It was mid-morning on a sunny day in early August and Stiles was on his knees in the burnt hull of the Hale house. It sounded sexier than it was in actuality, because he was in a particularly charred room, one he wasn’t sure was structurally sound enough to hold his weight, looking for the charm off his mother’s lucky pendant. It was just a penny, a penny shiny and worn from her fingers worrying at it. A penny she had picked up as a joke the day she met his father and had kept, made into a necklace and worn next to her heart until the day she died.
The delicate chain had snapped when it got caught in the strap of his bookbag. He had heard the chain let go and hadn't reacted quickly enough to grab the penny as it tumbled to the floor, skittering beneath the closed-off doorway to one of the rooms Derek had cordoned off as unsafe.
He could hear it continue to roll out of his reach, oscillating to a stop behind the closed door. Stiles hesitated for a moment - barely - before pushing opened the door, expecting the wood to crack beneath his touch or for the hinges to creek ominously. Neither happened, but the room beyond had obviously taken a lot of damage from the fire, blackened with visible scorch marks where the fire had burned hotter than in other spots. It was obvious why Derek had shut this room off from the rest and Stiles could tell from that first glance that traversing into it would be foolhardy at best (deadly at worst).
There were some things Stiles cared about more than his safety.
Besides, how much trouble could he get into? It was a lucky penny.
He dropped to a crawl, the floorboards creaking ominously beneath his knees and residual soot from the charred wood coating his fingers. He remembered, vaguely, some advice about distributing weight from a movie he watched once with thin ice, and he thought that might be something he should do. He could see the penny in front of him, gleaming copper against the black, and he spread out on his stomach, inching towards it.
The fingers of his right hand closed over it and relief was coursing through him when he spotted something else shining between two floorboards a few inches to his left, directly in the path of the bright morning sun. Whatever it was, it was spherical in shape and glinting in his eyes, attracting his attention in a way that niggled at his curiosity. Stiles knew that if he left without exploring what the mystery object was, he would think about it until he was forced to return to check it out. And really, it was safer to only navigate the floor of this room once.
He rolled over, his clothing already streaked with ash, so what was a little more damage? His hand closed around the object, and he tugged it carefully forward, pulling it out of a splintered hole in the floor.
Stiles cradled it in his hand, baffled. It looked like a partially-charred talisman of some kind, design half melted away but the metal bits still gleaming, almost vibrating in his hand with a spark that felt hot to the touch, probably from the sun caressing the metal.
It fit so perfectly in the palm of his hand that he had a moment to wonder if it was meant to be held. He just finished closing his left hand completely around it when the floor let go beneath him.
And he fell.
Stiles woke up in Beacon Hills.
That wasn’t right.
Stiles woke up on a park bench in the middle of the downtown Memorial Park beneath the pigeon-crap covered statue of James Beacon, Beacon Hill’s founder and an 'upstanding citizen' rumoured to have murdered an entire camp of his fellow gold prospectors in order to keep the major vein he found to himself. Stiles always thought it was karma that he then spent the next hundred and fifty some years being shit on by birds.
He wasn’t sure what that said about him and karma that James Beacon was the first thing he saw after he took a header through the floor of the Hale house.
He knew the park. He knew the area he was sitting in, just like he knew if he turned his head to the left…
Stiles awoke sitting directly across from his father.
Stiles’ heart leapt in his throat, a heavy blanket of panic settling in his lungs as he watched his dad eat lunch on the same bench he had eaten lunch on every summer since Stiles was four. Sometimes his mother would bring him downtown with a picnic basket and they would sit in the sun beneath the shade of James Beacon’s huge head in his prospector’s hat and eat lunch with his dad like one small happy family. Those were good memories for Stiles. Fond memories.
He was dead. It had to be that, it could only be that. One moment he was falling through the floor of the Hale house and the next he was sitting across from his dad in the park, the day almost idyllic with the sun high in the sky, the birds chirping from the trees above James Beacon, and the scent of freshly cut grass on the air.
He was dead and someone would call his father to tell him any minute now.
Fear clawed at Stiles’ throat, powerful enough that he ended up choking down air as he tried to breathe. He stumbled to his feet.
“Hey! Watch it!” a lady said, swerving as she was forced to jog around him.
Suddenly he could breathe, air rushing into his lungs in deep gulps as he panted, hands braced on his knees. He wasn’t dead. He had felt her brush his arm, and she had glowered at him with the contact. He was flesh and blood, then, at least. Probably not dead.
And then his dad was frowning up at him. “Are you ok, kid?” he asked, concerned, like he did every time Stiles had a panic attack.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” he answered, confused, looking around himself again. Had the Hale house been a dream? It couldn't have been, because Stiles was still holding the penny in one hand and the mystery metal object in the other, fists clenched around both as though the flesh and bone of his hands could protect and hide both objects through sheer willpower.
What the actual fuck was happening?
“My son gets panic attacks,” his dad offered, frowning at him. “I recognise the signs.”
“I...” His father didn’t know him. What? Why didn’t his own father, his own flesh and blood, recognise him? If Stiles hadn't been about to panic before, he certainly was now.
He was interrupted by the familiar sound of Motorola’s Hello Moto ring tone, and Stiles looked around in confusion because he hadn’t heard that for years. It hadn’t even reached the point of making a come-back for nostalgia’s sake.
It was coming from his dad. “Sorry, I have to take this. A deputy’s duties are never done. Excuse me,” and then he was getting up off the bench and answering his RAZR, a phone Stiles had last seen when it fell into the lake on a fishing trip the summer of 2007. Good riddance too, as far as Stiles was concerned, because his dad hung on to technology far beyond its best-before date.
Then he realized. “What the hell,” he whispered to the empty park, turning around and taking in his surroundings.
But that wasn’t actually the question, was it?
When the hell? was more like it.
He shoved his mother’s lucky penny in his pocket, the ridges of it leaving small crescent indents on his palm from where he had held it in his fist.
Some lucky penny.
Around town he saw more evidence that it wasn’t 2012 anymore. The theatre on the corner was still open, advertising a matinee for Roman Holiday, and the windows were not only intact, but they weren’t boarded up against vandals either. Bettie’s Diner was still painted the white of his childhood rather than the eye-catching mint green and raspberry it was painted in his teen years, and the town hadn’t yet voted to rename Pleasure Lane into Missionary Lane (Stiles wanted to shake the hand of whoever had that sense of humour).
He walked around for a while, cataloguing the differences and trying to remember what point they changed. He thought it might be summer of 2005, because the Applebees across from the community college was still being built, and he remembered that it opened right at the start of the 2005/2006 school year.
By the time he finished exploring he was hot and sticky, his throat parched from the afternoon heat. He knew the outdoor pool and park had a water fountain he could stop to take a drink from, but his stomach was growling and he was starting to get cranky from a combination of fatigue and hunger. Breakfast seemed like forever ago, though technically he wouldn’t eat it for another seven years, and he was still reeling from the possibility – the seeming reality – of the fact he had fallen through the floor in the Hale house and woke up in the past.
And he really, really wanted a chocolate milkshake.
Stiles pulled out his wallet and thumbed through the limited funds he had. He still had the grocery money his father had left out that morning, plus a few ones and a twenty that were all his, and in his mind it didn’t seem to be nearly enough. Who knew how long he would be here for? He’d have to make it stretch.
The idea was horrifying and frightening, and brought way more problems to mind than he could really deal with.
Where would he sleep? What would he wear? How would he eat smart and spread out his money if he didn’t have anywhere to store his stuff? How could he get a job without a social security number if this ended up being long term? What if this was long term? Like, forever long term. What if he couldn’t get back?
Stiles had two ways of coping with questions he didn’t know how to answer. One was to research the hell out of it until he was sure he could account for most of the surprise variables, and the second was to ignore it.
Ignoring it sounded pretty good at the moment. Like, potentially, he would go into Bettie’s, have a milkshake, and once he was finished enough time would have passed that it would turn out he was in a coma after partially bleeding out over the floor of Derek’s basement, probably knocking himself unconscious during the fall. It would probably kill Derek to find him like that, which was a bonus because that meant Derek would be extra surly around him for about a week.
Stiles found it kind of hilarious that Derek’s response to ‘you almost died in the same basement most of my family died’ would be to take it out on him with glowers and animosity.
Hilarious and sad, which was why he would never call Derek on it.
Well, not call him on it too much. If he didn’t give Derek shit about something Derek would become suspicious, and Stiles really did feel bad about the likelihood it would be Derek who found him, alive.
So, Stiles was fully hoping that he would be awake from this incredibly trippy dream by at least nightfall and could go back to his regularly scheduled program.
He wasn’t sure what it said about his life that he wanted to get out of Doctor Who and back to Big Wolf on Campus, but all he had to do was wait it out and he’d probably wake up eventually. Food would take his mind off all of that.
Or maybe he’d choke himself awake.
It was a win/win.
(Or, more likely, all the walking around town, worrying and freaking out over seeing his dad in 2005, was throwing off his ability to face the truth and inevitability of his situation and he needed to take a moment to reboot).
The milkshake was smooth and refreshing going down, sweet with just a hint of bitterness, just the way he liked Bettie’s milkshakes before the face-lift to the diner which left half the menu with more nutritious ingredients. There was nothing more fulfilling than full cream, real sugar and the very real possibility everything in Bettie’s was laced with some kind of saturated fat.
Because he was responsible and knew he should eat real food at some point today, he paired it with an order of curly fries. Salty goodness definitely overcame all mental obstacles. He was sitting in the back of the diner where he could watch everyone who came and went, giving himself a bit of privacy so he could worry about what he would do next in peace, because he couldn’t just assume he would wake up. He could hope and wish all he wanted, but that didn’t make it true and having a distraction helped with the process. It was fascinating watching Beacon Hills and remembering that Mr. Hershey, his ninth grade math teacher, used to have hair, or that Mrs. Thompson wasn’t always a widow.
He couldn’t take his eyes off the cute guy three booths away.
He had five fries in his mouth at once, eyes subtly tracking the back cute guy's head, when he spotted someone familiar, dark blond hair giving an attractive and innocent allure to a face that was as pretty as it was predatory.
Stiles almost choked on his curly fries, the spices turning into the taste of ash on his tongue as he tried to swallow them down, stricken with horror as his stomach churned and rebelled and his eyes immediately cut back to the third booth in front of him.
The guy’s companion was getting to her feet and gliding out of the booth and Stiles could see everything with the certainty of foreknowledge: the teenage boy laughed at something his sister said and flicked the crumpled paper straw wrapper after her as she stuck out her tongue, continuing into the restrooms; Kate Argent watched the scene with calculating eyes, stepping away from the counter stool the moment the girl was out of sight with deliberate precision.
Stiles scrambled to his feet before he even understood his intent, because of course he recognised Derek. He recognised Derek the moment Derek entered the diner with Laura and all air had drained from the room as he focused on Derek’s douchey spiked hair and clean-shaven face. There was no mistaking the eyebrows or the cheekbones.
The grin was new (the grin Derek seemed to level at him when Stiles looked up from his milkshake, straw clamped between his teeth with a growl and a mock shake of his head to represent his dominance over his prey – the elusive straw – and Derek just finished saying something to his sister as he slipped into the booth).
(Derek grinned. At Stiles. That was so new that Stiles didn't know what to do about anything. New, and cute.)
Or old? Stiles hadn’t quite gotten a hang of what tense he was supposed to be thinking in.
Stiles would always recognise Derek, and because he recognised Derek, he understood that Kate was waiting for an opportunity to approach him. Derek hadn’t even looked at her when she walked in, and there was a part of Stiles, the part that jumped to his feet the moment Kate shifted in Derek’s direction, that hoped Kate hadn’t made contact with Derek yet.
The idea of that moment being what he was about to witness made his curly fries sour in his stomach, spices sitting heavily when mixed with the milkshake he had completely forgotten about when he left his booth. Milkshakes and curly fries didn’t belong in the kind of world Stiles wished he could prevent, the type of world where a woman in her early twenties targeted a sixteen year old boy with the intent of murdering his entire family, creating herself into one of the most deadly and reprehensible honeypots Stiles had ever had the displeasure of learning about (and he’d read through the Wiki page on the subject and was comparing Kate to actual Nazis).
Stiles had always been able to think on his feet, but unfortunately sometimes his feet had a different plan. What he wanted to do was stop Kate, maybe drag her out of the diner and threaten her. He wanted to get her far away from Derek and keep her far away from Derek.
Apparently overly gelled spiked hair and cheeks that hadn’t entirely lost their baby fat brought out Stiles’ protective instincts.
Instead what happened was he tripped over the waitress taking an order at one of the booths between them and landed heavily elbow-first against the table Derek was sitting at. The move was so clumsy and uncoordinated that he could never have done it on purpose, even if it did present him with the perfect opening:
Pain and embarrassment and all the diner turning to look as Stiles fell over the side of the table and land on the bench, swearing at how distinctly unfunny it was to hit his funnybone against formica.
Advantage: Stiles. Now that he made a scene, Kate wouldn’t even consider approaching Derek today, in case someone noticed and recognised her. It was difficult to murder an entire family if half the town could remember you speaking with the youngest son.
Stiles leveled her with a look from where he was sprawled, wedged between the bench back and the table. It was a look of protectiveness, but also one of challenge, one that said he knew exactly what that bitch was up to. Kate had already shifted her movements away from Derek, heading towards the door, and Stiles wasn’t entirely sure she had received the message he sent.
It didn’t entirely matter, because at least Derek was free of her for the time being.
“You’re not what I ordered.”
Stiles lifted his head over the edge of the table to look at Derek.
Derek, still as snarky and bad-tempered as ever, despite the grinning he had been doing earlier. He wasn’t grinning now, and part of Stiles felt badly, like he was the one who had taken away Derek’s good mood.
If Derek knew what Stiles had just tried to save him from, he wouldn’t be so volatile. “If I had control over my limbs at any point during that, believe me I would have fallen in front of some other asshole,” Stiles grunted, his entire arm radiating a sharp numbness that made it difficult to stumble to his feet. He had to flail a bit to unwedge his shoulders from the space between the table and the bench, his long legs kicking out for a moment and almost taking out a couple who had just entered the diner.
By the time he gained his footing, Derek was frowning at him, but not in that ‘I want to murder you with my teeth’ way Stiles was familiar with. It was more in his ‘you’re doing something, I don’t know what, but I know it is something.’ Stiles saw that look a lot.
Trying to regain his dignity, Stiles straightened his shirt so it was lying flat over his stomach and glared at Derek.
“Next time you pass out down on the beach, try not to roll around in the remains of the campfire before getting breakfast,” Derek said breakfast like he was seriously judging Stiles’ life choices, considering it was around 1 PM. “The scent of ash might put people off their food.”
Stiles made an exaggerated face of unhappiness at Derek, all puffed cheeks and mouth turned into a wide, lopsided grimace. The terribleness of it struck Stiles as kind of funny, considering Derek was complaining of the scent of ash from the burned remains of his house in the year 2012. He wondered how Derek wasn’t in a state of constant starvation if that was the case.
Derek’s stomach chose that moment to rumble loudly.
Stiles gave him a pointed look. “You don’t look like the kind of person who gets put off their food, Derek.”
Derek glared up at him, but this time it was tempered by suspicion. “How do you know my name?”
Stiles raised his eyebrow and gave a pointed look at the breast of Derek’s shirt, where his name was embroidered in a fancy cursive meant to replicate a wave. The blue shirt. It was shockingly cheerful for something associated with Derek, but that wasn’t the thing that really gave Stiles pause. Derek was a lifeguard. Stiles would recognise the standard town-wide lifeguard uniform anywhere.
Holy shit. Derek had been a lifeguard once upon a time.
The whole Stiles keeping Derek’s head above water in the pool for two hours thing just got a bit more ironic. He’d laugh, really, because drowning probably just would have added to the tragedy of Derek’s life.
“Oh,” Derek responded, picking at the chest of his shirt.
Derek was a lifeguard now. He really needed to straighten out his tenses.
Stiles’ expression turned into triumph and he harrumphed at Derek before withdrawing back to his booth to finish his milkshake and curly fries.
Breakfast of champions.
The smug superiority of both foiling Kate’s evil plans and winning a face-off against Derek by default of Derek’s stomach rumbling at the worst time, lasted about as long as it took for Stiles to finish his fries. Kate hovered outside of the diner’s entrance after Stiles retook his seat, and he glowered at her until she got into a nearby car and drove off. Shortly afterwards Derek and Laura took their food in a takeaway container, chatting in excited tones about driving up to Mount Shasta for a camping trip over the weekend.
Hearing them be so open about their lives, so careless about the possibility of being overheard, actually threatened to put Stiles off his own food. They weren’t even worried about someone listening to their chatter and Stiles was very glad Kate wasn’t there to hear them. It was just…
That innate trust in Beacon Hills coupled by the arrogance of their youth.
…it made Stiles ache with the knowledge of what would happen to them within the next month.
No, he decided, resolve strengthening as Derek and Laura left, nothing would happen to the Hales so long as he was there to stop it. He didn’t care about the Butterfly Effect, because it was a shitty and predictable movie, but he was aware of how alternate universe theory worked. He watched Stargate when he was home sick as a kid, he understood this stuff.
It didn’t seem like he would be waking up in a hospital bed, so it was time to accept that he might have actually have travelled back to 2005.
He didn’t entirely know what would happen to him if he did this, but he suspected his world would either change drastically once he returned to 2012 or he would return to the same world, the same universe. That was the thing about alternate universes – either he was stuck in this one, and the changes he already made had impacted everything already, or his was still stuck the way it was, had been, and always would be. He just had to find a way back to it.
He left the diner long after his meal was finished and started wandering around Beacon Hills again, until he was sure he had remembered and accounted for most of the changes that had happened since he was ten.
It was funny to know that somewhere in 2005 was a mini version of himself. It was also exhausting, and by the time the sun went down it felt like he had spent the entire day walking around, avoiding the one place his feet automatically took him when he began to drag, the events of the day finally catching up to him.
Stiles just wanted to go home.
The terrible thing about it was his home was right in front of him. It was right there, and yet he couldn’t walk through the doors. He couldn’t greet his father and stumble up the stairs, fall into bed and sleep the rest of the day away, hoping he would wake up back in 2012.
He worried he would, and would miss his chance of saving the Hale family through saving Derek from Kate Argent.
His home was right there, but he was never so far away from it as he was right now.
He was so tired, and everything was collapsing around him like the floor of the Hale house. He didn’t know where he was going to spend the night. He literally had nowhere to go.
Stiles wandered away from his house only to find himself in front of it again almost two hours later, so exhausted he could barely stand anymore. There were so many things he didn’t know. Why was he here? Was it to change things? Had he travelled or was this some kind of strange coma dream? Had the talisman he found performed some kind of magic, and was there a way back?
He had nothing but theories and questions.
His fingers automatically sought out his mother’s lucky penny, warm from his pocket, and he rubbed his thumb over the familiar surface.
He didn’t know.
What he did know was that he needed somewhere safe to spend the night. Beacon Hills was probably the safest the town had ever been with the Hales still living up on the hill, but there was more to safety than being wary of werewolves and things that went bump in the night. There was family, love, acceptance and most importantly, trust.
He knew, for instance, that since his mother died the year before his father had shut the blue jeep in the one-car garage behind the house and wouldn't look at it again until Stiles was fifteen. It had been shut away from his father’s eyes in a garage he never used, choosing to park his cruiser in the driveway. All Stiles’ mother’s things were in there, and Stiles used to sneak into the garage sometimes and imagine he could smell her in the bins of old clothes, but in truth his mother hadn’t carried a scent other than the scent of home.
He might not be able to return to the house where his recently widowed father and a younger version of himself lived, but that didn’t mean he didn’t have somewhere he felt safe, somewhere he felt loved, and somewhere that still carried a familiar scent that had long since dissipated into thin air and memory.
He might not have anything, but he still had this.
So Stiles went home to his mother.