That's the price you pay
Leave behind your heartache, cast away
Just another product of today
Rather be the hunter than the prey
And you're standing on the edge, face up 'cause you're a--
”Natural” – Imagine Dragons
“Wake up, moje kochanie… Obudź się.”
The touch was gentle: fingers running through his hair, familiar and beloved throughout the years, and despite how strongly sleep still called to Stiles, he slowly drifted upwards from the dark embrace of nothingness—standard, now, since the Nogistune’s possession—and opened his eyes to pre-dawn light.
Fingertips brushed over the arch of a cheekbone, ghostly and cool in its not-there-but-still-there presence, and Stiles hummed softly as the scent of moss and loam slowly began to fade from his bedroom.
“Słodkich snów, Matko,” the teen whispered, heels of his palms rubbing roughly against his eyes, and finally rolled out to bed to begin his day.
The thing about Scott, Stiles thought—and, if the amber-eyed boy was completely honest with himself, there were lots of ‘things’ about Scott—and tap-tap-tapped his fingertips over a jeans-clad thigh, was that he was never going to see the world in anything other than black and white.
It was a dangerous stance to take, especially considering the various threats that Scott and the Pack had faced throughout the years, and the True Alpha should have known better, learned better, evolved from the this-or-that mentality that he had clung stubbornly to since the day his dad walked out on him and Melissa, but… nothing had changed in years and Scott stared out over a monochromatic world, refusing to budge from his habitual stance.
The world didn’t work like that, however: things were always painted in shades of gray and Stiles…? Well, he’d been walking through twilight all of his life.
Things were never either-or, one aspect of a whole at a time; the world was so much more complex and taking such a simplistic approach to everything made a person blind in so many ways. And Stiles was tired of Scott’s blind leading, was tired of stumbling in the dark—in an element that he knew like the back of his hand—was tired of denying personality traits and heritage, was tired of pretending and hiding. Had been, truly, since the Anuk-Ite.
He tap-tap-tapped thoughtfully at his thigh once more, lower lip caught between his teeth as Stiles stared up at the blocky façade of a hunter family’s compound. Its lines were militaristic in nature, harsh and unyielding, and blank concrete spanned from the forest’s edge to the opening of the first building in the complex.
“Think this’ll work?” the teen asked the pitch-black fox sitting at his feet.
“Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future,” Kuugeki said in answer, nine tails primly curling around its forepaws as it glanced sidelong at its bonded.
The reply was enough to get an eye-roll from Stiles, though amusement curled the corner of his mouth upwards. “Letting you finally watch Star Wars was a mistake that I’m going to be paying for for years,” the boy muttered to himself, earning himself a snort from the Nogitsune that had shared his body once-upon-a-time ago.
“In a dark place we find ourselves, and a little more knowledge lights our way,” the Nogitsune shot back, standing and stepping forward towards the compound, slowly fading from sight.
“Smartass,” Stiles muttered—though amusement colored the insult, turning it fond—and disappeared into a shadow.
The thing was—
The thing was that Sparks throw off light and you cannot have light without shadow.
Stiles had been living in darkness long before Peter came crashing into his and Scott’s lives, had learned to navigate his way through the witching hour with long practice and years of guidance. His world had always been colored in shades of gray, had been tinged with moss-scented kisses, caresses that were paired with too-sharp nails. Had learned early on that crimson eyes had accompanied the sense of safety, of protection, of love. Of family.
The compound burned bright enough to be seen for miles, the story of the fire featured on multiple news stations across the county.
How truly horrible, this unforeseen tragedy: an entire family, several generations worth of members, wiped out in a single night—gone like so much ash in the wind.
An electrical malfunction, the fire investigators will later rule. Bad wiring, an accident: no one’s fault but a horrible event all the same.
R.I.P.: Nous chassons ceux qui nous chassent.
(The hunting families across the world knew better. Knew that a Hale wolf had been taken to the compound, that the rest of the Argents had intended to take their pound of flesh—no matter how strongly Chris Argent had advised against such action—that there had been no intention of letting that same wolf walk out a free man.
The hunting families remembered how thoroughly, how quickly, the Hale pack’s house burned.
The hunting families remembered how easy it had been to bribe and blackmail and threaten to get the investigation results that Gerard and Kate Argent wanted. How the majority of the rest of the Argent family stood firm behind the multiple murders, how not a tear had been shed over the sheer amount of loss of life. How the hunting families of the world said not a word in reprimand, in disdain, in disapproval.
The hunting families remembered.
The hunting families feared.)
Deaton pursed his lips as he glanced down at the bleeding and broken body stretched out on one of his examination tables: expression carefully blank, emotion wiped clean from his face and eyes—the truest meaning of a blank slate, though the Nogitsune at Stiles’ side watched the Druid with hooded, silvery eyes.
“I can’t guarantee that I’ll be able to heal him,” the veterinarian eventually murmured as he took a step back towards the cabinets where he kept most of his medicines and surgery supplies. “They managed to do a great deal of damage before you… retrieved him.”
“He’s lived through worse. He’ll make it through, Doc, so do what you can for now,” Stiles commented lightly enough, tucking his hands into the pockets of his red hoodie as he absently shrugged a shoulder. “Peter’s a survivor if nothing else. He’ll survive this, too.”
Deaton’s hands slowed as he brought down various bottles of antiseptics, of pain killers, of Druid supplies, lining them up neatly in a row but finally pausing as he held the last container in his hands. “You never said how you managed to rescue him, Stiles,” the Emissary began carefully, feeling his way cautiously across the minefield that he knew stretched between them both, the dark and danger that scented the air with copper and lightning as the fox shifted and settled at the teen’s feet.
(And the sight of the creature that Deaton could have sworn was sealed away for eternity, defeated by the True Alpha that the Druid had always put such faith in—but: Stiles was sane, was not possessed, and it was here, alive and well and bonded to the boy.)
“No, I didn’t.”
Stiles blinked and—for just a moment—his eyes flared red.
The jar fell from Deaton’s grasp, glass shattering across the floor.
Clawed fingertips trailed along the curve of Stiles’ eyebrow, gentle and careful and still sharp enough to draw blood. The teen slowly wakened, blinking carefully to clear the small trickles of blood from his eyes. The clock at his bedside table read 3:01 a.m., and the amber-eyed boy sighed quietly as he felt cool lips press against his cheek, the touch fleeting and there-and-gone.
“Kochanie… My beautiful boy.”
“Słodkich snów, Matko,” Stiles replied, as always.
“What you did was wrong, Stiles! I don’t see how you can’t understand that!”
The argument had been going on for at least twenty minutes: the same arguments, the same logic coming ‘round and ‘round, circular and repeating itself until Stiles could same them along with Scott. The argument was boring and just another example of the monochromatic stance that Scott took towards the world and his own morals by association. Same shit, different day—and Stiles was tired.
Finally having enough of Scott’s lecture, the lightbulbs in the loft suddenly exploded as Stiles stepped forward finally to face off against the True Alpha, causing the rest of the pack to flinch back in surprise at the silence that suddenly stretched between the two teens.
“You were planning on leaving him there, Scott,” Stiles snapped, shoving the ‘wolf back when Scott tried to crowd into the amber-eyed boy’s personal space. “Like it or not, until you formally expel Peter from the pack, he’s a pack member. You have the bond to prove it. And you left him there, for two months, with no intention of getting him out. If it was anyone else—anyone else!—you would have gone after them ages ago. They took him when he was out grocery shopping and on your territory. And you did nothing.”
Scott roared at his best friend’s reply, eyes flashing Alpha-red as fangs dropped, words lisping as he once more tried to crowd forward into Stiles’ space. “You wiped them out, Stiles! The entire family, all dead because you killed them! You burned their home to the ground, and you’re not even trying to deny that it was you! What am I supposed to do about that?!”
Stiles laughed at that, the sound bitter and grating on the others’ ears, bringing up his hands to cover his eyes as a wave of exhaustion crashed over him, dragging him down—and the teen was just… done. Completely and utterly: done.
“Accept it, Scott. Or don’t. It’s already finished.”
Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.
Stiles dog-eared the page he was on and closed the book he’d been reading aloud to Peter’s unconscious form over the past week, shifting just enough to place the hardback on the table next to the ‘wolf’s bed. As he was pulling away, getting ready to leave, a clawed hand struck out to wrap tightly around the teen’s wrist: grip nearly bruising with how harsh, how unrelenting it was, but Stiles’ heartbeat never upticked in fear or surprise.
He glanced towards the headboard, amber gaze meeting neon blue, and quirked a small smile at the now-awake Hale. “Hey there, Sleeping Beauty,” he greeted as he allowed the still-weakened ‘wolf to pull him closer towards the edge of the bed. “I was starting to suspect that it’d be a hundred years before you finally decided you’d had enough beauty rest.”
Instead of responding to the banter, Peter’s eyes narrowed slightly and used his grip on Stiles’ arm to leverage himself upright; his seating was shaky, and it was obvious that he had a great deal of recovery to look forward to with how his limbs trembled and nearly gave out: but he was lucid, gaze too sharp and intelligent, feral instincts rising to the foreground as the older man cocked his head to the side.
“I remember—you came. No one else was with you; I didn’t think anyone would come after me, not… not after all of these years. After everything that’s happened, after everything I’ve done. But you came, Stiles. You came. You got me out.”
Stiles tilted his own head to the side, matching Peter’s body language as a slow smile tugged at the corner of his mouth, curving his lips into a sharp grin. “Was there a question in there, Creeper Wolf?”
Peter’s eyes flared even brighter, lighting up the ‘wolf’s bedroom from the glow alone, as the boy’s taunt and challenge both landed like a gauntlet thrown between them both. He shuddered finally, neon glare and clawed fingertips fading away even as Peter inclined his head to press his nose against the vulnerable line of Stiles’ wrist.
Moss and loam, thick copper tang of blood, wood smoke and ash: nighttime and darkness and danger.
(Familiar and desired and wanted and cherished in the ‘wolf’s own twisted way—and the boy had come for him, against all odds—and Peter had never been able to understand how the others didn’t know, couldn’t see, were blind to the truth that had stood in front of the ‘wolf from the moment that Peter had offered Stiles the bite and the brown-eyed boy had said no.)
“What are you?”
“Does it really matter?”
The teen’s amber gaze bled crimson as he leaned closer to press cool lips against Peter’s own.
“Wake up, moje kochanie… Obudź się.”
Stiles slowly stirred from beneath his bedsheets, stifling a yawn with the back of his hand even as he diligently tried to open his eyes at the first touch of fingers through his hair. Clawed fingertips caught at the too-short strands, and the teen eventually managed to open his eyes to the sight of 12:01 a.m. glowing brightly from his nightstand.
The teen hummed softly and finally glanced up to meet the crimson gaze of his mother.
“Słodkich snów, Matko,” Stiles whispered as his own eyes shifted to heart’s blood.
The Nocnitsa smiled at the words that her son always greeted her with, and Claudia leaned forward to press a kiss to the boy’s forehead.
“Mój piękny potwór.”