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Hard Times For Dreamers

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It happened when Derek was seventeen, thin as a whip and, he thought, nearly as smart. The skinniness lasted almost as long as the misconception, but they were both gone pretty quick.

It was the first time the family let him do the architecture on his own. God, he was young then, and his designs were, too--he almost couldn’t believe they trusted him, in retrospect, but the job was supposed to be easy. Would’ve been, too, except someone had hired Kate Argent to run security, and she thought that would be a bit easier if she had the architecture. And in exchange for a few well directed compliments, kisses, and a prompt deflowering, Derek was only too happy to oblige.

And Kate, because she was, as Derek would later learn, Kate--she didn’t just take the architecture and give it away, she didn’t just send them all into a job bound to fail. She snuffed the Hale team--the Hale family--out like so many small flames: Derek’s mother, the extractor; his father on point; his Uncle Peter as forge. Only Peter survived, if you could really characterize being stuck in Limbo as surviving. Derek didn’t, but when Laura and Derek couldn’t pull him out they hired Peter a nurse and hooked him up to life support. Still: he was functionally catatonic. Only reason Kate’s thugs spared him was because they wanted him to be awake when they killed him. Only reason they spared Derek was because Kate told them to, so he would have to live with this. Only reason they spared Laura was because, she wasn’t on the job.

Derek’s not prone to reminiscing, but he wants to make one thing clear: he’s not some ingenue. He knows this business down to its sharp, criminal core. He knows what they are, he’s seen people die and stumble into Limbo. He doesn’t think dreamsharing is magic or the next great frontier. Or, if it is a frontier, it’s just another place for people to wander through the desert until they die from lack of water. And Derek--Derek’s been here so long he doesn’t know where else to go. And he had Laura at his side, at least, and she was strong.

So that he’s surprised when Laura dies--that he crumples and cries--there’s really nothing to be said for it, because he should have known better. But she was his sister, she was the only extractor he ever worked with, she was all that was left of his family, save Peter, and Peter was only left inasmuch as his body still had a heartbeat. And Laura--they hadn’t even been on a job. Derek didn’t know who killed her, didn’t know why, and he only stuck around long enough to see her buried with the rest of them (buried with everyone, he thinks but doesn’t say) in California before he caught a flight up to the cabin he kept in the Yukon.

Four wood walls without much else to recommend it, the cabin was the only place he really kept, the only place he really liked, but because he was there he wasn’t around when the accusations started trickling in, the ones that said Derek Hale killed his own sister. Kate Argent, upstanding member of the dreamsharing community that she was, thought they warranted investigation.

Derek wasn’t sure what he would’ve done if he had been around. Probably killed Kate, but part of Derek wondered if he would even be capable, if presented with Kate, of killing her, or if she’d immobilize him with bright eyes and glossy hair, like she had before.

When he heard about the manhunt he stayed in the Yukon. He slept under a pile of wool blankets and furs for no less than three days, possibly more, because he was as safe there as he would be anywhere, and there was no one in the dreamsharing business that Derek could expect to rescue him, now.

So he slept, hunted a little, let the snow roll in. They’d find him here eventually, but better here than anywhere else. And he could always leave, but he had a moose to butcher. Which he knew was a shitty excuse, but his entire family was either dead or catatonic, so it wasn’t like having the feds catch up would be the worst that could happen to Derek Hale. The worst had already happened, so Derek might as well butcher the fucking moose and get it in the freezer before the wolves or bears or whatever show up. Even just ravens, picking at its eyes--Derek hated ravens.

So all that happened, and when the phone finally rings, Derek will be the first to admit that the call he gets is not the one he expects to receive, but he doesn’t expect to receive any calls, because no one knows this number.

Still, if pressed, Derek might’ve expected a call from one of the Cobbs, probably Pippa, maybe from someone he and Laura used to work with--maybe Yamine, they ran a few jobs with her. When the telephone releases a harsh bring, Derek looks at it for a few minutes before answering it, just in case it’s someone worth talking to.

What he gets instead is an unfamiliar voice demanding: “Derek Hale? This is Jackson Whittemore. I want to hire you.”

“No you don’t,” Derek says, and hangs up. He doesn’t know who the fuck Jackson Whittemore is, but he knows he’s not in the industry, and no one outside the business wants to hire an architect without a team. If they do, they’re a moron, and not worth speaking to.

The phone rings again, and Derek stares at it, wondering why he even had a line put in. For emergencies, Laura told him.

“I think you have the wrong Derek Hale,” he says when he answers.

“I seriously doubt that,” comes the reply. “Considering the shit my girlfriend had to go through to get me this number, I seriously doubt I have the wrong Derek Hale.”

“I’m not taking jobs right now,” Derek says, and hangs up again.

He almost doesn’t pick up when the phone rings again. In the end, he’s not sure why he does; maybe because he figures someone he’s already hung up twice isn’t going to just stop calling if he refuses to pick up, maybe because he doesn’t have an answering machine and the phone could, conceivably, ring forever.

Maybe because he’s curious.

“If you hang up again, Hale, I’ll have your balls,” it’s a woman this time. Derek waits.

“Good,” she says. “We’re looking to hire an extractor.”

“Well, mine just died,” Derek says, staring at the wall. “So you might want to consider calling someone else.”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I didn’t dig up this phone number just so you could be tragic at me over the phone, Hale,” she says. “We’re looking to hire you as an extractor.” There’s an insult against Derek’s intelligence unspoken but implied at the end of that sentence. Laura used to do that, too.

“I’m not an extractor,” Derek says.

“We need you to be for this job,” she says. “So you might want to think about it, because we can get the Sheriff off your back.”

The Sheriff. Fuck. They have the Sheriff on this case. Of course they do--it shouldn’t even be a surprise. Derek runs a hand through his hair, which has gotten too long--Laura would’ve made him go cut it, or she would’ve gotten the clippers and done it herself. It makes sense, the Sheriff being on the case, but it also means Derek has less time on his own in the cabin than he expected. Perhaps he should’ve bought a cabin in Siberia instead, somewhere only accessible by boat in the summer and snowmobile in the winter.

“What do you want?” he asks.

“Be in Whitehorse on Friday,” she says. “There’s a bar in the Best Western. We’ll find you.”

The connection clicks out. Tomorrow’s Friday.

“Well,” Derek says to his bearskin rug, and then again to the space on the wall above the rug’s head. At least the moose is in the freezer.

Derek doesn’t know why they say they’ll find him, because at the bar in a Best Western in Whitehorse, Jackson Whittemore and his partner stick out like a pair of sore thumbs, left and right hand. She’s wearing a pencil skirt and heels tall enough to make Derek’s feet hurt. He’s wearing a silk scarf. They belong someplace where the bartender makes mojitos on a regular basis.

“Mr. Whittemore, I presume,” Derek says, sliding in beside them at the bar.

“Well,” says the redhead, glancing at her watch. “You’re late, but at least it’s Friday. Lydia Martin.”

Derek waits.

“My client,” Lydia Martin starts, when it becomes apparent no one else is going to speak. Jackson’s looking at his whisky and Derek doesn’t want to be here.

“I thought he was your boyfriend,” Derek says, and Lydia flaps a hand.

“My client,” she repeats coolly. “Has reason to believe that Peter Hale is the only living person in possession of certain information he would very much like to obtain.”

“I’d hardly call my uncle living,” Derek says flatly, looking past Lydia to the photographs behind the bar: wrinkled in their frames, faded black and white.

“He has a heartbeat, doesn’t he?” Lydia asks.

“I thought you called me here about a job,” Derek says. “If you just wanted to talk about my uncle, you could’ve saved us all some time.”

Lydia folds her hands under and perches her head on her wrists.

“I don’t think you’re following, Hale,” she says. “We need some information from Peter Hale. And an extractor.”

Derek’s following now, if he wasn’t before.

“Yeah, I got that,” he says, and shifts to his feet. “No.”

Jackson’s the one who catches him by the arm.

“Hear us out, asshole,” he says, while Derek pulls himself free from his grip. “You do know who the Sheriff is, don’t you?”

Derek isn’t even going to dignify that with a response. Everyone knows who the Sheriff is: they say he was an extractor, once, but now he’s dreamsharing’s own law enforcement officer, in the employ of the CIA, though his employers don’t seem to have much oversight beyond assigning him to any cases associated with dreamsharing and setting him loose like a rabid and extremely efficient dog.

“I do not really care,” Derek says. “I’m not doing this.”

“So you’d rather be strung up for your sister’s murder,” Lydia interjects, inspecting her nails. “Leaving your family’s reputation in tatters.”

Derek pauses, which Lydia apparently takes as permission to continue.

“We’ll pay for your team and anything else you need, in addition to paying you the equivalent of your sister’s extractor’s fee. I think that’s more than fair, don’t you?” Lydia smiles wanly. “Jackson will also use certain connections he has to bring a halt to the Sheriff’s investigation.”

“I want exoneration,” Derek says.

“That might happen,” Lydia says. “If the case follows due process. But do you really want to risk it? Circumstances were quite suspicious, weren’t they? It’s so unusual for someone to die while dreaming.”

“Not in my family,” Derek says flatly, and he’s thinking about leaving again.

Lydia sighs.

“Look, Hale,” she says. “You could use a shave, but self pity looks good on you. I’m still getting sick of it. Jackson holds up his end, gets the Sheriff off your ass. You just need to go into your uncle’s head and figure out if he knows anything about Jackson’s parents. Easy. Hardly invasive at all.”

“You can’t perform an extraction on someone while they’re in Limbo,” Derek says.

“Or maybe you just need to go deeper,” Lydia says. “We have chemistry for you, so stop stalling. You wouldn’t have come here if you weren’t going to take the job. Really, I thought we were going to have to go up to that little cabin of yours and haul you out.”

Derek sighs. Peter’s back down in Beacon Hills, still.

“You got a passport for me, then?” he asks.

“Of course,” Lydia says, smiling crisply and removing one from her purse, clean and new and Canadian. It’s not until she and Jackson are halfway out the door that she turns and says, “Oh, Derek? You’re going to need Scott McCall.”

Of course he is. Fuck.

Derek does some research and learns that McCall just finished a job, but he leaves a trail bulldozer wide, so it’s easy enough to track him to Ecuador, where Derek finds him in a private room in a backpacker’s lodge in Quito. He’s naked in bed with some girl when Derek breaks open the door.

“McCall,” Derek says, sitting down on a chair in the corner.

The brunette with Scott is staring at Derek, and Scott snorts.

“Derek,” he says. “You could’ve just knocked.”

Scott rolls out of the bed and rifles through the bag near the foot of it, eventually pulling on some pants over his ass.

“Sorry, Allison,” he says, tossing her a shirt and turning to face Derek. “Is this your idea of a job offer? Because it sucks.”

“Extraction,” Derek says. “Peter Hale.”

Scott McCall was Peter’s only student, which means he’s not only the only forger who knew everyone Peter knew, he’s also one of the best forgers working today. Which doesn’t change the fact that he’s an annoying little shit.

“Peter’s in Limbo,” Scott says.

“Thanks for reminding me,” Derek says. “Clients say they have a chemist with a new formula.”

The brunette behind Scott raises an eyebrow. She looks familiar, or something about her face looks familiar.

“Who are you?” Derek asks, turning to her and staring.

“Allison,” she says.

“Best point in the business,” Scott says with an offhand grin.

“Allison,” Derek says, narrowing his eyes.

“Argent,” she finishes, and Derek winces involuntarily and studies her, tries to read on her face whether she knows or not. It doesn’t look like she does--her face is clear--but it’s impossible to be sure. Kate was a good liar, and they must be related somehow.

“Scott,” Derek says, because he has neither the time nor the energy to think about Kate. “We’re running an extraction on Peter. Wasn’t there some information you wanted from him?”

Scott blinks, once then twice, and his mouth opens in a silent ‘o,’ which is when Derek knows he has him.

“I want Allison on point,” Scott says.

“You want Allison Argent running point for me,” Derek says flatly, and Scott blinks. Scott knows--Derek knows Scott knows, he was Peter’s apprentice, he was there.

“I’m not my aunt,” Allison says, suddenly, looking Derek in the eye.

“You’re related to her,” Derek says.

“And you’re related to Peter Hale, but you’re still running an extraction on him,” Allison counters easily.

“Not the same,” Derek snaps back, then turns to Scott. “I can’t have someone I don’t trust on point.”

“Well, I trust her,” Scott says. He’s going to be bullheaded about this. Derek can see it in his eyes. “And I’m not doing this job without her. You didn’t have anyone else running point, did you?”

Derek didn’t. Derek used to run point for Laura, and they occasionally worked with other points, but none regularly enough for Derek to have called them yet.

“She doesn’t even want to,” Derek says, turning to Allison. “Do you?”

She can’t possibly want to run point for Derek. Allison shrugs.

“Sure,” she says. “Who else is on the team?”

Derek stares at her, and then at Scott, and rubs his temples.

“You,” he says. “Scott. Me. Whoever the chemist is.”

“Architect?” Allison asks, arching a brow.

“Me,” Derek says.

“But you’re the extractor,” Scott says just as Allison says, “No.”

“I’ve done architecture and point for the same job,” Derek says.

“No,” Allison repeats, shaking her head. “We need an architect who isn’t you.”

Derek doesn’t work with other architects. Most of them he only knows by reputation.

“I’m the extractor--” he starts.

“Exactly,” Allison says. “And you haven’t been extractor before. We can’t have you focusing on maintaining the architecture when we’re in-dream.”

“So, what, Scott, are you sleeping with an architect, too?” Derek asks, and Scott’s expression shifts to something that might be offended.

“No,” Allison interjects smoothly. “But he knows one.”

“Are they related to you?” Derek asks Allison.

“No,” Allison says.

Derek sighs.

“Where can I find them?” he says.

“Just a sec,” Scott says, taking a phone from the bedside table and tapping out a text.

“Huh,” he says, when the phone beeps a a few uncomfortable minutes later. “He says he’ll be here tomorrow.”

“What?” Derek asks. “You didn’t offer him the job, did you? I need to talk to him.”

“No,” Scott snaps back. “He just wrapped up a job in Ulaanbaatar. He was coming to visit.”

“Ulaanbaatar,” Derek echoes. Somewhere in the reaches of his mind there’s still some residual industry gossip-- “Ariadne was running a job in Ulaanbaatar.”

“Yeah, that’s the one,” Scott says. “I guess it went well, Stiles says he’s buying drinks.”

Ariadne’s part of the old guard--they say she was on the team that performed the first inception--and she doesn’t hire hacks. Or at least she doesn’t usually hire hacks, especially not for architecture, because she was an architect before she started working as an extractor, and so she knows her shit. It’s possible things have changed, and there’s an exception to every rule, but if this architect really was working with Ariadne he might be serviceable.

“Can I get a room here?” Derek asks, looking around. It looks like a shithole, but he’s kind of used to shitholes.

Scott shrugs and Allison drums her fingers on her own leg like she wants Derek to leave. Which she probably does. Derek’s not the best at reading people, but he certainly wouldn’t blame Allison Argent if she wanted Derek to leave, especially since she’s not wearing a bra. Or, presumably, pants.

“If you want, I guess,” he says. “I mean, you want me to go talk to the owner for you or something?”

“No,” Derek says, and Scott shrugs again.

“Whatever, dude,” he says. “So I guess you want to meet Stiles tomorrow?”

“Yes,” Derek says.

Stiles turns out to be--well, Derek doesn’t know what Stiles turns out to be, but he looks young, and he acts young. This business isn’t an excuse to talk about how cool Mongolia is. If this kid just wanted to travel, he should’ve started writing travel guides. But it turns out Ariadne’s job wasn’t in Ulaanbaatar, it was out in the country, and they had stayed in a yurt and visited with reindeer herders. Stiles won’t shut up about it. Derek wishes he would talk less about reindeer and more about architecture.

They’re in some cramped tourist bar Allison and Scott brought them to when Stiles slides in between Scott and Derek, props his elbows up on the counter, and says, “So I hear you’re looking for an architect.”

Derek looks at him, and Stiles blinks once, lashes brushing his cheeks. His face is very close to Derek’s, and his lashes are thick and spiky in the dim light.

“I asked Scott why you’re here, because you don’t seem very happy about it,” he continues, pressing his fingers against the glass in his hand. “Scott says you’re looking for an architect. I’m an architect.”

“So Scott claims,” Derek says.

Stiles gives Derek a sidelong glance, lingering a little longer than feels entirely necessary, then runs a hand over his cropped hair.

“Alright,” he says. “I get it. Do you want to see some of my levels, or what? Because I’ve got to say: you’re kind of putting a damper on this whole visiting my friends in Ecuador thing.”

“We’re in a bar,” Derek says, because he thinks that’s probably what people do when they visit friends--go to bars. But Allison and Scott are off to the side, engrossed in their own conversation, and Derek’s not sure there would even be space for Stiles in that if Derek were to leave. Stiles follows Derek’s line of vision and shakes his head.

“It’s weird because you’re here,” Stiles says.

“Allison’s running point for me,” Derek says. “And Scott’s forger. I need to get to know them so we can be an effective team.”

“Wow,” Stiles says, drawing the word out for a few syllables and raising his eyebrows. “Could you sound any more like a robot?”

Derek doesn’t have time for this. Not now, not here. The liquor selection in this bar is awful, anyway. He braces his arms against the bar and gets up to leave.

“What the hell, Hale,” he hears Stiles say behind him, and then there’s a hand on his elbow, fingers wrapping around his arm.

“You wanted me to leave,” Derek says. “I’m leaving.”

Stiles stops short.

“Yeah, I wanted you to leave,” Stiles says, voice suddenly low, and fast, and adamant. “Because, among other things, you obviously didn’t want to be here. But I didn’t want you to storm out because I called you a robot, what the hell is wrong with you?”

Derek kind of thought the entire goddamn industry knew what was wrong with him.

“Don’t you know who I am?” he asks.

“I know who you are,” Stiles says. “That’s not an excuse.”

Derek stares at him, and Stiles rubs his head again, squinting at Derek, or at the sun behind his head.

“Look, obviously you don’t want to hear this,” he says. “But, seriously, ‘I need to get to know them so we can be an effective team?’ You weren’t even talking to anyone. That’s not how getting to know people works.”

“So you’re rude, instead,” Derek says flatly.

“If it works,” Stiles spits back. “If it gets you to be more than a cardboard cut-out of a normal human being. Oh my god, I don’t even--” he shakes his head. “I’m going back inside. I’m going to talk with my friends, and maybe tomorrow we’ll like, go for a hike or ride the gondola or something. And then I’ll go visit my dad, and you can take Scott and Allison and go run a job on your uncle or whatever.”

“Scott wasn’t supposed to tell you details,” Derek says.

“Well, then pretend he didn’t,” Stiles says. “Doesn’t matter, my lips are sealed.”

“Good,” Derek says. “You’re our architect.”

Stiles sputters, then regains his composure and frowns. Derek goes back into the bar and orders a shot of aguardiente, then two.

“You haven’t seen my work,” Stiles says. “I might be a shit architect. You don’t even like me. This is a terrible decision.”

And, yeah, Stiles is right on all points except maybe the last one, which Derek’s not ready to contest just yet. Stiles could still be a shit architect, even if Ariadne hired him; this could still be a shit decision, even if it doesn’t feel like one right now, with the sun slanting down and the mountain air light and thin around them.

“What if I don’t take it?” Stiles asks, sitting down besides Derek.

“You’re going to take it,” Derek says, shoving his hands into his pockets. “Allison and Scott are your friends. Aren’t they?”

“Fuck you,” Stiles says, and that’s so obviously a ‘yes’ that Derek doesn’t even bother asking.

The shots show up. Derek slides one to Stiles.

“Drink this,” he says. Stiles looks at him like he’s insane, but he does it, and he only winces a little as it goes down. Derek figures it’s a start.

Derek flies to San Francisco in the morning, rents an overwhelmingly nondescript car at the airport and drives up to Beacon Hills. The roads are familiar, but it’s been a long time since Derek has driven them, and there’s some fundamental strangeness to the minor changes, restaurants and shops that have new names and, presumably, owners; houses where there were none before.

The old house is the same, even though the name on the deed has changed to Justin Wolfe, which isn’t Derek’s name but isn’t exactly not Derek’s name. Wolfe was the family name they used when they were masquerading as normal human beings, which was something that mostly happened when they were at the house. The lair, they called it.

Derek figures the Sheriff will find it eventually. There has to be a breadcrumb trail out there, but for now--it’s cheap, and quiet, and full of things from Peter’s past, fragments to build a dream from.

But if it’s full of things from Peter’s past it’s full of things from Derek’s past by extension. He tries not to look at much of anything on the way up the stairs, and he almost sleeps in the bedroom he used to share with Laura before veering back downstairs to sleep on the couch.

He and Laura boxed a lot of things up, and that had been easier when it was the two of them together--but now everything is thick with Derek-and-Laura, just the two of them and all their family’s history reflected and refracted through them. And now Derek’s all that’s left, the entirety of the Hale family legacy, sleeping on the couch with his nose pressed into the corner between the cushions and the back.

It even still smells like Laura, and home, and everything that doesn’t exist any longer.

Lydia Martin calls him in the morning.

“I get into SFO this afternoon,” she says without preamble. “You better be there to pick me up, because I’m not paying for a cab. Be here at 4:10.”

“What?” Derek asks. “Why are you coming out here?”

“Didn’t I tell you?” Lydia asks. “I’m your chemist.”

Derek rubs his forehead with the heel of his hand.

“Okay,” he says. “4:10. I’ll be driving a sedan that’s either tan or silver.”

“You aren’t going to come in with a sign?” Lydia asks.

“You didn’t tell me you were the chemist,” Derek counters. “Is Jackson coming, too?”

“Yep,” Lydia says, and he can practically hear her smirking when she hangs up.

Derek drops the phone on the floor and rolls back over. He doubts this is going to go well.

He doubts it more when he picks Lydia and Jackson up from the airport.

“Who do we have on architecture?” Lydia asks.

“You aren’t going to ask about point?” Derek asks, and Lydia hums, a small and annoyed sound.

“If you got Scott, then point is obviously Allison,” she says. “So, architect?”

“Stiles,” Derek says, and Lydia’s face in the rearview mirror does something strange.

“Stilinski,” Jackson says. “Fucking Stilinski.”

“How do you even know him?” Derek asks. Jackson Whittemore, as far as Derek can tell from his handful of industry connections and the internet, is nothing more or less than a professional lacrosse player.

“Lydia brings me to industry parties,” Jackson says, throwing an arm across her shoulders. Derek feels like he’s their chauffeur. They probably think he is.

“Our industry doesn’t have any parties,” Derek says.

“Maybe not that you’re invited to, dude,” Jackson says. “Anyway, Stilinski’s weird.”

“And you sound like you’re in high school,” Derek says.

That’s pretty much how the rest of the drive is. Other than being stiflingly silent and far too long, it goes alright.

“When do McCall and the gang get in?” Jackson asks when they’re sitting around the kitchen table eating Chinese.

“Why are you even here?” Derek asks.

“To make sure shit gets done,” Jackson says, and Derek can’t help glancing across the table at Lydia, who is neatly handling her chopsticks and not looking at either of them.

“He was just bored,” she says after a moment. “It’s the off season.”

“The rest are coming in after the weekend,” Derek says. “You guys can take the car, explore Beacon Hills. There are jogging paths in the park.”

Derek nods towards Jackson, because he seems like the type to be interested in jogging trails in the park. Lydia fixes Derek with a stare.

“You won’t be our tour guide?” she asks.

“Not much to see,” Derek says. “Doubt you need a tour guide.”

“So you’re going to give us the car while you sit around in this house,” Lydia says, raising an eyebrow.

“Don’t take the bedroom at the top of the stairs,” Derek says. “Any of the other ones, though.”

Lydia keeps watching him.

“Are the sheets clean?” Jackson asks.

“There’s a washing machine in the basement,” Derek says, and leaves the room.

He sleeps on the couch again, after Lydia and Jackson go upstairs, and doesn’t wake up until the very edge of morning, before the sun’s quite risen.

He goes out for a run, and wonders if it was a terrible decision to use this house for the job. It makes sense, objectively, but something about it has the character of a terrible decision. Maybe it’s just that Derek has been suspicious of a lot of his decisions, lately. In truth: Derek is suspicious of all of his own decisions, has been, ever since he slept with Kate Argent and his life fell to pieces around him.

So Derek didn’t make the decisions. Laura did. All Derek had to do was trust her, and trusting Laura came as easily to Derek as trusting everyone else didn’t, and sat as lightly on his mind as the act of breathing. Laura made the big decisions, and mostly Derek’s decisions focused on the dream architecture, on holding in place furls of environment and the quick twists of mazes. Besides, Laura was always there to consult when Derek got himself into shit like this, too deep too quickly, and needed an external opinion. She was always there, until she wasn’t.

Running through the woods, which are dusted lightly with the same snow that had laid heavy on the Yukon, Derek wonders how anyone could possibly believe he killed her. But they do, the fucking CIA does, and Derek’s doing what he can about it. He shouldn’t expect anyone to know him, really, not when the only person who did is dead.

When Derek gets home Lydia is sitting on the porch with a cardigan wrapped around her shoulders and a mug of coffee.

“Want to test my Somnacin today?” she asks. “Because we should.”

“Isn’t Somnacin a brand name?” Derek asks, and Lydia stares at him for a minute.

“Don’t be passive aggressive,” she says. “It’s not a good look on anyone.”

“I’m going to make breakfast,” Derek says, and goes inside.

“I don’t eat eggs,” Lydia calls after him.

“I guess you can skip breakfast, then,” Derek says. “Because I do.”

“Now, see, that was just aggression,” Lydia says. “Not quite raw, but we’re getting somewhere, I think. We can test the chemistry after you eat breakfast. And take a shower.”

“We don’t have anyone in Limbo to test it on,” Derek says.

“While, it works for regular jobs, too,” Lydia says. “And we need to make sure you don’t have a weird reaction to it. It’s a different formulation, some people do. Also some of the monkeys I tested it on.”

“I’m not going to have a reaction to it,” Derek says.


Lydia sips her coffee, and Derek feels like he’s being dismissed. Probably because he is, but he’s not going to complain because he’d rather be inside making breakfast than outside talking to Lydia.

Lydia puts a PASIV on the table when Derek’s in the middle of breakfast and a book he selected at random from his father’s bookshelf.

“I was reading,” Derek says.

“You can finish reading,” Lydia replies. “Jackson’s not up yet.”

“Seriously?” Derek asks, and Lydia shrugs.

“It’s the off season.”

“And he doesn’t need to train?”

Lydia narrows her eyes.

“Don’t worry,” she says. “I take care of Jackson.”

Derek stares at her.

“You think a pro lacrosse player would have as much publicity as he does without a little help?” she asks.

“You have a point,” Derek says. He kind of wonders if Lydia incepts people into liking Jackson. From what he knows of her, he wouldn’t put it past her. Jackson’s hardly what Derek would call likable.

The man himself comes lurching down the stairs shortly.

“What’s for breakfast?” Jackson mutters, looking between Derek and Lydia. “You making a move on my girl?”

Derek can feel his eyebrows creeping towards his hairline.

“Please don’t call me ‘your girl,’ Jackson,” Lydia says, inspecting her nails. “Luckily Hale’s broody shit does nothing for me, so you don’t have anything to worry about.”

Jackson sits down next to Lydia and takes a cold pancake from the stack Derek left in the middle of the table.

“Stilinski has a thing for Lydia,” he says, presumably to Derek. Lydia hits him in the shoulder.

“He’s over that,” she says. “We had a talk.”

“He keeps calling you,” Jackson says.

“Because he’s smart, so we’re friends,” Lydia says. “Sometimes I like to talk to people who find chemistry interesting.”

“Because he finds you interesting,” Jackson mumbles.

“As he should,” she counters. “Don’t be an asshole when Stiles gets here.”

“If he leaves me alone,” Jackson says around a mouthful of food. “Why’s the PASIV on the table?”

“Because we’re going under when you finish your breakfast,” Lydia says. “So eat up.”

“Do you have orange juice or something?” Jackson asks. “These pancakes are cold.”

“There’s an oven in the kitchen,” Derek says. “And a microwave oven.”

Jackson scowls and finishes his breakfast, and Derek turns to Lydia.

“There’s a room in the basement,” he says. “We can do this--” he jerks his chin at the PASIV “--down there.”

“Saw it when I washed the sheets,” Lydia says. “That’s quite the set-up.”

It is quite the set-up. But the door should be locked.

“How did you get in?” Derek asks, and he lurches towards her almost involuntary, running on a cocktail of anger, and fear, and confusion, but stops short of grabbing her shoulders to shake her or push her against the wall, get something out of her.

“The door was open,” Lydia says, and there’s a question in her voice Derek hasn’t heard before, but Derek is on his feet and down the stairs before he can really think about it. That door can’t be open, it really shouldn’t be open, the door is hidden and locked, because that room--without that room the house is just an old family home, a bit big, but kind of beautiful, and the Wolfes are a family of wealthy eccentrics. With that room, the house is a dream den, and the Wolfes are the Hales, and the Hales are criminals.

The hatch to the subbasement is normally under a wood chest full of blankets, soft ones that they used to pull out when they were watching movies in the basement and couldn’t shake a chill. When Derek gets downstairs the chest is there, but it’s been pushed to the side, and the door--the door is actually propped open with a pole that’s resting on the top step.

It takes a retina scan to unlock that door. The scanner’s inside the fuse box in another part of the basement, and only people whose eyes are keyed into it are in Limbo, or dead, or Derek.

When Derek gets to the subbasement, to the room where the cots and the PASIVs are, they’re missing a PASIV. Just the one, but to Derek it’s like a gaping hole.

That one was Laura’s. It wasn’t--they didn’t have their own PASIVs, exactly, but that one had a dent in the corner where she dropped it on a job, when they were running, and it sunk to the bottom of the Hudson. She was SCUBA certified, but it was still a miracle that she retrieved it, let alone intact. Derek still didn’t know how she did it. And now--does it matter, that it’s gone? Laura’s dead. Derek saw her, saw her body rent in two, and now someone stole her PASIV. That doesn’t mean she’s alive to use it, because she’s dead.

All it means is that Derek has another potential shitstorm on his brutally underprepared hands. Someone’s been in the house. Someone’s been in the house, and somehow they knew where to go.

Jackson and Lydia are standing behind him, staring, when Derek turns.

“Lydia,” Derek says, pressing his palms against his thighs. “Could a corpse’s eyeball be used for a retinal scan?”

“No,” Lydia responds promptly. “Eyes degrade too quickly.”

“Okay,” Derek nods. “This door shouldn’t be open. And we’re missing a PASIV.”

“How do you misplace a PASIV?” Jackson asks.

“You don’t,” Derek says. “Someone stole it, and no one has access to this room except me.”

“Are you sure?” Lydia asks.

“And Peter,” Derek says. “Unless it’s possible someone recoded the scanner without my knowing.”

“Or maybe you left the door open,” Jackson says.

“You don’t just leave the door open,” Derek says, kicking at it. “Not this door. That chest should be on top of it. I know the last time we were here we locked the door.”

“And you don’t have closed circuit on this shit?” Jackson asks.

“Why would we?” Derek asks, a frisson of unwarranted anger still burning in his veins. “This is our home.”

“Okay,” Lydia interjects. “When Stiles gets here, he can look at the retina scanner and see if it was hacked or anything.” She looks between Jackson and Derek. “We’re going to assume this--person--already took what they wanted. And if they come back, Derek sleeps downstairs on the couch.”

“Yeah, man, that’s a bit creepy,” Jackson says, apparently to Derek. Derek rubs at his face. He’s still--he’s still not quite there, with this. Someone broke into the house, got to the subbasement, and stole Laura’s PASIV. His visceral reaction is that they need to get the hell out of Dodge.

“It could’ve happened ages ago, Derek,” Lydia says. Derek stares at the trapdoor, still ajar.

“But it happened,” he says. “It’s not safe here.”

“This isn’t a safe industry,” Lydia says, almost gently. “You know that.”

Derek knows that. He does. And he’s tempted to tell Lydia not to condescend to him, but he’s also tempted to say that he thinks it’s Kate, somehow, fucking Kate, but he had always felt safe in this house, like its walls were made of something other than wood, and if Kate or anyone could get in and steal Laura’s PASIV--that’s not just the industry, that’s his house. His house isn’t safe anymore, neither is his job, neither is his life.

“I’m going upstairs,” Derek says. “We can test the chemistry tomorrow.”

Derek goes upstairs. Jackson looks like he’s going to protest--Lydia does, too, but then she shakes her head like she’s shaking something off and puts a hand on Jackson’s arm.

It doesn’t matter if her face is colored with pity, or if Derek’s not facing the things he needs to face--it doesn’t matter. Someone stole Laura’s PASIV, and for one gasping moment he thought that meant she might be alive--but that wasn’t what it meant. It just meant that another piece of Derek’s life had been breached and broken into, another piece of his control was stripped away, and Derek was left with the pieces.

Maybe they should test the chemistry now. They can go under, and at least Derek can control the architecture even if his dreams lately have been less than safe, themselves. Besides, Derek’s a good architect--and for this job he’s not even doing that. Fucking Stiles. He’s not even here yet, and Derek is already second guessing hiring him, and Derek is already jealous of him, absurdly, for having the job Derek would much rather do.

Derek does what he’s always done, when his mind overtakes him and the world seems impossible: he focuses on his body, makes his muscles burn. He does push-ups in the living room, ignoring Lydia and Jackson when they walk past. He goes for another run. He does pull-ups with the bar he installed in the basement. He chops firewood, thinking vaguely that they they could use it, have a fire in the fireplace in the living room. And when it hurts, well, this is his body. It’s his, and physical hurt he can handle. After Kate he started working out--push-ups, chin-ups, whatever--like if his body was strong enough nothing like that would happen again.

“We’re testing the chemistry tomorrow,” Lydia says over dinner.

“Okay,” Derek says. He suspects he sounds subdued. He feels subdued. Lydia looks at him strangely, but doesn’t say anything at all.

He sleeps better that night than he expects to. Sometimes--times like these--he’s grateful that Somnacin killed his ability to dream while he was still young, because at least there’s nothing in his head but sleep, which offers some reprieve.

Of course the shared dream, the next morning, all goes to shit, because that kind of sleep offers no reprieve at all.

The architecture is one of Derek’s favorites, a network of subway tunnels with trains shooting past, walls embellished with graffiti and skittering with rats. Laura had always questioned his taste, mostly because of the rats, but Derek was an architect, not an interior decorator, and she couldn’t see the maze, the way the tunnels twisted over and under each other, some of them twining together in a double helix, the way, ultimately, everything cycled back and around.

Lydia and Jackson don’t respond to the level in any discernable way, but Derek finds himself weirdly happy to be in it. He and Laura had lived in New York for a time, and Derek always found the subway comforting. And then Kate shows up.

The dream is going well, they’re riding one of the trains and Lydia is talking about how her chemistry works, that on the first level is actually the equivalent of three layers deep.

“It’s like the Wood Between the Worlds,” she says. “Did you ever read the Narnia books?” She shrugs, then shakes her head. “It doesn’t matter. From here we can access Limbo without going three layers deep, because we are three layers deep. But since this is where we start, it’s more stable, easier to get back. Does that--?”

Derek shakes his head. His family didn’t typically work with a chemist, because none of the Hales were chemists and Somnacin was usually sufficient for their jobs.

“It’s a completely new formulation,” Lydia says. “Safer, more stable, deeper.”

“What happens if we get killed in the dream?” Derek asks.

“This level?” Lydia raises an eyebrow. “You wake up. That’s the best bit, there, because you can effectively build down from this level if you want to achieve something like inception, and you don’t need to run the risk of accidentally ending up in Limbo.” She shrugs. “This job, though? Once we get to Limbo, if you die you wake up.”

“The way it usually is,” Derek says.

The trains don’t stop, so they need to jump from the subway to the platform as it flies past.

“Heels are so much easier in dreams,” Lydia says as she catches her balance.

“They are, aren’t they?” says Kate Argent.

She looks the same as she always has, she looks like the woman who seduced Derek and the one who broke his heart and the one who killed his family, all at once. She’s carrying a knife. Derek knows she’s carrying a knife; she’s always carrying a knife. She throws them.

“Derek, you brought friends,” she says.

“Derek,” Lydia says, behind him, and Derek steps forward.

“We won’t die?” he asks Lydia.

“What the hell, Hale,” Jackson says.

“It’s cute that you’re worried about them,” Kate says, sliding forward. Her hand’s on Derek’s chest, nails painted red, like they were when--

“It’s cute that you still carry me around in your head,” she whispers across his ear. It’s a dream, he can’t feel her breath, but he knows what it would feel like, if he could.

She stabs him in the heart at about the same time he snaps her neck.

“Well,” Lydia says when they wake up. “At least you’re good at killing her. Just be a little quicker, next time.”

“It’s not like I like her,” Derek grumbles.

“It kind of looked like you did,” Jackson says. “In a masochistic way. I mean, I don’t blame you, she’s hot and you’re weird. But what the hell was that?”

“Kate Argent,” Derek says.

“A shade,” Lydia says, turning to Derek. “It’s generally considered polite to tell people when you have a shade.”

Derek doesn’t like to talk about it.

“I’ll take care of her,” he says.

“You know this means you can’t know the architecture,” Lydia says.

“Laura and I dealt with it,” Derek says. “I dispatch her.”

“You dispatch her,” Lydia says. “She can still come back. She can’t know the architecture, ergo you can’t know the architecture, no argument.”

“So she’s a--projection?” Jackson asks cautiously.

“Yes and no,” Lydia says. “Ordinary projections should only show up in the dreams of the person dreaming. Shades--follow people around.” She stares at Derek. “You should’ve told us.”

“I hadn’t dreamed in a while,” Derek says. “I thought maybe she was gone.”

Lydia snorts delicately.

“You hadn’t dreamed in a while, and in the meantime your sister died. Shades don’t disappear until you address the issue. But addressing issues doesn’t seem to be your strong suit.”

“You still hired me,” Derek says. He suspects both of them wish they hadn’t. But they can’t let him go--without him, they don’t have Peter, and without Peter, there is no job. That’s all of it, that’s why he’s here, even if they’re pretending Derek is capable of being an extractor.

“If we’d been using any other chemistry you’d be in Limbo right now,” Lydia says, staring at Derek. “You should’ve told us before we went under.”

“Maybe I’d like it,” Derek says. “Limbo.”

“She could’ve killed Jackson or I instead,” Lydia says.

“But she didn’t,” Derek says.

“You’re kind of an asshole,” Jackson says.

And, yeah, Derek gets that.

He just doesn’t know what to do about it. He goes up to the basement. Lydia and Jackson don’t talk to him for the rest of the day, and he’s okay with that. He wonders if the fact that Kate’s still in his head means he loves her.

He has to wake up early in the morning to get to the airport for the rest of the team, and it’s kind of a relief not to have Jackson or Lydia around, only then he almost trips over Lydia on the porch with her coffee.

“Jackson’s right, you know,” she says softly, not looking up from the mug in her hands. “You didn’t know my chemistry was stable, you could’ve gotten us killed.”

“It doesn’t matter. She only ever kills me,” Derek says, and goes down the steps and out to the car.

He tries to turn on the radio for the drive down to San Francisco, but just ends up scrolling listlessly through the stations until he finally turns it off, which leaves Derek alone in the cab of the car with the spinning in his head.

He should just quit, retire, go back to the Yukon and never come out.

He must be late, because Scott, Allison and Stiles are sitting on their suitcases outside the terminal. This is confirmed when Stiles taps on the window and says, “You’re late.”

Derek grunts and pops the trunk, and the Scott and Allison put their bags in before sliding into the back. Stiles takes shotgun with his backpack.

“That all you got?” Derek asks.

“I travel light,” Stiles says. “So I hope you like this outfit.”

‘This outfit’ is jeans and a soft looking plaid shirt. Derek really doesn’t care.

“We could go to a store, Stiles!” Scott shouts from the back. “We’re in America!”

Stiles shakes his head and grins a little at Derek, like they’re sharing a joke, but if they are, Derek’s not in on it.

“I have a shade,” Derek says, staring at the road. “Lydia says I should tell people.”

“Um,” Stiles says. “I guess you told us.”

“Stiles used to have a shade,” Scott contributes.

“You don’t just tell people that,” Stiles hisses.

“You were going to tell him,” Scott says.

“I was, but you stole my thunder,” Stiles says, then turns to Derek. “I used to have a shade.”

“Is it my aunt?” Allison asks.
 “Your shade?”

“Yes,” Derek says, and keeps driving.

A few minutes pass in silence before Stiles says, “So Lydia’s on this job, huh?”

“Jackson Whittemore is also here,” Derek says, just to be clear.

“Shit,” Scott and Stiles say at more or less the same time.

“That guy’s an asshole,” Stiles continues. “Oh my god, I wouldn’t have taken this job if I’d known he was going to be here. You know, he once threatened to take out a restraining order against me?”

Scott is muttering something Derek can’t quite make out, and in the rearview mirror Allison giggles and shoves at him in a way that makes Derek feel like he’s driving around flirty teenagers.

“So your shade?” Stiles asks. “What’s she do?”

“Kills me,” Derek says. “Just me.”

Stiles nods.

“Good to know, I guess,” he says. “Mine used to--die.”

Derek hasn’t heard of a shade that just dies.

“It was worse than it sounds,” Stiles adds. “I mean, I know it doesn’t sound very bad. It didn’t really matter on jobs. Half the people I worked with didn’t even know. But--” Stiles shakes his head. “I’m not talking to you about this. Sorry you have a shade, that sucks.”

“Someone broke into the house and stole one of the family PASIVs,” Derek adds, in the interest of full disclosure.

“Your family has more than one PASIV?” Stiles asks. “Of course you do, you’re the Hales.”

They were the Hales, actually, but Derek doesn’t correct him. Now they’re just Derek and Peter, and the two of them are splintered and cracked and rusted and worn in so many ways Derek isn’t sure if, even together, they constitute a whole thing.

“When?” Allison asks.

“Don’t know,” Derek says. “Sometime in the past year.”

“Not now, though?” Allison asks. “Not while you were in the house?”

“No,” Derek says.

In the mirror, Derek can see Allison nod and rest her head against Scott’s shoulder.

“Thanks for telling us,” she says. She looks like she’s going to fall asleep. She looks like Kate, but just a little. Younger--clearer. Derek doesn’t trust her, but he’s almost inclined to. It’s easy to trust people when they’re sleeping, though. Less so in dreams, even less so when they wake up, but easy when they’re sleeping.

“Tell me about the job in Mongolia,” Derek says to Stiles, because he needs something else to think about.

Stiles complies. It turns out that, given an opening, he can sustain a conversation singlehandedly. It’s kind of relief, because Derek doesn’t feel like talking and, while Stiles pointedly leaves out names and certain details, he’s a decent storyteller and it sounds like an interesting job. And easy, or not easy: smooth. Derek wishes this job would go smoothly. But it hasn’t even started yet, and it’s obviously not going to be. If they got through this, it was going to be one of those jobs people told stories about, one of those ones that achieves success by such a thin margin that it’s kind of a miracle, really.

Derek would rather this be almost any other kind of job, but he doesn’t see how he has a choice--when he was younger he might have wanted to throw himself headlong into glory, thinking himself invincible, but now he doubted he would make it.

“This looks nicer than a warehouse,” Stiles says when they pull up to the house. “Does this mean we get bedrooms? Ariadne had us on cots.” 

“Not the one at the top of the stairs,” Derek says, too quickly.

“I wasn’t going to rush in and claim a room,” Stiles says. “And, like, piss in it. As far as I know this isn’t a reality show. Lydia!”

Stiles waves, then lopes up to the porch and envelopes Lydia in a hug. His backpack’s still on the front seat, and Derek grabs it and follows him.

“Stilinski,” Jackson says, coming out of the front door and leaning in the doorframe. “Pleasure as always.”

“Aw, don’t be that way,” Stiles says. “We had fun at New Year’s.”

“We were wasted at New Year’s,” Jackson corrects. “And then you slept with my best friend.”

Derek glances at Lydia. She mouths ‘not me’ at him.

“McCall,” Jackson says as the other two approach. “Allison.”

“We ordered pizza for lunch,” Lydia says. “We can go pick it up now that you’re back.”

“I’ll stay here,” Derek says. He tosses her the keys and she catches them neatly.

Derek ends up lying on the couch while the others settle in upstairs, staring at the ceiling. Tomorrow they’ll start work properly and Derek will need to sort through old family records and figure out how to frame an extraction on Peter. He’s trying to shore himself up. He’s not sure it’s working well. Getting drunk might work better, but he hadn’t bought any alcohol.

“Anything interesting up there?” Stiles asks, coming into the room and sitting down, kicking his feet up on the coffee table. Derek should probably tell him not to scuff it, but Derek’s feet are on the leather couch.

“No,” Derek says.

“Regret hiring me yet?” Stiles asks.

“Yes,” Derek says, and Stiles laughs.

“Can’t blame you,” he says. “So can you not see the architecture, then, because of your shade? We can still talk about it, I mean, but the maze?”

Derek nods.

“You should probably look at some of my older ones,” Stiles says.

“It’s probably better this way,” Derek replies. “I won’t pick up on any stylistic patterns you might have.”

“I don’t have patterns,” Stiles says.

“Everyone does,” Derek says, sitting up and looking at Stiles. Derek may be forbidden from doing the architecture on this job, but he was good once.

“That was a joke, dude,” Stiles says. “I won’t show you my mazes. But I might run some stuff by you, since this is your uncle.”

“And I’m the extractor,” Derek adds.

“And you’re the extractor,” Stiles agrees.

Lydia and Jackson got the pizza from the crappy place in town instead of the good one, but Derek will let it slide because they couldn’t have known any better. Unless they looked it up on the internet, which maybe they should’ve. Either way, it’s kind of comforting to have everyone gathered around the kitchen table, a complete team plus Jackson, and the pizza isn’t good but it is cheese and sauce and grease and dough, which is its own kind of comfort. It sets Derek off kilter to have these people and not his family--but these people are also so different from his family, it’s almost okay.

“Stiles,” Lydia says suddenly. “Derek has a retina scanner you need to look at.”

“You have a retina scanner?” Stiles asks Derek. “Hales.”

“We think someone might’ve hacked it, or maybe coded in a retina that shouldn’t have been there,” Lydia says.

“Alright,” Stiles says. “I can take a look. Dad used to have me fix the ol’ retinal scanner all the time.”

“Stiles--” Lydia starts, and Stiles grins lopsidedly at Derek.

“Just kidding, the Stilinskis don’t have a retinal scanner, because we don’t have any secrets. All out on the surface in the Stilinski household, you know, what you see is what you get.”

“What do your parents think you do?” Derek asks. Most people whose families aren’t in the industry have some sort of cover story, usually to do with banking.

“IT,” Stiles says easily. “You know, ‘Have you tried turning it off and on again?’ Luckily for you, I am somewhat competent at IT stuff. That’s how I put myself through college.”

“Fixing retina scanners?” Derek asks, and Stiles shrugs.

“Can’t be that different,” he says.

It turns out that it can be that different, which is what they find out when they’re all gathered around the fusebox in the basement.

“Well,” Stiles says. “This is interesting.”

“That mean you can’t do it?” Jackson asks, leaning forward.

“We could hire Danny,” Stiles suggests.

“Oh my god, Stilinski,” Jackson groans. “Do you secretly want to fuck me? What is with you and developing crushes on everyone I talk to?”

“You never had to share as a child, did you?” Allison says coolly. “It shows.”

“Thank you, Allison,” Stiles says. “Danny has needs you can’t fulfill, Jackson.”

“I can’t believe he slept with you,” Jackson says. “Seriously, I can’t. It doesn’t even compute.”

“I’ll have you know, I’m very good in bed,” Stiles says, overloud.

“Too much information,” Jackson says flatly. Derek realizes that, as extractor, he really should put a stop to this discussion.

“Do we need to get Danny?” Derek asks Stiles.

Stiles blinks at him, then looks back at the fuse box.

“No,” he says after a moment. “If I call him, he can probably walk me through it.”

“Don’t have phone sex with him,” Jackson says. “Just don’t.”

“If I do, it will be just to spite you,” Stiles says. “And because I haven’t gotten laid in awhile, but mostly to spite you. We slept together once. It’s not like we’re in a long distance relationship.”

“See, you shouldn’t let me impact your sex life,” Jackson says. “It’s weird.”

“Your concern about my sex life is endearing, really,” Stiles says. “It’s almost like you’re my wingman. It’s almost like you really, really want me to get laid.”

“Only to keep you from sleeping with my best friend and my girlfriend,” Jackson says.

“I told you, Danny has needs you can’t fulfill!” Stiles says.

“He says I’m not his type,” Jackson grouses, absurdly.

“Oh my god,” Stiles says, throwing his hands into the air. “Scott’s not my type, either, because he’s my best friend. Sorry Scott.”

“No problem,” Scott says, tossing Stiles a salute.

“Point being, it’s not entirely unusual for people to friendzone people they’ve nursed through surprisingly debilitating break-ups,” Stiles continues. “Sorry Scott.”

“Shut up, both of you,” Derek says, and he thinks he hear Allison mutter, “Finally.”

“Stiles, figure out the retina scanner and don’t have phone sex with Jackson’s friend,” Derek continues.

“You can’t dictate that!” Stiles mutter, and Derek glares at him.

“The rest of us are going upstairs,” Derek says, because he has no interest in being placated.

“Good leadership,” Lydia says when they get upstairs, but it sounds placating.

“We didn’t need to all stand around and watch him,” Derek says.

“No,” Lydia agrees. “We didn’t.”

There’s something weird about the whole conversation, though. Maybe because Lydia seems more in control of this job than Derek is, to the point that Derek wonders why he’s even been hired. And Derek’s not entirely comfortable leaving Stiles alone in the basement, but when he turns to go back downstairs Scott asks him a question, and then Lydia does.

They’re probably trying to cover for Stiles having phone sex. Derek doesn’t even want to know--he really, genuinely, has no interest in knowing what Stiles is doing downstairs with his disposable cell phone and the retina scanner.

“He better not break it,” Derek says, mostly to himself.

“He won’t,” Lydia says, and she smiles at Derek.

Stiles doesn’t break the retina scanner, but he doesn’t turn up anything especially helpful, either. He gets back upstairs when everyone else is sorting through some old records and gives Derek a list of numbers written in spiky handwriting in a small notebook.

“So here’s what I can tell you,” he says to Derek, tapping at the list with the eraser on his pencil. “You can’t put in anyone new without someone unlocking the scanner first, which means someone in your family would’ve needed to--and these are the i.d. numbers. Five of them.”

Derek stares at them. They don’t mean anything to him.

“They’re automatically assigned,” Stiles says, and then flips the page. “This is a list of times and dates of access. The last one was in October.”

“Who was it?” Derek asks, and Stiles shakes his head.

“Can’t tell,” he says. “We could figure out yours, but I don’t think that will be any help.”

“Are they in order?” Derek asks, taking the notebook back from Stiles. “Chronologically? Laura and I weren’t put in the system until we were older.”

When Derek looks up, Stiles is staring at him.

“Shit,” he says. “I should’ve thought of that. They’re in order, there, which means you and Laura must be the last two--” Stiles moves so he’s standing beside Derek, and flips the notebook to the page prior. “The last number logged is the first one on the list. I don’t know what that means.”

“Peter,” Derek replies, running a hand through his hair. “It means Peter, somehow.”

He hands the notebook back to Stiles.

“You could say thank you,” Stiles says.

“I could,” Derek agrees.

“Good talk,” Stiles says, slapping Derek on the back. “I’m just going to go over here now and pretend you’re not an asshole.”

“Yeah, no, you’re coming with me to the care home,” Derek says, grabbing him by the arm. “You have a gun?”

“Do I have a gun,” Stiles says, which--isn’t an answer. “But, no, really, I think we should bring someone else.”

“Can’t,” Derek says. “Suspicious if I go visit my catatonic uncle with a bunch of people. Come on.”

“And one stranger with a gun isn’t suspicious?” Stiles asks.

“Two people with guns,” Derek corrects, holstering his. “They won’t know. It’s a care home, not a bank.”

“Okay,” Stiles says. He’s looking at Derek’s shoulder holster strangely. “So we’re doing this.”

“That’s what I told you,” Derek says. “Get your gun, come on.”

Stiles goes upstairs.

“Just some constructive criticism, but I feel like your persuasion could use a little work, here,” Stiles says when he comes back down and follows Derek outside. “You can’t just keep saying the same things over and over again until people go along with it.”

“And yet,” Derek says as he unlocks the car. “Here you are.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says. “Kind of confused on that point, myself.”

But he’s sitting shotgun when Derek pulls out of the driveway.

“So, Peter,” Stiles says.

“Is my uncle,” Derek provides, staring ahead at the windshield.

“Not quite what I was looking for,” Stiles says. “But I can work with that.”

“My family’s off limits,” Derek says, because boundaries are important.

“The job’s your family,” Stiles says, voice suddenly quiet. “Your family’s the job.”

It hurts because he’s right, and it slices like a thin, sharp blade, right into Derek’s center. He doesn’t say anything at all, and Stiles doesn’t, either, until Derek’s parking in the guest lot at the care home.

“You’re my boyfriend,” Derek says across the top of the car when they’re getting out. Stiles stops, grips the frame of the passenger side door with one hand, and turns around.

“I’m your--” Stiles pauses. “Um. Why?”

“Less suspicious,” Derek says. “You can do that, can’t you? Pretend to like me for ten minutes while I talk to the nurse?”

“I can--” Stiles’ voice has gone a little pitchy, and if Derek had realized this would be such a trial he wouldn’t have suggested it, and Stiles could just be his highly improbable cousin or something. He had just figured--Stiles slept with someone named Danny. “I can do that. Yes.”

“Good,” Derek says, and nods once. “Come on.”

He presses a hand to the small of Stiles’ back as they walk through the sliding doors, for authenticity. Stiles glances over at Derek, surprised, then ducks his head so the shadows of his lashes swipe across his cheeks. He reaches through the space between them and loops an arm around Derek’s waist.

“You asked for this,” he whispers across Derek’s cheek. There are long fingers against Derek’s hipbone, and, okay, Derek didn’t ask for that precisely, but he can see how he got himself here.

He slips his own hand into Stiles’ back pocket, and out of the corner of his eye, he thinks he detects the hint of a grin on Stiles’ face. 

They pull apart at the front desk, and Derek’s grateful for the space. It’s been a long time since his body jigsawed together with anyone else’s, and Stiles at his side--it’s too warm, too comfortable, to have someone there. Not Stiles in particular, just human warmth--Laura used to press her shoulder against Derek’s when they watched movies in dim hotel rooms, Derek’s father used to muss his hair, Derek’s mother used to squeeze his shoulder, and Derek’s not sure when the last time someone touched him just to touch him was. Kate’s touches always seemed more focus on sex than comfort, and it makes something twist in his gut to realize that this bit of fakery with Stiles is comforting for him, when really it shouldn’t be.

Stiles tangles his fingers with Derek’s while Derek’s talking to the nurse.

Derek kind of wishes they’d gone the cousin route. He reminds himself of that when the nurse is leading them down the hall, and Stiles’ hand is back on Derek’s hip, casually possessive, and Stiles’ body is warm and solid at Derek’s side.

Peter doesn’t look any different from when Derek last visited. He doesn’t look any closer to being awake, either.

“Could you leave us?” he asks the nurse, who’s still standing in the corner of the room. She nods once and goes outside, shutting the door behind her, but Derek doesn’t hear any footsteps going down the hall. Stiles looks at Derek, who steps closer to Peter’s bed. Peter’s eyes are shut. He could be sleeping. Which Derek guesses is the point.

“So,” Stiles says.

Derek circles around to the side of Peter’s bed and takes his hand, feeling for the pulse in his uncle’s wrist.

“Uncle Peter,” Derek says. “I wanted you to meet my--”

“Stiles,” Stiles interjects. He sounds a bit frantic.

“Stiles?” Derek repeats, raising an eyebrow, and pointing to the door.

“It’s a pleasure,” Stiles says. “Derek’s told me so much about you--” Stiles looks up at Derek like he’s waiting for a cue. “--he said how important you are to him. I’m just sorry you’re not awake.”

Peter’s pulse is low and steady, and it doesn’t change through any of--whatever that was. When Derek looks at Stiles, Stiles’ eyebrows are doing a bizarre tango across his forehead.

Derek shrugs and drops Peter’s hand.

“Should we read to him?” Stiles asks. “I think that’s a thing people do.”

“Maybe another time,” Derek says, walking across the room. “Right now I want to--”

Derek doesn’t know what people say in situations like the one he’s somehow play-acted himself into. He feels embarrassed for even trying, but then Stiles flashes him a grin and says, “Of course you do, baby. It means a lot that you brought me here, though. I know how important your family is to you.”

Derek knows the importance of his family is scrawled across his history in capital letters, but it’s still strange to hear Stiles acknowledge it, even if it’s just for a bizarre skit for probably catatonic Peter Hale and his nurse, who is waiting for them in the hallway when they step out of the room.

“Thank you,” Derek says to the nurse, and somewhere Stiles’ hand finds Derek’s and squeezes it. The nurse walks with them to the front desk in silence, and soon enough they’re outside in the clear air, and Derek drops Stiles’ hand and everything he himself has been carrying.

“Baby?” Derek asks when they’re in the car.

“I did improv in college,” Stiles says. “And it saved your ass, don’t act like it didn’t, so you aren’t allowed to make fun of me for it.”

“You did improv in college and that was the best you could come up with?” Derek asks.

“Everyone’s a critic,” Stiles sighs. “So, Peter?”

“No change to his pulse,” Derek says. Stiles rubs his face.

“So we got nothing out of that,” Stiles says. “Do we just assume someone brought him to the house and forced one of his eyes open?”

“I don’t know,” Derek replies. He still hasn’t started the car--he’s staring through the windshield at the parking lot.

“Alright,” Stiles says. “Let’s go, tell the others. Lydia might have an idea.”

“Lydia?” Derek asks, because Stiles is his fake boyfriend now, and it’s reasonable to be concerned about things that might compromise the job.

“Oh, not you, too,” Stiles says. “Lydia’s smart, I respect that in a person. And, seriously, have you heard Jackson? It’s starting to sound like he thinks I’m an actual threat. Don’t listen to him. He grew up crazy rich, and he doesn’t know how to deal with the fact that he can’t just buy people. But Lydia and I have an understanding.”

“An understanding,” Derek repeats.

“That she’s not going to date me,” Stiles says. “Or sleep with me. I accept that, so we’re friends. High school taught me to handle rejection well.”

Derek wonders how Stiles even got into this business, because he apparently did normal things like getting rejected in high school without causing any deaths and college improv. Derek doesn’t ask, because it doesn’t matter, because if he asks Stiles might ask him questions, but he wonders.

“Where’d you guys take off to?” Lydia asks when they find her in the kitchen, and Stiles shrugs.

“Well, Derek needed me to pretend to be his boyfriend so we could visit his uncle, so, you know,” Stiles says, and Lydia stops and stares.

“You went to visit Peter,” she says. “You went to visit Peter. You think the Sheriff doesn’t have that place staked out? They probably called him as soon as you showed up.”

“Wait,” Stiles says, stopping and turning to look at Derek. “Wait. You’re a Sheriff case? Of course you are. Of course no one told me. Lydia.”

“I thought you would know,” Lydia says, and Stiles’ face does something elastic and incomprehensible. He opens his mouth, then shuts it.

“Well, I didn’t,” Stiles says tightly. “Oh god, if they recorded that, and I’m on the footage--”

“The Sheriff wants me,” Derek says, because if Stiles was working with Ariadne on that job in Mongolia he couldn’t possibly be implicated in Laura’s death, regardless of what he’s doing with Derek, so Derek doesn’t understand what the problem is. The Sheriff isn’t known for bringing in people without solid evidence.

“Yeah, and thanks for telling me about that, everyone,” Stiles says. “I don’t know who decided that information wasn’t relevant, but it is, it is relevant.”

“I didn’t kill my sister,” Derek says.

“That’s great,” Stiles says. “Really good for you. It doesn’t matter so much as the fact that no one saw fit to tell me that the Sheriff is involved, here. You told us about your shade, but you didn’t think--”

Lydia raises an eyebrow and Stiles sighs.

“Okay, whatever, I’ll deal,” he says. “But I want to talk to you about how you didn’t kill your sister, Hale.”

“Kate Argent’s trying to frame me,” Derek says.

“No,” Stiles says. “That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the actual facts of how you didn’t kill your sister. Not ‘I’m being framed, my life is hard.’ What’s your case?”

“He went up to the Yukon and moped around for awhile,” Lydia says, and Stiles groans.

“No, wrong, then it looks like you’re in hiding. Do you not have any self preservation instinct at all?” Stiles pauses. “No, don’t answer that, you obviously don’t.”

“My sister died,” Derek says. He can’t figure out why Stiles is stuck on this--why Stiles knows anything about this, actually, because it can’t be that long ago that he was doing college improv.

“And you ran away without doing anything,” Stiles continues. “Look, people die and it’s shit. But running away never fixes it. Never fixes anything.”

And there’s something underneath what Stiles is saying, now, buried in the sad slant of his eyes, in the way they don’t seem to be focused on anything in particular. Derek doesn’t know what it is, but for a moment he sees it. Stiles had a shade who died, Derek remembers.

“Peter,” Lydia says. “Why’d you visit him?”

“He was the last person to unlock the door,” Derek says. “Him or someone using him. But he’s still not awake.”

“How do you know?” Lydia asks.

“No change to his pulse,” Derek says.

“Even when I was telling him how deeply in love Derek and I are, so you know,” Stiles says. “That news should’ve been shocking enough to warrant some sort of response.”

Lydia quirks a brow, but takes this in stride.

“I’m glad you’ve moved on, Stiles,” she says. “I think this will be very good for you.”

“Oh shut up,” Stiles says. “Maybe we should do our little show for Jackson, too. Derek?”

“No,” Derek says.

“I’m wounded,” Stiles says. “Truly and deeply.”

“Well, congratulations, you two,” Lydia says. “But what are we going to do about Peter?”

Derek doesn’t know what they’re going to do about Peter. He had asked the nurse if Peter had had any other visitors, and she had said no, but maybe that was because the Sheriff had come through and told her to say that, or because--there were lots of reasons.

“We’re going to do the job,” he says, finally. “Soon.”

“With your shade?” Lydia says.

“You think she’s just going to go away?” Derek asks.

“Stiles’ shade did,” Lydia says, glancing towards Stiles.

“That was different,” Stiles says. He sounds almost sad about it. “My shade was unusual.”

“Kate Argent is still alive,” Lydia says. “That’s unusual.”

“Not unusual in the same way,” Stiles replies. “Look, let’s not talk about it.”

“Is Stiles Stilinski turning down an opportunity to pry?” Lydia asks, going to the fridge and pouring herself a glass of milk. “Never thought I’d see the day.”

“You know what I’m turning down the opportunity for,” Stiles says. “Not that this hasn’t been great, but I think I’m going to go upstairs and make some sketches. If we’re doing the job soon. Probably should. Besides, I need to call my dad, Lydia.”

“Huh,” Lydia says as she pours herself a glass of milk and Stiles clatters up the stairs.

“What?” Derek asks. He’s still trying to figure out why Lydia would care about Stiles calling his father.

“He’s just usually more open, is all,” Lydia says, examining Derek like she can see right down to his quick. “It’s interesting, when people change their behavior patterns, don’t you think?”

“He doesn’t like me,” Derek says.

“You sure that’s it?” Lydia asks. She rinses her glass and sets it in the sink. “I mean, I don’t know, I’m just asking.”

“I don’t know,” Derek says. “I don’t know Stiles.”

“No,” Lydia agrees. “But he’s a good person to know.”

Scott and Allison show up in the kitchen a few moments later, when Lydia and Derek are sketching out a newly accelerated schedule for this job.

“Stiles says the Sheriff’s on you,” Scott says. He looks like he thinks it’s funny. “Should’ve told us that, dude.”

“The Sheriff’s a fair investigator,” Derek says, even though everyone in the industry knows this. “You won’t be implicated for working with me. Besides, Jackson’s going to deal with him.”

“Nah, not worried,” Scott says, grinning at some unspoken joke. “You just could’ve told us, is all.”

Derek stares at Scott, probably for longer than he should because Lydia taps him on the elbow and says, “Pay attention, Hale.”

Between the four of them they manage to develop a new schedule that’s more or less satisfactory. It’s not like anyone has a choice, but Derek does actually understand that telling people they don’t have much of a choice isn’t diplomatic. So he listens to Scott’s and Allison’s concerns, acknowledges that they need to find an angle, and lets Lydia take care of the rest.

Which suggests that Derek might not be all that diplomatic, after all. Or maybe he is, because he knows he isn’t, and is letting Lydia take care of everything.

It’s Lydia, actually, who sends Derek upstairs to give Stiles the accelerated schedule. When Derek calls for him he finds Stiles sitting on the bed in what used to be Derek and Laura’s bedroom--in what still is Derek’s bedroom, Derek supposes, except he’s not sleeping there. It’s the only bedroom with two twin beds instead of something larger, Derek realizes, and Stiles is the only person sleeping on the second floor who’s not sharing a bed, so he supposes it makes sense.

It doesn’t change the fact that Stiles is sitting on Derek’s old bedspread, the ugly plaid one that’s badly pilled.

“Hey,” Stiles says. He’s fidgeting with a cell phone, mindlessly flipping it open and then shut again. “What’s the new timeline?”

“How was your dad?” Derek asks, looking at the phone in Stiles’ hands.

“On a business trip. Stopped in at a diner he likes. Doing terrible things to his cholesterol. Like usual,” Stiles grins wryly at Derek. “Not that you’re actually interested, but that’s what I’d tell you if you were.”

There’s a desk in the corner of the room by the window, a wooden roll-top from Derek’s father. It was never any good as a drafting table--not enough space--but Derek had used it for one anyway, as a matter of course. There’s a scroll of paper there, now, curled into itself like a dried leaf, and a couple of books that never belonged to Derek.

“You know why I became an architect?” Stiles asks, when he notices what Derek’s looking at. “Instead of anything else? I have trouble--focusing--it didn’t seem like a natural choice. I mean, it took a lot of work to be able to sustain a dream and--I probably shouldn’t be telling you this. I can do it now. But I couldn’t keep my head in one place, and with architecture, with mazes--you don’t have to. Everything’s everywhere, you can make the inside of your head as ambling and rambling as you are.”

Derek nods. It’s not why Derek became an architect, but it makes sense, in a way. Derek always liked the way dream architecture imposed order without actually being ordered in the way real architecture is, and that sounds a bit like what Stiles is talking about.

“You can’t see my blueprints,” Stiles continues. “Of course. But I was thinking--I have, like, a philosophy. An architectural philosophy. Did you? We could talk about that. I mean, I don’t think it would compromise the job.”

“I’m still an architect,” Derek says. Hearing his architecture refered too in the past tense makes something inside him plummet. Stiles shakes his head and frowns.

“Of course,” he says. “Sorry. I didn’t mean--”

“You’ve got a week,” Derek interjects, and then he goes back downstairs.

Stiles voice comes drifting after him: “Okay. Good talk.”

They all fall into patterns over the course of the week: Derek keeps sleeping on the couch downstairs, and he’ll go for a run in the morning, and then have coffee with Stiles and Lydia, because they’re up before the other three. He’ll check in with everyone throughout the day, discuss the logistics of the job as they shift. It’s almost a routine, and it’s almost comforting. As long as he doesn’t think about anything too much. Derek’s not quite good at shutting off his memories--it still seems like Laura’s physically present with him, like she should be alive--and he’s not going to let himself be happy, but he’ll at least allow himself this. And by ‘this’ he means ‘enough peace to get through the job and back to the Yukon.’

Sometime near the middle of the week, or the end of it, Lydia stops coming down for breakfast, which leaves Derek and Stiles by themselves with their mugs of coffee. When he finds himself across the kitchen table from Stiles Derek remembers, too suddenly, their conversation in Ecuador. None of that sharp skepticism had surfaced from Stiles since then, but Derek can’t help but wonder if Stiles is waiting for Derek to fuck up, as he inevitably will. Derek isn’t good at people. He never has been. Kate had seemed almost like a revelation, because of that, but that was Derek’s own fault--she was just another person that he didn’t understand.

The first morning they end up having breakfast together Stiles is quiet. When Derek glances up at him Stiles is looking at the table like it’s something fascinating. Derek knows it’s not, because he’d been looking at before looking up at Stiles; it’s a table. It looks like a table. There are whorls of woodgrain, but they aren’t actually that interesting. While Derek studies it, Stiles starts drumming his fingers across its surface in an uncertain tattoo.

Then Stiles sits up suddenly, and adjusts his posture, and says, “So, do you think you’re ready?”

It’s not the question Derek’s used to be asked, about whether the team’s ready. Derek’s pretty sure he isn’t ready.

“I still have a shade,” he says.

“Oh yeah,” Stiles says. “That.”

Stiles looks at the table again, then shakes his head abruptly.

“Have you ever tried to do something about it?” Stiles asks. “Her?”

“Yes,” Derek says, flatly.

“Of course you have,” Stiles says, shaking his head. “I know it’s not easy, I just--”

“You just,” Derek repeats when Stiles trails off and shows no sign of continuing.

“You don’t have a shade of your sister?” Stiles asks, which is not a question anyone’s ever asked, not a question Derek even thought to ask himself. He doesn’t have an answer--he doesn’t want to answer.

“No,” Derek says, and then he gets up and dumps the dregs of his coffee down the sink. When Derek gets back to the table Stiles is watching him with sharp, canny eyes.

“Mine was my mom,” he says, twisting his coffee mug in his hands. “She died and I kept her around in my head.”

Derek takes a moment just to look at Stiles, because it means something that Stiles is telling him this.

She died in his dreams, Stiles said in the car.

“How’d you get her out, then?” Derek asks.

Stiles’ face twists into a sort of bitter expression, and it looks strange on his face.

“I went to counseling, actually,” he says. “I probably needed it, even if I didn’t need it for the job. The counselor said I had to let her go. I had to accept that I couldn’t have done anything to stop her dying.”

Stiles falls silent again, looks at his hands, then up at Derek.

“She was kind of right,” Stiles says. “But it wasn’t that easy, really. It was more--my mom started to show up less, and then more because I felt guilty she was showing up less. But--that wasn’t her, you know? That was a projection. Everyone knows the difference in their own head, but I started to see the differences, between this person dying in my dreams and my actual mom. Who was, you know, dead.”

Stiles smiles, small and wry.

“I haven’t seen Kate Argent in years,” Derek says.

“Maybe you should talk to Allison about her,” Stiles says, then shrugs. “Or not, I don’t know.”

It’s quiet in the kitchen for a beat, or several, and then Stiles rolls his shoulders and gets to his feet, saying, “I’ve got to--dream levels. And Scott wants to test the forge on me, because I can always tell if he’s being Scott, at least.”

Scott’s forging Peter’s friend Alan Deaton, because everyone agreed it would be best if he didn’t do someone from Derek’s immediate family and because Scott knew Deaton well, which makes the forge easier than it might otherwise be.

Derek nods, and Stiles pauses in the doorway before leaving the room, like he has something else to say. Whatever it was he ultimately decides not to say it, and Derek is left--Derek isn’t sure how he’s left, actually. He’s left standing in the doorway to the kitchen, wondering what that conversation was exactly. He genuinely doesn’t know. It’s the most personal conversation he’s ever had with Stiles--it’s quite possibly the most personal conversation he’s had with anyone since Laura died, and Derek didn’t even contribute all that much to it.

Derek avoids Stiles for the rest of the day. He actually avoids everyone for the rest of the day, so it might not be that significant; instead Derek holes himself up in the attic above the garage, going through battered cardboard boxes of family records. There’s nothing, really, that Derek can imagine being of any use, but at least cardboard boxes don’t expect Derek to talk to them.

Lydia’s not at breakfast the next morning, again, and--Laura would say he’s being paranoid, but Derek wonders if she’s doing it on purpose. He wouldn’t past her to try that, if she thought it would get rid of Kate. Or--of Derek’s shade, more accurately. She’s not Kate, she’s a shade.

“I think Jackson and Lydia have started having morning sex,” Stiles says idly, cupping his hands around his mug. He seems more comfortable today than he was yesterday, if only marginally less fidgety. But Stiles fidgets; it’s something Derek’s noticed about him. “Is there a phrase for that? Like someone’s having a nooner, only in the morning.”

“Not that I know of,” Derek replies, but fails to point out that he isn’t someone who would know, if there was.

“I would suggest that we make one, but I actually have no interest in talking about Jackson and Lydia’s sex life, so,” Stiles says. “I don’t know why I opened with that.”

“You opened with that,” Derek repeats.

“I was trying not to open with questions about your, you know, psyche or whatever,” Stiles says. “After yesterday I realized it might be too early for that. In the morning. And also our relationship.”

Derek hadn’t realized he and Stiles had a relationship. He raises his eyebrows.

“Our working relationship,” Stiles amends. “In case you were thinking anything else. Because your psyche is actually relevant to our work here.”

Derek was thinking something else, though there’s no reason for him to, and that--disturbs him. He takes a gulp of his coffee, too hot and too bitter, just to clear his head.

“Is your tongue alive?” Stiles asks after Derek swallows. “My coffee is still too hot to drink.”

Stiles looks down at his cup like he might be able to tell the temperature that way, then shrugs.

“I mean, I’m pretty sure my dad scorched his tongue off on bad diner coffee years ago, but, you know.”

Derek doesn’t know.

“Scorched his tongue off?” Derek asks.

“Well, scorched off the part of the tongue that can detect temperature,” Stiles says, flapping his hand. “Whatever, I don’t know.”

They’re quiet for a little after that. Stiles blows on his coffee before he sips it, grinning a little at the riffles it creates in the dark liquid before taking a careful sip. Stiles talks enough that his sudden silence feels almost unusual, or intimate, and Derek finds himself watching Stiles closely enough that when Stiles looks up from his coffee their eyes catch and hold, intractable.

“I could help, you know,” Stiles says. “Or--maybe. I could try, anyway.”

“With what?” Derek asks, because he genuinely doesn’t know.

“Your shade,” Stiles says. “Kate.” He looks away, off to the side. “We could go into a dream, I could try--”

Lydia comes downstairs then. She glances between them, and if this is something she planned nothing shows on her face. Derek’s grateful for the distraction, because what Stiles is offering--there’s no easy answer. It’s something Derek needs to think about.

“Morning,” Lydia says.

“Coffee’s in the pot,” Stiles says, waving his hand towards the kitchen. “Still hot.”

Stiles grins a little at Derek at that, like the fact that the coffee is hot is a joke between the two of them. Derek’s fairly certain that there’s no joke there, but if Stiles wants to share this with him--well. Derek doesn’t know, but he figures he can’t stop Stiles from manufacturing inside jokes for the two of them. After a moment he returns Stiles’ smile, and Stiles brightens. Derek wants to tell him that just because he’s smiling now doesn’t mean he knows what to do with Stiles’ offer, and besides that Derek’s sense of humor is complete shit, really, and just because he thinks something is funny doesn’t mean it actually is.

Laura used to tell Derek that, at least. Derek’s starting to wonder why he doesn’t have her as a shade, where the line between normal mourning and the sort that saddles you with a subconscious hanger-on is. Not that Derek wants--except maybe he does. It would be nice to see her again.

Across the table, Stiles has gone quiet. When Derek looks at him again Stiles is staring into his coffee mug. Stiles looks up when Lydia comes back in, grins at her so his eyes crinkle. Derek wonders how Stiles is so easily, idly happy. He makes a clumsy innuendo about Lydia and Jackson, then dissolves into laughter when Lydia shuts him down, and Derek doesn’t understand it. He wishes he did. He suspects his life would be easier if he did.

He goes out to the garage while Stiles and Lydia are still talking, and he’s surprised when Stiles shows up several hours later with a sandwich and a pickle on a plate.

“Hey,” he says. “You missed lunch. And I’m kind of done with the architecture, so I have nothing better to do.”

Stiles trails off uncertainly, and when Derek doesn’t immediately take the plate he sets it on the attic floor, bracing his hands against his back and stretching as he looks around. From where Derek’s sitting he can see Stiles’ shirt rise up as he cracks his back, revealing a lean stomach and a trail of fine, dark hair. Derek doesn’t know why he notices, but he does. Stiles’ belt is frayed at the end and too loose; he needs a new one.

“So these are the records, huh?” Stiles says, sitting down on the other side of the room and leaning back against a pile of boxes.

“Yes,” Derek says. Stiles grins crookedly.

“I’m just waiting to see if you’re actually going to eat that, because otherwise I want the pickle,” Stiles says, nodding towards the plate. It’s still sitting between them like Derek is an animal Stiles is trying to lure out of its lair with food, and Derek isn’t sure how he feels about that.

“I don’t like pickles,” Derek says, and pushes the plate towards Stiles with his foot. Stiles darts forward like Derek’s going to change his mind, then pushes the plate back towards Derek and sits down again, taking a loud bite out of the pickle.

“So is there anything here that would exonerate you?” Stiles asks.

“No,” Derek says. “That’s not what I’m looking for.”

Stiles shrugs, but his eyes are flitting around like he suspects Derek’s lying and he’s trying to catalogue everything, just in case. Stiles must see something Derek doesn’t, because all Derek sees are unlabeled filing cabinets and boxes.

“There are birth certificates,” Derek says. “Letters. Things like that. I should probably burn them.”

Stiles raises his eyebrows in an unspoken question.

“This house doesn’t belong to the Hales,” Derek explains. “The stuff up here is a really incriminating paper trail.”

“Yeah, that was kind of a terrible idea,” Stiles says. “Especially considering you have a room locked with a retina scanner and this stuff isn’t in there.”

“Not enough space,” Derek mutters. “And the plan was always to burn this stuff if anything happened.”

“Because that doesn’t look suspicious,” Stiles says. “I feel like you guys don’t have a good working understanding of how law enforcement works.”

“And you do?” Derek asks, then shrugs. “We never needed one.”

Stiles just shakes his head.

“Kate,” he says, almost idly, though there’s an edge there that suggests Stiles is uncertain, that he thought this through. “You want to try?”

Derek doesn’t, not really, but he thinks he should. He shrugs.

“You should talk to Allison, first,” Stiles says, then gets up to go.

It’s not until Derek’s halfway through his sandwich that he realizes Stiles never answered Derek’s question about his working understanding of law enforcement. Stiles probably thought it was rhetorical. At the very least, he seems more aware of the dangers of this job than Derek gave him credit for.

When Derek gets back downstairs Lydia and Stiles are at the table, heads bowed over something that Derek can’t see. Stiles looks up first and grins at Derek like he’s happy to see him.

“Are you going to talk to Allison?” Stiles asks. Lydia looks at Derek and raises an eyebrow. Derek shrugs, and they’re all quiet.

“I think it might help,” Stiles says softly. “I know it doesn’t seem--but I think it might help. And then we can try a dream, if you want.”

Derek shrugs again. Stiles being quiet, gentle, it feels strange. Stiles and Lydia both had refused to treat Derek with kid gloves, and now it seems like they are.

“Don’t worry about me,” Derek says to both of them. “The job will be fine.”

Stiles looks away. Lydia looks annoyed. Derek goes upstairs.

He passes Allison on the steps, and she smiles at him, brief and honest. They’d been practicing in the woods, some, but they hadn’t practiced in dreams much because of Kate. Allison is good, and Derek can almost accept that. He wishes, not for the first time, that any of this made sense.

“Can I talk to you?” he asks. When Allison looks startled he says, “Later, if you want.”

“No,” Allison says. “Now is fine.”

She follows Derek into his room--Stiles’ room?--sits down gingerly on Laura’s bed and stares at him.

“Your aunt,” he starts, before realizing he doesn’t know what to ask, and--maybe he should’ve asked Stiles that, but maybe he shouldn’t be taking instruction from Stiles. Derek’s distantly angry with Stiles, maybe because Derek is listening to him, and doesn’t like it.

“Kate,” Allison interjects.

“Tell me about her,” Derek says, finally.

Allison looks uncertain, but then she does.

It has to be at least as strange for Allison to tell as it is for Derek to hear, because the Kate she describes is someone who did what she did to Derek’s family, but it still doesn’t quite mesh with the Kate Derek knew, and he almost wonders if that’s the problem--that he never fully reconciled the Kate he thought he loved with the one that killed his family, that he still doesn’t know how to.

“I don’t think she’s a good person,” Allison says, looking at her hands in her lap. “But she’s a good aunt, sometimes.”

Derek nods once. If there’s something he should say, he doesn’t know what it is. He had expected this conversation to fill him with quietly simmering rage, like some conversations do, but he just feels tired.

“You ever wonder how this happens, in dreamsharing?” Allison asks. “It messes with our heads.”

Derek’s wondered. He doesn’t know how else to be in dreamsharing, though, and he doesn’t know what else to do with himself.

“Yeah,” he says. He wants to say that the Argents and the Hales have more in common than they’ve ever acknowledged, despite being rivals, despite the Argents coming out of the military and the Hales coming out of--well, crime. Derek wants to say a lot of things, most of which he doesn’t. He looks out the window. They’re both silent, and then Allison goes downstairs. When Allison leaves Derek leans back on the bed, and, some time later, Stiles opens the door.

“You talked to Allison,” he says.

“Yes,” Derek says.

“Do you want to--?” Stiles starts, trailing off. Derek tilts his head up towards the ceiling. The job is tomorrow, and he’s hardly gone into dreams at all. He really should.

“I should,” he says, and when Stiles doesn’t say anything else Derek adds, “Okay.”

“Okay,” Stiles says. “Okay, then we should go. Downstairs. And downstairs again. You know.” Stiles gestures, looping a hand through the air.

Derek does know.

“We can use your architecture,” Stiles adds, looking over his shoulder at Derek. “I want to see it.”

Derek wants Stiles to see it, actually. He hasn’t had much opportunity to show his work to other architects, and he finds that the idea appeals to him. Even if he hasn’t seen Stiles’ work--Stiles did work with Ariadne. Derek respects that, at least.

They go downstairs and hook up to one of the PASIVs, using regular Somnacin instead of Lydia’s formula, and Derek queues up his subway architecture, because it’s still his favorite.

Rats,” Stiles says after he opens his eyes, nodding approvingly. “Thorough.” He shoves his hands into his back pockets and looks around again, watching projections board the train. “So, you going to give me a tour and we’ll see what happens?”

“Yes,” Derek says, after a moment. “But we can wait for the next train.”

The next train comes, roaring into the station, and in the meantime Stiles chatters--not quite incessantly, but certainly continuously. Derek wishes words could come as easily to him.

“My mom,” Stiles is saying suddenly. “My mom, my shade, I just couldn’t--” Stiles shakes his head. “In high school I used to say all these things that didn’t make sense, I thought I grew out of that.”

“It’s hard to talk about,” Derek says.

“For you,” Stiles says, then grins in a way that he might’ve intended to be apologetic. “No, you’re right, it’s hard, just like it’s easy to understand a shade isn’t a person and hard to use that information to make them go away. But where is she?”

“Not here yet,” Derek says, glancing around. “Come on, we have to jump.”

He reaches out to grab Stiles’ hand and pull him onto the train, because the first leap is always a bit difficult. Stiles flails when Derek clasps his hand, but he catches his footing on the train with surprising grace. He doesn’t release Derek’s hand. It’s okay, they’re just dreaming.

They keep wandering through the dream, switching trains and switching trains again. Derek likes tugging Stiles along by the hand, and Stiles--Stiles likes the architecture. He likes the mosaics in some of the stations, and the rats, and the ways the tracks circle back to one another. He tells Derek as much, asks him surprisingly perceptive questions.

“Are they penrose trains?” Stiles asks. “Penrose tracks?”

“Some of them,” Derek says, scanning the new station for Kate. She’s nowhere to be seen, but sometimes she just--isn’t.

There’s a set of stairs in one of the stations that goes up indefinitely. Derek usually steers people away from them because they lead to nowhere, but Stiles spies them and immediately decides they’re climbing. Stiles takes the steps two at a time and Derek trails after, lackadaisical. The projections thin out on the steps, which is maybe why it surprises Derek so much when he feels a knife against his back, a hand on his shoulder, manicured fingernails digging in. Ahead of him, Stiles is still talking.

“Derek,” Kate hisses into his ear. “Replacing me already?”

“So these don’t go anywhere?” Stiles says. “Like a stairway to heaven. Interesting tactic. Does it really do much? Derek--”

Stiles turns around as Kate slides her knife between Derek’s ribs. Derek tries to smile at Stiles, but he knows whatever he manages to contort his face into will come out strange and wan. And Stiles’ own expression has gone into freefall, but the last thing Derek sees before he dies is a flash in Stiles’ eyes, and he looks angry.

Derek wakes up. He looks at Stiles on the cot next to him, breathing lightly. Derek can see his chest rise and fall through Stiles’ thin, dark t-shirt. He’s still asleep, still alive in the dream. Kate only ever kills Derek, anyway. Derek wonders how Stiles is going to kick himself out of the dream, and when, and suddenly Stiles is blinking awake, eyes bleary until they focus on Derek’s face.

“Were you watching me sleep?” he asks, and there’s a grin there at the corner of his lips. Stiles looks happier than Derek expected him to be, given what just happened.

“Waiting for you to wake up,” Derek replies, looking away, towards the wall. “What happened?”

“Interesting shade you got there,” Stiles says, sitting up and bracing his hands on his thighs. “Not exactly the friendliest lady.” Derek snorts.

“Yeah, okay, understatement,” Stiles continues, a bit wry. “But we had a little talk. You know--” Stiles shakes his head. “It’s not easy, to get them to go away. It’s something that she stayed away that long, isn’t it?”

Derek hasn’t had a dream without Kate since his family died, so it probably is a step in the right direction, but Derek isn’t sure how significant this might be. Instead he shrugs and heads upstairs, mutters something about how he should probably get back to the records before dinner, just because. The job needs to go well, Derek reminds himself, or Stiles. Because of the Sheriff. Stiles winces involuntarily, and Derek doesn’t know what he’s afraid of, but Derek is just trying to keep himself together right now.

They usually eat dinner in randomly overlapping shifts, people drifting in and out of the kitchen, and sometimes watching movies in the basement. When Derek gets down from the attic everyone’s already moved to the basement, but there’s a bowl of chili covered with plastic wrap in the fridge, and Derek microwaves it before going to the basement. Some James Bond movie Derek can’t identify is on, and Stiles turns around when Derek gets to the bottom of the stairs, then slides towards Scott and pats the space he’s made on the couch. Allison and Scott are on the couch with Stiles and Lydia’s sitting in Jackson’s lap in one of the oversize armchairs, and there’s another armchair, empty, but it seems rude to refuse now that Stiles has made a space, so Derek slides in next to him.

Stiles is leaning more towards Scott than Derek, but at some point during the movie he folds his legs up under his body and his feet slide under Derek’s legs. It’s not comfortable at all, but Derek doesn’t move, because it feels like something you do with someone you’re comfortable with and Derek doesn’t know what to make of that.

“Someone should make a movie about this,” Stiles says when the credits start to roll and Bond, as played by Sean Connery, has accomplished whatever he was supposed to accomplish.

“About us watching this movie?” Scott asks, grinning in the silvered television light.

“Meta,” Lydia says.

“And boring,” Scott says.

“About dreamsharing,” Stiles says. “Just because right now it feels like a shitty job doesn’t mean it actually is.”

“They probably will once it goes public,” Lydia says.

“That’ll be interesting,” Stiles says.

“You know Stiles started dreamsharing because the idea of people getting in his head freaks him out too much to not do it himself,” Lydia says, leaning forward in Jackson’s lap.

“Lydia,” Stiles says sharply. “I told you that in confidence.”

“No you didn’t,” Lydia says.

“I was drunk,” Stiles mutters. “You should assume things I tell you when I’m drunk are told in confidence.”

Lydia just laughs, then glances at Derek and catches his eye.

“I also started because it’s cool,” Stiles says, leaning back on the couch and tilting his head up towards the ceiling. “And I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do with real architecture. And then Scott did because I did.”

Stiles rolls his head towards Scott, who punches him in the shoulder. It’s impossible to tell whether that’s a joke or the truth spoken like a joke, but it sounds like a conversation they’ve had before. It seems like if Stiles was in dreamsharing when Scott was training Derek would’ve met him, at least in passing, but who knows.

“And Lydia’s here because nothing could hold her,” Stiles continues. “And Jackson’s here because Lydia is, and the rest of you are in the family business, right?”

“And this isn’t your family business?” Lydia asks, and Stiles goes momentarily still, then laughs uncomfortably.

“My dad’s an architect,” he says pointedly, turning to Derek before looking back at Lydia and narrowing his eyes. “It’s not the same.”

Lydia shrugs, but she looks satisfied and Stiles looks annoyed and Derek is wondering about Stiles’ father, which he suspects was what Lydia was trying to make happen. Derek’s usually good at telling when people are lying, and is seems like Stiles, who’s rubbing his head, was lying, about his father or his father’s job. Derek’s not sure what the expression on Stiles’ face is, but then Stiles gets up very suddenly and leaves, so it seems probable that it’s not a very happy expression.

“Stiles,” Lydia says, somewhat placatingly.

“I have to use the bathroom,” he yells, but it sounds more like a weak excuse than an actual explanation.

“Should we put another DVD in?” Scott asks, looking around. Allison shrugs.

“Isn’t he your friend?” Derek asks, because this is entirely out of character for Scott. He’s usually more concerned when people storm out of rooms.

“It’s not a big deal,” Scott says with a shrug, and Allison nods, and Derek suspects that everyone knows what just happened but him, and that is not okay.

“What was that?” he says to Lydia.

“Ask Stiles,” she says, flipping her hair over her shoulder. “Put in another movie, Scott. One with Timothy Dalton.”

“Timothy Dalton,” Jackson mutters disparagingly.

Derek stares at them: Scott, rifling through the James Bond box set, Allison, who is staunchly not making eye contact, Lydia and Jackson, who have picked up a petty argument about Timothy Dalton. He goes upstairs.

Stiles is coming out of the bathroom, which suggests he at least followed through with his cover story. Or he actually needed to use the bathroom.

Stiles stops in the door and stares at Derek, then wipes his palms on the front of his jeans.

“I washed my hands,” he says, like that isn’t an absurd, unnecessary statement.

“What happened down there?” Derek asks.

“Lydia was just giving me crap,” Stiles says, eyes flitting to the side. “My dad--” he shrugs.

“You’re not telling me something,” Derek says. He takes a step forward. He’s not enough taller than Stiles that it feels like an effective intimidation tactic, if anything, Stiles is broader than Derek in the shoulders. And even as Derek presses forward, Stiles just stands there, staring back.

Derek’s not sure how much more time passes like that, their eyes tight to one another’s. Probably less than it feels like. It’s dark in the hall, and they can hear a muffled James Bond theme from downstairs, and after a few bars of music Stiles sighs and looks off to the side.

“It’s not important,” Stiles says. “It doesn’t matter.”

“It seemed like it mattered,” Derek says.

“Knowing won’t make us a more effective team,” Stiles says. “Probably the opposite.”

He starts walking towards the kitchen, and when Derek stops Stiles says, “Well, do you want to know, then?”

Stiles starts making coffee by the light from the hallway, and Derek watches him and wonders what this is that it needs coffee. Stiles pours two mugs, the mugs they’ve each been using habitually in the morning. He gives Derek the blue one and sits down at the table, looking into the depths of his own coffee.

“Okay,” Stiles says. “It’s probably important for you to know that I don’t think you killed your sister, to start.”

Derek doesn’t know what that has to do with this, but he says, “Thank you,” because that seems like the thing to say.

“I think there are better ways to deal with it than fucking off to Alaska or whatever,” Stiles adds, then looks at his coffee. “Like, a million better ways. And I actually know that, because my dad--” Stiles pauses, looks up. “My dad’s the Sheriff.”

It takes Derek a minute to understand what Stiles is saying, and once Derek gets it he’s not even sure what it means on a larger level. It means--

“So is that why you’re here?” Derek asks, too sharp and loud. He’s pressing his palms against the table, hard.

“No,” Stiles says. “No. Remember when we went to visit Peter and I had to call my dad? Yeah, that. I got reamed, and I had to explain that we were fake dating or whatever, because dad doesn’t like it when I date accused murderers and he finds out from CCTV footage because I don’t bring them home to meet him.”

Derek wants to ask if that’s something that’s happened before. He also--he also doesn’t know what to do with this information. It’s not like Stiles has betrayed his trust, because Derek hadn’t entirely trusted him, but still--they’re running the job the day after tomorrow. Stiles offered to help Derek with Kate, and that seems important in some way Derek can’t quantify.

Derek hits the table, once, loud. It shudders, and ripples run across the surfaces of their coffee. Derek’s cup, overfull, spills over. Stiles looks at the table and doesn’t say anything else. He has to be waiting, though Derek doesn’t know what he expects; forgiveness, maybe, maybe he expects Derek to be grateful that Stiles might be able to get him out of all of this, maybe Stiles expects Derek to be angry.

“I’m going to bed,” Derek says, and goes upstairs. It’s only when he gets to the bedroom that he remembers he hasn’t been sleeping there, Stiles has, and Derek has been sleeping on the couch because that made sense to him at one point. The bedsheets are rumpled. Derek climbs in anyway and pulls them over his shoulders; this is Stiles’ problem, not his. Derek’s going to sleep. He makes himself sleep. When he wakes up he neither feels better nor worse--he just sees Stiles sitting at the table, and the Sheriff, and he thinks he trusts Stiles less, but maybe he should trust him more.

Stiles is sleeping on the couch when Derek gets downstairs, limbs trailing off the ends. Derek doesn’t know what to do with this, with him. He almost feels guilty that Stiles doesn’t seem to know how to make himself small enough to sleep comfortably on a sofa when there’s an extra twin bed in the room upstairs Stiles could be using. Derek skips his run and goes into the kitchen to make a pot of coffee, and Stiles comes in when Derek’s halfway through his first mug, rubbing his eyes and wearing rumpled clothes from the night before.

“You stole my room,” he says.

“It was my room, first,” Derek replies, and has the sudden realization that Stiles actually distracted him enough to get him to sleep there, which is--something.

Stiles pours himself coffee and a bowl of cereal, and he’s quiet until sitting down across from Derek, at which point he looks up at Derek and says, “We okay?”

Derek shrugs. He’s not sure they are, but on the other hand he wonders if they were, ever, or if they’d just crafted a simulacrum of two people interacting normally. Maybe they aren’t okay, but maybe they could be now, because at least Derek knows. It’s not like--Stiles said he didn’t believe Derek killed Laura, and for some reason Derek believes that, trusts Stiles more than he should.

“Anything else you need to tell me?” Derek asks. Stiles looks up at Derek, surprised, and then he gives him a quick, honest grin.

“Not at the moment, no,” Stiles says. “I’ll keep you posted.”

Derek finds himself smiling into his coffee, involuntarily, instead of thinking about the job they’re running on his uncle tomorrow until Lydia comes downstairs, pours herself a cup of coffee and sits down between them, saying, “So this job’s going to run smoothly, right?”

“If you’re asking whether Derek’s going to kill me, he’s agreed to hold off,” Stiles says, and he grins at Derek again, that grin that implies they have some sort of joke together. “Which is for the best, because killing me would seriously get my dad on your ass.”

Derek kind of wants to ask about that, about Stiles’ dad and how this might be his family business, too, but Lydia waylays the conversation with plans for tomorrow.

“So are we pretending to be boyfriends again?” Stiles asks, looking across the table at Derek. Derek had kind of forgotten about that, even though Stiles had referenced it the night prior.

“It would be strange if you didn’t,” Lydia says, and Derek nods. The improbable cousins cover story seems like a better one, in light of everything, but Derek knows what they say about hindsight, and there are all sorts of things he would do differently, given the chance. Relative to the others, this one doesn’t loom too large on his consciousness, but he thinks it would just make his life a little easier if he and Stiles didn’t--

“Are you going to want a bed tonight?” Stiles asks, cutting off Derek’s thoughts. “Because there are two in that room, so I was thinking--”

“Roommates,” Lydia says, clapping her hands on the table. “That settles it.”

Derek didn’t actually settle it, but when night comes around it feels surprisingly okay to go upstairs with Stiles, who turns out the light before either of them undress. The moon’s waxing towards fullness tomorrow night, and in the silvered light from the window Derek can see the curve of Stiles’ back as he pulls off his shirt, but he doesn’t look for longer than that.

Since Kate Derek’s been careful about being attracted to people. It’s not that he isn’t, it’s just that he doesn’t allow himself think about it for longer than a few moments, for longer than it takes Derek to get himself off, when he needs to. Derek could be attracted to Stiles, he thinks, because Derek trusts Stiles and he shouldn’t. But maybe he already is--he’s been noticing things, Stiles’ hands and the fringe of lashes around his pale eyes, and now this. It makes Derek ache a little, and curl away from the bed Stiles is sleeping in. The worst part of the thing with Kate, other than the part where everything was the worst, was how aware it made Derek of attraction and attractiveness, and how little it can be trusted. Derek knows what he looks like. It’s a lie, really, a pretty face covering up gross structural flaws. Derek’s gone to bars, seen people look at him like he’s water and they’re parched, and wished he could explain that to them. Attraction--attractiveness--it doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t help anything, either.

He goes to sleep, and he’s grateful, again, as always, that he doesn’t dream.

The next morning is busy with last minute preparations. Allison’s out practicing at the shooting range she set up in the backyard, and Scott insists he needs Apple Jacks to function to his full potential, and Jackson’s saying he’s coming with for the job, even though he absolutely isn’t. Stiles is calm, and strangely quiet, and Lydia is making her own plans and sketches on spare sheets of paper, lost inside her own mind. Derek and Stiles are to go to the care facility and check Peter out for the day, bring him back to the house, and then they’ll do the job.

“Easy peasy lemon squeezy,” Stiles says when they’re in the car. Derek raises an eyebrow, and Stiles grins at him, offers a fist, presumably to bump. Derek brushes his knuckles against Stiles’ and starts the car.

When they get to the care facility it’s a lot like it was the first time, right down to the nurse on duty, who walks them to Peter’s room with her heels clicking. She purses her lips into a frown when Derek says they’re taking Peter out, but there’s nothing she can do about it. Stiles’ hand, again, is on Derek’s hip like an anchor.

It takes a little doing to shift Peter into the car, but they manage, and the drive back to the house goes without incident, though having Peter in the car keeps them both silent, like he might somehow hear.

Derek and Stiles carry Peter between them down the stairs when they get to the house, and shift him onto one of the cots in the subbasement. The rest of the team joins them, with Jackson, because Lydia won that argument. It’s Lydia, ultimately, who gets the PASIV out.

They go under.

There’s always a blurry moment, in between falling asleep and the dream beginning, like the moment just before the mists lift off the ocean in the morning. Derek can’t see, and then he can--he’s not on his feet, and then he is.

When he opens his eyes Derek’s not where he expects to be, which maybe shouldn’t have come as a surprise; he knew, if he thought about it, that Stiles’ architecture wouldn’t be what he expected. He’s in the woods--the ones around the old house. Derek knows you aren’t supposed to base architecture on a real thing, and Stiles hasn’t, because these are those trees, but they aren’t arranged like a forest. The trees have been warped and twisted into walls and staircases, so even though now Derek’s standing on a ground, in a clear opening in the forest dusted with snow and dry leaves, he could also climb up through stories of trees.

Stiles is on the other side of the clearing, and he looks at Derek like he knows what Derek’s looking at, and grins like he always does. Really, it just takes a moment, but there’s a flash of something, there, between them, and Derek wants to know Stiles: how he came up with this, and why, what his handwriting looks like on blueprints and along the lines of his sketches, whether his father was actually an architect, what all of this means. It’s a stupid moment, and completely the wrong time, but the realization comes to Derek clean and whole: this is more than attraction, this is wanting. Stiles. As a person.

But they have a job to run, and Derek’s heart is beating hummingbird quick in his chest, and they’re in Peter’s subconscious, beyond Limbo, and they have a job to run.

They have a job to run. Derek recenters himself on that, not on the architecture or Stiles’ mind or whatever it is that’s inched its way under Derek’s skin over the course of--what, scarcely a week. Stiles has gone from being someone who Derek liked touching him to someone Derek considered an anchor, even just for a moment, and Derek doesn’t even know what Stiles wants--if Stiles wants--

But they have a job to run. Derek returns to that and clings to it.

“We need to find Peter,” Derek says, because it’s true. They need Peter if Scott-as-Deaton is going to get any information out of him.

They split up--Jackson with Lydia, Allison with Scott, Derek with Stiles. It makes sense on some level; the plan has always been that they would divide, locate Peter, reconvene at a location everyone had agreed upon but Derek didn’t know. But it feels strange, now, to be walking through the dream with Stiles. Derek wants to discuss the architecture with him, but instead they’re jogging through it, and Stiles has one hand on his holstered gun. The trees open and close around them, and they pass projections but none of the large groups of them that might indicate they were close to Peter. Thay pause in an opening and Stiles spins around, looking for another path.

“Where the hell is he?” Stiles mutters.

“Looking for me?” comes a voice, and Derek whirls around.

Kate’s behind them, on a staircase, wearing a dress that pools around her feet, glimmering. Derek sees a flicker of motion that’s Stiles, looking between Derek and Kate, but Derek is too busy staring at Kate. She looks almost more real than usual, closer to the person Derek used to know. To the side, Stiles has his gun trained on her, but he’s looking at Derek, and Derek can’t imagine he’ll shoot before something happens.

He doesn’t.

Kate’s knife comes at Derek so quickly he hardly has time to react. When he ducks the knife buries itself in the ground, but Kate is already vaulting from the stairs--despite her dress, which ripples and flows behind her--and towards Derek. She doesn’t say anything. She snarls, and her face contorts into something Derek doesn’t recognize. Stiles still hasn’t taken a shot, but it must be because he’s afraid he’ll hit Derek, now.

Kate jumps on Derek, and they both topple over. All Derek can see is Stiles being right, because this isn’t Kate, this isn’t--this person is so far from being her. Derek wants to close his eyes and focus on that, like maybe that alone will make Kate go away, but she’s already pushing her knife into his chest.

It’s disturbing, how used to dying this way Derek is.

When he wakes up he stares at the ceiling for a few moments. At least he knows Kate won’t kill anyone else, and, even though Derek’s the extractor, they probably don’t need him to finish the job. He scrubs his eyes, doesn’t move. He had thought, maybe--the dream with Stiles had made Derek hopeful where he shouldn’t have been.

And then Derek hears someone moving on another cot, and he sits up with a start, and he’s staring down the muzzle of his own gun.

“Hello, nephew,” Peter says. “Looking for me?”

Derek stares at him.

Peter looks gaunt and thin, and there are dark circles under his eyes, but he’s awake. He’s not in Limbo, because he’s awake. He’s not in the dream, either, because he’s awake.

“He killed Kate,” Peter says softly. “He shouldn’t have done that, but how was he to know? I’m surprised you didn’t recognize me, though.”

Peter smiles, sharper around the edges than his old smiles, all bite and snap.

“That was the plan, of course,” he continues. “So good to see you, nephew. It’s amazing I got out of Limbo, isn’t it? And all on my own, too. You and your sister didn’t visit nearly enough, you know. That’s why I had to resort to alternate means of contact. Pity, really.”

‘Pity, really.’ That echoes through Derek’s head, for seconds or minutes, and suddenly it hits him like a punch to the gut. It’s there on Peter’s face, and maybe Derek should have put the pieces together earlier--Peter being out of Limbo, faking; the missing PASIV, Laura’s.

“You killed her,” Derek says.

“She wasn’t strong enough to take it,” Peter says. “Luckily, our mutual friend Lydia--”

“You killed her,” Derek repeats.

“Accident, of course,” Peter says. “Though I could kill on purpose, I think. I’ve worked quite hard for this. Won’t be stopped, you know.”

“Worked quite hard for what?” Derek says, because he can’t imagine what Peter could want that would be worth it, worth killing Laura.

“Revenge,” Peter says, and his smile widens. “You and your girlfriend, nephew. Couldn’t let you--”

Derek takes a deep, shuddering breath, and tells himself this is not Peter. He should reach for his gun--he should do something--but Peter’s eyes are knife sharp and bright, and no one in the dream is going to find him, and Peter’s blaming Derek as much as Kate for this, for everything that happened.

Derek exhales, still unsteady.

Peter laughs.

Stiles’ cot is behind where Peter’s sitting, and Derek sees him sitting up before Peter does, but just barely.

“Don’t shoot, kid,” Peter says without flinching. He’s still staring at Derek.

“I knew it wasn’t her,” Stiles mutters, and Derek wonders how.

“Good for you, kid,” Peter says.

“Do you know who I am?” Stiles asks. His voice has gone quiet and cold, and his hand’s gone to the gun at his hip.

“My nephew’s boyfriend?” Peter asks, but it doesn’t really sound like a question. “I really don’t think you’d like to see him dead.”

Stiles doesn’t reply, but his face twitches. Peter keeps smiling.

And then Scott wakes up, and Allison’s there a moment later.

“What--” Scott starts, and then he sees Peter and falls silent. Allison has a pistol, and that’s already trained on Peter. He can’t make it, not now. Derek just needs to duck and trust that Peter’s reaction time is slower than Stiles’ and Allison’s. It has to be.

“My nephew deserves this,” Peter says, sharply. “Don’t think otherwise.”

“Peter--” Scott starts, staring at him.

“Scott,” Peter says. “I know what you’re here for, I don’t have it.”

Stiles is staring at Derek, Derek realizes. Stiles is staring at Derek, and his eyes are blazing, and he’s trying to say something. Derek doesn’t know what it is, but he trusts Stiles. It doesn’t matter if he should or he shouldn’t--when Stiles nods, Derek rolls to the floor, and Stiles jumps. There’s a gunshot--Allison’s. Derek doesn’t see where it goes, but Peter lets out a yelp. When Derek looks up Stiles has Peter pinned, pulls his arm behind his back, twisting the gun out of Peter’s hands Peter has to be weak from all his time playacting at being bedridden, Derek realizes, and Stiles is stronger than he looks. Derek can see it, now, in the lines of Stiles’ shoulders and his arms.

“The gun,” Derek says, mostly to Allison. She peers at him.

“Missed,” she says. “Stiles had it under control.”

“Citizen’s arrest,” Stiles says, leaning down over Peter. “Or whatever. Scott, can you call my dad?”

Scott reaches into Stiles’ pocket and pulling out a phone, which he proceeds to dial.

“Tell him we’ve got Laura Hale’s killer,” Stiles says.

“Yeah, I got that,” Scott says, dialling. “Hey Sheriff.”

“Is that--” Derek asks, even as he knows it’s stupid, especially now. “His name?”

“No,” Stiles says. “Just what everyone calls him.”

Peter’s twisting in Stiles’ grip, snarling like Kate did in the dream.

“How long?” Derek asks. “Until he gets here.”

“Um,” Stiles says, glancing up at Derek. “He’s actually in town. Should be--fifteen, twenty minutes?”

“He says he arrested Peter’s nurse,” Scott says. “She was following you guys when you left the care facility?”

“Shit,” Peter mutters, as if to himself. “She was the one who kept me under. She reported on you two. Is this one better than the Argent girl, nephew?”

Stiles tugs Peter upwards and hisses in the back of his throat, eyes narrowing.

“Shut up,” he says to Peter, then looks at Derek. “Is there somewhere we can keep him? Can we lock him in here?”

“No,” Derek says.

“Scott,” Stiles says. “Can you get my cuffs?”

“Usual place?” Scott asks easily. Stiles nods. Derek doesn’t think about the fact that Stiles has a usual place where he stores his handcuffs.

“Habit,” Stiles says to the room at large, somewhat defensive.

A middle-aged man who can only be the Sheriff shows up shortly after Stiles cuffs Peter to the boiler in the basement and then insists on sitting there watching him. The Sheriff carries himself like someone who works in law enforcement, like the cops who used to pull Derek over for speeding, but he looks tired around the eyes.

“Derek Hale,” he says, giving Derek a quick, assessing glance. “Where’s your uncle?”

So that’s how Derek meets the Sheriff, who is also Stiles’ father, who stares at Derek for what feels like a full five minutes after handing off Peter to a prison transport vehicle.

“Want dinner before you leave, Dad?” Stiles asks. “We have veggie burgers.”

They do. Derek hadn’t understood why they had veggie burgers, and from the expression on the Sheriff’s face he’s wondering the same thing.

“In case you came to visit,” Stiles says, unrepentant. “They’re lower in cholesterol.”

“Which explains why they taste terrible,” the Sheriff mutters. Stiles just smiles blindingly at him, and then disappears into the kitchen. Derek’s not sure he’s seen Stiles cook anything other than coffee ever, but suddenly he’s rattling around the kitchen with Scott as his assistant, and Derek is left with the Sheriff in the other room, wondering what he has to say to the Sheriff and about how quickly Stiles can revert from cuffing Derek’s uncle, looking dangerous and competant, to cooking veggie burgers.

“So,” the Sheriff says. “You’re my son’s fake boyfriend.”

Derek isn’t sure how he’s supposed to respond to that.

“The job’s over,” Derek says, and adds, when the Sheriff raises his eyebrows: “So we don’t have to be fake boyfriends anymore.”

The Sheriff stares at Derek again, then shakes his head and gets to his feet.

“Stiles!” he calls, walking into the kitchen. “Don’t set anything on fire.”

“Like I didn’t do all the cooking for years,” Derek can hear Stiles say. “Besides, Scott is helping me.”

Derek sinks into the couch and rubs his temples. Allison’s watching him from across the room. Derek doesn’t know where Lydia and Jackson went; he needs to talk to Lydia. But right now he’s okay with just sitting here.

“That was an interesting job,” Allison says, quiet.

“Did you know?” Derek looks up at her, and from the expression on her face Derek can already see that she didn’t. “Do you know what Lydia had to do with that?”

“No,” she says. She sounds tired. “Though Jackson--didn’t entirely make sense.”

They’re both quiet again, and Derek can hear what sounds like a disaster happening in the kitchen. He looks in that direction, but can’t see anything.

“Scott probably has it under control. You and Stiles, huh?” Allison asks, and Derek stops looking towards the kitchen to stare at her.

“Just for the job,” he says, and Allison studies him for a moment too long, then shakes her head and gets to her feet.

“He’s not my aunt, you know,” Allison says, moving towards the kitchen. “He wouldn’t be.”

Derek can’t handle this. He really can’t; he sees what’s happening and it’s--he hadn’t thought he’d been so obvious. And he would’ve thought these people, who care about Stiles more than they care about Derek, would realize it’s not about whether Stiles is good but about whether Derek is, and Derek isn’t good for anyone. He can’t even--this job, which he was supposed to run, wasn’t even his job at all.

He goes to look for Lydia, and finds her with Jackson on the porch. Jackson’s stroking her back, but when he sees Derek he gets up to leave, like either he was looking for an excuse or Lydia told him to.

Derek sits down in the empty chair.

“I needed to,” Lydia says, without looking at him. “You saw--that wasn’t your uncle.”

“What did he do to you?”

“Inception,” she says. “I think. To get you here. But--I knew, kind of a little. Enough, I think. I had to--bring you here, I wanted to extract from him to figure out what he did exactly, but that got you here anyway--” Lydia shakes her head. “I’m sorry. I thought I had it under control.”

Derek’s silent. Peter performed an inception, long distance, on Lydia himself, and he escaped Limbo, and he can’t be the Peter Derek used to know. He looks past Lydia, at the forest, trees without leaves under a grey sky, snow on the ground.

“It’s okay,” he says. “It’s not your fault.”

Saying that comes easier to him than he expected it to. Lydia looks smaller than usual, and there’s less certainty in her eyes.

“Dreamsharing breaks people,” Derek continues.

“A little,” Lydia says. “Some of them. If they don’t have anything to hold them together.”

Some time passes, and they’re both quiet, and Derek feels like he should be a lot of things--angry, or suspicious, or feeling something stronger than he does. Stiles calls them in for dinner.

Dinner isn’t very good, and no one seems to know how to have a conversation. Stiles tries, but it doesn’t quite work, and afterwards the Sheriff drives off into the darkness. He says he needs to do paperwork.

“He always hated paperwork,” Stiles says to Derek when he’s waving at his father from the porch.

“Why?” Derek asks.

“Doesn’t everyone hate paperwork?” Stiles says.

“No,” Derek says, shaking his head because that isn’t what he was asking. The full moon is pulling out of the thin mists of clouds. “Why are you on this side, instead of his?”

“Of course I’m on his side, he’s my father,” Stiles says. “But there were no jobs there, except his, and just because this is technically criminal doesn’t mean it’s actually criminal in practice.”

“But dreamsharing breaks people,” Derek says, sitting down on the steps up to the porch. Stiles sits down next to him, pressing his shoulder against Derek’s.

“Not if you don’t let it,” he says, and Derek--Derek can almost believe him, maybe because it’s Stiles, and Derek wants to believe Stiles.

“Are you broken?” Stiles asks, so quietly Derek almost doesn’t hear him. But his breath is coming out in little puffs, and Derek can see them in the moonlight, so Derek knows he must be talking.

“Probably,” Derek says, looking up to watch the moon through the trees. He wants to look at Stiles but he can’t look at Stiles, and he isn’t sure where everyone else has gone.

“Me too,” Stiles says, and Derek has nothing to say to that. He doesn’t think Stiles is broken, or if he is, it’s in--not the way Stiles thinks he is. If he was broken, Stiles has glued and taped himself back together.

“No,” Derek says, maybe too softly for Stiles to hear. He’s not sure if it matters. The bare branches of the trees skitter in the wind, and Derek’s broken and Stiles isn’t. Stiles reaches over and squeezes Derek’s hand, then lets go.

“Maybe we should go to bed,” Stiles says, and they go upstairs to their twin beds, undress in the dark and slide under the covers.

There are so many things Derek wants to say, and it seems like it might be easier with the lights out, when he doesn’t need to look at Stiles or wonder what he’s thinking, when Derek is about to sleep. But he keeps his mouth clamped shut because he’s not sure he should say any of this, and eventually he falls asleep.

When Derek wakes up in the morning the sun is high in the sky, and Stiles is gone from Laura’s bed. Stiles’ backpack is gone, too. The bed is neatly made, and Stiles never makes the bed, and wherever he’s gone Derek thinks he’s not coming back.

When Derek gets downstairs, Lydia’s at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee.

“Stiles went to see his dad,” Lydia says when Derek comes in with his mug. Derek suspects he should feel something more than he does, but at the same time--this is probably for the best. If Stiles is gone, Derek won’t say anything stupid to him, and they can part ways. That’s what people do after jobs, anyway, and that’s probably where this was going, because Derek doesn’t have the words to say.

“Is everyone ready to leave?” Derek asks, because suddenly it’s important that they are. “This morning? Today?”

“We bought plane tickets,” Lydia says, but she looks uncertain about this. “We could go to San Francisco today.”

“I want to close up the house,” Derek says.

It’s the only thing to do. Stiles is with his dad, and whatever Derek thought might’ve been--Derek is too broken for this.

Derek drives everyone else to the airport and gets himself a flight back to the Yukon, where it’s quiet and dark and he has enough wood piled up to last most of the winter.

When he gets to the cabin Derek lights a fire in the wood stove, hot and bright. Then he goes to sleep. This is what he intended to do all along, and now no one’s coming to ask him about Laura, so Derek can just stay here and make the moose in the freezer into so many pots of stew, and not worry about worrying about a thing.

When Derek wakes up he sits in front of the stove, closes his eyes and watches the light play across his lids. This will be okay. Derek will be okay.

He makes a stew the next day, and the day after he chops more wood he doesn’t need. The day after that he puts skins on his skis and climbs the mountain, skis down. The next day, another mountain. This could be his life now, he thinks. It would be an okay life.

It’s the sixth night when he was a dream. He’s riding a train and there’s a hand gripped tight in his, but when he turns around there’s no one there.

This is what happens after Derek has been in the Yukon for thirteen days and eaten most of the moose: he goes into Whitehorse for groceries. His voice is hoarse from not talking, and it sounds so foreign to Derek’s own ears when he thanks the teenager who rings him up that Derek wonders if this is really him getting better or if this is him, somehow, getting worse. He doesn’t know what else to do. He gets in his truck and steers himself back home.

Stiles is sitting on the step when Derek gets back, surrounded by snow, with a scarf looped around his neck and a knit cap pulled low over his ears. Derek stares at Stiles for a moment, fumbling for his totem. But it's real. He--Stiles--is real.

“Lydia told me,” Stiles says abstractly, getting up when he sees Derek. “And I hitched a ride up here from town with a guy with a snowmobile.”

“Are you cold?” Derek asks, and Stiles shrugs.

“It hasn’t been long.”

Derek unlocks the door and shoves it open with his shoulder. Stiles follows him inside.

“Is this about a job?” he asks. “Because I’m not.”

“You’re not,” Stiles echoes. He’s looking around the cabin like he’s trying to capture it all and record it somewhere inside his head, but it’s just the one room, and there’s not much to remember. “Derek.”

Derek turns to look at Stiles. His scarf is still around his neck, and he’s looking at Derek. His eyes catch the glint of flames from the woodstove, glow gold.

“You left,” Stiles says suddenly. “I thought--but you left.”

“I left,” Derek echoes, looking away because Stiles’ eyes are too bright. “I’m broken. You left.”

“I needed to talk to Dad--” Stiles tugs at his scarf. “You were asleep.”

“What are you doing here?” Derek asks. Stiles’ scarf is striped. “If it’s not a job.”

“I just thought,” Stiles says, then shakes his head. “I don’t even know what I thought. It’s pretty here.”

“What did you think?” Derek asks, watching the firelight play across Stiles’ face, his cheekbones, the flare of his nose. It matters, it’s important.

“Your shade, is she back?” Stiles asks. “I just wanted to check.”

“Lydia has my phone number,” Derek says.

“She says you didn’t take a PASIV when you left,” Stiles says.

“It’s complicated,” Derek says. He puts a pot of water on the woodstove to make coffee, like that will solve their problems.

“I don’t understand you,” Stiles says, and he suddenly sounds adamant, but Derek isn’t sure what he’s adamant about. “I don’t understand any of this. You want to know what I thought? That we were getting somewhere, I don’t know where. That maybe--” Stiles pauses and shrugs, eyes flitting across Derek’s face. “Do you get what I’m saying? Sometimes I feel like you get things even when I don’t say them well, but right now you’re just--your forehead’s gone wrinkled.”

“I don’t--” Derek says, and then Stiles takes a step forward, and he’s in Derek’s space.

“Dad said you told him the job was over so we weren’t fake boyfriends anymore,” Stiles continues. If he steps closer, their noses will touch. He’s close enough, now, for Derek to see the stripes of shading in his eyes, framed as they are by long, dark lashes.

“I was asking him--” Stiles continues. “And then you left.”

Derek’s still looking at Stiles, and then he reaches towards Stiles, wraps his hand up in Stiles’ scarf. It’s soft. Stiles looks--soft.

“Not fake boyfriends, anymore,” Stiles says, his eyes dipping towards Derek’s hand. “But we could be real ones? Maybe?”

“I’m broken,” Derek says.

“I told you,” Stiles says, looking up to meet Derek’s eyes. “So am I. We all are.”

Derek pulls Stiles closer. Just an inch--that’s all it takes.

Derek had noticed Stiles’ lips, because you couldn’t not, because they’re--there. On his face, pink and full. So he’d noticed them, but he hadn’t anticipated the soft press of them against his own. Stiles’ mouth is insistent and warm, teasing and nipping, and then his tongue slips into Derek’s mouth, and his hands are gripping Derek’s shoulders, tight, and the kettle on the stove lets out a piercing whistle. Stiles jumps back.

“Coffee,” Derek says. “I was going to make us coffee.”

Stiles blinks at him, eyes dark and liquid.

“Do we need it?” he asks. His voice is a bit hoarser than it was only a moment ago.

“I thought we could talk.” It seems silly, with Stiles here, like this, mouth pink and parted.

“We’ve talked a lot, I think,” Stiles says. “I mean, not now, but before. We’ve talked about Kate, and my parents but not yours, and your architecture but not mine, and the job, and Lydia’s sex life--”

It seems like more than Derek remembers when Stiles puts it like that. Derek takes the kettle off the stove. Stiles sidles up to him and says, “Where were we?”

“Here,” Derek says, pressing his hands to Stiles’ cheeks, then dropping his hands to unloop the scarf from Stiles’ neck. Stiles’ hands, somehow, slide up Derek’s back, along the ridges of his shoulderblades. He peels off Derek’s henley. Derek unbuttons Stiles’ shirt, pushes it off his shoulders. Underneath Stiles is wearing one of those t-shirts, tight and dark, and when Derek pulls that off Stiles is pale and freckled, his nipples are pebbled against the cold, and Derek can’t help but reach up and take one between his fingers. Stiles gasps, leans forward and presses his mouth to the hollow of Derek’s throat.

“You,” Stiles says. “I don’t know what you thought, but you were wrong.”

What happens after that is this: Stiles presses himself flush against Derek, and Derek can feel all of it, all of Stiles, warm and in his arms.

“I always wanted to do it on a bearskin rug,” Stiles says, in between tugging at Derek’s belt loops and sucking on his shoulder blade. Derek buries his nose in the gap between Stiles’ shoulder and his neck. He doesn’t know what to say. He lets Stiles talk him home--talk them both home.

He wakes up in the morning in the sprawl of Stiles’ limbs, and a few minutes later Stiles is blinking at him, and then Stiles’ face is blooming into a slow grin, something new and hopeful.

“How about that coffee?” he asks. And Derek can’t help but return the smile, pulling himself from bed while Stiles watches, lazy beneath the blankets. Once the water boils, Derek tosses him a wadded up shirt, one of Derek’s old ones, then pours the water into the French press while Stiles gets dressed. He wraps his arms around Derek’s waist, rests his head on Derek’s shoulder.

“I have another proposition for you,” Stiles says. “You don’t have to say yes.”

Derek waits.

“You can think about it,” Stiles says. “But when we were in Mongolia I talked to Ariadne, and it seems to me--you’re an architect who could use an extractor, really. And I could be an extractor, maybe.”

“But dreamsharing--” Derek starts.

“Wears people out like the soles of cheap shoes,” Stiles finishes. “But only some of them. Only if they don’t have a good team.”

Stiles tangles a hand in Derek’s, turns him around so they’re facing each other.

“I think we could be a good team,” Stiles says, reaching his free hand up to Derek’s face. It makes Derek feel stupid and foolish and young, but also hopeful, like this might be okay, this time around.

"Let’s wait until spring,” Derek says. It’s not the sort of thing you ask of someone you hardly know. “Let’s stay here until spring.”

“Hibernation,” Stiles says. “Okay. Let’s.”

Derek looks at Stiles, and Stiles looks back at him, eyes slanting down and then up, mouth dipping open. Derek presses a thumb to his lips.

“Don’t kiss me,” Stiles says. “Morning breath.”

Derek does, anyway, quick and close-mouthed. He pulls away. “Thank you,” he says.

“Now pour me some coffee,” Stiles demands.

It’s a start.