideous in his last non-major required class that he’d put off for too long because he and art classes had always been at odds with each other, walked and fed Destry, went out for a beer with Rohit and Charlotte, and was back home reading for class by ten. Destry tricked him into another walk at midnight, looking smug the entire time.

He finally got into bed two hours later, his back cracking and Destry curled up against his shoulder and taking up two thirds of the bed, growling under his breath when Stiles tried to move him over.

He picked up his phone, squinted at the bright screen, and tried to remember why he’d picked it up to begin with. It happened every night and throughout the day; the urge to text someone out of habit, a passing thought or something that happened that they would find funny, but he could never remember who he was texting. Countless unsent texts, sitting in his phone, addressed to no one. It was irritating as hell.

Destry huffed and nosed at his shoulder. Stiles took the hint and put his phone back down, closed his eyes and surrendered himself to the same damn nightmare he had every night.

So Stiles ran.

: D :

“It’s not just this guy,” Scott said suddenly in the silence of the SUV the next afternoon. Derek looked away from the road in confusion, trying to think back on anything they’d been talking about that might put that in context. “The memory loss, I mean. I’ve been finding gaps lately. A lot of gaps.”

"Okay." Derek thought back on his own lapses and unexplained behaviors but didn't want to get ahead of himself, start seeing patterns where there might just be memories fading with time. Even werewolves weren't immune to the pitfalls of age. "What kind of gaps, blackouts?"

God, he hoped it wasn't blackouts.

"No, nothing like that." Derek let out a breath of relief. That was the last thing they needed. "Like...someone at school will mention something that supposedly happened last year, or something they say I told them, but I just don't remember."

"Like what? Anything specific?"

Scott frowned while he thought.

"My twenty-first birthday last year.” Derek had no idea what Scott had done for his birthday. Scott’s birthday was in September, always right after classes started. The pack was already scattered to their own schools by that time, so they celebrated it a couple weeks before at the end of summer bonfire they always had. “This year, my friends at school kept saying how crazy my twenty-first was, but it’s just a total blank, and it’s obviously not because I got blackout drunk.”

“Well what kind of stuff do they say about it?”

“Really just that it was crazy, that we broke a lot of stuff—I think someone might have stolen a street sign, James mentioned that.” Derek had no idea who James was.

“Stealing a street sign doesn’t sound like something you would do.”

“Yeah, and I haven’t seen any stolen street signs lying around anywhere. And since I wasn’t drunk, who did it and where is it? Uuuh, turn left here.”

Derek followed Scott’s directions through his neighborhood, moving from the older, larger houses like Scott’s into the more modest family homes that were built in the twenties and thirties, if he remembered Isaac's impromptu local architecture lecture correctly.

"There—oh crap." Scott groaned as the car rolled to a stop at the corner, "It's the sheriff's house."

"What?" Derek followed Scott's gaze to an average two story home three houses away from the intersection, just visible through the tall trees that dotted the neighborhood. A Sheriff's Department cruiser was parked in the driveway. "Are you kidding me, Scott?"

“That’s definitely it.” Scott let his head drop down into his hands. “I fell out of the tree in the front yard and broke my arm. I definitely remember that.”

Not for the first time, Derek found himself wondering how humans even made it to adulthood.

"Maybe he moved in recently, or at least since you were little."

“No, he’s always lived here. Shit, he doesn’t have a kid, let’s just go.”

“Scott, you said you remembered this house, right? And you're sure this is the right house?” Scott nodded up at him, hunched down in his seat in embarrassment. “Then let’s go talk to him. Couldn’t hurt, right?”

Scott shrugged but followed him out of the car and up to the door anyway, hanging behind slightly and looking nothing like the alpha Derek knew him to be. He looked like a teenager again.

“I’m pretty sure he hates us by now, we got him kidnapped by a Darach,” Scott muttered sullenly as he rang the doorbell. “Even if he had a kid, he’d probably keep him away from us at all costs.”

“He doesn’t hate us,” Derek corrected mildly, listening into the house to make sure someone was home. “And we didn’t get him kidnapped, being a guardian…”

Scott looked at him as he trailed off, having arrived at the same thought. Melissa and Chris had also been kidnapped—parents. Before they could discuss any further, there were heavy footsteps approaching the door and the lock slid back.

Derek’s senses were overwhelmed when the door opened, the scent from the hoodie flooding out and over him. It was familiar beyond just the damn sweatshirt, though, it was a part of his own scent, his apartment’s scent. It was safe. Home.

The Sheriff shifted, beer in hand, immediately wary of the pair of werewolves on his porch.

“Good evening, Sheriff,” Scott greeted tightly, with an uncomfortable and forced smile. He’d no doubt had a similar reaction to the scent of the house, he looked a little less like he was about to bolt from the porch.

“Good evening, Scott,” Sheriff Stilinski returned patiently, playing along. “Anything I can help you with?” He didn’t look like he actually wanted an answer, which was fair because they rarely saw him when someone wasn’t on the verge of being arrested or dead.

“This is probably going to sound really weird, but I promise I’m being completely serious.” The Sheriff nodded for him to continue, almost looking pained. “Do you have a son, by any chance?”

“Excuse me?”

*

"You're telling me you remember my house?" John didn't look convinced, staring doubtfully between Scott and Derek sitting awkwardly on his couch.

"Yeah, but I don't actually remember being here...if that makes any sense." Even Scott didn't look like he understood what he was saying.

"It doesn't," John assured him flatly.

"Look, I can't explain it, but I know this house," Scott barrelled on when the sheriff still didn't look any less likely to throw them out. "I know that the back door jams and you have to kick it open every time, and that the wiring is messed up and you have to turn on the bathroom light to use the garbage disposal, and that you can't run the dishwasher and the microwave at the same time or the power goes. I don't know how I know that, but I do, and I would really like to know why."

The sheriff sat back, looking a little overwhelmed by Scott's intensity, but he didn't tell him he was wrong.

"See that just makes me think you break in regularly." He rubbed a hand across his forehead tiredly. "You think all this adds up to a son I've forgotten?"

"That we've all forgotten. All I can remember is some...vague outline...sort of."

"A vague outline."

"Yeah, like I have a memory...around him. Like there's an empty space in an event, and that's only the things I remember."

The sheriff stared for a moment, then,

"Crap."

"You've had it too." Derek realized, joining the conversation he'd been content to watch. Stilinski nodded reluctantly.

"I was hoping it was just my age catching up to me. You think this is one of your things?"

“It’s starting to look that way. Aside from you and Scott, Lydia’s been getting...feelings lately,” even still, he didn’t know what exactly to call what Lydia did, “and I’ve had gaps too,” Derek continued, somewhat hesitant but feeling more confident knowing that he wasn’t the only one. Scott turned to look at him with an almost comically betrayed expression, obviously wondering why Derek hadn't said anything sooner. “Not as many as you, but they’re definitely there.”

“Well that would certainly explain why I keep getting these magazines I’m not subscribed to.” The sheriff jerked his head back towards the recycling bin visible in the kitchen where copies of Wired and Popular Science sat. “I figured it was just Deputy Hanson giving me grief about my antiquated technology,” that sounded like an imitation of a phrase he heard a lot, “but they’re all addressed to a ‘Stiles Stilinski’.”

Derek glanced at Scott, whose heartbeat inched up. His eyes were wide and he was staring at the sheriff, his jaw hanging crookedly.

“That’s it! Stiles! I know that name!” He slapped at Derek’s arm urgently without checking his strength. That might actually bruise. “James mentioned a Stiles when he was talking about my twenty-first, he must’ve been there!”

“So he goes to your school.”

“I don’t think so, no one ever says anything about hanging out with him. He must’ve come specifically for my birthday.”

“Well, we have a name, that’s a solid place to start,” the sheriff cut in, a sharp gleam in his eye now that he was working a case. This was essentially missing persons, not defending against rogue omegas or persistent ghosts; this was right up his alley.

“Okay, how are we going to find him? Can Deaton do some kind of locating spell? Swing a crystal over a map or something?” Scott ignored the glare Derek brought out anytime anyone referenced television shows in any way. It didn’t faze any of them in the least anymore, but some part of him felt like it was necessary for the sake of his withering dignity. “Maybe we can track him if we start here. Or maybe he’s part of the pack and I can just...feel him.”

Scott looked like he might actually be trying to feel him, despite all of the talks they’d had about how it just didn’t work that way.

The sheriff looked over at Derek, who could only shake his head feeling like he’d failed everyone in every way, then suggested dryly, “How about some good old fashioned police work? That thing that I do for a living?”

“Do you have a place we can start?” Derek was open to anything besides feeling him out.

"I think so. There was a direct deposit into my account a few days ago and I haven't had a day off to go talk to the bank about it yet. It was a Federal Loan refund for a semester at Berkeley. If you’re sure this is my kid, I’d start there."

College would make sense if this Stiles was a friend of Scott. But even if they’d forgotten about him somehow, it was almost Christmas and everyone was out on break. Berkeley wasn’t that far away, why wasn’t he home? Why hadn't he called his father?

Unless he didn’t remember them either?

: S :

“Let me just say that if I get stuck watching my nephew again, I will actually leave him out in the snow to die of exposure.” At Rohit’s somewhat horrified expression, Charlotte defended, “That kid is a sociopath and no amount of evolutionary failsafes against killing our young will stop me. He will not live to see New Years.” She stabbed at the heavily vandalized table of their booth to make her point clear, practically yelling to be heard over the noise of a college bar, and then flagged down their server to order more beer at the thought of actually dealing with her nephew, who, to be fair, really did sound like a budding sociopath even at five years old.

“What about you, Stiles?” Rohit nodded in his direction, obviously trying to bring him into the conversation that he’d stayed out of so far. He couldn’t blame him, Stiles staying out of any conversation was suspect, even when he wasn’t just sitting in silence and drinking his beer. “Going to your Babcia’s this year?”

Stiles shrugged. “I think I’m just going to stay here—Destry’s been vomiting in the car more often and I think his anxiety is getting worse, I need to take him to the vet.” It was flimsy, he knew by the narrow eyed look of suspicion Rohit sent him, but he’d been caught off guard with preparing for finals and didn’t have a lie already in place like usual. Still, no one really wanted to hear about his dog’s health issues, so they carried on like he hadn’t said anything, exactly as he’d hoped they would.

“Okay, no way is your nephew worse than my cousin,” Andrew challenged Charlotte, and Stiles knew for a fact that he would lose. “When I was in high school, this little shit came for Christmas and she totally recorded me and my girlfriend—”

“Hey.” Rohit leaned across the table to talk somewhat privately over the loud bar and Andrew’s admittedly frightening story. “Are you okay, man?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Why?”

“You’ve just been really quiet lately. Is your dad okay? Scott? You didn’t even go for his birthday this year.”

“Yeah,” Stiles shrugged, hoping his face didn’t convey that he had no idea who Rohit was talking about. “Fine, just worried about Destry.”

He didn’t seem convinced and even looked disappointed at the pitiful evasion. He put down a fry he had been about to eat, he was so disappointed.

“Okay, I don’t know what it is, but if you need anything my mom will totally understand if I stay here for break.” Even the suggestion of him missing the holidays with his family made guilt churn in Stiles’ stomach. He knew that Christmas wasn’t a big deal at Rohit’s house, they weren’t religious and really just had a small party, but he’d been looking forward to seeing his sister and brother-in-law and Stiles would be damned before he let his failing memory interfere with that.

“Seriously, man, it’s fine.” Jesus, how many times could he use the word ‘fine’ before it got suspicious? “My dad might just come here. It’s his last chance for Christmas in Berkeley, we only have a semester left.”

Apparently he said the right thing because Rohit backed off a little, even if he still didn’t look like he believed him. He went back to his chicken curry waffle fries, still eyeing Stiles.

“Dude, do you have any idea how bad those are for you?”

At that, Rohit's face dropped into a glare, tension gone as they fell back into their routine. “No. You do not get to nag me tonight. I’m about to go home and my mom is going to make me eat all kinds of healthy crap and make sad eyes if I touch a beer, so let me eat these fries and get wasted." He waited for Stiles to agree then nodded with finality. The next time their server passed by he ordered a large plate of wings as well, probably just out of spite.

Stiles made a mental note to check if spite eating was a thing.

*

The thing was, no matter how many lies Stiles told, he knew Rohit was catching on that there was something off. And that something was that Stiles didn’t know who he was outside of Berkeley. And not in a my entire life is college and I have no idea what I’ll do after way, though that was also a factor, but in a I literally don’t remember anything about my life before college kind of way.

Nothing.

He didn’t know where he was from, where he went to high school, where Destry came from, or even who his parents were. In fact, he only knew he had parents because there was no other way for him to be in existence otherwise. It was all just gone, assuming it had been there to begin with. It was like he was some weird science fiction experiment grown in a tube to young adult and then plopped into college to see how he adapted.

Maybe he was some science fiction experiment grown in a tube to young adult and the plopped into college to see how he adapted.

Maybe he was an android and they were testing social learning.

He rolled his eyes and let his head drop onto his desk. He was sleep deprived, a touch hungover from the bar, and stressed beyond all reason. He wasn’t an android.

He got drunk, for one, and he bled real blood when he fell out of Rohit’s second story window last year. And the hospital had taken x-rays after, he was one hundred percent flesh and blood.

He was also needing to convince himself that he wasn’t an android.

Maybe he was just an idiot.

He was probably just an idiot.

Okay, it wasn't that he remembered nothing; he remembered the last three and a half years of college (which was lucky because he had way too much debt for it to all be gone), he remembered the first time he went to sleepaway camp alone when he was little, a middle school class camping trip to the mountains, possibly getting lost in Poland when he was seven. There was some history there, he did exist before Berkeley.

It was probably just stress, temporary. It was his senior year of college, he had one semester left. A little stress was normal.

Severe memory loss, however, probably wasn’t.

Fuck.

: D :

Derek, Scott, and the sheriff drove down the Berkeley a day later, under the guise of being very good samaritans just trying to return some wayward mail. If this Stiles wasn’t related to them in any way, he’d get his bizarre magazines and pleas for donations from the National Park Foundation, and carry on none the wiser about any of it. If he was… Well, they’d burn that bridge when they came to it.

Scott and Derek waited in the Sheriff's SUV while the sheriff went in to talk to the administration office about official records and addresses on file. He came back out about an hour later, muttering about bureaucracy and red tape, but with an address for an apartment fifteen minutes from campus.

It was easy enough to find, on the corner of a quiet neighborhood that didn’t seem to have a lot of students living in it. Derek parked the SUV behind a sedan and John turned in his seat to fix them with his Sheriff Look.

“Remember, you two are strictly observers. Just...feel him out, or whatever it is that you do, and let me talk to him. You two are unnerving enough without saying anything.”

Scott looked like he was about to protest so Derek reached back to hit him, never breaking eye contact with the sheriff as he agreed. Scott reluctantly nodded.

*

Apartment 3A was at the top of the last flight of stairs of a large old house that had been divided into units; a dark green door with tarnished gold lettering and nothing to set it apart as mysterious in the least. The sheriff paused and looked back.

“Is he home?”

Derek listened; there were two heartbeats inside, one faster, probably a dog judging by the smells in the hallway. Scott nodded.

The sheriff knocked solidly on the door and took a step back to wait. Immediately there was a loud, deep bark and the scritches of nails on finished wood, the dog heartbeat picking up in excitement.

“Destry, shut up!” A male voice yelled, then footsteps thumped across the floor. The lock clicked and the muzzle of a large dog shoved its way through the small opening, sniffing and huffing eagerly at the three men outside. “Destry!” The voice scolded, and the dog was pulled back by the collar.

The door opened the rest of the way to a frazzled young man fighting to hold back a large, overly excited German Shepherd that continued to bark over commands to stop, damn it. The guy didn’t look particularly mysterious or sinister; human, messy dark hair, plastic framed glasses, and the surface scent of coffee and stress of being in school. But when he went deeper, past the coffee and smell of dog, Derek smelled traces of home. Pack. A settling calm and safety. The other half to the scent of his apartment that he could never quite place. His wolf lurched to put it back where it belonged.

It took so much to hold back his instinct to pick him up and take him back to Beacon Hills and just hold onto him. He smelled like pack and home and safety and it was disjointed and unsettling smelling those things so far away from where all those things were. He knew the man in front of him, his instincts told him as much and were practically clawing to touch him, but he couldn’t remember him.

Scott made a broken little noise in his throat that only Derek heard and took half a step forward.

This was Stiles. He knew it was. And somehow Stiles was pack.

“Sorry about him.” Stiles tried to pull Destry back behind his legs, but the dog just made a valiant effort to run between them and yank Stiles’ arm the wrong way. “He’s usually pretty good about this.” He untangled himself and looked up for the first time once he had a better grip on his dog’s collar.

Derek could identify the exact second his bright amber eyes landed on the sheriff’s badge, then flicked across to the name tag that bore his own last name. His face didn’t change but his heart sped up, thudding in his chest as he glanced up to John’s face, then at Scott, then at Derek, and audibly swallowed. Derek couldn't tell if he was acting in a suspicious manner or if this was a standard response to having law enforcement suddenly show up at your door.

“Um, can I help you?”

“Stiles Stilinski?” Stiles nodded, his gaze holding Derek’s for just a second too long before he looked to the Sheriff. “I’m Sheriff John Stilinski from Beacon Hills, this is Scott McCall and Derek Hale. Do you mind if we talk for a bit? There seems to have been a mixup.”

Stiles looked them over again, cautious and analyzing, before nodding.

“Sure, come on in.” He pulled the straining dog back into the apartment with him and nodded towards the couch in an invitation to sit. “Sorry about the mess, you can just shove it off. I’m waist deep in finals and papers.” Destry started to twist his head around, trying to worm his way out of his collar to get to Derek and Scott. Stiles cursed like it happened a lot.

Derek subtly flashed his eyes while Stiles’ head was down and the dog quieted and relaxed under his authority, a trick Scott still hadn’t been able to fully master yet despite actually being an alpha and working with animals almost every day. Destry settled and, when Stiles pointed, ran off to lay down on the unmade bed towards the back of the small studio apartment, keeping a close eye on what was going on.

With his dog finally under control, Stiles scrambled to clear papers and books from the couch cushions and the beat up wooden trunk that served as a coffee table.

A stuttering heartbeat made Derek look to the sheriff, who was staring at the trunk with a kind of haunted horror he was trying his best to hide. Stiles hadn’t noticed; he kicked an empty paper coffee cup under the couch.

“Wha—uh, what’s your major?” The sheriff asked, trying to sound casual but his heart was still thudding right along with Stiles’ and his voice was strained. If they were right, if this really was his son he’d somehow forgotten, Derek couldn’t imagine what the man must be feeling even as a human. Scott was seconds away from blubbering tears and Derek was barely restraining the instinct rub all over the guy.

“Double major in Criminology and Cultural Anthropology, something I’m regretting more and more each day.” Stiles gathered up a stack of printed out articles, highlighted thoroughly in bright yellow with notes crowded into the margins in a messy scrawl. Derek moved a slightly crushed syllabus for a four hundred level class from the couch and sat down. He handed it to Stiles, who added it to the rest of the papers that were dumped unceremoniously on the kitchen counter (if the closet with a sink and stove counted as a kitchen). The poor guy really did look stressed, even without law enforcement showing up at his apartment out of the blue.

Stiles turned and unfortunately found all three men crowded on the small couch watching him carefully and maybe a little desperately. He faltered for a fraction of a second, but came back all the same, more cautious than before. He closed the beat up metal laptop still on the table and held it to his chest awkwardly. There was a large dent in the bottom like it had personally seen warfare.

“Is, uh, there a problem?” The question was aimed at the sheriff, the obvious authority.

“Well, yes,” John answered frankly, then quickly corrected himself when Stiles’ eyes widened with a start. “Nothing illegal, we aren’t here to arrest you, there’s just some...uh…” He tapered off in a way Derek had never heard from the man. Whatever he’d noticed between here and the door had obviously shaken him in a way that even facing down the supernatural or being kidnapped by a darach hadn't.

“A few things to clear up.” Derek stepped in to finish when John just kind of stared sadly at his maybe-probably-son. Scott was gripping the couch cushions like they were the only things keeping him from launching himself across the coffee table. Derek could relate.

“That doesn’t sound ominous at all," Stiles said with a forced grin. "What’d I do to warrant a visit from Beacon Hills?” He moved another stack of papers from a worn armchair that looked and smelled like it might’ve been from the eighties, and sat down. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his closed computer, then began absentmindedly fiddling with his fingers. “Where is that, by the way?”

“It’s about three hours north of here. You’ve never been?”

“Never even heard of it.” He shrugged, then perked up almost excitedly. “Wait, that wasn’t the place with all those murders a few years ago, was it?”

Oh great, he was one of those unsolved crime buffs. Perfect.

“Animal attacks,” Derek explained shortly. “We cleared those up.”

“Alright, touchy subject.” The corners of Stiles’ mouth pulled down in a badly hidden smile, then he gestured between the two werewolves. “And you two are…? The sheriff didn’t introduce you as deputies,” he added at the blank looks he received.

“They’re consultants with the department,” John took over, slipping into a detached professional mindset. He looked pleased that even if they didn’t remember each other, his potential son at least knew the basics of a Sheriff’s Department.

“And they just came along for the car ride? Stick their heads out the window on the highway?”

“Something like that.” John grinned when Derek and Scott both turned to give him unimpressed looks. Dog jokes? Really? They’d all moved past those years ago. “We aren’t here on official business, though, this is a personal matter.”

“That sounds even more ominous,” Stiles pointed out. His voice was steady and light, but his heartbeat was somewhat erratic and his fingers creaked as he kneaded them together. The part of Derek that recognized him, his wolf’s instincts that accepted Stiles completely and automatically tuned into his person, strained to do something to calm him down. He didn’t like seeing Stiles distressed, and he didn’t like that he had that kind of effect on him. He felt Scott twitch next to him, and wondered if he was having the same impulses, hoped he wasn’t alone in this.

“It’s nothing to worry about, I just think that your mail is getting delivered to my house for some reason." John picked up the bag at his feet and pulled out a few envelopes and magazines.

"And you brought consultants for this?"

"They're in training. They need the experience."

Derek forced a smile onto his face and didn't say anything. It might not have been the smile he was going for because Stiles' confused gaze lingered on him as he accepted the stack from the sheriff, then broke away to shuffle through the envelopes.

"Yeah, this definitely looks like stuff I should be getting." He held up a magazine sealed in plastic called IEEE Vehicular Technology Magazine, and behind it looked like an envelope containing travel info for the entire state of Nebraska. "This address isn't even close to mine, I'm surprised they managed to get the right state."

“So you don’t know why this is happening? You didn’t just pick a random address to use in questionnaires or anything like that?” The sheriff was fishing, watching carefully for a reaction or any kind of tick that would reveal something, if Stiles remembered them, or had a hand in all this.

There was nothing. He just shrugged as he flipped through a catalog, his heartbeat steady and unconcerned now that he knew he wasn't about to be arrested.

“No, sorry, but I’ll look into canceling all this. I don’t know how I’m even subscribed to these.” He looked back up to the sheriff, easily holding his gaze. “When did you start getting them?”

“Probably about six months ago, give or take. Have you moved recently? Had any credit card issues?”

“I haven’t gotten any alerts, but you can bet I’ll be checking into it. I’ve already got student loan issues, I don’t need fraud messing up my credit score too.”

“Issues?” All three straightened at that, but Stiles didn’t seem to notice. He was back to sorting through the stack of envelopes in his hand, squinting and frowning at one that must’ve been particularly weird.

“Yeah, refunds going to weird places. It gives me a headache just thinking about it.” He read the cover of a magazine, tilted his head at it, then tossed the lot onto the large trunk with a shrug. “Again, sorry. I’ll get this straightened out, call the post office or something.”

The conversation was wrapping up, that was a pretty obvious signal to get out and let him get back to his finals, but Derek didn’t want to leave yet. Being around Stiles was relaxing, even if he didn’t remember him or even know why. He hadn’t realized how unrelaxed he was until he sat down on the couch, Stiles across from him, and felt the tension in his back ease for the first time in months.

Scott looked at the sheriff a little desperately, pleading for him to find something else to talk about, but he was ignored. They had no choice but to stand when John did and make their goodbyes.

As they walked towards the door, Derek glanced up above it, and if his instincts hadn’t been enough of a sign, the literal sign propped up on the trim around the door was.

Lobos Ave.

Derek nudged Scott and nodded towards the stolen street sign. Scott’s eyes widened in the least subtle manner ever and turned to stare at Stiles, who noticed them looking and glanced at the sheriff nervously.

He rolled his eyes. “Not my jurisdiction, I don’t care.”

And with that, they left, wishing Stiles good luck on his finals like nothing was going on at all.

They thundered down the old flights of stairs that were impossible to be quiet on and out into the sunshine. No one said anything on the walk down the block back to the SUV, unsure of even how to begin, and it wasn’t until the sheriff’s heartbeat picked up once they were back in the car that anyone spoke.

“That’s Claudia’s jeep,” the sheriff said in awe, staring at the back of a powder blue jeep that had been revealed with the sedan parked between them now gone. Derek shifted and glanced back at Scott, who looked equally as lost. “That’s my wife’s jeep, it’s got the same plates and everything.” His heart began to thud loudly and the car flooded with grief at whatever the sheriff was thinking, but he carried on with an astonished, “That kid is my son!”

He threw his door open and made to get right back out again, probably to march back up the apartment, but Derek managed to grab his arm in time and hold him back.

“No, we can’t, Sheriff—John!”

There was a tense moment where Derek thought the man might rip out of his hold and go anyway, but his better judgment won out and he finally sat back and closed his door, looking utterly broken.

“That trunk up there was my mother-in-law’s,” he explained vehemently, looking Derek dead in the eye. “My wife’s name is carved in it, and I was there when she did it. Now, my wife died over ten years ago and that kid upstairs looks exactly like her. Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t go tell him the truth, because he deserves to know what’s going on.”

“We still don’t know what happened, he could have done this for all we know. He’s the only one we don’t remember.”

“That we know of,” the sheriff corrected immediately. “Until we prove otherwise, he’s just as much a victim in all of this as we are.”

“That doesn’t mean we should tell him everything about us.”

Then Scott's voice interrupted from the back seat, sounding small and hurt, and nothing like his usual strong self. “Derek, he smells like pack.”

Derek understood Scott's persistence from firsthand experience. As the alpha, he would be feeling the pull to unite the pack even stronger than Derek was, and he was surprised at how deeply he felt it. For Scott, it must have been like he was missing a limb, especially now that he'd spent time with Stiles and realized why he'd been feeling so off lately. Even Derek felt it more than he should have. This didn't just feel like a missing packmate, this felt like part of his chest had been carved out and left upstairs in that apartment.

Seeing Stiles hadn't helped matters at all. It just put a face to the gaping hole in all their lives, and they still didn't know how to put back the missing piece or even why it was missing to begin with. They didn't remember what had happened to make him leave, he didn't remember them, and they didn't know why none of them could remember. Seeing him, talking to him, giving their wolves a taste of what was missing just made them shoot into a frenzied overdrive and in turn made it harder to be objective.

Even the sheriff, the human who shouldn't have been affected on the same level, was wrecked, staring at the blue jeep with something like horror in his eyes.

“Yes, he does smell and feel like pack, but we should look into a few more things before we start bringing him in,” Derek pointed out, feeling like he should be the one to step up and at least try to stay objective. He was a born wolf, he'd had a lifetime of experience and control to draw from, he could push this aside for the moment.

Except he really couldn't. He hadn't felt this scraped out and untethered since he lost his entire family, even with his alpha sitting two feet away. He hadn't even realized how wrong he'd felt until he sat in the same room as Stiles and felt himself finally settle and belong, and now that he was leaving again his chest hurt, ached with the need to run back up and bodily carry Stiles back home.

But he couldn't, not yet. He had to protect his pack, even if he had to live with this buzzing agitation and emptiness.

“We can’t jump into this without a plan," he continued, trying to convince himself just as much as Scott. "Especially if he’s gone for a reason.”

“That’s my son,” John gasped out suddenly, like he hasn't been listening. The leather on the steering wheel creaked beneath his grip. He really shouldn't have been driving, but then none of them should have been. “What the hell happened that made me forget my son?”

: S :

It took Stiles all of an hour of fidgeting and staring at the half-finished term paper on his laptop to realize he wasn’t going to be getting anywhere on it anytime soon. The focus he’d had before the sheriff’s visit was shot to hell and he felt like he was about to vibrate out of his skin. It wasn’t the usual all I’ve had today is three cups of coffee jittery, either. It was the unignorable urge to look through everything the sheriff had dropped off, to look for clues because he was forgetting—had forgotten—everything lately. The stack of mail sat next to him, at least six different subscriptions and countless letters and offers to go through, taunting him.

He had a paper to finish, just a week left in the semester to get through, and then he could dig into his past to his forgetful little heart’s content—he just had to get through this week. One week. Two more papers and a take home final. He could do this, he could focus.

He sat for another five minutes, drumming his fingers on his computer while he stared at the last unfinished sentence he’d written forty-five minutes before, then stared at the address printed on the magazine lying just within reach. He glanced over at Destry, sitting next to him on the couch and watching his internal conflict with mild interest.

Fuck.

He minimized the document he was working in and pulled up the internet browser, typing in the address for the first subscription. He wasn’t sure of his login, but a few guesses at his usual more relaxed passwords (which honestly weren’t all that relaxed) got him in fairly quickly.

One by one, he went to each website and logged in, and found the exact same thing on every one; he’d been subscribed to these magazines for at least a couple years, and every account was set to the sheriff’s Beacon Hills address. But Sheriff Stilinski had said that he’d only been getting them about six months. Why would he have a reason to lie, he’d never met the man in his life.

And on that note, the sheriff hadn’t exactly been behaving all that normally through the flimsy visit (returning mail, really?), and neither had the other two. Stiles had definitely noticed the jumpiness of all three of them and the way they looked at him like they were trying to stare right into his mind and learn his secrets. He couldn’t blame them—he wanted to learn them too, they were probably pretty sweet secrets—but when that look was coming from a damn sheriff, it got unnerving. He was half expecting a S.W.A.T. team to bust down his door any second and tackle him to the floor.

Actually, going off the plots of most science fiction movies he watched, that was actually more plausible than he cared to admit. The guy with amnesia never had a good time in those movies.

He sat back with a groan and tugged at his hair; no need to panic, it was fine.

He was probably just going to get black-bagged in the next couple of days for something he didn’t remember and then be disappeared forever. Awesome.

Stiles took off his glasses to scrub at his face, trying to wipe away the exhaustion even though that never worked. He had roughly one week to figure this out before Rohit would bust in and demand an explanation for his weird behavior before he had to leave for the holidays, and then he would pick it right back up when they got back in January. He was persistent, something Stiles generally liked about him when he wasn’t desperately trying to hide anything from him.

And honestly, he didn’t really want to tell him. Something about saying it out loud just made it a little too real. If he didn’t admit it to anyone, there was still the chance that he was wrong, imagining things, that it would get better on its own without anyone being aware that it was a thing to begin with. Telling Rohit and putting it out in the world would make it permanent in a way that Stiles really didn’t want it to be.

Also, on the off chance that this was going to devolve into a Bourne Identity situation, it was probably safer for Rohit to not be involved in anyway. The supporting characters in those kinds of movies had even worse survival rates than the amnesiac hero, and Stiles didn’t even have super kung fu moves to discover by accident and protect his friends with.

He didn’t think he had super kung fu moves. He’d gotten punched plenty of times and had plenty of opportunities for them to make their appearance by now; he was a pretty annoying and confrontational drunk.

He stared at Destry while he resisted the urge to try and karate chop something in half, just to check.

It wasn’t going to turn into a Jason Bourne thing, that was ridiculous.

It wouldn’t.

Probably.

But on the other hand, that guy Derek had been giving off some seriously intimidating, shady organization, Agent Smith vibes, all I’m going to enjoy watching you die, Mr. Anderson. Stiles was probably going to end up in a windowless room with his mouth sealed up and a mechanical worm crawling into his navel.

He shuddered at the image—that scene had always gotten to him.

He really needed to sleep, that much was obvious, but everything about that meeting just put him on edge too much to sit still. The weirdness, all the significant looks they kept shooting each other, the actual holes in his couch that looked like they were from claws.

And Derek—Stiles wanted to write it off as a trick of the light, swamp gas from a weather balloon trapped in a thermal pocket reflecting the light from Venus, but just for a second Derek’s eyes had flashed blue. And not blue like a summer sky or the infinite horizon of the sea, but blue. Dayglow blue. T-X from Terminator 3 blue.

And Destry ran the fuck away.

Destry didn’t run away from people, people ran away from Destry. For all his parading around like an untrained idiot and stealing towels from the bathroom to play tug of war, the dog was territorial and had a tendency to get a very precise kind of mean when his territory was threatened; his growl alone could send most people running.

Three complete strangers coming into his apartment was definitely a threat to Destry's territory.

The fact that he not only barked happily but seemed excited when the three showed up, and then willingly left them alone with Stiles, made him nervous in a way he wasn’t used to. Destry was practically his shadow, he kept close even when Rohit was over and Destry actually liked and knew Rohit. But apparently not as much as he liked and knew the Sheriff and Co.

Which he definitely didn’t.

Did he?

Stiles turned to study his dog, though he wasn’t sure what he was expecting. Glowing T-X from Terminator 3 eyes? A confession of guilt? Destry looked guilty anytime anyone maintained eye contact with him for too long, that wasn’t going to prove anything.

True to form, Destry held his gaze for all of five seconds, then looked away, then back to check if Stiles was still looking, then back off to the side again when he saw that he was. Then he flattened himself against the cushions and inched forward until he was practically in Stiles’ lap, looking pitiful.

Stiles rolled his eyes at himself and pet his damn dog, because if a man couldn’t trust his own dog, who could he trust?

*

It was a couple days later that the sheriff called, probably having got his phone number from the same place as his address. It wasn’t particularly early when he called—ten, a perfectly normal time for normal people, but Stiles had been up until five in the morning trying to slog through a truly terrible and forced argumentative paper that wasn’t fooling anyone, and dragging himself back to consciousness was the hardest thing he’d had to do in a long time.

He slapped around at the floor next to his bed where he phone always fell during the night, and stared at the screen for a few seconds before everything caught up to the moment. Then he woke up immediately.

Dad, the phone announced, accompanied by a pretty unflattering picture of the sheriff obviously in the middle of telling him not the take a picture. Fuck, how had he not thought to check the contacts on his phone? Six months of this and he’d wasted the thing that held his entire life in favor of using it to work up his blood pressure over 2048 and annoying Rohit into getting him hangover food.

He took a deep breath, tried to ignore his pounding heartbeat completely drowning out his thoughts, and slid his thumb across the screen to answer the call before it went to voicemail.

“Stiles? This is Sheriff Stilinski again.”

“Yeah, hi,” he croaked out through sleep and nerves.

“Hey, sorry to bother you during finals, but you just got a package here and some other holiday things. I won’t have time off to bring them up to you, but I could throw them all in a box and send ‘em your way?”

“Uh, yeah,” that sounded good, right? No, that didn’t sound good, his phone said this was his dad, he had to go see him to find out and sending things in the mail didn’t involve seeing anyone, “No, I mean, you guys drove all the way down here once, the least I can do is pick up the rest and save you the cost of shipping it all.”

“Well, I don’t want to make you drive that far with everything you have to do…”

“No, really, my last paper is due Saturday, I’ll drive up after I turn it in.”

He noticed that neither of them pointed out just how stupid it was to drive three hours again to pick up mail that could easily be forwarded.

The sheriff finally agreed and made sure Stiles had the address (it was on literally every piece of his mail) before they said their goodbyes somewhat awkwardly, and if Stiles wasn’t just projecting, a little reluctantly.

He had no memory of his parents or his childhood, but here was his phone, saying that Sheriff Stilinski of Beacon Hills, California was his father. And just because he forgot it like everything else didn’t mean that it couldn’t possibly be true. Maybe the sheriff really was his father and had just...failed to address it in either of their conversations in the last two days. Or maybe he knew Stiles didn’t remember and was trying to ease him back into it. Or maybe he wasn’t his father at all and this was all engineered by some super secret government agency that was still going to abduct him from his bed in the dead of night.

God, his mind was terrible, why did he keep jumping to abduction conclusions?

Thumb shaking slightly, he navigated back to his contacts list, both angry at himself for not doing this sooner, and dreading whatever he might find there, because amnesia movies always started getting really deadly when the amnesiac guy starting putting the pieces together.

The top part of his recently used contacts were all people from Berkeley; Rohit, Charlotte, Andrew, Marie—the people he talked to and texted regularly. But when he scrolled further down, all three of his visitors were there and even listed as his emergency contacts; Dad, Scott, and Derek, but also Dispatch, Station, Melissa McCall (Scott’s last name, he noted), and a bunch of other names that didn’t connect with faces in his mind: Lydia, Allison, Isaac…

There were a lot of texts to all of these people too, last of which, worryingly enough, was to Derek, and simply said,

Found omega, meet at RP Beta.

To which Derek replied,

Still not funny.

And that was all there was, from six months ago. Why the hell did everything lead back to June? That would have been when the sheriff—his dad?—first started getting his mail, and also about as far back as he could remember before massive gaps started appearing. He finished off spring semester in May, packed up his jeep to go...somewhere, and then he was right back in Berkeley, working the circulation desk in Moffitt Library and running into his old GSIs at every corner.

God, he so didn’t have time for all of this! He had papers to finish, and he doubted his professors would believe a lengthy tale about amnesia and finding his biological father as an excuse for not finishing his papers when he’d known most of them for a year already. They probably wouldn’t believe that he had just forgotten to mention that—though if it was some form of amnesia, he might just get away with it.

He had to focus, he couldn’t handle these distractions.

He shut off his phone and tossed it onto his bed across the room, then turned off the wifi on his laptop so he could focus on the document in front of him that hadn’t changed all that much in the last couple of days when it really should have.

Finish the semester, Stilinski, then you can have a raging identity crisis.

: D :

“Derek, I’m calling to let you know that Stiles will be here in a few days once he gets done with school.” The sheriff wasn't making a request, this was a courtesy call. Derek rubbed away the headache creeping in at the thought of having Stiles in town. He’d already caught himself three times with his car keys in hand, preparing to drive right back down to Berkeley; it wasn’t going to be any easier to resist his instincts with Stiles within fifteen minutes of his apartment.

“We’re not ready yet, we don’t have any answers. We don’t have the full story.”

“Well not only is he already in my contact list, but my mother just sent him a package. He’s coming, so whatever’s holding you back, you better get over it quick. I’m not keeping him in the dark any longer, and he might be able to help.”

“I know, I do, I just— " I can’t focus on anything when he's around, he didn't actually say. Nonetheless, the sheriff seemed to get it on some level, because his voice softened in that way that made Derek's heart hurt for family and he simply said,

"Yeah, I know."

He didn't, not really. He wasn't a wolf and though he did have instincts to protect, they didn't run as deep as Derek's or have such a pull on his behavior and the ability to completely throw off his life. Derek hadn't thought his did, but apparently Stiles lived to catch him off guard and make him question everything he'd ever known like the inconsiderate asshole he was.

The sheriff promised to keep him informed and tell him anything he found out, and they hung up, leaving Derek feeling very frustrated and antsy with nothing to focus on. He tried to read one of the many books he had going, but couldn’t stay immersed in them in the least. He would read a few sentences, reread those sentences when he realized he didn’t know what they said, and then give up and try the next one, only to go through the whole routine again.

He needed something to do, something to help solve this mystery around Stiles and their memories, but until Stiles finished school and came back, there wasn’t a whole lot he could work from. He, Scott, and Isaac had already tried combing the town looking for scents or a trail of any kind, but they’d been living like this for months; anything useful was gone. He’d searched his apartment, looking for anything besides the hoodie that could tell him something, but all he’d found out of the ordinary was a Batman toothbrush in the bathroom and an inappropriate graphic tee buried in his shirt drawer. He needed something new to go work from.

The sheriff had said that Stiles was already in his contacts, so Derek scrolled through his own, and sure enough, there he was. Stiles. An actual concrete connection to his life beyond his own instinct and the damn hoodie—which he was irritated to remember was folded up carefully by the door like it was waiting for Stiles to come back for it.

He scrolled through the texts they’d sent each other; harmless sniping, truly horrible innuendos, totally out of the blue questions and facts, and occasional meet up instructions, the last being an order to meet at RP Beta to go after an omega.

Stiles knew their rendezvous points in the woods, and the stupid names Isaac still called them no matter how many times Derek told him that it wasn’t funny, just as his last text to Stiles had done.

He didn’t remember going after an omega in June, when the text was from, so it must’ve happened during one of his memory gaps.

He sighed, glared at the ceiling for a minute, then called Scott.

*

“Dude, your place smells a lot like Stiles,” was the first thing Scott said when the door opened, and yeah, Derek really didn’t need the verbal reminder. He'd been stewing in it for almost a week. “I don’t know how I didn’t realize it before. I guess I just thought it was part of you.”

Derek just gave him a look and he got the hint.

"So, if Stiles is coming soon, we should probably try to get a little more of this figured out."

"That would be good, I'd like to have some idea of what we're getting ourselves into."

Derek cleared the pile of books that had failed to distract him from the couch and they sat down, trying to figure out where to even start. Scott had talked to the the rest of the pack, trying to fish out memory gaps and figure out what they centered around, but they seemed to be completely random. Some had to do with supernatural threats they’d faced, some seemed to be just random days or chunks of school that were gone, like Scott’s twenty-first birthday that he spent with all of his friends at Davis. Even Lydia was having problems putting together a pattern, and she’d been working on it for the last few days.

“The only thing we all have in common is that there haven’t been any for at least a few months," Scott summarized. "They all started at different times, some of them seem like they overlap, but why is like half my life missing? No one else has lost this much.”

Derek didn’t have any he could find from before be came back to Beacon Hills, which made sense if the gaps really did all revolve around Stiles. He was Scott’s age, so Derek wouldn’t have known him before the fire or New York.

“Maybe it depends on how long we’ve known Stiles. It’s pretty clear that this is centered around him.”

“I guess that would make sense. The sheriff said he’s found gaps about twenty years back. And if I’ve known him like my whole life, then it would explain why I feel like I’m missing a leg.”

Derek could relate, though his felt more like a hole in the chest.

“Okay,” Scott burst out after a pause, like he’d been holding it in for a while, “this is going to sound really weird, but when you were alpha, did you ever get these, like, urges—” Derek braced himself for what was undoubtedly about to be an incredibly uncomfortable question, “to like, round up your pack?”

Huh. Not at all what he’d been expecting.

Having grown up as a werewolf and with an alpha for a mother, it was always morbidly fascinating to hear how Scott tried to describe feelings and instincts that Derek had simply always known and understood.

“Scott, an alpha isn’t a cowboy.”

“No, not like a driving the herd kind of thing, but like, I feel like this is how a Border Collie feels?”

“You want to nip at Stiles’ heels until he’s back with the pack?”

“Yes?” The upward inflections had to stop, as did constantly comparing them to dogs. Honestly, the sheriff did it enough without any help from the alpha.

“It’s kind of like circling the wagons when there’s a threat,” Derek explained, taking his time to think through what he remembered of that pull from years ago. He was somewhat startled to find that it wasn’t all that different from what he was feeling currently, just focused on one person. “Especially now that we know there’s something off, it’s like your instincts moving up to DEFCON 3. You want your pack close because you’ll be stronger, but you also need them close to protect them. It’s a sense of security.”

Scott nodded along, mulling it over. “So I’ll feel better once Stiles is here and the pack is back together.”

“Assuming there isn’t anyone else we’ve forgotten, yes.”

Scott groaned at the thought and flopped back against the couch. “There better not be, I’ve never felt this uncomfortable in my entire life! I just feel itchy!”

Derek hesitated, not sure just how much he wanted to confess to Scott about how he’d been feeling lately. It was intense and private, and he’d never experienced something like this before. Though, if anyone should know, it was his alpha, as much as he hated to admit it.

“Kind of like you’re about to crawl out of your skin?”

Scott perked up. “You’ve felt it too?” Derek half-nodded, knowing that his eyebrows were going to give him away because they had a life of their own and apparently an entire language as well. Scott had definitely learned to read them; he picked up on what they were saying immediately. “You’re feeling it right now? Why? Isaac isn’t, is it because you used to be alpha? Maybe you were his alpha too!”

“I don’t think so. You were never technically in my pack, and I’m assuming Stiles wasn’t either if he’s your friend and a human.”

Scott looked awkward for a moment, then shifted a little uncomfortably. “I mean, I kind of felt this way when Allison and I were together and she wasn’t around… Maybe you two were—are—together.”

Derek honestly hadn’t thought of that. The very thought of starting a relationship with someone new had always seemed wrong, like it was a betrayal somehow, and opening up to anyone was hard. It was a constant struggle against his instincts and hangups and fears.

He’d never considered that might have been because he was already in a relationship with someone.

: S :

“Thanks again for watching Destry, man. I’ll try to get back early tomorrow.” Stiles dumped the papers and notebooks from his backpack onto his bed next to Destry, who watched him closely, sensing that something was going on, but trying to look casual about it.

“Thanks again for the six pack.” Rohit flicked a bottle top onto the counter and dropped down onto the couch, immediately starting to poke around Stiles’ laptop. “But why don’t you just go home for all of break and take Destry with you? It’d be way easier than driving back and forth in two days.”

“Spoken like someone who hasn’t had to drive anywhere with this asshole.” Stiles gestured to his dog, who did his best to look innocent and like he didn’t have a record of climbing all over the jeep and then vomiting on the floor. Repeatedly. “Can you submit my paper if it’s done attaching?”

Rohit clicked around for a second and groaned obnoxiously. “Okay, whatever the fuck happened at home over the summer, just suck it up and deal with it!” He rushed the words out loudly like he’d been holding it in for a long time. “I don’t know if you broke up with your stupid shady gentlemen friend or if Scott did something, but is it really worth missing Christmas with your dad? You haven’t gone back since like June. You missed Thanksgiving.”

There was June again, also gentlemen friend?

Stiles paused in shoving an extra shirt into his backpack. Had he seriously forgotten a boyfriend on top of his own father? Shit, was Scott his boyfriend?

He took a moment to try to imagine that; it was weird. He didn't get that kind of vibe from him at all, not to mention the texts between them hadn’t seemed boyfriend-esque in any way.

“Everything’s fine, I just need to get some work done without all the distractions.” He resumed shoving things into his bag, pretty much at random. Two pairs of jeans, one sock, a watch with a dead battery, his marked up copy of R.U.R. from class that he didn’t need to carry around anymore...

“The semester’s over, Stiles, you literally just turned in your last paper. What the fuck could possibly be more important than your dad?” Rohit was suddenly right next to him, ripping the bag out of his hands. Now that they didn’t have anything to do, they were shaking slightly, but Rohit was so focused on his face that he didn’t notice. “Is he okay? You haven’t talked about him at all, or anyone from home, I haven’t seen Scott or Derek once this semester, and then you’re going back for one night? What the fuck is going on?”

“Dude, it’s fine. Trust me.” Stiles just needed to get away from the onslaught of questions and new information and be alone for half a second so he could have a proper mental breakdown and then get on the road. That was all he needed.

His phone bleeped with an email notification; confirmation that his paper had been received.

“It’s not fine, Stiles, you’re freaking out! Just take a day and get some sleep, get drunk, smoke a bowl and lick my ear again, just calm the fuck down. I can’t let you drive like this.”

Stiles snatched the bag back and zipped it shut. Rohit held his hands out in a what the fuck did I just say kind of motion.

“I already said I’d be there today, there’s a thing planned.” He didn’t think he’d ever lied as much as he had this week; not even the whole semester of lies and evading questions added up to this many lies. “I’ll be back tomorrow before your flight, don’t worry.”

“My flight isn’t what I’m worried about. Do you have any idea what your dad would do to me if I let you drive off like this and you died on the way? He would literally murder me, and he would get away with it, too.” He trailed behind Stiles to the door, probably considering ways to tackle him and physically restrain him without hurting himself. They’d drunk fought once. Stiles won; Rohit got a broken nose. To be fair, Stiles ended up with a bruised trachea and couldn’t talk for a week. “I’m one semester away from graduating, I’d like to at least survive that with all the loans I've racked up paying for it."

“Rohit,” Stiles stepped out into the hall before he could be grabbed, “I’ll be fine. See you tomorrow.” He turned and thundered down the stairs, ignoring Rohit’s heavy sigh.

“At least text me when you get there!”

Figuring he should keep the few friends he could remember happy, he did, in fact, text Rohit when he pulled up outside the sheriff’s house a little over three hours later.

*

Actually getting out of the jeep took longer than Stiles cared to admit. It was already dark and chilly by the time he reached Beacon Hills, but even at night the city crept up on him like a rolling deja vu. It had him on edge and nervous, but at the same time it felt right. Like coming home at the end of the day. He couldn’t decide which instinct to trust so he just sat there, staring at the back of the minivan parked on the street in front of him and trying to decide if the BHHS Lacrosse bumper sticker looked familiar.

He wasn’t sure how long he sat there, but he was already late to begin with so he punched himself in the thigh a few times to motivate himself and forced himself out of the car.

Walking up the front sidewalk turned out to be a whole new level of stress he hadn’t known his body would be able to handle. All of his wild theories and worst case scenarios were crashing in on him at once and he couldn’t get his nerves under control. He didn’t understand why he was reacting like this, he did fine under pressure; he’d handled eighteen credit hours two semesters in a row, he’d punched a football player in the face while completely sober—he’d won the campus-wide beer pong tournament two years in a row, and it was seriously stressful defending that title.

He stopped halfway to the door, turned around to go back, and then forced himself to complete the circle and keep going. He really hoped no one was watching him, because he must’ve looked completely idiotic spinning around on the sheriff’s lawn. He took another few steps, did another pirouette of fear, then for some reason tried to look casual. He honestly had no idea what he was doing but he was already looking for somewhere to hide.

It would be stupid to hide behind the sheriff’s cruiser in his own driveway, right?

His gaze lingered on the large tree beyond the car, trying to eyeball the height of the lowest branch. That shook something loose in his mind; falling from too high up and running off with blood dripping down his leg instead of getting it checked out. It was the scar on his shin, it was still there.

“Come on, Stiles, just walk right the fuck up there,” he muttered to himself, crossing the last few feet to the porch, “let’s go. Game time. Fear is the mind-killer.”

He climbed the creaky wooden steps and didn’t even realize he was getting his keys out and preparing to unlock the front door until he was standing on the welcome mat, looking down at his mass of keys, trying to remember which one he was looking for. Now that he was really looking at them, he had no idea what most of his keys even went to. His jeep and apartment keys were the only two he really used, but there were six others, all inconspicuous and giving away nothing.

He should’ve checked his apartment for any bus station locker keys; there were always bus station lockers in movies like this.

He took a deep breath, took a step back from the door, rang the bell, and firmly ignored the rising panic screaming through his mind. If they were going to do it, this was the moment a super secret government organization would come grab him, right off this porch.

He was honestly a little surprised when, instead, the door opened to the sheriff, greeting him with a smile and no men in black suits looming over his shoulder with guns or syringes.

“Thought you got lost or something, come on in.” He stepped aside to let Stiles in and closed the door behind him.

“Traffic,” Stiles flat out lied. It wasn’t even a good lie, the damn sheriff would know there wasn’t notable traffic in a city this small, but literally anything was better than confessing that he’d been having a minor breakdown on the front walk for the last ten minutes.

“It is about that time of year,” John played along, and Stiles couldn’t even begin to describe how thankful he was for that, “seems like everyone’s got a cabin up here and absolutely everyone has to be there for Christmas, but on the bright side, their speeding tickets make up about 90% of our holiday bonuses.” He led the way into the living room and Stiles followed in silence, too distracted by the fact that this house smelled like home.

Stiles had a habit of paying undue attention to how other people’s houses smelled, he didn’t know why, he just did. He liked to catalogue them, try to pick apart what individual scents made up a person, try to see if he could notice changes. It was a whole thing.

Like Charlotte’s apartment always smelled like her perfume and the vanilla candles she constantly burned to cover up the smell of dirty laundry, but underneath that there was the ever present smell of soup. Homey and warm even though she couldn’t cook anything more complex than salad and usually just paid Stiles to make her dinner, it must’ve come with her from home because that was just her.

Rohit’s apartment always smelled like weed and Chinese takeout from his roommate, but his room was fabric softener, shoe polish because he wore unreasonably nice shoes all the time, and coffee from working part time at one of the cafes on campus. The smell of Rohit, however, was some combination of cigar smoke, from his dad, and a library, from the sheer volume of books his mom kept all over their house. Stiles had gone to visit him in New Jersey once, and his mother truly took “academic” to a whole new level.

But this house, the sheriff’s house that Stiles somehow knew, didn’t have a smell in the way that you can never smell how your own house smells to other people because you just can’t smell it. You’ve become so accustomed to it and it’s become such a part of you that it doesn’t even register in your mind as anything other than just air. That was this house, and Stiles’ nerves started creeping back in.

“Looks like the holiday round up,” he sheriff continued, picking up a stack of multicolored envelopes that were obviously Christmas cards and handing them over. Stiles took them and glanced through the first few before accepting the large package as well.

The address was written in old fashioned, loopy handwriting, and he couldn’t help the wince when he saw that the package was actually addressed to Gościsław Stilinski.

“Wow, I really could’ve gone without you ever seeing my real name.” The package didn’t even say Stiles on it anywhere.

“Please, I’m second generation Polish and my wife was from Lublin. I’ve seen worse.”

Stiles looked up from the box and tried to act casual. “Do you speak Polish?”

That would explain why he could randomly speak Polish, because he had no other explanation for it. It had certainly been one hell of a trip when he took a frantic shortcut through the Slavic Languages and Literature department a month ago and understood half the signs.

“Not as well as my mother would like.” The sheriff gestured towards one couch and sat on the one opposite. “She keeps writing to me in Polish and expecting a response, and I can’t tell if it’s her age or if she’s being passive aggressive about it.”

Stiles couldn’t help glancing down at the box where tucked in the corner of the label, in the same loopy grandma handwriting, was Całuję Cię i ściskam. Hugs and kisses.

Nope. Not even going to address that.

He stacked the envelopes neatly and placed them on top of the package, suddenly just wanting to get the hell out of there as fast as possible. He’d been nervous and somewhat excited to possibly get some concrete information on the way to Beacon Hills, but when faced with the reality of potentially getting answers, he just wanted to run. Really far.

“You’re not planning on driving back down to Berkeley tonight, are you?” The sheriff interrupted his planned exit, looking pained at the thought.

“Yeah, it’s no big deal.” Stiles decided not to divulge that he’d driven farther in less time to pick up his sophomore year roommate from a bad drug trip in the middle of a national park after he called at 2am, yelling about a bear and his Nalgene waterbottle. When Stiles got there, the Nalgene bottle had been fine and there was no bear in sight. David was passed out with his feet in a stream. “Besides, if I beat my mechanic’s milage record without my car dying, he’ll give me a new set of tires for free, so if you need any errands run...”

John gave him the same look he got from every adult when he made them relive their own broke college days.

“It’s fine, we have a bet going,” Stiles assured him quickly, because saying things like that made people offer him money for some reason.

“Yeah, that’s a—uh, interesting car you’ve got there.” He motioned towards the window where the Jeep was visible under the street lights in all its blue and busted glory. Oh wow, so was the front walk. The man must’ve been watching the entire Odyssey that took place on the way to the door.

“It’s got character.” Stiles couldn’t help the defensive edge that crept into his voice. He’d been through a lot with that car, and it was still running in spite of it all. If anyone was going to be throwing judgments at it, it would be him; he’d earned that right with all the money he’d put into keeping it functioning when petting the dashboard and praying for the best didn’t work.

The sheriff held up his hands in a placating gesture. “Hey, I’m not knocking it, my wife had one exactly like it.”

“Don’t tell me it died on her—I need to win this bet, if not for the tires then for m pride.”

“No, other way around.” Stiles had to think back on his words before he understood, but John was already continuing on with a fond but sad smile on his face. “She was always speeding around town in it, way too impatient for speed limits. Got to the point that deputies just gave up pulling her over and called me instead, as if I could do anything about it. I can’t tell you how many times I saw that stupid thing on traffic cams, and every time I tried to talk to her about it, she just cackled.”

“Cackled?”

“Like the Wicked Witch of the West. She didn’t have the most...flattering laugh.” He looked down at his hands with the same sad smile, and Stiles noticed he still wore his ring. “I heard that damned plate over the radio so often I don’t think I’ll ever forget it...Six Queen George Mary…”

Three Eight Seven, Stiles finished in his head. That was his license plate. That was his jeep. That was the same fucking jeep.

The sheriff’s wife was dead and Stiles was driving her jeep.

When he turned from his imminent identity crisis to look back at John, he found him trying to act like he wasn’t watching carefully, like he was waiting for a reaction. Oh god, his phone wasn’t lying, this was his father who probably knew all about the memory loss and didn’t want to freak him out by laying it all out there suddenly. That was why the house felt so familiar, the town, the tree out front.

How long had this been going on? Did this happen every time he came home? Maybe he had some kind of long term memory loss; his short term seemed fine, he hadn’t had trouble remembering assignments or information this semester. Or maybe he got in an accident on the way back to Berkeley, hit his head, and had been living with bad soap opera amnesia. No, that would have involved a hospital that would’ve contacted his family if something like that happened. And if that were the case, John probably wouldn’t have waited months to come find him.

Assuming this was his father and not that theoretical super secret government agency his mind kept casually tossing into the situation as a possibility.

John looked a little worried but not all that surprised by what was sure to be a hell of a lot of expressions crossing Stiles’ face. He couldn’t even tell what his face was doing anymore; just another thing in his life he had no control of anymore, awesome. He shifted away from the sheriff like that gave him any sort of privacy as he felt himself about to tip over into hyperventilation. Great, he was going to have a full on panic attack right here in a stranger’s somewhat familiar living room—his father’s somewhat familiar living room?

He stood, fully intending to leave right then and forget his mail and the whole damn thing (he was forgetting everything else, it’s not like it would be hard) and go have his mental breakdown in peace, but then he turned right into a framed photo of a woman with his eyes and his moles and Stiles felt the air in his lungs rush out in some strangled sob. His mind screeched to a halt, silently taking in the variation of his own face looking back at him with his own stupid grin. She wore it far better than he did.

“Stiles?” John came up behind him, put a firm and reassuring hand on his shoulder and fuck, even that was familiar. This entire experience was some neverending deja vu trip, a constantly glitching Matrix that was frankly exhausting. “You okay, son?”

It was a common thing to do, calling people ‘son’, but it felt like an actual punch to the chest, and he didn’t know why he had that frame of reference. He knew what it felt like to get punched in the chest, had that memory, but no context to put it in. What the fuck had he done in his life that got him punched in the chest?

Stiles pressed the heel of his palm into his eye, trying to physically push back an encroaching headache and stop the burn of frustrated tears.

“No,” he finally forced out, because he really wasn’t handling all of this as well as he should be. His voice came out annoyingly thick from trying not to completely fall apart in a stranger’s house who might actually be his father who he couldn’t even remember. “I really don’t think I am.”

The hand on his shoulder squeezed, an encouragement, and it was so familiar but he just couldn’t place why it was. It was all a pile of stupid, jumbled, bullshit puzzle pieces and he couldn't even find the corners to orient himself.

“I can’t fucking remember anything, like my parents, or where I’m from, or where I got my fucking dog!” He angled his head away and wiped furiously at his eyes, god, why couldn’t he stop crying? “I feel like I’m losing my mind and I don’t—” He took a deep breath that didn’t fill his lungs. Now was so not the time to have a panic attack; it'd been years, he was okay. Except that he totally wasn't. “I don’t know what the fuck to do about it.”

The sheriff’s hand tightened, quickly reeled him into a tight hug like he’d done it countless times before, and Stiles could only describe it as home. Safe. He pressed his face into flannel and felt his own arms instinctively hug back, automatically fitting around the man without his go ahead. It felt natural, rehearsed over years of this, and it physically hurt that he was missing all of it. Literally all of it.

“You’re not losing your mind,” John assured him roughly against his shoulder, his tone filled with the authority of a parent who magically knew everything was going to be alright. The voice of a father he didn’t remember, that was just some vague outline in even more vague memories of memories. He wanted so badly to believe him, because his own mind was speeding off to the darkest conclusions and bleakest possibilities, but all available evidence was a neon sign pointing to the contrary. “You’re not alone in this, it’s happening to all of us.”

He snorted through his tears; great, collective, widespread Alzheimer’s. Maybe it was something in the water.

“We’re working on it,” the sheriff continued, tightening his hold, and god, if that didn’t make Stiles feel simultaneously better and worse, “we’re going to figure out what happened and find a way to undo it. Don’t worry.”

Stiles didn't answer for a moment, doubted it was possible, that the best he could probably hope for was to slow it down a little, maybe hold on for another ten years if he was lucky, but he tried to shut down that part of his mind for the moment and just let himself believe that he could get it all back, that he would have a real past and not just be drifting randomly through his life. Because this? Not knowing where he went to high school? Who his childhood friends were? Having his maybe-father show up at his apartment out of the blue and walk on eggshells around him? This sucked.

It took another couple minutes of sniffling to work up to courage to ask, “...are you my dad?” After the long pause, his voice was hardly even there, strained from trying not to cry and failing spectacularly, but John’s hand moving up to his hair, pressing him into shoulder, holding him just as desperate as Stiles felt, told him he was heard. There was a pause, then his dad nodded against him. Stiles’ throat clenched.

“Yeah, we’re pretty sure I am.” He sounded just as choked up. “How many Stilinskis could there be, right?”

Stiles laughed, though it may or may not have been at least 78% a sob, and reluctantly pulled away. He wiped his eyes with the sleeve of his sweater and saw his dad—his dad—do the same.

“So, uh, what do you think it is?” He really didn’t want the answer, but at the same time he did. And if changing the subject helped distract him from his crippling emotions that would probably take him to the floor in a truly spectacular anxiety attack if he acknowledged them, no one needed to know. “Alzheimer’s? Some kind of dementia...a tumor?”

John shook his head, looking impossibly sad at the question. Boy, that was not what he needed to see right then.

“God no, none of those things. It’s affecting a lot of people around here—Scott and Derek, they’ve got it too.”

“It’s environmental? Has anyone been affected as much as me? Why haven’t we called the CDC?”

His dad clapped a hand on his shoulder and pulled him towards the kitchen with a watery smile, effectively signaling the suspension of that line of questioning. “We’ve got a long conversation ahead of us, but you look like you could use some coffee. Want some coffee? I could use some coffee.”

They had some coffee.

*

The next morning, Stiles woke up an hour later than usual with no dog clambering all over him with heavy paws. He spent a while just staring at the dark blue walls of his dad’s guestroom that he had a feeling used to be his room. He had some vague idea of a memory of spilling the grape juice that stained the rug near the door. And if having memories filter back slowly and meander around the edges of his thoughts but just out of reach wasn’t a weird experience, Stiles didn’t know what was.

Oh wait, yes he did.

Finding out that werewolves actually exist and that he seemed to have been a human in a pack of them was right up next to the memories thing on his own personal Weird-Shit-O-Meter. Finding out that his extreme memory loss was most likely caused by something supernatural was also poking around the same area, as was having breakfast with his dad for “the first time”, which he was about to do.

Finally admitting that he wasn’t going to get any more than the few stilted hours of sleep he’d managed around dawn, he gave himself a minute to have an exhausted, minor breakdown, then rolled out of bed and stretched. His back popped and cracked as usual, and even something as irritating as that felt like a comfort in its routine.

Then he took another minute to marvel at how far left field his life had been jerked that something as inconvenient as a messed up back still being messed up was something he wanted to hold onto.

Then he took another minute to tell himself to man up and stop procrastinating, and went down to the kitchen.

John was at the table, sipping coffee and reading the paper like it was any other morning. Stiles didn't know how he knew this was a morning routine, but he did. John gestured to the coffee maker and the empty mug sitting next to it, so Stiles poured himself a cup and sat down opposite him.

They sat like that for a few awkward moments; Stiles rubbing his hands together and John running his thumb along the edge of his coffee mug, both avoiding eye contact. John shrugged and finally broke the silence.

“I’ve got to tell you, I’m a little at a loss as to how to proceed here.”

Stiles nodded a little. “Yeah, I’ll admit that I’m pretty new to this.”

Silence.

“Got any hobbies?”

Something cracked. Stiles didn’t know what, but the sheer absurdity of that question in the context of their current situation set him off giggling. Actually giggling. Embarrassingly high pitched, nearly hysterical, barely able to breathe giggles. John chuckled in a much more manly fashion, but it still sounded like an older variation of the same laugh. God, this was his father. And he was asking about his hobbies.

“Carving napkin rings,” Stiles deadpanned once he calmed down.

John chuckled sadly. “My favorite movie.”

“That would explain why I know it by heart for no reason I can remember.”

“And why you named your dog Destry, of all things.”

“What, you don’t think he looks like Jimmy Stewart?”

“He does kind of have a dopey face.”

“And he’s big enough, too.” Stiles absentmindedly rubbed the spot on his chest that normally had dog paw jabbing into it early in the morning. John started to laugh again, and shook his head with mirth when Stiles looked up at him.

“I’m sorry, but you spend possibly years with werewolves and then go on and get the closest thing to a wolf you possibly could.”

“Explains my fondness for dog jokes.”

“Boy, are they going to love having you around.” His dad glanced at his cell phone. “Speaking of the pack, they called earlier—think they might have an idea of what happened. Want to come to the meeting?”

Pack. God, they sounded like some douchey small town version of the Rat Pack. Probably without all the talent, though. Stiles certainly couldn’t carry a tune to save his life, and the last school play he was in—well, he couldn't actually remember, but he was sure it hadn't been pretty.

Stiles glanced over to the clock on the stove; it was already almost nine and Rohit’s flight left at two. He wanted to stay; this was his dad, his hometown, the entire life he couldn’t remember.

“I’ve actually got the get back to Berkeley.” John’s face fell a little, but he recovered quickly. “I could come right back, I just have to get Destry. I have a friend there now with him, but he’s got a flight to New Jersey at two and Destry will eat all of my towels if he gets anxious.”

“Well, there’s no point driving back if it doesn’t turn out to be anything. I’ll just call you after, let you know.” It was a forced casual, and Stiles could relate. He didn't want to leave, felt he belonged here, and he couldn't remember ever feeling like that before. For once in his life, he didn’t have that weird disconnect from everything around him. He felt grounded and home.

“No, I’ll come back. I just need to find someone to watch Destry for a few days.” He couldn’t afford to put him in a kennel, that was for sure, maybe Charlotte? They got along, and he trusted her to stay in his apartment and not completely destroy it or clear the place out. He wanted to be here for this, wanted to help in any way he could if this could actually get his memories back.

The sheriff waved away the issue. “Just bring him with you. You both can stay here.”

Stiles’ brain kind of fizzled at the thought that John, his dad, liked him enough to keep him around, as it collided with the thought of cleaning Destry vomit out of the back of the jeep again.

“Uh, thanks, yeah. What time should I get back?”

“We’re meeting at the animal clinic at six after it closes.” At Stiles’ expression, he sighed knowingly. “Just make any dog-related jokes now before they can hear you. It’ll be safer for everyone involved.”

: D :

“So where is he?” Lydia picked at her nails, her hip jutted out against the counter, impatient and ready to leave. It was already 6:20 and there was still no sign of Stiles.

“He said there’s traffic, he’s on his way,” the sheriff repeated what he’d told Derek and Scott. He didn’t look completely confident, though, like he was worried Stiles might not come back. Derek had the same fear. Stiles had been really shaken by it all, John had said, thought he had early early onset Alzheimer’s, or another serious medical problem. Derek had never considered what it might feel like going through this without knowledge of the supernatural or even anyone else going through the same.

“I hope so, we're probably going to need him to undo this." Deaton said in his mild yet ominous tone. "From talking to you all, it seems as though everything is tied to him, and reversing such penetrative spells doesn't work as well long distance."

Scott grimaced at his wording.

"He's got ten minutes, then we go find him," Isaac decided. Lydia and Allison nodded in agreement, but the Sheriff still looked nervous, as did Scott.

Derek didn’t want to have to hunt him down, he wanted Stiles to come because he wanted to be there and wanted to get his memories and his life back. But at the same time, whether he wanted to or not, they needed him to put their own lives back together and it would be irresponsible and just plain stupid for Derek to let his own feelings for the guy stand in the way of fixing this, whatever those feelings may be. As it stood, their alpha was missing half of his life, which wasn't just inconvenient and frustrating for him, it was dangerous; what if he'd forgotten something vital to the pack and their safety? What if Stiles wasn't who he seemed to be and remembering that saved their lives? They couldn't let him not show up.

Thankfully, they didn’t have to discuss that path any further.

Even the humans heard the old jeep pull up a few minutes later, the muttered cursing, and the front door of the clinic opening. The sheriff closed his eyes in relief for a second.

"Hello?"

"In here!"

There was a moment of hesitant footsteps, then the door to the front office opened slowly. Destry's head forced its way through, sniffing wildly at everything around him. Stiles followed, looking around and trying to hold his dog back.

"Hope this is alright, he already vomited twice in the car and he's more than capable of tearing apart the inside of my jeep if he gets bored."

"This is an animal clinc, Stiles, it's completely fine," Deaton assured him as Destry scraped his way across the tile floor to sniff everything and everyone in the room, pulling Stiles out from behind the door as well. He let go of the leash, letting the dog run towards John excitedly like they were old friends, his tail wagging wildly and beating loudly against the counter. Maybe they were old friends, no one there knew. If John was Stiles' father, it was pretty likely that he had also met his dog.

The sheriff made introductions, being the main point of contact between his son and the pack. Lydia narrowed her eyes, looking him up and down and analyzing him from her lofty perch, trying to decide if he was worth her time. Allison shook his hand across the metal table with the wary caution she had developed for all strangers, while Deaton simply nodded. Isaac hung back, giving him an appraising look, but it was from the perspective of a wolf trying to figure out what his instincts were telling him, and when he looked to Scott and Derek, they knew they all felt the same.

Their instincts didn’t recognize Stiles as a threat, quite the contrary. They wanted to protect him, care for him, rub all over him and make him smell like pack again and not the foreign scent of Berkeley and strangers. He was supposed to be there with them, and Derek felt his wolf finally settle again after the last couple days of agitation since he'd last seen Stiles. This was right, it was familiar, and he could breathe again.

“So we’re here because we all have pretty obvious gaps in our memories,” Scott started, taking lead. “I’ve got gaps all the way back to when I was little, and my mom does too. Like, more than half my life is just fuzzy.” He nodded towards Derek. “We’re thinking it’s because that’s how long I’ve been friends with Stiles.” He hesitantly glanced over at Stiles, who looked up in surprise at being mentioned.

“That would make sense if this is all centered on him,” Allison agreed, “I wouldn’t have met Stiles until I moved here, and I don’t have any gaps before then.”

“But I’ve lived here my entire life and I don’t have any gaps before high school,” Lydia pointed out. “If he grew up here too, we would’ve been in the same class. I should have a lot more.”

Allison shook her head as she thought. “Maybe you two just didn’t interact much before high school. I think it’s pretty safe to say that he plays a central role here, I mean, you said you’ve been seeing his hoodie all semester.”

“I’ve actually been thinking about that,” Deaton cut in while Stiles just held out his hands in confusion as that wasn’t explained further, “as werewolves, Scott and Derek rely on their five senses so they weren’t aware of their connection to Stiles until they actually saw him and interacted with him. Lydia, your abilities are still revealing themselves in unexpected ways, but it seems as though you have the same sensitivity to magic our werewolves do. Your mind knew something was off, that something was missing, but it could only bring forth a piece of it to alert you to the problem, thus Stiles’ hoodie out of the corner of your eye.”

Lydia’s eyes narrowed as she thought all of that through. “If he wore it a lot, which his scent suggests, then it would make sense for that to be my most prominent association with him.”

“But why Stiles?” Isaac asked, “Why target him? He’s human, and he’s not even a hunter. Why not go after Scott, or even me or Derek?”

Deaton answered in his usual tone that seemed like he was always just barely tolerating their stupidity. Stiles was getting more and more frustrated with the conversation, irritation and confusion rolling off him in waves. “The supernatural tends to have a sensitivity to magic and can usually tell when it’s influencing them. Whereas a human like Stiles with no knowledge of the supernatural would just assume memory loss, a werewolf would be able to—”

“Okay, seriously?” Stiles burst out, cutting off Deaton and anyone else. “Can we maybe act like I’m in the room for half a second and explain some shit? Not all of us are a part of your little Rat Pack, remember, so what’s this about my hoodie?” He turned to Lydia, “have you been hallucinating a sweatshirt?”

Derek felt an uneasy flip in his stomach as Scott shifted uncomfortably; they considered Stiles to be pack, and hearing him outright say he wasn’t didn’t sit well with their pack bonds that were already in place. Even Isaac looked a little off kilter.

Lydia just gave him a scathing look so Scott answered without actually going into the fact that she actually had been hallucinating a sweatshirt on some level.

“We found your hoodie at Derek’s apartment, which led us to your dad and then you.”

Stiles squinted at him. “And what, it had my name on the tag?”

“Your scent, actually,” Derek responded flatly when Scott looked too embarrassed to say it. How was their alpha too shy to talk about this? “He remembered your scent from when you were little.”

He tried not to be too offended by the slightly disgusted frown he got in response.

“I thought you were an old imaginary friend until we found it,” Scott confessed sheepishly with his big apology eyes.

“Wow,” Stiles nodded after a moment with a forced grin that made Derek’s heart hurt, “and my professors tell me I have a memorable personality. Not that I can really talk, I don’t remember you or anything before college, and even some of that’s missing.”

The sheriff looked pained and put his hand to the back of Stiles’ neck, gripping it in a comforting hold that was so fatherly it was hard to imagine him not having a son. And it was a good thing he did, because Derek was about a second away from smothering Stiles in an embarrassing hug that the pack would never let him forget. The only consolation was the Scott made it as far as a step forward before he caught himself.

How was one human affecting an alpha and a born wolf like this?

“So what could do something like this?” Lydia cut in, putting a swift end to the subdued air the room had slipped into with Stiles’ confession. “Are we looking for some kind of creature? Another druid?”

Deaton gave her his usual just-slightly-amused lip twitch that passed as a smile. “From what Scott and Derek have described, it seems more likely that we’re dealing with a witch.” Scott let out a frustrated groan, no doubt remembering their turbulent history with witches, but Stiles just shifted his weight and frowned hesitantly, like he wasn’t exactly sure how negative his reaction should be.

“Don’t tell me they can change the past now,” the sheriff groaned in the same way he always did when he was faced with a new aspect of the supernatural being real. He’d firmly planted himself leaning against the counter with Stiles, Destry at their feet, forming a pretty clearly united front and family.

Deaton smiled for real but shook his head. “No, but they can alter minds. She’s hidden Stiles himself from our memories, but she couldn't undo his actions, and those lapses where facts don’t quite line up with memories are where you're going to figure this out."

"So we have to solve this with only what we don't remember. This won't be impossible at all." Scott groaned, and Derek was pleased to see that he was becoming just as fed up with Deaton's vague suggestions as everyone else. Took him long enough.

“No wait,” Stiles cut in like it was natural, “you guys are all in my phone contacts, and the last text I sent to Derek back on June sixteenth said found omega, meet at RP Beta.” He paused when the energy in the room shifted abruptly and everyone else started making eye contact with each other. “I take it that means something to all of you.”

“An omega is a werewolf without a pack and RP Beta is one of our rendezvous points out in the woods,” Allison explained. “Omegas can cause trouble when they enter established pack territories, they’re unknown wolves and a lot of them bring hunters on their tail because they're easy targets. Packs generally try to make them move on quickly if they aren’t accepted by the local alpha.”

“And if they don’t move on willingly…” Stiles trailed off, nodding in grim understanding at Allison’s expression. “Ah.”

“So has anyone had any memory gaps since June sixteenth?” Lydia asked the room at large, and it fell quiet while everyone thought back until Scott interrupted with his phone out.

“The sixteenth is my last text from Stiles, too.” He moved to stand one Stiles’ other side, tilting his phone so they could both look. “Pick me up some fries.” He frowned down at the screen then looked up to Stiles, who looked somewhat pleased about that. Lydia rolled her eyes.

“So then that’s the latest gap,” Allison decided, “I don’t remember any omegas in June, but the rest of the summer and this semester are intact.”

“That’s my last gap, too,” Stiles agreed. “That’s when I went back to Berkeley without explanation, which was apparently weird for me—wait, why did everyone at school remember my life? I mean, Rohit was asking about my dad, and Derek and Scott all the time, I just had no idea who he was talking about.”

“Yeah, my school friends mentioned Stiles too,” Scott added and Stiles’ mouth twitched up into a pleasantly surprised grin that he tried to hide.

Everyone looked to Deaton, and he dutifully gave them an explanation. Surprisingly informative, even. "Casting a spell as widespread as this would require a lot of power, even just targeting the pack and Beacon Hills. Expanding it to include connections outside of the city would be incredibly taxing on whoever is maintaining this, impossible, even. If this started in June, I'm amazed it hasn't fallen apart before as it is."

Stiles rolled his eyes spectacularly. "Great, they're incredibly powerful and can completely rewrite our memories, how does that answer the question?"

"I'm saying they're not incredibly powerful," Deaton corrected with an irritated patience. "They had to limit their spell to those immediately involved, and completely ignored things like magazine subscriptions or school loans, or school friends. If your friend had been affected as well, then we would worry."

“So it’s a witch,” Isaac interrupted flatly. “How do we find them if this happened six months ago and no one remembers them?”

Lydia turned her gaze to Derek with an intensely unsettling look, her eureka smirk firmly in place. “What do we know that can hide and reveal memories?”

“More witches?” Stiles guessed, and Scott turned away to try to hide his ugly snort. Derek was too busy dreading what was to come to laugh. He crossed his arms and sighed, dutifully answering her like she wanted because he was steadily losing the ability to stand up to her.

“An alpha’s claws.”

And if the spell was cast on Stiles specifically…

Everyone else turned to look at Stiles and Scott, the people who would actually be involved in this process. They weren’t paying attention; they were trying to hide their somewhat hysterical snickering around Monty Python lines like they’d been friends for years.

Apparently they had, but this was neither the time nor the place to rediscover that.

John coughed and fixed them with his best Sheriff look until they realized everyone was looking and sobered up. Scott straightened, trying to act natural.

“What?”

“Your claws,” Lydia said clearly like she was speaking to a child, “you need to be the one to uncover his memories.”

Scott’s face fell immediately. He didn’t like doing that, they all knew he didn’t, but Derek couldn’t remember why or when he’d done it before.

Stiles just crossed his arms and squinted at Lydia. “Excuse me, what’s this about claws?”

Derek took up the task of explaining the process; claws digging into the back of the neck and essentially rooting through his mind until they found what they were looking for, and Stiles was understandably getting more and more freaked out as he continued. He was about to have the claws of a werewolf in his spinal column, after all. His heartbeat was steadily climbing but his face showed none of his panic, carefully neutral. Only the wolves realized what he was feeling and Scott bit his lip guiltily.

“So this is the only way we can do this,” Stiles confirmed once the whole process was laid out before him, “we can’t just like...hypnotize me with a pocket watch?”

“I’m afraid not, Stiles.” Deaton actually did look apologetic about it, which wasn’t something Derek saw often. “Hypnotism can’t break through a spell like this. It would work if these memories were just repressed, but these are intentionally walled off from your mind. An outside force will be needed to find them.” He gestured towards the green-about-the-face alpha who looked more upset about this than the guy who was actually about to have claws in his neck..

Stiles thought for a short moment, eyes flicking back at forth across the floor like he could actually see the pros and cons laid out for him. He took a deep breath, nodded, then gave Scott a solid slap on the back. “Alright. Try not to paralyze me, buddy.”

Scott whimpered, but only Derek and Isaac heard.

The sheriff dragged a stool over and hovered as Stiles sat down in front of Scott, all three looking supremely uncomfortable with what was happening. Destry stood and moved towards them, growling faintly at the tension in the room and preparing to defend.

Derek hadn’t realized he was growling quietly in his throat right along with Destry until Scott shot him a pointed look over Stiles’ head. Isaac snorted softly and ducked his head when Derek glared.

“Okay,” Scott took a steadying breath, position his claws at the back of Stiles’ neck and looking almost just as nervous. “This might feel a little weird, but I promise I know what I’m doing.”

“Okay,” Stiles mimicked, also taking deep breaths over his thudding heart, “let’s get this over with.” The sheriff groaned softly and turned away, but looked back again like he couldn’t help it.

Scott bit his lip, his heart beating just as loudly as Stiles’, and pressed his claws in.

: S :

Stiles ran.

He’d been here before, running through these woods almost every night in his own nightmares, remembered every step he took and every branch that ripped at his clothing. It was happening all over again.

He knew every tree he passed, could predict every scratch and stumble. He could practically count down to the exact moment the wolf collided with his side, knew exactly how much it hurt when he hit the solid earth, a rock digging into his shoulder as the weight bore down on him and pressed him into the dirt.

He looked up into those damn glowing blue eyes and and watched them lean in, fangs opening at his throat, hot breath washing over him. His throat was about to be ripped out by a guy with fangs. This was it. This was the time he finished the job once and for all.

“Stiles!”

The weight on top of him suddenly disappeared, wrenched to the side as something collided with it and threw it off. He scrambled away the second he was free, sprawled on the ground and staring in a dumb shock at the second wolf with T-X from Terminator 3 eyes that held down the first by its throat. The second wolf looked up at him and ordered in a familiar voice,

“Stiles, run!”

Instinct took over and he just ran in a direction, any direction away from the wolves. He hoped he was at least heading towards the road, but that really was secondary at the moment to getting away from the rabid werewolf that had just tried to literally rip his throat out with its teeth.

Derek, he realized faintly as he almost tripped over a log. Derek had just saved his life and was now fighting for his own.

A wolf let out a familiar howl in the direction he’d just come from and he skidded to a stop just ten feet from the main road without even thinking about it, like it was a reflex as natural as breathing. He was already heading back before he realized what he was doing and how unbelievably stupid it was, but he still didn’t stop. There was some drive in him that needed to get back there, needed to help.

He heard something snap to his left and he froze, grabbing a tree to keep from tripping at such a sudden stop. He didn’t bother trying to see anything, it was basically pitch black in the woods, but he held his breath and listened to the silence for a moment. At first there was nothing, then the rustling of dead leaves being crushed as someone stumbled around.

Stiles turned towards the sound and the white beam from an LED flashlight bobbed out from between the trees. He ducked back behind a tree, watching carefully as whoever it was—obviously no one trained for stealth because even he didn’t make that much noise—tripped into view.

It was a woman, looking scared and shaken, who for some reason was wandering through the woods in the middle of the night.

Stiles stepped out and her flashlight snapped up to his face, blinding him after being in the dark for so long. She yelped and something solid hit him in the shoulder.

She’d thrown a stick at him, he realized as he flailed to catch it. A goddamn stick.

“Whoa, hey, it’s okay!” He exclaimed loudly and very quickly, because she looked like she was preparing to throw the flashlight too. “It’s fine, I’m not going to hurt you!” He held out his hands for her to see and her wide eyes immediately moved to the stick he was still holding. Rude, she’d hit him with it first, but he dropped it and tried to look as nonthreatening as possible. It wasn’t hard, he didn’t look all that threatening to begin with.

“Who are you? Why are you out here?” She demanded, and he could only gesture wildly at her in return, because she was one to talk.

But before she answered, another howl that Stiles didn’t recognize rang out through the forest and then very ominously died off. The wolf who’d attacked him was dead, somehow he knew it.

“Shit!”

When Stiles turned back to her, the woman looked upset but not frightened like she probably should’ve been at the sound of a dying wolf howl that wasn’t all that far away. She glanced back at him, and then her eyes widened when she realized Stiles wasn’t frightened either. “You’re pack, aren’t you.” It wasn’t a question.  

Stiles let his hands fall to his sides, hovering over the knife strapped around his thigh on reflex. “Who are you?”

“I’m not trying to cause trouble, it was a mistake.” The woman tried to look calm, but she was agitated, worried. Her hands came up like a defense between them and the precise positioning of them set Stiles’ instincts on high alert. He dragged a foot back in the dirt, preparing to run from her if necessary.

“Okay, what did you do?”

“I swear, my control slipped, he wasn’t supposed to get away—” She was starting to panic. “Fuck!”

“Tell me what happened, we might be able to help.” Stiles took a step closer and her fingers twitched. He needed her to calm down fast, he knew it wasn’t good for her or her magic to get worked up. “I need you to just take a breath and talk to me—”

“This wasn’t supposed to happen, I swear,” she repeated, staring off in the direction the howl had come from. “He shouldn’t have—” She stopped suddenly and listened; sirens wailed in the distance, heading their way.

“Fuck, shit, I can’t, I’m sorry, just—fuck!” She reached for his throat and his knife came up on reflex, ripping through her jacket and cutting deep into her arm, but she didn’t let go. Gripping his shoulder tighter, she muttered something under her breath, hurried and foreign.

Black started creeping in around the edges of Stiles’ vision but it wasn’t from lack of oxygen. He was vaguely aware of his body collapsing into the dirt and he couldn’t figure out how to do anything about it. What the fuck was happening?

The last thing he remembered was the woman letting him fall and her tennis shoes slipping out of sight as the sirens pulled up and a car door slammed. Someone yelled, then everything went black.

When he opened his eyes he was back in the vet’s office, a group of people he’d just met staring at him and waiting for some kind of answer to their problem. Holy shit, he’d been attacked and someone was dead; who the fuck were these people, they were probably going to kill him too—why were they standing so close? He couldn’t breathe with them so close, why couldn’t he just breathe?

“Stiles, breathe,” Scott said gently but unhelpfully from behind him, because what the fuck did he think he was fucking trying to do?

Derek stepped forward with his mammoth eyebrows raised in an aggressively worried expression, but all Stiles could think of were those T-X from Terminator 3 eyes gleaming at him in the darkness and holding that wolf down by its throat.

He fucking ran.

: D :

Taking only a second to order everyone else to wait in the office, Derek followed Stiles’ thudding heartbeat into the dark parking lot where the powder blue jeep was still sitting next to Scott’s car. Stiles was behind the wheel, eyes closed tightly, focusing on breathing deep and trying to calm down.

Derek faltered for a step and paused, unsure if he should go any closer and afraid of sending the guy into another panic attack. After a few moments, Stiles seemed to be getting himself back under control; he wasn’t taking the same gasping breaths or clutching at his chest, so Derek figured it was as safe to approach as it would ever be. He still made plenty of noise as he started forward to keep from startling him and kept his hands in sight at his sides.

Stiles avoided looking at him until he stood right outside the driver’s side door, then he reluctantly rolled down the window.

“Well that was embarrassing,” he started with a wry smile, staring straight ahead with lidded eyes and just looking done with everything around him. Derek didn’t want him to look done, defeated, he wanted him to get back out of the car and keep going with them.

“Could’ve been worse.”

Stiles rolled his eyes. “Oh yeah, nothing like totally freaking out and running away to make a good impression. And in front of a bunch of werewolves, no less. Awesome.” It’d been a while since Derek had seen anyone beat themselves up almost as much as he did. He understood the sad expression Scott always got when it happened; it was heartbreaking watching it on someone else, especially someone who deserved exactly none of it.

“Werewolves can get panic attacks too, huge ones if it gets out of hand and they transform,” he offered as neutral as he could. “The change produces a surge of adrenaline, especially under stress, so it fuels the attack and it can keep going until their system just overloads and they pass out.” Stiles had turned to look at him with a thoughtful expression, like he could just tell that Derek was speaking from experience. “We recover quickly, but it still sucks.”

Stiles nodded, processing. “From what John—erh, my dad?” He cocked his head like it didn’t quite taste right and looked down at his hands. “From what he said you guys sounded pretty much invincible.” He wound his fingers together, trying to stop the lingering tremors. “Above all this weak human shit.”

Derek clenched his fists, resisting the urge to reach in and draw away whatever aches he would undoubtedly be getting from the attack and just hole up and keep him safe and protected from anything that would reduce him to that kind of fear ever again.

“Move over.”

Stiles' head snapped up. “What?”

“Move over.” Derek repeated impatiently, then immediately regretted it and continued in a nicer tone, “You’re in no condition to drive and you obviously want to be anywhere but here.”

Stiles stared at him a second, searching his face for something, Derek didn’t know what, but then he rolled his eyes a little and scooted across to the other seat.

Derek climbed in and settled behind the wheel, feeling a sense of familiarity as he turned the keys in the ignition and the old jeep groaned to life ominously.

“You actually drive this death trap?”

Stiles scoffed and his entire head rolled with his eyes this time. “You’re a werewolf, you’ll be fine, you can unclench.” He sat back while Derek pulled out of the parking lot and onto the road, then added when the car jerked, “...but seriously be careful, this thing could fall apart any second.”

“It’s fine, I can drive stick.” He didn’t even need to look to know that Stiles had turned that into an innuendo; it was like a sixth sense he didn’t know he had. He could just feel the stupid grin.

After that it didn’t take long for Stiles to relax into his seat, leaning his head back and sagging. He held his hands in his lap, rubbing them together to try to erase the tremors as he stared up at the roof of the jeep. The silence from him seemed wrong, and everything in Derek pushed for him to do something to fix it somehow.

“Are you okay?”

Stiles jumped a little at the sudden break in silence. “Huh? Oh, yeah, just tired and a little shaky.”

“Do you need to sleep?”

“No, I’m too wound up—won’t be sleeping for a while.” He looked tired nonetheless.

“Hungry?”

"No, I'm good." He gave Derek an odd look as he answered somewhat hesitantly. Damn it, he was freaking him out.

He wasn't trying to be forward, but there was some part of him that desperately wanted to take care of whatever was troubling Stiles, mentally or physically. This had never been a problem before now, never happened with any other pack members or even family. Sure, there was the instinct to help them where he could or comfort them to some degree when they needed it, but he'd never felt this intense need to fix whatever was troubling them, wrap them up in bed with a mug of tea, and hide them away from their problems.

And that was ignoring the constant urge to rub all over him and make him smell like home again, mark him up and claim him for the world to see.

The answer clicked in Derek's mind with a jolt and the car jerked off onto the shoulder, kicking up gravel that beat into the side of the jeep before he corrected.

"Dude, what the hell?" Stiles flailed and gripped his seat and the passenger side door, "Okay, I don't care if I just had a panic attack, pull over, I'm driving!"

Holy shit, Scott was right, Derek realized. He was dating Stiles.

He swerved back into the lane, ignoring Stiles' demands to take over because this is what happens when I let people drive Roscoe, we're going to die!

He was with Stiles.

That was the only explanation for all of the intense feelings and instincts whenever he was around; the urge to protect, to comfort, to guard, to hold on until everything settled. And that also explained the buzzing restlessness when Stiles wasn’t around, especially now that he’d seen him a few times in the last few days. Werewolves had a tendency to be protective of their own and their territory, and they couldn’t protect what they weren’t around. Derek was fully aware of the extent he took this and his own issues with holding on to those he loved; he was constantly beating back anxiety over losing everything he had, but now that he was so close to Stiles again, everything had stilled inside of him, settled into routine.

He was even driving them back to his apartment without realizing it, on autopilot like it was the most natural thing to be bickering with Stiles on their way home for the night.

Hell, maybe it was completely natural—normal, even.

He absentmindedly slapped away Stiles’ hand as he went for the gearshift and turned down his street, following it back towards the downtown area. “You’re not driving, take a nap or something.”

“Yeah, like I’m trusting you with my baby, I’m probably going to have to go to a body shop to fix those dents, that gravel was massive. What do they use up here, boulders?”

Derek rolled his eyes, reveling in the lighthearted back and forth they’d slipped into and focusing all of his attention on that and not on the fact that he was apparently dating Stiles. “Stop being dramatic, they’ll buff right out.”

“Okay, if it’s so easy you can pay for it. And an oil change, while we’re at it—compensation for my and my jeep’s emotional trauma.”

“Your car’s fine.”

“I’d like a professional opinion on that. No offence, but I think that’s exactly the kind of thing the guy who finally destroys my jeep would say. And I can tell, I know this car—he’s hurting.”

Derek turned his head away to back into his parking spot (the one he’d bribed his neighbors into letting him keep because it was the perfect distance from the front door and street parking was surprisingly rare here), but also to hide his grin. Okay, he could understand how he’d be dating Stiles. He hadn’t met anyone who could distract him from his own mind since Laura, and even she hadn’t been able to draw him into ridiculous exchanges that ended a car’s emotional state.

“Oh my god, you live across the street from a farmer’s market?” Stiles exclaimed once he climbed out of the car (and he did climb, his legs made a production of it), waving his arms at the now empty and dark covered walkways that would be filled with local vendors in the morning. “How? Why? You are literally the least mysterious werewolf I’ve ever heard of,” out of habit Derek cast a glance down the empty street, but it was after ten on a Sunday in a quiet neighborhood, there was no one around to hear, “you’re bordering right on hipster!”

“Hipsters don’t get a monopoly on liking fresh produce. Come on.”

“Seriously, if I find a record player and any weird indie bands on vinyl, or like a bookcase made out of cinderblocks, I will mock you. Mercilessly,” Stiles continued as they climbed the stairs up to his apartment, practically bouncing behind, the remains of his panic attack forgotten with willing distraction. “Do you ride a fixed gear? Wear beanies? Am I going to find Kerouac on your crappy bookshelf? Ginsberg?”

“Kerouac, yes, Ginsberg, no.” Derek unlocked his door and shoved Stiles inside before he disturbed the neighbors with his cackle of glee at the small stack of books Derek had unfortunately left out within reach of the entrance, Welcome to the Monkey House sitting on top. “And if you even touch Vonnegut, I’ll hit you.”

“Duh.” Stiles scoffed as Derek followed him in, closing the door behind him and tossing his keys on the dining table.

Derek knew that his apartment smelled like Stiles. He knew that the very essence of Stiles had wormed it's way into the woodwork to such a degree that it was still there after six months apart. But knowing it from lasting remnants and vague memories was nothing compared to Stiles walking into the space, touching everything within reach and filling every nook with his scent like the last few missing puzzle pieces. He picked books and flipped through them, snooped through DVDs while scoffing at the collection, and picked up things to look at them and then put them down somewhere completely different.

It was grating yet familiar, like he’d never left, slipping right back into the atmosphere with ease.

“You have a bathroom or do you just go outside and pee on a tree?”

And yet...

“I’m not a savage, I use the potted plant,” Derek deadpanned, but when Stiles just narrowed his eyes like he was weighing his honesty, he rolled his eyes in return and pointed down the small hall by the kitchen.

Just as the bathroom door shut, his phone rang; the sheriff, no doubt checking in on his son who’d ran out of the building and never came back. They found the woman from Stiles’ memory in a police report from the same night in the same area, and they were just waiting on him to go see her. Luckily, the sheriff immediately agreed that it would probably be best to wait until tomorrow, after Stiles had gotten some sleep and was a little less raw and frayed around the edges, which was good because Derek probably wouldn’t have let him go tonight anyways.

Hell, if Derek could have handled it himself, he would’ve left right then and been back by the time Stiles got done in the bathroom.

Just moments after Derek hung up with the sheriff, Stiles reappeared, looking a little more awake and his face still wet around his hairline from splashing water on it, already talking.

“I have to admit, I’m a little disappointed there weren’t any industrial strength razors in there, though I guess judging by the stubble that’s really not a priority for you. Is that a you thing, ‘cause I noticed that Scott and Isaac don’t have that problem. John said you’re a born werewolf, are they naturally more hairy? Does one gain more chest hair upon being bitten?”

Derek blinked at the onslaught of questions, still holding his phone while dumbly trying to decide where to start with all of that.

“Oh, sorry, did I interrupt something?” Stiles gestured to the phone, and finally, a question Derek could answer.

"The sheriff called; a body was found in the preserve on June sixteenth and there's a witness on file who was at the scene, a woman named Helena Clement. He looked her up and she bought a new house in town on June eighteenth. She matches the woman you ran into."

"Okay.” Stiles nodded slowly at the sudden topic change, then screwed up his face into a deep frown of confusion. “Wait, how does he even know what she looked like? I didn't exactly stick around to be helpful and give a full description for a sketch artist."

"Scott saw the memory too, he was able to ID her from her DMV photo. He’s ready to go find her tomorrow.”

Stiles just nodded again, his heart speeding up a bit as he tried to look casual about it. “Cool. Fighting a witch. Always been a dream of mine to be in an episode of Charmed.”

Derek glared and, big surprise, was ignored. Stiles plopped down on the couch and started to fidget, once again picking up books from the coffee table and flipping through them. Instead of acknowledging that stupid show, Derek went to the kitchen to get a couple glasses of water because that seemed like something that needed to happen if he was going to keep himself from just laying all over Stiles right there and pressing him into the couch.

“What’re these?”

Derek turned to Stiles leaning over the coffee table, carefully lifting up the large sheets of paper that held Isaac’s design ideas and sketches for the house. That stack was the whole process, from the very first doodles to the almost final draft; Tudor Revival, Isaac informed him, half-timbering in the gables and a Craftsman interior with a lot of stained wood and exposed ceiling beams.

“I bought an old house in the woods. Isaac’s in architecture school and he’s helping with the remodel designs as an independent study.” He came over to sit next to Stiles and resisted the instinctive twitch to put a hand to the back of his neck and pull him in close. They were together, he knew it, and knowing it made it even harder to hold back what came naturally. Stiles didn’t notice, had none of these feelings, and held up one of the very early drafts from Isaac’s Neoclassical phase. He stared in silence for a moment, then,

“That’s a lot of columns.”

“Yep.”

“You don’t really seem like a column kind of guy.”

“I’m not.”

“I hope Isaac figured that out. You seem like you would rather rip out your own tongue than tell him you didn’t like it.” He laid the drawing back down and sifted through the stack, checking the dates clearly printed in the bottom right corner until he found the most recent and dragged it out. “Whoa.”

He’d found the detailed drawing of the front of the house that Isaac had spent days on, drawing by hand with a pencil and pen because he didn’t like the computers his school required him to use in class. It was truly a gorgeous drawing, with careful shading and the precise lines Isaac could place so quickly, and an attention to detail he agonized over until it was perfect. Derek fully intended to frame it, hang it over his couch, and make everyone look at it all the time.

“This is amazing.” Stiles looked at the next sheet, a few interior sketches showing thick wooden molding, and elaborate tilework around a large fireplace.

“Craftsman,” Derek informed him, parroting what Isaac had said.

“Oh yes, obviously.” Stiles agreed, nodding and humming like a professional art critic though he obviously knew about as much about it as Derek. “I can definitely see the Craftsman influence here in the woodwork.” He gestured to a random area of the drawing; a section of wainscoting that Derek hadn’t known the term for before Isaac laid it all out for him.

He ducked down to hide the grin creeping up, and when he raised his head again, Stiles was watching him with a thoughtful and soft expression.

“I don’t think I’ve seen you smile yet—really smile, I mean.”

Derek didn’t know what to do with that, so he found himself just staring while his mouth tried to make some kind of response happen. Everything he thought of just sounded stupid, rude, or so depressing that it would put a definite end to the moment that he wanted to keep going.

“Understandable, though,” Stiles continued with a grin, saving him from having to answer like he knew exactly what was going on, “I mean, this is a truly excellent example of the Craftsman aesthetic, here, and nothing makes me smile like a great Craftsman fireplace.”

Derek laughed at that, a huff of air, and let himself smile just to see the pleased look on Stiles’ face. “Just wait until you see the half-timbered gables.”

“I do love a good half-timbered gable.”

Derek wasn’t sure how, but somehow Stiles managed to make an architectural term he obviously knew nothing about sound like the dirtiest euphemism he’d ever heard. He looked far too pleased with himself. Derek just rolled his eyes and pointed out the peaks of the roof on the drawing.

“These are gables, the wood is the half-timbering.” Nope, still didn’t sound any better, and Stiles still had that stupid, endearing grin on his face. “It’s Tudor Revival.” It was the first house-related term he thought of that he didn’t think could be dragged through the gutter that was apparently Stiles’ mind.

“Sounds like there’s just a whole lot of wood.” When Derek just gave him a flat look, he continued, “Seriously, it sounds like you wolves are going to be in heaven. It’s like living in the open forest, but with air conditioning and a dishwasher.”

There was a sadness to his voice that made Derek want to grab his head and yell, you’re going to be living there too, but he didn’t let that manifest beyond his fingers twitching at his side. Everything with Stiles felt so fragile, and he was so worried that pushing would scare him away. Werewolves could be intense in relationships under the best of circumstances, but the hazy and uncertain nature of where they found themselves and their relationship just made Derek want to hold on tighter.

The atmosphere had shifted and Stiles looked so subdued, carefully lifting the corners of drawings to look at them and focusing just a little too much on it.

“What are you so worried about?” Derek asked gently.

Stiles’ head snapped up at the question, then he seemed to get his reaction under control and he shrugged, laying down the corner of another drawing he’d been looking at too intently. “Nothing. You know, just about to battle a witch like I do every Monday, no big deal.” He tried to look casual, but he knotted his fingers together so tightly Derek could hear his knuckles creak, and his knee jiggled uncontrollably. The glass of water on the table was rippling slightly from the movement on the old floor.

“Stiles.” When Derek looked pointedly at the bouncing knee, Stiles shifted to make it stop. He rubbed his hands together a few times, scratched at his hairline, and stared intensely at the drawing of the house’s interior lying on the top of the stack.

“What if I’m not who you think I am?” He asked quietly after a long stretch of silence and fidgeting, looking up hesitantly with his eyes full of fear and apprehension. “What if I’m just some random guy you found who happens to have amnesia and a really fucked up imagination? And if all this weird shit is true and not some crazy elaborate hallucination I’m having or one hell of a prank, and the spell gets reversed—what happens when you all remember and I’m not the guy you’re looking for?”

“You are.”

Stiles looked surprised at Derek’s quick answer, his eyebrows jumping. “How can you be so sure?”

“Instinct.” Stiles’ forehead wrinkled incredulously but he was still listening. “A werewolf’s instincts are adapted to detect pack or an enemy in a split second, and none of our instincts—me, Scott, or Isaac—consider you anything but pack.” Stiles just kept staring like he still didn’t believe any of them or anything he’d been told. Derek got up and strode to the table by the door where the red hoodie was folded neatly. He held it up for Stiles to see. “This is yours. We know it’s yours because it smells like you and it’s been in this apartment for months. This apartment reeks of you, your scent has worked its way into the woodwork of the sheriff’s house, Scott’s known your scent his entire life. Trust us when we say that you are who we think you are.”

Stiles stared up at him, processing, then, “I feel like telling someone they smell isn’t the best way to cheer them up.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Yeah, but it’s still weird.” He was cut off by a huge yawn that left him blinking hard. He glanced to the clock under the television and groaned, sagging over. It was already after midnight.

“Are you okay to drive? You can stay here tonight, if you want.” Derek tried to offer it casually, and really hoped he achieved that, because something inside hurt at the thought of Stiles leaving again; like he might never come back this time.

“No, I should go back to John’s. Destry’s there and I don’t just want to ditch them together, though you’d probably be the one getting shafted in that deal.” When Derek ignored the obvious innuendo and gave him a stop being so self-deprecating look, he elaborated. “No seriously, I get up all through the night and wander all over the place, and touch everything, and with your hearing it would drive you insane.”

“I had a lot of siblings growing up, I’m sure I’d survive.”

Stiles nodded somewhat sadly and stood. “Nah, I should go.” He ducked his head and when he looked back up he had a bright but forced lopsided grin on his face that just made Derek sad instead. “But I’ll see you tomorrow, right? Big day, taking down a witch!” He pointed two corny finger guns in Derek’s direction, waved, and was out the door like he couldn’t leave fast enough.

Derek stayed standing in the middle of his apartment, listening to Stiles’ heartbeat get further away as he hurried down the stairs and out of the building, the buzzing under his skin picking up again as the distance grew.

*

It was Scott who suggested that Derek hang back for the confrontation with the witch. He came to the apartment early, interrupting Derek’s coffee routine that had apparently included Stiles until six months ago, and wandered around the topic for ten minutes looking uncomfortable the entire time.

“It’s not that I think you’re going to do anything,” he explained hastily at Derek’s expression, “but like, you growled at me last night when I got within five feet of him, and you don’t really seem to be the most level headed when he’s around.”

The irony of Scott telling him he was too distracted by someone he loved burned. It actually hurt enough to make him agree to stay home because if it was that obvious and he hadn’t even noticed himself, then this wasn’t good. And now that he really thought about how he was feeling, yeah, he would probably do some serious damage to the witch before she could even undo what she’d done, and killing her would be counterproductive. Though it would be incredibly satisfying.

So he sat back while Scott went to meet Stiles, consciously trying to restrain himself from running after anyway. He paced the floor, sat down and then stood back up, read one page of a book at least seven times without comprehending any of it, made two cups of coffee that went cold and forgotten, and tried not to think about Stiles possibly being in danger when he couldn’t be there to do anything about it. Isaac came by an hour in and sat next to him in silent company, taking out a pencil and touching up his drawings on the coffee table.

He trusted Scott, Derek kept repeating to himself, Scott could handle this, he wouldn’t let anything happen to Stiles. They were going to be fine, Scott was the alpha. He could handle this.

He removed his claws from the thoroughly punctured book in his hands and got up to pace again. Isaac flipped to a new page.

: S :

“Wait, is this seriously the right place?” Stiles leaned over the steering wheel, looking around the neighborhood doubtfully.

“According to the map, yeah.” Allison checked again, then put her phone back into her pocket. “Not quite what I was expecting.”

“No shit, it’s not—it’s a freaking bungalow.” Stiles was man enough to admit to being pissed and feeling more than a little cheated, getting himself cursed by the only witch living in a house protected by the Historical Preservation Society. “Where’s the lair? The bonfire at midnight on the full moon? Sacrificing chickens to the earth goddess? There’s a Prius in the driveway!”

“Who are we to question life choices? I’m a Banshee living in Silicon Valley.” Lydia shrugged.

What.

Stiles twisted in his seat and opened his mouth with every intention of demanding an explanation, but he couldn’t even pin down one of his many reactions whirling past, so he just kind of pointed angrily and huffed after a moment of frustrated silence. As someone who relied heavily on quick comebacks to survive, it wasn’t one of his proudest moments.

“Let’s just get this over with.”

They double checked the address, because the house was just one of a series of equally nice bungalows and Stiles couldn’t help but think that Isaac would appreciate this, and walked up the meticulously maintained front walk to the freshly swept porch. There wasn’t a single cobweb or ominous vine in sight; no cracked windows, chipped paint, or weird bugs. So far Stiles’ big entrance into the world of Supernatural was pretty disappointing. A werewolf in a cozy apartment, a banshee in Silicon Valley, and a witch in a bungalow.

He couldn’t help rolling his eyes at it all before he knocked on the door. It was a nice, solid door—oak, maybe a dark walnut—with three vertical windows at eye level. The shade was drawn behind them but even that was a tasteful deep red. Not even an evil, we chose this color to hide blood stains red, just a nice, dark red that any interior designer would pick for purely aesthetic reasons.

The door opened to a woman in her early thirties dressed for an afternoon of vegging out in front of the TV and eating cold pizza, who frankly didn’t look sinister in the least. Far less sinister than she had in the memory from the forest that Scott had dug up. She took one look at them and winced.

“Shit.”

"Well, I think it's safe to assume we're expected," Stiles said wryly, looking around at everyone else, who also looked thrown by her reaction.

"Come on in," the woman offered in a reluctant sigh kind of tone as she opened the door further. "Mrs. Simmons will have enough gossip from you four showing up even without someone wolfing out or pulling a gun on the porch."

This wasn't helping Stiles' mood about the whole affair. A witch who lived in a nice, old bungalow who knew her neighbors and worried about her reputation. This was severely underwhelming, and he just couldn’t get his mind past the whole bungalow thing. Even the living room was ordinary, with nice couches and a nice coffee table, and nice curtains. There was even a nice vanilla candle flickering happily next to a slightly wilted flower in a nice pot.

"Okay, are you seriously a witch?" Stiles had to ask, because everything was pointing to the contrary even with her acknowledging the whole werewolf issue.

“Yes, I’m Helena. What were you expecting, a house made of candy?” She deadpanned. “Warts? Kidnapped children? You can check the oven, if you like.”

“I was thinking more Hocus Pocus, a big cauldron and children in cages, maybe a Victorian in San Francisco, but I like your style. What is this, Craftsman?”

She looked like she was barely restraining an urge to hurt him. He got that a lot. “Well at least there hasn’t been any Harry Potter jokes. What do you want?”

"How about an explanation for why you jacked around with our memories for six months?" Stiles suggested helpfully, and Scott nodded and pointed to show his agreement with that, then added in a similar tone,

"And could you also undo it, please."

As if it were a Herculean effort, Helena held out a hand to grab Stiles' shoulder, and then rolled her eyes spectacularly when they all took a step back, Scott pulling Stiles back behind him protectively. Stiles was very much aware of his heart rate ratcheting up briefly; he didn’t remember all of it, but nothing good had happened last time Helena had gone for his throat.

He wasn’t going to lie, it was infinitely reassuring to have Scott there with him, especially after the guy had called out of the blue in the middle of the night, blatantly lied about being nervous himself, and then talked Stiles to sleep like it was normal. He also wasn’t going to ask how Scott had known that he’d been lying in bed at the sheriff’s house, staring at the ceiling and seriously freaking out before he’d called because this? This was seriously outside his area of expertise.

"Do you want me to undo it or not?" Helena sighed out. Jesus, she was acting like they’d asked her to clean an olympic swimming pool with a toothbrush.

"You're going to undo it, just like that, after maintaining it for six months," Allison confirmed warily, one of her knives held tightly in her hand and fully visible. She shifted so she was also in front of Stiles. Honestly, he was more used to being the one who threw himself in front of drunken punches for his friends (Rohit's face had to be protected for his future modeling career when his physics degree didn't pan out); he wasn't sure how to feel about this whole being protected thing.

Tentatively and as a first reaction, it wasn't half bad.

"Well you figured it out, there isn't much point in wasting energy to keep it up." Helena shrugged and gestured to Stiles, "Can I, or would you like to interrogate me while you still don’t remember anything? I assume that’s why you’re here, after all, no use going into it blind."

Scott's grip on his arm tightened as Stiles tried to step around him. It felt instinctive, and he held him back to whisper in his ear, "You don't have to right now, we can take her to Deaton and make sure she's not messing around."

As logical as that sounded, Stiles didn't want to wait, he didn't want to put this off any longer. Helena wasn't giving off a betrayal kind of vibe and his gut told him she had nothing to gain from messing with them any longer. He might not have had any evidence to back that up, but his gut had been pretty reliable throughout his life. Probably, he couldn’t remember most of it.

"Is she lying?" Scott shook his head, but still didn't let go. Stiles shrugged. "Might as well just get it over with, there's not much worse she could do."

And Stiles firmly believed that. Even if she made it worse and completely wiped out his entire life, starting from scratch seemed like a better option than the bits and pieces she'd left him with; he could become a completely different person rather than trying to cobble together his life and personality from the few concrete memories he had. This was maddening, frustrating, it was wearing him down and he'd had enough of this bullshit. All or nothing, he didn't do things halfway.

Helena maintained eye contact as she laid her hand lightly on the side of his neck, waiting for his confirmation before continuing. He nodded, she started to mutter something he couldn't understand, and then his vision went black and he hit the ground hard like a ton of bricks.

Blinking up at the ceiling, Stiles was pretty sure that she had just up and killed them without warning and that this weird detached feeling was his restless soul getting ready to wander the earth for all eternity and rattle chains at people. This was how it was described, right? Hovering out of your body and looking down at the roof of your house or something? That seemed like it might have been what was going on.

He pushed himself up slowly, half convinced that his head was about to either fall off or dip between a few dimensions, and looked around. Lydia and Allison looked a little shellshocked, blinking around but still standing. Of course they were, because they were actual goddesses and above all this 'swooning like a regency heroine' business. Awesome. He couldn't wait for the mocking to commence. Lydia’s eyes landed on him, but instead of rolling her eyes at his lack of composure, she gave him a soft and genuine smile that he’d only seen in their most protected private moments.

Holy shit, he remembered Lydia.

He remembered the years pining after her, and the mutually supportive friendship that finally rose from the ashes of his pathetic attempts to woo her. The flip in his stomach every time he saw her because he still loved her and probably always would because how could he not? She was ruthless and knew exactly what she wanted and how to get it, and refused to compromise because she knew she deserved it. Yet she still drove the hour from Stanford when he was too stressed about school to function and calmed him down, still traded papers for class to proofread even though her’s were flawless, and dragged him out of his apartment for a drink when he got stuck in a wallowing mess of self-pity and put him back together again without telling Derek who would only worry.

Fuck, Derek.

He was with Derek. His shady gentlemen friend was a freaking werewolf and he was kind of crazy in love with him and his dumb leather jackets.

He was so with Derek that he practically lived with him when he wasn’t at Berkeley. He was already looking for jobs nearby and seriously considering joining the Sheriff’s Department. He had a few potential apartments lined up in Beacon Hills for after he graduated. He’d turned down a (somewhat mediocre but still paying) job offer in Philadelphia and countless suggestions for grad schools that were too far away. He was that with Derek.

(That certainly explained why the one date he’d gone on in the last six months had ended before their drinks even arrived because he’d felt so uncomfortable and wrong that he’d almost literally run from the table and left town until his phone stopped ringing for an explanation. And how the fuck was he going to tell Derek that he’d gone on a date during all this?)

There was movement to his left as he stood and he looked over just in time for Scott’s running momentum to knock him right back down again. The air rushed out of his lungs with a painful wave goodbye as his back impacted the floor with werewolf speed, but he honestly didn’t care because Scott. All he did was lie on the floor and hold on as tight as he could and try not to cry from relief as his entire life seamlessly slotted back into place like it had never left.

All the stupid shit they’d done as kids while both their parents were constantly working, like jumping off the roof of Scott’s porch playing superheroes, Scott breaking his arm and then having an asthma attack because he was so worried the Sheriff would be mad at him.

Or the time Scott dared him to do the Cinnamon Challenge when they were twelve because they were curious and Stiles vomited all over the hallway seconds before Melissa got home from her shift. She got Scott calmed down from the following asthma attack, cleaned up Stiles and made sure he was okay, and then officially grounded them both for a month for being the stupidest human beings she had ever been in contact with, and she worked in an ER.

Or the totally awesome roadtrip he and Scott took after their high school graduation, hitting every national park in the western half of the country and running through the woods of Yellowstone during the full moon. Stiles fell down a small cliff and they finished their trip with his arm in a sling.

Or hell, just all of the insane things they’d done since Scott had been bitten, constantly having each other’s backs and practically running a pack of werewolves together.

Scott was holding onto him like he’d never let go and he couldn’t breathe because Scott didn’t check his werewolf strength and might have been actively fracturing ribs, but he had his fucking best friend back. His brother. His life made sense again. Breathing wasn’t even a concern at the moment.

It became a concern a few moments later, though, when Scott started to laugh, which set off Stiles and made his lungs burn for air.

“Dude, you’re choking me.” Scott’s laughing groan was muffled under Stiles’ arms locked around his neck, but he didn’t make any moves to change that.

“Dude, you’re breaking my ribs,” Stiles wheezed back, definitely not on the verge of relieved tears.

“Dudes, just make out.”

Trust Helena to ruin the moment.

"Allison, will you please hit her?"

“Ow!”

“Thank you.”

"No problem."

Scott tucked his face into Stiles' neck and inhaled one last time before disentangling and working his way back up to standing. He didn't let go the entire time, pulling Stiles up with him and keeping their sides pressed together once they were finally shoulder to shoulder again, pinning the witch with practiced glares that promised consequences.

"Can you guys really blame me?" She shrugged, somehow both desperate and inappropriately nonchalant about throwing their entire lives into chaos and confusion and generally uprooting everything Stiles had ever known. "The Beacon Hills pack was there, I don't have anywhere else to go, I panicked." When they just kept staring at her, unimpressed, she tried again, especially when Allison made a show of revealing another one of her knives from wherever she kept them. "I had to defend myself! You guys don't exactly have a record of leniency when it comes to compromising with witches!"

"Because whenever we deal with witches something like this happens!" Scott countered, and true. Stiles' back was still all out of whack from their last encounter with witches almost five years ago. They were allowed to be wary and boot them all off their territory; that was kind of what pack territory implied. Which Beacon Hills was. Territory. Of werewolves. Not witches.

Northern California and Oregon were pretty witch-free in general, given how horribly interactions between witches and werewolves historically went. The two groups tended to steer clear of each other when possible, leaving mountainous regions to werewolves and denser cities to witches who didn't mind as much sharing close quarters with strangers. There were exceptions, of course; New York was fair game, and no group would prevent a student from going to a college in their area as long as they behaved themselves, so college towns in California were well stocked. But having witches constantly cycle through and leave after graduation, those university covens never got too strong or threatening. No werewolf packs really paid all that much attention to them.

Helena was a completely different story. She wasn’t inexperienced or amateur; she knew what she was doing and had already demonstrated that she wasn’t above manipulating the local pack to her advantage. She altered their minds and they hadn’t even realized it for six months. That wasn't someone you wanted wandering around town.

Though it might be someone you wanted to owe you a favor, Stiles begrudgingly admitted to himself.

"Why do you need a compromise?" Allison stepped in. "Why do you need to stay here? I'm assuming that's why you did all this, to hide the fact that you were in town without official permission."

Helena didn't look like she was going to answer for a long time, like she might’ve been debating between killing them all where they stood and just making a break for it, but her better judgment won out and she sighed, then said carefully,

"Let's just say that I'm persona non grata within my community right now and it would be best if I laid low for more or less the rest of my life."

Oh great, a fugitive witch who could potentially alter their realities without them realizing it. Fucking fantastic.

"That was literally the worst thing you could possibly just say while trying to convince us to not make you leave," Stiles pointed out, because it was too quiet and someone had to. “That sounds like Dementors are going to be coming for you any day, and we’re all going to get our souls sucked out.” Helena glared at the Harry Potter reference. Honestly, she deserved it and Stiles was impressed he’d held out so long.

“It’s nothing that would affect your pack or the law. I violated a law of witchcraft and I’m pretty much fair game for anyone who finds me and who plays fast and loose with the tenants of Wicca,” she explained as vaguely as possible. “The only way that won’t happen is if I’m deep inside werewolf territory, and it doesn’t get much deeper than Beacon Hills. This land has been held by wolves since before Beacon Hills was even here, witches don’t come here.” Stiles had a constant back ache that said otherwise, but to be fair, it had been five years since they’d seen so much as a pointed hat or flying broomstick.

“That still isn’t convincing at all,” Stiles informed her. Someone had to play bad cop and Scott had to appear at least a little objective as the alpha of the territory. Snarking and general bitterness didn’t convey objectivity, even if they were completely warranted because she erased a good nine tenths of his life. “All you’ve done since you got here is literally fuck up everything.”

“You haven’t given us any reason to trust you.” Scott rephrased that in a much more diplomatic way, nudging Stiles with his elbow. He was stepping into Alpha-Mode now that some kind of order had been restored. “You attacked us before we even knew you were here, you didn’t give us a chance to make a decision. That isn’t someone we want living within our territory. Especially if there’s the possibility of more witches coming for you.”

“There wouldn’t be anyone coming because this is your territory. No one wants to stir up old animosities, and if I’m under your official protection, anyone coming in after me would do just that. No one would risk it.”

Damn skippy we’re not going to risk it, Stiles wanted to snap. He wanted nothing more than to throw this woman to the literal witch hunt that awaited her without remorse because she had ruined everything. He didn't remember what she had done exactly, but he was pretty sure it was all her fault.

They’d reached such a careful balance with surrounding packs and finally—finally—had stability after the chaos and constant fighting to defend their home that had stretched through their high school and early college years. Things had been calm before Helena; they hadn't been afraid to let their guard down, to actually plan for the future and feel like they might live to see it. Hell, Derek had bought a house and was fixing it up because he no longer felt like he might have to leave town at any moment to run for his life.

Things were good and Stiles wanted it to stay that way. He didn’t think he could handle another year of living in constant vigilance, the pack wound so tight that something like an irregular weather pattern could send them over the edge into a whirling collective nervous breakdown.

He didn’t want to go back to losing sleep to the nightmares that were finally starting to ease back into the darkness, or the fear in his dad’s eyes every time he left the house that he might not see him again, or Scott being pulled in every direction and running himself ragged trying to manage everything coming at them. They were past that, they had to be. That had been hell and Stiles absolutely refused to do it again; he refused to let the guarded and distrustful set return to Derek’s eyes again, refused to let the first stable ground he’d found since his family burned crumble beneath him for the sake of one person who had tampered with the most intimate aspects of their lives for her own gain.

Scott was quiet for a moment, and before he even spoke Stiles knew he was considering it. He honestly wasn’t surprised, had expected it on some level even if he hated it, because if there was a chance to save someone’s life, Scott would look into it. He knew that at the end of the day, Scott wasn’t Stiles or Derek; he trusted people first and suspected them second. He always looked for the path that was best for all parties, not just his own, and that was why he was a good alpha.

Sure, Stiles didn’t want Helena to die; he wanted to save lives as much as the next guy. But when it came down to it, if it was between one person he didn’t know (who had incidentally royally fucked them over) and the people he cared most for? His dad and his best friend? His pack? Derek and the peace he’d finally found after so many years of pain and loss?

It wasn’t even a question.

He met Scott’s look—it was the look they’d developed over years of inside jokes and horrible situations that communicated entire conversations—and explicitly informed him telepathically that if Helena so much as carved an ugly pumpkin and scared a little kid next Halloween, she was gone. This was her second chance, and she wasn’t getting a third out of them. Scott nodded once and looked back to Helena.

“I can’t give you an official answer unless you tell us what you did.”

Stiles was biting the inside of his cheek to keep from commenting, and Helena only nodded, knowing how fragile this was.

“Only you. I’d really rather this not get around.”

This time Stiles just let the eyeroll happen. Making demands. Nice. They already knew it had to do with a rogue omega somehow, and it wasn’t like Scott wasn’t going to tell them all later, but the alpha agreed anyway.

She led Scott upstairs, and Allison moved to the bottom step so she could interfere quickly should anything happen. Stiles just sat down hard on the arm of the sofa, rubbed a hand down his face, and tried to process through a fraction of his life that had returned not ten minutes ago.

He was tired, in every aspect of the word.

This sucked, he hadn't slept enough since well before finals, Helena was terrible, he wanted to just go home and actually see Derek, and he was tired. He just wanted to take a minute and fucking breathe because even he could tell he wasn’t going to last much longer like this. He was fairly certain that the smallest bump in the road, any sign of funny business from Helena—or even if he happened to trip over a loose brick in her front walk, would send him into a homicidal rage or puddle of tears; it could really go either way at this point.

A hand with tasteful pink nail polish rested on his shoulder, and he didn’t need to look to know it was Lydia.

“He’s not going to make any decisions tonight, relax.”

Stiles drew in a long breath. “No, he’s already made his decision whether he knows it or not.” He covered her small fingers with his own much larger hand and squeezed. “He’s going to let her stay because she would make a powerful ally and a great person to owe us a favor. Kicking her out is just tactically stupid.” He glanced up at Allison who confirmed everything he’d said with a single nod and sad smile.

“Well I was going to lie and give you a day before reality hit because you’ve been through enough shit lately, but yeah.” Lydia sounded much more like herself when she wasn’t trying to coddle anyone’s feelings. “Objectively, the only downside here is that she’s a total bitch." She shrugged casually and added, "but that doesn't mean we can't encourage her to leave voluntarily.”

“I missed you this semester,” Stiles sighed, and they fell silent again so Allison could focus on what was going on upstairs. Just a few minutes later Scott and Helena returned with the exact same carefully neutral expressions they’d had on their faces when the first left. Scott immediately found Stiles and gave him a look that promised they would talk later. Much later. Like as long as his curiosity would let him ignore this later. Because Stiles wasn’t interested in lingering on this at the moment. He just refused to care.

Scott promised Helena she would hear from them in the new year as they didn’t conduct pack politics over the holidays and it was just a few days until Christmas, and she ushered them towards the door. Stiles was the first out, wanting nothing more than to get the hell away from the witch and take five minutes to sort through his life and possibly cry into a few beers or Derek’s chest in the process. Allison was next, and Stiles almost grabbed Scott’s arm and yanked when he lingered to give a diplomatic goodbye. They were so close to leaving, come on!

“One more thing,” Lydia turned suddenly, almost out on the porch with the rest. Stiles threw his head back in frustration, and flexed his fingers toward the pair. So close. “Why take away so much of Stiles’ life? Why not just the moment he saw you?”

And yeah, Stiles was actually interested in this. He’d completely forgotten about that tiny detail in his need to get as far away from this woman as he possibly could—forever, if that was doable. He was more than fine with letting Scott handle anything having to do with her in the future.

“That moment was too entwined with his pack and his knowledge of magic and the supernatural,” Helena said shortly. When no one marveled at her genius or applauded, Helena elaborated. “Memories aren’t neatly compartmentalized, they’re intertwined and overlap, there’s associations between them, and older ones bleed into each other. I could never fully erase Stiles meeting me without erasing the pack, which is connected to his family, which is connected to the town.

“It wasn’t intentional, it was a heat of the moment decision and I wasn’t precise enough, I didn’t have time. I’m sorry that happened to you, Stiles, I really am.” She turned to him with the bare minimum of a sincere expression he’d ever seen and Allison clamped a hand down on his bicep to keep him from physically assaulting Helena right there and ruining her perfect neighbor reputation.

“So why didn’t you undo it once you realized what happened?” Lydia asked in a dangerous tone. “It must’ve been hard maintaining the spell for so long, why keep it up?”

“The spell was anchored to Stiles, which gave it another power source besides me—I wouldn’t have been able to sustain it otherwise. That’s why you’ve been so tired lately.” She threw in, and this time he made it a couple steps before Allison pulled him back because really? She couldn’t have waited until after he graduated to drain the little energy he had these days? Or maybe not come at all ever? “And why would I undo the thing keeping me off of your radar? I’ve been happy here, I have a life.”

“Yeah, so did I,” Stiles snapped, but she ignored him.

“I’m honestly surprised you all didn’t figure it out before now, a werewolf’s instincts usually pick up on this type of magic quickly. I guess missing such an integral part of your pack threw you all off more than I thought it would, not to mention the spell’s anchor.”

Scott just stared at the witch, dumbfounded, and Stiles was sure he was making something of the same expression. Lydia raised her eyebrow dangerously, and Stiles didn’t know what Allison was doing because she was behind him, but if her grip on his arm was anything to go by, she wasn’t thrilled.

Did she really just blame this on them not figuring it out fast enough?

Without Stiles there to connect the gaps in their lives, the pack might’ve taken even longer to figure it out, and even when they did he wouldn’t have been there for her to undo the spell. Hell, if he and Scott hadn’t been friends for pretty much their entire lives, the memory lapses might not have even made much of an impact on the pack at all, and boy, if that wasn’t a blow to the ego.

Helena shooed them off her porch with an inappropriately cheery wave and wished them all happy holidays. They piled back into the jeep and drove back to the animal clinic in a sort of stunned silence to disperse to their proper vehicles. Scott sent off a text announcing a pack meeting the next day, gave Stiles another long, tight hug that made his ribs creak, then got into his car with watery eyes and headed towards home.

Stiles did the same, going straight to his dad’s and hanging onto him for as long as they could handle it and until Destry—the failed police dog who refused to obey commands and who the force had happily dumped off on Stiles “for home security” when he got his own apartment—jumped up on them for ignoring him. They sat and talked for hours; about what they’d done the last six months, what had changed, and Stiles may have had a teeny, tiny emotional breakdown on his dad’s shoulder because the memory of his mother, all he had of her, had been taken from him, and now it felt like losing her all over again.

: D :

Derek’s entire body was buzzing. He’d heard the jeep’s engine cut off outside a few minutes ago, and could hear Stiles’ heartbeat pacing in the hall, no doubt having some kind of internal crisis about whether or not to come in. Normally Derek would just yank the door open and drag him inside, save him from whatever ridiculous places his mind was going, but this situation seemed like one where Stiles needed to make the first move, even if Derek felt like he was vibrating out of his skin.

He was nervous, he could admit that to himself. Stiles had been gone for six months and neither of them had remembered they were together; what if he’d found someone else? Realized he was doing just fine on his own, or that his life was fantastically uncomplicated without Derek or the pack in it?

The fact that he was pacing outside instead of barging in wasn’t exactly reassuring, and neither was his pounding heart echoing through Derek’s ears. He was trying really hard not to let himself jump to horribly depressing conclusions, but that was kind of what he did. Stiles told him that regularly.

Finally, after what could’ve been a good ten minutes of pacing and quietly berating himself, Stiles opened the door with his key (That was a good sign, right?). He looked exhausted, wrung out and drained, but the small sigh of relief and tired smile didn’t look like Derek, we have to talk signals.

They stared at each other for an awkward moment, then Derek opened his arms somewhat hesitantly and Stiles just sort of fell into them, letting him take most of his weight. Derek welcomed it, wrapped around him tightly, and tucked his face into his shoulder to just breathe him in. His scent was slowly making its way back to pack, back to Stiles, and Stiles and Derek together.

“I take it you found the witch?” Derek finally broke the silence, only slightly pulling back..

“Yes.” Stiles groaned into his shoulder, his voice so muffled into the fabric Derek could barely understand him. “Her name is Helena, she’s the worst, and I’m never going anywhere near her again. The end.”

Derek opened his mouth to ask one of at least a thousand questions he had, but Stiles just shook his head against his shoulder and shushed him.

“Just—let me just stand here for a minute. I’ve needed this for months.”

So Derek did, kept Stiles wrapped up in his arms and they just stood, holding, reveling at being able to have what they’d gone six months without. He hadn’t realized how much he’d wanted to curl up around Stiles until he was, and it was probably a full five minutes before either of them made any moves to part.

Derek was the one that pulled back and Stiles whined pitifully at being moved, trying to keep leaning against his chest so he wouldn’t have to stand up by himself.

“You look like you’re about to fall over.”

“You know, it’s a definite possibility at this point, I’m actually surprised I haven’t yet.”

“Then stop standing around and sit down.” Derek guided him back to the couch and pulled him down between his legs so he could continue to hold him and wrap his arms around him. He eased back against the arm of the couch, finally feeling the knots in his shoulders lessen as he ran his fingers up and down Stiles’ forearm and breathed in the comfort of home and them together.

Stiles wasn’t relaxing, though, he was tense and fidgety and drumming his fingers on Derek’s leg with pent up nervous energy. Like he was on edge and waiting for something to happen.

“Stiles, is everything—”

“I went on a date.”

Derek froze, his fingers stopped halfway up Stiles’ arm.

“It only lasted like fifteen minutes though,” he was quick to add before Derek’s mind veered off, “and I felt really weird about the whole thing, so I bolted and skipped town.”

At that, Derek had to lean forward so he could see exactly what Stiles’ face was doing, because what. That was definitely not where he’d expected that sentence to go, but Stiles’ heartbeat was steady if nervous as he studiously picked at the seam of Derek’s jeans. When he wouldn’t meet his gaze, Derek sat back again and pulled Stiles a little closer to silently assure him that he wasn’t mad and there was nothing to worry about. They had literally all been under the influence of a witch and hadn't even known they were together.

“You didn’t go out the back, did you?”

Stiles’ back huffed with a laugh and he shook his head, tension gone. The first and only official date they’d gone on, Derek went to look for him when Stiles had been in the bathroom for over ten minutes, and instead found him pacing in the back alley, simultaneously trying to convince himself to go back inside while planning an impromptu trip to Mexico from his phone.

Derek discovered early on that Stiles did best with romantic situations when they weren’t, which worked out well between the two of them. Derek was terrible and uncomfortable with being romantic or dating, and Stiles tended to psych himself out and try to run from it in a panic.

“I straight up lied about my ailing grandmother and went camping until he stopped calling.”

Derek had to laugh at that; of course he did.

“And what did he say when you got back?”

“Nothing. As far as he knows, I’m still in Oregon caring for my Babcia. It’s not funny, Derek, she practically raised me. I’m an emotional wreck with no time for a relationship.”

"And what do you think he's going to say when you inevitably run into him again?"

"If I avoid the north side of town for another semester, we'll never have to find out!" Stiles spread his arms like it was some grand plan he'd come up with and not just cowardly avoidance.

"I thought your favorite fries were on the north side of town."

"We all have to make sacrifices, Derek. Some harder than others."

"Or you could suck it up and tell him you're in a relationship."

"And what, I forgot for a month there? No, this way is better. I'll just have to live without Marcy's curly fries—actually, I practically kept her in business for two years there, she might just deliver to me because she thinks I'm adorable." His last words were lost in a yawn and he relaxed further, slumping down Derek’s chest.

He was falling asleep quickly now that the big secret was out, his heartbeat calming as he let himself truly unwind for probably the first time in days, if not weeks or months, knowing him.

“Time for bed, come on.” Derek patted Stiles’ chest and pushed him up to sit, holding him up when he went limp and tried to fall back against him again. “You know what this couch does to your back, up.”

“I sound so old.” Stiles got up from the couch, his spine popping loudly as he straightened and groaned.

The memory rolled back into place; an old injury from panicked and inexperienced witches accidentally tossing him across the room a few years ago. Derek bought a special mattress for it just a month before Stiles was ripped from their memories; it had taken a while for his own back to adjust, but it helped Stiles so much. There hadn't been as many loud cracks or lingering aches throughout the day, and he had slept through the night as much as he ever did. It was a You Survived Your Junior Year of College gift, and Stiles had been near tears after his first comfortable full night's sleep on the thing.

“Yes you do, now go lay down on your orthopedic mattress before we have to get you orthopedic shoes, too.”

Stiles shot him an empty glower over his shoulder, but he went into the bathroom to clean up anyway while Derek turned off the lights in the rest of the apartment and locked up. The extra toothbrush made sense again. Stiles was just finishing up when Derek walked into the bedroom, and flopping down onto the bed in a boneless heap, pausing just long enough to put his glasses on the table with less care than usual.

“Oh my god,” Stiles moaned out when he relaxed into the mattress. Actually moaned. He didn’t even make sounds like that mid-mind-blowing orgasms that left him completely limp and unmoving for a solid ten minutes after. Derek found himself stuck somewhere between happy that Stiles finally had relief after six months of discomfort and back pain, and a petty, irritating jealousy of a mattress that no one would ever find out about.

He held back the grumble rising in his throat and settled for laying down next to Stiles who, as if to rub it in, was staring at the ceiling with a blissed out expression.

“I’ve missed this bed so much and I didn’t even know it.” He didn’t even try to push himself up to the pillows; just laid there halfway down, boneless and happy. “My bed is such a piece of crap, I’m never going back to Berkeley again—I’m never leaving this bed, period.”

On second thought, maybe the mattress wasn’t so bad.

“I’m just going to fall asleep right here, and I’m not moving until at least 3pm tomorrow.” He continued with the running commentary of his thoughts even after his eyes drifted shut. “And then we’re going to make out, have mind blowing reunion sex, and I’m going to stare directly at your amazing face while we eat pizza naked in this bed.”

Derek didn’t have the heart to remind him of the pack meeting at 2pm, and really, he didn’t want to acknowledge it himself because what Stiles was saying sounded like the best plan he had ever heard. The constantly building and buzzing need to be near Stiles had finally been satisfied after six months, and the relief of being able to finally touch and hold was an overwhelming and exhausting rush. The thought of having to give that up for reality was irritating, childishly unfair, and he had half a mind to just skip the damn meeting even though Stiles was the main reason they were having it.

He glanced over and noticed that Stiles’ breathing was beginning to slow into sleep.

“No, you’re not sleeping down there, you’re going to punch me in the balls in your sleep.” He wasn’t being dramatic, that had happened once.

He grabbed Stiles’ hoodie and easily dragged him up to the pillows. Stiles went limp and allowed himself to be manhandled out of his clothes to his briefs—because he was always uncomfortable when he fell asleep in jeans and kicked around complaining of claustrophobic knees of all things—and then flopped onto his stomach under the blankets. He sighed in relief and stretched his arms over his head. Even from where he was standing to take off his own clothes, Derek could hear the little pops and creaks of Stiles’ back falling back into place, and his own back twinged in sympathy.

He flicked off the overhead light and crawled up the bed to Stiles, throwing his leg over and settling on the back of his thighs. He gave his butt a quick squeeze just to hear Stiles laugh into his pillow, and then let himself continue that for a little longer simply because it was fun and he’d missed it, and it kept Stiles grinning sleepily.

“If you keep that up I’m going to have a serious half-timbered gable situation down here, and I’m way too tired to deal with that,” Stiles muttered, his voice finally relaxed and tired.

Derek snorted and moved up Stiles’ back, working out the kinks and knots with well practiced motions. He ran his hands over muscle, wiping away lingering traces of stress and anxiety and the smells of Berkeley, replacing them with home and comfort and calm.

Just as he thought Stiles was finally falling asleep, he jerked his head up and looked back.

“Oh, remind me to text Rohit tomorrow, he thinks I'm legit having a mental breakdown.” Derek couldn’t help his fingers reflexively digging in a little too hard. Stiles tensed up but laughed. “Oh yeah, you hate him for absolutely no reason!”

“He bruised your trachea and made you fall out a second story window within one semester. I feel like that’s reason enough.” He had made a lot of trips down to Berkeley that semester. John loved Stiles deeply, anyone could see that, but he just couldn’t keep taking days off work to go get his idiot son put back together every time he did something stupid. Like testing Rohit’s physics project out of a second story window at three in the morning.

It had been a long semester.

“Okay, he fell out the window too, and both of those were at least half my fault, if not more. I’m pretty sure I started the drunk fight.”

“You wouldn’t have even been in those situations if it weren’t for him.” Derek continued to knead his back, with a little more force than strictly necessary.

“I would have done something equally as stupid and dangerous with someone else, ow.”

"Sorry." He eased up and ran his hands over the area soothingly. "How about we not talk about Rohit right now." Stiles' back huffed with a breathy laugh as he let his eyes close again.

Derek kept at it, working Stiles into a limp and loose pile of his former self until his breathing eventually evened out into sleep. He didn’t stir when Derek reached over him to turn out the light, or when he pulled up the blankets over them, or even when he pressed his lips to his temple, so Derek gathered him up to his chest and held him close. He just needed to touch him, hold him like he could make up for the last six months, knowing full well that in a few hours Stiles would be flailing away because Jesus, you’re a fucking furnace, I’m dying!

: S :

Christmas came to the Casa de Stilinski with all the fanfare that it usually did, which was none at all. As was usual for the last decade, Scott and Melissa came over Christmas Eve for an unbelievably huge meal that had grown exponentially once Scott was bitten and again when he became an alpha. For the second year, Derek joined them, and the meal had grown again.

They’d eaten dinner, stuffed themselves with pie, and drank plenty of wine and beer. Now all there was left was to watch old movies until no one could stay awake and the fire died down, and then possibly they would go home. Or sleep where they fell. Whichever came first.

Scott had already passed out from the truly staggering amount of food an alpha could put away and was sprawled at the other end of the couch; head back, mouth open, snoring quietly. On the opposite couch, Melissa just shook her head and rolled her eyes at her son before turning back to the movie playing quietly. Stiles' dad had gone down the second Jimmy Stewart rode into Bottleneck.

Stiles and Melissa were usually the only ones who made it through the annual holiday watching of Destry Rides Again, but this year Derek was powering through like a pro. He’d had coffee, was still sitting up, and had yet to let his head fall back into sleep like he had last year (Stiles still had the picture of Derek and Scott conked out practically on each other, saved in multiple places so it would never disappear). He seemed to be determined to prove something to the sheriff, even if the man had been out for forty-five minutes already and wouldn’t be moving until he digested for at least an hour.

Derek also mentioned at one point that his dad had loved old black and white movies, and while he always rolled his eyes when he was little, he was now starting to realize what was so great about them. He’d even brought over a copy of Holiday Inn, the movie his parents had made the family sit down to watch every year under threat of physical harm.

If Stiles didn’t think about it too hard, he wouldn’t get misty eyed.

Destry didn’t seem to be going to sleep anytime soon either, too busy gnawing through a truly massive yard-long rawhide bone Scott had found for him. He’d immediately sniffed it out under the Christmas tree and hadn’t moved since, bathed in colorful tree lights even through dinner, which was weird after two years of constantly shoving his stupid nose off of the table so they could eat in peace.

Almost exactly as they all got their memories back, Destry’s anxious behavior had eased. Deaton thought it had something to do with him picking up on the spell, noticing that something was off about the people around, namely Stiles, but not knowing what. Unfortunately, the whole vomiting in the car thing had always been an issue, so Stiles was going to be giving his jeep the usual going back to Berkeley hose-down in a couple weeks. He was really trying not to think about that.

It was an excellent, relaxing evening and was promising to be an excellent, relaxing night to follow. No emergencies, the station under explicit orders to not call the Sheriff for any reason short of someone about to nuke his house, no pack business, no school, and no Helena to mess it all up.

Helena, Scott told them the day after they’d had their memories restored, had been effectively outlawed from her community for trying to help an out of control, feral omega. The shaky truce between the two communities and agreement to just generally ignore each other didn’t allow witches to use their magic like that, interfering directly with a werewolf’s mind and essentially controlling him. She’d been trying to help, she told Scott, trying to see if she could bring the wolf’s mind back, but in the preserve on the night of the full moon, her control had slipped, and the omega had gone for the first human he found: Stiles.

While the sentiment was nice, trying to help someone out of the wild, feral mindset, she’d brought a whole new set of issues to the table that Stiles, Derek, and Scott had agreed to not acknowledge in any way until after New Year’s.

So far, it was working out for them.

Lydia and Allison, however, were already planning ways to make her life incredibly difficult.

Scott was staying out of it in a way that suggested he approved completely and might've suggested it.

Christmas was going off without a hitch, Stiles was actually relaxed for the first time in months (with the help of a nice three glasses of wine buzz), and Rohit had finally accepted that he wasn’t going crazy and stopped texting every few hours. And if Derek still clung a little tighter at night and more often than not would gravitate into the same room after too long apart, well they were getting there.

Stiles leaned back against Derek on the couch, lazily sorting through the week’s mail, separating out cards to be opened from everything else to be ignored until the new year. He heard a quiet snort behind him when he reached a card in a blue envelope addressed to Gościsław Stilinski and elbowed Derek in the side. He opened it as quickly as possible and crumpled up the envelope before jamming it in between the couch cushions before any comment could be made.

He flipped open the card from his grandma, reading through her loopy handwriting quickly and only stumbling over a little of the Polish she wrote the entire note in, probably just to mess with him because, you boys don’t speak Polish enough, are you ashamed of your heritage? It was a similar message to last year’s card, and every Hanukkah card before; she loved him, she hoped school was going well, she was so proud of him, she wasn’t getting any younger so he should come visit before she “died quietly in her bathroom alone”, oh, and bring that nice boy he was dating too.

When the hell had his dad told her about Derek?

“My ailing Babcia says you have to come to her house for Passover this year.”

Stiles craned his neck around to look back at Derek, who was quietly watching the movie. He looked down, with a fond but exasperated smile, and rolled his eyes. Stiles shrugged and tossed the card onto the coffee table, refusing to move from his very comfortable position leaning against a very warm werewolf and his feet in Scott’s lap. He always managed to worm his way into the the most couch.

“Just consider yourself lucky she didn’t make us visit for Hanukkah," he continued. "I’m still finding last year’s gelt half-melted in weird places.” He grimaced at the memory of pulling on a pair of boxer briefs from his duffel and finding a mushy chocolate coin stuck to his ass an hour later. Derek just shook his head and looked back to the movie.

Stiles dragged a blanket off the back of the couch and spread it out lazily over the top half of himself, not wanting to kick around and wake Scott, and settled in.

The movie ended just as Stiles blinked awake, surprised that he had nodded off in the first place. Damn, only Melissa and Derek had made it this year. His record was shot and he blamed Derek and his unfairly comfortable chest. This never would have happened if he’d been lying on Scott.

He got up to change the DVD and settled back in against Derek, squirming around until he got comfortable while Derek let out a put upon sigh like this wasn’t a regular occurrence. Snuggling up with Derek and snarking lazily made up like eighty percent of his time that wasn’t spent with his dad or Scott in the last few days. He wasn’t exaggerating, he’d done the math.

“Should we wake up your dad and Scott?” Derek murmured quietly, but Stiles shook his head.

“Nah, they’ll join in when they’ve finished digesting,” Melissa wrinkled her nose at his phrasing and turned back to the television, “besides, Scott gets grumpy when you wake him up after pie.”

With Scott and his dad out cold and Melissa looking away as the opening credits started, Derek draped his arm over Stiles’ shoulder and pressed a kiss to his temple, keeping his warm hand against his chest. Glancing over at Melissa who was studiously ignoring them, Stiles slotted his fingers between Derek’s and pressed his cheek into his arm, sighing contentedly and reveling in the warmth behind him and his happy buzz.

It was perfect, this moment, with the people he loved most around him and Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby arguing over a woman through song and dance on the screen. He was warm and cozy, and if he was feeling particularly sappy from the wine, he maybe had everything he could possibly want in life right there.

But it was definitely just the wine.

Probably.