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Stiles has somehow talked Derek and Laura into bringing a cartload of books over to his house—alarmingly, they’re about healing magical injuries or faking death, depending on the book. Derek has no idea why they keep giving in to Stiles’s crazy requests. For one thing, he should just come over and pick up the damn books himself, and for another, they shouldn’t be lending him these books at all. These books have disaster written all over them.

“Your room smells like strangers,” Derek growls unhappily, thumping the books down beside Stiles’s desk.

Stiles, of course, just looks up from his place on the floor in the center of a book fortress and smirks. “Jealous?”

Derek scowls and Laura bursts out laughing. Stiles smiles and rubs the back of his head, belatedly sheepish. “Sorry. I had some people over—the friend, remember? And Scott and…his girlfriend. I feel like—I mean, I have you guys, and I have Scott and Dad, and you’re all awesome, but, I don’t know. I’d kind of like to have…more backup?”

“A bigger pack,” Derek suggests quietly, and Stiles’s eyes dart over to him, soft and sad.

“Yeah,” he says. “A bigger pack.”

“But you didn’t bring Argent here.”

“Uh…oh, you mean—no! I wouldn’t let him in my house, jeez. I’m not crazy.”

Derek thinks that’s highly debatable. “You didn’t have to talk to him alone, you know.”

Stiles sighs and rubs his eyes. He’s so tired all the time. Derek would like to shake him until he promises to take care of himself, but Laura insists that isn’t how it works. “Yeah. I know.”

“Thank you for doing that for us, Stiles,” Laura says.

Stiles, predictably, waves that away. “It’s not just for you. Anyway, glad to help, whatever.”

“Right,” Laura agrees cautiously. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Um, sure?” Stiles looks wary about this, but not as wary as he should. “You kind of just did, but I’m guessing you mean another question. What do you want to know?”

Laura has enough decency to be nervous about asking, but not enough to refrain. “What happened to your old pack?”

Stiles breathes out slowly, and Derek whimpers under the weight of his misery before he can get himself under control. Laura’s not doing much better; she has tears in her eyes. “Stiles,” she whispers.

“Not a fun story,” he says, and his voice is the same as it was when Derek brought this up all those months ago. Emotionless. Distant. “And it doesn’t, you know, reflect well on me, so if you’re wondering if it’ll make you trust me less, I can just tell you: yeah. Probably.”

Derek thinks not. Stiles must have loved his pack with everything he had and more to still be feeling the loss of them this strongly. But then, the loss of your pack, your family—of course that isn’t something you’d ever get over. Derek can’t imagine what he’d be like if that had happened to him. Nowhere near as stable as Stiles, that’s for damn sure.

“We do trust you, Stiles,” Laura insists. “Of course we do. I’m just worried about what it’s doing to you not to tell anyone.”

He won’t like that, Derek thinks just as Stiles’s scent switches from misery to fury. Yeah. He didn’t like that at all. Stiles doesn’t deal well with being reminded that he worries people.

“Fine,” Stiles snaps. “If you really want to know, I’ll tell you. So this? This whole, what, reality, timeline, whatever you want to call it? It’s not mine. It’s not mine. I stole it. The Stiles who belongs here died in a car crash on the last full moon of October, and I took his body, because mine was ripped apart beyond the magic’s ability to heal it. So this pendant I used, this fucking pendant that I used without really knowing what it would do—it shipped me here, because, I guess, this Stiles had just died and his was the nearest compatible body the magic could fix.

“Because in my world? I’m dead. I crashed my car into Peter Hale, and if I was reading his look right, he was planning to eat me afterward. And no one was there to stop him, because Derek was dead, because Scott and I weren’t there when—”

He chokes, stops for a moment, breathes. This whole monologue is completely insane, but it’s obvious that Stiles believes every word. Derek has no idea what to feel, but Laura’s crying. And she should be, because Stiles is telling them this to punish them for asking. She must know that.

“Scott and the betas were on the run,” Stiles goes on, eerily calm again. “So was I, so was everybody, because Peter was on a killing spree and he was only part of our problem. At least what he was doing made sense. He’d killed everyone else responsible for the fire, and Derek, Derek let the enemy in the gates.

“See, there was this crazy hunter named Kate Argent—she definitely isn’t the same kind of crazy in this timeline, which is why this whole song and dance didn’t happen—and she seduced Derek when he was, like, sixteen. She must’ve been early twenties.” He pauses and glares at Laura. “I always wondered where the fuck your timeline twin was for this, Laura. Seriously? Didn’t notice her baby brother’s cradle-robbing, homicidal girlfriend? Fail.” He takes a breath and looks away. “Anyway. Derek thought he was in love, didn’t know Kate was a hunter, told her about the werewolf thing. And she waited until Derek and Laura were at school but everyone else was home, she surrounded the house with mountain ash, and she burned the place down.

“No one survived.” He pauses, expressionless, waiting patiently for Laura to stop interrupting the flow of his story with her crying. Then he goes on. “Except you two, and Cora. And Peter, but he was so burned it took him six years to recover, and by then he was nuts. He killed Laura to become the alpha, and he left half of her body as bait for Derek. He bit Scott. He ripped Kate Argent’s throat out. And, long story short, we managed to keep him from going on any further killing sprees until…until October. And then it all went to hell, with evil Argents and rogue omegas and pixies and Peter freaking Hale. And I couldn’t stop it.” Deep breath, visible self-loathing. “I didn’t even try. I tried to run.”

As if a human unwilling to go up against a feral werewolf was an object of scorn.

“And that’s. That’s why you shouldn’t trust me.” He raises his chin defiantly, but he doesn’t meet their eyes.

This explains so much. Stiles’s mysterious pack, his fear of Peter, the fireproofing wards, his research into the pendant. Why he always smells like pain. Of course, it’s still Stiles, so the explanation raises almost as many questions as it settles.

He just told us his life story without telling us anything about his life.

Whatever Stiles was expecting the response to that story to be, he definitely wasn’t expecting Laura to knock over a bunch of books, grab him in a desperate hug, and cry into his shoulder. He wasn’t expecting Derek to crawl over and prop his forehead against Stiles’s back to try to bleed off the pain. (Pointless gesture. You can’t bleed off emotional pain.) He holds still for it, though. He holds still for ages, longer than Derek’s ever seen him be still and quiet before. That’s probably a bad sign.

“Have you told your father?” Laura asks once she’s managed to stop crying, unnervingly quiet.

“What, that his son is dead and I hijacked his body? No, Laura. No, I haven’t told him that.”

“It’s really amazing you aren’t crazy,” she whispers, like a loud voice might be the thing that finally breaks him.

“Newsflash,” Stiles says at normal volume. “I am crazy.”

“Well,” Laura says gamely, “more crazy, then. I mean, you are functional. More or less.”

“My life is full of werewolf comedians,” Stiles complains. “Why.”

“I’m so curious now,” Laura carries on, trying desperately for lighthearted. “But I’m afraid to ask anything. What if I ask you the wrong question and make you cry? I’d feel like bad alpha material.”

“What do you want to know?” Stiles asks again, resigned.

“Mostly…I want to know what’s different between our world and yours. I mean, obviously I see the big picture differences, but the little things. What about the little things, Stiles? It’s going to drive me nuts.”

“You’re gonna be so sorry you asked,” Stiles declares. “Because now I’m telling you every time something’s weird. You will regret this within thirty seconds.”

“What’s weird about me?” Laura asks.

“You’re alive.”

“You mean you never even met me?”

“I dug up half your body one time, does that count?”

“…I’m starting to see what you mean about regretting it.”

“It was the top half, FYI. So I’ve seen your boobs, which is weird. I mean, they were kind of rotting at the time, but still—”

I’m so sorry I asked, my God, you win! Stop.”

“What’s weird about me?” Derek cuts in, afraid of the answer, unable to stop himself from asking.

Everything,” Stiles announces, pulling away from Laura to twist and face Derek. “You use your face. You smile all the time; it’s plain unnatural. You don’t threaten me with death every time you see me, including the times you have just saved me from death. Violence is not always the answer with you. You don’t lurk all over the place like a creeper. You aren’t a massive ball of self-loathing and abandonment issues. You trust people and it freaks me out. You trust me and it freaks me out. You wear colors. You have no stubble and no tattoos. You drive a blue Honda. I hardly even recognize you as you some days. I could go on, do you want me to go on?”

No,” Derek says, appalled.

“Go on, Stiles,” Laura murmurs. “Do it for Auntie Laura.”

Stiles narrows his eyes dangerously. Apparently it’s okay for Stiles to joke about this, but not anyone else. “He eats meat.”

“What? Your Derek was a vegetarian werewolf?”

“Not exactly…but close. He couldn’t deal with the smell of cooking meat. For obvious reasons.”

And that successfully kills that line of questioning.

“Anything else you wanted to know?” Stiles asks flatly.

Derek understands that that is a firm invitation to stop asking questions before they’re made to suffer (more) for it—life with the twins has taught him that much—but he can’t help himself. “Can we see your tattoo?”

Stiles blinks. “You haven’t seen it?”

“Stiles,” Laura drawls, “I didn’t even know you had a tattoo.”

“Oh. Yeah, I mean. Sure. You can see it. Um, you probably should.” He shrugs uncomfortably and turns his back to them, pulling his shirt off before Derek can tell him he doesn’t have to go through with this. That it’s probably a bad idea to go through with this, because Stiles pulls his shirt off, and even in the midst of the angst fest that this is, Derek looks at the lean muscle under that shirt and thinks wildly moment inappropriate things that Laura will know about instantly and judge him for just as fast.

It’s not a problem for long, though, because one good look at that tattoo is enough to kill anyone’s libido.

Stiles’s tattoo is one of the weirdest, most upsetting things Derek has ever seen, and he’s dismembered day-old corpses. He’s not even sure what’s so awful about it—it’s just a person tied to a tree. But there’s something—as simple and stylized as the person is, every line of the body suggests agony. Even the tree looks twisted and in pain. And the ropes seem alive, in a grotesque, snakelike way.

“Is this a binding?” Laura asks, hushed and horrified.

Stiles shrugs again like it’s no big deal. “Yeah.”

“This is a lifelong commitment, Stiles!”

“Funny you should say that! Because I already outlived one. So hey, life is cheaper than you’d think.”

Laura makes a wordless sound of protest, and Derek reaches out to touch the frayed end of one rope, morbidly drawn to it. And the second he touches it, there’s…feedback, of some kind. Not unpleasant, just…strange. Like diving into warm water on a hot day.

“Yeah,” Stiles says roughly, shifting in place. “That’s you.”

“Oh,” Laura whispers. “Does that mean—”

“You’re the one above him,” Stiles says.

Stiles.” Laura’s panicking. Derek doesn’t understand why, but then, he doesn’t know much about binding tattoos. “You said you’d never even met me. Why would you…?”

“Sorry, did I not make this clear?” Stiles asks mildly, and then his voice shifts down to something harder and a lot less sane. “You’re mine.”

Okay, so Laura’s panic is starting to make more sense.

“But…” Laura reaches out to the tattoo, but draws back before she makes contact. “This binding only goes one way. Right? Am I reading it right?”

“Well, yeah. That’s how they work. And even if it were possible, which as far as I know it isn’t, it would’ve been seriously skeevy of me to bind you guys to me without consent,” Stiles says, sounding pretty weirded out. “What kind of creep do you think I am?”

“…The kind that wants to know what I’m feeling and whether or not I’m telling the truth at all times?” Laura suggests, but she’s joking again. The worst is over, and Derek relaxes in response. Or at least, he does until he works out what this means about Stiles’s knowledge of what Derek thinks of him. Then he’s mortified enough that it might actually lead to death.

“Um, what did you just say to me, werewolf lady?” Stiles demands. And Derek has to admit, grudgingly, that his argument is valid.

“When you say we’re yours,” Laura presses, “what do you mean by that?”

“What do you mean, what do I mean?” Stiles asks, honestly puzzled. “I mean it’s my job to make sure you don’t get your idiot werewolf selves killed. What did you think I meant?”

So they have a self-appointed, human knight errant. Derek’s not sure whether to laugh or cry.

Laura reaches out and touches her piece of rope.

* * *

Stiles is standing in a quiet, calm room, all earth tones and soft surfaces. He’s safe here; no one can get to him.

And he can’t get out, either.

One of the walls is floor-to-ceiling glass, and he knows it’s bullet- and wolf-proof without having to check. On the other side of the glass is a street in Microcentro in Buenos Aires, a place Stiles has only ever seen in pictures. It’s the neighborhood he was supposed to meet Scott and Dad and the betas in, once upon a time. He’d picked it because pack law is weird, there’s no werewolf extradition treaty with Argentina, and Stiles had gotten to be internet BFFs with the local alpha. It would’ve been a good place.

Scott is there waiting for him. Not this world’s Scott, but his Scott, painfully familiar and perfect and Scott, even if he is wolfed out in broad daylight in the middle of a crowded sidewalk, the idiot.

Stiles bangs on the glass, but Scott can’t see him, can’t smell him, can’t hear him yelling that there’s someone acting weird in the crowd behind him, someone’s eyes turning red, someone running toward him. Scott turns, but it’s not in time, not in time.

The strange alpha takes Scott down, two more run in to hold him, pedestrians shriek and scatter, and Stiles throws himself as hard as he can against the glass, but it doesn’t even bend. He screams until he’s hoarse, beats on the glass until his hands bruise and the skin splits and bleeds, and it’s useless. He has to stand there and watch as Scott gets torn apart on a street in a city Stiles promised him would be safe, and there’s nothing he can do.

Once they’re done, once Scott is nothing but a bloody pile of meat on the sidewalk, another alpha wanders over, and they wait. Stiles scrubs the tears from his eyes and hysterically wonders what they think they’re doing, because Scott can’t get any more dead than he already is.

Then Dad comes out of an alley across the street, walking to where he was probably supposed to meet Scott, watching the traffic, not paying attention, walking right into the middle of a death trap

Someone grabs Stiles by the arm, and he’s hit the floor on the far side of his bed and pulled out the knife he keeps under it before he realizes where he is. That that whole thing was a dream—and the relief is so sudden and intense he feels almost sick with it. Or at least, it had better have been a dream, because if it was a fucking vision, Stiles is going to find whoever runs the universe, and he’s going to take that son of a bitch down.

Aaaaand there’s Dad (now Dad, not then Dad) standing on the other side of the bed, totally shocked and horrified. So that’s who grabbed his arm. Awk-ward.

“Oh. Hi, Dad,” Stiles gasps. Man, the hyperventilating is not helping his cause, here.

“Stiles,” Dad replies. And the look on his face, the way he feels…wow, this is not going to be a fun conversation.

“What, uh. What brings you here?”

“You were screaming, Stiles. Like you were being slowly murdered.”

“Ah.” Shit. “It’s kind of…not a good idea to touch me when I’m dreaming about being slowly murdered.” Not that he’d have woken Dad up screaming if it’d been him getting murdered. He tends to take that pretty philosophically in dreams.

“I can see that,” Dad says in a very calm and even tone. A talking-down-the-tripping-suspect tone. He doesn’t know that Stiles can feel exactly how calm he isn’t. “Son. Put the knife down, please.”

Stiles would really prefer not to put the knife down. Logically, he understands that it’s just him and Dad in this room—if anything had gotten through the wards, Stiles would know about it. But that’s logic. Instinct says that something scared him really badly and therefore it’s a good idea to be armed and on high alert for at least an hour. Better safe than sorry.

But Dad asked, and at this point, Stiles needs to be doing as much of what Dad wants as he possibly can. He looks at his fingers and orders them to let go of the knife. They aren’t inclined to listen. He gets serious and forces them open. The knife drops to the carpet with a soft thump. He tries really hard not to freak out.

“Stiles,” Dad says, still with that sheriff-on-duty false calm, “what just happened?”

“Um.” Oddly, this situation is more incriminating than any of the times his own dad found him skulking around crime scenes. “I’ve had a really bad month?”

Not good; Dad’s not buying that line. “This isn’t the kind of thing that happens because you’ve had a bad month, Stiles,” he says. “This is the kind of thing that happens because you’ve had three tours in Iraq, and since I know that’s not the case here, you understand that I’m really concerned.”

If Dad could manage to be a little less perceptive, that would make Stiles’s life much easier. The trouble is, he hasn’t had time to wear this version of Dad down. Last timeline, the freaky stuff started relatively small, and by the time it had gotten this bad, Dad was just, he was tired. He was tired and defeated, and half the time he didn’t even bother to ask because he knew Stiles would lie and he couldn’t take it anymore. This version of Dad, though? He hasn’t given up. He’s still got energy, hope, faith in Stiles.

And Stiles doesn’t want to take that from him. He hadn’t realized how much he’d stolen from his Dad until he switched timelines and saw it all put back. He doesn’t have it in him to steal it again. Not when it didn’t do any good the first time. Though, God, this explanation is going to be so much worse than just, hey, werewolves are real.

“It’s a long story,” Stiles hears himself say. “And you’re really going to hate me by the end of it.”

“Stiles,” Dad whispers, devastated. “I won’t hate you.”

He will, though, and then he’ll hate himself for doing it. Stiles is a life ruiner.

“Come here, son,” Dad says, reaching out but not coming closer. Because he’s treating Stiles like a traumatized war veteran now, this is just, this is great. “Come here.”

Stiles does manage to make himself straighten up, eventually. And once he’s done that, it’s surprisingly easy to pick up speed in Dad’s direction until he half-tackles him in a hug, holding on with everything he’s got. Like it’s the last time, and maybe it is.

He doesn’t see a lot of hugs in his future once Dad knows what he’s done.

* * *

Derek doesn’t want to know what a 3am phone call from Stiles means. He doesn’t want to know, and he’s not answering that phone. If he answers, Stiles will just say something that’ll give him nightmares, and that’s a thing he doesn’t need in his life. He’s had enough Stiles-related trauma for one week. So he’s not answering. He’s not.

“What the fuck, Stiles,” he growls into the phone, hating himself a little.

“Hey, Derek!” Stiles gasps, sounding seconds away from a meltdown. “Oh, crap, I guess I didn’t—I forgot what time it—I’ll just—”

“Shut up,” Derek sighs, dragging himself out of bed and hunting for clothes. Phone call’s going exactly as expected so far. “I can be there in fifteen minutes. Do you want Laura to come?”

“Oh. Uh, yeah.” Stiles pauses, forcing his breathing to slow. In the relative quiet, Derek can make out someone else breathing in the background. Scott? The sheriff? “Yeah,” Stiles repeats eventually, steadier. “That’d be good. If she’s up. Because I thought. It’s up to you guys, but. There’s some stuff that I should definitely tell Dad. Or, there’s some stuff he figured out? And now he’s freaking out, so. I should, I need—”

“Okay,” Derek interrupts. So it is the sheriff; this just gets better and better. “Tell him whatever you need to.”

What? Just like that?!”

Yes, Stiles, just like that.” Laura’s standing in the doorway to Derek’s room now, already dressed, chewing her lower lip unhappily. She’s probably heard everything. “He’s your father. If he’s half as trustworthy as you are, we have nothing to worry about.”

“Or maybe you’re stupidly trusting,” Stiles wails. Laura reaches out and takes the phone from Derek. He heaves a sigh of relief and focuses on finding pants.

Laura starts in with a constant stream of soothing words, very few of which actually mean anything, and she barely lets Stiles speak at all. She keeps it up as Derek gets dressed, as she hands him her keys, as they run into their parents standing, worried, in the front hall.

“We’ll be awake,” Mom tells Derek, pulling him down to kiss him on the forehead. “If you need anything, or if the sheriff wants to talk to us, call.”

“The kid isn’t alone here,” Dad says gruffly. “Remind him.”

Derek nods, unsurprised by these instructions, and Laura, still talking, grabs his sleeve and tows him to the car.

“Stiles,” Laura says as she climbs in the passenger side. “Did you ever have this conversation with…with your father? From your old timeline?”

“Ha! No,” Stiles chokes out with a sick laugh. “No, I’m not repeating my mistakes. These? These are brand new mistakes.”

“I do believe in your endless creativity,” Laura murmurs, and Stiles’s laugh in response is a little less awful. “So. I know you won’t have told him about us. How much does he know about you?”

“Nothing.”

“What do you mean, nothing?”

“I mean literally nothing beyond slightly morbid kid with ADHD.”

“Not even the magic?”

“Laura, nothing means nothing. I was having a nightmare, he tried to wake me up, and I jumped out of bed and almost stabbed him with the knife I keep under it. What he knows is that that is not normal behavior for a high school student.”

“Wow, Stiles.”

“Shut up! I didn’t think I’d be around long enough to have to deal with this, okay?” he hisses quietly, so the sheriff won’t hear.

Laura turns to Derek with wide eyes, and they’ve never understood each other so well.

He’s leaving us.

Of course. Of course he wants to leave. Why wouldn’t he? This isn’t his world. He’s leaving. He has no reason to stay.

Laura shakes her head and refocuses. She’s always been the practical one: one catastrophe at a time. “Well, it looks like you’re still here. You’d better let me talk to him.”

“Is that really—”

“Don’t argue with me, Stiles. I’m alpha material.”

Stiles mutters something that had better not include the words everything that’s wrong with Derek, but he does pass the phone over, and Laura starts her reassuring routine on the sheriff. Lots of words, very little content. Soothing.

Derek tries for a second to imagine this happening in Stiles’s world. What he’d have done if Stiles had called up panicking, but Derek’s parents weren’t there for advice and Laura wasn’t there to talk.

He’s more amazed every day that the other Derek survived long enough for Stiles to meet him. It’s no surprise he got himself killed; no surprise he lost Stiles. After all, even with all the help anyone could want, Derek’s going to lose Stiles in this world, too.

* * *

John is not having a good day. But he’s got a lot of perspective on this kind of thing; it’s not like it’s the worst day of his life.

Definitely in the bottom ten, though.

Stiles is still panicking so hard he looks like he’s about to fly apart, and John has no idea what to do about it. After that first desperate hug, Stiles hasn’t let him within touching distance. On the plus side, though, he hasn’t gone for the knife again. Small favors.

Of course, a dad might like to know where the hell that knife came from. And how Stiles learned to use it, because he clearly knows how to use it. John’s seen a few knife fights, and Stiles held that knife like an expert, like the knife was an extension of his arm. Like he was prepared to fight to the death with it.

What kind of father misses something like that? That’s what’s killing him, here, because this isn’t a situation that grew up overnight. You don’t react to a touch on the arm by instinctively diving for a weapon unless you’ve gone through months or years of really needing a weapon at night, of confidently assuming that every unexpected touch is an attack. He’s had deputies like that, and he knows.

He would swear Stiles hasn’t had time for that. He’s been sleeping here every night he wasn’t at Scott’s. (He was at Scott’s, wasn’t he?) His grades have been fine. No one’s been breaking in except Derek Hale, and he’s not the problem, because he was the first and only person Stiles called tonight. John’s inclined to think the Hales are more symptom than cause—maybe even more cure than cause.

Laura claims this will all make sense once she explains it. John has serious doubts about that, but at least it gives him some hope, however false.

Laura and Derek show up surprisingly quickly, and Stiles marches toward them the instant John lets them in and just keeps going until he walks bodily into Derek, hitting him with an audible thump. John didn’t see that one coming, but apparently Derek and Laura did, since they don’t react at all. Well, not beyond Derek throwing an absent arm around Stiles’s shoulders and Laura crowding in to lean against them.

And again. When did this happen?

No, John decides, it doesn’t matter. It’s the least of the weird things that’ve happened tonight. He’s going to tackle the diving out of bed for a knife first, and work outward from there. The Hale group hug? It might not even make the agenda.

“Hi, Sheriff,” Laura says with brittle cheer. “I was thinking we should start with the easy stuff. What do you say?”

“…Sounds good,” John agrees tentatively.

“Okay.” Laura nods. “Step one: werewolves.”

Stiles whispers, “Oh my God,” and gives an unhinged giggle. Derek thumps him gently on the head.

“Werewolves?” John repeats blankly.

“Right,” Laura agrees. And then her eyes go yellow and her teeth go pointy and her face goes generally strange, and if John had thought this night was weird before, he’d clearly underestimated Stiles.

And Laura’s not wrong: it only gets weirder from there. Apparently most of the Hale family is composed of werewolves, and the Argents have a habit of hunting werewolves, and this has made Stiles’s relationship with Allison fraught, what with family history and Stiles’s evidently unshakeable loyalty to the Hales. Also, they tell him Stiles is magical. Strangely, this is the easiest thing to believe so far.

Finally and most insanely, Stiles? Is apparently not Stiles. Or he is Stiles, but Stiles from an alternate universe, which explains his loyalty to the Hales—he was won over by alternate universe Hales during a werewolf vs. werewolf hunter war, which Laura describes very briefly.

And that, seemingly, is where she plans to wind down and leave John hanging.

Of course, maybe that’s all she knows. No one is more aware than John of how bad Stiles is at sharing hard truths. Assuming that’s also the case with this Stiles. It looks like it is. He’s moved away from Derek now, and is on his own in what John recognizes as a classic facing the music stance.

So, as expected, most of Laura’s explanation didn’t make sense. Okay. No. None of it made any sense, but the werewolf thing, at least, came with visual evidence attached, so it must be true.

What they’re telling him is that the supernatural world is real, and Stiles is behaving like a different person because he is a different person, and has been for months. They’re telling him his son is dead, and this Stiles is a stranger.

This Stiles, whose face is a careful blank, whose eyes are a little too bright, whose body is being forced to perfect, abnormal stillness. If he’s a stranger, how does John know that this is what he looks like when he’s bracing himself against terrible, inevitable pain?

You’re really going to hate me.

Stiles is obviously waiting for John to kick him out. He’s waiting to be blamed, just like he was always waiting to be blamed for his mother’s death (and never believed he wasn’t responsible, even when the accusation never came). Deep down, he’s holding himself guilty of the death of John’s Stiles. He may know it was a car crash, but he’s never, in his heart, going to believe that.

If this isn’t John’s son, how does John know him so well?

“Did your mother die?” he asks, as gently as he can make it.

Stiles nods, clears his throat. Stares into John’s eyes like he’s punishing himself by doing it. “When I was ten.”

“Same as my Stiles.”

“Yeah, I. I think our timelines were mostly the same until the start of sophomore year, when my Scott got bitten. There was some little stuff before that, just kickback from your Hales being alive. Not too much; you guys didn’t hang out with them. But. Yeah. Otherwise the same. And I spot-checked the news—same current events, as far as I can tell. Same history.”

“You’ve been trying to protect me.” In an incredibly stupid and painfully Stiles kind of way. “By keeping this from me.”

“I didn’t want—” He cuts himself off and rubs a miserable hand over his face, under the impression that John won’t notice he’s wiping away tears. Just like John’s Stiles. “I didn’t want you to know. You were so happy when you thought he’d survived, and I. How could I tell you? How could I say, oh, sorry, your son is actually dead, but you’ve got this lying, crazy, fucked up version to take his place! I couldn’t—”

He stops talking this time because John’s grabbed him and pulled him into a fierce hug, and he’d have to talk into John’s shirt. He doesn’t try—John thinks he might actually have been shocked silent.

Over Stiles’s shoulder, John sees Laura discreetly shooing her brother toward the door. He’s staggeringly relieved that they, at least, have been watching out for Stiles. He owes their family a lifetime supply of grateful fruit baskets. If werewolves eat fruit. Do werewolves eat fruit?

“Do werewolves eat fruit?” he asks Stiles once the door shuts behind the Hales, since the expert is right here in his arms.

Stiles gives a weak laugh. “They can hear you,” he mumbles, pulling back a little. “But yeah. Werewolf Scott still hated citrus, though, and he told me he didn’t need it because he was a werewolf and superpowers and super healing and whatever, he couldn’t get scurvy. I was still trying to convince Derek to tell him scurvy was the only disease werewolves weren’t immune to, when.”

When Derek died and Scott ran and Stiles ended up in another universe. Right.

Stiles tries to escape the hug. John doesn’t let him. Stiles laughs again, almost hysterical. “Why are you taking this so well? There should be freakouts! Even Mrs. McCall freaked out a little, and she was basically world’s awesomest mom about the whole thing.”

“How did your dad react?” John asks.

“I…didn’t actually tell him.”

John smacks him upside the head; Stiles yelps. “You didn’t tell him? There were werewolves and hunters running around having death feuds in the county he was sworn to protect, and you never told him?

“He figured it out eventually! When, uh, when everyone had pretty much figured it out because the town was, like, total chaos. But I. I didn’t want him getting himself killed by being involved before he had to be involved.”

“Because he’d have taken it so well if you, having gotten involved, got yourself killed.”

Stiles chokes and grabs desperately onto his shirt, and good going, John, that wasn’t an outrageously sensitive subject at all. “Sorry,” he murmurs. “Sorry, son. I’m so sorry.”

“That’s why I told you,” he whispers, and John feels even more like a terrible human being than he did already. “And I’m not. I’m not actually your son.”

“You’re not? I must’ve gotten confused, what with all this monitoring my diet and lying to me to protect me and having all the same family memories I do—”

“Dad!”

He has no idea how much he just conceded. John wins. “Yeah, son?”

“No, but, they’re not the—it’s not the same. I’m not the same.”

“You’re not the same,” John allows. “And I’m going to miss my Stiles for the rest of my life. I hope you’ll let me have at least one night to be really drunk and miserable and cry myself to sleep, in the good, manly tradition of grieving Stilinskis everywhere.” It’s going to be more than one night. It’ll be a lot more than one night, and Stiles knows it; he makes an indecipherable noise and clutches at John’s shirt again. “But if I can’t have my Stiles—and I don’t blame you for that, okay? I don’t blame you—then I’m grateful, I am so grateful not to be alone. I’m glad I have you. And I’m glad you have me, since you don’t have your own dad. I’m glad you’re not alone, because you may not be my Stiles, but I’ve been finding you just as easy to love.”

Stiles breathes out shakily and loosens his death grip on John’s shirt. “…You’re pretty easy to love, too.”

“I know.”

Stiles snorts. “Shut up.”

“There’s my boy.”

Stiles laughs, and for the first time tonight, it actually sounds like a laugh. They settle down some after that, John releasing Stiles, Stiles finally looking like he doesn’t feel the need to bolt out of the house, flee to Mexico, and change his name to Juan. Which is something he’s actually threatened to do before.

Or at least, it’s something John’s Stiles has threatened to do. He’ll have to ask this Stiles if he ever has.

“I miss him,” Stiles admits eventually, watching John carefully for a reaction.

“I know you do.”

“I miss them all. I was supposed to keep them safe, I told Derek I’d—I sent Scott off alone, and he’s, God, you know how freaking helpless he can be. What if he’s dead? He’s probably dead, Dad. He’s probably dead, they’re probably all dead, because I had this stupid pendant and I used it and I didn’t think—”

My God, he’s been carrying this around for months, and I barely noticed. “Stiles, if you hadn’t used that pendant, you’d be dead. Right?”

“…Right.”

“You couldn’t help them if you were dead, either.”

“But at least that wouldn’t be my fault.”

“The scariest thing is that I almost followed that logic. But no, Stiles. No. You can’t help not being in that world anymore. You’d be gone one way or another because you sustained fatal injuries trying to protect them—you’d given them everything you had. It’s not your fault just because you’re alive to worry about it. You tried to stay with them, didn’t you? You even tried that pendant, not knowing what it would do, because you wanted to stay.”

“But—”

“Your mother wanted to stay, too.”

Stiles’s breath stops, which answers that question. He and his father must’ve talked about Alina exactly as much as John and his Stiles did, which is to say, not at all.

“Do you blame her,” John asks, “because she couldn’t?”

“No,” Stiles whispers. And of course he doesn’t; he blames himself.

This is the problem with only children, John decides, exhausted. They think they’re the center of the universe, and that doesn’t mean they feel special, it just means they think everything is their fault. And with Stiles being all magical, well, he’s got more of a basis for that delusion than most.

“They don’t blame you for going, either, Stiles. They don’t blame you any more than you blame her.”

Stiles puts a hand over his mouth and looks away, and John knows better than to press it at this point. He’ll go back to chipping away at Stiles’s mountain of pointless guilt when they’re both a little less frayed.

Because John, yeah, he’s not actually dealing with this anywhere near as well as he’s lead Stiles to believe. He is, in fact, going to head over to the Hale’s at some point soon to have a good old-fashioned breakdown in the presence of adults.

He’s never letting any of it touch Stiles, though. This Stiles, even more than John’s Stiles, has been through enough. John refuses to add to it. He refuses, because even though his son is dead, his son is standing in front of him.

He has no idea how to feel about any of this. But he is not, he is not letting it touch Stiles.

* * *

Stiles knows how his dad feels, and he is pretty freaking amazed by how well the guy is handling this. He’s confused and sad (who wouldn’t be?) and a little panicky (fair enough) and really, really guilty (seriously, why?), but the disgust, the anger, the hatred that Stiles expected—none of that’s there at all. Not yet, anyway.

…It would probably make it easier on both of them if it were. If this Dad were less awesome than Stiles’s Dad, Stiles could get some, whatever, emotional distance. If this Dad had managed to get his Stiles more mentally separated from the current Stiles, he could actually grieve, let go, start over.

As it is, it’s gonna be a horror show for both of them. It’s not an easy thing to grieve for the person you currently live with. Not that there are studies on the psychological effects of that, obviously. Maybe Stiles should be looking into how parents who lose one twin deal, but even that isn’t quite right. No, the Stilinskis have managed to be more messed up than that.

He shakes his head and spontaneously decides the best way out is through. “So. Further to the werewolf stuff.”

“Oh, God. I’ve learned my lesson; I’m sitting down for this.” Dad marches over to the kitchen table, pulls out a chair, and sits. Like, with emphasis. Stiles wanders over to sit opposite him, still prepared to run screaming from the house at any moment. Even now, there are a lot of ways this could go bad.

“There’s kind of…um, we have an issue.”

“A werewolf issue.”

“A supernatural issue, anyway. Because, okay. Remember that time I warned you about the pixies?”

Dad gets up and beelines for the whiskey. Stiles isn’t saying a thing about it—if ever there was a conversation that called for whiskey, this is it. “So pixies are real, too,” Dad says.

“Sadly, yes.”

“What did you say? Flies like a hummingbird, bites like a…?”

“Komodo dragon.”

“But if I shoot one, it’ll die?”

“Yeah. The pixies, not the werewolves—you need wolfsbane for that. I have a lot of wolfsbane, though, just so you know. And that’s another thing—we’ve got these mind-controlled omegas wandering around attacking people.”

“Omegas…the lowest in the pack?”

“No, um. Lone wolves.”

“What are Derek and Laura?”

“Betas. But Laura’s alpha material. I’m kind of impressed she got through that whole talk with you without mentioning that once. That’s like serious personal growth for her.”

“But wasn’t Derek your alpha?”

Oh, man. This question. “Yeah, he was, but…okay, Dad, I feel kind of traitorous saying this? But he was never meant to be the alpha, and he was really bad at it. So bad, you don’t even—not that it’s all his fault! Like, watching the Hales now? I can’t believe the way they treat the guy. It’s like they’ve never even thought about what would happen if he ended up on his own, it’s unbelievably—”

“He is part of a huge family, Stiles,” Dad cuts in, rolling his eyes. “It’s perfectly reasonable that they assumed they wouldn’t all die. How did they all die, by the way?”

“Hunters trapped them in their house and burned them alive. Which brings us to part three of our current supernatural disaster: hunters.”

“Right, the Argents. Because apparently they hunt werewolves.”

“They hunt anything they don’t like the look of, basically. Sometimes including witches.”

Dad is instantly horrified, and that’s…Stiles knows he shouldn’t keep testing this, but it’s such an unbelievable relief. Apparently he’s really, truly, honest-to-god not going to lose his dad over this. Or, well, other!Stiles’s dad. But the less he thinks about that, the better.

You’re a witch,” Dad says, panicking to a backhandedly awesome extent.

“Yeah, but I have a…truce? Armistice? Pact of mutual antipathy and neglect? With the Argents.”

“Well, that sounds friendly. Did Scott know about all this when he started dating Allison?” Dad demands. Great, now he’s getting pissed at Scott. Can’t have that.

“He did, but be fair, I basically set them up. They were dating in my world, too, except that there, Scott was a werewolf, remember. So, Tristan and Isolde, Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story, the whole thing. It was ridiculous. Like, they went on their first date, and later that night Chris shot Scott with a crossbow. I’m not even joking.”

“Chris Argent shoots children with crossbows?” Dad asks coldly.

“Well, not to death. Hang on, am I defending Chris Argent right now? What the hell is my life? That’s not the point, anyway! The point is, we’re worried that a hunter might be the one mind-controlling the omegas and, uh. Other bad stuff. And the hunter might be Chris’s dad, who’s supposed to be dead.”

“But you think he isn’t.”

“He was seriously hard to kill in my world.” Stiles is so into this reckless full disclosure mode that he almost slips and mentions the basement, but luckily catches himself in time. How crazy would it make Dad that Stiles had gotten beaten up by somebody in another world that Dad could never get to? So crazy.

And the man’s looking worried enough as it is. “Please tell me you’re leaving this mostly up to the Hales.”

“I’m…mostly leaving it up to the Hales?”

“Somehow I’m not completely reassured. I want their phone numbers.”

“Fair.”

“And for you to tell me if anything changes.”

“…Sure.”

“I mean it, Stiles! God. To think I actually believed life couldn’t get weirder than that summer you stole Ricky Garcia’s iguana and tried to convince me to ship it to the tropics.”

“Excuse me, I liberated that iguana. I was just trying to send it home.”

“So you’ve always claimed,” Dad says absently, heaving himself out of his chair. “I’m making popcorn, then you’re giving me those numbers.”

“No butter, no salt!”

“Yeah, yeah. Suck all the joy out of it.”

So you’ve always claimed, he said, and he didn’t even notice. Stiles gives himself until the popcorn finishes popping to feel guilty and sick and confused. But when the microwave beeps, he buries all that, picks up his phone, and starts pulling up numbers for other!Stiles’s dad.

Who he’s apparently stolen, because stealing the guy’s body wasn’t bad enough.


Part 3
 
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