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I Won't Give Up (On Us)

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“Derek?” Stiles calls, wandering into the abandoned house that he’s sure he saw Derek wander into.

They’re out in the woods, looking for some type of plant that Derek needs in order to make some sort of famous dish or something. Stiles wasn’t really listening because he never really listens when Derek rants on about something–that’s both tedious and possibly life threatening, and really, Stiles has learned when it’s mandatory to stress himself out like that.

He gets no reply, but he doesn’t really think that means anything. Derek’s a really quiet person by nature, and rarely does he answer people when they ask him something (especially Stiles), so he wanders into the house anyway, because what if Derek’s hurt? What if Derek is hiding something seriously awesome from him?

The house is dark and creepy and totally Derek’s style, which is why Stiles goes on despite the lack of noise. It has that ‘I’m a house with many places to hide in and be mysterious’ vibe about it that Derek is in love with, and there’s plenty of corners that he can be hiding in, probably watching Stiles like a creep.

He sweeps through the house.

He doesn’t find Derek.

He’s about to walk back out, because he’s starting to think that maybe he never saw Derek in the first place, because come to think about it he’s in the stretch of the woods that Derek has told the pack time and time again to never enter, because there’s shit hidden that can be harmful.

Stiles thinks it’s kind of ironic that he’s just remembering this now.

Because he’s pretty sure a rabid man is staring at him.

“Uh–” Stiles stammers out, and then suppresses the urge to run. If there’s one thing he’s learned from all of the lore he’s read–both on mythical creatures and not–it’s that running is a very bad thing. Possibly one of the worst things to do other than wearing red around werewolves and baring your throat to vampires. “I am not sure how I’ve come to meet your acquaintance but I come in peace.”

The guy does the rumbly groaning noise, and then his eyes flash this brilliant, startling blue that somehow remind him of Derek’s old werewolf eyes, but then not at all. His hand reaches towards Stiles’ face, and it’s like time’s going by slow, too slow, and he has enough time to duck but he doesn’t, for some reason he doesn’t.

Maybe it’s because he knows that it’s useless.

Mainly, he thinks it’s because he’s curious.

*

Stiles expects to wake up on the cold, cement floor of the house he was in.

He wakes up in his bed.

He didn’t think he would wake up at all.

He tries not to think how weird that is, because maybe Derek or Scott or Jackson found him and took care of the rabid man before bringing him home. His room isn’t cluttered like how he left it, but Derek has a knack for clean spaces–despite the ruins of his house–and probably tidied up like he usually does when Stiles’ room gets out of control.

Or maybe his dad finally got sick of looking at the mess and threw everything out like he’s been threatening to for the last month.

Neither of those seem very plausible (because Derek has since stopped the whole ‘I’m obsessively going to clean your room and you’re going to like it’ facade when he found a box of condoms in Stiles’ room that lead to an extremely uncomfortable and disturbing talk about the safety of sex and when it was acceptable for significant others to meet the pack. Not that Stiles had a significant other, it was just that he was careful and prepared and plus he felt pretty badass for having condoms in his room) but he hones in on them, because it makes everything else seem a little less odd.

There’s a knock at his door that makes Stiles jump three feet in the air, and he’s about to hurry up and answer it, because it’s probably his father wanting to know what’s taking him so long to get down for breakfast–it’s definitely bacon and pancakes morning, by the smell of things–when something stops him cold in his tracks.

He breathes in through his nose for a second time to be sure, because phantom smells are common around his house, and it’s often that he thinks he smells it when he really doesn’t, when it’s a figment of his imagination and a trick of sense, but this time, this time he’s sure.

“Mom?” He whispers. That’s definitely her perfume, with the sandalwood and vanilla undertones, the sickly sweet and spicy notes floating through the air.

“Stiles, honey,” comes a voice, and yeah, that’s definitely his mom. “Are you okay? You said you were coming down fifteen minutes ago.”

Did he, really?

“M-mom?” Stiles stammers out, and then he’s flailing his arms and legs out in a furious attempt to get to the door, because holy shit. He hasn’t heard that voice in almost two years (replayed phone voicemail messages do not count) and he’s pretty sure the pain in his chest is because his heart is constricting so tightly that there’s a definite risk for a heart attack there. But he doesn’t mind, he can’t mind, not when the possibility of his mom actually being on the other side of that door isn’t even a maybe.

Stiles is sure it’s a definite.

The door swings open before he’s even off of the bed, and his mom’s beautiful, delicate face is smiling down at him, her chocolate brown eyes the warm and welcoming that he never knew he missed so much.

He can’t really explain it, but one minute he’s still struggling with his covers, and the next he has his arms wrapped so tightly around her that he’s pretty sure he’s strangling the life out of her. He can’t help the tears that roll down his face, urgent and filled with the regret and guilt that comes with losing a family member, and he doesn’t even know he’s shaking until he hears his mother’s frantic voice in his ears.

“Stiles,” his mom says, “Stiles, baby, you need to calm down.”

Stiles doesn’t know why, because it’s always something his mom’s been capable of doing. She’s always had something about her that has been able to make him see reason, to ground him to something that was never there until she suddenly was.

It’s no different now.

“I never thought–” Stiles chokes, on all of the words that are struggling to get out, and on nothing, too, because there’s nothing he can say. He doesn’t even know what to say.

“Did you have another nightmare, baby?” Mom asks.

Stiles can’t bare to tell her the truth, that he hasn’t seen her in two years because she’s gone, because she’s dead. He can’t do that to her. He doesn’t know what happened, how she’s here when she isn’t supposed to be, but he’s not going to sit around and question it, he can’t . Not when he’s been given something he never thought he would get back.

“Yeah,” Stiles whispers, a lie, and it feels wrong on his tongue, but he forces it out. “It’s okay though, you’re here now.”

Stiles’ mom holds him until his breath evens out and Stiles can pull away without wanting to cry.

*

When Stiles gets downstairs, his dad is smiling.

His dad is smiling and dancing to classical music that’s coming from an old record player in the corner, the same one that’s sitting in their basement because his father couldn’t bear to look at it anymore after Stiles’ mom death. He’s tried three times to bring it back out, because it was his father’s favorite, and it was a gift from his mom, but each time, his dad would put it back when Stiles was at school, or at Scott’s, and there would be three bottles of whiskey sitting on the counter, like the only way he could bring himself to touch it is when he’s drunk.


He never knew how much he missed it until now.

“Mornin’ Stiles,” his dad grins at him.

Stiles chokes again, because he hasn’t seen his dad’s eyes this bright since the night before Stiles’ mom death, and there’s something oddly heartbreaking about it, knowing that something’s wrong, that this world, whatever world Stiles is stuck in, isn’t right. His dad would never smile like that at him now, not without the wrinkles of worry and pain and regret around his eyes. Not without the look of eternal tiredness and stress that comes from working two double shifts almost everyday.

His dad hasn’t been truly happy since his wife’s death, and not even Stiles, who is bright and like his mother in every possible way (“You remind me of her so much sometimes it hurts to look at you,” dad had said to him once, and Stiles could understand, because Stiles’ mom was sarcastic and witty and never knew when to stop, and Stiles, Stiles is exactly like that, too) could rid him of that kind of distress.

Stiles used to think it was fucked up and horrible, that someone like his mom could be taken away from him when he didn’t deserve it. But then he met Derek, and saw what it was like to lose everything you ever cared about, your family and your life and all of those memories burned to the ground.

He doesn’t think it’s so horrible anymore, because at least he has his dad, no matter how fractured.

Derek–Derek has nothing. Will probably always have nothing, because Kate sure did a number on his psyche and there are sometimes when Stiles thinks that Derek will never have the strength to let anyone else in the way he let Kate in.

“Stiles?” His dad asks, because apparently Stiles has been there for the last ten minutes staring at a plate of rapidly cooling breakfast food–his favorite, even–and normally that would’ve been gone by now.

“Mom–” Stiles chokes, and there’s something in his dad face that registers, like he knows there’s something wrong here too . “She–how is she back?”

“Son,” his dad says, and then sits down at the table, forcing Stiles to follow suit. “I know her week long business trip really took a toll on you and me, but there’s no reason to get so upset about it now. She’s back–for good.”

Stiles may or may not make a pained noise in his throat at that, because deep down he knows that his mom will never be back for good, that it’s always going to be just him and his dad, and when his dad dies (if he dies, even, because Stiles is still holding onto the belief that his dad is literally superman) he’ll be alone. His mom left the moment that electrical fire went off in his house when he was at school and his dad was at work.

She never came back because here, she never actually left, and there, wherever he’s supposed to be, she’s not coming back because she can’t, because she’s dead .

“Alright,” Stiles whispers, because his dad is looking at him in a way that suggests he’s about to start his panic attack ritual, which doesn’t make sense, because here Stiles would have never had panic attacks because his mother never died, but he doesn’t want to go through that regardless– maybe that look means something else here is pounding on the walls of mind, grating against nerve tissue and if he keeps focusing on it, it’s going to drive him insane. “Alright,” he repeats.

*

It’s a Tuesday, which means that Stiles has school and because he has school he has to deal with Scott, who may or may not still be a werewolf.

Stiles doesn’t know what he wants more.

Scott hates being a werewolf, hates it with every fiber of his being, hates that he has so much power corded in his limbs, enough power to kill. Power is something that you can’t give to someone like Scott, who is clueless at best and utterly stupid at worst. Scott doesn’t know what to do with power, has never had power with anything. He’s always had a shitty dad who never cared or called, not even when Scott made first line in lacrosse on the upside–the more Stiles is here, the more he’s starting to think this is some cruel, twisted dream–and his mom is possibly the best mom for someone like Scott.

There’s so much hatred running through Scott, hatred for his father and hatred for Derek, hatred for school and Coach Finstock who only started to notice him after the bite, after his life was flipped upside down.

It’s almost like by some form of weird and twisted gift from God that Scott was bitten, because at least, upside, he has some way to channel in that anger now. He can take it out on Derek and on Jackson without having to worry about hurting them.

Even if Scott hates being a werewolf with everything he has, Stiles can’t exactly argue that it’s not good for him.

Before he can grab his backpack off of the table and make his way out to his jeep, his mom is there, pushing into his personal space and giving him one of the tightest hugs, and Stiles returns it, because real or not, this is his mom , and even as her scent clouds his mind and cause tears to start forming again, there’s nowhere he would rather be.

“Have a good day at school, baby,” his mom says, and presses a kiss to his forehead.

“Always,” Stiles says, because he’s long since accepted, even before her death, that Stiles would literally do anything for his mom.

“Smile,” his mom urges with a quirked mouth, “you’ll never know who's falling in love with it.”

And he laughs and laughs and laughs, because his mom is the kind of person who has an entire booklet of quotes that she loves and will use them to her advantage whenever she can. Even if that means trying to make him smile when it’s nearly impossible, when he can’t find the strength.

“I wouldn’t think of doing differently,” Stiles says, and then has to get the fuck out of there. He can’t find his car keys anywhere, but maybe he left them in his jeep again.

“Have a good day at school,” his mom yells over her shoulder again. “Tell Derek I said hello!” Is what Stiles is sure she says, but that can’t be, because he can’t know Derek in this world, he can’t .

*

His jeep isn’t parked outside.

Stiles may or may not be having a panic attack about that.

All he sees is the same slick black camaro that Derek drives upside is parked outside of his front door, and Derek has the windows rolled down, his face happy and open and it’s such a shock that Stiles almost gets knocked flat on his ass from it.

“Where the fuck is my jeep?” Stiles asks as he approaches, because surely, surely Derek knows what happened to his jeep. Maybe Derek decided to play a game of ‘Hide Stiles’ Jeep because Scott Accidentally Slashed the Tires Again’ because that’s happened before, and truly, expensive car bills aside, Stiles can deal with that.

Derek is looking at him like he is a crazy person. “Stiles, you don’t have a jeep.”

A part of Stiles dies internally at that, but hey, maybe there’s a plus side to not having his jeep. “You mean to tell me,” Stiles says, because he has to know for certain. “That my babygirl Jessie isn’t here with me?”

“Stiles,” Derek gives him a strange look. “Did you have one of your dreams again?”

Stiles sighs, defeated, because maybe this is one of those dreams where Stiles has an awesome ass car, like maybe an Impala or a Mustang or something equally as expensive.

“Which means I must totally have a Mustang convertible, right?” Derek looks unimpressed. “Maybe an Audi?”

“Stiles,” Derek says slowly, making a point to meet his eyes. “You don’t even own a car. You don’t even have your license.”

“Oh,” Stiles says, and then looks around a little dejectedly. “I guess I’m supposed to get in the car with you now.”

Derek smirks. “Don’t look so upset by that,” says Derek, but there’s an undercurrent of hurt there, like the idea of Stiles actually being upset about that makes him feel things that he shouldn’t be feeling.

Stiles actually feels sort of bad, because he’s pretty sure Derek was smiling at him earlier and he’s also pretty sure Derek’s never actually smiled at him.

When he gets in the front seat, Derek leans over and presses a kiss to the top of Stiles’ head, like somehow that’s normal or something, and then he starts the car and peels out of the driveway. There’s something tense in his shoulders that wasn’t there before, or at least Stiles hadn’t noticed it, he hadn’t really noticed anything that wasn’t his jeep.

So, he reaches over with his hand and places it on top of Derek’s own. He’s never seen Derek like this before, loose and happy and human , especially with Stiles. He imagines that’s something that Kate took away from him when she stole his innocence, his family.

He just hopes that unlike the other two, that maybe the happiness can come back.

He’s still not completely okay with what all of this implies. How friends don’t just kiss other friends on the temple and expect that to be the end of things, how Derek stares at him with this kind of hunger that he’s only seen Scott look at Allison with–which was a horrible thing to walk in on, really, and Stiles is glad, so glad that they were fully clothed. He’s not entirely disgusted either, because there’s a part buried inside of him that has been dealing with ‘Possibly Huge Homoerotic Feelings’ for Derek for a while now.

But this isn’t Derek, this isn’t Derek because this Derek is just something made up from his mind. His Derek, the real Derek, he’s upside brooding and angry and drowning in the hurt that comes from losing your family. Stiles thinks there’s something irrevocably wrong about that.

“I’m sorry,” he murmurs anyway, quiet and intimate in the space of the car. He still doesn’t know exactly what they are here, because it’s not like he can actually ask Derek without things getting weird, without hurting him. But he figures it’s safe to do that, because even if it wasn’t, he doesn’t think Derek would push him away.

Stiles doesn’t know why, but the last thing he wants to do is hurt Derek. He seems untainted here, untouched and loving and the Derek that he would’ve been if his family had been spared. He doesn’t carry around the guilt here, the guilt of being young and stupid and not knowing a dangerous woman when he saw one. That wasn’t all Derek’s fault, that was on Kate–everything about that day was Kate’s fault, from when she snuck Derek away from the house to when she lit a match and poured gasoline.

He just wishes Derek can see that. But he won’t, and he probably never will.

Guilt, it’s one of those things that stay with you. Over time and across barriers, and Stiles knows from personal experience how hard it is to break.

“I took too much Adderall this morning,” Stiles says, even though he took none, because maybe Derek isn’t a werewolf here, maybe he can’t tell when Stiles is leaking his feelings everywhere or when his heartbeat is fluttering like a hummingbird in his chest. Maybe, he’s completely human and happy and his family is still alive and they live a normal life.

Stiles thinks that’s what Derek deserves the most.

Derek lifts up his thumb to wrap tightly around Stiles own, and then sighs. “Even though I can tell you’re lying, I’ll let it go,” says Derek, and though he’s smiling, he doesn’t sound very happy about it.

He knows it’s something Derek will talk about later. Either he’ll sneak into his room like a creeping pedophile or he’ll knock on the door like a sane person–highly unlikely, even here, because Stiles can see the power waiting to uncoil in Derek now that he looks, and Stiles knows that as much as he complains about Derek and his seriously terrifying tendencies, he loves them, too.

But, regardless, stupid werewolves and their stupid werewolf powers.

*

“I’ll see you after school,” Derek says, and places another kiss on Stiles’ temple.

Stiles doesn’t say anything, just half smiles at him and waves because it’s oddly comfortable and Stiles thinks if this dream actually lasts long enough that he can probably get used to it.

He feels Derek’s eyes on him until he walks through the doors of the school, which is odd, but it doesn’t make Stiles feel any differently. Derek’s just more obvious about his concern for Stiles’ safety here, which given the previous implications to what their relationship is , actually makes sense. He finds Scott by his locker–which, thank god, is the same upside; that would’ve been horrible and embarrassing and there’s only so much horrible and embarrassing he can handle in a single dream, after all–and resists the ridiculous urge to slam his face into his locker, because that would be a bad idea if Scott was still a werewolf.

He still doesn’t have the whole control thing down yet, and even though Stiles is 90% sure he’ll wake up, he doesn’t want to chance it.

“So,” Stiles drawls, “are you a werewolf?”

Scott jolts in place, looking up at Stiles with a glare clear in his eyes. Okay, so, yeah, that totally would not have been possible, but maybe Scott is feeling especially tired today or something.

Scott groans loudly. “Is this another joke about me forgetting to shave this morning?”

Stiles wonders if Scott finally understands the whole ‘need to be quiet about werewolf things’ thing because he’s usually horrible at keeping his voice down with that. He’s lost count of the number of times they’ve almost been overheard by their students, and while Stiles maintains that almost two thirds of their school is a fucking neanderthal, it’s not impossible that one may find out. Jackson did, after all, and Jackson is only a smidge smarter than Scott.

Maybe, Stiles thinks victoriously, Derek finally threw him into a tree or something.

Wow, yeah, actually, Stiles is kind of upset he missed that.

Stiles narrows his eyes. “I have wolfsbane in my bookbag and I’m not afraid to use it,” Stiles says, though he doesn’t have any wolfsbane.

Scott should be able to see through the lie.

“Dude, what the hell is wolfsbane? Is it a herb in WoW or something?”

Stiles truly mourns for Scott’s lack of intelligence.

“I am–seriously,” Stiles chokes. “I cannot have this conversation with you–no, no, don’t even try to talk to me. I don’t know if I’m more shocked that you actually think that’s WoW related, or that you actually know what WoW is .” Stiles says, because yeah, things may be weird here, abnormal even, but he’s not going to ignore the fact that his best friend is still an idiot. Dream or not.

Stiles makes an abortive hand movement in the general direction of Scott’s face, because he literally cannot with the world right now, and then turns on his heel and walks out of there briskly.

“Stiles!” Scott whines after him. “I need to know, am I ‘too-hairy but it’s okay’ or ‘too-hairy but need to shave’!”

Stiles reigns in on whatever dignity he has left and doesn’t answer him.

*

“So,” Stiles says, slamming his lunch tray down in front of him. “I haven’t seen Allison all day, what gives?”

Scott raises an eyebrow at him. “Who’s Allison?”

Stiles blinks. “Allison isn’t here?”

“Dude, I don’t even know who Allison is ,” Scott says, and then shoves the sandwich in his hands into his mouth.

Stiles’ heart clenches painfully at that. He doesn’t know why he feels so bad for Scott, because here he doesn’t even know that Allison Argent is, actually, a real person, but upside, up top, Allison is Scott’s everything. And sure, there are times that Stiles can honestly admit that he wants to shove Allison’s face into the ground petulantly and scream, “he’s mine” over and over again, because Scott was his first. Allison wasn’t there when Scott broke his first bone because he fell out of the tree in Stiles’ backyard, and she wasn’t there when Scott had his first asthma attack in the first grade–she was, however, there when Scott broke his leg playing lacrosse, was there until the break reset itself and fed him hot soup afterwards even though the pain had already ebbed, she was there when his dad never called on his seventeenth birthday, when he never even got a call –but Stiles was there, holding his best friend’s head in his lap and telling him smelly girl jokes because those were his favorite.

But Allison, like being a werewolf, is one of the best things to happen to Scott.

She keeps him sane, she keeps him grounded, she keeps him human. Stiles can never be that person for Scott, Stiles can never be that person for anyone–because he doesn’t feel human unless he’s hopped up on Adderall, and that’s not good for anyone–but he’s okay with that now. Scott’s become both more intolerable and easier to handle since Allison came around, and Stiles never realized how much Allison actually did for his best friend until she wasn’t there anymore.

Scott doesn’t have Allison here, will never have Allison here, and Stiles can’t help but think back to the time where Stiles and Scott (see here: just Stiles) got drunk in the woods, with Stiles knocked back flat on his ass.

Here, Allison never broke up with Scott, and because of that he’s alone, he doesn’t know that the girl who made everything better , who made everything worth something is out there somewhere, waiting to be found.

And that, Stiles decides, is somehow impossibly worse.

“Oh,” Stiles sighs, because he doesn’t know what to say, there’s nothing he can say to that. “Oh,” he repeats, for lack of things to say, because Scott is staring at him like Stiles is being ridiculously hard to understand, and usually when that happens Scott starts to ask quesitons, and questions are something that Stiles can’t deal with right now.

Probably because for the first time in a while, Stiles doesn’t have the answers. Not even a completely bullshit one.

*

The rest of the school day passes by like any other.

Scott is less mopey than usual but Stiles thinks that’s probably because he doesn’t have anything to mope over here, and while he’s still first line on the lacrosse team, he apparently isn’t a werewolf–Stiles still doesn’t know how he feels about that–and Lydia and Jackson are still the star couple of the school. Though there is thankfully little pushing into walls and physical abuse from Jackson (that Stiles really doesn’t mind looking into) and of course the lack of Allison is still taking some getting used to.

Scott doesn’t even question Stiles not going to lacrosse practice after school, so maybe he’s not even on the team here, which Stiles doesn’t really feel so bad about. There’s a part of him that loves lacrosse to bits, but the sport kind of loses it’s glamour when you’re stuck on the bench indefinitely.

Derek’s car is parked outside of the school again, and Derek’s leaning up against the frame with the sun hitting his face. He looks more human here, even though Stiles is 99.9% sure that he’s still a werewolf. But the lines are gone from around his eyes and he smiles more easily now and there’s something about him here that makes Stiles ache . Maybe it’s because he knows that his Derek, his actual Derek isn’t the Derek sitting in front of him, or maybe it’s because he’s just not used to seeing Derek so open with his feelings.

“How was school?” Derek asks once Stiles is close enough.

Stiles maybe thinks that they do this everyday here, that Derek will take Stiles to school and will pick him up and that maybe when they get to Stiles’ house his mom–he can’t quite help the intake of breath here–will cook them dinner. He doesn’t want to think about that now, because even though he’s sure Derek will understand Stiles leaking out tears all over him, it’s definitely not on his ‘Top List of Things I Definitely Want to Do Before I Croak.’

“It’s school,” Stiles says, and then walks up to him, because here he has a part to play.

Derek smiles. “You always say that,” he murmurs, and then nuzzles his face into Sitles’ neck, breathing in deeply. “C’mon, we’ve got big plans today.”

Stiles doesn’t know what those big plans are, but he’s pretty sure he’s curious enough to find out.

*

Stiles thinks that if he wasn’t so observant he wouldn’t notice how wrong this world is. Apart from the whole ‘mom-being-totally-and-miraculously-alive’ thing, and the ‘Derek being an not-asshole-but-actually-loving’ thing. And the whole ‘Scott-not-being-a-werewolf-but-is-actually-sort-of-bad’ thing. Also the whole ‘Allison Argent never being here’ thing–because there isn’t even a way to ignore that; Allison has become just as much a part of his life as Scott (she’s actually a cool cat when you get to know her, a cool cat that loves freshly boiled tea and indie music and shops mostly at thrift and boutique clothing stores). But all of that aside, Stiles doesn’t think that he would even notice.

But it’s the little things that he notices the most. It’s the little things like how Scott’s hair is two inches longer than he ever lets it get back in the waking world, how Derek’s clean shaven here and doesn’t permanently look like he’s needing to take a shit, how his dad doesn’t leave a third set of plates out on Sundays–because those were ( are ) his mother’s favorite day–because they’re supposed to be there, anyway. It’s how Jackson doesn’t push Stiles up against lockers anymore and demand him to stay the hell out of his sight when he wasn’t even in it, in the way that Lydia doesn’t completely ignore him now, instead sends him half little quirked up smiles (even if Stiles was hopelessly in love with her at one point, not even he could look past how Lydia Martin was too much of a bitch to send a smile to anyone ).

It’s the little things that make Stiles pause in the doorway to his room, or in the hallways at school, when he’s tucked with Derek on his family’s couch and they’re crowding around the latest Twilight movie–because they’re nothing if not ironic. It’s the little things that make him lose control in the shower, makes him throw soap and shampoo bottles at the tile, watching the water wash them away.

Stiles wishes it were that easy to wake himself up, to wash everything away until there’s nothing his mind can conjure up anymore. He tries, he tries to think of nothing and will the house he lives in to disappear, to will the smile crinkling his dad’s eyes to fade away–because that’s not his father , and as much as he wants it to be, as much as he wishes his father would still wake up in the morning and sing with the birds, that’s something his father, the father that’s real would never do.

It never works, and some nights he can feel himself trying until he’s blue in the face to wake up himself up, because he’s not stupid enough to try death nor is he smart enough to realize that because he’s dreaming, nothing will happen if he did.

*
Stiles realizes it’s not a dream one night, because he’s pretty sure he’s stuck in some type of nightmare.

He can tell he’s in the house he wandered into before he woke up here again, but it’s not in a part that he’s seen before. He’s in some type of basement, because it’s dark and musky and there’s the definite scent of murder and decay here. He doesn’t know how he knows, but he’s seen enough serial killer movies to know that shit like this always happens in basements.

Other than the smell, what he sees is sketchy too. The basement isn’t even finished –unfinished spaces have always given Stiles the creeps–and there’s rat feces collecting in the corners, which is a serious health code violation that Stiles would like to rant about if he wasn’t scared shitless . There’s IV lines hanging down from the ceiling that run along posts, and most of them are just hanging off, waiting for something to be attached. He doesn’t know what is supposed to be attached, or what’s going to happen to that something after that something is attached, but it sends chills down his spine, makes his body shiver and convulse.

He’s not liking how this is turning out.

In the back corner of the basement, there’s a body hanging dangling from one of the IV lines. Even though he’s a good fifty yards from it, he can tell that the body’s pale and bruised up, slightly jaundiced in the dim light. He moves forward, because there’s a part of him that has to know who that someone is.

He has a sickening feeling in his gut, like he already knows, but he ignores it.

He’d like to say he’s surprised when he’s looking at a battered, bruised version of himself, but he’s not. It doesn’t stop the bile from rising in his throat, though, doesn’t stop the body shakes or the aching in his chest, because for some reason Stiles can tell that who he’s looking at is actually him . He’s broken, with plenty of bruises and tiny scratches mottling his skin, and he’s so pale that he’s yellow, eyes sunken in and his hair is falling in little clumps on the floor–which isn’t saying much, because he never had a lot of hair to begin with, but it’s his, and because it’s his he feels the loss settle permanently into his bones.

“What happened to me?” Stiles whispers, feels like he almost has to, because if he doesn’t say anything, he might actually faint.

There’s no answer, of course there isn’t, but it’s not like he actually expected one, and the only thing he can think about is how Derek’s seriously going to fuck up whoever did this to him, because even if he’s pretty sure Derek only tolerates him (there hasn’t been a confirmation anything different), Stiles is pack.

Derek has made it clear on several occasions that Derek–and basically everyone else–would do anything for pack.

Stiles holds gaze with his dead, lifeless eyes for five seconds before before the mouth–his mouth, his goddamn mouth–quirks up in a vicious grin that seriously puts all of Derek’s to shame, and hisses, “Isn’t this everything you’ve ever wanted?”

Even as Stiles heaves out on the ground, he swears he can hear himself laughing.

*

When Stiles wakes up, gasping and panicking, Derek is there, pressing into him, arms wrapped around him tightly. His fingers are rubbing calming circles, like these things happen often–maybe they do, it’s not like Stiles actually knows–and his stubble is tickling the skin of Stiles’ neck, so harshly that he’s sure he’ll have stubble burn there in a few hours, but he doesn’t mind. He doesn’t mind, can’t bring himself to, because Derek’s here even though it’s not really Derek, and Stiles knows it’s wrong to seek comfort in someone who isn’t even real, but Stiles is so far gone he can’t bring himself to actually push Derek away.

Like reading his thoughts, Derek pulls him closer, goes for broke until Stiles is basically on his lap, legs curled around his hips in a way that a baby monkey might curl it’s legs around his mother. For protection. Stiles doesn’t want to read into that, because he doesn’t want to see how comfortable he’s gotten here, not in a world that feels so wrong. “Stiles,” Derek whispers, and his voice sounds real, and he feels real, so Stiles sinks into him. “Shh, it’s okay. You’re okay. You’re safe. I’m here and I won’t let anything happen to you.”

“It’s real,” Stiles whispers, because even though he knows Derek won’t understand, there’s something that tells him that he will anyway, because Stiles wants him to. “It’s all real. I–I’m stuck–”

“It was just a nightmare Stiles,” Derek says, “nothing is going to happen to you. And if it does, I’ll protect you.”

Stiles knows that Derek can’t protect him, but he nods his head anyway, and whispers, “Okay,” because it’s what Derek wants to hear; what Stiles needs to say, and Stiles is nothing if not indulgent.

He falls asleep curled around Derek, and maybe it’s a mom thing–or maybe it’s a weird universe thing–but Stiles’ mom doesn’t even get angry about it when she finds them in the morning, still in the same position.

*

One morning, a few weeks after Stiles woke up here, his mom comes in through the door, and even though his heart still does a plunge into the depths of his stomach whenever he sees her, he can’t help but smile at her.

Probably because she always smiles back.

He’s starting to think that’s the best part of being down here, seeing his mom happy again–not that she ever wasn’t happy, but he doesn’t want to think about what she was feeling or thinking about when she died, how her face was probably morphed and twisted, how she had to feel every single flicker of the flames from that fire before her soul took first class up to Heaven.

He doesn’t want to think about any of that, so he does what he does best, he pushes it away until it’s practically not even there anymore, had never been there to begin with.

“Hey baby,” she says, and sits next to him, placing a gentle hand on his knee. “You know what we haven’t done in a while?”

“What?” He asks.

“Spent a day together. Just you and me, mommy-and-son day. Stiles plus mom minus everyone else. One of those,” she says, and she sounds wistful and happy and Stiles almost chokes on it. He has to look away, because if he doesn’t he’s pretty sure he’ll be forced to cry.

It’s the last thing he wants to do in front of her, because even though he’s sure that Heaven is treating her nicely, and that she has her own place nestled in between the woods and a river–his mother was always a fan of both, and even though she never got to have that on Earth, there’s something that told Stiles that no one would rid her of it there, because that was her paradise–he won’t ever see her smile again. He won’t get to hear the little hitched breath that escapes just before she starts hysterically laughing, or how she tends to curl in on herself when she’s by a fire, trying to suck in all of the warmth.

He won’t get to have any of that anymore.

“Yeah?” He asks eventually, because his mother is starting to wear her ‘I’m-a-worried-and-invested-mother’ face, and those never lead to anything good. Especially not here, not in a place where he doesn’t want his mom to be anything but happy.

“I think we should–today, I mean. I know I haven’t had a lot of time for you lately because of work, but I completely cleared my schedule. Just for you.”

“Okay,” he whispers, and then hides his face in her shirt so she can’t see the tears welling up in his eyes.

“I’m going to go get ready,” she says, and ruffles what little hair he has, and says, “it’s your turn to pick what we do.” She smiles at him one last time before leaving, and he’s not sure if it’s a breath of relief or disappointment that leaves him.

*

The thing is, is that Stiles feels guilty.

He feels guilty that he’s wherever he is, getting to spend time with his mom, but his father is somewhere else, alone and working too much, probably clogging his arteries now that Stiles isn’t around to pester him out of it.

Even though he knows it’s wrong, because in all of the happiness, Stiles thinks it actually kind of sucks here, but he would give anything to give this all to his father. He would give this all to his father in a heartbeat, to have him be able to see his wife again, to hear her laugh and her voice, to see the way her hair curls into her face.

And his dad–his dad would enjoy it, too, because he’s always been able to appreciate things more than Stiles.

*

They end up going to the park, with a picnic basket and blankets that flat in the wind, blowing them everywhere.

Stiles has never really noticed how beautiful his mother was–except for when he was real little, when he thought his mother was a goddess just because she bought him more pokemon cards, or because she talked his father into getting them ice cream after Stiles’ Little League Lacrosse games–but she’s probably the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. She’s beautiful in that subtle way that sneaks up on you, with her curly brown hair and her bright, chocolate eyes.

Stiles feels a pang of guilt again, because his father is the one that should be seeing this, but he pushes it aside. He’s here with his mom, and the last thing he wants to do is trouble her with the shell of a man her death left behind.

“Is this spot good, honey?” She asks, and Stiles doesn’t even look, but he nods his head anyway.

“Of course, mom,” he says.

So they lay out the blankets and fasten them to the ground with rocks, just like they used to, and his mom still lets him pick out the biggest ones, because she’s nothing if not consistent.

They sit down on the blankets and talk. It’s nice, to be able to talk to his mom again, to be able to hear her voice, to hear how squeaky it gets when she gets excited about something. They talk about Stiles and his schooling and about Derek and how his mom thinks he’s a nice kid–even though he’s definitely not a kid. They talk about mom’s work and how it’s driving her nearly insane, but that’s only because she loves it so much. They talk about the stars, about the future and the past and everything in between.

“I’ve missed you,” his mom whispers, once they’ve both had four sandwiches each–there’s only one person that’s ever been able to out-eat Stiles and it’s always been his mom–with her hands on her belly, like she’s eaten so much the thought of physically moving pains her to think about. Stiles can’t help but smile at that, but that’s probably because he’s doing the same exact thing.

His heart clenches again, as it always does around his mom. His mom will never know just how much he’s missed her. How he’ll sneak into his dad’s room just to bring out her old clothes that they keep in the closet there, to rub his face in them and cover himself in her perfume, because it always calms him down, makes him feel stronger, like he can take on anything (she’s always given him that strength, as all mothers do). She’ll never know that whenever he goes to the library to get books about werewolves, that he always sits in the children’s section first and takes out ‘Goodnight Moon’ because it was her favorite book–regardless that it’s children’s. He’ll sit there surrounded by little kids and their parents and won’t feel alone, because it’s like his mother’s there with him, turning the pages for him like she did when he was younger.

She’ll never know a lot of things because this mom isn’t his mom, this mom is a woman that never died, that is somehow here because she’s supposed to be. This character–or whatever she is–is here when Stiles is caught somewhere he doesn’t belong.

“I miss you too,” he says, anyway, because even if this isn’t his mom, she smells like her and looks like her, she laughs like her and dresses like her, and that’s close enough for Stiles.
He’ll take what he can get.

*

Derek never gets upset with him.

At first, Stiles just thought it was because Derek was just a naturally happy guy here, that maybe he was a little more level headed without the weight of the guilt that his family’s slaughter had left behind. But then it started to happen more frequently, how Stiles would yell and scream, and Derek would be the rock to ground him, how he would never get angry at him. It only infuriated Stiles more, because all it did was remind him that this wasn’t his Derek, because his Derek would be screaming right back at him, would be slamming him against walls and wouldn’t just be taking Stiles’ shit.

It’s unsettling, makes Stiles always feels on edge, like Derek is going to be fine one moment and totally not fine the next. But he’s always okay. He never snaps at Stiles and never gets close to wolfing out–it’s almost like he’s barely even a werewolf here–and Stiles misses Derek’s outbursts so much that it’s almost sickening (and disturbing, because no one in their right mind would miss something like that).

They’re in a middle of a fight now, or rather Stiles is in the middle of screaming at Derek, voice hoarse with emotion and use, and Derek is just staring at him calmly, like he has no idea why Stiles is yelling at him when they could talk about matters calmly. Or just push those problems away, because these fights get them nowhere. Derek will stand there and take the worst of Stiles’ emotional and verbal beating, and then he’ll wrap his arms around Stiles like it will suddenly make it better, and for some reason it does.

They’ll never talk about anything, which is seriously irritating. It’s almost like Derek doesn’t know how to get angry here, that he doesn’t know how to recognize problems.

“I’m tired of this, Derek! I’m tired of fighting and being the only one who fights!”

Derek looks confused. “I don’t think we have anything to fight about.”

“Yeah,” Stiles agrees, because he knows Derek does think that. “But you always think that! So it’s almost like your opinion doesn’t even matter.”

“Stiles–” Derek protests, and then he steps forward, arms twitching outward like he’s going to try his ‘Cuddle Stiles into Oblivion’ method again.

Stiles, well, Stiles is having none of it.

“No, man–christ, don’t even think about coming near me with your freaky ass calming hug powers. I am not going to be hugged–jostled into complacence.”

“Stiles, stop being so–”

Stiles cuts him off again. “Is it so much to ask that you get mad at me every once in a while? That I’m not the only one screaming? Am I the only one who sees so much wrong with our situation and how we deal with things? It’s like your allergic to any other emotion that’s not happiness.” Stiles rants, because the more that he lets it all out, the more he realizes that everything he’s saying is actually true .

“You want me to get mad at you?” He asks, like he thinks that Stiles is being seriously irrational, and maybe he is, but this, this is just insane. Like a whole new level of insane for them.

“Yes! Desperately.”

Derek furrows his eyebrows. “I don’t understand.”

Stiles scoffs. “Of course you don’t understand! Of course. That’s just–that’s just great . Lovely, even. Peachy.”

He knows that this entire fight is useless, that there’s no reason for him to be sitting here wasting his breath, but he’s always been the type of person that has to try , even when the point was moot.

“Stiles, I think you need to calm down. Let’s go downstairs and go get some ice cream, okay?” Derek asks, and there’s something like sadness in his eyes, like he’s actually upset that he can’t give Stiles what he wants, and Stiles waits there for five minutes for the feeling of gratification and satisfaction to come, but it never does. It only makes him feel guiltier, because he knows that the Stiles this Derek needs isn’t him, and he can’t be that Stiles for this Derek.

And this Derek can’t be the Derek he needs from him.

“Okay?” Derek asks again, voice soft and he’s holding a hand out for Stiles to take.

Stiles takes it.

“Okay,” he whispers, because really, there’s not even a point to fight anymore.

*

It’s a month in a half into this. . .thing, or whatever it is, when Stiles realizes that he’s probably not going to ever get home. He’s going to die here, with the wrong father and the wrong, but seemingly right mother, with the wrong friends and the wrong boyfriends and the thought scares him more than he’ll ever really admit.

He’s tried, countless times to get free. He’s tried mutilating himself–because pain usually can do something , even if this isn’t a dream–but that only makes Derek worry, makes his parents worry and that’s the last thing he wants to do. Even if they’re not really his .

He doesn’t think he’ll ever get home, and finally, finally Stiles just stops trying.

*

Stiles and Derek are cuddled on Stiles’ bed when Stiles thinks to ask, because it’s been one of those things that has bothered him since he came here, but it’s also been something he’s never really thought to ask.

“Derek?” Stiles asks–whispers, even.

“Yeah?”

“Tell me the story of how we met,” Stiles says, because he’s curious and he knows Derek will do anything he can to make Stiles happy here. It makes him feel like shit, to take advantage of something like this when he’s never going to feel what Derek feels for him, but it’s not real , he reminds himself.

It always makes him feel a little better.

Derek scoffs, but it’s good natured and fond. “Again, Stiles? Really?”

That makes Stiles think, how much does he really ask to hear it here? “Please,” Stiles says, and then adds, “I haven’t asked for a while.”

Derek seems to agree. “You haven’t,” he says.

“I just like the sound of your voice,” Stiles says, “And I like your version the best.”

It’s all a lie, but it sounds and feels like the truth on his tongue.

Derek doesn’t seem to notice, or maybe he doesn’t really care, but he nods anyway, and says, “Okay.”

“Our moms have been best friends since high school,” Derek says, and looks at Stiles a little exasperated, like he’s told this story plenty of times, but Stiles doesn’t care, because he’s never heard it before. “Your mom–had been trying. For a baby. Since before Laura was born, and then you came along,” Derek has his mouth quirked up a little. “At first, I thought you were the most annoying kid, with your constant game of twenty questions and your honestly questionable obsession with Star Wars–”

Stiles cuts him off with an indignant squawk. “Hey! Don’t hate.”

Derek slaps his chest. “Let me finish .”

“Of course,” Stiles says.

“I didn’t understand how anyone could stand to be around you. You were just this young four-year-old to me that my mother told me I had to watch out for.”

“Glad you thought so highly of me,” Stiles can’t help but quip. There’s something comfortable here, something that Stiles can see himself growing used to, something that he can learn to like. It scares him more than he’ll ever admit, because this isn’t his Derek.

But maybe he could eventually be.

Derek doesn’t even look at him. “You were kind of obsessed with me, Stiles–”

“I was not!” Stiles argues, even though he doesn’t really know if he was or not. If he had met Derek under different circumstance back home, he knows he would’ve gone for him. It makes him think, that maybe if they were different people meeting in different regards, that maybe, just maybe they would be happy. That something different could’ve become of them, something great and invincible. Back home, Derek is a perceived rough-around-the-edges type of guy that lost everything who isn’t really rough-around-the-edges at all, once you get to know him. Stiles is an ADHD suffering teenage boy that speaks too much and listens too little, but gets along just fine anyway.

Stiles doesn’t linger in those thoughts, because he can’t, because they’ll literally eat him alive. He can’t afford that here, not when Derek is bright and happy and even if everything feels wrong with him, Stiles can’t completely escape.

There’s a part of him that doesn’t want to either, a part of him that craves that closeness that he once had with the entire pack. There’s no pack here. There’s just Scott and Jackson and Lydia and Derek, and they’re (essentially) just five strangers that have no reason to cross paths anymore. They’re not connected the way they are back home, there are no Weekly Pack Meetings at Derek’s house which turn into Weekly Pack Fiasco, with games of tag and cheap pizza and all.

Stiles doesn’t know why, but he thinks he misses those the most.

Derek doesn’t notice Stiles’ break in attention, or maybe he does and is just not seeing it as a problem. Stiles doesn’t really know for sure, but when Derek smiles at him, Stiles smiles back.

“Go on,” he urges, because he’s still terribly curious.

“No,” Derek insists, “but you really were. You would make excuses to hang out with me, and while I found it annoying, there was a part of me that wanted to protect you. Maybe it’s because you were so young, or I just grew to– enjoy your company, but–”

“You’re making me sound like I was impossible to be around,” Stiles whines.

Derek grins. “Now you’re getting it.”

Stiles glares at the side of his face. “Nevermind,” Stiles says. “I don’t want to hear anymore.” But he’s mostly kidding.

*

He lasts all of 2.5 seconds before he asks Derek to continue.

*

Eventually, Stiles realizes that wherever he is, isn’t going to hold him for much longer.

Things start to disappear. He doesn’t notice it at first because he isn’t really looking, but after his favorite Batman comics disappear from where he placed them on his bedside table, he can’t really be ignorant to it anymore.

It’s the little things that go first.

One moment Stiles’ father’s dogtags are hanging above the fireplace, like they always do, and the next they fade away. He’s the only one that seems to notice, or is the only one who seems to care, because his dad doesn’t even throw a fit when he looks over there hours later and sees the space empty.

Stiles knows his dad and he definitely would have. Sometimes Stiles thinks he’s too attached to those things sometimes, but he knows it’s for a good reason.

It’s one of the last things he has that reminds him of his relationship with Stiles’ mother.

Other things start to disappear, too. Like Stiles’ toothbrush and the photo album they keep under the coffee table–because his mother keeps filling up the pages, with old pictures and new ones that she sneaks up on Stiles with, and it’s so like his mom that he almost believes that everything is real, that somehow his mom came back from the dead, or maybe she had never died at all.

The more time Stiles spends here, the more he feels himself slipping, slipping into nothing, feels his common sense drain away.

Before, it bothered him, but now, now it’s like he’s grasping for purchase against slick metal; it’s not even worth it anymore.

Stiles doesn’t even have faith anymore, doesn’t even know what it is anymore.

He doesn’t know what anything is anymore.

*

Stiles is laying in a pile of his own spit and drool when his dad comes into wake him up. It’s been days, or possibly weeks, since he first noticed everything fading away Now the walls in his room are pristine white, harsh and cold like that of a hospitals, and all he can think about is when he visited his mom in the hospital after the fire, how she looked so pale and lifeless against the sheets.

Stiles doesn’t know what he looks like now, but he’s sure it’s something similar. Or maybe one in the same. There’s always been a striking resemblance between he and his mom.

“Stiles,” his dad says, “come on bud, you need to get up. We have a huge day planned ahead of us.”

Stiles has learned that his dad says this everyday here. And everyday they continue to do nothing. It’s hardly as glorious as it sounds, really.
“I’d like to just stay here instead,” Stiles says, but he’s sure all that comes out is “I jusk lile to stah herc insteak.”

“Stiles, you’ve said that for the last three days–”

“Then you should probably stop asking,” Stiles mumbles again.

“We’re worried about you, Stiles,” his dad says, and to be fair, he does sound pretty damn earnest. It’s almost enough to make Stiles want to get up and face all of the shit he’s been pushing aside for the last few days, but not enough. “Derek’s going crazy–”

Stiles expects more to come, but nothing does. He looks up from where he’s still laying down on the bed, finally meeting his dad’s gaze, and he stills at what he sees.

His dad’s eyes are blank. They’re still that startling bright blue–one that Stiles has never really appreciated but has heard countless comments from women at the supermarket about how pretty they are (their words, not his)–but they’re different, far away and glazed over, like his dad’s not all there.

The look hits him right where it hurts, because it’s strikingly similar to how his dad looks when he’s drunk. Drunk from the booze he consumes to take his mind off of his dead wife and his son’s dead mother, and everything else that his dad thinks about to the point of causing the dam to break, causing him to lose that tight grip on control that he always has.

“Dad?” Stiles chokes.

“Stiles–” He says. “Stiles, I need you–you need to listen to me, alright?”

Stiles furrows his eyebrows. “Dad?”

“I don’t know if you can hear me,” Dad says, like Stiles isn’t actually in front of him . “I hope–god, I really hope this works–Stiles. Stiles, if you can hear me, you need to listen to me very carefully, okay?”

“Dad–come on, this isn’t funny–”

“I don’t know what you’re seeing down there Stiles, I really don’t–and I hope–” His voice cuts off, not quite broken, but not quite whole, either “I hope it’s been nice, but listen to me, you aren’t where you’re supposed to be–”

Dad ,” Stiles says, because his dad isn’t making any sense, and his eyes are getting more lost the more time that passes. Stiles feels like he’s going to be sick, can feel his stomach twisting in on itself, and even though he hasn’t eaten in the past few days, he can it building in his stomach. “Please–”

“Stiles, you need to get out of there. If I know you–and I think I know you pretty damn well–I know you know that something’s wrong where you are. That maybe some things are off. Maybe–” He breaks off again, and Stiles is reminded of a bad phone connection, which is weird, because his dad is right in front of him and he shouldn’t be short circuiting like this.

Almost immediately, panic sets in. He’s read up on this before when he was supposed to be researching for a report on Shakespearean Theatre and ended up on Web M.D., researching brain tumors and cancer because of an off-hand comment Scott made one day. He knows, knows that it’s irrational to think that his father would have cancer, because Stiles goes to every doctor’s appointment with him, makes sure he gets tested–he’s already lost one parent, he doesn’t need to lose another–and there’s no way this can happen. His dad has been eating better, has started to run in his spare time even if he hates it, because Stiles wants him to, encourages him.

It doesn’t stop the line of thinking that his father’s sentence breakage is due to cancer, or that he’s possibly watching his father decay before his eyes, or maybe–maybe this isn’t even his dad anymore.

Before he can freak out anymore, his dad’s voice cuts in again. “Stiles–listen to me, okay? This is Derek. I don’t know who you’re seeing or if you’re even hearing me at all, but dammit Stiles, you need to get out of here. There’s not a lot of time left. I don’t know much about how this–shit, his pulse–”

“Shit.” His dad mutters. “Shit. Okay–Stiles listen to me. Listen. I know you’re probably–you need to get out of there. You’re not where you belong. You–you’re stuck. You need to get free, you have to find out a way to get yourself out. You’re not lookin–you don’t have a lot of time left. Whatever’s happening to you down there, it’s–”

“He’s–he’s not waking up–” There’s desperation in his voice now, and a string of something that sounds oddly like resignation. Stiles doesn’t know what to think about all of this. “Stiles–please. I–I know the chances of you hearing this and waking up are slim, but I’m not giving up on you, okay? I’ll stay here until you wake up. You’re going to wake up.” he sounds determined, now.

It makes Stiles feel better.

Even if he still feels like throwing up.

There’s a part of him that believes what his dad–Derek is telling him, because he has known something’s been amiss since he woke up here. But there’s a lot of faith riding on Derek’s words, words that don’t even make sense to Stiles, and Stiles is caught between going for broke and broken.

“What you’re seeing down there–” His dad breaks off again. “It isn’t real. Those people. Aren’t real. I know you know that Stiles, I know you do.”

“Do–” He mumbles something that Stiles can’t understand. “Do something about it–”

It’s then that he realizes that his face has been buried in his pillow for who-knows-how-long, and when he looks up, to look back up at his dad, it’s not his dad he sees.

It’s Derek.

“Derek?” Stiles whispers.

“You could’ve been happy here,” is all Derek says, and it makes Stiles heart clench, because he knows that’s true.

He would’ve gotten over the feeling of displacement, and he would’ve eventually gotten over the bouts of depression he had been subject to down here. He could've grown to love this place and the people in it, but that’s just the problem here: Stiles doesn’t want to grow to love anything .

He wants the love to already be there.

“I could’ve made you happy.” Derek repeats, like he didn’t just say that but in more general terms. “I wish you wouldn’t have focused on it so much.”

Stiles doesn’t know what it is, but he doesn’t ask. He can’t talk, opens his mouth and closes it more times than he can count before he decides that there’s no point.

“Stiles–” It’s his dad’s voice again, even if he can’t see his dad anywhere. “Stiles–oh, god, I hope this works. Listen, it says–it says–” Stiles assumes 'Derek’s' referring to whatever book he has in his lap, because if there’s one person that’s better at researching and putting shit together than Stiles is, it’s Derek. “I don’t know what you’ve been running from down there, but you need to stop. Stop it Stiles. Bring yourself back home.”

“Choose me ,” fake-Derek, or Derek–Stiles doesn’t really know anymore–spits venomously, like real-Derek is right in front of him.

“I’m not damaged like he is,” fake-Derek whispers, and yeah, that might be true, Stiles realizes, in the technical sense of things, but this Derek, this Derek is just as damaged, just not in the same way.

He knows that Derek, the Derek he knows and has somewhat grown fond since he basically saved Scott’s and his ass, isn’t like this. He’s angry and brooding and mysterious, has no respect for personal boundaries and it used to annoy him. He used to hate Derek because he had no sense of humor, because he didn’t know how to take a joke, because he was always the first one to break up their little pack parties to train –of all things–but he misses that now.

 

He misses everything.

 

“Stiles–” His dad voice says again, sounding far away now. “ Please .”

Derek has never once said please in his life to Stiles, and maybe that’s the reason Stiles pushes himself off of his bed and into fake-Derek’s personal space, but he does, and one second he’s falling into him and the next he’s kissing him.

It’s not anything he thought it would be, but he feels absolutely weightless.

And then–then he’s falling.

*

When Stiles wakes up, he’s shaking.

He’s surrounded by those same pristine walls–or maybe they’re not the same, maybe they’re slightly different, but all white walls look the same to him, too-close and too-this, but not enough that, and they’re constricting in their openness–but he doesn’t notice that, not at first. There’s beeping, loud and insistent by his ear, and it’s then that he realizes he’s hooked up to machines.

“Stiles,” and it’s that same voice, that same voice that grated on every single nerve ending those last few moments, and Stiles is overtaken with the need to empty his stomach again, but he doesn’t.

His dad’s skin is warm and welcoming when it’s pressed up against his hand. They’re not a very touchy-feely family. Their hugs are always stilted and awkward unless one of them has almost just been killed–which has been happening more than Stiles has been liking, lately–but Stiles flinches away from the touch, and then feels horrible for it when his dad throws a panicked look in his direction.


“I’m sor–”

“It’s oka–” Stiles says at the same time.

He doesn’t know what he’s feeling. There’s no pain, but from looking at the IV drip that’s connected to his arm, Stiles is assuming that he’s on the good stuff right now. It’s probably why the edges of everything are fuzzy, why his dad’s voice seems so far away.

“I’m glad you’re okay, son,” his dad says.

Stiles doesn’t know what to say, because is he actually okay?

“Yeah,” Stiles whispers. “Me too.”

It’s a lie, and they both know it, but his dad’s adopted the same “pretend everything’s alright until it can’t be ignored any longer” and so far it’s worked out for them okay.

*

His dad leaves eventually to go get coffee.

They didn’t talk much, never really do, not unless his dad’s wasted. His dad is a man of few words, has always been that way, but it’s gotten worse since his wife’s death. It makes Stiles feel uncomfortable, because he’s always felt the need to fill in the empty spaces silence leaves with aimless babbling, but he supposes they balance each other out that way.

After his dad leaves, Derek slips in the door.

Stiles doesn’t know why, but he’s not really surprised.

He’s also not surprised that he can’t tell if it’s real-Derek he’s looking at or fake-Derek. Or maybe it’s he-thought-he-was-following-but-not-really-following-Derek.

Stiles doesn’t even know anymore.

“Stiles,” Derek says, and he looks concerned. He can probably smell the fear and discontentment, the confusion and whatever else is brewing deep in Stiles’ gut–he can’t even begin to try and classify every emotion running through him right now.

“Dere–” He chokes, but before he can work himself up, Derek’s there, pressing close and near, and while Stiles is sure Derek would never have gotten this close–or maybe he would, because fake-Derek never had any issues with touching Stiles at every available opportunity–to him, not this intimate.

But maybe things have changed now.

“Stiles,” Derek murmurs again. “It’s alright,” he says, but it doesn’t feel alright. “You’re safe now,” Derek says.

“I followed you,” Stiles says instead of focusing on the fact that nothing is alright, that he definitely doesn’t feel safe, and how he can find loopholes in everything Derek’s telling him.

He’s never been able to do that before, especially when Derek became Alpha.

“What?”

“I followed you–the night before-” Stiles says, voice breaking on the end. Derek doesn’t comment on it, but it’s not like Stiles really thought he would. “You came up to me after I parked my Jeep in the woods, and you told me that you had to go find some spices to cook with. And then you disappeared–”

“That wasn’t me,” Derek says.

Stiles knows he isn’t lying.

“But it was–” Stiles says, eyebrows drawn together.

“You–you were kidnapped. Taken. The pers–creature that took you. They’re able to disguise their true form, they’re able to shift into whoever they see fit. It’s part of what they do–Stiles. He tricked you.”

Stiles blinks. “I–what?” He clears his throat. “What took me?”

Derek’s fingers trace comforting lines alone the bruised skin of Stiles’ hand. “A Dijiin.”

“A genie?”

“Not quite,” Derek says. “They’re genies, technically, but they’re sinister. Evil. They feed on people’s life force over an extended amount of time, and in order to do that, without killing their targets, they put them in alternate universes. Give them everything they’ve ever wanted.”

Stiles blinks. “It wasn’t everything I wanted,” Stiles whispers.

Derek looks surprised. “No?”

“You were–are, I don’t even– christ , Derek. You were happy. I–my mom–”

“Stiles,” Derek whispers. “Don’t force yourself to talk about it.”

“But–”

“Shh,” Derek whispers, soft and gentle, in a way that Stiles has never seen before, and it reminds him so much of fake-Derek that Stiles wants to cry.

“I don’t know what’s real and what’s not real anymore.”

“I know,” Derek says. “I know you don’t, but I’ll sit here without until you do know, okay?”

“Will you?” Stiles asks, because he doesn’t know.

Stiles gets a good look at his face, and sees something he’s never seen on Derek’s face before: vulnerability. Not even when he was fighting off his uncle in the hospital, which was one of Derek’s most vulnerable moments he’s ever had–or at least around Stiles–but his face is open and concerned, and he’s never seen that directed at Stiles before, had never thought it was possible for Derek to care enough to get close.

“I promise.” Derek says, determined and honest.

Stiles believes him.

He nods eventually, because Derek is staring at him like he’s afraid Stiles won’t answer, and normally he wouldn’t, but he does this time. He curls his fingers around Derek’s, because they’re there, because even if they’re not real, it’s something Stiles can hold on to, and he hasn’t had that for a while.

“Okay.”