Nothing prepares him for death.
Not reading about it.
Not thinking about it--and they've been doing a lot of thinking about it. Hard not to when bodies pile up and you can't do anything to stop them.
Not writing the specifics down. Who? Stiles Stilinski. Where? A dimly lit veterinarian’s office. How? Ritual drowning. Ice water laced with mistletoe. Spells chanted in ancient Gaelic. Lydia’s hands on his shoulders. Why? To save his father and Allison’s father and Scott’s mother and--most likely-- the entire town. At a cost, of course. When is anything free?
Nothing prepares him for death. But at least he can understand it. Death is heavy weights and black velvet. Death is turning to stone and melting and exploding into a million pieces all at once. It’s like the water filling your lungs is air and you can't breathe but you can breathe and everything slows down and time stretches longer, thick and viscous, like the bubble gum he stole out of Scott’s mouth when they were ten and stretched to arms length before the middle thinned out and there were two sticky pieces in his fingers--before and after. Are and were.
He can't pinpoint the exact moment he died, but he can't pinpoint the exact moment he falls asleep each night, or the exact moment Scott became more than his best friend, or when lycanthropy became mundane either.
He thinks it’s better that way.
He remembers coming back. He remembers because it hurts. Breathing hurts, like his ribs aren’t accustomed to expanding for his lungs, and his lungs aren’t used to being filled with air. Everything feels too sharp and too bright and muffled at the same time. He thinks he can hear someone--a girl, Lydia? -- saying his name, but he can’t make out the words.
"I think he's breathing! Oh my god, he's breathing! Okay, okay," Definitely Lydia. Something is put under his nose, pungent and bitter. It burns but it eases his chest. His ribs stop protesting each breath. "Stiles, can you move your fingers? Toes?"
He tries, but everything feels stiff and unused, turned from skin to stone to skin again. He tries again and he feels his index finger creak more than he feels it move, but it’s something.
He thinks he can hear Deaton’s calm voice and Isaac, who sounds worried, anxious. "Allison she-- she's not--"
He opens his eyes.
Nothing prepares him for death -- but nothing prepares him for coming back, either.
People don't come back from the dead. It’s a rule, written in the cosmos. Or so he thought. Then Peter Hale happened, crawling back to life from the reflected power of a March moon. And this.
Stiles wonders if the hard-and-fast rule only applies to humans. But then, he's human. And Allison’s human. Maybe you could only come back if the cost was enough. A big enough bribe to convince Charon to let you back over the river Styx.
He doesn’t think about his mother.
Deaton didn't tell them about the stiffness. Stiles remembers his grandmother, years ago, complaining about her old bones. Their bones are old now too. Somehow in the forty seconds he could legally be declared dead, his bones seized up and he aged forty years.
He felt fragile before--without Scott’s claws and Allison’s bow he always had felt weak--but that was a delicate fragility. Like his skin could get ripped and he'd bleed out. Now it was a different kind of fragile, like an old manuscript. Like if he was left out in the wind too long he'd weather away into dust.
It’s funny, because Stiles has always been a little afraid of dying. He’s never really wanted to leave, not without saying goodbye, and his last words were about Scott’s father. Not what he'd wanted to say. Not a goodbye, not the words he’s almost too afraid to admit to himself. It was going to be a last ditch effort, and he was going to do it, wasn’t going to back out this time. Not like the time Stiles had woken up with Scott’s head on his chest and felt his heart clench. Not like the time Scott had almost lit a puddle of gasoline on fire, with himself in it--brother had worked well enough.
Except something in Scott’s eyes—leaving him alone with that would have been too terrible. So he warned Scott about his dad instead, and felt his heart break a little again, and he promised himself if they both woke up, he’d tell him.
He sits on the floor, a mountain of blankets on his shoulders, and Scott presses into his side. Allison is across from them, and they make a little triangle. They sit in silence, communicating only through shared glances and shrugs. Stiles can tell Lydia and Isaac want to break the silence--they're hovering. Isaac keeps reaching for them and stops with his arm outstretched. He turns and brings another blanket, offering it wordlessly to Allison. She puts half of it on Stiles' legs, and pulls the rest over her lap.
Deaton brings them a glass of something that looked like cider, but when Stiles asks what it was, he just says "It'll help," and walks away.
Cryptic bastard. And he's the one who's supposed to be teaching Stiles about the whole emissary thing. Who knew going to find a dead body would end up with him being an advisor to werewolves?
Almost like Scott could hear, he says, "He's a good teacher. You’ll learn."
It was the first time Scott has spoken. His voice sounds rough and unused, like it did sometimes when they would sleep until the late afternoon sun filtered through the window after a night of soda and video games. Stiles can’t manage a smile, but he puts a hand on Scott’s thigh and says softly, "I’ll try."
The not-cider, whatever it is, tastes like cinnamon and honey and warms his chest from the inside. He feels less like a former hunk of dead flesh and more like Stiles again. He looks at Allison and can see the grey color fade from her neck, even as she pulls the blankets closer around her.
"At least this stuff's good," he says, raising the cup. The joke falls flat, but at least it is something. He can see Lydia relax, just a little, and it’s enough.
Allison doesn't smile, but she lightens, and Stiles feels like she wants to be okay again.
He wonders if okay is as good as it gets.
It’s not a fight without casualties, but then, this wasn't much of a fight. Scott’s eyes burn red now, and he has his pack. Half of them are human, and apparently Lydia’s a banshee, and Stiles isn't sure if it constitutes a werewolf pack at all, but it's theirs.
They’ve never really played by the rules.
Scott and Allison get it. They get the feeling in his heart, how the sky is tinged grey and he always feels tired. No rest for the wicked, or the reconstituted, apparently.
No one feels like smiling -- not like they were doing much of it anyway, with the murders and abductions and darachs and alpha packs. It’s hard to smile when you're constantly worried someone you love is going to get taken, eaten, bitten, killed. That you're going to find them bloody and broken and dead, and you couldn't do anything to stop it.
It isn’t really darkness. No, it’s a constant buzzing. He can tune it out easily enough when there are things to distract him, but nights are hard. Stiles has never been good at leaving scabs unpicked, and this would never heal quite right.
There’s a gravitas to Scott’s movements now, a sense of purpose, power. There’s strength in him, the upturn of his chin, the weight of his stance. He looks like a leader, an old general, worn down with deaths of his comrades and the length of the fight. A fight he knows will never end. Something in Stiles wants to take the weight off of Scott’s shoulders, ease his burden a little, to whisper, "you are not Atlas". But his arms aren't strong enough, and Scott wouldn't let him, anyway.
Allison doesn't like to let him see, but sometimes Stiles catches her staring into space, chin in her hand, and she looks hopeless until she catches him watching. She smiles and Stiles can tell it's a little forced. He tries to say, "It's alright, I get it," from across the room, but she's not quite as fluent in Stiles' Facial Expressions-ese as Scott is, but her lip twitches, and he thinks she understands just fine.
Stiles drives Scott home after school the next day, and it's almost like old times, before the bite, before anything. It’s a cruel nostalgia, because it looks the same, but it never can be. The things they've done can't be undone.
He isn't sure if he would undo them if he could.
He grabs two cokes and a bag of chips and pushes them across the table to Scott. Scott stands there, doesn't move, until one of the cans almost falls off the table. Reflexes take over and Scott catches it and sets it down on the counter. He's staring at it like he could get answers if only he looks hard enough at the condensation beading across the lip.
"Dude, it's soda. Not canned Confucius"
And Scott looks up at Stiles and something changes in his eyes. It’s like he's seeing Stiles for the first time in a long time, too long. Stiles remembers the time when Scott went to summer camp for a week when they were eleven. And it was the first time they'd been apart for longer than a day. He remembers how his father said it was good for them to be apart. He remembers how it felt like he lost something and couldn't get it back. He remembers counting the hours until Scott would come back. How he was afraid something would be different afterwards. Scott looks like that--like they've been separated for too long but they haven't. They’ve barely been apart since everything ended.
Scott crosses the space between them and he’s hugging Stiles like his life depended on it, like somehow holding Stiles would hold him together too.
"Dude, hey, Scott--I've got to breathe," because Scott’s still a wolf, and even though he's careful he's still got more strength humming beneath his skin than Stiles can handle and sometimes it leaks through.
Scott releases him a little, but his arms stay on Stiles' waist, and their foreheads are touching. It’s closer than they've been; there's more weight behind it. An I need you and don't let go, please, don't let me drift into this darkness alone
"It’s okay Scott, it’s okay, we’ll be okay" Stiles doesn't like how his voice breaks. How it catches on the words, like it doesn't believe them. He doesn’t, not really, but he wants to. More than anything he wants to.
"That’s what I’m afraid of, that we'll be okay, that I’ll get used to it. That I’ll forget what I did, what we did."
Stiles can see Scott’s walls crumbling. He's put more up recently--Stiles has lost his all-access pass--and it hurts, but he's been digging around the foundations and dying has shaken Scott. There are cracks forming and Stiles wants to tell him he's got cement and a trowel, that it's all right. You can let me in. you don't have to be brave for me. I’ll love you anyway. I’ll trust you anyway, even if you're scared. Especially if you're scared, because then I know I’m not the only one.
Stiles pulls him closer for it. It’s a hug, a human hug, soft edges and love and before and Scott sinks into it. "It isn't the kind of thing you forget."
"I don't want to"
"I won't let you," Scott's face is so close, and Stiles can't really find the words. Usually he's good with words, or at least filling the space with them. He can say a lot of things and not really say anything at all. He dances at the edge of those important things, flirts with it, teases it, but never crosses it. So he's learning to speak with silence, with touches and smiles, and let the big empty space rest.
He’s finding there are things are too big for words, anyway. And this--Stiles has been fighting for so long and he can't any more. Dying’s made a lot of things more real. Like Scott, in front of him, beautiful and broken and trying to hide it because he needs to be strong for his mom, for Isaac, for Lydia, for Allison, for Stiles. Stiles loves him for it, and hates him for it. He knows Scott’s nobility is going to kill him one day, and something dark twinges in Stiles' gut.
But Scott is here and now and no one's in danger and words won't come so Stiles kisses him, softly, cautiously. He pulls away before Scott can reject him and looks, searching for something--validation? Disgust? I-just-want-to-stay-friends? But then Scott’s lips are on his, more insistent, his fingers holding the back of Stiles' head closer to him.
Scott kisses with tenderness and insistence. Scott kisses like he can only breathe with Stiles, like Stiles is air and Scott’s sinking beneath the waves. Scott kisses like he's got nothing left.
And Stiles kisses back. Stiles kisses like the only thing he wants is here and now and their mouths together. And the moment stretches like the bubble gum he stole from Scott’s mouth when they were ten and Stiles doesn't want it to break.
Stiles wakes, panting heavily, phantom screaming still in his ears. His phone is ringing. He checks it, blearily--2: 48 AM.
"Allison?" He tries to calm his breathing, but he doesn’t know if it’s working. He doesn’t remember much, just terror and pain and darkness.
There's a moment of hesitation, like she doesn't know whether calling him was a good idea or not and Stiles thinks she’s about to hang up. Like she doesn't know if she can admit this. He can hear her breathing on the line. He runs a hand through his hair and counts to ten, again and again, and again.
"Allison?" It's softer this time, more reassuring. He’s almost glad it’s that indiscriminant time between midnight and dawn, that they can’t see each other. You can tell people things in the dark, because the darkness will keep your secrets.
It's almost funny that they're here, repeating each other's name, questioning. It wouldn’t be like that with Scott. Scott is easy--they've been Scott-and-Stiles since they were old enough to know what best friends were. But Allison? Allison has been tangled up in Scott since the beginning and they’ve never really had time alone. There was some jealousy at first, with how easily she and Scott fell together, then anger, and then somewhere he’d forgiven her and got over himself and realized.... he wasn’t even sure what conclusion he’d come to.
There’s a part of him that knows she could gut him and pull his insides out without a second glance, but the bigger part of him knows she wouldn’t, that she would never.
“Allison? I could do this all night--er morning? Is it morning?”
There’s a noise at the other end of the line that Stiles hopes is a smile. It might be. She’s quiet for another moment before she speaks.
“I just….It’s like I’m missing something and I can't tell what it is and that's the scariest part. I don't know what I’ve lost. What if it's important?”
Stiles doesn’t tell her that he’s frightened of that too. It feels like parts of him are getting blurred and distorted and he hopes that they’re not the good parts, because hes not sure which ones they are.
“It’s okay….I think. I mean it’s not, but it has to be, right? We have to be okay.”
Her voice is small and tinny through the speakers when she says, “Yeah, we do. But I don’t know if I want to be.”
“Why don’t you tell me something?”
“Something, I don’t know, a story, like…I convinced Scott to climb that tree in my backyard when we were ten and he fell out and broke his wrist, but when his mom asked what happened he didn’t blame me. Said it was his idea. Still don’t think she believed him, but….”
“He did. So. Story.”
And Allison tells him about the time when she was ten and living in Washington D.C. and dragged her father between gymnastics practices to see all of the panda sculptures and how there was one covered in sunflowers and that was her favorite.
Stiles pulled the covers up to his chin, even though he knew they'd be on the floor in the morning, and thinks he might love Allison too.
School’s hard enough but at least he can share a look with Scott and Lydia during English and they get it. Scott gets it most. There’s the same dullness in his eyes.
Scott said, once, that it's like the quote Ms. Blake sent them in the beginning of the year, that they're staring into a heart of darkness now. Stiles rolls his eyes and says, "Well isn't that fucking poetic."
He wonders if she knew, or if she suspected, or if it was just their luck.
He starts sitting next to Allison during their one shared study hall. He helps her with physics. She helps him with a paper on feudal Europe, helping him narrow down his thesis and marking when he starts to meander off-topic. She bites her lip when she’s deciding whether or not a particular sentence is necessary. Her handwriting is neat and sure and her notes are deft and brief, in her own sort of short hand. She passes the paper over to him and he starts reading over he comments, chewing on the tip of his pen.
"My dad made me read the entire Argent history last summer," she says, pen in hand. "You know, the feudal system--it's almost like a pack. The lord--alpha--offers protection to the weaker members in return for loyalty."
"Does that make Scott our lord? Or does being the True Alpha make him king?" Scott would love that
She smiles, warm and bright. It makes him feel light inside, like he could float away and he'd like to keep that feeling forever. Stiles sees why Scott loves her so much. He’s been trying on the word love for a while, doesn’t know yet if it’s the right one. He thinks it might be, though.
He smiles back and she bites her lip and there's something in the air but she breaks it by grabbing a pencil from her purse and asking him to go over her kinetic equations.
Scott and Stiles tried to go through the door to their business class at the same time two periods later. They collide in a shuffle of backpacks and arms and they both back up at the same time.
"After you, my liege," Stiles says, motioning for Scott to go first.
Scott looks at him, a wordless question in his eyes.
It's been three weeks; three weeks of almost nothing and Stiles can feel Scott’s on edge, waiting for something--anything--to snap the fragile peace.
Allison hops in the passenger seat of the jeep and Scott trails behind and they go to the hospital. And the sheriff's office. And Allison’s apartment. It’s three weeks and nothing's happened, and their parents are all still alive, but Stiles has to swallow down nerves every time he walks into his dad's office, has to stop himself from calling when his dad isn’t home on time. He wonders if there will be a day he's not relieved to see his father. He wonders if he's ever going to stop worrying.
They get to Allison’s apartment; her father's out getting milk, but he left a note, and answered his phone when Allison calls him. Stiles can see Allison’s trembling lip when it takes him a few rings to pick up, and the relief when he answers. She makes casual conversation, but it's still tight. Her father hasn't really accepted what they've done. He thought it was too risky, said that he would have gotten out of it. Allison didn't believe him, and they'd fought about it, fought about a lot of things from the tightness of her voice when she mentioned it.
“We have a new code, now,” she had said. And they both knew what that meant.
Their parents are alive and Scott leads the way to Allison’s room. He sits on the corner of her bed and Scott lies down next to him. Their fingers end up tangled together. They’re touching more now, and sometimes Scott sneaks through his window and curls behind him and presses his mouth to Stiles’ neck. Stiles always sleeps better when Scott’s there.
Allison comes in and Stiles can tell she's trying to hide tears, but he can feel her sadness and worry too. He opens his arms, and steps toward her, offering. He’d like to ask first and she nods and lets him hug her. She curls into him and he never thought that Allison would make him feel strong. Stiles can feel Scott behind them, and a little to the side, arms holding them both.
They stand there, and Stiles can't tell if it's minutes or hours--death kind of screwed over his mental clock--and it’s not that the darkness goes away but it becomes more bearable. Allison whispers "Thanks,” and pulls away and the collar of Stiles’ shirt is slightly damp and she bites her lip and apologizes. He squeezes her hand and kisses her forehead briefly.
He wonders if that's all right, if that's allowed, but she kind of smiles and he says, "Don't kill me for that. Not again,” because jokes are easy, he can do jokes, that way no one has to take him too seriously. And he’s learned that some spaces need silence but others need lightness.
She laughs, and Stiles guesses that he was okay. Allison’s always been harder to read than Scott. She keeps her cards close and her feelings closer, and Stiles doesn't have as much experience with her nuances. He doesn't know how she takes her coffee, or how concerned he needs to be when her eyebrows twitch and her eyes harden. He’d like to learn, though.
He looks to Scott, because he always looks to Scott, and he’s smiling for the first time in weeks and there’s something in his eyes, grateful and somber, and he kisses him because he’s allowed, and because he forgets, for a second, about Allison. They’ve only done this in darkness and solitude, before. She lets out a soft “oh” and Stiles remembers and pulls away. “You two...” she trails off. But Scott fills it in, ducks his head and looks up at her through his lashes.
“Yeah, unless you...” he moves to brush a piece of hair off her forehead and glances at Stiles, who nods because he knows, and he won’t begrudge Scott this. Scott’s lips twitch and his hand is on Allison’s cheek and she looks to Stiles too before she kisses Scott, soft and familiar.
He tries to look away, but they’re moving together and it’s still so familiar, so practiced. It’s beautiful and Scott looks at her with their foreheads pressed together like she’s a shot of whiskey and home wrapped in one, and Stiles tries not to be jealous.
And then she’s crossing the room and her lips are on Stiles’ and he thinks she tastes like knives and roses. She pulls away and rocks back on her heels a little.
“So do you want to watch a movie?”
They end up tangled in Allison’s bed. She’s curled on top of Scott who has an arm beneath Stiles and is drawing patterns on the skin of his wrists with a fingertip. The credits of some French film that Allison put in with a devious wink are rolling. Stiles is pretty sure she picked the movie because it was dry enough that they spend more time kissing than paying attention, and Stiles thinks he loves her for it.
The music stops and the screen goes bright blue.
Stiles waits a moment, relishes in the comfort and warmth that is Allison’s leg over his calf and Scott’s side against his before, “You make it better.”
"This," Stiles gestures wildly, in the general vicinity of them and his heart, “The darkness.” and Allison smiles a little sadly and kisses Scott’s bare chest and squeezes Stiles’ hand and the moment stretches like bubble gum and Stiles doesn’t want it to break.
Six weeks. They get six weeks of calm, before bodies start piling up, grey and bloodless. Allison’s got a bow and Stiles has books and his jeep and Scott’s got claws and they've got a scar on their hearts and a duty and pack.
They stand together to finish it. It’s shot in the heart and decapitated and now burning. Stiles’ fingers shook with the lighter and he tossed it in and as the corpse goes up in flames he tries not to remember how close Scott was to making himself ash.
The moroi was like them once. It had darkness, and it was sucked into the swirling blackness of it and looked to others to keep it alive, to make it feel whole. It needed others, their life, their light, that it sucked them dry. His fingers shook when he called Scott because it hit close in his chest and for a brief moment he wondered....
Allison leans her head on his shoulders, and Scott’s hands find his and he says, “It’s okay Stiles. You’ve got us.”