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The fluffiest bunny casually picks up the dice

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A big brother? I mean, yes way! He sighs, pinching his brow, and nudges Midoriya towards Todoroki.

After all, that was their initial plan, and if they left the classroom together, it was only polite if they returned together. He hoped Aizawa would think so too.

Todoroki opens the door after a quiet knock, sliding it open to reveal the class quietly sitting in groups, talking amongst themselves and comparing essays.

Join a group and fill in any holes in your essay, help others fill in theirs, ecetera ecetera. I need to talk to you. When none does….

He settles himself next to Aizawa, a respectable distance away, but close enough to talk with hushed voices. But his teacher understands, humming softly in agreement.

Bad news. What if he becomes an actual seven year old? Breathe , you rookie. He looks up at Aizawa, meeting his gaze.

Peeling them open, he draws his knees to his chest and looks out the window, watching the sun cast shadows of the student dormitories, and a golden glow onto the town beyond.

It can only live in your body for 24 hours. Apparently a lot more than the original transformation. He remembers that sickly, dizzy, agonising pain he felt, followed by flu-like symptoms, with fatigue that swept through his limbs and almost left him unconscious in the dorm hallways.

But he doesn't. His eyes widen. Midoriya glances away with a feeling of dread. And it can only infect one person at a time. Recovery Girl is working on a vaccine, but it could take time.

Maybe he just needed time to grow attached, and henceforth, soft. Midoriya paces a few minutes in the corridor, taking a deep inhale before entering the classroom that has been tamed back to hushed comparison between essays.

Fishing through his bag, Midoriya retrieves his own essay and joins onto the group of Uraraka, Tokoyami, Kouda and Shouji.

Halfway through the lesson, Aizawa straight up goes to sleep at his desk. Not having been left any instructions, the students take it as free pass to do what they see fit.

Iida keeps dragging them back, but not before Shinsou manages to get all the way to the vending machines, get drinks for the class, and convinces Iida to help bring it back.

Respectfully, this is all done just by being sneaky, and the power of words. Midoriya gracefully accepts the carton of milk placed on his desk, quite content just to listen and observe whilst chewing on the tip of the straw and sipping the milk.

Bakugou might be a foul mood, but the rest of the class converses as normal, erupting into small giggles and making jokes to each other, simultaneously helping each other with schoolwork.

The desks and chairs are rearranged, abandoning the separate groups and having everyone mingle together.

After sitting on the outskirts to finish his milk, Midoriya starts to feel… Lonely. He is technically a child after all. Scuttling over to the bin, he dumps the empty milk carton in there and quickly jogs over to join his classmates.

Kaminari jumps with a small shriek. Give us some warning! Not that he minds, snickering along and then saying how it looked like a random child had popped into existence via Satou.

Tsuyu presses a finger to her chin, tilting her head inquisitively with a spark of mischief in her eyes. A quirk where kids just pop out all the time?

Kirishima and Uraraka pat her on the back and get her breathing again, trying not to laugh themselves as she wipes away a tear, still laughing, but finally, she manages to force out something that sounds vaguely like a sentence;.

Yaoyorozu is immune to the weird looks sent her way, but Midoriya clocks on quickly. Even as a child, his mind is working a mile a minute.

Please return your desks to their original place! It seems to placate the explosive hero-in-training, who returns to studying his books and making notes.

As Midoriya settles, he notes that Aizawa is not as asleep as he had led them to believe. Has he been observing and listening to them this whole time?

As the bell for end of class rings, Aizawa heaves a sigh and shuffles out of his sleeping bag, scanning the now-well-behaved class as they sit at their desks, studiously paying attention.

The only giveaway to their mischief is the bottles, cartons, and snacks from the vending machine still on their desks.

Kirishima clocks on first, grinning guilty as Aizawa raises an eyebrow at the melon tea bottle, and swats it off so it falls into his bag as if that could erase the fact his teacher has already seen it.

Tokoyami clears his throat and ruffles a hand through his feathers. On his other side, Bakugou clicks his tongue against the roof of his mouth with irritation, palms sparking around his pen.

One day, that door is going to break, and nobody would be surprised. But, for once in his life, Present Mic is speechless.

He gawks at Midoriya, flailing for words. Midoriya allows it on the basis that once Present Mic has had his fun, class should return to normal.

Jirou tenses, ready to jump in if she has to, but Bakugou manages to exhale slowly and grit his teeth, grinding out a sentence.

Bakugou could get mad at anything, and he vaguely wonders if he should start begging for his life when Bakugou gives a mighty roar and slams his hands on his desk, sparks and smoke dancing around his hands as they burn into the tabletop.

He could have gotten them killed! Suddenly serious, with an air of somberness, Present Mic abandons the soft, squishable cheeks to step over to Bakugou, placing on hand on his shoulder, and the other atop his head, patting the boy gently.

He speaks quietly, just above a whisper so no one else can hear. Got that? Can you do that for me, kid? Although there will be some incidents with plenty of those.

Moving on! Injury can occur to anyone on the premises, not just those involved in the fight! Beneath that, he adds multiple bullet points.

He points dramatically at Iida, who - of course- was the fastest to have his hand raised. The biggest risk in any encounter is the health and lives of the civilians around us.

And that includes post-battle first aid, or even during battle, if you have enough backup and the injury calls for it.

GREAT answer! Glancing back around the class, a lot of hands have dropped. Just one, little guy! To his credit, Present Mic writes all three of the suggestions on the board, frowning at it and tapping the chalk against his chin.

After a healthy pause of silence, Kirishima raises his hand, slightly tentatively. Some just get into bad groups, or- or bad situations, and they have no choice!

They knew they were gonna get beat up as soon as they started getting into that shit! Bakugou has only ever experienced the darkest sides of villains, those who want to hurt, and kill, and kidnap.

Kirishima has seen those who had no other choice - who had lost family, been blackmailed into it, or seen no light amongst the growing darkness. Stop fighting!

Stop being- stop arguing! Kirishima sits back in his seat, sheepish, forced smile on his face and hands folded in front of him on his desk. I got a little carried away.

He might have a temper, but he also has remarkable restraint. Midoriya gulps, knowing full well that Bakugou is one fuse away from becoming a live bomb, metaphorically speaking.

The lesson continues in much the same way - Present Mic getting the students to answer and jotting their ideas down on the chalkboard, adding to them so they have greater detail.

As the bell rings to signify the end of lesson, and the first break time, Present Mic wraps things up as the students pack their bags, ready to go into the hallway or school courtyard for a breath of fresh air.

Midoriya struggles to reach his bag properly, since the desks are slightly too big for him. Jirou huffs with amusement and helps him clean up his pencil case, after he knocks it all over the floor.

Before he can hop off his chair and dash over to Iida, Uraraka, and Todoroki, Present Mic clears his throat from the front of the class.

He hovers for a second, undecided and internally battling it out, when Iida gives him a friendly smile and nod, Uraraka waves him towards Present Mic, and Todoroki starts walking towards the door.

He looks uncharacteristically serious, waiting for the classroom door to close. This is… Most likely to do with his current situation, Midoriya realises.

Present Mic catches onto the horrified, empty stare and frantically waves his hands out in front of him.

No, no. He shakes his head vividly, as if he could shake that silly thought from his brain, trying to reason with the child part of him.

Quickly, Present Mic slips from the desk to kneel in front of him, putting a hand on his shoulder.

You dig? Have fun being young! It feels just like all those times at school when Bakugou was off playing with his friends and Midoriya was left watching from the sidelines.

It feels like all those times walking home, where he was always at the back of the line. It feels like the many, many occasions where he was always chosen last for sports day teams.

Unsettled, he moves back to his chair and sits there with arms folded on the desk and head buried in them, heaving a dramatic sigh.

Like a planted seed, that tiny feeling of discomfort remains. It sits with him through the next two lessons, though he barely pays attention as he rests a hand on his stomach, trying to make it go away.

By the time lunch rolls around, his stomach hurts. He feels queasy. He just wants to cry, a little, or curl up and go to sleep.

Shinsou stumbles over a couple of syllables before he manages to get out a coherent sentence. Midoriya has, on multiple occasions, found himself in grave danger.

At the very first step into U. During the battle trials, Midoriya had ended up severely wounded after facing Bakugou. And had a brush encounter with the most dangerous villain alive in Kamino.

With the whole Eri rescue mission on top, Shinsou quickly decided Midoriya was not to be trusted when it came to his own health and safety.

And stop making that face at me. He blinks, forcing a couple of tears to dwell in his eyes, and whimpers with a quivering lip, turning the metaphorical dial up to 9.

He pushes his hands back up to entirely cover his face, then parts his fingers to peer through with a narrowed glare. He looks at it guiltily whilst scratching his chin, stepping in and gently closing it behind him.

In his scrawny arms are three bento boxes. Young er Midoriya. Shinsou sits up properly, clearing away his stationary and making room for Toshinori to put the boxes down.

When everybody is happy, it makes me feel really happy. All that recklessness had come later in life, somewhere just before his teens, when he had dedicated himself to becoming a hero without a quirk.

Sorry we took so long! What did you do?! Of all people, those two would never break the rules. It makes sense to tell Iida. After all, Iida was the one who saw firsthand how the quirk affected his best friend in the first place.

Midoriya nods. Just that neither of them did anything. As your best friend, I am at liability to stop you if you are putting yourself at risk!

It was probably incredibly scary for him to see Midoriya in such a bad condition yesterday, a mixture of agonizing pain and the need to collapse where he stood.

All Might observes them quietly from the side, just letting the children be themselves, even if one of them is slightly more of a child at the moment.

In the back of his mind, he tries to put together a way he can ensure the practical lesson will be safe for Midoriya, without taking too much away from the lesson he already had planned.

Five minutes before the bell rings for end of lunch, All Might leaves them to prepare the outside course, and Uraraka collects the trays to take back to the lunch room.

Midoriya sighs as he slumps over the desk, watching Shinsou turn all the seperate little doodles into one big conundrum of a drawing, Todoroki equally intrigued and Iida checking that all the hero suits are allocated in their spaces on the shelves.

Shinsou puts nice little ink blot on the tip of his nose, breaking Midoriya out of his boredom. Iida clears his throat to catch the attention of the two who remain.

I shall accompany Midoriya once the corridors are clear, but the teachers may not be so forgiving if more than one of us is late.

Whilst the child is busy fawning over the picture in awe, Shinsou leaves with a shared nod of worry to Iida. The bell rings just as he exits, and he slides the door shut carefully so no one from outside the class enters.

He pauses in his tracks, feeling a grins tugging at the edge of his lips. It had taken her a little longer to take the trays back than intended, having gotten caught up in conversation with Jirou, Yaoyorozu, Tokoyami, Ojiro, and Hagakure.

Brow furrowed and lips pressed together, she marches up to him. Eyes wide, he rubs at his sore wrists and blinks up at her like a child with wonder and awe.

That was fucking-! Show me how to do that! But, only if you promise not to hurt Midoriya. I hope you are all well-fed and energized, because this will be an incredible active challenge!

The similarity to the U. A entrance exam is uncanny, just slightly more beaten up, with collapsed buildings, scorched foundations, rubble everywhere, and nature attempting to reclaim in various places, vines creeping up ruins and puddles swamping broken roads.

Many times, villains have had more than their fair share of destruction, turning a familiar landscape into somewhere bizarre. Is this why we had a first aid class earlier today?!

Two villains, two heroes. The villains will be finding mannequins and marking them with a medallion of their choice, whilst attempting to reach the exit gate.

You can either work together or apart, but bare in mind that the other hero - or yourselves - could get marked.

Every hero has their own style. Once in costume, go straight into the arena and start finding mannequins to mark. Wait at gate B until I give you the okay.

The rest of you, come straight back here. They pass Iida and Midoriya on the way, the both of them already geared up, and Uraraka fills them in with the objective quickly, sending them on their way.

In the screen room, All Might gives the sound equipment one last check, making sure the students in the arena will hear him if he demands they stop, for the sake of their lives.

The creaking of the door opening slowly has him rapidly turn to look over his shoulder. But this? This is overwhelmingly adorable.

Right, sensei? How could All Might say no to that? Iida keeps giving him dubious looks, so Midoriya covers it up as best as possible.

He just wants to do his hero studies, and become the next number one hero! She shimmers into view as the two boys and teacher stare at the open door with no one in it.

Sorry, I shoulda kept it visible for now! Regressed to seven, his empathy has kicked from high gear to manic overdrive, taking in the emotions of those around him and amplifying it.

All Might chuckles in amusement. They seem to have gone for the method of putting the worst injured first, gradually getting less serious the more they head towards the centre of the derelict maze.

Those couple of extra minutes could make all the difference in their escape. Midoriya is enthusiastic at all times, if not slightly nervous, but he generally waits his turn patiently and takes time to analyze others.

He reminds himself, however, that Midoriya has been de-aged, and therefore may be showing the parts of his personality that shone through as a child.

Mostly, the desire to be involved. All Might clears his throat, angling the microphone closer towards himself, and leans down to speak into it.

You have five minutes, begin! They find the first mannequin - marked with a severe head trauma - besides the mangled remains of a scorched car, and necessity calls for them to treat the patient.

Asui is immediately there, running through the checklist of what they have to do, whilst Kaminari follows her instructions with just a slightly nervous shake to his voice.

All Might rests a hand over his chin in contemplation. Or is he mistaking it with impatience? Thanks, Tsuyu! Kouda and Satou have made it through the gate, signalling their victory.

They high five, heading back towards the observation deck as All Might announces the end of their practical. Can anyone tell me why the villains were successful, and the heroes were not?

Young Tokoyami? And from the heroes side of things? A singular broken limb can be left to the paramedic teams who follow.

Kaminari looks a little sheepish, but Kirishima gives him a hearty whack on the back and a huge, supportive grin. No offence, Kouda and Satou!

It was pretty close at the end. For the hero team… Hmmm… Todoroki and Ojiro. For the villain team, Midoriya and… Sero!

I have a great plan! He laughs anyways. Fair enough. Midoriya gives Sero a thumbs us. Wanna split to cover more ground and meet up at the middle?

They have to reach the third floor before the heroes enter…. See you there! The front door is barricaded with fallen rubble, metal bars and huge chunks of concrete leaving only tiny spaces.

Currently, Midoriya is not. With a self-satisfied grin, he squeezes his seven year old body through the biggest gap available, wriggling and worming in through the entrance.

The skyscraper is beyond dilapidated, ankle depth water flooding this ground floor, and Midoriya makes a face of disgust as he wades through the swampy water to the crumbling stairs.

He manages to get to the second floor, but the stairs are gone , asides from a few concrete blocks still precariously leaning off the wall.

He takes a deep breath, squeezing his eyes shut and tensing up as he thinks of a taiyaki in a microwave, feeling his blood start to boil and adrenaline run as his skin tingles, and One for All activates.

He looks over his body with a confident nod at the familiar purple, walking over to the elevator. He attempts to push the wonky door asides, and it instead completely detaches, flinging itself down the shaft and crashing on top of the broken elevator.

Infrastructure damage is pretty much an essential on the villain checklist. He wriggles and crouches, before leaping into the elevator shaft with a mighty hop.

Two kicks is enough for them to fall down, and Midoriya tumbles into the third floor room. He groans and lies there for a minute, holding back the urge to cry.

It hurts. Sero blinks at them with a frown. He wipes the dirt streaks from his cheek, unintentionally smudging the thick, black deposit across his freckles.

I want to be a number one hero someday! We should head straight to the exit gate. As he swings down from an overhanging pipe, almost on the ground, he feels the tape snap.

A shard of ice has broken it. Large ice bridges form all the way from the hero entrance to just past the skyscraper, and he can spot Todoroki and Ojiro standing on the corner of a shop roof, taking a vantage point.

All their surrounded with is rubble and stones and metal and-. Sero follows his line of sight and whips his head around to the two heroes observing them.

Rather than striking a flat piece of metal, like Midoriya intended, the stone rebounds off the ground, leaving behind a small crater, and bounces straight through the wall at the end and into the street past it.

Having picked up a ton of heat from the kinetic energy, the stone strikes into a patch of oil and lights it, a small blaze trailing to an abandoned car and setting it on fire.

Smoke rises with a small explosion. Sero is only telling the truth, but oh how Midoriya wishes they could make some kind of miraculous escape.

Sero shuffles uncomfortably. We might find a mannequin on the way. He races away as fast as he can, and Todoroki spots him instantly, poised to jump down from the roof and follow.

Midoriya snickers, watching the chaos from behind the large piece of rubble where he remains hidden. As Todoroki passes, trying to keep up so Sero is still in range, Midoriya lungs out and attaches a medallion to his leg.

With a sigh, Todoroki sits where he is and waits. Midoriya was waiting just here to catch me off guard. I- uh- I would have either run or fought.

Even though I was a shy kid… If someone started picking on the smaller kids, or being mean, I would- I would usually, uh… Deck them?

All Might must have realised something was wrong, because he calls off the practice and they can hear him ordering the other students over the speakers.

Most of them are sent back to the classroom. Iida is coming with All Might to meet them and help Midoriya.

Something happened. Something happened, and they knew it was going to happen, but they still allowed him to participate. Something happened, because Midoriya was hurting.

He had told them he was going to get sick. He had told them he was going to hurt. But he had promised to let them know. Midoriya had broken that promise, hidden how badly it was hurting, until it was too bad to hide.

Where is he?! He just- just collapsed in tears and was sick! The seven year old lies crumpled in the shade, with a half-empty water bottle next to him, and the hood of his costume removed.

They look hazy and unfocused, but settle on Todoroki eventually. Todoroki sighs. Everything hurts. In a cloud of smoke and steam, All Might loses his form, returning to his scrawny, skeletal self.

The time he can hold form for is getting less and less by the day. His tone is urgent. How should- How can we carry him…? The class president catches on, and folds his arms in front of him as if he were already cradling something precious.

In that time, Iida has managed to assist Midoriya in changing from his hero outfit to the small All Might pyjama onesie.

He passed out as soon as his head hit the pillow. This is a message for the three of them, or perhaps more. Any one of us could be next.

It was… Probably deserved, in that case. Then, their phones light up as the Class A group chat goes ballistic. Deadpan, Todoroki locks his phone and stares at his reflection in the black screen.

The hardening quirk helped too. Bakugou must have forgone the elevator in his fury at Midoriya getting them all in danger, again.

All his classmates, all his friends, all the people he cares dearly about in his own ruffian way. By infecting them with a contagious virus, reducing them to children, Midoriya has left them vulnerable in the event of a villain attack.

Take a deep breath! He was quirkless! I get it! You saw him collapse in practical. Just… Wait until this is all over to give him a talking to, okay?

He might as well let the rest of the class know what was going on, especially Sero and Mina, who were just as concerned as he and Kirishma had been.

He finds Aizawa outside the classroom, ushering the students inside with something akin to a scowl on his face.

Aizawa spots him peeking around the corner. Gulping, Kaminari does so, innocently whistling with his hands folded behind his back.

It seems to reassure and comfort Ojiro as much as it does Kaminari, so the tail stays where it is. With a face like thunder, Aizawa takes his place at the front of the class.

That you are all aware of what us teachers were waiting to tell you after school. I want you all to stay in your dormitory, and if anyone starts feeling the symptoms, send someone else to get a teacher immediately.

Recovery Girl is working on a vaccine. Hopefully, we can stop this before it gets out of hand. Preferably before the fourth or fifth student is de-aged.

Can we get more information on this quirk?! He always does this when stressed or under pressure, which is why he has to tie it back for interviews and the like.

But it only affects one person at a time, for 24 hours, and that includes the period of time where they feel sick.

Apparently, the parents of the child have only seen it vary between six months to 9 years. Here it comes. Aizawa braces himself.

He sighs wearily as the volume of the class rockets up, nervous mumbling mixed with excited claims about their childhood selves, a whole range of reactions varying across a spectrum of emotions.

Of all people, he expected Bakugou to go into an uncontrollable rage, but instead, he sits silently at his desk with his head down.

Someone must have already spoken to him, already placated the anger inside of him and left him showing his true emotions. Aizawa also takes particular note of Mina, who disguises her distress well under a loud laugh, but he can spot the tension in her shoulders, hear the strain in her voice, and her expression drops the slightest amount when none of the classmates around her are looking.

Both of them are clearly worried and possibly scared about the upcoming change, the virus that could reduce them to children, and Aizawa sighs as he finally releases his quirk, since the reactions have calmed.

Return to the dorms immediately. He listens as Uraraka talks excitedly about her childhood, as Tokoyami ponders if his feathers would return to their downy state, as Yaoyorozu excitedly tells Jirou she could have her old clothes sent from the manor for them to play dress-up.

The mood is undoubtedly positive, despite what these kids have had to go through so far, and will be going through soon. That said, there is something that needs to be done.

As he stands by the door, holding it open and making sure the children head towards the dorms and not the vending machines or canteen, he quietly pulls Mina and Bakugou asides.

They share a glance of confusion as they wait just inside the classroom, and though Kaminari and Sero try to stay behind with them, Aizawa manages to convince them to wait at the dorms instead.

He slides the classroom door closed and returns to his teachers desk. Just sit. Mina is much more elegant, folding her skirt underneath her and then crossing one leg over the other and leaning her elbows on them.

Shut the fuck up, Pinkie!!! Mina laughs and dodges a hand coming towards her, knowing full well that it would tickle at worst.

With an internal sigh, Aizawa resists the urge to lace his fingers in his hair like he usually does when stressed. Fucking- Being a kid would be bad enough, but a baby?!

Is Deku trying to get us all killed?! In any other situation, Bakugou might have tried to blast away anyone who latched onto him.

The school will protect each and every one of our students. Nonetheless, your first line of defense is each other. Rely on your classmates.

Aizawa is relieved to see that their apprehension is gone. A little reassurance was all it took, and he smiles under his scarf as the door shuts behind them, the arguing duo heading back to the dorms to be with the rest of their friends.

Not that Bakugou would ever admit they are his friends. The smile falls. It was school policy to inform her what had happened. Plus, Aizawa himself had been busy tracking down and questioning the child who infected Midoriya with the quirk in the first place.

Midoriya, and the rest of Class A whilst they waited to see who was infected, were under strict quarantine.

Hey, maybe you could ask someone from Class B to go and get it for you? Yaoyorozu pats approximately the small of her back.

In this class, a simple game of snap could resort to lost limbs. He must feel the eyes on his back, because he leans back to peer at them from around the fridge door, one eyebrow raised and lips pushed in the pout that shows in his worst of moods.

He scowls deeply, shows them his middle finger, and grabs a microwave meal to violently throw into the microwave. She lets Uraraka crawl forwards and plonk her head on her warm thighs.

He writes as shyly as he talks - on the rare occasions that he does - and Uraraka suppresses a giggle at the sentence, so full of his own personality.

Tilting her head, she smiles softly. Really, with all the spare time, the entire class should be working on it and finishing it before tomorrow, but some are occupied, some work better on last minute panic, and others are irresponsible.

The microwave beeps, Bakugou takes out his food and slams it shut, before storming off out the common room. He shuts the door behind him so violently that it bounces back, not that he cares, as he goes off to his room.

Who wants to play? Immediately, Hagakure is bounding over, jumping over Ojiro, who lies across the floor flipping through trashy lifestyle magazines.

Hagakure picks up the third, and they look around to see if anyone else wants to join. Even Todoroki has, on two separate occasions, tried using his quirk to prevent Aoyama beating him.

Drums at the ready in front of their laps, Jirou selects the song she knows best, and readies herself, tongue sticking out the corner of her mouth.

Uraraka grins, hungry for victory as the screen splits into the four players. Hagakure, although no one can actually see her, sways from side to side impatiently at the intro music, copying the tiny squid floating on the lower screen.

All four of them are moving their hands so fast that the sticks are pretty much a blur, and the sound is thunderous. Uraraka is just behind them with a low combo score, since she keeps dropping one here and there, and Hagakure… Is screaming and whacking the drum on pretty much a guess, which explains the low score and 0 combo.

He humms inquisitively, sighs, pushes his magazines aside, and comes to her side on request. Adjust to the speed first. She traces the circles with her eyes, getting used to the speed that they come past, listening to the pattern between red and blue and how they fit with the song.

She hesitates. The only one completely unaffected, still rocking the combo score, is Aoyama. Her combo is dropped, her score is less than perfect, and Aoyama reigns again.

That was simply a warm up! Tentatively, and possibly stupidly, Kaminari reaches out to tap her with his foot. Please release me!

Each of the girls has one of their own colour. He comes through the door normally, says nothing, and heads into the kitchen.

Closest to the kitchen segment, Shouji pushes his homework asides, having truly completed it, and moves over to the barstools at the kitchen counter.

His quirk keeps flaring up, which is why only Kirishima and Todoroki are allowed in his room as of now, but I wish that I could do more. What did the virus do to him before he changed?

Unless Recovery Girl miraculously bursts in with the vaccine right this second, then in 15 minutes, someone else will be reduced to a child.

He looked ready to pass out. That was only once he had returned to the site! I do not know how he felt when it first started, although his current state suggests… Very, very sick.

Shinsou went straight to his room too. Something about being grounded for life. We deserved to know as soon as it involved us!

Changing events that have happened could result in cataclysm! I shall leave time travel well enough alone, in that case.

Breathing heavily, with sweat clinging to his forehead and shivers down his body, Todoroki gives them an unsteady thumbs up whilst trying to gather enough air to speak.

He gives his friends a tiny smile, letting them help him over to the sofa, where Sero and Kaminari move to separate sides so he can sit between them.

It immediately curls up to his warm side, purring and rubbing its chin against him. With soft, warm affection, Todoroki gently and slowly runs his shaking hand through the fur.

Although it flusters him internally, Todoroki politely and quietly thanks each of them. This is love he was raised without, tenderness that was never shown to him.

This was the care that had confused him before, but now, he was thriving under it. He had friends who loved him, and Todoroki loved them equally in return.

Half-ice and half-fire he may be, but his heart was a steady warmth that grew and swelled with his companions around him.

Not even his father could take this from him. Iida crouched in front of him, steel grey eyes boring into him as if reading his soul.

To anyone else, it might be unsettling, but Todoroki simply stares back with a blank expression. Eventually, Iida pats a heavy hand on each knee. Hopeful, Satou exhales slowly.

Sensei was very clear that it would pass. Hagakure and Ojiro look at each other at the same time, with the same realisation, and the invisible girl scrambles to stand.

Pretty much the furthest thing from handling it well. Even Bakugou had felt a pang of pity for how much Kirishima suffered when sick.

What are you shouting for? We think-! We thought you might have gotten the virus! Of course it was gonna be kinda gross and messy! Welcome back!!! His entire body feels a little like limp noodles at the moment, shaky and wobbly.

Kirishima, could you help me? Who carried on the virus?! It went into effect the second I changed back, right? Crimson Riot is in here!

A bored whine interrupts from outside the door. I wanna find out if one of our teachers is now tiny!

Kaminari quickly moves to offer him support, just in case he takes a stumble. Jabbing the button for the elevator multiple times as if that would speed it up, Midoriya and Kaminari have enough time to catch up.

He manages to jump in just before the elevator door closes, squashing everyone into the same corner. They groan and complain as he laughs, stepping back to let them breathe.

No damage done, Kaminari playfully shoves at Kirishima and Sero uses his tape to stick him to the opposite wall.

He could easily escape if he used his quirk, but chooses to pout instead. Mina laughs so hard as he whines like a puppy that she initially misses the common room floor button, but quickly corrects herself.

Innocent is the last thing Midoriya is, as Kirishima can tell. Kirishima shakes his head in amusement, using his quirk to break to tape, and crosses his arms as he waits for them to finish up.

He can hear them shouting protests from the inside as the elevator starts heading upwards again, to slowly journey floor by floor all the way to the top and back down to the bottom.

Laughing, he sticks his hands in his pockets and heads towards the staircase with a skip in his step.

Since Midoriya is with them, they should have the sense to get off at the next floor and run back down the stairs. The calamitous thud of people falling out of the elevator in a clump on the floor above proves his suspicions true.

He listens to their stampede across the hallway, and clamber down the stairs. Just before they appear skidding around the corner, he braces himself.

With a playful roar, Mina, Kaminari and Sero launch themselves from the top of the stairs towards him, and after a second of hesitation, watching the friends rolling on the floor in a heap, Midoriya joins them.

In the midst of the noise, a voice breaks through. Then again, this email could enable them to witness one of their sensei as a child.

A worried, tense breeze sweeps over the class. Then, as if actively ignoring it, Hagakure stands back up, swinging her arms behind her head.

This sucks! I wanted to see Sensei tiny! Sugar and milk can be added afterwards. He spoke with the family. His reassurance is calming, and Uraraka gives a confident huff.

He seems to be most enthusiastic when talking about how he saw everything as a game, and it was fun and bright and it felt like nothing could stop him, especially when he realised he still had his quirk!

Above the explosion, the door colliding with the wall, and the cracking mugs, a loud but undeniably high-pitched voice rings out.

There's a song referenced in this chapter called "Fuyubiyori"! If you'd like to listen to it in time with the fic, start it around "He struggles as if to escape, but then Jirou starts to sing"-.

See the end of the chapter for more notes. Let me go, you bastard!! Midoirya cautiously approaches, crouching down and squinting just out of range, ignoring the screamed explicits and death threats, before he nods at his inner thoughts.

Let me go! Oi, Shittyhair, let me go! His shirt collar is tight against his neck, but thanks to how oversized it is, he can still breathe.

As it is, he radiates nothing but joy. Looking after your friends is manly!!! Sero simply held his hands up in mock surrender whilst Kaminari snickered and Mina beamed as she shook her head.

His calm behaviour - as calm as Bakugou could be - put Kirishima at ease, so he placed the four year old on the ground.

This is so fucking weird It seems like the child side of him has already taken control, and this is just a wonderful game of chase. Right now, it would probably just feel like really hot popping candy.

Teas, coffees, and hot chocolates with varying amounts of whipped cream are passed out, each mug distinctive to its owner. He jumps with a surprised squeak as something clamps onto it.

Slamming it back down on the table, he pulls a face of utter disgust, tongue out his mouth as he tries to scrape the flavour off. Aoyama snaps a photo of his expression to send to the group chat whilst Jirou laughs.

Ojiro pats his head, grabs the milk he brought over, and pours a hefty amount in before sliding it back towards him.

Bakugou stares at the cup contents as if analysing it, and then, with all eyes on him, takes a huge gulp. His eyes light up.

As a kid, he never could sit still. Midoriya huffs in amusement, sinking safely into his chair at the table. Bakugou seems to have forgotten about being angry, or the game of chase that had spawned from it.

Not that Aoyama protests. Flicking his hair back with a twinkle, he allows Bakugou to drag him back over to the console and mini Taiko drums.

And… Iida! Red circle, hit the centre, blue circle, hit the side. The hard part is keeping up with the speed of the song. Bakugou shrugs.

Kirishima quickly pulls him back, and Bakugou sticks a tongue out at him. The very second the circles appear on screen, the four of them burst into chaotic movement, like washing machines set to infinity speed.

Bakugou is entranced by the loud, booming music, complete with growls and roars and screams. Why is this so important?? The undefeatable video game demon!

On the other hand, having come in last place, Bakugou taps one of the drumsticks on the drum moodily. The clouds that have started to gather outside reflect his disappointment at not winning.

Dropping the drumstick in protest, he pushes himself up from the floor and totters off, sprinting towards the common room door. So he resolves to get into the battle training rooms, where he can hone his skills with the equipment.

Turning to face Aizawa, who has a matching frustrated expression, he jerks his chin up as if issuing a challenge.

Aizawa raises an eyebrow and points back up the stairs, watching the grumbling four year old pass him.

He sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose and lingering a couple of steps behind in case Bakugou slips. Aizawa shakes his head with a roll of his eyes.

How on earth did he end up so attached to this class of brats? He quickly covers it up with a scowl. But you are a child for the moment.

Let them take care of you. His eyes follow a lone raindrop as it slides down the glass of the window, gazing through the transparent droplet, watching the wind stir up trees in the distance.

With a sigh much too old for his age, Satou stands back up, patting Bakugou on the head instinctively. Aizawa follows after them as they head back towards the common room, slouched as ever.

Then again, he seems pretty distracted staring out at the oncoming storm. It was supposed to just be heavy rain.

As if he can sense some kind of unease, he reaches down and scoop Bakugou up, putting him on his broad shoulders.

Thunder is stupid! His hand immediately goes to his scarf, hair spreading as he activates his quirk. The second Aizawa registers what the movement was, he scowls and returns to his normal slouched position, hands in his pockets.

He checks to see if Satou and Bakugou have entered the common room safely - and he can hear the class reprimanding Bakugou loudly - before turning back to the shadows.

Aizawa sighs. Then to your room. And fizzle out it does. Mina and Kaminari step backwards, coughing at the smoke, their faces painted with soot and fringes blown backwards.

Having felt the full explosion, Kirishima coughs out a cloud of smoke, holding Bakugou out in front of him with everything from wrists to ankles hardened.

He looks like he had a moment of existential crisis paired with a fear of death, combined with queasiness.

These kids have really grown on him. Who wants? Spending his time cooking the food before eating is certainly one way to exploit the terms and condition to his being grounded.

Stinky Deku! Kirishima chuckles softly, adjusting his grip to hold Bakugou in his arms like some kind of baby.

A bang from outside startles them, and Todoroki quickly moves to latch one of the windows shut, looking out across the rainy landscape.

Todoroki blinks at them awkwardly in confusion, looking to Iida for answers. Iida simply shrugs. With no answer from his friend, Todoroki puts it down to the girls being weird.

He generally puts things down to the girls being weird. The six plumed bird of paradise on screen mirrors the movement, the resemblance uncanny.

A large percentage of the class laughs, even Kouda covering his mouth with a small giggle. Just gotta find the paperwork for this guy. Harris shakes his head sharply in exasperation, eyes flashing.

And what the hell did you do to that? You can help him clean the room for the new exhibit and get it ready. He storms off, muttering. Stiles heart sinks at the prospect of an afternoon of scrubbing and dusting in close proximity with Finstock, who is eccentric at best and certifiable at worst.

He curls his stinging fingers into fists. The headache sets in through the afternoon, but he refuses to go home. He musters up the last of his energy reserves to get her ready for bed, trying to appear as normal as possible.

He kneels on the floor while she splashes in the tub, leaning his aching head against the cool tile, smiling valiantly as she plays with her mermaids.

He stands to pull her out of the bath and his head spins vertiginously. Somehow he gets her in a clean diaper and pyjamas, and places her in her dark, quiet crib.

He eases the door shut, and rests against it, exhaling in relief. Now he can have some painkillers and crawl into bed.

He prays to any and all deities that Ria gives him an easy night. He pours a glass of water and slumps into a chair to drink it.

Behind him, on the baby monitor, and from her room opposite him, in devastating stereo, Ria starts to cry. Sunlight filters through his curtains.

He feels better, but empty, like the pressure is gone but his insides are still sensitive from it. What the hell had happened?

Had he passed out? Icy panic creeps down his limbs. Has she been alone all this time? Then he hears a noise from outside his room.

He remembers Derek. Stiles' heart starts beating again. He downs the water and painkillers, and swings his legs over the edge of the bed, getting gingerly to his feet.

So far so good. Stiles shuffles to the door and peeks around the frame, out into the apartment. Derek is in a t-shirt and sweats that were probably black before he entered some sort of flour shower.

He has flour streaked through his hair and dusted through his beard, and he has Ria hoisted on his hip.

There are bowls piled up in the sink, and bags of flour and sugar are spilling over the counter. Every square inch is covered in a fine layer of flour, making it look like some sort of faded out Instagram filter.

Neither of them notice Stiles until Derek spins around, mid guitar-solo, and stops dead at the sight of him.

Derek stares at Stiles as the flour falls, pink spreading over his cheekbones. Stiles stares back, trying his hardest not to laugh.

That's what's happening here. Derek squints a bit. Ria squirms impatiently until Derek puts her down so she can toddle to Stiles. Her boots leave little floury footprints on the floor.

Derek folds his arms over his chest and glares at the ceiling, huffing out what would have been a derisive sigh had he not gotten a nose full of flour half way through and sneezed.

She grabs two handfuls of his hair and plants a sloppy kiss on his nose, babbling away happily. I know… I remember I was sick? So I knocked, I wanted to see if you needed anything, and you… I got you to bed and stayed with Ria.

You were so sick, Stiles. I almost called for an ambulance. I think she was picking up on how bad you were feeling. She's missed you, but she's fine.

I feel… I feel okay now. Like, more okay than I probably should, given how sick I was. Derek laughs, then, his white teeth shocking against his dark stubble.

Stiles grabs one and bites into it, not bothering to wait for a plate. You really went above and beyond for us, man.

I have no idea how to thank you. She talks more sense than Erica, anyway. I thought if she cried she might wake you. Stiles opens his mouth to say something but is cut off by the shrill blaring of his work cell.

Damn, he thinks, chest contracting in fear. Harris is going to fire him for sure. Stiles stares after him, mouth hanging open.

He wonders if his insurance will cover that. Stiles scoops her up. I think. I hope. His front door opens and Derek pokes his head around cautiously.

Stiles feels his eyes widen as the penny drops. As in, the Hale Foundation that gives the museum a very sizeable charitable donation every year that all but keeps it afloat?

A silent member, usually, but I have enough sway to intervene when circumstances call for it. What are you doing renting a tiny little apartment next-door to me?

The silence that falls feels awkward, like Derek is waiting for the other shoe to fall while Stiles chews thoughtfully.

With, you know, tools. Manly ones. Feel free to be shirtless, should the urge take you. He shuts the door carefully and turns to find everyone waiting for him on the couch.

Erica is grinning widely as Isaac rummages around in his jeans pocket and pulls out a twenty, handing it over with a look of deep chagrin.

Boyd laughs. Thank you so, so much for all your comments, I really do appreciate you taking the time to leave them - and to read along in the first place!

Thank you. If you wanted to date. Seriously, what is going on in that next-door apartment? Erica snorts.

She laughs. They feel awkward and heavy with guilt. Can it be one of those twisty slides that make your insides go squicky because I love those!

And man, it would make getting Ria up in the mornings so much easier, talk about incentive-'. You make me smudge this polish, I make you wear the bottle!

Stiles blinks. Stiles had gone out and gotten wasted. Like, tequila shot wasted. Because tequila is like a liquid band-aid on a broken heart.

Bad touching! He had pulled her into a messy, grateful hug, and she had looked at him with heat in her gaze. Stiles was overcome with heady nostalgia, a newly painful freedom, and a lot of alcohol.

It would have been nice if Ria had been born of a moment of incredible, soul-shifting connection. And when Ria was born, well, that had been a moment of incredible, soul-shifting connection.

Stiles had never even known you could love another human as ferociously as he loves his daughter. It's a trade-off he'd make a million times over.

My insane hair? Erica sniffs. Stiles scrunches his nose up. You know, if you squint. Really fucking hard actually.

She must work out with the dudes when they do their ten thousand push-ups a day or whatever they do to keep themselves occupied over there.

He takes his mind by the scruff and gives it a shake to stop it derailing into a lengthy Derek-working-out fantasy.

He can't blame it, after all they live right next door to Derek's everything , but there's a time and a place, and Erica is uncannily astute about knowing these things, which, no thank you.

He sticks his tongue out at her in response, then sighs. Some day. I believe in love and marriage and all of that. Dude, how could I not when I lived with my mom and dad for the first nine years of my life?

And whatever happens has to be right for her, so. All good. Erica is quiet for a long time. Erica screws the lid back onto the nail polish bottle and sits up with a sigh.

Ria starts to grumble through the baby monitor. It's awful. He wishes he could do this for her, wishes there were a way to take her pain.

But all he can do is be there for her and hope it's enough. He knows that while his toenails are now pedicured to perfection, the rest of him is rumpled, and he has blue smudges under his eyes from interrupted sleep.

Derek startles awake to find Erica sitting on his bed, watching him. Derek likes her best like this. She pokes him in the side again. Damn her and her ninja tickling skills.

Why did he ever think giving her the bite was a good idea? You went over there because you heard them, and knew they needed you. You took care of them.

So charming. I can barely contain my swoon. She takes his hand in hers. He does push her off the bed then, but she lands gracefully, like a cat, and flips him off as she leaves the room.

Derek lies back, pillowing his head on his arms. He watches the early morning light inch its way across the ceiling. Derek knows how to hurt. Derek knows how to grit his teeth and push through and survive despite his life, not because of it.

He just survives. He sometimes wonders who he might have been if not for the fire. If not for Kate.

Loss like that changes you. It changes what holds you together and how you think and how you dream. This strange life he has is built on the ashes of the person he was meant to be, a card house carefully constructed of memories that remind him that once upon a time, he was part of a pack; he was happy; he was loved.

The memories sting as much as they soothe. He glances over to the pull-up bar screwed into his door frame.

He wears his alpha status like he wears his leather jacket. Laura used to channel it through her bones. Pushes them away. He knows how to defend himself, on every level.

How could he have prepped a defence against Stiles? He was prepared to fight off Kates and had steeled himself against Jennifers.

He was prepared for perfect and polished and beautiful. Derek feels wrong-footed and raw, and way too vulnerable for his own comfort. His life is defined by loss.

His past is so thick with ghosts he's been stifled by them. He's never been able to see much further into the future than surviving the next blow.

Stiles is full of light and life, and Derek is darkness and death. And how does Derek come back from that?

How can he let his guard down and risk another great loss? How could he start to build a home when he knows what it is to lose one?

He feels like there's a tangled, knotted-up ball of string where his solar plexus once was. Derek keeps everything in, and Stiles lets everything out.

And something about that cracks Derek open just a little bit. He accidentally shows his weak, soft underbelly, and he hates that Stiles gets that reaction from him.

Or at least, he is as far as his lupine self is concerned. So he keeps giving Stiles little inadvertent glimpses of his insecurities and his jealousy and his heart.

And it turns out his heart is fucking ridiculous and completely embarrassing and likes to sing along to eighties soft-rock.

Because of course it does. Stiles had needed him, and Derek had known. Derek is a born wolf. He knows what it means to feel a pull like that. That tangled up, knotted ball of string in the pit of his stomach: one end of that is apparently attached to Stiles.

It scares the hell out of him. But the pull was bigger than his fear. But it felt like something more precious than that.

Like a silver dollar thrown into a wishing well. He folds his hands over his bottom rib, and sighs. He's no closer to figuring out what to do.

He wants Stiles, but he knows he's not what's best for him. And Derek is nothing if not self-sacrificing.

He knows what he wants to do, and he knows what he should do. He just can't bring himself to do either. He plucks at his shirt in frustration. He decides to run.

He throws a Henley on over his tank top and waits for Erica to call to him that Stiles is there. When he goes out, Stiles is in the kitchen with Ria on his hip, and Erica and Boyd are propped up against the counter.

Derek catches her, laughing as Stiles fans himself in relief. I really don't know what we'd have done without you and your magical baby-wrestling skills, and your delicious scones of wonder.

It was non-negotiable. To look like Derek watches his throat work. Derek shakes his head. Now it all goes on Ria.

Single parenting, man. You learn to eat fast and one-handed or you don't eat. Derek nods, taking the opportunity to just look at Stiles, and appreciate how nice it is to have him in Derek's space.

It must come off as more of a silent glower, though, because Stiles starts to talk a little too brightly to Erica.

Derek pours him a coffee and adds creamer and sugar until it's how Stiles likes it, and then offers it up as a non-verbal peace offering.

He earns himself a brilliant smile and a murmured 'S'good, thanks. A sudden jolt of electricity flickers down Derek's spine, and he and Stiles share a long, charged glance before he looks away.

Considering Stiles can barely take two steps without tripping over something or bumping into someone, Derek never fails to be surprised by how dexterous his hands are.

Stiles sips at the coffee, the edge of the cup dragging his full lower lip down a little, and Derek feels heat flash over his skin.

He bites at his own lower lip, letting his sharp incisors slide down enough to break the skin. It heals almost immediately, but the flare of pain grounds him.

He hates the way he feels out of control around Stiles. Derek finally meets Stiles eyes. He feels his cheeks start to heat up, so he crosses his arms over his chest and shrugs.

Every little noise echoes. Boyd takes a sip from his mug, his dark eyes on Derek. Derek sighs. No peace for him, today, it would seem.

Think she might have had you in mind. He swallows. As September bleeds into October, Harris becomes so erratic and antagonistic that even Stiles, whose energy is famously inexhaustible, has to force himself to go into work every day.

His stark angles are accentuated by the stormily dark, bruise-like circles under his eyes. His hair becomes streaked through with white almost overnight.

He spends more time than usual out of his basement office, stalking the rooms of the museum, muttering to himself. His patience is as tissue-thin as his skin, worn through in so many places that communicating with him becomes a mine-field.

Stiles wants to smack the triumph from his face. Harris harbours a similarly intense animosity towards Stiles, as he always has.

He likes learning about the artefacts, likes doing the tours. He likes the staff and the old, creaky building, and pretty much everything except Harris.

The aspects of the work that tie into research and story-telling are a hundred and ten per cent his jam, and he uses some of the little free time he gets to look into how they could capitalise on the potential the museum holds.

He loves the idea of engaging kids through interactive, creative learning, of connecting them emotionally and intellectually to the exhibits. Maybe he could save some lonely kid from hours of solitary googling in the pursuit of satisfying their curiosity for knowledge, or at least make them feel like they're not alone.

He knows that between them, he, Lydia and Danny could really make something of it. But Harris shoots down every suggestion with a scoff or a cruel smirk, rejecting every new idea out of hand.

It sucks. One afternoon, Harris takes to rifling through the museum literary archives, pawing through the books there jerkily, doing his weird muttering thing.

She sweeps past them towards her office, her posture perfect but rigid. Erica takes one look at his face and wordlessly grabs him a beer from the fridge, handing it over before she leaves for the standing Friday-night date-night thing they always have next door which is exactly the kind of thing a live-in sex-club would do, if you ask Stiles.

He swallows down the beer quickly, partly to leave the stress of work behind and partly to numb the painful idea of Derek and Isaac having a cosy Friday night together enough that he can sleep.

It had been the moon, hanging fat and heavy over the horizon behind streaks of cloud, and then out of nowhere, a creature, silhouetted against the pale light.

It was a man from the shoulders down, powerful and muscled and human-looking, but the head had been that of a stag.

Two enormous, bony antlers had branched out of its skull, and its breath had misted hotly from flared nostrils.

But the thing that sticks with Stiles, the thing that makes his heart clench in his chest, is the memory of the bright red, glowing eyes.

They had burned in their intensity. Stiles shudders involuntarily. He slips into the bathroom and splashes cold water on his face before he checks on Ria.

It was just a stress-induced nightmare, he tells himself. And it was still preferable to thinking too closely about what Derek and Isaac are probably up to on the other side of his bedroom wall.

He climbs wearily into bed and curls in on himself defensively as though that will help protect his heart.

Stiles blinks at him sleepily. Derek crosses his arms over his chest and rolls his eyes. You and Ria. And we were gonna have a cook-out this afternoon, at the preserve.

Where there are leaves. You wanna? Erica has been worried about him for a while, and privately Derek agrees with her.

Should I drive? He wants Stiles to relax and wind down a little, not worry about driving. Derek shrugs. Not toddler-compatible. But I have another car, too.

Tiny people come with a lot of stuff. Derek is already beginning to regret inviting him. He almost double-takes when he sees what Stiles is wearing.

Only Stiles could show up wearing a red hoody to a cook-out in the woods with a bunch of werewolves. He tucks Ria into it, handing her something that smells fruity to gnaw on, and weaves the seat belt through several openings to secure it.

Isaac slides the camaro up to the curb behind them, and Derek steps back to let the others pack their stuff into the two cars. Stiles smirks. Derek raises an eyebrow.

Derek and Stiles stare after them. And I was right here! Sorry, big guy. Derek pulls a disgusted face. It turns out that, despite all his bitching, Stiles loves the camaro.

Stiles wants to rub his face all over the dashboard. He shares this pithy observation with Derek, who sighs and mutters something about philistines, which Stiles ignores.

Or pony cars, or whatever this shiny hunk of metal and lust is. Stiles also immediately loves the preserve. He sucks in a breath as he takes in the harlequin colors of the maples, oaks, spruce and dogwood that are almost glowing in a patchwork of greens, chartreuse, oranges and reds, their tangled branches arching over the road and twining together in Seussian, sculptural shapes.

Derek guns the camaro up one of the little-used roads, rougher but still car-worthy, where the big-leaf maple trees have carpeted the ground with colourful leaves which the camaro kicks up into riotous, swirling spirals in the air.

Stiles feels heat creep up from his belly. Derek is watching Stiles watch Derek, and Stiles likes it.

Stiles looks back at the leaves and chews on his lip, and thinks of Isaac. After several minutes, Derek pulls up behind the cruiser, which is already parked off the road a little way, and together they start to make their way down a small path that leads deeper into the preserve.

Neither of them says anything, but the silence is nice. Ria will love them. Stiles can hear the others gathered around it, Ria toddling through the leaves in her rubber boots, crunching them in her fingers delightedly.

Derek is so many contradictions. Stiles really ought to get used to having this sort of conversation with Derek. Erica wraps him in a hug and Boyd reaches out to squeeze the back of his neck with a grin.

They greet Derek in a similarly tactile way, and Stiles can see Derek relax before his eyes as he hugs them all back with varying degrees of intimacy.

The realisation feels like a kick to the stomach. He supposes at least that Derek and Isaac never seem to kiss in front of him either.

He prays to all the gods that it stays that way. He shakes himself off and runs to scoop up Ria, and they spend an hour or two playing in the leaves just as Derek suggested.

They bury Isaac up to his neck in them, and make towers with Boyd which they run and jump into, and Stiles snaps hundreds of pictures on his camera of Ria tossing leaves into the air.

As the breeze catches them and whisks them away like colourful feathers, he feels some of his stress get carried away too.

And all the while Derek is there, puttering about on the periphery. Somehow it makes Stiles feel safe. He leaves Ria with Erica who is weaving leaf-crowns for them, and goes to grab water from the large hamper the others somehow dragged with them from the car.

Someone has gotten a grill out from the cabin, and steaks and sausages are beginning to brown and sizzle at the edges. We really needed it.

Both of us. Stiles hates how the smile makes his heart soar. Stiles takes drinks to Ria and Erica, exclaiming over the twig and leaf crown Erica made for him.

He kisses Erica on the cheek and then dumps a load of leaves over her head, making her squawk in fury. When he looks up, Derek is watching them.

When the food is ready they sit on their folding chairs, in a half-circle, and eat the steaks ravenously, licking the juices from their fingers.

Even Ria demolishes an entire hot dog, although Erica lets her smother it in ketchup. Stiles supposes fresh air is good for the appetite.

Oh, man. If you had Derek, why would you ever need anyone other than… Derek? Not since Jennifer. He makes a mental note not to have any.

She tilts her head towards Stiles. Stiles had made it clear he thought Derek was hot from the very beginning.

Derek seems tactile enough with everyone else, but he never touches Stiles. Ria is a hot, heavy weight on his torso, and he pretends to concentrate on her when Derek ambles back to the cabin.

Out of the corner of his eye he sees Derek lift his head into the air a bit, and frown. Erica takes a soda over to him and they talk in low voices.

By the time Ria is breathing deeply against him, Derek and Erica have made their way back over and Derek is perched on the edge of a chair.

Stiles scuffs at the ground with the toe of his boot. Erica keeps up a bright, steady stream of chatter that fills the clearing. The thought makes the image of the creepy half-deer half-man creature flash into his consciousness again.

Boyd snorts in an amused way. Because I could have sworn you liked- ow! Boyd smiles gently and holds out his hands for Ria, taking the bundle of sleeping baby and cradling her against his own chest.

So what is it? Stiles sighs and looks up at the branches silhouetted against the sky. He spreads his hands over his knees.

Stiles stands up to go and retrieve his daughter because she at least is a kind person whom Stiles never has to threaten with Nutella removal.

Well okay, sometimes he has to threaten that, but she at least has the excellent excuse of being fourteen months old. Suddenly Derek is right there and jesus the guy can move quietly, Stiles never even heard him leave the cabin.

Derek steers them both through the trees for a few hundred metres. They reach a clearing where the ground on one side of the path drops away, leaving a clear view over the valley that Beacon Hills nestles in.

The daylight is starting to fade and the dipping sun is turning the sky tangerine and apricot. The October cloud is spread across the sky in long, rippling swathes, the grazing illumination of the sun lighting them up first bright white and then rosy.

Looking at the transcendence of the afterglow over the town, Stiles can understand how people first came up with their ideas about heaven.

He's stood several feet away, hands jammed in his jeans pockets. Stiles glances over at Derek, lit up in the buttery sunlight, and has to swallow around the lump in his throat.

Derek plus sweetness plus the golden hour is sort of an unfairly devastating combination. Stiles looks back out over the town where people are starting to turn on their house and headlights, so they glitter against the edges of the sunset where the sky is turning from magenta to violet, and then to inky indigo.

Took my mom to a fancy dinner and then put her ring in the champagne glass. She nearly chipped a tooth on it. But not in a mean way, it was… It was joy.

She was always the laughter in our house. Took us a long time to find it again after she died. Dad thought maybe it was at the bottom of a whiskey bottle for a while, but.

When Ria laughs, it's just The best thing in the world, you know? Derek is warm against his back, close enough that Stiles can feel his breath on the nape of his neck, and they watch together as Venus appears in the blue-hued sky.

He wants to ask why. He wants to know Derek. But he also knows that people need to tell their stories in their own time. Suddenly Derek stiffens and straightens up, and Stiles turns quickly to face him.

Stiles huddles into the soft warmth of the jacket. He scurries over to walk with them. Stiles stretches out on the sofa, undoing the top button of his jeans before cradling his belly with his hands tenderly.

Stiles is still trying to process that. Something about it is surprisingly discomfiting. He often catches Derek staring at his mouth and sometimes his ass, which makes Stiles' chest puff with pride because he is one hundred per cent down with being ogled by Derek fucking Hale , is sure Derek has caught his open appreciation in return.

Derek brings by food quite a lot now, sometimes staying to eat with them, sometimes leaving it at their door like an offering.

October is cold. Well, by Californian standards. So Derek continues on in his stealth campaign to see Stiles and Ria warm and fed, and Stiles eats the food and snuggles into the sweaters and Derek never comments on any of it, he just does his silently pleased eyebrows, and they drink coffee and hang out with Ria and bicker pleasantly, and are basically a perfect couple.

Which sucks, because Stiles is really into the kissing, and he suspects that with Derek it would be good. He heaves as big of a sigh as he can manage given the food baby is taking up about a third of his chest cavity.

Stiles cracks an eye to look over at him. The afternoon sunlight is pouring through the window, refracting through a hanging copper ornament with a large crystal in the centre that Melissa has hung in the window.

It projects hundreds of tiny rainbow-coloured shards of light all over the walls. Stiles is confident the splotchy scarlet now covering his neck and cheeks will be confirmation enough.

Stiles frowns. Scott sounds strained and sort of weird. Package deal. From now on everything either has to be very clearly a meaningless fling for me, or it has to be the real deal, possibility of a future type of jazz.

Commitment, parent-hood, the works. Play the field, man. Scott is all about abiding love, the whole hearts and flowers and 'no, you hang up first' deal.

Scott looks even more uncomfortable, pushing his hair out of his eyes and looking anywhere but at Stiles. Stiles hoists his ass back onto the sofa and digs his fingers into the soft cushions, trying to keep his temper in check.

We were trying to be supportive, ya know? Paramedics are on site, too. Security guard took a hit to the head. Jesus, is he okay?

Clive was on today, right? Can you have Ria for a couple more hours? He narrows his eyes dangerously at his father and his best friend, daring them to laugh.

The online-dating debacle is quickly forgotten once Stiles gets to the museum because everything is a mess. A police cruiser is pulled up at a hasty angle outside the main building, and Stiles can see a glimpse of upturned artefacts and strewn papers through the open main doors.

Clive, a sweet, balding man in his early fifties, is sitting on the tail of an ambulance with a paramedic dabbing at a nasty looking gash on his forehead.

Or at least a good look at him. Everything was quiet, like always. Like… like rotten eggs, and something real old. Musty, ya know?

And it got so strong I thought I might get ill. Out cold. By the time I came to, the bastard had wrecked a couple of rooms.

Made a real mess. Do you need me to call anyone for you? You let me know if you need anything. His grip is warm and reassuring. He clears his throat.

And I, uh, sort of know you. Your face, anyway. From the station. Stiles drops his own down to his side, gently and with a pang of regret.

Stiles is suddenly very aware of his own tongue. Stiles feels the familiar, flustered heat creep up his neck as he smiles back.

He tries to subtly straighten out his jeans and shirt. Not since that weird lunch with Lydia when Derek had done that lethal drive-by well, jog-by number on him.

Jordan steps back and turns to face the building. Jordan turns back to Stiles and pulls his hat off, revealing neat brown hair and classically handsome features.

The sun illuminates his eyes. Green, Stiles notes. Nothing about Derek is a fair benchmark, really. Jordan smiles again, and yeah, it really is a very nice smile.

Not as nice as Derek though, he thinks before he gives his mind a mental slap upside the head. Or even given him his number. Unlike Jordan.

Unless Stiles is reading it wrong. Jordan flashes that lingering grin again and then whistles as he strolls off to the squad car, and nope, Stiles is pretty sure he did not read that wrong.

Stiles stares after him for a second, blood buzzing lightly through his veins. The ambulance and Clive have gone. Harris is, of course, nowhere to be seen.

He's probably out hanging upside down from a rafter somewhere. They all have a couple of long days of clean-up ahead of them.

Once they've agreed to meet early the next day he settles back in his seat and chews at the inside of his cheek. If nothing else it's a nice little boost for his ego.

Maybe Scott was right in thinking he's been too focused on Derek. When he gets back to the house, Ria is holding court in the kitchen and is largely covered in cake.

She has vanilla frosting in her hair and mashed into the shells of her ears, and judging by the smile on her face she's ecstatic about it.

Stiles frowns half-heartedly at it. It gives Stiles a sense of evil satisfaction to see that she has conned Scotty into participating and he grins into his cake.

Karma is real, yo. He watches Scott suppress a sigh as Ria flings her plastic spoon across the room with a triumphant squeal. He makes a mental note to buy Ria the most obnoxiously neon My Little Pony he can find by way of reward.

Stiles nods to himself in approval. Melissa is wise to the ways of toddlers. Good looking young man. Nice work, Stiles. He should not be nosy. He should let Derek confide in him in his own time.

If he were a better person, he would. But Stiles is a terrible person, he knows this. They thought it was arson but they never caught anyone.

It would have been… oh, more than ten years ago now. Derek was just a boy. Sixteen, seventeen Melissa shakes her head, sadly. His parents, another sister, an aunt and two cousins were in there.

It was just awful. They were good people, his family. Did a lot of good for the town. Derek was always such a nice boy.

They never caught anyone for that, either. Derek left town a bit after that. Who could blame him, really? He knows what it took for him and his dad to survive his mom's death.

But his whole family He thinks of the leather jacket - Derek's dad's jacket. He would have liked you. He swallows hard, managing to catch his breath, and as the oxygen filters through his veins it carries with it a weird urgency to get to Derek.

Stiles is struck dumb with the intensity of it. He wants to see Derek. Right now. Like, immediately, if not sooner, and wrap himself around him so nothing else bad ever happens to him.

His limbs ache with it. He's never felt anything quite like it. It makes the pleasant, buzzy feeling Jordan had left him with seem shallow and sort of cheap.

Stiles doesn't stop to examine what it means. He gathers up his daughter and heads for home. He catches Ria when she jumps from Stiles' hip into his arms, and the smile he gives her makes Stiles' heart skip a beat.

At that exact same moment Derek's eyes tick over to Stiles, soft, like he knows, and Stiles is not at all sure Derek hasn't already ruined him for everyone else.

Derek is barefoot despite the October chill, and in jeans and a ripped t shirt that should be ridiculous but is actually just delicious.

He does it for Stiles. Stiles wishes he wouldn't, because it does all sorts of good things for his biceps which is highly distracting.

Stiles wishes he found Derek half as easy to read. Stiles sits on the arm of a chair with a sigh. Or, well, knew you, I guess.

And your family. About the fire. That I know. About your family. Stiles exhales into the hug, letting himself soak up some of the warmth that radiates off Derek.

Stiles wonders if Derek always runs so hot. He feels Derek's eyelashes brush silkily over his neck, sending a shiver skittering down his spine.

They stand like that for a long minute. Derek seems to like hugs, he's just awkward about them in a way that suggests he doesn't get very many.

He would have had them from his family, Stiles realises. His stomach clenches and he pulls Derek a little bit closer. Derek doesn't resist.

Stiles wonders how many hugs he'd need to give Derek to even start to fill the deficit. Probably thousands.

Stiles would be fine with that. Like, I know they were actually trying to say they were sorry for my pain, but it pissed me off so much.

My loss. Like she just fell out of my pocket one day. The realisation that Derek carries some sort of deep guilt over this, probably has done for years, feels like a sucker-punch to Stiles' gut.

You were just a kid. Derek's throat works furiously. I loved who I thought she was. Now I know that I never really knew who she was.

But I thought she loved me, too. I was so Stiles steps forward to pull his back into his arms, without hesitation, sweeping his hands over the expanse of Derek's shoulders as if he might miraculously take away some of Derek's pain through his skin.

It wasn't your fault. Bear sad? Derek scoops her up in a heartbeat, nuzzling his face into her neck, which she responds to instantly.

Derek has always seemed to have good, natural instincts with her, knowing when she needs to be held or when she needs space. Stiles suppresses a pang of envy over the way she buries her chubby hands into his hair.

Stiles watches them for a moment before thinking, 'Fuck it', and stepping back in to resume the hug, only this time he has one arm around Derek's neck and one around Ria's warm, soft body.

How can he let his guard down and risk another great loss? How could he start to build a home when he knows what it is to lose one? He feels like there's a tangled, knotted-up ball of string where his solar plexus once was.

Derek keeps everything in, and Stiles lets everything out. And something about that cracks Derek open just a little bit. He accidentally shows his weak, soft underbelly, and he hates that Stiles gets that reaction from him.

Or at least, he is as far as his lupine self is concerned. So he keeps giving Stiles little inadvertent glimpses of his insecurities and his jealousy and his heart.

And it turns out his heart is fucking ridiculous and completely embarrassing and likes to sing along to eighties soft-rock. Because of course it does.

Stiles had needed him, and Derek had known. Derek is a born wolf. He knows what it means to feel a pull like that.

That tangled up, knotted ball of string in the pit of his stomach: one end of that is apparently attached to Stiles. It scares the hell out of him.

But the pull was bigger than his fear. But it felt like something more precious than that. Like a silver dollar thrown into a wishing well. He folds his hands over his bottom rib, and sighs.

He's no closer to figuring out what to do. He wants Stiles, but he knows he's not what's best for him. And Derek is nothing if not self-sacrificing.

He knows what he wants to do, and he knows what he should do. He just can't bring himself to do either. He plucks at his shirt in frustration.

He decides to run. He throws a Henley on over his tank top and waits for Erica to call to him that Stiles is there. When he goes out, Stiles is in the kitchen with Ria on his hip, and Erica and Boyd are propped up against the counter.

Derek catches her, laughing as Stiles fans himself in relief. I really don't know what we'd have done without you and your magical baby-wrestling skills, and your delicious scones of wonder.

It was non-negotiable. To look like Derek watches his throat work. Derek shakes his head. Now it all goes on Ria. Single parenting, man.

You learn to eat fast and one-handed or you don't eat. Derek nods, taking the opportunity to just look at Stiles, and appreciate how nice it is to have him in Derek's space.

It must come off as more of a silent glower, though, because Stiles starts to talk a little too brightly to Erica.

Derek pours him a coffee and adds creamer and sugar until it's how Stiles likes it, and then offers it up as a non-verbal peace offering.

He earns himself a brilliant smile and a murmured 'S'good, thanks. A sudden jolt of electricity flickers down Derek's spine, and he and Stiles share a long, charged glance before he looks away.

Considering Stiles can barely take two steps without tripping over something or bumping into someone, Derek never fails to be surprised by how dexterous his hands are.

Stiles sips at the coffee, the edge of the cup dragging his full lower lip down a little, and Derek feels heat flash over his skin.

He bites at his own lower lip, letting his sharp incisors slide down enough to break the skin. It heals almost immediately, but the flare of pain grounds him.

He hates the way he feels out of control around Stiles. Derek finally meets Stiles eyes. He feels his cheeks start to heat up, so he crosses his arms over his chest and shrugs.

Every little noise echoes. Boyd takes a sip from his mug, his dark eyes on Derek. Derek sighs. No peace for him, today, it would seem.

Think she might have had you in mind. He swallows. As September bleeds into October, Harris becomes so erratic and antagonistic that even Stiles, whose energy is famously inexhaustible, has to force himself to go into work every day.

His stark angles are accentuated by the stormily dark, bruise-like circles under his eyes. His hair becomes streaked through with white almost overnight.

He spends more time than usual out of his basement office, stalking the rooms of the museum, muttering to himself. His patience is as tissue-thin as his skin, worn through in so many places that communicating with him becomes a mine-field.

Stiles wants to smack the triumph from his face. Harris harbours a similarly intense animosity towards Stiles, as he always has. He likes learning about the artefacts, likes doing the tours.

He likes the staff and the old, creaky building, and pretty much everything except Harris. The aspects of the work that tie into research and story-telling are a hundred and ten per cent his jam, and he uses some of the little free time he gets to look into how they could capitalise on the potential the museum holds.

He loves the idea of engaging kids through interactive, creative learning, of connecting them emotionally and intellectually to the exhibits.

Maybe he could save some lonely kid from hours of solitary googling in the pursuit of satisfying their curiosity for knowledge, or at least make them feel like they're not alone.

He knows that between them, he, Lydia and Danny could really make something of it. But Harris shoots down every suggestion with a scoff or a cruel smirk, rejecting every new idea out of hand.

It sucks. One afternoon, Harris takes to rifling through the museum literary archives, pawing through the books there jerkily, doing his weird muttering thing.

She sweeps past them towards her office, her posture perfect but rigid. Erica takes one look at his face and wordlessly grabs him a beer from the fridge, handing it over before she leaves for the standing Friday-night date-night thing they always have next door which is exactly the kind of thing a live-in sex-club would do, if you ask Stiles.

He swallows down the beer quickly, partly to leave the stress of work behind and partly to numb the painful idea of Derek and Isaac having a cosy Friday night together enough that he can sleep.

It had been the moon, hanging fat and heavy over the horizon behind streaks of cloud, and then out of nowhere, a creature, silhouetted against the pale light.

It was a man from the shoulders down, powerful and muscled and human-looking, but the head had been that of a stag.

Two enormous, bony antlers had branched out of its skull, and its breath had misted hotly from flared nostrils. But the thing that sticks with Stiles, the thing that makes his heart clench in his chest, is the memory of the bright red, glowing eyes.

They had burned in their intensity. Stiles shudders involuntarily. He slips into the bathroom and splashes cold water on his face before he checks on Ria.

It was just a stress-induced nightmare, he tells himself. And it was still preferable to thinking too closely about what Derek and Isaac are probably up to on the other side of his bedroom wall.

He climbs wearily into bed and curls in on himself defensively as though that will help protect his heart. Stiles blinks at him sleepily.

Derek crosses his arms over his chest and rolls his eyes. You and Ria. And we were gonna have a cook-out this afternoon, at the preserve.

Where there are leaves. You wanna? Erica has been worried about him for a while, and privately Derek agrees with her. Should I drive? He wants Stiles to relax and wind down a little, not worry about driving.

Derek shrugs. Not toddler-compatible. But I have another car, too. Tiny people come with a lot of stuff. Derek is already beginning to regret inviting him.

He almost double-takes when he sees what Stiles is wearing. Only Stiles could show up wearing a red hoody to a cook-out in the woods with a bunch of werewolves.

He tucks Ria into it, handing her something that smells fruity to gnaw on, and weaves the seat belt through several openings to secure it.

Isaac slides the camaro up to the curb behind them, and Derek steps back to let the others pack their stuff into the two cars. Stiles smirks. Derek raises an eyebrow.

Derek and Stiles stare after them. And I was right here! Sorry, big guy. Derek pulls a disgusted face. It turns out that, despite all his bitching, Stiles loves the camaro.

Stiles wants to rub his face all over the dashboard. He shares this pithy observation with Derek, who sighs and mutters something about philistines, which Stiles ignores.

Or pony cars, or whatever this shiny hunk of metal and lust is. Stiles also immediately loves the preserve. He sucks in a breath as he takes in the harlequin colors of the maples, oaks, spruce and dogwood that are almost glowing in a patchwork of greens, chartreuse, oranges and reds, their tangled branches arching over the road and twining together in Seussian, sculptural shapes.

Derek guns the camaro up one of the little-used roads, rougher but still car-worthy, where the big-leaf maple trees have carpeted the ground with colourful leaves which the camaro kicks up into riotous, swirling spirals in the air.

Stiles feels heat creep up from his belly. Derek is watching Stiles watch Derek, and Stiles likes it. Stiles looks back at the leaves and chews on his lip, and thinks of Isaac.

After several minutes, Derek pulls up behind the cruiser, which is already parked off the road a little way, and together they start to make their way down a small path that leads deeper into the preserve.

Neither of them says anything, but the silence is nice. Ria will love them. Stiles can hear the others gathered around it, Ria toddling through the leaves in her rubber boots, crunching them in her fingers delightedly.

Derek is so many contradictions. Stiles really ought to get used to having this sort of conversation with Derek.

Erica wraps him in a hug and Boyd reaches out to squeeze the back of his neck with a grin. They greet Derek in a similarly tactile way, and Stiles can see Derek relax before his eyes as he hugs them all back with varying degrees of intimacy.

The realisation feels like a kick to the stomach. He supposes at least that Derek and Isaac never seem to kiss in front of him either. He prays to all the gods that it stays that way.

He shakes himself off and runs to scoop up Ria, and they spend an hour or two playing in the leaves just as Derek suggested. They bury Isaac up to his neck in them, and make towers with Boyd which they run and jump into, and Stiles snaps hundreds of pictures on his camera of Ria tossing leaves into the air.

As the breeze catches them and whisks them away like colourful feathers, he feels some of his stress get carried away too.

And all the while Derek is there, puttering about on the periphery. Somehow it makes Stiles feel safe. He leaves Ria with Erica who is weaving leaf-crowns for them, and goes to grab water from the large hamper the others somehow dragged with them from the car.

Someone has gotten a grill out from the cabin, and steaks and sausages are beginning to brown and sizzle at the edges.

We really needed it. Both of us. Stiles hates how the smile makes his heart soar. Stiles takes drinks to Ria and Erica, exclaiming over the twig and leaf crown Erica made for him.

He kisses Erica on the cheek and then dumps a load of leaves over her head, making her squawk in fury.

When he looks up, Derek is watching them. When the food is ready they sit on their folding chairs, in a half-circle, and eat the steaks ravenously, licking the juices from their fingers.

Even Ria demolishes an entire hot dog, although Erica lets her smother it in ketchup. Stiles supposes fresh air is good for the appetite.

Oh, man. If you had Derek, why would you ever need anyone other than… Derek? Not since Jennifer. He makes a mental note not to have any.

She tilts her head towards Stiles. Stiles had made it clear he thought Derek was hot from the very beginning. Derek seems tactile enough with everyone else, but he never touches Stiles.

Ria is a hot, heavy weight on his torso, and he pretends to concentrate on her when Derek ambles back to the cabin.

Out of the corner of his eye he sees Derek lift his head into the air a bit, and frown. Erica takes a soda over to him and they talk in low voices.

By the time Ria is breathing deeply against him, Derek and Erica have made their way back over and Derek is perched on the edge of a chair.

Stiles scuffs at the ground with the toe of his boot. Erica keeps up a bright, steady stream of chatter that fills the clearing. The thought makes the image of the creepy half-deer half-man creature flash into his consciousness again.

Boyd snorts in an amused way. Because I could have sworn you liked- ow! Boyd smiles gently and holds out his hands for Ria, taking the bundle of sleeping baby and cradling her against his own chest.

So what is it? Stiles sighs and looks up at the branches silhouetted against the sky. He spreads his hands over his knees. Stiles stands up to go and retrieve his daughter because she at least is a kind person whom Stiles never has to threaten with Nutella removal.

Well okay, sometimes he has to threaten that, but she at least has the excellent excuse of being fourteen months old. Suddenly Derek is right there and jesus the guy can move quietly, Stiles never even heard him leave the cabin.

Derek steers them both through the trees for a few hundred metres. They reach a clearing where the ground on one side of the path drops away, leaving a clear view over the valley that Beacon Hills nestles in.

The daylight is starting to fade and the dipping sun is turning the sky tangerine and apricot. The October cloud is spread across the sky in long, rippling swathes, the grazing illumination of the sun lighting them up first bright white and then rosy.

Looking at the transcendence of the afterglow over the town, Stiles can understand how people first came up with their ideas about heaven. He's stood several feet away, hands jammed in his jeans pockets.

Stiles glances over at Derek, lit up in the buttery sunlight, and has to swallow around the lump in his throat.

Derek plus sweetness plus the golden hour is sort of an unfairly devastating combination. Stiles looks back out over the town where people are starting to turn on their house and headlights, so they glitter against the edges of the sunset where the sky is turning from magenta to violet, and then to inky indigo.

Took my mom to a fancy dinner and then put her ring in the champagne glass. She nearly chipped a tooth on it. But not in a mean way, it was… It was joy.

She was always the laughter in our house. Took us a long time to find it again after she died. Dad thought maybe it was at the bottom of a whiskey bottle for a while, but.

When Ria laughs, it's just The best thing in the world, you know? Derek is warm against his back, close enough that Stiles can feel his breath on the nape of his neck, and they watch together as Venus appears in the blue-hued sky.

He wants to ask why. He wants to know Derek. But he also knows that people need to tell their stories in their own time. Suddenly Derek stiffens and straightens up, and Stiles turns quickly to face him.

Stiles huddles into the soft warmth of the jacket. He scurries over to walk with them. Stiles stretches out on the sofa, undoing the top button of his jeans before cradling his belly with his hands tenderly.

Stiles is still trying to process that. Something about it is surprisingly discomfiting. He often catches Derek staring at his mouth and sometimes his ass, which makes Stiles' chest puff with pride because he is one hundred per cent down with being ogled by Derek fucking Hale , is sure Derek has caught his open appreciation in return.

Derek brings by food quite a lot now, sometimes staying to eat with them, sometimes leaving it at their door like an offering.

October is cold. Well, by Californian standards. So Derek continues on in his stealth campaign to see Stiles and Ria warm and fed, and Stiles eats the food and snuggles into the sweaters and Derek never comments on any of it, he just does his silently pleased eyebrows, and they drink coffee and hang out with Ria and bicker pleasantly, and are basically a perfect couple.

Which sucks, because Stiles is really into the kissing, and he suspects that with Derek it would be good.

He heaves as big of a sigh as he can manage given the food baby is taking up about a third of his chest cavity. Stiles cracks an eye to look over at him.

The afternoon sunlight is pouring through the window, refracting through a hanging copper ornament with a large crystal in the centre that Melissa has hung in the window.

It projects hundreds of tiny rainbow-coloured shards of light all over the walls. Stiles is confident the splotchy scarlet now covering his neck and cheeks will be confirmation enough.

Stiles frowns. Scott sounds strained and sort of weird. Package deal. From now on everything either has to be very clearly a meaningless fling for me, or it has to be the real deal, possibility of a future type of jazz.

Commitment, parent-hood, the works. Play the field, man. Scott is all about abiding love, the whole hearts and flowers and 'no, you hang up first' deal.

Scott looks even more uncomfortable, pushing his hair out of his eyes and looking anywhere but at Stiles. Stiles hoists his ass back onto the sofa and digs his fingers into the soft cushions, trying to keep his temper in check.

We were trying to be supportive, ya know? Paramedics are on site, too. Security guard took a hit to the head. Jesus, is he okay? Clive was on today, right?

Can you have Ria for a couple more hours? He narrows his eyes dangerously at his father and his best friend, daring them to laugh.

The online-dating debacle is quickly forgotten once Stiles gets to the museum because everything is a mess. A police cruiser is pulled up at a hasty angle outside the main building, and Stiles can see a glimpse of upturned artefacts and strewn papers through the open main doors.

Clive, a sweet, balding man in his early fifties, is sitting on the tail of an ambulance with a paramedic dabbing at a nasty looking gash on his forehead.

Or at least a good look at him. Everything was quiet, like always. Like… like rotten eggs, and something real old. Musty, ya know? And it got so strong I thought I might get ill.

Out cold. By the time I came to, the bastard had wrecked a couple of rooms. Made a real mess. Do you need me to call anyone for you?

You let me know if you need anything. His grip is warm and reassuring. He clears his throat. And I, uh, sort of know you. Your face, anyway.

From the station. Stiles drops his own down to his side, gently and with a pang of regret. Stiles is suddenly very aware of his own tongue. Stiles feels the familiar, flustered heat creep up his neck as he smiles back.

He tries to subtly straighten out his jeans and shirt. Not since that weird lunch with Lydia when Derek had done that lethal drive-by well, jog-by number on him.

Jordan steps back and turns to face the building. Jordan turns back to Stiles and pulls his hat off, revealing neat brown hair and classically handsome features.

The sun illuminates his eyes. Green, Stiles notes. Nothing about Derek is a fair benchmark, really. Jordan smiles again, and yeah, it really is a very nice smile.

Not as nice as Derek though, he thinks before he gives his mind a mental slap upside the head. Or even given him his number.

Unlike Jordan. Unless Stiles is reading it wrong. Jordan flashes that lingering grin again and then whistles as he strolls off to the squad car, and nope, Stiles is pretty sure he did not read that wrong.

Stiles stares after him for a second, blood buzzing lightly through his veins. The ambulance and Clive have gone.

Harris is, of course, nowhere to be seen. He's probably out hanging upside down from a rafter somewhere. They all have a couple of long days of clean-up ahead of them.

Once they've agreed to meet early the next day he settles back in his seat and chews at the inside of his cheek.

If nothing else it's a nice little boost for his ego. Maybe Scott was right in thinking he's been too focused on Derek. When he gets back to the house, Ria is holding court in the kitchen and is largely covered in cake.

She has vanilla frosting in her hair and mashed into the shells of her ears, and judging by the smile on her face she's ecstatic about it. Stiles frowns half-heartedly at it.

It gives Stiles a sense of evil satisfaction to see that she has conned Scotty into participating and he grins into his cake.

Karma is real, yo. He watches Scott suppress a sigh as Ria flings her plastic spoon across the room with a triumphant squeal.

He makes a mental note to buy Ria the most obnoxiously neon My Little Pony he can find by way of reward. Stiles nods to himself in approval. Melissa is wise to the ways of toddlers.

Good looking young man. Nice work, Stiles. He should not be nosy. He should let Derek confide in him in his own time.

If he were a better person, he would. But Stiles is a terrible person, he knows this. They thought it was arson but they never caught anyone.

It would have been… oh, more than ten years ago now. Derek was just a boy. Sixteen, seventeen Melissa shakes her head, sadly.

His parents, another sister, an aunt and two cousins were in there. It was just awful. They were good people, his family. Did a lot of good for the town.

Derek was always such a nice boy. They never caught anyone for that, either. Derek left town a bit after that. Who could blame him, really?

He knows what it took for him and his dad to survive his mom's death. But his whole family He thinks of the leather jacket - Derek's dad's jacket.

He would have liked you. He swallows hard, managing to catch his breath, and as the oxygen filters through his veins it carries with it a weird urgency to get to Derek.

Stiles is struck dumb with the intensity of it. He wants to see Derek. Right now. Like, immediately, if not sooner, and wrap himself around him so nothing else bad ever happens to him.

His limbs ache with it. He's never felt anything quite like it. It makes the pleasant, buzzy feeling Jordan had left him with seem shallow and sort of cheap.

Stiles doesn't stop to examine what it means. He gathers up his daughter and heads for home. He catches Ria when she jumps from Stiles' hip into his arms, and the smile he gives her makes Stiles' heart skip a beat.

At that exact same moment Derek's eyes tick over to Stiles, soft, like he knows, and Stiles is not at all sure Derek hasn't already ruined him for everyone else.

Derek is barefoot despite the October chill, and in jeans and a ripped t shirt that should be ridiculous but is actually just delicious.

He does it for Stiles. Stiles wishes he wouldn't, because it does all sorts of good things for his biceps which is highly distracting. Stiles wishes he found Derek half as easy to read.

Stiles sits on the arm of a chair with a sigh. Or, well, knew you, I guess. And your family. About the fire. That I know. About your family. Stiles exhales into the hug, letting himself soak up some of the warmth that radiates off Derek.

Stiles wonders if Derek always runs so hot. He feels Derek's eyelashes brush silkily over his neck, sending a shiver skittering down his spine.

They stand like that for a long minute. Derek seems to like hugs, he's just awkward about them in a way that suggests he doesn't get very many.

He would have had them from his family, Stiles realises. His stomach clenches and he pulls Derek a little bit closer. Derek doesn't resist.

Stiles wonders how many hugs he'd need to give Derek to even start to fill the deficit. Probably thousands.

Stiles would be fine with that. Like, I know they were actually trying to say they were sorry for my pain, but it pissed me off so much. My loss.

Like she just fell out of my pocket one day. The realisation that Derek carries some sort of deep guilt over this, probably has done for years, feels like a sucker-punch to Stiles' gut.

The rules of Dice with Buddies are very similar to Yahtzee — you roll five dice and try to score as high as possible with a number of combinations.

On the top half, you can play any combination of dice with the same number i. If the sum of the top half exceeds 62, you get a bonus score of You can also get a bonus of 50 points if you play your second Five of a Kind and onwards in the top half.

The bottom half refers to the special combos that have specific point values assigned to them. A Three of a Kind and Four of a Kind are worth the sum of all dice.

Likewise, the Chance row at the very bottom equals the sum of all dice, but any combination of dice can be played in here.

A Full House three of one number, two of another, i. A Small Straight four sequential dice, i. A Large Straight five sequential dice, i.

Finally, a Five of a Kind will get you 50 points for having five dice of the same number. Generally speaking, we advise trying to complete the bottom half combos before the top half ones, especially the Small Straight, Large Straight, and Five of a Kind, which are the hardest to pull off.

And typically, special events are where you can win more of these dice or bonus rolls, provided you do well enough to qualify. Lastly, the scratchers, which are like lottery tickets, will give you a specific number of dice only if you match three of a kind, i.

A lot of that boils down to luck, but making use of your bonus rolls to make a good combo even better can also help to that end.

Ever wonder why some players play their second or even third Five of a Kinds in the Full House row? Where can I find the scratchers in the game.

Check completed games. Do not delete until you click on them several S times and check for uncollected roles. Anyone know why my dice that i have just won keep disappearing.

I try to fill the upper half first, those 35 points are sometimes what wins it for me in the end. It will not let get the 25 points for a full house from 5 of a kind.

You will either get zero or fifty if you already have five of a kind. Why does the point value of 3 and 4 of a kind change throughout the game?

The energy to stand and go about the day was gone. No, that wasn't right. It was the will to keep going that was missing. It was my fault I was alone.

My emotions and body urged me to just give up, slather myself in steak sauce, and wait outside until something noticed dinner was served. Everything seemed distant, like that dingy hall and the imaginary man trying to comfort me were miles away.

Indecipherable whispers filled my ears with static as I clutched at the spiral everything slid down. Without hesitation, my trusty crowbar swung at my foe, but instead of a walking corpse eager to find its next meal, the wall took the brunt of my swing.

With a grunt, the tool tore from the wall, scattering drywall across the floor, yet nothing took advantage of the delay.

It was still just Dave and me. Ponies sounded like a pretty good idea right about then. Poking science in the eye could wait.

A pang of hunger pushed something else to the top of my list, only to be shunted to second place when scratching an innocent itch led to sticking a finger in an open wound and swearing loudly.

A stale granola bar snagged from the break room—just something to take the edge off the hunger while patching things up—kept me from gnawing my legs off while meandering over to where the pile of first aid supplies waited patiently.

There was nothing too serious to patch up this time, but being caught in so many explosions tended to leave a few wounds. The injury I'd inadvertently fingered wasn't as bad as it felt, but the scratches ended up requiring the last of the gauze and most of the remaining stock of adhesive sutures, two things which absolutely sucked to scavenge for.

After that, all that remained was tweezering out a couple slivers of rock from my cheek, the future scars an eventual part of my ever-growing collection.

Thankfully, Dave kept his snark to himself during my time playing medic. With that out of the way, my stomach told me a granola bar was a terrible dinner, and I should be ashamed for not eating an actual meal first.

When it comes to food, the apocalypse sucks. Make a list of all your favorite foods. If any of them need to be refrigerated, cross them off unless you have a generator, a refrigerator, and the means to maintain both of them.

In fact, you might as well cross them out anyway, because the universe is a bitch. Most shelf foods have fairly short lifespans as well, even tasty little snack cakes.

Not that the bit about other people mattered anymore. The DVD player worked beautifully, and better yet, nothing had been damaged when I fell from setting off the C5.

On my way out, a drained remote control hurtled through him. It couldn't actually hurt him, but it's the thought that counts.

No matter the unholy amount of potpourri, the room always smelled like oil and burnt electronics—an odor that added a homey feel.

There were enough jagged scorch marks and gouges marring the walls to slay an interior designer at fifteen paces.

In one wall, a melon-sized hole, the result of a hilariously failed experiment with office chair propulsion, provided a glimpse of the office floor and its sea of cubicles.

The hunches that had led me to the electronics store in the first place had been helping me build a machine which could have never been conceived in normal circumstances.

There were so many parts it was impossible to remember everything included. What mattered, though, was that my hunches told me this was our—my ticket out of here; this pile of crap would hand me a one-way ticket to another universe.

For some reason, Dave thought it was completely ludicrous. It was like a jigsaw puzzle with pieces from several different boxes. Precariously leaning to one side, it was held together by little more than duct tape, hope, and cartons of chewing gum.

No doubt my old shop teacher was thrashing in his grave. Come to think of it, if he were a zombie, was there some zed just spinning in circles somewhere?

That would have allowed… something. Who cared how it worked? Whether or not it worked was the real question.

A feeling of accomplishment struck, and it was no mystery what it meant. The machine was finally finished, and the realization struck me like a hammer to the kneecap.

After all this time, after far too many excursions for random junk, this was it. There was plenty of excited shaking, and there may have also been some gleeful squealing.

I regretted nothing. Like, done done? Unable to talk, I nodded fervently and began the last bit of tweaking. It may have been complete, but these things always needed a little bit of extra love.

Go pack some supplies, and I mean more than just food and whiskey. Another wide grin cracked my lips.

Dave knew we were going somewhere, but he'd never gotten a straight answer when he'd asked me where. We get to see ponies!

You know, like the television show that it is. Or the Imperium. I want a better life, not more hopelessness.

You could bring up any theory you wanted on alternate universes, and there'd always be someone with a counter-argument.

This would work; I could feel it alongside the unfamiliar taste of hope. Together, they kind of tasted like snozzberries. Shit, what are the coordinates?

The microwave was ready to go, its display brightly showing a sequence of numbers and symbols the appliance had no business knowing. But this is far beyond that.

This delusion of yours is so completely off-the-wall crazy, bonkers, ludicrous. Whatever you want to call it, how can this possibly work?

Well, unless I have to buy horse armor. You've held on this long, but we both know your luck can't last forever. Best case scenario: it works like you expect it to.

Now shut up and let me work. My instruments stared back at me, eager to play their mechanical melody.

Debate going to find a hula girl doll. Nothing says 'please don't explode' like a plastic dancer. The music player filled the air with an appropriate tune while the microwave—the expedition to retrieve that son-of-a-toaster-oven was barely worth it—sparked over the tinfoil origami crane within.

A few pregnant moments passed with crushing gravitas; the tension was so thick I could have almost reached out and slapped it for being so dramatic.

Rule two: jiggle the cord. Arcs of electricity ran up and down every bit of the machine, the paper components evaporating in little puffs of flame.

Various diodes blinked on and off, and one flashed plaid instead of the usual bright green. Fluorescent bulbs throughout the stronghold shattered, and an unearthly hum filled the air as the music distorted.

The Slinky matrix began to spin, my decision to grab the metal ones proving better and better. They each glowed a radiant blue or red as mysterious energy coursed through them, simultaneously disintegrating and reinforcing them.

The plasma Slinkies increased in speed, the red and blue combining into a shining purple as they began to cut through the fabric of space and time.

The whole room had become strangely dark, and the only light came from the machine. The room may have gone dark when all the lights blew out, but it was still brighter than the abyss before me, its edges redefining what was previously black.

How the hell did that actually work? I-I think you just broke science. Even though it had been me to stress urgency, I took a moment to gaze at the open doorway, almost hoping one of the many survivors from the past would come stumbling through and tell me they only faked their death to escape a tax collector.

This was it. This was the end of my life on that decaying rock. How many other humans were still alive anyway? Two years without a single trace didn't leave my hopes very high.

I'd tried to keep them from dying. I'd tried to find more. But only a figment of my imagination and I stood in the darkened room. Despite my best efforts, I was alone, and the guilt was like a knife.

If my regrets fought any dirtier, they would have kicked me in the groin while shielding themselves with an orphan. My pack hung heavy on my shoulders while heavy steps marched me toward my last hope.

Suddenly, I tripped over what must have been missed clutter, falling into the portal with the grace of an upside-down blimp and flailing boldly where no man has flailed before.

Introducing the revised chapter one! In my opinion, this is much better and fits more smoothly. Plus there're explosions. I have colored Dave's text brown as a reminder he is imaginary, and his dialogue can't be heard by people other than the protagonist.

Even though there are only two speakers in this chapter, I colored them for the sake of consistency in later chapters.

If there is a different color you feel would be more appropriate, voice your opinion and your reasons.

Through the blackened abyss I floated, surrounded by an oppressive nothingness beyond anything my wildest nightmares could have conjured.

I couldn't breathe, but it mattered not. Whatever this place was, it had its own rules. Every benign sensation I'd taken for granted—temperature, light, even the general feeling of having an area around me—was absent, like existence itself took a sick day to sit on the couch and play video games.

Describing that bleak plane as completely empty would have been a lie. While there was nothing in the environment for my body to interact with, I was far from alone.

Alien thoughts crowded my mind, spilling over into the rest of my body like a fire hose filling a thimble. Hundreds of thousands of millions of words, sounds, and emotions—most of which made as much sense as a dog trying to talk while gargling mouthwash—formed ideas, opinions, facts, and every other manner of information.

The few scraps in a recognizable language burned brightly in my mind like the business end of a white-hot brand. Every cell in my body wailed in agony, vast quantities of data forced into things not meant to store knowledge.

It threatened to overwhelm and wash me away like a sand castle before a tsunami. For the first time in as long as I could remember, I was worried building that device had been a mistake.

If there was no escape, how long would it take me to perish? Would this place even let me die? Which of the thoughts running through my head were my own?

Something was tearing, but it was unknown whether it was me or something in the environment. I just needed to hold on and keep it together.

My head bobbed in the waves of eternity, struggling to stay afloat for just a few more moments. It was like taking on Godzilla with a pocket knife, and I could feel myself fading as I lost the fight.

And then I fell. Whatever force had assaulted me now tenuously clung like a film, slowly weakening as the void grew distant behind me.

The steep slope my body tumbled down was rockier than the Rockies and so tall that other hills asked if it played basketball.

Each impact forced the invading thoughts further from my mind, like beating a rug with a switch to cleanse it of dust. It was only trading one pain for another, but the thorough bashing was like a trip to the sauna compared to wherever I'd just been.

Fortunately, the thorny underbrush had grown tired of amateur gymnastics and sacrificed a few brave bushes to slow me down.

A very solid tree rudely interrupted what was supposed to be a gradual stop. Slowly, the throbbing degraded into a moderate ache, allowing me to feel the weirdness behind the pain.

And I'd been blinded! No, wait, eyes were still closed, my bad. After remembering how eyelids worked, they were forced open, and the freakish brightness of everything punched me in the face.

It was like a tactical nuke hit a Crayola factory. What did Kansas look like anyway? I puffed a lock of hair out of my face and peered around.

A near-straight line of disturbed terrain marred the hillside, leading to a large hole in some brush and then to my position.

After seeing the size of the hill, it was mentally reclassified as a midget mountain. At least I thought they were oak; willow, birch, and pine looked different enough, but everything else was just oak to me.

At any rate, they could break a tumble like a champ. The dark, errant lock returned with a vengeance only to be met with another puff of air.

It took a few moments more than it should have to realize black was not the same color as the filthy brown that should have been bothering me.

Reaching for the hair, the not-as-surprising-as-it-should-have-been hoof and muzzle, which should have been noticed much sooner, came to my attention at the same time.

My brain should have pointed out the muzzle sooner. It was like I'd needed to see my body before I could realize something felt off. My first reaction was to chuckle and shake my head.

Of course I was a pony—that's just how the universe gets its kicks, right? Oh look, another human, better flip a coin… yep, make him a pony.

I could handle this. It was more upsetting that my first action in this new body was face-checking an entire hillside. My old body was battered, bruised, and scarred; this was like driving a new car off the lot and over a cliff.

Maybe it was some sort of quarantine. Had I seriously been sixty-three'd? Maybe the universe was upset losing my hands didn't freak me out more and decided to kick the discomfort up a notch.

An awkward act of contortion allowed me to get a good view of just how much had been changed. Creepy crawlies in general don't give me the heebie-jeebies, however, an arachnid with the same size and number of limbs as a tabby taped to a calico scuttling an arm—er, foreleg's length away from my brand-spanking-new rear end did not fall into this category.

I didn't know how to move on four legs or move as a quadruped in general, but that didn't stop me from clumsily launching myself into another tree.

The BFS stared back at me, matching my glare murderous thought for murderous thought. Or was that confusion in its beady eyes?

No, it was obviously trying to lure me into a false sense of security. It was definitely standing like it was going to pounce. Stomping would have taken too much coordination, but flailing limbs after a return leap proved rather effective.

Just a species and gender swap and an oversized tarantula? You're supposed to send timberwolves or a manticore, not a spider.

Then again, what self-respecting fantasy world didn't? I thought so. Give me a moment to rest and I'll get out of this forest. Throw what you want at me—I can take it—but I swear, if I detect any contrived shipping, I will gut you with a spork.

The entire body swap was just another thing to deal with, and a fair, if unusual, trade for not having to deal with zombies anymore.

I could handle it. Just had to keep moving forward and not think about it too much. As soon as the shaking stopped, I could get going.

While trying to straighten my thoughts, I looked over my new body. My barrel, covered in light steel-grey fur with a dusting of blue, rose and fell steadily as I caught my breath.

Four trusty spider-stompers colored the same as my coat wiped leftover ichor on the grass. Behind me swished a tail so deep a blue it was almost black, like what I first thought my mane to be.

My hair—or mane as I might have needed to start calling it—wasn't done up in any particular style unless you count the leaves and twigs ensnared within as some sort of natural-chic style.

You made me adorable! I would have preferred an orangish coat though. No elegant wings adorned my back, and no spiraled horn jutted from my forehead, meaning my species was stuck on the earth-pony setting.

Instead of disappointment over the lack of superpowers, there was only a drunk giddiness. Here I was, as a pony in the pony motherland—at least, I really hoped it was Equestria.

The discussion with Dave came to mind. The forest chirped and buzzed around me, welcome sounds of nature making my new ears twitch to and fro reflexively.

There was no control over which way they turned, and it was driving me nuts. Something was missing though. No, something other than my manhood.

I was looking forward to seeing how he would react. After futily pondering how one could misplace an imaginary acquaintance, I relaxed into the grass with a sigh and shrug.

Note to self: shrugging feels weird as a pony. My first guess was the exit portal had dropped me into the infamous Everfree Forest, because how many other forests do dimensional travelers find themselves in?

However, nothing about the trees and bushes radiated malice, and no beastie had seen fit to chase me off a cliff, nor had I stumbled across a wayward Crusader or foraging zebra.

Maybe that was putting a little too much faith into knowledge built entirely off a television show and enough fan-written material to rival the Ancient Library of Alexandria, but it beat being completely clueless.

No sense worrying about things though. Nope, plenty of worse things than having your body replaced. After all, becoming a pony was far better than staying on Earth or dying.

If some cosmic force was trying to punish me, they were doing a terrible job of it aside from my recent tumble. At that point, a wonderful idea of how to dull the last vestiges of pain popped up.

It was an ancient method my people had used for hundreds of years: drink half a bottle of whiskey. All I had to do was find that pesky backpack and kill a few brain cells.

I sighed, guessing it ended up in the same place as my clothes. I never liked pants that much anyway, and I was far more concerned about the lack of booze.

No supplies, no Dave, and no convenient mp3 player that had never been packed but should have ended up here anyway.

There was no point in worrying about Dave; after all, it wasn't like there was anything that could hurt him, but that crowbar was defenseless!

It was no doubt floating in that—a pained and all-too-clear memory of the void set me shuddering.

My aching limbs cried out in protest as I tried to get comfortable, nipping that idea in the bud. I needed a damage report.

System diagnostic complete. Results: Shit hurts, take some pills! It was time to limp aimlessly in hopes of finding a place to recuperate.

Probably Ponyville, as was customary in these situations. Turned out standing up while sober did not involve flopping onto your side while swearing.

It also does not involve faceplanting, which hurts far more when you have a muzzle. Forests had been boring back on Earth. Here, the forests were still boring, but at least they were colorful.

It was strange hearing the sounds of life again. Even the spiders and flies had been absent back home, but I knew they were here, waiting to drop into my mane.

My hearing was noticeably better; it was like swiveling spy equipment atop my head twitched to every snapping twig or singing bird. Everything had a smell so fresh that any laundry detergent would be jealous.

Hot damn did I feel good. I hopped over a small creek, exhilarated at the lack of stumbling and how great I had been feeling ever since the pain faded to even more ignorable levels.

I eagerly quickened my pace to a brisk trot. A beat of hooves crushing dry leaves accompanied me, drawing forth some humming.

I lost myself in it as the forest stretched on. Resistance to the forest's beat was futile. The urge to sing was becoming impossible to ignore.

The situation made it hard to think of lyrics to the music attacking my ears, forcing itself out of my mouth:.

I gallop along, singing this song Marvelling in the wonder Passing a road, not a care in the world Not realizing my blunder.

Walking backwards in a daring feat of coordination, I found myself on a wide dirt road that stretched in both directions to a leafy singularity.

Here and there it curved slightly to dodge the odd tree. I was earnestly surprised to find myself alone on an apparently busy road.

In one direction, the sky was clear save a lone cloud. It was so fluffy! If my brain would focus, we needed to figure out where we were going… but yes, it was the fluffiest cloud ever.

A large mountain claimed the other horizon, and a grand castle sparkled from its side. I was more than ready to see other ponies and hopefully not get arrested for hugging a few.

No, definitely the first one. That brought up some troubling thoughts. What would I do? How easy would it be to get a job in a city like Canterlot?

Throw in the tendency of ponies to perform musicals at the drop of a hat and the changeling invasion from the end of season two, and you had many good reasons to vacation elsewhere.

Maybe it was better to slowly ease back into contact with society. I gruffly nodded and about-faced.

Just in time too; all that reasoning was making me uncomfortable. I honestly didn't expect to get another chapter out this quickly, so please don't take this as a reliable timeframe of when to expect new chapters.

I write when I have the words, and sometimes they like to hide under the fridge. This chapter turned out much smoother and far more satisfying in my opinion.

I had reigned in the humor slightly in the first chapter as a sort of parallel to the Earth he was in. I don't plan on going deeply into the 'now female' thing as the hero views it as just another detail on the new body.

Now for my question to you readers: Do you think I overdid it with the italics? I meant to have them represent the thoughts to herself or himself depending on how far in you are , but I was feeling as if I may have overdone it.

I had covered a great amount of distance easier than I would have with two legs used to sprints instead of marathons, yet the day was starting to take its toll.

Good to see you again though, Dave. This is a bit too much for me to handle. And why are you being so pleasant? Are you alright? It tasted like, well, a flower.

The stem had a bit of a snap to it—halfway between celery and crisp lettuce—and the yellow petals were delicate, soft things I wouldn't have noticed if they didn't give the whole thing a slightly sweet, bitter flavor.

There was no strange, mysterious flavor only us leaf-munchers were privy to, just what a flower should have tasted like. My tastebuds bickered between each other like school-children.

Hell, you just ate a flower. I am a herbivore now, you know. Great, I just realized that means no more bacon. Haycon or something.

Would have to be something pretty powerful to make someone hate bacon, and that excuse would probably work here. But no, not really.

How did you even manage that? He nodded and followed alongside me. My legs ached to run again, but I was genuinely worried about Dave; it was a feeling more bizarre than being a pony.

He limped slightly, and I noticed him rub the back of his neck a couple times, wincing each time he did so. Curious about the time, I looked up at the sun.

Surprisingly, I could actually look at this sun without frying my retinas. Maybe it was the same reason as why it needed to be raised by Celestia in the first place.

How do you even know that was Camelot? I doubt the show got every last detail correct. He struggled not to laugh.

You have no idea how adorable it is when a pony makes a facial expression. An exasperated sigh escaped his lips as he stopped and leaned on me for support, throwing an arm across my withers.

Just as I was about to ask again, he spoke weakly. It hurts just to think about it. Nothing was. Digesting what I had just heard kept me silent.

Dave had remained stone-faced through all sorts of horrors back on Earth. His mouth had been a straight line as I executed, as an act of mercy for a bitten friend, the last human I would ever see.

The path was as long as a freeway and nearly as straight. I could only imagine how the planning went:. And then they would have a song number and everyone would learn a valuable lesson about questioning their crazy boss.

What, am I supposed to break down into a sobbing mess because the universe stole my penis and turned me into a herd animal? Being concerned about a drastic change to your identity has nothing to do with prejudice.

Did you have any idea this would happen when you were putting that machine together? The device wasn't the cause though, I know that much.

I have no idea how much longer it would have taken to gather everything if I had to factor that in as well.

My hooves tangled momentarily as I considered his question, but remaining upright was a matter of reflex by now.

His question made me realize how alien my own body felt. The feeling of my missing fingers was almost present from the memory of them alone, but no phantom sensation actually plagued me.

It was as if what I remembered of them was nothing but a fanciful dream. Locomotion was easy once you found the rhythm, and it felt like I was moving on four legs instead of two legs and arms.

That's not to say my arms had gone the way of my absent digits; it was more like they'd been repurposed. The most off-putting parts of the transformation would either have to be the weight hanging off the end of my spine or the constantly twitching and highly emotive ears.

Those things were going to drive me insane if they kept swivelling towards every chirp and rustle. The bronze medal went to the new parts rubbing against each other with every movement.

Static might end up being a problem though, especially if wool was a popular textile. Different, I guess. He grumbled to himself over my lackluster answer, massaging his eyes with a shaky hand.

Those voices tell you what to do next? Still don't trust them, but look around. They produce results.

A correction against the hunches being called voices almost snapped at him, but was cut off with a snort. My words died at the realization of how relatively quiet things had been inside my head.

At first, the trip and the body switch were the only factors contributing to the myriad of awkward sensations. The more the quiet plagued me, the more obvious it became something was missing.

That enigmatic guardian I'd grown used to trusting was nowhere to be found. There would be no more last-second impulses to pull me out of the fire.

I think they're gone. Enjoy the ponies, but I'm out of here? That's… suspicious, to say the least. It was like running a tongue over the spot a stubborn piece of food used to claim.

And don't you dare say 'because ponies. I actually needed to stop walking to ponder what he meant by that.

A hornet's nest of thoughts buzzed around my skull, each piece of information struggling to find a parking spot only to have it snatched away by a raging soccer mom in a crowded minivan.

Suddenly, it dawned on me. The sound of a hand meeting a face came from my rider. If any had made it, I mean. Do you really think most of them would be okay with showing up here even if they didn't get smacked with the change-stick as much as you?

Either way, I like it here, even if you're the only one to share it with me. It just feels like there's more to it. Pondering everything Dave had said earlier kept me occupied as I plodded on.

I was going to be pissed if I had to learn new names for everything. A new language? Forget it. Bye then, I guess.

Thoughts of an actual meal prevented it from being anywhere close to filling. After a totally-and-completely-justified shout of panic, I frowned at the little speck of damp earth and its brethren that soon followed.

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