"What do you think they're talking about?" Stiles asked Scott, pulling Scott's pillow over so he could steal more of it. Scott punched him in the arm and pulled the pillow back.
"I don't know, Stiles. It's probably not that important."
"Not that important?" Stiles punched his brother back. "Mom went to the doctor today and now our parents are all up late, talking. This can't be good. I swear I saw Mima crying."
"Maybe Mom just watched a sad movie?" Scott suggested, but he looked a little more freaked out now, which made Stiles feel a little bad, but mostly that's what he was going for. If he was going to be freaked out about whatever was going on with their parents, he was going to be damn sure his brother was freaked out, too.
"She watched a movie at work? Yeah, right."
Scott frowned. "She is always talking about how hard her job is. And gross. She never gets to take a break. I don't want to grow up to be a nurse."
"You can be my deputy when I take over Dad's job. How does that sound?"
Stiles gets punched again. "Why do I have to be the deputy? I think you're going to be the deputy."
"You're the deputy because you can't run more than a block without having to catch your breath!"
Stiles wasn't that surprised when Scott punched him in the ribs that time instead of the arm. "You know that's not my fault. I've got asthma!"
Stiles knew it was a sore subject, so he muttered, "Yeah, I know. Sorry, dude."
Scott nodded and they both grew silent for a moment. Stiles strained his ears to hear the conversation going on downstairs and started making plans for how to sneak down to where he could hear without getting caught again and sent back to bed. When Scott spoke again, Stiles wasn't expecting it and he jumped at how loud Scott's voice sounded.
"What if Mima really is sick? Who's going to take care of us?
"Don't be stupid," Stiles said, leaning his head against Scott's shoulder (and stealing a little bit of his pillow, since Stiles' was still on his own bed across the room). "We're ten years old, Scott. We'll take care of ourselves."
"I don't think that's legal."
"Our dad's the Sheriff. If he says it's legal, it's legal."
"That's not how it works."
Stiles gasped in disbelief and poked Scott in the ribs. "That's totally how it works!"
"Stiles, baby, come here," Annie said, catching her son by the wrist and pulling him toward the living room couch. Melissa took Scott away to have her own talk with him, but John lingered in the doorway. Annie shooed him with a look. She could do this. She needed to do this for Stiles.
"What, Mom?" Stiles asked, his voice nonchalant, but his eyes wide with fright. Annie had known Stiles would be able to figure out what was wrong. When he could focus, he tended to focus with this single minded intensity that left Annie simultaneously proud and a little frightened.
He was only ten years old.
Biting her lip to fight back the tears she'd been holding in all day, Annie said, "Monkey-boy, I need you to sit down and really listen to what I'm going to say. Alright?"
Stiles ignored the pet name (which he alternately loved and hated) and sat, focusing his eyes on hers. God, they were so her father's eyes. "What's up, Mom?"
"You know I went to the doctor last week." Stiles nodded. "I went back again today. The doctor figured out why I've been so tired lately."
"It's not a new brother, is it?" Stiles asked sadly, but with this wry twist of sarcasm that made Annie sniffle a laugh in surprise.
"No, baby. I'm ... well, I've got cancer."
Before he even let that thought settle, Annie could see that Stiles understood the gravity of the situation. But, instead of pleading for Annie to say it wasn't true, of course her son would ask, "How bad is it? How sick are you?"
Annie thought about lying. It would be so much easier if she could just tell Stiles that she was going to be sick for a little while longer and then just get better. But Stiles was too much like his father. He'd been able to spot a lie since he was six years old. There was just no getting around it when Stiles wanted to hear the truth.
"Bad. It's bad. There's-" Stiles started to get up, but Annie held him back. "Listen, baby. There's a chance I won't make it and we have to deal with that, okay?"
"Why?" Stiles asked, his teary eyes belying his hunched, almost aggressive body language. "Why can't the doctors fix you? You should find new doctors. Mima knows a bunch of them!"
"Mima's friends are all ER doctors, Stiles. And better doctors won't help. It's moving too fast." Annie hated giving Stiles this level of detail but she knew that details helped him focus, kept him calm. "Look, I am going to fight this thing, okay? As hard as I can."
"Promise?" Stiles asked and Annie felt her heart break at the desperation in his voice.
"Yeah, baby. Yes. I promise."
Because Stiles was born two days before Scott, he always had to wait a day to celebrate his birthday. Scott always got his birthday a day early. Somehow, Stiles' parents never understood why this was such a grave injustice. Stiles had to wait the whole day of his birthday with just an extra hug from each of his parents and an extra cookie in his school lunch. He waited patiently the day of his birthday for the party and the presents and the cake, and ended up having to spend what should have been his eleventh birthday celebration in the hospital.
Mom wasn't feeling well. Well, she hadn't been feeling well for months, but today was worse than before. Mima said she needed to go to the hospital right away. "This sucks," Stiles told Scott.
"You know you're not supposed to say that word," Scott said, nodding toward where Mima's friend Paula was sitting at the nurses' desk, keeping an eye on them. Mima had told Stiles specifically that Paula was under strict orders to call her the moment either one of them did something wrong. "But yeah, it totally does."
Stiles was going to go out of his mind if he didn't find something to do soon, so he got up, ignored Paula's questioning glare, and started rearranging the magazines there in the waiting room. Scott watched, but he didn't say anything. Eventually Mima and Dad showed up together.
"Hey, boys," Dad said, leaning down so he was at eye level with them and putting a hand on both Stiles' and Scott's necks. "You okay?"
"How's Mom? Can we see her?" Stiles asked, ducking out from under Dad's hold. The sheriff's frown didn't escape Stiles and neither did the way he looked up at Mima, like he was looking for her help with saying something.
Mima crouched down and told Stiles, "She's sleeping, kiddo. You can see her tomorrow."
"No, I want to see her now. I have to see her now!" Stiles tried to get past Mima. Once he got through the big set of doors, it would be easy to find Mom's room. But Melissa managed to slow Stiles down just enough that the sheriff was able to catch him around the waist and pick him up.
"Your Mom needs her rest, Stiles. She needs you to be good so she can get–" The sheriff cut himself off and Stiles didn't like how that sounded. He stopped struggling and turned to study Dad's face. He looked so incredibly sad that Stiles couldn't help but get tears in his eyes as well.
Sniffing, he asked, "She's not going to get better, is she?"
He half expected his dad to lie to him, but the Sheriff told Stiles, "No. She's not. The medicine didn't work."
Behind Dad, Scott clung to Mima, his arms around her neck in a tight hug. They were both crying. Stiles couldn't believe what was happening. He was going to lose his mom. Not knowing what else to do, Stiles ran over to Mima and joined the hug, and he wasn't sure if the way Mima smelled so much like Mom was a good, comforting thing or not.
Dad joined the hug and Stiles turned in their arms to first squeeze Scott because while he wasn't losing his Mom, he was losing his Mima and Stiles knew he'd be just as upset if Melissa were dying. Then he turned to fling his arms around his Dad and cried into Dad's neck for a long, long time.
Annie Stilinski died on a Tuesday, while Stiles and Scott were in school. John left Melissa to deal with the arrangements and went to the school to collect his sons. The boys were in different classrooms this year, because their teachers felt like it was important for them to develop socially apart from one another, so John collected Scott first. When John saw Scott from the doorway, he was grinning as he and a friend were gluing strips of paper to other strips of paper. Mrs. Kilkenny noticed John and said Scott's name to get his attention. Scott followed his teacher's gaze to John at the door and his eyes immediately welled up with tears.
Scott ran to the door and John caught him, pulling Scott into a tight hug and moving them away from the doorway so his classmates wouldn't see. "I'm sorry, Scott," he whispered into his son's hair. "Your Mima passed away this morning. She's gone."
Scott moaned and squeezed John more tightly.
After a few long minutes, John said, "I need you to be strong for a few minutes, okay, Son? We need to go tell Stiles and he's going to need our support. Can you be strong for your brother?"
Scott sniffed messily and rubbed his face on one of his sleeves, but he nodded. "Yeah, okay, Dad. I can try."
Stiles saw John and Scott at his classroom door before the teacher did. His eyes went wide, but instead of getting up and coming over, he gripped the edge of his desk and bowed his head, like he was about to be sick. Taking Scott's hand in his, John entered the classroom, waving to Stiles' teacher, and weaved both of them among the students' desks. "Stiles?"
Stiles gasped as he looked up, his eyes wide and panicked, his mouth open. It looked like he was drowning, and he quickly dipped his head again. John crouched down next to Stiles' desk and did the first thing he could think of. He whacked Stiles on the back to dislodge whatever he was choking on. It didn't work, and Stiles pushed John away violently and ran out into the hall.
Making sure Scott was following him, John tracked Stiles to the boys' bathroom. There Stiles sat under the sinks with his back against the wall and his head between his legs. John gave him some space, but Scott got right in there next to his brother, hand on the back of Stiles' head. "What's wrong?"
"Can't breathe," Stiles gasped.
Scott looked back at John, so he moved forward carefully. He didn't want to make things worse again. It occurred to John that maybe the shock had set off an asthma attack like the ones Scott had, but Stiles had never had asthma before. And he wasn't wheezing the way Scott did when he had an attack. No, this seemed more like a... a panic attack.
"Stiles," John said, keeping his voice low and calm. "Stiles, I need you to listen to my voice. Can you hear me?"
Stiles gasped and nodded.
"Okay, now I need you to just listen to my voice and breathe in," John waited until Stiles took a shaky breath in. "Now out." Stiles gasped in again, shaking his head so hard the tears flipped away from his cheeks. "Stiles. It's going to be okay. Just breathe out for me, kiddo."
Stiles let out his breath in a sharp gush of air and gasped again. "It's not okay, Dad!" Stiles launched himself into John's arms', sniffing, and breathing hard, but no longer gasping.
"You're right, son. You're right. It's not okay. Your mom is gone. But it's going to be okay. We still have each other. We still have your Mima and we have Scott. It's going to be okay."
Stiles nodded against John's shoulder and sobbed, but his breaths came easier. John pulled Scott in to make sure he didn't feel left out and eventually everyone calmed down enough that he could get them out to the car and back home.
That night the whole family slept in John's bed and it still felt too empty. There should have been five of them in the bed. Not four.
Before his mom died, Stiles used to have friends who weren't his brother. Now, though, Scott was the only one who understood what it felt like, to come home after school and start to call out, "Mom! I'm home!" Only no one was home most days. Stiles' Mima worked twelve hour shifts four days a week, and his dad worked even more. It was fine when his mom was still around, because she'd be there to give Stiles and Scott rides to friends houses, and help Stiles focus on his homework, and bake really awesome cookies that Mima just couldn't get right.
Instead, Mrs. Wolcheck from down the street came over on the days Melissa was working, because apparently it was illegal to leave two eleven year old boys at home alone. Stiles hated Mrs. Wolcheck, even though she was seventy-five and basically harmless. He plotted about two dozen ways to get her to leave and never come back, but he didn't set any of the plans into motion, because he knew it was his plans and schemes and the fact that it was just so hard for him to freaking listen that had killed his mother in the first place. He didn't want to put the same stress on his two remaining parents.
Kids were supposed to have three parents. That's how it worked. Yeah, sometimes kids parents got divorced, but they still had parents. Francine Babcock only had two parents, but they were crazy hippies who apparently, "just didn't want a third," like that was a real thing. And Timmy Huang didn't have a dad, but he'd been a marine who died in the line of duty and his moms were already seeing someone new.
Stiles couldn't stand the thought of his parents dating someone. Yeah, maybe they wouldn't be as lonely, but the thought made Stiles want to destroy something. Like maybe if they started dating and fell in love with someone, like they'd forget Stiles' mom.
When Stiles overheard David Greenberg making fun of Scott for being one parent short, he lost it. He tackled Greenberg and punched him twice before Scott pulled him away. The teacher saw and sent Stiles' father a message that had Stiles grounded from TV and video games for a week.
Stiles decided the only people he could really count on, who really understood him, were family. And he wasn't even sure about that anymore.