metisket: (dgm tattoo)
[personal profile] metisket

It was creepy enough when Derek thought Stiles was just lurking. He was willing to forgive that, since the kid was clearly some kind of emotional and physical wreck. Besides, he seemed harmless.

But this? This is not harmless.

“What are they?” he demands, glaring at one of the many trees near the house that now has freaky magical carvings in it.

“Nothing to worry about,” Philip reassures him absently. “All good things. He must really like our family, for some reason.”

“Oh.” Well. That makes it…weirder but significantly less creepy. “So he’s, what? Doodling good wishes or something?”

“Derek. No.” Philip traces a gentle finger over the mark on the tree. “This is…the amount of energy that went into this, I just—there are very few people who could’ve built all this and survived. I couldn’t have.”

Okay, what? Why? What have they ever done for Stiles? Nothing. They’ve done nothing for Stiles, and there’s no reason in hell for him to exhaust himself trying to protect them. This is coming back around to creepy again.

“How long did you say he’s been hanging around out here?” Philip asks.

Derek shrugs. He doesn’t know why everyone thinks he’s the kid’s keeper. “A month, maybe more. Laura talks to him more than I do, ask her.”

Philip gives him a really annoying side-eye-and-smirk, but he doesn’t, thank God, comment. “Right. Well, I’m not an expert on this kind of ward, but I do know that this is a sort of general protection. Almost like a good luck charm. Except for one thing—fire. There are so many fireproofing wards, I can’t even count them. I think somebody could napalm our house, and all that would happen is the place would smell weird.” He spreads a palm over one of the designs on the bark, almost reverent. “I wonder why he’s so worried about fire in particular.”

“I want to know why he’s so worried about us in particular,” Derek insists.

He’s treated to another side-eye-and-smirk. He’s seriously considering fratricide.

“I also have to wonder who trained him,” Philip goes on, thankfully not giving Derek crap. For now. “He’s local, right? So Alan should’ve trained him, but he’s never been to the clinic, as far as I know.”

And Philip would know; he works at the clinic sometimes. “Could someone passing through have taught him?”

“I doubt it.” Philip frowns. “This isn’t something you could teach quickly. It should’ve taken months, and anyone here for months with this level of training—we would’ve noticed.”

“Could he have taught himself?” It seems like the kind of harebrained thing Stiles might try.

“Mm…not at his age, I wouldn’t think. Teaching yourself takes time because you have to sort out what’s true and what’s myth. No, to know this much this young? He must know an expert.”

“…The kind of expert who might understand what’s going on with the rogue omegas?” Derek asks thoughtfully.

“You have to wonder,” Philip murmurs in agreement, pulling his hand back from the carving and leaning absently against Derek. “And if so, you also have to wonder if that knowledge is why Stiles felt the need to ward the hell out of our house.”

Derek sighs in frustration and Philip nudges his shoulder, amused. This is Stiles all over. Five new questions about him come up every day, and nothing ever, ever gets answered. It’s like he was created specifically to make Derek tear his hair out.

And it doesn’t help that everyone else seems so fond of him.

* * *

“Stiles,” John calls out as his son walks in the door. “Come here for a second. Have a seat.”

Stiles pauses in the doorway, eyeing him with extreme wariness. Fair. They haven’t had a sit-down chat for a while, and it generally doesn’t bode well for Stiles when they do. He makes his way over obediently enough, though, and sits. “…Okay. Hey, Dad.”

“Hey, son. So I had an interesting conversation with the Hales a few days ago.” And they’ve been on conflicting schedules ever since. John is dying of curiosity by now. “They mentioned how often you’re over there.”

He lets that percolate. Stiles cringes slightly. “Ah,” he says eventually. “About that.”

And then he…stops. Stiles Stilinski stops talking. John wasn’t particularly worried before, but he’s worrying now. “Laura tried to convince me that you’d smelled her mother’s meatloaf and wandered in from the woods.” Leaving aside what Derek had to say.

“Her mother does make some delicious-smelling meatloaf,” Stiles agrees helpfully.

“Except that the Hale house is miles from anywhere you have any reason to be. Why were you close enough to smell meatloaf, Stiles?”

“Yeeeeah. I was…” he trails off, eyes wandering toward the window. It’s becoming less likely by the second that the next thing to come out of his mouth will actually be the truth. “You know that fugitive?”

John can feel the headache coming on already. “Yeah, I’m familiar.”

“I, ah. Kind of thought I might know where he was hiding?”

Stiles.” Oh God, this had better be the truth, because if this is the lie that Stiles thinks is better than the truth, John’s going to die of a Stiles-induced heart attack. Forget the curly fries.

“I know!” Stiles says, waving his hands around wildly. “It was a terrible idea! What would I have done if I’d been right, right? But I just—I thought I knew and I had to see, and, yeah. Turns out I didn’t know, and that was probably lucky. And on the way back, I basically ran into the Hale place. Have you seen their place?”

“Their place is ridiculous,” John allows, because it is. It looks like it belongs in a miniature model village in someone’s garage.

“Yeah, so I was kind of, um, hanging around staring at it in a way that might’ve been construed as stalkerish.”

“And you got caught.” This explains Derek’s attitude, at least.

“I blamed the meatloaf.”

“Did anyone actually believe that?”

“They pretended to?”

“Great, so now they think you’re homeless. Or abused.”

“I made a serious effort to talk them down from that assumption!”

John sighs and puts his head in his hands. “Don’t you have homework to do?”

“Yeah, yep, I will get on that right now. Night, Dad!”

“Night, son. Love you.”

“Love you!”

He dashes upstairs like a small herd of elephants. It’s comforting, familiar. Stiles is fine. Still reckless and prone to minor yet embarrassing trouble, as always, but fine.

Or at least, he is if John buys his story, which John isn’t entirely sure he does. It sounds plausible. It sounds plausible. Just bad enough to be believable.

Precisely calculated to sound bad enough to be believable?

John sighs again and pulls out the file on the fugitive. If he’s going to be in cop brain mode, he might as well use it for his paying job. As for Stiles…

He thinks he’ll be keeping a closer eye on Stiles from now on.

* * *

Stiles heads over to the Hale’s the day after the terrible Dad talk, because, clearly, he needs to get out of here sooner rather than later. He hasn’t even finished the semester and already Dad knows something’s rotten.

He doesn’t want to have to start up the whole lying to Dad habit again. He’d just barely gotten to stop with that in his last universe. He’d really enjoyed getting to stop with that in his last universe. No backsliding, please God.

He knocks on the door, and Derek is the one who comes to answer it. Derek is totally the errand boy of the Hale family, isn’t he? Learning that is enough to brighten Stiles’s day all on its own.

“Derek!” Stiles says cheerfully, totally ignoring the scowl, because he now knows for a fact that the scowl is just covering the fact that Derek’s happy to see him and confused about why; it is so nice to have his tattoo back. (Besides, this Derek’s scowling doesn’t hold a candle to Stiles’s Derek’s scowling.) “So, hey, I was wondering if I could see your family’s library?”

This Derek has also introduced Stiles to a brand new Derek face: his eyebrows do this crazy tilty thing and his mouth curls down on one side and it’s like his whole face is yelling, What the fuck, Stiles? Stiles likes it; it’s his favorite Derek face.

“Our library,” Derek repeats blankly.

“Yeah. Deaton says it’s the best on the continent.”

“You know Deaton?

“Sure.” As of this week, he knows multiple Deatons.

“Really?” Derek demands incredulously. “This is how you’re doing this? No explanation, you just walk up here one day like, ‘Hi, I’m a witch, I want access to your magical library’?”

“I guess? Why, is there some etiquette to it that I’m messing up? I figured you knew, anyway. I did ward your whole place; you had to notice. And I’m pretty sure there’s nobody else hanging around your house all the time. Although maybe I’m wrong, and if I am…dude, what is it about you guys?”

Derek now looks like he really wants to grab Stiles and smack his head into something, but this Derek, unlike Stiles’s Derek, is too well-socialized to actually do that. Which makes messing with him like ten times more fun, poor guy.

“You’re in pain again,” Derek growls resentfully. Only Derek could swing resentful fretting. And God, no wonder the Argents figured him out—he is bad at this whole hiding-the-truth shtick. Does he actually think normal people can smell pain?

“I had Deaton give me a tattoo a couple days ago,” Stiles explains. “It’ll take a while to heal. Don’t worry about it.”

“Aren’t you too young for that? Let me see it.”

“What? No! Wait until it heals, jeez. Then we can have a tattoo-off. Frankly, I think mine is cooler than yours.” It’s certainly creepier. And…pretty likely to upset this Derek, come to think of it. Uh oh.

“What? I don’t have a tattoo. Why would you think I have a tattoo?”

Well, crap. “Uh, you seem like a tattoo kind of guy?”

Derek scrunches up his face. It’s a perplexed Derek face. Stiles fondly adds it to his ever-growing list. “I do?”

He really doesn’t, now that Stiles thinks about it. Or at least, not the kind of tattoo Stiles’s Derek had. The kind that says you’re trying desperately to hold on to something, and inking a symbol of it into your skin is the only way you know how. “Never mind. Hey, I hear you guys met my dad.”

“He mentioned that?”

“We had a whole uncomfortable chat about it, yeah. It was great. Thanks a lot.”

Derek rolls his eyes. “I tried to explain to Laura why you wouldn’t want him to know. She didn’t understand. I think she’s refusing to understand. Deliberately.”

“Uh huh.” Laura Hale, made of gleeful spite. Stiles knew he liked her. “Okay…well, anyway. Back to the point, which is: your library.”

Derek heaves a sigh like someone’s asking him to cut an arm off, but he backs away, letting Stiles in.

It’s weird, but Stiles hasn’t ever been inside the house before. Not the pre-burned house, anyway. Turns out the inside is just as unrealistically homey and nice as the outside. Unfortunately, there are also family members inside. Derek and Laura, fine, but Stiles seriously does not want to run into Peter, Cora confuses him badly, and the rest of the Hales are strangers to him. Strangers make him tired. Especially strangers he’s supposed to know, such as Rachel, so of course she and Cora appear in the entryway the instant Derek lets him in.

“Oh,” says Rachel, who has slightly wider eyes and lower cheekbones than Cora, which makes her look just a little wrong to Stiles’s eyes. “It’s you.”

“You smell different,” says Cora. “Like you, but not you.”

“Are you saying I smell?” Stiles asks. Because he doesn’t know what game they’re playing, but he’s still playing like he doesn’t know they’re werewolves.

“You don’t smell like you,” Rachel clarifies, rolling her eyes.

“That’s why we didn’t recognize you when you were sneaking around the house,” Cora informs him. “You smelled like a different person.”

This conversation would be seriously freaking him out if he didn’t know they were wolves. “Huh,” he says. “I guess that actually makes a weird kind of sense.”

“No, it doesn’t,” the twins say together. He wonders if they practice that trick. He knows for a fact that they’re cracking themselves up right now, because the tattoo spell runs on bloodlines, and Deaton could only limit it so much. Stiles can now emotionally eavesdrop on Dad, Scott, Derek, and Laura (according to plan), but also on Philip, the twins, and Peter’s kids, whose names Stiles still doesn’t even know. It’s a generational-by-family thing, apparently. Maybe. Deaton tried to explain it like five times and it still didn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Stiles used to have Dad, Scott, and Derek, and also Erica, Isaac, Boyd, Lydia, and, randomly, all of Boyd’s siblings and Lydia’s sister. He was just thinking about adding Allison when he crashed his car into Peter. Maybe he’ll add them all back again, someday. If he’s stuck here long enough. If they end up involved.

“Is that Stiles?” Philip asks, appearing in a doorway and beaming at him like they know each other. Which they don’t—this version of Stiles isn’t supposed to know Philip, either. He checked. “Derek, you managed to get him in the house! How much does Laura owe you?”

Stiles turns to stare incredulously at Derek. Who squirms. The twins laugh at him, and Stiles has to fight pretty hard not to join them. “You wanted me in the house?” Stiles asks, weirdly flattered. “Dude, you could’ve just asked.”

“You always said no when Laura asked,” Derek mumbles.

“Well, yeah, but—” But he wouldn’t have said no if Derek had asked, because, you know, he knows Derek. Also for other reasons he’s not allowed to think about because werewolves can smell that shit on you. And try explaining any of that in a way that doesn’t sound completely crazy and slightly alarming.

Philip, meanwhile, has read way too much into Stiles’s non-answer, and now he’s laughing harder than the twins.

“He wants the library,” Derek growls unhappily, pushing past Stiles and his laughing siblings and darting to the stairs. “You show him. You’re the nerd.”

Stiles would feel worse about this, but Derek isn’t really hurt, he’s just hideously embarrassed. That, Stiles knows from extensive, bitter experience, you get over. He puts Derek’s problems aside as minor and cuts through the ongoing laughter. “So you’re the library guide? Philip, right? Guide me to the library, please. I could definitely use guidance.” So much guidance. More than one wolf could possibly give him, but every little bit helps.

“Of course,” Philip says, eyeing him with unsettling interest. “It’s this way. And you should be doing homework, you two.”

“But—” Rachel starts.

“Mom will be home in an hour,” Philip reminds her. Both twins slump and skulk off to do their homework. Wow. So Mom’s the scary enforcer/probable alpha, huh? All Stiles has seen of her is an old picture from another world, but thinking back on it, it’s true that she didn’t look like somebody you’d want to mess with. Not that that was where Stiles’s focus had been at the time.

“Stiles?” Philip’s concerned. Stiles isn’t sure what emotion he smells like right now, but he really wishes Philip couldn’t smell it. God, they must all think he’s nuts.

“I’m fine,” he insists in defiance of the evidence. “I’m cool, I’m good. I am study-ready.”

Philip gives him a weird look, but doesn’t argue, just leads him downstairs to the library. Which is ridiculous, much like the rest of the house. It should be creepy because it’s in the basement, but it’s all warm cherry wood and mismatched, squishy chairs and soft light and books on books. There’s even a ladder going up to a little balcony that runs around a sort of second floor—second tier? Whatever. It’s only when Philip laughs at him that Stiles realizes he’s humming ‘Just You Wait, Henry Higgins.’

It’s surprisingly easy to find the book that goes with the rune because Philip is the best library assistant ever. It’s more a pamphlet than a book, actually—handwritten by some Hale ancestor specifically for this one pendant she made herself. Kind of a how-to guide. At least this explains why no one could tell Stiles anything about it once the pamphlet was lost in the fire—there was nothing else like it in the world. The Hale ancestor was the first werewolf to ever bind this rune to this metal and make this particular magic happen. But yeah, good news: the answer to Stiles’s question is easy to find.

Bad news: the answer is that there is no answer.

When the caster is dying and touches the pendant, the magic runs a kind of triage and decides whether or not it can repair the caster’s body. If it can’t, it sends the caster to the nearest compatible body that’s unoccupied and can be repaired. There are a lot of other things that factor into how the other body’s chosen, but the handwriting is cramped and Stiles doesn’t much care, so his eye skips over most of it, cutting to the chase.

Which is that there’s no way back.

The caster can’t send himself into a world with no compatible body. And Stiles’s body? His body’s broken, or else he’d be in it right now. Besides, it’s been a long time. Even if he came up with a way to fix really serious physical damage, he doesn’t think there’s any known way to fix, God, the fact that whatever parts of him Peter didn’t eat are either burned to ash or six feet under and rotting.

He’s trapped here. He’s stuck. He’s never going home, he’ll never see his dad again, he’ll never see his Scott again, he’ll never know if anyone survived

“Stiles?” Philip appears next to the table, frowning in worry. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” he breathes, a lie that’s going to be painfully obvious to the werewolf standing next to him. (Assuming Philip is a werewolf. Is Philip a werewolf?) “Yeah, it’s just. I was hoping there’d be an easy fix to a problem I’m having. Turns out there isn’t. Maybe there’s no fix at all. Maybe I’m just screwed.”

Philip feels sad for him to an extent that is very weird. “I’m sorry.”

How are you even related to Derek? That’s what Stiles would like to know. “Not your fault. You actually helped me out, so. Kind of the opposite of your fault, dude.”

Philip rolls his eyes, exasperated. “I mean I’m sorry that you’re upset. You and Derek are so alike sometimes.”

“Hey!” Stiles is offended by that.

“Definitely alike,” Philip insists, smiling.

“No, because for one thing, I know how to use words.”

“Yes, but you don’t really use them for their intended purposes, do you?”

“You just met me; you don’t get to be all insightful. It’s creepy.”

Philip shakes his head and laughs, successfully distracted. Win. Stiles is once again free to brood about the fact that this world may very well be the prison he’s going to die in, and he might eventually have to find a way to explain that to Dad.

On second thought, no, he’s not dealing with this right now. Or ever, by preference. Yeah, he’d really like to curl into a ball in the corner and cry, obviously he would, but he hasn’t got time for that. The pendant may be useless, but that doesn’t mean there’s no way back. Maybe he can bring this body along somehow. He’ll keep looking. It’s not over until he gives up, and he never gives up. He may be diagnosably crazy that way.

So in the meantime, he’s got to pull it together and adjust to the idea that he may be around for a while. Meaning he’d better get at least a little invested in what’s going on. Well, invested beyond basic self-defense and making sure psycho werewolves can’t bite Scott, nobody can burn down the Hale house, and nothing screws with Dad. Invested, like as in, actually working out why it is that everything supernatural is going nuts around here.

“Ssso…Philip,” he says, trying for casual. “What’s with all these crazy omegas, lately?”

Philip’s eyes fly wide. “You’ve noticed that?”

“Well. Yeah.”

How did you notice that?”

“Are animal attacks ever just animal attacks in this town? Ever?”

Philip’s lips twitch. “Not in my experience.”

“There you go. So, the omegas. What’s up with that?”

“Well.” Philip hesitates, a little cautious. “We’re not sure yet. It started about a year ago.”

Yeah, that’s when it all started going to hell in Stiles’s world, too. Coincidence? Probably not.

“I’m not the family expert,” Philip explains apologetically. “Peter and Felicia are the ones looking into it. You should talk to them. They only update me when they have something they want me to research for them, but they’d have told me if they’d made any real progress. Do you…want me to keep you updated? Or you could just talk to Peter and Felicia.”

“You’re easier to find,” Stiles says casually, because that’s totally the issue; it has nothing to do with his irrational fear of Peter. Ha ha. “Here, give me your number. I’ll text you for updates, like, constantly. You’re going to regret this so hard.”

“I don’t think I will,” Philip disagrees, smiling.

Stiles thinks it’s cute that he’s so optimistic. And also wrong, so very, very wrong.

* * *

“What did he want?” Derek demands.

“Derek,” Philip says absently, not looking up from the pamphlet he’s flipping through. “It’s nice to see you wandering down here among the books every so often. Maybe you’ll learn through proximity. Osmosis.”

Philip.”

Philip meets his eyes and smiles sweetly. “You could just ask him yourself, you know.”

Derek snarls, frustrated. “He lies.”

Philip sighs, smile fading. “You’ve got a point,” he allows. “He was looking for this.” And he holds up the pamphlet.

Derek grabs it and pages through, trying to make sense of what he’s seeing. The more he reads, the less sense it makes. “Isn’t this…this is your pendant, right?”

Philip pulls it out from under his shirt and shows it to Derek in confirmation.

“So did he ask you for the pendant?” Derek asks, confused.

“No. He didn’t even ask where he could find it. This pendant is basically a family secret, so I’m not sure how he knew about it in the first place. And why ask for the pamphlet instead of the pendant? It makes no sense.”

It’s comforting that Philip’s just as lost on this as Derek is, if only because that never happens. “Why would he…is he worried he’s going to die? But if that was it…”

“…Why didn’t he ask me for the pendant? Exactly.”

“And why would he be worried about dying in the first place?”

“Well.” Philip frowns. “He did ask what was causing all the rogue omegas.”

“He knows about that? How?”

“He wasn’t very forthcoming about how.”

“…Does he know we’re werewolves? Because he kind of acts like he does.”

“He wasn’t very forthcoming about that, either. To be fair, I didn’t ask.”

“Yeah, it’s not an easy thing to bring up. So, what, he thinks a rogue omega is going to kill him?”

“Or someone? Because remember, he showed no interest in the pendant itself. Just in how to use it.”

“So is he going to try to recreate the pendant?”

“He can’t carve the same rune and have it work the same way—it has to be carved by. By a werewolf. Oh.” Philip trails off, staring into the middle distance.

“Oh?” Derek repeats impatiently.

“He said there might not be a solution to his problem. He seemed…very upset.”

Derek and Philip stare at each other, one as confused as the other, and fun and new as that is for Derek, the novelty is quickly wearing off. It sounds like Stiles wanted to recreate an escape route, found out he couldn’t because he wasn’t a werewolf, and then wandered off in despair.

Is he worried that someone’s going to die? “Can witches see the future?”

“Not reliably,” Philip says, troubled. “And those who can…it’s usually their only skill. It should be impossible to set wards that strong and see the future.”

“He makes no sense,” Derek grumbles unhappily.

“True,” Philip agrees, smiling again. “I see why you like him.”

I do not like him.”

Philip’s smile becomes a smirk. Not for the first time, Derek really wishes Philip could smell killing rage. Humans cheat.

* * *

By the time Stiles gets back home, he’s decided that since he has to suck it up and deal with the inherited supernatural drama, he might as well suck it up and deal with the inherited high school drama, too. He’s even less enthused about the high school drama, though. Curse other!Stiles and all of his terrible life choices.

He implements his plan to find out what kind of trouble he’s in the next day at school, and yeah, he regrets it almost instantly.

“Hey Scott? I’ve been meaning to ask about this, but, uh…why does Veronica keep smirking at me like she knows me?” And has something on me?

Scott’s jaw drops. He slams his locker shut and turns to give Stiles his full attention. That doesn’t bode well. “Seriously?

“No, I’m asking to exercise my lungs. Yes, seriously!”

“You asked her to prom last year!”

Stiles has to take a moment to mentally work through the sheer, unmitigated stupidity of that before he can begin to form a response. “And you let me?

“I couldn’t stop you!” Scott insists, flailing desperately. “You didn’t warn me you were gonna do it! I’d have locked you up, dude, if I’d known. I’d have locked you up and drugged you, I swear to God.”

He’s not lying about that: Scott is a true friend. “Okay, okay. Jesus, what was other!Stiles on?

“He was really mad at Lydia about something.”

“…And yet Lydia doesn’t know I exist yet, yes? No?”

“Yes.”

“So basically this whole prom thing was like failing a class deliberately because you think it’ll somehow punish the teacher. That’s not how I roll, Scott. When teachers hate me, I am flawless in their classes. I ace everything. I force them to give me an A and then I rub their noses in that A. This behavior? This makes no sense.”

“And yet it happened. But I’m telling you, man, I had nothing to do with it.”

“Oh my God. Oh. My God. So, okay. What was the method she used to destroy me?”

“Public. Very public. Also pretty, uh. Loud.”

“…This is like a nightmare. Not my nightmares, you understand, but a nightmare a character might have in a made-for-TV movie about high school angst.”

“You told me you were working social politics. Didn’t look like that to me. Maybe like they were working you.”

“No, no way, not possible. I avoid social politics like the plague. They’re boring, they upset me, and half the time I don’t understand the point of them. Other!Stiles was lying to you.”

“What about?”

“I don’t know yet. Something, though. Something he thought you were better off not knowing about.”

“Maybe he just didn’t want me messing it up for him.”

“Yeah, no, I promise there is no Stiles anywhere whose primary concern is not to protect you. And Dad. You enormous goof.”

“Huh.” Scott grins and then tries to hide it, embarrassed. He’s stupidly adorable sometimes. “Well, I guess it doesn’t matter. Now that I know he was lying, I can just grill him when he gets back, right?”

Oh. Oh, and that’s a slam right in the solar plexus. Has Stiles really not made the state of affairs clear to Scott? Obviously not; he is officially a failure. No wonder Scott’s been taking this so superhumanly well. He doesn’t get it.

“No, Scott,” Stiles says gently, grabbing him and dragging him away from the lockers and through the milling crowd to the other side of the hallway, pulling him down to sit. They need to be seated for this, definitely. “Your Stiles—his heart stopped beating. They told you that, right?”

“Yeah,” Scott says warily, face turned half away in unconscious self-defense. “So?”

“So…he died in that crash, Scott. The only reason I’m alive in this body is because the magic that sent me here patched it up. But your Stiles…he was already gone by then.”

Scott is wearing his terrified/belligerent face, the one he wore for months after his dad left, and it turns out that the emotions under it are just as awful as Stiles had always suspected. Shit, shit. Stiles isn’t supposed to be the one who does this to Scott. Stiles is supposed to protect Scott from feeling this.

“Maybe my Stiles is just in your body,” Scott argues mulishly.

Stiles closes his eyes for a second, then forces them back open. He owes it to Scott to do this with his eyes open. “Scott. There wasn’t enough left of my body to heal. That’s why the rune kicked me out of it.” And even if that body had been fine, he doesn’t say, your poor, unprepared Stiles would’ve been dead in minutes.

Scott’s ensuing asthma and/or panic attack isn’t a surprise at all.

* * *

Scott’s pulling air in as hard as he can, but it’s not doing any good; his lungs feel like a mess of knots in his chest. He’s not totally sure he wants the air anyway. Maybe this’ll be easier to deal with if he blacks out for a while.

The worst thing about this, Scott thinks, the very worst thing is that, in a way, he likes this Stiles better.

And that makes him the most terrible human being on the planet, oh God. It wasn’t so bad when he thought his Stiles was still alive somewhere, that he’d be back. That this Stiles was like the cool, older cousin who visits for a while and then heads home. It was okay to be kind of dazzled by him then.

Now, though? Now it’s like, worst best friend betrayal ever, because his Stiles isn’t just on extended alternate universe vacation, he’s dead. Scott should be mourning (he is, he is mourning), and he should definitely not be seeing any bright side to this. There is no bright side to this! But he can’t help it. This Stiles—it’s like he’s been burned down to bare essentials or something. He seems, just, older and calmer and more in control. More aware of what’s important to him. And the list of important things? Scott’s way up at the top of it again. He hasn’t seen Stiles look at him like this since they were little kids and Scott used to get beaten up. (That was a long time ago. Everybody figured out pretty fast that Scott’s best friend was a tiny ball of rage with no sense of self-preservation, and once they’d figured that out, they decided the smart thing was to leave them both the hell alone.)

God, and it’s basically impossible to believe Stiles is dead when Scott’s looking right at him. It’s hard not to feel lucky when this Stiles is like all the best things about his Stiles, concentrated.

Scott’s pretty sure he’s never going to forgive himself.

But—crap, there’s no way this Stiles is going to stay. No way. Because he’s Stiles, and if Scott is the top of his priorities, that’s only because his Scott is the real top, and that means he’ll do any crazy thing to get back to him. Which means Scott’s lost his Stiles and can’t even keep this one. So basically he’s fucked.

He lets out a breath and seriously considers not bothering trying to take another one. Breathing is sometimes more trouble than it’s worth.

Stiles shoves his inhaler into his hand, guides it up to his mouth. “Breathe,” he says.

Scott’s been giving in to Stiles way too long to stop now. He breathes.

* * *

Derek should’ve argued harder when Laura told him to meet Stiles at school. He wouldn’t have won, but he’d feel better about himself as a person right now if he’d at least given it a serious try. As it stands, he’s skulking around a high school parking lot waiting to accost a teenager and feeling like a pedophile. It’s made worse by the fact that he’s always forgetting Stiles is actually in high school. He seems so much older than that. But he isn’t. He really isn’t. A fact which Derek should always keep in the forefront of his mind.

Every thirty seconds or so, he considers leaving. Then he remembers what Laura would do to him if he left, and he stays. Rinse and repeat. He’s on about the twentieth round of that cycle when the final bell rings and kids come pouring out the doors. Stiles shows up in one of the last waves, talking to some dark-haired kid. Everything about their body language says family, but they both smell of anxiety and sadness. The kid gets on his bike and Stiles watches until he’s out of sight, biting his lip uneasily.

Then he turns to his Jeep, sees Derek leaning against it, and he—he beams, the sadness abruptly buried. Like having Derek loom menacingly by his car is a gift.

Stiles Stilinski. Kid makes no fucking sense at all.

Once Stiles gets close enough, Derek grabs him and shoves him against his car with the vague idea of knocking explanations out of him, of getting that damn smile off his face, of getting any kind of logical reaction. But no. Of course not.

Stiles laughs.

“What the hell are you laughing at?” Derek demands, baffled.

“Sorry, dude. Sorry,” Stiles gasps, patting at Derek’s chest in what he seems to mean as reassurance. “I just—I used to know this guy, and like, our whole relationship revolved around me saving his ass and him shoving me up against vertical surfaces and growling at me. Like, sometimes with actual fangs.” Pause. Quick glance up through his eyelashes. Confirming what the family suspected. “You reminded me of him for a second. Nostalgia, good times.”

“Where is he now?” Derek asks, curious about the werewolves Stiles has apparently known.

He’s not prepared for the absolute riptide of grief.

Very upset, Philip had said. Jesus Christ, understatement of the century. Not that Philip could’ve known—it’s impossible to guess the depth of the problem if you only have Stiles’s face to go on. He goes a little blank, that’s all, and looks away. Like he’s remembering someone else’s sad story. But the smell of him, God. Rage and fear and guilt and sorrow, so sudden and tearing that Derek flinches from the force of it, and it’s not even his.

“Yeah,” Stiles says, dry and emotionless, a terrifying contrast to what he’s feeling. “I guess I always knew there’d be a day I couldn’t get there in time.” An awful little pause. “He was your age. Weird coincidence, huh?”

Derek lets Stiles go and backs off, torn between staying and trying to fix this, and just running the hell away. Running, because Stiles walked up to him grinning like a maniac and now he smells like his world is ending, and it’s all Derek’s fault. His mother is going to find out about this from the twins, and then she’s going to kill him. “I’m sorry,” he says. Because he fails at words, as Laura likes to point out.

Amazingly, though, it seems to work. That suffocating grief recedes a little; he and Stiles both take a breath. “You don’t have to be sorry,” Stiles says. “It’s not like you killed him.”

“Still—”

“And to be honest, it’s kind of freaky seeing you apologize. Like, did you hurt something doing that? Because it seems like it must’ve hurt.”

“Shut up,” Derek snaps unthinkingly, because he’s heard this or something similar from all of his siblings, and that’s his standard response.

Stiles just laughs again, and the last of the grief dissipates like mist in sunlight. If logic and Stiles existed in the same universe, Derek might wonder why Stiles knows how rarely he apologizes. But they don’t, so there’s no point asking.

He decides to push his luck a different way, hoping like hell he won’t bring up anything dangerous. “My age. If he was my age—you’re seventeen, Stiles. He should’ve been protecting you.”

“Yeah, well. Some people are weirdly old by the time they’re seventeen. Bad luck, I guess.” He frowns thoughtfully, but doesn’t seem upset. “And I mean, he saved me, too. We saved each other. And the rest of the time, he didn’t trust me and I didn’t like him. It was a whole thing.”

“That sounds incredibly stupid.”

“It really, really was.” But he’s smiling, sad and fond. “Anyway! You came here for a reason, I’m assuming. A reason other than to slam me into my car, much though you obviously enjoy doing that. What was that reason?”

“My parents want to talk to you.”

“Your parents,” Stiles squeaks, flailing a little. “Um, why? I don’t know your parents! Why would they want to talk to me?!”

And this is the kid who brazenly marched up to their door and demanded to use the library. This is the kid who laughed when Derek slammed him into a car. “I don’t know,” Derek drawls. “Maybe they want to talk about why you know so much more about our family than you should? Or the fact that you don’t seem to remember the twins all of a sudden, and they say you smell strange? Or possibly the way you’re warding our house against the apocalypse?

“I’d be happy with a simple thank you,” Stiles insists. “You don’t have to take me home with you. It’s, it’s too much, really.”

“Why are you warding our house against the apocalypse, Stiles?”

“…I like your house? As is, you know. Much less attractive as a charred skeleton of itself.”

“Okay. Why our house in particular?”

“It’s my favorite.”

It’s like beating your head against a brick wall, swear to God. Derek sighs and gives up on wringing sense out of Stiles. “Come on. Follow me home.”

“I can’t believe you just said that. But no, really, I’m good here—”

Stiles.”

“Okay, jeez, don’t wolf out right here in the parking lot. God.”

* * *

Derek not only drags Stiles to the house against his will, but also dumps him in a room with scary elder Hales, says, “He told me not to wolf out in the parking lot,” and then abandons him there.

Stiles had almost forgotten why he spent so much time daydreaming about punching his Derek in the face, but it’s all coming back to him now.

It’s Stiles’s first visit to the living room. It’s…somehow beautiful and scary at the same time? Like, the house’s entryway is all light and bright and airy, but this room has lots of dark wood and red carpet and wall-hangings, indirect lighting, dramatic woodland photographs. Very tasteful. Also very quiet, possibly even soundproofed. Probably you could murder someone in this room without anyone hearing, and, bonus, the blood wouldn’t show up on the dark red carpet.

Yeah. Not a helpful train of thought.

Kevin and Talia Hale are sitting together on a dark brown and gold couch across from the ridiculous wing-backed chair Derek dumped Stiles in. Thea, Talia’s mom, is standing behind the couch, smirking. It feels like a freaking tribunal.

“So,” says Talia, smiling pleasantly in a way that Stiles does not trust, “you do know we’re werewolves. We were almost sure, but not quite. You’re quite an enigma, Stiles.”

Kevin just sits and glowers at him silently. So that’s where Derek got that from. Meanwhile, Thea is silently laughing at him. He wants to know why he can’t just be having this conversation with Thea, since she is clearly a) where Laura gets it from, and b) by far the coolest member of her family. She’s not the alpha, though. Stiles can’t figure out whether Kevin or Talia is the alpha, or if they’re, like, co-alpha, but it’s obvious that pack business doesn’t happen without them. Which is a crying shame, because they scare the crap out of Stiles.

“Sorry?” Stiles tries at random. It seems like a safe place to start.

“What for?” Talia asks curiously. So. Not safe, then.

“Uh, confusing you? I guess.”

“You’re a lot more afraid of us than you are of Derek,” Talia points out. “That’s…different.”

“Yeah, well, I know Derek. Nothing scary about him.” Except the strength of his more idiotic convictions, but he’s not saying that to the woman who raised the guy.

“But there’s something scary about us? I’m an accountant. And Kevin’s human, you know.”

He didn’t. Doesn’t matter. “Yeah, but he’s from a werewolf family, right? Because Peter. And anyway, humans can be incredibly scary, thank you very much.” Unhappy memories of getting his ass handed to him by Grandpa Argent dance before his mind’s eye. “Also I’m terrified of the whole idea of accounting, so. And see, the thing about Derek is that he doesn’t know how to use what he’s got. You two obviously do.” Which pisses him off, when he thinks about it. “About that, why is that? He’s your kid, aren’t you supposed to raise him to be able to take care of himself? I know you’re not training him to be the alpha or whatever, but for the love of God, he needs to be able to survive on his own. What if you all die, huh? He’d be helpless, trust me on this one. We’re talking disaster. And it’s because of this thing you guys do, where you boss him around and treat him like the baby even though he’s a grown freaking man. You don’t treat the twins like that. I don’t get you at all. It’s like you’re deliberately setting him up to fail at life.”

There’s a long, painful silence, during which Stiles reflects on the fact that he is definitely going to talk himself into an early grave someday, and that day might be today. Also, Thea should go ahead and laugh out loud. She’s gonna hurt herself trying to hold in it like that.

“Thank you for that…thoughtful critique of our child-rearing methods, Stiles,” Talia says eventually, sounding a little dazed. Stiles has that effect on people sometimes; he’s awesome like that. Kevin, meanwhile, is baring his teeth in a way he must’ve picked up from his lupine relatives, but Stiles isn’t impressed. He hasn’t even been slammed into any walls yet this conversation; he can safely annoy them much more than this.

“And now he isn’t afraid at all,” Thea murmurs. “He’s…irritated.” Thea, on the other hand, seems basically delighted. Stiles likes her, he decides. They can be friends. “Why are you warding our house, child?”

“A little extra protection never hurt.”

“True,” Thea allows, smiling. “And yet not an answer.”

“…There’s. Philip says you’ve been noticing all the omegas.”

Kevin abruptly leans forward, looking interested for the first time. “We have. Do you know what it means?”

“Not exactly. But I don’t like what it implies about the future, so I want you guys safe. I want you safe and whole and happy for as long as I can have you, because if the omegas are just a sign of something worse to come—and that is always how my life works, fair warning—I don’t want to have to handle that alone. And if they are a sign of something worse? Then that something is going to try to take you down first. As far as I know, you’re the only stable supernatural force around.”

“There’s Alan Deaton,” Talia points out.

“Just one guy,” Stiles argues. “Also? Way too big a fan of sitting back and letting things take their natural course for my taste.”

Thea snickers and Stiles smiles at her. “I like Alan!” Talia says defensively, but she’s smiling, too.

“Why are you so worried about fire?” Kevin asks. And he’s a fireman, isn’t he? Oh God, Kate was going for irony points. Stiles has to tip his imaginary hat to her for gleeful evil done right.

“What do you mean?” he stalls.

“Philip tells us you’ve put up ten times as many fireproofing wards as general ones. Why?”

Stiles sighs and slumps down, rubbing his face with his hands. “Bad memories, I guess. I can’t handle that happening again.”

Kevin nods thoughtfully and sits back. Stiles loves him a little for not asking for clarification.

“You’ve spoken to Alan about the omegas?” Talia asks.

“Yeah. He pretended not to know anything. Doesn’t mean he actually doesn’t know anything, obviously, because he’s Deaton, but there’s no getting information out of the guy when he doesn’t want to give it. For whatever freaky reason.”

“I see you know him well,” Thea says drily.

“Yes and no.” It’s the only way to answer without lying.

“Well, that’s more than we can say,” Kevin sighs, sounding weirdly like Dad for a second. “He’s refused to talk to anyone but Talia and Philip since 1987. Something about arrogant wolves who never listen to reason?”

“I blame you, Peter,” Talia says fondly. And yes, that is Peter, skulking in the shadows in the corner of the room. Fucking werewolves.

And now all the werewolves in the room are staring at Stiles. Yeah, he doesn’t know what his heart did just then, but he bets it was dramatic.

“Different Peter,” he explains. It’s basically true. “Sorry. Awkward trauma.” He killed me and ate me. Doesn’t get more awkward than that.

Kevin looks very…protective and worried and pissed off on Stiles’s behalf, all of a sudden. So that’s where Derek gets that, too, aw. Peter, though—Peter just looks interested. Typical.

“Single trauma, or long-term?” he asks.

Stiles shrugs. “Long-term.”

“PTSD?”

“Maybe. Didn’t think it would prove anything to get diagnosed.” And anyway, you can’t tell if it’s post-traumatic unless the trauma actually stops at some point.

“I would never have guessed until a trigger was right in front of you,” Peter murmurs. “You already seem calm again, too, which should be impossible. Hiding something like that from werewolves—you must have enormous self-awareness. And almost dangerous self-control.”

“Thanks?” Stiles is kind of at a loss, here.

“Mm. And when exactly were you at war, Stiles?” Peter asks mildly. But his eyes are intent in a way that is just…sickeningly familiar.

You’re the clever one, aren’t you, Stiles?

His heart feels like it’s trying to beat its way out of his chest; he can tell he’s freaking the wolves out again. He takes a few deep breaths and decides it’s time to flee the scene before he has a full-on panic attack, because that would be ridiculous. He hasn’t had one in years; he’s not going to have one over the wrong Peter Hale.

“Stiles,” Talia says, her voice so soothing and grounding that she knocks Stiles back from the edge just with that one word. Must be an alpha thing. “It’s all right. We won’t ask if you don’t want us to know.”

“It’s not that,” Stiles says, mostly honestly. Honestly enough. “It’s just…I don’t want to think about it, you know?”

“That’s fine,” Talia soothes. “It’s fine, Stiles. We all have things we’d rather not think about.”

Stiles wonders if she got shot in this universe, too. Either way, it’s pretty obvious that lack of Argents hasn’t made life a werewolf cakewalk. She knows what she’s talking about—more than her Derek would, anyway, that soft asshole.

“We didn’t call you here to interrogate you,” she goes on. Could’ve fooled him. “We actually had a request. Given all these wards you’ve put up, we thought you might be able to help us handle something.”

“…What something?” Stiles asks suspiciously, carefully keeping his eyes away from Peter to prevent further embarrassing freakouts.

“Pixies.”

“What the—we have pixies now?” This is so unfair. “I hate pixies! I hate them like, like, like I don’t even have a simile for it because there’s nothing else that combines that level of insanely annoying and incredibly dangerous!”

From the looks on everybody’s faces, they are with him a hundred percent on this one. “Exactly,” Kevin says. “So we’ll handle the omegas, you handle the pixies.”

“Oh, come on! You think I don’t know who’s getting shafted in this deal? How about I handle the omegas and you handle the pixies.”

“Pack law states that it is the responsibility of the local alpha to rein in rogue omegas,” Talia says piously, though Thea kind of undercuts it by snickering maliciously off to the side.

“Oh my God,” Stiles says incredulously. “I hate you all.”


Part 3
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