Stiles is sure he’s lucked out with this summer job. Firstly, he’s always loved Beacon Hills Library, and Beacon Hills Library – which is to say, Mrs Taylor, the senior librarian – has always loved him, so it’s worked out nicely that they needed a temporary assistant right at the time he was needing summer vacation employment. Secondly, his dad is one hundred per cent on board with a responsible, non-delinquent son. Thirdly, shit, it’s just so blessedly normal. The library hasn’t really changed all that much since Stiles used to come as a little kid, dragging his mom from book to book, and he can prop himself up in the fiction section reshelving the returns or perch behind the issuing desk, scanning barcodes and stamping dates and chatting with people he’s known his whole life, and it’s kind of like the last year hasn’t happened.
Which is basically the plan. Stiles has had enough of this supernatural bullshit. Werewolves? Kanimas? Hunters? Where did that get him, exactly, except sleep-deprived, endlessly panicking, beaten up by the scariest old man in the history of ever, and living in fear of his life. And his dad’s life. And his friends’ lives. No, Stiles is calling time on this.
Now his summer is work, and hanging out with Scott (sometimes), and actually trying to talk to his dad. He’s not stupid; he’s aware there’s bound to be some werewolf shit going on but (a) Jesus, honestly, when isn’t there? and (b) Scott hasn’t involved him in anything (no-one’s involved him) and since Scott has apparently managed to grow some common sense, Stiles is going to let him fly his werewolf freak without interfering.
Stiles has been an avid consumer of teenage supernatural drama from before it actually started being his life, and he knows that, according to the best authorities on the subject, it shouldn’t be this easy to disengage, but it turns out it really is. Just Say No works for more than drugs. It’s pretty good. He feels pretty good.
“This is officially the lamest job ever,” Stiles whines, flopping over the front of the issue desk.
Mrs Taylor just raises an eyebrow. “You’re breaking my heart, kiddo,” she says.
“I can tell you’re lying,” says Stiles. “And it’s like you’re not even ashamed about it. What kind of example are you to the bright young people of Beacon Hills?”
Mrs T doesn’t even say anything this time, just employs the power of her eyebrow again, and Stiles heaves a sigh, and drags himself upright. “Fine, I will return to my cell. After a year or two, when I still haven’t emerged, brush off my fragile bones and return them to my dad, ok?”
“I’ll put a note on my calendar,” promises Mrs T, and Stiles heads back to the cupboard with delusions of being the AV room. When Mrs T had asked him to catalogue the collection of film the local history club had accumulated over the years, Stiles had been fine with the idea, picturing himself running flickering strips of film through a rickety projector, watching, essentially, Back to the Future for Beacon Hills. But no. The box of film had turned out to be a load of DVDs mostly featuring badly filmed town hall meetings from the 90s. Whilst his fashion commentary is obviously hilarious, and playing Spot Deputy Dad has carried him through the previous five discs of town hall shenanigans, Stiles is definitely flagging by the time he takes out the sixth disc, scribbles a reference number on it, and shoves it in the player.
This film is different. It’s years later than the others – the timestamp says 2003 and the resolution is about a million pixels better – and it’s outside, the only thing showing a bright blue sky. The camera jiggles as it’s adjusted, and then Stiles can see Main Street, decked out with flags, and in the distance a ferris wheel. Stiles grins, can’t help it, because he remembers this – or, if not this exactly, then other days like it. Beacon Hills has always embraced the Fourth of July with a vengeance, and Stiles has gone every year – with his mom and dad, then just his dad, then with Scott. Instead of skipping forward to see what else is there, Stiles lets the film play. He sees people he knows, and people he’d forgotten. The picture is hazy in parts, the bright, bright sun too much for the camera, but he can hear, non-stop, the hub-bub of conversation, sudden squeals of excitement as first one kid then another reaches that prime holiday sugar high. The film is great, Stiles thinks; it’s a film of carousels and cotton candy and happiness, and he’s still smiling as he reaches out to eject the disc and the image changes.
He freezes, crouched down by the DVD player, arm outstretched.
He’s pretty stupid. That’s all Stiles can think, eyes fixed on the screen. They always went to celebrate the Fourth of July, and those other DVDs had all had his dad sitting on the dais with Sheriff Ritter and the mayor, looking mostly bored out of his skull, so Stiles not realising – not even conceiving – that his mother might be on there as well is stupid.
Somehow he ends up sitting on his ass in front of the TV like a little kid, watching as his mom smiles at the camera, pushing her dark hair behind her ears with one hand, the other arm wrapped around Stiles’ younger self, holding him in front of her. She’s chatting to whoever’s filming, talking about the turn-out and the committee and Stiles knows before it happens that little Stiles is going to get bored and wriggle out of her grasp, running to find his dad, and his dad will lift him up and go and stand with his mom, so that Stiles is stuck with the boring grown up talk even as he manfully makes his way through a cloud of cotton candy as big as his head.
Stiles sits on the floor and watches it happen; he feels the warmth of the sun on his back and his dad’s starchy shirt, the touch of his mom’s hand as she reaches across to wipe his face, the sweet fuzz of candy on his tongue; and he listens to them laugh.
“So, I found something at the library today,” Stiles says as he dishes up dinner, and his dad looks up warily.
“Please tell me it’s not a body,” he says, and Stiles taps his nose knowingly.
“Mrs T, right? She’s suspicious. I’ve been thinking the same. I mean, she makes out like she’s a sweet old lady, but I’m pretty sure she has the potential to run an underground criminal empire. I bet she’s made a lot of rivals disappear. You can see it in her eyes.”
The sheriff sighs, and starts poking at his super healthy meal with his fork. “I think she’s clean, Stiles,” he says.
Stiles shakes his head, disappointed, but sits down. “Well, it’s your call.”
“Yes, it is. I’m glad you finally recognise that. You planning on telling me what you found?”
Stiles finds himself focusing more on his chicken than he had planned. “I thought I’d, y’know, show you.” He glances up, eyes flicking up and down again. “It’s pretty cool, I think.” He can tell his dad is curious, but he just says ok, and they eat in companionable, if unusual, silence.
Stiles has already put the DVD on, ready to go, so he presses play once they’re sitting on the sofa. They watch the first few minutes, and his dad says, “You know, I think I remember this year. Bob Reynolds got drunk as a skunk and managed to…” He breaks off. A second passes, then another, and then Stiles feels his dad’s arm around him, a hand squeezing into his shoulder. He’s leaning forward, because he thinks he might do something completely embarrassing like cry.
“That was a good day,” the sheriff says eventually. “You threw up in the car home.”
“Not that good then,” says Stiles, and his dad laughs.
“Your mom gave me hell for letting you have that much candy.”
“There were rules, Dad,” says Stiles sternly. “You knew about the rules.”
They watch as Mrs Stilinski finishes talking to the person behind the camera and the family wanders off out of frame. The sheriff snorts. “Yeah, you did too, kid. Didn’t stop you.” His arm tightens around Stiles, then he lets go. “Is there any more?”
Stiles shakes his head. “No, it’s just more of the same. And I think we…”
“Yeah, we went home after that. Huh.”
“This is a copy,” says Stiles, reaching for the remote. “I thought – it’s nice, right?”
His dad grins, and Stiles thinks that finally they’re back on an even footing after the craziness of the last year. “Yeah, kid, it’s nice. Good find.” He stands up, and brushes a hand over Stiles’ hair as he leaves the room.
Stiles smiles, relieved, as he turns his attention back to the TV. There’s a glare of light, even brighter than before, like this film has its own small-town JJ Abrams on hand to ensure appropriate lensflare levels, then it fades and… Stiles frowns and tilts his head to one side as more people appear.
“Dude,” he says to the empty room, “no way.”
Derek is distantly aware that he is on the verge of wolfing out and killing someone from sheer confusion and frustration. And misery. No forgetting the misery. Derek certainly can’t. With the general failure of his attempt at being an alpha, Derek’s been left all too aware of how miserable his life has gotten. After his family died, it was pretty bad, but there was always Laura; Laura, who had always been his first shield against the world, who could make everything seem better. Then Laura died, and he’d been focused on finding the alpha that killed her. Then that alpha had turned out to be his single remaining relative, now a psycho, and Derek had had to kill him. Then he’d been focused on trying to build a pack, trying to make everything work the way he knows it’s supposed to. Then that all went to shit.
He doesn’t have anything to focus on now.
That’s not quite true; there’s the whole alpha pack thing, but they haven’t shown their faces yet, and Derek’s finding it hard to care, because what is the point? Scott won’t have anything to do with him. Isaac seems to be spending most of his time with Scott, so that doesn’t bode well. Jackson is actively avoiding them all. Erica and Boyd have gone who knows the fuck where – anywhere without Derek, presumably. In fact, the only person Derek has left is the psycho uncle he previously murdered.
And Derek has no idea what do about Peter. Because this is the psychotic alpha who killed his sister. Because this is his father’s brother, who read him stories at bedtime. Because he thinks Peter’s endgame is regaining the alpha position. Because he needs someone to help him, God he needs that so much; he’s so lost.
He’s in a sort of limbo at the moment, heart-clenching helplessness wrapping tighter round him day by day. He goes through the motions of training Isaac, though he doesn’t know how much longer the kid will stick around. He can’t escape Peter, who seems to feel it’s his reborn life’s mission to needle Derek about everything that’s wrong, from the sheer weird lameness of setting up in an abandoned train to the lack of fresh fruit and veg in his diet, from his inability to create a stable pack to his apparently piss-poor financial planning.
He can’t breathe. He doesn’t know what to do. Part of him wants to kick Peter out. Part of him wants to weep in Peter’s lap and beg for his help. Mostly Derek just wants to run, run so far and so fast he can leave himself behind.
He knows he can’t. That just makes everything worse.
Isaac gives Derek the DVD after training. He’s already on his way out of the building, then checks himself, digging into his backpack and offering Derek a disc in a plain CD case.
“Scott asked me to give you this,” he says. Derek holds the disc, staring at it dumbly, and by the time he’s formulated a request for more information, Isaac’s gone.
Derek doesn’t know what’s on the DVD, and can’t come up with any possibilities. He also doesn’t have anything to play it with. His first thought is Stiles, but he knows the kid’s backed away from the werewolf thing (Isaac says), which is probably for the best. Instead, he runs out to the house. Peter’s been spending time there, researching or something, whatever he does when he’s not driving Derek insane, and Peter has a laptop.
He reaches the house, the stark remains of the Hale family, and it turns out Peter has a laptop – and an electrician and, what the fuck, an entire construction team. Peter himself is easy to find, sitting on the porch, and Derek is up the steps in a flash, grabbing his uncle by his shirt and slamming him against the wall. Even before he can get out a question, Peter is talking.
“I’d be careful with that kind of behaviour,” he says, cool as a fucking cucumber, as though Derek isn’t making it clear how much he still wants to rip out his throat, “because I’m not convinced these walls can take it.”
“What are you doing here?” Derek forces out, even as he feels his claws lengthen.
“I’d have thought it was fairly obvious,” says Peter. “The house is a wreck. It’s time it got fixed up, and since that’s apparently not something you’re up to arranging, I thought I’d better deal with it.” He pauses. “No need to thank me.”
“This is my house,” growls Derek.
“And you lived here – what, six months? – without doing a thing to fix it,” Peter counters, pushing Derek away. Derek lets him. He can’t explain that he needs the house to be the way it is. The house is as dead as his family. They make up a section of his life – the family, the house, Kate fucking Argent – that is over and complete and doesn’t exist any more. If the house were a home again instead of a carcass, all he would be able to see were the people who weren’t in it. This is not something he wants to talk about. This is not something he even wants to think about.
Instead, he says, “I need to play this,” and pulls the DVD out of his pocket. Peter stares at him for a moment, silently assessing him with shrewd eyes that Derek can’t meet, then takes the disc and sits back down on the porch. Derek slides down next to him, focusing on the Macbook’s screen as Peter taps the mouse pad.
It’s a home video, wobbly blue sky shifting to reveal Beacon Hills, alive with flags and flocks of people.
“What is this?” demands Derek, annoyed that Scott would waste his time, but Peter shushes him.
“Wait,” he says, and Derek rolls his eyes but watches the film unfold, because what else is he going to do with his time, exactly? The camera travels along the main street, past stalls and shops. It stops for a while to talk to a woman whom Derek thinks he should know, a woman trying to corral a fidgety kid, and as the boy slides free to run over to someone out of the frame, Derek realises he’s been watching a younger Stiles; a split-second later, Sheriff Stilinski appears, Stiles clinging to his neck, face obscured by cotton candy. The woman – his mother, of course; they look startlingly alike – smiles affectionately, and Derek wonders how she died. He wonders if Stiles has seen this. As soon as the thought crosses his mind, he realises the faint scent on the case under Scott’s and Isaac’s was Stiles’.
He says, “Stiles—” but Peter waves a hand to quiet him again. His attention is completely on the video, strangely intent, like he knows what he’s watching, and Derek feels like he’s missing something. He watches Peter’s profile for a moment, then goes back to the video. Suddenly, there’s a flare of light across the screen, blinding, gone as quickly, and the camera is focused on another woman grinning at the camera man, eyes carefully averted from the lens, dark blonde hair scooped up in a ponytail, a baby on her hip, and Derek hears Peter making a wordless sound because fuck that’s Sarah, that’s his Aunt Sarah, with Jenny, who wasn’t even five when she died in the fire.
She’s talking but Derek can’t hear her; can’t hear anything past the rush of blood in his ears, because this part of his life doesn’t exist any more, except there’s his aunt and his cousin and, Jesus, Peter’s there too now, grinning like Derek always remembers, slinging an arm round Sarah’s shoulders and chucking Jenny under the chin. Derek wonders where Mikey is, but then Mikey’s right there, running behind his father because… Derek feels like his heart is going to stop or beat out of his chest, because the camera steps back, and they’re all there. Derek’s thirteen, maybe, too much hair and too much eyebrow and ridiculously gangly, pretending to chase Mikey; Laura – beautiful and bold, even at fourteen – getting in his way, so that Mikey squeals and clings to her legs. Peter swings Mikey into his arms, and Derek’s dad reaches out to grab him and – shit, they’re all so happy. His mom’s smile is luminous. Derek doesn’t want to look; can’t look away.
He remembers that day. He remembers taking Mikey on the carousel, remembers eating hot dogs till he thought he’d burst, remembers going back to the house afterwards, all of them, kids sacked out in the living room whilst the adults talked in the kitchen.
The film continues, but the camera moves past the Hales. Peter’s hand jerks over the keyboard, and Derek comes back to the present, glancing over at his uncle. Peter looks as wrecked as Derek feels. He fumbles with his laptop, takes the video back till it’s showing Sarah and Jenny and Mikey, then freezes it.
“I’d…” Derek’s voice is rough. He clears his throat and tries again. “I’d forgotten.”
Peter doesn’t speak to begin with. Eventually, he says, “Family’s everything. Laura – I wasn’t – I really wasn’t myself, Derek.”
Derek doesn’t want to ask, but he does. “And now?”
Peter stares at the screen, reaching out to touch his wife’s face. “I don’t know.”
Stiles is sticking a library ticket into the sixty billionth copy of 50 Shades of Grey (great choice, book club), fifteen minutes till closing, when the door swooshes open and he looks up to see... Derek Hale. In the library. Which, OK, maybe he likes to read. He read Stiles’ dictionary that one time, after all, and that’s some hard-core reading right there. Derek loiters in the doorway for a second, looking uncomfortable which makes sense because the library isn’t a deserted, tumbledown house or an underground station or a major crime scene, and it’s quarter till five in the afternoon rather than the pitch black of night, which means it’s well out of Derek’s comfort zone.
Derek’s got some kind of expression going on which Stiles can’t immediately identify and, oh God, he knows sending Scott with the DVD just like that was a bad move. He flails the tiniest bit as he checks to see if anyone else is in the vicinity, and says, “Man, I know, I shouldn’t have sent it without, y’know, a label or some accompanying text of explaining, but I came across it just, like, randomly and I was all, hey, it’s my mom, that’s amazing, and then it was you and your folks and I thought, hey Stiles, you totally can’t keep that sort of thing to yourself, right? Gotta share the...” His mind goes to dead family video but, sheesh, no, so he just says, “love,” lamely, and goes quiet. Derek stares at him. “Seriously, dude,” says Stiles, sincerely. “I shouldn’t have just landed that on you without saying what it was. That was insensitive.”
Derek still isn’t saying anything. Stiles has noticed this tendency before. He just looks at Derek expectantly, because presumably he’ll break at some point. He must have come to the library for a reason.
“Have you seen Erica or Boyd?” says Derek, and, OK, that’s unexpected.
Stiles does a rewindy thing with his arms. “Wait, Erica and Boyd? This – this isn’t about the film?”
“No-one’s seen them in a while,” says Derek. “I mean, they said they were looking for another pack but Pe- none of the packs in the area have seen them. They're my- I should really check up on them.”
Stiles’ eyes narrow. “That’s weird,” he says. “You think something’s happened to them?”
Derek shrugs. “Don’t know. Maybe.”
“Well, can’t you do the alpha thing? Howling at the full moon, whatever it is you guys do. They have to come if you call, right?”
Derek looks uncomfortable again, not that he’s actually looked comfortable for any aspect of this conversation, but moving on. “Not if they refuse to acknowledge me,” he says. “It’s complicated.”
“Right,” says Stiles with a sigh. “Complicated. Because heaven forbid any of this werewolf crap should be straightforward.” He rubs his hands together. “OK, what do you want me to do?”
Derek looks surprised. “I- what? Nothing. I just came to ask if you’d seen them. Isaac said you’d backed off all this.”
Now it’s Stiles’ turn to be surprised, because, “Right. Yes. That is a thing that I have done. I mean, the whole crazy lying to my dad, getting paralysed, getting a restraining order, nearly dying, getting beaten up by a psycho – not your undead uncle, the other one. Yeah, that, anyway, not working out for me. As a lifestyle choice. So,” he raises a fist, “Just Say No.”
Derek’s looking at him like he’s a lunatic, but that’s expression with which Stiles is both familiar and comfortable, so he shrugs and smiles, and sticks another library ticket in another copy of 50 Shades of Grey. Derek nods, and turns to leave, then turns back again.
“I saw the film,” he says abruptly, and Stiles’ gaze jerks up.
“Yeah. It was...” There’s obviously some kind of emotion going on here, something beyond the twin defaults of anger and frustration, and Derek tilts back his head, seeking inspiration. Stiles is struck by the urge to hug him and to tell him to use his words, neither of which seem destined to prolong Stiles’ stay on this mortal coil so he sits silently on his stool and just waits. “It was intense,” Derek says eventually. He doesn’t look at Stiles, just fiddles with a stack of books on the desk. “After the fire, we didn’t have any- well, any of that. No pictures, nothing. I didn’t forget them but,” he shrugs, “I don’t know, I just didn’t think about them being alive.”
Stiles waits until he’s sure Derek’s not got anything he wants to get out, then says, “That must be rough.”
“We managed,” Derek says, which is the most laughably absurd thing Stiles has ever heard, what with Derek being the poster child for emotional constipation and general life fail.
He doesn’t laugh, of course, just says, “Yeah,” as sympathetically as he can, because, dude, Derek seriously needs to talk to someone about this shit, and better Stiles than... well, honestly, anyone else Stiles can think of in their circle of acquaintance. Except, yeah, he’s not having anything to do with werewolves. Because that’s a thing he decided.
He picks up another 50 Billion Shades of Ever-loving Grey and says, “Alrighty, then!” like he’s some kind of hyper kids’ tv presenter, and Derek gets the message because he nods his chin in farewell and heads for the door. This is the plan, this is totally Stiles’ plan for not getting involved, he is Just Saying No, he is an empowered individual, he is putting down the book and calling out, “Hey, Derek? You know, if you ever wanted to, I dunno, talk – which, I know, is a ridiculous concept where you’re concerned, but if you ever did. I mean, I’m right here. Well, not right here here, mostly I’m only on the desk when Mrs T has nefarious business to conduct elsewhere, but at work or...” He grinds to a verbal halt, and ends up miming some kind of Stilesian omnipresence, but Derek just looks at him, and nods.
“Thanks, Stiles.” He leaves then, and Stiles has to finish what he’s doing, and shoo people out and lock up, but he sits there and smiles. He thinks about the film, about sunshine and families and the promise of better lives, lives he knows their families will have wanted for them, and he thinks, maybe, one day, they’ll all be OK. One day. Assuming they don't all die horrible, painful deaths before that day comes.