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Derek is innocently sitting at the kitchen table reading a book on PTSD when Philip walks in and glares at him like everything in the world is his fault. Derek’s used to this look from Laura, but Philip? He doesn’t usually get anything worse than amused tolerance from Philip. Also there should be some comment on the book, and it’s troubling that there isn’t.

“About Stiles,” Philip says accusingly. And suddenly it all makes sense.

“Stiles isn’t my fault,” Derek argues preemptively.

“On a normal day, he sends me maybe five texts with questions about wards, but this, this is a new low. He’s sent me twenty texts this morning. This morning, Derek. Ten of them are about, I kid you not, the mating habits of pixies. Five of them are about the Argents and Stiles’s belief that this whole disaster is being engineered by one of their undead hunters. And five of them are about you, for no apparent reason.”

Derek desperately wants to ask what the texts about him said, but in this mood, Philip would probably respond by lining the kitchen with mountain ash and leaving Derek there. “He still isn’t my fault,” Derek maintains.

“He is your responsibility, though, little brother.” It’s always a bad sign when Philip calls him little brother. “And he tells me the undead Argent has been sighted around town. He’s asking permission for one of us to meet with the other Argents so that we can, quote, ‘Kill the son of a bitch together like one big, happy family.’”

Derek has no idea what kind of response Philip’s looking for, here.

“Is he insane, Derek?” Philip asks in despair. “I know you and Laura like him, but you’d tell me, wouldn’t you? You’d smell the crazy on him and you’d tell me, right?”

“You can’t smell crazy. Well. Sometimes you can. Some types of chemical—”

Derek.”

“I don’t know what you want me to say!”

“Is there really an undead Argent in town?”

“If Stiles says there is, then there must be. It’s no weirder than the mind-controlled omegas, is it? Maybe they’re being mind-controlled by the undead Argent.”

“Derek, you’re starting to talk like him.”

“I am not!” Is he? “Anyway, so what if he is crazy? We’ll go check this out, it’ll turn out to be nothing, no harm done.”

“Except that the Argents will know who we are.”

“…Stiles says they’re retired.” Stiles has also said he doesn’t want the Argents to know the Hales are werewolves, so meeting with them must be an unavoidable show of good faith. Philip doesn’t seem in the mood to hear that, though. Why isn’t he having this conversation with Mom, anyway? Mom’s the alpha.

“I’m sure that makes all the difference in the world,” Philip says sourly. “I assume you and Laura are going.”

“If that’s what Mom wants.”

“It’s what Stiles will want. And Mom’s been going along with whatever Stiles wants for a while now, for reasons I really don’t—” Philip’s phone dings with an incoming text, and he pulls it out of his pocket, resigned. “Now he’s complaining that he has to tell Allison Argent about the whole alternate universe thing,” Philip reports. “What alternate universe thing?”

“Uh, Mom didn’t tell you about that?”

“No, Derek, she didn’t.”

“Oh.” Great. That means Derek has to tell him. This whole conversation seems very unfair. “He’s leaving.” Wait, that wasn’t where he meant to start.

Philip drops his phone and stares at Derek with terrible pity. “What?

“He’s not…from here. Remember when he asked you about your pendant?”

“Oh. Oh God, he already used the pendant! That’s why he…oh, he’s trying to get back.” Philip now has the upset and conflicted expression that Laura calls his Horrified on Behalf of Everyone face. “No wonder we couldn’t work out who his old pack was. Were we his old pack?”

“Kind of.” You were dead, Derek thinks, guilty and depressed. You were all dead, there was just me and Cora, and I was exactly as useless as everyone always said I would be. “You should have Mom tell you about it.”

“But she’s busy—”

“Then have Laura tell you.”

Philip stops short and studies Derek’s face, openly concerned. Not that he needs to be. Derek doesn’t want to talk about it, that’s all—it’s embarrassing. And yeah, that Derek wasn’t him, but…

It could’ve been him. It’s only luck that it wasn’t.

* * *

Talia decides to send Derek and Laura to meet with Allison and, if necessary, Chris. She agrees it needs to happen. Stiles tries to argue that for a while, but Talia points out that it was his idea in the first place, which…yeah, it was. He was just kind of hoping she’d shoot him down.

This is going to be a terrible, awful, no-good meeting, and it was Stiles’s idea, which means it’s his fault.

Derek and Laura show up first. Allison arrives a few minutes later, dragging Scott and Lydia along with her, which—why? Does she think Stiles is less likely to kill her if she has Scott and Lydia as buffers? Did she bring Scott for moral support? Did Lydia blackmail her way into coming as research for her forthcoming dissertation on multiple realities? Is Talia going to be really pissed that Lydia knows about them?

Is it way too late to worry about all this? Yes, and he needs to stop.

What this means, though, is that Stiles has most of his favorite people in one room, and in a way, that’s really cool. It’s just too bad he’s uncomfortable with half of them being able to identify the other half and is actively praying for no bloodshed. Fuck his life.

“Okay. Thanks for showing up,” he says. “I know this sucks. But Gerard’s definitely alive; people have been seeing him and his goons around town, like, grocery shopping and stuff.”

“Why wouldn’t he hide?” Allison demands stiffly. She can’t argue, though—it was her dad’s connections and stalker equipment that found Gerard. Stiles is so glad he bullied Scott into telling her the alternate universe story. No way could he have dealt with the hostile, suspicious faces she’d have made if he’d been the one to tell her.

“I doubt he thinks anyone’s looking for him after all these years.”

She nods unhappily, conceding that.

“So Gerard’s alive,” Stiles goes on, “but he was almost dead at one point. So close to dead that it would’ve taken something supernatural to save him.”

“He couldn’t have!” Allison insists.

“Not and stay with your family, he couldn’t,” Stiles agrees. “Which, I’m guessing, is why he let you guys think he was dead.”

Allison looks horrified, but it’s nothing on that time her granddad sicced a lizard on her, so Stiles ignores it.

“No one supernatural would’ve helped him,” Laura points out. “Not if they knew who he was.”

“He’s a schemer, though,” Stiles says. “Has all these plans. Maybe he blackmailed somebody into helping him. Or maybe one of his cult of hunters was actually an evil Druid, because that’s what happened in my world.”

“Then why is he doing whatever he’s doing now?” Derek asks. “It’s drawing a lot of attention—he can’t want that.”

“Because he was diagnosed with terminal cancer a couple of years ago,” Stiles explains, feeling the same exhaustion he’s felt since he first got confirmation that Gerard was alive. “I’m betting that’s the same in both universes. The cancer. And he must’ve tried to get something supernatural to fix it really quietly, since he’s playing dead and, yeah, wouldn’t want attention. But it didn’t work, or it only worked for a while, so he’s gone with this whole zombie omega plan. Again.” It’s been all Gerard all the time. If only Stiles had had this epiphany back in his home universe, but no, he was determined to believe the omegas were a separate problem, that they were just being driven insane by the instability. He never figured out they were mind-controlled, and that’s why the pack split their attention and their focus and died wholesale. Because he wasn’t thinking. “Of course, here, the omegas have already been around for a year, which makes no sense. Unless he wanted his omega army in place before he started? Last time he had his Darach buddy sacrificing humans to rip holes in magic and unbalance it, and that’s actually one of the less flashy ways to do it. Could be he wanted everything prepared in advance, so he could get done fast and get out.”

“Darach?” Lydia doesn’t approve of the existence of words she doesn’t know.

“Druids gone wrong,” Stiles explains.

“Ah. Well, your idea would make sense, except that, according to you, we already have unstable magic, and I…think we would’ve noticed human sacrifices.”

“And we definitely would’ve noticed anything more dramatic than that,” Allison says.

Stiles agrees. So how did Gerard unbalance local magic badly enough to end up with pixies and Stiles and every other crazy thing without anyone noticing? Because there should’ve been some kind of—

Oh.

“Oh, crap, it’s me. I punched right through the fabric of this reality coming over here, and that—that definitely could’ve caused magical instability.”

Holy shit, he hates that pendant. He’s not a symptom, he’s the cause. The pixies didn’t show up here until after he did—this is on him.

“And if you hadn’t caused it,” Laura interrupts his thoughts sternly, “they’d have been sacrificing humans for the same results. Yes? No?”

“Oh,” Stiles says, disoriented by the abrupt derailing of his personal guilt train. “Yeah. Probably.” So…apparently he prevented human sacrifices just by existing? That’s cool. And yet it feels seriously gross to be happy about doing favors for Gerard Argent. “So I guess Gerard just took the hole I made and…kept it open? He could do that without being flashy. It’s way easier to keep magic unstable than it is to destabilize it in the first place.”

Lydia’s taking notes.

“What good will unstable magic do him?” Allison asks, narrowing her eyes.

“Power. If you rip a hole in magic, that’s…that’s an insane amount of power. Almost too insane—hard to channel and hard to control—not quite as bad as trying to power a flashlight with a nuke, but, you know. Close. But if you put that together with the omegas…I’m guessing he’s using them as a magic filter. I think that’s a thing you can do with magical creatures. Or maybe they’re just a distraction. Or both—Gerard is a multitasker. Anyway, hopefully it’ll take him a while to finish setting this up, because we seriously need to kill him before he’s done. But hey, if we’re lucky, he’ll blow himself up trying.”

“We’re not gonna be lucky, are we?” Scott asks sadly.

“We never are, buddy.”

“What did you do about Gerard last time?” Lydia wants to know.

“Last time he eventually got to our Peter, who was practically an omega and really mentally unstable anyway, and at that point we, uh. Died horribly? So yeah, can’t help you there.”

Everyone goes silent in shocked sympathy.

“Really, Stiles?” Everyone except Lydia, who has no patience for other people’s trauma—or even her own. “No ideas at all? Did you actually die and learn nothing from it? You’re supposed to be the expert, here.”

“Kill them all?” Stiles suggests. He’s irritated when that meets with a bunch of glares and a “No, Stiles,” from Derek freaking Hale, of all people.

“Derek just said no to ‘kill them all,’” Stiles complains to Laura. “That’s how I know the world is wrong.”

“That’s not normal?”

“Not where I come from.”

Derek rolls his eyes.

“That aside,” Stiles goes on, “what I’d like to know is why no one ever likes ‘kill the problem’ as a plan of action. Because I’m telling you, it’s a winning strategy.” He pauses, then points at Derek. “Unless it’s your strategy, but that’s because once an idea passes through your brain, it magically becomes bad. It’s your superpower. Your other superpower, aside from the claws and fangs and whatever.”

“It’s not my job to be the ideas guy,” Derek points out, unoffended.

“True,” Stiles agrees thoughtfully. “Congratulations on living in this timeline, I guess.”

“Is this what our pack meetings were like?” Scott groans.

“No,” Stiles assures him. “If this were one of our pack meetings, Allison would’ve stormed off by now, Lydia would’ve set something on fire out of boredom, and Derek would’ve thrown me into a wall.”

“Congratulations to all of us on living in this timeline, then,” Laura murmurs. “And speaking of packs, we really need to go to mine with this. Assuming your family is willing to let us handle it, Allison?”

“We’re willing to let you try,” Allison says, formal. “But if something goes wrong—Gerard is family. We get the next shot at him.”

“That’s reasonable,” Laura allows. “I’ll call my alpha.”

“Can we actually stand back and let the adults handle it?” Stiles asks in an awed whisper. “Is that an option in this world? Because if it is, that is seriously the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me. Oh my God, Peter isn’t even insane. Make him handle it. Solved!” Stiles throws his arms up triumphantly and then collapses back into his chair, propping his feet up on the family-sized box of wolfsbane in front of him. “I love this side of the rainbow.”

“…I thought you’d want to be involved,” Derek says warily, eyeballing the wolfsbane. Maybe he’s developing a sense of self-preservation after all. Stiles is pleased to see it happening without fire and death being involved.

“You thought wrong. I am so over that phase in my life. What I want is for you guys and Dad to not die. If I can arrange for you to not die by sending random other people out to protect you for me? Awesome. So awesome. I will sit here and bake them congratulatory cookies if they survive. And maybe place some bets, because you guys are the gamblingest family I’ve ever met. Maybe I’ll make it to eighteen without any new scars! How crazy would that be?”

“So you don’t…care if our parents die?” Laura asks cautiously.

“Sure, I care. Our lives would instantly get way harder if they did. Plus, I like your parents. But they’re not, I don’t know, they’re not my problem.”

“He’s kind of a sociopath, isn’t he?” Lydia asks the room at large.

“It shouldn’t be as surprising as it is,” Scott remarks. “It’s just easy to forget because he loves us.”

Stiles is mildly offended by that, but not offended enough to actually waste time arguing about it.

“How would you feel if Peter died?” Laura asks, apparently in the spirit of scientific inquiry.

“Uh…I’d be very…sad?”

The werewolves give him the we’re-disappointed-you-even-tried-that look. Actually, Lydia and Scott are also giving him that look.

“Although,” Derek says after a long, judgmental silence, “that wasn’t really a fair question. Considering the whole thing with the other Peter.”

“What thing with the other Peter?” Scott asks, alarmed.

“Stiles,” Laura sighs, “we need to talk about your…how shall I put this?…inability to tell the whole truth about anything ever.”

“We don’t,” Stiles assures her. “We really, really don’t.”

“I’m bored,” Lydia throws in, “and may yet set something on fire.”

“I’m calling my alpha,” Laura announces.

She does call Talia, and just like that, it’s all out of Stiles’s hands except the advice-giving. Gerard Argent is…not his problem.

Perversely, that’s making him nervous, because talk about too good to be true. Assuming it’s even going to work, of course. From what he’s overhearing, it sounds like Talia thinks killing Gerard and handing the other hunters and the Darach over to the Argents will be good enough.

Stiles thinks nothing is ever that easy. If Gerard is perpetuating the instability Stiles caused, then yeah, it should heal itself when Gerard dies, and that means the pixies should go, too. But the Darach? Stiles isn’t totally confident Chris can handle him. Chris isn’t, what, ruthless enough? Plus there are the omegas. What’s that mind-control been doing to them? If Gerard dies, do they just go back to normal? Or do they die? Or did he actually break their minds, in which case they’ll still be staggering around all befanged and trying to make Gerard happy, which—

“Stiles,” Laura says. “She wants to talk to you.”

Stiles greedily seizes the phone and treats Talia to a rundown of all of his worst case scenarios. She doesn’t seem as grateful as he thinks she ought to be.

* * *

Derek finds it easy to believe that Stiles only cares about a handful of people, because he cares about them to a completely insane extent, and there’s no way he could manage it for a crowd. Derek may not think much of his counterpart, but he is grateful to him for somehow persuading Stiles to count Derek as important.

Like an idiot, though, Derek thought the clannish attitude meant Stiles wouldn’t get too upset over tonight’s fight, since he has all his people under his eye. Derek was wrong. Stiles refuses to believe they’ll be able to wrap this up cleanly, and he’s spent the entire evening frantically predicting the worst and trying to plan for every possible fallout.

“You told your dad to stay in tonight, yeah?” Stiles asks Allison for at least the third time. “Because I know Gerard’s technically family, but he’s a freak, and he won’t act like family.”

Your Gerard didn’t act like family,” Allison counters, unimpressed.

Your Gerard faked his own death and is currently keeping a hole open in the magical fabric of reality,” Stiles hisses. “I think he’s basically the same flavor of evil!”

“Stiles,” the sheriff cuts in before this can go any further south. “Allison called her father; I heard her. Okay? I think everybody’s as safe as you can make them.”

“I don’t understand why Philip has to be out there,” Stiles grumbles, chewing nervously on a nail. He’s like a general unwillingly forced back from the front; it’s ridiculous.

“Because his wards are a thing of beauty and joy forever, I hear,” Laura sighs. “I should be out there, too, but Derek and I have been detailed to babysit you guys.”

Stiles snorts. “Please. This house is the safest place in Beacon Hills and Talia knows it. She just doesn’t want her babies getting hurt. I’m surprised she didn’t send the twins and Peter’s kids and Erica here, too.”

“Our house is pretty safe, too, Stiles,” Laura reminds him gently. “You made it that way, remember?”

Stiles shrugs and rubs his arms nervously. Derek gives the sheriff a pleading look, but he just shakes his head. Apparently there’s nothing to be done when Stiles is like this. “Philip’s wards are a thing of beauty, but the guy’s got no power to speak of,” Stiles complains. “I should be out there.”

No,” the sheriff, Derek, and Laura order in synch.

“Fiiiiine,” Stiles groans. “Thea came back to town to play, though, right?”

“She doesn’t like to miss out on fights,” Laura says, rolling her eyes. Derek snorts, because Laura hates missing fights just as much as Nana Thea. More.

“Thea is the most awesome,” Stiles allows. “Okay. So…Talia, Kevin, Peter, Felicia, Thea, Philip. They can handle it, can’t they?”

Yes, Stiles,” Laura insists.

“Stiles, I swear to God, if you don’t stop fidgeting around like you’re thinking of darting off into the night, I will tie you to a chair,” the sheriff says abruptly.

“Can’t tie him to a chair yet, Sheriff,” Scott says, wandering in from the living room where he and Lydia have been inexplicably marathoning The Twilight Zone. “He’s making us dinner.”

“Hey, no, I don’t have time for—I have things—”

“You promised me dinner, dude, and it’s eight already. I’m starving. First you trapped me in your house and now you’re not even feeding me, this is totally—”

Fine, dinner, Jesus. Wouldn’t want you to die on an empty stomach.”

“No one’s going to die, Stiles,” Derek says, feeling the need to step in here.

“Oh God,” Stiles breathes, giving Derek a look of betrayed horror. “Are you an optimist?

“Dinner, Stiles,” Scott repeats, herding him toward the kitchen. Stiles continues staring wide-eyed at Derek over his shoulder the whole way. Obviously Scott’s calming techniques are a thousand times more effective than Derek’s.

By the end of dinner, Stiles seems to have worn himself down a little, enough that Scott’s content to go back to his Twilight Zone marathon with Lydia and now Allison. The sheriff and Laura are washing dishes together. It leaves Derek free to sit at the dining room table with Stiles, who’s staring fixedly at a book on magical instability, though he doesn’t seem to be reading it. He blinks and looks up when Derek sits next to him, raising a curious eyebrow. He must think Derek has a question.

In a way, that’s true. Derek has a thousand questions, most of which it would be a very bad idea to ask. He sifts through them carefully before deciding on one that’s at least borderline innocent and not embarrassingly needy.

“You had scars?” he asks quietly, hoping no one will overhear. Well, no one but Laura—Laura eavesdrops on everything.

“So many scars, dude,” Stiles agrees gamely, holding his hands out in front of him and turning them speculatively over and back again. “You have no idea.”

“You almost sound like you miss them.” Which can’t be possible because it’s insane. Right?

“I kind of do.”

Wrong. Of course. This is Stiles.

“But at the same time, I kind of don’t? I mean, this year, the first time I woke up and saw frost on the windows? I cringed, Derek, I cowered, it was the opposite of tough. I didn’t want to get out of bed because I knew I’d be hobbling like an old guy all day and I just didn’t want to start. But then, hey—I got up and nothing hurt. Like, at all. I’ve basically hit the physical reset on every mistake I’ve ever made, because one serious car accident doesn’t add up to a couple of years of bi-monthly death-defying shenanigans. So that’s pretty sweet, even if I do miss the scars. The look of them, anyway.”

Derek’s appalled. Beacon Hills has always been so peaceful and his family’s always been so healthy, he’s never even considered the problem of long-term physical damage in humans. “Didn’t your alpha” —who was Derek, God, that will never stop being weird— “teach you to fight?”

Stiles shrugs. “A little? There was a lot of learn-by-doing. He was pretty busy teaching the betas to fight—mostly he wanted me to stay the hell out of it.”

And if he hadn’t been a complete moron, he would’ve known that wouldn’t work, Derek thinks viciously. But then he gives it a little more thought, and he can’t help feeling bad for his counterpart. He must’ve built his pack from scratch after Laura died, no idea what he was doing, surrounded by out of control hunters…and then Stiles, on top of that. That’s too much for anyone to handle. Stiles is almost too much for Derek all on his own.

“Did…do you still hurt? From the crash?”

Stiles shrugs, refusing to meet Derek’s eyes. “Not really.”

“You do know I can tell when you’re lying.”

“Yeah, but you’re not supposed to call me out on it. God.”

Of course. Derek knew Stiles felt that way, but he never thought it through. Is that…is that what Stiles has been doing for Derek? Has he known about Derek’s embarrassing crush all along? (Is it still a crush when you’re in your twenties, or is it something uglier? Fixation, obsession, infatuation.) Has he known, and pretended not to as a courtesy?

And if so, is that the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for Derek, or the cruelest?

Stiles is studying him, catching God knows what feelings off of him, and Derek has never hated that tattoo the way he hates it right now. He thinks he’s starting to understand what humans dislike so much about werewolves. It’s not the extra senses and super strength per se. It’s the cultural differences in what you’re allowed to do with them.

Stiles takes this moment to reach out with a faint smile and run his fingers lightly across the inside of Derek’s left wrist, and just for a second, Derek could swear he smells desire on Stiles, too. Just for a second, before it’s ruthlessly suppressed (or maybe Derek was imagining it).

And then Stiles stands and wanders off to the kitchen and his father, leaving Derek in the dining room, reeling and confused and tentatively happy. Or panicked. Or both. He’s leaving, Derek reminds himself viciously, but it’s a hard idea to keep hold of when Stiles doesn’t act at all like someone planning to leave. Nothing makes sense anymore.

Laura leaves the kitchen to come sit next to Derek, the better to laugh at him up close. He’s so baffled he can’t even work up the energy to get pissed at her for it. She eventually feels bad enough herself to pull him into a sympathetic hug, which—well, he’s not always sorry he’s related to her. In fact, the idea of her dying and leaving him has been giving him nightmares. Nothing like perspective.

They finally get a call from Mom three hours later, just before Stiles has an actual nervous breakdown. They put her on speaker so the humans can hear.

“Gerard is dead,” she says right off the bat, because Mom is a believer in good news first. “We cut him in half and Philip magically burned him to ash, then we threw the ashes in the river. Is that thorough enough for you, Stiles?”

“I’m very happy,” Stiles says brightly. “A for execution. See what I did there?”

Laura snorts, Derek rolls his eyes, and the sheriff laughs a little hysterically and pinches the bridge of his nose.

“Oh my God, Stiles,” Allison groans, sounding very big sister-like, so apparently Stiles is making progress on that front. Although…this is Allison’s grandfather they’re talking about dismembering. Shouldn’t she be upset?

Derek will never understand hunters.

“You were right about the pixies, by the way,” Peter cuts in, stealing the phone from Mom. “They scattered the instant Gerard and his Darach friend died. You don’t know how much it pains me, Stiles, that you were right about that.”

“And it’s gonna pain you more, because this means you owe me free pizza on demand for a month. I told you that was a sucker bet.”

“Peter thinks the instability is almost healed by now,” Mom says, stealing the phone back from Peter before the conversation becomes completely ridiculous. “Which should leave us with no more pixies than anyone else. And with Gerard dead, the omegas seem to be mostly back to normal—just very confused. Philip says to tell you they were being used to filter the magic, Stiles.”

Stiles throws his arms in the air triumphantly, and the sheriff smiles at him.

“That’s the good news. The bad news is that Mom got shot. We had access to wolfsbane—” By which Derek assumes she means they rifled through the pockets of dead hunters. “—so she’s fine. But she will be completely impossible about it for weeks, so everyone, I don’t know. Brace yourselves.

“And as you know, Philip insisted on coming along, and he also got himself shot by a hunter. He’s in the hospital, but he’ll be fine. Eventually.”

“Uncle Peter,” Laura says, “you owe me ten bucks, a meal, and a favor of my choice.”

“I told him to stay at the treeline!” Peter insists.

“He still got shot, and a bet’s a bet,” Laura informs him.

“The rest of the bad news,” Mom says, firmly retaking control of the conversation, “is that a few of Gerard’s hunters escaped. Normal hunters—we did kill the Darach. Argent says he’ll have them blacklisted, but…well. We’ll see how effective that turns out to be.”

Stiles is nervously chewing on the pad of his thumb now. Who does that?

“Everyone should stay in a safe place tonight in case the escapees are out for revenge. Sheriff, do you mind if your group stays there for the night?”

“No problem,” the sheriff says, obviously relieved that things aren’t worse.

“Then I’ll see you all in the morning,” Mom says, and hangs up.

This is the way the Hales expect fights to go, so Laura and Derek just smile at each other, pleased. The newcomers shuffle off to bed, ignorant of any reason not to be completely relieved. Allison seems conflicted and staggers a little when she stands, but she lets Scott guide her to the pull-out couch.

Stiles clearly can’t believe it’s this easy. He stares at the phone fixedly after Mom hangs up, breathless, still waiting for the trick, for the lie, for the moment it all goes wrong. Laura sits beside him and rubs his back for a while, until the sheriff pulls him to his feet and steers him toward the stairs and his room, murmuring reassurances while Stiles nods mechanically.

He wouldn’t normally do this because it’s both creepy and exhausting, but that night Derek listens to Stiles sleeping. Just for the night. He listens, and Stiles wakes them both up three times with his pounding heart and bitten-off screams. The only reason it’s not more than that is because after the third time Stiles gives up on sleep and just watches movies on his computer until the sun comes up.

Derek would really like to travel to Stiles’s world and kill everyone in it for the things they allowed to happen to him. The idea of Stiles going back there makes him feel physically sick.

But it’s not his decision to make.

* * *

“So everything’s cool now, right?” Scott asks a week after the Gerard Showdown of Great Anticlimax.

It’s twenty minutes after school, and pretty much everybody else is gone. Stiles and Scott are sitting on the front steps, Scott keeping Stiles company until Derek gets there—after which Scott’s going home to Isaac, who practically lives at the McCall’s now. Stiles is very proud.

They’re waiting for Derek because Derek is taking Stiles out to the preserve to train when he gets off work. He hasn’t been very communicative about why, exactly, but Stiles doesn’t care. It’ll be useful, and even if it isn’t, it’s fun to hang around with Derek.

“It’s cool for now,” Stiles agrees.

“You fixed everything,” Scott presses.

“Um, no? Talia fixed everything. I wasn’t even there.”

Scott rolls his eyes, exasperated. “Dude, you told them what was happening and where to go and what to do and—whatever, that isn’t even the point. You know what went wrong in your world now, that’s what I’m saying.”

“Yeah,” Stiles sighs. “Guess I do.” Gerard fucking Argent. Why hadn’t they set him on fire when they had him down the first time? Fail.

“Then.” Scott stops and picks nervously at a shoelace. “Does that mean you’re, uh. Going back?”

Going back. It figures Scott knew he was planning on that. But he still hasn’t figured out how, or even if there is a way. He’s hardly been trying, the last few months. He’s been so busy with this Gerard thing and getting everyone where they belong and staring at Derek’s perfect cheekbones that it’s just…he’s let a lot of things slide. Used to be he never let anything slide.

And maybe Deaton has a point.

“I’m not going anywhere, Scott,” Stiles admits for the first time, to Scott, to himself, to anyone. “I don’t know how to get back, and even if I figure out a way, by now…I’m too scared to find out what I’d be going back to. What if you and Dad are dead? What the hell would I do there without you? But here and now, you guys are alive, and I can help you.” A second chance. Maybe he’ll even get to see everyone grow up this time. He has a weird fascination with the idea of Derek’s pack as adults, probably because he never believed any of them would live that long.

Scott nudges him, the constant, low-level vibe of grief and anxiety he’s always giving off around Stiles disappearing, relief and contentment taking its place. And that, yeah, that’s worth fighting for.

“So,” Scott says in the tone of a man determined to ruin the moment, “are you secretly sleeping with Derek Hale?”

Oh, it is on. “Not yet.”

Scott blinks, alarmed. “Not yet?

“Come on, Scott, you know my ass isn’t legal for another two months.”

Laura takes this moment to drop down at Stiles’s side and say, “Aha. I’d wondered what you were waiting for.”

Scott jumps a foot, because werewolf sneakiness. Stiles could’ve told him they had Laura incoming, but Scott lost that privilege when he decided to be a moment-ruining dick.

“No one likes being charged with statutory rape,” Stiles informs Laura. “And this would be especially awkward, what with my dad being who he is. I can wait. I am a long-term planner.”

“Does Derek know about your long-term plan?” Laura asks, amused.

No. I find it’s best to give him as little time as possible to have thoughts. My strategy is more, I’ll jump him at my birthday party and see what happens.” Heather-style. Hey, Heather’s still alive here! He’ll have to go say hi, God. Wow. Wait, though…if…did he lose his virginity to Heather in this world? He’ll have to ask Scott, because Heather can see right through him, and this could potentially be crazy awkward.

But he likes the idea of the Heather approach. It’s something he could never have pulled off in his own world, because he’d have spazzed out and made an ass of himself in public for sure. But here? There’s some subconscious part of his brain that doesn’t count this world as real, and he feels like he can do anything. It’ll definitely get him in all kinds of trouble at some point, so he should make the most of the upsides.

“What if he throws you across the room?” Laura wants to know.

“Wouldn’t be the first time.”

“Don’t conflate your Dereks.”

“Point still stands.”

Laura hums thoughtfully, gazing into the middle distance. Stiles recognizes this as a danger sign right around the time she asks, “Did you love your Derek?”

Stiles isn’t sure she understands how cruel some of her questions are. Scott understands, though, because he’s staring at her with eyes so horrified anyone would think she’d just killed a kitten in front of him.

Stiles kicks Scott’s shoe gently in gratitude, then deals with Laura. “My Derek is dead.”

“I know. Not what I asked.”

He’s starting to think she does know what this line of questioning is doing to him, and she’s asking anyway, grimly determined. Why?

Don’t conflate your Dereks.

Oh. This is some basic family defense, right here. Okay.

“I didn’t love him yet,” Stiles says, bracing himself. “Maybe I would’ve. Eventually. But my Derek was a lot more broken than yours, I wasn’t even sure I liked him most of the time, and it would’ve taken actual years to work him around to the idea that we could be a thing without anyone getting killed or maimed—and I couldn’t have even started until I was legal, for reasons I’m not rehashing. I hadn’t had time to decide whether or not I was up for it.” He’s had time since then, though, and he thinks he’d have gone for it eventually, if they’d both lived long enough. Scott was being pulled in a lot of directions and just didn’t have as much time for Stiles as he used to, and Derek…Derek was really attractive, Derek needed him, and Stiles…Stiles likes being needed. Of course, Derek resented needing people, and Stiles resents being resented. Not to mention the probable boatload of Kate Argent-related triggers Derek would refuse to talk about and Stiles would constantly be tripping over until they were both nervous wrecks. He has no idea how Ms. Blake handled that so well, but seriously, respect. Maybe she and Derek had complementary flavors of madness going, he doesn’t know. As for him, though, God, he can see the five-act tragedy playing out in his mind’s eye right now.

And if part of him still thinks it sounds like a fun challenge, that’s just, that’s a sign of damage, is what that is. “I would’ve been signing up to be a boyfriend, war advisor, and 24/7 therapist, all at the same time. It would’ve been a total disaster.”

“I think you’d have been good at it,” Laura says thoughtfully.

Stiles shrugs. He thinks she underestimates how fucked up the situation really was.

“So you’re saying your relationship with my Derek is completely different.”

“Yes, concerned family member, that is correct. I’m not…settling, or projecting, or whatever it is you think I’m doing.” Though he may, at some level, be trying to make sure this Derek never becomes his Derek. But he’s not bringing it up if Laura’s not.

“I had to check,” she says, as close to an apology as he’s likely to get.

“Yeah, I know,” he sighs. “But enough about me. Scott, it’s your turn. Let’s talk about your love life.”

“What? Why?!” Scott yelps. “There’s nothing to talk about! It’s good, we’re good. It’s really good.” He trails off into a haze of lust and happiness. “…Really good.”

Stiles beams at Laura, who rolls her eyes. “Okay, now you,” he tells her. “I don’t know a thing about your romantic prospects, Laura Hale. How did I let that slide? Any lucky guys and/or ladies you want me to interrogate for you in the spirit of familial duty? Because Philip isn’t mean enough, the twins are too mean, and Derek…gah. No. So? Is there anyone?”

Laura blushes. Stiles was not even aware she knew how to blush. This is the best moment of their entire acquaintance. Stiles can feel the maniacal smile taking over his face and he doesn’t even try to stop it. Scott elbows him and he elbows Scott back, and oh yeah, they’re going to use this knowledge for evil and not good.

“I hate you both,” Laura informs them.

“Not as much as you’re going to,” Scott assures her.

Derek takes this moment to drive up, and Laura leaps to her feet, smiling like she thinks she’s saved (she’s so wrong). She waves to Derek and runs off into the woods at super-speed. Werewolves. Sigh.

“A werewolf is picking you up at school and driving you into the woods to train with you,” Scott says, watching Derek lean over to push the Honda’s passenger door open. “Life is weird.”

Stiles thinks back to a very similar scene with a black Camaro and a much more stubbly and leather-clad Derek, and he has to agree. “But at least we’re not bored?” he tries.

“Definitely not bored.” Scott grins at him and heads for his bike, waving to Derek as he goes.

As for Stiles, he climbs into the Honda with the werewolf. The weirdest part is that the Honda is the only thing that seems off.

“What were you guys talking about?” Derek asks suspiciously. “Why was Laura here?”

“I think she couldn’t stand any more hours spent not making fun of me, so she had to make the trip.” In view of their chat, Stiles is almost positive Laura was in fact visiting her would-be significant other. (It will be hilarious if Laura has a thing for a teacher, but please God, let it not be Morrell. Or Finstock. Stiles may have to stage an intervention if it’s Finstock.) Stiles can’t rat her out yet, though; he’s saving that up for the moment when it will most horribly embarrass her. He is a long-term planner. “And we were talking about the fact that I’m staying.”

Derek blinks. “Staying. Here? With us?”

“Right.”

“…Forever?”

“Until death do us part, Derek.” That kicks up an interesting tangle of emotion. Oh yeah, Stiles can wait. Stiles can demonstrably last for years on nothing but a wish and a prayer; he could probably wait forever for a sure thing. Though he’s really glad he won’t have to.

“Won’t you…” And suddenly Derek’s panicking. What. “Won’t you miss them?”

Oh. “Of course I’ll miss them.”

“Then why would you stay?”

“Because I’d miss you, too, idiot. I lose no matter what I do, now. And you’re the ones I’ve got right here in front of me. Alive.” It’s a good thing Stiles is finally figuring out how to let go, though, because this is going to suck for a very long time. But eventually, he knows, even the worst pain wears itself out, and in the end all that’s left is a sore spot you try not to touch. He’s looking forward to that. Too bad it’ll take years.

“You’re really staying?” Derek asks, bewildered.

“I’m really staying,” Stiles promises. “Derek. I’m not going anywhere.”

Derek slowly picks up confidence in that statement until he’s feeling this absolutely insane happiness that Stiles has never felt from any Derek, ever, at any time. And that, Stiles thinks, that might even have been worth dying for.

“Good,” is all Derek says, because Derek fails words. Stiles smirks and leans over to thump him on the shoulder.

He’s going to miss his world every day of his life, he knows that. He knows he’s looking at years of screaming nightmares and self-flagellation and panic-stricken second-guessing. He knows, but this is still the best option.

Possibly the thing Stiles hates most about himself is the way he’s always felt a sense of…what, impending loss? Even when he was a kid, even when things were so good, so perfect, when he had no reason to doubt they’d always be perfect, he’d been waiting. Waiting to lose it all. He was the world’s most paranoid eight-year-old, and that was before he started being proven right.

Stiles was wildly bitter by twelve, and a bitter little kid? That’s just unattractive.

Bottom line: he’s never surprised by loss, and he’s always suspicious of his own happiness. He’s fucking broken inside, always has been. And this world he’s in, where he’s got everything and nothing at the same time? Where none of it really belongs to him and he’ll always feel like a thief? He thinks he might actually manage to be content here. Like he’s paid his dues, somehow. It’s not all bad, fatalism.

“Whatever you’re thinking about,” Derek growls suspiciously, “stop.”

Stiles beams at him, because yeah. He can live with this. He can.

And anyway, he’s made his choice.


Back to Chapter I



A/N: Credit!

To Zephy, my wonderful beta, who puts up with so much crap from me it is unbelievable.

To Cynthia Heimel, because I paraphrased a line about child-rearing from her book If You Can't Live Without Me, Why Aren't You Dead Yet?! The original line was, "A kid, as I've said, thinks he's the center of the universe. He thinks that everything that happens is about him. This does not make him feel like a miniature Idi Amin, it makes him feel that everything is his fault."


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