The problem is that Stiles is magical, but he never actually remembers this fact until it’s too late.
So after he emerges from his post break-up coma, showers the sour smell of hurt, despair and snot off his body, and spots the newly downloaded app on his phone—Timeless Love, ha ha, very funny Isaac—he thumbs over to delete it, only to end up super curious instead. What could it hurt?
It takes forever to load, and then it doesn’t even actually load all the way. There’s a big red cartoon heart made 3D by a winking diamond shine on one hump, and the green progress bar stops one quarter of the way across the screen. Stiles gets inpatient after a couple of seconds and locks the phone, stuffing it in the back pocket of his jeans in favor of heading downstairs and ferreting out his dad’s latest hiding spot for the whiskey. He’s twenty-five and heartbroken, this is the way it goes: two days of wallowing in his own filth, followed by a night of lonely drunken revelry.
He’ll be fine on Monday. Isaac will tease him about his lackluster love life—again—Scott will cluck sympathetically at him over lunch, and Erica will try and cheer him up with her boobs.
“It’s just…ugh, right?” he says to Homeless Harry, the stray cat that they’ve taken to feeding on the back porch. Stiles gives it until the end of the year for his dad to invite him inside—they’re both such softies, and HH is a skinny distinguished gentleman, all black and white tuxedo. He’s far too fancy for the Stilinski household, honestly, but he likes to butt up against Stiles’s shins and purr.
Maybe Stiles should just give up on dating and get HH a friend. Cats are awesome. Cats don’t call you a month before Christmas to tell you you’re not emotionally available enough to get serious with. To tell you that they’ve already got another roommate lined up, two weeks after your lease expired and you moved back home. They’d only been dating for six months, okay, but Stiles wasn’t even the one who brought up living together in the first place.
The whiskey burns all the way down his throat and coats his stomach in a way that makes him think he probably should have eaten something first.
“You won’t leave me, right Homey?” Stiles says, scratching that spot low on HH’s back that makes him arch up and meow.
“Right,” Stiles says. “Right.”
Stiles feels like he’s been asleep too long and also that he hasn’t been asleep enough—he’s got a hazy brain and heavy, gritty eyes, and the alcohol isn’t exactly helping. He slumps down in the wooden porch chair, cradling the bottle between his thighs. The moon is low and full, orangey, making the sky bright and the yard glow. Stiles licks his lips and thinks about how Jackson called him a loser yesterday, and how Lydia offered to set him up for a rebound with her coworker, Maisy, who’s scary as fuck and would probably eat him for breakfast afterwards, like a praying mantis. He thinks about how maybe he was just going through motions with Andy, but that it’s really fucking depressing when everyone else is paired up, settled for life, planning weddings or babies, buying houses—getting fucking life insurance, and saving up for family vacations.
Stiles is living with his bachelor dad, talking to a cat, and strongly considering using a love app—not even one that’ll just get him laid.
He needs a hobby. He hasn’t solved a nice murder mystery since high school, maybe his biggest problem is that he’s in IT instead of being a librarian or a back alley detective. Where have all his childhood dreams gone?
Tomorrow. He takes another swig of whiskey. Tomorrow he’s gonna look up schools and either join the police academy or find the farthest place away that he can get a library science degree.
“It’s nice to have goals,” he tells HH, and then at some point between the twinkling starlight and the bruising spread of dawn he passes out.
Stiles jerks awake spluttering, freezing cold water dripping all over his face and down the front of his shirt. He swipes his hands through sopping wet hair and says, “What the fuck?”
It takes him a bare moment to realize he’s not in his bed, or even on his back porch, which is where he’s eighty percent sure he’d passed out the night before. That instead he’s sprawled on the ground, and that an angry hot guy is looming over him. Jesus Christ, he’s got eyebrows of doom and a cowboy hat, a six o’clock shadow that Stiles wouldn’t mind feeling all over his entire body. The shirt he’s sporting is both damp with sweat and rolled up over his forearms. He’s dark and hairy and like he’s stepped out of every gay fantasy Stiles has ever had.
Except for the gun he’s got leveled at Stiles head.
He honest to god growls at Stiles and says, “I guess I have you to thank for my missing cattle.”
“Uh.” The cold water had sliced through his hangover just long enough to give him the snort-giggles, which is…totally inappropriate, but what kind of gun is that, anyway? A six-shooter? Why is he talking about motherfucking cattle? “I have no idea what you’re talking about, dude,” Stiles says.
The guy’s mouth tightens, and there’s a weird, distinct click as Stiles watches his thumb press down on the gun’s hammer.
It’s fake, it has to be fake, but Stiles’ breath still hitches, his whole body tensing up—there’s pounding in his skull that winds up from the top of his spine, splintering off to attack his temples, above his eyes.
Stiles doesn’t know what the guy is getting off him—pants wetting fear?—but the square of his shoulders relaxes minutely. He blinks: once, twice. His eyes soften to moss, even though he’s still frowning.
He says, “Who are you, and what are you doing on my property?”
Stiles tilts his head back, takes in the stretch of sky behind the stranger, the long fields off to the side, the stand of evergreens in the distance. There’s a battered wooden wall behind him. He smells hay and horses, hears, just barely, the restless stamp of hooves. The water sluiced over him has made a muddy mess under his hands, and he thinks, oddly enough, that he’s not in Kansas anymore. There’s panic gathering up under his breastbone, and he blindly feels for the phone still in his jeans pocket. The battery is at eighty-two percent. In the top left corner it reads, tauntingly, No Service. Scott and Isaac’s faces grin out at him from the lock screen for three seconds before it fades to black again.
He’s so fucked.
Stiles can’t exactly say hey, sometimes my magic fucks me up to this guy. Well, he could, but then he’d probably be burned at the stake for being a witch. Do they still do that? He’s not exactly sure where or when he is, but he’s not in Oz—the lack of green makes that glaringly obvious—and the sky is still up and the ground is still solid, so he’s reasonably sure he’s anywhere in time when vests were fashionable and waistbands hit high above the hips. Stiles feels a short-lived wave of relief when the guy shoves his gun back into the holster at his waist, and Stiles has half a minute to admire the guy’s ass as he turns before he shrugs on a dun colored knee-length coat.
So Stiles is thinking: old west. Before denim and zippers and medication for cholera. California, still—probably—because there has to be some method to this madness. Right?
What he’s absolutely not sure of is the why. Why in the hell this happened here and now. This is probably something he should yell at Deaton about, but too bad he’s back in good old 2016.
Stiles shrinks away as the guy hunkers down in front of him, arms braced on his thighs. Suddenly he’s all fake smiles and aww-shucks handsome and the panic whirling around inside of Stiles’ chest kicks up into a hurricane—something about this guy shouts predator, even more so with the toothy grin, and Stiles is well aware his heartbeat is currently somewhere around the realm of scared rabbit.
“Name?” the guy says, faux pleasant.
Stiles’s headache is like a vice tightening around his brain. He can hear his own breath echoing in his ears, the rapid wheezing; black edges into the sides of his vision.
And then there’s a strong hand between his shoulders, on his upper back, urging his face between his upraised knees. Fingers shackle one of his wrists, his arms feel like noodles, and the flat of his hand is braced on something hot and solid. The words, “Breathe with me now,” and, “Hang on, kid,” sound tinny and distant, but he struggles to match his breath with the rise and fall of the man’s chest. Slowly, slowly, the fog over his mind lifts—he clenches and unclenches his fingers, scraping short nails along the wiry hair on the man’s chest, the soft linen. He feels the strong beat of his heart under his palm, calming. Heat floods up from his neck, making his ears burn.
“Well. That was embarrassing,” Stiles says, eyes finally focusing on the disgruntled concern on the guy’s face. He says, voice hoarse, “I’m Stiles. Short for Stilinski, first name unpronounceable and Polish.”
“Well.” There’s a twitch at the corner of his mouth, there and gone again. “Unpronounceable and Polish. I’m Derek Hale.”
There’s a small part of Stiles—the part that occasionally reads trashy romance novels and cries during A Walk to Remember—that thinks what’s going to happen now is: Stiles will stay with Derek, since he’s got nowhere else to go. They’ll make slow passionate love after three weeks of shy heated glances, Stiles will confess he’s from the distant future, and then Stiles will magically disappear after they cling to each other, crying about never forgetting. They’ll each die tragic and alone hundreds of years apart, never loving another.
What really happens is that Derek gives him an apple and points him toward ‘town.’
Stiles doesn’t know what this ‘town’ is, but Derek’s face is telling him to get out while the getting is good.
A mile or so down the dusty track of dirt he stops, looks down at himself, and sighs. He’s got a useless iPhone and a wallet in his pocket that boasts his driver’s license, a twenty dollar bill, and a receipt from yesterday’s breakfast sandwich from Manhattan Bagel. He’s got three pennies and a nickel, all with dates from 1980 and above. He’s wearing a battered pair of black and white converse; he’s got mud up to his elbows, and his ass his still wet. The t-shirt under his red hoodie has a picture of a unicorn on it. He abso-fucking-lutely cannot go into town.
He takes a sharp turn right, and then starts trekking across the open field toward the woods.
Woods, he can do. Deaton made sure of that. And these woods are, frankly, spectacular.
“Hello,” he says softly, smiling as he steps in between two blackjacks. They have sharp, defensive needles. They’re whip-lean and endless and smell like Christmas. Stiles takes a deep breath and reaches through the branches, ignoring pricks, little flashes of fleeting pain, to spread his hand over the center bark. It thrums with life under his palm. He says, “You’re a young one, aren’t you,” and the slightly indignant bristling in response makes him laugh. He just barely catches a pouting wood sprite insult and shakes his head. He’s not fae, but his magic is made of earth and will, so he can see how a just-past-sapling tree might make that mistake.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t give him any time frame along with the attitude. He still has no idea when he is, but he’s got a general handle on the where.
This is the preserve, he’s almost entirely sure of it. Which means somewhere in there is the Nemeton, and maybe the forces that drew him here weren’t so entirely random.
He tries to remember every little thing Deaton ever told him about time travel. Number one: don’t do it. Well, duh, it’s not like he did any of this on purpose. Butterfly effect, ripples of doom, the smallest change can result in fucking up the present somehow, step on an ant and maybe Scott won’t even be born.
Number two: the method depends on the magic. The caster. Stiles’s magic usually requires a focus object, so assuming this is really all entirely him, and not some evil coven with a weirdly Stiles-specific spell, the most obvious focus object is the giant magical tree in the middle of the forest. This makes sense, considering his time jump was apparently linear.
Which basically means he’s super fucked, because the only way Stiles knows of to end a focus-based spell is to destroy the focus object, and there is a low probability of Stiles being able to kill a giant magical asshole tree, especially since harming it is supposed to rain down death and destruction. Awesome. Just…fucking awesome.
He has no idea why the hell he would do this to himself. Stiles thrusts his hands into his hair, tugging on the ends, using frustration to stave off what’ll inevitably be another useless panic attack, if the sick feeling in his stomach is any indication. Why did he will himself hundreds of years into the past? Usually Isaac and Scott show up before the helpless weeping and involuntary magic starts and shove him into a cold shower, but someone totally dropped the ball on that this time. He should probably stop getting blackout drunk when he’s sad.
Although the last time this kind of thing happened he woke up in a pile of adorable snuffling puppies, and that’s just encouraging.
The only course of action he has at the moment is finding the Nemeton and screaming at it, though, so he walks deeper into the forest, trailing hands across friendly branches along the way.
It doesn’t occur to him until he’s a couple hours in that a hundred and fifty years ago there could have been much worse things living in the Beacon Hills preserve than foxes and mountain lions, and that something is stalking him.
He can sense it, a prickling at his nape. Twilight is settling, and the dark is gradually becoming all-encompassing. There are no distant city lights, and the trees are filtering out the stars. A faint rustling has him pulling out his phone, thumb sliding up the bottom to press on the flashlight app—the reflective eyes of a raccoon glare back at him.
His relief is short-lived, though, when he hears a distant howl.
A wolf? Are their wolves there now? He shivers. There’s a snap and crackle of leaves, like something crashing through the trees. He sees a flash of bone-white teeth as something large skids to a halt just outside the scope of his light.
He jerks backward, stumbling into the brush. He clenches his cell in his hands and says, “Nice doggy,” to the dark menace only a couple yards away. It’s lean and leggy, smaller than what he’d expected a wolf to be. A coyote? He’s not sure, but he’s never heard of coyotes actually attacking humans like this, like it’s rabid, or just really fucking hungry. He could run for it, but he probably wouldn’t even make it a few feet before getting pounced on. The animal curls a lip and snarls, and Stiles slowly backs up far enough to hit a tree.
There’s a helpfully low enough branch that may or may not have been there moments before—Stiles freaking loves trees, did he mention that before?—and he makes the split-second decision to drop his phone in order to grasp it and swing up.
The woods plunge into darkness, the snarl morphs into a snap and growl, and there’s a tug and release on his shoe that he’s gonna feel later, once he loses all the shock and adrenaline, once he’s safely beyond reach. He’s fairly sure wolves and coyotes can’t climb straight up trees. Eighty percent sure.
It doesn’t actually matter, though, because it’s his only option.
Breathing hard in panicky rasps, he scrambles up and away, the tree—maple, pale in the moonlight, bark gleaming as he gets almost all the way up to the top—providing footholds along the way. He curls himself into the v of a couple of helpful branches and tries not to think about the blood pooling inside his shoe.
The forest gets quiet before it gets loud again. There’s an abnormal lull, a large predator in the woods lull, before the silence is broken by the hoot of an owl. There’s a flap and flutter of leaves, and a breeze touches Stiles’s face, cold and bracing. He sighs, tucks his arms around his body, hums a thank you to the maple and trusts the old beauty to keep him safe and sound until morning.
Stiles shifts in his sleep and flails awake, automatically throwing his arms out to balance. “Motherfucker,” he says on an indrawn breath. He hadn’t realized how high he’d climbed in the dark. He can see straight across the horizon at the spreading warmth of dawn.
And then he tips his head down at an echo-y, “Hey!” and gets a little dizzy.
Derek Hale is a dark speck below him. Stiles waves.
“How did you find me?” he shouts down.
Derek points to the left. “I could see you from the fields.”
Well. That’s just fantastic. Stiles grips onto the branches he’s sitting on and thinks about how he’s going to get down. In theory, Stiles is not afraid of heights. This is most likely because he’s never been this high up before, though, so in practice, heights are a little daunting.
“Need help?” Derek calls up.
Stiles bites the inside of his cheek to keep in a hysterical laugh. What he needs is a cherry picker or a fire truck. “Nope,” he says. “Give me a minute.” He pats the maple and murmurs, “C’mon, dude, let’s make this subtle.” Nothing says magical freak of nature like the mystical appearance of rapidly growing tree limbs. Stiles would like to live to see the future again, if he can help it.
Derek has his arms crossed and a judging expression on his face.
“I, uh, saw a wolf,” Stiles says, once he’s got two feet on the ground. He grimaces at the dull throb of pain in his right one, and tries not to think about infections and gangrene and if he’s stuck in the days of leeches or if doctors just err on the side of sawing limbs off. “Seemed safer to sleep above ground.”
“A wolf,” Derek says slowly, cocking his head. There’s something weird in his eyes, but then he blinks and it’s gone again. He clears his throat. “You’re lucky then.”
“Huh?” How was nearly getting eaten by a wolf lucky?
Derek truly has an unfriendly grin. “A bear would climb up after you.”
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my. Stiles absolutely doesn’t hum that he’s off to see the wizard under his breath. He presses his hands into his eyes hard enough to see stars and counts backwards from ten. When he looks over at Derek again, there’s concern warring with annoyance on his face. “What?” Stiles says.
“You didn’t go into town,” Derek says.
“A-plus observation there, big guy.” There’s a kink in his back, and he stretches out his arms, keeping as much weight as possible off his right foot.
Derek glances down. “And you’re hurt.”
“Two for two.” He glances up at Derek under his eyelashes. He’s not going to beg, okay, but he’s really banking on an invite back to Derek’s home. Better the asshole he kind of knows than being stuck out of time, broke, in an unfamiliar place with questionable lawlessness.
Derek sighs heavily. He hands over Stiles’s dropped phone and says, “Come on. I brought you a horse.”
Stiles’s horse is large and frightening, with wild eyes and big teeth. “I’m not getting on that,” he says.
Derek says, “Suit yourself,” and walks over to an even bigger horse, dark like his heart and soul.
“Ugh,” Stiles says. His foot hurts and Derek’s obviously not going to live up to his fantasies, sweep him into his manly arms and carry him, so Stiles squares his shoulders moves toward the mare.
She’s even larger up close, a dusty chestnut with a red-brown mane and monster hooves that could crush his chest like a pile of twigs. She turns her head to give him the stink-eye. He cautiously palms the saddle pommel, movements slow and steady. He’s contemplating exactly how to mount up without embarrassing himself or getting eaten when hands close over his waist. He yelps and grabs for her mane and scrambles to keep upright when Derek just…plops him into the saddle.
“Rilla’s old and stubborn,” Derek says. “You’ll be fine.”
“I hate you,” Stiles says, hunched over.
Derek smirks, pats the horse on the neck. He clucks his tongue and Rilla takes a plodding step forward, leaving Stiles to grope frantically for the reins.
And holy crap. Holy crap, Stiles is riding a fucking horse in the middle of a field in the middle of the 1800s, and he’s wearing, if he remembers correctly, his Scooby Doo boxers. He’s suddenly stuck between incredulous nightmare mode and missing his dad like crazy. His eyes prick a little with tears, and he blinks to stave them off, fingers clenched on the pommel and the knot of reins and a clump of Rilla’s mane all at once.
Derek darts little glances at him, and Stiles would be more concerned about that if he weren’t concentrating so hard on not falling off Rilla and getting trampled to death, on how fucked he is, and how long he’s been missing back home. There’s a small part of him that didn’t actually believe this was happening, but the horse between his thighs and the rolling fields of cattle and terrifying night spent in a tree are all dangerously close to giving him a mental breakdown.
He takes a deep breath. Okay.
He’s stuck in the past. He’s got an un-killable focus object, a dying cell phone, and a hot angry cowboy who’s willing to take him home for at least a little bit. Things are not as dire as they could be, he thinks, determined. He can figure this out.
Derek’s house is cozy enough, for what is basically a log cabin. Two rooms and a kitchen, a hearth and a well pump. There are small windows covered in canvas and a hurricane lamp, casting a golden glow over everything, despite being in the middle of the day.
Stiles is picking at a piece of crusty bread, having already slurped down two bowls of soup, and Derek is hunkered down in front of him, leaning over his injured foot. The flickering shadows make his cheeks sharp above his stubble, and there’s a lock of hair falling over his forehead that Stiles’s fingers itch to push back. He’s so screwed.
He makes a small pained noise when Derek pulls off his sneaker—arching an eyebrow at Stiles before tossing it away. The sock is stuck to his skin, so that’s fun too. Underneath, the puncture wound is swollen and tender, and he hisses when Derek dumps what’s probably rotgut all over it.
Derek’s grip tightens on his ankle. “Sorry,” he says, voice hoarse.
Stiles says, “I was the one who decided to stomp through the forest at night.”
“Are you sure a wolf did this?” Derek asks.
“Uh, wolf, coyote, really big dog?” It was dark, and there was howling, it’s safe to assume it was some kind of canine. He really doesn’t think it matters, though, given the end result is still the same. Hopefully he won’t get a blood disease.
“You—” Derek blinks at him. “You can’t tell the difference between a wolf and a coyote?”
“In my defense, I’ve never seen either of them up close and in person before,” Stiles says. “And it was really dark.”
Derek wraps his foot in silence, and somehow Stiles feels like he’s failed him. Like being unable to distinguish wild animals from each other makes him lacking, and he fidgets uneasily in his seat.
“So,” Stiles says finally. He wants to say: know any druids, witches or wizards? But he’s pretty sure Derek will think he’s crazy. Or crazier, since, you know, Stiles keeps glancing at his phone—miraculously still holding steady at eighty-two percent—waiting numbly for the little antenna to pop up, the AT&T logo, fucking anything to tell him he isn’t completely fucked.
Derek carefully props Stiles’s foot up onto a stool and gets to his feet, swiping his hands over his thighs. He has sweat rings on the linen under his arms, and the floorboards creak ominously as he steps toward the front door.
Stiles swallows down the urge to say don’t leave me.
“I’ll be out in the fields for the rest of the day.” Derek nods at Stiles’s leg and says, “Keep off that for a while,” like none of this is totally bizarre.
He’s asked Stiles zero questions. He hasn’t asked Stiles a single personal question since demanding his name the day before. There’s no one but Derek out here, Stiles could be a serial killer or a bank robber. An outlaw.
“Why are you not more curious about me?” Stiles says when Derek’s got the door half open, sun spilling over the dark wood, dust motes spinning about his legs. Stiles is wearing fabric that hasn’t been invented yet, he’s clutching a smart phone to his chest, and he appeared out of nowhere, like an angel.
Softly, Derek says, “We all have our secrets,” and closes the door.
If Derek hadn’t been super-hot, if he hadn’t been a broad-chested, muscular, bright-eyed, dark-haired wet dream, if he hadn’t been exactly, right down to the bunny teeth, Stiles’s type, Stiles would think he was getting Stockholm’d here.
A week of enforced closeness, where Derek glares at him if he tries to walk farther than the outhouse and back again, with his weird, intense quietness…Stiles is starting to get desperate. He wants to crawl into Derek’s lap and kiss the scowl off his face.
Stiles has known Derek Hale, lonely cowboy, for approximately nine days, this is not normal.
And then—and then!—Derek hauls out the copper tub.
Stiles watches numbly as Derek hangs a large bucket of water over the fire. He watches as he does it again and again, until the slightly tarnished bath tub is close to overflowing, and then he watches as Derek stands in front of him, hands on his hips, expectant.
“What?” Stiles finally says.
Derek says, “I usually wash in the creek,” Stiles shudders just thinking about it, wondering how the hell Derek doesn’t end up with hypothermia, “but I figured you’d want something a little warmer.” There’s a smile at the corner of his mouth, like they’re sharing a joke, when really all Stiles can think of is: Derek wants him to get naked.
“Uh.” Stiles blinks at him. “Okay?” He thinks: is Derek going to watch him? Oh god, is Derek doing to help? He’s read something like this before. In one of Isaac’s many and varied romance novels that just sort of leap into Stiles’s hands whenever he’s at Isaac’s apartment and screamingly bored. That’s totally the only place Stiles reads them. He in no way has his own secret stash under his bed that no one else knows about.
Derek nods, once, and then tosses him a sliver of soap that Stiles scrambles to catch, pressing it against his chest.
Cautiously, Stiles stands up. He slips off his shoes, wiggles his toes and stares down at his still-bandaged foot.
He tugs his shirt over his head and then pauses at the zip on his jeans, staring at the tense line of Derek’s shoulders as he sits down at the kitchen table with his back to him. This shouldn’t be weird, right? Just two dudes, hanging out, bathing.
He shucks his jeans quickly, stepping out of them, and then his Scooby Doo boxers, and then he gingerly lowers himself into the steaming hot water without getting his foot wet. He sighs. It’s—it feels like it’s the first time he’s been really truly warm in days.
He closes his eyes at the prickling of tears and he heaves a noisy breath through his nose.
And then he startles at a touch on his foot, splashes water as he jerks upright, and Derek tightens his hold on his ankle with a furrowed brow.
He says, “You need to wash this, too,” and starts gently unwrapping the bandage.
“Oh, uh. Right,” Stiles says, and tries not to think about how Derek’s hands are dangerously close to his naked thighs. The water is unsurprisingly clear, but Stiles is saved from complete embarrassment by the dim light.
This is nothing like two dudes, hanging out, bathing. Christ.
Stiles slowly but insistently wriggles his foot out of Derek’s grasp and pulls it into the tub, folding his knees up. The flush on his cheeks can be blamed on the steam.
Derek holds his hands in the air for a moment before jerking them backward and getting to his feet.
Stiles doesn’t know what to think about his expression—sheepish? Apologetic?—but Derek stumbles on, “Sorry, you’re fine,” and hustles out the door.
Stiles slips outside, damp and chilly from the bath, and finds Derek down at the barn. It’s a sturdy and plain building, but it looks old and worn. Big enough for a couple horses, with a high, arched-ceiling loft. One half of the double doors is hanging open, a warm glow spilling out onto the grass, and Stiles hugs his arms around his body and slips inside.
Derek’s in Rilla’s stall, rubbing the star between her eyes, and he says, “You’re not from around here,” without looking at him.
“And you really like pointing out the obvious,” Stiles says. He stuffs his hands in his pockets and stays well out of biting range, eyeing Rilla warily.
In the distance, there’s a yip-yip-howl followed by a longer, mournful cry, and Derek’s chest expands on a big breath. He tilts his forehead against Rilla’s neck, and Stiles feels like he should offer some comfort here, but also like he shouldn’t come within three feet of the giant horse.
Stiles swallows hard. “Is that the wolf that bit me?”
“Could be,” Derek says. “We don’t have many wolves here, now, though.”
It sounds like a story. It sounds like a story Derek doesn’t particularly want to tell, and Stiles and Stiles’s secrets have no room to push.
And then Derek straightens up and shoots Stiles a glance, frowning. He says, “You’re going to catch a cold,” and starts ushering him insistently back up to the house.
Another yip-howl echoes across the open field as they step out of the barn, closer now, and Derek’s hand tightens on his arm. “Hybrid,” he says, low, but he doesn’t sound particularly sure about it.
“Can’t you tell the difference between a coyote and a wolf?” Stiles throws the words back at him, smug, and Derek scowls.
“It’s both,” he says. “It’d be…” he hesitates, “both.” He stares off toward the woods, but it’s too dark to properly see.
“Huh,” Stiles says. “I didn’t think that was a thing.”
Derek rolls his shoulders, like an aborted shudder. He says, “C’mon,” and they both head inside.
His week of forced inactivity and supreme Derek closeness is followed by a week of feeding chickens and watching Derek methodically round up cattle for the “harsh season.” Otherwise known as the rest of December and January. They get the shelter of a lean-to with plenty of hay and food, and they huddle out the rainy season, taking turns in the relative warmth.
Derek likes to get sweaty and shirtless, and Stiles likes to lean against the wooden fence and watch him.
Stiles says, “Did you find the ones you were missing?” idly chewing on a piece of grass. He’s wearing a pair of Derek’s pants, which are good on height, but roomy enough in the thigh to make Stiles’s brain melt a little.
Derek says, “No,” and stares off toward the tree line. He’s been doing that a lot, but Stiles doesn’t know him well enough to know if that’s just his normal.
Lonely cowboy, wistful thinker. It just makes him even more attractive, and Stiles clenches his hands on the fence slat and clears his throat.
Derek shrugs one shoulder. He says, “It was only a few,” like he didn’t have a gun to Stiles’s head nearly two weeks ago for presumably stealing them.
Stiles is out of his depth here, though, so he just nods.
He’s out of his depth with most things here, fear of horses aside, and he tries not to think about the small canvas bag Derek gave him to use, where his boxers are carefully folded up around his phone. Two weeks till Christmas, if time is trudging on with any reliability, and he can’t—won’t—make his dad go through that alone.
He needs to find the Nemeton.
He needs to go into the preserve again, and there’s really no time better to do it than when there’s a full moon.
He waits until he can hear the quiet snuffles of Derek sleeping in the other room before he shifts out of his pile of blankets by the hearth. Carefully, he digs his phone out of the bag and presses the home screen. His heart feels a little better, like a squeeze and release, every time he sees Scott and Isaac—a reassurance that he’s not crazy, and that they’re real, and that somehow time will right itself.
Time will right itself, he thinks. He’s like a ball on a paddle, whatever shot him back this far is going to, has to, eventually pull him home. Right? Christ, he wishes he’d paid more attention to Deaton during “magic lessons,” but Deaton has a monotone voice and likes to hoard knowledge like a dragon.
It’s drizzling when he leaves the cottage, and he has to hold a hand over the top of the hurricane lamp to keep the flame from fizzling out. The only way Stiles knows the moon is full is because of the shape of it the night before, and because the young apple trees behind the barn told him. It’s too overcast for the night to be anything but pitch black.
“Of course,” Stiles mutters to himself, tripping over a rock. He’s soaked through, and he hasn’t even made it to the tree line yet. “Why wouldn’t it be raining?” If he doesn’t get sent back home soon, he’s probably going to catch the plague and die.
The trees offer a little more cover, and he swipes the sleeve of his shirt over his face to get the drips out of his eyes.
He leans up against a thick oak and says, “Okay, old dude, show me where the magic is,” and closes his eyes.
His fingers clench on the bark, sparks explode behind his eyelids; his head aches as the tree shows him a bolt of light shooting down through its roots and across the forest floor. It burns a map against his retinas, and when he blinks open his eyes again, the lines still crisscross his vision, like dayglow paint that burns and makes him tear up.
He fucking hates creating mind maps. He’s gonna be seeing stars for days. Mind maps are for desperate times, but he’s not going to wander blindly in the wilderness—again—and he’s been here for going on two weeks, with no end in sight. He needs this.
Even with the glaring neon map, it takes him hours to track down the tree. Roots are twisting, convoluted, earthbound masses, like ingrown tree limbs, and no paths they map out are straight.
Stiles is an exhausted soggy mess by the time he finally finds the Nemeton. The rain has mainly stopped, but his lamplight gets snuffed the second he steps into the tree’s massive shade. Typical. Nobody wants a forest fire, least of all a giant magical tree.
It’s weird, seeing it whole, as big around as a giant sequoia, but squatter, like a stunted willow. Out of place among the majestically tall valley oaks, sugar pines and cottonwood. Its energy has a pulse, like a heartbeat. It makes the air glow, dim and soft, and only the lack of moonlight makes it noticeable.
The Nemeton has always been the only tree Stiles has never been able to get a bead on, probably because it isn’t really a tree.
Stiles pushes up the ends of his sopping hoodie. He says, “All right, nemesis o’ mine. Let’s get to work.”
He’s getting nowhere. The fifth time Stiles pushes himself upright, covered in mud and sweat, hands shaking from being flung through the air—the Nemeton is damn defensive, and nothing Stiles does seems to be getting through to it, he’s getting desperate—he hears growling.
A low, aggressive rumble that makes the hair on the back of his neck stand up, goosebumps spreading over his overheated skin.
He takes a fumbling step back toward the only tree in the entire fucking preserve that wants him to actually die—probably—just as the wolf, the coyote-wolf hybrid, Derek had said, likely the same one that’d bit his foot, steps into the Nemeton’s glow. Stiles can see it now: the narrow muzzle, the lighter coloring, the oversized paws and broader chest. It’d probably be pretty cute if it didn’t want to rip his face off.
“I think I’d welcome a bear right now,” Stiles says, and then a sleek black blur darts out in front of him and tackles the beast to the ground.
It’s not a bear.
No, as far as Stiles can tell, it’s a big-ass, snarling wolf. Awesome. Now there are two of them.
It feels like the Nemeton at his back is laughing at him, and he wonders if he stabbed it in its big stupid face it’d bleed sap or blood.
The black wolf pins the coyote easily, and Stiles watches in horror as it lunges for the throat—he flinches at the sound of teeth snapping, at a whimper, and he really hopes the wolf doesn’t start in on him once the coyote is dead. Stiles is stringy and full of preservatives, he’s pretty sure he’d taste gross.
And then—and then, Stiles obviously suffers a stroke or gets mystically roofied by the motherfucking giant evil tree, because the black wolf sort of shimmers? Loses all its fur all at once? And stretches up and out into a very extremely totally naked man. A man who looks an awful lot like Derek Hale.
“Are you okay?” Derek says, grabbing Stiles’s upper arms and tugging him close.
Stiles is a little weak in the knees, but otherwise—“What the hell, Derek?” he yells, and slaps the flat of his hands on Derek’s chiseled magnificent chest.
God. Oh, god, Stiles is going to melt into a puddle, Jesus Christ, Derek is naked hugging him. He’s being smushed up against a hot, slick brick wall of muscles. He shudders out a breath and his body sort of… collapses into Derek’s, hands sliding across Derek’s hips. He drops his head onto Derek’s shoulder and says, “I’m fine,” into his skin.
Sure he’s fine. Derek is just some kind of…werewolf?
Or—and this is a big possibility—Stiles has just hallucinated this entire thing. He’s tired enough, and he’s been known to have weird dreams.
He says, “Did you kill it?”
“What?” Derek loosens his hold and steps backward, and Stiles tries very hard not to look down. His brows are furrowed and he says, “No. Of course not.”
“Oh, of course not,” Stiles says. “Why would you kill the wild animal that wanted to rip my throat out?” Derek has abs upon abs, it’s really distracting. He presses a hand over his eyes. “Can you, uh, put some pants on?” He kind of hates himself for asking, but there’s a strong possibility Stiles will attack Derek with his mouth or his hands or his tongue, and there’s only so much he can blame on fear and adrenaline.
“Stiles,” Derek says, the barest hint of amusement in his voice, “we’re in the middle of the woods.”
“Yeah, about that.” Stiles drops his hand and tips his head back, stares at the thick, twisted limbs of the Nemeton overarching them, black against the dull glow. “What the hell is going on?”
The weirdest part of the night, honestly, is when Derek says, “Are you ready to come home?” to the coyote, and how it slinks after them, tail drooping between its legs. It won’t come near the house, though. It paces at the edge of the field, restless and suspicious, and Derek just sighs, resigned.
It’s close to dawn, the first smudges of pink creeping up along the horizon. Stiles wants to sink into his blankets and sleep for a week, but he can’t turn his brain off.
He says, “You…both of you,” he jerks a head toward the coyote.
Stiles grimaces. “Yeah, I was trying to avoid that word.”
Derek moves toward him. “And you,” he says. “You want to explain to me what you were doing in the middle of the woods on a full moon?” He looks less concerned for Stiles’s wellbeing now, but he’s still glaringly naked, a heavily muscled silhouette against the sunrise, and it’s fucking with Stiles’s concentration.
“Uh.” He doesn’t exactly get how this can be any kind of surprise, considering Derek already calls his phone a magic block, but—“Just trying to get home.”
Derek narrows his eyes. “Through the Old Tree?”
“A powerful center of fucked up magic, yeah.” Stiles shrugs. “It’s like trying to karate chop the stars.” He doesn’t want to think about how he’s kind of stuck there, because it makes him want to cry.
With a pensive frown, Derek gently steers him into the house, a warm hand wrapped around his wrist. Stiles watches morosely as Derek pulls on a pair of pants, kneels down to build up the hearth fire, and then tugs Stiles down onto his blankets, an arm around his shoulders to keep him close.
Stiles feels the whole night drain out of him all at once, staring unblinking into the flickering flames—exhaustion pours over him in waves, his eyes now too-dry, hot and tight, and a headache pounding through the back of his skull.
Derek palms his nape, and Stiles buries his face in the crook of Derek’s neck. His fingers curl into the coarse hair on Derek’s chest, and the hitch of Derek’s breath makes the base of his palms throb, tingles gathering at the small of his back.
“This is a dumb idea,” he says softly.
“Shut up, Stiles,” Derek says. “Go to sleep.”
When Stiles wakes up, a girl is staring at him. Intense dark eyes, wild brown hair, one of Derek’s shirts hanging big and awkward on her shoulders. She’s got the blank expression of a sociopath and her grin looks hungry.
“Uh. Hi?” Stiles says.
She just silently watches him, kneeling on the floor between him and the hearth, and he shrinks back, blankets pulled up to his chin defensively. He darts his gaze around the room to look for Derek. Who is sitting at the table, smiling.
Derek says, “Leave him alone, Malia,” and she gives him an irritated scowl but backs off, kicks a leg out too close to the flames and gnawing at what Stiles seriously hopes is a chicken bone.
“So,” Stiles says, slowly getting to his feet. “Coyote?”
“Coyote,” Derek nods. “Malia, meet Stiles. Stiles, meet my cousin, Malia.”
“Cousin,” Stiles says. He guesses he can see the resemblance around the disapproving scowl. “Uh, nice to meet you?”
Malia just snaps her teeth at him. Awesome.
It’s good to have family around, though, and Derek’s improved mood is infectious. They grin at each other over breakfast, and something warm settles in the bottom of Stiles’s stomach. They had a weird night, yeah, and Stiles still needs to figure out a way to get home, but right now Stiles is safe, and he has oatmeal, and the vicious coyote in the woods turned out to be a person, and Stiles’s magic likes the wood under his feet, and the lovingly crafted table under his hands. His heart swells, looking across at Derek, and he’s starting to understand just exactly what that means.
In the ensuing days, Derek doesn’t explain what’s going on with Malia—there is definitely something going on with Malia—or what’s going on with the whole werewolf thing, and why Derek doesn’t seem to go anywhere except to hunt the occasional rabbit or check on the cattle and horses. After three weeks, Stiles has developed the impression that Derek is some kind of hill hermit—is there even a town nearby at all?—and Malia’s sudden appearance makes him think something terrible might have happened to the rest of Derek’s family, maybe a long time ago.
In true Stiles and Derek fashion, though, they refuse to ask each other anything about anything personal, and instead they bang around the farm companionably and then deal with Malia terrorizing the chickens and eating a steer.
“She ate a whole steer?” Stiles asks, hands on the fence several feet away from Derek. He refuses to actually look at the carcass; it’ll probably just make him throw up.
Derek grits his teeth and bites out, “Most of.”
“Huh.” Should Stiles be impressed? He’s kind of impressed. Malia could turn sideways and disappear, where did she put it all?
Derek rubs a hand over his forehead and sighs. “Some of the young ones are missing,” he says, and then turns to Stiles. “C’mon. You can help.”
Helping is apparently riding out on Derek’s horse, Ranger, and Stiles is torn between the novelty of clutching at Derek with his arms and thighs and sitting on a evil four-hooved, big-tooth demon. Ranger’s eyes are opaque, like death.
“How can you be more afraid of Ranger than Malia?” Derek asks, clearly more amused than he should be.
“I’m plenty afraid of Malia.” Malia routinely has blood all over her from hunting, it’s not like this eating a steer thing came as a complete surprise. Stiles is banking on Malia having some kind of latent human moral compass, though, whereas horses are probably plotting to rise up against anyone who likes to ride on their backs and tell them where to go and what to do. Horses are a ticking time bomb of oppressed rage. Maybe Derek feels like he can take it because he’s a supernatural creature of the night, but Stiles isn’t taking any chances. He tells Derek all this as they amble down to the creek at the far end of the forest.
“You’re an idiot,” Derek says.
Ranger waggles his head to get rid of a fly, his skin ripples all the way across his body, and Stiles full-on hugs Derek to his chest, petrified.
Derek pats his hands over his belly and chuckles.
Derek’s better mood ever since they found Malia is seriously tugging on Stiles’s heartstrings.
Hot, genuinely kind, plenty of good cheer for the half-feral in the family. Even the hours he reserves for pensive brooding are freaking endearing, given that half the time he’s down by the barn, getting nudged for pats by soft-eyed yearling cows.
God. God, Stiles is falling in love with him. It’s unacceptable in so many ways.
They find three half-grown calves by the stream, and Derek makes Stiles get down off Ranger to herd them back up into the field.
Stiles says, “You should have a dog to do this,” as Derek and Ranger stomp through the water to the other side.
“They don’t like me,” Derek says—which, big surprise there, right?—and then he grins over his shoulder at him. “Besides, you make enough noise to work just as well.”
Stiles doesn’t stick his tongue out, because he is an adult, but it’s a close thing. He flips Derek off instead.
The three steers are unimpressed. Stiles flaps his hands at them. He says, “Get along, little dogies,” and tilts his head back and sings the wrong words to Home on the Range, voice booming out across the field.
Since Derek and Stiles are both dudes, obviously, and Malia is an impressionable young lady—Stiles holds in a snort at the thought—Derek and Stiles have been sharing a bed, while Malia sleeps on the blankets in front of the fire. Derek offered her the bed first, of course, but she just popped into her fur coat, went for a run through the fields, and then made a muddy nest out of Stiles’s pallet, chewing up the rubber sole of one of Stiles’s sneakers—Stiles swears it was mostly out of spite.
Derek’s room is just big enough to hold a solid wood double bed, and the double bed really isn’t big enough to hold two grown men. Derek never hesitates to climb in each night, though, stripped down to a thin pair of pants, chest bare.
Stiles tries to survive by pretending it isn’t actually happening. That basically only works until Derek rolls over and snuggles up against him like a giant teddy bear.
The only surprising thing is that he actually manages to sleep, and sleep well. He drifts off to Derek’s whiffling snores, warm and cozy, and wakes up at dawn, well-rested and ready for the day.
The third day in the row that it happens, Stiles squirms his way even deeper into Derek’s hold, burying his face in the pillows on a contented sigh.
Derek rubs his scruff into the crook of Stiles’s neck.
Stiles can feel his voice rumble against his back when he says, “Morning.”
It’s so unbelievably not awkward, Stiles does the only thing he can think of and turns over.
He brings his hands up, palms on either side of Derek’s softly smiling mouth. “Morning,” he says, and Derek smiles wider.
He hooks his arms around Stiles’s back and pulls him closer, notching a leg between Stiles’s thighs.
Any hesitation and uncertainly melts away as their chests press together, and Stiles tilts his chin forward and kisses him. Soft, like a sigh.
Derek’s grin falls prey to Stiles’s parted mouth, and it isn’t long before Derek’s hands travel up Stiles’s back to cradle his head, before he arches up and over, pressing Stiles into the pillows, licks over his mouth, teeth soft on his lower lip.
Knees bent up on either side of Derek’s hips, Stiles buries his fingers in Derek’s hair and holds on.
But, like, okay… werewolves? Doesn’t stop being weird.
Stiles is magic, it’s not even a leap to believe in the supernatural. It’s more like a fumbling hop-skip, where Stiles’s legs get tangled together and he falls face-first into a sleeping coyote when he gets up to grab a cup of water.
Malia growls at him and shoves her paws in his face as he scrambles to get off her.
“Sorry, sorry,” Stiles says, and he can hear Derek sleepily laughing at him from the other room. Werewolves.
“Do you think she heard us?” Stiles hisses when he climbs back under the covers and into Derek’s arms.
Derek ducks his head down into the crook of Stiles’s neck and says, “I don’t think she cares.”
It’s very hard to imagine Malia caring about anything, this is true. Stiles tugs on Derek’s ears. “You can hear really good, though.”
Derek says, “Hear, see, smell,” and licks Stiles’s throat.
Stiles squirms a little, hands moving down to cup Derek’s shoulders. “That’s, uh. Maybe you shouldn’t—”
“Hmm?” Derek glances up at him from trailing little bites down his sternum.
Stiles has had a grand total of two baths, along with about a bucket wipe down a day, he’s not exactly sparkling here. He says, “I was gardening yesterday.” He probably smells like stale sweat and sulfur from weaving tiny spells into the dirt to help grow all the late season squash. It’s possible he even smells like horse shit, if he didn’t get it all out from under his nails.
Derek hmms again, rubs his nose on Stiles’s belly and says, “You smell earthy.”
“You realize that’s just a fancy way of saying dirt, right?” He digs his fingers into the wings of Derek’s back, though, and arches his hips up against his broad chest. Derek’s scruff is bordering on being beard-soft, Stiles wants to rub his whole body on his face.
“It’s good,” Derek says, and nips at the insides of Stiles’s arms, grinning.
Stiles gives in and says, “Up, up, come up here,” and wriggles and tugs until Derek is laughing into his mouth, and this time Stiles rolls him over onto his back and climbs on top.
They get a Christmas tree—a small sapling that tells Stiles it doesn’t mind being in a bucket for a week—and Derek unearths a battered wooden box of handmade ornaments. Rustic woodcarvings of animals and faded blue and green striped ribbons, a tarnished silver star for the treetop. They gather berries and pinecones, boughs to wind over the hearth, and from the pensive and careful way Derek decorates the small house, Stiles gets the feeling that he hasn’t bothered to do any of this for a long time. Derek polishes the star until it gleams, and Malia eats more berries than she threads through twine for around the tree.
It’s two days until Christmas, and Stiles doesn’t know what he wants more—to see his dad again, or spend Christmas morning waking up to Derek.
It’s fucking ridiculous. It shouldn’t even be a contest. But Derek has a smile like sunshine and sometimes he looks at Stiles like Stiles is his whole world. If—when Stiles leaves, he’s not sure what he’s going to be leaving behind.
“What are you thinking about?” Derek says, sitting down next to Stiles in front of the fire.
Stiles has a pile of pinecones in his lap, and a handful of ribbons. “Going home,” Stiles says, voice hoarse.
Derek nods. He closes his hand over one of Stiles’s, squeezes his fingers lightly. “Stiles,” he says. “It’s okay. It’ll be…it’s going to be okay.”
Stiles turns his hand over, clasps their palms together. “I know.” He doesn’t know that. He doesn’t know anything.
Derek gives him a pained half-laugh. “I’ve been around longer than you think,” he says. “I’ve survived much worse than…you going home, Stiles.”
“What, I’m not good enough to cry over?” Stiles says, mock offended. Derek looks like he’s maybe pushing thirty, but it figures that werewolves just age really well.
Derek slumps into him. He says, softly, “I’ll miss you. If you go,”—if, if—“but you’ll be home, with your family.” He takes a deep breath. “I can be happy for that. For you.”
“You’re a selfless moron,” Stiles says fondly.
Derek tightens his hold on him, almost bruising. “No. No,” he says. “I’d be much happier if you stayed.”
Stiles wants to say me too, but the words expand, sharp and awkward, and get stuck in his throat.
On Christmas Eve they burn bayberry and have rabbit stew by the hearth while an icy rain falls, and an un-festive-like wind batters at the canvas-covered windows. It cuts through the room like icicles, and they sit close for warmth.
They exchange gifts around the candlelit tree, and it’s cozy enough for a pioneer Christmas. Stiles misses his dad’s turkey and his mom’s collection of Disney ornaments, but he likes the way Malia softens around the edges, humming carols under her breath.
Stiles gives Derek lovingly coaxed-to-grow pots of herbs, along with his faded unicorn t-shirt, and Malia gets his other shoe.
Malia had already given him a dead rabbit—thus the stew—and Derek—
“This is, uh.” Stiles runs his thumb over the carved muzzle of a slyly crouching fox, ears alert and playful. The level of detail is amazing, and Stiles’s blood is buzzing in his head and he blinks back tears.
Derek looks anxious, but like he’s trying really hard to hide it, ears red and head dipped low.
Stiles grips the carving tight, the hard points of its head and tail digging into his palm. “Thank you,” he says thickly.
Derek nods and pushes to his feet, hand palming the back of his neck. He says, gruff, “I’m gonna go check on the animals,” and then makes his way out into the harsh night.
Stiles bites his lip as he watches him leave, heart beating hard. He fumbles for his phone, like a safety blanket, but he doesn’t bother lighting it up. It’s started to have the opposite effect on him; there’s no longer a well of relief at the sight of Scott and Isaac, but a sort of reserved dread—he doesn’t know what to do anymore.
Malia’s voice cuts through the sudden stillness of the room, and Stiles jerks his head toward her. He almost forgot that she was even there.
“What’s that do?” Malia says, nodding toward the cell.
Stiles shrugs, shoulders tense. “Nothing much, now. You can talk to people on it.”
She narrows her eyes and cocks her head. “It’s magic?”
“Technology,” Stiles says. “Which is kind of, uh, normalized magic, I guess?”
He hands it to her, and she turns it over and over, sniffs at it. She purses her mouth in a way that means that she really, really wants to lick it, but knows that she probably shouldn’t.
Her fingers slide over the home button and she startles slightly when it lights up. When it fades to black, she presses it again, and then again. Finally, she says, “What’s this eighty-two mean?”
Stiles says, “That’s how much juice…it’s…” He trails off, staring at the phone screen, at the way Malia keeps making it light up, over and over. Ignoring her, “Who’s this?” and “Who’s this other guy?” with her pointer finger stabbing Scott in the face, because it’s been almost a month. He’s been here with Derek for four weeks, that phone should be on zero by now. It should be a useless, dead slab, but instead it’s still at eighty-two percent.
“Holy fuck,” Stiles says heart in his throat. “I’m so fucking stupid.”
He scrambles to grab the phone back from Malia, jabs in his code to unlock it. The motherfucking love app is still frozen on his screen.
He did this. It might’ve been a joke app from Isaac, but Stiles fucking got drunk and took whatever the fuck this Timeless Love app was supposed to do and amplified it to a million and got sent back one hundred and fifty years to find…what? His true love?
He’s so fucked.
Malia looks mildly alarmed as he jolts up to his feet.
He stuffs the carved fox into his back pocket, says, “I gotta go…do something,” and flees.
The sleet is heavy and the night is dark, and Stiles blindly makes his way down to the barn, to the glow of lamplight outlining the slightly open door.
Stiles practically falls inside, and Derek leans out of Ranger’s stall and says, “Stiles?”
“I’m sorry,” Stiles says, grabbing for him. He’s soaked through and freezing, but his lips feel burning hot when they bump up against Derek’s. “I’m so sorry. I love you.”
Stiles cuts Derek off with his teeth, licks into his mouth. He slips sideways and pants against his cheek, eyes burning. Stiles is only a little surprised and thankful the rain didn’t do the phone in by now, but it’s only a matter of time.
Derek says, “You’re—” and swallows hard, hands clenching viciously on Stiles’s hips. He hopes they bruise.
Stiles nods, nose brushing wetness on Derek’s face. “I’m sorry,” he says again. All this is his stupid fucking fault.
He drops the phone onto the hard-packed dirt.
Derek buries his face in Stiles throat. He says, “It’s okay,” and Stiles wants to shout, he wants to punch Derek in the face and he wants to hold onto Derek so hard that maybe Derek will be flung forward in time with him. It’s not going to be okay. Stiles never wants to hear that word ever again.
He takes a shaky breath and stomps down.
Stiles wakes up to insistent ringing. For a moment he thinks it’s his cell, and then he remembers: it’s rain-soaked and shattered, probably in pieces on the floor of Derek’s barn.
He blinks open his eyes and stares up at the kitchen ceiling. His dad’s kitchen ceiling. There’s a warm weight on his chest, and he tilts his head a little to see Homeless Harry making himself at home in a purring, contented loaf.
He wiggles his feet and feels the unforgiving leather of borrowed boots. Something sharp is digging into his right ass cheek, and a there’s a growing puddle of water spreading out around him all along the tile.
The ringing stops and clicks over to voicemail on the house phone. Stiles listens numbly to the dial tone of a hang-up before the phone starts ringing again.
He waits for the relief to flood over him. He’d destroyed the focus object anchoring him to the past, to Derek. He’s home.
All he feels is cold.
With a groan, he sits up, dislodging a disgruntled HH. He rubs palms over his face, listens as the phone clicks over again, and then starts up ringing—again. Someone really wants to get ahold of him.
When he finally makes it to the phone, he answers it with, “Stilinski’s house of alcohol and bad decisions, how can I help you?”
“Stiles,” Isaac says, panting hard. “Thank god. Where the fuck have you been?”
“It’s a long story,” Stiles says, tucking the phone between his shoulder and ear and going for the fridge. He misses soda. He misses deli cheese product and hot pockets and pasteurized milk. He misses ice cream.
“I’ve been trying to get you for over an hour, asshole,” Isaac says.
“An—what?” Stiles straightens up fast, narrowly missing knocking his head on the top of the fridge. He stares across the kitchen to the policeman’s charity calendar his dad insisted on hanging, even though it’s filled with his half-naked deputies. It hasn’t even been flipped over to December yet. “Isaac, what day is it?”
“Are you fucking with me? Look, Scott—”
“Isaac, please,” Stiles says, gripping the phone hard.
“It’s November twenty-sixth, douchewad,” Isaac says, “And I think Scott’s a werewolf.”
“First things first,” Stiles says when he gets to Scott’s house and sees him, bloody but looking pretty good for apparently having his side ripped open. “Why are you wearing a deputy uniform?”
Isaac and Scott are both, in fact, wearing deputy uniforms.
Isaac says, “What the fuck, Stiles?”
Scott, always game, just tilts his head and says, “Because we’re on duty tonight?”
“Okay, but,” Stiles pinches the skin in between his brows, rubs his thumb in, a headache pulsing out from his temples. Scott flunked out of veterinary school and works at the bakery on Fifth Street, right? Stiles remembers that he loved that job, that he took surprisingly well to the art of bread making, only now Stiles can also remember being at the academy with both Isaac and Scott. He remembers—“Holy fuck, did I drop out of the police academy to be a wizard?”
“Uh, I think Deaton called it an emissary?” Scott says, scratching his forehead, fingers stained with dried blood. “But listen, I’m okay.”
Okay. Jesus Christ, Stiles wants to burn the world down, nothing is fucking okay.
“Oh god,” Stiles says, feeling sick. “I fucked up.” Pond ripples, butterfly wings, sonic boom, whatever the fuck it is. Stiles’s old past and Stiles’s new past are merging fast and furious in his mind: what else is different? What the fuck did he do?
Isaac grips Stiles’s arm and says, “We figured we should tell you before we called Derek.”
Stiles freezes. His brain jerks to a halt—Derek, Derek—and then speeds up, images flashing so fast he can’t take it all in. He grinds his palms into his eye-sockets and only realizes he’s screaming when Isaac folds him up into a full-body hug.
He collapses into Isaac, feels Scott move toward him, too, a hand high on his back.
“Stiles?” Scott says, and Isaac murmurs soft soothing sounds as Stiles hiccups tears into his throat.
He remembers the Hales. Derek, standoffish and grim, Alpha. His sister, Cora—sister?—and his cousin, Malia, apathetic and loyal by turns. He remembers Boyd, a beta, and Erica, who isn’t his Erica, the old Erica, but somehow is still that, too. Werewolves. A little pack in the woods, terrorizing their teenage years, giving their spots of Hardy Boys mystery-solving weight and meat.
Stiles shudders and pulls away from Isaac, face burning in sudden embarrassment. He swipes wetness off his face with his sleeve and turns to Scott and says, “So who bit you?”
Scott shrugs and says, “I don’t know.”
The werewolves were always Stiles’s thing. His gift. His compulsion, like he couldn’t help but get involved, him and his magic. He made sure that Isaac and Scott promised to stay out of it as much as possible, and it helped that Derek was generally an asshole to all of them. Derek Hale was a necessary evil in his path to mystical druidism. His wizardry.
Derek. Old as dirt Derek, looking distinguished now with gray mottling his scruff, the hair at his temples. Decked out in a leather jacket, dark Henley, and too-tight jeans. Mouth scowling, expression dark and broody and—fantastic. Goddamn it, Stiles hasn’t even had time to miss him, but it still feels like a century instead of only a couple of hours.
He stares at Derek’s face so long when he opens the loft door that Derek’s frown slips off his mouth, and his eyes grow concerned.
Stiles just smiles brightly at him.
He remembers, very distinctly, Derek clocking his head into his jeep steering wheel. Threatening to rip his throat out, pushed up against his bedroom wall. Reluctantly fighting pixies and doxies alongside him while shouting at him to shut the fuck up. He remembers Ms. Blake and Braeden.
Just as clearly, though, he remembers holding Derek’s face in his hands and kissing him breathless. A wood cabin steeped in smoke, and sharing breaths in a too-small bed.
It’s a weird sort of disconnect, and it’s making him giddy, butterflies in his stomach, a flush prickling on his cheeks. Later, he might be pissed off—mad that Derek’s known him for nearly a decade, since Stiles stumbled across the Hale pack in the forest at the tender age of fifteen, searching for dead bodies.
Derek says, “There’s a rogue alpha,” both a statement and a question.
Erica barely looks up from filing her nails at the other end of the loft.
“I expect you to take care of Scott for me,” Stiles says, arms folded over his chest, fingers itching to reach out and tug on the ends of Derek’s hair. “And also help kill the son of a bitch that bit him.”
“I—” Derek opens and closes his mouth a few times, clearly at a loss.
Malia looks at Stiles speculatively from the breakfast bar and Stiles winks at her.
Her eyes go wide, and then she smiles with all her teeth.
Derek says, “Aren’t you more upset about Scott?”
“I’m furious,” Stiles says, nodding. He moves forward, not even pausing when Derek takes a jerky step backward, alarmed. “But I’m also happy you found a family.”
Erica and Boyd were in his class, but he must have lasted years with Malia, and if Cora really is his sister… Stiles is happy. That Derek could have this. After all this time. It makes his chest hurt, invisible bands tightening around his ribcage, that he’s seen both versions of Derek in the past few days, but Derek had to last a hundred and fifty years to live for him again. That’s…so amazing. That’s wonderful.
“What,” Derek says, flat.
Stiles squeezes his arm, but doesn’t hold on when Derek quickly twists out of his loose grip. He pulls out the little carved fox from his back pocket, the notches in the wood still fresh and soft. He stares down at it as he says, “I think you should spend Christmas with me this year.”
“What?” Derek says again, and Stiles glances up at him just long enough to see a hint of fear creep into his eyes.
There’s…this is nothing to be scared about, but it’s been a long time.
Malia stifles a laugh.
Stiles waves over to her. He smiles more cautiously at a now bewildered Erica, staring at him, and at Boyd, who has an expression of grudging respect on his face. He takes a deep breath, nods at a too-still Derek, and then he leaves.
He panics later. He thinks: there’s a reason Derek never told him. There’s a reason Derek has never even been nice to him. Reluctant allies, sure, but—what if Derek hates him for leaving? What if it was never okay?
The wooden fox is on his desk, mocking him in its perfection.
Derek could’ve been hanging around Beacon Hills in his exceptionally long werewolf life to torture Stiles… he certainly hasn’t been super pleasant to know so far.
Whatever love Derek held for him before, even if—Stiles was the one that had said it, right? Derek never told him. Maybe it’s never been true.
He stares blankly at his computer screen, thinking of all the little things that have changed or haven’t changed. He’s living with his dad, in between boyfriends, so, hey, still totally lame in that respect. HH is perched on the end of his desk, though, fatter than Stiles remembers him being, because this time around his dad got his act together months ago and coaxed him inside.
His bookshelves are full of old world magic texts, and his day job, apparently, is as a barista where other-Scott used to bake. He feels both more complete and less content than he was before, and he doesn’t know how to make that change.
Stiles snorts to himself. Years ago, he’d unwittingly thrown himself in the path of the one person who could make him totally miserable. The whole situation is, was, and always will be out of his hands.
He doesn’t do well with feeling out of control.
He doesn’t know how this time travel shit works, but he’s hoping whatever he knew to be true before will eventually fade, before he goes completely insane.
Behind him, he hears his bedroom window slowly slide open. A sense of déjà vu washes over him, and he says without turning around, “Were you planning on telling me?”
Derek draws in a noisy breath and says, “No.”
“Of course not,” Stiles says on an unamused laugh. Of course not, why would he?
“No, I mean…Stiles,” Derek says, broken, and Stiles swivels his chair around to stare at him.
There are barely there wrinkles on Derek’s forehead, and his cheeks look fuller. His eyes are bright, pond green in the artificial lamplight.
He says, so soft, “I had to wait until you came back.”
Stiles’s eyes burn. “Oh,” he says.
“Yeah, oh,” Derek says, and the smile that breaks out over his face looks rusty and beautiful. “I’m terrible at waiting.”
Stiles rolls his desk chair back when he gets up. “You’re the worst,” he says. “I thought you hated me.”
“I hated waiting,” Derek says, and then, “I would wait forever for you.”
Stiles wants to know everything. He wants to know about Malia and Cora, about the cattle, about the old house, about—even everything he remembers, everything that has a different meaning now: the Argents, the house fire, the fox demon, the desert wolf—and he’ll ask about it all when he can breathe again.
Stiles clutches the collar of Derek’s jacket and reels him in, feels the familiar slide of Derek’s hands up under his shirt, against his bare back. He says, “I’m sorry. I love you,” into Derek’s mouth.
Derek holds him close and says, “It’s okay. I love you, too.”