Melissa pulled the car up outside Stiles' house, and turned to look at him with big, brown eyes that were painfully like Scott's. Stiles avoided her gaze, staring down at his hands instead, seeing the echoes of blood and fear and the end of everything. He sucked in a short, desperate breath.
"I could come in," Melissa said. "Cook you something. You should eat."
"No," said Stiles. "Thanks. I'm not very hungry."
"When did you last sleep?"
"Properly? About three years ago, I guess."
It was feeble and it didn't make her laugh. She knew better, knew about the childhood panic attacks and the nightmares, and how he used to make himself stay awake for fear that his father would die on duty if he slept. She knew because she'd cared for him for years, just like his dad had cared for Scott, because all four of them were fucked up in different ways and yet they fit together better than most families.
Used to fit together.
"Come home with me," Melissa said. "Talk to Scott."
Stiles shook his head, blinking away tears. "I don't want to talk to Scott."
"Thanks for the ride. You're absolutely sure Dad's okay? The doctor wasn't bullshitting me this time?"
"Your father's fine. Still pigheaded, stupidly brave and noble as hell, but hey, he's a Stilinski. Whatcha gonna do?"
This time Stiles managed a flicker of a smile. "I'm not brave. Or noble."
"Oh, is that so?" Her sarcasm was sharp enough to cut glass and Stiles couldn't argue, not without telling her things he hadn't even found the truth of himself yet. So he shrugged and opened the car door, ready to step out onto his drive. But Melissa took a hold of his arm. "He loves you. Don't forget that."
She didn't mean his father.
The house felt cold and dark, even after he'd turned the lights on. He grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and trudged upstairs. He wanted a very long, very hot shower and to pass out on his bed, hopefully to wake up and find that the past month had been no more than a bad dream. He took his phone out of his pocket. There were messages, a lot of messages, none of them from the right people. He opened the door to his room, turning his phone off, ready to fling it on his bed with his keys and loose change, but he was distracted by a reflection in the glass board just inside the door. Something was off. It looked as though there was something white curled up on his bed.
Stiles squinted through the glass, which was clouded with scribbled names and scrubbed-out theories. There was definitely something on his bed. Maybe a cat. One of their neighbours had a Turkish Angora, but it wasn't usually let out. Maybe it had escaped.
He stepped around the board, still holding his phone, keys and change. "Okay, kitty, it's nice of you to visit but-"
It wasn't a cat.
Curled up on the middle of his bed, head resting on its tail, apparently fast asleep and snoring, was a small, white dragon.
On the one hand, this was a strong sign that he was, in fact, dreaming. That would be a good thing. Maybe the dream started before his father was hurt, before Donovan, before the nogitsune, Hell, maybe even before Scott got the bite. On the other hand, if he wasn't dreaming, this was Beacon Hills, and things like this happened all the time, and usually ended badly. At least this thing wasn't trying to kill him. Yet.
"You know what?" Stiles told the sleeping dragon. "I've had the week from Hell. My dad got clawed in the gut, we all got betrayed, my best friend and my girlfriend broke up with me, and my car broke down. Again. So I'm just gonna go right on and have a shower. Maybe you'll still be here when I get back, maybe you won't. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it, okay?"
The dragon remained resolutely asleep.
Stiles put his things down on his desk and took off his clothes. If that made him naked and vulnerable in front of something that wanted to shred him to pieces, so be it. Stiles was exhausted, reeking of hospital waiting room, blood and water treatment chemicals. Getting clean - on the outside, at least - was the most urgent issue and one he blessedly knew how to deal with.
He went to the bathroom and stayed under the hot water for so long his skin went pink and his fingertips pruned up. He pondered the notion of heating something up in the microwave, but he wasn't really hungry. Sleep first. There'd be plenty of room: the dragon was only small. Smaller than Malia.
He couldn't feel sad about Malia, because he couldn't feel sad about anything. There were so many gaping holes where people should be that he didn't know where to start. So, he didn't start at all. He turned off the shower, wrapped himself in a towel, cleaned his teeth, flossed, dragged his fingers through his hair, and went back to his bedroom. He rummaged in a drawer for a pair of cleanish pyjama pants and an old t-shirt and pulled them on. Only then did he look at the bed.
The dragon was still there. Still curled up, still sleeping. It was cute, with gleaming white scales and a feathery sort of mane thing down its neck that shimmered with strands of blue. Stiles sighed.
"Okay, buddy. If you're still there in the morning, we'll talk about it. For now, I need sleep. Try not to snore, okay?"
The dragon didn't stir, not even when Stiles pulled back the covers and got into bed. If the thing woke him in the night and killed him, well, whatever.
Stiles was asleep the second his head hit the pillow.
The first thing Stiles noticed when he awoke was the sun. It was hitting him full in the face, which meant it was nearly midday. He half-rolled, half-fell out of bed in a rush to check his phone. It was dead. He'd forgotten to put it on charge last night, dammit. He fumbled the lead into place, flicked the switch and waited for a couple of minutes that felt like hours until it turned on. Then he called Melissa.
His dad was fine, napping, all signs normal. He'd had a restful night. Lydia was still the same. Melissa was heading back for her next shift in an hour, and she could pick Stiles up if he wanted a lift. Stiles arranged to get a ride with her from the coffee shop five blocks away, because it was on her route.
He ignored the missed calls and texts from Scott and sat back on the bed.
Something chirruped softly behind him.
Stiles turned around.
The dragon was still there.
"Okay, then," said Stiles. "Point one, you're real. Unless I'm still hallucinating, which, well. Always a possibility." Stiles shrugged. "Point two, you didn't attack me in my sleep. Which is an advance on most of the mythical creatures I've met."
The dragon got up and stretched its limbs out one by one: four legs and a tail. Then it opened up its wings, yawned and belched a tiny cloud of fire, about as big as a candle flame. Fortunately the fire poofed out as quickly as it had appeared, so nothing caught alight. Which was a plus.
Then the dragon waddled its way over to Stiles. It looked up at him, made that little chirpy noise again, and flew up onto his shoulder. Its tail wound around Stiles' neck, the end flicking against his collarbone.
Despite the scales, the dragon felt nothing like the pet boa Stiles used to have. It was warm and, in places, quite fluffy: its mane of soft hair ran right from its ears to its tail. Stiles looked into its crimson eyes, and gave in to a sudden urge to tickle it between its ears.
It purred at him.
"You like that, huh?"
"So, red eyes, huh? I'm guessing you're an alpha. An alpha what, though? Weredragon? That would be cool. If you are, you know, I might just let you bite me. It would be totally worth it. Do weredragons outrank werewolves? I'm guessing so."
The dragon tipped its head to one side, its eyebrow ridges furrowed, as if it thought Stiles were completely insane.
After all, he was talking to a little white dragon on his shoulder. Things didn't get much madder than that.
"Okay, I get it, you're adorable," Stiles said. "I'd happily hang out here all day with you, I swear. It's just that my dad's only just out of surgery, and I need to go see him. So I'm gonna get dressed, go to the coffee place, get a ride to the hospital. Okay? I'm guessing you won't want to come with, so-"
The dragon made an excited hiccupping noise, and waved its head towards something under Stiles' desk. All he could see there was his backpack.
"Oh, wait. You want me to take you in that?"
The dragon didn't wait. It hopped off Stiles' shoulder and padded across to Stiles' backpack, unzipped it with its teeth and crawled inside.
Stiles hesitated. He tried to get his brain to process the fact that a dragon wanted to go to the coffee shop with him. His brain refused completely to even get started on that. His brain, in fact, was still trying to process the whole blood and screaming montage that was the night before last. It was all Stiles could to do get it to put 'dragon' on the 'inbox' list, along with 'how the hell am I going to get around without the Jeep' and 'what the fuck trashed the school last night'. He envied teenagers who only had to worry about their grades, safe sex and whether they were cool or not. He truly did. He had to worry about all that and the fact that he fucking killed someone.
His guts clenched.
He killed someone.
The dragon stuck its head out of Stiles' backpack, and made a concerned sort of squeak.
"Okay, okay, first things first," Stiles muttered. "Bathroom. I'll be right back."
Stiles washed, dressed, cleaned his teeth and came back to the bedroom, half-expecting to find he'd been hallucinating after all. But the dragon chirruped at him from under the desk. Stiles pulled his pack onto his shoulder, careful not to jostle his passenger too much, shoved his keys and change back in his pocket and pulled his phone from the charger. Only fifty per cent but it'd have to do. He could probably sweet-talk Melissa into letting him charge it more at the nurse's station.
It's not like he wanted to talk to anyone right now, anyway.
The coffee shop was busy, and Stiles hated waiting in line. But he needed caffeine and food and it was so much better here than at the hospital. So he stood behind a guy in a business suit who smelt far too strongly of cheap cologne and was whistling a jaunty tune. (Probably having an office affair.) Stiles reached for his phone for distraction. He had it out of his pocket and his thumb poised to unlock the screen before he even thought about it.
Did he really want to know what was going on right now? Lydia was in the hospital. Mason was taking care of Liam. Malia had made it pretty clear yesterday she didn't want to talk to him, and for reasons that made his chest hurt, Stiles didn't want to talk to her much either. Part of Stiles wanted to chuck his phone in the river and be done with it.
But he couldn't. He'd never be done with it. Not now.
He checked quickly, scrolling through the texts from Scott. That's all there were. Nothing else. He shot off a quick message to his dad to tell him he was on his way to visit, then stuffed his phone down deep in the pocket of his jeans.
There was a chirrup from his backpack. Stiles made a hushing noise.
Somewhere behind him in the line - no, right behind him - someone was laughing. It was a weird laugh, not entirely unkind but not exactly friendly either. Stiles looked over his shoulder, and a man - youngish, about Derek's age, maybe? - waved at him.
"Do I know you?" Stiles was aware that he came off as more aggressive than strictly necessary, but he'd had a hell of a night. Week. Month. Year. Whatever.
"I don't believe I've had the pleasure." The man held out his hand. "My name is Hakkai."
Stiles stared at Hakkai's hand for a moment before clasping it. Hakkai's grip was firm, and he held on a little too long. He was tall, pretty skinny but broad-shouldered. Asian with striking green eyes and a mop of dark hair held off his face with a green band. He had the kind of smile that made you think he could - and would - kill you with a snap of his fingers if you displeased him.
"Stiles," said Stiles, and Hakkai finally let him go.
Stiles' backpack started to wriggle and squeak.
"Xiǎolóng, hush," Hakkai said.
"Ah, I see," said Stiles. "Is this is your, um…" he pointed to his backpack. "Pet?"
Hakkai laughed his humourless little laugh. "Not exactly. Perhaps we could discuss it over breakfast?"
Hakkai indicated the counter ahead of them: the businessman was fumbling change at the barista. It was Stiles' turn.
A few minutes later he collected his coffee and white chocolate and raspberry muffin and selected at a table in the corner, a booth that he and the others used from time to time when they needed a public place to be a bit private in. He put his backpack carefully on the bench, close to the wall, and sat next to it. Hakkai slid onto the bench opposite, and began to peel his orange with delicate, careful fingers.
"It's fine if you want it back," said Stiles. "I don't know how it ended up on my bed."
"No, I don't expect you do," Hakkai said. "Perhaps you could open the bag? We're perfectly safe here, and he knows how to be discreet."
Stiles unzipped his backpack, and the dragon peeked its head out. It spotted Hakkai immediately, and flew over the table to perch on his shoulder. He sat there, making happy, crooning noises, rubbing its face all over Hakkai's cheek.
"Discreet, huh?" said Stiles, and took a bite of his muffin. He wasn't unduly concerned. It's not like he was the one with a dragon on his shoulder, after all.
"He has a habit of being difficult to see," Hakkai said.
"It's cute," Stiles said. "Where'd ya get it?"
"I've only met him once or twice. His brother has travelled with me for a long time."
"Quite the reunion for you, then," said Stiles, his mouth full of muffin.
"It's lovely to see him again. His brother, Hakuryuu, asked me to visit. He seems to have a very dangerous and demanding mission on his hands. Don't you, Xiǎolóng?"
The dragon nodded its head, and looked straight at Stiles.
"What?" said Stiles.
Hakkai took a sip of tea, somehow managing to make drinking out of a paper cup look elegant. "I believe you acquired a Jeep a few years ago."
"Yeah, matter of fact I did. It was my fifteenth birthday present from my dad. Why?"
"I'm just interested. I drive a Jeep too. They can be quite remarkable vehicles."
"Yeah, I know, right? It was my first car. We were pretty broke, but I'd saved up a lot, I had a paper route and all. That didn't end well, actually, but my dad surprised me the day before my birthday. He bought it in a police auction."
"Hmm. No doubt it has been your companion on a great many adventures."
"Yeah. You could say that." Stiles let the last bit of muffin drop back into its case, and pushed it away. "Not any more, though."
"Fell apart on me, man. I'm thinking it's not good for more than scrap, now."
The dragon made a low, keening noise. It was one of the saddest things Stiles had ever heard. "Hey, it's okay, little buddy," Stiles said, ignoring the tears in his own eyes. "It's just a car."
The dragon hissed at him and pulled back, its tail curling tight around Hakkai's arm.
"Wow," said Stiles. "He really likes Jeeps."
"You could say that," said Hakkai, mildly. "And so do you, it would seem."
Stiles' slumped. "Yeah. I do. Did. Do. But it's been through so much - it got set fire to the other day, can you believe that? Still intact afterwards. How many vehicles do you know that are ninety per cent fire resistant?"
"Well, well," said Hakkai. "Astonishing."
"Yeah. And it would break down a lot, but sometimes it would stop for no reason and then start again. It just kept going. Until the night before last. Then it… well. It won't start any more."
"I expect it just needs a bit longer to recover this time," said Hakkai.
Hakkai looked at him for a long moment, until his gaze gave Stiles a twitch of discomfort, then he spoke again. "I think perhaps we should go outside for a moment. Somewhere quiet."
If it had been any other random dude Stiles might have thought he was being propositioned. But Hakkai had an air of lingering menace under his impeccable manners and that crazy smile. Murder was more likely than sexual advances. Whatever, Stiles' curiosity got the better of him. He put the lid on his mocha and followed Hakkai outside. The dragon stayed on Hakkai's shoulders, but to Stiles' surprise Hakkai had been right: nobody seemed to notice it. Then again, people in Beacon Hills were good at not seeing things.
In the alley behind the coffee shop, Hakkai whispered in the dragon's ear, and it flew from his shoulder. There was a swirl of glitter-dust and a snap of light, and then there was…
Stiles quickly checked the licence plate. No. Not a Jeep. His Jeep.
"Roscoe?" he said. "I don't understand."
"Oh, I rather think you do," said Hakkai. "You seem like quite an intelligent young man."
"I think we both know better than to think anything is impossible, don't you?"
Stiles ran his fingertips along the seam of Roscoe's hood. It was still scratched and battered, hints of rust showing through the paintwork. "Are you seriously telling me that your dragon magicked my Jeep here?"
"Or that… it turned into my Jeep?"
Hakkai raised an eyebrow.
"My Jeep is a dragon," said Stiles.
"I think he would rather you had it the other way around," said Hakkai. "Your dragon has been, since the day your father found him in the police auction, a Jeep. Like his brother Hakuryuu, Roscoe has the ability to transform. A gift of this incarnation, if you will."
The Jeep made a loud creaking noise; there was a pop and a cloud of mist from which the dragon emerged, waddling back from the road where the Jeep had been. It coughed, and spat a small screw onto the sidewalk.
It looked paler, somehow, scales an unhealthy transluscent grey. Its head drooped.
"Oh, God," said Stiles. "I hit you with a wrench! I hit you, like, a lot! I yelled at you and hit you and performed surgery on you with duct tape! Oh God, I'm so, so sorry!"
The dragon waddled over to Stiles' feet, looked up at him and pawed at his shin.
"I believe he would like you to lift him," Hakkai said. "His Jeep form has indeed been severely damaged. Transforming into it will take its toll on him for a while."
Stiles picked the little guy up immediately and cradled him in his arms. Roscoe stretched his long neck up, and whiffled under Stiles' chin.
"So, let me get this straight," said Stiles. "My dad bought me a dragon by accident?"
"No, not by accident. Roscoe chose you."
"Hakuryuu has told me he wishes to do good deeds in this life to make amends for bad deeds in past ones. He chose me because he knew I was on a similar journey." Hakkai touched his left ear, running his finger over the three silver cuffs that curled around the top of it. They gleamed in the sunlight. "I believe Roscoe wishes to redeem himself also. He has chosen you to travel with him on that path."
Stiles stroked the ridge between the dragon's ears, circling around the little horns there. He thought back to all those times his Jeep had saved the day. It had been their getaway car, their headquarters - it had even helped them to save Jackson. The pack would be lost without it.
The pack were lost without it.
"He's been everything," Stiles said. "To me and my friends. He's been… he's one of us. Tell me, what can I do to make this right? Will he die? Oh God, he's not going to die, is he?"
"Oh, dear me, no!" said Hakkai. "He needs rest, is all. I gather you must have had quite the time of it lately."
Stiles nodded, and scrubbed tears off his cheek. Roscoe nuzzled at him with a little croon of concern.
"I can tell you this," said Hakkai, with a smile that, for the first time, looked soft and real. "Hakuryuu has helped my friends and me through some truly dreadful times, and some truly wonderful times. Even when he gets hurt, he never gives up. He always heals, given enough time in his dragon form, and he soon gets us on our way again. More than that: he helps us to heal, too."
"Yeah, well." Stiles rubbed his nose on Roscoe's mane. "Do you guys ever fight? I mean, really fight, like, so you don't speak to each other any more?"
Hakkai laughed. "Oh dear. Yes, I'm afraid so. Quite a lot."
"But it's okay in the end?"
"Of course it is. We're like family, really. We always find our way back to each other."
"Like pack," murmured Stiles.
"Yes," said Hakkai. "Take care of Roscoe, Stiles. And he will take the very best care of you, and your pack."
Stiles' phone rang. He fumbled to get it out of his pocket, and Roscoe clambered up onto his shoulder as Stiles checked the caller. It was Melissa. Stiles turned to tell Hakkai he had to take the call-
- but Hakkai was gone.
"Oh," said Stiles.
Melissa told him she was running late, but she'd be there in a few minutes to pick him up.
"Hey, buddy, looks like our ride is on its way."
Roscoe butted Stiles' ear and nodded over Stiles' shoulder at his backpack.
"Yeah, in you hop," said Stiles. "But as soon as you're better, you're gonna be carrying me around again, okay?"
Somewhere from behind him, Stiles heard a muffled chirp.
"I'll take that as a yes," said Stiles.
A few minutes later, Melissa pulled up to the kerb. Stiles hopped into the car, cradling his backpack in his lap.
"You look better," she said. "Come on, let's get you to your dad."
"Thanks for the ride. I promise I'll repay the favour. Once the Jeep's back on the road and everything."
Melissa gives him a little frown. "You think you can get it working again?"
Stiles held his bag a little closer to his chest.
"Certain of it," he said.