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In This World or the Next

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Derek wakes up to the smell of bacon frying and coffee brewing, and Laura calling him an asshole.

For a moment, he’s suspended in time – a darkness that has curled up inside him, wrapped his coils around him, and squeezed him hard for so long refusing to loosen its grip… and then he exhales and that darkness is gone like it’s never been there at all. It’s almost easy to forget the bruises it’s left behind, that faint hint of tenderness that points to something broken underneath.

Derek shies away from examining it too closely, because bacon is frying, coffee is brewing, Laura is pissed off and standing in his doorway, and downstairs, he can hear his little cousins trying to howl.

The sun is coming through his bedroom window.

The house is bright, glowing, filled with family.

It feels like a dream for a moment and then it’s cemented firmly in reality, and Derek is 27 years old and still living at home.

“Fuck,” he groans, scowling, rolling out of bed. “I need to move out.”

“You’d miss us,” Laura snaps. “Don’t even lie. Asshole.”

It’s too early for this. He rubs at his hair, and then his mouth, and fishes around on the floor for jeans that are clean enough to wear, and says, “Why are you pissed at me again?”

“Because! You know what you did! Last night! I brought Shane over to meet the family and you did your whole –” she waves her hands around wildly. “Growling, overprotective brother bullshit that I don’t need, because I can take care of myself, and scared him off! Now he’s saying he needs space to think about the future. And probably to do his laundry because you scared him so bad that he shit his pants!”

Derek smiles, slow and satisfied. Oh yeah. He remembers that now. “Shane was a dick,” he says simply, grabbing a shirt and ducking around her, heading towards the bathroom. “You need someone who’s not gonna shit himself the first time someone growls at him.”

“Or I need a family who doesn’t growl at my boyfriend,” she says, but her voice has changed, going a little trembly around the edges.

“Just because your last boyfriend stood up for himself and turned out to be a cheating asshole with a drinking problem who tried to hit you –”

“And would have, if I hadn’t wrenched his arm out of his socket and kicked him in the balls so hard that he needed an operation to retrieve them.”

He waves vaguely in acknowledgement. “—Doesn’t mean your only option is to replace him with puppies. You’re the future alpha, Laura.” He bumps his shoulder into hers, hard, and she growls. “You gotta find someone worth that. Not someone who cuts and runs the first time someone gets a little snappy.”

She sighs but doesn’t argue, following him down the hall instead. “He had gross toes, anyway,” she says.

“You definitely need someone with good toe hygiene,” he agrees, before closing the bathroom door in her face.

He showers. He dresses. He runs his fingers through his wet hair and then goes downstairs just as his father puts piles of scrambled eggs, pancakes, bacon, sausage, waffles, toast and hashbrowns on the table, and after he eats and roughhouses with his little cousins for a bit, he goes for a run.

He runs until his lungs are aching and his heart is pounding, and ignores the feeling in the back of his mind that he’s forgotten something, or that someone’s waiting for him, or that there’s something somewhere that isn’t quite right.

Then in the afternoon, he goes looking for his own place. His family is awesome, but the house is a little full, and he’s got a sudden craving to be on his own.

*

That night, the entire family, including Uncle Peter and Aunt Anna, crush into the family room for movie night. They squeeze onto the sofa, the armchairs, sprawl on the floor clutching pillows and bowls of popcorn, and watch Finding Nemo, and Derek finds himself with Cora’s head on his shoulder, Laura’s feet on his lap, two of his cousins using his feet for pillows, while his mother and father curl up together on an armchair.

He falls asleep, warm and safe, surrounded by pack, and wakes up in time to help carry the little ones to bed.

*

Three days later, Derek finds a loft for rent that seems perfect for him. It’s all open spaces, brick walls, metal staircases and huge windows, and best of all, it’s not surrounded by other houses and apartments, so he’d have some privacy. All he’s got to do now is confess to his mother that he’s thinking of moving into town, and everything’ll be perfect. He’s not sure how she’s going to take that.

He’s feeling pretty good, though. It’s raining a little, and he loves the rain, and he’s just thinking that maybe if he picks of some of his mother’s favourite pastries from the bakery, their conversation will go better, when he smells something strange and coppery – like a lightning strike – farther up the street.

He turns his head, frowning, and sees a woman, early twenties, with a frizzy mane of dishwater blonde hair and a pale, pointed face, and something glassy in her eyes.

“Erica?” he says, uncertain, that same itch under his skin – something forgotten, and the need to reach out and hold it close, like maybe that will remind him what he’s missing and fill in the missing piece.

She turns, frowning, and she doesn’t recognize him – he sees that in her eyes a split second before her face goes waxy, her eyes roll back, and she falls, going into a seizure.

He catches her before she hits the ground and an older woman cries her name and runs out of a nearby shop.

“She’s epileptic,” the woman – her mother – says, sounding shaken. “She’ll be alright. Erica, you’ll be alright.”

He helps her mother roll Erica onto her side, watches as she tenderly brushes Erica’s hair out of her face, and when she starts counting the seconds under her breath, Derek looks around, feeling helpless. People are staring, whispering, trying to figure out if they should call an ambulance. One of them, Derek knows, without knowing how he knows, is Boyd, and Boyd, he’s pretty sure, should be on his knees with them. Instead, he’s standing with the rest of the strangers, because that’s what he is. A stranger.

Derek’s starting to think maybe he’s going a little crazy.

*

There’s a Beacon Hills Sheriff’s Department car parked outside when Derek gets home, which isn’t entirely unusual. Talia had revealed the existence of werewolves to the sheriff five years ago, after a rogue alpha had bitten a kid from Beacon Hills High. It had been pretty much the only way to protect the townsfolk from the kid after he’d become a werewolf with no pack, no control, no idea what he was.

Talia had worked with the boy, helped him harness his new gifts, and then, when he wasn’t a danger anymore, left him alone after he’d refused to join the pack. Even let him stay in Hale territory, a rogue omega.

Derek wasn’t sure he could have been half as magnanimous.

Now, whenever anything seems slightly off, potentially supernatural, the sheriff pays Talia a visit, and she is more than willing to help.

This time, though, the sight of the car makes him feel a little off-balance, disoriented, but only for a moment.

He forgets all about it, however, moments later as he bounds up the front steps and sees a strange mark on the door frame. Two lines, etched in black, mark the paint there, and Derek freezes, breath catching. Now that he’s seen the mark, he can smell it, the faint, lingering scent of magic, and he touches the black marks without thinking.

They stain his fingers, like charcoal pencils might, and smudge a little. He rubs at the black on his fingers and frowns.

“Was Deaton here today?” he calls as he steps into the house. Maybe it’s a new ward or something?

Talia and the sheriff are in the foyer, and it looks like he’s just leaving. He looks paler, older than Derek remembers, dark shadows under his eyes. His hands are shaking a little bit and he smells a little of whiskey, like he’d had some earlier in the day. It’s faint though – a fortifying shot, not a drunken indulgence. Still, something about it makes him deeply uncomfortable.

He’s holding a child’s red hoodie, crushed in his hands, and it smells of something new and unfamiliar, musty, but the faded scent still manages to affect Derek, like the scent of apple pie, watermelon, fresh cut grass, sunrise – he can’t place it but he itches to breathe it more deeply into his lungs, like he could imprint it in his memory that way.

“I don’t understand,” the sheriff says. “After all this time, how could his scent just... Reappear? It’s been ten years.”

“I’m not sure,” she says, squeezing his wrist, looking somber and taking the hoodie. “But this will help us with the scent. If there is anything to be found in the forest, we’ll find it.”

The sheriff closes his eyes and nods. “Thank you. If you find anything, please… just. Just let me know..”

He turns to go and he honestly looks so exhausted. Derek doesn’t even think before reaching out, hand on the sheriff’s shoulder, and he says, “Are you eating well?”

The sheriff stares at him blankly, and Talia frowns, confused. Derek stumbles blindly on, words falling awkwardly from his mouth, like they aren’t his, but he still feels compelled to say them. “Your heart, I mean,” he clarifies. “I’m sorry, I…” He trails off, confused and shaking his head. “Sorry.”

“No,” the sheriff says, and there’s a small smile, a sad smile, lurking around his lips now. “I’m sure my doctor would appreciate someone taking the time to lecture me on that.”

And then he’s gone and Derek is staring after him, still frowning. Something’s itching under his skin.

“Derek?” Talia asks, stepping closer. “Are you—”

“Was Deaton here?” Derek asks, turning to her.

“No,” she says. “Are you alright?”

“Fine,” he says. “Everything’s just as it should be.”

Cora’s setting the table, shouting at the little cousins as she does. His dad is grilling steaks in the backyard. Laura is listening to music upstairs. It’s a loud rush of noise that’s filling some place that was empty inside him, filling him up like sunshine, but the sound of the sheriff’s broken heart seems louder somehow.

“After dinner, we’re going to patrol the forest,” she says, hand soothingly on his shoulder. “Chasing that scent from the other night. It’s strange that it just reappeared without warning, after a decade, and then was just… gone.” She frowns. “There’s something strange about all this. It could be that the rain or the wind uncovered – well. Where he’s been hidden all these years. Will you help us search for him?”

“I didn’t know him,” Derek says, frowning.

“We have his scent,” she says, handing him the hoodie. He unconsciously crushes it in his hands, holding it against his chest, breathing deep. “If he’s out there, we’ll find him.”

*

The rain makes it hard to track anything, but they’ve split up, each taking a different section of the Preserve, and Derek’s in full wolf shift, breathing deeply, the boy’s scent from his hoodie imprinted on his mind.

He’s racing through the forest, leaping over fallen trees and embankments, lost in the dizzying rush of scents in every breath, but it’s all forest – trees, mushrooms, dirt, rain, water, rabbits, the odd deer, the wind, pinecones, the long-faded scent of hikers who’d wandered far from the trails. There’s nothing that even hints of watermelon, fresh cut grass, sunshine…

He keeps running though, howling every now and again to keep in touch with his pack members, but he’s pretty sure that the boy isn’t in this part of the forest.

And then there’s something else, something new and sharper than the soft scent of the forest. Something metallic, something magic.

He freezes, panting, and tries to quiet his breathing. He listens, and there’s nothing, just the whisper of rain. The breeze has even stopped blowing, the animals nesting in the underbrush have gone silent and still, the bats and owls have stopped hunting. And something very close smells of magic.

He howls, because he’s not stupid. If there’s something magical in the woods, chances are, it’s dangerous, even if it isn’t related to the boy’s scent.

He waits, hackles raised, and it only takes a few minutes for Laura to come barrelling out of the trees, crashing into him and knocking him over. She’s laughing when she shifts back.

“What is it? Snake? You always freak out when it’s snakes,” she says. “I don’t smell the kid.”

Derek shifts back, reluctant, wishing it had been anybody other than Laura, who likes to treat him like a child. He’s 27 for fuck’s sake, he’s not afraid of snakes. Much.

“Magic,” he says shortly.

She breathes deeply. “Huh.”

She tracks the scent further into the forest, down an embankment, along a forgotten deer trail that’s pretty overgrown by now, and Derek follows her.

She goes very still once the trail opens up into a little dell, and Derek steps up beside her. “It’s a fairy ring,” she says, frowning.

He can see it, a perfect ring of mushrooms, gleaming like bone in the rain. Laura starts investigating, walking the perimeter, careful not to step inside, and Derek doesn’t bother. He stands there, hands clenched into fists, breathing deeply, eyes narrowed, because there’s something there, something almost buried beneath the scent of magic and rain, something –

“Do you smell that?” Laura asks, from the other side of the clearing, staring down at something on the ground. She crouches, picking up a rock, running her thumb over it and frowning. “It smells like… Derek, it smells like you. But different… somehow. Have you been here? Have you bled here? Have you—”

“No,” he says, but it rings falsely in his own ears. It doesn’t matter. He can’t pull out whatever it is she’s smelling from the texture of scents around them, because he’s too focused on the faintest hint of fresh cut grass and sunshine, but it’s different than the smell on the hoodie had been. Older, somehow, but newer too. Darker. And somehow, smelling Stiles here is hitting him like a punch to the gut.

Because though the sharp edge of magic has muffled it, there’s also the smell of blood – a lot of blood. And it’s not his, so it must be Stiles’.

“There’s something wrong here,” Laura says, sounding shaken. She drops the rock and throws back her head, howling for their mother.

*

The first thing Talia does when she gets to the clearing is take one look at Derek and order him to go home.

He’s not sure what she sees, but if he looks as stricken as he feels, he can see her point.

So he goes home and he waits, helping Aunt Anna put the little ones to bed and then pacing the family room.

The others get back just before dawn, muddy and wet, looking frustrated and grim.

“It was new blood,” Talia says. “Somehow. But there was no trail – no path leading to or away from the ring. And your blood was there too. Why was your blood there?”

“I don’t know,” he says. “I’ve never been there.”

Her eyes narrow and he wonders if his heart skipped a little. It wasn’t a lie but it felt like one.

“Mom,” he says, a little beseeching. “I wasn’t. I don’t know what’s happening, but I – I never. I swear.”

“Okay,” she says, and the others are staring. “Peter, I’m sure Anna’s waiting up for you. Everyone else, go get cleaned up, get some sleep. I’m going to talk to Derek, and then I’m going to call the sheriff.”

Laura casts him one last, worried look before going upstairs and then he’s alone with his mother, who looks more concerned than angry now.

“Tell me what’s been going on,” she says, and Derek collapses onto the sofa, boneless and exhausted.

“Nothing,” he says. “I don’t know. Maybe. I feel like…” He tries to think of how to describe it. “There’s itching under my skin. Like I’ve forgotten something important, or like there’s something I’m supposed to be doing. And I keep feeling like… like I’ve seen a ghost? Or ghosts. Like there are people that I don’t know who I feel like I should know, and scents that I should know but that I don’t. Maybe I’m just tired? Maybe I’m just… sick. Or going crazy.”

Talia frowns, her hand on his shoulder, running down to his wrist soothingly. “Maybe you are tired,” she says. “Or maybe not. I wouldn’t dismiss anything, not if the fae are involved.”

Confused, Derek says, “I would remember that.”

“You’ve just confessed to feeling like you’ve forgotten something,” she says. “Maybe you have.”

“Everything feels like a dream,” he confesses. “Ever since those marks appeared on the doorframe.”

She goes very still. “Marks?” she says.

“Two black lines, pretty small, drawn in charcoal?” he says. “They smell of magic. You had to have seen them…”

“Show them to me.”

He takes her to the front step, where the two lines are still etched on the paint beside the doorknob, smudged from where he saw them before. “There,” he says.

“Derek. There’s nothing there.”

“No, they’re right there.” He touches them again, and black smudges mark his fingers. “They smell the same as that fairy ring. I thought you’d seen them. I thought—”

“No,” she says evenly. “I’d hazard a guess that only you can see them.”

Which can’t be good.

Talia and Derek both hear footsteps in the Preserve at the same time, creeping closer, like someone is trying, and failing, to use stealth, and is somehow still managing to step on every twig, snapping it under their foot.

He starts to growl, low and protective, and Talia says, “Don’t,” just as Scott McCall, the omega wolf from town, steps into the clearing.

He looks sullen, wet, and scared. “Mr. Stilinski says you’re looking for Stiles,” he says. “I want to help.”

Derek isn’t sure what sort of help an omega who looks more like a wet puppy can be, but Talia welcomes Scott and asks what he knows about the fae, so he doesn’t get to have an opinion.

*

Scott catches Derek staring at him for the third time right about when the sheriff arrives and Talia goes to greet him.

“Uh,” Scott says, after Talia’s out of the room. He runs a hand through his floppy hair, looking uncomfortable in his skin. “Is something wrong? Like, if you don’t want me here, or – He was my best friend, okay? And then he just disappeared, ten years ago.”

“You look wrong,” Derek says abruptly, frowning.

Scott rolls his eyes. “I look like I’ve always looked. Well. Since, you know. The whole werewolf thing.”

Derek gets up, pacing, because there’s that strange sensation again, a shift in the axis of the world that only he can feel. “You used to be…” He trailed off, uncomfortable. “Stronger. Taller. I don’t know.”

Scott slumps back in his seat. “No, dude,” he says. “I’m more muscular than I used to be, before, obviously, but I’ve never – your uncle told me that omegas are weaker, somehow.” He shrugs. “I don’t know.”

“Oh.” Derek goes to the window, looking out. “I knew that.”

But there’s still that feeling. Something is wrong, something’s been forgotten. He feels it when he’s near Scott, he felt it while he was holding that girl having a seizure, he felt it when touching those two marks on his porch, he felt it while standing near the fairy ring and now, watching the sun rise, chasing away the last of the rain clouds, he feels it again.

And he wonders if maybe he’s not going crazy. Maybe his mother is right. Maybe there is something, something magical, happening here.

And he looks down at where he’s still clutching that stupid red hoodie like a security blanket, and he hears his mother gently telling the sheriff that all they found was blood and a fairy ring, and he thinks, fuck it.

Fuck it all. Fuck the fae and fuck the rain and fuck everything else too. Wolves rely on instinct and every instinct in his body is screaming that this is all wrong, and something – someone? – has been forgotten and he’s pretty sure it’s got something to do with Stiles Stilinski, because the scent of his blood had made Derek’s wolf want to throw back its head and howl. Or maybe just curl up and cry.

What if, what if, what if ten years ago, Derek killed him? And he doesn’t even remember? Because something terrible happened ten years ago, he can feel it..

“I’ve got to go,” Derek says, throwing the hoodie to Scott. “Tell my mother – just, I’ve got to go.”

He hears Scott calling out to him, and then his mother as well, but he doesn’t care. He shifts fully and lopes off into the forest, ignoring everything else except that feeling. He doesn’t let scents or sounds distract him, and instead lets that instinct guide his paws deeper and deeper into the forest.

At some point, he becomes aware of Laura, fully shifted as well, and pacing him, staying just out of sight and behind him, but he keeps running, chasing shadows in his mind, until he bursts out of the undergrowth and into a small clearing with the stump of an old tree in it, and the stone carving of a boy.

He stops, hackles raising, baring his teeth, because this entire area reeks of magic, and not just the metallic fae magic at the fairy ring. There is something old here, something sleeping beneath the surface, but he can feel potential magic vibrating beneath his paws.

Laura is beside him suddenly, holding herself still as well, eyes bright and watchful as Derek steps carefully closer to that tree stump, to the stone carving. It’s a strange place for a statue, and he circles it warily, trying to catch any sort of scent beneath the stench of magic. There’s nothing.

Just the stone statue of a boy in mid-step, hand reaching for something that seems just out of grasp.

Derek shifts back to human, standing naked in the clearing, unable to look away from the stone statue’s face.

He doesn’t know Stiles. But he could remember, if he tried, ten years ago. He’d been 20, and the sheriff’s son had gone missing, and he’d helped his mother search the forest but hadn’t found a trace. In all their searching, they hadn’t found this place.

But somehow he knows, as clearly as he could recognize the sound of his own heart beating, that this boy, this stone carving, is Stiles. Not as the child he’d been when he’d last been seen, but as an adult.

“What is that?” Laura asks softly, coming up behind him.

“It’s Stiles,” Derek says slowly, reaching his hand out without even thinking about it, reaching to take Stiles’ outstretched hand. “He’s been turned into stone.”

And then his palm is pressed to Stiles’, fingers wrapped around his hand. It’s stone cold, hard beneath his touch, and when Derek pulls away, there’s a black mark on his palm, a smudge of charcoal.

He looks back at Stiles’ hand and sees a mark there, a single line, just like the two lines back at the house.

“One,” he says, voice faint. “Two…”

And then he looks again at Stiles’ stone face and sees the pain and terror there, the pleading, like he had been begging for help, begging Derek for help…

And something cracks and everything goes black and Derek remembers…

*

Stiles was 20 years old – an adult—and bleeding again, and that was why Derek didn’t notice the fairy ring until it’s too late.

“What the fuck,” he snapped, spinning around after hearing Stiles yelp in pain, again, and smelling the sharp, copper scent of fresh blood.

“It wasn’t my fault!”

It was definitely Stiles’ fault. Just like the scrape on his elbow was his fault, his bloodied knee was his fault, the slight limp he’s been trying to hide since tripping over a rock was his fault.

Stiles was biting his bottom lip and probing at his hand, which he had apparently sliced open, from the base of his thumb, across the fleshy part of his palm, down to his wrist. It was a shallow cut, but blood was already dripping in the clover at their feet.

“What did you do?” Derek dug out the stupid first aid kit that Scott insisted anyone searching the Preserve with Stiles had to have on them at all times, ever since he impaled his hand with a sharp stick and it had gotten infected the year before.

“I was wondering if it’s really a Jersey Devil if it’s California instead of New Jersey?” Stiles shrugged. “Is it bad? Please don’t say stitches; I couldn’t handle another scar.”

“You’ve got to pay more attention,” Derek lectured, handing him a crumpled mess of tissues to press against the cut. “You’re so clumsy, it’s slowing us down.”

Derek was so impatient and annoyed that he wasn’t even paying attention to their surroundings, or to the ring of mushrooms in a perfect circle around them. They were in the Preserve, searching for more evidence that a Jersey Devil had taken up residence, because the six mutilated deer corpses singed with sulfur are apparently not evidence enough. He would have finished searching this section of the forest and been back at the meet up point by then if he hadn’t gotten saddled with Stiles, who was slow and was incapable of displaying even the slightest hint of self-preservation.

“It’s just, it’s called a Jersey Devil because the legend originated in New Jersey,” Stiles said, which was probably to distract himself from the stinging alcohol pad Derek had handed him, which he was now swabbing at the wound with.

“We don’t even know if it is a Jersey Devil,” Derek pointed out. “How did you cut yourself?”

“But probably a Jersey Devil,” Stiles said.

Derek sighed. “Yeah, probably.”

Stiles was a smug little shit, probably because he was the one who came up with the theory they were working with. But really, it could have been any sort of demon or related creature.

“Or,” Stiles said. “A Cali Devil.”

Derek lifted an eyebrow, not impressed, and now that Stiles’ hand was fairly clean, he started unwrapping a few bandaids. Stiles held his hand out obligingly. “How did you manage this?” Derek asked again.

Stiles sighed. “Okay. I was flipping my pocket knife opened and closed. You know, improving my reflexes, so that if we got attacked, I could whip it out and defend us as fast as you could pull your claws out, and—”

“That’s ridiculous. By the time you even realized we were in danger, I’d have dealt with the threat—”

“Ahem.”

Derek went still, eyes wide, because that voice was shockingly close, didn’t belong to Stiles. It also had a sweet, melodic, otherworldly air about it, which is never, ever good.

He turned slowly, hands clenching into fists and tongue running along his teeth to keep his fangs hidden. If he was right – and he was probably right – than diplomacy was really the only thing that is going to get them out of that intact.

The fae boy staring at them was beautiful, with shining violet eyes and a hint of delicate fangs in his smile. His head was cocked sideways, like a curious and dangerous puppy.

“Hello,” Derek said cautiously, politely.

“Dude,” Stiles gasped. “Are you a fairy? Derek, you said there weren’t any in the Preserve!”

The boy blinked, his lips curling even more, and he said, “There haven’t been, not for many, many years. The forest is bathed in blood and smoke; it calls to us. Hello.”

“Fae,” Derek corrected quietly. He shot Stiles a quick look, hoping Stiles translated the ‘keep your mouth shut’ correctly.

He didn’t. “Bathed in blood?” Stiles said, and then he stared at his bandaided hand, and then at the clover below. “My blood?”

The boy laughed; it sounded like water running over age-worn stones. “Not only yours, child,” said the boy. “Animals…” His eyes searched the trees restlessly. “Creatures, singed, blood boiling, flesh charred.”

“A Jersey Devil,” Derek said, nodding. “We’re searching for it now.”

The boy’s face brightened. “And what do you intend to do with it?”

“Kill it,” Derek said with a shrug.

“Or! Or! Catch it and rehabilitate it, relocate it, something that doesn’t involve killing.”

The boy’s smile turned wider, teeth flashing; it looked like he’s baring his fangs. “I like your boy,” he hummed, eyes narrowed, fascinated, fixed to Stiles’ face.

Derek took a deliberate, protective step in front of Stiles. “He’s more trouble than he’s worth,” he said mildly.

Laughing, the boy cooed, “You say it like you’ve got a choice. I can do whatever I like with the boy, and with you. You both belong to me.”

“Uh,” Stiles said. “I don’t think we do? I mean—”

“Fuck,” Derek said. “Fuck.”

Because of course he was so distracted by Stiles that he wandered right into the middle of a motherfucking fairy ring like an idiot.

There were red-capped mushrooms all around them both, in a perfect circle. They were so screwed.

“We’ll make you a deal,” Derek said quickly, because negotiation is pretty much the only way to deal with the fae. He didn’t have much to trade, but he was sure he could think of something—

“Silly wolf,” said the boy. “I’ll take the boy and let you go; it’s the best deal you’ll get from me. Be grateful for my mercy.”

Stiles’ hand twisted in the back of Derek’s t-shirt, like he was only just now realizing that they were kind of fucked here. Like he was worried Derek was actually going to let a fae boy take Stiles to the fae realm.

He just needed to think of a plan.

“You don’t want him,” Derek said desperately. “Trust me. He gets annoying very quickly.”

“I do,” Stiles said, peering around Derek’s shoulder. “And I talk far too much.”

“Even the most irritating human pet can be trained,” said the fae.

And then the Jersey Devil shrieked and tore out of the trees, smashing into the fae and dragging it to the ground.

The fae boy screamed – his blood smelled like rain water, and the Devil’s sulfur and smoke stench was overwhelming.

And for an instant, Derek thought maybe he should let the Devil take care of the fae boy. But even without the fae boy, the fact of the matter was that Derek and Stiles stepped into the fairy ring… and technically, they belonged to the fae now. And only negotiation would fix that.

So Derek shifted and launched himself at the Devil. If he saved the fae boy’s life, that might have given them the edge they needed to talk their way out of this.

*

So, the fae boy’s name was Valyn de Whyrfar of the Royal House of Lyte. So basically, a fae prince.

Apparently Devil claws were made up of some organic form of iron that cut right through fae skin, and Valyn fell to the ground, writhing and screaming, bleeding a strange shade of seafoam that matched the colour of his tears.

Valyn’s mother found them like that – Valyn crying, Stiles trying to soothe him, and Derek carefully bandaging the ragged wound on his arm where the Devil’s claws cut him.

“What have you done?” she gasped, rushing to the prince’s side. She took in the Devil’s smoking corpse, torn ragged from Derek’s claws, took in the bandages that were carefully wrapped around the wound, and the ring of mushrooms around them both, and she sucked in a shaking breath.

“Oh,” she said, her eyes that same shade of purple, though sharper with tears. “You saved my boy’s life?”

“Sort of,” Valyn grumbled, because he was a lying sack of shit.

“We were searching for the Jersey Devil, your majesty,” Derek said, bowing low. After a moment, Stiles did the same. “It posed a danger to our pack. We ran into your son first –” he grimaced a little— “and killed the Devil when it attacked him.”

“Ooh,” she cooed, rocking her son a little. He was clearly trying to regain his dignity. “You saved his life but he will have a scar to remind him of this day for at least a hundred years. A fitting reminder of his foolish youth. And you, wolf, as a reward, what would you have, in return for my son’s life?”

“Our freedom is reward enough,” Derek said quickly, politely.

She smirked a little, eyeing the mushroom ring, and then said, “And perhaps three wishes?”

Stiles, who was hiding behind Derek, chose that moment to pop out and say, “Five, and you have a deal.”

The queen laughed. “I like your boy,” she purred to Derek, and when were these people going to stop calling Stiles his boy? “But only three, little wolf. Hurry home now, before I change my mind. And use your wishes wisely.”

And then the queen and her son were gone.

*

Derek had been pissed. He’d grabbed Stiles by the wrist, hauling him away from the damned fairy ring and back through the Preserve, barely managing to hold his tongue, all the while wanting to tell Stiles exactly how stupid he was for getting them into this sort of situation.

They were halfway back to town when Stiles tripped over another rock and fell, hurting himself again.

“Ow,” he mumbled, exhausted and sore. “Derek, can we just slow down for a minute?”

But Derek was too angry. He was aching where the Devil’s claws had caught him, his clothes were stiff with his own drying blood, and he knew that no run in with the fae ever ended as cleanly and simply as this one seemed to.

“No,” he snapped. “We need to get back to Beacon Hills, we need to tell the others what happened, we need to keep you from ever going into the Preserve again—”

“Hey!” Stiles shouted, climbing back to his feet, livid. “That isn’t fair, Derek! I don’t know what the fuck your problem is all of a sudden, but I’m trying to help. And I can take care of myself. It’s not my fault I’m human, and that when I get hurt, it doesn’t heal right away, but you don’t see me complaining, do you?”

And that was true. Stiles never complained – he was always there, talking or making people laugh or pretending that everything was fine, even when it obviously wasn’t.

Even now, he was limping again, his ankle twisted, nearly sprained.

And Derek was forced to confront the idea that he’d been hiding from all along – that maybe, maybe, he wasn’t angry at Stiles for getting hurt so easily so much as he was angry at himself for caring so much that he couldn’t keep Stiles safe.

“Besides,” Stiles added, hissing through his teeth as he tried to put weight on his bad ankle. “You got three wishes, dude. What could possibly be bad about that?”

“Yeah,” Derek said sarcastically. “That’s great. Because the fae always play fair, don’t they?”

“Just remember the three rules, from Aladdin,” Stiles said brightly. “No wishing for more wishes. No wishing anybody back from the dead. And… And… no making anybody fall in love? Maybe? So you can wish for practically anything! Money! A house! Your Camaro back! Your alpha powers back! World peace! Unlimited Air Miles!”

“The one thing I want more than anything right now? Is for you to stop being so damned fragile. Even more than my family back, Stiles – that’s how badly I want that. My second wish would be that the fire had never happened, but my first, definitely, would be—”

Stiles’ breathing had gone funny – like he was struggling a little bit suddenly, like his lungs or his heart or something somewhere inside him had gone wrong – gotten heavier. “D-Derek?” he said, voice hoarse, oxygen whistling strangely in his throat.

But there was something else, something wild and unbelievable that Derek could hear, something that had every part of him – his human side, his wolf side, his heart and his soul, standing up at attention and listening with every fibre of his being.

There was howling in the woods and… and Derek recognized it. It was his mom, calling to him, and there was Laura, too, yipping playfully at Cora, who was growling, and Uncle Peter calling for Aunt Anna, and the cubs, the little cousins, all of them, even the little human, howling with reedy, breaking voices.

Derek,” Stiles said, voice wet, broken. “Derek, help me, help me, I’m – something’s wrong, I—I—Derek, please.”

And he felt Stiles’ hand – too cold and too heavy – on the back of his shirt, clinging to it, but Derek didn’t – couldn’t—care.

His mother was calling to him, and his heart was breaking at the sound.

He shifted and was gone before Stiles’ last breath rattled out of his stone lungs.

*

There’s a crushing weight on his chest, and for a minute, after he wakes, Derek struggles to breathe and thinks it’s the weight of everything he’s remembered that’s constricting his lungs.

It’s not just the fae, and Stiles, and the wishes. It’s everything else. It’s the fire, it’s running away with Laura afterwards, and hiding until Beacon Hills had called her home. It’s finding half her body and then finding Stiles, short-haired and big-eyed and somehow knowing who Derek is when Derek can’t even remember much of who he used to be. It’s Scott, bitten and refusing to be brothers, becoming an alpha, and it’s finding Cora again, angry and closed off. It’s giving up his alpha powers to have her back, and never regretting it, even now, when she wants very little to do with him. It’s Uncle Peter, burned and broken and carving his vengeance in the blood of everyone and anyone who had anything to do with the fire and the resulting cover up. It’s Kate, who just won’t die, despite how badly he wants to feel her death at his hands.

It’s the aching, empty loneliness that had chased him to New York and back until an irritating, smirking, cocky little shit of a teenaged boy had jerked his chin and said, “That’s Derek Hale,” and reminded him that yeah. Yeah he was. And it’s how he couldn’t get that boy out from under his skin, not for all these years, couldn’t forget him, not until – until he’d heard his mama calling him for the first time in 10 years.

“Derek,” Laura says. “Derek, Derek, what is it?”

He’s crying, shit.

But he can’t help it, even as he sits up and crushes her against him and holds her so tight, she can’t breathe. His bratty, irritating, smug, born-to-be-alpha older sister who he had thought, only a few days before, that he wanted to move out to get away from.

“I’m so stupid,” he says, voice cracking. “Shit, Laura, shit, I’m so stupid.”

Because he’d caused that fire and now he’d caused this and he didn’t know how to fix it and Stiles was gone.

“Hey,” she says. “Hey, baby brother, hey. You’re okay. I’ve got you. Mom’s coming, she’ll fix it.”

Derek isn’t sure how long it takes before Talia is there, with the rest of the pack, all growling and looking for the threat. But all they find is a stone boy, a tree trunk emanating dark magic, and Derek, who is a mess.

“What happened here?” Talia asks sharply, shifting back to human. She circles the stone boy warily. “Is that – how is that the boy? He’s grown.”

Derek closes his eyes. “It was the fae,” he says. His voice is hoarse. “Like you thought. I – they gave me three wishes after I saved a fae prince’s life.”

Talia’s gaze sharpens on him, and then she looks back at Stiles. “The two lines at the house?”

Derek nods. “And he’s got one on the palm of his hand.”

She’s silent for a moment, and his cousins are prowling the clearing, getting as close to the tree stump as they dare before stumbling back again, yelping. Peter is staring at Stiles with bright, speculative eyes.

“You wished for the sheriff’s boy to be turned to stone?” she asks finally.

“No,” Derek says. He gets to his feet. “I—I wanted him to stop being so… easy to break. He was fragile. He kept getting hurt. I didn’t mean it, and certainly not…” he trails off, swallowing hard. “Not like this.”

“I didn’t know you knew him,” Laura says, circling Stiles.

“I don’t. I did, but I don’t, now. Not – not since…” he trails off helplessly, unable to explain the dual realities that have stitched together in his mind. He remembers ten years with his family, without Stiles. But he also remembers ten years with Stiles, and Scott, and all the rest. It sits uncomfortably in his gut like a ball of ash ready to crumble if he looks at it too closely.

Talia’s watching him closely. “That was your first wish. And your second?”

He shakes his head, lips pressed together tightly, worried that if he confesses the nature of his second wish, it would be undone and he’d lose his family again. He didn’t think he could bear it.

Talia nods slowly. “Come back to the house,” she says. “We’ll figure it out. And explain it to his father.”

It’s a chilly night. Derek can’t seem to make himself turn away from Stiles, who is still reaching out for him. “He needs a blanket,” he says.

Peter laughs. “He can’t feel the cold anymore,” he says, before shifting into wolf form and disappearing into the trees.

Laura pokes at Derek until he follows.

*

“I saved a fae prince from a Jersey Devil and the queen gave me three wishes,” Derek confesses, because he feels half like if he blurts it all out as quickly as possible, than his mother can fix it right away, and this whole nightmare will go away.

Because it has to be fixable. Stiles can’t be just gone…

Talia nods her encouragement, the sheriff looks like he’s about to lose his shit – he’d already tried to march into the forest with a shot gun, intending to find the fae court and demand they undo what had been done to his son. And Derek hasn’t even managed to find the words yet to explain the fact that he’d only wished his stupid wishes three – four? days ago.

He closes his eyes. “It was three days ago. Stiles and I—”

“You were with him three days ago?” the sheriff snarls. He’d make an impressive wolf.

Scott, for his part, is just staring with wide, startled eyes, because this Scott never grew out of being a puppy, had never had to become an alpha.

“Maybe four,” Derek says weakly, glancing again at his mother. “We were searching for the Jersey Devil, and –”

“No,” the sheriff says. “No, if he was here, alive, three days ago, he wouldn’t have been in the woods with you. He’d have been home, with me. He’d have called. He’d have come home. You’re telling me for ten years, he’s just been… been wherever he’s been, and he didn’t call?” his voice cracks.

“No,” Derek says quickly, beginning to panic. “No, no, see, three days ago, he wasn’t missing. He was – he was fine, you knew – Scott knew – Scott was out there with us, and—”

“Derek,” Talia says gently. “What was your second wish?”

But he couldn’t say it. What if he said it and the wish fell apart and he lost his family again?

But the sheriff had already lost his family. So maybe it was a risk he has to take.

Derek glances at his mother, at Peter, Cora, Laura, all of them, waiting impatiently for him to explain, and says, “This isn’t the reality that I – that we grew up in. I changed it. I used my first wish to make Stiles less… less breakable. He was always getting hurt, and I was worried it would get to the point where he wouldn’t be able to heal. The second wish was an accident – though I don’t regret…” He trails off, takes a deep breath, and says, “Ten years ago, Kate Argent burned this house down with everyone locked inside.” He swallows hard, eyes closed, and says. “Everyone except for me, and Laura, and Cora. Uncle Peter was the only survivor of the fire, but he wasn’t okay. He was – he wasn’t Peter anymore.”

There’s a strange silence, and he feels like he’s suffocating, but he sucks in a burning breath and says, “I wished that the fire had never happened. That was three days ago. The second wish undid—undid everything. I forgot. I remembered everything as if the fire never happened. I – I have all those memories, because they really happened…” He opens his eyes and finishes, “But they weren’t supposed to. And when I found him, in the woods, I remembered what I had done, and the other timeline, the one I changed.”

“Ten years ago,” the sheriff echoes, pale. “When Stiles went missing.”

“He wasn’t missing,” Derek says. “He was turned to stone in the forest and I, and I forgot.”

Scott punches him in the face with more strength than an omega should have, and Derek can’t even blame him for it.

*

Uncle Peter, Aunt Anna, and their children have disappeared, probably off somewhere trying to forget what Derek had shared with them about what his wish had changed. Cora’s aggressively chopping wood in the back yard while Talia consults with Deaton about the fae, and the sheriff paces and mumbles about shot guns filled with iron bullets and Scott has gone off into the Preserve to keep Stiles company.

Derek can’t breathe. He’s up on the roof, tucked against the chimney, where he and Laura used to hide when they were children and wanted to pretend Talia couldn’t find them wherever they went.

It doesn’t take Laura long to follow him up, and she tucks herself as close as she can get. He rests his head on her shoulder, listening to her heartbeat and just breathing.

“It’s okay, baby brother,” she says quietly, running her hand up and down his arm. “We’re okay.”

“I forgot,” he says, quiet. “Until we found him, and then I remembered everything, and now it’s like both realities are stitched together in my brain. I remember scaring your boyfriends away when you brought them home, but I also remember watching the house burn with you, running away with you, finding your – finding your body.”

Her hand stills. “So you were alone?”

“I didn’t know about Cora,” he mumbles. “I found her later. But I wasn’t alone, not for long. I had you, and then, after I lost you, I had – I had a small Pack that I made – I’m a fucking terrible alpha, Laura. It was a mess. And they died. But even after you were gone and they were gone, I still had Scott. And Stiles. And then I just… left him.”

“You didn’t know,” she says.

“When the wish undid the fire, and everything changed, why didn’t it change for him?”

“Could be that one wish wouldn’t cancel out another,” she says.

“What if we can’t save him? What if – what if it costs me you, again? I don’t know if I can do that again.”

“Shh, Derek. We’ll figure it out. Mom’ll figure it out. You have us, now. We’re not leaving you again.”

“You promised that before,” he says, though she wouldn’t remember that. “And then you didn’t come back.”

“I won’t leave you again,” she repeated, holding him more tightly.

But what if she didn’t have a choice?

*

The first beat of his heart brings with it a huge, strangling sensation of pressure -- like his heart is trying to force his blood through something immovable. Like stone.

Stiles wants to scream at the pain but he can’t. His arms and legs are heavy, stiff, weighed down by gravity but unable to give in and move, and the strain of it is cracking his bones and tearing his muscles and his blood is still pounding, pounding, eroding at flesh that won’t give in and let it through.

And it’s dark. It’s been dark for so long, it feels like forever, but he’s lost all ability to mark the passage of time. It’s like he’s been drifting – sleeping – he wonders if this is what it would feel like, to be dead, to have his flesh reanimated without his consent.

He’s a vampire, a zombie, his arms and legs are all pins and needles and his throat is filled with concrete so he can’t scream even if he had the breath to do it.

And then something crashes and his flesh is flesh again instead of stone, and Stiles is falling to the ground bonelessly because he doesn’t remember how to stand on muscle and bone instead of rock.

His lungs are raspy and sucking desperately at the air, his heart is frantically pounding, his muscles are screaming for oxygen, and for a long moment, that’s all Stiles knows.

And then someone touches him and his skin is so over sensitized that he flinches and cries out and squints against the watery light of a moon partially blocked by thin clouds that still somehow burns his eyes.

“D-Dad?” he asks, and his voice drags over his raw throat like sand. He’s trying to force himself up on his hands and knees but he’s shaking all over, and it doesn’t matter a moment later because the sheriff is on his knees beside Stiles, dragging him up and crushing him into a trembling hug, and Stiles doesn’t even mind. It hurts a little, but it feels more like his dad is holding his pieces together rather than leaving bruises, so Stiles clings back and tries to figure out what’s going on.

Scott’s there, and – and – is that Allison? Stiles stares for a moment before blinking and looking away because it can’t be Allison. She died years ago. But then he’s searching through the ragged gathering of strangers and he suddenly can’t catch his breath because he recognizes another face – Laura Hale – and that can’t be true either.

“Stiles,” Derek says, stepping closer, out of a cluster of people with the same cheekbones and blazing hazel eyes. “Stiles, are you—”

“What did you do?” Stiles asks him, barely able to whisper. Derek reacts like Stiles hit him.

He tries stammering an explanation, but Stiles can’t follow Derek’s broken sentences and fragments, not when Scott is talking a mile a minute and his father’s grip is getting tighter and tighter and it’s starting to hurt.

“Dad,” Stiles gasps, and a woman crouches beside them and lays a hand on his father’s shoulder.

“John,” the woman says, soft, and Stiles is just staring at her because she’s got Derek’s cheekbones and eyes and Cora’s nose and holy shit, it’s got to be Talia. “Let him go now, John. His ribs are creaking.”

“God,” John gasps, letting go so suddenly that Stiles tumbles to the ground. “I’m sorry, Stiles, I’m sorry, I was just…” he looks helpless, and Stiles isn’t used to that, so he’s climbing back into his dad’s arms a moment later.

“It’s okay, I’m okay,” he says, but his teeth are starting to chatter together.

“Let’s get him to my clinic,” Deaton hums.

“Mom’s waiting at the hospital,” Scott interrupts, and then everyone is arguing and Stiles tunes it out, closing his eyes and trying to calm his breathing.

But it’s too dark and it feels like a grave and his eyes fly open with a gasp.

Derek’s staring at him, looking stricken, and that does more to soothe Stiles’ pounding heart than anything else.

“You okay?” Stiles mouths to him, and Derek jerks his head and looks away and Stiles takes it as a no.

*

Stiles goes home – not to his apartment, the one near main street, a block from the smoothie hut, with the park out back, but to his dad’s house.

His bedroom is just how he remembers it from when he was a child, which is weird, because Stiles packed his shit up and moved to college and then to his own place and his dad turned his own room into an office.

He’s too exhausted to ask, and to be totally honest, crawling into his old bed, with his soft, old blankets, surrounded by his beloved posters, and all his things all around him, calms him enough that he sleeps without worrying that he’ll feel buried alive again.

He doesn’t even notice ten years’ worth of dust all around him.

*

The days are strange. Stiles’ dad stares at him like he’s a stranger, and sometimes Stiles will forget and make a joke or do something completely normal for him, for his relationship with his father, and the sheriff will look shocked and uncertain and Stiles will realize that he doesn’t have a relationship with this version of his father.

This version of his father lost his only child three years after the death of his wife. This version of his father had spent the last decade searching for any clue to explain Stiles’ sudden disappearance. This version of his father had never turned to drink, because though he could not save his wife, he had never given up hope of finding his little boy, and that had kept him focussed.

The problem was that in the end, the sheriff hadn’t found his ten-year-old boy. He’d found a 20-year-old version of that child who had no explanation for where he’d been for ten years, or why he hadn’t done his best to come home, or how he’d suddenly appeared in the Preserve three days ago.

Stiles is just lucky that his dad knows about the supernatural. It’s hard enough writing up official reports to explain that the kid who never made it home from school ten years ago has suddenly reappeared with no memory of every having been gone.

It makes headlines. National media descends on Beacon Hill, covering the miraculous story of the sheriff’s boy, back from the dead, tragically suffering from amnesia but bravely trying to put the pieces of his life back together again.

They camp outside his house for a while, and outside the police station, peppering Stiles and his father with questions whenever they leave to go to the station to make statements, or to the hospital for psychiatric follow up.

After a week of that, combined with the nightmares of being buried alive, and the overwhelming realization that even though this world looks the same as the world he remembers, nothing is the same, has Stiles hiding out at home as much as he can.

His dad doesn’t let him out of his sight. Scott hovers, Melissa calls four times a day, Deaton stops by a few times to ask him questions and hum in response. Talia even drops by once, with Laura by her side.

The problem is that he doesn’t know any of them anymore.

It’s getting to him.

And then he finds his mother’s blue jeep, tucked away in the garage, covered in a tarp, and his heart starts pounding like he recognizes an old friend. He’d driven this car until it had given out underneath him, and he’d grieved when it had met its final end, crushed against a light pole while fleeing a coven of cannibalistic witches.

“The engine doesn’t turn,” his dad says skeptically, tossing Stiles the keys. “It’s been sitting idle for so long. But if you can get it running again, be my guest.”

Stiles spends three sleepless days and nights in the garage, and when it finally starts, the sound of the engine sends a wrench of homesickness though him that’s so sharp, Stiles starts crying in the driver’s seat.

*

The media circus begins to ease another week later, and Stiles gets better at dodging the few who remain. Once he’s got that bit of freedom, he begins spending as much time as he can away from home, searching for any hints that remind him of the version of home he remembers.

He’s waiting for a hot chocolate at a coffee shop when he sees Erica, and it’s like a kick to the stomach.

She’s behind the counter, laughing with a co-worker as she mops up a coffee spill. Her face is pale, dark circles under her eyes, her hair a frizzy, pale mess pulled into a low ponytail. She’s the Erica he remembers before Derek had made her a beta – fragile and colourless.

“Erica,” Stiles says, stunned.

She’s clearly startled when she looks over, blinking at him and shrinking in on herself a little, eyes going wide. “Oh,” she says, biting her lip. “Yeah?”

“It’s me. Uh. Stiles. From school.”

She flushes. “I know. I saw on the news.”

He flounders; he doesn’t know what else to say. He wants to scramble over the counter and cling to her and tell her how sorry he is, how hard he and Derek searched for her, how he knows that this version of her isn’t the version she’s meant to be, how she’d made such an epic Catwoman.

Instead, he takes his hot chocolate numbly, and says, “I’m sorry.”

She frowns, confused, and Stiles turns and ducks out of the coffee shop before he can start to cry again.

*

Stiles knocks, but he doesn’t have much hope. It’s the middle of the night, he hasn’t slept in days, he feels like the walking dead, which is sort of appropriate.

And he’s pretty sure Derek still lives in the pretty, perfect house in the Preserve with his miraculously living family.

But he’d come to the loft instinctively, seeking Derek out while driving mindlessly through the empty streets, and going inside and knocking had become such a normal part of his life before, it was muscle memory that had him there now.

When Derek answers, dressed in shorts and nothing else, hair a spiky mess around his face, pillow lines in his cheek, Stiles just stares. He hadn’t thought this through.

“Stiles,” Derek says, frowning. “Are you – should you even be out?”

“I’m not hurt,” Stiles says.

“You look like shit.”

“Well, yeah, I haven’t slept in four days, I’m feeling a little like shit,” he agrees, swaying on his feet.

Derek reaches for him as Stiles starts to stagger. “Come in,” he says, tugging Stiles inside and closing the door behind him. “Sit down. I’ll call your dad to come get you.”

“No!” Stiles says, alarmed. “No, please don’t. He’s at work, I left a note, I was just going for a drive, I swear, I’ll go back, I just – I just – just, don’t make me, not yet, okay?”

He’s babbling but his lips and his tongue feel loose, words falling from them thoughtlessly. He’s just so fucking tired.

Derek hesitates, but then he gives in, tugging Stiles over to the worn leather couch by the window. “Here,” Derek says. “Sit. What’s wrong?” Derek goes into the kitchen. “I’ll make you tea. Sleepytime tea.”

“Sleepytime tea,” Stiles echoes, because the Derek he knows wouldn’t have Sleepytime tea in his cupboard. He turns to glare at Derek in the kitchen. “Do you remember?”

“Remember what?” Derek puts the kettle on.

“The—the nemeton,” he says. “The Nogitsune. The Dread Doctors. The witches. My graduation—I don’t even have a high school education anymore.”

Derek sits in a chair beside the couch and says, “I remember.”

“Okay,” Stiles says, curling up a little around the mug of tea Derek hands him. “Okay. I didn’t dream it?”

“No,” Derek says, but it sounds like it’s coming from far away. “I’m so sorry, Stiles…”

Just before he falls asleep, Stiles feels Derek take the mug from him, and then smooth a blanket over him, and for the first time in days, he sleeps.

It’s dreamless at first, until it isn’t, and he wakes up some hours later, screaming.

He doesn’t know where he is for a moment, or why, only that he’s tangled up and can’t get free and it’s very dark.

Derek falls down the last half of the spiral staircase, landing hard with a curse, and that’s what calms him down enough to suck in a harsh breath and stop fighting the blanket twisted around him.

“Stiles, hey,” Derek says, frantic and limping over to him. He drops to his knees beside the couch and wraps both hands around Stiles’ wrists. “You’re okay, breathe.”

“Nightmare,” Stiles pants, hands pressed to his eyes. Derek starts gently tugging the blanket from around his shoulders, loosening it. “I’m okay.”

“Yes,” Derek says, dropping his voice softer. “Just breathe for a minute.” When Stiles’ heartrate is nearly normal again, Derek smooths the blanket back over him, and says, “Why did you come here?”

“Was I not supposed to?” Stiles asks, lowering his hands and blinking at him. “You didn’t have to let me in.”

Derek looks frustrated, which is a bit of a relief to Stiles, because it’s an expression he recognizes. No one else seems to react the way Stiles expects. “No, I just… I thought you’d be with your dad. With Scott. With… things are different, now. Better. There aren’t any threats. Scott’s the way he was, before he was forced to become an alpha. Erica and Boyd are alive, and Isaac probably is too. You’re free now. You’re all – everything is better.”

Stiles shakes his head. “But I’m the same,” he says. “Maybe things are better for Scott, and for Allison, obviously, and for everyone else. But I still lived through that – that other version. I still have the scars from that, all over my body. I still have that darkness from the nogitsune, only now, instead of Scott and Lydia and you and the rest of our pack, I don’t have anybody. My father, he doesn’t even know me. Scott doesn’t know me. No one does. I’m a ghost. And… and you’re the only one who knows me anymore, because you remember it, don’t you? The way it was before?”

Derek hesitates, seeming to look everywhere except at Stiles. He finally settles on staring at his hands, which are picking at a seam in the blanket. “Yes,” he confesses. “I remember. I remember it both ways, it’s all blurred together, but…” he shrugs.

“Tell me what really happened,” Stiles asks. “My dad told me his version, and Scott told me his, and Talia tried to explain, but they don’t know. Not like you do.”

Derek takes a deep breath and says, “I’m sorry.”

Frustrated, Stiles shakes his head. “Just tell me. I know – I remember the Jersey Devil, and the fairy ring, and the wishes, and then… it was like being buried alive.”

Derek flinches and closes his eyes, like it hurts to look at Stiles. “I wished that you weren’t so fragile. And you turned to stone.” Stiles feels a sick lurch in his chest, remembering that darkness, that weight. He knew about the stone, of course. His father had told him. But hearing it from Derek makes it more real.

“And you left me,” he whispers.

“I forgot,” Derek says. “I undid the fire, accidentally. I was angry, and I wasn’t thinking, and I don’t know if I’d have stopped myself if I had been thinking. But I never meant to leave you there. I didn’t remember until I found you again.”

Stiles is breathing carefully, barely avoiding a panic attack, and he says, “And then?” This was the part his dad was a little fuzzy on.

“My mom demanded an audience with the queen, and it was granted. She was annoyed at the disturbance and refused to help. Deaton helped us figure out how to word the last wish to bring you back, without harming you, but we weren’t sure you’d… still be alive. Or which version of the last ten years you’d remember.”

“The wrong version,” Stiles says.

“I should have – I should have turned it all back, undone all the wishes, but I—”

Stiles’ eyes go wide and he grabs Derek’s wrists without even thinking about it. “You can’t,” he says. “You can’t lose them all again, Scott can’t lose Allison again. And Erica, Derek. You saved them all. You couldn’t undo that, even – even if it meant having me back. Or… or having my dad remember me growing up.” His voice goes softer, shakier, and he swallows hard. He’s not going to cry, it’s useless to cry over this. It doesn’t make sense to cry over this. But ten years was a long time for his dad to be without him, for him not to exist.

“I’m sorry,” Derek says again, and Stiles realizes he has started crying.

“There aren’t any psychiatrists who can help with this kind of trauma,” Stiles says, laughing. His voice cracks half way through.

*

Derek doesn’t know what to do. He’s rented the loft and secluded himself from his family, because sometimes it’s too much. He’s so, so glad to have them back, but sometimes the stress of remembering ten years with them and ten years without gives him such a tight feeling of anxiety in his chest, he can’t cope with it.

Laura doesn’t understand, but Talia does, and Derek shows up every day, for a few hours at least, usually at dinner, so they don’t have to miss him for long.

He avoids everything else. Beacon Hill, Stiles, the sheriff, Scott, all of it. Nothing’s the way it should be, except Stiles, and Derek knows he doesn’t deserve to be around Stiles, after what he did.

But after that first day when Stiles had shown up at his loft, it seems like some of that tension in his chest eases a little. Maybe he doesn’t deserve it, but Stiles doesn’t seem to feel the same.

He just keeps coming back. Sometimes with DVDs to watch, sometimes with junk food. Sometimes pale and shaking in the middle of the night. And when he’s not there, he’s calling, to check in or to ask about something he remembers that no one else recalls anymore, just to make sure it’s still true. Or that it used to be.

Stiles is slowly, carefully learning about this version of the world. Relearning Scott, and his dad, and Allison. And if he can do it, Derek should be able to do it too.

He’s working up to it.

On his way home from the Hale house one night, Derek notices Stiles’ blue jeep – somehow back from the dead as well – parked beside an entrance to the Preserve, and he goes cold. What’s Stiles doing in the woods this late at night, by himself?

Derek is half convinced that Stiles is searching for that fairy ring to negotiate more wishes as he parks his car and heads into the Preserve to track him down.

It’s not hard. Stiles is making no effort to cover his tracks, which reassures Derek a little. He and Scott—Alpha Scott – had spent months teaching Stiles how to move without being tracked through the forest. The fact that Stiles doesn’t seem to care if he is follows means he’s not doing anything too stupid.

Or that he just doesn’t care who comes after him.

Derek moves faster.

He hears Stiles before he sees him, mumbling under his breath, clearly irritated. When Derek finally does catch up, he sees Stiles squinting up at the moon, glancing around helplessly, kicking at stones, and consulting a crumpled sheet of paper, where he seems to have scribbled a rough map.

“Please tell me you’re not looking for the fairy ring.”

Stiles shrieks a little, spinning to face Derek and panting. “You scared the shit out of me! What are you doing out here?”

“Me?” Derek asks. “I followed you. It’s nearly 11, I saw your car.”

Stiles huffs a little, shrugging one shoulder. “I wouldn’t be able to sleep,” he says. “So I thought I’d come out here and keep looking.”

“For the fairy ring.”

Stiles looks at him like he’s an idiot. “Why would I—no, of course not. For Malia.”

Since being granted three wishes, Derek has had many moments that felt like the earth shifted around him, and this is another. He hadn’t even thought of Malia. He hadn’t even thought of Peter, and Aunt Anna, and their young children, and what it meant that Peter’s got another child that he’s been forced to forget, who is currently trapped as a coyote, who wasn’t restored to her human form years ago like she should have been. Another thing to feel guilty over.

“What were you going to do if you found her?” he snaps. “She’s feral, she’d tear your throat out.”

“I would have figured something out,” he says. “Besides. She likes me. Or, she did before.” He shrugs again.

Derek looks away. He’d sort of forgotten that Stiles and Malia had once dated. It seemed so long ago. He sighs. “I’ll help you,” he says. “But can we do it in the morning? It’s late. Your dad will panic if he finds out you aren’t home.”

Stiles looks haunted. “He’s at work,” he says, distant. “He won’t—”

“He might.”

“You can go if you want,” Stiles tries. “I’ll keep looking. I found the accident site but can’t find the den, and—”

“Why are you afraid to go home?”

For a moment, he thinks Stiles won’t answer. There’s a sullenness in the way he’s holding himself and refusing to look at Derek. Then, finally, he says, “I don’t sleep anymore.”

“You fall asleep at my place all the time.”

Stiles shoots him a quick glare and then stares down at his shoes again, shrugging. “Only there.”

But Stiles only shows up every few days. “Why?”

“It’s safe there? I don’t know. I still have nightmares, but when I wake up, they go away. At home, they just… linger.”

“Then come over more!”

Stiles grimaces. “I didn’t want to bother you. Talia said you needed space, and the last thing you need is me hovering—”

Derek reacts instinctively, stepping closer, hand closing around Stiles’ shoulder. “No,” he says firmly. “The last thing I need is for you to drive yourself crazy with insomnia, or to get yourself killed out here trying to pretend you’re fine.”

Stiles is quiet for a moment, and the silence feels charged the way it always has between them, like there are things they should be saying that neither quite knows how to say. Stiles is finally looking up at him though, eyes wide and shining, his bottom lip trembling just a little, like he’s afraid.

The thought makes Derek sick. “Are you afraid of me?” he asks. “Is that why you don’t come over?”

“No,” Stiles says, instantly, eyes going wide. “I’ve never been scared of you. I’m scared of everything else right now, but not you.”

Derek relaxes a bit, stroking along Stiles’ shoulder with his thumb. “Okay,” he says. “We can work with that. You can come over whenever you want to. I don’t mind.”

“It’s just, you’re the only person who makes me feel like a real person,” Stiles confesses in a rush, his cheeks flushing. “Like I’m actually there, not some stranger suffering PTSD from being missing for ten years when I wasn’t. Even my dad forgets, and Scott, they don’t actually believe what happened. I’m starting to think maybe they’re right, and I was gone, and it was all a dream, a delusion to explain where I really was for ten years, and—”

“How many fingers,” Derek says quietly. They’re still standing so close.

Stiles falters, blinks at him, and then starts to smile, just a little. “Ten,” he says. “I count every day. So many times a day.”

And then he’s laughing, a hysterical, sharp sound that cracks, just once, and Derek just tightens his grip and doesn’t let go.

“You’ve got ten fingers too,” Stiles tells him, breathless with laughter. “I counted when you first got here.”

“Come home with me,” Derek says, holding his fingers up, in case Stiles needs to count again. “We’ll find Malia in the morning.”

Stiles hesitates but finally gives in, following Derek towards the road.

*

“What have you done?” Talia says, when Derek drags the kicking, hissing, howling coyote into the house.

Uncle Peter’s children gather around, cooing and asking if they can keep it as a pet.

“No,” Derek says, and the coyote backs herself into a corner, snapping like a rabid animal in a trap. “Mom, you have to fix it. You know you do.”

She looks at him, eyes narrowed, and says, “I didn’t cause this.”

“Not this, no. But Uncle Peter deserves to know. And she deserves to be human again.”

“But the desert wolf—”

“We’ll deal with her. We’ve done it before.”

There’s a beat of silence, as she acknowledges that there is a whole life time of things she doesn’t know about, that Derek’s lived through, that Derek, who was never meant to be an alpha, was forced to become one.

It’s part of the reason why he doesn’t fit here the way he should. He may not have that alpha power anymore, but he still remembers what it felt like, still has the sense of responsibility it came with.

“She’s Pack,” he says quietly.

Talia sighs. “Go get your father,” she says to the children.

They have no idea what’s going on, but scamper off eagerly to obey.

*

Derek’s exhausted when he gets back to the loft. Stiles had been gone when he woke up that morning, had sent a vague text apology about breakfast with his father, and Derek had gone out into the Preserve to look for Malia.

But when he gets home, he finds Stiles sitting against his door, legs crossed, deep in conversation with Erica.

Derek freezes and for a moment, he can’t breathe. He remembers that frantic summer, searching desperately for her and not finding a trace. He remembers the way the world stopped spinning when he found out she had died. And now, here she is, the pale, timid Erica he remembers sinking his fangs into when she was a teenaged girl.

She looks up at him quickly and then away, her cheeks flushing, and Stiles says, “See, I told you he wouldn’t mind. Derek, this is Erica. You know Erica.”

Erica frowns when Stiles says it, but Derek’s already nodding and opening the door and looking anywhere but at her pale face.

“Yeah, sure,” he says. “I met her the other day, in the street, with her mother, and…” And she probably doesn’t want to know that he’d been there the day she’d had a seizure on Main Street.

“Sorry,” she says. Her voice is so fucking quiet, not like it should be at all. “I should go, Stiles…”

“Nah,” he says, grabbing her wrist, tugging her into the loft. “We’re gonna stay here, we’re gonna watch Batman, we’re gonna eat bad food, and you’re gonna be fine. Right, Derek?”

“Right,” he says. He steals another look at Erica and then says, “What about Boyd?”

“Who?” Erica asks nervously.

Stiles smiles brightly. “One at a time, Derek.”

Which reminds him. He clears his throat. “Malia’s at my mom’s place. Back to, uh, normal. Well, as normal as Malia was, at first.”

“I remember,” Stiles says. “Great. Awesome. Thank you. And Peter?”

He grimaces and changes the subject. “Is Scott coming over? Are you and Scott…”

Stiles makes a huge show of dropping onto the couch, grabbing the remote, and saying, “Uh, no. I think he and Isaac have plans?” He says it like it doesn’t matter.

Derek passes Erica a bowl of popcorn and she hugs it against her chest, still looking like a rabbit about to bolt and Stiles opens up Netflix, scanning the titles for Batman.

*

Stiles goes home that night, but he’s back at 3am, curled up in the hallway shivering. It’s the chattering of his teeth and his miserable mumbling that wakes Derek.

“You didn’t knock,” Derek says, when he throws the door open.

Stiles slips inside gratefully. “No,” he says.

The next day, Derek goes to get a key made up.

*

Lydia’s studying in Paris, and it takes everything Stiles has gone sometimes not to send her a message, or a friend request. They’re not friends. They’ve never been friends. By the end of high school, apparently she barely tolerated Scott, and only on Allison’s behalf.

It’s tough, especially because he’s determined to write his high school exams and get his diploma as soon as he can, and she was pretty much the reason he’d aced math the first time around.

But studying is a welcome distraction from missing everyone and everything. From having to figure out a new way to fit with the people who no longer remember growing up with him. From having to relearn everything that’s happened in the last 10 years.

He’s doing his best. And so is everyone else. Scott goes out of his way to seek Stiles out, to talk to him, to invite him places and make sure he’s doing okay, but it’s different for him. Scott had only been 10 years old when he’d lost his best friend. Stiles only survived puberty because he had Scott there with him. But Scott… Scott had had Isaac.

But he’s happy and Isaac is happy and he’d been removed from his father’s house when he was 11 and Scott had told his mother about the bruises and maybe that’s a better outcome than the one Stiles remembers. Maybe Isaac needed Scott more than Stiles had.

But it still breaks his heart.

And Allison is there, and she and Scott are together, and Isaac, of all things, is dating Cora, which is hilarious. Derek never wants to talk about it. And Kira’s in Philadelphia going to school, and Scott just looks faintly confused when Stiles asks about her because yeah, sure, he remembers Kira, but they were never friends, or anything else.

Stiles is excited and nervous around Scott these days, not quite sure where he fits. But he’s trying to adjust, which is why, when Scott calls on Friday, Stiles is reasonably optimistic.

“It’s Friday,” Scott says, when Stiles answers the phone. “We go bowling on Fridays. Well, me and Isaac. And Allison, obviously. And Cora. Did you want to come?”

Stiles hesitates, because pretty much the last thing he wants to do is be the fifth wheel at a bowling party with a bunch of strangers wearing his friends’ faces.

“Okay,” he says slowly. “Okay, sure.”

“Great!” Scott says. “Awesome!” Because he’s making an effort, and Stiles respects that. He just misses when their friendship was effortless.

After he hangs up, Stiles takes a shower, and then chooses something to wear, and then changes three times, because all his clothes are new and they fit strangely, and he misses his old clothes, but his childhood closet and dresser had been filled with clothes for a 10-year-old and he’d had to borrow some of Scott’s things until he’d bought some new stuff of his own.

After he finally decides on clothes, he makes himself a sandwich and then nervously paces the kitchen, and then he calls Derek.

“Hi,” he says.

Derek’s a little breathless when he says, “You okay?”

“Yes,” Stiles tells him. “You working out?” Derek always seems to be working out.

“Yeah.” There’s a muffled thump and then Derek says, “Cora wants to move in with me. They’re worried about me living here on my own.”

He sounds a little confused about that and Stiles laughs. “That’s what family does, Derek.”

“I told her no. I didn’t think you’d want her around.”

Stiles sits down at the table, frowning. “Hey. Uh. You didn’t have to do that,” he says. “If you’d rather – I know I’ve been coming over a lot, but if you want Cora—”

“No,” Derek says, firm.

Stiles is quiet for a minute, wondering if he should push it. He doesn’t want to be a burden, or to take advantage of Derek’s guilt or anything. Maybe he should just… deal with his nightmares and his anxiety on his own. He’s always done it that way before.

“You like bowling?” he asks quietly.

“No,” Derek says.

Stiles smiles a little. “You wanna come bowling with me? I’m meeting Scott. And Isaac.”

Derek sighs. “And Allison and Cora?”

“Yeah. We can ask Erica.” He perks up suddenly. “Hey, doesn’t Boyd work at the bowling alley? That’s a thing, right?”

Laughing a little, Derek says, “Okay. But you owe me.”

Stiles is pretty sure Derek’s secretly eager to be around his betas, even if they aren’t betas anymore, but he doesn’t point it out. If Derek’s trying to play off that he misses the way it was before, even a little, Stiles won’t call him out on it.

*

The bowling alley is bright and full of rowdy parties of bowlers and Isaac’s apparently got a standing reservation on lane 7 on Friday nights. The table is filled with nachos, popcorn and drinks when Stiles walks in with Derek, Cora and Erica, and everyone else is already there.

“Stiles!” Scott says happily, beaming at him. “And, uh, Derek. Hey, man.” He blinks at Erica and then shoots Stiles a confused look but welcomes her to their table and adds their names to the roster.

Stiles loves bowling, but he’s not that great at it. He’s better than Derek, which is hilarious, and he does his best to draw Erica out of her shell while they take their turns, chatting about geeky things and making her laugh. He can see faint hints of the Erica he knew, and maybe, with a bit of confidence, he can help bring that out of her, without the werewolf bite.

It’s fun, despite the hollow feeling in his chest as he watches Scott’s ease with Isaac, as they talk about things he wasn’t there for, and share inside jokes.

A few times, when he gets carried away being sad about it, Derek distracts him with a hilariously terrible bowling attempt, a sharp elbow to the side, or by saying something entirely slanderous about Stiles’ own abilities. It helps.

It also helps that Stiles keeps sending Erica up to the concession to get more drinks and/or nachos and/or popcorn and/or candy, because Boyd’s working the desk. Each time, she stays a little longer, talks to him a little more, and comes back with a little more pink in her cheeks.

Isaac wins the game, and while he’s cheering and dancing and Scott is swearing vengeance, Stiles leans over to Derek and whispers, “Thanks for coming.”

Derek just shrugs, but he’s smiling a little.

It’s raining when they walk out, and Stiles hunches his shoulders against the chill, shoving his hands into his pockets. Scott, Allison and Isaac branch out to their cars with jovial waves, and then it’s just Derek, Cora, Erica and Stiles. They all hesitate beside Derek’s Camaro and Stiles’ jeep.

“Hey, so,” Erica says, flushing when everybody looks at her. “Uh, thanks for driving me, Stiles, but I think, if it’s okay, I might stay? For a while.”

Stiles blinks. “Sure. But it’s raining. How were you – I can come back and get you later, or. I guess I could stay?”

“Uhm, Boyd says he’ll drive me home,” she says. She ducks her head, staring at her shoe, hiding behind her hair, and Stiles wants to make her stand up straight and maybe wear some red lipstick, but also do a victory dance because, hurray, Boyd!

“That’s amazing!” Stiles says, wagging his eyebrows at Derek.

“Yeah,” Cora says, smirking. “Boyd’s hot.”

“Calm down,” Derek tells her. “You’re already dating Isaac.” He says it with a pretty vicious frown, but Stiles knows he’s just glad that Cora’s dating life is the worst thing he’s got to worry about right now.

Cora’s laughing and elbowing Derek, who growls and playfully snaps at her and they are the least discrete werewolves Stiles has ever known.

“Seriously,” Stiles says, smiling at Erica. “That’s awesome. Text me if you need me, okay?”

She nods and flashes a smile before ducking back inside and Stiles feels proud, like a mother bird watching a baby bird take its first flight.

He turns back to Derek and Cora, and he’s currently laughing as she stalks him around the Camaro, flashing beta brown eyes and growling.

“I’m gonna take off, okay?” he calls, and Derek abruptly stops laughing.

“Hey, no, wait,” he says, hopping back onto the sidewalk. Cora rolls her eyes and climbs into the driver side of the Camaro, like Derek will actually let her drive. “You’re going?”

“It’s raining,” Stiles says, rolling his eyes. “And unlike some of us, I didn’t bring a jacket.” He eyes Derek’s leather jacket with envy. It’s another small touchstone of familiarity from the past he remembers.

Derek frowns. “You’ll catch a cold,” he realizes, and automatically starts taking his jacket off like he’s going to throw it around Stiles’ shoulders. Like he’s not already soaked through. Like Stiles is his date to homecoming and it’s his letterman jacket.

“I’m good,” Stiles says with a wry, crooked smile. “Seriously. Just heading home.”

Derek looks up from where his wet fingers are fumbling with the wet zipper of his jacket and he looks startled. “You’re not coming over?”

Stiles doesn’t spent every night at Derek’s! Just…most of them. But he’s trying to do better. He has been far too dependent on Derek and he needs to make sure he’s not overstaying his welcome. Plus, the best way to adapt to this strange new world is to actually, you know. Live in it.

Maybe he’ll go see if his old apartment is up for rent.

“Nah,” Stiles says, quiet. “I’m good for tonight.” Hopefully.

Derek opens his mouth to reply but seems to be struggling with what to say, and Cora rolls the window down and shouts, “For fuck’s sake, kiss him already!”

Stiles’ eyes go wide and he jerks his head up from where he’d been staring, fascinated, at Derek’s hands, to Derek’s face. Derek looks about as wide-eyed and horrified as Stiles feels, which is a welcome relief, because despite his well-documented adolescence of being absolutely infatuated by Derek’s muscly shoulders, and sculpted cheekbones, and adorable smile (and beautiful eyes, and hot thighs – are hot thighs a thing? And his ass, ugh), Stiles knows without a doubt that his attraction for Derek had been just that – attraction. And when you’re as hot as Derek, it’s just sort of understood that all those around you would suffer from objective attraction, without having to cop up to any sort of crush, or infatuation, or feelings. Right?

Which, now that he thinks about it, is kind of shitty for Derek, who may actually want someone to look at him and feel things.

Because Derek’s not just hot, that’s the thing. He’s also exceedingly kind, and loyal, and stupidly brave. He’s sweet, despite trying not to be, and protective, and he made a good alpha, by the end of it, hadn’t he? And even now, with memories of two different versions of events somehow sharing space in his mind, he’s more concerned about Stiles than he is his own sanity, which is admirably selfless, and also stupid. And even after suffering the loss of his family, the betrayal of pretty much 99 per cent of the people he ever dated, Derek somehow stayed kind. Stayed loyal to those who deserved his loyalty. He somehow still maintained the ability to let people in, despite how badly that tended to work out for him. And that, Stiles realizes, is exceedingly brave.

He also realizes that he and Derek are standing too close. In the rain. Under the light of a streetlight. Where they’ve apparently been talking quietly about whether or not Stiles intends to spend the night with Derek. Again.

He can see how Cora has the wrong idea.

But Derek is definitely, definitely not going to kiss him. Or not even thinking about kissing him. Why in the world would Derek Hale ever think about kissing Stiles? Just because they’re standing in the rain together, in the golden glow of a street light, after losing spectacularly at bowling, and there’s a strange, hushed sense of expectation between them – but hasn’t that always been there?

Stiles doesn’t know. All he knows is that he glances from Derek’s wide eyes to his lips, totally accidentally, just in time to see Derek lick away the rain that had gathered there, and suddenly his heart is skipping a beat and Stiles is finding it a little difficult to catch his breath.

Because what if Derek was thinking of that? Because now Stiles is definitely thinking of that.

“Crap,” Stiles breathes,

“Your lips are blue,” Derek says, his voice a little rough.

And why is he looking?

“I need to go,” Stiles gasps, and then he’s scrambling into his Jeep and driving away, blasting the heat, before Derek has a chance to react.

*

“Shut up.”

Cora doesn’t. She never listens. “I didn’t know you weren’t dating,” she says, exasperated. “How was I supposed to know? He stays over all the time. Your place reeks of him. You went on a triple date with him, and me and Isaac, and Allison and Scott!”

“And Erica!”

“And Boyd.”

He lapses into silence, scowling, because he can’t quite get Stiles’ pale face or panicky eyes out of his mind.

Cora lets it go for a few minutes, staring out the passenger window at the passing forest as they drive out to the Hale house, before she says reproachfully, “Derek, his smell is all over you.”

“He doesn’t know anybody,” Derek snaps. “Just me. Of course he’s over all the time. He doesn’t sleep at home. He has nightmares, and anxiety attacks.”

She scoffs. “You don’t know anything about anxiety attacks,” she says.

Derek looks at her in silence until she abruptly recalls that, technically, he’s got ten years she knows nothing about. She grimaces. “Maybe you do,” she allows. “But Derek. If you’re not dating him, what are you doing?”

Derek doesn’t know. “Taking care of him?” he tries. “He sleeps okay when I’m around.”

“And how long are you gonna be around?” she asks him.

“As long as he needs me.”

“You gonna smell all sexually frustrated and cotton candy infatuated the whole time, or is that gonna go away? Because if it’s not, maybe I won’t move in with you.”

“Shut up,” he grumbles.

She smirks at him and finally, for once in her damned life, listens.

*

Stiles doesn’t come over, but he usually calls if he has trouble sleeping.

He doesn’t call.

*

Stiles is totally owning this independence thing. He’s passed half of his high school finals, he’s gotten his damned driver’s license (his dad had abruptly stopped looking the other way when Stiles had taken the Jeep, because sure, Stiles had a driver’s license in his wallet, but if anybody ever tried looking that up, Stiles would be completely fucked. There wouldn’t be a record of it anywhere).

He’d even slept about four hours in the week since bowling. Maybe five.

So he’s a little delirious and his dad is getting worried and talking about upping his therapy and Scott is busy with his job, and with Allison, and with the whole life he’d built while Stiles was missing, and Stiles is fine.

But maybe he’s a little jumpy.

So when he’s at the grocery store a week later, staring blankly at an aisle filled with cereal, totally spacing out, and Erica suddenly touches his shoulder, it’s wholly possible that he jumps and shrieks a little and drops the Corn Pops he’d been holding.

“Motherfucker,” he gasps, after catching his breath. “Don’t sneak up on me like that!”

Erica scowls a little bit, which is awesome. It’s a much better look on her than wide-eyed terror at social interaction. “I called your name four times,” she said.

Stiles rolls his eyes. “I was reading the nutritional information,” he says, picking up the Corn Pops. “I’m very health conscious.”

“Whatever. You haven’t answered my texts in like, a week.”

That is true. Stiles has been terrible at keeping his phone charged this week, as a deliberate method of avoiding waking up from a night terror and instantly calling Derek. Derek has a life, a perfectly good life, and though he remembers his life before the wish changed everything, he also remembers his life with the wish, and without Stiles, and Stiles doesn’t have a right to take that from him.

So he hasn’t been charging his phone. Which makes him a pretty shitty friend, he realizes, and he grimaces. “Sorry. I’ve been, uh. Busy.”

She eyes him for a moment, but though she doesn’t know what really happened to him, she does know the official story of being missing for ten years and reappearing suddenly without any memory of where he’d been. So she lets it go.

“Oh,” she says with a shrug. “I was worried you didn’t want to talk to me?”

“Nope,” he says, casual, because if he makes a big deal of it, she probably won’t believe him. He tosses the Corn Pops in his basket and says, “What’s up? Are you okay? How’s Boyd?”

“Boyd, uh.” She turns bright pink and it’s fucking adorable. “Boyd’s good? He took me to a movie.” She rolls her eyes. “It wasn’t a big deal, shut up. I just wanted to know if you were going to Derek’s party tonight.”

“Derek’s… what.”

Derek does not throw parties.

Erica studies the floor with far too much effort and says, “You didn’t know about it? So it was, like…a joke? I mean, I knew it probably was, it’s not like I thought—”

“No!” he says. “No, seriously, I just haven’t looked at my phone in a week. But Derek would never do that. I just didn’t know parties were his thing, you know?”

She looks blank; she definitely doesn’t know, because she doesn’t know Derek. Right.

“Of course I’m going. We’ll both go. And Boyd! Did you invite Boyd? Did Derek invite Boyd?”

“Derek doesn’t know Boyd. I barely know Boyd.”

“Right,” Stiles says. “Right. Invite Boyd. And I…” he trails off, and then a sudden bolt of inspiration hits him. “And I will give you a makeover! I mean, you’re beautiful, obviously, just the way you are, but a makeover, Erica, it will be awesome, please, please. Let me do your hair.”

She’s staring at him like he’s an alien now, and he gets it, okay. He can barely handle his own hair, never mind hers. But she nods slowly, skeptically, and he does a fist pump – a small one, so as not to scare her off.

And then he panics. He can’t give a girl a makeover! He can barely dress himself.

So he calls Cora when he gets home and begs for help and she laughs until she can’t breathe.

*

Derek is hosting his out of character party at the loft. He’s shoved his minimal furniture up against the walls, put out trays of cold cuts and veggies, and a few bowls of chips, and there are a dozen bottles of various sodas in the fridge. He’s even invested in some red solo cups, and the stereo is playing something a little hip-hoppy. There’s a bowl of punch and it’s probably already been spiked, and even some beer.

It’s pretty surreal. Also, there are people there. Quite a few of them are Hales, by the look of their glossy hair and bone structure, but Scott’s invited some people, it seems, and Allison had as well. Boyd’s there, with Erica, who looks something like the Erica Stiles remembers. Isaac’s there, hanging out with Scott and a bunch of other dudes Stiles vaguely recognizes from school, who probably don’t know him. Danny is even there, and Greenburg.

The spiral staircase has been roped off with a ‘do not enter’ sign.

Stiles manages to slip into the apartment, keeping to the perimeter, scoping the situation out. It seems like a pretty normal party… Some people are dancing, others are making out, others are setting up a game of Beer Pong.

And Derek, of course, isn’t there at all.

Stiles grabs a few pretzels and hovers by the window, wondering if he’d feel this awkward if these people remembered him, and also missing Lydia, though he doubts she’d even notice he was there if she was still around.

Derek would be nice, though.

A little while later, Cora leans against the wall beside him and says, “Hey. So. Parties not your thing?”

He grimaces. “Not really, no. Especially not when I don’t really know anybody, sort of?”

Cora nudges his arm. “You know people,” she says.

“They don’t know me anymore. But it’s okay, it’s… I’m figuring it out. Erica looks amazing. Thank you so much for your help. She was pretty nervous about all of this.”

Cora grins. “Yeah, but you totally don’t have a chance with her,” she says. “Boyd nearly choked when he saw her, and then he quickly babbled something about how she looked beautiful with or without the lipstick. And the, you know. Clothes. Boobs. Push up bra. And I got Allison to help with her hair, because like I fucking know shit about hair, right?”

“Right,” he says. “And she’s not -- We’re just friends.”

Cora looks at him thoughtfully for a moment and then says, “Derek’s upstairs.”

Stiles glances at the ‘do not enter’ sign and snorts. “Hiding from his own party?”

“Parties aren’t his thing either,” she says with a shrug. “He lasted about 30 minutes. Besides, you’re late, and you didn’t RSVP. He didn’t think you were coming.”

“Who RSVPs for a party?” he asks. “And why would it matter if I was coming?”

“It’s Derek,” she says. “Socially inept. Who knows? I gotta go.” She rolls her eyes. “Isaac is about to get slaughtered at Beer Pong, and he’s a weepy drunk. It’s embarrassing for everyone.”

She leaves and Stiles eats his pretzels and thinks about joining Scott and his group of friends on the dance floor, but Scott and Allison are all over each other and Stiles doesn’t feel like intruding where he doesn’t have a place anymore.

But he also doesn’t feel like standing alone and awkward by the window, so he finishes his last pretzel and thinks that thanking the host of the party for the invitation isn’t being too needy, so he ducks under the rope across the stairs and makes his way up.

No one calls out and demands to know who the hell he thinks he is, violating sacred party space that way, which is a relief, on one hand, but just makes him feel more invisible on the other.

But it’s much quieter upstairs, which is nice.

Derek’s massive bed is in the centre of the room, made up impeccably, of course, with a cushy armchair beside it, and a stack of books that are pretty much the only indication that anybody actually lives here.

To be fair, Stiles recalls, Derek did just move in a few weeks ago… maybe that’s what this is! A housewarming party!

But either way, Derek’s not downstairs, and he’s not here, and it takes Stiles a minute to track him down to the upstairs bathroom, which is closed and locked, but has a narrow beam of light under the door. He can hear the shower running.

“Weirdo,” Stiles says affectionately, because who ditches their own party to have a shower?

He doesn’t want to go back downstairs though, so he wanders the bare room for a moment before collapsing in the armchair with a small, accidental groan. It’s heavenly. Soft, broken in, squishy, and everything an armchair should be.

And he hasn’t actually slept much since starting this campaign to get over his dependence on Derek.

And the distant sound of the party is actually a little soothing, now that he thinks about it. And his eyelids are so heavy. He’ll just rest here until Derek’s done in the shower – hopefully Derek doesn’t come out of the shower entirely naked!

Stiles chuckles sleepily and he’s asleep before he’s even done daydreaming about how deliciously awkward that would be.

It’s a deeper, sweeter sleep than he’s had in weeks, and, a while later, when someone gently shakes his shoulder, Stiles doesn’t even bother waking, just mumbles sleepily. He doesn’t wake when his shoes are tugged off, or when he’s lifted up, or when he’s put down again, a blanket smoothed up and over him.

And, for the first time in far too long, he isn’t woken by nightmares.

*

Stiles wakes up to the smell of bacon frying and coffee brewing, and his phone ringing beside him.

He answers without thought, rubbing at his eyes and croaking, “Yeah?”

“Stiles?”

“Dad. Hey. How’s… work and. Hey.” His mind is foggy, the bed is too comfortable, functioning is hard.

“Great. I got off at midnight. You’re not here.”

“Yeah I am,” Stiles says, and then something breaks downstairs and someone curses and Stiles blinks. “Wait.” He sits up and looks around and finally remembers that he’s not at home. He’s at Derek’s party. Except now it’s morning and the party is over and he’s tucked safe and sound in Derek’s bed and Derek is apparently making breakfast. “Oh crap. I’m so sorry. I was at Derek’s and I fell asleep. I think.”

“You’re still at Derek’s?” his dad asks, skeptical. “You promise?”

He glances around. There are his shoes, but other than that, the room has no identifying features. “Pretty sure,” he says, because Derek is still cursing downstairs. “Seriously. It was an accident, and I just woke up, and—”

“You slept through the night?”

Stiles rubs at his eyes. “Yeah,” he says. “I guess I did.”

“Okay then. Good. Tell Derek I said hello, I’ll see you later.”

His dad hangs up and Stiles is confused because since when is Derek’s presence enough to make his dad stop worrying? Probably since his dad forgot the whole multiple times Derek had been a murder suspect.

He gets out of bed, uses the bathroom, grabs his shoes, and staggers downstairs.

“I am so, so, so sorry,” he says, tripping down the last step and barely catching his balance. “I was waiting for you, I didn’t mean to fall asleep, I just wanted to thank you for inviting me to your party, and—”

Derek’s hair is a mess and his eyes are sleepy and he’s holding the broken pieces of a coffee mug. “You didn’t RSVP,” he says.

Stiles scowls. “I didn’t realize it was the RSVP sort of party! Usually, at parties featuring beer pong and dancing and people hanging out, you don’t need an RSVP!”

“No, it’s just. I didn’t realize you were coming.” He shrugs awkwardly. “Or I would have stayed downstairs.”

Stiles flops on the couch. “Oh,” he says. “Well. I didn’t want to be all, you know.” He waves his arms around to illustrate his point and Derek frowns, tossing out the broken mug.

“No, I don’t know,” he says. “What?”

“Dependent. Needy. Annoying. Taking up space. Infecting your space with my scent.”

“But I like when you’re those things,” Derek says, and then his eyes widen and he spins around, back to the stove, dishing up scrambled eggs into two waiting plates.

“I don’t want to be in the way,” Stiles clarifies, and Derek just shrugs. “If Cora wants to live here, I mean.” Derek doesn’t reply, just carries both plates to the table, and sits down, waiting pointedly until Stiles joins him.

And Derek stays silent, even after pouring Stiles some juice, and starting in on his bacon and eggs.

Stiles sucks at silence. “So why’d you throw a party if you hate parties?” he says.

“I invited Scott,” Derek says, slowly. “And all his friends. And you. So that you could…” he trails off, scowling. “Become one of his friends.”

“You…Threw a party as an attempt to match make me and Scott into being friends.”

“You stopped coming over and calling,” Derek says, frustrated. “I know it’s been hard for you, being in this situation, and your dad said he’s taking time off work next week to help you, but with his current caseload, he hasn’t been home very much, and Erica’s been busy with Boyd, and Lydia’s not even here anymore, and if you didn’t want me around, you had to have someone.” He scowls. “It was Laura’s idea.”

“Derek,” Stiles says carefully. “I don’t need you to fix everything for me. Some things just can’t be fixed.”

“I know,” Derek says, staring at his fork. “But it’s my fault things are broken.”

“No.” Stiles shakes his head. “Because of you, Laura’s alive, and your mom, and your whole family. And Erica. And Boyd. And Allison.”

“But you lost everything.”

“I didn’t lose you.”

Derek looks at him for a moment, quiet, and then he says, “But you don’t want me.”

“I don’t want to bother you,” Stiles says.

“For fuck’s sake, if you were bothering me, I’d tell you!”

It’s silent for a little while – a few seconds at least. Stiles stares awkwardly at his food, not very hungry, and Derek chews some toast aggressively.

Finally, Derek swallows and says quietly, “You passed out in my chair, Stiles.”

“I was tired,” he says. “It was a long day.”

“You looked like you hadn’t slept in weeks.

Stiles shrugs, irritated. “Sleeping is hard, without…” he trails off miserably.

“Without what?”

“You?”

Another pause, less awkward this time. Finally, Derek sighs and nudges his foot under the table. “I sleep better when you’re here,” he says. Stiles wishes he could hear heartbeats, so he could know if it was a lie.

“Okay,” he says finally, uncertain. Derek flashes him a relieved smile and Stiles relaxes enough to take a bite of his toast, which reminds him that he’s actually pretty hungry.

He can practically feel Derek radiating smug satisfaction as he groans a little and begins devouring his food.

*

Stiles’ dad is at the barbecue that night, frowning in concentration, and Stiles does his best not to interfere, trying to focus on his studies, but it can’t only last so long.

He finally gives up and pops his head out the patio door. “Everything okay? Usually glaring at the barbecue doesn’t help.”

John looks up, rolling his eyes. “You like them well done, right?”

He’s grilling steaks. Stiles nods. “Yeah, dad.”

“I just – I wasn’t sure if that was how – if you grew out of that.”

Stiles smiles a little. “Nah. Still an uncultured swine, I guess.”

John smiles, and it looks a little sad. “I don’t mind,” he says. “I’d ruin perfectly good steaks for you every day of the year if it means you’ll be here to eat them.”

“First of all, your heart. Don’t think I don’t know. Second of all, I’m gonna be here, dad. I promise.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” John says.

“Good. And you better enjoy these steaks. Tomorrow it’s back to salads.”

“Did I say I missed you?” John sighs. “I might have overstated it.”

But he’s got his arm wrapped tightly around Stiles’ shoulders, like he might not ever let go, so Stiles doesn’t believe him.

*

Scott shows up at Stiles’ place the next afternoon with a huge sheep dog wagging his tail at the end of a long leash.

“Hey!” Scott says, waving. The dog’s tongue lolls out of the side of its mouth in a dopey sort of smile. “We’re going for a walk in the Preserve; wanna come?”

“You… have a dog,” Stiles says blankly. A massive, drooly dog with hair all in his face – basically a bear-sized mop, and Stiles loves him.

“Oh. Yeah! Meatball!” Scott beams. “I got him shortly after I, you know. Got bit. He helps me out, sort of clues me in when I’m getting anxious or worked up, which helped me learn control. Plus, Talia thought it would help me if I had a sort of. You know. Pack? Since I didn’t join the Hales.”

“Meatball is your… assistance dog,” Stiles says slowly. “And your beta.”

“Yeah. Deaton even helped me get him certified so he can come with me anywhere.”

“Where’s, uh. Isaac? Is he coming too?”

Scott shakes his head. “I think he’s with Cora? I didn’t ask. I thought it could just be us. You know. We could catch up. It’s been a long time. Sort of.” He laughs awkwardly.

Stiles grins. “Let me grab my coat!”

*

Growing up, Stiles can remember so many afternoons spent wandering the woods with Scott, climbing over rotten logs and sliding down slick embankments and getting their shoes and pant legs wet in the creek water. Now, wandering those same paths, all those memories seem to crowd around Stiles and make it hard to separate what’s happening now from what’s happened so many times before, most of which Scott can’t remember.

But it’s sweet, the scent memory of pine, birch, rich soul and leaves making it seem like nothing had changed, and Stiles relaxes more than he has since he first came back from being stone.

“Sorry I haven’t seen you much, since you got back,” Scott says, a few hours later, as they wait for Meatball to lazily fetch a ball they’ve been throwing.

Stiles shrugs a little. “It’s okay,” he says, like it hadn’t broken his heart. “Been spending some time over at Derek’s.”

“That’s strange,” Scott says, Turning to study Stiles. He says it easily. “How do you even know him? Like, if you weren’t…” he trails off, frowning the way he does when he’s mentally revising what he was going to say to be sensitive to the fact that Stiles’ version of the last ten years differs wildly from his own. “How did that happen?”

Stiles has told him little pieces of it, but not much, and maybe that’s part of the reason why Stiles feels like he doesn’t fit with Scott anymore. But that’s the thing – this Scott isn’t the Scott Stiles knows. This is the way Scott would have been if the biggest tragedy of his life had been losing his best friend at 10 years old, rather than tragedy after tragedy after tragedy the way it had been in Stiles’ version.

“He was Pack,” Stiles says. “Our Pack. Me and you and—and—he was in our Pack. And we partnered up a lot, to investigate things, because I’m breakable and he’s pretty determined to keep me whole.”

Scott’s quiet for a long moment and then he down on the ground and Stiles sits beside him. “Huh,” he says. “It’s just weird. I mean, are you – did you guys ever… it’s just, you seem close. Not that there’s anything wrong with it!”

“Wrong with what?”

Scott’s bright red now. “You know. If you and Derek. Were. Like. You and Derek. You know?”

It takes an embarrassingly long moment. “We’re not!” he says quickly. “Why do people keep thinking that!”

“Uhm, maybe because of the way you guys look at each other? Or touch each other? You’re always in each other’s space? I mean, it’s fine if you are, but cool if you’re not, I just wanted you to know that if it was a thing, it was cool with me, you know?” He’s so earnest about his approval.

And maybe there always has been something there – something intense and unacknowledged and intoxicating… Maybe. But when you’re nearly dying every week, it’s easy to write that off as adrenalin. Stockholm Syndrome. Rampant teenaged hormones. But Stiles had always been afraid of it, anyway, and what it meant, and what people would say. But here, in this version of the world… Derek wasn’t a scary alpha werewolf who’d been suspected of multiple homicides. He was just the nice Hale boy who kept to himself and wore a leather jacket. Huh.

“We’re not—we haven’t,” he says.

Scott shrugs like it’s no big deal either way. But it totally is. And then he says, “He was alone before, right? He didn’t have a family, right? They’d died?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, quiet. “Lots of people died. It was… scarier. Without the Hale Pack defending Beacon Hills, all sorts of evil showed up that we had to deal with it.”

“It’s kind of cool, though,” Scott says. “We were like a team of superheroes, right? Taking on evil, protecting everyone. Would you have that back, if you could?”

Stiles shakes his head. “Lots of people died, Scotty,” he says.

Scott finally looks up from the textbook, frowning. “Who?”

“Most of the Hales. So many members of our graduating class. Allison’s mother.” He swallows hard. “Allison.”

“Allison?” he echoes, eyes wide.

“There was a demon,” Stiles says, soft. “A bunch of demons. She figured out how to kill them, and then they killed her. I – it was my fault. Part of it. Most of it. A lot was my fault, that time.”

There’s a beat of silence. Then, Scott says, “Was Isaac—”

“A werewolf. And a dick.” Stiles smiles a little, and Scott doesn’t seem to notice how strained it is.

“And your mom—”

“She died before the fire,” he says, soft.

It’s quiet – just the birds singing and Meatball panting happily and the wind through the trees, and something deep inside Stiles starts mending, just a little, soothed by the company and the quiet.

“What do you miss about it the most?” Scott asks.

“You,” Stiles says automatically. “My dad.”

“I’m right here,” Scott says with a wide grin.

Stiles flops down beside him, shoulders wedged together, and he grins up at the sky, peeking between the tree canopy. “Yeah,” he says. “You are.”

*

Derek is sleeping when Stiles bursts into the loft, bringing with him a wave of noise, energy, and the faint scent of blood.

It’s the blood that has Derek scrambling out of bed before he’s even fully awake.

“Derek!” Stiles shouts. “Derek, holy shit, you aren’t even going to—”

Flying down the stairs, Derek doesn’t realize that he’s shirtless, sleep-mused, or pale, and he also barely has time to listen to Stiles’ words. All he knows is that Stiles is hurt and calling for him. “Stiles,” he says urgently. “Do you need a doctor.”

It’s not even a question. Panic has made Derek’s voice flat, and he’s running his hands over Stiles’ clothes, searching for the wound, which he can still smell among other things – dirt and fresh air and dog and Scott.

“Hey,” Stiles says, and Derek barely hears it. “Hey! Derek! Dude, chill.”

Derek finally looks at Stiles, really sees him. He’s glaring as best he can, face partially swallowed up by his hoodie, which is rucked up around his armpits, with Derek’s hands on his pale, bare chest, searching for wherever the blood is coming from.

Derek snatches his hands away and Stiles huffs, pushing his hoodie down. “Okay. What?” he says, once his clothes are rearranged.

“You’re bleeding,” Derek says, cheeks flushed. He rubs at his hair, looking away. “And you were shouting. I thought…” He trails off helplessly.

“Bleeding? Oh! Yeah!” Stiles laughs. “I tripped in the Preserve with Scott, I’m a fucking klutz. You know that.”

Derek does know that. He huffs a little, and Stiles pokes at the knee of his jeans, which is torn and stained with grass and blood.

“Then what were you yelling about?” he says, irritated. He goes into the bathroom to grab the first aid kit, which he’d stashed there before he’d even gotten any furniture for this place, and when he comes back, Stiles has kicked his jeans off and he’s sitting on the edge of the counter in his boxers, prodding at a bloody, dirty wound on his knee.

“Uh,” Derek says, looking pointedly at his discarded jeans.

“Dude, you’re in your boxers, let’s not make this a thing,” Stiles says. “Besides, you’ve patched me up so many times, let’s not pretend I haven’t assumed this position at last half a dozen times a month since I was 17.”

And Derek can remember those times – patching Stiles up and bitching at him for being so fucking clumsy and fragile. He can also remember what it was like without Stiles constantly in his space, bright and energetic and frequently bleeding.

Even with the memories of ten years with his family, surrounded by love and laughter and Pack, something was always missing.

Probably Stiles.

“Anyway, I was shouting because you didn’t tell me Scott got a dog, and he’s amazing. Why don’t I have a dog? My dad’ll probably let me get a dog!”

“Probably,” Derek says, and then Stiles is off and running, telling some hilarious story about Meatball and the Preserve, and Scott, and how they both ended up laughing so hard, their stomach hurts, and it makes something warm and fond curl up in Derek’s belly.

He ignores it, of course, and instead, carefully cleans Stiles’ wound with alcohol. He’s just delicately applying a bandaid when Stiles says, “So I did have one question for you, if that’s okay.”

“Sure,” Derek says, still standing too close.

He’s gathering up the packages from the alcohol swabs and bandaid, about to step away, when Stiles says, super casually, “So, what happened to Kate? If she didn’t start the fire.”

Derek freezes, breathes carefully out of his nose, and then clears his throat. He steps away, tosses the wrappers in the garbage, and when he turns back to face Stiles, he’s got something of a neutral expression on his face.

“My mom found out,” he says evenly. “Kate got transferred to a new school out of state. I got grounded.”

Stiles’ eyes go wide, sparkling with something. “For how long?”

“Life.”

Stiles cracks up and Derek can kind of see why it’s funny. “For life?” he echoes, his face shining, his body seeming more at peace than it’s been since it was stone. “Is that why you didn’t move out until you were twenty-seven?”

Derek rolls his eyes but he smiles reluctantly. “No,” he says. “I just… never wanted to leave. They’re Pack. Family. Even when I didn’t remember that I’d once lost them, I just wanted them close. That’s what Pack is like. I didn’t have any reason to leave – I was happy.”

Stiles has stopped laughing, and now he’s looking carefully at Derek, still smiling fondly. “Until me,” he says. “Until you remembered, and found something else to punish yourself for, this time by denying yourself access to your Pack.”

“Maybe,” Derek says, because part of it had been self-exile. Derek didn’t deserve anything when he’d cost Stiles everything.

Stiles slides down off the counter, landing lightly on his feet, and says, “Derek Hale, when are you going to realize that you deserve good things?”

Derek wants to argue. It’s an instinct that will probably never go away. Whether losing his family or for having them back again, Derek’s pretty sure he’ll always have something worth punishing himself for. He shakes his head, wordless, and Stiles steps closer, holding tightly to Derek’s wrist before he can retreat.

“You do,” he insists. “You’re doing good.”

“You lost everything. I should too.”

“Bullshit. I didn’t lose my dad. Or Scott. Or Meatball. Or you. It’s going to take some work, but I can adjust to this, I can fit here, with my dad, and with everyone else. I can get a dog. And my high school diploma. And I can start studying to be a deputy again. I can find a place and move out – or stay with my dad a little longer.”

“Or with me,” Derek says.

Stiles smiles slowly. “Or with you,” he agrees, voice slipping a little, softer.

They’re standing too close, Derek realizes, but his feet don’t move when he tries to retreat again. He’s turned to stone, held prisoner by Stiles’ hand on his wrist and his wide eyes and his smile and Derek can hear Cora in his mind shouting, “For fuck’s sake, kiss him already!” and sometimes Derek gets confused. Sometimes remembering how it was and how it is now, the timelines mix up, merge a little, so he can’t remember which timeline a particular memory belongs to. He can’t remember if this is the reality where he found Laura’s body, where Cora was named Homecoming Queen and Lydia staged a protest, where Jackson became a Kanima and it was Derek’s fault, where Erica lived or died, where Derek makes a habit of scaring of Laura’s boyfriends, where for a few scary weeks, they lost Stiles to a Nogitsune. He can’t remember if he and Stiles have every stood this close or if they’ve ever kissed or they’ve always been kissing or if it’s something that even existed between them, before. He can’t remember but all he knows is that it feels inevitable now, and Stiles says he deserves good things, and Stiles is the best thing, and maybe, somehow, in this timeline, maybe Derek can deserve this.

It’s fucking terrifying, either way.

And then Stiles opens his mouth and says “Do you think we—”

And Derek is full of thoughts, he has enough thoughts, if he tries to think anymore thoughts, his mind will crack even further than it has cracked already, and he’s pretty sure he can’t take it.

So he falls into Stiles and kisses him quiet, and his hands are shaking and he can’t tell if it’s his heart that’s beating rabbit-fast or Stiles’, so he just twists his hands up in Stiles’ hoodie and holds on.

And Stiles holds tight to Derek’s hips and kisses back with just as much hurried desperation – like either one of them might change their mind at any moment or might blink and this’ll be gone or just another mixed up memory or just another nightmare or just another thing they had for a moment or two but don’t get to have anymore. And even as he’s being kissed into silence, Stiles is still making noise and Derek would not have expected any less, though every breath hiccupping in Stiles’ lungs echoes in Derek’s chest, and every small sound in Stiles’ throat and catches on Derek’s tongue so maybe it’s Derek who can’t keep quiet. He can’t even tell anymore.

It’s Derek who breaks the kiss, who pulls away to breathe, and Stiles just pushes closer, pressing his mouth to Derek’s throat and grazing it with his teeth and then licking over the mark he leaves and saying feverishly, “No, no, don’t panic, this is good, you deserve this, you can have this.”

He keeps it up until Derek cradles his jaw with one hand and slides the other back into his hair, kissing him sweetly and gently and with intention because if Derek doesn’t quite deserve this yet, he’s willing to work on it, it be better for the rest of his life, until he does.

“Yeah,” he agrees, after Stiles has melted into the soft kiss, turning nearly boneless in his arms.

“Yeah?” Stiles says hopefully. “Like, making out? Or sex? Or we could, like, maybe we could date, or—”

“Yes,” Derek says again, crowding Stiles towards the stairs.

“To which part?”

“All of it.”

Stiles smiles, his whole face brightening up, and then he yelps. He’d backed right into the lower rung of the staircase, scraping the back of his heel.

“For fuck’s sake,” Derek says, rolling his eyes, and then, before Stiles can protest or finish saying he’s okay, he’s got Stiles scooped up against his chest and he’s carrying him upstairs. “You’ve gotta stop hurting yourself,” he lectures, but Stiles isn’t listening.

“Sex now?” he says hopefully. “I’m totally up for sex now. Like, now and every day.”

They tumble into bed and Derek does his best to kiss Stiles quiet again, and fails pretty epically. He really doesn’t mind.

*

Later, when Stiles wakes up screaming from a nightmare, Derek tugs him close and kisses his shoulder sleepily and it isn’t long before Stiles is relaxing against his chest, his heartrate slowing.

“Derek?” he asks, voice soft with sleep. “Would this have happened, without those wishes?”

“This was always meant to happen,” Derek tells him, nuzzling against the back of his neck. “In this world or the other one.”

“Yeah?”

Derek hums in agreement and Stiles snuggles closer, slipping back into an easier, sweeter sleep. Derek stays awake, though, listening to Stiles’ heartbeat and making sure the nightmares don’t comeback, because whether it’s putting bandaids on his cuts and scrapes or helping him sleep, Derek will do his best to keep Stiles safe, and anything else he can think of to make sure he deserves to keep this.

The End.