A long time ago, in a forest invisible to human's eyes, there was a young prince with great magic. His power was burning like a thousand sun, fierce and powerful and source of greed for lesser creatures. Word came in the kingdom that a dark mage, so dangerous only the shadow of his name brought fear, was coming to steal the prince's power. No one could stop him, and in his wake there was nothing but pain and destruction. For the protection of their son, the king and queen wrapped him in a cloak dark as night and sent him away in a world of humans, were the dark magic would not touch him.
The last image of his kingdom he got was red as fire and blood. And then he was in the human realm. He learned cold, alone, frightened, his senses seemed dulled in this grey world. He fell ill, and his magic was nothing more than ember. Little by little, he lost his name, his memory. He became a shadow, with no form. Before he disappeared, he sensed a tiny soul leaving a tinier body, and took refuge where there was now an empty space. Slowly, like the sun sinking behind the forest, he let himself fall asleep.
The nightmares stop and Stiles can read again. Lying awake two nights after rescuing Malia, he thinks it's like a fairytale : the little girl trapped in a coyote, brought back to the last of her family, the whole ordeal making his own demons stop in their haunting of his nights. It's like one of the stories his mom told him before bed, and it sparks a memory.
It's strange, really, anything from the moment werewolves became his life could have made this resurface, but it's one of these thoughts that come back to you unexpectedly without you knowing how or why now, and you know tomorrow you will have forgotten them again.
He sees himself as a kid, lying in bed, and the voice telling him about spells and love is soft. Thing is..he has no idea where he is. Who this voice belongs to. His heart says “mom”, beating faster and faster, and his mind tells him it's impossible. When he tries to look at the face of the memory, he only sees a bright white light, and then everything turns black.
In the morning, he will think he fell asleep dreaming of a forest, and the woman will be forgotten. For now.
The Saturday afternoon Derek comes back in town, his first stop is to drop the small bag containing all of his possessions in the new furnished apartment he bought while he was away. He takes the time to breath, eat the sandwich from the small grocery store next to the building, and look around him at the walls that haven't seen death and despair. He tries not to think “yet” before he goes out again.
He goes to see Scott. There's things to discuss and news to take, and the need to fill the hole in the shape of pack he didn't realize he had until he was several miles away. The feeling in his heart when the teen opens his door and smiles at him is something warm, something Cora managed to convince him he deserved in the time he spent with her.
Derek sits on the couch and mostly listens. He still isn't a man of many words, but his host seems to understand and doesn't let the silence fall. There's talks of school, work, the quiet that fell on the town, finally letting them rest, and news of everybody.
But here's something : Derek with his years of experience in distrust and betrayal is good at detecting what's unsaid. What's hidden, even from the one uttering the words. The unease starts when the person who should have been on top of the list of people in Scott's retelling of the last few months is not there. The feeling grows when that person is mentioned after everybody else. Then it becomes an entity in itself.
Scott says “Stiles' problems stopped. All our sacrifice's problems stopped after Malia.” It's in the little acceleration in heartbeat, the frowning and tightening of lips, the eyes that doesn't look into Derek's own for one second. The young Alpha doesn't realize it yet, but he knows something is wrong with his best friend.
So Derek interrupts him before he starts again and looses that moment when the reality of the situation is so close to the surface. “What is it?”
“Uh?” answers Scott, so maybe the question wasn't that clear.
“You think there's still something wrong, don't you?” the older man clarifies. Scott seems to think for a moment, then tries to decide whether it's important or not.
“Well...not wrong exactly, you know? But...” the hesitation in understandable. The teen is not sure of his senses yet, especially the ones not strictly physical. Not even mentioning the need for everything to be alright with everyone. With Stiles, most of all.
“Okay, it's just little things I noticed.” he starts again, “Like he doesn't have nightmares but I went to his house the other day to stay the night and he stayed up really late. When he went to sleep he was jumpy. When he woke up, he- he looked at me and for a moment it was like...like he didn't know me.”
It's not the only thing Scott wants to say, but it's like with this one all the other little instances pile up to paint a picture he's afraid of. He looks up at Derek with big frightened brown eyes.
“Something's not right. It- It's like...seeing something at the edge of your vision, but you turn and there's nothing there, you know? All those little things, they were gone right away, and it was like nothing happened. I didn't think it was related, I didn't even think-”
They look at each other. One of them is barely able to think at the moment, tears in his eyes and fear for his family, the other with determination. Somehow, Derek new something had to be up, and he prepared himself unconsciously, hardening his heart even as he knocked on that door.
They decide to keep this between them for now. Keep an eye out and on Stiles. Try to find a pattern in the oddities of his behavior, and go to Deaton with it.
Stiles follows the familiar sound of Scott's voice to the kitchen. It's not unusual for him to show up unannounced, but there was something in the way he called Stiles downstairs instead of coming up or, really, using the window, that made the sheriff's son inside of him highly suspicious.
Of course, he's right. In the living room sitting on his couch and talking softly with his dad, there's a tall and handsome werewolf, not as dark as before, and oh god is that a smile on his face?
The teen knows his pulse must be hitching or fastening, and feels his breath get caught in his throat. And then hazel green eyes turn to him and the spell is broken.
Derek face falls a little, the smile is still there but more forced, a frown appears. Stiles looks up at Scott, and sees the same thing, so it's surely not because the older wolf hates him or isn't happy to see him again. Something's up. Stiles turns his eyes to his father, but there's nothing here. Whatever it is, he doesn't know either.
Stiles decides to find out what all this is about later. Right now, he wants to enjoy the return of Derek, the way the man seems more relaxed, and the fact that right now, everything is calm. The doorbell rings, and the rest of the pack comes in before he could say one word to Derek, but it's okay. At this moment, they seem happy. Complete. There's probably things to say, about what happened before, unresolved matters and tensions still present between some of them. But for now, the morning sun casts on them a soft light. Everything is okay.
Scott told Derek everything he could remember making his wolf senses tingle. Derek keeps a mental list of it. Stiles zoned out once or twice, but it was different from his usual moments of distraction. More deep, a little harder to come back from. And always he had that look after, like he didn't recognize the world around him.
Once, he talked about his dad like the man was dead. When Scott asked him what he meant by “he was a great leader”, Stiles looked at him like his friend was the one that just said something weird.
He mentioned dreams of a forest too, and Lydia asked him why he dreamed of the Preserve, everything about forests or trees or big magic stumps raising flags and making alarms blare. He got confused for a couple of seconds, then said that he didn't really remember, and changed the subject.
The last thing in the list is the time Deaton talked about Stiles having a spark for the second time since the werewolf business started, and the teen acted like he didn't hear it. Not a joke, not a quick succession of questions about what it is, how it works, what he can do with it, not even a dismissing of this fact.
So now they have to observe. And since they're both a little obvious, Lydia's in. They weren't three steps out of the Stilinski house that she caught both of them by their arms, waiting for everyone else to be out of earshot ignoring their looks of confusion, and told them bluntly that they were idiots.
“Whatever it is, don't think for a minute you fooled anyone. Especially not me, or Stiles for that matter. So, you're gonna tell me what is happening, and I'm going to help you. I'm also going to cover both of your obvious asses when Stiles asks me what's up. You too should have learned by now that we don't achieve anything by keeping things to ourselves.”
The two wolves looked at each other, and they would never admit it was fear that made them crack. But they also couldn't deny Lydia's brain and sense of observation would be crucial in the determination of what was wrong, if anything, and how to fix it. She wouldn't promise anything however concerning her Banshee's powers, too raw and new to be really useful yet. She added, still, that something had been unnerving her for a few weeks, an itch at the back of her head she couldn't pinpoint.
So they observed. And for some time, nothing happened.
It's a week, maybe two, after Derek had returned. Derek called Scott who called Lydia, and a meeting was set at Deaton's. In that time, nothing strange came up, and if Derek didn't doubt for a minute what both Scott and Lydia had observed before, the young Alpha started to. And felt guilt for thinking something was wrong with Stiles without telling him or the Sheriff about it.
They had this discussion before, and Lydia made Scott sit and asked him softly: “What did Stiles' mom die of?” She knew the answer, of course, even if there was no clue as to how. Derek had no idea, and so didn't expect what was to follow.
When Scott said the words “fronto-temporal dementia”, something cold, freezing, grew in Derek's lungs. Those words were so very humans. They were of the species of monsters humans never spoke of. The real horror stories, that made werewolves and kanimas and alpha packs and hunters seem like nothing, because if they took your family you still had someone to blame. Sickness, on the other hand, has no pity. She doesn't offer mercy. She takes whoever she wants, whenever she wants, and you have nothing else to do but stand in front of a grave and ask why, knowing that there's really no answer.
So, Scott knew the title of this story, but had no idea what happened in that book. Lydia spelled every word of it for them. It starts with “deshinibition” and end with “death”. Stiles, as Lydia said that day, doesn't need them to tell him he behaves strangely from time to time. He doesn't need the terror and panic of thinking about the disease that took his mom from him. Neither does the Sheriff.
So they go to Deaton with the little they have, hoping the man can give them some answers. When Derek parks in front of the clinic, he sighs. When he pushes open the door, he asks “Weren't we supposed to keep it quiet?” and glares at the two teens that are not supposed to be here. Allison points Scott with her thumb, the wolf offering an apologetic smile and big puppy eyes. Isaac just stands there in a scarf. Eventually, he points Allison, who shrugs and smiles proudly.
“We're here to help”, she says. Isaac makes a face.
“I was bored.” he adds. Derek knows the kid isn't friend with Stiles per say, but he knows this is just for show. He would've helped anyway, because a pack is something deeper than friendship, and brothers and sisters doesn't necessarily means friends. It just means family and protection. Most of the time anyway. So Derek smiles knowingly at his pack mate, and Isaac shrugs and looks away.
Deaton, at the edge of the examination table they're all around of, like they're having some weird corporation meeting, clears his throat. He announces that Lydia filled him in and, shockingly, that at this point and with that much information, there's nothing he can do. He will look it up. But he can promise anything.
They all talk about the facts they have, trying to come up with new useful ones but sometimes it's hard to make the difference between unusual and Stiles. They end up talking over each other until Derek makes them stop. When everybody goes quiet and miserable, he adds:
“Go home and relax for a minute, then come to my apartment around seven. Don't forget to call Stiles. Tell him I called Scott and Scott called all of you.” and goes to leave like the cool older werewolf he is, ignoring the smiles on everybody's faces. “And don't forget to bring food and drinks, the house doesn't offer!” he calls over his shoulder before exiting the building. He lets himself be smug when he hears them loudly complain and happy when they laugh and decide who brings what. Scott's already dialing his best friends number. Derek tries his hardest not to taint the pleasure of the oncoming evening with the worry etched deep in his bones.
It's late. They're all sprawled in the living room, Lydia, Allison and Scott taking the three spaces on the large couch Derek's now happy to have instead of a smaller one, Isaac on the chair, and Derek and Stiles with a thin blanket between them and the floor. The older in the room tries not to think too much on how he ended on the floor of his own apartment. The movie they were watching just ended and half of them are asleep.
They wake up one by one when Scott starts to get up to clean up the mess of pizza boxes and Chinese take out, because no one could agree on what to eat. Derek tells him to sit and that they will all clean up together before they leave to go home.
They start to talk about anything and everything. The moment has something really quiet to it. It's delicate, and feels like something very strong and so breakable at the same time. The only light comes from the kitchen behind the couch, leaving them in the kind of atmosphere that makes you whisper without knowing why. You could disturb the spirits that keep you safe if you talked too loud. It's a time for confessions and tenderness.
It's one of those conversations where what you end up talking about falls so far from what you started with that it's nearly impossible to remember what it was. Derek will later try to follow backward the thread of the conversation, understand what made this happen.
“There's a story where I'm from-”, starts Stiles softly.
“Where you're from?”, interrupts Isaac.
“You mean, Poland? Where your family was from?”, asks Derek more gently.
There's a silence after that. Derek can see Stiles open and close his mouth two, three times, eyebrows scrunched together like he can't quite wrap his head around the question. Then he says:
“Yeah, yeah that's what I meant.”, and he does that exaggerated hand gesture then, which screams lie and confusion even louder than his heartbeat does.
“So, what's the story?”, finally asks Lydia after a long silence, and Derek has to admire her for the way her voice doesn't waver. It seems like a small slip up, something that could happen to anybody, but even the human in this room didn't miss the wrongness of it. It's like a bitter aftertaste on their tongues. A shiver on their skins.
“Um...”, starts Stiles again weakly, and he seems to hesitate. Maybe he's still trying to remember why he said that, maybe he half forgot what the story is. “I-I don't...I don't really remember what I was going to say.”, he says, and his voice shakes.
“As long as it wasn't another of your werewolf jokes.”, Isaac says louder than necessary, adding forced laugh in the hope that it will take away the panic. As if his voice breaks a spell, Stiles' breath evens out, his heartbeat slows down, and he starts to talk about something else entirely.
It's like nothing happened. But even him must sense that something changed. The softness in the air disappeared. The fragile instant is broken. Soon after that, everybody gets up, helps to clean, and goes home. They don't have the heart to laugh anymore tonight.
Stiles begins to worry. He doesn't dare to talk to Scott about it: his best friend should enjoy the peace while it lasts. Didn't Deaton said that the town was now an actual beacon? It's only a matter of time before the next storm hits them. In the meantime, he can deal with it.
He doesn't want to talk to his dad about it. There was exhaustion on his face before the werewolf reveal. A worry Stiles didn't want to put there. Worse of all distrust. All of it is still there, the distrust a little less blatant, covered up by light jokes. But what Stiles really doesn't want is to add a line of worry on his dad's face. Not one to do with werewolf business. Not one to do with his hyperactive son with no self-control.
One to do with lapse in time. With memories that seem to come out of nowhere. Maybe out of these dreams he doesn't quite remember but leave him with a homesickness and a deep ache in his heart and his bones that he doesn't understand. One to do with the moments he feels himself falling. Falling so far and so fast he's scared he won't be able to catch himself in time. The world around him blurs and suddenly the colors are not as vibrant as they should be. The sounds are muffled. The tastes, smells, touches, everything is not enough and he suffocates in his own skin.
It's like panic attacks, except it's not. And then it is. He comes back from one of these lapses to find the pack trying not to look worried. He thinks he failed in making Scott stay happy. He thinks he failed a lot of things, and that he hardly manages to keep standing these days.
And then he forgets about it. He wonders, when everything comes back all at once, how he could ever forget the wrongness that started to eat him alive. All of it is overwhelming. It makes something deep inside of him stir. Something old and powerful as a dragon.
In those moments the spark inside of him feels like it should be a fire, and he ironically worries that this need is going to consume him.
Stiles is rarely alone the next days. He doesn't seem to mind, but they all know at some point he will become more suspicious than he already is and confront them on it. Or maybe he'll just be fed up with having a constant presence. At first they don't really notice anything new. But then Isaac, exiting the Stilinski house with Scott, asks if his hands always shook so much.
Scott stops. Rewinds. Calls Lydia, then Derek, and lastly Allison. The teen knows for a fact that they did not, but couldn't swear on the last couple of months. Or maybe since he got bit. Lydia thinks for a second, then declares that no, his hands never shook before. And she hesitates then. She continues, they never shook before the sacrifice, then a combination of nightmares, insomnia and anxiety blurred the lines.
He seemed to get better after the Malia incident, they all agreed on that, so they wonder. Is everything happening now a delayed effect of the sacrifices, or was it triggered by something between then and now? Derek, thinking to himself out loud, spoke words that made them freeze, because what if this is the manifestation of something that was there the entire time?
Derek is positive his hands shook already when he came back in Beacon Hills, but he thought it had something to do with this acronym that only means to him that Stiles moves a lot, talks a lot and has a mind that goes faster than his. One time, he wondered if it wasn't worst for Stiles than for the people around him.
Allison doesn't really know, but she saw Stiles take his pills at some point and she's pretty sure there was more than it should in his shaking hands. She tried to ask, then, but the only answer was that he had to increase the dose since werewolves became real and he had to run at night and research and work for school and not worry his dad and focus because it's harder still when you can't sleep.
It seemed like something logical, and made her feel guilty somehow because if she felt trapped with her family legacy, she supposed his cage was similar to hers except it was self imposed. The result of his own guilt, loyalty, and belief that he had to work more than anybody else to be as worthy.
She felt like they all overlooked that part of the story, the one where he believed he had to take more medicine and play with his own health, and once all this is over they have to make him understand he doesn't need to. They love him anyway. This, this is not his fault. They won't leave him behind no matter what happens.
So, she finishes on a whisper like she's in confess, she didn't think it was part of what they are looking for and wanted to wait until after this was solved to tell them about it. But now she thinks maybe it's more than all he said to her, maybe his mind is trying to compensate for what had been happening to him. Whatever that is.
So Derek goes to see Stiles that night. The teen is lying in bed and not asleep at all, just starring at the ceiling where he painted stars in fluorescent paint. The wolf looks at them and when did Stiles do that? It's new, and since Derek doesn't recognize any of the constellations his mother showed him, he supposes the stars are randomly placed, although there's one group that looks like Lupus.
The older man sits on the window ledge. He waits. He wouldn't know what to say that wouldn't be a waste of words. Doesn't want to shatter the silence with something meaningless.
“This,” starts Stiles, making Derek jump a little, slowly raising his arm to point at the ceiling, “is the Fire.” The statement seems final, and Derek follows the finger to stare at a constellation he never saw before in the long nights he spent running in the open air.
“I never noticed it.” he declares softly, trying for a balance between “you're wrong it doesn't exist” and “is it what you see when you go so far away that we're afraid you will never come back to us again?”
“That's because it's Forests stars.” he replies in a little voice that sounds like a child's. It feels like a secret. “My dad used to teach me their names,” Stiles carry on, “and he told me that this one”, and points at Lupus, “is seen in all the worlds because it's a promise made to wolves everywhere.”
With that, the silence falls again. Derek looks at Stiles as the teen lets his arm fall back on the covers, and he wants to take him in his arms and never let go. He fears that it will not be enough to hold the pieces falling apart, so the wolf stays where he is and looks up at Lupus again. He wonders what promise that might be.
Derek is proud to say he had the patience and self control to wait for the morning to go and see Deaton instead of barging in the vet's house in the middle of the night. He says as much to Scott when they go to the clinic two hours before opening hours, having called the druid earlier to meet them there.
Scott looks at his pack mate for two seconds. “You don't know where his house is, do you?”
Derek stubbornly glares ahead of him and gently knocks.
“No need to break the door, Derek.” the man greats them after unlocking the building and leading them inside.
“I have a new piece of information that could be useful”, the wolf responds, then keeps going when Deaton's eyebrows raise in question. “I went to see him, and he painted stars on his ceiling. It's not- it's not constellations from here. He said it was forests stars. He called one of them the fire, and there was Lupus too but it was the only one I recognized.”
Deaton bows his head in deep thoughts.
“It does seem familiar,” he announces finally, “but I will have to do some more research before I can give you a definite answer.”
The two wolves look at each other. Nothing unexpected, but they all start to become anxious. Last night made Derek wonder if the worst didn't happen when no one was around to witness it.
“What happened after that?” asks Scott when they're in the parking lot. Derek stays silent for a minute, because thinking back on it makes it hard to breath.
“He looked at me.”, he answers so softly it takes werewolf hearing to make out the words, “He looked...right through me. Like I wasn't even there. And he fell asleep just after that, like someone switched him off.”
And just before he closed his eyes, voice thick with sleepiness, Stiles said “And who are you, lost wolf?”
That afternoon when they meet at Derek's apartment to do their own research, a bird comes knocking at his window. Everybody is deep in old volumes smelling of ashes or on their computers, the need to feel like they're doing something rather than just wait for the veterinarian's answers making them restless. The tension is palpable in the heavy silence only broken by clicks and the turning of pages.
Everybody jumps when sharp thumps come from the window. They turn their heads quickly to see a white bird look at them with intelligent eyes. Judgmental even. His deep red beak taps the glass three more times before Allison gets up to open the window.
The bird doesn't fly in, he just hops closer to the girl on the ledge, and stretches out his leg for her to take the paper attached to it. She looks at the rest with a mix of surprise and disbelief. Isn't this kind of thing supposed to only happen in movies?
She takes the paper carefully and give it to Scott, who breaks the seal representing a tree with leaves looking like fire.
The missive is as formal as what you could expect from a letter from the queen of England. It greats Scott as the True Alpha, asks permission to present an embassy to the McCall pack. They want an alliance, safe passage through the territory, and to present their respect to the old Nemeton. It ends with salutations, a foreign name that no one can pronounce, and a demand for a quick answer. They can only come for a few hours the next afternoon.
They all look at each other. That's a first. Do they need to call Deaton to ask for his advice? But he has already his own work on top of the research he does for them. They need to be efficient and smart. They don't really know who these people are, but they asked. Maybe...maybe they can agree, but with the condition that the embassy doesn't have more than three people. They can manage three people if they have evil intents, right?
No one really wants to take any decision. They're stuck between wanting to say no, to keep any chance of harm away from them. They're just kids, only kids, and they crave to feel safe again. This doesn't feel safe.
But it could be good to make alliances, to have someone to call when trouble comes again, and they have to start somewhere. Maybe this is the first step they need to make outside of their comfort zone, despite the fear. If it goes well, the fear with recede until they're ready for another step. This could be the start.
It's a battle between not wanting to let the outside world in and needing to. It could go wrong and break them again, make it harder for them to trust again. It could go right. They don't really know what scares them the most.
So they accept.
Scott goes to see Stiles right after, to tell him about it. He doesn't know how to explain to his best friend why they didn't call him. They were so surprised they forgot. But that's not easier to say than the real reason they met up without him. It will hurt anyway.
The Alpha is about to knock on the door, because the sheriff is home and he want to talk to him about it too. He also loves to see the man that treats him like a second son. Loves the feelings when he gets a hug from him, even if it still surprises the teen as the first time it happened.
He raises his hand and freezes. There's an erratic heartbeat and short breaths coming from Stiles bedroom. Scott doesn't take the time to think, he jumps on the roof and opens the window. His best friend's room is in the dark. The sun just passed behind the horizon, and there's no lights on.
When Scott's shadow falls inside, Stiles raises frightened eyes on his brother and they widen even more, the breaths become shorter to the point it's not really breathing anymore, sounds like he's suffocating, and he scrambles backward on the ground where he had fallen until his back hits the corner of the room.
The wolf stays right where he is, scared to make things worse, and calls the Sheriff. The TV was on downstairs, drowning every sounds that could've alerted him, and it's highly probable that before Stiles thought to call for his dad, he couldn't breath and think enough to do it. Maybe, Scott thinks, Stiles didn't even know he still had a dad. Maybe that's what started the panic.
The teen is two seconds from passing out when his dad crouches in front of him and by some miracle manages to calm him down. By the end of it, Stiles is nothing more than an exhausted and trembling mess the Sheriff scoops up and brings to the bed. The man looks devastated, and Scott will pretend he did not see any tears reflecting the moonlight on the wrinkled face as his son falls asleep clinging to his hand and shirt like a small boy.
“Stiles and I both know something is wrong,” the Sheriff starts later, when he's in the kitchen with Scott, “and I'd like to understand why everybody is keeping it from us, and why Stiles is trying to keep it from everybody else, me included.”
Scott looks down. They had their reasons, but thinking it was the right decision doesn't make them easier to admit. But now he has no other choice. So he explains, and when he's done he doesn't dare looking up to see pain and maybe betrayal in the gentle blue eyes.
“You're gonna have to tell him, you know?” and the teen doesn't expect the kindness in the tone. The hand on his shoulder. “I understand why you kept it from him, but it's becoming worse isn't it? He didn't have a panic attack that bad since-. Since. It's cruel to let him in the dark about himself, no matter how much it'll hurt to know that some magic is making him loose his mind. Right now, all it's achieving is making him deal with it alone.”
Scott nods. At first, Stiles seemed oblivious to all of this. But there's no way he won't know he had a panic attack when he wakes up, and if he still doesn't remember what triggered it or the attack itself, he will perfectly understand he lost time. And that could crush him.
“Tomorrow.” adds the Sheriff, “For now, lets let him sleep. And you too, son, go home, get some rest.”
Scott gets up, moves to leave. Stiles' dad catch him up at the door, gives him a hug. The young wolf, an Alpha yes, but still young, tries his best not to break down and cry away the worry and the fear that make everything feel so heavy. He isn't exactly successful, but neither is the Sheriff. They don't say anything about it as Scott leaves.
In the morning, he doesn't have the courage to call Stiles, and so he texts him telling him to meet everybody at Derek's apartment, which seems to be their new meeting place, explaining shortly the situation he didn't get the chance to the night before, and adding that after that they need to talk about what happened last night.
Everything is becoming fuzzy around Stiles. He sees double. Or, more accurately, he thinks double. Home for example. His house, with his dad. The Forest, green with life, red with fire. The fire is both good and death, but that seems to come from his dreams only.
Sometimes, he looks around him and doesn't recognize a thing. What is this town? Who are these people? There's wolves here and he doesn't have his fire, and without his fire they could kill him so easily. Then, he remembers Scott, Derek, Isaac, friendship and love and pack, and the only fire here is the one from ten years ago and this tiny spark inside of him that is nothing more than belief.
Sometimes, he walks in the Preserve, and he tries to understand why those trees seem dead to him. Why this forest seems tiny and flat like a picture. It doesn't feel real at all. The only place he feels a little better, more alive, is at the Nemeton, and isn't that ironic when he died for that tree? When he cursed it for being there, making danger and death so close to his dad? His...dad? Which one, he frowns. That doesn't make any sense.
When he's there, lying on top of the stump, he feels whole again. He's sure there's a voice talking to him, calling him a prince. Something tells him that the Forest finds what you're looking for, but he has no idea what he's looking for, how to look for it. He doubts the preserve does anything else than making people lost. He doubts it's the forest the voice is talking about.
When the peace is not enough anymore and the light doesn't make him feel warmer but colder, he leaves. He goes home and stays in the dark because nothing is enough anymore when he turns the lamps on. There, he counts the stars on his ceiling, and remembers a feminine voice pointing the Fox in the sky, and it's his mom but it's not his mom and, oh god what did his mom look like?
He can't remember his mom. Why isn't she here with him? Where is here? Did they both leave him alone? He tries, and tries, and tries only to fail, but he can't conjure up the face of his mother. He's sure that if he can remember, he will be able to breath again, because these memories are his own life, without them there's no air anymore. He can only suffocate, and that's okay. He doesn't want to be awake when he doesn't even know who he is. What she looked like.
The embassy is here. The three men -creatures?- are tall and lean, their movements are graceful, slow and powerful. They speak English with a light accent, and they are strange, like they are a little outside of this plan of existence. It feels like they should be transparent.
They introduce themselves so formally and politely that Scott feels the need to do the same, introducing his pack mates with titles that he never really thought about before but feel right all the same.
Stiles is not here yet. He sent a text a few minutes ago. He doesn't say why he is late, but it's not a difficult guess. In the mean time, the discussions start.
Then, everything happens at once. Scott's phone starts to ring, the ring tone Stiles put for Deaton as a joke and Scott never had the heart to change but would never admit to the vet makes him laugh. Before Scott has the time to answer, Stiles opens the door, looking like he hasn't slept for a week. There's bags under his eyes and a weight on his shoulders.
He takes in the three faces that turned to him, and his eyes widen.
“No,” he says, as two of the men start to say the names of every member of the pack so quickly no one has time to react, “no, it's not- it's not-. You're not real, you're a dream!”
Derek tries to move to block the way between Stiles and the last man, who is slowly advancing on the panicking teen, but he can't. The man's face is away from him but he's sure there's a predatory smile on it. Stiles backs up, but the door is closed behind him. He hits it with his back when the man is right in front of him.
Derek feels like whining, screaming, killing, but even his wolf is trapped and he can only look at the scene with human eyes and wonder why it feels like dying. The man raises a hand, says “Hello again, your Majesty, time to come home. Go to sleep, Stiles Stilinski.” and touches Stiles' forehead.
When Stiles collapses, the three men disappear, and the spell they worked on the pack is broken. Everybody falls forward with the strength they were putting in trying to break free. Everybody runs to Stiles, Derek and Scott falling on either sides of him.
The older wolf is dying to touch him, to take his face in his own hands and make him wake up. He's too afraid to break him more, and far too conscious of the ghost memory of a brave hand on his shoulder. He lets Scott shake gently the limp body of his brother, lets him plead to open your eyes, Stiles, please, just open you eyes, wake up. Derek wouldn't trust himself not to break down on the words. He hates himself for letting Scott do it instead.
Stiles' moan makes them hold their breaths. His eyes are so barely open they still seem closed, and he whispers “The Forest finds what you're looking for.” before falling unconscious again. His breathing is too weak, his heartbeat way too slow, and he doesn't move at the sound of the anguished cries of his brother, the broken murmurs of you have to take me with you. Everybody else is as silent as their tears.
They're at Deaton's. They called him first, when Scott calmed down enough, and hearing about what state Stiles was in the vet advised them to take him to the hospital. Allison drove the car, with Stiles lying with his head in Scott's lap and his feet on Derek's in the back, Lydia in the passenger seat. The huntress was the only one with a clear head, months of training helping her keep her cool in dire situations. Isaac, not fitting in the car, went directly to Deaton's to wait for them.
Melissa was thankfully on shift, making sure Stiles was taken care of, and finding the time to hug every last one of them. It wasn't nearly enough to ease the worry, but it helped. The Sheriff was already there, following his son and throwing one last glance in the direction of the pack to assure them he was going to take care of that end of things.
So they headed to the clinic. Time felt like it was slipping between their fingers, and the two werewolves were far too aware of the constant slowing of Stiles heart, making theirs beat faster with each passing minute.
Now Deaton is telling them he found something, a legend of old about a forest and a young prince. About a dark mage and his greed for the prince's power. Now, the mage is looking for the prince in the human world, and the King of the Forest asked the trees to whisper the prince's story to all willing to hear it. Hoping his son would be found and protected.
The dark mage is probably too weak now to travel between realms, and sent his own creatures to bring him back the prince's spirit. There, where it rightfully belongs, the spark will become fire again, and nothing will keep the mage from eating it to become powerful again.
“So...Stiles is a magic prince from a parallel universe?” Isaac asks. Deaton smiles.
“What can we do to take back his...spirit or whatever?” asks Allison, one hand on Scott's shoulder, the boy still too shaken to trust his voice.
“The chance you had, in some way, is that Stiles doesn't use his real name. I'm told the Forest's spells are deeply linked with names, of the caster and the target. See, they bound you with them. Without Stiles' full name, they were only able to take half of his spiritual being. That gives you time to take back the other half. You have to be quick, however, because a body can not function very long without his whole life force.”
“How do we get to this forest?” Scott finally speaks, voice still cracked. “How do we bring him back?”
“I know a being that can lead you to it.” Deaton answers simply. “But you're going to need to take Stiles body with you”
The walk to the Nemeton is mostly silent. On the way, Deaton finishes to explain what he guessed about Stiles situation. The pack listens reverently, clinging to the sound of the veterinarian's voice to avoid listening to the heartbeat and the breathing that are almost absent. Derek is glad he took the front of the stretcher they carry between himself and Scott. That way, he doesn't have to look a this lifeless shell that seems so far from the boy it belongs to.
So Deaton retells the story of a prince who must have bound himself to the empty body of a new-born. He then fell asleep for years and years, the only proof of who he was the spark inside of him, letting him use belief like magic. And something surely woke up his memories, but the body of the boy was only human and not made to have two sets of them in his mind. There was a whole other word waking up inside of him, and it was burning him up from the inside. He would've died eventually, if he had not found the Forest again.
The thought makes them all shiver. They were losing him already. It was long time coming, a programmed obsolescence that could've taken him from them without notice. Some of them wonder if it would not have been better than this slow death, taking them for witnesses.
“If the Nemeton will lead us to the Forest, why didn't it take Stiles there before?”
“That, Ms Martin, is an excellent question.” Deaton answers the Banshee as they approach the clearing, “And you have to remember that the magic here works on belief and intent. I strongly suspect Mr Stilinski had no idea what to believe anymore if his path even lead him to the Nemeton since the beginning of his illness.”
They stand in front of the stump after laying Stiles on top of it. Derek thinks that they must seem very small to this being that lived for centuries, and kept on leaving after the pain of being cut down. Having only roots to bind it to the earth, and no leaves high in the sky to breath anymore. He thinks of the death around it, to use it. He thinks maybe a tree can be tired of seeing everybody die too. He hopes it has enough love and kindness to help them find Stiles.
Scott stands in front on the Nemeton and can only send prayers to it. Let us find my brother, bring him back home. Surely he must have been heard, because the forest around him is suddenly full of sounds, wind in the leaves, birds in the trees, cries of animals, and a barely audible hum coming from all around them, raising from the ground and the roots of an old tree, king of this preserve and master of the magic coursing through this earth.
They blink and the Nemeton disappears, leaving Stiles on the floor. The trees moved. It's not only that, it's like...like the colors are more vibrant. Human, banshee and werewolves alike feel like until then, they were blind. Deaf. Deprived of all their senses. It's not overwhelming, it's gentle as the spring sun warming their skins after a long and cold winter.
They understand, suddenly, that this is the Forest. They ask themselves if this is why Stiles always acted like the world wasn't enough. Maybe it wasn't so much hyperactivity than being made for a kingdom that was so much more.
Tiny lights dance around, hiding behind the trees and letting out soft noises and whispers.
What are you looking for? They ask.
“Our friend,” the pack answers, wincing when their voices seem too rough for this place. “he's the prince here. We just want to get him back. He's dying.” A chorus of voices answers.
The Prince? Did they say the Prince? They know him? He's been missing for so long, the King has been desperate, now he's home, but the mage? The mage will die soon, and the Prince will finally come home! The King will be so happy!
Derek feels nauseous. Will Stiles stay here? Surely he will be given the choice. But what if he chooses to? Here, he's a prince. Here, he's fire. The wolf sees his thoughts reflected in the faces of his pack mates. He tries to comfort himself: Stiles will never leave his dad alone. He tries to ignore the other voice, whispering in his ear: but he has a father here too.
“Please,” Scott speaks again, pointing to the pale body he's crouched in front of, so cold to the touch it feels like he's already dead, “we need your help. He has been taken by the mage, and he's dying! Look at him, please!”
The voices quiet down. Silence falls between the trees. Then a voice more powerful rises.
The Forest finds what you're looking for.
And the world disappears.
Everything fades back into existence. In front of them there's the biggest tree they ever saw. A golden door blends into the trunk. The pack doesn't know how, but they know Stiles is in there. They all look at each other, then at the body, trying to decide who's gonna have to carry him inside.
Isaac takes pity on both Scott and Derek, and gets down to scoop up Stiles in his arms. Then, they go in. The few guards there are unexpectedly easy to knock out. They presume no creature from the Forest would ever dare to come and defy the mage, so creatures from the human world are not even considered. They are arrogant.
They find the enemy in a small room. Or maybe the room is big but too crowded by bookshelves and tables full of potions and foreign instruments. There's a fire burning in a big wooden fireplace that doesn't burn down with the wood piled up inside of it, old armchairs that seem comfortable. It looks like the place you would go to listen to stories told by an old and wise witch.
Instead, one of the chairs in taken by a ancient thing. It's not even a person or a creature anymore. It looks asleep, but feels awake. Emanates both weakness and power at once. It doesn't open it's mouth, but a laugh resonates anyway, rattling the bones of the pack.
Inside the triangle made by the chairs and the fireplace, a ring of deep blue ashes contains a tiny light bouncing off the invisible walls of it's prison. The warmth, love and fear that radiates from the being are so familiar there's no doubt in any of their minds that it's Stiles. This is his spirit, soul, life force, power, whatever you want to call it, and Derek finds himself staring at the most beautiful thing he ever saw. It's the kind of fire that doesn't terrifies him.
The body in Isaac arms twitches, but doesn't wake up. Still dies slowly. The light, growing stronger at the same rate, turns to body and stays still against the wall of the cage, ready to leap inside of himself.
It's clear that they have to break the line on the ground, but they know it's not gonna be as easy as it sounds. Derek brushes his arm against Scott's, hoping to make him understand, and jumps forward. He will try to offer some kind of distraction.
Obviously, he doesn't make it to the line, he's pushed backward with a force like he never encountered before. The impact with the wall behind him makes bones crack, vision swim, and probably worse judging by the blood Derek coughs. Everybody suffers the same treatment, even Allison. Luckily, Scott managed to put himself between her and the wall and took the worst if the hit. Isaac had the time put Stiles on the floor before being flunged back. The laugh echoes louder. That's when Derek notices something.
Lydia stands a few step behind where her friends were seconds ago. Her head is tilted and her eyes unfocused, like she's listening to something only she can hear. Then, her eyes fall on Stiles body. The laugh crumbles on itself, and Derek barely has the time to think immune before the lack of a familiar heartbeat hits him.
The scream tearing itself from the banshee's throat should be painful, but it's nothing compared to the endless mantra of Stiles is dead shattering his bones a second time, crushing his heart and lungs, each word like a shard of glass piercing his skin. The small light, indifferent to this, seems to shine brighter.
When the scream ends, there's no sound. The pack is stunned, the mage is unconscious, having taken the blunt of the scream. There's only Lydia to take a step, fall on her knees, and break the ashes line.
For a few seconds, nothing happens. They're all around Stiles, praying it's not too late. Derek actually stands behind everybody else, still not ready to hope. He looks at the body of the mage being taken away by creatures of the Forest, the banshee scream having weakened him enough for the spirits to deal with him themselves. Thinking about it, despite the throwing at walls and the taste of blood at the back of Derek's throat, everything was pretty anticlimactic. The Forest feels almost as if it's disappointed all it took was a red-headed girl with powers she doesn't know how to control yet, and the death of an empty body.
But now the body is not empty. And still dead. No one knows the protocol for magic death and resurrection, do they have to perform CPR or wait for the fire of his power to bring Stiles back? They hold their breaths, their hands hovering around the still body, and Derek gets ready to howl and run away.
And he's about to, when a tiny breath is taken and a heart gets beating again. It's not abrupt, it's not eyes flying open and a loud gasp. Not like being born. It's a small thing, fragile. You're scared if you breath out too hard in relief, you'll blow out the flame. It's a lot like waking from a deep sleep and still feeling the tendril of sweet dreams brushing your consciousness, turning under the warm covers and stretching your body. Opening your eyes and seeing exactly what you wanted to see for so long, and it's better than the dreams.
Stiles wakes up slowly, tries to talk and can't. His eyes flutter like those of a fawn, fly all over the place. It still seems gloomy to them, they remember the thing in the chair, the light trapped and their friend dead in this room. But Stiles opens his eyes and all he sees are hundreds of lights dancing around, a tree house illuminated by the orange glow of a warm fire. He smiles then, and looks like a child.
He turns to his friends, his family, and says “You found me.” and “I feel whole.” and closes his eyes again to feel the magic coursing inside of him and linking him to the Forest. He's a Prince here, and it's starting to show. He seems brighter, even more beautiful. A veil has been lifted, he's the same but he's more. He belongs here and they all see now how he didn't really fit back home. He's more tangible.
They don't say anything, smile and brush away the tears on their cheeks, let out a relieved chuckle, and help Stiles get on his feet. They avoid thinking about him staying here. If they think about it too much, they will try to convince him to come home with them, but it's not really his home for him anymore is it? They don't want to be selfish and cruel and guilt him into leaving this place where he can finally find peace in his own skin.
The pack hugs him, one by one and then all together. There's some talk. It's fuzzy after that, because the King shows up and it's too much for the mind of creatures of the human realm to grasp, but as they stand again in front of the Nemeton, they know Stiles is not with them.
He will remain there the time to gain his strength back, and decide where he wants to be. He should know, the voice of the Forest said, that if he were to go back to his pack, he will never have his fire again. “But will I be able to visit?” Stiles asked. “Only once a year, for a few hours.” the King answered, tears in his old, old eyes, “Or maybe your soul will come back to us after you die your human life. The Forest is patient enough to wait and see.”
So the pack walks back through the Preserve, learning from Deaton they were gone for only a few minutes when they spent hours in the Forest, and as they look around the world seems duller. They know it's not because of the colors.
Two weeks passed, and Derek got on with his life. He's still trying to decide whether he stays or leaves again. He wonders how much time must pass before they all lose hope that Stiles will come back.
Derek didn't go out in all this time, except for emergency grocery shopping. Got a few visits from the pack. Now, he stands on the balcony of his top floor apartment, drinking coffee and basking in the setting sun, trying to remember the warmth of the Forest. The warmth of a tiny ball of light trapped inside what they learned was a ring of sea ashes. Whatever that was.
The wolf breathes deeply and goes to drink again from his mug only to realize he already finished it. He couldn't say how long ago that was. He goes back inside, his furniture bathing in the golden light. There's a knock on his door and he's almost tempted to ignore it, but he knows only the pack comes here and they will not believe for one moment he wasn't home.
He opens it and freezes. For a full minute, standing there face to face in silence, it's like they're still in the Forest. In this light so much like a fire's, Stiles looks like the prince he was back there. He smiles, and there's nothing more beautiful than the way his eyes wrinkle with happiness.
“The Forest finds what you're looking for.”