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Now as Ever (All That Is and Has Been)

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~1~

The ground is cold beneath Stiles' cheek, the smell of crushed leaves and damp earth rousing him from his strange sleep. His muscles are stiff and aching as he uncurls his fingers and experimentally stretches them out in the dirt of the cold forest floor. He doesn't know exactly where he is, or even how long he's been here, but if the protesting creak of his joints is any indication, he'd guess it's been a while.

Stiles pulls himself into a sitting position, waiting for the dizziness to subside before brushing the dirt and leaves from his face. He's in the forest, but he already surmised as much. Thick trees surround him, and he really has no idea exactly where he is, or what happened to his friends. It seems to be Derek's property, which is marginally comforting, all things considered.

He squeezes his eyes shut, tilts his head back against the tree trunk, and wills his thoughts to sort themselves out. There's a whole tangle of things going on in his mind and Stiles just needs to find the right thread to trace back. He remembers going out into the woods with his friends—his pack. He vaguely remembers something about a fae, and wielding an iron rod as if that would save them.

He's worried about his dad, unsure how long he's been gone or if the sheriff has half of Beacon Hills out searching for him. He wonders what happened after he blacked out, what would have caused Derek and Scott and Isaac to leave him there alone, or if, in all the chaos of the fight with the fae, they just hadn't even noticed Stiles lying there in the dirt. Mostly, though, Stiles is terrified that they're all dead, that they killed each other in their battle for power and now Stiles is all that's left.

No matter which possibility he focuses on, Stiles still can't seem to make any sense of it. A quick scan of the mostly dark area around him reveals no signs of any sort of struggle. The bloody, violent war that had broken out between the Beacon Hills werewolves and the powerful and dark magic of the fae, the battle that had left Stiles feeling so helplessly human and completely useless, has left no mark to show it had even taken place.

His stomach churns as he tries to pull up the rest of the broken, spotty memories and gain a better grasp of exactly what the hell happened.

Stiles reaches into his pocket in search of his cellphone, but all he finds is thirteen dollars, a small, crumpled envelope that’s been post stamped days ago, and a leaking ballpoint pen. He takes a deep breath, counts backward from ten to quell the impending anxiety—now is definitely not the time—and slowly pulls himself to his feet. Aside from stiff joints and the ache of disuse in his muscles, he seems to be uninjured. No cuts or scratches, no gruesome bite marks, no bullet holes or arrows embedded in any part of him.

Stiles is more creeped out than usual as he makes his way to the edge of the forest. In all the times he's wandered these woods over the years, they've never felt so lonely, so dead silent that not even the wind through the crisp remains of last fall’s leaves overhead can be heard. It's eerie in a way that Stiles isn't used to, even with all he's seen and done over the last year and a half.

"What the hell is going on?" he says just to hear his own voice, to confirm he hasn't lost his hearing in addition to everything else.

By the pale pink tinge in the eastern sky, Stiles guesses it to be early in the morning. It's strange to see so many people out and about in town at this time, before the sun has even made its appearance, but it's also relieving. There are people everywhere: two boys delivering newspapers, an elderly man sitting on his front porch, groups of neighbors congregating under streetlights at corners and in front yards. The neighborhood itself doesn't look all that familiar in the dark, so he really isn't sure what part of the woods he came out of, or where exactly home is. It's strange to feel lost in such a small town he's lived in all his life, but he chalks it up to the disorienting morning he's had so far. Maybe he sustained a head injury.

Stiles runs a hand through his messy hair, rubs at the back of his head as he assesses his surroundings. He doesn't feel any bumps or sore spots, nothing to indicate he hit his head. A dark-haired woman walking her dog lifts her hand in a casual wave as she passes, and Stiles has to do a double-take. She looks familiar, but in no way his brain is ready to deal with right now.

He needs coffee, and warmth. He needs to find a phone and call his dad. Stiles walks until the bustling neighborhood gives way to a more well-lit, commercial-looking area of the city that he actually does recognize.

There's a pharmacy on the corner, though the sign looks a little outdated compared to what his mind is trying to supply. Stiles shrugs it off and keeps walking. Most of the stores are dark inside, having not opened for the day yet. There's a coffee shop around the corner from where he is, and Stiles knows that opens ridiculously early. Sounds like a good place to go warm up and collect himself before he heads home. It isn't far enough away for him to bother calling his dad, though he still thinks maybe he should, in case he really has been gone long enough to cause worry.

The Grind is a locally owned coffee shop he and Scott frequent during the summer months. It's a nice place to hang out and listen to live music. They have a small stage in the back where they do open mic night for local artists to share their songs or poetry. Stiles and Scott often meet there just to have something to laugh about, but occasionally, people with actual talent show up, and Stiles is envious of their guts to stand up in front of a crowd—albeit a small one—and put themselves on display.

As he turns the corner down the street from The Grind, Stiles is hit with a strange sense of nostalgia. He can't place why he's suddenly thinking of his past. Maybe just because all the buildings down this strip seem to be stuck in a strange sort of time warp that hasn't allowed them the time or give-a-fuck to renovate recently.

Stiles is drawn back to his task as the smell of coffee wafts out of the coffee shop a few doors down. He picks up his pace with a renewed sense of urgency.

The lettering on the window that Stiles knows so well isn't there. Instead of the chunky, curved words "The Grind Coffeehouse," there’s a sign hanging from chains that reads "Bean Me Up."

Stiles stares at it in confusion. He knows The Grind isn't the most popular spot in Beacon Hills, and he often hears his dad grumbling about the economy, but could it have been doing so poorly as to actually go out of business and be replaced in the span of a week since Stiles had been there last? He shakes his head, then steps inside anyway.

Stiles is greeted by the smells of strongly brewed coffee and warm pastries. His stomach grumbles in approval. A clock on the wall shows that it's only 5:30, but there's a handful of patrons in the coffeehouse, all in various states of wakefulness, some seeming to have just rolled out of bed and staggered in, a few more awake and alert. Nothing inside looks the same. There's no low stage in the back, no artistic photos or paintings hanging on the walls. Where normally there’s a counter full of old percolator displays and antique grinders, there's now a glass pastry case and vases of fresh flowers. Everything is different. Small tables and mismatched chairs replace the puffy couches and haphazard cushions he knows so well. Stiles considers asking the barista what happened to The Grind, but as he steps up to the counter and takes a seat, the impatient look on her face wipes that thought from his mind. Her forced smile when she approaches actually gives Stiles the chills. If it weren't for the underlying sense of hostility Stiles is getting from her, she might actually be really hot. Long, brown curls pulled back in a ponytail, hazel eyes framed by thick lashes that almost put Stiles' own to shame. She isn't the same kind of pretty as Lydia, Stiles realizes. Barista Girl isn't wearing much makeup, her good looks more natural and effortless than most of the young girls at Beacon Hills High.

"What can I get for you?" she asks, her eyes trained back on the TV in the corner of the room where most everyone else's attention seems also to be focused.

"Good morning," Stiles' gaze flicks down to the name tag she's wearing, "Katherine." He's trying for friendly so as not to merit any sneezer muffins. She isn't amused.

The girl drags her attention to Stiles, a slightly more genuine smile this time. Progress, he thinks.

Stiles pulls a five out of his pocket and tosses it down in front of him. "Can I just get a cup of coffee and a blueberry muffin, please?" The caffeine will help to calm Stiles down, having not taken his Adderall, and hopefully prevent the impending anxiety attack he feels prickling under his skin.

The girl gets a mug out from under the counter and fills it to the brim with rich-smelling coffee without a single word spoken. She goes to the pastry case and pulls a muffin out.

"That it?" she asks, setting it down beside Stiles' coffee.

"Um, yeah. That's..." she walks back to the other end of the counter. "Perfect," he adds.

Stiles devours his muffin in just a few bites before he decides to go see what's so interesting on the television. It appears to be live coverage of a space shuttle landing, which Stiles finds strange considering the recent budget cuts to NASA.

"What's going on?" he asks Barista Girl.

"What, do you live under a rock?" she asks, another saccharine-sweet smile just for Stiles. "Houston lost contact with the crew."

He turns his attention back to the TV as the screen flips over to the news anchor.

"Again, the shuttle was scheduled to land approximately fifteen minutes ago," the anchor says, "but we're getting reports from NASA that the control room has lost contact with the crew of Columbia."

"Oh," says Stiles dumbly. "Right. I remember everyone in the neighborhood standing outside and watching as they flew over." He was only about seven years old when the tragedy happened. Stiles remembers watching it with his mother, a trail of light as the shuttle passed over the early morning skies of Northern California. After the reports started rolling in that what they actually had been watching was the shuttle Columbia burning up as it entered the earth's atmosphere, Stiles just remembers his mom crying, saying how horrible it was for those families who were waiting. How horrible it was for the whole country.

Katherine shoots him a strange look of confusion. "That was before we knew it had broken up into pieces," Stiles adds.

"We're getting word about an explosion over Dallas," the news anchor says. "NASA is desperately searching for signs of space shuttle Columbia, but from the videos coming in, it would appear a catastrophic incident has occurred."

The girl gapes, looking from Stiles to the TV and back again. "This is live coverage. How did you know that was going to happen?" she asks.

Stiles isn't sure how to answer that. Using his usual sarcastic tone to tell her it happened ten years ago and he doesn't have the memory of an eighty-year-old pot-smoker doesn't exactly strike him as something that would be very well received. 

Thankfully, his response isn't needed, because everyone's attention is back on the television and the video clips that show multiple twisting contrails cutting across blue skies. The reactions in the coffeehouse don't seem to be those of a group of people watching a ten-year anniversary recap of the disaster. It all seems new to them, fresh and tragic and shocking.

Stiles leaves the coffeehouse, dizzy with confusion over what’s happening. It's lighter outside now, the rising sun bruising the sky with pink and purple. It should be comforting—everything makes more sense in the light of day—but Stiles doesn't feel at all consoled. He needs to get home, find his dad, call Scott, check on Derek. He needs to see if everyone made it out alive, if they killed the fae, if Beacon Hills is safe. Stiles needs...

Stiles needs to calm down. He feels the slow and steady rise of panic pushing at the edges of his thoughts, and he has to breathe deep and slow to fend it off.

Somberly, he walks through downtown Beacon Hills, studying each detail of every building he passes and comparing the information to that which he remembers of them. It's odd, Stiles thinks, that he's never really noticed the faded blue paint covering the bricks on the flower shop. He's never realized all the storefronts have flower boxes along the bottoms of the windows. None of these things strike him as out-of-place, though. They're all there in Stiles' memories, just nothing he's bothered to try and notice before now. All of them are familiar, part of something he's known all his life, but they feel different.

He hasn't even fully decided on where he's going when he realizes he's almost home. Stiles wants nothing more than to run down the street and fling the front door open, to find something more solid and his to cling to, but part of his consciousness is holding him back, telling him that it's wrong. It's all wrong.

Stiles passes a few neighbors as he makes his way down the street, no one he knows or cares to talk to. He's on autopilot now, functioning solely on the desire to get home, barely holding himself back with an underlying sense of apprehension.

One of the sheriff’s department Suburbans is in the driveway, which means his dad has an early shift this morning. Stiles doesn't know how long he stands there across the street staring at his house, but the February chill in the air is nothing compared to the one he feels inside. The front door opens, and Stiles' dad steps outside. Stiles is pulled from his trance by the sight of his father. He rushes forward, but just as he's about to step off the curb, a woman walks out the door behind him. Short, dark hair and a small frame hidden in a puffy green jacket. Stiles knows that jacket. He can practically smell the faint floral scent of it.

"Come on, sweetheart. We don't want to be late." She steps aside and a little boy comes stumbling out onto the stoop as she closes and locks the door. Even from this distance, Stiles can still see the sadness written all over her face from the events of the morning.

Stiles can't breathe. His heart is pounding in his chest, vision blurry with tears. He chokes on the air he tries to inhale, falls to his knees on the cold ground.

"Mom," he whispers, confusion and shock hindering his ability to call out to her—to yell for her to wait, don't go, not yet... not again.

The family piles into the Suburban and drives away without even noticing Stiles there.

There's a hot, stabbing pain in Stiles' chest and he thinks it must be the feeling of his heart breaking all over again. He doesn't know how he can feel so much pain and, at the same time, feel completely hollowed out. 

When he's finally able to move again, Stiles staggers across the street. He scoops up the newspaper from the driveway and drops down on the front stoop of his house. He already knows what he's going to see when he unfolds it, but Stiles needs the confirmation. He needs to know he hasn't completely lost his mind.

The top corner of the newspaper reads February 1, 2003.

 

Chapter Text

~2~

In all the chaos of the morning, Stiles has still managed to retain the understanding that somehow, just by being here, he’s creating a paradox that could potentially change everything he knows. It's something he's thought about countless times before—what child who's lost someone close to them hasn't considered what things would have been like if something else had been done differently?—but Stiles has seen that movie, has read that book, has imagined himself in that situation, and no matter how tempting the idea would be, in all the scenarios he's ever dreamt himself into, another life-altering tragedy replaces the one his imagination has tried to diminish.

Being here could be detrimental to his future, to his own existence, but Stiles can’t help the draw. He just wants to be close to her. Just one more time. He can’t help but wonder if maybe that’s why he’s here to begin with. If maybe the universe shoved him ten years into his past just so that he could have one more chance to be near her, to really appreciate her before she’s gone again.

His mother used to go to the library every Saturday morning and read to groups of children there. Sometimes she would even dress up as a character from the story. Stiles would always come with her, but he’d rarely ever sit and listen. Instead, he’d wander up and down the aisles, flipping through picture books, or sit at the table in the corner and put together puzzles or draw until something more interesting caught his attention.

He walks into the library behind a group of people, unnoticed by the two librarians at the front desk. Stiles sits around the corner from the children’s section, careful not to be seen, but not so far away that he can’t hear her voice.

One of the books she had chosen for that day was Roaring Rockets. Stiles doesn’t remember, but it was sitting on the table beside her empty chair as he passed by. Instead, she reads Where the Wild Things Are. Stiles has never been so mesmerized by the sound of a voice before, and he wonders how his seven-year-old self could possibly want to pass up the opportunity to hear her speak.

“And he sailed off through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year...”

Stiles doesn’t know how long his self-control will hold before the need to round the corner and rest his head in his mom’s lap will be too much for him to resist. He dries his eyes and leaves the library.

It's all too much for him to take in. Mentally exhausted, emotionally drained, cold and alone, Stiles goes back in the direction from which he came. He can't remember what happened to land him in the past in Beacon Hills, and he doesn't know how to undo it. He's got nowhere to go, so he heads back into the forest. Maybe he'll find something there: a hint of how this started, a sign of how to return to 2013, anything. He’s always been told that if you’re lost, you should go back to the last place you were known to be and stay put, and Stiles has never felt so lost before.

It’s bizarre how reassuring the lonely forest of the preserve feels to him now, after the morning he’s had, out in the open, surrounded by familiar strangers. The trees, the creek, the forest floor, they’re all the same in this moment as they are ten years from now, and Stiles takes comfort in that and that alone.

He loses himself in the woods, and whether it’s deliberate or not, he can’t really tell. There’s no room in his crowded thoughts for more worrying, least of all about how he’ll find his way out again. Out is not where Stiles wants to be.

He sits down beside the creek, hugging his knees to his chest and watching the steady ripples in the water.

Hours pass, and the only thing Stiles has to measure the time is the steady chill of winter air settling in his bones. The golden sky is no longer visible through the canopy of bare branches above, replaced now by a dull gray emptiness.

It’s snowing, tiny flecks of glitter sparkling through the air and disappearing before they touch the ground. Stiles is cold. Not the kind of cold that makes one want a hundred blankets, but the kind that makes one wish for death. Deep down to his bones, Stiles is freezing. His hoodie isn’t enough to protect him against the elements, but he folds his arms on his knees and tucks his face into the crook of his elbow anyway, welcoming the tiny bit of warmth that echoes from his breath into the fabric and back against his icy lips. He's long ago passed the point of shivering, teeth chattering to the point where he worried he might chip one. His body is tense, muscles aching from trying to circulate enough blood to keep him warm. He knows that's a bad sign. His thoughts are jumping track erratically, unable to stay focused on one thing for longer than a few seconds. 

Stiles has never wished to be a werewolf before, never wanted it, even after all he's been through. But in this moment, he has never wanted anything more. The accelerated body heat would be so nice. He knows even Scott would be cold out here, but not this cold. 

Scott. Stiles tries to focus his thoughts on his friend, wondering what he's doing right now, in this moment. Is he out searching for Stiles? Or maybe just sitting in the living room at Derek's house with Isaac, waiting for a phone call? Do they even know he's gone, or would they all have assumed the human living in the midst of the paranormal finally had enough, and Stiles ran away? 

Stiles' thoughts skip to a time years ago, or maybe just four years from now, he doesn't know the proper way to think of it. He was eleven, and at Scott's house for a sleepover—Stiles' first real sleepover since his mom's accident—when they decided to see if the movies were right and you really could start a fire with just two sticks. Impatience and a lack of attention span had turned those two sticks into two matchsticks in no time at all, and when Scott's mom had caught them, they got the reaming of a lifetime. She would have taken Stiles home right then if it weren't for the fact that his dad was working overnight. She had banished them to Scott's room where they promptly packed a pillowcase full of video games and Cheetos before climbing out his bedroom window. They learned pretty quickly that, in the dead of winter, a pair of runaways couldn't live on Cheetos alone, and they were home before Mrs. McCall even knew they were gone. 

“What are you doing here?” A voice comes from somewhere close behind Stiles, pulling him out of his memory.

Fueled by the sudden startle of adrenaline, he jumps to his feet and turns, only to be shocked into a backward stagger at the sight that greets him.

“This is private property.”

It’s Derek Hale, saying those same words he said to Stiles and Scott the first time they met him. Only, this version of Derek is different. He’s younger, less muscled, less stubbly, not as angry and hostile in appearance. Stiles instantly has to stomp down the urge to throw himself at Derek, wrap his arms around him and sigh in relief.

“I, um... yeah. I know. I’m sorry, I just...”

Derek tilts his head, eyes narrowed. “Just what?”

Stiles’ thoughts are playing out in his mind like scenes of a movie, flipping in rapid succession from one to the next. What will he cause—or has he already caused—by allowing this young version of Derek to see him? He’s trembling again, from the cold or anxiety, he can’t tell. Unable to find anything else to say, Stiles settles on a partial truth.

“I don’t have anywhere else to go.”

Derek raises an eyebrow, crosses his arms over his chest and looks around.

“You’re alone out here?”

Stiles nods.

“It's freezing. Are you insane? You lost or something?”

To this, Stiles laughs dryly. “More than I could ever explain.”

“Well, come on,” Derek says, turning and walking away. “I’ll take you to town. Where do you live?”

“I don’t... I don’t really know. I can’t remember.” He hopes this young, teenage version of Derek isn’t yet in tune with his senses enough to be able to read a lie, but from the look he casts over his shoulder at Stiles, that probably isn’t the case at all.

Stiles knows he should probably turn and run in the other direction. Derek isn’t dangerous—not to someone who isn’t posing any real threat. He wouldn’t chase after him. But, God, Stiles just doesn’t think he can stand being alone for another second. He’s cold, and scared, and so fucking confused. And Derek is familiar, his presence comforting, even if this is a version of Derek Stiles really doesn’t know.

“Do you have a name, or did you forget that, too?”

Stiles breaks into a jog to catch up to Derek. “It’s Stiles,” he says.

“Stiles? Is that your first name, or your last name?” asks Derek, his pace not slowing as he weaves between trees and around bushes.

“Um... both, sort of.”

Derek laughs, and the sound of it actually causes Stiles’ steps to falter.

“What, like, Madonna?”

“Something like that, I guess.” Stiles bats a swinging limb away before it smacks him in the face as Derek plows on, creating his own path through thick brush and flimsy branches.

It isn’t until they come to the edge of the forest that Derek finally introduces himself to Stiles.

“I’m Derek,” he says, coming to a stop in the middle of the dimly lit road. “This is my family’s property. You’re welcome to get lost in it any time you want, but I really don’t recommend it.”

Stiles nods. He isn’t ready to say goodbye, and he really doesn’t know where he’s supposed to go now.

“I haven’t seen you around school,” Derek says. “You must be new to Beacon Hills.”

“Not really,” replies Stiles.

Derek narrows his eyes. He knows something is off. Stiles shifts uncomfortably under his scrutinizing gaze. He hopes Derek will chalk up any odd behavior to the fact that Stiles’ body is still protesting against the icy night air.

“Well, Madonna, Pink, Stiles, whatever your name is... if you’re lost, and not even sure where you live, you should probably let me take you to the sheriff’s department.”

“No,” Stiles says too quickly. “I mean, I’d rather not be that kid, you know? I’m sure I can find my way now.” Stiles’ stomach drops to his toes at the thought of being alone again, having nowhere to go, the possibility of actually dying of exposure.

Derek watches him for a moment, and Stiles tries his best to steady his breathing and keep eye contact.

“Right,” Derek finally says. “Well then, maybe you could just come back to my place with me. My mom’s pretty good with weird things. She might be able to help you.”

Stiles actually feels his heart skip a beat at the mention of Derek’s mom. He hadn’t exactly had the chance to consider the fact that his past wouldn’t be the only one whole again for the time being.

Stiles forces a weak smile. “Thanks.” Meeting Derek Hale’s family won’t be the strangest thing that’s ever happened to Stiles by a long stretch, and Derek has already seen him, so anything he may mess up in the future by being here now, well, the damage is already done.

Chapter Text

~3~

It's strange to Stiles that, in all of this, Derek Hale would actually feel like an anchor to him. Just being near him helps to calm Stiles; something he would have never thought possible before today.

Stiles walks in Derek's wake, relishing the small comfort of familiarity and ease that seem to emanate from him.

The Hale house looks nothing like Stiles had imagined it, having only seen it in its burned-out state of desolation. It’s designed to look like an old colonial-style home, but the dusty-blue colored siding gives away the newness of it. White trim framing all the windows and doors adds a pleasant and welcome feel that Stiles has never really associated with the property before, despite his recent friendship with Derek.

Stiles walks up the front steps behind Derek, focusing all his energy on calming his frayed nerves before the door opens. It’s like stepping into a scene of a movie. Outside was silent, almost to an uncomfortable degree, but inside the Hale house, there’s noise and constant motion. No one even seems to notice Stiles is there, they all just buzz by in one direction or another, hurrying to get where they’re going. There’s a young woman with dark, wavy hair and chocolate-brown eyes. She smiles at Derek and ruffles his hair as she passes by, skipping up the stairs.

“My aunt,” Derek says by way of explanation. “She treats us all like we’re her adorable little puppies.”

Stiles snorts with laughter, amused at his own secret knowledge of the truth of that statement.

“What’s going on, Derek?”

Stiles turns toward the voice along with Derek.

“This is Stiles. I found him sitting out on the preserve by himself.”

The girl tosses her hair over her shoulder and looks Stiles up and down. A perfectly manicured eyebrow arches when her radiant gray eyes meet his.

“I’m Laura,” she says, reaching out to shake Stiles’ hand.

An image flashes through Stiles’ mind like a strobe, and he shoves it away along with the nausea it brings up. This Laura is alive, whole, beautiful.

It’s hard to pull his gaze away from her. His mind is having an extremely difficult time coping with the contradiction of vision and memory. When he realizes she’s looking at him in a strange and assessing way, he does manage to cast his gaze elsewhere. When Stiles looks back, the girl is gone, and it’s Derek who’s giving him an odd look. It isn’t anything Stiles isn’t used to, though. Even in his younger form, Derek’s eyes are familiar and comforting to Stiles. It’s like he can see for miles into them—years, even—and knowthat, even in all the strangeness surrounding him right now, he always has a place there. He’s used to Derek’s glares, threatening expressions, even his curious and questioning ones.

Derek leads them through the kitchen door, and again, Stiles is taken aback by the cheerfulness and life that fills the space in contrast to what his memory supplies as “normal” for this room. He’s been here before—in Derek’s kitchen. He’s seen the smoke-blackened walls and peeling paper, the char marks that smudge away all recognition of home and life within these walls. This room is nothing like the image in Stiles’ mind. Pale, cream-colored wallpaper with tiny floral print covers one entire wall and stops at the molding halfway up around the rest of them. There’s a huge, solid table in front of a curtained window, at least ten chairs surrounding it, a vase of fresh wildflowers in the center. The light and airy feeling of the room draws Stiles’ attention to just how suffocating it is in its actual state—in his future reality.

There’s a small boy in a pillowcase cape at the table, putting out place settings. Stiles thinks he can’t be more than five or six years old, and another pang of sorrow hits him like a punch to the gut. All of these people, every one of these viable and animated members of Derek's family are all gone.

"Mom?" Derek says, stepping up to the kitchen counter beside a small woman in a knee-length skirt.

She turns to face her son, eyes alight with happiness just at the sight of him, and again, Stiles feels his heart plummet to his stomach. She looks so much like Derek, it’s unsettling. He grips the edge of the island counter to keep himself upright, taking a slow and steadying breath as Derek, again, explains how he found Stiles in the woods by the creek. This time, Derek tells the full version of the story.

The woman steps over to Stiles, tilting her head as she examines him. She gives nothing away as to what she's really doing, but Stiles knows she's scenting him, assessing the level of threat that's been brought into her home. One eyebrow arches in amusement and she glances back at Derek before returning her gaze to Stiles. There’s a small twitch of a smile at the corner of her mouth, disappearing quickly on the edge of a fractured huff.

"My son is always so trusting," she says. "For all we know, you could be a murderer, a serial killer."

"Mom," Derek cuts in, exasperated.

She looks Stiles up and down, much in the same way Laura had just done. "All right. A severely underfed serial killer," she adds with a wink and a small smile.

Stiles looks from her to Derek and back again before replying.

"I'm not... I'm not a killer. Or dangerous at all," he says, and he hopes she can tell the truth of what he's saying.

"All right," she says, patting Stiles on the cheek affectionately, her hand hot against his cold skin. "He can stay for dinner," she tells Derek. Stepping back over to her place by the stove, she picks up a spoon and resumes stirring. "Lord knows someone should be feeding him. But then we'll have to figure out where he belongs. Your mother must be worried sick."

Stiles actually feels the carefully constructed expression of casual interest melt from his face, replaced by one of sadness.

Derek's mom pauses in her task of stirring the bubbling sauce and glances over at Stiles again. "No name, no home," she says, eyes narrowing slightly in question.

"No mother," Stiles finishes for her.

Derek grabs Stiles by the wrist, an act that sends a sudden wave of tranquility through Stiles' whole body, and leads him back out of the kitchen.

"Derek," his mother calls as they reach the door. "Tell Uncle Peter I need to speak with him, please."

Stiles' heart stutters in his chest, a mixture of fear and curiosity bubbling up and over the emotional dam he's tried so hard to construct.

Derek recognizes it this time, Stiles knows he does. They pause outside the kitchen door, Derek's fingers still wrapped around Stiles' wrist, and Derek just stares at him. Stiles' pulse is jumping beneath Derek's fingers, and he can't help but wonder if Derek is holding him there on purpose, if he's just waiting for a sign like that.

"What?" Stiles asks, trying for nonchalance.

Derek arches an eyebrow questioningly. "Do you know my Uncle Peter?"

Stiles shakes his head. "No. I mean, I know an Uncle Peter, but not..." He lets his sentence trail off as Derek leads him up the stairs. It isn't fully a lie. Stiles does know Uncle Peter, but the version of him he's met is nothing like the friendly family guy he was told Peter had been before the fire.

Stiles' dad is right. He really does have no sense of self-preservation. He's in a house surrounded by what he assumes to be a dozen werewolves, all of whom are more than capable of tearing his head off at the drop of a hat, and he's allowing himself to be led around like a puppy on a leash.

"Wait in here," Derek gestures toward a door about halfway down the upstairs hall. "I'll be right back."

Stiles watches him walk away for a brief moment, before opening the door and stepping inside. He closes the door behind him and leans against it as he looks around.

Derek's room isn't unlike that of any other teenage boy, which, in itself, is strange enough. Despite the unprecedented sense of calm he gets around him, this only reminds Stiles that he really doesn't know this Derek. There are clothes strewn around the room, baseball trophies lining shelves, awards of achievement from both school and sports littering the walls, an acoustic guitar leaning against the bed, but probably most surprising, is Derek's collection of books. There seems to be no real rhyme or reason to their placement, just stacks and stacks of books in every corner, everything from Stephen Hawkings' A Brief History of Time, to well-worn copies of the first four Harry Potter books.

Stiles is sitting on the edge of Derek's rumpled bed, a blanket wrapped around him to fend off the residual chill he’s still feeling, thumbing through The Hobbit when Derek finally returns ten minutes later.

"You read a lot of books?" Derek asks, nodding toward the one in Stiles' hands.

"Oh, no. I mostly just judge them by their covers."

Derek laughs, and it's a sound Stiles doesn't think he'd ever be able to hear enough of.

"My mom's worried you're a runaway. Uncle Peter talked her into letting you stay, but they're both convinced someone's gotta be looking for you."

Stiles stares down at the carpet beneath his feet, takes a deep, steady breath, and nods. "I hope someone is."

"So what's your story?" Derek begins digging around behind his desk, hooking wires into a Playstation.

Stiles shrugs even though Derek isn't looking at him. He hasn't thought this through very carefully, and he has no idea what to say. He wonders how the truth would go over with this Derek.

"I'm not supposed to be here," is what Stiles settles on for a start. "I woke up this morning, confused and lost with no memory of how I ended up in the woods. I know this place, but... it isn't the same." It's a mess of words that spill out, and Stiles knows he's not making any sense, but it's the closest he can get to the truth without telling Derek everything.

"So, what, you're like, from another dimension or something?" Derek asks, surprisingly calm as he tosses a Playstation controller to Stiles.

“Maybe that’s it,” Stiles replies, only half joking.

“Sounds like Lacunar Amnesia to me. Like, selective memory loss.” Derek side-eyes Stiles. “If you think someone might be looking for you, why not go to the sheriff?”

It’s a good question that Stiles has no idea how to answer. He takes another calming breath as the opening credits for Grand Theft Auto start to roll across the screen. Derek plops down beside him on the edge of the bed.

They play together, with a strange sense of ease and comfort, for the next hour and a half. Derek asks intermittent questions here and there, mostly personal—what does Stiles do for fun (usually just try to stay alive), what are his friends like (rowdy, wild, amazing), does he like school (no, but he’s good at it)—and, in exchange, Derek responds to his own questions for Stiles' benefit. Turns out he's only just learning to play the guitar, he really has read all these books, and baseball is no longer a big part of Derek's life like it had been when he was younger. He smiles a little, as if he's joking or waiting for Stiles to tease him about it, when he tells Stiles about a project he's working on. It's a list of eighteen things he wants to accomplish before turning eighteen in November. Stiles doesn't laugh about it, though. He just listens as Derek names off a few of what Stiles assumes to be the less personal goals: reading all of the books on the 100 Greatest Books of the 20th Century list (he’s made a pretty sizeable dent in that one), learn to cook (he’s now mastered the art of toaster oven waffles),  get accepted into Berkley (because he wants to go to college close to his family). And then a knock at Derek’s door draws them out of their strange little bubble of comfort they’ve created.

A little girl opens the bedroom door and pokes her head inside, a curtain of dark hair making only one big green eye visible as she studiously avoids Stiles’ gaze and shyly tells Derek it’s time for dinner.

“Tell them we’ll be down in a minute, Cora,” Derek says. The girl nods and disappears.

They take turns washing their hands in the bathroom sink, Stiles taking the extra time to wash his arms and face as well. He grips the edge of the basin and watches as murky water swirls down the drain.

“You ready for this?” Derek asks him.

Stiles nods, drying his face with the towel Derek hands him, then follows him out the door and down the stairs.

The house is practically vibrating with energy, people talking and laughing, plates and utensils clinking as they serve up dinner. Stiles thinks this must be what it’s like for normal families on Thanksgiving. For years now, family gatherings for Stiles have consisted of him, his dad, Scott, Mrs. McCall, and a couple of other people from Beacon Hills sheriff’s department. Not exactly family, but close enough.

The room goes quiet when Derek and Stiles step in, all ten of its occupants turning to look at their guest. Stiles hones in on Uncle Peter almost instantly. He’s sitting at the dinner table next to the puppy aunt who had scruffled Derek’s hair earlier, smiling like Stiles has never seen before. It isn’t sardonic or baleful in any way, he just seems genuinely happy.

Stiles raises his hand in an awkward wave to the group and takes a step closer to Derek. A few people notice the unconscious move and laugh a little.

“Come on in, boys. We don’t bite,” says a man with short, spiky hair. He smiles at them and gestures toward the open seats at the end of the table.

“Everyone,” says Derek, “this is Stiles. Stiles, this is my family. Uncle Peter, Aunt Janet and Mom, who you met, my dad, Daniel,” Derek points to the spiky-haired man beside his mother. “Grama Iris,” the older woman with short red hair blows Stiles a kiss, meriting a hearty laugh from the group, “and all these kids we usually just refer to by number.”

“I’m number four!” calls the little boy who had been setting the table before.

There are the two sisters Stiles has already met, either in this life or his future one, Laura and Cora, and two more young boys who appear to be twins.

Dinner goes on without a hitch, everyone talking casually about their respective days or the upcoming school-slash-workweek. There’s even a bit of talk about the space shuttle news from this morning. It isn’t nearly as awkward as Stiles had anticipated, the whole family seeming to welcome him in as though he’s actually part of it rather than just a stranger one of them found alone in the woods.

“You pick up a lot of strays around here?” Stiles asks Derek, leaning in as if it’s a secret joke, even though he’s well aware that most—if not all—ofthe other people at the table can hear him just fine.

"Nope. You're the first," replies Derek.

"So, Stiles." It's Derek's father who's speaking now.

Stiles wipes his sweaty palms on his lap and looks over at the man.

"Are you a runaway?" It's a blunt question, and Stiles can tell he isn't joking.

"No. I didn't run away," Stiles replies. He's pretty sure it's the truth. He'd never been one to run away from the fights before, even if he was the only fragile being involved.

Uncle Peter excuses himself from the table, kissing his wife on the head as he picks up his dishes.

"He doesn't really remember much," Derek intervenes, eyeing his uncle warily as the man leaves the room.

"Well," Derek's mom says, "we should definitely call someone. Did you hit your head, dear? Are you hurt?"

Stiles runs a hand down the back of his head, checking again for injuries he already knows aren't there. "No, I don't think so."

"He doesn't want to go to the sheriff," Derek says.

"Of course he doesn't." Derek's father crosses his arms over his chest and stares at Stiles.

"Honey," his wife says, patting his arm.

"Were you sent here by someone, Stiles?"

"Daniel, that's enough." Derek's mom glares at her husband, and Stiles is almost certain he sees a flash of red in her eyes, but it's gone before he can decide if it was his imagination or not.

"How old did you say you are, Stiles?"

"I'm seventeen.”

"Who do you live with?"

"My father," replies Stiles. "My mom died when I was just a kid."

Derek’s mom tsks, and tilts her head sympathetically. "You're still just a kid," she says as she stands up and begins to clear the table. Derek jumps up quickly to help her.

"So what if he is a runaway?" Aunt Janet says to Daniel, fingers laced together under her chin as she smiles over at the man. "Weren't you about sixteen or seventeen when you ran away from home for four days? Your mom wasn't very happy with you, but she told you that sometimes we all need a bit of space to clear our heads."

Stiles wants to tell them, wants to just lay all his cards out on the table and see what happens. But he thinks, given the strange connection he seems to have made with Derek in such a short period of time, maybe he should just tell him in private rather than leading the whole family to believe he's an escaped mental patient.

He wonders what, if any, ripples he'll cause for the future by divulging his secret, but again, he tells himself the damage must already be done since he's sitting here with the family now. Stiles doesn't want to think about the effects of that, he doesn't want to imagine that his presence here and now may inadvertently change the future. What if, in real time, Stiles and Derek aren't friends anymore? What if Scott was never bitten, or Derek never came back to Beacon Hills?

It's all too much, and Stiles feels tears prickling behind his eyes as his hands tremble in his lap. What has he done? He looks over at Derek, unable to hide his fears, lips parting, but no words coming.

The inquiry dies down, for which Stiles is exceedingly grateful, and he excuses himself to help Derek wash dishes and clean up the kitchen. The adults leave the room while the smaller children play a few rounds of Uno at the now abandoned dinner table. Again, Stiles is quietly amazed by the normality of it all.

oOo

"My dad didn't mean to make you feel uncomfortable," Derek says later on, when they're back in his room alone. "He just questions everyone's motives. He's sort of the voice of reason in the family."

"It's understandable," replies Stiles. "I mean, I'm sure I'd be curious about a strange kid wandering into my house and sitting at the dinner table with me and my dad."

Derek nods. “How long has it been just you and your dad?” He kneels down beside the bed and begins shuffling books and things around to clear an area on the floor to make room for the pull-out bed he slides out from under his own.

They hadn’t discussed Stiles staying the night, but Derek knows he hasn’t got anywhere else to go, even if he doesn’t know exactly why.

Stiles appreciates the effort Derek put into carefully wording his question so as not to pry, can tell he wants to know more. “Eight years,” Stiles replies. He's grateful that Derek doesn't press the topic, because after having actually seen her today for the first time in eight years, Stiles is barely able to hold himself together just thinking about it.

"I'm sorry," Derek says. "I can't imagine what that must've been like. I don't know what I'd do if I lost my mom."

Grief clutches at Stiles as he swallows around the lump in his throat and looks down at his own fingers, twisted together in his lap.

Derek prepares the guest bed for Stiles beside his own, but neither of them sleep. They stay up all night playing video games and talking about books and movies until the sun paints the walls of Derek’s bedroom pink and gold. 

Chapter Text

~4~

The house is quiet Sunday morning, almost eerily. No commotion can be heard through the opened bedroom door, none of the voices one would expect in a house full of children on a day there's no school. Derek tells Stiles Sunday is family day, and that he has to go, but Stiles is welcome to hang around. He pulls some jeans and a tee shirt out of his dresser and lays them at the foot of Stiles’ bed along with a thick jacket, tells him to help himself to the shower, and that there's cereal in the kitchen.

Derek showers and leaves, and Stiles tries to sleep, but it never comes. Finally, he gives up. Taking the clothing Derek left for him, Stiles makes his way into the bathroom and enjoys a long, hot shower. It eases the ache in his muscles, and washes the residual grime of the forest floor off his skin.

The soap smells like Derek. Not this Derek, the one he’s come to know over the last eighteen hours, but his Derek. Stiles breathes in the scent, washes himself in memories he isn’t even sure are his anymore. They’d only recently begun to develop something Stiles could consider a friendship. Beacon Hills had finally settled into some semblance of normal, despite its supernatural residents. The Alpha Pack had moved on, no more Kanima to worry about, no signs of Gerard, and even Chris Argent had faded into the shadows, leaving them to their lives. There should have been nothing left to hold them together, but Stiles couldn’t help the draw to Derek.

With Scott spending all of his time with Isaac, and Boyd and Erica gone, Stiles and Derek had only each other. It started out with tentative meetings about what wasn’t going on in Beacon Hills, progressed to late night text conversations, and somewhere shortly after, Stiles found himself sitting in an unfinished treehouse overlooking part of the Hale property with Derek by his side. It was then that Stiles learned Derek actually is capable of smiling.

"You know why you're stuck with me?" Stiles had asked, popping a handful of cashews into his mouth to buy some time to think.

Derek quirked an eyebrow at him.

"It's because you're an enigma, Derek. No one can get close to you, because no one knows anything about you besides what they see on the surface."

"And, what, you think you do?" Derek asked.

Stiles shrugged, chewed on his last few cashews, then licked the salt from his palm. He thinks he imagined Derek watching him as he did that, imagined he'd seen the way Derek's gaze had darted away as soon as Stiles turned his full attention toward him.

"I like to think I'm pretty skilled when it comes to reading people. I'll only ever know what you tell me, but I can see the kind of person you are. You’re not a bad guy. Just a little lost."

Derek watched Stiles for a moment, contemplative, then smiled and shook his head.

Stiles pushes that memory from his mind, tries not to think at all, just watches as the soapy water sluices off of his body and whirls down the drain.

He leaves a note on Derek’s bed, thanking him for letting Stiles stay and promising to return his clothes, eventually. Stiles still isn’t sure what to do or where to go, but he can’t just hang around the Hale house until the family gets home. He’s sure that would be overstaying his welcome.

oOo

Stiles has a split-second thought about going out into the forest and finding Derek’s treehouse, but dismisses it before it’s had a chance to fully form. He’s certain he knows what “family day” means for the Hales, and he doesn’t want to be caught out on their property during any pack bonding or practice time.

He heads to the edge of town instead, cautiously skirting the busy shopping district so as not to be seen by any of the passers-by. It feels like hours have ticked by in which Stiles just walks, thinks, and tries to ignore the cold bite of wintery air whipping against his face. He has to do something. Stiles has always been the forward-thinker, the one who would visualize various possible outcomes and try to plan accordingly for each, the one who tries to stay two steps ahead of the action so as not to be caught off-guard.

Nothing like this could have ever been anticipated, though. In his short time as a partisan of the supernatural, Stiles still would have never thought time travel to be a real thing. Yet, here he is, wandering around aimlessly a decade behind his time, a teenage werewolf his only ally. Stiles feels sick to his stomach. He stops long enough to lean against a lightpost, pressing the heels of his hands to his eyes.

Focus, Stiles, he tells himself, thunking his head back against the pole and gazing up at the crisp, blue sky.

It hits him like a white-hot flash of lightning, shuddering through his reverie as he picks up his journey on the outskirts of Beacon Hills: Stiles needs to find Deaton. Deaton will know what to do, Stiles is sure of it. He almost laughs with a giddy sense of relief.

He's never been very close to him—even skeptical of him at times—but this version of Deaton, here and now in 2003, doesn't know Stiles anyway, so it won't matter.

oOo

Deaton is surprisingly... well, unsurprised, greeting Stiles by name before he'd even introduced himself to the man, and knocking Stiles' defenses for a loop. He quickly rectified, telling Stiles that Peter Hale had called him last night, wanting to know if Deaton had been aware of any missing persons reports from the area. If Stiles hadn't known any better, he would have thought it very strange for a man to contact a veterinarian with such a question. Fortunately, though, Stiles knows Peter Hale isn't a normal man. He wonders what it was he'd done to pique Peter's suspicion.

Stiles wasn’t sure how to even begin to explain his current predicament, so after glancing around at the thankfully vacant veterinary clinic and seeing that the man filing papers at the counter was alone, he had just come right out with it. There was a brief moment of hesitation, as if Deaton had been concerned Stiles was just some run-of-the-mill ranting lunatic, but when his explanation had spilled over into the territory of werewolves and kanima, confirming his knowledge of the supernatural realm, Deaton couldn’t not believe him.

It’s only now, as they sit in the vet’s office sharing a sandwich that Stiles even has the presence of mind to wonder what he would have done if this version of Deaton was completely oblivious to werewolves and magic and bizarre things that no normal humans actually believe in. He’s grateful that isn’t the case. Deaton is still Deaton; still contemplative and pensive, smiling over things no one has any right to smile about, eyes shining with wonder as he takes it all in.

“I’ll need some time to look into this,” he says. “I’ve only ever heard of the theoretical possibility of time travel. I’ve never heard of anyone actually pulling it off before.”

“I’d love to be able to say I pulled it off,” Stiles replies. “Pulling it off would imply it was something I did deliberately. But, trust me, there was nothing intentional about this.”

“That you know of,” is Deaton’s cryptic reply.

Stiles is chewing an obscenely large bite of sandwich, and is unable to respond before Deaton continues on to a more prevalent problem that Stiles hadn’t even thought of.

“What will you be doing in the meantime? For food and shelter, I mean.”

With only eight dollars left in his pocket, you’d think this would have been something Stiles had considered. His facial expression must give away the fact that he hasn’t, because Deaton just continues.

“You said you stayed with the Hales last night, but as far as you know, they aren’t aware of your predicament.”

“I’m sure they’re all aware of something,” Stiles says. He wonders what he smelled like to them yesterday, to Derek and his mom, at any rate. They were the only two close enough to him to really scent him, and he knows they both did. Had Stiles smelled like dirt and leaves and anxiety to them, or something otherworldly, unthreatening, but from a different time and place? “I mean, Peter had to have a reason for calling you last night, right?”

“They’re always curious about new people in their territory. Just the fact that they hadn’t seen you before or heard of any new people moving to the area would have piqued his curiosity, but coupled with the fact that you seemed to not remember where you were from, well, of course he wondered.”

It makes sense. Stiles only knows one version of Peter Hale, but even in their future world, the man always seems to have information on things he shouldn’t. Of course he’d be one to always ask questions to anyone he thought could provide answers.

“You could help me out around the clinic a few days a week,” Deaton cuts through Stiles’ thoughts. “There isn’t much to be done on a Sunday, but it’ll earn you some money to live off of and a warm place to sleep for now. There’s a couch in the back office.”

Stiles smiles gratefully. “Thank you,” he says. “I really appreciate it.”

Chapter Text

~5~

It’s Thursday evening when Stiles sees Derek again. He hasn’t been out much, too afraid of running into his parents. He’s been back into the coffee shop a few times, spending his mornings with the perpetually PMSing barista, Katherine, but she makes a mean cup of java, so Stiles has been tolerating her in small increments.

“Stiles,” Derek says, surprised when he closes the door behind him in the deserted waiting area of the clinic.

“Hey, Derek,” Stiles replies, shot through with a sense of relief just from the other boy's presence. “Sorry I didn’t bring your clothes back. I’ve been thinking about trying to find my way back to your place.”

“I’m not worried about the clothes,” Derek says, chin tipping up almost imperceptibly. Stiles wouldn’t have noticed it at all if he hadn’t been expecting Derek to scent the air. “Is Deaton here?”

“He left for the day,” replies Stiles, propping the broom he’d been pushing against the wall. “I’m helping him out around here, so if there’s anything I can do...”

“You’re working here?” asks Derek.

Stiles shrugs. “Working, sleeping, yeah. Deaton’s helping me out.”

Derek’s eyebrows raise in surprise. “Still haven’t remembered where home is, then, huh?”

Stiles laughs, shakes his head. “I know where home is. Just can’t seem to get there.”

Derek sighs, a little exasperated, but doesn’t question Stiles further. “My family keeps asking about you, wondering if you’re coming back around. Apparently they’re all fascinated with you or something.”

“Well,” Stiles says. “Can you blame them? I am pretty fascinating. I mean, you said yourself you don’t often find strays to bring home to dinner.”

And that’s how Stiles finds himself, once again, at the lively home of the Hales. It’s pizza and movie night and the whole family is gathered in the kitchen taking turns at the island counter as they each put together their own personal pizza.

Uncle Peter isn't here, and Stiles feels a little guilty for the amount of relief that washes over him upon learning this. He keeps telling himself that this Peter isn't the same, that he only became the monster Stiles knows him to be after what had happened to their family, but it doesn't stop him from remembering.

The terror that still clutches at him whenever he thinks of Peter crouched over Lydia’s bleeding body, snarling at Stiles, threatening to rip her apart right in front of him is still so real. He has vivid memories of sticky blood under his hands as he scrambled in the grass beside her. Still thinks of Peter's hot breath ghosting through the fabric of Stiles’ shirtsleeve, the way he'd offered Stiles the bite as if it was a gift to be desired, the grip of his fingers tight around Stiles’ wrist before he jerked himself free.

Stiles joins Derek in the living room after dinner, a mountain of pillows cushioning the floor for the kids to sit. Much to the dismay of the girls in the house, this week's movie choice is Spider-Man, but it doesn't take them long to warm up to Toby Maguire.

Stiles allows his mind to wander as the movie plays out, drawing parallels between the lives of Peter Parker and Derek Hale. Derek hadn't been bitten by a genetically mutated being, but he was still forced into this life without a choice. Meandering along, trying to learn what his place was in this world, when sudden tragedy forced him to reconsider his path. Peter Parker became a reluctant superhero after his uncle's death; partly for revenge, partly out of respect for Uncle Ben's memory. After his own family's death, Derek had become a reluctant leader, walking the line of Creature of the Night and Beacon Hills' own personal superhero.

He catches himself staring at Derek more than once, watching as the glow of the television plays shadows across his face. Even in the dim blue light, this Derek looks so innocent. Clueless and carefree. Happy. Derek catches him looking once, but he just raises a questioning eyebrow at Stiles before smiling brightly and slapping him in the face with a pillow.

oOo

Stiles wakes late the next morning with no recollection of how he ended up, once again, in Derek’s pull-out guest bed. He’s alone in the room, and the alarm clock on the bedside table informs Stiles it’s nearly 11 o’clock. He can’t remember the last time he’s slept so late. Stiles stretches as he sits up in bed, smiles to himself when he notices another stack of clothes laid out at his feet along with a brand new toothbrush still in its package. Derek is considerate, and not just in the keep-Stiles-alive way that he’s used to.

After he’s showered and feeling like a new person, Stiles makes his way downstairs. The sound of laughter rings out through the main floor of the house, children and adults both enjoying their morning. Stiles feels like he’s invading on something personal when he peeks into the kitchen in search of Derek, but sees only a table full of children and Derek’s mom. There’s no use in trying to slip back out unnoticed, he knows, so instead, he steels himself and steps inside.

“Good morning,” he says to a room full of watchful, smiling eyes.

“Well, hello there,” Derek’s mom says. She doesn’t pause in her task of handing papers out to the children. “I was starting to wonder if you’d sleep all through the day.”

Stiles rubs awkwardly at the back of his neck. “Sorry,” he says. “I’m usually a pretty early riser.”

“Stress can take a lot out of you,” she says. “I imagine being away from home and everyone you love is probably causing quite the strain.” She eyes Stiles knowingly.

He swallows hard, shuffling his feet, but nods in agreement.

“There's a plate of bacon and eggs keeping warm in the oven for you. Derek’s at school, but you’re welcome to stay here until he gets home. I could use a little help with these ones.” She gestures toward the group of kids. “We like to homeschool in our family, until they’re old enough to go to high school.”

Makes sense, Stiles thinks. He hadn’t really considered before how a family of born werewolves would probably be outed pretty quickly if they sent small children out into public without the constant guidance of the adults in their pack. It stands to reason that they’d have more control as they reached adolescence.

“I’m not really sure what good I’ll be, but I can definitely try,” Stiles replies.

“You just worry about getting some food in your stomach first. We’ll figure something out.”

oOo

Stiles is assigned the easier task of helping Cora with her schoolwork for the day. She doesn’t say much, but he can tell she’s listening, hanging on to every word he says.

When both of them have sufficiently exhausted all interest in place values, Cora frustrated, and Stiles rapidly losing enthusiasm, they move on to something more entertaining for both of them.

“What’s your favorite color?” Stiles asks her, sifting through the giant plastic tub of craft supplies that had been set out for the day’s activities.

Cora shrugs.

“That’s not very helpful,” says Stiles. “How could you not know? Of course you know.” She’s pressing her lips together in a tight line when he looks over at her again, clearly determined not to say anything at all. “Okay, look, I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours.”

There’s a moment of consideration before she replies. “Okay.”

“It’s purple, all right? Are you happy?” he says, feigning exasperation. “Not the manliest of colors, but there you have it.”

Cora snickers at him, covering her mouth to hide her smile. “Mine’s green.”

“Green is much more manly,” replies Stiles. “I should have said that. Do you wanna trade?”

She shakes her head, smiling openly now.

“Fine. You keep your green, then.” Stiles digs around in the bin, pulling out a bottle of yellow food coloring and diving back in until he successfully locates the blue.

“Now,” Stiles says, laying his supplies out on the ground in front of the girl. “The amateur way of doing this would be with just baking soda and vinegar. But we aren’t amateurs, are we?”

Cora narrows her eyes as if she’s offended at the suggestion. “No way.”

“That’s where this comes into play.” Stiles holds up a hollow bulb with a flimsy tube attached to it.

They’re on their hands and knees in the backyard fashioning a volcano out of mud and straw, when Derek gets home. They’re covered in dirt and leaves, not even Derek’s borrowed jacket safe from the mess of the thawing winter ground. Stiles at least has the good grace to look sheepish when he smiles up at Derek.

“Science,” he says, as if that explains it all.

Derek nods and kneels down beside them for a closer look.

“We were trying to make it a bit more interesting, so we—”

Stiles’ explanation is cut short when Cora dumps the last remaining ingredient into the volcano’s crater. With an amount of strength that no typical human girl possesses, she squeezes the rubber bulb that’s attached to the base. Sludgy green mock-lava explodes from the volcano, splattering everywhere in a three-foot radius. Including Derek’s face.

Stiles bites the inside of his cheeks, barely holding back a smile as the lava-slime slips down over Derek’s angry eyebrows and onto his white tee shirt. Cora doesn’t even try to hold back her laughter, even though the same disgusting slime is covering her own hair, too. For all she’s giggling, Stiles is surprised she’s able to breathe at all. It triggers his own uncontrollable laughter, and even Derek is smiling now.

There’s an exchange between the siblings that Stiles doesn’t really catch over the sounds of their combined laughter, but then Cora is running through the yard, weaving and dodging in and out of trees with Derek on her heels.

The sight of it sobers Stiles, breaks off his laughter and fills his mind instead with thoughts of future Derek, alone and sad, no one to have these moments of unrestrained joy with. It’s like an actual physical pain in Stiles’ heart whenever he thinks about it, about Derek not having family dinners and movie nights, smiling affectionately at his mother when he thinks no one’s looking, or chasing after his little sister.

Stiles looks away, lets them have their moment while he cleans himself off with the roll of paper towels they’d smartly brought out with them before the project.

oOo

With his mom gone for the evening, it’s Derek’s night to try his hand at dinner, so Stiles ties an apron on and offers his assistance... which turns out to be more like smart ass commentary as Derek attempts to make simple corn dogs in the oven.

“Tonight’s menu includes Burned-to-an-Unnecessary-Crisp Orca Dogs,” Stiles says as Derek paws the corn dogs out of the oven with giant, puffy oven mitts.

“Orca dogs?” Derek asks, cringing as he observes his creation.

“Black on top, golden on the bottom,” Stiles explains.

Derek shoots him an indignant glare. “They aren’t... that bad, are they?”

“That’s like raw carbon, man. I’m not sure anyone should eat that.”

“Toaster waffles, it is,” Derek says, tossing the Orca Dog into the trash can.

Stiles talks him into meatloaf and mashed potatoes instead. It’s the easiest meal he knows how to whip together, and he’s more than happy to share his recipe with Derek. Turns out, Derek is an even better student than Cora, actually making conversation with Stiles rather than alternating between smiling shyly and glaring at him like his sister had that afternoon.

They wash their hands together at the kitchen sink and set about pulling the ingredients Stiles lists off out of the cupboards and fridge.

“So, even though this is an actual meal, I still get to implement my Mister Miyagi toaster skills?” Derek asks with poorly veiled elation.

“Excited about that, are you?” Stiles sets a carton of eggs on the counter by the bowl of ground beef.

“Are you kidding? It’s all I actually know how to do in here.”

Derek’s toast comes out slightly burned, but Stiles isn’t about to point that out. He just helps him crumble it up in tiny pieces before tossing it into the meat-egg mixture.

“Okay. Now, the fun part.” Stiles takes Derek by the wrists, studiously ignoring the way the soft skin there makes Stiles’ head feel foggy. He drops Derek’s hands down into the bowl, pressing his own fingers to the backs of Derek's before reluctantly breaking contact. “Squish,” he says.

“With my hands?” Derek asks, as if he thinks Stiles must be joking. He makes a face as his fingers knead into the meat.

“What, now you’re afraid to get dirty? What happened to all that misplaced confidence from the toaster?”

“Misplaced?” Derek makes a new expression of disgust with each squish of the raw meat between his fingers.

“Oh, come on. I’ve seen you put your hands in much grosser things,” Stiles says before he’s able to stop himself.

Derek freezes, eyeing Stiles warily.

“Volcano sludge was much more disgusting,” Stiles covers quickly. “You know it was.”

With the near-disastrous moment passed, they put their meatloaf in the oven and Stiles introduces Derek to the most important kitchen implement: the timer.

oOo

They're out on Derek's back porch, wrapped in blankets they’d smuggled out of the house and watching the rain slant down in the yard beyond. Laura joins them with a cup of something steaming and sweet-smelling, planting herself between them on the bench.
“So,” Derek says, breaking the silence they’d cocooned themselves in. “Toby Maguire, huh?”
Laura snorts with laughter, leaning over and elbowing her brother in the ribs. “Please. Like you weren’t thinking the same thing?”
Derek huffs.
“I was,” Stiles cuts in, if for nothing else, just to see their reaction. Laura shakes with laughter, but Derek just stares at him, a tiny smile playing at the corner of his lips.
“He’s not really my type, “ Derek says. “I’m more of a DC kinda guy.”
Stiles gasps in mock horror, clutching at his chest as if Derek’s words were sharp enough to pierce his heart.
“You mean to tell me you’re not a True Believer?” Stiles exhales a slow, exaggerated puff of air as he watches his friend who’s just smiling over at him, shrugging one shoulder unapologetically. “I feel like I don’t even know you,” Stiles says. “How are we even friends?”
“You share a common love for video games and food,” Laura says through her laughter. “And, you know what they say: opposites attract.”
Derek and Stiles just watch each other for a moment, holding eye contact in the dim light of the porch as Laura hunches forward with laughter.

"The Marvel to my DC," Derek says theatrically, pulling a laugh from Stiles now, too.

Laura stays outside with them for a while, doing a decent job of holding up one third of a conversation about comic books. Stiles preaches to them the wonder that is Wolverine and shoots down their feeble attempt at glorifying Scott Summers. It’s cute that they try, though.
Derek has an adorable attachment to Batman, and Stiles loves how passionately he defends the Dark Knight.
“Well,” Stiles says, after Derek’s particularly long-winded sermon about Bruce Wayne’s ongoing battle for justice despite the fact that he’s got no actual super powers. “Tony Stark is also a billionaire industrialist. Plus, he has a personality, and he does things with technology that Batman can only demand his butler do for him while he’s sipping cocktails with schizophrenic sociopaths.”
“Tony Stark was only concerned about saving himself,” Derek counters. “Bruce Wayne had to watch his parents being brutally murdered as a kid. Revenge is always the best driving force behind these characters.”
Laura slips away silently somewhere in the midst of a debate over which of their respective superheroes has a more sensible vehicle for their alter ego’s jobs.
“She held up pretty well,” Stiles says when they both finally notice her absence.
“She does all right,” replies Derek.
“Must be nice to have siblings you can share your interests with. My best friend, Scott, he’s never been into comic books, really. Too bad for him. He’d probably know a thing or two if he invested a little time in them.”
“Are you an only child?” Derek asks.
Stiles nods.
“Wonder what that must be like,” Derek says, and Stiles isn’t sure if he’s supposed to answer, but he does anyway.
“It gets lonely sometimes. I’ve always wished I had a big family,” he admits. “I’ve got Scott, though, and... my friends. They fill the void.”
Silence stretches between them, but it isn’t uncomfortable. The rain continues to fall, making a weak attempt at turning to snow in the wintery night. Stiles is starting to freeze his human ass off again, despite the blankets he’s got wrapped tightly around him, but he isn’t willing to say anything yet, doesn’t want to break this moment between them, whatever it is.
“What happened to your mom, if you don’t mind me asking?” Derek says after a while.
Stiles does mind, usually. The people who matter to him already know, he’s never had to explain it to anyone. But Stiles does care about Derek. He cares about his Derek, and even though it’s only been a couple of days, he cares about this new, kind and happy Derek, too. He can give him that, at least—that little piece of Stiles, that bit of truth.

"Happened when I was nine," he starts, his voice barely a whisper over the sound of the rain patting against leaves in the yard. "I was at my first sleepover with a friend. He was a couple years older than me, and didn't scare as easily as I did. He somehow talked me into watching the movie It. You know, the Stephen King one with the creepy ass clown?"

Derek's eyes go wide and he nods.

"Well, it didn't sit well with me. My friend fell asleep halfway through, and even though I put the blankets over my head and tried to tune it out, it was still there. I was too scared to turn the TV off. Didn't want to be alone in the dark. When the bloody balloon came up out of the sink drain and exploded all over the bathroom, I was done. Called my mom and begged her to come get me.

"It was rainy, and the ground was a little bit icy. Semi driver didn't see her, slammed right into the side of her car." Stiles pauses, trying to collect himself, trying not to relive it as he tells his story. "I knew something was wrong when my dad had come to pick me up instead." Stiles stops there, unable to continue. It's enough, he thinks. Derek doesn't need to know that Stiles' dad is a sheriff or that he was the one called to the scene of the accident. He doesn't need to know that Stiles had been there with her in the hospital days later when her monitors stopped beeping.

oOo

They’re back to their marathon of GTA in Derek’s room, another unspoken invitation for Stiles to stay the night. He’s grateful for it. Deaton’s clinic isn’t terrible as far as temporary shelters go, but Stiles has been there on more than one occasion in the future when unwelcome intruders come in as they please. Even his own dad is friends with the vet, so any opportunity to stay away is a welcome one. Derek’s place is nice, his family warm and inviting. Stiles allows a moment to appreciate the friendship he’s building with Derek in this version of the past. Future Derek, the one Stiles has come to refer to in thought as his Derek, has never been easy to get close to; always guarded and defensive. His misanthropic demeanor isn’t unfounded, though, and Stiles has never understood that better than he does now, here in the past where he can see first hand all that Derek had, all that he’d lost.

Every time Stiles allows himself to consider the future reality that he left behind, a new wave of panic and nausea punches through him, causing his stomach to roil. He’s only been here for a handful of days, but even he is able to see the connection between Derek and his family. It makes him sick to think of Derek and Laura on their own, to think of Derek without all of this.

And just like that, Stiles feels the onslaught of a full-fledged panic attack. His chest is tight, hands and wrists prickling as they begin to tremble. All the air is sucked from the room, replaced by something thick and honey-slow that he can't seem to get enough of.

"Hey, whoa, are you okay?" Derek asks, the look of concern on his face almost comical.

It isn't funny, though. None of this is. Stiles shakes his head and sinks a little deeper into the edge of Derek's mattress. His skin feels tight, like it's a size too small and he can't get comfortable.

"I'm not supposed to be here," he says between shallow puffs of breath. "I'm not... none of this... it's all wrong."

"Stiles, calm down," Derek says. He squeezes Stiles' shoulder firmly. "You need a paper bag or something?"

Stiles shakes his head again, dizzy from the lack of oxygen. "I just. I don't."

"I'm gonna go get my mom," says Derek, standing up from his place beside Stiles.

"No," says Stiles, reaching a hand out to grab the other boy's arm. "I'm fine. I'll be fine."

Derek pauses.

"I just need a minute. I just..." Stiles takes a few deep breaths, grip still firmly in place on Derek's forearm. He can't convince his hand to release him. Not when Derek feels so real, so warm and alive when all Stiles' mind is trying to tell him is that this must all be a dream. This can't really be happening.

Derek sits down beside Stiles again, and Stiles really just wants to pull his knees up to his chest and rock himself back to a state of calm, but he doesn't, because just as he's thinking it, Derek drops his hand down onto Stiles' knee. Stiles just stares down at it, grateful for the contact.

"Can I tell you something without you freaking out?" Stiles says when finally he's able to speak again.

"I'm not really one to freak out," replies Derek.

Stiles chuckles a small, nervous laugh. Of course this Derek has no cause to be the angry, untrusting person Stiles knows him to be. Not now. Not yet.

"You're going to think I'm insane, but I swear to God, Derek, I'm not. I'm not crazy. No more than any other seventeen-year-old, anyway."

Derek shrugs one shoulder as if Stiles has a valid point.

Stiles has no idea how to begin, a hundred different scenarios of how this could go terribly wrong ripping through his imagination. He knows that Derek, future Derek, uses his anger over what had happened to his family to ground himself, to control his wolf. Stiles is well aware of how easily Derek could lose control right now, angry or confused or scared, and just tear Stiles' throat out. He knows he has to be careful.

Stiles swallows hard around the lump in his throat, sweaty palm slipping down Derek's bare arm but still not relinquishing his hold on the other boy.

With his free hand, Stiles wipes at his forehead, then looks over at Derek.

"Voldemort kills Harry," he says, not knowing how else to start.

Derek's eyebrows knit together in an utterly baffled expression. He glances over at his stack of Harry Potter books, then looks back at Stiles again. "Uh... excuse me?"

"And Snape kills Dumbledore. And maybe the bad guys do win sometimes, except that they don't. Not really. Because love just makes people do stupid things, even if those stupid things turn out to be really clever, and—"

"What the fuck are you talking about?"

Stiles laughs—actually laughs—at Derek's response, because, for all the threats and intimidation and near-death experiences Stiles has witnessed in his Derek's lifetime, he's never heard him swear. It shocks him out of his rambling, and Stiles takes another deep breath before continuing on to a more coherent train of thought.

"I know those things because I've read the books. I've also seen the movies, but lets not get into that. I've read all the books, Derek, and I'm not supposed to be here because when I left school the other day and walked into the woods with my friends, it was 3pm on a Friday afternoon in 2013. And I swear to God, I didn't hit my head. I'm not crazy. Something happened while we were out there. Something that shoved me back in time ten years and I don't know how to undo it."

Derek's staring at Stiles, unblinking, and Stiles can't even tell if he's breathing at all.

"You're jerking me, right?"

Stiles blinks stupidly because Derek, seventeen-year-old Derek, just said something so Stiles and so un-Derek-like that he isn't even sure how to respond.

"No, I'm not jerking you," he replies after a moment of just staring at each other. "I know you, Derek. I know... future you.”

“Oh, really,” says Derek, tone laced with mockery. He stands up and moves away from Stiles, effectively breaking all contact and leaving Stiles feeling more alone than he had felt even on the morning he woke up on the preserve in 2003.

Stiles plows on, despite the feeling of emptiness. “I know about the...” He makes a gesture with his hands, but even he isn’t clear on what it’s supposed to represent. He settles for forming his hand into an angry claw. “Lycanthropy thing,” he says, much more calmly than he feels.

“What are you talking about?” Derek repeats, a little breathless, confused and reaching for his door handle.

Stiles has no desire to scare a werewolf while alone with him in an enclosed space. He knows he should have thought better of this. He just needs someone to know. Someone who's not so clinical when discussing it like Deaton. He needs Derek to know.

Derek’s chest is heaving, nostrils flaring and Stiles can tell this is taking a turn for the worst pretty rapidly.

“Who sent you here?” Derek asks. “What do you know?”

“Relax,” Stiles says, raising his hands. “I swear to God, Derek, nobody sent me here. Listen,” he lowers his hands down again, “I mean really listen. You should be able to tell if I’m lying, right?”

Derek glares at him from his place beside the door. “Don’t move,” he says firmly after a long beat of silence. He leaves the room, slamming the door behind him as if the force of it alone can keep Stiles inside.

He's trembling with anxiety, practicing his breathing exercises when Derek returns with his mother in tow.

She's stone-faced and serious, but doesn't look nearly as angry as Stiles had imagined she would be.

She moves into the room, leaving Derek leaning against the closed door, and looms over Stiles.

"Where did you come from?" she asks flatly, her hands balled into loose fists at her sides and Stiles knows it's to hide a set of fierce claws.

"Mom," Derek cuts in, as if warning her, or at least asking. His voice alone provides Stiles with enough courage to respond.

"B-Beacon Hills," he stammers. "I live here in Beacon Hills. Sheriff Stilinski is my father."

"Stiles," she says, voice far more commanding this time, despite her son's protests. He drags his gaze up to meet hers, hoping it's entirely unthreatening from his sitting position in front of her.

"Did you think Alan wouldn't tell me?" she asks.

A mixture of confusion swirls inside him, trailed by the tiniest hint if relief. "So... you knew?"

"Not much happens here that I don't know about."

Stiles’ gaze darts over to Derek, questioning. Derek's eyes are wide, lips parted in mute surprise.

"Derek didn't know," she replies, knowing the question that’s on his mind. "Only Peter and myself. He isn't upset with you, Stiles, just confused."

Derek's shoulders seem to slump a little, and he looks down at the floor in front of him, still leaning against the door with his hands behind his back.

"Thousands of questions are going through my mind, as I'm sure you can imagine," she continues. "But we all know the dangers of knowing too much. I won't ask you about the future, or about my family. I told Alan we'd watch over you until he figures out how to get you home."

With a gentle finger, she tips Stiles' chin up, encouraging him to meet her gaze again. She smiles warmly at him, causing his heart to ache in his chest and tears to prickle behind his eyes. "You sure are something special, Stiles. I hope you know that."

Derek slips out of the room behind his mom—his Alpha. He doesn't come back.

Stiles wakes up alone again Saturday morning, curled up at the foot of Derek's empty bed. 

Chapter Text

~6~

Stiles manages to get out of the house unnoticed, or at least unacknowledged. He spends his morning at the library, flipping through a stack of books that he's only half paying attention to. There’s only so much he can handle of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity on his best days, let alone right now, when he’s feeling completely morose. He focuses instead on the sound of his mom, reading to her library children, soft voice carrying barely enough for him to hear at all.

“You’re on your own, and you know what you know. And you will be the guy who’ll decide where you’ll go.”

Stiles hides his face behind a virtually untouched copy of Michio Kaku's Hyperspace whenhis seven-year-old attention deficit self goes blazing by with a Highlights magazine. He watches as little Stiles flips open the book and goes straight for the hidden pictures page.

A little girl follows him over, slides into one of the child-sized chairs at an empty table across from his younger self, blonde hair pulled back in a braid with a few curly locks hanging loose around her face. Her big, brown eyes are trained on seven-year-old Stiles as he continues to scan the pages with his eyes and fingers.

The girl's face seems to be frozen in a perpetual state of sadness as she sits alone, and Stiles can't help but wonder why she isn't with the other children her age, over on the rug by his mother. But as he watches the girl, notices her watching young Stiles, he recognizes with a pang of sorrow: it's Erica. No sooner than the realization hits him, a woman with equally blonde and wavy hair is taking the girl by the hand and leading her away.

"Time to go home, Erica. You need to take your medicine."

The little girl casts one last long glance over her shoulder at the boy she'd been focusing on, a deeper sadness in her eyes now, and Stiles wonders if she's worried that his younger self had heard her mother's words.

He takes a mental note of her noticing him, watching him like he’s something special as her mom leads her away, and he resolves to hold onto that memory. Erica and Stiles had never really been friends, but she at least deserves that much, the tiny bit of acknowledgment that he now has the ability to offer from a different perspective.

Childhood crushes come and go—a fact that Stiles is all too familiar with—but that doesn’t mean they don’t matter. Sometimes, in fact, they even help to mold someone into the person they’ll be later in life.

oOo

Fifth grade, Stiles had told Derek in one of their text conversations one night.

Derek's reply had been quick, and Stiles could sense the mockery in it. You've been dragging that crush around with you for 6 years?

Stiles had never regretted his crush on Lydia, even if that was all it would ever be. He had learned a lot in that time, patience and understanding, but also the importance of looking deeper than just what was on the surface.

I thought I was in love with her, was Stiles' reply. He waited a minute before adding more. That was before Jackson, and before I actually knew her.

It's easy to convince yourself you love someone you barely know. Safer from a distance when you can't see all their flaws. Stiles tried to imagine Derek's voice saying those words as he read them again.

Everyone's got flaws. Can't fend it off forever, Stiles replied, mostly because he could tell the conversation was coming to a close, but he didn't want to say goodnight to Derek just yet.

What, love? Derek didn't wait for Stiles' response before he sent another text. Of course you can. It's easy.

oOo

“There’s just a lot to take into consideration,” Stiles says, flailing a little as he puts a nervous cat back into its kennel. Latching the cage shut, he turns to look at Deaton. “I mean, anything I do could potentially scramble the future into something totally unrecognizable by the time I make it back there. Just having this conversation with you could mean that, ten years from now, you’ve gone so far off your rocker that you’ve decided to retire to some peaceful hippy commune in East Washington. We’d never know you. You wouldn’t be there to help us through our varying degrees of supernatural fuckery. You’d just be off... growing hemp and living in a tree.”

He isn't upset with Deaton for telling Derek's mom and uncle about him. It's the opposite, in fact. Stiles is relieved he didn't have to explain it and try to convince them on his own.

Deaton caps the syringe he’d been holding, tossing it into the hazards container before peeling his gloves off. “It’s not always that black-and-white, Stiles. The are many variations of theoretical outcomes. The Chaos Theory—or Butterfly Effect—is only one, and, if I’m being honest, the least likely.”

“But still possible,” Stiles interjects.

"You don't know what sort of time-continuum you were pulled into. If time travel were an actual plausible thing—"

Stiles throws his arms out as if to say Seriously? I'm here, aren't I?

Deaton holds up a conceding hand. "There are many different theories in place surrounding such a thing. The Parallel Universe, in which someone would step—"

"Fall," Stiles corrects.

"—into an exact mirror copy of their own world, but nothing would be affected in the other; the Ontological Paradox, in which everything the time traveler does would act as a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. Steal a seed from a farmer, give it to a boy to grow a crop with which to feed his family, that boy grows up and turns out to be the man from whom you stole the seed. And there's the Post-Selected theory. This is where quantum fluctuations occur in order to prevent anything that may change the future from what's written: shoot the farmer to take his seeds, but," Deaton shrugs. "Your gun jams, or you trip and end up firing three feet off target."

This last theory puts Stiles in mind of the Final Destination movies; once it's set to happen, it happens regardless of what's done to stop it.

"And there's really no way of knowing which of these weird-ass, sci-fi plots I've been shoved into until I'm back in the future where I belong and can see for myself what's changed."

Deaton raises an eyebrow and shrugs one shoulder. It's infuriating.

"You're familiar with the Law of Causality, aren't you?"

Stiles nods. "Cause and effect, action and reaction, yeah. I'm familiar."

Deaton smiles proudly. "If each cause is marked in time, followed somewhere down the line by an effect directly related, there would be no way to go back before that cause without diminishing the resulting effect." He raises an eyebrow at Stiles, clearly wondering if he's still following.

"So," Stiles begins, just to prove that he's paying attention, "someone being born would be the direct cause of them, say, stubbing their toe ten years later. But if you go back down that line to a time before the birth, the toe-stubbing doesn't happen. Obviously."

"Exactly. Imagine a man bleeding to death from a stab wound before the blade even has the chance to puncture his skin. It would violate all logic and reason."

"Yeah, well, so do werewolves. We don't exactly live in a universe where logic is an actual thing," Stiles puts in.

"Right. And there are less obvious relations, too. Things that don't seem connected to us but somehow are by the universe's standards. Those are more far-fetched, but considering your situation, I think the Quantum String Theory is likely a closer match."

Stiles watches as Deaton crosses the room and shuffles around in a drawer before returning.

"Some scientists and physicists believe that, in the earliest stages of the universe's development, thin strings of atom-like material were stretched throughout time, some short, some long; some insignificant, others great and powerful parts of our history. As the fourth dimension progresses, these strings are woven together. Relativity is what causes them to stretch taut. One force at one end," Deaton holds a magnet up in each hand to illustrate his explanation, "another at the other end, pulling apart like opposing magnetic poles." He holds the magnets an inch apart, showing Stiles the way they refuse to connect. "Theoretically, ripples can happen in that fabric of time causing those poles to flip." Deaton punctuates his point by turning one of the magnets over and allowing them to slap together.

"Is that some scientific way of confirming that destiny is a real thing? That this crap is mapped out since the beginning of time?"

"That's one way of looking at it," replies Deaton earnestly.

"Well, as interesting as this lesson in physics is, I really don't see where it's going, unless it's just your way of telling me I'll never know what the connection was that brought me back here."

"That's exactly the thing, isn't it? There are too many threads to ever know which one to trace back, and it would be even less likely to assume that, even if you found it, you'd be able to re-create the loop to send you back to 2013."

"That's comforting. Thanks."

"These are only theories, Stiles. Nothing is certain. Not even the past, apparently."

"What about the things that I know? Things I've seen? People who..." Stiles wants to say people who die—people I know, but the words seem to stick in his throat. "What about Derek Hale?" he says finally. "He's seen me. His whole family has. They know."

"Well, as you pointed out, werewolves defy logic and reason as we know it. I don't think you being here will create a paradox for the supernatural. Things are constantly changing around them. Things you and I couldn't even begin to imagine. They aren't as frail as normal people are, and neither are their strings."

What Stiles hears in this is: Whatever happens to Derek's family will either happen or not happen, no amount of meddling will change that.

What Stiles takes from this is: Stay away from your family. Don't try to interfere with the destiny of the humans in your life.

His gut twists.

"How are you only a veterinarian?" he asks after a long moment of silence.

Deaton smiles. "Who says I am?"

oOo

Stiles doesn’t really expect to see Derek any time soon—not without forcing his presence onto him, anyway—so he’s more than a little surprised when Derek comes walking into Deaton’s clinic early Tuesday morning.

“You didn’t come back,” Derek says, skipping the greeting altogether.

“Neither did you,” replies Stiles, still unreasonably hurt by waking up in Derek’s room alone.

Derek looks down at the countertop, tracing a grain of the wood with his fingertip, and nods. Stiles notes with silent amusement that it must have been some time after the fire that Deaton had remodeled his clinic with mountain ash. He wonders about the significance in that, if Deaton had felt safer with the Hales running this territory, if a lot of danger came to Beacon Hills in their absence.

“It’s just,” Derek shrugs, “a little strange, you know? No one knows about us. Not really. And then you appear one day out of nowhere, with no home and no family, and you...”

Stiles waits, heart aching in his chest. He doesn’t want to lose Derek’s trust, his friendship, when he’s only just earned it after trying for so long in his other life.

He’s just opening his mouth to respond when Derek finally continues. “You smell like...” Stiles watches as Derek’s throat works to swallow around the words. “Like us. Like... me.” He looks up at Stiles as if waiting for his reaction.

Stiles holds his gaze, green-grey eyes ringed with a dark edge, and nods slowly. He doesn’t know how much he can say, how much he should. He isn’t even sure his future self is actually part of Derek’s pack, though he does spend a lot of time with him. Stiles isn’t a werewolf. He isn’t anything special or unique, really. Despite what Derek’s mom seems to think.

“I’m only human,” he says, and he doesn’t know how that’s supposed to explain anything, but it must, because Derek’s mouth pulls up at the corners into a genuine smile.

“I should have told you,” Stiles continues. “That first night you found me, I should have said something, but I didn’t know what. I have no idea how much I could be fucking up by being here. I’m messing with lives without even trying. I just... I just wanna go home.” He’s been distracted a lot lately, with work from Deaton and time spent with Derek and his family, but now that Stiles has actually allowed himself to say it out loud, he realizes just how terrified he is about never getting back to where he belongs.

Derek reaches out to him, fingers curving gently around Stiles’ upper arm, and Stiles relaxes into the touch. “We’ll help you,” he says, and Stiles nods, even though he knows they can’t. He thinks, in this moment, Derek looks more mature than he ever has, just standing there across the counter with his hand on Stiles, trying to reassure his friend, trying to provide any amount of comfort he’s capable of. Stiles is grateful for it.

oOo

"That's Kate Argent," says Derek, his gaze focused intently on the Bitchy Barista as they step through the door of the coffee shop.

Stiles’ heart plummets to his stomach, stopping him dead in his tracks. He feels the blood drain from his face.

"Yeah," Stiles says. "I'm familiar with her."  He can't help the disdain that creeps into his voice as he speaks. The girl is irrationally snide, no matter how polite Stiles tries to be to her, and now he knows why. This is Kate. The Kate. The girl who Stiles was told about. The one who’s responsible for seducing Derek, stealing his trust and using it to murder his entire family. Stiles wants to vomit.

Derek's attention snaps back to Stiles, maybe because of the tone of his response, or maybe he can hear the uptick of Stiles’ heart. His expression is one of concern when he looks back at Stiles who still hasn’t moved from his place just inside the door.

Stiles shrugs. "It's the only place to get good coffee close to Deaton's clinic."

"You come here a lot, then?" Derek asks.

"Been here a few times. It isn't my favorite place to be." Stiles narrows a glare at Kate, who isn’t paying attention to them in the slightest.

Derek reads the message, though. “Do you wanna go somewhere else?”

Stiles considers the options, shakes his head. “Maybe we can just get it to go.”

They step up to the counter to order their drinks, and Stiles' skin crawls when the girl looks up from her task, directly at Derek, and actually smiles.

For a split second, he entertains the notion that, in addition to unwarranted supernatural time travel, Stiles’ life now somehow also includes alternate universes. Because, what?

"Hey there, Derek," she says, eyelashes fluttering, and Stiles doesn't even try to hide the expression of utter disgust on his face as he takes a step closer to Derek.

It doesn't matter anyway. She's not even acknowledging him in the slightest. Kate reaches out and touches Derek’s wrist, laughing at something Stiles missed, and the sound of it is so saccharine-sweet that his stomach churns. Every ounce of instinct Stiles has in him is screaming retreat, telling him to get Derek the fuck away from her before she sinks her claws into him. It’s only part jealousy. Mostly, though, it’s because he knows this is how it all began and ended. How Kate altered Derek’s life as he knows it.

Derek is polite when he orders their drinks, and Stiles thinks he must be completely oblivious to the fact that the girl is blatantly flirting with him.

Stiles can feel his heart thundering against his ribcage and he knows the sound of it must be deafening for Derek. This was a bad idea, he knows, just coming in here, but he had to see for himself. He wonders if Derek sees anything in Kate at all. He seems completely unaware, his attention focused on Stiles instead as she turns away to prepare their drinks.

Stiles fights against his urge to grab Derek and haul him out of the coffee shop, knowing Kate would be suspicious of that. He wonders if her dad is here, living in Beacon Hills right alongside all the innocent and sane people of their city.

Panic edges into Stiles’ mind, phantom pain playing out all over his face and body at the memories any thoughts of Gerard invoke.

Derek is turned fully toward Stiles, watching him intently, his elbow resting on the counter, fingers tapping the surface like a metronome. It does nothing to calm Stiles. He thinks about what Deaton had said, about how Derek’s life is made of different threads, how Stiles can’t affect the course of action that’s been set into place for the supernatural. But he decides it doesn’t matter. Even if he can’t change it, he knows he won’t be able to watch it all play out the same way as he sits by idly.

Stiles closes the distance between them, covering Derek’s hand with his own. He really has no idea what he’s doing, just that he has to do something, anything at all to sway her, to offset the path of destruction, even if it means it’ll come about a different way.

He hopes Derek can read him well enough, can hear his heart or even just recognize the desperation in his eyes and know that, whatever it is Stiles is doing, he should just go along with it.

Stiles drags his thumb against the side of Derek’s wrist, erasing Kate's touch, stroking the soft skin there and using the contact to ground him, steady his breathing, calm his heart. When he looks up into Derek’s eyes, he doesn’t see the confusion he’d expected, just a slight tick of an eyebrow in question. Stiles tries to smile, but thinks it comes off more as a sad grimace.

I’m sorry, he mouths, but Derek just shakes his head, then turns his palm up into Stiles’.

Stiles traces the lines of it with his fingertips, and Derek’s expression goes from indifferent to relaxed, content.

He doesn’t pull away when Kate turns around with their drinks, arching an eyebrow as she sees their joined hands on the countertop. She schools her features quickly and smiles up at Derek who’s still looking at Stiles.

They separate long enough for Derek to pay for their coffee and thank her.

Stiles' palm is sweaty against Derek's, their fingers laced together as they exit the coffee shop. He makes no move to let go of Stiles' hand until they're a good distance away.

"Do I even want to ask?" he says as they stand at the corner waiting for the light to allow them to cross.

Stiles shakes his head.

"There's obviously something you're not telling me," Derek says, reaching his now free hand out and tugging at the hem of Stiles' shirt to pull him out of his thoughts.

"There's a lot I'm not telling you," Stiles replies.

"Are you gonna try?"

"I don't know. I don't think I'm supposed to. Remember what your mom said about knowing too much?"

Derek nods.

"Well, let's just say Kate is really bad for you. She likes you, but it isn't what you think."

Derek snorts with suppressed laughter. "She's like, twenty-one years old. It isn't even legal for her to be interested."

"She plays by her own rules, Derek. Legal is not a deciding factor for her."

oOo

Stiles spends the next two days cleaning up at the clinic, mostly in the back, hidden away from public view. When Derek gets out of school in the afternoons, he stops by to get Stiles. They spend a lot of time at the library, skimming through sci-fi books and theses about the theories of time travel. When they aren't there, they're out in the forest trying to retrace the steps Stiles had taken to get him here in the first place.

He sleeps at the Hale house, in the pull-out bed beside Derek's, and wakes in the mornings when the older kids are getting ready for school. Derek's mom is adamant that Stiles not miss out on any educational benefits while he's here, in the past where he doesn't belong, so she gives him homework assignments to keep his intellect sharp. He still helps her with the smaller kids in the mornings. It's all so surreal, being a part of Derek's family, integrating himself into their past. He's come to think of them all as family, even Peter finding his way past Stiles' defenses with snark and a shared adoration for dry sarcasm.

He misses his dad, and he knows he must keep Derek awake at night just from the scent of his despondency alone. He wants to see Scott, to tell him he's okay, and that, aside from missing them all so much, he's happy.

Most of all, though, Stiles thinks he'd like to see his Derek again, tell him that he gets it. He understands why he is the way he is, and it's okay. He's supposed to hurt, and maybe Derek is even doing a lot better with his grief than he thinks he is, all things considered.

Stiles catches himself staring at Derek, marveling at the openness in his expressions, the smiles that reach his eyes. Derek, happy, whole, unjaded by a terrible past that hasn't yet happened. 

Derek, before his life became such a terrible, cruel existence. 

Looking around at all the laughing children, the caring adults, the family his Derek doesn't have anymore, Stiles finally understands. The gravity of it has encompassed him. He's finally able to see Derek's loss on a grander, more visceral scale. Stiles isn't just sympathizing with a friend who'd lost everything—he's actually seeing, feeling, all it was that he had lost, and he aches with it. Deep down to his soul, he hurts for Derek and for these people who have come to care about Stiles.

oOo

As much as they welcome him, as comfortable as Stiles is in their household, he still sometimes feels like something of an outsider. The family is very affectionate toward each other, something Stiles, in his other life, wouldn't have noticed in its subtlety. There are the usual hugs and kisses goodnight, children climbing into the lap of their grandma and snuggling close for no reason other than they can, they want to, but it isn't only that. Their mother tucks Laura's hair behind her ear every time she's close enough, an act that usually merits an eye-roll from Laura, but Stiles knows it isn't genuine. Derek stands beside his mom at the stove, helping her cook or just picking at the food she's preparing for the family. She pats him on the cheek affectionately—just like she did to Stiles that first night—or squeezes the back of his neck as she laughs at his attempts to be sneaky. They all brush shoulders as they pass by one another in the hallway, even a pat to the top of the head from Aunt Janet is welcome and frequent contact.

Stiles wonders if it's normal family behavior, or more of a pack thing. Melissa and Scott aren't very touchy with each other. She'll pull him into the occasional life-affirming mother hug after he's escaped one dangerous situation or another, but that's all Stiles ever sees. His own father is the same way, and Stiles has never noticed an absence of affection before until it's here now, staring him in the face and making him long for it.

It's another thing Derek does without in their future reality. The only contact he ever seems to allow himself is that of the violent nature.

Here in this life, though, Derek touches Stiles like it's nothing at all, and Stiles savors every bit of that contact, no matter how small. When they're sitting close to each other on the back porch, Derek's knee pressed against Stiles' thigh, or playing video games and Derek leans over and bumps his shoulder against Stiles' as he laughs at one thing or another.

They don't talk about the incident at the coffee shop, even though Stiles would like to. He wants Derek to ask him why he did it. Not so that he can give him another half-formed explanation about Kate, but so that Stiles can tell him he's always wanted to, that he's never been able to touch his Derek the way he'd like to. But Derek doesn't ask. 

Chapter Text

~7~

Friday afternoon, Derek, Stiles, and Laura bake heart-shaped sugar cookies for Valentine's Day. Derek isn't allowed to set the timer, but they let him roll out the dough and help them cut the shapes. They layer parchment paper all over the kitchen table and lay out sprinkles and tiny candies and multiple colors of frosting that Cora helps Stiles to mix up with the food coloring from the craft box, and then the kids decorate their cookies to give out to their loved ones.

Cora gives her first one to Stiles, and he notices with amusement that her fingernails are painted purple, sloppily, but adorable nonetheless.

One of the twins has iced his own hair pink and is giggling as his brother adds rainbow sprinkles to the mess on top of his head. Derek gives them a few more minutes of mess-making and giggle-fits before he scoops them both up and takes them upstairs for a bath.

"You kids are having too much fun in here." Mrs. Hale comes into the room wearing her usual smile, eyes widening as she takes in the state of her kitchen.

"We'll clean it up," Stiles promises.

She arches an eyebrow at him. "Oh, I know."

She leans down to the table and puts an arm around Laura's shoulder, eyeing the empty place on the table in front of her daughter.

"What's the matter, sweetheart? Not in a cookie-decorating sort of mood?"

Laura shrugs. "I'm not five, Mom."

"Neither am I, but it's still fun," Cora pipes in, and Stiles high-fives her because, hell yes it is.

He goes back to artfully icing his own heart-shaped cookie in purple camouflage as Cora slathers her next one in an array of pinks and greens. It's like volcano day introduced the start of a color war between them and Cora is determined to win. Even if her nails are purple.

"You don't have to be five to have a valentine, Laura," her mom sing-songs teasingly.

The doorbell rings and Laura smiles up at her. "I know," she says before launching herself up and out of the chair to race her little brother to the door.

"Ha!" her mom says, looking back at Stiles now. "I knew it."

"Hot Valentine’s date?" Stiles asks as he starts to clear the frosting bowls from the table, leaving every shade of green for Cora's unfinished stack.

Mrs. Hale joins him at the sink, turning the water on and grabbing the dish soap.

"Whoa, are you helping me?" Stiles asks. "What just happened here?"

"Well," she says, "lead by example, right? Besides, you kept the kids entertained, so I figured it was the least I could do."

Stiles enjoys these little moments with Derek's mother, having forgotten the warm hugs and soft cookies and words of wisdom moms offer. He still wishes he could be spending time with his own mom, but he knows that he can't do anything to alter his past. Can't change what's already happened. So he cherishes all the mom time he can get here, in this house, and alone in the library on Saturday mornings, pretending that his mother is reading to him and not a group of strangers.

Stiles washes the dishes and hands them off to Mrs. Hale to be dried and put away. It's an easy task when split between two, like most other things.

"I'm surprised Derek didn't go out for Valentine’s Day. He must not want to leave you here alone with us. Probably afraid we'll corrupt you."

"Or the other way around," Stiles jokes.

"I'm glad he has you," she says, smiling over at Stiles. "He needs a good friend."

Stiles feels the tiny strings around his heart, holding it in place as they tug tight at her words.

"Him and Laura are pretty close, though, right?" Stiles doesn't want Derek to be alone when he leaves. Doesn't want to think of how this younger version of him will handle the goodbye when it comes time. If Stiles ever gets to go home.

"They are," she says. "But Laura's an adult now. She'll be finishing high school in just a couple months, maybe even moving away. She's got a boyfriend. You know how young love is."

"Not really," Stiles replies. "My dad always says teenagers aren't capable of love. They don't know what it is."

"Oh, now, I hate to disagree with your father when he isn't here to defend his logic, but I don't think that's true at all. In fact, I think it's the opposite."

Stiles drains the water in the sink and wipes down the counter, waiting for her to continue, but she doesn't elaborate.

"You're a good boy, Stiles. I wasn't kidding when I said you're special." She puts her arms around Stiles' shoulders, pulling him in for a hug. "Take care of him," she whispers before walking away.

oOo

Isaac was cowering in the corner, echoes of Derek's feral roar still reverberating through Stiles as he stood behind the Alpha. 

It wasn't the first time Isaac had lost control and nearly attacked Stiles just for being there, and it wasn't the first time Derek had stopped him. It was, however, the first time Stiles had seen Derek lay hands on Isaac.

It made him sick, knowing all that Isaac had been through in the past, with his father. He shouldn't have to hurt anymore, shouldn't be afraid.

"Derek," Stiles said. "Stop. Come on."

"Did you want him to attack you, Stiles? Did you want him to bite you?" Derek was glaring down at Isaac who was still trembling and bleeding.

"No. But you could have restrained him. You didn't have to slash his face."

"Sorry," Derek said, dripping sarcasm as he shifted back to human form. "I must have slept through that class on compassion at summer camp."

He'd waited until Isaac was back to normal, eyes downcast as he sat in his place on the floor, then Derek went up to his room, leaving them alone.

"It isn't easy for me," said Isaac, after he'd heard Derek's door click shut. "I can't control it like he does. I don't know how."

Stiles took the explanation for the apology he knew it was.

"Well," he said, "we need to help you figure that out, then. I really don't like the idea of being werewolf chow. Not even for you." Stiles tried for a smile that was weakly returned by Isaac.

His face was slowly oozing blood, the gashes unhealed still. Fucking Alpha-inflicted wounds.

Stiles went into the kitchen to wet a washcloth, brought it back and helped Isaac clean up his face before heading upstairs to find Derek.

He didn't even bother knocking on the bedroom door, just shouldered it open and stepped inside.

"He doesn't need that from you, Derek." Stiles was angry, hands balled into fists at his sides, even though he knew they'd do him no good if it came down to an actual fight.

"He needs guidance," Derek replied.

"And that's the way you were taught to offer it?"

"I wasn't taught to be a leader."

"Well, congratulations, then. You're doing a bang-up job of failing miserably."

Derek didn't reply. There really wasn't much he could say to that.

"He needs you. He needs your help," Stiles said. "He doesn't know how to control it like you do."

"You want to know how I control it?" Derek had come stalking toward Stiles, predatory, eyes narrowed. Stiles didn't flinch away.

"Anger, Stiles." His breath was hot in Stiles' face, close enough that there was no mistaking his intent. Stiles refused to be intimidated by him, though. "My whole family was brutally murdered, burned alive, and there was nothing I could do but run. They were all killed before I was even old enough to know what life was supposed to be. I didn't have time to learn."

When Derek realized Stiles wasn't going to back down, he turned and walked back over to his place by the window.

"Isaac doesn't have anger," Derek continued. "He has Stockholm Syndrome. You try teaching him to anchor himself to that."

"I get it, all right, Derek? Nobody understands you. Nobody gets your pain."

Derek didn't respond. Just stared out the window, rain trailing down the glass like mock tears on the face of his reflection. It was like a vision, a glimpse of something Stiles knew he'd never see. Tears would require an emotion other than wrath and Stiles didn't think Derek was capable of that.

"You aren't the only one who's got scars," Stiles said. "Help him find something else. But fucking help him."

oOo

"What's it like?" Derek asks when they're alone again, lying in their separate beds in his room. "Beacon Hills, the world. What's it all like ten years from now?"

"Not much different," Stiles replies. Because the buildings, the streets, the trees, they aren't a lot different. It's the people within it all who have changed or gone away, in one sense or another.

"Guess the movies are wrong."

"Yeah," says Stiles. "It's no Gotham City."

"I used to pretend I was human," says Derek. "When I was a kid. I used to think the world would be so different in the future that it wouldn’t matter. Everyone would be the same.”

“You don’t want to be like everyone else, Derek. People are assholes no matter what period of time you’re in.”

Derek huffs out a laugh before continuing. “We're taught from a very young age to keep our family's secret safe. Never tell anyone, never let on that we're different. It makes it hard to trust people when you can't offer them all of yourself in return."

Stiles knows the truth of that. Just days ago he was living with his own pangs of guilt for not being able to offer Derek full disclosure.

"It helped to hold back the shift. Just a distraction, I guess, but if I pretended I was human, if I really convinced myself it could be true, it stopped it for a little while. Never very long."

"It's kind of like being a superhero," Stiles says. "You just have to keep that part separate. Learn to live the life you've been given."

"Yeah," Derek replies, voice soft in the night. "It just would have been so much easier, you know? We knew, when my little brother was born, we all knew he wouldn't be like us, that he was human. Everyone's so protective of him. He scrapes his knee and it takes weeks to heal. I fall out of a tree and break my back, Mom just makes me stay still for an hour until it's healed."

"You'd rather not heal?" Stiles asks.

"I'd rather not worry," replies Derek. "About them, I mean. Sam, Aunt Janet, even one of the twins... they're so fragile. So breakable. If I was normal, that wouldn't be something I was concerned about all the time."

Stiles knows that isn't true. He's a human in a pack of nearly immortal supernatural beings, and he worries about his friends all the time.

"It isn't much better from the sidelines," he says.

Stiles gets it now, understands why Derek had reacted to Isaac the way he did that night. His Derek would never admit to caring about Stiles, but that was it. It's easy to see now that Stiles knows this part of Derek. He does, did, care about Stiles. He was afraid for him, didn't want him hurt. It wasn't just out of obligation or responsibility to Isaac.

Derek curls his fingers around the edge of the mattress, looks down at Stiles, and in the light of the nearly-full moon filtering through the bedroom window, Stiles can see that Derek's eyes are trained on his mouth.

"I worry about you now, too."

oOo

Stiles slips out early in the morning, not wanting to wake Derek.

He takes his usual spot in the young adults area of the library, just on the other side of the wall from the children’s section, and waits. He has another stack of useless books on scientific theories, and a few on magic, too. He's not finding anything useful to his situation, and his focus is so scattered he wonders why he even tries.

Stiles can hear his mom's laughter on the other side of the wall, talking with some of the parents who have come to bring their children to story time. It pulls him up short and his breath catches at the sound of her, happy and alive and there.

She calls for the children to gather on the rug, and Stiles slips out of his chair, moves closer to the wall and sits with his back against it.

He listens again as she reads the morning away, cherishing every word spoken, every soft breath of laughter between interrupting questions from the kids.

"Here is my secret. It is very simple. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; What is essential is invisible to the eye."

oOo

"I have a few contacts, Stiles. Trusted friends, advisors." Deaton moves around the clinic like it's second nature, not even bothering to watch what he's doing, just pulling bandages and bottles out of various cupboards.

"Not a single one of them seems to have any more answers than I do. This is new to all of us."

"Oh, good. I've baffled a coven of wiccans and necromancers. That's always reassuring news."

"Going on the assumption we're dealing with the Quantum Strings, it all seems quite a bit more complicated." Stiles can't even begin to imagine how that's possible. It's all been pretty hopeless since the first time he and Deaton discussed it. "Figuring we can't trace the string back to its other side, the only other theory is that, by pushing this side of it close enough to a black hole, it would force it to loop back around itself. But that sort of thing would use an amount of force this universe simply isn't capable of handling."

"Okay, just so I'm clear, we're not tossing me into a black hole, then, right?"

Deaton sighs and shakes his head, focusing on the dog he's treating on his operating table.

"So... we really can't undo it?" Stiles tries not to show his level of disappointment, but he's sure Deaton knows.

Deaton finally pauses, looking up at Stiles. "I won't stop searching, but for now, I think it's safe to say you can go ahead and make yourself comfortable here. But be careful, Stiles. Even the slightest changes could alter the future in ways you wouldn’t begin to imagine."

Stiles nods, biting the inside of his cheek to keep his lip from trembling.

oOo

"You stink." Derek didn't even look at him when Stiles walked in.

Stiles lifted his arm and took a sniff. "Do not," he said, affronted. He'd just left lacrosse practice, but he had taken a shower in the locker room before coming over.

"You do," replied Derek.

Stiles glowered at him. "It's not my fault you have freakish werewolf senses. Maybe you should carry some Vicks around."

"Maybe you should carry Febreeze."

"When did you get to be so hilarious, Derek? I don't remember you having a personality at all."

At that, Derek finally did look up at Stiles, a wicked smile playing at the corners of his lips.

Stiles hated how badly he wanted to taste it.

He narrowed his eyes, pushed down the sexual tension and tried to replace it with a healthy measure of sarcasm and indifference.

"You all alone here in the Brood Shack today? Wallowing in your own self-loathing?"

"Just another Monday," Derek said with a casual shrug. Stiles was really starting to love how easily Derek rolled with the punches. It was almost like he was growing up, or just finally accepting Stiles. "I took your advice.”

"You stole the soul of a mime so that you'd be able to convey emotions?"

"Not that advice," Derek said. "I sent Isaac away."

"What, by himself? That wasn't what I advised you to do at all." God, Derek could be so dense sometimes.

"Relax," he replied. "He's with Scott."

"I fail to see how that was my idea."

"Lead by example, right? If I can't teach Isaac a human level of compassion, maybe Scott can. It also shows him that it's okay to not know everything, to not be afraid to admit you need help."

The way Derek looked at him sent a jolt of awareness through Stiles. Was he asking for help? Was that his way of telling Stiles he needed him?

"Well, come on." Stiles turned and headed back toward the front door.

"Where are we going?" Stiles could tell from the distance of Derek's voice that he hadn't moved from his place on the couch.

"To see if the Wizard can give you a heart."

A sardonic laugh escaped Derek's lips and he shook his head. "Pretty sure I had one of those once. It didn't work out too well for me." Despite his words, he did stand and follow Stiles out the door.

"You gave it to the wrong person, Derek."

Derek moved stealthily up beside Stiles, making him jump when he spoke near Stiles' ear.

"Maybe the Wizard can give you a brain," he said before slipping into the passenger seat of Stiles' Jeep.

"If I'm anyone in this fucktacular version of The Wizard of Oz, it's Dorothy. Scott can be the scarecrow, and Isaac's the cowardly lion."

oOo

"She's here, isn't she?" Derek asks out of nowhere. "Your mom. She's here in Beacon Hills, now."

"Yeah," Stiles replies. "She's here." He leans against the tree at his back, kicking his heel absently on the floor of the treehouse, gazing out into the open woods.

"Have you seen her?"

"Every Saturday since I've been here," Stiles says. It isn't entirely true. Sometimes he only gets to hear her voice from the other side of the wall, but he thinks it still counts. "She hasn't seen me, though."

"It must hurt," Derek says, looking out into the canopy of trees. "But I think... it's probably good, too, right? Being able to see her now, maybe appreciating her in a way you weren't capable of then?"

Stiles nods. "I just... there's so much I want to say to her, you know? So many things I wish I could tell her."

"I'm sure she knows," Derek says. "I'm sure she still watches over you."

And Stiles nods, because even if he isn't so sure himself, it still helps to hear it from someone else.

"If I could just hear her say 'I love you' one more time, maybe it wouldn't hurt so much."

Derek wraps an arm around Stiles' shoulder and tucks him into his side, resting his head on top of Stiles'.

They stay like that, enjoying each other's company and the comfort that it brings.

Stiles sits up straight after a while, noticing a small wooden box under the edge of the treehouse floor. "What's this?" he asks tugging at the corner of it.

"It's a box, genius," replies Derek. He leans over Stiles and yanks the box out of its hiding place.

"A box of severed body parts?"

Derek casts him an indignant glare before pulling the latch on the box. He lifts the lid, revealing several folded up pieces of paper and a couple of books.

"My list," Derek explains, holding one of the papers up. "All the things I want to do before I turn eighteen." He smiles bashfully, and Stiles thinks it's probably the most adorable thing he's ever seen.

Stiles lifts one of the paperback books out of the box and arches an eyebrow in question.

"Chronicles of Narnia," Derek says. "They're on the list of books. I come up here to read sometimes." He snatches it out of Stiles' hand and shoves it back into its box.

"Hey, I'm not judging," Stiles says. "I've read the first two myself."

"Me too," says Derek, pushing the box back down between the pallet boards. "Maybe someday I'll find time to read the rest."

"And to finish this treehouse." Stiles grins.

"That's the plan," Derek says. There's another long beat of silence, and then, "You know me, right? You know my family?" He knows he isn't supposed to ask Stiles about his own future. They'd all sat at the kitchen table weeks ago, Derek, Stiles, and all five of the adults in the Hale house, and discussed the ramifications of too much knowledge of one's own future.

Stiles considers his answer carefully, watches Derek watching him, then he nods slowly, holding Derek's gaze. "I know you," he replies, ignoring the second part of the question.

Derek's face splits into a wide grin, and Stiles can't help but smile back.

They fade back into silence as they sit and watch the sun set from high up in Derek's treehouse. Stiles scoots to the edge of the pallet, dangling his feet over the side and gazing down at the ground below. Despite the fact that they're almost the exact same size and build here in this life, Derek's leather jacket is big on Stiles, but he's grateful for the extra room right now. He pulls its collar up and hunches down into the warmth of it, watching as his frosty breath curls into the air between the lapels.

"It's true, you know," Derek says, breaking the silence again. "What I said. You really do smell like me."

"Are you surprised?" Stiles asks. "I mean, I basically live in your house. I use your soap in the shower and wear your clothes most days."

"That's not it." Derek rests his arms on the wooden rail in front of them and looks over at Stiles. "Even that first day. You smelled like me. Like you... belong to me."

Stiles swallows around the lump in his throat. "What do you think that means?" He isn't baiting Derek to ask more questions he can't answer; he's just genuinely curious as to how Derek sees them, what he's conceived of their future friendship.

Stiles doesn't miss the way Derek's gaze flicks to his mouth, the way it had been pretty frequently lately.

"Maybe it means..." he licks his bottom lip, eyes distant now as if he's really considering it, but then he seems to come back to himself. "You're stuck here. Forever doomed to be my friend, to sleep in that ridiculous pull-out bed and wear my clothes until the smell of me is ingrained in your DNA all the way into 2013."

He chuckles, and Stiles can't help but laugh with him, grateful that Derek seems to be okay with the idea of not being rid of him.

"I got another intensive lesson in physics from your veterinarian the other day."

"He isn't my veterinarian," Derek says.

"Right. Anyway, according to him, I may not ever get home, so I hope you can accept my smell for what it is, because it may be here to stay." Stiles feels a tightness in his chest at the admission. He meant for it to be light, joking, but the realization that it could be true hits him hard.

Did he die? In his future life, did Stiles not make it through the fight with the fae? He wonders if that's it. If Death had sent him here, to relive a part of his life he's never seen before, a part that had helped to shape him regardless of his lack of knowledge of it.

"Stiles," Derek says, drawing Stiles' attention back to the present.

Derek is closer when he looks up, the heat of his body radiating into Stiles' skin wherever it can reach. The way Derek is looking at him, the intensity in his gaze, the low huff of breath coming from Derek’s parted lips, it makes Stiles ache to reach out and touch him.

Stiles wonders if this is how it would have been between them—in real time—if they had met under different circumstances. The first time Stiles and Derek had actually laid eyes on each other was when Scott and Stiles were out in the woods looking for Scott's inhaler. Derek didn't even seem to notice Stiles then, too focused on the new werewolf in Beacon Hills, even if said new werewolf didn't know what he was himself yet.

Now, though, all of Derek's attention is focused on Stiles, and Stiles feels selfish for wanting it that way, for wishing that was how it had always been.

Stiles doesn't think he's missing the signal, hopes to hell he isn't stupid enough to misread this.

He leans into Derek, hesitates briefly as he watches Derek's eyes flash blue, but then closes the remaining distance between them.

Stiles presses his lips to Derek's, tasting the heat of his breath in the slow, tentative kiss.

It isn't like any of the fantasies Stiles had formed over the years, the way he’s imagined his first kiss with Derek would be, but this is a part of Derek Stiles didn't know at all before. He'd always imagined, if he ever made it that far with his Derek, it would be rough, needy, both of them taking what they want with no room to think about anything else.

This is good, though, Stiles thinks, and as Derek's hand comes up to slide around the back of Stiles' neck, warming him in more ways than one, Stiles' mind rectifies, this is really fucking good.

The slow slide of Derek's tongue sends a current humming through Stiles. He’s wanted this for so long, has wanted this from his Derek, the Derek who has always been too broken to let Stiles in, to let him get close.

Cool air drags between them, skating across Stiles' damp bottom lip as they part. Stiles trembles with the separation.

Derek's eyes are closed, forehead resting against Stiles' and Stiles wonders if he should apologize, if he should say something to remind Derek that he's still there, that they're still them.

His fingers are warm on the back of Stiles' neck, stroking back and forth as his breath evens out. Stiles kisses him again, can't help himself. His hand is twisted into the front of Derek's shirt, pulling him closer.

They part again through a series of small kisses and shared breaths. Derek swallows before he speaks.

"I'd be okay with you staying."

Chapter Text

~8~

Derek doesn't ask to go with Stiles when he leaves early the next morning to head to the library. Stiles is grateful for the silent understanding that he just needs this thing for himself right now.

This Saturday routine has become so standard for him, so regular that Stiles barely notices he's doing it at all. He slips into the library, pulls a few books off the shelves that may or may not be useful to his cause, and spends two hours hiding behind the pages, listening to his mom's voice.

Sometimes, he's so frustrated that he can't be closer to her, that he can't actually talk to her and tell her he loves her, tell her that he's okay, that Dad is doing a good job of raising him, tears well up in his eyes and make it impossible to see the pages at all.

In the years following his mother's accident, Stiles and his dad had been in grief counseling. He never thought it helped much. Drawing pictures of your feelings and memories at eleven and twelve years old seemed more like an invasive and embarrassing level of torture than anything else. The one thing he did take away from that experience, though, was the Five by Five method: five senses, five minutes. If Stiles felt the threat of an oncoming anxiety attack, he was told to take a minute focusing completely on one sense: sight, sound, touch. It wasn't logical to expect a child to get through all five, it also wasn't logical to expect the sense of taste to come into play all that often, but it did teach him to better center his focus, which helped with other situations in life, too.

Now, with moisture blurring his vision, it isn't hard for him to close his eyes, cut off that sense entirely while focusing his complete attention on the sounds around him. His mom's voice is, of course, at the forefront, other noises of whispered laughter and hushed footsteps falling around the edges like an aural frame.

After a moment, he hears a woman's voice nearby, rough and low, but definitely familiar. Stiles forces his eyes open in search of the source. There’s no one else in the YA section this morning, but across the way in the Classic Fiction area, Stiles sees Kate Argent. She’s got her arm looped around two thick books as she talks to the young man beside her. She's telling him about an upcoming road trip to the Bay Area to check out some universities there. Stiles balks at the normality of the conversation.

He watches her for a while, observing her behavior like a dangerous animal locked in a cage at the zoo. She has an air of confidence about her that skips and dances across the line of arrogance pretty frequently before she reels it back in.

She tells the guy she's taking PCH down the third weekend of March, and he offers to go with her. "That's a dangerous road. Need some company?"

Kate huffs and shakes her head. "From you? No thanks. I think I can handle it. Besides, you have school, and your eyes are needed here."

Stiles can see what Derek had seen in her before. He thinks maybe, if he didn't already know everything he does, he could see himself finding the combination of effortless confidence and natural beauty something to be desired. But Stiles does know her. Knows about her, anyway.

He catches himself glaring at her and wonders how the heat of his gaze could possibly not be burning a hole into her skin and causing her noticeable, physical pain. Stiles has to close his eyes again to block her out. Reluctantly, he drags himself to his feet and leaves the library, unwilling to even share the same oxygen as her.

He's sitting under a tree outside, hidden away from the street view when she comes out a while later and leaves. Stiles doesn't bother going back into the library. The thought of it feels too suffocating to him right now.

oOo

Laura is sitting alone on the front porch when Stiles finds his way back to the Hale house. It's a long walk from the edge of town, but Stiles needed to clear his head. Laura must sense his exhaustion. She doesn't even ask him if he'd like to sit down before sliding over on the bench, making space for him. Stiles drops down heavily beside her.

"Long day?" she asks.

"They all are lately," he replies. "They seem to sort of just bleed into one."

"It'll get easier," she tells him with a pat to his leg. "I'm sure it's a lot different from what you know, and I know it's got to be hard being so close to your friends and family and not being able to talk to them, but maybe you could just think of it as a vacation." She smiles hopefully at him. "Time away to really appreciate the people you love when you finally get back to them."

"Yeah. Maybe." Stiles doesn't tell her that he's given up all hope of returning home. He just offers her a despairing little smile in return.

oOo

"So," Stiles says, slipping into the kitchen where Derek is standing at the stove. "What's tonight's culinary experiment?"

"Hot dog tacos!" Sam calls out excitedly from the kitchen table. He swooshes his tie-dyed pillowcase cape to punctuate his excitement.

"Please, God, no."

Derek casts a smile over his shoulder. "They tried to talk me into it, but I almost threw up in my mouth at the thought."

The kids are all gathered around the kitchen table, coloring books and crayons scattered everywhere. The house is empty of adults, which isn’t uncommon. They leave the kids with Derek and Laura pretty frequently to go out and do grownup werewolf things in the woods. Stiles doesn’t ask Derek what that means. He isn’t even sure Derek knows.

He’s got a stack of homework in his hands, finished assignments and essays he had been told to do. No vacations from intellectual development, Derek’s mom had told him. If I’m not having fun, no one else is allowed to either.

Stiles sets his papers down on the kitchen island and moves around to the other side to see what Derek’s creating. It smells awful; like burned cheese and overripe fruit crammed into a greasy paper bag and left to rot in the boy’s locker room. Stiles holds a fist up to his mouth, cheeks puffing out with the suppressed urge to vomit. He may be exaggerating slightly.

Derek notices and throws an oven mitt at Stiles before going back to his task of digging through the spice cabinet. “It’s banana mustard sauce.”

"That's not edible," Stiles says, peeking into the bubbling pot on the stovetop.

"How can you say that if you haven't even tried it?"

"I haven't heard of it," Stiles corrects, as if that's a good supporting argument. "Next time I go to the library, I'm picking up some cookbooks. Rachael Ray, you are not, my friend."

Derek glares at Stiles, but continues to shake flecks of green seasonings into his rancid-smelling brew.

"It’s not an actual thing,” Stiles says. “And while we're on the subject, spamghetti? Also not a thing. Please, God, let me help you.”

Derek growls playfully at him as Stiles reaches around his side to turn the stove off. He places his hand against Derek’s stomach, allows his fingers to linger there for a moment. Stiles fights back the urge to wrap his arms around Derek, press his lips to the back of his neck. He wants to so badly, but even with the lack of adult supervision right now, there are still plenty of tiny eyes to bear witness to what would inevitably become inappropriate kitchen frottage, so Stiles takes a step back, putting a safe amount of distance between them.

Stiles disposes of Derek’s horrid sauce in the garbage outside, after dumping it into three layers of bags to cage in the offensive aroma. They make lemon chicken and a spinach salad for dinner instead.

Cooking with Derek is so stupidly domestic that Stiles has to laugh at himself for how much he actually enjoys it. He’d never considered himself very good in the kitchen before, but he had been getting much better recently in an attempt to keep his dad’s health under control. It’s a tiny bit of knowledge that Stiles can share with Derek; something that he can confidently say he’s actually better at, and the way Derek watches him, mesmerized as he takes in all the tips and instructions Stiles throws his way, makes him feel a strange sense of pride for what he’s doing.

oOo

“Oh, crap,” Stiles says, stumbling over his own feet as he turns to shove Derek into the mouth of the alley they’re passing by.

Derek only looks mildly surprised, which Stiles thinks is probably a good sign that he’s getting used to Stiles’ penchant for abrupt flailing.

Stiles presses his chest against Derek’s, hands gripping his jacket as he leans into him and watches the street outside of the alley. Kate bustles by in a hurry, wavy hair bouncing behind her as she passes.

Derek doesn’t even ask, just watches her go by. Stiles is still leaning on him long after she’s gone, heart hammering in his chest. How could someone who looks so normal be such a psychotic monster? Derek’s chest shakes with silent laughter against Stiles’, drawing his attention to the other boy’s face.

“Man, you must really hate her,” he says, smiling. He wraps his arm around Stiles’ waist and pulls him in close.

Stiles just nods, not bothering to pull his gaze away from the perfect bow of Derek’s lips. If only he knew what Kate was capable of, what she’s planning probably at this very minute, Derek certainly wouldn’t be laughing.

Stiles sighs and drops his head down on Derek’s shoulder. He could just stay like this, be perfectly happy hiding Derek, keeping him wrapped around Stiles in hidden places outside of public view. But he knows that won't help.

Kate Argent is a fucking vulture, constantly circling, and each pass has been getting tighter. She's always there, just outside of the edges of Derek's life. Stiles hasn't gone back to Bean Me Up, hasn't even walked on the same side of the street as the coffee shop for fear of running into her. He's constantly watching Derek, trying to keep him out of her reach even though Derek has assured Stiles he isn't even remotely interested in knowing the girl.

All of Derek's attention has been focused on Stiles lately. Stiles is okay with that. He craves everything he can get from Derek, even just the hushed 3 a.m. conversations in the darkness of Derek's bedroom. Stiles will miss this if he ever has to leave it behind, if Deaton does find a way to get him home. 

With an inappropriate amount of interest, Stiles realizes this is actually the most contact he's ever had with Derek. He's got a leg between Derek's knees and they're pressed together from thigh to chest.

He should pull away before this turns into something inappropriate for public and has the florist across the street calling the sheriff on them. Stiles really doesn't need a confrontation with his past father, especially not in a situation like that.

"You okay?" Derek asks, and Stiles realizes he's been staring, still pressed against Derek's chest and just...watching him.

He nods stiffly before pulling away, a twinge of regret jabbing at his heart from the loss of contact.

Derek licks his lips, smiles a little as if he can read Stiles' thoughts.

He reaches out, loops a hand around the back of Stiles' neck and pulls him back in for a kiss. It's mostly dry lips and warm breath, but it's exactly what Stiles needs right now. Just to be this close to Derek, to remind him that here, in this life, he's allowed this simple pleasure. Stiles is allowed to move into Derek's space, to crowd him against the brick wall of the alley, lose himself in the feel of their bodies pressed together, and it's bizarre and awesome all at once.

Stiles sinks into it, memorizes the shape of Derek's kiss, the taste of his tongue, the soft huff of laughter when Stiles' fingers find bare skin beneath Derek's shirt hem.

The sound of approaching footsteps snaps them both out of their daze. It's just someone passing by the alley, but it's enough to remind them of where they are.

"We should probably go," Derek says, and Stiles just nods, leaning in for one more quick kiss.

oOo

It's well into March, nearly St. Patrick's Day, and Cora won't let Stiles forget the fact that he'll have to wear green to keep from getting pinched.

Mrs. Hale has given him a history assignment to complete before Monday: Global Imperialism and how the Industrial Revolution played a part in it. It's distracting, and takes up a good portion of Stiles' head space, not leaving a lot of room for thoughts of Derek. Or, more specifically, of him and Derek.

As Stiles kicks back on Derek's bed, chewing the end of his pen with a history book propped on his knees, he can't help but steal little glances up at Derek as he moves around the room, straightening up shelves and tossing laundry into the basket by the door. He's got his shirt off, jeans resting low on his hips, and Stiles finds himself hating Andrew Carnegie more than he reasonably should for demanding so much of his attention when he'd much rather be tracing the line of Derek's hips with his tongue right now.

Derek smiles over his shoulder at Stiles, clearly aware of the way he's affecting him just by being this close. Stiles bites down on the end of his pen, glares at Derek and then back down at the open page of his book. Fuck the steel industry. Stiles is much more interested in the lithe movements of Derek's body. When he looks back up, though, Derek is slipping a shirt on and Stiles barely catches one more teasing glance of his stomach before it's effectively covered.

"You're a terrible person, you know?" Stiles says, but Derek just smiles again before dropping down into his desk chair and pulling his own homework out. "I hope you know I'm not helping you with that." Stiles is older than Derek here in this time. Not by much, but enough that Derek's mom had seen fit to give him more advanced assignments than the ones Derek's bringing home from school.

"I wouldn't learn anything if you helped me anyway," Derek replies, flipping open his calculus book.

oOo

"You think you know more about cooking than I do?" Derek asked, pounding aggressively at the slabs of meat on the cutting board, his fingers white-knuckle-gripping the tenderizer mallet.

"I think I know more about a lot of things than you," Stiles replied. "And if you pound those any harder, you're going to have to send them flowers tomorrow."

Derek's face flushed, but he set the mallet down.

"Your betas will eat it whether you ruin it or not," Stiles said. "But if you violate those steaks any more than you already have, I'm heading home for dinner and you'll be on your own for this little werewolf pow-wow of yours."

Derek arched an eyebrow. "Is that supposed to deter me?" he asked.

"Don't act like you don't need me," Stiles replied.

Derek just shook his head in response, then tossed his pancake-steaks on the hot grill. Stiles was only giving him shit. He had eaten Derek's cooking plenty of times before and was well aware that Derek knew his way around a kitchen. Stiles just didn't like missing an opportunity to mess with his head. Whatever he could do to get a rise out of Derek.

Chapter Text

~9~

"Where are we going?" Stiles asks.

"Away." Derek takes Stiles' hand as soon as they're out of sight of the house. There's a rushed and desperate tone to Derek's voice, noticeable even in his one-word response.

Stiles laces their fingers together, lengthens his stride to keep up with Derek. Spring is in the air, a gentle breeze carrying with it the scent of flower blossoms and growing grass. The ground is spongy from moisture trapped in throughout the winter months and the heavy rainfall that's come with the changing season. Stiles feels as if he's sinking into it with every step he takes.

He doesn't know how long they walk together in silence, but it's almost like Derek has a mission, is determined to get somewhere even if he hasn't said exactly what it is they're doing, so Stiles goes along with it.

It's late afternoon, golden sun shining bright through the branches like a promise of warmth that isn't quite here yet. Derek stops abruptly after a while, cocking his head to the side as if he's listening for something. He turns slowly, scanning the area before his eyes meet Stiles' gaze.

Stiles swallows hard, nervously, not sure what it is Derek hears or even if he wants to know. The forest around them seems to have gone completely quiet, only the sound of the breeze rustling through the few new leaves overhead.

"What is it?" Stiles whispers, almost too quietly.

Derek shakes his head slowly, eyes still holding Stiles' gaze. "Nothing," he says back, matching Stiles' hushed tone.

The corner of his mouth curves up into a half-smile and he takes a step closer.

Stiles' heart is hammering in his ribcage, from the pace of their walk or the unknown danger. Probably both.

"I just wanted to be alone with you." Derek takes another step toward Stiles, fingers creeping under the hem of his shirt and hooking into Stiles' waistband to tug him closer.

Stiles has never really had the chance to appreciate the beautiful clarity of Derek's eyes before now. He's seen them plenty of times in flashes of blue and Alpha Red, even in their natural human green, but now, with the sun creeping low beneath the outstretched branches and glistening in drops of dew on leaves, refracting daylight makes the flecks of green and gray shimmer in Derek's eyes and it all looks new, like Stiles is seeing past a lifetime of hurt and anguish and into something completely unobscured, fresh and exciting.

Stiles has to blink several times to clear his mind and focus on the present. "So, there's nothing out here?"

Derek shakes his head before dragging his lips along the edge of Stiles' jaw. Stiles tilts his chin up obligingly, inviting more contact. Derek doesn't disappoint. He noses along Stiles' hairline to that place just behind his ear, lips sticky-damp from his warm breath, but not actually kissing Stiles' skin; just making a path of heat and want and Stiles feels his knees go weak from it.

He's being pressed back against a tree that he doesn't remember leaning into, and thinks it must be something to do with Derek's werewolf voodoo sex magic that Stiles has zero fucks to give about the rough bark scraping into his sensitive skin where his shirt rides up.

Stiles drags the back of Derek's tee-shirt up, pressing his palm, sweaty, nervous, hot, against Derek's skin as their mouths finally meet.

Stiles shivers as Derek slides a hand up the front of his shirt, presses it against the spot where his heart is hammering wildly, and Stiles knows Derek can feel it, feels Derek's lips smiling against his own, smug about the obvious effect he has on Stiles.

"You're a little bit evil," Stiles murmurs against Derek's lips before darting his tongue out to taste them. He’s feeling bold despite his nervousness. He’s never touched anyone like this before, never gone any further than a kiss and this already feels like so much more.

"I think you like it," Derek replies. His thumb tracing the line of Stiles' jaw, pressing into the hinge of it to encourage Stiles' mouth open.

He kisses Stiles the way they hadn't that first night, deep and hot and heavy, teeth catching and dragging against Stiles' bottom lip before licking into his mouth again.

Stiles is tugging at Derek's shirt with no conscious direction, up or back or closer, fisting it in his hands and just wanting it off so that he can feel the heat of Derek's body against his.

Derek must get the hint, because he chuckles against Stiles' lips before pulling away, dragging with him a frustrated groan from Stiles, and pulling his shirt over his head. He tosses it to the ground beside them and starts to pull Stiles' up, too, leaning down to kiss the newly exposed skin.

Stiles combs his fingers through Derek's hair, not holding him there but encouraging him. His mouth feels so good against Stiles’ skin, slow slides of his lips and open-mouthed kisses that are more like he’s tasting Stiles, drawing the heat out of his skin and returning it in shallow, desperate puffs of breath that make Stiles shiver and need.

He wonders if Derek has done this before, thinks he probably has if the way he's making Stiles' spine melt with every touch is any indication, but he doesn't want to ask. With as little experience as Stiles has himself, he at least has enough cognizant awareness to know the unwritten rule about discussing past relationships and sexual exploits while in the act itself.

Stiles tugs at Derek’s hair, gentle but commanding, needing Derek’s mouth on his again, wanting to feel him everywhere. He tips Derek's head back, sucks a mark into his skin that he knows won't last.

Derek finds that spot again behind Stiles' ear, mouthing at his pulse point, pressing the flat of his tongue against it and Stiles thinks that he may just hate him a little bit for that, except that he doesn't. He finds himself moaning, low and needy, pulling Derek in closer—as if that's actually possible—and parting his legs against the gentle pressure of Derek's thigh between his own.

Stiles is hard, throbbing, and he knows that, even if Derek couldn't feel it against his leg, he'd be able to smell Stiles' arousal; a thought that had always made him self-conscious before, but only turns him on more now, now that he knows Derek wants him just as much. Stiles presses his fingers into Derek's skin, gripping, touching, holding, and grinds against Derek's thigh.

Derek lets out a breathless grunt against Stiles' neck. "I was gonna ask if you're okay with this," he says, voice wrecked. "But I think you just answered that question for me."

Stiles slides his hands down Derek's back, squeezes Derek's ass through his jeans, pulls him in close and repeats the motion. The friction against his achingly hard dick is so good that Stiles forgets about the fact that they're outside, forgets about the scratches on his back from the tree bark and singles his focus down to the most blinding realization in this scenario: that it's Derek he's with.

Derek flattens his hands against Stiles' back, one low above his belt, the other pressing between his shoulder blades. He's blocking as much of the tree's rough bark from Stiles' skin as he can, taking the offending scratches himself and wincing slightly from it as he ruts against Stiles.

"Oh, God," Stiles breathes, mouth hanging open as Derek licks into the hollow at the base of his throat. "I'm about to become a teenage cliche."

Derek breathes out against him, uneven and shaky, and Stiles knows he must be just as close.

"What do you mean?" he asks on a tremulous exhale.

"I'm gonna come in my pants if you keep that up." Stiles doesn't even know how he manages a full sentence, let alone a coherent explanation.

Derek rocks into Stiles, the slow drag of his erection against Stiles' hip causing both of them to moan.

He reaches down between them, flicks Stiles button open with a practiced motion, then slides his zipper down.

"Can't have that," he says, kissing Stiles again, his tongue relentlessly teasing and tasting, slicking against Stiles'.

Stiles' hands are gripping Derek's hips, pulling him closer, harder, more. He doesn't even really know what he's doing, but it all feels so damn good; every slide, every breath, every kiss.

Stiles has to force one of his hands to cooperate, to release its grip on Derek's hip and slide down the front of his jeans. He drags the backs of his knuckles down Derek's fly and back up again before opening it with much less grace than Derek had just displayed, but, fuck it. Derek's dick is out now, long and thick and uncut.

Stiles wraps his fingers around it, pulling the foreskin back with a slow stroke. He drops his forehead to Derek's shoulder, panting heavily as he takes in the sight between them. Derek's dick feels so good, heavy and hard in his hand, that Stiles thinks it may have actually taken him a full minute to realize his own dick is out, too. Cool air washes over the sensitive skin, quickly chased by the heat of Derek's palm.

Derek wraps his hand around both of them, pressing their cocks against one another, and Stiles feels his legs go weak again. He can't drag his eyes away as a sticky bead of Derek's precome smears against the head of Stiles' dick. He wants to taste it, to sink to his knees and press his lips against Derek's slit, swallow him down.

Derek's fingertips brush against the inside of Stiles' wrist and Stiles takes that as his cue to grab onto Derek's, closing the space where Derek's fingers don't quite touch with the thickness of their dicks in his grasp. Stiles could come from the sight of it alone. His fingers wrap around Derek's wrist, and he can feel the shift of bones and tendons as Derek works their cocks together, Derek's hand, hot and strong on one side and the smooth skin of Stiles' inner wrist on the other, caging them in, pressing them together.

Stiles comes with a groan, watching as he pulses and spills down both their dicks, adding a slickness to the friction that sends Derek over the edge quickly after.

He nips at the skin of Stiles' neck before kissing his lips again, slow, tender, his dick still pulsing with release.

They separate, breathless and wobbly, and Stiles is thanking the gods of nature or convenience or were-frottage-forest-fun for the tree at his back that he leans his weight into.

Derek's still got angry red scratches all up and down his forearms where he blocked the tree bark from damaging Stiles' skin. They're healing slowly, and Stiles kind of wants to trace them with his tongue as they fade, sex-haze still clouding his mind.

oOo

It wasn't that Derek didn't ever talk. He was perfectly capable of stringing words together to form terrifying threats and condescending warnings. Sometimes, his eyebrows said more than his mouth: a fact that Stiles took great joy in pointing out as frequently as possible.

Derek had other ways of telling his stories, though, and after a while, Stiles learned that only those who cared enough to listen beyond Derek's words would really know what he was saying.

It was Scott who had told Stiles about Kate; not the most reliable source when he didn't know the full version of the story himself, but it didn't take much to fill in the blanks.

"Scott's an idiot," Derek said, hands gripping the edge of Stiles' bed as he sat hunched forward.

Tension was rolling off of him in waves that even Stiles could feel. His breaths were shallow and quick, a sheen of sweat glistening on his skin.

"Scott's my best friend, so if you want me to play the part of your reluctant nurse here, you should probably find a different topic to bitch about."

"His girlfriend is the reason I'm here in the first place," Derek spat, his head turning stiffly to the side to glare at Stiles over his shoulder.

"Okay, well, let's just try to keep that in mind while I—" Stiles pressed a palmful of wolfsbane ashes into the gaping wound on Derek's back. He allowed himself a small, sadistic smile at Derek's sharp hiss of pain.

"You burned that first, right?" Derek said through clenched teeth.

"You saw me burn it, dick."

Derek rolled his shoulders, stiffening with pain as his skin sizzled, a violet glow radiating from the gash Allison's arrow had left.

"You're not gonna go after her now, are you?"

"Despite what you think of me, Stiles, no. I have no desire to kill a kid."

"Really? Fooled the hell outta me with the way you've been using them as chew toys lately."

Derek's arms tensed more, knuckles turning white as he gripped the edge of the mattress.

"That's different. They wanted the bite."

"And you knew the risk," Stiles said, grabbing another small pile of ashes for the second tear in Derek's skin. He should have gotten a fucking bronze service star for that.

"Allison's biased. She's a hunter, and if Scott doesn't back off, it's only a matter of time before he becomes her prey."

"They love each other. I don't think she'd do that to him."

Derek's bitter laugh startled Stiles.

"They're children. They don't know a thing about love. Scott needs to focus on staying alive long enough to grow up. Then maybe he'll find out."

"She isn't Kate, Derek." He wasn't sure how it was even possible, but Derek's shoulders went even stiffer.

Stiles could see what this was now. Derek was projecting, casting his own experiences onto Scott in an effort to keep him from making the same mistakes Derek had.

Stiles wanted to tell him that he knew what Kate had done, how she had fooled Derek into believing she was in love with him just to get closer to his family. They weren't friends, though. Not really. And Stiles knew that calling Derek out on his cryptic asshattery would only piss him off more.

"There. All done. Let the healing begin." Stiles patted Derek's shoulder awkwardly before clambering off the bed behind him.

oOo

Stiles isn't sure what this thing is between them, doesn't know if it means anything at all to Derek or if he's just a teenager having fun. But even if that's the case, Stiles thinks he deserves it. If Stiles can give him that little bit of happiness for now, before everything is snatched away, he's okay with that.

He knows twenty-seven-year-old Derek would have never given seventeen-year-old Stiles a chance. Stiles isn't stupid, though. He recognized little things between them, too-long glances and meaningful words hidden in casual conversation; things he had convinced himself were nothing more than his imagination or wishful thinking.

After what had happened between Derek and Kate, Stiles is well aware of Derek's thoughts on love and, more importantly, his thoughts on taking advantage of someone too young and naive to know any better.

Stiles can only hope his Derek understands. It isn't a game, and Stiles may only be seventeen, but he's lived a life most adults would run from in fear. He's seen things, experienced things no normal seventeen-year-old could imagine, and that isn't just including the supernatural. If his Derek won't give Stiles the chance to prove he can be trusted, that he's capable of caring about him despite his age, maybe this version of him will.

Stiles feels a small amount of guilt, like he's taking advantage of something fragile, but he doesn't want it to stop. He thinks Derek may need him as much as he needs Derek, and maybe that's okay.

He knows he cares about Derek, all of him, because, while he's been trying to keep the two versions separate, he's come to realize that here in 2003, there in 2013, Derek is the same person. The past makes someone who they are, teaches them, and whether it's a good lesson, or one they'd rather do without, they're meant to learn from it, it'll always be a part of who they are.

He hopes that this is real. Hopes that future Derek is aware of what's happening now, even if it's buried in some hidden place in his mind. He wants to believe Derek will hold onto these memories; that, if he's thinking of Stiles at all right now, it's with a fondness that wouldn't have been possible before.

Stiles wants Derek to miss him the way he misses Derek, but he doesn't want him to hurt because of it. Not because of Stiles. There's already enough hurt in Derek's future. Stiles doesn't want to be part of that memory.

Derek touches Stiles more frequently now, since that day in the woods. If there's skin visible, Derek's hand is on it, fingers tracing the veins of Stiles' wrist, the flat of his palm against the side of Stiles' neck like it's important for him to feel the life there, Stiles' heartbeat pulsing through his skin. He only does it when they're alone, but they both know everyone is aware. Stiles doesn't have to have werewolf senses to know he smells even more like Derek now, like kisses and warmth and want. It's an embarrassing realization, especially when Laura gives them that look.

oOo 

"What about that one?" Stiles gestures toward a dark-haired man at the end of the counter. 

Derek furrows his brow, staring intently, but then shrugs one shoulder and drops his gaze back to his food. 

"I can't tell," he says, picking up a french fry and swirling it around in his ketchup. 

"Oh, come on," says Stiles, dropping his tone to a barely audible whisper as he leans forward over the table. "Even if you aren't using any wolfy senses at all, you should still have some level of human intuition."

Derek looks again, past Stiles and to the man at the end of the counter. They've been at it for over an hour now, this little game Stiles is trying to use to Derek's advantage. 

The diner is mostly deserted, and Stiles had figured that, if by chance someone he knows sees him, then ten years from now, that memory will just be a blip of déjà vu, a strange sense of recognition that they can't place before shaking it off. 

He sips his coffee and waits. 

Derek shakes his head again, frustration evident in his jerky movement. "How am I supposed to tell if someone's bad or good just by looking at them?"

"You can't," says Stiles. "But that isn't the point. The point is, you need to try."

He can't tell Derek about all the things that have happened to him, or how a lot of them could have been avoided if he'd just taken the time to dig a little deeper instead of trusting so blindly. He can't tell Derek how many times he's seen him on the brink of death, or how Stiles feels it scratching away at something deep inside him each time, leaving indelible marks. Derek spends every Sunday with his family, learning what it means to be part of a pack, honing certain instincts, practicing self-defense and hoping they never have to use it. He could definitely benefit from learning more about human instincts, too. 

"This isn't really anything but judging people based on how they look." Derek is completely uncooperative. 

"Not necessarily. It's mostly in their eyes," Stiles tells him. "Sometimes you just get a feeling, but more often than not, you can read a person's intentions just by looking into their eyes."

Derek gives Stiles his patent 'whatever you say' look, then glances back at the man. "Bad," he says, with a hint of a question at the end. 

"No." Mr. Ripely is a long-time resident of Beacon Hills. He and his wife had lost their son right around the same time Stiles' mom died. Ever since then, the couple has put all of their time and money into various fundraising events and charity organizations all over the state of California. 

Their server comes back over to clear the plates and refill their coffee. She asks if she can get them anything else, tries to talk them into pie, then smiles sweetly before heading back to the counter to check on Mr. Ripely. 

Stiles doesn't know her in his future, but he and Derek had already decided she must be good. 

A gust of wind rushes inside as another diner patron opens the door. Derek's eyes widen in surprise and Stiles barely resists the urge to turn and look over his shoulder. 

"Bad," Derek says. "Very bad." He ducks his head and turns away, but it's no use. The diner is really small, and there are only a handful of people here today. Hard to miss them with nowhere to hide.

Stiles can almost sense her presence, his skin prickling as he tries not to flinch away when she approaches. 

"Hi, Derek," Kate says. She’s got a hand on their table, leaning onto it with her back to Stiles in a clear effort to block him out completely. 

"Kate," Derek says curtly. 

"I wondered why I haven't been seeing you at the coffee shop lately. Do they make it better here?"

Stiles really wants to stick his fork in her hand. He pokes at the tines while he considers it. 

"I've just been busy. Family stuff, you know?"

"Ah, right." Kate taps her fingers on the table as she stands up straight. "How is the family?"

Stiles' jaw clenches and he has to force himself to set his fork down. 

"They're fine, thank you," Derek replies, ever the polite guy his mom raised him to be. 

"Good. Listen, I'm going away for school soon. Kind of a late start, but I figured I can't work at a coffee shop forever. I've been wondering if maybe we could go out sometime before I leave. There's a movie coming out this weekend, Dreamcatcher, and I was thinking--"

"Did it completely escape your attention that I'm with someone?" Derek says shortly. Stiles is sort of proud of him, even if he'd rather not draw Kate's attention at all. 

She glances over her shoulder at him briefly before looking back at Derek. "Oh," she says. "Sorry. I didn't realize."

Her tone is noticeably bitter now. 

"I'll try to catch you when you're alone, then," she says. 

"Very fucking bad," Stiles confirms after she's walked away. 

They leave the diner in a hurry after that, handing what's probably too much money to their server as they exit. 

"You have to admit," Derek says as they walk down the street toward Deaton's clinic, "she is pretty hot."

"Isn't that like, judging based on appearance, Derek?" Stiles says, throwing Derek's words from earlier back at him. "Besides," Stiles makes a gesture toward himself, "what about all this?"

"Whoa, are you jealous?" Derek asks. "That isn't..." He shakes his head, looking over at Stiles questioningly. "That's not why you hate her so much, is it?"

"No. I mean, maybe a little. But there's a much bigger reason for you to stay away from her."

oOo

There are questions Stiles just can't answer. Not only about the future, but about how exactly it is he's found himself here in 2003.

It isn't easy having only a small number of the answers they're all looking for, but even more frustrating for Stiles is his inability to discuss the possibilities with Derek.

He knows Derek isn't stupid by any means, but Stiles is not a teacher, and he's certainly not a physicist. So, it takes him a while to convince himself that it's okay to give Derek the information he's been offered about his situation, tell him everything Deaton had said about space-time continuums and the different dimensions that make up the universe as a whole. It doesn't matter that Derek's family is all around. It's no secret that Stiles doesn't belong here in this space of time, he doesn't care if they overhear.

He's oddly proud to note that Derek gets it. He understands everything Stiles tells him, even without Deaton there to help guide the conversation. They're sitting in the grass of Derek's front yard, and Stiles doesn't have the use of magnets to demonstrate the way Deaton had, but they do have a small piece of string.

"So, it's basically an anchor, right? Something at the other end of your particular string that holds you there while you move through time."

Stiles nods, and Derek toys with the string of twine in his hand.

"If I'm believing that theory," says Stiles, leaning back against a tree and picking idly at the grass, "then it could be anything. Any significant or not-so-significant time in history that has nothing to do with me directly."

"The strings interact with each other through vibration," Derek says, probably more to himself than Stiles, but Stiles nods anyway.

"It could be a time, a place, an event, even a person—but there are so many of these strings stretched out at every angle throughout time that there's no telling where mine begins or ends."

"And if we can figure it out..." Derek stretches the string between his fingers, wraps it around to hold it tight and then plucks it just once. Stiles stares at the piece of twine as it vibrates and stills again. "It could potentially be looped around, sending you back to where you belong."

Stiles leans forward, swipes one end of the string from Derek's hand and holds it taut. "Or," he says, "we could end up vibrating that particular string to the point where it crosses paths with another, then I'd end up somewhere else."

Derek wraps his end of the string around Stiles' wrist, stealing the other end from between his fingers and looping it loosely around twice before tying the ends together.

"I think you're counting on failure before anyone's even had the chance to try."

"Look, Derek!" Sam shouts excitedly.

Derek and Stiles both turn to follow the direction of his voice. The boy, as always, has a pillowcase tied around his neck, but rather than pretending to fly as he springboards off couch cushions, this time, he's just dangling upside-down from a low tree branch.

Derek laughs. "Good job, buddy," he tells his little brother.

"What kind of superhero hangs upside-down from trees?" their mom asks from where she's watching on the front porch between Grama and Laura.

"I'm a vampire today!" Sam declares.

"A vampire?" asks Mrs. Hale. "Now that's just silly."

"Oh, sure," says Grama Iris. "Werewolves are real but vampires are a silly notion." She snorts with laughter before going back to her cross-stitch.

Stiles looks down at the string around his wrist, decides to leave it there as a sort of reminder for now. A reminder that he shouldn't give up before he's begun, but also as a way to show him that the past is linked to his future, even if it's just little things like five-year-old boys in pillowcase capes, a big family that Stiles had always wanted but never had the fortune of having, or sunny afternoons outside in the grass. 

Chapter Text

 

~10~

 

Derek isn't the same person in the future that he is here and now because of what happens to his family. Stiles knows this.

There are times Stiles thinks about telling him. Of letting him know exactly what Kate's intentions are and why she's so interested. He wonders if future Derek will blame Stiles for what happens to his family the way Derek blames himself now. Knowing what happens, but not being able to stop it, not being able to tell them, will Derek hate Stiles?

What's meant to be will always find a way, and the threads of the supernatural can't be tampered with, he reminds himself. He sees different scenarios playing out in his imagination; one in which he warns Derek about Kate Argent's plan, and Derek takes matters into his own hands, exacting revenge for a situation that hasn't yet happened and, in doing so, preemptively shattering the fragile treaty between werewolves and hunters. It would probably lead to his whole family being killed anyway, and maybe even Derek. So Stiles bites his tongue, hates himself for it.

He doesn't know when it happens, and now he wishes he'd asked. Stiles isn't part of the supernatural, just a bystander, and so is Kate. Maybe he can stop her himself, without telling anyone and causing any new tears in the fabric of time.

Stiles dismisses that thought almost as quickly as it forms. Deaton said that causing ripples like that, significant changes or things meant to make significant changes in the human world, would likely set the Butterfly Effect into action. Stiles doesn't know what else would be different if he were to do that, doesn't know how many other people he cares about would die or have never even existed if he offsets the paradigm.

He'll have to use other means. Like, just keeping Derek sufficiently distracted so that he doesn't have any use for Kate's ill-intended attention.

It isn't a great hardship for Stiles. He wants more. More of the soft touches and gentle kisses and shared breaths. He wants more of Derek, but he doesn't really know how to reach out and take it.

oOo

Stiles meets Derek at the edge of the woods after school one day. He’s been out unsuccessfully searching for his tree, and decided it might be nice to spend the afternoon nailing up pieces of the treehouse. Derek laughs at Stiles’ enthusiasm, tries to say they’re both too old to care about some kids fort, but Stiles is having none of that.

“Come on,” he says. “I’ve never had a treehouse, but I’ve always wanted one. Maybe if I help you finish this one, Future You will let me play in it whenever I want.”

Derek just smiles and keeps walking, but he isn’t walking toward the house. Stiles does a fist-pump behind his back, then rushes to catch up.

“I still have plenty of time between now and November to work on this,” he says when they’re finally at the base of the tree looking up.

“You never know,” Stiles says softly. When Derek turns a worried look on him, Stiles tries to amend. “I mean, maybe I wanted to cross something off an eighteen list before my birthday next month.”

“Your birthday’s in April?”

Stiles nods absently as he jumps up to grab the first rung of the makeshift ladder.

Derek climbs up right behind him. They end up talking about their day, Derek tells him about school and Stiles talks about his morning at the clinic watching Deaton do a cesarean on a chihuahua who couldn't handle labor.

He saws away at some scraps of wood with no real knowledge of what he’s doing exactly, just grateful for the distraction of something mundane to take up the vacant spaces in his mind. They lose track of time until the dimming daylight reminds them that they should get home before dinner. 

Derek comes up behind Stiles without him realizing, presses his chest to Stiles' back and loops one arm around his waist.

"You're still wearing this," he says, breath warm against the shell of Stiles' ear, almost too distracting for him to focus on the subject of Derek's not-quite question.

Derek reaches his other hand out, trails the backs of his fingers up Stiles' arm where it's stretched out, holding a board up to be nailed into the wall. His finger tucks under Stiles' string, and he twists it slightly, just enough that Stiles worries he may try to snap it off. Before he can tell him not to, with no real explanation as to why it's so important for him to keep it, Derek untwists his finger from it, strokes the thin skin of Stiles' inner wrist and presses a kiss to the side of his neck.

He doesn't say anything else about it, but Stiles thinks Derek must understand. It may be an irrational attachment, but it's Stiles' string. Derek gave it to him, wrapped it around and tied it himself. It's like a little piece of him that Stiles is allowed to keep even when Derek isn't close by, something tangible Stiles can touch when he wants to remind himself of the things that tie his future and past together.

And, fuck, he thinks. He's so lucky to have this, so grateful for every second he gets to spend with Derek.

oOo

“You know, it's that 'flavored' word that always scares me a little.”

“Why’s that?” Derek asks, studying the back of the box carefully.

“Well, it's an indication of what the food is expected to taste like, but apparently isn’t made of. What sort of creature has to die for something to be chicken flavored?” Stiles is peeking over Derek’s shoulder at the back of the pasta box. “Honestly. Was it too expensive for them to use actual chicken? And, if so, that poses the question of what in God's name is cheaper—meat wise—than chicken?”

Derek cocks his head to the side to study him in what Stiles had always thought of on his Derek to be his slightly less murderous gaze, but now he recognizes to be a poorly concealed form of Derek Amusement.

“Tuna?” Derek asks.

“Tuna? Are you suggesting we eat tuna, or are you just saying tuna is possibly cheaper than chicken?”

“Both,” Derek replies, setting the box back in the cupboard and pulling a can of tuna down.

Stiles takes a step back. “You’re gonna eat that?”

"What, you’ve never eaten tuna before?”

Stiles gapes in mock horror.

“You'll like it,” Derek promises. “Have I ever steered you wrong?”

"It's dolphin. You're eating dolphin. Sweet, innocent—albeit slightly annoying and kind of chirpy—"

"It isn't dolphin," Derek interrupts. "See?" He holds up the can in front of Stiles’ face, proudly displaying the "dolphin safe" label.

"Dolphin safe," Stiles reads aloud. "I don't think that means what you think it means."

"Stiles."

"No, really. Dolphin safe just means that it's safe for dolphins.” Stiles shrugs. “They won't cut themselves on the cans.”

Derek ignores Stiles and goes back to making lunch.

“Because they're all dead,” Stiles adds, in case Derek needs the clarification.

“Speaking of everyone dying,” Derek sets a bowl down, grips the edge of the counter and turns a hard glare on Stiles, “I’ve been meaning to ask you...”

Stiles swallows hard, but focuses on tamping down his rapidly increasing heart rate.

“Does Snape really kill Dumbledore? And does Harry actually die?”

Stiles closes his eyes and breathes a sigh of relief, thankful Derek wasn’t going somewhere else with this. “Uh, sort of?” He rubs at the back of his neck and bites the inside of his cheek. “It’s more complicated than that.”

Derek shakes his head. “You’re an asshole.”

Stiles can’t argue with that. He would have been pissed if someone had ruined those books for him.

oOo

Stiles licks his lips nervously, unable to focus on the book in his hands. He closes it quickly, pulling himself to his knees and leaning on the edge of Derek's bed.

He's been wanting to try something with Derek. He stamps down his irrational fear of rejection, telling himself that here, in this life, Derek is his and he's allowed to touch if he wants—within reason.

Obviously, they don't do much with Derek's family around. He had assured Stiles that their sense of smell is much more exact when in wolf form, and only marginally heightened as humans. Plus, with two pairs of legal and consenting adults in the house, and a constantly horny seventeen-year-old boy, it's bound to smell like sex once in a while. Still, they're very careful to clean up after themselves.

Stiles is always so nervous when it comes to initiating things with Derek. He still doesn't really know where this is going or how far it can go, but over the last few weeks, they've done a lot of kissing and touching. They stick to hand-jobs or just rubbing each other off through their clothes when they're alone, but since that first time in the woods, Stiles has been dying to taste Derek. He can't allow himself to be crippled by his own nervousness and anxiety. Not here, now, when Stiles doesn't know how much time they actually have together. It's a jarring realization; the fact that no one really ever knows how much time they have.

Derek is lost somewhere in Middle-Earth, face hidden behind the book in his hand and it gives Stiles a moment of privacy to take in the sight of Derek's naked chest. It's a beautiful thing, really. Not nearly as cut as he is ten years from now, but the werewolf metabolism is something that must kick in at a pretty early age anyway. Derek's abs are hard and defined already, not an ounce of fat anywhere on his body. It makes Stiles feel inadequate, not that he has any baby fat either. He works out and plays lacrosse—though, bench-warming probably doesn't actually count as playing, but he practices with Scott and Isaac. Stiles is fit, but Derek is… well, Derek.

Stiles swallows down his apprehension. He can't keep his fingers from reaching out to touch. Derek twitches slightly at the contact, but doesn't lower his book. Stiles slowly follows the path of soft, dark hairs that lead down Derek's lower abdomen. He stops at the place where it disappears beneath Derek's pajama bottoms, fingertip tracing along the edge of that now, too.

He makes an aborted move to shift forward, wanting to trace Derek's hip bone with the tip of his tongue. It takes him three tries before he finally finds the nerve to do it.

That gets Derek's attention. He shudders and drops the book finally, his hand coming down to Stiles' head, fingers combing through his hair affectionately. The simple contact is enough to sap away any lingering apprehension Stiles has.

He continues to taste Derek's skin, warm and clean and still slightly damp from the shower. His other hand curls around the opposite hip, forearm resting against Derek's increasingly interested dick.

Stiles noses along the edge of Derek's pajama pants, drags his hand down to Derek's cock and rubs his palm over the fabric that covers it before giving it a gentle squeeze. Derek hisses in a sharp breath through his teeth, fingers stilling in Stiles' hair.

Stiles wants to climb up onto the bed, slide his body up Derek's slowly and carefully so that he can feel every inch of him, kiss Derek deep and filthy because he knows the sounds that Derek makes when he does that. He knows the taste of Derek's tongue and Stiles wants that, he wants everything. It takes him a moment to clear his head and dismiss that idea in favor of getting back to his initial goal.

Stiles slips his fingertips into Derek's waistband, drags his knuckles along the smooth skin there. He looks up at Derek, seeking consent that some part of his conscience still tells him he needs.

"Boring book?" Derek asks, corner of his mouth quirking up into a smile.

Stiles just lifts an eyebrow in response, and takes that as permission to continue. He tugs Derek's pajama bottoms down, freeing his hard dick and leaning in to nuzzle against Derek's thigh and breathe him in.

"You smell so good," Stiles says, and he's not even sure where that came from or how it managed to slip past his filter, but he doesn't care because it's true; Derek smells fucking delicious.

Stiles has one hand on Derek's thigh, the other splayed out on Derek's chest, fingers idly ghosting over his nipple and Stiles thinks Derek must like that because he shifts a bit, sort of writhes and his fingers twist a little tighter into Stiles' hair.

Derek is big, thicker than Stiles, but probably just as long. Stiles is sure he won't be able to take him all into his mouth, but it's not going to stop him from trying. 

He's watched enough porn to know how to do this, theoretically. Everything is always more difficult in practice, though, so he isn't about to scrape up any false confidence. He tells himself to focus on the basics and start slow. Stiles places a kiss that's more tongue than lips to the base of Derek's cock, then slowly drags his parted lips all the way up the fat vein on the underside. He flicks his tongue out at the tip that's barely peeking out of Derek's foreskin and finally tastes the full flavor of arousal. It makes Stiles' head spin with the force of his need.

He licks around the rim, presses his tongue firmly to the frenulum, then sucks the velvety-soft foreskin between his lips before releasing it to slide back up over the head of Derek’s dick.

"Please," Derek whispers, and Stiles has no idea what he’s begging for, but he wants to give it to him, wants to give Derek everything he needs.

With careful fingers, Stiles slides Derek's foreskin down over the head of his cock again, chasing it all the way to the rim with his lips and tongue and hollowing his cheeks as he sucks at the tip.

Derek moans, a low rumble that Stiles can feel against his palm on Derek's chest. He pulls away long enough to look up at Derek. Derek’s head is propped up on the pillow, eyes closed and mouth open, and fuck, he looks like he’s enjoying this. Stiles is proud of himself.

"Shh," he hisses, mostly joking because he knows Derek isn't actually being all that loud. Something about the risk of being caught sends a thrill through Stiles and renews his valor.

He sinks back down, lips tight around Derek's dick as he takes him in further now, almost halfway, he thinks.

Of all the fantasies Stiles has had of Derek, in both lives, he wonders how this had managed to escape him. He had always imagined kissing him, touching him, even fucking him or being fucked by him, but somehow, Stiles just didn't have the mental capacity to really dream up the taste of Derek on his tongue.

It's fucking incredible. Stiles must spend a good five minutes just tasting, sucking Derek slowly and enjoying the tiny hisses and grunts it pulls from him. Stiles has done plenty of self-exploration over the last few years, but touching Derek is much different than touching himself. When Stiles wraps his hand around his own dick, there’s always just one objective in mind. Now, though, he allows himself to notice things he’s never bothered to think about before. The contrast of smooth, soft skin over Derek’s rock-hard dick is incredible, and each slide of his fingers down the shaft, encircling, stroking, is just as gratifying for Stiles as it seems to be for Derek.

With each upward stroke of his mouth, Stiles circles his tongue around the head of Derek’s cock, sucks at the slit before swallowing him down again with more fervor. Derek rolls his hips and it’s clear to Stiles that he’s barely fighting the urge to fuck his mouth, which only draws more of Stiles’ attention to how fucking hard he is right now, too.

He drags his hand across Derek’s chest one more time, scraping a blunt fingernail over his nipple and earning another restrained jerk of his hips before pulling his own dick out. He wraps his fingers tightly around himself and fucks into his hand as Derek’s cock hits the back of his throat over and over again and Stiles moans around it, can’t help himself.

Derek tugs Stiles’ hair, pulling his head back slightly, but not enough for Stiles’ lips to lose contact.

“Shh,” he hisses, a wicked smile on his lips when Stiles glances up at him.

Stiles takes that as a personal challenge. Doubling his efforts to get Derek off, he ignores the sting in his eyes and the fact that he can’t breathe as he shoves down onto him, taking as much as he possibly can. Derek drops his hand to the bed beside him, fists the sheets until his knuckles are white from the strength of his grip. He’s making small, broken noises but Stiles is too far gone to be playful now, doesn’t even care if Derek screams out his name for the whole world to hear. He wants it.

Stiles continues to use his hand to stroke the base of Derek’s cock where his mouth can’t quite reach, lips stretched wide and jaw beginning to ache with his efforts. He can taste the salty-sweet precome on the back of his tongue, feel the heat of his own building release spreading low in his belly.

There’s a short moment of hesitation as Stiles realizes just how close Derek is to coming down his throat. He hadn’t even spared a thought for that in the beginning of this half-formed plan, doesn’t know if he should pull off or just keep going.

He imagines the feel of his hand on his own dick as Derek’s mouth instead, doing the same things to Stiles as Stiles is currently doing to him, and he knows what he would want if their positions were reversed.

Stiles quickens his pace, gags a little bit as Derek thrusts up again on a deep groan and holy fuck if that isn’t the hottest sound Stiles has ever heard. Derek’s fingers spread out on the bed, hands trembling before he twists them back into the sheets again, and then he’s coming, pulsing spurts hitting the back of Stiles’ tongue as he swallows him down. The feel and taste of Derek coming apart because of Stiles is enough to tip him over the edge, too. The heat building inside him spreads out and his balls tighten as he comes over his own fist, moaning and whimpering as Derek’s cock twitches in his mouth.

They’re both breathless and panting when Stiles pulls away and grabs a shirt off the floor to clean them both up with. He fixes his pajama pants, then Derek's, before looking awkwardly up at Derek. Apparently, with the lifting of the sex fog, Stiles’ niggling self-doubt comes back. He isn’t sure what he’s supposed to do now, what he’s supposed to say.

"Come here," Derek says, fingers around Stiles' bicep as he tugs him onto the bed. Stiles crawls up Derek's body and lowers himself down half on him and half on the mattress.

He buries his face in the warmth of Derek's neck, falls asleep with Derek's fingers tracing invisible shapes all over Stiles' back.

They're still in the same position when Stiles wakes the next morning, and he thinks it's probably the first time he's slept all the way through the night since he's been here.

oOo

He's in the library with Deaton, going through old books on folklore and mythology. Stiles is beyond discouraged at their lack of findings in the last month, but he knows if anyone can help him, it would be Deaton, so Stiles does what he's told and unshelves every book he can find that even mentions fae magic.

He's been bitching at Deaton half the morning about how useless he feels, how it seems he's just sitting and waiting for things he knows will happen but can't do anything about. Deaton doesn't ask him to elaborate, just tells Stiles to be patient, promises they'll find a way. Stiles isn't even sure what exactly they're finding a way to do anymore. He's been told he most likely can't go home, that he should just make himself comfortable here. Stiles tries not to think about what happens after the fire, what happens to Derek and Laura, what will happen to Stiles if he's still here. Maybe Stiles is meant to die in the fire, too. Here in this life, he stays home most days and helps out with the kids while keeping up on his own school work. It would make sense to assume he'd be there when it happens. One more person for Derek to lose.

Like every time Stiles allows himself to think of the fire, his stomach churns and his head starts to spin. He has to sit down to keep from falling.

"I have to do something," he tells Deaton when the man notices and comes to check on him. "I can't just... I can't do nothing and watch it all happen."

"Stiles, calm down."

No, Stiles thinks. How can you say that? How can you tell me to calm down when you don't know the things I know?

"You are a seer, Stiles. Meant to observe the past to gain a better understanding of your present. Not an instrument to be used here."

"But how do you know that?" Stiles asks, unable to keep the anger from edging into his voice now. Deaton is smart, Stiles knows. He's clever, and he knows more about the supernatural world than even those born into it. But he can't possibly know everything. "You said yourself that this is new. That you've never heard of it happening. How can you be so sure I'm not meant to do something while I'm here?"

"Think of all the things that could go wrong if you try."

Stiles looks down at the string on his wrist, considers the many possibilities. "What about the things that could go right?"

Fuck it, Stiles thinks. He gets up and walks away, slipping into the computer lab of the library, keeping his head down, careful not to make eye contact with anyone inside.

Research is Stiles' forte, and so far, he's yielded no results in hunting for answers to his own problem. Stiles knows he probably shouldn't, has been warned by everyone he knows here not to meddle, but he feels so fucking selfish, spending day after day with Derek's family, sharing this part of their life with them and doing nothing to change what happens.

He doesn't have a plan; just a few half-formed ideas, but he's willing to try whatever it takes. 

Chapter Text

 

~11~

Stiles has never done anything like this before. He's driven through walls to save his friends, been tortured and beaten to protect them, he's even suffered some permanent physical reminders of the company he keeps. But Stiles had never actually tried to kill anyone before. His stomach twists at the thought, but he just keeps reminding himself that Kate isn't just any other normal, innocent person. 

He slips into the back alley behind Bean Me Up just before sunrise. He knows she works early shifts. There's only one car parked out back: a little blue Honda that Stiles recognizes as Kate's from the day he saw her at the library. Stiles glances around to make sure he's alone before slipping out of the shadows. 

She's taking the Pacific Coast Highway down to the Bay Area this weekend, he knows, and from what it sounded like, she's going alone.

It takes him a few long minutes to psyche himself up for it, but, with the help of all the research he's done online at the library, he finally slides under her car and locates the brake line. 

Stiles uses the tools he borrowed from Deaton's clinic to cut the main and gouge a hole in the pressure line. He files the edges of each perforation to make it look like a more natural wear. He knows it won't hold up under close inspection, but he really hopes it doesn't have the chance to come to that anyway.

God, he hopes this works. He doesn't want to think about the possibility of her running into someone else, other innocent people on the road. It's one of the many reasons he's been told not to fuck with anything here in this life. So many things can change. He's gambling, and the stakes are fucking terrifying.

But Stiles has to focus on one thing at a time, and keeping Kate from fulfilling her own twisted destiny is first and foremost.

oOo

The treehouse is nearly complete now, thanks to Stiles' persistent kidnappings of Derek after school, and the prospect of having somewhere private to go and make out once it's finished.

There's a roof over half of it, enough to block the rain when it comes, but still leaving some of it open for star gazing on clear nights like this one.

Stiles and Derek take full advantage of the opportunity to touch, being completely alone and uninterrupted.

Stiles straddles Derek's hips, leans forward and scrapes his teeth over Derek's nipple, chases the sensation with the tip of his tongue and earns himself a quiet growl. He's sure he could get used to this, taking Derek apart with his hands and mouth and tongue, dragging sounds from him he's only ever heard on a threatening level before.

Derek thrusts up, pulls Stiles down against him with firm hands wrapped around hips. He grinds them against each other, getting off on the friction provided by the layers of clothing between them, and, God, does Stiles love the thought of that. He loves seeing Derek this way, so open and vulnerable, allowing himself to take pleasure in Stiles, in them.

He tries to suck bruises into Derek's skin, a pattern of constellations on his chest and stomach to mirror the ones overhead, but they fade too quickly to even see them as one whole picture. Stiles thinks there must be something oddly poetic in that. Something about stars burning out in the sky millions of years before the light of them is even visible here on Earth. Something that reflects the flicker that he is here in Derek's life, but Stiles would rather not think too deeply on that right now. He doesn't want to miss Derek when Derek is lying right here beneath him, doesn't want to get lost in thoughts of being without him, even if he does manage to stay within arm's reach, now and in the future.

Stiles can't stop touching, and he doesn't even want to try. Derek's skin is so warm beneath him and Stiles is always so cold lately. Logically, he knows it's because of the small traces of winter still lingering in the air, being chased away by spring, but the tiniest part of Stiles' imagination, the small space that still worries constantly about anything and everything, tries to convince him the chill is because he's fading away. Moving on from this place to somewhere else, some other time or space of existence that will be just as confusing as this one. And Stiles won't have this anymore. He won't have Derek. So he allows himself all that he can have as often as possible, whisper-soft kisses pressed into Derek's skin, and silent apologies he knows Derek would never accept if spoken aloud.

oOo

Stiles doesn't want to sleep anymore. He's too afraid of the darkness that creeps along the edge of his thoughts, worried that it will make its way into his dreams again where he can't stamp it out. Sometimes it does. Tendrils of dread that seep into his mind, wrapping around him and paralyzing him with fear. He sees his dad there, lifeless and bleeding, shot by some random criminal while on the job. He sees Scott, chest ripped open as his life bleeds out in thick, dark pulses. He sees Melissa in an overturned car, pool of broken glass reflecting the vacant look of death in her eyes as they stare out of the wreckage. He sees Isaac chained to a thick pipe, electrified restraints to keep him there as he's run through with a hundred blades forged in a fire of mountain ash and wolfsbane. And Derek. Stiles sees Derek. His Derek, burned and broken and dead in the basement of his own home, his fingertips shredded with evidence of his attempt to tear through the walls. All violent, all horrifying. And then Stiles sees his own trembling hands covered in blood as he reaches out for them, before he's even made contact, and he knows, he knows it's his fault. The blood on his hands is symbolic, meant to remind Stiles of all that could go wrong, of all that he has to lose if he makes one wrong move here in this borrowed space of time.

Stiles wakes with tears streaming down his face, eyes blurry and head spinning. He lies awake at night, watching the rise and fall of Derek's chest with every reassuring breath he takes. It's while he's awake that Stiles sees his own death, in those dark moments alone in Derek's room while the world sleeps. Flashes of bright white lights, crying faces of his loved ones, some sort of gray-violet haze that he thinks must be the color of agony.

oOo

"If you could find it in you for once in your life to hold still, I could help you," Derek snapped, his grip on Stiles' wrist firm, almost painful, but paling in comparison to the bleeding wound on Stiles' thigh.

"You just want to get a look at my junk," Stiles said, unrelenting in his struggle to pull away.

He was sure if the smell of blood and fear and wolfsbane wasn't enough to drown it out, Derek would have been able to smell Stiles' arousal.

Sometimes being a horny teenage boy really fucking sucked. Being grazed in the leg by a hunter's arrow should have been enough of a distraction for him, but as soon as it was all over and Derek had swooped him up to carry him away from the mess of blood and gore, all Stiles could think about was how Derek felt against him, holding him so close, like Stiles was something valuable.

Stiles couldn't help the fact that it turned him on a little, being that close.

"Stiles, I have absolutely no desire to see your junk," Derek said through clenched teeth. "Now take off your pants, or I'm going to use my claws."

"Jesus, Derek. Is that how you talked to your prom date?"

Derek rolled his eyes and flicked out a claw. Stiles tried to kick him away, but the pain in his leg was too much and his effort turned into more of a pathetic flinch instead.

Derek hooked his claw into the rip of Stiles' favorite jeans and tore them all the way down to his ankle.

"Happy?" he asked, ripping them up higher on Stiles' thigh so that they could both see the bleeding wound more completely. "Now your precious junk is in no danger from my leering eyes."

"You ripped my pants off me. Do I look happy? I mean, yeah, they were already torn, but I think I could have used that to my advantage. Add a few more and go for the don't-give-a-shit nineties grunge look."

Derek ignored his rambling, pressing his hand over the bleeding gash on Stiles' thigh.

"The only time anyone should be getting their clothes ripped off is if they're about to be consensually sexed up. And I swear to God, Derek, if that's your sex face, you have a lot more issues than I've given you credit for."

"Shut. Up." Derek's eyes were squeezed shut, jaw clenched tightly, and Stiles didn't even have time to process it all before he felt the pain ebbing away, black lines trailing and pulsing up Derek's forearm as he leeched it out of Stiles.

Derek clenched and unclenched his fist after pulling his hand away, as if he could work the transferred pain out the same way you worked out stiff joints.

Derek left the room and returned with a washcloth. "It's clean," he said, as if Stiles would have assumed otherwise.

Derek might have lived in the loft of an abandoned warehouse, and yeah, he was in desperate need of a trip to Pottery Barn for furnishings, but that didn't mean he was dirty.

Derek pressed the warm cloth to Stiles' leg, dabbing away the blood to better see the actual laceration. His face was so close, Stiles could feel warm breath on his wet skin.

"Scott will be here with Melissa soon. This needs stitches."

That, at least, got Stiles' mind off Derek's hands on him.

"What?" he said, voice a bit too high. "No. It's fine. It's great. I like it. Lets just leave it like this." He didn't want a needle anywhere near him. Stiles had seen too many of those in the hospital with his mom. Too much poking and blood and just, no.

"It can't stay like this, Stiles. It needs to be stitched properly in order to heal."

"I'll superglue it," he said, not even a little bit kidding.

Derek rolled his eyes again. "I'll stay right here and keep you from feeling it. You can stare at the ceiling and completely ignore her. It'll be over before you know it."

"You'd do that for me?" Stiles asked. He knew what it took from his werewolf friends when they sapped pain away from someone else. He knew they brought that same pain onto themselves.

Derek just looked at him like Stiles was an idiot for thinking otherwise. 

Chapter Text

~12~

Stiles is sitting on the cool ground outside the clinic, getting some fresh air, avoiding the suffocating confines of the clinic and the sight of Deaton's needle as he stitches up a cat he's just spayed.

He's almost back to a normal level of breathing and zero risk of passing out when the sound of heels clicking on the sidewalk draws his attention up the street. Stiles doesn't know whether to groan in frustration, or run and hide from the sight that greets him. He's never been one to run away, though, so he rises to his feet, crosses his arms over his chest and stands his ground.

Kate seems to be a brand-new kind of smug and arrogant when she approaches him. Stiles is a little surprised considering the fact that she usually chooses to ignore his existence altogether, and he wonders if maybe that means she found the cut in her brakes and suspects Stiles of being the one who tampered with them.

It's been weeks since that night, and he hasn't seen or heard anything about her since. Clearly, though, his plan didn't work.

"Where's your boyfriend?" Kate asks, coming to a halt one step closer to Stiles than he's comfortable with. 

"Not sure," Stiles replies. "I guess he fell out of my pocket."

Kate glares at him, unamused, then smiles after a minute. "That's cute. Look, kid, I'm not trying to steal him away from you. Obviously he's more into dick than anything I've got to offer."

Stiles cocks his head, enjoying this far more than he should.

"It's just, we were sort of friends before he started spending all his time with you. Could you maybe just let him know I'd like to talk to him?"

Stiles' bark of laughter startles her.

"I mean actually talk," she says.

"I'll let him know," he lies, not bothered by the fact that her expression says she knows he isn't telling the truth.

"You know," she says, a little more sweetly now. "I think we could all get along just fine if we try." Change of tactic. Stiles should have seen that coming.

"Yeah, that's not gonna happen," he says, then turns and walks back into the clinic.

oOo

The morning of Stiles' birthday, he wakes to the smell of blueberry pancakes and doesn't even bother showering before heading downstairs.

It's early Tuesday morning, and Derek and Laura barely have enough time to stick a candle in a stack of pancakes for Stiles before rushing out the door to school.

Sam, Cora, and the twins sing a very off-key and ad-lib version of Happy Birthday to him, and then Grama Iris dumps syrup on his candle before he has a chance to blow it out.

It's kind of perfect, the little bits of themselves they all manage to incorporate into Stiles' life on a daily basis, the way he seems to blend so seamlessly with them. The rest of the morning carries on as usual, Stiles teasing Cora about the way the blueberries turn the pancake batter purple, and Cora sticking her tongue out at him before smearing syrup on his cheek.

oOo

Derek made plans to take Stiles to a movie for his birthday, but they end up making out in the back of the theater and giving each other mind-blowing hand-jobs until they forget their own names, let alone the movie playing on the screen.

"This is probably breaking the law now, you know," Derek says as they walk down the street together after.

"Yeah." Stiles smiles over at him. "That was definitely in violation of a few laws."

 "No, I mean, legally you're an adult now, and I've still got another seven months to go."

"I'm not worried about it if you aren't," Stiles replies. "Besides, that's only here and now. It's actually the other way around, and way more than just a seven-month age difference."

That stops Derek in his tracks, realization and something that looks like sadness clouding his eyes.

"What?" Stiles asks, turning to face Derek.

"If you're still barely eighteen ten years from now, that means..." He seems to consider this more, not the math, because Derek isn't stupid. He knows that puts him almost ten years older than Stiles. "Are we not...in the future, me and you, do we..."

He doesn't actually finish any of these questions, which is good, because Stiles doesn't know how to answer them.

No, Derek. You pretty much hate me and push me away every chance you get, doesn't seem like something he'd want to hear right now.

"Does it matter?" Stiles asks. "This is where I am now. It's where we are. I'm still just me no matter what time frame I'm in."

Derek considers this for a moment, then nods, hooking a finger into Stiles' belt loop and tugging him closer.

oOo

"I may have found something." Deaton doesn't look up from the papers he's shuffling through when Stiles and Derek walk into his office. "It's a Druidic ritual that's meant to restore the vitality of a lost soul."

"You think Stiles is a lost soul?" Derek asks.

"His spirit hasn't separated from his body," Deaton says, looking to Stiles for confirmation.

"No," Stiles replies. "This is all me."

Deaton nods, then continues. "He is outside of his time frame, though. We have vague theories as to why and how, but not much to go off of in order to help us return him to where he belongs. By performing this ritual with a druid priest, we may be able to fix what's been tangled in time."

"What are the risks?" asks Derek.

"Well, that's probably the most comforting part." Deaton clears the papers from his desktop, exposing a calendar that lies beneath. "If we wait until the summer solstice to perform this ritual, no harm at all will come to Stiles. It will either revitalize his soul's natural powers allowing him to find his own way back to where he belongs, or it will act as a sort of cleansing instead. No harm done."

"So we have until June?" Stiles asks, glancing over at Derek.

"The night of June twenty-first," Deaton confirms.

oOo

It's another thing they don't talk about. Something more to add to the ever-growing list of things they'd rather not acknowledge. But as time passes, Stiles feels himself growing more and more anxious. Now that there's an actual possibility that his time here with Derek is limited, his need to be near him is even greater.

Derek seems to feel the same way, constantly touching Stiles, pulling him in close every chance he gets, breathing him in as he nuzzles against that spot behind Stiles' ear.

Stiles wants his life to be normal again. Or, as normal as it can be with a bunch of friends who are werewolves. It feels like he's walking on the edge of a dream he can't wake up from. He wants to get back to his dad, to Scott, to a place where he doesn't feel like he's in a constant state of vertigo. Stiles doesn't want to leave Derek, though. He doesn't want to give this up and risk the possibility of never having it back. He doesn't want Derek to suffer what's to come without Stiles there to help him through.

"What if it fades?" Derek asks one night as they lie in his bed with their legs slotted together, Derek idly tracing the string around Stiles' wrist. "What if all this goes away when you're gone and neither of us remember?"

He hates that Derek isn't afraid to voice the thoughts Stiles himself has been having.

"I'm not going to forget you, Derek," Stiles tries to assure him. He knows he won't actually forget Derek. Derek is a part of Stiles' future, too. He is terrified that the memories of this will be left behind, though. The memories they've made here together. Stiles' life, as far as he knows, is still progressing forward in the future even as he's here now. It's Derek's past that's being replayed, and Stiles doesn't know which part of it will still be real to him when time rights itself.

"But what if I'm the one who forgets?" Derek's voice is low, barely a whisper, but it hits the air like a crack of thunder.

Stiles presses his lips to Derek's in the dark, slow and careful at first, just a taste, wanting to memorize the feel of Derek against him.

There's an ache in his chest at the thought of losing this, the beat of his heart rapping out a rhythm of pain that Stiles doesn't know how to deal with, tattooing itself to everything inside him.

He slides his tongue into Derek's mouth, deepens the kiss to more than just a physical connection. Stiles pours everything he has left into it, desperate to leave a lasting impression, to sear himself into Derek's mind and heart even if he was never meant to be there to begin with. 

Chapter Text

 

~13~

 

"Is that weird for you?"

"Of course not," Stiles replies. "Will it be weird for your mom?"

"I think she's past the point of caring, as long as we aren't going too far."

"I've had your dick in my mouth. I'd say the Too-Far ship has sailed," Stiles responds.

Derek buries his face in the crook of Stiles' neck and shakes with laughter. "We don't have to if you don't want to," he says when he finally catches his breath again.

The thing is, though, that Stiles does want to. He wants everything he can have with Derek while he's here, before it's all taken away.

"Yeah," he says with a nod, watching as the green of Derek's eyes seem to sparkle in the sunlight. "Let's do it."

Derek's junior prom is coming up on May sixteenth. Laura's boyfriend happens to be in the same grade as Derek, so the idea of the group of them going together isn't all that strange. Stiles wonders, though, if it'll be safe for them. May sixteenth is a full moon, and in the months since Stiles has been here, those have been reserved for strictly alone time for the Hale family while Stiles stays at the clinic, hidden away in Deaton's office by himself.

"It's a total lunar eclipse that night," Derek tells him as if reading Stiles' thoughts. "Mom won't mind. Nothing will happen."

oOo

"It isn't your fault. What happened to your mom. I hope you know that," Derek tells Stiles as they sit together in the library one Saturday morning.

"What if it is? What if I could stop it from happening somehow, now, while I'm here?"

Derek shakes his head. "People die, Stiles. It's a fact of life. Everyone's time here is limited. You'd just be delaying it, maybe by a day, maybe a year, but it would still happen. You can't spend the rest of your life blaming yourself for something like that."

"A mother held her new baby, and very slowly rocked him, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth."

Stiles leans against the wall, listening as the sound of his mom's voice fills the air around them. He pulls his knees up to his chest and rests his head on his arms.

He's irrationally jealous of the six and seven-year-old children sitting on the other side of the wall with her right now, able to see her face as she reads, see her smile. Stiles misses her smile most; the way her eyes would sparkle when she laughed, and how they'd crinkle at the corners. He remembers the first time he noticed those lines. Stiles was five years old and had just brought her a paper-mache-and-clothespin giraffe that he'd made her for Mother's Day. When he saw the crinkles around her eyes, really saw them for the first time, Stiles asked her if she had an owie. His mom laughed, kissed him, and told him no, she didn't have an owie; she had a happy.

"The little boy grew. He grew, and he grew, and he grew."

His mom used to read this story to him when he was little, Stiles remembers. She would put great emphasis on the line  "this kid is driving me crazy!" just to get a giggle out of Stiles, but when it came to the song, his mom's voice would soften, and she'd hug him a little bit closer as she read the words that she's reading now.

"I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always. As long as I'm living, my baby you'll be."

Stiles rubs the heel of his hand up his cheek, catching a hot tear as it trails down. Without a word to Derek, he stands up and leaves the library. 

It's so hard for him not to go back in, not to curl into himself in the corner of the children's section where he can actually see her. It's so fucking hard not to just walk up to her and wrap his arms around her, pull her into a tight hug, recite the last part of her favorite story to her; tell her that, as long as he's living, his mommy she'll be.

Stiles does want to go home. He misses his dad, and his sense of inner closure. He doesn't know how these new, fresh wounds will ever be able to heal again.

Derek follows him at a distance, giving Stiles the space he needs to think and grieve. When they make it to the edge of the forest, Stiles stops, waits for him. He wraps his arms around Derek when he's close enough to reach, buries his face against Derek's neck and breathes in the familiar scent there that makes him feel like he's home, even if he isn't.

oOo

Stiles holds the crumpled envelope in his hand, the only tangible evidence of his future reality. He flips it over and writes himself a note he knows he’ll never deliver. He just wants to tell himself, tell the boy he used to be, to spend more time with his mom, listen to her read, stop wiping off her kisses. It hurts that he can't, and Stiles feels his insides twisting up with the sharp pain of grief all over again.

Instead, he crawls over to the corner of the pallet floor and fishes Derek's wooden box out. Stiles folds up the envelope and stuffs it inside, buries it under the books and papers Derek keeps hidden away from the curious eyes of his family members.

He meets Derek and Laura back at the house. They'd all agreed that taking pictures would be a bad idea. When Stiles goes back to 2013, he's to leave no physical evidence of being here at all. Nothing that others might be able to link back to him, that could cause him or anyone he cares about undue problems in the future.

The family all huddles together to snap photos of Derek and Laura, though. The theme of this year's prom is The Wizard of Oz. Despite a conversation he'd had with future Derek before, Stiles really doesn't see himself as the Dorothy type. He's glad he let Grama Iris take him shopping for a suit to wear rather than going the way of humor and wearing a plaid dress. Not that he actually would have. Maybe.

Laura looks stunning as her very adult version of Dorothy. She's wearing a long powder blue gown with white flower vines embroidered all over the top and, after many nights spent arguing with Stiles, he's pleasantly surprised to see she went with the silver shoes to hold true to the book. He'll be sure to offer her an 'I told you so' later.

Derek, though, when the group finally parts and he gets a better view, nearly steals the breath from Stiles' lungs. He's wearing a 20's style pinstripe suit, black and silver, with a matching silver fedora, and Stiles kind of wants to die. Grama Iris made sure that suit was perfectly tailored, just as she did for the one Stiles is wearing, but he knows there's not a snowball's chance in Hell he looks half as good as Derek.

"Pick up your jaw, kid. Don't wanna trip on your way over there," she says, elbowing Stiles to nudge him out of his trance. "Here." Grama Iris straightens the lapel of Stiles' jacket before pinning a red fabric flower to it. "It's a poppy," she says. "I made them myself."

Stiles blinks dumbly, then looks down at his own chest. "It's perfect," he says. "Thank you."

They migrate out to the front porch, Cora starry-eyed and right on Stiles' hip, reaching out occasionally to touch the satiny fabric of Laura's dress.

There's a nervous buzz of energy prickling under Stiles' skin as they wait for Laura's date to arrive. Derek keeps glancing over at Stiles, but looking away again before Stiles can catch and hold his gaze. It feels like a chasm has opened up between them just from the excitement of the evening that seems to be emanating off of everyone, voices competing with each other for volume, laughter ringing out from all around them. Stiles can't reach Derek, and it's causing him an uncomfortable amount of anxiety. He stuffs trembling hands into the pockets of his slacks, gazes down into the shininess of his shoes, and just waits.

He concentrates on his breathing, the feel of his heart beating against his ribcage, the breeze caressing his face. Stiles can feel the seam of his inner pockets, so he focuses on that, too, for a moment, grounding himself to the sense of touch to fend off the irrational anxiety attack he fears is coming.

The sound of gravel shifting under tires breaks his concentration, and Stiles looks up to see a shiny black SUV pulling up the drive. Derek steps up beside him, finally pushing his way through the crowd and Stiles can't even describe the level of relief he feels at the new proximity. He sighs and half-smiles over at Derek who's spinning his hat in his hand nervously.

"You okay?" Derek asks, and Stiles nods.

It's ridiculous, this level of distress he feels welling up inside him. Maybe it's the prospect of being surrounded by a gym full of high school kids that Stiles may or may not know in the future. It's been a while since he's allowed himself to be in a crowd of people.

His fingers itch to reach out to Derek, touch the back of his hand just to feel the warmth of his skin, but he knows that's inappropriate. Derek's family may be onto the fact that they're each other's prom dates, but the facade they put up of going together as a group of four friends is something they'd agreed to hold to, so he doesn't. It can wait.

There's another fifteen minutes of picture-taking going on with Laura and her boyfriend. The guy is wearing a pale yellow suit, the color of straw. It clashes violently with Laura's beautiful dress, but Stiles assumes it was his weak attempt at a dressed-up version of the scarecrow. It's got nothing on Derek's Tin Man, and Stiles smiles to himself as they all make their way to the vehicle.

"You kids be good," Mrs. Hale says, mom-eyebrows in full effect. "And not too late. Be home before midnight, all three of you."

"And have fun!" Grama Iris calls as they're climbing into the SUV.

As soon as they're out of the driveway, Derek slides close to Stiles in the backseat, placing his hand on Stiles' knee and squeezing gently as he smiles over at him.

Stiles figures, fuck it. The two in the front seat are more interested in each other than what's going on in the back, so Stiles allows himself to sag against Derek's side, reaches down to lace their fingers together and basks in the relief that washes over him at the contact.

It isn't until they're entering the dimly lit school gym by way of a makeshift yellow brick road that Stiles finally gets a good look at Laura's date, anxiety having ebbed enough to clear his mind a bit. The guy looks vaguely familiar, blond hair and blue eyes framed with a thick fringe of lashes. Stiles doesn't think he knows him—at least, he hopes he doesn't—but the guy hasn't paid much attention to Stiles this evening anyway, so it doesn't really matter. They'll keep their distance, and the gym is only dimly lit anyway.

The room is full of anxious-looking teenagers, and Stiles feels instantly more comfortable knowing he's not the only nervous one. It doesn't even make any sense to him. He and Derek have done plenty of things far beyond dancing. He decides quick like a band-aid is probably best, so, following Laura's lead, Stiles grabs Derek by the lapel of his jacket and pulls him out into the crowd of dancing bodies. It's some fast-paced techno-pop song, meant to keep kids as physically far from each other as possible, but where there's a will, there's a way. And even this early into the evening, the air in the room is ripe with teenage will.

Stiles finds himself calming even more as he moves to the music with Derek just inches in front of him. It doesn't take long before he's relaxed to the point of actually having fun, smiling and laughing, with Derek leaning in to steal a kiss or just smell Stiles' neck every time the lights flash off for a half a second. They don't separate at all throughout the night. Not even when two of what Derek claimed to be 'the hottest girls in school' came and asked them to dance. They're there together, and that's the only way they want it to be.

Derek slips his hands around Stiles' waist, under his jacket, and pulls him a little closer when the music slows down. His palms are hot against Stiles, through the thin fabric of his shirts. Stiles wants them on his skin, suddenly finds himself wishing they were alone. He's trying so hard not to think of leaving, of his limited time here, but with nothing but an uncertain future between the two of them, it's hard not to consider it.

He leans into Derek's space, desperate to touch as much of him as he can, determined to make this night last, to force it into Derek's memory for lifetimes to come. Stiles drags his nose up the column of Derek's neck, breathing him in and pressing a kiss into the pulse point below his ear.

Derek's fingers twist into the fabric of Stiles' shirt, pulling him closer until Stiles is certain it's Derek's heart beating so hard against Stiles' chest and not actually just his own.

Derek's lips move against Stiles' ear, causing his knees to go a little weak. He's not actually saying anything, just trying to kill Stiles with his warm breath and the feel of his mouth dragging against Stiles' skin. Stiles feels his dick harden, and, oh God, this is so not the time or place for that.

He may have said that out loud, or maybe Derek can feel Stiles' arousal against his thigh, because he smiles wickedly and actually does speak this time.

"We can go take care of that, if you want."

Stiles shakes his head. "Remember what I said before about not wanting to be a teenage cliché? I'm not losing my virginity on prom night."

Derek pulls back to look at Stiles, hands holding his hips firmly and one eyebrow cocked.

"Your virginity? Stiles," he leans in closer to Stiles' ear again, "you've had my dick in your mouth. I think the Virgin ship has sailed."

Stiles wants to laugh at having his own words thrown back at him, but it's just then that he catches sight of Laura and her date, swaying together under the spinning silver and green lights, and Stiles knows. He remembers why the guy had looked familiar to him, and his heart stutters to a halt in his chest. Laura's date, her boyfriend, is the same guy Kate had been talking to that day in the library.

Stiles staggers, clutches at Derek's arms, and thinks he might be sick. All this time he'd been so worried about keeping Kate away from Derek, and here she's already got one of her own on the inside. One of her fucking cronies is dating Laura Hale. Stiles is sure of it.

The music fades, and all Stiles can hear is the sound of his own blood crashing in violent pulses behind his eardrums.

Pieces of the puzzle are forcing themselves together in Stiles' mind. The full moon, the eclipse, Derek and Laura not being home. It's tonight, he thinks. Tonight is the night Derek's life is irrevocably changed.

"We have to go." His breathing is uneven, shallow, panicked, but he forces the words out again, makes Derek listen.

He isn't even sure what he says after that, but it must be enough. Derek is dragging Stiles out of the gym, signalling Laura to follow.

The night air hits him hard, but does nothing to clear Stiles' thoughts. Laura's boyfriend isn't with her, but as she follows them out, the fabric of her skirt bunched in one hand, cellphone pressed to her ear with the other, her facial expression gives it all away. Something is wrong. All of it is wrong.

Derek and Laura take off running, shedding jackets and heels as they tear through the parking lot and across the grassy field.

Stiles tries to keep up, but it's useless. He isn't fast enough. He grabs Laura's phone from where it landed in the grass beside her shoes and dials 911. He has no idea what he's even going to say to them, but he knows dispatch will still send someone to the Hale residence even if Stiles can't give them all the information they ask for.

It isn't necessary, though. As soon as the woman's voice greets him, Stiles hears the blaring sirens of the Beacon Hills fire department screaming up the street.

He drops the phone and runs, through the grass and into the forest along the same path Derek and Laura had disappeared out of sight on, because he can't stop it, but even if their destinies are mapped out on a plane of existence that Stiles can't reach, he has to do something.

A sickening sense of fear spikes through him at the thought of Derek and Laura there when it happens, burning up with their family as they try to save them. Stiles doesn't know what kind of anomaly he's created, what he's done by alerting them tonight. It could all be different now. Derek could very easily die tonight, and Stiles nearly throws up at the thought of that. He stumbles through the dark as he forces his legs to move faster, unable to see where he's going with a heavy shadow covering the light of the moon. 

He senses it before it happens, like a sloshing of blood in his veins, a tightness to his skin, a sharpness to his bones. 

There's a thunderous ripping sound, so loud he has to cover his ears to protect his hearing. He knows what it is without even having to consider it; it's the sound of something more willful than the universe itself tearing through the fabric of time. Where his mind has found this knowledge to supply, Stiles has no idea, but he vaguely remembers it from before.

And then there's nothing. It isn't the deep, black nothing of unconsciousness. It's a blinding white, pulsating in his head or his vision, he can't tell which. Silhouettes in the lightest shade of gray, hazy and feathering around the edges, bleeding into the light like ink in water, are moving around him, shifting erratically like figures in a flip book with missing pages. Shapes he doesn't recognize, can't seem to reason out. 

A booming clap sounds and suddenly, the only thing Stiles is aware of is agony; a sharp, hot pain radiating from his head down through his body, and the feeling of falling. 

Chapter Text

~14~

Stiles wakes some time later with a throbbing migraine and the phantom smell of smoke and ash settling in his sinuses. He chokes on a breath, gasps in a lungful of fresh, clean air.

"Stiles," he hears a voice say. "Can you hear me?" It sounds tinny and distant, but familiar nonetheless. 

Stiles rolls his head to the side from where the voice is coming, fights with his motor control for the ability to open his eyes. 

Everything feels heavy: his arms at his sides, his head pressing into what his mind supplies is a pillow beneath it, even his eyelids. Gravity is working against him, pulling and tugging, trying to convince him to slip back into the comfort of sleep, of darkness. 

"He's waking up. Go get—"

There's a commotion around him, a buzz of energy, hushed voices that grow louder as Stiles wills himself out of the darkness. 

A rush of cool air whispers by him, washing over the side of his face, and part of his consciousness tells him that it's just an air current. Just a door being opened or someone moving too close beside him. But another part, the part that seems to be closer to the surface, is pulling up a memory of running through the woods, cutting like a knife through the cold night air. 

"Derek," he says.

oOo

When Stiles comes to again, he feels the warm, constant presence of someone beside him, a heavy hand resting on his own.

He blinks his eyes open slowly, his father’s somber face coming into clear focus in the dim light of the room.

"Dad?" Stiles says, his voice raspy.

His dad smiles, eyes crinkling at the corners, and huffs out a laugh. “There you are.”

oOo

Stiles is released from the hospital two excruciating days later, with the orders to drink plenty of fluids, and have the bandage on his arm replaced frequently.

He's got various scrapes and scratches from running through the woods in the dark, but the worst of his injuries are limited to a deep gash on his forearm, and a minor concussion.

Scott stayed with him most of the time. Even Lydia was there. Stiles doesn't remember seeing Derek, but he's told he's been there, and he's afraid to ask any more about him. He knows Derek survived, and that, at least, is a huge relief.

According to his friends, it seems nothing has changed at all. They play games of twenty questions, which actually feels a bit more like four thousand, but everything is the same as it was when Stiles left.

Mostly, anyway. It's been four months, and Stiles' dad has definitely earned a few more gray hairs in that time. Scott and Allison seem to be back together again, from what Stiles can tell, and Lydia, well, she's still very much her too-perfect self.

oOo

He shouldn't be surprised to find that his room is exactly the same as it was the day he left—laundry on the floor, an open textbook on his bed, his laptop still open on his desk—but he is. He'd expected everything to be different. He feels different, older, like it’s been a whole other lifetime and not just four months.

Stiles sits on the edge of his bed, flips the textbook closed and tosses it to the floor with a heavy thunk. He wants to curl up under his covers and hide, just for a little while, until his mind can sort things out. Instead, he walks over to his dresser, looks into the mirror that hangs over it.

His hair is a little bit longer now, despite Laura's attempts at keeping it in control, but he mostly still looks the same, still looks like him. His lip is healing where it had split when he fell. There's a bruise high on his cheek, purple and green, and he touches his fingertips to it absently, wondering what Cora would have said about it, about their colors joining forces to paint Stiles’ pale skin.

Stiles looks away, unable to handle that train of thought right now. Derek's whole family is dead—maybe even Cora here in this space of time—and their only crime was to exist.

There's a book on his dresser, The Silver Chair, the fifth book in the Chronicles of Narnia. A neon pink post-it sticks out from the pages. Stiles opens it, reads the words written there in messy handwriting he doesn't recognize:

"You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you," said the lion.

He doesn't understand why that passage was copied down, but he thinks it must be significant. It feels like it is, so Stiles leaves the post-it there on its page with the book open, and goes back over to his bed.

oOo

When Stiles finally does see Derek, they're in the company of Stiles' family and Derek's pack. Derek doesn't even look at him.

Stiles has been surrounded by his friends all the time, never any time alone to think or grieve the loss of the strange little past he was temporarily part of, and he finds that he has to constantly remind himself not to reach out and touch Derek, grab his hand or drag his fingers down his arm the way he had with past Derek, and it's so fucking painful it makes him nauseous.

Stiles has to leave the room. He doesn't think anyone notices until he hears a timid knock on the bathroom door.

"Hey," Lydia says when Stiles cracks the door open. "I just wanted to check on you."

And of course she would have noticed something was wrong. Lydia has always been bizarrely in tune with the people around her, even if she prefers not to let it show.

Scott should have noticed, too, probably—werewolf senses and all—but maybe they all think it has to do with Stiles' concussion.

"I'm fine," he says, moving aside to let her in as he goes back to sitting on the edge of the tub. "Just a little..."

"Disoriented, morose, suffocated, anxious," Lydia finishes for him, turning on the tap to wet a washcloth.

"Something like that."

She sits down on the tub beside him and presses the cloth to his head. It's cool against the warmth of his skin, and allows him to focus on something other than the twisting and churning sensation inside him. It's strange how something so simple can be so comforting.

"Everyone's curious about what happened while you were there. What you saw, what you did. We've got a lot to talk about when you're ready."

Stiles nods and takes the cloth from her.

Nobody knows. Nothing has changed.

oOo

Derek and Isaac leave town on pack business, trying to close a few loopholes with the remaining fae Derek's had to negotiate out of his territory.

He calls Stiles one night while he's gone, to check up on him and let him know he'll see him when he gets back. It causes a flutter in Stiles' stomach and a tightness around his heart.

There's a shortness in Derek's tone that's recognizable even in the few words spoken. He must know. He has to remember, and he's upset with Stiles, maybe even hates him, for not doing more to stop Kate.

And Stiles can't blame him for that. He hates himself a little bit, too.

 

 

Chapter Text

  

~15~

"I don't think you have to worry too much about it, Stiles," Deaton says with a small smile.

Stiles may be grasping at straws, desperate to talk to anyone who will listen, but he's still careful about what he says. He just wants to know if this thing in his head, the thing between him and Derek, is as real as it felt.

"Derek must care a great deal about you. When you followed them out into the woods that day, he was terrified of losing you like he'd lost everyone else. Fae magic is nothing to take lightly. It's dangerous and wild and Derek knew that."

"What happened to me?" Stiles asks, not even sure he wants to know the answer anymore, but he has to.

Deaton smiles at him, but it's more distant than the ones he's used to seeing on the man's face. "Maybe you should give Derek a chance to tell you."

Maybe you should stop being so fucking cryptic, Stiles thinks, but he keeps quiet as Deaton finishes his examination, checking Stiles over for traces of magic and things outside the comprehension of human hospital staff. 

oOo

For days, Stiles continues to be surrounded by his friends, a constant stifling presence that seems to push into the open spaces in and around him, all but the hollow that Stiles can feel around his heart. It's as if they're all afraid to leave him alone, scared he may be ripped away again in the blink of an eye.

He was wrong for thinking it would be easier here in his own place in time. Stiles isn't any less confused about his past, or not-past, with Derek.

He needs to see him. Even if it doesn't mean anything to Derek here and now, Stiles just wants to be able to share the same space with him again, the same time and air. He needs Derek closer, even just for a little while, just to see if the emptiness around his heart will fill up again.

He gets several text messages from Derek, checking up on him, but nothing revealing, nothing that gives Stiles any clue as to what he's thinking beyond a friendly level of concern.

oOo

Stiles doesn't tell everyone about his time in the past. Not in detail, anyway.

He doesn't try to keep any of it from his family, though. From his dad or Scott or Melissa. There's no point, and Stiles thinks it'll only rip him up further if he tries.

He told them everything about his visit to 2003, even the parts he could tell were painful for his dad to hear.

He's alone with Melissa in a private room of the hospital as she changes the bandage on his stitched-up arm and checks for infection.

"Are you going to try to tell me I'm too young to know what love is?" Stiles asks, because her opinion is important to him, and he needs to know if everyone thinks he's a little bit crazy. "That I'm just a kid and I don't even really know him?"

She looks at him, silent, contemplative, then smiles brightly the way she always does, and goes back to the task of re-wrapping his wrist.

"No, Stiles. I think you know him better than anyone. And I don't think you're too young at all. In fact, I have my own personal motto: love is for fiction... and teenagers."

Stiles watches her face, searching for signs of sadness behind her words, but she's still focused intently on her task, not meeting his gaze, a small smile curving her lips.

“What do you mean?” Stiles says, because he has to ask, feels like it’s some important bit of motherly knowledge he’d missed out on from his own mom, and he remembers Derek’s mother saying something similar.

"Love is such a pure and perfect emotion. After a while, people grow up. They have a bit more experience, more life under their belt, they start looking for the bad in people, noticing all the little negatives that counter their positives. It makes it harder to find that all-consuming rush of emotions that carve away at a person’s defenses and make them fit together more perfectly with someone else."

She tapes his fresh bandage in place and smiles up at him. “I think you’re lucky if you find it while you’re young. And even luckier if it finds you back.”

Stiles can’t seem to return her smile. He doesn’t even know what’s real anymore.

oOo

Lydia decides to throw a sort of reunion-like dinner party at her house Thursday night. No one is allowed to bring any punch, but Stiles is grateful to learn it's just his closest friends there anyway.

It's not long after Scott and Stiles arrive that Derek shows up, holding a casserole dish and looking a little sheepish in the doorway.

Lydia takes it from his hands, commenting on how delicious it smells, and Stiles almost smiles at the memory of Derek's not-so-delicious cooking experiments. Almost.

Throughout the night, the two of them don't talk much beyond the typical niceties of acquaintances, but Stiles steals glances every chance he gets, watches as Derek's own gaze flicks away from Stiles every time. It hurts being this close to him and not being able to touch him. Hurts just looking at Derek, but Stiles can't stop.

He'd assumed his memory of the last four months would be muddled and hazy at best, completely non-existent at worst. Stiles wasn't prepared for the clarity of it. Didn't allow himself to believe he'd fully remember any of it.

He's surprised to realize that he does. His heart aches with it all. But within his realization, edging its way into the forefront of his mind, Stiles feels a heavy measure of guilt. He loves Derek. He's completely in love with Derek. But it feels like a stolen emotion. Like something Stiles manipulated to his advantage, took without permission. He hasn't had any time alone with Derek since coming back. He doesn't know if Derek remembers any of it, if he blames Stiles for what happened.

Stiles needs to talk to him. He needs to know.

oOo

Derek is out on the back porch some time after dinner, and Stiles thinks it may be the only chance he gets to be alone with him, so he asks his friends to give them a minute.

He slips out quietly, closing the door behind him.

Derek is leaning back against the railing of the porch, looking every bit as broody as he had when Stiles left this place, this year. But there's an underlying hint of something Stiles has only recently allowed himself to recognize.

"Did you find your brain while you were away in Oz?" Derek asks.

"I did," replies Stiles, because he's learned so much about Derek, about his past in the four months he was gone that it really was like finding a new mind, or at least a new wealth of knowledge.

He doesn't stop at his usual safe distance as he approaches Derek, and Stiles isn't even sure this is okay anymore, but he can't help himself. It's like he's being pulled forward by an unknown force, gravitating toward Derek like he's the sun at the center of Stiles' universe. He does manage to stop himself, eventually, just a few feet away.

The distance is like a physical pain to Stiles. It feels like a hot, heavy stone is resting in his stomach, searing his insides with need. Stiles wants to reach out to him, to touch him, wrap himself in the familiarity of Derek's arms.

But he just stands there instead, taking in the shadows on Derek's face. The darkness in his eyes that represents a lifetime of happiness, lost in an instant.

"I'm sorry," Stiles whispers, unable to stop himself. "I'm so fucking sorry, Derek. I tried. I tried to..." His words break off, caught in his throat behind a lump of emotions that Stiles can't seem to move around. His eyes fill with tears until Derek is just an unrecognizable gaussian blur of color before him. Stiles is afraid to blink, scared it will make him go away, one or the other of them disappearing into time again.

"I know," Derek says. It isn't the response Stiles had been expecting. And as the tears finally spill over, clearing his vision, he sees that Derek looks just as lost as Stiles feels.

"I wanted...I wanted to..."

"I know, Stiles." Derek reaches a hand out, wrapping his fingers around Stiles' wrist and Stiles is wound so tight that the contact nearly breaks him. Derek tugs him close, wraps an arm around Stiles' neck and one around his waist, surrounding him in his presence and Stiles buries his face against Derek's neck and just...just stays.

"Do you remember me?" Stiles asks after a while, not bothering to pull away from Derek. Not ever wanting to. "Do you...remember us?" He isn't sure he wants to know the answer. Deaton told Stiles that part of the reason the magic had sent him back to the past was just so that Stiles could learn things about Derek that no one really knew, but he didn't know if that meant Derek's past had now been re-written with Stiles in it.

He feels a huff of laughter against his cheek. "I remember," says Derek. It's exactly what Stiles had hoped to hear, what he needs.

Stiles relaxes into Derek. He wants to kiss him, to cry with the relief he feels inside, but he's drained, broken and bleeding and completely wrung out. He just needs Derek to hold him up. Just for a little while. Just for a minute while Stiles tries to regain the ground beneath him. 

He wants to tell Derek how much he missed him, but it sounds ridiculous even in his own head. He's been with Derek the whole time.

Isaac cracks the back door open, apparently having taken Stiles' "give us a minute" too literally. He only looks a little bit confused as he crinkles his brow at the sight of Derek and Stiles pressed together.

"Sorry," he says, his cheeks flushing pink in the porch light. "Lydia wanted to know if you guys want coffee."

"Yeah," Derek says. "Coffee's good."

Isaac nods and slips back inside with another quick apology.

They still haven't discussed everything Stiles wants to, not by a long shot. But Derek assures him he'll come over later tonight, after he drops Isaac off at home, and the two of them will talk.

Derek kisses Stiles' temple, rubs a hand up and down his back, and Stiles feels himself breaking apart again as they separate and head inside.

Derek stops him at the door, his hand wrapped around Stiles' wrist.

When Stiles turns to look at him, Derek holds up a length of string, facial expression entirely unreadable.

Stiles sucks in a breath through parted lips, feels his skin prickle at the sight of it.

"I took this off of you before the EMTs put you in the ambulance."

Stiles doesn't know if he should hold his hand up for Derek to tie it around again, or just take it and stuff it in his pocket, but he wants it. He wants his reminder. His little piece of past Derek and them.

He swallows hard and nods, but before he fully decides on what to do with it, Derek is looping it around Stiles' wrist again, tying the ends together and hooking his finger underneath it to stroke Stiles' skin before releasing him.

oOo

It's two nights from the full moon and, as the group discusses it, Scott makes a tacky joke about locking Isaac up to keep him under control.

Stiles tenses, looking up from the string around his wrist he'd been staring thoughtfully at.

Isaac doesn't look bothered by the comment. He's smiling maliciously—in the way he's always been so good at—and saying something about the need to handcuff Scott to a radiator.

Derek is watching Stiles, and Stiles' gaze shoots back down to his wrist.

"No one's getting chained or locked anywhere," Derek says, and it sounds like his words are directed toward Stiles, but Stiles still doesn't look back up.

"I think I can handle myself now anyway," Isaac says on the end if a chuckle. "I've been doing fine."

"It's true. He hasn't tried to kill me in a few months," says Allison.

Stiles does look up now, and Derek is staring right at him. "You found something?" Stiles asks. "Something to anchor yourself to?"

"It's still a work in progress," Isaac replies. "But, yeah. There's been a lot of death over the last couple years. It's easy to focus on that, the fear, and forget about the rest."

"You train your focus on death?" Stiles' voice sounds accusing even to his own ears.

"The opposite, actually," Derek says, leaning forward and resting his forearms on his knees. "Isaac realized death and fear weren't the things he wanted to think about most."

"It's life," Isaac says after a short pause, and Stiles wonders how many times his group of friends have discussed this among themselves in the months he's been gone. "The memory of my own mortality, and what it was like before. I don't have to be afraid now. I can focus more on living and all of the life going on around me."

Isaac looks over at Derek, and Derek just nods, his eyes trained on his own hands.

oOo

"Is your ability to communicate any better now, Tin Man?" Stiles asks. He's lying in his bed, curled onto his side when he hears his window slide open and instinctively knows it's Derek.

The mattress dips as Derek sits on the edge, and Stiles doesn't bother to roll over. Some conversations are easier to have without the openness and vulnerability that eye contact brings.

He still feels guilty, like he took advantage of a young version of Derek, knowing this one wouldn't have wanted him. Stiles is no better than Kate, save for the murderous rampage.

Derek shifts around on the bed, fits himself to the curve of Stiles' back and flattens his hand against Stiles' stomach to draw him even closer.

Stiles feels dirty, wrong, but he wants it so bad, wants Derek to be his. Not just then, but now, fairly, all of him.

"I can talk to you," Derek answers, warm breath on Stiles' neck.

"Do you remember your past without me in it?" He needs to know how different things are now, here in this life. Needs to know if Derek is a completely different person than the one he'd left behind all those months ago.

He feels Derek go tense behind him, knows he isn't breathing. And then he responds.

"I remember all of it. With and without."

Stiles counts the thrums of his heart. "Which one is real?" he asks once he gets to twenty-five.

There's another long pause of silence in which Stiles thinks neither of them are breathing now.

"Does it matter?" Derek asks. "What happened happened. There's no changing that."

"But I need to know," Stiles whispers, barely able to hear himself over his own thundering heart. "I need to know if I—"

"You aren't responsible for what happened, Stiles." Derek's voice is firm, and Stiles thinks if he was a werewolf himself, it would have been the words of an alpha leaving no room for question. But he's not one of Derek's betas. And he does question. "You saw," Derek continues. "You know it would have happened whether you were there or not."

Stiles blinks away the tears and tries again not to think of Derek's family.

"Do you know how you got there in the first place?" Derek asks against the skin of Stiles' neck. "Do you know what happened that day in the woods when you disappeared?"

Stiles shakes his head, because he doesn't know, but he can't find his voice to say as much.

"It was me." Derek wraps his arm a little more tightly around Stiles, holding him together as if he knows Stiles is about to break apart. "I did it. I did it because I couldn't stand the thought of losing you, and you almost died, Stiles. When I saw that iron rod in your chest," Derek's hand moves up to cover Stiles' heart, "when I heard your heartbeat slowing, I knew you were almost gone."

"What did you do?" Stiles asks. It isn't an accusation, but real curiosity.

"It was just...will," Derek whispers. "I just thought, if I could push you out of the way of death, if I could shove you back two, three minutes, I'd be able to stop it before it happened."

"Has anything like that ever happened before?" Stiles asks, tracing the bones on the back of Derek's hand with his finger. "Did you have any reason to think it would work?"

Derek presses his face into the juncture of Stiles' neck. "No," he murmurs. "I didn't know if it was possible. Even with all that magic around us. But I wanted it to be.

"Deaton says it was a force of will so strong, so desperate, that, combined with the fae magic, it caused a loop in time."

Stiles thinks of fabric woven throughout time, of strings stretched tight across the universe, of a gravitational force so strong at each end that it's impossible to gather enough energy to loop one side around it.

"I couldn't lose you," Derek whispers, and Stiles realizes in that moment, that the cosmic string, the thread that no one could trace back—it's Derek.

Stiles sucks in a sharp breath but can't separate any words from his jumble of thoughts to speak.

"That wouldn't have happened before you went back into my past if I wasn't already in love with you, Stiles. If you weren't already part of me.”

"That's how I got back here, too, isn't it? You did it, you pulled me back."

Derek is silent behind him, but Stiles doesn't need words to confirm what he already knows.

"How did you know?" Stiles asks. "If it wasn't completely intentional the first time, how did you know it would work the second time?"

"Because of you," Derek says, and Stiles feels him tug at the string around his wrist. "Because of this. And because, as all these new memories were forming, it occurred to me that the string theory couldn't be all that far off. I could only hope that I was the one holding the other end, and that you'd have enough time to recognize that, even on some subconscious level.

"You being there, it didn't change the way I saw you. It didn't convince me to love you, or trick me into anything. It just gave you all the information you needed to know me. To..."

Derek doesn't say it, but Stiles can feel it there, teetering on the edge of Derek's thoughts, held back by a thread of doubt.

"To love you back," Stiles finishes for him.

Derek presses his lips to the back of Stiles' neck.

"You don't have to," he says.

"I know," replies Stiles. "But I do." I already did. 

Chapter Text

~16~

"How did you feed yourself while I was gone?" Stiles asks, taking a seat at the other side of the kitchen table.

His dad glares at him from over a heaping spoonful of bran flakes and blueberries. "Happily," he replies.

Stiles tosses a blueberry at him and laughs when it bounces off his chest and splashes into his cereal bowl.

"I'll let that one slide, but don't think that just because you were gone for a while, I'm going to start letting you get away with whatever you want. You may be eighteen now, but you're still living in my house."

"Noted," Stiles says before shoving a bite of cereal into his mouth.

"That's getting old," his dad says, tossing his newspaper down on the table next to him and picking up his coffee.

Stiles doesn't have to look at the page to know what it says. All the articles have been pretty similar since his return, each reporter wanting to have the "real" story of the Beacon Hills sheriff's runaway son. Only a couple of them put that crinkled line on Stiles' dad's forehead, though; the ones that have the most far-fetched assumptions of what had caused a "rift" between them to begin with.

Stiles grabs the newspaper and tosses it into the recycling bin. He doesn't even want to know if it was drugs or sex or abuse this time. Someday they'll be able to laugh about it, he hopes, but for now, he just refills his dad's coffee and hands him a stack of bills to go through instead.

"Love you, Dad," he tells him, because he's sure he doesn't say it nearly enough.

His dad's surprised little arch of an eyebrow confirms his suspicion. "Love you, too, kid."

oOo

"Does your sister still hate me?" Stiles nearly flinches at his own words, dreading the answer. With all that did or didn't change in his future reality, what if Cora wasn't here anymore? What if Derek had lost her, too?

Derek shrugs and Stiles lets out the breath he'd been holding.

"She's just jealous," Derek says with the tiniest hint of a smile. "Thinks you picked the wrong Hale. I'm not completely sure she's wrong."

Stiles shakes his head, walks over to where Derek is sitting at Stiles' desk. He slides into Derek's lap, pulls his feet up to the arm of the chair and just lets Derek hold him there.

"I never wanted anyone else," he says, nosing at the spot under Derek's chin, kissing his neck.

It's true. Even when Stiles had a wrist-slittingly emo-huge crush on Lydia for the better part of his young life, it was never more than surface deep. It was never something Stiles thought about in the forever sense.

oOo

His dad seems to understand that what Stiles has with Derek isn't the average level of teenage love. It's deeper, stronger, made of something so thick that even the universe itself couldn't break it.

"I wouldn't want to try to keep you two apart," he tells Stiles over dinner. "Not after that."

Stiles doesn't know which 'that' he's referring to—the time spent together in the past, or the fact that Derek brought Stiles back from the brink of death—but he'll take it.

The sheriff knows what Derek has been through. Stiles has seen the file, knows his dad was there that day. His dad's not a cruel man. He may have had issues with Derek in the past—admittedly, Stiles' fault—but Stiles knows he's capable of seeing deeper than that. His dad wouldn't want to be another reason on the long list of things that have drained the happiness from Derek's life.

"How old were you when you met Mom?" They don't usually talk about her, not since Stiles quit going to counselling when he was little. His therapist had told them it was good to remember, to discuss her as frequently as possible in order to keep her memory alive.

The gap between father and son was too great, though, each of them knowing her and loving her in completely different ways. It was easier to keep things to themselves, mostly.

"We met in high school when we were sixteen," his dad answers, coming up beside Stiles to help clean up their dinner mess. "We hated each other, our friends hated each other. It was pretty much meant-to-be."

"I can't imagine anyone hating her," Stiles says.

"It wasn't easy, but I tried. I was into sports and thought I was better than everyone else. She was a book nerd and actually was better than everyone else."

"What did it take for you to realize it?" It’s still hard for them to talk about her, but Stiles wants to know these things and, from the wistful look in his dad’s eyes and the small smile on his lips, he thinks his dad wants him to know, too.

"Oh, I guess it was a series of forced interactions. Our families started spending a lot of time together. Gave us the opportunity to get to know each other a little better."

Stiles remembers his mom telling that story differently, his dad coming across as more of a knight in shining armor than an arrogant high school football player. But in the end, it's all the same. Everyone gets a better look at what's inside when they take the time to scratch at the surface.

oOo

The program from his mother's funeral is tucked away at the bottom of Stiles' desk drawer. He looks at the picture on the front, her face smiling back at him from the lifeless image on the cardstock. Stiles pulls the program out, traces the embossed words on the front with his fingertip, In loving memory...

And then he opens it; something he hasn't ever done before, though he already knows what's inside. To the right is a list of all the people who spoke at her funeral, all the hymns that were sung, and the pallbearers who helped to carry her casket. Stiles' name is listed as an honorary pallbearer, having been too small still at the time to actually bear any of the weight himself. On the left side, the inside cover of the program, a quote his father had chosen. Stiles can't help but smile at the words as he reads over them. He remembers them from the funeral, remembers most of everything from that day, but he'd never really grasped the full sentiment of it before. Where most people would choose to put a poem or a Bible passage, Stiles' dad had chosen to commemorate his wife's life, to note the sorrow of her passing, with a line by Dr. Seuss:

Sometimes, you will never know the true value of a moment, until it becomes a memory.

His mother loved her Saturdays at the library. She loved reading to children—to Stiles—passing on her love of books to the next generation of readers.

Stiles is grateful for those moments, for the chance he was given to go back to them, listen more carefully, hold on to them more tightly, appreciate them more greatly than his seven-year-old self had been able to.

He folds the program closed and puts it back in its place in the drawer, a smile still on his face and the memory of her last 'I love you' still fresh in his mind.

oOo

Stiles is sprawled out on Derek’s bed watching The Dark Knight Rises on his laptop and hoping to catch a glimpse of Tom Hardy’s thighs when Derek steps out of the bathroom, a cloud of steam billowing out around him. Stiles chuckles as he thinks of cheesy-dramatic werewolf horror movie effects, but his musing is cut short when he registers the fact that Derek is wearing only a towel, his chest glistening with moisture from the shower.

Derek crawls up from the foot of the bed and fits himself in the space between Stiles’ legs, wiggling around to get comfortable before folding his arms over Stiles’ stomach and resting his head on them. He lets out a contented little sigh, and Stiles goes back to watching the movie, sliding his fingers into Derek’s hair. It’s still warm from the shower, and Stiles can smell the sharp, clean scent of Derek’s soap with every move of his hand. It wraps him up in memories of the past, before Stiles left 2013, and even while he was there with Derek in 2003. It makes Stiles’ heart ache with gratitude for all he has now.

“Are you staying?” Derek asks, just when Stiles thinks he may have been drifting off to sleep on top of him. He sounds a little nervous—worried, maybe.

Stiles has only spent a handful of nights at Derek’s house since he’s been back. Most of those involved sleepless nights full of conversation until the sun streamed through the windows, rays of warmth painting their skin and dragging them off into a shallow sleep. 

“Yeah,” Stiles says, closing the laptop and pushing it to the other side of the bed. “Hope that’s okay.”

Derek laughs sleepily against Stiles’ chest. “Of course it is. I always want you here.”

Stiles just watches him for a while, continues to slide his fingers through the soft strands of Derek’s hair and concentrates on the pattern of his breathing.

Derek falls asleep like that, still wrapped in a towel, and pinning Stiles beneath him. 

oOo

With all the school work Derek's mom had made him do, Stiles is able to test out of the subjects he'd fallen behind on in his absence. He graduates on time, along with Scott, just like they'd always planned.

Stiles is pleasantly surprised to see Cora there in the auditorium, sitting between Derek and Stiles' dad. His enthusiastic wave to her is greeted with a roll of her eyes and a tiny smile she's trying too hard to bite back.

The class of 2013 holds a graduation party at one of the clubs downtown, and even though the last night they'd danced together doesn't hold the most pleasant of memories, Stiles drags Derek along to it, determined to make new ones.

The Blue Sail is Beacon Hills’ only alcohol-free nightclub. It isn’t Stiles’ first choice for a post-graduation party, but Lydia and Cora want to dance, and Stiles just wants to be anywhere Derek is, so the group lets the girls call the shots tonight.

Isaac seems to fit right in, moving smoothly into the dimly-lit room and sliding into the crowd of teenagers with a sly smile on his face. They won’t have to worry about him tonight. Scott drags Stiles up to the bar, orders a few Cokes, then somehow—despite the chaotic cocktail of teenage aromas—manages to sniff out Derek who’s found and procured a corner table.

Scott’s been a good sport about Derek and Stiles since he found out about them. He laughs and jokes with them, doesn’t even avert his gaze anymore when Stiles reaches out to touch Derek or lace their fingers together. Still, the amount of relief in his expressive eyes is blatantly clear when Allison arrives about a half hour into the night and pulls him out onto the dance floor.

Stiles loves his best friend, and missed him so much, but it’s probably for the best that he’s well distracted now. Stiles can’t seem to keep his hands off Derek. It feels like it’s been so long since he’s been allowed to touch him.

It’s different now. Derek’s different. He’s still the person Stiles knows and loves, the person he spent all those months with, and the person he was even before Stiles got pulled into the past. But physically, he’s still not the Derek Stiles is used to touching. Stiles likes to scratch his blunt nails over the stubble on Derek’s jaw now, feel it against his own neck when Derek sucks at that spot behind Stiles’ ear. He likes running his hands over the more broad expanse of Derek’s shoulders, or tracing the curves of the triskele tattoo between his shoulder blades.

Stiles just always wants to touch him, be as close to him as physically possible.

With that in mind, he stands up and tugs Derek out onto the dance floor, pushing his way through the crowd to where he sees Isaac and Cora dancing together under the spinning lights.

Stiles doesn’t even bother with the beat of the music, just presses himself against Derek and moves in whatever way happens to feel good.

Derek’s fingers are gripping Stiles’ hips, holding him close, even though he isn't really moving to the music either. His whole focus seems to be narrowed down to Stiles and nothing else. He leans in, rests his forehead against Stiles', eyes closed and lips parted.

He looks so soft and open, and suddenly Stiles is very aware of their surroundings, of the suffocating number of people in the club. He wants Derek to himself.

Stiles pulls back and starts to lead Derek to the exit.

"Hold on," Derek says, when they're close enough to feel the cool night breeze coming through the open door. "There's something I've been wanting to tell you for a while now." Derek's gaze is soft, his eyebrows arched just slightly as he leans into Stiles' space. He wraps his arms tightly around his waist again, blots out all the vacant space between them with the firm press of their bodies.

Stiles can barely hear Derek over the thrum of music around them, but he knows Derek has no trouble hearing him when he asks, a little quietly, "What's that?"

Derek turns his head, breathes out deliberately slow against Stiles ear, then drags his lips up the edge of it. Stiles love-hates when he does that. It sends a spike of want shooting through him and melts his ability to focus.

"Lucy—"

"Stiles," he corrects teasingly, tilting his head to the side so Derek will continue along his path of total destruction.

Derek laughs, kisses Stiles' neck, then continues. "Peter... Edmund..."

It takes Stiles' mind a full three seconds before he catches on to the pattern of names Derek is listing off, but by the time all the cogs click into place, it's too late to pull away. Derek is holding him firm, lips pressed to Stiles' ear as he continues to sway them both to the music.

"They all die," he says, and oh my god, Stiles so wants to punch him.

"Did you seriously just do that?" he asks, struggling half-heartedly to pull away from Derek.

Derek shakes with laughter as he nods against Stiles' neck.

"You are such a dick," Stiles says.

"I think you spoiling the Harry Potter books for me deserved at least that level of retaliation."

"That's so not the same," Stiles replies. "Yours was a pre-quarter-life crisis, mine was a twelve year investment!"

Stiles is really enjoying the warm press of Derek's body against his, the firmness of the arms around his back and just the closeness he's always longing for, but he still makes a weak attempt at pulling away.

"That's heartbreaking," he says. "My heart is actually broken. And now there's no point in even finishing those books. Way to ruin all my life goals, Derek."

"There's still plenty of reason," Derek says on the edge of a laugh. "I'll even read them to you. How's that?"

oOo

Some things have changed since Stiles was away.

Derek has his own place now. Not a burned out memory in the shape of a broken house, or a hollowed-out train car that echoes the emptiness within him. The loft above the warehouse held too many unpleasant memories, too, and Stiles wonders how many times Derek will have to move to shake off the shadows that fill the rooms of places he calls home.

His new apartment feels welcoming to Stiles, in contrast to the oppressive darkness of the places he's had over the last couple years.

It's light and open, with wide windows in every room.

Derek still doesn't trust the calmness that's settled over Beacon Hills. He doesn't let his guard down or allow himself to relax very often, and there are still boxes in every corner of the apartment, packed and labeled for easy access.

He tells Stiles it doesn't matter, that things have never held much value to him, but Stiles knows it isn't lack of interest in what's inside the boxes that keeps Derek from making this place feel more like a home. It's the thought of having to look at those things every day, lay them all out and pretend his life is normal when really, it's been anything but for ten years now. He keeps what few personal belongings he owns packed away, out of sight, and ready to go in case he has to leave again on short notice.

But that isn't the case anymore. With the Beacon Hills Pack together and stronger than it's been since Derek's family was occupying the town, it's safe now. Safer anyway.

Stiles drags a box out of one of the corners in the living room while Derek goes into the kitchen to get them drinks. He won't touch the boxes labeled "Laura's," but this is what Stiles does. He spends time with Derek, slowly unpacking his life piece-by-piece and reminding him that it's okay to live, to be happy, even if it isn't in the same way he would have been. And Derek lets him, even though he tells Stiles it doesn't matter, that "home" isn't actually a place at all.

The box is lined with books; replacements, Stiles thinks, for the ones Derek lost in the fire. Under them all, though, is a little wooden box that Stiles recognizes from the treehouse.

"It's still in there," Derek says, leaning against the doorway of the kitchen.

Stiles looks up at him, then back at the box. He wonders if this is one of the things he actually should ask permission to open, but before he has the chance to, Derek is sliding down beside him on the couch and lifting the lid of the box.

There's a crumpled wad of paper inside, balled up tightly and a little frayed around the visible edges. Stiles pulls it out and turns it over in his hand. He feels Derek's fingers slip up the back of his shirt and tickle along his skin there, but Derek isn't stopping him, so Stiles unwads the ball of paper, looking over at Derek to make sure it's okay.

Derek just continues to scratch along Stiles' lower back, looks at him with a tight smile and the arch of an eyebrow. Stiles smiles back at him, at the way his expression seems to give the permission his voice doesn't.

He flattens the paper against his knee, and reads over Derek's list of eighteen things. Stiles' eyes linger on a few that have been crossed out somewhere in the years between: Finish the treehouse; roadtrip with Laura; go to the beach once a week for a year to watch the sunset; and get accepted into Berkley. He tries not to choke on grief as he reads the ones that don't have lines through them, like dance with mom; teach Sam to ride his bike; and learn to put others before myself.

Stiles fishes a pencil out of the box and crosses off that last one, along with one that reads "learn how to cook" and another, "learn to better control the shift". It doesn’t matter that those things came after Derek turned eighteen. Stiles still intends to help him work his way down and cross off as many as he can.

Derek takes the list from Stiles, crumples it up again, and puts it back in the box, before leaning into him and pressing his lips to Stiles'. It's just a quick kiss, sweet and innocent and Stiles can feel the unspoken appreciation in it. He smiles at Derek before turning his attention back to the box.

Derek's worn copy of The Silver Chair is also there, cover torn and pages bent, but what's most noticeable is the fluorescent pink slip of paper poking out of the top. It matches the one Stiles found in his own copy of the book. Stiles pulls it out and reads the words on it. And, yeah, it's definitely the same. It's clear to Stiles why Derek would find that particular passage important, now that Stiles knows what had happened to send him back to 2003 in the first place.

He laughs a little at the strangeness of his life, then puts the book back in the box, but not before pulling a folded envelope out from the bottom.

"That's what I was talking about," Derek says. "I kept it in there. Hope you don't mind."

Stiles shakes his head, because of course he doesn't mind. Derek had nothing else of Stiles to hold onto all that time. No physical reminders of their time together.

He unfolds the envelope and reads over the note he'd written to his younger self. It's strange to think he'd written it just over a month ago, and yet Derek's had it for nearly a decade.

"Is it okay if I just... Can I leave it in there?" he asks.

Derek nods. "Yeah," he says. "It would probably be wrong to take it away from its home anyway." He smiles again, the sight of it causing a warmth to spread through Stiles' chest.

Stiles puts the note back into the box and sets it on the coffee table.

oOo

Derek kisses the place on Stiles' chest almost reverently; the spot where the phantom scar is, the mark that would have signified the end of Stiles' life if Derek hadn't rearranged the fabric of time for him. There's nothing there but unmarred skin, but Derek still sees it anyway, still runs his hands along the spot every chance he gets, as if he needs the reassurance of feeling for himself.

Stiles lets him, of course, because he understands, and because he still just needs Derek as close as he can be all the time. It doesn't seem like that's a feeling that will ever fade, and Stiles is perfectly okay with that.

Derek’s kneeling on the bed, in the space between Stiles’ parted knees, one hand resting on the mattress beside him as he leans over Stiles to press soft kisses to his skin. He glances up to meet Stiles’ eyes, and there’s so much depth in that one quick gaze that it causes a ripple of longing and affection to pass through Stiles. He sucks in a breath, holds it as Derek's fingers curl around Stiles' ribcage and press against his back, warm in contrast to the cool sheets of the bed.

"Come up here," Stiles says. He threads his fingers into Derek's hair and gives a gentle tug, guides him into a deep, searing kiss. His tongue tastes the same as it always has, the same as Stiles remembers from all those months together, and the last few weeks. Derek tastes like home.

This is familiar to him, the press of Derek's body against his, the smell of his skin, the careful touch of his fingers all sparking Stiles' awareness, reminding him of everything they've done together, everything they are together. But it's different, too. It's new, because this is the Derek Stiles had known before, the Derek Stiles had rarely allowed himself to fantasize about this way.

Derek drags his fingertips up the side of Stiles’ neck, tracing along the edge of his jaw, tipping his head to mouth at Stiles’ throat. His breath is unsteady and hot against Stiles’ skin and Stiles aches with how much he wants him. He wants Derek in every way he can have him. But there's some deep-seated fear of rejection set into place from before Stiles left, before he really knew Derek, and though Stiles recognizes it to be completely ridiculous and unfounded—especially with Derek pressed against him the way he is now—it’s still there, the tiniest hint of nervousness at what they're going to do. It’s normal, Stiles knows. It has more to do with the fact that it will be their first time together, that it will be his first time. It's barely noticeable, just there, buried in his thoughts like so many other things. Stiles pushes it down, uses that space in his mind instead to focus on the feel of Derek's mouth against his.

There's an urgency now, in every slide of skin, every kiss, teetering on the edge of desperation. Derek tips Stiles' chin up, sucks kiss-shaped marks to the column of his throat, hums his pleasure against Stiles' skin, and Stiles is overwhelmed with the need to have Derek everywhere.

He arches up, gently latches onto Derek’s throat, sucking and scraping his teeth against the rough stubble before Derek moves to steal a messy kiss that's mostly tongue and teeth and want.

Stiles drags his hands down Derek's sides, grips his hips to pull him down harder.

"Need you," he says on a shaky exhale between biting kisses. And, God, it's true. For the first time since he's been back, Stiles is glad he doesn't have the full experience of having known Derek, of loving him and then going ten years without any of this. 

Derek nods in understanding, his tongue tracing the outline of Stiles’ bottom lip before kissing him again. He shifts his body enough to cause a drag of friction against Stiles' dick, and Stiles whimpers and parts his legs further.

"In me," he adds, feeling a bit more bold. "Now."

Derek goes still on top of him, his weight pressing down on Stiles' chest and face buried in the crook of his neck.

Stiles thinks for a heart-stopping second that maybe Derek isn't going to, doesn't want Stiles that way yet. But then he's slipping a hand between them, undoing the button of Stiles' jeans, pushing the zipper down and dropping kisses to Stiles' shoulder and collarbone.

"Yeah?" he asks, tilting his head to look at Stiles, and all Stiles can do is nod and press his fingertips into Derek's skin. “You sure you want it that way for your first time?” The tone of his voice, the sincerity and concern, causes something in Stiles’ chest to loosen. “I mean, you don’t want to be the one—”

“I’m sure,” Stiles says, because, while the prospect of being inside Derek certainly interests him, Stiles doesn’t feel in control of himself or his emotions enough for that right now. Not tonight.

Derek just watches him for a moment, and Stiles is sure he can hear the thrum of his heart pounding against his rib cage, but it isn’t a lie. It’s what he wants now; there will be time to do everything else later. Derek holds his gaze until he seems to be satisfied with what he sees there, then he leans in and presses his parted lips to Stiles’.

Derek licks and kisses a path down Stiles' body, taking his time to touch everywhere he can, all the places he hasn't before, and the spots his fingers have forgotten since.

He strips Stiles' clothes off, drags his palms over the sensitive skin of his inner thighs. Stiles doesn’t even really have time to process his self-awareness or be shy about the fact that he’s now completely exposed before Derek presses his legs apart and sucks a wet kiss into his skin there.

"God, Derek," Stiles tries to say, but the words tumble out as a whimper when Derek presses his tongue, hot and wet, to the spot just behind Stiles' balls and drags it all the way down.

If ever there were a time to feel at all self-conscious, Stiles thinks it would be now, with his legs spread and Derek’s tongue on him, but, God, it feels too fucking good to think about anything else. Stiles’ has never been so aware of how receptive his body is, all the nerve endings in him prickling to the height of alertness, amplifying every single touch, each swipe of Derek’s tongue.

Stiles reaches out to him, curls a hand around Derek' shoulder, digs his fingers into the muscle and tries to focus on the roll of it as Derek moves.

He opens Stiles up, alternating between teasing, feather-light touches and stabbing thrusts of his tongue, managing to go deeper each time. Stiles whimpers, his dick leaking onto his stomach, and he vaguely wonders if he could actually come from this alone.

When Derek finally presses a slick finger against Stiles' hole, pushing just the tip in before pulling back out again, Stiles is ready to beg for it. He needs to feel Derek inside him, filling him up, stretching him open.

"Now, Derek. Come on," he says, voice shaky and rough.

Derek drops another kiss to his thigh, pushes in deeper this time. He crooks his finger inside Stiles, slowly dragging against a spot inside him that causes tiny sparks to pulse through his veins all the way down to his toes. Stiles whines, hips jerking involuntarily as he searches for more. And then Derek adds another, tongue licking the stretched skin around his own fingers, blurring Stiles’ thoughts and making him rock into Derek's touch helplessly.

Derek pulls back, but only for a second, and Stiles watches as he shifts around, slides his own pants down and tosses them off the side of the bed. Derek leans back over Stiles, kisses the tip of his dick and then slides his lips down over him.

Stiles arches up off the bed, twists his fingers into Derek's hair. His mouth hangs open on a silent gasp as he's engulfed by the heat of Derek's mouth, the gentle sucking and the tease of his tongue on the underside of Stiles' dick.

"Oh my God," Stiles says, and just when he's sure he couldn't possibly take anymore of this kind of blinding pleasure, Derek's fingers are sliding into him again, dragging and twisting in slow motion as he swallows around Stiles' cock.

"Derek," Stiles rasps. He hopes like hell Derek can hear the warning in it. Stiles doesn't want to come like this—not this time—but he's sure he's going to if Derek doesn't stop.

Stiles gasps his name again, tugs at Derek's hair just enough to pull his mouth off of him.

His eyes are glossy when he looks up at Stiles, the green of them intensified, his lips red and full as his tongue peeks out to drag along the bottom one. His gaze moves over Stiles’ body in a way that makes Stiles’ dick even harder, throbbing with need.

Derek shifts Stiles' leg over his shoulder, rolls him onto his side and slides up behind him. With his palm flat against Stiles' stomach, he pulls him close, presses their bodies together and mouths along Stiles' shoulder and neck. Stiles is breathing heavy, so close to coming already that he isn’t sure how this is supposed to actually go on.

Derek seems to be aware of this, too. Stiles is sure he can smell it, can hear it in the skip of Stiles’ heartbeat. He holds him for a minute, waiting for Stiles to catch his breath, and just fitting there so perfectly, snug and warm against the curve of Stiles’ back, and Stiles sort of melts into him.

“You okay?” Derek asks after a minute.

Stiles can’t even find the words to respond to that, so he just turns his head, angles his shoulders enough to kiss Derek. It’s awkward and sloppy, and Stiles thinks he should probably find it at least a little bit dirty considering where Derek’s mouth has just been, but he doesn’t care. It’s fucking perfect.

"It'll be more comfortable for you like this," Derek says.

Logically, it makes sense, even though Stiles really wants to be able to kiss Derek, to touch him and see him. He's satisfied with the knowledge that they've got a whole spectrum of things to explore together, and this won't be the only opportunity. There's no limit of time hanging over them here, now. Not like before.

"Yeah," Stiles says. "Okay."

Derek kisses the corner of Stiles' mouth, slides his fingers back into him, slowly, hitting a new angle from the changed position and causing Stiles to shudder with the pleasure of it.

He's readjusting to the sensation of someone else inside him again when Derek pulls his fingers back, replaces them with the head of his cock at Stiles' entrance.

Stiles drags his knee up. He's hard and leaking precome onto the bed, but he doesn't even care, can't think clearly enough to take hold of his own cock. He just wants Derek inside him. He knows Derek's dick is much thicker than his fingers, but Stiles can take it. He wants it.

Derek doesn't push in, though. He's just kissing Stiles' shoulder, rubbing circles onto Stiles' hip with his thumb.

Stiles reaches down and grabs his hand, laces their fingers together, and brings it up to his lips. He kisses Derek's palm, mouths at his wrist and traces the line of tendons with his tongue.

And then Derek is sliding into him slowly, and Stiles' fingers release their grip on his hand, twitch against the sheets before scrambling for purchase, gripping and twisting as the heavy pressure of Derek's cock fills him up.

The stretch is more than Stiles expected, but it isn't painful, not really. It isn't hurt, just a sort of awareness, like pinching yourself to see if you’re dreaming. Stiles is acutely aware of everything in that moment: Derek's hot skin against his, the groan he presses into Stiles' neck, the cool air of the room around them and the rapid thrum of his own heart.

Derek touches Stiles everywhere he can; soft strokes and gentle, soothing caresses as he holds still, allowing Stiles time to adjust to the feel of him inside. Stiles doesn't need it, though. It feels good to finally have Derek this way, to be completely surrounded by him.

It seems like hours pass, and somehow, no time at all, and Stiles wonders somewhere at the edge of his consciousness if that's something that will always be there; if the sense of time standing still will be a regular thing to expect between him and Derek.

He reaches back, grips Derek's hip, makes a broken sound as Derek breathes against his throat, and then Stiles pushes back.

Derek takes the hint. He presses his lips to the back of Stiles' neck, and starts to move, slow, shallow thrusts that cause Stiles' breath to hitch and make him tremble. It feels so good, but it still isn’t enough.

“More,” he says, and it’s so quiet and scratchy, but Derek hears him.

He pulls out and pushes in harder, deeper, his hand pressed flat against Stiles’ lower belly, and Stiles cries out when Derek hits that spot again and again with almost brutal force. Stiles finds himself thinking about how badly he had wanted to permanently imprint himself into younger Derek’s memory, how he needed to be a part of him that Derek would never forget, and he thinks this must be the same thing. He needs it like this, hard and deep and lasting, and Derek certainly doesn't disappoint.

He slips his hand between Stiles' thighs, lifts his leg to get a better, deeper angle, and Stiles actually sees sparks of light behind his closed eyelids, the drag of Derek's cock, so deep inside Stiles, warm and thick, singeing his nerves.

Stiles is coming apart on Derek's cock, the feel of his hands on Stiles' skin, holding him close, drawing him out of his mind and into a chaotic whirlwind of sensation.

A crescendo of cracked and broken noises fill the empty spaces around them and Stiles thinks maybe it's him. Maybe it's both of them. Every touch of Derek's hand, every press of his lips against sweat-slick skin is stripping Stiles bare, taking all of the apprehension, the doubt, the self-awareness from before and leaving Stiles raw and exposed, vulnerable in a way he'd never be okay with if it was anyone else.

Stiles feels like he's being rearranged, taken apart at Derek's will and pieced back together as something better, something more. Like all of the missing pieces of his life over the last few years have been found, dusted off and sanded around the edges to fit more perfectly. Stiles is whole and complete for the first time ever; found after a thousand lifetimes of aimless wandering.

He turns his face into the pillow, wipes away the tear he feels trailing down, and reaches his hand up to curl around the back of Derek's neck.

Derek presses a kiss to the hot skin of Stiles' shoulder, holds him tight, buried deep inside Stiles' body, and rolls their hips together as one. It's not so much a thrust this time as a steady, reassuring pressure, a feeling of fullness Stiles has never even dreamt of before. Derek is seeping into every part of him, filling him up completely. 

It's so much. It's almost too much. He chokes back a sob, a broken and quiet sound muffled into the pillow, unable to control the rush of emotions that overwhelm him, that seem to make up his entire existence right now.

Derek is shushing him from somewhere distant and yet so fucking close. His fingers are stroking Stiles' skin, gentle touches intended more for reassurance than pleasure.

He's whispering against Stiles' ear, soft words of affection that snap at Stiles' heartstrings, tug him out of the space he's tumbling into and tether him more firmly to Derek and to this moment.

When Derek finally wraps his fingers around Stiles' dick, it takes only a few short strokes before Stiles feels the heat of his orgasm coiling deep inside him, rushing through him like a wave. His release spurts out of him, hot and thick, and Stiles rocks back against Derek with each pulse of it.                

Every one of his muscles tense, contracting and squeezing around Derek until Stiles can feel the slick pulse of Derek deep inside him as he comes, too, shuddering through his orgasm and making pleased noises against Stiles' skin as he continues to rock into him.

When Stiles is finally aware of his surroundings again, he's flat on his back, sprawled out on the bed with Derek draped half over him, kissing Stiles, gentle and unhurried.

"I've missed you so much," Derek whispers, dragging his hand down Stiles' side to rest on his hip.

Stiles gathers up the energy it takes to bring his arms around Derek. He holds him close, with no intention of ever letting him go again.

oOo

"Do you have any idea how tempting that kind of power is?"

Stiles shrugs. "Yeah. I guess it's like finding the Sorcerer's Stone, or wielding the One Ring." He hasn't really thought of it that way before, but now that Deaton is drawing it to the surface, laying it out in front of him, it makes sense.

"Maybe it's best not to tell others the details of your adventure," Deaton says. "I doubt that anyone else would be able to replicate that kind of magic, even with all the right pieces of the connection, but we're better safe than sorry."

The right pieces, Stiles thinks. Pieces like an inhuman level of desperation and will, filaments between two forces, too thick to be snapped or frayed. Forces like Stiles and Derek.

Stiles glances over at Derek who's leaning against the wall, arms crossed over his chest, looking down at the ground and smiling distantly.

He's heard of mating bonds and life bonds, read about pack bonds and even some magical bonds, but what Stiles and Derek have between them is something new and different. Something mostly undocumented aside from a handful of theories that most people turn their noses up at.

What they have is completely their own, and entirely untouchable. Stiles can't wait to build new memories with Derek. Not duplicate past ones or rearrange existing ones, but create new ones together, like the universe expected from the beginning.

Derek leads Stiles out of the clinic, tracing the string on Stiles' wrist with his fingers, the way he always does.