The first time Stella heard the name "Stiles"—or at least the first time she remembered hearing it—she was three years old. Precocious as always, her werecoyote hearing was already kicking in. Her mom had taken her to a pack gathering on McCall grounds, which Stella's three-year-old mind found fascinating because she and Mom were Pack and the McCalls were Pack, only she and Mom were werecoyotes and the McCalls were werewolves, well mostly anyway, so they weren't the same pack, but they sort of were, because they were family.
Stella was the only kid in the pack back then. A good five-plus years older than the rest of the next generation, back then, she'd often found she could slip off on her own. The adults all had her in earshot and it was easy to slip away when they all thought someone else was keeping an eye on her.
So, she'd managed to slip away to the tree line, playing hide and seek with her shadow and testing out her supernatural hearing, when she hear Aunt Lydia talking to Cousin Derek.
"—It's just Stiles, you know..." Lydia had said.
"Still?" Derek asked.
"I kept thinking what he would have wanted, and it doesn't feel right."
Derek had shrugged, "You're right. Stiles wouldn't... but I don't really think there's a good option, a better way."
"There never is, is there?" Lydia had asked, her voice breaking.
Cousin Derek's face had gone all funny and his eyes looked weird, and the next thing Stella knew, they were hugging each other, Lydia looking tiny, enveloped in Derek's towering, shaking form.
That's when she'd left. Mom had talked about grown-up time, and this was looking enough like that that Stella was confident she'd get in trouble if she stuck around any longer, so she pushed the conversation to the back of her mind and trotted off in search of songbirds she could track with her awesome super hearing.
It was only later that night, after steaks and pie and baths, when Mom was tucking her into bed, when the conversation came back to her. She'd never heard the word "Stiles" before... at least not said that way. Aunt Lydia's voice had hitched and gotten all breathy when she'd said the word, like saying "Stiles" physically hurt. Cousin Derek had acted so weirdly too. He'd gone all stiff, only not stiff and gruff like he got when he was being cranky and posturing like Mommy said. This was different... it made Stella's chest hurt to look at him and he was so still... when he started shaking, she'd thought he might fall apart.
All the strange emphasis and even stranger behavior had the word "Stiles" floating around in her mind, so when Mom tucked her into bed with Dolldoll and Bear, she'd found herself asking, "Mommy, what's a Stiles?"
Her mom had stopped smoothing the covers abruptly. She blinked, slowly, and turned faintly glowing blue eyes on Stella. "What did you say, baby?"
Mom pulled up, sitting back on her heels. "Where did you hear that?"
Mommy didn't sound mad, but there was something wrong about the way she was acting. Worried she'd made a mistake, Stella backpedaled quickly. "I'm sorry, is that a bad word? I didn't mean to say something bad, like when I heard Uncle Isaac say the 'f-word.' I didn't know what it was, so I asked," she explained hanging her head.
Mom’s expression had changed at that, but more noticeably, her scent shifted, taking on notes of pain and that empty feeling Stella had gotten when she'd lost her first dolly and not even Uncle Scott could bring it back. There was something else in Mom's scent too, a blend of pride and melancholy that it would take Stella at least a decade to figure out. It stuck with her though, grabbing her attention.
"Oh no, baby. It's not a bad word... Stiles is... Stiles was..."
She waited patiently, not quite understanding why it was so difficult for her to answer.
"Stiles is a name. And to different people, it means different things. Some people have a really hard time talking about it and to some people it does mean bad things. So, you've got to be careful who you say it around. You don't want to say it where your Uncle Scott or Sheriff Stilinski could hear, okay?"
"Okay, Mommy," she'd agreed with a nod. She was pretty sure Uncle Scott could hear everywhere though, so she figured it was safer to just not say it. She also kind of wondered if he was mad at Aunt Lydia and Cousin Derek, or if that was why they were talking so quietly and so far away from the house.
As she drifted off to sleep that night she'd spent a long time wondering what kind of person a Stiles was that they would make people respond so strongly and differently. Or why she particularly shouldn't say the name around Uncle Scott or the Sheriff.
She did know he always called her "kiddo," and never Stella, or "Stell," and he always smelled sad when she got to the house, but got happier as the day went on... except sometimes when she'd laugh, or do something, or say something, he'd get so, so sad, it was like a spike of pain tearing through the room. It physically hurt to be around him when that happened. The sheriff seemed to get that though, and he tried not to react.
Stella just felt bad, because she wasn't sure what made him so sad. Maybe if she knew, she could stop doing it.
On one of those weekends, just after her fourth birthday, she was trying to say his name, Stilinski. She'd started out calling him Mr. Sheriff (which had come out more like "meester sheh-woof"), but Mommy had said "Sheriff" was his title, not his name, so Stella was trying to say his name. But "Stilinski" was hard. Her tongue kept getting caught around the consonants, and she slurred the vowels, and it sounded wrong and made her tired. But she wanted to make Mommy—and him—happy. So she kept trying.
They'd just sat down at the kitchen table for a snack, Stella's still-chubby fingers swapping peanut butter on celery for apple juice in a sippy cup, when she decided to try again. "Meester Stilinski—" she started... Only that wasn't what she actually said. The "i" got stretched too long, and she couldn't quite get her mouth around the "n" or the "k." She didn't mean to say it. Didn't even realize what she'd said until his spoon clattered to the table and he looked across at her, eyes wide and unblinking, the air already thick with the acrid stench of hurt-pain-agony.
Stiles. That all-powerful name. And she'd gone and said it around one of the two people Mom had said to never say it around. Funny, she'd never realized how similar it was to "Stilinski." Later, that curiosity would drive her realization, but now she was just wondering what she could do to take it back, to make that pain go away.
"I-I'm sorry," she stammered.
"No, no don't be," Sheriff Stilinski said at last. As quickly as it came, that terrible hurt scent started to dissipate. "Kiddo, you didn't do anything wrong. It's just..." His hands were shaking as he set the spoon next to his soup bowl, but his eyes were crinkling up around the corners like he was about to smile. "I haven't heard that name in a long time."
Stella braced herself to apologize again, but he smiled.
"You can call me..." he hesitated as if he was carefully weighing several options, "You can call me John," he said at last.
"John," she echoed.
Looking back on it, Stella was pretty sure she learned more important things about Stiles in that minute than she did in the next ten years.
As much as Malia Tate aka Malia Hale aka Mommy would have liked to have permanently shifted and lived in a nice, safe, snug den somewhere on the preserve, even she had to admit that lifestyle didn't provide everything she wanted for her child.
Stella needed to learn how to be human and coyote. She needed to learn math and reading and language arts and history... and self-defense, magic, mythology, pack dynamics, and shifting.
So, Stella visited John, and she went to school, and she talked to Melissa in her checkups at the hospital, and she ran with werewolves, did hand-to-hand with hunters, and learned research from a banshee and a kitsune.
The ages of 5 to 15 were all about self-discovery... and pain... and learning all kinds of reasons why werecoyote hearing could be more blessing than curse. In school she learned about local history—the Hale house fire, the Tate accident, the story of Jane Doe of the birds, mountain lion attacks, and sacrificial killings, and unsolved mysteries, and the Sheriff's department bombing.
Of course the teachers had very specific, narrow angles they were allowed to take for curriculum purposes, but that didn't stop the kids. Children were gossip sponges: cliquish, and carefree and petty and utterly without self-censorship. They heard everything and repeated it all without care for consequence, veracity, or propriety.
So Stella heard all about Stiles the serial killer, Stiles the bomber, Stiles the mental patient, Stiles the conspiracy theorist, and Stiles the freak. She also heard about how her mother had been abducted by rabid coyotes and lived in the woods like an animal for years, how John was a failure, and Uncle Scott used to be a dork, how Grandpa Peter was a tragic crime victim, and how Cousin Derek had to be some kind of murderer, if the Police could just catch him, but he seemed to get away with everything.
In short, Stella learned to take everything she heard with a truckload or two of salt. Accurate the gossiping children of Beacon Hills were not.
But that wasn't all she learned or all she heard.
By the time she was seven, she knew John and Uncle Scott had loved him more than life itself. That no matter who he was or what he'd done, he'd left an indelibly positive mark on their lives, and they forever diminished in his absence.
She learned the Sheriff's department thought he'd been a criminal. No amount of tragedy or good name could make up for him taking one of their own.
While Mrs. Yukimura, Aunt Kira's mom, loathed his memory and blamed herself for his death in equal turns.
Mr. Mahealani seemed to think he was an okay guy. No matter what anyone said, he swore Stiles had saved lives.
Uncle Scott's emissary—and boy was that not a secret—smelled like bitter poison whenever Stiles was mentioned. It took Stella until she was 12 to realize Allan actually blamed himself for something that happened even longer ago than all the rest of it. He wouldn't say what, but Stella was pretty sure it had something to do with John and Uncle Scott's mom and Aunt Allison's dad.
There were more snippets, stories, lines. The legends about Stiles and what a horrible (or good) person he was seemed near limitless.
But Stella didn't know what was true. Or why he mattered so much. How one name could have so much power?
Then came the question of who to ask. The old adage about coyotes and wolves not getting along definitely carried over to the supernatural world, but that had never stopped Uncle Scott from dragging Stella and Mom into pack activities.
Still, Stella did find wolves intimidating, and if she was going to ask questions about the biggest secret cum open wound in all of Beacon County, she wanted someone slightly less... scary. Besides foxes and wolves weren't supposed to get along either. It was kind of fitting for a coyote to go to a fox about what were at least partially wolf issues.
So Stella lingered in the McCall kitchen after one Sunday gathering, offering to help Aunt Kira clean up. Aunt Kira was almost as good a chef as her dad and often got talked or bribes into cooking for the masses. The wolves were off doing something wolf-y, Mom and Aunt Allison were sparring out in the yard, and Aunt Lydia was talking with John and Melissa at the other end of the house, so Stella and Kira would be alone with their words.
"You wanna tell me what's bothering you?" Aunt Kira said as she passed Stella a lasagna pan to dry.
Instead of answering, Stella shrugged, and went on drying. It wasn't so much that something was bothering her, more that she had questions, and she thought she wanted answers, but now that she was here she wasn't so sure.
Aunt Kira clucked at her lack of response, and went on unloading the dishwasher. The silence stretched between them, and Stella couldn't figure out how to say it, how to ask. Now that she was here, she wasn't really sure what her question was any more.
The squeak of towel on dish and the periodic clink of plated and clank of plates were the only sounds in the kitchen. Stella was starting to think Aunt Kira was going to let it go: Stella had lost her chance, and she was just going to have to wait until another opportunity presented itself, until she worked up her nerve—
"Okay," Aunt Kira said, setting a stack of dishes on the kitchen island, and squaring her shoulders to Stella. "You obviously want to talk to me about something. You're not exactly subtle you know, waiting for everyone else to leave and then offering to help. You hate kitchen work almost as much as your mom hates spending more than a day without shifting into her fur. So out with it! You go through all this trouble, go ahead and ask."
Stella spent a handful of seconds doing a fair imitation of a fish, before she managed to squeak and stutter out, "I... It—it's nothing. I just wanted to ask... a—about— Oh never mind!" She could feel her face turn red and resisted the urge duck her head and cover her eyes with a paw. She was in human form, so that was impossible, but it didn't stop the phantom sensation of her ear twitching in frustration.
Aunt Kira tilted her head to the side trying to catch Stella's eye. "Is it something to do with your mom? Or... Peter," she asked hesitantly.
"Ugh, no," Stella said with a shudder. She knew more about her biological grandfather than she ever wanted to. No one, not even Cousin Derek who supposedly used to be close to Peter, had any issues about discussing him, especially if it provided an opportunity for a cautionary tale.
"Hmmm..." she murmured, considering. "Well, is it boys? Or girls?"
Stella shook her head.
She shook her head again.
"Are you... feeling uncomfortable being in a werewolf pack? Like... are you wanting to spend time with more werecoyotes? Because if you do, Scott knows a pack up in Del Norte County that would probably love to have you stay for the summer—"
"It's not—" Stella blurted out. "It's not anything like that." She paused, took a deep breath and looked Aunt Kira in the eye. "I want to know about Stiles." She managed to get the words out in one big rush.
Aunt Kira just stared at her for a moment and blinked long and slow.
It had the effect of snapping Stella from her semi paralysis. She shook, realizing that her claws were out and trying to gouge grooves through the granite countertop... she understood now why Uncle Scott was so particular about the kitchen countertops. "I mean I know... well I've heard a lit over the years, and I was wondering who he was to all of you, what he was like, what..."
Mostly she just wanted to know what. What anything? Fifteen years of whispers and secrets and bad reactions and it felt like all she knew were the opinions that mattered least.
"And you decided to ask me?" Aunt Kira asked, pointing at herself with her thumb and sounding more than a little incredulous.
"Well couldn't exactly ask John... or Mom or Uncle Scott... and I'm not really comfortable asking any of the wolves, for that matter. I thought about asking Aunt Allison, but she and Scott are best friends, so that just didn't seem like a good idea. Besides... I think Uncle Isaac might try to eat me if I pissed either of them off."
"Language!" Aunt Kira scolded, but there was no heat in it.
"I mean so, can you? Tell me about him, I mean?" Stella asked hopefully.
It was Aunt Kira's turn to grip the counter so hard her fingers turned white. Her eyes flashed and she turned to Stella and sighed.
"I didn't really know Stiles, not like the others." She didn't have to explain who the others were. "I guess technically he didn't die until a few months after I moved to Beacon Hills, but..."
Aunt Kira trailed off, and for a few seconds Stella thought she wasn't going to answer. But Kira seemed to be searching for words, not ignoring the question.
"By the time I met him, Stiles was already sick and possessed and trying to kill me. He—" her hands fluttered nervously. "He had some lucid moments, a few days even, where he was really Stiles... your mom was around for a few of those," she added with a little nod. "But my impression of him is tainted by things he wasn't... circumstance..." She took a deep breath, held it and let out slowly. "Stella, if you really want to know who Stiles was... what he meant to them. Why Scott is so haunted, why John calls you 'kiddo'... you need to talk to Lydia."
"Lydia?" Stella asked, excited yet uncertain. Because that sounded like a real answer, a real lead, but asking would take courage... After all Lydia was the first person Stella had heard say Stiles' name.
"Yes, Lydia," Aunt Kira echoed, squeezing Stella's hand. "She can tell you what you need to know.
But more than that, this was a decision Stella needed to make, to weigh carefully and decide for herself. Where asking Aunt Kira had been a shot in the dark, a decision driven more by Stella's comfort level and half-assed ideas about who might give her the time of day rather than knowledge that the person she was asking would have the answers. But now... now Stella knew the answers were out there and asking Lydia would give them to her, and Stella had to decide if she really wanted to know. Once she asked there was not taking it back.
There was also a little bit of guilt that this entire quest had started with eavesdropping, when Stella had overheard Lydia saying Stiles's name.
So Stella waited and weighed her options. And one Sunday morning late in September, when she'd had her license long enough for Mom to feel fairly confident letting her drive by herself, Stella drove out to Aunt Lydia's house.
If Lydia was surprised for Stella to show up on her porch at 9am, she didn't show it. "Come on in," Lydia said, beckoning Stella to follow with a wave of her hand. "I'm baking; you can help." Aunt Lydia had taken up baking to help quiet her mind when the dead and dying were being too noisy (or something like that; it was a banshee thing that kind of freaked Stella out). Baking was usually Stella's solitary pursuit, so this was a first for Stella.
When Lydia was elbow deep in dough and Stella was whisking eggs on command, Stella go up the nerve to ask. "Lydia—" she started.
"You want to ask me about Stiles," Lydia finished for her, her voice sounding distant, almost echoing.
Afraid after all the waiting she would be denied, Stella stammered out the first thing that came to mind.
"I know Stiles was my father."
Lydia blinked, long and slow.
"A—and I'm not a kid anymore... you don't need to protect me," Stella added, cringing inwardly as the words left her mouth. What better way to undermine her proclamation than by protesting so much. She could feel the tips of her ears turning red in embarrassment even as butterflies took flight in her belly in nervous anticipation.
"How long have you known?" Lydia asked, setting down the dough and resting her hands against the cool marble countertop.
"I figured it out when I was, um, seven, maybe eight?" Stella admitted thinking back. "I mean the details just seemed to fit. Why John doesn't call me by name... it's too similar to Stiles... and once, when I was little, I slipped up trying to say his name, and it came out as 'Stiles' and he... he looked like he'd seen a ghost. When I found out Stiles was his son, I thought that was it. But he doesn't flinch like that for anyone else. It was because I was saying it. And Mom, encouraging me to spend time with John, even when she would have preferred to pack me up and shift and run off to a den in the woods." She took a deep breath and shrugged, “Once I figured it out, the rest of the pieces kind of clicked into place."
Lydia just stared at her for a moment as if looking through her, or perhaps listening to something Stella couldn't hear.
Stella took deep breaths, steadying herself, knowing instinctively this was her only chance. Aunt Lydia was the gatekeeper, and Stella was being judged. If she was found unworthy...
"Well," Lydia said, her voice curt, blunt, matter-of-fact, but pleased. "You're right about one thing. You aren't a kid anymore, and even if you were, that wouldn't be a reason to keep this from you. In fact, you're just about the same age your father was when this all started..." she made a grand sweeping gesture. "Or at least when we used to think this all started, if there's anything we've figured out over the years, it's that this started a long, long time ago, and we were always probably going to wind up in the middle of it."
Confused, Stella cocked an eyebrow in skeptical curiosity.
"I'm getting ahead of myself," Lydia explained, nodding as if agreeing with someone or something unseen. "You'll understand, in time, but for now you need to know that you're wrong."
"I'm wrong?" How could she be? Hadn't Aunt Lydia just referred to "your father"? It didn't—
"Not about Stiles. Stiles was most definitely your father."
Stella's chest heaved as she sucked in air, heart hammering in her chest. For a moment, it felt like the world had come off its axis, but now, there it was, the truth, confirmed by someone else. Someone who had been one of Stiles's closest friends, if Aunt Kira was to be believed.
"You're wrong that we don't need to protect you, or that you don't need protecting."
Stella started to protest, but Lydia held up a hand to stop her. "Your father believed very strongly in protecting people. He tried to protect me, he tried to protect his dad, Scott, Allison, Isaac, Melissa, even Kira—"
"But I thought he—"
Lydia silenced her with a look.
Stella gulped and bowed her head, nodding for Lydia to continue.
"Stiles protected people. It was what he did. He solved mysteries, put the pieces together, and tried to do good... In a lot of ways he saved your mom."
"And I came out of it," Stella murmured.
"Well actually, you came a little later. Your mom helped Stiles hang onto himself a little longer, to have one la—to have something for himself."
"So what, he used my mom?" she asked, protesting.
"Well, I wasn't there, but it wasn't like that."
"So she used him—"
"They found comfort in each other!" Lydia interrupted.
"Oh god, he really was like Kyle Reese," Stella stammered. "
Lydia frowned, then laughed, looking down at her hands. When she looked back up, her eyes were wet, but she was smiling. "Sometimes—" she shook her head, "sometimes you are so much like him... As far as I know, you're not the savior of humankind, you didn't send Stiles back in time, and last I checked we haven't been attacked by a world-wide network of murderous robots... yet."
"Then help me... help me understand."
"Understand what?" Lydia asked.
"Why everyone's so... weird about Stiles. Why you can laugh about him and say he protected people, yet when you say I'm like him, you look terrified. Why the pack seems to remember him fondly, but nobody will say his name. Why everyone else says he was crazy and a murderer." The words tumbled from Stella's lips before she could stop them. "I—I overheard you once," she admitted. "I was 3 or 4. You were talking to Derek. It was a pack gathering, but you'd gone far away from the house, so Scott might not hear you. You were talking about what Stiles would have wanted... and it just amazed me that this Stiles could make everyone feel... so much. And the more I learn, the less I understand. Stiles killed people."
Lydia shook her head with such certain finality that the words died on Stella's lips. "Stiles never killed anyone. The Nogitsune killed a lot of people, and Stiles fought like hell to stop it, to save those people, protect them. Because that's who he was. He fought and he struggled and he just kept on fighting to the end. Beyond the end. He never gave up. And he stopped it. Gave his life to do it."
"But he was sick and crazy and— and I mean Peter Hale was my grandfather and Stiles was my father, and how do I have any hope of—" A sudden pressure on her arm startled Stella snapping her thoughts out of their downward spiral.
"Stop." Lydia was standing next to her, her movement so instantaneous, Stella looked on in disbelief. "Stop scaring yourself. I know what kind of monster Peter was. I know better than anyone alive."
Stella didn't know the story there, but the truth in Aunt Lydia's words was undeniable.
"You're not him. You're not going to be like him. Just like your mom isn't like him. And as for your father... You're not going to get sick. You're a were... he wasn't. You can't inherit the dementia, and the nogitsune is long dead. Your father gave his life to make sure it would never hurt anyone again. No one else will be lost in that void." Lydia wrapped her arms around Stella, taking Stella's hands in her own.
It was only then that Stella realized she was shaking.
"You know, that day you overheard me and Derek, we were talking about you."
"What?" Stella asked, shaky, sniffling.
"We were talking about what Stiles would want for you. What he would want you to know, and when, and how. It... it tripped us up a little because Stiles always protected everyone, but he also believed very strongly in knowledge, truth, figuring things out, solving mysteries, knowing oneself. We knew he'd want you to know him as much as he'd want to protect you."
"And what did you decide?" Stella asked, swallowing around the lump in her throat.
"That we'd never lie or hide anything, but that we'd wait until you were ready, until you figured it out."
"What if I never figured it out?" Stella asked.
Aunt Lydia squeezed her tighter, one hand moving soothingly up and down Stella's arm. "No chance of that, you're Stiles's kid. You were always gonna figure it out."
"And..." she let the word hang in the air between them, waiting, seeking.
"And Stiles was the smartest, most selfless person I've ever known. He always put everyone else first. He was brilliant. He pieced together truth out of supposition and rumor and solved all the mysteries. He always had a plan always figured a way out of the impossible."
"Even when he died?" Stella asked.
"Especially when he died," Lydia answered. "Stiles was the most important person in all our lives. He was the spark and the heart and the brains. He planned. He solved. And he saved us. He'd already sacrificed himself once to save his father, and even in death he figured out how to make things right." Slowly, Lydia turned Stella so they were facing each other. "Your father was light and love and compassion. I was his anchor, and he made me a better person. Losing him felt like someone had torn out my soul, but then out of that tragedy came you, and everything hurt a little less. Whatever else, Stiles was a good man, and he's proud of you."
"Are you sure?" Stella asked.
"Yes," Lydia answered.
For a minute, Stella wondered if Lydia was just saying that to make her feel better, and then she remembered, Lydia was a banshee and she talked to the dead. "You'll tell me all about him?"
"Everything you want to know. Have you ever heard the story about how your Uncle Scott became a werewolf?"
"Well it starts with your dad, his baseball bat, and a body."
"A dead body?"...