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The Fixer in Wonderland

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October, Year Four of Talia Hale’s First Term

           

The first thing Stiles actually processes is Scott saying, “Stiles, breathe.”

Yes. Breathing. Breathing is a thing that he can do.

His tunnel vision reverses in a dizzying explosion of light and color on the first inhale, and he works to loosen his death grip on the back of one of chairs. The picture of his mother in his other hand is creased around the edges from his grasp, and he lets it fall to the table. Scott anchors Stiles’ now-free hand against his chest.

“This isn’t possible,” he wheezes the instant he’s capable of rational thought and partial sentences. “My mother was a kindergarten teacher. She was a kindergarten teacher and she died ten years ago, this can’t be – it isn’t possible.”

His team is talking over him. Scott helps him sit down, and Stiles rests his forehead against the table. The solidity and coolness of the wood helps.

 

April, Second Grade (20 years ago)

 

“But it’s Tuesday,” Stiles insists. “On Tuesdays, you put me to bed and we read a chapter of Harry Potter. You promised.”

“I know, lovebug, I know,” his mom says, kissing him on the forehead. The ends of her scarf tickle his nose. “But I made these plans with Mrs. Murphy too long ago to cancel now. Tell you what – tonight, you think about what you want for your birthday and let your dad put you to bed. Then you and I will read a chapter of Harry Potter every night for the rest of the week to make up for it. How’s that sound?”

Stiles considers. They’re only three chapters from the end of the second book, which means they’ll be starting the next one by the end of the week. “Okay,” he says cautiously. “But tell Mrs. Murphy that she’s a poophead for taking you on a Tuesday.”

“I absolutely will not tell her that! That’s awfully rude – where’d you hear that word?”

Stiles beckons her closer to lowers his voice to a whisper. “It’s what Daddy said about Mr. Wilkins next door. That he’s a poophead.”

His mom sighs and looks across the room. “John. Are you teaching our son to insult the neighbors?”

“If this is about Tom Wilkins, I stand by what I said,” his dad says, straightening up from where he’d been digging a stray sock out from between Stiles’ bed and the wall.

She looks at him fondly, like he’s being annoying but she loves him anyway. It’s the same look she gets when Stiles does things like take all the doorknobs off the doors to see if all of their insides are the same. “You’re a bad influence.”

“I’m a better influence than Tom Wilkins,” his dad says, sweeping his mom into his arms and kissing her.

“Ew,” Stiles says pointedly.

“Yes, very ew,” his mom agrees, laughing and squirming her way free. “I’m going to be late! I’ll see you in the morning, Bug. Love you forever and a day.”

 

October, Fourth Year of Talia Hale’s First Term

 

“It doesn’t make sense, though,” Kira insists again. They’ve cleared everything off Stiles’ kitchen table except the picture of his mom, and Lydia’s writing up what they’ve learned about B6-13 since January in tiny, impeccable shorthand on color-coded Post-its and sticking them in a spiraling web. The white piece of paper at the center of the table reads WONDERLAND – the codename, Malia had said.  “Malia, you said that Claudia –.”

“Claire,” Malia interjects. “She goes by Claire, Claire Collins.”

“Collins was her maiden name,” Stiles says. His brain is slowly, slowly inching back towards its normal capacity, aided in large part by the double-strong coffee Scott’s been brewing nonstop for the past hour.

“Fine,” Kira says. “You said B6-13 found Isaac working for Stilinski & Associates months before the assassination attempt. So Command – Claire, Claudia, whatever – has known that Stiles is here, in DC, for at least that long. Why wouldn’t she have reached out to him?”

“Why’d she fake her death in the first place?” Stiles mutters into his mug. “She let me think she was dead for ten years, what’s another couple months?”

Scott’s hand touches his elbow, a silent reassurance. “We don’t know that that’s how it happened. She could have been abducted, or blackmailed into this – she could be trying to keep you safe.”

“Yeah, I definitely feel really safe right now, Scott,” Stiles snaps, unable to edit out the anger lacing his voice.

“A shitty attitude doesn’t help anyone, Stiles,” Lydia says politely, sticking another green Post-it in the short line of known B6-13 agents. Malia. Isaac. Braeden. Barrow. Ethan. Aiden. Violet. All single names, with blurry accompanying pictures locked in one of Stiles’ hidden safes. “Are we sure this is everyone?”

“It’s everyone I’ve worked with,” Malia confirms, nodding at the list of names. “Command keeps us all isolated from one another as much as possible. We don’t work in teams unless the situation absolutely demands it, with the exception of our mentors. Silo-ed knowledge, so no one person can take down the organization.”

“Who was your mentor?” Lydia asks off-handedly. “Barrow? He’s the only one old enough.”

“My mentor’s dead,” Malia says bluntly.

“Mine isn’t,” Isaac says. The room goes silent as Isaac takes Lydia’s pen and Post-its, scribbles, and adds a name to the end of the list. Deucalion. Isaac stares at it with that distant, haunted look in his eyes again, and Stiles has another one of those awful moments of clarity when he realizes that everything Isaac told him when they first met – all the horrifying things that had been done to him, all the things he’d been forced to do, all the things he’d come to like doing – were real, not just the ramblings of a severely traumatized child abuse victim.

“But why wouldn’t she reach out to you?” Kira demands again.

           

 October, Fifth Grade (17 years ago)

 

“I’m not going,” Stiles repeats, taking a pair of swim trunks out of the bag his mom’s been trying to pack for the past twenty minutes. “Camp is stupid and I’m not going.”

“Camp is not stupid, and you are going,” she says, gently tugging the trunks out of his hands and putting them back in the bag. “I don’t get it, Stiles – you were so excited about this a few weeks ago. You’re going to canoe and fish and hike. What’s the problem?”

“I already know how to do all those things.” He plops down on his bed. “I’m a Boy Scout.”

“Hence why we’re sending you to Boy Scout Camp,” she says, adding a handful of socks. “You’re going to get to make friends from all over the country.”

“I already have friends.”

“You’ll get to get away from me and your dad for a month.”

Stiles is silent at that. He kicks weakly at the duffel.

“Ah, I get it,” his mom says, flopping down next to him. “You’re worried that your dad and me are going to miss you.”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “No. Yeah. Well, what if you do? I’m going to be a million miles away.”

“Indiana is hardly a million miles away. We’ll write you letters, and you can write back! I put some stamps and envelopes in your backpack. And,” she adds, leaning closer and ruffling his hair, “I actually already sent you one. It’ll be waiting for you when you get there!”

“You already sent me a letter at camp?” Stiles repeats, crinkling his nose. “But I’m still here. Why didn’t you just give it to me?”

"Where’s the fun in that?” She asks, bouncing off the bed. “Now, c’mon. I can’t miss you forever and a day if you won’t leave, and you can’t leave if you don’t pack.”

“But you don’t miss me forever and a day, you love me forever and a day,” Stiles says, begrudgingly getting off the bed and heading to the closet.

“Oh, is that how that goes?” She says, pressing a kiss to the top of his head as he walks past. “Must’ve slipped my mind.”

 

October, Fourth Year of Talia Hale’s First Term

 

“Wait,” Stiles says, tracing his fingers along the blue Post-its Lydia’s using to represent their approximated timeline. “When did my mother become Command?”

“We’ve been over that,” Scott says, yawning as he searches for a spare orange Post-it. It’s nearly midnight, and they’ve been at this for hours. “Malia was recruited when she was eighteen, and Command changed to your mom four years later. Would’ve been when we were…just starting L1 at Stanford?”

Stiles taps the corresponding blue square. “But Isaac, you were already…oh, Isaac,” he sighs, trying to make eye contact with him across the table. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“What’s going on?” Kira asks, looking between Isaac and Stiles in alarm.

Lydia turns her calculating gaze on Isaac as well, but Isaac is staring, unblinking, at the Deucalion Post-it. “You were fourteen when B6-13 took you, Isaac,” she says. “And you only got out three years ago.”

“No one gets out of B6-13,” Isaac says hoarsely.

“You knew,” Stiles says. “You’ve been in my apartment a million times, you’ve seen my parents’ wedding photo, you knew she was my mom. And you didn’t say anything.”

“You don’t know – you don’t know what she’s done,” Isaac says. “If you had any idea – the sort of person she is now – it was kinder for you not to know.”

“Kinder? Kinder?” Stiles retorts, practically shouting.

“Let’s take a break,” Malia says suddenly, physically inserting herself between Stiles and Isaac. “Stiles, why don’t you head out to the balcony?”

There’s rage simmering in Stiles’ stomach, but he recognizes the run-down and wary looks on his team’s faces well enough to know the wisdom in her words. He stalks out to the little balcony his fourth-floor apartment has, breathing in the just-this-side-of-biting October air.

“Hey,” Malia says from behind him after a few minutes, joining him on the balcony and sliding the door shut. “Cut Isaac some slack.”

“Are you kidding me? Did you hear – he’s known for years.”

“Stiles, there’s something that I think you still don’t really understand,” she says, bracing her elbows on the railing and looking out over the city. “For the past couple years, you’ve been building this team and you’ve got it in your head that you’re the scariest people in the game. And it’s true, S&A keeps some pretty powerful secrets, and that makes you a contender. But the people I work with, the people Isaac worked with – God, with Deucalion as his mentor, I can’t imagine – we’re not even playing the same game. Does that make sense?”

“Not really, no,” Stiles says, and maybe it’s a tad petulant of him, but it’s true.

“Yeah, I’m not doing a good job of explaining this.” She sighs and looks up at the night sky, searching for stars through the cloud cover. “I don’t know what you know about Isaac, but Command gave me his file when they sent me after him. His dad used to lock him in a freezer in the basement and leave him there for days – I’ve seen pictures where he must’ve scratched the lid for so long that he wore his fingers down to the bone. We have this thing in Wonderland that’s called the Pit, and that’s literally all it is: a tiny hole in the ground where we hold people who aren’t doing what Command wants. Deucalion once had Isaac locked down there for sixth months straight, no light, no human interaction, no sound, no anything, just for returning from assignment a day late.”

Stiles stares at her. “He never told me that.”

“Yeah, well, the Pit’s a place we mostly try to forget,” she says. “I spent two weeks there once, and I was nearly catatonic when they brought me out.”

“Shit.”

“That’s an understatement.” She straightens up and leans away from the railing, letting her weight pull her arms taut. There’s a centimeter-thick scar running from her elbow up into her sleeve. “The worst your team is does is…end someone’s career. Humiliate them in the press. Blackmail, evidence corruption, witness tampering. My team threw one of its own, someone who already had deeply ingrained claustrophobia and nyctophobia, into a pitch-black hole for half a year. Your team has covered up four of the murders that my team committed, and you didn’t even know we existed. When I say that we’re not playing the same game, I mean that you are still playing by rules that don’t apply to the other side. You are extremely out of your depth. So when I say cut Isaac some slack, I mean cut Isaac some fucking slack.”

She heads back inside without giving him the opportunity to respond – not that he has any idea what he’d say. He takes in his view, wondering for perhaps the first time if coming back to DC after law school had been a huge, huge mistake. Malia’s right, he’s definitely out of his depth, and at the moment he’s so tired that he can barely think and he’s got six missed calls from Derek on his phone and a text from Laura saying, He might be an idiot, but he’s hopelessly gone on you and it took a lot for him to tell you that. Call him back when you’re not so mad? and when he remembers that about thirty-two hours ago, Derek Hale publicly quit an election and then kissed him and professed his undying love and Stiles yelled at him and walked out –

“Everyone stays here tonight,” Stiles says tiredly, letting himself back in the apartment and locking the door behind him. He’s pretty sure his left eyeball is in the process of consuming his contact lens. His team, still crowded around the table, looks up at him. “Scott, Lyds, call Ally and Jackson if you need to. But everyone stays here, and we’ll start again in the morning.”

 

January, Tenth Grade (12 years ago)

 

“Mom?” Stiles calls, dropping his lacrosse stuff on the porch and clambering into house. “You home?” He finds her in the kitchen, chopping vegetables and throwing them into a big pot on the stove.

“Hi, Bug,” she says, smiling warmly at him and pressing a kiss to his still-sweaty cheek as he walks to the sink. “How was school? How was practice?”

“Coach made me do laps for being late because I was in the detention that he gave me in Econ,” Stiles says, filling a glass of water and collapsing onto one of the stools across the counter. “So there’s that.”

She narrows her eyes at him. “What did you do?”

“Nothing!” Stiles exclaims, doing his best to look innocent and put-upon. “Okay, well, almost nothing. It’s not my fault that he clearly doesn't understand the principles of microeconomics. He was teaching the entire class wrong information – he should be thanking me for correcting him, really.”

“It’s a public high school with a budget so strapped that the lacrosse and cross-country coach has to double as an Economics teacher,” she points out, flicking a piece of carrot peel at him. “Find a way to be helpful that isn’t condescending.”

“Fine, fine,” Stiles grumbles, draining his water. “Need help with dinner?”

"Sure. Wash your hands, grab the tomatoes, and get to choppin’.”

They work in silence for a few minutes – or near silence, since they’re both humming along with the classic rock playlist his mom is running through the house-wide PA system Stiles spent most of last summer hooking up.

“So, I think I’m gay,” Stiles finally says, not looking up from the tomatoes he’s dicing into ever-smaller pieces.

There’s half a beat of silence from his mom’s station at his elbow, and Bon Jovi informs both of them that they’re too vain. “Okay. What makes you say that?”

“Charlie Darling’s abs,” Stiles says simply, trying to disguise the slight shake in his voice. It’s fine, it’ll be fine. They’ve always said that they would love me no matter what, forever and a day. They have dinner with Marc and Carlos twice a month. They don’t have a problem with gay people. “And shoulders. And, gah, the way he can be so charming and so irritating at the same time.”

“Isn’t he the one who had to get his stomach pumped for eating too much paste?”

“We were kids, Mom.”

“Paste-eating is normal in kindergarten, Stiles – I should know, I see it every day. As I recall, this was fourth grade.”

“Yeah, well, he’s developed since then.”

She snorts a little and transfers a handful of chicken sausage to the pot. “Sounds like you think he’s developed in all the right places.”

“Mom! Gross!”

“I’m not the one waxing poetic about his shoulders,” she points out. She comes around to Stiles’ other side and stills his hands with her own. Stiles has always loved his mother’s hands – for as long as he can remember, they’ve been the perfect blend of callused and soft, always stained with fingerpaint or marker ink or actual oil paint, if she’s been in her studio. “You know that we love you unconditionally, right? That means no conditions, including the gender of whomever you love.”

“Mom, I do not love Charlie Darling.”

She releases his hands and goes back to her cutting board. “Well, good, because I’m hoping that my grandchildren don’t become nine-year-old paste-eaters.”

There’s a little more silence. Bon Jovi continues to chastise them for giving love a bad name.

“Do yourself a favor,” she says in the quiet between one song and the next. “Don’t try to label yourself just yet.”

Stiles freezes. “If you think I’m too young to know what I want, or that this, like, doesn’t count because I’m only sixteen –.”

“That’s not what I’m saying,” she cuts in. “Whatever you’re feeling now is completely valid. But you don’t need to jump immediately from one bucket to the next. One crush doesn’t necessarily make you one thing or another. You are young. Give it time. Who you are now isn’t necessarily who you’ll be in ten years, and there’s no need to rule out 50% of the population when you’re sixteen. The world’s going to try to force you into a nice neat little box so they can understand you and file you away – don’t make it any easier on them. Give yourself some breathing room. For now, love who you love, crush on who you crush on, think about whoever you want to think about during Stiles time – oh, come on, like I don’t know what you’re doing when you lock your door and turn the music up – just know that your father and I will always love you, Bug, and you can always talk to us. Forever and a day.”

 

October, Fourth Year of Talia Hale’s First Term

 

“Thanks for hooking up the TV, by the way,” Stiles says absently, swishing all the toothpaste foam to one side of his mouth. “What did I do wrong?”

“Oh, nothing,” Malia says. “Your apartment is bugged.”

Stiles aspirates on toothpaste and hacks it up into the sink, blood rushing to his head. He doesn’t think he’ll ever get over how Malia says the most alarming things in the most innocuous, statement-of-accepted-fact tone. I was sent here to kill Isaac, B6-13 is real, your apartment is bugged. “What?”

“Your apartment is bugged,” she repeats. “There are three extra wires – two of them are mine. I’m not sure about the third yet, but I’ll figure it out.”

"You bugged my apartment?”

“Of course I did,” she says slowly, looking perplexed at his incredulity.

Jesus, Malia, you can’t just – the office, too?”

She nods. “And Scott and Allison’s. Lydia’s is clean, so is Kira’s.”

“What – why?” He chucks his toothbrush into its cup. “Why would you do that?”

“The other bugs were already in place,” she says, casually kicking off her jeans and stealing a pair of Stiles’ sweatpants. Another thing Stiles will never get over about Malia – no sense of modesty, no concept of boundaries. He’s somewhat used to it from Isaac at this point, but at least Isaac has the decency to keep his clothes on, whereas Malia seems to glory in making Stiles uncomfortable. “I figured that if someone else is already keeping tabs on you, we should at least know what they’re getting.”

“Unbelievable,” Stiles breathes, passing her a spare toothbrush. He tosses another to Kira through the open door of his bedroom. Lydia keeps her own in her purse, he’s pretty sure Isaac doesn’t brush his teeth, and Scott’ll probably just use his (wouldn’t be the first time). “Have Isaac and Kira help you track the feed in the morning.”

In a rare moment of openness, an expression besides clinical disinterest, confidence, or well, obviously crosses Malia’s face. “If I can’t trace it, there’s no way they can.”

“Don’t let Kira hear you say that,” Scott says, coming through the door and throwing himself face-first onto Stiles’ bed. “She’ll change every shortcut on your phone so that all you can text people is the word ‘caterpillar’ over and over and over.”

“I get a new phone every four days,” Malia says, then leaves the room with her jeans in one hand and toothbrush in the other.

“So,” Scott says, flipping around so he’s on his back and wiggling his eyebrows at Stiles suggestively. “Ready to spend the night together?”

Stiles shouldn’t be surprised when he actually has to snort back a little laugh. Leave it to Scott to say the exact thing he needs to make him forget how incredibly fucked they all are, if only for a second. “Just like old times, right?”

Scott dives under the covers headfirst and emerges a few seconds later with messy hair. “Dude, there are socks in here.”

“My feet get cold,” Stiles says defensively. He swings the door mostly shut, flips off the lights, and slides in next to him.

"So you leave dirty socks in your bed?”

“Hey, remember that time I walked in on you using an empty Cheetos bag to –.”

“Okay, okay, point taken,” Scott says. “So, when are you going to tell me what happened with Derek?”

“You know what happened, you were watching the debate when it happened,” Stiles says, punching his pillow into shape.

“Oh, so you just had a civil, professional discussion about quitting on live TV and then hopped on a plane home?”

Stiles heaves out a sigh. “I yelled. He told me that he’s in love with me. I left.”

Scott lets out a low whistle. “Well, shit.”

“Understatement,” Stiles says, echoing Malia’s words from earlier.

“So, do you love him?”

“What? No, Scott, I – I don’t know,” Stiles finishes lamely, turning over onto his stomach and bunching the pillow beneath his chest. “I don’t know. I told him yesterday – he’s still the same person he was four years ago, during his mom’s campaign. And I’m…not.”

Scott makes a little noise of dissent. “I don’t know about that. I mean, you’ve changed, sure, but I think he has too. I told him you’d basically wipe him off the face of the planet if he hurt you again, and he just stood there looking at me like hurting you was the last thing he would ever, ever want to do. And if he actually told you he loves you – that’s huge for him, isn’t it? Derek from four years ago would never have said that.”

Stiles picks at a stray thread that his fingers find in the dark. “You didn’t see his face, Scott. He was looking at me like I was the answer to every question he’d ever had, like everything was going to be perfect and sunshine and unicorns from now on. First time the guy’s told anyone ever how he feels.”

“And you yelled at him.”

“And I yelled at him,” Stiles agrees, burying his face in the pillow. “Although, to be fair, Derek from four years ago left me standing in a hallway with my pants around my ankles while a reporter taped the whole thing.”

“Thought you said you’d forgiven him for that.”

“You know, I can’t tell if you’re on Derek’s side or mine.”

“Yours, buddy, always, but I want you to be happy.”

Stiles flips to his back again. “My mom’s back from the dead and running a secret government agency. We’re helping the suspect in the attempt on the president’s life evade capture. There are assassins sleeping in my living room. I think ‘happy’ might have to take a backseat to ‘alive’ for the time being.”

 

September, Freshman Year at Stanford (10 years ago)

 

Stiles pulls both of his parents into one last hug, wondering when exactly he became taller than his mom. “Call me when you get home safe, okay?”

His dad laughs, the sound slightly muffled by Stiles’ shoulder. “I think that’s our line. As the parents.”

“It’s a long drive and it’s late,” Stiles says. “Are you sure you don’t want to stay the night and leave in the morning? I can sleep on the futon and you can have my bed – I’m sure Scott wouldn’t mind.”

“We are not crashing our son’s first night at college,” his mom says, pulling out of the hug a little and looking at him sternly. “This night sets the tone for your entire year. Go meet all the cute guys and girls on your floor. Find an upperclassman who’ll buy you and Scott cheap beer.”

“Hi, I’m the Beacon Hills Sheriff,” his dad says mildly. “I don’t know if you’ve heard of me, but I kind of discourage underage drinking.”

“Shh, honey,” Claudia says, pressing her palm over John’s mouth. “Just shh.”

Stiles looks at both of them seriously. “I’ll miss both of you. Will you be okay in the house without me?”

“Will we survive without you around to re-wire the microwave to work at four times the maximum voltage capacity and blow a hole in the wall?” John asks. “Gee, son, I just don’t know.”

“Okay, okay,” Stiles laughs, releasing them. “I get it, I’m a menace. This is me, setting you free – you’ve done your duty, I’m 18, I’m in college. Hit the road. But seriously, text me when you get home or I’m calling every deputy in the county at midnight.”

The text comes in around 11:30. We’re home. Proud of you. Love you, forever and a day.

 

October, Fourth Year of Talia Hale’s First Term

 

Stiles wakes up before his alarm the next day. The late-autumn sunlight filters in through his blinds, shining dully off Scott’s hair where his best friend is stretched out, still fast asleep. He takes a quick Snapchat of himself almost touching Scott’s ear with his tongue and sends it off to Allison, then picks his way over the organized chaos that takes up most of the floor of his room and heads out to the kitchen.

Lydia, predictably, is the only one awake. She’s sipping coffee and looking over the multi-colored mess on his kitchen table, ignoring Isaac and Malia’s snores from the couch and armchair.

“Morning,” Stiles says quietly, kissing the side of her head. “How’d you sleep? Guest bedroom okay?”

“Just fine,” she says, squeezing him with one arm. “Kira talks in her sleep. In Japanese. It’s very cute. I got coffee and bagels – don’t look at me like that, I woke Isaac up and made him go with me.”

Stiles pours coffee and digs through his pantry for peanut butter. “How long have you been up?”

“Since six,” she says, moving a Post-it from one region of the table to another. “How are you doing with all of this?”

Stiles spreads peanut butter onto half a bagel and takes a seat by the area dedicated to incidents they think B6-13 has played a part in – the car bombs in L.A. six years ago, the disappearance of BryanAir Flight 813 last September, the abduction of Amy Madeline back before any of them were even born. He sets his coffee down over Saudi Ambassador to US goes missing, three months ago. “I have no idea. I don’t even know where to start. I keep having these flashbacks to little moments with her from when I was growing up, when I was so certain that she loved me, when she was my mom in every sense of the word. It never occurred to me to wonder if I actually knew who she was, and now I…I feel like everything I’ve ever known in my entire life has been called into question.”

“Well, that’s ridiculous,” Lydia sniffs. “You can be certain of me and Scott, at the very least.”

“Can I?” Stiles frays the edges of Senator Harvey dies from unexplained cardiac arrest, 18 years ago. “I met Scott because I decided to go to Stanford. I decided to go to Stanford because my mom stayed up with me the night before the commitments were due, making lists of pro’s and con’s. I met you because I deferred my last semester of law school to work on the Hale campaign. My mom was one of the first people to tell me that if I wanted to be in politics, I needed to get campaign experience. With the connections she must have – she could be the reason Deaton hired me. How do I know that she hasn’t been orchestrating my entire life behind the scenes, even after I thought she’d died?”

“It’s way too early for this conversation,” Scott says, stumbling past the table in his boxers and Stiles’ red hoodie. “Coffee?”

“It’s eight o’clock, it’d be business hours if this wasn’t a Saturday,” Lydia says, redirecting him towards the carafe. “You can’t think like that, Stiles. You’ll drive yourself crazy.”

“I can’t stop thinking like that,” Stiles moans. “I mean, for the love of God, I still pay someone to keep the Jeep that she drove in working condition, parked in the garage of their old house which I still haven’t sold even though I haven’t been there in over three years.”

Lydia stares at him. “Stiles, that’s just not healthy. Or practical.”

“Yeah, well, might turn out to be practical, since she’s alive and might want it back at some point. Dear God, I would give anything to wake up and have it be two days ago.”

“Anyone up?” Allison calls quietly, sticking her head around the doorframe. “I used Scott’s key. I brought stuff for pancakes!”

Stiles looks at the B6-13-information-bedazzled table in concern, but Lydia’s on it – she darts toward the couch, pulls the blanket off of Isaac, and throws it over the length of the kitchen table. A single Post-it flutters off the edge and down towards Allison’s feet, but she picks it up and stuffs it into Scott’s pocket without looking when he comes over to give her a sleepy kiss hello and mumbles that he’s going to take a shower.

“Work stuff?” Allison says, nodding her head at the blanket-covered table.

"Sorry,” Stiles says sheepishly. 

“No worries,” she smiles, making a big show out of giving the table a wide berth as she heads into the kitchen. “Where’s your griddle?”

“Do I have a griddle?” Stiles asks, following her.

“I thought you’d say that,” she laughs, pulling a griddle out of her oversized tote bag. “I always travel prepared.”

"Prepared for pancakes? I can see why Scott likes you. Want coffee?”

“Sure, thanks,” she says, plugging her griddle into the wall and unpacking her grocery bag. “Although I certainly hope Scott likes me for more than just pancakes at this point. Hopefully all of you like me for more than just pancakes, actually. It’s been two and a half years, after all.”

“One of us, one of us,” Stiles chants, adding a bit of milk and a sprinkle of cinnamon to a mug and sliding it in front of her.

“Yeah? Is that why there’s a blanket on your kitchen table?” She stops in the middle of separating an egg and turns to Stiles with regret on her face and yolk in her hands. “Sorry! Sorry – you know I didn’t mean that, right? Scott had the talk with me about not asking too many questions ages ago, and I’m honestly fine with it, I know you guys do stuff that you can’t talk about.”

“It’s fine, Ally,” Stiles assures her, pushing her hands over the bowl so she can let the yolk drop. “You’ve been awesome about all of this since the beginning. It’s one of the many reasons we advocate Scott keeping you around, actually. Pancakes and willful ignorance.”

“Okay,” she says doubtfully, going back to her recipe. Stiles watches her work for a few minutes. Since when have pancakes involved fresh cream? He’s clearly been doing something wrong for the past 28 years.

“Hey, are you still doing okay?” He asks as she splits the batter between four different bowls and starts folding a different berry into each. “We haven’t talked about the Kate thing in awhile.”

As expected, Allison’s face shutters. This might be one of the aspects Stiles feels worst about. Letting Allison, a bona fide, real-life Disney princess, believe that her favorite aunt tried to kill the President of the United States is just plain painful. Scott still freaks out about it at least once a month, convinced that Allison will break up with him if she ever finds out.

“Not much to talk about, is there?” She says, clearly uncomfortable. “Nothing’s changed. No one’s even seen her. Every family has a black sheep, right?”

The statement hits Stiles like an anvil to the skull, and he’s saved by Lydia appearing at his elbow and moving in to take up a spatula. She moves like an extra set of hands for Allison in the kitchen – Stiles still finds it hard to believe that they’ve only known each other for a few years. He slowly backs out of the kitchen, taking his coffee with him, only stopping when Allison calls a sharp, “Stilinski!”

He looks over, and she’s got her eyes narrowed and is pointing a spatula at him.

“Lick my boyfriend’s ear again and we’re going to have a serious problem.”

 

November, Freshman Year at Stanford (10 year ago)

           

“I’m dying,” Stiles groans, holding the seatbelt away from his uncomfortably distended stomach. “I’m actually dying. I may already be dead.”

“No one forced you to eat a fifth slice of pie,” his mom says, glancing back at him in the rearview mirror.

“There were five kinds of pie!” Stiles exclaims. “I couldn’t not eat one slice of each. It would have been pie-ist. Flavor-ist?”

“It would have been smartest not to make yourself sick.”

“Aw, leave the kid alone, Clo,” the Sheriff says, leaning across the center console from the passenger seat to press a kiss to his wife’s cheek. “It’s Thanksgiving.”

"Yes! Thank you! It’s Thanksgiving!” Stiles agrees, surreptitiously unbuttoning his pants and nearly moaning in relief at the release of pressure. “It’s Thanksgiving, and I’m a college kid on a meal plan. Have you seen what they serve us in the Stanford dining halls? I need to eat my weight in delicious food now, otherwise I’ll waste away to nothing by Christmas.”

“Oh, I’m sure,” Claudia says sarcastically, rubbing at her forehead. It’s a small gesture, but John’s hand is on the back of her neck within seconds, pressing gently on either side of her spine.

“You okay, hon?” He asks quietly, like Stiles won’t be able to hear the conversation taking place an arm’s length from his seat if there’s a ten-decibel decrease.

“Yeah,” she says, flashing John a smile. “Just a little headache.”

“Like the ones you’ve been getting?”

“What ones you’ve been getting?” Stiles asks, sitting up sharply and causing the seatbelt to dig into his stomach.

“It’s nothing, Bug,” his mom answers. She brings the car to a stop at a red light and twists in her seat, snaking a hand back to cup the side of his face. “Just a few tension headaches since the start of the school year. I’ve got a few students who are particularly spirited.”

I was a spirited kid,” Stiles says, leaning into her palm. God, he doesn’t care if he’s legally an adult and supposed to have a modicum of independence now – his mom is awesome. “You’ve got experience. Seriously, are you okay?”

“Of course Iahh lebuh,” his mom says, her voice slurring incomprehensibly over the last few words. She frowns a crooked little frown.

His dad laughs. “I thought I was the one who’d had too much to drink?”

“Iahh lebuh,” Claudia says again, the frown deepening on one side of her face. The hand on Stiles’ cheek falls limply into her lap.

“Mom?”

“Claudia,” his dad says as the car starts to inch forward, reaching a hand over to the wheel. “The light’s still red.”

“Mom?” Stiles repeats, his voice rising an octave and a half when her right eye goes unfocused. He grabs the hand in his lap, and it’s limp and slack. “Mom?”

Stiles hears the horn and registers the headlights blaring in through the driver’s side window like they’re miles and miles away, but the crash hits him like it’s coming from within his own body. He feels weightless, then disoriented, then nothing.

 

***

“Ischemic stroke,” the doctor repeats gently, as though saying the words kindly detracts from their terrifying nature. He circles an area on the scan. “The thrombus formed here, in one of the major vessels supplying blood to the brain. The right side of Claudia’s body would have been unresponsive, which probably caused her foot to slip off the pedal and your car to roll forward into traffic.”

“Will she be okay?” John croaks, and Stiles reaches over to lace his fingers through his dad’s.  Their hands rest on the scratchy hospital blanket.

The doctor starts speaking again, still in that calm and gentle tone that, more than anything, makes Stiles want to launch himself over his father’s bed and strangle him with bare and bruised hands. “A large portion of your wife’s brain was without oxygen for almost forty-five minutes, Mr. Stilinski. I was able to clear the clot and restore circulation, but that sort of deprivation has catastrophic effects on brain function. Even if she were to wake up, she wouldn’t be the person you remember. She’ll have little to no autonomy for the rest of her life.”

***

 

She does wake up, though – once. A feather-light touch on his arm rouses him back to wakefulness from where he’d fallen asleep in the chair next to her bed, and she has just enough time to tell him to be brave and strong and good, that she loves him forever and a day, before the machines she’s hooked into start going haywire and the code team comes running in.

 

***

 

Three days later, a team of doctors officially declares Claudia Stilinski braindead. They tell John that he has a terrible decision to make, and ask if there’s anyone else they should call. Claudia’s parents, maybe, or siblings.

“No,” Stiles says, voice broken and hoarse, when his dad can’t answer. “It’s just us. We’re all she has.”

 

***

 

Eight days after Thanksgiving, John signs a piece of paper and nods at a doctor. Two tiny, mundane motions, and then the machines keeping Stiles’ mom alive stop whirring and clicking and beeping. It’s cold and slow and it hurts in a way that Stiles has been completely unaware of until this exact moment, and he can feel some part of himself turning to stone.