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It only took one freaking second—“Scott!” Stiles called. He’d only been in the bathroom for ten seconds, that’d teach him to spend the day sucking down Mountain Dew, fuck his tiny, tiny bladder, and now Scott wasn’t waiting on the couch where Stiles had left him. Probably in the kitchen, but nope, no evidence of fridge robbery or cookie jar break-ins. “Scott, where are you, you little monster?”

Then Stiles’s lunch lurched in his stomach as he realized that the back door was open. There were swirls of snow dancing in the warm kitchen light, blown in from the darkness of night outside. The forest loomed, all skeletal branches and snow and frozen streams and a thousand places a six-year-old could freeze to death and die, and why, why, why hadn’t Stiles remembered to lock the damn door?

“Scott,” Stiles yelled again, voice wobbling as he sprinted out from the warmth and light of the room, picturing a tiny body and blue lifeless cheeks. God, what had he done? Please please please— “Scott!”

His heart froze when he spotted the small dark form against the white of the snow, then started again with a painful jolt when Scott’s arms moved.

“Stiles!” Scott said joyfully, looking up at him, cheeks pink and eyes sparkling. He waved his arms, shoving the snow around and getting totally soaked. “See, I’m an angel! I can make wings!”

“You’re something alright, partner,” Stiles said, and bent, putting his head between his knees for a moment until he was sure he wasn’t going to keel over himself. Christ. Sweet merciful God. Fucking hell. Then he scooped Scott up and yep, he was definitely soaked to the bone and freezing cold. Great.

“You are in big trouble, dude,” Stiles ranted, lugging his armful back inside and kicking the door shut, this time locking it. Twice. With a deadbolt and a chain. “So much trouble.” There was a sniffling sound, and ugh, Stiles never learned, he always looked down. But, no, not even the big brown puppy eyes of doom were going to dent Stiles’s rightful ire now. His heart was still pounding with relief and worry, like it hadn’t figured out yet that everything was going to be okay. “I mean it this time. You know better, and you scared the shit out of me!” Brown eyes went wide, and Stiles huffed. “And don’t even think about telling your mom I said that, okay, we have extenuating circumstances here. Besides, remember our deal.”

“I’m sorry, Stiles,” Scott said, eyes welling up, his breath was definitely a little wheezy, a little rasping. Cold air was bad for asthma, and fuck, if Stiles had gotten the poor kid fucking sick, he’d have to throw himself into a lake or something. How did parents do this day in and day out? He started stripping off Scott’s wet clothes with renewed energy. “I’m sorry.” He paused as Stiles carefully peeled the wet hoodie over his head. “Can we finish Mario now?”

Lower lip wobble, deployed. Stiles hardened his heart as he started rubbing Scott’s hair with a towel.

“Nuh-uh, sorry doesn’t cut it this time. No more Wii for you. Bedtime is approximately now. It’s pajamas, teeth, and lights out for you.”

Stiles endured the sniffling and low-key wailing that ensued, and wrestled the pajamas on, brushed the teeth, then stuffed Scott into bed with all the required animals and action figures. By then Scott had given up protesting. Really, jailbreak aside, he was a good kid most of the time, sweet and agreeable. ‘Better than mine was at that age,’ his dad liked to say to Ms. McCall, while Stiles fake-laughed, hilarious, whatever. Stiles was sure he’d never tried to freeze himself into a Stilesicle and give his poor babysitters cardiac arrests.

“You warm now, buddy?” he asked, and Scott nodded, and snuggled down in the Batman comforter and Spiderman sheets. He looked super cute, and super contrite, and, fine, Stiles wasn’t made of stone.

“Okay, one bedtime story, alright? And then it’s lights out, buckaroo.”

Scott beamed, and Stiles grinned helplessly back. “Yeah!”

“Have you ever heard of a cautionary tale, Scott?” Stiles said, settling in beside the bed. Scott was watching him with gratifying attention, totally unaware of how uncool Stiles was and how unusual it was for anyone to listen to him and what he had to say at all, ever. Scott didn’t understand everything Stiles said most of the time, obviously, but he was the best audience a guy could ask for, laughed in all the right places, sucked in deep breaths and made hilariously wide-eyes when the situation asked for it.

“So, basically, fairy tales started off as a way of teaching kids not to go into the big scary woods, and I always kinda thought it was a little barbaric, maybe a little boring, teaching all the sheep to conform, but after today I sorta get the point.”

“Fairy tales, please,” Scott agreed, good at finding the point himself, and Stiles snorted.

“Good, so let’s go with the story of Little Red and the Big Bad Wolf, and the list of many many reasons it is not entirely wise to go into the woods without adequate preparation. Like, say, a giant coat and gloves and a hat—or weaponry, like an axe, or, well, not an axe for you, but an adult capable of wielding an axe, or at least shrieking and flailing with it, like me, that is what you need before you head into the woods, because otherwise that way lies hypothermia and possible mauling by wildlife.”

“The wolf, Stiles!” Scott said, hugging his stuffed husky Bruno to his chest, eyes big, and Stiles ruffled his hair.

“Yep, exactly. Not that there are any wolves in California, but—I’m getting off-track again, huh? Man, I’m not the best person to teach someone to stay on track. Okay, okay. Let’s see, how do fairy tales start, again?” Stiles rubbed his chin thoughtfully, waiting and hmming and hawing until Scott laughed and said, “Stiles! Once upon a time.”

“Oh, right, that’s it, thanks, buddy,” Stiles said, and held up a hand for a high five. “So, once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, there lived a young Jedi padawan who wanted to take a basket of flangth to his ailing granny…”

After Scott had finally drifted off, Stiles retreated back downstairs to check each and every door and window lock. By the time Melissa got home, looking harried, Stiles had consumed a pot of coffee and was still restlessly checking the doors, and his sleeping charge, every ten minutes.

“Aw, c’mon, Stiles, take the money,” Melissa was saying as Stiles bounced around her, taking her bag and her coat, dark circles heavy beneath her eyes and hair a mess. “It’s Friday night. I didn’t marry your dad to get a babysitter, you don’t have to stay in with Scott every time your father and I both have shifts.”

“Hey, hey, hey,” Stiles said, making a show of pouting and raising his laden hands, though honestly, he was a little offended. “Not a babysitter! A big brother. There’s a difference. Don’t deprive me of these precious family memories. I’ve only got so long before Scott realizes he’s way cooler than me.”

And, yeah, Stiles had started off a babysitter, but he’d thought of Scott as his mini-me for years now anyway, way before his father finally got tired of making incredibly embarrassing googly eyes at Scott’s mom and popped the question and made their brotherhood official. He’d had a lot of embarrassing conversations with Melissa about it already, how she didn’t want to be his new mom, knew she couldn’t be, but she wanted to be his friend, and Scott to be his brother.

He was lucky, he knew, and so was his father, to have this new chance at a family. Stiles wasn’t going to fuck it up.

“Besides,” he continued, because Melissa was still looking guilty and had her wallet in hand—as though Stiles would take the money, Jesus. “Scott is cool. You don’t need to pay me to hang out and play Wii and eat pizza with him.”

And, to be more honest than he was really comfortable with, it wasn’t as thought Stiles had Friday night plans. But he knew his father was already worried that he didn’t have any friends off the internet besides his six-year-old stepbrother, so. Subject change.

“Though if I was getting paid, I’d want hazard pay. Kid hid outside during hide-and-seek! I couldn’t find him anywhere, I nearly had to call Dad in with the hounds and you for a heart transplant.”

He also now owed Scott about ten thousand gummy bears for the swears Stiles had let slide when he’d found him. But Melissa didn’t need to know that. The Gummy Non-Disclosure Agreement had held long before Melissa had officially become his step-mom.

“He was out in the snow? Did he have his coat? A scarf?” Melissa looked panicked, which, fair. Scott’s asthma acted up enough badly enough without the unseasonable cold that had swept over their part of the country. It didn’t help that Scott was understandably enchanted by the white winter they were having—what kid wasn’t? School canceled, snowmen, sleds.

But it was one thing making snow angels and enacting epic battles in the front yard during the daylight while Stiles was right there beside him, and another thing entirely for Scott to disappear into the winter night. It’d been the most terrified Stiles’s had felt since his mother got sick, nearly a decade ago, now. He felt a pang of retroactive guilt for whatever similar scares he’d put her through himself, a hyperactive and prone-to-wandering child.

“Nooo, but don’t worry,” Stiles assured Melissa as he heated up some of the veggie pizza from earlier, already well into the routine of fixing dinner at odd hours for overworked parents. “I got him warmed up and he seems fine. I put the fear of Stiles in him with a bedtime story on straying from paths, big bad wolves and Scottsicles. We’re doing fairy tales in English anyway, it was a great review on, you know, cautionary tales and the nature of the unknown and—”

“Uh huh,” Melissa said absently, sinking into a chair. That was another reason Stiles had no problem hanging with Scott—he was basically the only person that listened these days, it felt like. “Listen, if he’s been bad, you don’t have to take him to the Beacon Winter Fest tomorrow, it’s really fine—”

“Perish the thought!” Stiles said, slapping a hand to his chest. His guild did have a raid planned, it was true, but Stiles was almost as excited as Scott about the snow, honestly. The town had planned a bunch of hockey games and had made hills for sledding and a snowman contest, and it wasn’t as though he had anyone else he could go with.

“It’s no sweat, literally,” he continued. “I was going to go anyway, I gotta have my wingman. All the ladies love him. Not that I need the help!" he added, and flexed an arm at her, grinning. “Eh? Right?”

"Uh huh," Melissa said skeptically, but she looked relieved.

"Don't worry," Stiles said, and saluted her as he walked backwards towards the door, bashing into it as he went and getting a raised eyebrow. "It'll be fun!"

***

He remembered that the next day. It’ll be fun. It was supposed to have been fun, safe. The opposite of scary, of dark woods and freezing and death.

Beyond them, he was dimly aware of people shouting, but it was far away and somehow quieter than soft sound of the ice cracking beneath him as he got to his feet. The plastic sled had skittered past them, and Scott was sitting up and looking dazed, a few feet away on the ice, further towards the center of the lake that clearly wasn’t as frozen solid as people had thought. Fuck.

Bad luck. It was bad luck they’d gotten shoved so hard on the hill, that it was a warmer day than predicted, that none of the hockey players had managed to stop them when they’d barreled through—but whatever. Whatever. None of that mattered now.

Stiles,” Scott said, picking up on the panicked adults and sounds beyond them. He was wheezing, cheeks red and big brown eyes wide.

“Hey. Hey, don’t worry, buddy,” Stiles said, and smiled at him as wide as he could. “Ignore them, everything’s fine. Hey, look at me. Just stay still for a second.” Scott obediently looked back at him, eyes trusting. His baby brother, in everything but blood. Stiles knew what he had to do, almost supernaturally calm as he considered the situation.

He felt hyper-aware of everything around them, the spiderwebbing patterns forming on the ice beneath them, the brilliant blue of the sky, the bright red of Scott’s hoodie, the single hockey stick that had been caught up in their wake as they slid out of safety and into danger. Each second passing, the cracking sounds got louder, water staring to pool around them darkly.

Okay. Okay, Stiles thought carefully, and knelt slowly, reaching a hand out towards the hockey stick nearby.

“It’ll be like a game,” Stiles continued encouragingly, not looking down, keeping Scott’s attention on him. “Like when we play helicopter, remember?” Fall leaves and Scott shrieking as Stiles whirled him around and around until they both fell in a heap, the air cool and crisp. Good memories, and Scott smiled back hesitantly. “You grab on to the stick and hold on tight and I’ll swing you, okay?”

“Okay, Stiles,” he said and Stiles nodded encouragingly.

“Count of three, okay, bro? One. Two.” Stiles, for once in his life, felt completely focused. Time seemed to slow as he lunged for the hockey stick, and it felt right in his hand, the way a lacrosse stick never had in gym. He turned to Scott, all brown curls and wide, trusting eyes, and with a fully body twist, sent him sliding across the ice, back towards the shore.

The last thing he saw before everything went blue and dark was Scott’s red hoodie, and he thought, as his limbs went shock-heavy and cold, and the bubbles started streaming around him, that he’d done something good with his life after all.

That was something. Maybe, that was everything.

***

It was dark, and endlessly cold, and empty, and endless. Then suddenly, into the sleepless dark, the world was full of bright, buoyant bubbles, then stars falling towards him—no, he was rising towards them. The ice parted around him, folding back like gilt paper, and the moon rose above it all. He raised his face to it, and the moon looked down on the earth, on him, and said sweet and somehow sorrowful, Jack Frost.

That’s me, he realized wonderingly. I’m Jack Frost. He stood, sliding and wobbly like a baby deer, and immediately fell back on his ass. When he laughed, the wind curled around playfully, teasing with his hoodie and ruffling his hair.

For a moment all Stiles knew was an overwhelming lightness, the flurry of snowflakes dancing around him and the night bright and beautiful. Everywhere he touched intricate patterns formed, lacey and curling, and he skated through the air for a while, laughing as the stick in his hands glowed. He felt light, brilliant, invincible.

But something was pulling at his attention, pulling him back down. Something was rippling in the wind by the bank of the lake, starkly yellow and black against the moonlit blues, the shadows of snow. It was out of place, weird and somehow wrong, and yet…

He drifted closer, picked a limp tendril up in his hands and then thought, crime scene, with dawning horror.

His father. His father. He bobbed awkwardly back up into the air, looking around wildly, and remembered—a face, framed in brown curls and red. Scott’s face. The ice cracking, his last breath and the blue afternoon sky.

Jack Frost, the moon murmured against his skin, worried, and Stiles brushed it off, breath suddenly harsh in his throat. He didn’t understand, he couldn’t—

“I have to go home,” he said. “I—where’s my dad, I have to—”

The wind carried him up and up, whipping the town past him, and he wobbled his way through the stars and flurries of snow before stopping sharply with wonder.

There was a net of gold glimmering in a skein above Beacon Hills, his tiny town, beautiful and twining like threads through windows. Stiles couldn’t help but dip down to touch it, and it ran between his fingers, warm and sparkling. A unicorn rose and danced over his fingers with a chiming neigh before disappearing back into the stream.

“Okay, weird,” Stiles said, and dipped down a hand again, watched a figure skater twirl up over his palm and back down into the golden current. But he didn’t—he’d figure it out later, he couldn’t wonder and worry right now, he had to get home.

“Wind?” he called, and it curled back around him, sweetly cool and comforting, the way he remembered his mother’s hand upon his cheek, and then they were back off, dodging the threads of gold and picking up speed.

Until small figure flitted in front of him and collided sharply and painfully with his nose. He caught it automatically—Jesus, he’d hit a bat, or something, what if he’d killed it?

“Ow, oh god, sorry, ow, not used to flying yet!” he exclaimed, rubbing his face and opening his hand, and—okay. Uh. This wasn’t a bat, it was something jewel-winged and impossible. “If I didn’t already think I was crazy, I’d say you’re a fairy,” Stiles said, faintly, hovering on his back in the air. “I dive-bombed a fairy. Are, uh. Are you okay?”

It twittered at him indignantly, a scolding sound like disgruntled bells, before coming closer, tiny pink eyes wide and wondering. “Hi?” Stiles offered weakly, and held out a hand. It landed gently, butterfly light, and reached up small hands towards his—his mouth? What the fuck, Stiles thought weakly, and gently brushed it off.

It made a questioning chirp, and reached up again, pulling at his lower lip. Stiles said in a muffled voice, “Sorry, little, uh. Birdlady. Do you know what—”

What’s going on. What’s happening to me. What am I?

The head tilted and the assault renewed, and no answer seemed forthcoming, so Stiles gave up and let it poke his mouth again to its heart’s content. Because why not. It touched his front teeth lightly, his canines, then forced his mouth open wider to tap a small hand against his molars. “Sure, go ahead, have a party,” he garbled, and heard a tiny giggle. Then it was off again, flitting around his head and crooning softly.

“Are you—a tooth fairy? Seriously? You have to be kidding me.” That got another scolding cheep, and Stiles held out his hands. “What? I floss!” Stiles said, and the fairy-thing made a sweet, low little sound and patted his cheek, right above his molars, and then flitted back off. As he watched, it waved at him again with a tiny hand, and then squirmed its way through a window and was gone.

“Jack Frost,” Stiles said, remembering, and looked back up at the silent moon. He was having a psychotic break, maybe, an out of body experience due to oxygen deprivation and hypothermia, he must still be back there, drowning, or in a hospital, or—his dad.

He was off again, and it was night, his dad should be working, so he skidding through streets towards the station. He’d slowed enough now to dodge any fellow fliers, and now he had to, couldn’t help but notice and wonder—no one looked up at the golden lights, the little fairies. Or the boy that was skidding above them on the breeze. By the time he reached the station and eeled through the front door, he almost already knew what would happen.

His father’s deputy Ricky didn’t look up when the pages swirled around him, just dragged a hand over his red eyes and gathered them back up before going to shut the already closed window, looking at it numbly. No one—no one looked at him, and Stiles fled before the panicked tears could choke him or freeze shut his lashes.

No no no—but home, he found the lights all on. His father in the kitchen with Melissa’s arms around him as his shoulders heaved. No.

“We’ll—we’ll find the body in the spring,” his father was choking out as Melissa soothed him, soft meaningless noises Stiles remembered all too well from years past, from his mother’s funeral. “We should—I should—”

Dad,” Stiles choked out, standing in the open door. Snowflakes swirled in around him, not melting in the kitchen heat. “Dad, I’m here,” he tried again, coming closer. “Don’t cry, I’m—”

Melissa looked up, her face lined and older than he’d ever seen it, more haggard than any night shift could make, and then stood. She walked through Stiles in a shiver of strange warmth, and closed the door.

“Dad?” Stiles choked out, and tried to touch his father’s shoulder.

His father was crying.

Stiles fled.

***

He ended up where he always went on the hard days, the days that ground him down—when his father drank, or when he’d been shoved in a locker again, when his guidance counselor sent home another letter about his lack of focus, his inability to stop—being himself. Because who he was wasn’t good enough.

He settled on snow on top of his mother’s tombstone and wrapped his arms around himself and tried to stop shivering. He wasn’t cold, he wasn’t—but he couldn’t stop.

“I don’t understand, Mom,” he said, and closed his eyes. He wondered—he wondered if she’d have seen him, all the times she’d laughed and told him fairy tales, the legends her grandmother had told her. Maybe it was better not to know; he didn’t think he could stand it if she’d looked through him, too.

“What are you doing,” a voice said roughly, and Stiles shrieked and fell backwards into the snow and ow, ow, flower vase, oh, he’d broken it, that had to be some kind of bad luck or omen or something. “Who are you?”

“You can see me!” Stiles said, and pulled himself back up only to recoil. “What—whoa, uh.”

The guy—if it was a guy—lurched out from behind a shadowy tree and glowered. The darkness seemed to cling to him, but Stiles could make out red eyes, and fur, and teeth.

“Who the fuck are you,” he managed, because he was pretty sure that was a way better question, along with “Are you going to eat me,” and “Please don’t, I’m stringy,” which wasn’t a question but Stiles felt that grammar wasn’t really the thing to worry about at the moment.

The thing came closer and – sniffed? – then said, “I know you. You come here a lot.”

“What, do you just hang around the cemetery sniffing people?” Stiles said, a little indignant, because he’d apparently been creeped on while he poured his heart out to his dead mom, and also, what. That was beyond the pale; that was downright creepy.

“No,” the thing said stiffly, and hunched his shoulders. “I scare off the kids that come at night.” Wow, because that was better. It cocked its head and came closer, like—too close, personal space bubble thoroughly violated—and sniffed again. “You smell different.” It raised an inky eyebrow. “Look different.”

“Yeah, well, ask the moon,” Stiles mumbled, and ran a hand over his head. Looked different? Did he look like—did he have fangs now? Jesus, maybe it was for the best no one could see him.

“Oh,” the guy said, and settled back on his—heels? Paws? “Well. So long as you’re not—this is my turf. My job.” Stiles boggled at him, and then drew himself up, because whatever he was now, it wasn’t a creepy lurker in cemetaries, then the guy continued stiffly, “I’m sorry. About your mother.” He put out a claw and touched one of the stone lilies on her tombstone, and—

And that was—that was just enough. “Fuck off,” Stiles snarled, and oh, hey, he was holding a snowball. They came fast and easy to his fingers, and he was viciously glad when the thing yelped and flattened its ears, backing up. “You don’t know me—you don’t know anything about me.” He kept going, and ignored the snarl and the raised claws, and made a fucking snowman of the intrusive, weird and impossible—whatever, just, fuck, whatever.

By the time he’d calmed enough to think again he was back in the air, streaming away from the only place—the only place he’d had left. Maybe, he thought, maybe he’d overreacted a little, taking his rage and confusion out on the easiest, only slightly deserving target, but how the hell was he supposed to get a snowball to reach the moon?

“What am I?” he asked the celestial body in question, begging. How could this—how could this be his life now, how could the only person that saw him be a tiny tooth fairy and a hulking jackass creeper? The moon kept its silence, looking down at him. “What am I supposed to do now?”

No one—no one could see him, no one, not when he raged through the town and iced windows and pelted passerby. He was nothing, he was no one, he was a cold breeze and he didn’t have—

“Why,” he begged, and the moon didn’t answer, but, chest heaving, Stiles finally, finally calmed beneath the cool blue light and curling gentle tugs of the wind. “There has to be a reason,” he said finally, and then thought, Scott.

Almost without realizing it he drifted home again, letting the wind waft him up against the second-floor window. And there Scott was, curled up amongst his stuffed animals. Stiles pressed his face to the window, nose up against the glass, and made a wounded sound when he saw Scott’s cheeks were wet.

Fuck, the poor kid was going to need so much therapy after this afternoon. But therapy was better than a morgue, than Scott being stuck there beneath the ice, curls waving in the sluggish, chill water. Stiles would have done it again, made that choice, swung Scott to safety and let himself fall, down and down.

And then rise up again.

“Okay, moon. You win this round,” Stiles said finally, letting his head thunk against the glass. He was still pondering just—what the fuck to do with himself. If he was Jack Frost, what did that mean? He didn’t even remember anything, know anything about that myth—except for that Christmas carol line about nipping off noses, which, no. And of course the frost thing, he’d told Scott about that himself—a graffiti artist in ice, making art on car windows and shingles and walls. Which… cool, but also not so helpful. Stiles was not so much an artist, unless Jack Frost was supposed to be the master of stick figures and snow dicks. Maybe he could sneak into a library and get access to a computer? Do some research, figure out what—

Then Scott was opening the window. Stiles froze.

Stiles,” Scott shrieked, near hysterics, and started climbing up onto the ledge, holding his arms out, which, what, hadn’t Stiles taught him anything about a healthy respect for heights? He was scooping Scott up and swirling back inside with him before he could think, and then Scott’s small warm arms were around his neck.

“You came back, you came back,” Scott was saying fervently, holding onto Stiles with a surprisingly strong grip. “They said you wouldn’t.”

“Oh, jeez,” Stiles said, throat thick. He remembered that conversation, his dad sitting him down, explaining his mother wouldn’t be back from the hospital this time, wouldn’t be back ever again. “You can see me? I mean, obviously you can see me, but fuu…uudge.”

“You scared me,” Scott continued, voice muffled, and he was starting to shiver in Stiles’s arms. Right, Jack Frost. Cold now.

“Back to bed, buddy,” he commanded, and dumped his little brother back in the sheets, heart twisting as Scott beamed up at him with wet cheeks and watery eyes. “Oh, kiddo.”

“You look different,” Scott said. “All blue, and shiny.” Okay, Stiles definitely needed to check a mirror later. “And you can fly!”

“I’m Jack Frost now, of course I can fly,” Stiles scoffed, except wow, that hadn’t… really dawned on him, yet. Not really, not after those first glorious moments of freedom had faded and he’d remembered his dad, and the feeling of drowning, and… anyway.

Stiles could fucking fly. He was a goddamned X-man! He looped around the room, showing off until he hit the ceiling fan and grabbed his head, muttering while Scott laughed delightedly.

“Ouch,” Stiles complained, rubbing his head, and flopped back down comically. “Laugh it up, twerp, I’m still learning. I hit a tooth fairy earlier, can you believe it? A real tooth fairy! She looked like a hummingbird with wings, kept trying to touch my teeth. So keep flossing, little man. She looked kinda judgy.”

Scott’s mouth had dropped open and he was feeling a tooth—the loose one in the front—wonderingly when there was a sound.

“Scott?” someone was calling up the stairs, and shit, before Stiles could do anything, think of what to say to explain this—which, uh, he couldn’t anyway—Melissa was opening the door. “I thought you were asleep,” she said hoarsely, her face drawn and sorrowful. “What was that noise, baby?”

“Stiles came back!” Scott said excitedly, bouncing in his sheets and beaming, and Melissa’s face crumpled as Stiles watched.

“Oh, baby,” she said, and gathered him up in her arms. “It was a dream, honey. I’m so sorry.”

“No, but—” Scott protested, wriggling in her arms and trying to point.

“She can’t see me, kiddo,” Stiles told him sadly, chest tightening again, but Scott was already working himself up, overtired and obviously at the end of his six-year-old limits for the evening.

“No! He’s there!” he shrieked, and as Melissa kept trying to soothe him, just started screaming no, over and over. And God, Stiles had—had no idea what to do, how to fix this, and then there were footsteps on the stairs. His dad, God, his dad—and Stiles grimaced at Scott and shrugged, then flung himself out the window again before his dad could come in, before his eyes could stare through his son and before Stiles could throw up—whatever, lake water, snow. Whatever. Fuck.

He probably could have handled that better.

***

And thus started one of the worst periods of Stiles’s entire life.

No one but Scott—no one could see him, not just the police, or his father and Melissa. His classmates walked through him, looking more upset than Stiles would have ever thought, if he’d ever thought to wonder if people at his school would care if he died. No matter how much he swore, or flung ice or drew penises and smiley faces on car windows, no one noticed. Everyone looked through him.

Except Scott. And the tooth fairies, and Stiles was, okay, pretty sure the creeper from the cemetery was still lurking around and watching him, judging from the occasional red eyes he glimpsed in the shadows, but that wasn’t the same.

He’d thought he’d been lonely before.

For a while, though, Scott was enough. He had Scott’s laughter as Stiles towed him through the house, sledded down the stairs, as they played video games together—even if Stiles did occasionally freeze the controllers—and traced patterns together in the windows and snow.

It was enough, and all he had, and so he watched helplessly as Scott was taken to therapists, to counselors, to everyone who said to his grieving family that that was all Stiles was – a grieving technique. Scott’s way of coping. He needed to understand Stiles was gone. Don’t encourage the illusion.

Scott bit, and swore—and that was a clear violation of the Gummy Bear treaty, repeating Stiles’s bad words. He turned into someone Stiles didn’t recognize, angry and confused, sullen and silent at school. His friends couldn’t see Stiles, thought he was weird and wrong for talking to someone they couldn’t see. Stiles tried to explain that he was a secret, but Scott was six, for fuck’s sake. He didn’t understand, and it—it obviously hurt him when people told him he was wrong, he was crazy, he was weird.

God, Scott.

The man in the moon looked down sadly at him at night, and Stiles kicked snow at his face.

“You brought me back for him,” he shouted, throat hoarse and tight, and the moon said nothing. “What did you bring me back for if not for him?”

He didn’t get an answer. The moon didn’t say anything to him anymore, these days. And if there was a shadow lurking in the woods nearby, it stayed silent, and Stiles couldn’t really blame it.

Months later, he drifted down from telling Scott a bedtime story—this one about Jack Frost, about snow days and the way the starlight sparkled and the wind sang to him, and how he looked out for boys and girls in the cold, and he found his father still at the kitchen table, holding a glass of amber liquid to his cheek. The bottle it had come from was more than half-empty.

Stiles had been doing his best to avoid his dad entirely, to not have to see the way his eyes skipped over the space where Stiles should be. It wasn’t hard. He’d tried, once, to write something in the ice on his cruiser window, but his dad had just punched the glass, cut his hand, and—

Anyway, Stiles wasn’t trying that again, terrified of what would happen. Terrified of failing again, his father’s dead eyes looking through him.

And now his father was drunk, in a dark room, just like all those years ago, like ten years of healing had been erased, and Stiles—he couldn’t do this.

“I’m going to lose my job. I’m going crazy,” the sheriff slurred suddenly into the dark room. “I’m know I’m going crazy. But I can’t—I can’t.”

“Dad,” Stiles said, eyes stinging, and drew up a chair next to him, his heart solid and heavy as his dad looked over at the chair—it had moved, he had to know that, he had to see it. But he just stared where Stiles was sitting, eyes empty, and took another drink. “Dad.”

“You can’t be here,” his dad said, and laid his head down on the table. “I know you can’t. Stop torturing me. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Leah.”

“Come to bed,” Melissa said gently from behind them, and Stiles startled, knocking over the chair. She didn’t notice. “Please, John.”

“I keep thinking I see him,” his dad whispered miserably, and this was worse, worse than his mother’s death, worse than anything. His father’s shoulders heaved, and outside the moon shone through the window, casting soft, soft shadows, and Stiles knew exactly what he had to do now.

Maybe he’d always known.

He gave himself one more night on Scott’s windowsill, watching his little brother sleep, hockey stick turning over and over in his hands as he tried to get the strength he needed. To remember.

The sun rose the next day, and Stiles was waiting like he always did, always had since this had started, and never would again.

“Stiles!” Scott said, blinking awake and beaming at him.

“Hey, buddy,” Stiles said, and held his arms out for a hug, savoring the simple warmth of it. It was hard to breathe, even if—he didn’t really need to anymore. He loved hugs, and so did Scott, always had, had loved snuggling and cuddling and still did, even when it made him shiver and cough.

Stiles was too cold for him to hug. That should have been a sign, that right there. It was time to stop being selfish. It was time to let go, and it was way harder than it’d been on the ice, the simplicity of that swing to safety.

No more, he promised, but let himself hug Scott close a moment longer, extra tightly and breathing in the sweet smell of Scott’s kid shampoo, the laundry detergent his dad used, before letting go. He knelt down and rubbed a hand over Scott’s tousled hair.

“Hey, Scott,” his voice breaking a little, wobbling. “I gotta go, okay? You gotta be good, take care of your mom and dad for me, alright?”

“You’re not coming with me to school today?” Scott asked, still blinking sleep from his eyes and looking befuddled. “But it’s show and tell. We’re doing snowballs, remember?”

“Yeah. No, I can’t stay, buddy,” Stiles said thickly, and backed up, holding onto his hockey stick like a lifeline—it’d stuck with him, like that moment he’d touched it on the ice had made it a part of him. A new limb. “You have to—I have to leave. I’m sorry.” Inspiration struck. “I have to give the other boys and girls snow days, too. Not that you don’t deserve all the snow days, but I’ve—I’ve gotta—” Let you grow up. Make friends. Be normal. Have a normal life, and a family, and a sane, sober dad, and none of that could happen with Scott’s weird undead invisible brother hanging around. “I love you, Scott,” he choked out. “Remember that, okay?”

“What? But no. No!” Scott yelled, and Stiles was doing this all wrong, he knew he was—he was doing everything wrong, he should have—listened, shouldn’t have remembered, should never have come back. He was ruining everything.

He could barely see through the tears and he already felt so fucking lonely. But it was worth it. He clung to that. It’d been worth it, that day on the lake. It’d be worth it now, for Scott. For his father, and the family he had now. For all the chances they still had yet to come, to be happy and whole.

Maybe Stiles wasn’t supposed to have been able remember this, remember them. Maybe the moon had tried to be kind when it woke him, tried to wipe the slate clean, give him a chance at a do-over. But what the fuck did Stiles know? It was a fucking celestial body with the shape of a face, ancient craters that looked like seas.

The moon didn’t speak to him anymore.

No one but Scott did. Stiles was still Scott’s big brother, and Scott still needed Stiles to protect him, and all Stiles knew now, the only thing he knew at all, it felt like, was that he had to go.

“Just remember I love you, okay? Take care of Dad,” he managed, and flung himself out the window and into the morning air, snowflakes sparkling out in his wake. He looked back once and saw Scott at the window, in his Batman pajamas and with his hair sleep-rumpled and messy, tears shining on his cheeks.

Stiles turned away, and promised himself he wouldn’t come back.

He kept that promise. Until circumstances took a turn, unbelievably, for the even weirder.

But that was getting ahead of the story.

***

Ten years later, it was a beautiful spring morning, and Stiles was gleefully setting to work on ruining it—or rather, making it hella better, crafting a gorgeous blizzard out of wind and water. He was just putting the last touches on the icicles when someone on the bleachers caught his leg and tugged him down.

“Whaaaaa—Oh!” Stiles looked down, beaming, and left off icing the rest of the field in favor of flipping upside down and beaming at the beautiful face beneath him.

“Excuse me,” the picture of gorgeous brilliance said in an impressively frosty voice, and Stiles knew about frost, okay, he was talking a wind chill of minus nine at the very most.

“Lydia! Hey, hey, there Lady Luck, long time no see.” He bobbed up and down, trying to fight down his glee at having someone see him, talk to him. Be cool, Stiles, he counseled himself. Ice cold.

“I’ve spent months adjusting the odds on this team, Frost,” she said tightly, adjusting her lightweight spring jacket and glaring up at him. “Buzz. Off.”

“What, this team?” Stiles flipped over and floated upside down, pouting. “Please, Lydia, like they’re worth your time.” He honestly didn’t get why she spent so much time on sports, when he knew, knew with every frozen bit of him, that she was worth so much more. He still remembered the joy on her face at MIT when he’d met her, during that one snow day, arm tucked through a grad student’s as they discussed fluid dynamics.

She’d seen him, even if she didn’t seem much interested in the fact, or in talking to him, or in him at all. And not much had changed in the following years, which was kind of weirdly comforting. Still. If Stiles was beneath her, then organized sports definitely should be.

“At least do Vegas, c’mon, they’ve got all the feathers? Dancing girls? Way more exciting, I’ll give you a lift, eh? We can catch a breeze, see some sights, what do you say?”

He mimed tossing some dice and doing a victory dance, but they both knew exactly what Lydia’s response would be—he didn’t have to be a brilliant, goddess-like mathematician to know how this conversation went.

“No thanks.” Yep. Big surprise, there. “I’m tired of being asked to blow on dice, not that it’s any business of yours,” she sniffed, and then turned on a bright smile that practically melted Stiles’s heart. Then the lacrosse player it was aimed at walked through Stiles’s head and he deflated, jealous for more reason than one.

Everyone believed in luck, not just little kids—everyone. Lydia lived amongst mortals like she was one, albeit a spectacularly gorgeous, wealthy, and brilliant one. Mortals flocked to her, basked at her feet, bought her coffee and jewelry and wrote her poems and songs, even if they didn’t know who she was, really.

Whereas Stiles’s brilliant dissertation on testicular disproportion in sports today on the field—okay, it was a giant snow dick—was blamed on a fraternity and no one gave him a second glance. Whatever, it was still baller—literally.

“Hi, Jackson,” Lydia was saying, lighting up in a way Stiles had never really seen before. “You’re still ready to play, aren’t you? I’ve got a great feeling about today.”

“This guy?” Stiles scoffed, shoving down his envy—like he wanted this guy to see him anyway, please. “Ugh, look at him.” He blew a cold wind along the back of the guy’s neck and was maliciously pleased to see him shiver and then pretend he wasn’t cold in his short-sleeves. “He doesn’t have enough sense to dress for the weather.”

“It’s April in California,” Lydia hissed, and then smoothed a beatific expression on her face. “So we’re not going to let a little unseasonable weather stop us, are we?” The expression wavered, and Stiles had a moment of thinking she’d realized, wow, this jock was lame, and how awesome was a dude that could fly and bring parkas back into style in July? So awesome.

Then someone said menacingly from behind him, “That’s right, Frost, we’re not.” A wave of warm, sweet-scented, carroty air wafted over them, melting the frost. Oh, great. Stiles slumped, letting his hands fall limp, and then swore when he accidentally brained himself with his own hockey stick. “Stick to your own damn season for once.”

Ugh. Stiles flipped right-side and bowed to Lydia, who was forced to smile at him because her lacrosse brute was looking right at her—and Stiles had just been about to freeze his jockstrap. He made a face back, and turned to eyeball the Easter Bunny.

“What’s up, Bugs?” he asked, eyes narrowed as he twirled his hockey stick. “Shouldn’t you be busy with some chickens about now?”

Stiles had, over the last decade, found that there were some people—if you could really call them people—who could see him, and that the world was a lot stranger than he’d ever realized. Tooth fairies and leprechauns and groundhogs were all well and good, but usually too busy to actually talk to him unless he was making a pest of himself.

That was another thing that hadn’t changed much. Stiles still didn’t have—well, anyone. No one paid him much attention. Not humans. Not demi-gods. Unpopular even now, in this weird version of an afterlife.

Stiles couldn’t really blame them. Everyone else had something to do, some task or purpose that drove them. And then there was Stiles, just… passing the time, and it seemed like everyone knew exactly how pointless he was.

Anyway, being a pest and grabbing attention—that was one of the things Stiles had always been good at. And now he was better than ever, in fact, he thought, twirling his hockey stick and spinning a few more snow flurries through the air. If that was to be his new life mission, well. Go for it with gusto, he figured.

The Easter Bunny, though—he was fun to rile up now and again, but not really Stiles’s favorite target, however amusingly he spluttered over snowy Easter mornings. Stiles still much preferred pulling Lady Luck’s pigtails than an overly-neurotic cotton tail.

Yes. I should be busy with my eggs. Easter is in two days,” the Bunny said, scowling menacingly. Honestly, it was a little terrifying, the dude was kind of crazy, but Stiles stood his ground. He’d already died—what was a giant oversized rodent going to do to him? Fling chick-shaped marshmallows? “But I’ve got Greenegg on the roost for now, not that he’s not probably already painted his own ass pink, the clucky idiot. But unfortunately, I’ve got other work to do. And so—” he said, jabbing Stiles with a giant paw—“Do you. I’ve been looking for you all day, Frost, you’re a difficult little jellybean to pin down, aren’t you?”

Okay, one, who the fuck ever sought Stiles out? Well, the Hallows, sometimes, but Stiles’s brand of merry fuckery did kind of mesh well with their gig. But the Bunny had never been his biggest fan, and apparently he’d hunted Stiles down anyway. Ominous. Which lead to two: what the fuck kind of work could the Easter Bunny have for Stiles? It wasn’t like Halloween, where cold weather kind of went with the season, at least, heh. More the opposite, Stiles thought, remembering the clusterfuck that was the Easter Blizzard of ‘12 fondly.

Stiles felt suddenly uneasy, and also aware that Lydia was listening to their every word, probably judging his inability to stand up to a giant, talking, jerkoff rabbit. Stiles tugged at the neck of his hoodie. Be cool, dammit.

“I dunno, man,” Stiles said, deliberately breezy as he hefted the stick over his shoulder and considered his options. Outright fleeing? The North Wind was fast, faster than any hopped up Energizer spokesbunny could be, surely, but then, Stiles was kind of curious, now. He’d stick around a little longer, maybe. “Work? It’s not really my thing. I’ve got games to make way more awesome, jocks to give frostbite, and—”

He yelped as giant arms grabbed him. “Hey,” he protested, ready to give some sad fuck the worst frostbite of the balls they’d ever felt when he recognized the other giant furry face staring down at him with a gloomy familiar expression. “Oh, Phil,” Stiles chirped, dangling by one leg. “Man, it’s like a regular hoedown of the seasons today. What are you doing outside the ol’ Northern Pole this time of year?”

“You’ll see, Frost. You’ll see,” the Easter Bunny said ominously, and Phil grunted noncommittally behind his back and then, what the fuck, shoved a sack over Stiles’s head.

“Okay, that’s enough. What is going on?” he heard Lydia say, and started struggling anew, heart thudding. She cared, he’d known she did. “Hey! I’m talking to you, furball—Jackson, go warm up without me, I’m busy.”

But it was too late. The world went spinning for a long, horrible moment, and then Stiles hit the ground with a thud and lay in the sack for a moment, moaning and swearing. A foot of some sort nudged him, so he stopped rolling around and struggled out of the burlap, and then, what. What was going on? What the fuck, that was the Sandman, nodding his golden solemn head in Stiles’s direction,and the Tooth Fairy herself, the head honcho, flitting around in a riot of colors with her Baby Teeth in attendance. Wow, he’d never seen her, just the little ones. Lady was kinda hot, if a little too birdy for his tastes.

And—fuck a snowduck, that was Santa. Oh fuck, Stiles was dead—Santa was terrifying, and Stiles knew for a fact that he was firmly on the big man’s naughty list. He was pretty sure Sandy wouldn’t let them kill him, but—

Then it dawned on him, in a waft of gingerbread and peppermint and jingling bells.

Holy shit. Wait, sweet yodeling yetis, Stiles was at the North Pole. He was in Santa’s workshop. His first thought was, ‘Oh man, wait ‘til I tell—’ but he clamped down on that fast, out of long, hard-earned habit. Scott wasn’t his little brother anymore, and Stiles wasn’t going to tell him anything.

Anyway. He’d poked around Santa’s place before, obviously, once he’d realized it was freaking real, but the yetis had never let him get in any further than that reindeer hutch with that wicked sled. But now he was in. Whatever was going on was totally worth potential maiming and dismemberment, just for that.

“Whoa,” he said in hushed tones, ignoring Claus and Tooth and Dream, spinning around in wonder at all of the Yetis, the masses and masses of toys and gorgeous stained ice windows and beautifully carved wood, arcing up like cathedral walls, grand and beautiful. And, oh jeez, elves. Stiles had never gotten in deep enough to see elves before. Cripes, they were adorable. “I never got this far past the yetis, wow.”

“There’s a reason for that, you chilly menace,” Claus said dryly, crossing his tattooed arms so that the Naughty was displayed prominently. “But that’s beside the point. You’re here now because, against my better judgment, it turns out we need—Frost.” He paused, and then said in a tone of extreme long-suffering. “Put down the elf ”

Stiles hefted the elf to his chest and tickled it, and it cooed back up at him, all jingling bells and big eyes. “But he’s so cute!” Though it seemed a little—dim. “You know, I thought the elves would be a little—smarter?” he commented as he continued scratching its belly. Its tongue lolled out ecstatically. “Less puppy-like.”

“Frost,” Claus said again, warningly, his ice-blue eyes narrowing, and oh god, there was Mrs. Claus behind him. Stiles dropped the elf and both of them squeaked. The elf scuttled to safety, but Stiles, unfortunately, was stopped from fleeing by his old furry friend, the head yeti.

“Phil, dammit, I’m sorry I called you an overgrown testicle last year, let me go, oh my god,” Stiles said, and Mrs. Claus raised an eyebrow. She was, frankly, the most terrifying thing he’d ever seen. “Please don’t make me into figgy pudding,” he squeaked.

“Chris, are you sure the Man in the Moon meant him?” she asked, disdain dripping from every syllable. Prior to becoming Jack Frost, Stiles had always thought Santa and Mrs. Claus were jolly, happy people, not terrifying holiday dictators, but then, he’d been wrong about a lot of things.

Sandy chimed something nearby, and sent a golden tendril swirling around them, and then nodded, emphatically. Sandman, Sandman liked Stiles—or tolerated him, at least. Stiles had tentatively asked him to send the Stilinskis good dreams, and he’d—seemed to say yes? Anyway, he always had a smile and a wave for Stiles when they crossed paths, which put him miles above Santa and Bugs.

“Sandy, buddy, pal, don’t let them stab me with a stake of holly,” Stiles pleaded, but he and the Tooth Fairy had already turned and started talking, all dream-sand symbols and chimes and one-sided enigmatic conversation. Claus was pinching his nose and the Easter Bunny was hopping everywhere and gesturing with a dripping paintbrush in between using it to furiously paint a basketful of eggs. Stiles was probably getting flecks all over him, what the hey.

“Whoa, watch it, Bugs. I’m not an pastel purple kinda guy, it messes with my style,” Stiles said, finally squirming out from the yeti’s arms after blowing a strategic chill through his fur. He found his hockey stick and whirled himself up onto a ledge, out of reach of furry paws. “Look, not that I don’t like a good party, but what the hell’s going on, guys?”

“Language,” Claus said, narrowing his eyes again, and Stiles manfully resisted the urge to squeak and hide. He was a mostly-grown man, he wasn’t afraid of Santa. Much.

Of all the demi-gods—that was the term Stiles had finally decided to go with, after a few years of complete bafflement and poking slowly-freezing computers—that he’d met, the four that were in the room with him now were the head honchos, the top four, the ones that didn’t have time for the lesser immortals like Jack Frost or Lady Luck or the leprechauns, which, personally, Stiles thought they were missing out. The little green dudes apparently threw a hell of a party.

But these were the Guardians. The Guardians of what, Stiles had never quite figured out, but they were noble and admired and respected, and, really, he definitely should be focusing on whatever they wanted him for, what the fuck they were up to in general, but he couldn’t really make himself pay attention.

He was in Santa’s Workshop. Could anyone blame him? Probably plenty of people, but those hypothetical people sucked, so Stiles ignored them.

Claus kept talking, something about the sacred Guardianship and blah blah destiny, and responsibility, but holy shit, that was like, a giant floating glowing jellyfish building rocketships.

A yeti yanked him back down before he could get a good look.

“What? I’m sorry, but that is so cool, look at it,” Stiles enthused, upside down and unable to keep from beaming. He wasn’t sure what was going on, but he was probably going to get chained up to keep Easter springy and frost-free for a while, so he was going to enjoy looking around (and assessing new possible entry points) while he could.

Claus smiled at him suddenly, and Stiles was surprised to see, even from his topsy-turvy vantage point, that it was genuine, warm and holy fuck, his eyes were twinkling. It was the first time Stiles saw the Santa he’d believed in as a child beneath the stern exterior and weaponry.

“Just a kid yourself, aren’t you?” Claus said, almost to himself, and then sighed, looking weary and put-upon. “Well, maybe that’s why the Moon chose you. Can’t figure what else you’d bring to the table.”

Wait, what?

“Wait, what?” Stiles said, because he had to have misunderstood. Chose him? Stiles? There was no way—that couldn’t possibly mean what he thought that meant. He hadn’t even been around for a century, yet, not like Valentine, or Luck, or even the damned Groundhog, frightened little bugger that he was.

“That’s what I said,” the Easter Bunny grumbled. “You? Seriously, quit pulling my fluffy white tail. Ow!” An elf shuffled away from behind him, and Stiles grinned, holding up a hand for a high, jingly five. The Bunny continued, rubbing his butt and glowering. “But apparently we need you. The Boogeyman’s got something big going on, and the children of Earth need us to defend it.”

He struck a noble pose, seeming to forget that he was an overgrown rabbit and thus looked totally fucking ridiculous. Everyone else seemed to think this was normal, though, nodding somberly and turning to look at Stiles, like they were waiting for something. Some response to this, which, uh.

“Uh, okay,” Stiles said gamely, because clearly everyone here was crazy. The Boogeyman had been down for the count for years, locked up somewhere and essentially catatonic—something bad had gone down with the Hallows, Stiles had gathered, years and years before he’d even come onto the scene.

Laura Hale hadn’t told him much, but he knew it’d been bad, just from the little things they let drop, the way she and her brother the Thing That Went Bump In the Night had to scramble to make their holiday work with just the two of them at the helm. If even they needed a frosty hand now and then, things had to be bad.

Though apparently now one more of the Hallows was back in the game, and… that apparently wasn’t good? For some reason?

“Frost,” Claus said, pinching the bridge of his nose again, and oh, right. Waiting for his response. Cool.

“Well, that’s…just great?” Stiles continued uneasily, because what the hell did this have to do with him? Maybe he should cut and run, utilize that bubble-hatch near the jellyfish. “I’ll just wish you lots of luck with Ol’ Boogey, I think Lydia’s a little soft on me, maybe I can get her to send some your—ulp.”

He was getting really tired of being yanked back down, even if Tooth was smiling at him apologetically as she did.

“Gag him,” Mrs. Claus said, looking ruthless, and the Yetis hurried to do her bidding as Stiles yelped and did his best to freeze his way free.

“Oh, seriously, stop. Let him go, Steve, and put the gag down, Morris. I told you this wasn’t the best way to do this, Dad!” someone protested nearby. Stiles wriggled around in Morris’s arms and oh, it was Valentine. She was one of Lydia’s friends, and one of the few people who gave Stiles the time of day—when she had time. She, like everyone else Stiles knew these days, was always busy.

Now, though, she, huh—she looked both sweet and badass, of course, like always, in her pink and red leathers, wielding her golden bow. But there was a strange tightness to her voice, and around her eyes.

“I could have explained and brought him here, you didn’t have to kidnap him, Dad.”

“This was more fun, honey,” Stiles heard Santa say, the jolly bastard. “And faster. And Allison, you know we’re working now. You’re not allowed in these meetings yet.”

“She should be,” Mrs. Claus said, and Stiles was frankly in awe of the level of chill she managed to put in her voice.

“It’s not up to us, Victoria,” Tooth said, her voice sweet and lilting. “The Man in the Moon chooses the next Guardian.”

Stiles made a muffled noise of protest, biting at a yeti paw in protest, because he had to have heard that wrong. That couldn’t mean what it thought he did.

“Oh, Morris, just let him go,” Valentine said, and the yeti grumblingly put Stiles down. He brushed himself off, trying to get back and semblance of dignity. Lost cause, but a manifestation of winter chill could try, right?

“Hey, long time no see, sweetheart,” Stiles said, winking at Val and snagging a handful of candy canes from a passing elf tottering beneath a tray. He sucked on one and saluted her with the rest, because he’d always been a risk-taker, and he refused to flinch when Claus gave him a death glare. “What?"

Valentine—or Allison, as she preferred, to her friends, which Lydia was one of and Stiles liked to pretend she tolerated him enough to at least think of him as an acquaintance, sighed.

“It’ll be faster if I explain,” she said, and threaded her arm through his. Stiles was at once delighted at the contact—of all the things he missed from his human life, it was probably hugs and human contact—and a little terrified that Mrs. Claus was going to gut him with her butcher’s knife.

Also, he realized slowly, with dawning concern, Allison was trembling. Stiles didn’t think it was because of his sexy cool demeanor.

“The Boogeyman’s up to something, Stiles,” she said, holding his arm tightly. “Something bad enough that the Moon’s named a new Guardian for the first time in centuries—and that’s you. You’re the new Guardian, and we need your help.”

Stiles was, for once, without words. He let his mouth hang open, figuring that got his point across well enough, and then gestured at himself disbelievingly, because seriously, had the Man in the Moon had some sort of mental malfunction?

But Allison ignored him, just turning to sadly regarded the giant globe in the center of the workshop. There were lights dusted across it, the same gold as Sandy’s dreams, but they were dimming and winking out as they watched. Stiles’s eyes unerringly found California, the patch of gold that was Beacon Hills, and let out a breath of relief when he saw it was still glowing warmly, like a small, shining star.

“The Guardians watch out for the children of Earth. We protect them,” Tooth said softly, and raised a hand to cup a light over the South Pacific, face sad. “Their innocence, and their joy. Did you never wonder why I collect teeth?”

“Frankly, no?” Stiles offered hesitantly. “I try not to judge, uh, other people’s quirks, I guess—”

She continued as though he hadn’t said anything. “They hold childhood memories. My girls remind everyone, keep those memories alive. And Santa—he brings wonder and magic to the world. Dream, well. That’s obvious, isn’t it?”

“And Bunny brings—what, cavities? Starts spring orgies? Easter started out as a fertility ritual, right?” Stiles asked dubiously, and was a little surprised and delighted when Allison snorted next to him, amused, and elbowed him a little.

“I bring hope,” the Bunny grit out, nose wrinkling. “The knowledge that darkness and cold can end, that spring returns. Not that you’d know anything about that.”

Stiles put a hand to his heart and mimed extreme pain, though really, that had hurt, a little. A bit.

“Each of those lights is a child that believes. They’ve been getting fainter for years, and we don’t know why, but they’re still there,” Claus said grimly, sharpening a giant axe—which, what the fuck, Stiles was glad Scott didn’t know Santa came with bladed weapons, though, he reflected, suddenly thoughtful, that did explain the years he’d gotten throwing knives and arm-guards for Christmas alongside the rocket ships and Death Stars. “Except now they’re going completely out. The children—they’ve stopped believing. And Hale’s to blame, somehow.”

Well, okay, fair enough, that sounded bad. But it wasn’t like Stiles had ever had anyone believe in him. Except for Scott, and—well, anyway. It’d been years. Scott was a teenager now, almost as old as Stiles had been when he’d fallen through the ice. He probably was past the age of believing in Santa, and the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy. And Jack Frost.

“And... I’m supposed to join you,” Stiles stated disbelievingly, and looked around, and, okay, it was April, but Fool’s Day was long past. “Is that some kind of joke? What the hell am I supposed to do?”

“Like I said,” Bunny growled. “No idea. At least The Groundhog knows how to deal with shadows.”

“Thanks,” Stiles said dryly. “Really, no need to keep me in suspense about how you really feel. Well, leaving the big question of why me aside, since I see that’s already crossed everyone’s mind,” Stiles said, and everyone nodded, which, rude. Stiles blew a raspberry at them, then continued. “Why you guys?”

Everyone blinked and made various faces of affront or furry fury or gentle concern. Stiles rolled his eyes and clarified.

“I mean, isn’t this more of a Hallows issue? Don’t they always deal with their own?”

It was true Stiles didn’t know much about this gig, yet—he’d barely met half of the demigods out, it seemed, was always running into harried people in strange shapes as he blew through the seasons, sending frost this way and thither and yon and generally causing a ruckus and interrupting the best-laid plans with some snow days as he went.

But he’d seen met the Hallows—his first meeting with the Thing had been kind of memorably horrible, of course, and the dude had never seemed to get over it, always hulking his shoulders and growling slightly whenever Stiles popped up.

But he’d met Laura, too. The North Wind had blown a wave of dry leaves and pumpkin scented-smoke up his hoodie, his first fall alone, and he’d followed it and found a beautiful girl all in black, with long white bones and glowing eyes, laughing up at him.

“Who wants a hot Halloween?” she’d called up, sugar-skull sweet, and Stiles had drifted down, eyes wide. “Help a girl out, Frosty.”

It’d been fun, crisping the unseasonably warm October air, even if Derek did spend the whole time glaring at him as they ran through the night, spooking costumed kids and adding pizzazz to haunted houses and sprawling corn mazes. He’d felt useful, wanted, for once. And in return, Laura had agreed to keep an eye on Scott, on Beacon Hills, to make sure all the dangerous places—deep woods and old mine shafts and abandoned warehouses—were appropriately haunted and forbidding.

So yeah, Stiles liked Laura, even if she was kind of spooky. She was spooky in the best way—she was fun. And if the long-lost Hale uncle had woken back up, surely that was more her business than—well, anyone else’s, frankly.

A long, ponderous silence ensued, broken only by the squeaking and jingling of elves. The one Stiles had snuggled earlier came jingling up and buried its face in Stiles’s leg, shivering. He leaned down and patted it absently.

“Well, see. That’s the problem, Frost,” someone said from behind him, and Stiles jumped, then turned to see Lady Justice twirling a steadily burning torch, sending shadows flickering everywhere. She smirked at him, eyes dark, and said, “Because Halloween’s dead.”

Stiles only realized he’d started spreading ice everywhere when the Bunny swore, and his little elf pal jingled unhappily, shivering in the patch of frost where he was stuck.

“Sorry,” Stiles said, “Sorry,” and defrosted him absently, still reeling. Allison, used to the temperate climate up in the Arctic, or just warmed by her own heart, pressed closer. Normally Stiles would have questioned that, or at least reveled in it—hot girl! Manifestation of date nights and chocolates and love! Hugging him! But as it was he just wrapped an arm around her shoulders and held on.

“Not that we could have counted on them anyway,” Justice continued, raising an eyebrow. “They’re not really one of us. We’re not about scaring children and cultivating fear and darkness, we’re about protecting them. Spreading light. Making their lives better.” Everything she said sounded great, but the way she was saying it, for some reason, was giving Stiles the heebie-jeebies. “But then, you were friends with them, weren’t you?” She took a step closer, raising her torch, and Stiles shielded his eyes from the glare, squinting at her.

“What?” he said faintly, and tried to gather his swirling thoughts. Laura couldn’t be dead. How? Her uncle—why would he do that? Who would do that? What had happened to Derek?

Jesus, if Laura was really gone—Derek was in charge of Halloween now. They were all fucked, he realized distantly in the ruthlessly logical part of his brain. Laura had despaired of getting him to do anything but Bump in the Night, had jokingly charged Stiles with helping get the big schmuck up to speed. Like anyone really could, but Stiles had despairingly tried while Derek snarled and stomped around in the leaves and dusk and candy wrappers.

If Laura was dead, though, Derek was the only sane Hallow left, and the other—was on some rampage? Insane, and bent on mass destruction? God, what a fucking a mess. But what did this have to do with Stiles? His brain was buzzing, and nothing made sense.

“You knew the Hallows?” Claus was saying, advancing on them and looking, wow, almost as scary as his wife. Allison’s arm tightened on his.

“What? I mean, yeah, we ran into each other from time to time, but—fuck, what happened to Laura?”

This was the difference between knowing intellectually and knowing, that even after death Stiles could still be touched by it. What happened to a demigod after they died? Was there a body? Stiles wondered, suddenly, if his own body was still beneath that lake, if it had been dredged up and buried, next to his mother. If there’d been a funeral.

He shook off the dark thoughts as Santa shook him by the front of his hoodie. “Language,” Santa growled, and okay, that was e-fucking-nough. Stiles had had enough of this shit.

“Hey, you wanted my help. So back off, old man,” he said, and raised his hockey stick—okay, he probably looked a little ridiculous, but he could at least frostnip the fuck out of Claus’s face if he had to, before the guy split him from nose to navel. Guy didn’t have to laugh at him.

“Okay!” Allison said, easing herself between them. “Dad, let’s just—let me get Stiles some cocoa and get him calmed down. He’s had quite a shock. Which is why we should have gone with my plan in the first place,” she ended with a mutter, which, hey, not helping.

Except then support came from an unexpected source. The Sandman, trailing his gold tendrils, nodded and put a hand on Stiles’s arm, looking up into his face, then nodded again and looked to Claus, tilting his head and sending a shape of a warm mug, steaming, and a plate of cookies.

“Fine,” Claus said, looking disgusted, then he turned away to regard the globe again. “Fine, the rest of us will get some recon done. Tooth, Bunny—”

Stiles heard the Easter Bunny’s voice rising in protest as Allison gently lead him away, down one of the many halls—place was worse than a maze. “Easter’s in two days! You think Greenegg can handle the roost on his own, because I tell you what, Kringle, that is a disaster worse than bringing that Frost kid into the fold.”

Then they turned a corner and their voices faded. Stiles let himself slump, rubbing at his face.

“Thanks, Val,” he said gratefully, because he definitely needed a moment to decompress and let his swirling thoughts percolate, settle into something understandable so that he could plan and figure out what to do. “Cocoa hot from Santa’s kitchen sounds frankly fantastic, I tell you what—uh. Wait, where are we going?”

He did at least know that the kitchens were on the upper levels, based solely on the delicious smells and steams that came from the southeast quadrant and the mince pies he’d managed to steal from a windowsill last visit. But Allison was looking back over her shoulder and picking up pace, leading him down, and the walls were going from beautifully carved wood and glass to stone and ice as they went.

“Stiles,” she said, and shushed him, lowering her voice. “I need—I need your help.”

“Seems to be the theme of the day,” Stiles agreed, lost, again. As usual. “Sure, what’s up, buttercup?”

“Stiles, this is serious!” she said, and oh, oh fuck, her eyes were welling up. Stiles panicked.

“What, what, oh my god, what can I do?”

“Quiet!” she hissed, then looked around and confided in a low, shaking voice. “It’s the Thing, he’s here—”

Stiles blinked at her, then mimed, ‘No comprendo’ and ‘what the fuck.’ Derek couldn’t be here. Laura couldn’t be dead. Stiles couldn’t figure out what was going on. Then she pulled him into an alcove he hadn’t even seen, past a hidden outcrop of rock, and—

Stiles made a low, horrified noise and rushed forward.

Derek was hanging from his arms, suspended in icy manacles from some kind of torture rack. At the North Pole, how could—what was happening? Derek was surly and annoying, sure, and he had an aggravating tendency to shove Stiles into walls when Stiles offered perfectly valid advice on how to scare less like a child molester and more like a spooky ghoul or goblin or whatever, but he wasn’t a bad guy—and anyway, not even a bad guy would deserve this.

Derek’s head was down and he was more wolfed out than Stiles had ever seen him, even on a job. His hair was matted with blood and his claws flexed as he panted, and he was letting out tiny, hurt whimpers, like a kicked dog. When Stiles got closer, he lifted his head and snarled, red eyed and fanged and totally checked out, like he didn’t recognize Stiles at all.

“Derek,” Stiles said again, pained, then tried to sound soothing, like approaching a wounded dog. “Oh, man, you gotta calm down, we gotta get you out of here. Oh, Jesus, what happened to you?”

Allison was hanging back by the door, eyes wide and worried.

“I have to go,” she whispered, and looked back behind her. “I have to—I shouldn’t be doing this, but this is wrong.”

“Damn straight, it’s wrong!” Stiles said, whirling on her. “What the hell, Allison!”

“It’s Kate,” which, who? “She thinks—she thinks he’ll lead us to the Boogeyman, if she—presses hard enough, but I can’t.” Kate. Lady Justice, Stiles realized, apparently had an exceptionally expedient view on justice and means justifying the ends, or –fuck. Fuck, this was bad. “She’s always thought the Hallows were up to something, but I can’t let her do this, and she won’t listen to reason, she won’t let me open her heart and eyes. I’ve tried.”

If Allison’s golden bow couldn’t penetrate, Stiles knew, then nothing could. Jesus.

“Does your dad know?” Stiles asked, horrified, and felt something uncurl, relieved, in his chest when Allison shook her head, tears flying. He couldn’t have coped with an evil Santa. A scary Santa, fine, but—this wasn’t scary, this was wrong. This was wrong.

“I can buy you some time,” she whispered, and turned to go. “But you have to hurry.”

“Wait, what?” Stiles repeated for what felt like the eightieth time. “You’re leaving me? With him? It’s not like we’re friends! He doesn’t even like me! What can I do? Where are you going?”

But she was already gone, silent and fleet-footed, and Stiles was left in an ice cave with a wounded, angry Thing that Went Howl and Bite and Snarl in the Night. Derek was nowhere to be seen, just the incarnation of fear and pain in his place, shaking in icy cuffs and letting out a loud, mournful howl that echoed off the snow and stone, hurting Stiles’s head and heart, chilling his already chill-enough blood.

“Oh boy,” Stiles said, and shelved his questions for the time being. “Uh, down, boy, I’m trying to help.” He set his stick down and held out his open palms. “Could you work with me a little? We have to hurry.”

The howl was still reverberating through the room, but the chill of it eased a little as Stiles got closer.

“It’s me, remember? Frosty, your—” Well, not friend, it was true, but Laura had been basically the closest thing Stiles had, teasing and laughing, always inviting Stiles out, and he was pretty sure it was mostly the global warming thing and the too-hot Halloweens, but she’d made him feel wanted, and needed, and actually, Stiles knew Derek pretty well, now that he thought about it. He had a sweet tooth, and he loved the old movies, Nosferatu and Romero. He had a sense of humor drier than dead leaves, and something had made him spooky, jumpier than any spooked kid Stiles had ever seen out on Halloween.

But he liked kids, Stiles had seen it on his face, even if he didn’t understand the best ways to scare them and make them shriek in glee. He wasn’t—he wasn’t out to rob them of belief, or hope. He herded them out of cemetaries in the dark, and the dangerous areas of the woods.

He was a good guy, if a surly one, and he didn’t—he didn’t deserve this.

“Want a candy cane, big guy?” he offered waving one, and watched Derek sniff the air. The growling softened a little. “See, candy. It’s okay. No more, uh, stabbing, or—fire?” That was the horrible smell in here, singed fur, Jesus. Wow. Kate didn’t play around. She could teach Laura a lesson or two on scary—except, fuck. Fuck, God, Stiles had to get Derek out of here.

He tentatively held out a hand, hoping he wouldn’t lose it, and edged closer. He was still half-expecting teeth, but instead a warm tongue darted out and gross, oh, gross. Thing slobber. But he kept a smile on his face, and talked in a low, soothing voice and didn’t back away, and slowly, slowly, the fur receded and Derek’s eyes cleared, pupils showing in the red.

“Stiles?” he said thickly around his fangs, and put his cheek against Stiles’s palm, which for some reason was a little bit heartbreaking. Stiles refused to think about it, thinking was for later, when they were somewhere safe. Derek drew in a shuddering breath. “Stiles. You—what are you doing. You have to get out of here.”

“Hey, buddy,” Stiles said, and willed the tears to stay on his lashes and not to fall. “Working on it.”

***

Operation Escape the North Pole didn’t exactly go off without a hitch. Derek was wobbling and threw up a couple times and seemed generally unimpressed with Stiles’s flying prowess, and okay, they’d had to make a few shaky, rough landings when Santa’s sled went past, but that was no reason to judge.

“You’re not afraid of heights, are you? Oh, the irony,” Stiles said with dawning delight. “Big bad wolf afraid of—Okay, okay, easy with the claws, asshole.”

Then, after they’d made it out of the Arctic Circle in the arms of Stiles’s one trusty pal, his forever girl, the North Wind, there was still the issue of where to fucking go. Even the wind seemed unsure, circling them over North America and refusing to settle.

Derek was next to useless when Stiles asked—he wanted to go back to his den, the one he’d carved out beneath the old Hallow house, the one Laura had hated and refused to live in. Instinct, probably, to hide and lick his wounds. But if Laura was dead, the new house wasn’t safe, and if Derek had been captured, then Lady Justice—Kate?—probably knew about Derek’s creepy hidey-hole.

“I’ve got an idea,” Stiles said, and Derek made a grumpy, resigned noise into the back of his neck, clutching him harder. Definitely afraid of heights, and if Stiles got out of this he was definitely teasing the hell out of him. “I mean, we could use a little luck, right?” Understatement of the century.

Except—

“No,” Lydia said, and tried to slam the front door of her mansion on him, but Stiles, prepared, had already iced the hinges.

“Lydia, please,” he said, and dragged Derek inside. “We just need a place to lay low for a little while. Allison sent us!” he fibbed slightly, but she kind of had, right? She just didn’t know it. “Just, like. We need to plan, and you’re our only hope. Brains and beauty, and—please.” Break out the puppy eyes—he’d learned them from Scott, so he knew they were pretty much lethal.

Sure enough, Lydia’s face softened slightly. Very slightly. Stiles was still counting it as a win.

“Well, at least you’re intelligent enough to know to come to me,” she said, and tossed her hair, raising an eyebrow. “Unlike the rest of the Guardians. Fine. Just don’t track blood on my Persian rug—oh, hell.”

“Babe, what’s all the—oh my god.”

It was the jerk from before, Jackson, and he’d flattened himself against the marble wall of the foyer and was staring at Derek in horror. Still didn’t see Stiles, of course, but those were the breaks. Stiles was used to it.

Hopefully the jock in the gears wouldn’t muck things up too much. Derek was baring his teeth at the guy and leaning heavily on Stiles as they eeled their way further inside, and the wind gently shut the door behind them.

Stiles let himself relax a bit, for the first time since he’d been sack-napped and deposited at Santa’s feet.

“Oh, relax,” Lydia was saying, cozying up to that brainless hunk and smiling up at him. Ugh, what did she see in him? The guy was basically gibbering, it wasn’t like Derek was that scary. “I’ll protect you from the big bad wolf.”

“The big bad wolf is about to pass the fuck out, I think,” Stiles quipped. “Got a powder room you can spare, Little Red?”

Derek made a protesting noise, but seeing as how he was basically leaning his entire massive body against Stiles’s beanpole frame, Stiles felt like his contribution to the conversation could be safely ignored.

“Down the hall,” Lydia trilled. “And you’re cleaning up when you’re done. And then,” she said, looking over her shoulder with a sharpness that made Stiles squeak. “You’re explaining exactly what’s going on that involves the North Pole, the Easter Bunny, the Hallows, and you.”

Jackson was opening and closing his mouth like a super-unattractive, well-toned fish, and Lydia had already rounded on him and was talking in low, sweet tones. Derek and Stiles stood there and dripped thawing ice and blood.

“Right,” Stiles said. “Solid copy. Totally on it. Definitely, I totally have an explanation for all this. Never fear!”

“Stiles,” Derek mumbled, sliding a little further down his side. “Shut up.”

“Shutting up!” Stiles said, and they lurched their way to the bathroom. The door closed behind them and Derek promptly slid against it to puddle on the floor, putting his face on his knees while Stiles hovered uselessly around him. His broad, still furry shoulders were heaving slightly and Stiles had to say something. He was well aware of the irony, their first meeting fresh between them, and he didn’t need Lydia to know the odds of being decked for it were extremely high, but he had to say it anyway.

“I’m sorry about your sister.”

Derek looked up, eyes red and there were—god, there were tears tracking through the bloodstains and grit on his face, Stiles couldn’t do tears, never could—and then he was launching himself at Stiles and. Not killing him. He was just burying his face in Stiles’s neck and making hurt, soft sounds.

“I know,” Stiles said helplessly, and held on. “I’m so sorry. Derek, I’m so sorry. I know I’m not who you’d want to be here, but I’m—I’m all you’ve got, and I’ll try, I promise.”

“What are you talking about,” Derek said, and really, the dude could stand to buy a question mark, some kind of punctuation besides a period, but since his voice was clogged with tears and he was still clutching Stiles like a lifeline in a freezing lake, Stiles was going to let it go for now.

“I know you don’t like me much—” Stiles continued, rubbing circles on his back. “But I, I really—I really liked your sister, and we’ll figure this out, I promise. We’ll make it right. Somehow.”

“No.” Which, what? Stiles was pouring his heart, out here, and okay, maybe he was pretty useless, but –“I’m glad it’s you here. I like you,” Derek said darkly, same menacing monotone as always, and Stiles couldn’t help but laugh disbelievingly, because really.

“See, that’s what Laura was talking about, you’ve got to learn to drop the growl sometimes, it’s the wrong kind of scary. Some variation wouldn’t kill—” Then Stiles’s brain caught up with his mouth. “Wait, what? I’m sorry, what did you say?”

Derek cleared his throat, and then let Stiles go, hulking his shoulders up around his head like a distressed, particularly hairy turtle.

“I’ve always liked you. Laura says,” he said, and then his face did something horrible, cracked and wavering, and Stiles felt something in his chest go tight and painful. “Laura said you didn’t know. I thought—I thought you did.”

All the times Laura had sent the North wind, smoky and sweet, for Stiles’s help with her bull-headed baby brother, all the times Derek had trailed helplessly after Stiles in the cemeteries and Halloween-strewn streets and parties and movie theaters, suddenly took on a different angle of light in his memory.

“You’re bad at that,” Stiles said after a slack-jawed moment. “Thinking, I mean.” Though apparently this was kind of a pot, kettle situation, and okay, the kettle was glaring at him again. “Right, let’s stow the emotional revelations for later. Um. For when you’re less—bleedy.”

“Oh,” Derek said, looking down at the sluggish, seeping wounds on his belly. “Yeah.”

“Were those, like. Play dates? Are we friends?” Stiles couldn’t help but ask as he dabbed with a cool towel at the deep cuts, wincing with Derek as he hissed in pain. Derek was healing before Stiles’s eyes, but slowly, and he obviously still hurt. He was definitely giving Stiles a hurt look, and Stiles couldn’t—couldn’t imagine any kind of justice that involved this. What had Allison’s aunt been thinking?

“Thought we weren’t talking about it,” Derek grumbled, looking away.

“Dude, I’m trying not to think about you being tortured, okay, or why, or—anyway, was Laura trying to, what. Socialize you? I’m not the best influence, wow. She must have been desperate.”

“Drop it,” Derek menaced, and Stiles rolled his eyes.

“Look, Mr. Direwolf, that trick never worked on me, and you know it—”

A knock at the door interrupted them, and Allison’s voice came through, tight and unhappy. “Stiles? Are you there?”

Stiles gave a last, probably useless swipe at the blood before getting up. “Try a shower,” he advised, and turned so as not to see Derek stripping the last of his gross, clingy clothes off his body. “Get warmed up, clean, naked—um. I’ll be outside, holler if you need me.”

There was a grunt of response, and Stiles fled.

“Hey, you found us,” Stiles greeted Allison, shutting the door on the soapy wet naked scene behind him. “Uh, no one else has, though, right? Oh my god.”

Allison had thrown herself at Stiles and was sniffling. “We did the right thing, didn’t we?” she asked, and Stiles patted her back gingerly. Why, why all the tears, why was he a tear magnet? That had better not be another superpower he was developing, he was more than okay sticking with frost and wind and flight, thanks.

“Yeah,” he said. “Of course, of course we did.”

“Sandy’s gone,” she whispered, and buried her face in his neck. “Peter Hale—he took him. He’s—oh god, Stiles. Everything’s gone so wrong.”

“Explanations,” Lydia barked from behind them, and both of them startled apart, staring. Lydia was tapping a foot and looking impressively tall for someone barely five feet tall. “Kitchen. Now.”

Allison and Stiles meekly followed in her high-heeled wake and settled in the gleaming kitchen with, ugh. Jackson.

“Why is he still here?” Stiles complained, and Lydia narrowed her eyes and tossed her strawberry-red curls.

“Something’s wrong out there, and he’s staying with me. And it’s none of your business, Frost, so get with the explanations. I’ve been more than patient.”

“The Boogeyman’s back, and crazy, and wants to take the whole world down into some nightmare fear land, I don’t know,” Stiles said, collapsing into a chair and rubbing his temples. “I know it sounds crazy, but—”

“Don’t editorialize,” Lydia snapped. “Facts first. Jackson, shush.” Jackson shut his mouth with an audible click and huddled into her side. “Continue.”

Stiles blinked and exchanged a look with Allison, who settled in a chair herself.

“Uh, well, that’s kind of all I know?” Stiles offered apologetically. “I was kinda stuck with Derek for the rest of it. I guess... something bad went down? Val, you take the wheel.”

Allison shuddered, and Stiles realized, maybe for the first time, that things were worse than he’d thought, still addled with Derek and the revelation that for the first time since—well, Scott—Stiles kind of had a friend.

“We were just trying to find the Boogeyman,” Allison said, voice wavering. “Figure out what his plan was. I don’t even think anyone’s even realized Derek’s gone yet, because—we found him. Too late, but we found him. The Tooth Palace—it’s collapsed, all the Baby Teeth are gone, he’s taken them.” Stiles covered his own mouth. All those little fairies, god, they had to be so scared. “Hale’s captured them all.”

“But how?” Stiles asked, horrified, and she shuddered, burying her face in her hands. “Why? What could Peter possibly want with them?”

“He must be attacking the Guardians systematically,” Lydia said, steepling her hands and looking thoughtful. “That’s what I’d do, if I were him. Each child that doesn’t find a coin left for one of their teeth will stop believing. That weakens the Tooth Fairy, and makes his next target more accessible. He’s gearing up to take down Santa, I’d presume.”

“That’s what we realized,” Allison said, fingering her bow and looking lost. “We were trying to help Tooth, my father and the Easter Bunny and Sandman. We were all helping swap coins out for lost baby teeth, you know? Keep the children believing.”

“Wait wait wait, are you telling me Santa,” Stiles said, boggling. “Was collecting teeth? And the Easter Bunny? Man, I would have shit bricks if I woke up to one of them bending over my bed.”

Allison ignored him and continued, eyes haunted, and Stiles snapped his mouth shut. Not time for irreverance, right, check. “But Hale was waiting, and he’d found a way to turn the dream-sand into something else, something horrible.”

“What are you talking about?” Lydia asked, eyes sharp and fierce, her knuckles white around her mug of tea. “Sandman’s too strong for that. He has a whole globe of believers.”

“Maybe that’s why he killed Laura,” Stiles suggested, stomach twisting. “Laura had power, as the head of the family, to make Night Mares, if she needed them.” She didn’t use it often, but she had one or two, tamed and eating from her hand, terrifying and beautiful.

Lydia shot him an approving look and nodded, and normally Stiles would have thrilled to his toes and then maybe fled, because he didn’t really know what to do with a Lydia that talked to him.

But he had bigger things to worry about now.

“I don’t know,” Allison whispered. “Maybe. But it’s horrible, all those dreams gone black, like ashes. And the shapes of them are—wrong.” Her voice was hoarse and Stiles took her hand and held on, and didn’t, for once, mind that Jackson was there, because he was holding Lydia, confused and still trying to interject uselessly from time to time. But Lydia was smiling at him, and Jackson was—comforting her, somehow, by being big and dumb and human. So maybe he had some use, after all. “Sandman held the Night Mares back, long enough for us to get away, and they—they took him.” Her voice wobbled. “He’s gone. All that light. My arrows were useless.”

“Fear does that,” a voice came from the shadows of the pantry, voice gravelly. “It can eat away at anything, at everything. Kill hope, destroy dreams. Make you want to stop trying.”

Derek had apparently, at some point, found his way back into the kitchen, and he was clean and wrapped in a pink towel, and it should have been hilarious (and maybe a little hot, now that the fur was gone, and had he always had that much muscle?). But instead Stiles could barely look at him.

Everyone turned to stare at Derek. He looked human, vulnerable and pink and wet, and Stiles felt an unfamiliar urge to fling himself in front of the guy, block their heavy gazes. Allison in particular, who had an arrow notched to her bow and her eyes narrowed. Lydia looked—more thoughtful. Jackson just looked terrified.

“Come on, big man, pull up a chair. No no, I like the pink, it suits you, keep it. We’ll get you back in black later.” Derek hesitantly came closer, then found a stool and pulled it right behind Stiles’s, hovering like the shadowy figure he was. Stiles felt Allison pulling away slightly. “Allison saved you, you know that, right? You were kind of out of it. But she saved you.”

He could feel Derek looking at her, and then he said, with a low, wavering voice with actual emotion besides fear and menace in it, “Thank you.”

Allison looked up, right at Derek, eyes narrowing, and she’d never looked more like Kate, with that gleam in her eyes. It was Stiles’s turn to edge back a little, scooting in front of Derek.

“My aunt said there’s no place for fear in our world. Maybe she’s right. Maybe we should have left you there.” What, what, no. Stiles could barely articulate how much no that was. “How do we know we can trust you? You’re one of them.”

“Uh, no,” Stiles protested, butting in to dump a load of snow on that train of thought before it could really leave the station. “There’s no place for batshit crazy terror, maybe but fear, I mean. Fear’s not all bad. Halloween is great! We need Halloween! Kids need it, it’s the best. No offense to your dad, but it was always my favorite holiday, just saying. And everyone likes scary movies, come on. And roller coasters! And haunted castles! Ghost stories! You can’t listen to your aunt, she’s crazy.”

Okay, that last bit maybe he should have kept to herself.

“You don’t know my aunt,” Allison hissed, turning that bright gaze on Stiles, and he quailed a little. Then, over the rise of Lydia’s voice and Jackson’s confusion and Stiles’s spluttering, Derek spoke.

“She killed my family.”

It was quiet, but it carried, settled over the noise and confusion like a thick blanket of snow, hushed and suffocating.

“She told me,” Derek continued, looking small and lost in his pink towel, shoulders up. “She told me, fear wasn’t all bad. She told me it was exciting. I was exciting. I—I took her home, and she—everything burned. Everyone burned. My mother, and father. My little sisters. Cousins. All burned. It was my fault.”

God, Stiles thought, and started to reach back, horrified and a little heartbroken.

“She wouldn’t do that,” Allison was insisting, but her eyes had gone familiar again, sweet and horrified as she clutched her bow to her chest.

“You didn’t think she’d torture someone, either,” Stiles pointed out, furious all over again, like a hot coal fanned to burning bright in his chest. “But she sure as hell thought that was the 'just' thing to do, apparently.”

“She was doing it for a reason,” Allison said, but she looked troubled, at least. “That doesn’t make it right, but—”

“No, it doesn’t,” Lydia said smartly, straightening up and slamming her mug down. “It’s an illogical response, and we’re better than that, aren’t we.” She waved a hand at Derek, and snorted delicately. “Look at him, he’s hardly out to ruin the lives of the children of Earth. He doesn’t even have pants.”

Stiles turned to look at Derek, who had hunched his shoulders even further. It broke Stile’s heart, a little. “Why didn’t you tell anyone?”

Laura couldn’t have known. She’d thought, if Stiles remembered correctly, that one night when she’d set loose a drift of paper lanterns, hair whipping around her and tears trailing down her cheekbones, that it’d been some horrible mistake, a stray flame, a drift of horrible luck.

“I was afraid,” Derek said, a low moan like a howl, and put his head down, shoulders shaking. “It’s all my fault. I did this.”

The table was quiet, and Stiles could almost feel the darkness spreading out from the shadows, the distant terrifying sound of nightmares and helplessness seeping in. If even their Hale in the hole was afraid, what hope did they have?

“No. It’s not. You were afraid, but you weren’t the one to go Dark Side,” Stiles said, because he had to say something, and besides, it was true. “Sounds like Kate did, though. She’s basically in league with fear already, isn’t she? I mean, not to go all Yoda,” but why waste the opportunity to use his supremely awesome accent when he had the chance. “But fear leads sometimes to anger, anger leads sometimes to hate, cetera et cetera.”

Because when in doubt, resort to science fiction and pop culture references. He was surprised when Derek snorted and raised his head, shaking it at Stiles, still looking a little pathetic and lost, but better, somehow, too.

“Geeky science fiction aside, Stiles is right,” Lydia said, interrupting the weird moment they were having. “Reacting to our fears without thinking is counterproductive. That's how people make stupid mistakes. We need to plan, instead of just panicking.”

“I have no idea why the Moon chose me. It should have been you, for sure. Or Allison, or—really, anyone else,” Stiles wondered aloud, legitimately perplexed, and then yelped when Lydia reached over the table and smacked him upside the head. “Hey! What was that for?”

“Self-deprecation isn’t a good look on anyone, Stiles,” she said sharply. “And it’s getting old on you, especially. We don’t have time for it.”

Whoa whoa whoa. “I was being serious!” Stiles said, a little angry now. “What the hell did he choose me for? I’m not Guardian material, I’m not even—none of you would even give me the time of day if there wasn’t a fucking belief blackout going on right now!”

“What are you talking about, Stiles?” Allison said, leaning forward and frowning. “We like you. You just—never stay still long enough to talk to.”

“Tell me about it,” Derek snorted, and what. What. Even Lydia was nodding. “Anyway, laughter’s the best way to fight fear, sometimes,” Derek continued hesitantly, and Stiles rolled his eyes, but everyone else was—nodding? What? “And Stiles is funny.”

“...looking, you mean?” Stiles interjected, because what. He couldn’t—Derek was complimenting him? Derek? Stiles had thought he didn’t know the meaning of the word. And then oof, Allison had elbowed him in the side, what the hell.

“No,” she said, giving Derek an appraising, maybe even impressed look. “I think you’re right. I think the Moon knew exactly what it was doing, choosing Stiles.”

“Okay! Not that I’m not a fan of the Stiles-love-in, but can we get back to the point?” Stiles complained, squirming. “Peter! Boogeyman at large! Out to destroy the hopes and joys of children the world over! Where is he headed next?”

“Oh,” Lydia said, suddenly going pale. “Oh, we’re idiots. Tomorrow’s Easter.”

“The warren,” Stiles said, remembering suddenly. Another place he’d not yet managed to infiltrate, but if he was Peter and he wanted to strike a major blow against the holidays, that’s where he’d have gone. To destroy the eggs.

“We have to assume that was part of Peter’s plan,” Lydia continued, firming her voice and looking fierce. “Assume Easter is lost. I know,” she said, reaching over and taking Allison’s hand. “But we need to think a step ahead.”

“The lights on the globe,” Allison said suddenly, gaze sharpening. “They were almost all out, except—except for one town. There was still a stronghold there, belief.”

“What town?” Lydia asked, leaning forward, eyes flashing. “That’s where we need to be. Now.”

“Beacon Hills,” Allison said, a questioning tone in her voice, like she couldn’t believe what she was saying. “It’s just this little place, California, middle of nowhere. I don’t know why that’s where—”

She kept going, but Stiles had frozen, barely feeling Derek’s hand on his shoulder, shaking him and Derek’s voice, low and worried in his ear.

Scott,” he said finally, and his hockey stick flew to his hand. “That’s where my family is. We have to—let’s go.”

“I’m coming,” he heard Jackson say, and turned to look at him. Jackson was standing, looking terrified, but determined, and he was wearing a damned sports jersey and clutching a lacrosse stick. What the hell could he do? He’d been quiet throughout, and Stiles had almost forgotten he was there. “You’re—you’re doing something dangerous, Lydia, and I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m coming too.”

“No,” Lydia said, shaking her head, and Jackson glared and flung out a hand at the rest of the table.

“If you’re going with all these—people, the Easter Bunny and Valentine and Jack fucking Frost—then I’m coming too.

Lydia was protesting, but something penetrated, cut through Stiles’s panic.

“You can see me?” he squawked, and Jackson glared at him. Right at him! Not through or around, but—

“Weird blue cold dude with a hard-on for hairy over there,” Jackson sneered, shivering a little when Derek stood and did what he did best, i.e., loom menacingly. “Yeah, I see you and your creepy crush.”

“Whoa whoa, who said anything about—” Stiles protested, then shook himself. “Look, Lydia, if he believes—” And Stiles couldn’t believe this douchebag was his non-Scott believer. “—Then he should come with us. We need all the believers we can get.”

Lydia was still arguing, but Stiles was already picturing fear, and darkness, and terror bearing down on his tiny town, with no one there to protect it.

“I don’t care, we don’t have time for this,” he said, shaking his head fiercely, and called the wind, the cool wind that blew, familiar and sweet, like the touch of his mother’s hand. It came, strong and swift, and it opened all the doors and windows, and rushed all of them out into the cold, spring air.

***

Stiles hadn’t been back to Beacon Hills in ten years. Hadn’t let himself, had sent others, Baby Teeth fairies, and Sandy, and even Derek and Laura to check in, to tell him his family was still alive, living, okay and happy and together. To send good dreams, protect childhood memories, to scare Scott out of the danger of the forest and remind him not to run into the street, to climb too high in the trees.

Anyone but himself. Stiles had told himself that was the right thing to do, but—maybe, he thought as their merry band tumbled through the town, Jackson shrieking and clutching Lydia, Derek looking sick and pale, but determined, still clad in only a towel, and Allison on her own winged feet, sweet and fierce—maybe...

Maybe he’d just been afraid. Afraid of a Scott that didn’t believe, of his father looking through him. Of how happy his family might be without him.

Maybe, all these years staying away, away from everyone, even the other demigods, he’d made a mistake.

Beacon Hills looked the same as it always had, a tiny, sleepy storybook town, with the same Easter banners and decorations on the street poles that had been there when Stiles was a child himself.

Oh, except for the giant cloud of darkness building above it. That was new. And terrible. Peter Hale stood on the border of the town, hands in his pockets and smiling as he watched them approach.

They pulled up, and fuck, it was too late—they’d taken too long to get here. Arrayed at Peter’s feet were the fallen Guardians, a small furious bunny, and an old man and a woman, hobbling on canes, and Tooth, her wings drifting dull feathers that dissolved on the asphalt.

Allison was right. Fear, the whirling herd of countless Night Mares, looked like ash and sounded like fire, crackling and snapping, suffocating. Like a thousand houses burning.

“Jack Frost,” Peter said simply, looking up at them. “And my dear, sweet nephew, love the new look. Very Chippendale. And we’re blessed by a visit from Lady Luck, and Valentine, too. How very,” he paused consideringly, then said, in a dripping, cloying voice, “Precious.”

And Lady Justice was there, too, raising her torch and swinging it at nightmares that just screamed back, absorbed her flame and crackled with it, like horrible laughter.

“Stiles!” a heartbreakingly familiar voice said, and somehow, somehow Stiles had always known it would be Scott. There was a small band of teenagers, standing against the growing night that was drowning out the morning sun, and Stiles’s little brother, stupid and brave, was facing it down. “Stiles! You came back!”

“There’s nothing left to believe in,” Peter said, turning back to regard Scott’s group with a terrifying look of fondness on his face, sweet and charming as he spread his arms. “Who will stand for you now? Them? A cold breeze, a lucky roll of dice in a cheap night club and a ragged, forgotten valentine. And my dear little nephew, I really have to thank you for showing me the light. Couldn’t have done it without you.”

Everything had gone faint and dim, shrouded in smoke, and Derek had hunched in on himself, whimpering. And, okay, maybe anger lead to the dark side, but Stiles, at the moment, didn’t fucking care.

“Pick on someone your own size, asshole,” Stiles growled, and flung himself himself at the shadows. For a moment everything was darkness, twined with bright, blue ice. Then the darkness surprisingly fell back—Night Mares whinnying, then dissipating under the lash of snow.

“Come on!” Scott shouted, picking up a snowball and packing it the way Stiles had taught him, all those years ago, lighting up. Another Night Mare went down beneath his assault, then another as the teens all started picking up the snowballs Stiles dropped them, grinning darkly and whooping at their success.

Then warm arms were around him, and Scott was looking up into his face, bright and alive and trusting, the same look on his face that he’d had all those years ago.

“Stiles!” he said, and pulled him in, holding him and glaring out at the dark protectively. He’d gotten, Stiles realized, shaking a little, so big. “You came back! I knew, I knew you would. I knew you were real, I knew it, I knew it.” Stiles’s brother, his heart so big it could hold a belief for years, for a decade, with nothing to shore it up, with the world telling him no.

“I’m so sorry I left,” Stiles said, throat thick, and held on. And from the corner of his eyes, he saw them—the Guardians. Stiles saw the red coming back to Santa’s coat, the strength to his straightening figure. Tooth was rising again, bright and tropical colors, and even Bunny’s teeth looked a little sharper and fiercer.

“No,” Peter said, face twisting from handsome to something dark and twisted, scarred. “No, I won’t let you do this. I didn’t kill my own niece for little Jack Frost to stop me now.” As Stiles raised his hockey stick hopelessly to block him, Peter sent it spinning aside with a long lash of lightning. “There is nothing to believe in. Only pain, and darkness.” And that surrounded Stiles now, the sound of Derek whimpering, the memory of cold and choking bitter water, of dark and emptiness—

“That’s not true! I believe in Stiles!” Scott shouted, and Stiles’s vision cleared a little. As he watched, Peter reeled back a step, then another.

No,” Peter said, teeth bared, and that was terror, mindless and unthinking, and Scott, brave stupid brilliant Scott, was snarling back.

“I believe! In the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny, and Santa, and—” Then he yelped, like a hurt puppy, and reeled back, blood springing bright between his fingers as he clutched his shoulder. Scott.

“You fucking dare,” Stiles spit, and launched himself again, knowing he would die in doing it knowing this was it, like the ice closing above his head, and he didn’t care. He didn’t have his hockey stick, didn’t have anything, but he didn’t care.

Then a whirling mass of teeth plunged into the fray and Stiles fell, heavy, to the pavement.

Derek. It was Derek, helplessly biting and snarling, tangled with his uncle. Stiles tried to stand, and fell to his knees again, weak and staggering. It was Scott that caught him, pulled him back, and it was Lydia and Allison, with bright flaming arrows, that beat back the dark bit by bit.

“Hey, weirdo,” Jackson said, suddenly at his side, and pressed the hockey stick into Stiles’s hands, and the wind curled around them all, sweet and crisp, smoky and soft, and as Stiles stood he saw Peter fall, Derek standing above him with red teeth and eyes. And as he watched, Kate came, flaming and too bright to look at, as wading into the fray, laughing and raising her torch, spitting sparks and catching the dark ash and embers alight. They’d all burn, Stiles realized. She didn’t care, she’d let them all burn.

No,” Stiles said, and tried to struggle forward.

“Wait, Stiles, wait!” Lydia caught him, and pressed a kiss to his mouth, biting and painful, then pulled back. “For luck,” she said fiercely, and then Stiles shot forward, born on the wind into the maelstrom of flame, and somehow, somehow found Derek’s arm in the midst of it, somehow—for luck, and maybe love, for hope and friendship and belief in something better, something impossible. Everything burned, but Stiles had him, pulling him back, curling around him and tumbling into the mass of people, mortal and not.

“Kate!” Claus was calling, and then again, her name, over and over. “Kate, let go! Kate!”

Mindless, that wind of flame and laughing, snarling, fighting pair. Both of them were darkening, their skin cracking like embers and ash flying off as they burned up. Until all that was left was ash pillars, struggling weakly together until the wind came, merciless and cool, Jack-o-lantern-scented and soft, and blew them apart in a harsh whispering hiss.

“Laura,” Derek whispered, his skin crisped and eyes red and watering. And then, out of the ashes, something golden glimmered.

“Sandy?” Stiles said, dazed, and watched as the gold grains coalesced into a familiar figure. The flames were out, and the ash figures of Kate and Peter were long gone. The sun was rising, golden and soft, and the grass beneath it was a sweet, simple spring green.

“We did it,” Stiles said disbelievingly, and then yelped as an axe swung.

Claus, strong and tall again, had his axe to Derek’s throat, and Derek just watched him with dark red eyes, chin tilted up. Taking it.

“What are you doing!” Stiles yelped, and limped his way over, pulling out of Scott’s grip. “He saved you, asshole!”

“He’s one of them!” Claus said, and his voice was thick, scraping its way out. “This is his fault!”

“Yes,” Derek said, and closed his eyes.

“This is our chance,” Claus said thickly, and Stiles thought maybe he didn’t realize there were tears trickling down his cheeks, making clear, bright tracks in the ash on his skin. “To end fear, to end it, once and for all.”

“The kid was bit,” the Easter Bunny said softly, softer than Stiles had ever heard him speak, before, his paw around Scott’s shoulder. “It doesn’t end that easily.”

“Don’t let your kids into the forest alone,” Stiles said thickly, pulling Derek against him. “Don’t go into abandoned mines. Watch out for thin ice. Don’t walk alone at night, until you’re ready. Be afraid of the big bad wolf. He’s there for a reason.”

Pale blue eyes bore into him, and didn’t lower the axe that was now at Stiles’s throat, instead of Derek’s. Scott was pulling at Bunny’s arms, trying to get towards them and ignoring the warning chime of Sandman nearby.

“There’s nothing wrong with fear,” Lydia continued, voice rising over the din. Her arm was around Allison’s waist and Jackson hovering wide-eyed and bloody at her shoulder. “It’s a valid biological respond. Evolutionarily sound reaction to dangerous situation. But we’re not animals. It’s how you deal with your fear that matters.”

Derek was trembling under him, and said, again, angry like it was the only emotion he could claw a hold into. “It’s my fault,” he said, and then tried to push Stiles away. “Get off, it’s—he’s right. End it.”

“Please,” Stiles said, and kept glaring at the winter-sharp edge of the axe in front of his eyes. “Someone has an over-developed idea of their own importance.”

The axe wavered, and then Chris dropped it and turned, putting his face into his hands.

Daddy,” Allison said, and darted forward, and wrapped her arms around him. He let out a horrible, gasping sound, then hugged her close and whispered something into her hair.

“Oh my god,” Scott said, having wrenched his way free and crawled closer. He never did have any goddamned common sense or self-preservation instincts, Stiles thought, nearly hysterical. No fear. “Santa is terrifying. But, uh, who is that?”

“Huh?” Stiles said, and then realized he was still on top of Derek, who was looking up at him with hot, red eyes. “Um.” He rolled off, and tried not to think anything at all, then realized who Scott was staring at with big, adoring eyes. “Oh, are you kidding me? You really do have a deathwish, goddamn.”

“She’s beautiful,” Scott said dreamily, staring at Allison.

“I need a fucking nap,” Stiles grumbled.

“There’s no time for a nap!” the Easter Bunny shrieked. “It’s fucking Easter! Someone has to lay me some goddamned eggs!” And Stiles was surprised down to his bones when he heard Derek next to him start to laugh, and laugh.

Hope, Stiles thought, and started to laugh too as Lady Luck mused that snowballs were at least egg-shaped, and Derek had to have a candy stash somewhere, didn’t he? The Clauses were grumbling about providing paint—red and green would just have to do, Bunny didn’t have a problem with that, did he?

And thus began the strangest Easter in recorded history.

But none of the kids seemed to mind, and that was what mattered.

***

That wasn’t the end of the story, though. The Guardians were back, and this time with a little bit more Stilinksi-style fun jazzing things up. Obviously a huge improvement—Stiles had to say, he had some great tips on how to keep the holidays up to date. People believed in him. Plus, it turned out both Santa and the Easter Bunny were a lot more friendly when you weren’t trying to break in, but instead knocked at the door.

Not that Stiles had stopped trying to break in on occasion—had to keep the big guys on their toes, after all.

Even more important, in Stiles’s opinion—he had his brother back, though the bastard was still trying to claim gummy bears from their previous agreement. And he had friends, friends his age—sort of—for the first time in his life.

But there was still the issue of Derek being the worst possible person to orchestrate Halloween ever, and the fact that Peter’s bite seemed to have made Scott a de facto Hallow of sorts, and the pack of teenagers that was following Derek around now, which, not helping with the creepy-bad vibe, Derek, Jesus fucking Christ.

But, Stiles thought, standing on a chimney and watching night sweep across the land, moonlit and blue. It was maybe the start of a better chapter anyway.

“Go on,” Derek rumbled, and nudged his shoulder. “What’s the worst that could happen?”

“Uh, my dad could shoot me, or drink himself to death, or commit himself to an asylum,” Stiles said, but Derek just nudged his shoulder and huffed out a silent laugh. “Fine, fine, okay, I’m going.”

“Don’t be afraid,” Derek said. “Or. Be afraid. But don’t let that stop you.”

“Yeah, thanks, I’d gotten that object lesson,” Stiles scoffed, and then went bright and hotly red when Derek crowded him against the chimney, eyes intent, but somehow soft and a little bit terrified. “You, uh. Those weren’t play dates your sister sent us on, were they? Before.”

“No,” Derek said, and kissed the corner of his mouth, then backed up, looking sheepish and worried, and getting progressively more furry as Stiles watched.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Stiles said, because, well. He had to reward courage like that, he guessed. The next kiss was decidedly more dead-on, and warm, and came with a low, pleased rumble that seemed to vibrate its way down to Stiles’s bones and linger there.

Then Derek was gone again.

“Ugh, okay, you’re not showing me up!” Stiles called into the night, but the only response was the curl of a breeze around him, sweet-smelling and playing with his hair. Okay. Okay. “Game on. Game. On.”

Stiles leapt lightly off the roof, ricocheted off a wall and onto a windowsill, and maybe getting his courage on was easier said than done. But he knew Derek was watching him from a shadow, and waiting, and would be there after, and it gave him the push he needed to edge closer.

Light spilled over the edge and collected at his feet, gathered on the edges of his fingertips as he nudged the latch open and eased in. The north wind blew in the crack he’d made, scattering his father’s papers, blowing them off the desk and in a dizzy slow whirlwind of snowflakes, until they caught up against Stiles’s feet.

Scott had said—had said that their father believed, had told Stiles that he’d listened, eventually, and told Scott he’d seen Stiles, too, blue and wavering in the kitchen that night.

“If that didn’t manage to convince him, my new teeth definitely helped,” he’d admitted, grinning, but Stiles still couldn’t quite believe it.

Too good to be true, he thought.

His father looked up slowly, and Stiles steeled himself to have those familiar, beloved eyes look through him. But he just—couldn’t, he couldn’t take it. He closed his eyes and choked down a sob, prepared himself to fling back into the night. It was too much. It still hurt, like it had that first day, that first time, all over again.

Then he heard his father say, voice wondering, “Stiles?” Stiles opened his eyes again his dad was staring at him, at him, his hand outstretched. Stiles stepped off the sill and into his arms, and said to his father, heard for the first time in ten years, “Dad.”

And man, he thought, as his dad’s arms folded around him, warm and familiar, he really didn’t know what he’d been so scared of after all.