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Stiles knows tired. Running ragged for days, MONTHS on end, no sleep, no sustenance, everything feels just a little duller and hazier, nothing connects cohesively but the mind is over-working, too many anxious thoughts, worries, nightmare scenarios running, the ADHD meds never work anymore - the coffee just makes sleep a myth. And the only salvation seems to be the one person who left without saying goodbye. How do you make friends with the shadow people?

It starts when - he doesn’t remember when it started. He runs back and forth between school, college apps, homework, scouring old maps and (throw in lacrosse practice too!) anything to keep his mind off of all the people who should be here with him but aren't.

They follow him on a Tuesday.

He’s walking down the corridor to his room and he feels them rather than sees them. All the paranoia he wore like a bloody armor because he was the son of a cop have never quite prepared him for the creeping horror that was Beacon Hills. He rushes into his room and slams the door shut behind him and doesn’t bother sleeping that night, heart racing from the combination of adrenaline, coffee and addy, the taco he’d inhaled a few hours ago threatening to come back up.

It feels all too much like the Nogitsune but those were a lot more fleshed out than this. These feel fleeting and shifting, feeding into his paranoia. There are too many things that happened, too many things that made him feel decimated and hollow, like someone was taking particular care to unpack every emotional upheaval and reopen every scar he had filed away for nights when he couldn’t tire himself to sleep. He went back and forth in his mind, reconstructing memories of those nights when he was walking as someone else, real ones and made up ones, wishing for something that could have helped him pull out of a living nightmare that took away so much. Somewhere along the way, he lost his appetite as well. The pills are the only routine he can find.

On Wednesday night, he starts to get dressed for bed and someone’s behind him on the bed and he can hear him say something faint and soft. He feels his heart rate ratchet and he knows this is it and he can finally just rest and not have to deal with anything but he also needs to get the fuck away because, "Dad-"

He turns around to empty air and an unmade bed.

He grabs his phone and heads for his Dad’s bedroom, pulling out his spare firearm and waits for morning, scrolling through his phone for the hundredth time, waiting for something, anything from Scott.

He sees Allison and Erica on Friday. They move and shake into different hazy forms and shapes at the edge of his vision and they’re alive and they’re happy and safe - He knows he doesn’t have to be afraid. He thinks he catches snippets of what they’re saying and he can feel the pricks of tears at the corner of his eyes.

He wakes up alone and his Dad’s helping him up, the worry a permanent feature these days. He starts to say something but the words die down when he looks at Stiles’ face.

He talks to his mother for the first time in years on Sunday. He flails and stops to just stare at her, she still looks the same and so, so real, she tells him about fjords in Norway and what they’d do with a Babel fish and he babbles about the extra credit he has to do for AP Literature and what Scott was up to that week and “Did you know he still hasn’t watched Star Wars?”

He can hear the door opening and Stiles turns to introduce Claudia to Derek-

He wakes up to yet another empty room, covered in warm blankets, the faint strains of some song on his Spotify playlists playing in the background.

For the first time in many weeks, he can’t breathe. He looks around to find something familiar, anything to hold on to and just get his heart rate down to normal, he really needs to breathe right now-

He hears Derek say something he can't follow and after a while he can make out an endless stream of panicked, “Come on Stiles, breathe with me. Please!”

He opens his eyes and props himself up, holding his hands out in front of him and counts.


He counts again.