When the Nogitsune shatters and dissipates, Stiles stays on his feet for a long, stubborn moment. He knows this is it, he can feel the end. It’s not the same deep ache from before.
It doesn’t hurt all.
It’s the lack of pain that scares him the most. They had to put him to sleep once, when he was little, to take his tonsils out, and it’s like that closing-in feeling just before there was nothing.
"Scott," he starts to say, reaching numbly, scared it’ll be the same, that it’ll be nothing, and he’ll be alone in the dark.
It’s over before he hits the ground.
Lydia acts first, following his momentum. He slipped right out of her hold, too heavy, too much of a dead weight. But he can’t be dead. He can’t be gone.
"Stiles!" She knows precisely where to press, but she’s shaking so hard all she feels is her fingertips drumming against his dry, cold skin like the ghost of a pulse. "Scott! Do something. Do something, Scott. Scott!"
Scott doesn’t have to touch Stiles to know that there’s no life in him. His heart isn’t beating. Up until this moment, Scott’s never recognized the afterthought of a sound for what it was — the comforting backbeat to his own pulse. The white noise of his brother by his side.
"No," he says. This is another trick. If he accepts the pain, it won’t be real. "No."
Lydia’s shrill pleas cuts off with a wet gasp when Scott’s phone begins to ring in his pocket. Stiles' phone follows, jammed deep in his pocket and vibrating.
"Is someone going to get that?" Isaac asks.
"It’s my mom." Scott silences the ringer. What is he supposed to say? The screen keeps lighting up with her texts—
where are u
are u ok?
—and he shoves the phone back into his pocket as Lydia pulls Stiles’ out.
"I can’t," she whispers, holding Stiles’ phone like it’s made of glass. Scott can see the sheriff’s face on the screen, the word Dad above it. "Scott, I can’t tell him."
How can they tell Stiles’ dad what they did? That they killed him together. That Stiles wanted it. That it all happened so fast.
Kira trembles, sheathes her sword, hating the blood on it, knowing that even though it isn’t really Stiles’ blood, it still ended his life. She’ll have to clean it later — to polish the red away.
"Wait," she says. "I have… Scott, I have an idea."
Her foxfire forged a blade strong enough to defeat the nogitsune without shattering the sword. That has to mean something.
No one responds, and she gets that. She’s quiet, and Lydia’s crying so hard, and Scott looks like he can’t hear, like he can’t move, like he’s rooted into place by grief — but this has to be quick.
"Scott!" she snaps out, giving him a push and dropping to her knees opposite Lydia. She puts her hands on Stiles’ chest and winces at the chill she feels through his shirt. He looks like he’s sleeping. "I think I can do something."
The hallway already smells like rain. Scott wraps his arms around Lydia, ignores her protests, and pulls her hands away from Stiles’ body. “Stop,” he says hoarsely. “Lydia, wait.”
"Wake him up," Lydia sobs. "Scott, wake him up."
"She’s right." The knowledge rests heavy in Kira’s chest, like thunderclouds. She nods to Scott. "You can help. We can do it together. Call him."
Tears skip down Scott’s face when he blinks. He holds Lydia close, presses his hand into her hair to cover her ear, and he howls.
Scott’s called Stiles once before. He believes in it, in the pull of the moon, in the power of the pack, in the love that was forged long before the night everything changed.
Outside the school, the howl reverberates. Derek’s crouching next to Aiden and Ethan, watching-not-watching, feeling like their tight embrace is something he’s not supposed to see.
The twins don’t move. They don’t feel the call, because Scott isn’t their alpha.
Derek feels it.
It rattles his bones. It’s a keening howl. It’s a terrible sound.
Cold with dread, he lets his perception fan out, strains it toward the school, counting each set of heartbeats and breaths — one, two, three, four. Scott, Isaac, Lydia, Kira.
No familiar-wrong shell with a fox spirit inside. No Stiles. They’re both gone. Stiles is gone.
The shift comes in an instant, and he answers Scott’s howl, the sound raw and bitter.
It sounds like a chorus, near-deafening. Even if Stiles is dead, he has to hear this, he has to know it’s for him. Kira waits for it to die down to a hollow echo. She hesitates. “One time I shattered a lightbulb,” she says, stuttering. “What if I hurt him?”
Isaac’s clutching the oaken vessel like a stuffed animal. “Well, he isn’t going to get more dead.”
"Okay. You’re right. Okay." Kira presses down hard, watches Stiles’ chest give just a little, like he’s breathing out, and then all it takes is intention — she hits him with her foxfire. His body jerks grotesquely. "Jump start," she’s saying. "Like Derek said. Jump start. Come on, Stiles."
Scott’s tears make his red eyes look like jewels. “Stiles, please.”
"I didn’t scream." Lydia’s watches from beneath a fall of hair. She tightens her voice like she’s snapping a whip. "So you need to wake up. Wake up!"
When Stiles woke up from having his tonsils out, it was a slow climb from muzzy, warm darkness. This is more like a car crash — all bright light and white pain and heat.
Stiles sucks in a wretched breath, sobs it back out, and squeezes his eyes shut against the prickly light around Kira. “Ow,” he says. “Ow, my god. Ow.”
Kira whoops. “It worked!”
"Stiles!" Scott’s voice anchors him. "Don’t move. We’re calling an ambulance, buddy. Just hang on."
Stiles feels the tickle of Lydia’s hair and the warmth of Kira’s hand against his face, and he feels Scott tuck something soft under his head, and he finds Scott’s hand and he takes one painful breath at a time.