At four Stiles told his mother that he wanted to be an artist/detective, solving crimes for his dad and painting pictures for her to hang on the wall. She laughed and promised that she would always hang up his paintings. The next week Stiles wanted to join the circus and be a lion tamer, which was just as well because his finger paintings left something to be desired.
Stiles was always the kid who ran too fast, talked too much, felt the world to the depths of his soul. There was a strict no talking about cases at the dinner table rule after the show-and-tell when Stiles regaled the first grade with details of a murder-suicide. He didn’t understand death then, not really, but he couldn’t stop thinking about the little girl, just three years old, that the deputies found hidden in the closet. Stiles might not have understood death but he understood life, and he understood that sometimes people still had to live after terrible things and it wasn’t fair .
When he was little there were times when his father would barter a Slurpee from the 7-Eleven for "just ten minutes of silence, Stiles, ten minutes so I can finish this." Stiles held his breath, and counted to a thousand, and named every person he knew in the living room pictures, but he never quite made it the whole ten minutes. His father never yelled though, just smiled that fond way that meant Stiles was loved, and after dinner they all went out for Slurpees anyways.
Stiles was in the cruiser when John got the call about the Hale fire. He sat in the front seat while his father coaxed Derek Hale into the social worker’s car. There’s a picture in Stiles’ head that’s never faded of Derek wrapped in an ugly orange blanket, face terribly blank but when yet another fire engine pulled in the light showed tear tracks shimmering on soot stained cheeks. Stiles cried himself to sleep that night, sniffling under his covers. In the morning his mom took one look at his face and kept him home from school. They nap cuddled together under an old quilt, but when they wake up Stiles’ eyes are the only ones that look less hollow.
After Stiles’ mother died he didn’t talk for two weeks. Nothing was worth saying.
John’s never asked Stiles to be quiet since his mother died, like that two week period had been all the silence he ever wanted. The house feels too quiet though, so Stiles tries to make more noise, to cover up the way everything echoes in the newly empty space. Moderation has never been Stiles’ forte though, and he gets in trouble often for talking in class. “Try not to make your teachers mad, ” John says after parent-teacher meetings. “Pay attention today, okay son?” gets said every morning for a year. And Stiles learns how to walk the line between uncontrolled babble and all the things he cannot say without getting in trouble - but by the time he does he’s gone from the funny kid to the one people look at from the corners of their eyes, who has problems they don’t want to deal with. It takes him a long time, a lot of practice, before he’s just Stiles the weird kid and not Stiles the head case. Funny how quickly everyone wants to forget what happened to him; everyone knows he’s screwed up, but they don’t want to think about why.
Scott gets it though. They’ve been friends since first grade, figuring out life and loss together. Stiles stayed at Scott’s house every night for a week when Scott’s dad left the first time. They watched movies, lived in a pillow fort, and Stiles held Scott’s hand when his father called to talk the first time. Later they used Mrs. McCall’s old chemistry book and the school library internet to figure out which combinations would make the biggest explosions or the most awesome messes in the lot behind the school. When the fire department came they put out the last flames of Mr. McCall’s baseball card collection and they were both grounded for a month. ( You’d think the library would be grateful for finally getting funding to upgrade their computers and net nanny programs, but to this day the elementary school librarian Mrs. Malinka still gives him the dirtiest looks.)
Scott understood, and even when he didn’t really he still helped. When all the other kids were avoiding Stiles, Scott stayed his friend. When Stiles didn’t have the words, Scott spoke for him. When Stiles just couldn’t breathe around all the misery in his chest, Scott sat next to him on the roof. There’s an entire language of loss and anger in the things that they don’t say. Scott had dinner at the hospital with his mom twice a week for a month while Stiles tried to sneak into the morgue and haunted the coma patient’s rooms, wondering if death always felt the same: terrifying, wrenching, and somehow indefinable.
That death comes to all men is Stiles’ great truth. Sometimes it scares him or makes him angry, sometimes it makes him weary and jaded, and sometimes it’s just comforting. One day death will come for him, and sometimes it feels like he’s spent his whole life ready to meet it, to truly know and understand it.
For a while he dreamed of death; spent his dreams being chased by its dark spectre and his days researching all of its manifestations. For a while he was fascinated by drowning. He held his breath for what felt like hours underwater, made himself sick trying to breathe water deliberately. Once, after a particularly rough night, Stiles ended up in his dad’s room and stayed there for the night. In the morning the two of them just held each other, unwilling to face the day. When they finally heeded the alarm clock they crawled out of bed, silent the way they always were in the after . When Stiles went to leave the room his dad stopped him, pulling him into a hug, one that lifted him off the ground and always used to make Stiles feel everything would be alright. He knew better now, ached with the knowledge that this wasn’t forever anymore. His hair muffled the words, “Be careful Stiles, my whole world walks around in your clothes,” and Stiles’ eyes filled. That was his mother’s phrase, the thing she used to say before he went to school each day, and even though she’s gone he knows it’s still true. Knows that just because the world’s broken it’s not gone entirely and he needs to be careful of both of them.
So Stiles reads less about death and more about health and first aid, and cooking after he opens his dad’s cholesterol results. He can’t help the pull to look at his dad’s case reports, pictures of death - violent, accidental, and occasionally quiet - spread on the kitchen table. He uses Murphy’s law as a shield; if he can see and expect all the possible outcomes then his dad will always come home, always carry what’s left of Stiles’ world around safe beneath his uniform.
But still Stiles listens to the police scanner, he drives slowly past car accidents, and occasionally ends up places he really shouldn’t be. Somehow seeing other people’s grief, their trauma, makes the world inside his head feel a little bit more real, like something a little bit more normal - no matter how much people tried to deny it.
When he fights the Alpha, runs from the kanima, Stiles’ heart pounds, he feels alive and rooted in the present like he never has been. But fate is on his heels, and for all it seems like he’s spent his life waiting for it, this is too soon. There are things he needs to do, people he has to protect, and he knows his dad’s world is still walking around in his clothes. He’s trying, but Stiles just wishes he slept more, or even just slept better, because he’s just so tired and he’s starting not to care. Stiles can’t anticipate everything, and someday all the anticipation in the world won’t be enough to save the day - after all, death comes for everyone.